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The 17th Level

If you grew up in Los Angeles, at least part of your life probably revolved around Farmers Market, the intimate expanse of fruit stalls between Du-par’s and the Magee‘s wooden mule that kicks when the attendant grinds the horseradish, the post cards of snowy mountains and orange groves, the souvenir toilet-seat cozies, the gristly vats of pork chow mein, the freshly churned peanut butter and the pistachio-studded liverwurst they used to sell at the pork store. The best cake doughnuts in town were at Bob’s Coffee & Donut, everybody knew that, and the plain chocolate ice cream at Bennett‘s was exceptional . . . although not quite as delicious as the chocolate ice cream used to be at Gill’s, on the other side of the market. Farmers Market was home to the kind of hipster populism out-of-towners expect from L.A., where you might see Sonic Youth‘s Kim Gordon eating pancakes next to a Fairfax grandmother, or members of Faster Pussycat and Guns N’ Roses sitting elbow-to-elbow at the waffle stand with bus drivers, Nebraskans and what seems like every half-employed screenwriter in the world, topping themselves up from their hottles. My brothers and I used to beg our parents to fill up the car at the old Gilmore Station, because in the ‘60s it was the only place in Los Angeles that let you pump your own gas.

But last week, with the opening of The Grove on much of its ground, Farmers Market went from being probably the last scrap of Los Angeles as Iowa-by-the-Sea to just another knot in traffic. The line of backed-up cars waiting to get into the parking lot stretched from Beverly Boulevard to well south of Wilshire, and a battalion of traffic cops sufficient to streamline Kabul was thrown into futile combat. What had been a quick in-out, an easy stop to pick up a stewing hen at Puritan Poultry or a BLT at Kokomo, suddenly required a half-hour or so to navigate the old lot, and the stamina equal to that required to nab a parking spot in, say, Century City on the day after Christmas. Suddenly, Bob’s slightly better doughnut, Magee‘s slightly fresher macadamia nuts seemed more than slightly less worth the trouble.

The parking lot at The Grove itself -- complete with misleading computerized indicators, punishing delays and more blind wrong turns than the 17th level of Grand Theft Auto 3 -- immediately vaulted into the Parking Nightmare Hall of Fame, right alongside Westwood Village, Santa Monica Place on a summer Saturday, and stack parking at the Hollywood Bowl. And The Grove itself, like some hellish cross between a maximum-security prison and Disneyland’s Main Street USA, traversed by murderous trolleys, serviced by awful Midwest-based theme restaurants and replete with slightly skewed versions of the chain stores found at every other mall in America -- Pottery Barn Kids, Gap Body, Victoria‘s Secret Couture -- seemed plucked from some horrific alternate universe, a labyrinth from another dimension.

Admitting defeat, I bought my wife a pair of shoes at Nike Goddess. When in hell . . .


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