So This Happened: Car Free to Car Lite, and Why

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About three and 1/2 years ago (June 7, 2013), I sold my car and decided (after much thought and research) to live a life that was car free. I lost some weight and saw a different side of my city. I saved a lot of money. My stress level became palpably lower. I proved that despite all the cliches (which are class-based cliches, by the way), one does not need a car to survive in L.A.

Yes, I found that it’s possible to get anywhere in the L.A. area by bus, train, bike, walking, Uber, Lyft, taxi, Amtrak and the kindness of strangers. But here’s the thing: possible does not always mean convenient.

So this happened:

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Blogger in front of the red Chevy Spark.

I moved to L.A. originally in 1981, and this is the lifestyle we led: Say I lived in Pasadena, which was true for awhile. A friend a few miles away would suggest how nice it would be to go to Hollywood for a few drinks and then later on go down to the beach for a while, play in the dark waves, etc, or go bar-hopping out in Santa Monica. Or have a bite to eat there. We’d often do things like this — which actually involve a 40 or 50 mile round trip in a car. It was common then and it was nothing, really. Gas cheap. We were young and energetic. Traffic was not in any way as bad as it is now, especially at night. This is part of that Southern California Car Culture you hear about, ski in the morning, surf in the afternoon (which I suppose somebody did, not that this kind of activity was EVER anything you would call convenient).

Anyway, my point is, some of this lives on. At least in our minds, at least we’d like to think this is our coastal “lifestyle,” though age and especially traffic has made this all but impossible. I do think there is a bona fide Millennial movement to embrace an L.A. car free existence. But here’s the thing: I’m not a Millennial. Not even close. And I guess although it’s great to be a pioneer or a trailblazer in some way, it’s kind of lonely if you’re the only one.

I was the only one (in my age and class cohorts) who habitually rode the bus or the train and it was honestly getting a bit old and lonely.

Another thing is isolation. While my facility navigating L.A. without a car grew tremendously the longer I did it, my desire to be out and about actually diminished. While I could take an Uber to a hotspot at 10 at night from my home location in the Valley, say to somewhere “over the hill” in Silver Lake or West Hollywood, my desire to do that plummeted. My desire to do that on the bus plummeted even further. And this was not just hotspots, but things like events and other gatherings where the distance and inconvenience just made it too difficult. I didn’t want to be a hermit.

There’s something different about having your own transportation that’s about more than getting to point B from point A, and it has to do with comfort and safety and the ability to be totally spontaneous. I realized that I was willing to pay again for this occasional luxury.

So — I’m not abandoning public transport or my bike or my beloved walks, especially those in the quiet of the near dawn. I really liked contributing to a less polluted city in a really small way and will continue. But I will occasionally use the new car, for things like:

  • Socializing at night, i.e., seeing friends, dating and other activities
  • Road trips – Palm Springs and local places like that, especially where trains don’t go.
  • Camping! I still want to find a partner in crime for this.
  • The occasional event or possibly a job opportunity, like an interview, like tutoring, like background acting on a location (think Santa Clarita, where I used to have frequent gigs). Although for commuting to work, I’ll still use public transport.
  • Going to the Gym – sometimes that’s just easier to drive and I would work out more, quite frankly ,if it was easier to get there.
  • Shopping, sometimes. Sometimes you just want to do that Target run and get your own 30 roll packs of TP rather than have Amazon deliver them.

So there you have it. I’m grateful to have the luxury of the occasional car at my disposal again. I realize how lucky I am to have it. And I know, should it turn out that I really don’t use the car for much, I can always turn around and sell it. Again!

KEPT: Two Truths and a Lie

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Herewith: Of the following statements, two are true and one is false.

To figure out which is which, you’ll have to read the book. (or just send me a message and I’ll respond!)

Nancy Argento is an second-rate reporter from Cleveland trying desperately to redeem herself with a new job in Palm Springs.

Jacy Martin is part of the rich family that owns the Native American casino in Palm Springs.

In a fit of absolute and horrid rage, studly contractor Connor Hurst strangles former TV star Carol Blair Rosen.

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Why KEPT? The Inspiration and the Notes. . .

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I had the pleasure of re-watching the 1946 version of “The Postman Always Rings Twice” again last night. This wonderful example of early post-war film noir stars the luminous Lana Turner (how does one get that silky platinum hair?)  and the quite studly John Garfield, (as well as Hume Cronyn, Cecil Kellaway and Leon Ames in supporting roles) in the James Cain story.

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The Postman Always Rings Twice

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like in his “Double Indemnity,” this story involves getting rid of an inconvenient third wheel who happens to have some money. These two stories, as well as Cain’s fabulous “Mildred Pierce,” are all basically about greed and our susceptibility to letting it drive our actions. This is usually at the hands of someone who uses sex as a convincing argument, if you have or had any scruples to begin with. Traditionally, this role was played by a woman, who became known as the femme fatale.

So these Cain movies/books and the additional “After Dark, My Sweet” – a similar type of noir story, set in the SoCal desert of around 1990 and from a book by Jim Thompson, are the inspiration for the screenplay I wrote of “Kept,” which I turned into this novel.

Having spent so much time in Palm Springs myself, I wanted to set a crime story there. Also, I wanted to remake the femme fatale role into an homme fatale, and make male-male gay attraction the driving force behind the greed this time around.

I’d often felt that the Palm Springs area was a crucible – where people from many backgrounds mixed. You had your gays, your old white Republican retirees, retired movie stars, Mexican immigrants, Marines from 29 Palms, the Native American Tribes, tourists from all over, real estate speculators, and everyone else as well. I thought there’d be lots of stories and potential for dramatic conflict in them.

And there is! It’s all in KEPT.

KEPT: The story of the cover art

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When you self-publish a book, one of the crucial decisions you make is approving the cover art and design. For most writers, this is counterintuitive, as our strengths generally (at least we hope) lie in the realms of words and storytelling, not so much in imagery.

Which makes this process even more nerve wracking.

Because – there’s this thing out there called the Internet now. Where everybody goes for books. And usually they’re bombarded with a screenful of pixellated book covers, all of them vying for the opportunity to catch the browser’s eye. Decisions are made on the basis of interest in the cover. There’s no table full of books to flip through. There’s no physical shelf showing all the new books in the genre. It’s a much bigger and confusing landscape and of course, it’s all virtual.

And what is it that catches the browser’s eye? Color, for one thing. Red is more eye-catchy, than say, brown or yellow. Hello stop signs! Also strong graphics, I think, especially considering small screens.

And of course, naked men, for this genre, which is a gay mystery/suspense/thriller. The one action the cover is designed to elicit is a click further – basically that’s it, stop and find out some more.

So I did have an image in mind, which I gave to the cover designer at that point — it’s this:

2365800428_0cc260e6a8 I found it on the internet, on Flickr. I didn’t take the photo and I don’t know who the subject is. But I do know it’s an image of the desert near Palm Springs, and also has a hot looking half-naked guy who looks vaguely Latin as the subject.

One of the main characters in KEPT, if not the main character, is a guy named Jorge who anglicizes his name to George. This would be my cover image.

The cover designer at CreateSpace (the company Eureka Street Press uses for actual book and ebook publication) came up with this image based on the idea of a man in the desert:

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So, a different desert (it looks more like Joshua Tree to me, and well, it’s close enough) and a different man, obviously, someone from their bank of usable images. Yeah, he’s got better abs, too, that never hurts, right?

Simple typography for a very simple title, and my name as the author. I think it sticks out on a page full of busier titles (though I was unable to get much red in this image). What do you think?

KEPT: 10 Things Consumed in the Novel

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Say what? Yes, you read that right. Here is a list of the first ten unique things I could find in my novel “Kept” which were consumed or offered to the characters, food or drink or something else, as long as it went in by way of mouth:

    • Beer – in this case, Tooheys New, an Australian brand.
    • Whiskey, cheap, as a lubricant for a reporter source, put in:
    • Coffee, from an indie coffee cart in a dead mall
    • Chai, or the hint of it, on someone’s breath
    • Cock, yes penis, in this case it’s Connor’s being consumed by Sy
    • Breath Mints, as in the dish Vi keeps by her door (you were thinking they were for Sy?)
    • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Locker Hurst eating this while talking to his mother, Vi

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  • Corn Bread (one item of a Jacy Martin breakfast)
  • Bacon (the other item of a Jacy Martin breakfast)
  • Indian cake (old style, made from mesquite seed pods, which Kaya is grateful she doesn’t have to make as a modern Native American woman)

Survey says basically you won’t get fat on this “Kept” diet. But you might get ornery and commit some heinous crime.

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KEPT Character Biography: Andreas Alvarado

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Another in the series of character bios for my novel KEPT. Here we have Andreas Alvarado, the corpulent and criminal manager of the tribal casino in Palm Springs (Montana Grande).

Who inspired me for this, who was I thinking of or who did I have in my mind’s eye while writing? James Gandolfini, Joe Mantegna, they come close. If they were Native American and lived in Palm Springs and were devious and bossy.

James Gandolfini

James Gandolfini

Joe Mantegna

Joe Mantegna

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sex, Age, Ht. and weight: Male, 45, 5-9, 200+ lbs.

Black/gray hair and black eyes.

Posture: good, pot belly though.

Appearance: dresses very nicely in the tribal executive style.

Has no visible deformities other than that he’s heavy.

Heredity: prone to alcoholism, high blood pressure. This means he could have a heart attack at any moment.

Social:

He was lower middle class, now with the tribal casinos, he’s upper class in income.

Occupation: he’s the tribal manager of the casino. He’s the big boss. He knows the governor!

Education: he’s a college graduate, a local college (San Bernardino) liberal arts marketing degree. His favorite subject was California History. He also did well in math, surprisingly. Good for counting money.

Home life: his aged mother is still alive, she’s revered in the tribe. The parents were also tribal leaders. His father is the person they named Andreas Road after in Palm Springs. Andreas himself is divorced and has 3 grown children. Two of the girls work at the casino, and the boy is away at Stanford. He’s so proud of his boy. (which is just another reason Jacy Martin hates him).

Religion: Roman Catholic with some of the tribal beliefs thrown in.

Community: He’s head of the tribal council. Also a member of many local civic organizations that have nothing to do with the tribe.

He is a Democrat, but has a lot of successful dealings with Republican congressmen and the former governor, etc.

Amusements: he’s very much a businessman, so he reads those kinds of magazines. He likes going to the movies. He’s odd that way, an independent film fan, who goes to arthouses. He also has a girlfriend (on the sly) who lives in Joshua Tree. She is an artist, a white woman. She makes jewelry, and he wears a lot of it.

Psych: He’s straight.

Premise, ambition: The face he shows to the public is very much a straight shooter, believes in doing what’s best for the tribe. Wants to build up the tribal holdings in Palm Springs to be very lucrative for the tribe — and himself. Works well with the white folks in town.

Frustrations, disappointments: Andreas is one of those people who are actually quite contented at his successes, legitimate and otherwise. He’s a little arrogant because of that. It’s only when Jacy starts trying to fuck him up that he has to go on the defensive.

Temperament: generally optimistic

Attitude: very militant. He gives orders, he is in charge.

Complexes: Superstitions. Andreas has a whole complement of superstition from the tribe. Gods on the mountain, of the desert plain, etc etc. He really believes in this stuff, as opposed to Jacy, who knows it’s bunk.

He’s an ambivert.

Abilities: Very good at math. He, unlike Jacy, does speak Spanish. And French. And Italian, and German. Even Swedish (for those Scandinavian tourists)!

Qualities: he has a really good business sense (as in new opportunities) and a low tolerance for bullshit. He can smell it a mile away. Distrustful of Jacy, as he should be.

IQ: High

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Kept Character Biography: Jimbo McLaughlin

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The Marine — the Marine in the closet. Until he’s not in the closet any more. I was thinking more in the realms of all the blond boys who do porn as gay for pay — as guides to envision the twins Timbo and Jimbo. I did two separate bios for them, only including Jimbo’s here as he’s more of a character in the actual book.

You get the idea.

You get the idea.

You get the idea.

You get the idea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jimbo McLaughlin

Jimbo – Marine
Sex: Male, Age 23. IDENTICAL TWIN OF TIMBO McLaughlin
Blond Hair, Green Eyes, Tan, Muscular.
5-10, 170.
Posture: Military
Good-looking, almost mean looking, a sneer.
Class: lower class, educated in military to be something more.

Occupation: truck driver in the Marines, stationed Twentynine Palms. Did a tour of Afghanistan already.The TWINS DRIVE A JEEP that they co-own.
Education: High school and marine schooling.
Home life: They are from Texas. Their parents are still there, in Fort Worth. They have 2 older sisters, both married with kids, both in Texas. Their parents are conservative, Republicans.
Religion: Southern Baptist upbringing. Jimbo is less religious than Timbo.
Race: Blindingly white.
Politics: Timbo is almost reactionary right wing. Jimbo doesn’t really know, can be swayed either way.
Amusements: They like to get drunk, pick up girls. They don’t read. They do watch TV sometimes. Both much more interested in criminal activity. Although Timbo is more violent.

Sex: Says he’s straight. Jimbo is really gay, hides this from Timbo, from everyone.
Personal premise: It’s “I ‘m gonna get mine and fuck you in the process.”
Too young to have ever been disappointed. He’s terrified that Timbo will find out he’s really gay.
Temperament: highly volatile, not someone you’d want to cross.
Attitude: he’s always right, you’re definitely wrong, and, you’re an asshole.
Complex: Mistrustful of anyone not white. Very prejudiced, that’s why his attraction to George is so hard for him to understand.
Ambivert – he’s more outgoing than Timbo.
Abilities: lies well. Speaks a few words/phrases of Pashto.
Qualities: Can sense pros/cons of any situation very quickly.
IQ: Exactly the same as Timbo, higher than it would appear by their gruff presentation.

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Car Free in L.A. for Three Years – and counting

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Three years ago on June 7, 2013, I drove into CarMax in Burbank, California, and sold them my car. They gave me a check for $6000.

The Blogger at an Orange Line stop, waiting patiently.

The Blogger at an Orange Line stop, waiting patiently.

I walked back to my apartment via Magnolia Boulevard. It took more than an hour. During the early summer walk, I had numerous moments of “oh my god, what have you done?” but I did not fall into the earth, wailing or otherwise.

I’d planned to go car free, and had been thinking about it, reading about it for years. There were lots of reasons, from wanting to be more environmentally conscious to wanting to save money to frustration with driving and especially with parking.

I made lots of dry runs with LA’s Metro system, did lots of bike riding on streets with bike lanes (and others without them, but rarely) and started figuring out places I could walk to in my neighborhood of Valley Village.

Still, it was very strange to arrive back at my apartment and leave my parking space empty. That voice in my head would say, well, you’re crazy, you’ve finally done it buddy, what are you thinking, Jim? You can’t live in L.A. without a car, everybody says so!

But then I have lived in L.A. without a car, and for three years now.

Benefits:

  • more money for me (I save about $5K a year on car costs)
  • easier for me to keep weight stabilized, as I get so much aerobic exercise
  • stress level is lower, and blood pressure readings are more in the normal range
  • I see the city on a more human, sidewalk level. I notice people and buildings and plants and . . . that I would have missed before, speeding by.
  • I don’t get road rage.
  • I don’t have to deal with road ragers.
  • I don’t fret over the price of gas or car insurance or car repairs or any of that.
  • I can still be spontaneous — hello car sharing services, Uber and Lyft. That’s one of the missing pieces to this puzzle, and it’s been filled in.
  • I love just showing up at a venue and walking through the front door, shaking my head when someone asks if I need to be validated.
The donut stand on Magnolia and Keystone in Burbank. That's my bike, but the guy is someone else.

The donut stand on Magnolia and Keystone in Burbank. That’s my bike, but the guy is someone else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are really no cons to being car free, but I have learned some things about myself and the whole idea of “car free” from a white, middle class perspective.

Some of these things are:

  • Public transport is really a class thing in L.A., still. Regardless of the new Expo line, which everyone wants to ride, because it goes to Santa Monica and the beach, most people ride the Metro because they can’t afford cars. A decision like the one I made to be “car free” was born of privilege (similar to Voluntary Simplicity or New Frugality movements) — because I can afford a car if I want one, if I wanted to return myself to that misery. I imagine that most of the people who have no choice but to take the trains or buses would consider me a silly old fool. I hope that perception will change and we’re making headway, but we’re not there yet.
  • Speaking of that Expo line or the Wilshire 720 Rapid or any of the other public transport ways to get to the Pacific Ocean from the San Fernando Valley: There’s no quick way to get to the beach, other than a car, and even that’s relative. At like, 4 am. On a Tuesday. It would probably take about half an hour at that date/time. But at any other time, rail makes the journey a lot more palatable, i.e. there are no potholes on the rails. And you can read, you can access WiFi or a cell tower (Expo is above ground). You shouldn’t read while driving.
  • When you have a car, you go to lots of places just because you have a car to get there, whether it makes any sense to go there or not. It SEEMS purposeful, but I think that might be an illusion. Because I’ve found that with just a little bit of resistance (the resistance being not having an easy transport option at the ready 24/7) you make lots of different choices.
  • Driving also serves to mask boredom and loneliness. You’re part of this stream of humanity, all GOING somewhere, or at least seeming to, if really not. Listening to the radio is part of it, too, feeling connected to the music or the DJ or the newscaster makes it all a little less lonely.

Just as I started this post I saw that yet another bicyclist had been killed in the LA area, this one in Compton, today, June 6, 2016. RIP.

Be careful out there.

How the blogger lights up his ride

How the blogger lights up his ride