Venice is my favorite L.A. beach neighborhood, and the boardwalk that runs along its dirty face is my favorite urban run. Venice is the meaner, jumpier, unstable stepbrother to Santa Monica and Malibu and all the prettier surfside places.
My boardwalk run early in the morning takes me past heavy metal gates and padlocks that close up the cheap t-shirt vendors and hotdog shops until the tourists wander in, always a little disappointed. Homeless men are just rolling up their sleeping blankets and packing up their bags when I jog past. Tweakers, so young they should be in geometry class, wander glassy-eyed under heavy black hooded sweatshirts. Street hawkers are just rolling in with their folding tables and hemp jewelry to sell. Sometimes I get a whiff of incense and pot. Sometimes it’s too early for that. There are a lot of dogs. About half of them are leashed. The sidewalk is Skid Row dirty, and the truth is I wouldn’t want to fall and skin my knee on it, but I love it anyway.
I love that everyone, except the tweakers, smile and nod as you pass. I love that there’s a schul just down the way from a trashy lingerie shop – or there used to be. Places come and go. The schul is still there. The lingerie may not be. Make of that what you may. I love the Freak Show, a real one, that’s only open on weekends as best as I can tell. You know it’s open because a kid sits out front holding an albino snake that must weigh more than he does – a boa or a python or something that shouldn’t be outside a zoo. I love the drum circles on the beach that attract a hundred dancing, shimmying folks to the beat, including me if I happen to be around.
I love that just about everything is mom and pop, owner-operated. I love that McDonald’s hasn’t gotten to it yet, even with all the money creeping up close to its edges.
Or I did love that.
Yesterday morning I passed an American Apparel opening up right in the middle. It’s already stocked with t-shirts and weird ’80s sweatbands.
I hope that homeless guy pees on it.