Warming Up 4th and Main
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Again the other night, the Urban Man headed out to help warm up downtown L.A. Like many downtowns around the country, ours is a big, cold place after dark – so as usual, it required some thousands of Angelenos to get it done.
Even with thousands, and even with our best efforts, I'm sorry to say we can only warm up a little at a time and briefly, and usually, in a well-patrolled area: Sometimes the Music Center. Sometimes South Park around the new “L.A. Live.” This time it was the Arts District down along Main, where a loft developer was throwing a holiday block party with outdoor bands.
Me, I hoped to make it warm enough for Mimi.
You remember Mimi — she's the singer who's dying of excessive poverty and undeniable beauty in Puccini's opera, La Bohème. Maybe you caught the Baz Luhrman version or saw the musical Rent, set in Greenwich Village. In that version, Mimi's a nightclub dancer…but always it's nigh on Christmas. Always an otherwise dreary stretch of urban bohemia is warmed by a bright café and a band of friends. If Mimi lives anywhere in L.A., and if she's to meet up with her Rodolfo, surely it will be at 4th and Main…and surely it's our job to provide the band of friends and well…help the cafés continue to cling to this corner as if to a rock in a chilly sea.
Okay…the Urban Man tries not to have too many romantic illusions about city life, but I don't try very hard.
That night, the police had cordoned off 4th & Main to separate it not just from the flow of traffic, but Skid Row. I myself parked where a drunk lay handcuffed on the sidewalk, and yes, I rattled the black metal barriers on locked storefronts as I made my way up the bleak streets to Winston. It was cold, but the sky was, as on a stage, filled with light.
To my surprise, many young men wearing beards and frock coats and even roguish 19th century scarves had descended from their high-security lofts for the party. Women, not unlike those in the Paris of 1896, dressed in alluring layers — even if they included polar fleece and stockings out of graphic novels. In the galleries, the paintings may have been, as usual in urban bohemia, grim — but on the street, spirits were high, and the alleyways banged with drums.
Outside the Crewest Gallery, dedicated to graffiti bombers, a group of rough-looking artists with names like Drool and Smear and Deadmundo had gathered. Surely graffiti bombers believe that they too are warming up the city. Here they stood around trying to look rowdy, but wore well-decorated hoodies that looked downright cozy.
Finally I spotted Mimi at a table outside the Banquette café. She had dark hair and eyes and huddled in a dark navy jacket wearing a man's hat…you know the hip kind with the narrow brim. Inside her coat, she may have been a dancer, but when she noticed me staring, she looked up, and the lines 'round her eyes spoke of disillusionment, maybe even romantic illness. She indicated an empty chair, and I wondered if she thought us acquaintances.
I mean, surely, I've known her all my life.
But of course, Mimi was only saying the chair was taken, and soon her Rodolfo arrived, looking exactly like a young Luciano Pavarotti: large with curly black beard and big red scarf, speaking a mile a minute and carrying two drinks. I was pleased to see him warm her up, and I thought any minute he would begin singing, or we would all begin singing to chase away the downtown night.
Fortunately, however, just at that moment, the highly-amplified band kicked back in. Briefly, it heated up 4th and Main and Mimi and Rodolfo and yes, The Urban Man.
For KCRW, I'm Marc Porter Zasada.
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