I can’t even think that without thinking of The Dead Kennedys.

San Pedro, California…it’s not just a small town clinging to it’s past, it’s also a concept, a mindset, if you will. The locals here used to call it The Island, because in order to get into town from the north (Los Angeles) you had to drive over a bridge, and later, from Long Beach to the east, it was another bridge (because the ferry was too slow). Eventually the Harbor Freeway dead-ended here, but you still cross that old bridge, you just don’t know it anymore. I don’t know if the locals still call it The Island, but the islander attitude still exists here. But things are changing, even though the town is resisting.  Well, some of the town, at least, still struggles to keep it’s Pedro-ness; fighting against the massive real estate buildup that threatens to turn every square foot of the old downtown area into over-priced “artist” lofts and trendy, slick storefronts that no one seems to be interested in leasing. So, the old downtown becomes a modern ghost-town in which only a few businesses can thrive.

Yet the idea of Pedro (by the way, pronounced Pee-dro) lives on.  It lives on in street fairs and in graduations held at the old Warner Grand Theater. It lives on in the diversity of its people, in Latinos and Anglos, punks and blue-collar workers, in dock workers and businessmen, all sharing the sidewalks and bars on any given day or night. It lives on in its Serbs, Croats, Italians, Greeks and Pilipinos; all descendents of the fishing fleets that used to bring their catches into the canneries on Terminal Island. Its docks were once laden with nets and smelt and tuna, and bustled with fishermen and stevedores doing a brisk business, the canneries running full tilt, 24-7.

Now Terminal Island is quiet.  The canneries are gone, as is the fishing fleet, though day sailors still come and go from the nearby marina. The harbor caters to giant container ships and the docks are stacked high with brown and gray steel boxes that are destined to be delivered to faraway places.  Sailors no longer roam the streets looking for ‘action’. It’s all become very sanitized and self-contained; very post 9/11 safe…very unremarkable.  In short, it is becoming a quaint ‘sketch’ of the past, a nostalgic representation of something barely remembered.

But, San Pedro is more than historic (even faux-historic) buildings and locations; it is also home to a richly divided, multi-cultural people. In the “flats” you find the working class folks, the ones who do most of the grunt work…”mi gente*”. Every day you see them along the two main thoroughfares of Gaffey Street and Pacific Avenue, the two streets that run north and south through the heart of ‘old’ San Pedro. On weekends, especially, you’ll see people from almost every walk of life (from that side of the tracks), cruising down Pacific, between 9th and 4th: white punks, putas, Mexican families, low-riders, evangelists, Booster Clubs from Pedro High hawking car-washes, single women, single men, artists, crazed street people, ex-hippies, ex-marines, cops, tranies…what you don’t see much of are the middle class white folks who populate the hills to the west and south and who are almost always in the malls along Western.

Yes, Peedro is kind of a throwback to another time, a time that has all but disappeared out here in the west; replaced by a slick yet sanitized corporate neo-American dream. There are pockets of authenticity scattered throughout the L. A. basin (old neighborhoods that still live, though they are decrepit and just a wrecking ball’s slap away from extinction) where “mi gente” eke out a living.  But, I fear that soon enough, we will all be living in an urban, Disneyland version of West World…it’s only a facade away.

Speaking of the big city…I’ve got to get back to Long Beach.  Ciao, baby.

*Mi gente – Spanish for ‘my people’.


2 Responses to “HOLIDAY IN SAN PEDRO”

  1. Father Luke Says:

    I want to know what happened on the journey to Long Beach.

    In addition?

    what you don’t see much of are the middle class white folks who
    populate the hills to the west and south and who are almost always in
    the malls along Western.

    Those fuckers are a goldmine. The ice cream shitting, Borders bookstore
    buying, underbellies soft as summer dog shit middle class. Who are these fuckers? What do they dream? What lulls them to the dreams they
    dream at night when the screams from …

    …well. I won’t wax poetic. It’s your blog. But the way you tear back
    the curtains keeps me interested.

    Keep writing.

    – –
    Father Luke

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