Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

First, I’m sorry for my outburst in #14 of these accounts. I was feeling so frustrated that we’d have to skip all of the Bel-Air parts of Sunset Boulevard, because to do so would put us at risk of life and limb.

Sunset Boulevard - Part Fifteen: UCLA, no parking any time sign

And we tried. I pulled into one of the side streets near where there was a pathetic stretch of dirt path on the south side of Sunset, thinking to find a parking place: NO PARKING ANY TIME. Seemed odd, because the street was not narrow. Then we came to new signs.

I looked around. Maybe three vehicles at the curb, all of them looking as if they belonged to gardeners.

Now, there are other neighborhoods that have these signs. I’ve seen them in Portland, too, though they usually grant you 2 hours without a permit. They have them in West Hollywood. They make sense there, because parking is really hard for the residents, it’s chockfull of apartment buildings, you can drive for hours trying to find a space. It makes sense that residents should get first dibs on the spots.

Sunset Boulevard - Part Fifteen: UCLA, no parking street

But Bel-Air? Nobody in Bel-Air parks on the street! Nobody! Nor does anyone else, nyah, nyah, nyah! Park on our sacred streets and you’ll be towed away, you miserable prole!

I said before that I didn’t hate rich people. Then I took it back: I do, I do, I do hate rich people! But I don’t, really. I figured it out. What I hate is clout.

Clout comes with money, you can’t avoid it. Some of the citizens of Bel-Air, I am sure, wouldn’t mind having people park their cars and go for a walk. But the ones that do mind, rule. They bribe the City Council (and it usually doesn’t involve money, directly, except maybe a campaign contribution) and they get their way. They engage powerful shyster lawyers, and get things zoned the way they want them zoned, get variances for whatever they want to build, and even get away with murder or pedophilia should the need arise. (You know who I’m talking about. Watch this space for coverage of the Phil Spector trial, that piece of shit who killed somebody I knew, and will probably get away with it.)

Sunset Boulevard - Part Fifteen: UCLA, Lee photoing Bel Air

The rich people of Malibu have defied the law for decades, flaunting their contempt for regulations that clearly state you must provide beach access through your property. They employ security guards to intimidate people who dare to walk or sit on “their” beaches. These include one hell of a lot of rich liberals, like David Geffen and Bob Geldof. The law is clear that the public owns all Cahleefornia beaches, but the law applies to those with clout only when they chose to allow it to apply.

Lee took some pictures of Bel-Air from the car. Rather impressionistic, but in one of them you can get a rare glimpse of her in the side-view mirror!

Thanks for this opportunity to vent. Now, back to our trek …

Sunset Boulevard - Part Fifteen: UCLA, sign

We decided to use the day of not walking on Sunset Boulevard to walk in a place very close by: UCLA. We’d been there once before, about a month ago, when they were having a Carnaval, of all things. The main public spaces were full of people, mostly watching a small number of groups in fanciful costumes. Some of the costumes were absolutely amazing, and some of the music was very good, but a lot of it was silly college-student flummery. Still, we had a good time, Lee got some fabulous pictures, and we visited the special Carnaval exhibit at the Fowler Museum (which is free, but you’ll pay $7 to park) showing Carnaval celebrations all over the world. Everybody knows about Rio and Mardi Gras in New Orleans, right? But I didn’t know the size and splendor of the literally dozens of major celebrations in other countries, mostly Catholic. And believe me, some of them made Mardi Gras look like a rather restrained little county fair. Were there but world enough and time, I’d like to visit every one of them.

We parked on Hilgard Street (where you can’t park at all except on weekends), and a friendly guard at the Wyton Drive entrance told us the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden was worth seeing. So we moseyed on over, and he was right. Not actually for the art, though. The great majority of it was made of welded metal, and quite cold. I’m not one who demands that all art be representational (though I prefer it), but it should stir some emotion. Very little of this did, and most of that was made from good old-fashioned stone. Most of these people were flattering themselves and hoodwinking others by calling themselves artists. Welders, pure and simple. But I loved the space, and the presentation of the stuff. Whoever designed the garden is a true artist.

Then we toddled on over to the oldest, prettiest part of the campus, the promenade called Dickson Plaza, which leads via the very long Janss Stairs to Wilson Plaza, where we saw the Carnaval. Dickson is surrounded by high, cathedral-like brick and terra-cotta buildings: Kaufmann, Royce, and Haines Halls, and the Powell Library. But once past Wilson Plaza you are in jock territory. Boy, are you ever in jock territory! First there’s the Arthur Ashe Center, then the massive Wooden Center, which looks to be the biggest building on campus outside the medical school. John Wooden, you may recall, is the winningest basketball coach in history. Seven straight national championships for UCLA, though he had a little help from players like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton.

Sunset Boulevard - Part Fifteen: UCLA, panorama

WHISTLE BLOWS! Author calls time out for a rant!

I don’t have a problem, per se, with sports in Junior highs, high schools and colleges (except personal ones, with particular asshole coaches who made my life a living hell through the 9th grade!), nor do I mind that the gym is the largest building on campus. A good mind in a healthy body, I’ll drink to that. Indoor sports typically take up more room than sitting in the library studying. I don’t mind the vast soccer fields and football fields and track field that border the Wooden Center. They’re nice to look at, though it’s funny to know there are about seven levels of parking under all of them. (Parking is a bitch, and expensive, at UCLA.) No, my problem comes with the first building past the Pauley Pavilion, which is “The Acosta Center.” It’s a third the size of the Wooden, which is not small, and on the door in big letters it says something like “Not a Public Building, for Intercollegiate Athletes Only!”

In other words, this is the locker room for the guys the alumni are paying big bucks to bring to UCLA. And I have a big problem with that. College sports—mainly basketball and football—is a national scandal that will probably never be fixed (and I don’t mean rigged; that happens often enough) because so many people make so much money off it, and so many people seem perfectly happy with the terrible state it’s in. It is absolutely ridiculous that these guys have to go to school to play big-time ball. It’s well-known that many graduate unable to read, or with a diploma in some made-up crap subject. It is stupid that they aren’t allowed to profit from their skills until they get to the pros. Here are guys who could be pulling down tens of millions of dollars (and that’s a whole ‘nother subject!), forced to act like students, unable to take even a few bucks—directly! we all know what really goes on, pimping and whoring, every year a new scandal—and they know that in a tenth of a second their careers can be over. One blown-out knee and they can kiss the big bucks goodbye. Forever. For crying out loud, let them play in a farm system. Guys like Shaq would spend about 10 seconds there and then move on up. Others could learn, and work their way up. After their pro careers they can go to college, if they want to. They’ll certainly be able to afford it.

College sports could return to what—believe it or not—it used to be, in most schools. Students playing against students. Carrying a full academic load and doing sports in what spare time they can find. College sports has nothing intrinsically wrong with it. You can still have your Rah! Rah! Go, Team, Go! just on a smaller scale. Fight fiercely, Hah-vahd! Demonstrate to them our skills! Albeit they possess the might, nonetheless we have the will!

The NBA and the NFL ought to be ashamed of themselves … but of course, they’re not. Why should they pay for a losing proposition—farm systems, bush leagues like in baseball, where talented players can move up to The Show—when colleges provide it all to them for free, and at no risk?

But most of all, the colleges should be ashamed of themselves. The athletic department runs most big schools these days. The head coach out-earns the college president by a huge factor, and that should tell you something’s major-league wrong right there.

Sigh. I know this is a minority position. Even some of you among my readers (you select few!) may hold strong opinions about one team or another. If you disagree with me, I suggest you write me a long, vituperative email, print it out, fold it small, and cram it up your—

WHISTLE! Unnecessary rudeness on the part of the essaying team. Drop back five paragraphs, punt, apologize, and resume the original topic.

Okay. You’re right. Two apologies in one essay? I’m on a roll.

So, Pauley Pavilion … no, ref, put down that whistle! This isn’t about sports. Or, at least, it’s about a different sports topic, and we were strolling through the sports department of UCLA, right? Can I resume?

Thanks. Pauley Pavilion was hosting some sort of Filipino song-and-dance karaoke event. Asian students everywhere you went. We slipped inside and it looked like quite a big deal. They were rehearsing on a stage with white trees and stuff.

This is where the American gymnastic team had their big victory in the ’84 Olympics. Not forgetting that many of the world’s best competitors were forced to stay home, still, it was quite a show. I’ll never forget Mary Lou Retton throwing two perfect tens in a row on the vault. I saw her once, at the ABA in San Francisco, signing books, and then walking toward me in the middle of a gaggle of fans. She came up to a little above my navel, was built like a fireplug, and was grinning like a baby grand piano with all white keys, and I got the impression that if she and I had collided, I’d have ended up in the cheap seats of the Moscone Center. That’s if I was lucky. Otherwise, I’d have a Retton-sized hole in me. The impression of strength was tangible.

The climb back to our car practically killed us, but we made it, and will soon begin another frightening part of our journey: Brentwood! Join us if you dare.

May 19, 2006

© 2006 by John Varley; all rights reserved