Restroom art of Los Angeles: Johnie’s Coffee Shop

Ex nihilo LA fit
Ex nihilo LA fit

Ever since I moved to Los Angeles, and to my dear Fairfax District, I’ve been meaning to eat at the historical Johnie’s Coffee Shop on Wilshire and Fairfax.  Of course, as with most things LA, the shop is a familiar combination of wide repute and complete unreality.  During a week of fiction, simulacrum, and frenzied media creation of a whole lot of expensive something out of almost nothing, it seemed like a fine time for a meal and a photograph: A garish pop star with a history of strange behaviors and legal troubles had died, thereby disrupting all Los Angeles streets, costing the city millions, and turning all national TV news into tawdry melodramatic fiction. Like the city that hosts it, Johnie’s is a movie prop.

To commemorate the event, I flew to New York City the night before the worst of LA’s apoplectic faux sorrow, and found myself at one of the few places in the world rivaling the pure falsity of our local “culture” industry: Times Square.  A funny thing had happened to New York: Times Square itself had become a community space.  A really intelligent bit of urban architecture had been put in place, turning a stretch of Broadway into a pedestrian zone, or really into a sort of concrete park, with the lane painted in decorative green (with spots), and lawn chairs provided by the city to create a kind of beach or boardwalk right at midtown.  Of course, in general, in my few days walking around NYC, I felt this intensifying sorrow at the lack of community space in Los Angeles.  People go out to events, to clubs, to private parties, and so on, in Los Angeles, but the sidewalks and thoroughfares are simply and only means of getting to places where things might happen.  In contrast, these community cities (like New York) have live music, picnics, aggregation of people who show an almost familial geniality, in their public parks and neighborhoods.  The difference is not just, nor even mainly, a distinction of indoors versus outdoors; if anything, on its face, the climate of LA should make it easier to create outdoor public spaces.  But even the outdoors of Los Angeles is enclosed, commercialized, part of a private domain of cultural production, fed back into very private homes through television, newspapers, and so on.  Of course we have isolated outbreaks of things like street art, in which Angelenos try desperately to break the auto-driven social barriers of Los Angeles urbanism; but they so far have rarely succeeded in more than art-school gestures of angst (as well meaning as such things often are).

Los Angeles, I love you, but you’re bringing me down.

In the absence of any actual Johnie’s, I decided to shoot the restroom art of a lovely Indian restaurant in NYC midtown, called Utsav. I had been there before on a couple occasions. Twice with a colleague who works in that other unreality of derivatives financial trading. Other times with my publisher of books printed on real paper.

2 Replies to “Restroom art of Los Angeles: Johnie’s Coffee Shop”

  1. Two things: “all” of the streets of Los Angeles were NOT shut down by Jacko-related hoo-hah. In fact, the traffic situation was much less congested than everyone anticipated. There ARE public spaces of the kind you desire in the city, but they aren’t occupied by people of your race and class. The auto-industry argument obscures other facets of ghettoization and stratification in the city. As you’ve pointed out at other times, the history of the LAPD has as much to do with how communities are organized and experienced as patterns of immigration, the myths and tricks of the entertainment industry, wars over water rights, pressure from the auto industry, sprawl and freeways.

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