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Slam Nation 

Photos by Jodi Ortega

More than 300 poets, ages 13 to 19, arrived in Los Angeles last week from all over the country to compete in Brave New Voices’ Seventh Annual National Youth Poetry Slam Festival, five days of open-mike poetry and workshops, from Leimert Park’s Kaos Network to Cinespace in Hollywood. Some even expelled poetry improvisations while standing in circles in the street. Night hours were consumed making poetry by the pool of their hotel. By closing night, at Hollywood’s Ricardo Montalban/Doolittle Theater, their spirit of fellowship was impossible to disintegrate, despite the competition. Our young poets seem to be pretty emotionally bashed nowadays, but they hold strong hope for the future. Saul Williams, the spoken-word artist and star of the film Slam, who hosted the show, declared these poets to be the leaders of tomorrow. What follows are just some of the words of three of our new leaders — Dahlak Brathwaite, Alia Bilal and Jennifer Wong, who made 500 people go silent just by taking a deep breath.


Jennifer Wong, 16, Seattle.

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“Hunger likes to chase the anorexic girls . . . She comes dressed in white . . . and her hair falls down in trails for you to trace your way back to this ring around your weight game in which you are always short of breath, and short of pride . . . Arms like brittle tree branches scraping nails across your neck softly when you pass . . . You wonder why you are never done? Because perfection has just begun.”


Dahlak Brathwaite, 18, Davis.

“I love my black people. But I hate niggers . . . Get high and fight niggers, smoke fire, crack buying, dope supplying niggers . . . See: Martin and Malcolm would be ashamed of you, nigger. I don’t care if you are rapper nigger, singer nigger, flashy nigger . . . I’m gonna hate you if you are an anti-thinking nigger. Don’t know how to behave, nigger? Well you are still a slave, nigger . . . You are doing what they want, niggers . . . There’s war going on . . . Get learned or get gone. Which side are you on, nigger?”


Alia Bilal, 17, Chicago.

“. . . Three strikes in one: female, black, Muslim . . . And still people edge away from me on the train . . . Complete strangers are scared of me . . . Televisions scream out insults to me, dismember my image . . . ‘I know your tricks . . . oh daughter of Osama’ . . . And airports. We won’t even start with them . . . It seems like yesterday, a 16-year-old was shot six times in the head for being suspicious. He went to my school. And I am the terrorist? Look around, little girl: This is America.”


There were three notable developments in my local, admittedly limited fast-foodie circle this past year. One was Tacos Villa Corona in Atwater Village staying open on Sundays. A second was the opening of the marvelously named Asparagus Pizza on Cahuenga below Franklin — I haven’t eaten there yet, but I looked into the issue and, yes, they do offer other toppings and, no, it isn’t the family name. Stranger than Asparagus Pizza’s mere existence, though, was the opening of a most unusual In-N-Out Burger in Glendale — an In-N-Out without a drive-thru. That is: an In-N-Out without an in and out.

Which is weird because the drive-thru is what In-N-Out is known for. The first In-N-Out Burger, founded in 1948 by Harry and Esther Snyder in Baldwin Park, was California’s first drive-thru hamburger stand. When Harry died in 1976, there were 18 In-N-Outs; today more than 140 dot California’s freeways and major thoroughfares, little roadside oases where weary commuters with a touch of the gourmand may find a simple, dependable menu, freshly made food and zero promotional tie-ins.

And yet, here is an In-N-Out where you have to park your car. (In a Mervyn’s parking structure, no less!) Facing this immanent, undeniable heresy, I experienced an episode of cognitive dissonance. Did this represent some new corporate strategy? Was In-N-Out turning its back not just on tradition but, even more unthinkable in Southern California, on the car itself?

I decided to make inquiries. I called corporate offices in Irvine and asked what the heck was going on.

“Our Brand Boulevard In-N-Out is actually our fifth location without a drive-thru,” Carl Van Fleet, In-N-Out’s vice president of planning, patiently explained in an e-mail a week later. “The first location without a drive-thru opened in Placentia in 1984, and there are also two in the Bay Area and one in Laguna Hills. So we really don’t consider a store without a drive-thru as a break with tradition. We just have a few sites where a drive-thru was not possible but we wanted to be there anyway. And most of our older stores have two drive-thru lanes and outside seating with a walk-up window, [so] I wouldn’t call them drive-thru only.”

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