My original assignment for this column was to write about life in a wheelchair in Los Angeles. I have strayed from this noble purpose because, a. I am in LA but not of LA, and, b. I have an eclectic mind, which is the same thing as scatter-brained. But, here is a paradox about LA worth examining from the wheelchair POV:
1. Everything in LA changes all the time.
2. Nothing in LA ever changes.
I live in a modest neighborhood on the west side of LA where they are now building behemoth mansions with five bedrooms and five bathrooms that fill up every inch of the property site. They will soon turn a funky street with funky little houses full of artists and plumbers into a bland, treeless, Generica Estates full of lawyers and bond traders, not the most fun-loving of neighbors. Oh, yeah, they are also building a Metrolink system about five blocks away and taking an old cement plant and turning it into a zillion high-end apartments. If you lived around here 10 years ago and came back for a visit, you probably couldn’t find the house you lived in.
Why am I telling you this? Because I don’t want you to move here thinking this is the swinging city you see on Extra with Mario Lopez. The middle class, as in most cities, is being pushed further and further out of Lopez’ LA and into the desert. Soon, to buy a modestly-
priced house, you’ll have to move to Barstow. The new intra-city Metrolink is seemingly a good thing, but there are no spaces specifically set aside for wheelchairs, the station bathrooms are scary, and what use will you have for it if you live in Barstow?
OK, so LA is a city that gets plowed under and rebuilt every Tuesday. What doesn’t change about it? Anything that would improve the life of someone in a chair. Case in point: sidewalks. As you’ve probably heard, the sidewalks and streets in LA are a joke. The streets have big potholes and the sidewalks — trashed from overuse or deformed by tree roots — are like a special ride at Magic Mountain. I’ve gone over sidewalk bumps that have given me vertigo. It’s not a rolling place, if you catch my drift. You can always take the current bus line, but they frown on people in chairs because they take up too much space and are a hassle for drivers. I’ve known people who have been kicked off a bus because the driver didn’t want to bother strapping a chair down.
What about access van services? Please, remember, this is LA, the city of the perpetual traffic jam. You don’t flit around here picking up and dropping off clients. You have to adopt what has been dubbed “Stevie Wonder time.” You get there when you get there.
The main problem with LA, something that will never change, is that there is no LA — there is a huge jigsaw puzzle of connecting neighborhoods with names like “Palm Terrace Village” divided by freeways and streets that look like freeways. You go to Chicago and there is a downtown that is relatively easy to maneuver (assuming it’s not 14 degrees below zero), and venues of one sort or another are only blocks away. If you wanted to go to “downtown” LA to see a concert in the Disney Concert Hall and you lived in West LA, you’d have to leave home by car at 2 p.m. to make a 7 p.m. curtain call. Maybe pack a lunch. I could be on the optimistic side.
I’ve often wondered why I never see people in wheelchairs on the streets or in the malls here. Were they all abducted by anti-ADA hooligans and shipped to Idaho? Barring that, either the “wheelchair community” figured that the wonderful weather is not worth the hassle of living here — and Portland, say, despite the gloom, is much more inviting; or they simply enjoy that weather from the confines of their apartment or home. If you have a little green space so you don’t get cabin fever, you can live in LA for a lifetime and never leave your property.
Home here is wonderful. Out on the street is madness.