By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Yup, I tell her.
“That’s more important, yes?”
“Okay, that’s $30, you pay me directly.”
Which is when I realize that, after just 30 minutes, Sonia knows me better than I think, as I have exactly $32 in my wallet, and have to dig quarters from the bottom of my purse to give her a proper tip.
“Oh, no, but that’s all your money,” she says. “Here, you take a dollar back.”
No, no, really . . .
“Yes, honey, you might need something to eat,” she says, stuffing the bill and her card in my hand. “You call me directly next time. I will always be the one to take care of you.”
Hands down: At the center of a neighborhood controversy the past year was Behzad “Ben” Forat’s 26-foot-high car-wash sign on Ventura Boulevard. Seems that was about sixfeet too tall for some locals and city officials including City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo. Forat, who credits the fiberglass structure with pulling his business from the brink of bankruptcy, plans to replace the sign. Photo by Anne Fishbein
My friend Vic Abascal lives in a quiet neighborhood that sprawls up the side of a hill in West L.A. I meet him at his house, and we head up to the crest of the hill for our weekly run. His dog, Buck, pulls us up the hill by his leash.
Vic and I have been coming up here together for the past couple of years to run the oil roads that loop over the rugged landscape. He knows this land like his own back yard, because it practically is. He grew up in this neighborhood and moved back into his boyhood home after his father died. “My friends and I would cut holes in the fence and ride bikes, motorcycles, anything we could get our hands on, up here. Man, we would tear up these hills.” It’s easy to imagine him, age 10, sunburned and grimy, kicking up dirt on his Huffy.
As I follow behind him I notice his compact body has lately become a solid slab of muscle. He has changed in other ways, too. He’s gone from being a guy who liked finding a nice bottle of wine at Trader Joe’s to a guy who haunts local wine tastings, whose shower stall is stacked full of wine bottles and whose kitchen has been given over to three massive tubs of fermenting grapes.
It all began with an old issue of Wine Spectatorthat a friend left at his house. Vic has always possessed a terrierlike vigor for life, sniffing out good bands, art, restaurants, thrift stores. He ranges from one interest to another with unbounded fervor. Lately he has been talking about actually growing grapes, but until today I assumed he’d be onto the next thing without so much as planting a single vine.
“Watch your step here.” Vic leads us off the road, and I follow him across a field of mustard weed.
We come to the crest of a knoll, and suddenly the hillside below comes into view. It is studded with row upon row of bright-blue grow tubes. Spilling out of the tops of these tight, azure corsets are fat, glossy grapevines — merlot, pinot noir, cabernet. Buck picks up a whiff of critter and takes off into the brush. I stand there, agog, trying to keep my footing on the 80-degree slope. I can hardly believe he cleared all this land, carried out the weeds, and dug each one of these 2-by-2-foot holes himself. He describes how he hand-watered 40 thirsty young vines, lugging in 5-gallon Sparklett’s bottles of water.
“I was walking Buck up here every day, and I just started opening my eyes and looking at which direction the plants were facing and what the soil was like. I wanted to have my own little vineyard and teach myself how to do it and make mistakes so that by the time I’m ready to do it for real, I will be good to go.” Apparently this site could have yielded a 60-gallon barrel of wine in two years, but this particular patch of land turned out to be on property owned by the Catholic Church and operated by nuns. The nuns called the police.
“The nuns were scared. They thought it was pot. The police came and pulled up a grow tube. My name was written on it, along with the name of the varietal. Turned out the sisters knew exactly who I was. They knew my parents.
“Actually, once they figured it out, they got pretty excited about the vines. They thought they were beautiful.” But Vic was told he had to remove the vines for legal reasons. He asked for and was granted permission to leave them until they go dormant this winter, so they can be dug up without being killed.
My tenacious pal, never one to quit, leads me to his second site, another quarter-mile down the road. The landscape here is eerie — utterly wild, but not quite natural. The native California landscape has been straitjacketed in cyclone fencing, carved up into service roads, and punctured by oil drills that churn and squeak, endlessly sipping from the ground.