Monday, July 4, 2011

July 4 at Venice Beach

Alma and I took a slight detour today, due to no street parking on Independence Day. So we travelled to the border between Venice and Santa Monica where I found parking in a metered lot. We decided to walk on the famed Venice boardwalk, rather than walk on the sand.

First, I must say that the crowds seemed decidedly small for such an important holiday weekend. The weather was almost perfect, but there did not seem to be as many people on the Venice boardwalk as I would have expected. A lot of the vendor stalls had no one even stopping to sample the wares.

A couple months back, there was a gang shootout on the Boardwalk between Oakwood Crips and Culver City Bloods. And maybe that shootout has caused the public to shy away from the Boardwalk.

But there has also been a major change in how the artists and craftspeople can display down there. Now anyone wishing to sell items for a set price must obtain a vendor's permit by traveling to a city office up in Van Nuys. Without that permit, artists can still set up on the Boardwalk but now can only ask for a 'donation' (this done, I think, so that they cannot compete directly with the merchants on the land side of the Boardwalk). The result, according to Alma, is that most of the original artists have decided that the Venice Boardwalk is no longer worth it, since they can only ask for donations without making the trip to Van Nuys and jumping through the bureaucratic hoops. What artist would be willing to allow a work that took him or her several hours to complete to go for a token donation of $10, $5 or, perish the notion, $1?

I don't know. What I do know is that there were an enormous number of vendor booths offering 'feather extensions' (for hair). Gone are the ubiquitous henna tattoo parlors that I remember from last year. The number of Latino vendors selling Day of the Dead merchandise also seems sharply diminished from last year also. All in all, the Boardwalk today seemed muted. Certain fixtures like Harry Kerry (the turbaned guitarist who roller blades while playing manic riffs on a Fender Strat) were still there. And the bars and restaurants on the land side of the Boardwalk all seemed to be doing a healthy business. But the spirit that I remember from years past is gone and only pure commerce remains. Ugh.

The Venice Boardwalk used to be known as 'The Freak Show' in honor to the various nonconformists and harlequins on display there. But now there actually is a commercial establishment on the land side called 'The Freak Show' (kind of like what one finds at a Circus or Carnival). So even the Freak Show has become a commercial venture. When I first came to Southern California, I took a turn playing guitar at the Freak Show. Alas, a couple 4-hour shifts where I earned no more than $4 (or $1/hour) cured me of my desire to seek fame there. So I have special reason to mourn this transformation of the Boardwalk to a venue more coldly commerical and less counter-cultural.

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