From: Robert Fiore
To: Richard Riordan
Re: Opportunity Knocking
Well, your honor, I can imagine your chagrin. Los Angeles having a team stolen by St. Louis—why, it’s like Belgium invading Germany. It’s a serious blow to our prestige, even if the Rams did hare off to Orange County ten years ago. (Now there’s something to bring a smile to your face. I’ll say it again: Orange County. So what did we invest in, ticket futures on the Clinton Second Inaugural?) But we should not let the shame and degradation blind us to the opportunity before us. If St. Louis is willing to spend something like $320 million to get the winners of the NFL’s Lifetime Underachievement Award, then what we have here is a motivated buyer. Your honor, as the man who came up with the sell-the-airport scheme, you of all people should grasp the possibilities. When representatives of the City With a Really Big Arch come to finalize the deal, it behooves us to show them a few other things they might like to take off our hands. For instance….
• The Crips: No city can truly call itself major league without a first class street gang, and no gang can capture the glamour and romance of senseless violence and socially corrosive crime like our boys—I beg your pardon—gentlemen in blue. Sure, St. Louis can, and possibly does, have one of the gang’s many franchises, but there’s nothing like the real thing. For instance, the L.A. Crips still have many of their Original Gangsters, making them much more valuable on the collector’s market.
• And if they’re going to take the Crips, they’d certainly want to balance them out with the perfect accessory, former police chief Daryl F. Gates. Public servant, family man, radio personality, software designer, and all around ambassador of good will, Chief Gates has that diplomatic touch that can keep an ethnic melting pot boiling. If you’re looking for someone to explain controversial policies in terms that no one can misunderstand, you need look no further. And since he’s presently completely at liberty he can be had at a bargain price.
• The City Attorney’s Office: Keeping with the law enforcement theme, America’s most notorious crimefighting team has only one weakness: the obviously guilty. Go into court with a neon sign reading “Will Kill for Money” and your chances are no worse than even. Commit your crime on camera and you’ll never see the inside of a prison. Crime being what it is these days, particularly if St. Louis buys the Crips and Chief Gates, the City Attorney’s office may be the only remedy for prison overcrowding.
• Metro Rail: Nothing suits a city on the move like a gargantuan public works program, and there’s no public works program in the country like L.A.’s Metro Rail subway project: it goes nowhere, leaks like a sieve, smells like rotten eggs, drives the businesses whose taxes are supposed to help pay for it into bankruptcy by screwing up their streets for years at a time, and has an uncanny way of finding unstable earth and making the streets above it collapse. Viewers of the movie “Speed” who laughed at the notion of a subway train without a deadman switch were forgetting that this was supposed to be Metro Rail. God alone knows what safety equipment will be missing by the time this white elephant is finished—or should I say abandoned? Unlike the squalid and noisy subway stations of other cities, Metro Rail’s stations are clean and tranquil due to the complete absence of riders. It’s a nineteenth century solution for a twenty-first century problem that we’ll be paying for well into the twenty-third, if we don’t unload it now. Skeptical about St. Louis’s willingness to buy such a thing? Listen, after they’ve paid $320 million for the Rams, a hole in the ground is going to look like a bargain. The only question is, do we include Ron Tutor, the preternaturally well-connected contractor who underbid everyone who actually knew how to build a subway, and then spent twice the going rate learning the trade? As the preternaturally well-connected contractor was preternaturally well connected to Democrats, I don’t suppose you’d miss him any more than the rest of us would, but St. Louis might have its own Ron Tutors who want to get on this gravy train. I leave it to your judgment.
• The Triforium: Forgot about this one, didn’t you? Yes, the humiliation of having paid for the most idiotic piece of public art in the world has caused the population of Los Angeles to all but wipe the Triforium out of its collective memory. Allow me to refresh yours. The Triforium is a tripod of concrete boomerangs, lined with colored lights which give it the aspect of a giant Pez candy dispenser. As if this wasn’t aesthetic delight enough, the lights go on and off to the tune of music played through a public address system at least as good as what you would find in the better bus stations, with the whole structure reminding one of those homemade light shows teenagers used to build in their bedrooms in the seventies. When these melodies echo through the deserted concrete canyons on a foggy night the effect can be very spooky. Like the huge artificial flowers sold at the Tijuana border, the Triforium will identify the owner as a dumb tourist who will buy anything. This encourages trade. Or at least, that’s what we’ll tell our friends from St. Louis.
• The Clippers: In the course of negotiations you will feel the temptation to try to unload the Clippers. You must fight it. If we try to sell them the Clippers they’ll know we take them for a bunch of rubes.
• Universal CityWalk: As you may recall, this addition to the Universal Studios Tour complex was originally planned as an artificial Los Angeles for people who find the real thing too dirty and scary. The very concept of an artificial Los Angeles staggers the imagination. Think of it this way: when you’re building your fake fake Tudor house you can’t have it fake like a real fake Tudor house because then it wouldn’t be fake enough and people would be uncomfortable, but you couldn’t make it look like a real Tudor house because, well, it just isn’t done. In fact, according to the environmental impact report, had the project been completed as originally conceived, the resulting improbability vortex in the space-time continuum would have sucked the entire Universal City complex to the center of the Earth. This sort of environmental impact will give pause to even a developer, though a simulation is being considered as a future attraction on the tour.
As it was actually built CityWalk is a theme park version of a shopping mall, if you can imagine such a thing. Most of the retailers are chain stores you could find anywhere, and you only know you’re somewhere special because it’s big, predominantly purple, and you paid five bucks to park there.
• Pershing Square: Let’s face it, we don’t know what to do with it. It’s too big to be a traffic island, too small to be a park, and in practical terms is nothing more than a manhole cover for an underground parking garage. During L.A.’s bicentennial year it sprouted a geodesic dome that the smog turned brown in about a week. The latest redesign had two objectives: 1) Create a common ground between the shiny new office tower downtown and the crumbling-into-rubble immigrant downtown; and 2) Keep the bums from sleeping there. The obvious problem is that a place too unpleasant for a bum to stay is not likely to be particularly attractive to anyone else. Grass has been banished to a few postcard-sized patches next to the street. Instead you have desolate expanses of textured concrete (uncomfortable to sleep on, you know) separated by big, blocky walls that look like those wooden Swedish toys your kids won’t play with. This paradise garden is dominated by a four story bell tower playing recorded music at an earsplitting volume that would chase the fiends out of Hell. The walls and bell tower are done in those shades of yellow and purple that to architects say FUN! and to the public say NAUSEA! The war memorials that used to be the Square’s raison d’etre are exiled to a tiny courtyard, like a giant’s discarded toy soldiers. The office workers won’t go there because they’re not forced to. The immigrants won’t go there because it looks like the kind of place where the junta would round up the dissidents to be shot. What would St. Louis do with it? I don’t know. Chamber of Horrors, maybe?
• The Community Redevelopment Agency: I read somewhere that you were planning to dismantle our fabled urban renewal mob altogether, a move that would by itself make the Riordan administration a success. With St. Louis in the picture, we can even make a profit on the deal. The CRA is like something dropped out of an early draft of 1984, an urban renewal agency that has destroyed more housing than it’s built. Its central operating delusion is the “revitalization of downtown.” To the CRA and the rest of the downtown development cabal, the main thing standing in the way of a revitalized downtown is a Caucasian deficiency, and the solution is a downtown that’s clean, bright, and has no buildings older than the sitting president’s dog. When I first came to L.A. fifteen years ago, your honor, downtown was certainly no Paris, but at least you had an all-night bookstore, an all-night Googie’s, an out-of-town newspaper stand where you could get a bet down, the last few downtown department stores in the grand manner, and that cheerful red neon JESUS SAVES sign that used to be L.A.’s way of saying “Welcome to Gomorrah!” Now that’s all gone, most of it hors d’development, and I for one am not going to listen to any “revitalization” plan that doesn’t explain how we’re going to make up the ground we’ve already lost. For St. Louis, on the other hand, the CRA is the perfect solution for urban congestion. It’s like the neutron bomb: in any place they redevelop all the foot traffic disappears, and by 6:30 p.m. the whole place is as deserted as the Marie Celeste.
• Everything on Bunker Hill: Now that the soon-to-be-sold CRA is finally rebuilding Angel’s Flight (a cute and functional funicular railway that linked the residential Bunker Hill neighborhood with the downtown business district, dismantled in the 1960s with the promise that it would be reconstructed in a few years, after the urban renewal millenium), about thirty years after they promised to do it, we should go the rest of the way and do the job right. First we sell off everything built during the CRA reign of terror, from the Music Center, that monument to the Albert Speer era of L.A. architecture, to the skyscrapers of the California Plaza, that monument to Reaganoid dealmaking. The denizens of the uprooted buildings can move to the acres of vacant eighties-era office space below Bunker Hill, like the diurnal cockroaches they sometimes resemble. We might as well keep the Museum of Contemporary Art, as the builders had the decency to put most of it underground. Once all this junk has been packed up and shipped off, we form all the developers into a chain gang and force them at a gunpoint to rebuild every boarding house, bordello, low dive and thieves’ den they demolished in the name of the false god of urban renewal. Then they’ll all be converted into chichi boutiques and coffee shops and we’ll be ashamed of ourselves all over again.
• Rupert Murdoch: Or, to be more specific, the Fox Network, which finally succeeded in destroying the last vestiges of shame in the television business. There is no low appetite it will not exploit, no superstition it will not encourage, no common denominator that it will not lower, and if you know of any they’ve missed, believe me, they want to hear from you. A particular offender, worse in its own way than the utterly cynical and dishonest Sightings, is The X-Files. In this series two FBI agents, one a believer and one a “skeptic,” investigate paranormal phenomena. Though it is clearly fiction, it sends the American idiot two comforting messages: one, that “skeptics” will be skeptical despite massive special effects department-engineered physical evidence of paranormal phenomena; and two, that therefore belief in paranormal phenomena is supported by massive physical evidence rather than ephemeral hoaxes, self-deceptions and delusions. Of course, Los Angeles doesn’t have a monopoly on Rupert Murdoch. He covers the earth like, like … well, like a huge horrible reactionary Australian. This is where that new private enterprise thinking comes into play. What we ought to do is create an International Rupert Murdoch Exchange, where various cities buy, sell or trade their shares of Rupert Murdoch. But now we’re getting into ideas we don’t want to sell off to St. Louis, and I’ve got a million of them. You might think that such talent wouldn’t be available to the public sector, no matter how cushy the job. Au contraire, your honor, au contraire….