Last month I took a trek across Bunker Hill. Actually I think I was underneath it. I started in Little Tokyo, and Bunker Hill didn’t seem that far away on the map by foot. Well, my navigation skills are lacking, my phone’s GPS has nefarious tendencies, and my friend had even worse navigational instincts; so we ended up in a probably off-limits, poorly lit loading zone underneath MOCA for awhile. There’s a reason nobody walks in L.A..
Anyways, the largely redesigned Bunker Hill today would likely be unrecognizable to the Bunker Hill Bandini lived in. Towering steel, concrete, and glass buildings have long since replaced the 1930s wooden apartments and squat Victorian homes. In 1955, it was decided that Bunker Hill needed a major slum clearance project. Over the next few decades, the hill was flattened and skyscrapers were constructed in response to the building height limits being raised. It was the largest redevelopment project in L.A. history in an attempt to present the world with a more modern image. L.A. sure loves to crush its own history.
In Ask the Dust, Bandini takes many a stroll through L.A.—his feet largely being his primary form of transportation. He comments on the streets’ constant noise and smells—which are likely even worse today. He lives a pretty solitary existence during these treks—anyone with a little financial freedom takes a car around. In Ask the Dust, there’s this “every man for himself” feel; L.A.’s a hard place to live in. I certainly felt alone and exposed. But then again I was pretty lost and in unfamiliar territory. The seedy streets of ’40s noir just kept coming to mind. Has anyone ever gotten lost in L.A. before and experienced favorable consequences? But for sure L.A.’s definitely not built for the pedestrian. It wasn’t then with Bandini, and it isn’t now. There are a few islands where people congregate, but then they hop into their cars to make their way past the more desolate sections. I get why Southern Californians love their cars so much. They give you that power and freedom to move effortlessly through a crazed, disorderly city while sealed off from the riffraff.
The walk wasn’t all nerve-racking. Did we go by some seemingly lovely blocks? Certainly. But then you turn a corner and you reach a section where eye contact is frowned upon and asking for directions is completely out of the question. But then again I’m not an L.A. native. Orange County just isn’t L.A. city territory, despite its proximity.
Anyways, if you’re a suburbanite who wants to wander aimlessly in downtown L.A., maybe do so with a group of actual L.A. city folk. Or don’t walk. Drive.