On the cargo floor of a battered Chevy van,
an old man is working. Lopez Shoe Repair.
Oxfords, monk-straps, derbies, pointed boots & loafers.
Seven days a week. He's parked beside
the health food store where I search for osha root
for my cough, then joke Asmáticos unidos!
with the Latina salesclerks.
At Out of the Closet Thrift, I find a hipster hat
& fliers for Zoot Suit, playing at the Taper
after almost 40 years. On the patio of Stories Books,
tales of surviving 'LA without a car' & news
of sanctuary training in a church nearby.
('Jesus was a refugee') A broad-shouldered man
with a megaphone talks resistance.
When Echo Park was 'Red Hill' in the Thirties,
Woody Guthrie lived here. Then Art Pepper,
John Huston, Jackson Pollock, then Marilyn Horne,
Frank Zappa & the artist Carlos Almaraz.
His 'West Coast Car Crash' dazzles,
but it's 'City Bridge' that haunts me.
So am I tempted to come live here?
Too late. Just another traveler. But if you visit,
don't miss the shimmering lake & pedal boats,
the DTLA skyline. Try mulitas at Taco Zone
& trace a map to what once was Mack Sennett's studio
on Allesandro where actors dressed in a barn.
Maybe ghosts of Mabel Normand, Charlie Chaplin
& Tom Mix still make movies.
Copyright 2020 Joan E. Bauer. A version of this poem
was previously published in Chiron Review.
First came the movies, then came the road-builders, then came the criminals, and now come the hipsters: people tell this same basic story about several Los Angeles neighborhoods, but half the time I hear it, I hear it with Echo Park as the subject. Charlie Chaplin and the Keystone Kops anointed the place with the glamor of classic film comedy; then the freeways walled it off, if for the most part psychologically, from the wider city; then the neighborhood came to host the troubled young Latino culture in which Allison Anders set “Mi Vida Loca,” still the accepted cinematic text of modern Echo Park. But that movie came out in 1993, and the intervening twenty years have rendered much of its setting almost as unfamiliar as the one Chaplin’s Tramp stumbled gracefully through nearly eight decades before. — Colin Marshall, A Los Angeles Primer (KCET)