Honest Question: Who Is Behind the Sleeping Gestapo at Public Libraries?

As a student at the CSU and UC, the place I spent a good deal of time at has been a central library.  At a central library, I'm not always studying, in fact a lot of the time I'm inactive, trying to recover. Part of my recovery routine has been to nap for a few minutes, usually from 5-20.  I've taken plenty of these. 

No one at the University Library has ever bugged me.  EVER.

In fact, sleeping had been somewhat institutionalized at UCLA and CSULB.  At UCLA's Powell Library on the 2nd floor, they have padded leather benches upon which students sleep on.  Inside their quiet 24-hour study room they have a few couches which students use to stretch their legs and take a nap on. 

In the two weeks before and during finals, CSULB stays open 24-hours.  Students are regularly in their pajamas, stick their heads down, pull together small couches to make themselves as comfortable as possible for nappy time.

Meanwhile, at a public library in Long Beach a few weeks ago, MacArthur Park, such wasn't the case.  I was dressed in sweats and a T-shirt. I tucked away my belongings, made sure my hands were firmly grasping onto my $1,500 laptop.  I wrapped a strap of  my red bookbag around my left leg. 

I put my head down and embarked on my siesta. 

A couple minutes later, a library staffwoman, tapped me and asked me if I'm OK.

"Yes, I am, and would be even better if you didn't wake me up," I thought to myself.

Clearly, this little library is not like any of the cushy University Libraries I've been to, where sleeping is an innocent, innocuous, almost essential activity.  In this library, the library staffwoman made sure that I wouldn't even bat an eye.  She intimated politely, but I still thought it somewhat rude.  LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE.

This library is medium-sized;  it's a branch library located in what used to be considered a "bad park." There are lots of homeless folk, special needs groups, old veterans, younger people so perhaps the policy of waking up those who appear to be sleeping is aimed at "them."

I don't know if it is just a branch-specific or city-wide policy, but I'd seen an even more draconian version of this enforcement at Central Public Library in Los Angeles.  Security guards in uniform will walk around explicitly warning mostly homeless persons that they are not allowed to sleep.  It's like a Sleeping Gestapo.

Central Public Library in Los Angeles has a reputation for being a homeless person magnet. 

Freakin' homeless people, how dare they use the only free public space available to carry out their basic life functions!

What bugs me is this criminalization of an activity that we all kinda have to do and doesn't really bug anyone, except those who let it bug them.  Unless someone is snoring, making noise, I don't see why sleeping has to be stopped.

It reminds me of a speech the Wire character Bunny Colvin gave. The public space is the "poor man's living room" or something to that effect.  Seems to be just another subtle way we war against the non-monied.

Some people don't have other choices, why don't public libraries, including ones in Newport, get that?  An honest question. 

Wilmington, CA: A Town to Get By

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  - Margaret Mead

Wilmington, CA is...the hood. 

But don't take that from me.  I think it's just like any other town, like Malibu, like Glendale, complete with its own set of realities and norms. 

No, take it from my partner who has lived in the little city her entire life, after her family lived a bit in Long Beach.  She went to elementary at Hawaiian Avenue, Banning High School, and Harbor College.  She went to programs for karate and gymnastics at Banning park.  She goes to one of the many churches around the area. 

She's had brushes with violence, of which has been a matter of concern and perhaps pride for a few of its citizens.  She knows the difference between a firecracker and gun shots.  She was subject to lockdowns and frantic situations.  While walking around as a pre-teen, she had been asked by a group of tough girls, "Where you from?" to which she could only respond in a confused, "My house?" 

She has managed to separate from what she thinks is the ordinary crowd of Wilmington.  She went on from Harbor to a Cal State, and is now a full-time teacher and grad student.  She recalls how she as a girl was marked for pregnancy by age 15.  Everyone around her not in her family seemed to be getting "caught up" in what they have observed to be the local norms.

The ideal for her growing up was simple:  to get a sense of economic stability, so that she may attain other types of stability.   "Stability" meant/means getting out of Wilmington.  She hated the violence and lurking threats thereof.  Buying her first car, a 2nd hate late 80s Toyota Corolla, at age 19 was a way for her to "get out" and literally and figuratively move into stability.

If it weren't for her dream of becoming a missionary for her church, she would not think about changing any of the harsh social realities in Wilmington, just escaping it.  Though she wants to do good in the hood, Wilmington is a launching pad where she waits till she earns enough to gain entry into "better" things.  Nearby Torrance is her ideal landing place, the place where better things are --- the Thai food, the coffee shops, Trader Joe's, Islands, Marshall's, the movie theaters, the bowling alley.  The place she wants to "live" as opposed to simply "get by."

Wilmington is a place to "get by."  "Getting by" means doing what you need to do to survive.  When you're "getting by", you're not where you permanently want to "be."  Outside of the parks and alleyways, people don't really walk or seek anything out for recreation in the civic centers on Avalon St and Anaheim. Its a town of discount shops, clinics, hair salons, pawn shops, check shops, big chain fast food  --- and these are not all inherently bad things, they are simply affordable alternatives for residents and not the business types nor demographics hyped up as the American ideal.   

Wilmington is a place to "hold on" and "wait" for something better rather than the place you want to cling on to, live in, and/or end up.  It's a town defined by residents I see the most in terms of its negative labels and limitations, rather than its opportunities.

Me?  I don't see Wilmington that negatively.  I find that most people are just decent folk, especially at Banning Park.  I love the library and its job postings (hate it's lack of hours though).  I love the Banning High School Track and its policy, allowing the public to actually use it.  I love Banning Park (just needs running markers for how many laps makes a mile etc.).  I love the taste of Gus' chicken sandwich and fries.  I love Pronto Pizza and its affordability.  I love that current UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrerro is Wilmington-born and bred.  Phineas Banning's mansion makes me wonder about everything that was here before the civil war was fought.  

But I can speak about all this optimistically and easily because I've been safe and fairly insulated from the violence or threats that my girlfriend has been exposed to.

The 'hood and life in it has always been something of a curiosity to me, the subject of most of the music I've listened to and objects people have wanted to improve.  I've come into Wilmington with a pretty optimistic view of everything, undeterred by stories of drug dealers, police raids, shootings, and deaths.

The academic discipline I've been trained in, Anthropology, sort of predisposes us to an optimistic viewpoint of anything considered to be "disadvantaged."  Were in the business of understanding lives and worlds of peoples and places that are widely considered to be "exotic."  "Exotic" doesn't mean just other countries or little islands, but nowadays kinda means any category or group of which most people don't know too much about --- the "rich", the "poor", the "powerful", online communities, Filipino-Americans, gay old Russian men in West Hollywood, practically anyone or anything can be made or labeled "exotic."

A majority of us Anthropologists tend to go to people and places people want to ignore and/or forget and tend to want to do something about it, while then educating the public at large about our experiences, usually safely situated from thereon with middle-class American comforts.  A professor of mine once said that Anthropologists are a lot like missionaries, only in my humble opinion, we don't like imposing our beliefs, nor are we interested in converting people into anything.

Were like missionaries in the sense that we like to learn everything about a people and/or place.  We like to engulf ourselves in a people/place.  This predisposes us to seeing the best in people and places no matter what. 

For me as an institutionally-educated adult, everything in Wilmington seems to be an opportunity.  I realize I sound like kind of a "hipster", wanting to "change" some of the aesthetic conditions of the neighborhood, but maybe my way of thinking and bringing in similar-minded folk is a way to pump social value (if not economic value) into a town whose own folk seems to look down upon each other.

And there seem to be a group of young Wilmingtonians that want to help make things "better."  And by "making things better", I mean connecting a community and making things more "permanent," making it so that people see opportunities rather than limitations.   I'm pumped to have come across the Wilmington Wire and its Facebook page, and learned about work and organizations that are trying to do good.

An ongoing update of this city to be continued.

Now Posting Full Video of My Bike Rides

Every chance I get, I'm going to post raw video of my bike rides.

About over two years ago, I was so appalled at the everyday challenge of riding my bicycle in LA County, that I decided to make the challenges seen.   

I wanted everyone to see just how difficult it is to make use of the bicycle a serious, SAFE commuting option.  

I decided I would take photos, even videos of some streets.  The busy streets.  The streets where I felt like I was half a foot away from being side-swiped by a car.  The streets where I felt the pressure of traffic building up behind me, where in the "heat of the moment", drivers could threaten violence not only with their words, but also their 2 ton fast-moving machines.

But to take photos and videos, I usually would have to stop for about 5-10 minutes, take out my flipMinoHD and my 5-year old digital camera, and wait for either bikes to pass by and/or a car or big truck to show just how fast and unsafe it was to ride a bike.  A portion of that footage became my little mini-series of why no one fucking bikes in Los Angeles.

But I never felt like this was enough. 

If it weren't for school and this little thing called my Thesis project, I'd post more about little things that irked me about biking that made it utterly untenable for an ordinary Angeleno to want to commute.  I'd wanted to post about progress on streets in the city and the problem streets and areas.  I would like to spend more time writing, but I simply don't have the time and certainly don't make the money to do anything about it. 

What I think ordinary people not into biking needed to see more of was the visuals, the audio, the feeling of the difficulty of bike commuting in hopes that perhaps drivers would be more sympathetic towards the plight of the bicyclist.

One day on 1saleaday.com nearing Christmas, I found a camera and bike/helmet mount for 50 dollars. 

In that bike/helmet mount, I envisioned all the struggle of bicycle commuting that I could capture that would take too much effort to do justice to in words.  It's one thing to be blogging and posting about what happens:  that can easily be dismissed as "words", but I think it's another for audiences to see/hear/feel how crappy it can be to commute by bike in and around LA.

I am now armed with a bike mount and camera and youtube account and the possibility of extended footage. I am now able to capture my rides (and most of the unsafe drivers around me).  I've decided that I wouldn't edit the clips and leave the footage as is, meaning that perhaps it can be an open source of data for coding and analysis.

So far, the advantages of the camera:
  • Feel much safer;  drivers at a stoplight seem to take notice that yep I've got a camera
  • Footage captures how close cars and other motor vehicles zip by while I'm out there bike and body vulnerable
  • I can capture little annoyances such as how vehicles can occupy a bike lane or road debris
  • I can capture the juxtapositions of pedestrians with bicyclists and motorists
Limitations so far:
  • No sound, because the camera is encapsulated in a waterproof case.  The sound works fine, I just gotta take it out of the case.
  • Shaky low resolution (640) camera.  Camera can go up to 720.
  • I do not get to see what's to the side or behind me, only what's in front
As of now, the documenting of my rides is in Beta mode.  I plan to point out key or difficult points in the ride, with each video.

The first video I ever shot was just effed from the beginning because the mount kept moving around and the footage was extra shaky.

I have footage from yesterday morning's ride from PCH in Wilmington to PCH in Long Beach all the way to the Liberal Arts Campus of Long Beach City College in Lakewood.

Here are some key points in the video:

10:05 - Battling with the trucks in West Long Beach on PCH
18:00 - Woman with kiddie trailer and 2 kids makes sharp left turn onto PCH in Long Beach.  Had to give her props when I caught up to her
18:41 - I pass the world Famous VIP Records on PCH
20:40 - Pass the Eastern end of Long Beach City College - PCC Campus on Orange Street.
30:14 - Feel a lot of pressure to speed from merging vehicles on Orange Street in Signal Hill/Bixby Knolls area
47:22 - Arrive at Long Beach City College - LAC Campus via bike path on Carson St.

The Church, the Car, and the Family

My girlfriend was given this book called, "The ABCs of Choosing a a Good Husband" written by someone named Stephen Wood.  It was published by Family Life Center publications and given to her by some father-figure colleague of hers who probably isn't impressed by my "cultural" Catholicism.

She read the book out loud and hopped upon interesting quotes about car usage, the Christian faith, and dating.

This publication suggests that the availability, and wide usage of the car eroded an aspect of the family, and by implication the Christian/Catholic faith.
Chaperones and the family courting circle were abandoned in the early twentieth century for the thrill of the automobile and the "independence" provided by the dating revolution (p. 23)
I'm not sure what Stephen Wood is in the Christian/Catholic community, but what he's written is apparently credible enough for my fervently Catholic girlfriend.

As my friend wondered about ways of getting churchgoers to share the road and think of it as a Christian act, I think that above publication provided insight so that I could slap up an answer to my friend's question:
  • Bike advocates should frame the mode of transportation as a "family-friendly" way of transportation, and sell them on how automobiles interrupt if not ruin families and to a lesser extent community
  • Priests should accept that frame and promote it as such
  • Promote bike-a-thon events for the church 
  • Move to build bike racks or hire valets to watch over bikes;  a contrast to the common LA scene of full parking lots on Sundays, only to be severely underused the rest of the week

While the author doesn't exactly implicate biking by commuting, he makes a point that ironically parallels some of the thinking from my past atheist punking girlfriends:  the car may provide the means to get you to point A and B, but it doesn't do a lot to connect you with people.
"Exactly how do you court in the twenty-first century?  The skills needed for the art of courtship have been lost, and we all need to rediscover them.  For starters, you can rethink how you use a car.

I know this sounds radical, but I suggest that a car be used only for chaperoned social activities and to visit each other's homes, if they are nearby.  You, and the man courting you, should interact with your families at mealtimes and join in family activities, recreation, and outings as much as possible.  Don't use a car for private times together." - (21-22)
The part about chaperones notwithstanding, its hilarious to me how sometimes conservative elements of religion can on occasion sound almost progressive green hipsters.