The air was fragrant with charcoal smoke and a bouquet of charring meats from backyard barbecues. Some families gathered on their front porches to watch the fading light of day, a man drank a beer in a recliner under an avocado tree, a woman watered her humble garden. Somehow, Frogtown, despite the fact that it’s nestled into the landscape of the Golden State and Glendale freeways, and its riverbanks have been paved over with concrete, remains a sort of urban version of the Shire, one of those increasingly rare enclaves of single-family homes, full of the vestiges of a time before subprime mortgages when regular people could still afford to own their own homes and keep them.
On Saturday, we were part of the crowd that had descended on the area for the third-annual Frogtown Artwalk, a self-guided tour through the neighborhood’s old warehouses turned art studios and galleries.
Our meeting place was the L.A. River at sunset, where friends at Greenmeme gallery were launching their “river liver,” a floating bamboo raft containing plants whose roots naturally detoxify the water. Finding the spot using our crude map was no easy task, and crab-walking it down the steep-sloped cement bank took a certain finesse, but the efforts were worth it. There was an incredibly lush explosion of green growing things, and the river actually flowed, trickling over rocks. We passed a glass of cold sake and spoke about the miracle of water for all in our part of the world, and someone made the inevitable Chinatown reference. “Thank you, Owens Valley,” someone else said, sparking a brief discussion about where L.A. steals its water from these days.
And while there was tainted magic to be found along the river, there seemed to be a general pall over the galleries themselves. Some of the artists seemed downright gloomy, even for artists. In one studio, we overheard a few of them talking about the lack of participation. Some galleries didn’t even open for the event, and many of the ones that did skipped the usual flashy artwalk lures of crackers, Tecate and Two Buck Chuck. Someone made the inevitable fall-of-Rome, current-economic-collapse reference.
This year there were no more riverboat rides; gone also was the outdoor film festival. But the Hula-Hoopers still paraded, the river was still toured, and a few bands played — one even had a fog cannon. As the evening wound down, we walked along the river path, lit only by the full moon, to a spot marked by a glowing green arrow, where a fire pit roared. We warmed ourselves and tried to regroup.
A friend piped in with a plan involving her house, a heated pool and a Jacuzzi in the Los Feliz Hills. So 12 of us squeezed into the frothy tub, the moon still shining above us, steam rising, and we ripped through the kinds of topics suitable for late-night Jacuzzi soaks: songs to bone to, the new Coen-brothers movie, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and, of course, Appalachian mountaintop removal.
“So what do we do?” someone asked as the conversation veered more and more toward the apocalypse. Ideas got thrown out and it became clear we’ve all given this so much thought that it feels palpably imminent.
“Find a water source, sow some seeds,” I offered. “Maybe we should start learning how to get back to nature now.”
“We’re talking martial law, full-on Lord of the Flies,” Rob said. “We’ll need a fortress.”
“A fortress?” I asked.
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“Yeah, how good are you with a gun?” someone else teased.
“They’ll eat us alive,” my normally superpositive friend Joanna added.
The Road is starting to sound like something that could happen within our lifetimes.
Then someone made the inevitable end-of-the world reference. My friend with the Jacuzzi shrugged, “Basically, we’re fucked.”