Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Heat and the Dust

Nhat V. Meyer McClatchy-Tribune


The patch of dirt outside my door at the front of my apartment building smells like dog urine.  The grass is long dead and worn away.  Next door, the duplex has a “lawn” of mixed dry weeds and crab grass (the only grass that seems to thrive without water).  The owner of that building has reduced his watering to once every two weeks.  Across the street, the homeowner ripped out his lawn altogether and replaced it with white rocks.  Papers and trash swirl in the street and the slightest breeze brings a dust storm of gritty particulate and dead, dry leaves.  The neighborhood looks windblown and arid.  A foreclosed home around the corner has been redeveloped into small apartments.  Where those potential renters will park is anyone’s guess because the street parking is always full from the tire store and car dealerships on the boulevard up the street.  My neighborhood has become an industrial wasteland due to drought and overcrowding.

In the novel, The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck’s Joad family sees California as a modern promised land where the earth is fertile and opportunities abound.  The grandfather dreams of sitting himself in a tub of grapes and “squirshing around,” symbolizing the abundance of the farmlands of the region.  In California, Grandpa Joad thinks, you can bathe in grapes!  What they find is much different from their idealized version.

Anyone traveling to California today might also find a land very different from what he or she has envisioned.  California is not the promised land.  It is a place that does not live up to its dreamy fiction, and the drought has made that all the more apparent to anyone who takes a good look around.

Freeways are littered with trash.  The landscaping is dead due to the lack of water, and pot holes and the rough pavement can rattle a car’s suspension system until it feels as if the tires will fall off.  Trees stand dead and brown, diseased or dehydrated.  The famous stucco houses and apartment buildings are streaked with dirt.  Los Angeles, in many places, has become an ugly city.

Homeless people from all over come to L.A. because the weather is mild and consistent.  But with global warming, we are having more and more triple-digit days and that makes it rough on the homeless population.  Los Angeles is ill-prepared to deal with a heat crisis like we see today in Pakistan with close to a thousand people dying of heat-related conditions.  The number of tents in parks, in alcoves on thoroughfares, on the sides of the freeways, has grown.  Signs proliferate:  “Will work for food.”  “Homeless vet.”  “Large family needs assistance.”  And of course, every sign has the same sign off:  “God bless.”  In what promises to be a smoky, hot, dusty summer, God’s mercy will definitely be needed by those who live rough on the streets and alleys of L.A.

Mindy Schauer Orange County Register


Of all of Los Angeles’ most pressing needs—affordable housing, renewed infrastructure, better city services—the most serious is water, the stuff of life.  The drought is killing us.  There are a few signs of hope, however.  The Pacific is warmer and that might lead to a wet El Nino winter.  In addition, there are red crabs washing upon beaches from Orange County to northern Los Angeles County, usually a precursor to the El Nino phenomenon.  We can only hope this means a wet winter is coming, but it would take several wet years to undo the damage that has been done by this drought.

Los Angeles has always been a city challenged by water issues.  Joan Didion wrote about it in one of her essays entitled “Holy Water.”  William Mulholland stole the water rights from the Owens Valley with his construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct.  Global climate change has only exacerbated the problem now, and the prognosis, whether or not politicians disagree with the scientists, is dire.

Down the street from my dog-piss dirt patch, the city recently installed artificial turf on the center median of the boulevard to avoid using water to feed plants that spend their lives choked by exhaust fumes from traffic.  Wood chips, rocks, and cactus have replaced the green lawns throughout the neighborhood.  The city is brown and dry and hot and dusty, and that will be a fact of life in L.A. for some time to come.


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