When I moved to Los Angeles 30 years ago, Ocean Front Walk in Venice Beach looked like a hippie parody. It had a counter-cultural veneer, but didn’t rate as an authentic bohemian hot spot.
Contrast, for example, with New York’s East Village with its revolutionaries, junkies, artists and various iconoclasts living side-by-side.
The weekend spectacle at Venice – vendors, performers and “street people” showing off to crowds of tourists – struck me as self-conscious and phony. Plus, I could never call Ocean Front Walk a “board walk” because (unlike Brighton Beach and Coney Island) there was no board.
Since then, of course, New York has been “cleaned up.” Now Tompkins Square is family-friendly and the old walk-ups are inhabited by urban professionals worried about layoffs and declining property values.
Times have changed. The gulf between haves and have-nots is widening. Living on the edge is not just a life-style choice. “Drop-outs” need somewhere to go.
These days I see Ocean Front Walk in Venice as more a refuge than a counter-cultural carnival. With overnighters climbing out of their sleeping bags each morning, it’s a pretty good location for people without money.
Where else should they live?
I understand why local residents are advocating that something be done to make Ocean Front Walk safer and more sanitary — with some calling for a police crack-down.
But now that the “tune-in, turn-on, drop-out” sub-culture is a history book sidebar, I’m glad there is, at least, some place warm for the dispossessed to hang out.
Venice Beach, where the continental U.S. ends, could be the last stop for these accidental new bohemians.
(This post originally appeared on the author’s Labor Lou blog.)