At this juncture, it is perhaps worth mentioning my Los Angeles River story.
I write fiction. A lot of it. Ever since I was fifteen, I’ve written scenes at the LA River. I couldn’t exactly tell you why, but it was always the backdrop to scenes of limbo, uncertainty, or dilemma. Characters stood either on the bridges passing over the water or sat on the gravelly banks.
The thing is: I had never been.
I finally saw the river for the first time when I was nineteen. A friend and I ended up at the Bette Davis Picnic Area in Glendale and climbed down the slopes of the bank toward the dank moss and spindly shrubs. It was the strangest combination of elements: the cars on the 134 speeding along, the water trickling, the tree branches rubbing together in the wind, the smell of trash and the smell of dirt, the feeling of the concrete under our feet. I boarded a plane to return to the east coast cold and forgot about the experience.
Three years later, I came back from college in Philadelphia and found Los Angeles a foreign place. It wasn’t the city I left when I was eighteen, the one that had been full of light and life. This Los Angeles was remote and isolated and unwelcoming, determined by distance rather than by a sense of exploration. But I wasn’t about to give up — I’d loved Los Angeles for eighteen years, I could love it again.
I went looking for home, and the search brought me to the LA River. It seemed that, in a city without a center, I had stumbled upon its hidden center. Its historical, founding center and its contemporary, binding center. The people gathered at its banks had stories beyond belief, stories of connection. They welcomed me to their bonfires and community events, to their cleanups and nature walks.
“[The river] is actually physically connective tissue, even in its current state, that can now be socially connective tissue” Deborah Weintraub, the chief deputy city engineer, told me at the FoLAR Fandango in October. “I think people want that.”
So for a last, but by no means final, look at the LA River, listen to the voices of the community and their stories of connection.
Photography and audio by Katie Antonsson