By Lisa Robins
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I interviewed a sampling of Venetians I encountered along my way: asking where they came from, how long they’ve been here, and what they loved and hoped for Venice.
At Manny’s bike shop on Lincoln, I bumped into an old friend and tested my questions out on him. He’s from the east coast and went to high school outside of Philly. Lived in Venice for almost 20 years. He makes a living as a television producer, along with rental income from his properties. When I asked what he loves about Venice he responded, its “eclectic nature…the combo of proximity to the ocean–edge of the US…it’s diverse…artistic…freedom of expression.” He wishes for Venice to downsize – curb development-“spend less time and energy regulating what people are doing on their own private property and improve public property…it’s shameful- the streets, pavement, public spaces.”
“I’ve seen people shot in the street, in front of the store”, said an employee who’s worked the same job on Lincoln Blvd. for 30 years. He declined to be interviewed – doesn’t want to anger any of the locals. A 30 year business owner on Lincoln also declined my questions, but said he “doesn’t like any of them…you know what I mean- the new restaurants…all of this- we gotta fight them…you know what I mean”.
At the Robert Levine (Venice Family) Clinic on Venice Blvd a young Latino man waiting for the mother of his tiny baby also didn’t want to be interviewed, but then said, “Venice is awesome…everything is in it…nice place…nice people…all the countries” He’s a tattoo artist, which is exactly what he wants to do.
I spoke to a young lady from Shreveport, Louisiana who’s lived in Venice for 2 years. Works at Burro, walks dogs, does pet and baby-sitting – dream job is acting. She moved to Venice to be with her boyfriend- wouldn’t have thought about it without him. He says “It’s more chill than anyplace else”…he likes to be close to beach because “he’s hot all the time”. She notes, “It’s changing fast”…she sees new houses, “huge things”, going up all the time. “It would be nice if some of the older places stayed.”
All the way from Istanbul, Turkey, a man I know has been in Venice 11 months. He doesn’t work here- goes to SMC studying ESL. He believes Venice is “like Paradise…good weather, people, neighborhoods…helpful, peaceful.” His hope for Venice is “mystery”.
A fellow activist friend, an immigrant in-utero, attended high school in Northern Ca. and came to Venice 20 years ago. She works as a physician at LA County USC Hospital, saying, “That’s the place I want them to bring me if I were in an accident or got shot”. What does she love about Venice? “A long list…ocean….canals (“like the Dutch”, a friend piped in)…big city but an enormous ocean in short walking distance…less to love about Venice than there used to be….diverse…lots of art-artists and political activity.” Her hope for Venice? Returning to what it was decades ago. “Restore all the canals. Dig up the streets…bring back the old canals.”
“We don’t need to know everything”, a Venice native told me. “I’ve created a system of bulwarks to make it difficult to inconvenience or do me any harm. Google me and you’ll run into scary people and organizations. If you ever approach these people you’re liable to run into some trouble….I’ve seen some things…I’ve seen some very cold and dark spaces…What do I love about Venice? Everything… What do I hope for Venice? A lot. A revolutionary government….single party rule with strong heads. Not the VNC. To drive the heathen from the land…like King David drove the Jebusites out of Jerusalem.”
I met a 47 year old man from SD walking his dog down a residential street near Lincoln. He’s lived in Venice/ MDR for 10years, Venice 5 years. Considers himself a “Virtual Native”. He’s in sales to pay the bills. His dream job is to not be in sales, and plans to retire and do “me stuff” and charity work. Loves Venice’s weather and relaxed culture, dog friendly, but it’s “getting a little more ruined…gentrified”. Loves that it’s central, 8 on the “walking score” (mentioned by several people even though I had never heard of the walking score). His hope for Venice is that we break off and pay our own police. “We have to deal with the homeless…don’t just push them to Venice.” He likes Garcetti, “at least he’s trying”. We discussed trying to balance politics in our community. “There’s plenty to be left leaning and still be fair”.
Next on my walk I met a mid-20’s Venice native, who was painting a beautiful mural on the home that’s been in his family since his mom and Grandma. They run a daycare for little ones up to age 3. He’s a photographer, architectural- like realtors/magazines… living his dream job. What does he love about Venice? “Everything…best city ever”. His hope for Venice? “I like the way it is”. But then he went on, “Homelessness out of control. The RV ban is good. Homeless sleeping on the street…”
His fellow muralist grew up in MDR. He’s an apprentice locksmith. “Venice is great-nice being by the beach. 10 minute bike ride”, lived here his whole life. Parents owned Mojo Clothing from 1985ish-2005. Wants Venice to stay small businesses. “People who want a mom/pop shop should be able to do it — not looking that way at the moment.” He wants to find a way to let corporations to do their thing, but not completely kill our small community vibe.
As I continued walking I met a person I had spoken to on other walks from NYC who has lived in Venice for 25 years. A reporter, actor, screenwriter — likes to change careers every 10 years. What do they love about Venice? “The weather”, they say sarcastically…likes to bike everywhere. What do they hope for Venice? “Deal with the homeless…it’s dreadful…not short term shelters…mental health facilities…drug help…garbage in alleys…police hands are tied… the homeless have more rights than me…homeless have a “free pass”…I’m not heartless…I care about the situation…two homeless threw glass bottles at me…police, fire department came…moron Bonin takes lanes away …traffic is terrible….City agencies services are understaffed…our mayor can’t figure out what he’s doing. The quality of life deteriorated in all of LA …keep allowing building…unstainable for workers to live here…allow people to build giant houses on lots…Airbnb is running illegal hotels (long term ok).” This person wanted me to not print what they said, but since they’re unidentified I choose to air the grievances since I know many share them, and their hybrid career choices also reflect our community.
Next, on my walk I met a mom and her daughter visiting friends in the canals. Mom grew up in MDR and has lived in Hollywood and Pasadena where they currently live. The young one is a 3rd grade student, and mom is an actress who works with kids in a pre-school and babysitting. She loves the “magical energy” of Venice. Her hope is “everyone keeps keeping it clean and sustainable, planting trees that don’t need much water”.
A dear friend I spoke to across a canal hails from Brooklyn, and has lived in Venice for 8 years. She’s a rabbi and a mom — exactly what she wants to be doing. When I asked her what she loves about Venice without hesitation she said, “The people…the community and people…living art…people living, creating….people come here to create…now it’s digital media-apps, start-ups, before it was acrylics and paint…new mediums — but people come here to create. Venice is “spiritually inspiring”…loves the egrets, the herons, sunsets, waves, moons …It’s all here- what’s not to love?” She wishes for Venice to create community for the 21st century. “Long lasting institutions with healthy eyes so we can continue meeting, observing, creating together.”
Next I met a couple of homeless guys camped out in front of the library because they can use the Wi-Fi. One was generous with his story, while his friend stayed focused on his I-phone. Originally from Fort Knox, Texas, he’s been in Venice for 8 months. He’s 40, unemployed, and would love to get a job at a head shop. He loves Venice’s ocean, temperature. His hope for Venice is for “all the meth to be gone”. He spoke of the frustration of trying to get work while homeless. “Have to watch stuff all day…What would help would be a building to store stuff with showers… Like KOA campgrounds…even a place that would supply power by the hour to charge stuff. There’s no solution…just because it works for one doesn’t mean it’ll work for all. Shelters are worse (than the streets) for some.” Needs his own little space…The food situation is such that food stamps last him 1 ½ -2 weeks –I brought up the 99cent store, where I get amazing food bargains, but he prefers the $1.50 hot dogs from Costco…plus to keep phones running are $60 month. Need meds, to get to the co-op- then he revealed that his friend suffers from epilepsy.
A 51 yr. old man from NYC has been in Venice since 1985- “a long time”. He works at the church for lodging-“I used to be a drug addict”. His dream job is to be a music engineer. What does he love about Venice? The weather — too cold in NYC! He made a pit stop in Florida…his sister talked him into Ca. Liked Minneapolis, but he was tired of snow. Watched the USC-UCLA game one day and saw the weather in LA. (weather is a common draw- ironic since I miss the seasons so much!). His hope is for LA to provide more jobs –train people. He wants the people in charge to put heads together for education. Parents should have a say in what school their kids attend. He feels that Venice can go further in the future to have politics completely dedicated to caring for its people. Don’t try to be greedy would be a blessing. Unhappy with the Democrats…not for Bernie since he’s against DARE. He’s a Republican, but not for Trump. He’s working on his GED.
I then bumped into another long-time girlfriend. Originally from SM, she’s lived in Venice for 35 years. She’s a PR person and a mom. I’ve known her and her husband for about 30 years, and known her beautiful daughter from birth. But I never knew her dream job was to be Huell Howser from the show, “California Gold”, who visits cool places, and meets and interviews cool people in California. She too loves the high walk score of Venice and the great weather. Also loves hula hooping with friends in their 50’s and 60’s at the beach, and boogie boarding after. (sounds like I might want to join them!) Loves that residents can have parties late without people calling the police (not the case if you’re an Airbnb owner). Her wish for Venice? “Frankly, a more reasonable short term rental policy”. More affordable housing…rentals…danger of losing all sense of community…many of her neighbors have moved, and Airbnb units have taken their place. She “loves tourists, but also love neighbors”. I look forward to seeing her at one of her remaining neighbor’s annual “show and tell” party next weekend.
That night I rendezvoused with a friend at a Brobots’ gig, who was originally from Miami, Fla. He came to LA in 1984-34 years ago. He’s a writer who moved here to attend UCLA Film School, and stayed to work in the film business. What does he love about Venice? “Venice is the coolest place in LA”. But he “Wouldn’t do it again. If I was 23 I’d have gone to N.Y…More independent, more serious”. But it’s “Hard to leave…get seduced…easy to live…I have a lot of friends.” I can vouch for that. He loves that Venice is “Diverse and anything goes and people are cool…Hope it remains like the old Venice at least in spirit”.
I ran into another Venice compadre originally from New Jersey- has lived in Venice since 70’s, at Suzy Williams’ Monday gig at Surfside. He “Came out for a trip and got stuck. You can visit for a week or two…If you stay longer you’re stuck here…How you gonna go back to New Jersey when you’ve been here?” He’s a retired electrical engineer…Electronics…on the team that developed an early video game system called Vectored. “It was a big flop, but now it’s popular…all over Facebook…Selling on eBay like hot cakes. …Love being able to walk out the door and there’s always something great to do and the weather is great, right?” What do you wish for Venice? “That it doesn’t get destroyed and keeps the basic thing that attracted me in the first place which is it doesn’t get all built-up and skyscrapers everywhere – keep the lid on the store…don’t take over anymore…what I hope for Venice- that some of the people that have been kicked out lately can come back”.
I took my friend who lives in Chicago and South Haven, Michigan, but sometimes stays at my house, to check out the music at Surfside. He used to work around the corner on the beach at Coney Island Hotdog, better known as Meatless Mess Hall, 40 years ago. He sees a lot of Venice as being the same as what he loved in the 60’s. He hopes Venice “stays the way it is or gets the way it used to be again which isn’t going to happen at all…slow down the forces that are making Venice a harder place to live.”
On the street near the club we met a young man with a guitar. He asked me for money to buy crackers to go with the cheese someone gave him. I went back to my car and found some crackers and a protein bar to give. He came to Venice for “The things that ignite your soul”. “My city is South Bronx…hitchhiked all the way here…stopped in Nashville, Tennessee, Atlanta, Georgia, New Orleans, Texas, and New Mexico…I’ve been in Venice for three years living on the beach trying to play my music to try to, you know, make myself, you know, some money for food or … hygiene products.” I asked him if he’s familiar with SPY (Safe Place for Youth). His eyes lit up- he tells me he’s a regular… I told him I’m a volunteer- planning to start an open mike once a month. He liked that idea. I told him I can’t wait to hear his music. He said, “I love that Venice is a place where artists can come together and coexist and feed off of each other’s energy to constantly progress the next artist to be coming the next stage and hence breathing life into Venice….giving Venice a culture because that’s what I like about Venice… has a culture has a past history…a story… something not to be ignored but to be acknowledged… I hope that Venice starts remembering its roots and stops most of the gentrification going on and start to bring back the artistry…”
So there you have it…a Venice Valentine from all walks of life.
For myself I love that I can see a different style of music every night with world class musicians like Suzy Williams and Brad Kay, the Brobots, The Gumbo Brothers in local hangs with no cover like Hinano’s and Surfside. I love that within an hour walk I can talk to rich locals, nutcases, a rabbi, a homeless guy, a Republican drug addict in recovery, and no less than 2 close friends. I love the sunsets, walks on the beach, the tumultuous ocean, and the peaceful canals where I walk and work on whatever I’m working on. I love watching the cool new places open on Lincoln like Abbot Kinney used to be and pray they stay local and don’t all get taken over by chains and corporations. I love the library, the farmers market Friday mornings, the elementary schools. I love the bohemian spirit of Venice, and my home and family living the Venice dream. And I hope this valentine reminds both longtime and recent residents why we all chose to come here, and to cherish our community which is like no other….Venice! YYYYYY