Monday, October 17, 2005

Cowboy Bites Horse! A Defense Of... GASP!... Steve Lopez....

Yes, I know.

This is LACowboy.

You are at the correct URL.

And, no, Armageddon is not occurring.

I say this because if you regularly read me or even if you just read my last two posts about Steve Lopez - you know I believe the concept of Steve Lopez as a city columnist for the City of Los Angeles is an unfathomable cosmic joke; a tragic karmic payback for the sins of long dead city fathers.

And, no, for those misguided few still concerned about my mental or physical health - the hundreds of buckin' broncos who pile drove this poor old cowboy's head straight into the ground - are not the (sole) reason for this sudden... seeming... loss of reason.

The truth is - alas! - I must regretfully acknowledge - there is a deserved - if not even a honorable - place for (shudder) Steve Lopez in our local journalistic ecology.

There, I said it. And I have not been struck down by lightning.

So far.

To begin with, friends of mine from the City of Brotherly Love have always regaled me good things about Mr. Lopez and his writing. Until now, though, I of course assumed this was because he was now writing about Los Angeles - and not Philadelphia.

Exhibit 'A' for the defense follows:,0,7935626.column?coll=la-home-headlines

In this column, Lopez communicates not only his subject's odyssey, but also his own personal odyssey into the understanding of the difficulty of helping the homeless. The final - if unstated - revelation to Mr Lopez was that homelessness on Skid Row it is not (primarily) about housing or about the lack people who care enough to try and help them.

OK - hold on!

Before all the housing advocates jump down my throat, affordable housing is a very critical issue and one I will be addressing shortly in depth. But a lack of housing is not - primarily - why the majority of people on Skid Row... are on Skid Row.

But getting back to Steve (and since I am quite momentarily saying good things about him - I am sure he will not mind me using his first name), the above linked column is where I finally began to understand him as a writer.

Clearly, Steve Lopez has a remarkable talent for dealing with people as individuals.

And that is a rare gift.

Too many writers - like politicians - love people in the collective, but have a substantially harder time with them as flawed, quirky, individual... individuals. Steve, though, can not only accept them as who they are, but he can also clearly see their flaws even as he sings eloquently songs about uniqueness.

My pal Stevie can also- OK, this is getting way too familiar - Steve - can also superbly communicate who these people are to his readers - as rapidly declining as readers deservedly are at the LA Times - (sorry... can't help my scorpion-self) - and he then can also make certain you care about them even when he honestly presents you with their flaws.

Now, of course, my main problem with the leadership of the LA Times and with Mr. Lopez - OK, so much for name basis - is that they - and he - simply do not get... Los Angeles. Their DNA and our DNA - so far - are no match. And no amount of planted bloody gloves have so far made any case to the contrary.

Thus, when Mr. Lopez writes about city politics or state wide issues or, horror of horrors - the war in Iraq - I commence to shed massive amounts of brain cells.

But when - the good Steve - writes about the people of Skid Row as he did in Sunday's article...,0,4505894.column?coll=la-home-headlines

... and in today's article...,0,3994447.special?coll=la-home-headlines

... he is - as good as anyone writing anything anywhere.

I was particularly impressed on how he addressed the problem we have with the portable toilets - or portable death traps as we call them down here - and how they are used almost exclusively for drug dealing and prostitution. Luckily, he has an excellent guide in Captain Andy Smith who has been a Godsend to all of our collective communities.

Now, in Kevin Roderick's yesterday's post in LAOBSERVED...

... he expressed some deservedly well founded skepticism about Steve's - momentarily back to first name basis again, sorry for the confusion - Steve's choice of Skid Row as the subject for a five part series, since he clearly smelled the stench of prize bait. And I fully understand.

Every year, the LAT's latest P. Price entry always starts its always five part series on the front page and the blatantly political aspect of each series always messily vomits all over the front page of the paper.

But not this time.

As one who has observed first hand the history of Skid Row since the late 1950's and as one who has tried to work with members of that community on an individual basis, like many of us down here - I know the shock and the horror Steve Lopez now faces. We all understand the helplessness he feels in watching the unimaginable human tragedy surrounding him when he walks the streets of Skid Row.

We also know what it is like to see people finish drug rehab - only to be rehooked by local drug dealers with free heroin to re-enslave them, and not being able to help. We also realize what it is like to see people accept housing, only to end up on the streets within 24 hours - when their demons overcome them, and then not being able to help. We also know what it is like to see that person only days later with a swollen jaw and five less teeth after they had been beaten by someone else who lived on the street.

We also all know what it is like when we get the call or the word from the street that person... is now dead.

So now Steve Lopez, like too many of us down here, is experiencing these same emotions.

So, no, Kevin, this is one five part series that is not all about prizes.

These articles are Steve Lopez dealing with his emotions. It is about caring for the people he meets and talks to on the streets of Skid Row. It is about his wanting to do something, anything, to help while knowing the only thing he can do, is to as truthfully and as brutally honestly as possible, tell the citizens of Los Angeles what the hell is going on down here.


Sermon over.

And now that I've unburdened myself of that - and even with all that being true - why does a large part of me (hell, most of me, most of the time) still want to see Steve Lopez tarred, feathered - and ridden out of town on a rail?

Well, it's still that simple.

He and the LA Times simply do not know or understand this city.

The fact that the front page story on this important issue could have such a staggeringly stupid, bonehead error - that 10,000 people sleep on the streets of Skid Row every night is completely... inexcusable. And for anyone who has actually walked these streets to write something that detached from reality - is literally beyond belief.

So if Mr. Lopez does accept my not so gracious offer to walk with some of us who live here, he can not only do some actual reporting by counting the number of people who sleep on the streets of Skid Row at night, but by doing so - just maybe - he - and the people who run the LA Times - can finally also begin to understand why so many people in LA so hate the LA Times.

It is because the LA Times has so completely lost so touch with this city that nothing written in it about LA can be trusted by any of us as being factually correct. And that is why we are mad as Hell about the LA Times and Steve Lopez.

But at least Steve - for now - is working from his strengths. Rather than dealing with Los Angeles or the political in the abstract - he now makes the personal the political by dealing with this city on a person by person basis.

And as of today, no one anywhere is doing - or could do - any better job than he is at telling us about ourselves.

But, for God's sake...

Never, ever, let Steve Lopez - or anyone - at the LA Times anywhere near any 'fact' or 'statistic' without at least five people who do NOT work for the LA Times checking it out.

Now, is that too much to ask?

I didn't think so.


dgarzila said...

Brady ,

It is bad enough that when the people such as myslef who live here tell these stories they are construed as an exaggeration of what goes on in Central City East, but when somoene who is supposed to be a credible source of information gets the facts wrong , when he does the next in a series like he is doing now , now what he has written seems incredible.

It is difficult to write down what happens here or speak about it without even reporters wondering if we are exagerrating , now Steve LOpez, who is a reporter is doing s series , a piece on mostly the bad things that happen here , that it can be misconstured as sensationalism.

Brady , although I agree that you may have kept tabs on what is happening in Central Citye East since 1950 , the facts are that I have been here for a little while, it is a constantly changing environment.

DId you catch the view from the MIdnight Mission of the corner of 6th and SAn JUlian. It seems to me something is wrong if those cameras there catch the action of those people , yet it still continues. SOmething is wrong terribly wrong.

Again steve lopez faces the problem of all of this writing he is doing beiing seen as an exaggeration of waht really happens here. Of course you raised a good point: is he pimping us for a prize? IS that what he is doing , or is it because he wants to draw attention to our plight to make changes?

You raise a good point. It is interesting to note he was able to get these people to open up. It is great , but will the readers beleive him after messing up the facts in the previous article

Brady Westwater said...

You are correct. While I do believe in the honesty of Lopez's one-on-one reporting, he does need to correct the two factaul errors in the first piece to demonstrate that he does care about accuracy.

And I fully believe this series is strictly motivated by his deep concern for what he has seen on Skid Row - and not because of any prizes he might win.

Lastly - as for the many success stories of the Central City East area AKA Skid Row - of which you are one - this, too, is a story that needs to be told.

Hopefully a writer at the Times will soon tackle that. There are far more residents living productive drug and alcohol free lives in your neighborhood than those who are living on the strets and that story is too often not told.

dgarzila said...

Thank your for your compiment Brady . I don't KNow if I could be construed as a success story. I have only learned to keep my stress level down so that the Demyelinating illness I have does't cause extreme symtpoms sending me to an INtensive care unit , corticostereoids have made me overweight and will keep me overweight. I am just lucky I came here without a substance abuse problem or desire to drink . Many who are success stroies come here with that setback.

So it may be a while that I may become a productive member of society , truth be told , doing the things I do now border on insanity , knowing that if I stress myself too much , my immune system attacks my periperal nervous system. So who knows , we are those whome those who come here prey on

KAREN said...

First, I just LOVE your titles! They are the most consistently funny - and insightful - epigrams on the web. And the idea of a cowboy biting his horse instead of the other way around, is a great mental image.

And the rest of your article made me take a second look at Steve Lopez, as you did. What did you think of his column today?