Thursday, September 17, 2009

Baldwin Hills

"Santa Monica Canyon is on the western edge of the city. Quiet, isolated. That's one of the strange things about L.A. - patches of barren wilderness hidden in a vast metropolis."
-- Lt. Joe Friday (Ed O'Neill), "Dragnet" (2003)
My first "industry" gig was an internship at the music video and commercial production department of A Band Apart. As an unpaid intern, your job is essentially to do whatever lackey work you're told to do. Most often, this means doing runs.

2003. MapQuest and cell phones were prevalent. GPS was not.

I have what I consider to be a really good sense of direction as far as north-south-west-east goes. I am not, however, good with roads. And as I was very new to L.A., and as L.A. is known for its sprawling breadth, going on a run pretty much meant getting lost. I would MapQuest directions from Band Apart to the destination, and could follow those directions right up to the front door. But for some reason, it rarely occurred to me to print out reverse directions. I always thought to myself, "Just follow these directions backwards." That never seemed to work, though.

So one day, I was making a delivery to some music company. It was one of the bigger companies, a name you'd recognize, but I can't remember which one. And since I never had to make a repeat visit to that office, to this day I would never be able to find that building for you again. But by my estimation, the offices had to be located somewhere south of LAX. This is rare for a music company; most of them are located in Santa Monica, or up in the valley.

As usual, the MapQuest directions got me exactly where I needed to go. I went to the office, made the handoff to whoever was expecting it, and then headed back toward Band Apart. And promptly got lost.

Whenever I would get lost, I'd rely on my sense of north-south-west-east. Band Apart was north of where I was, so I started heading that direction. But that's where my lack of comprehension of roads comes into play. Roads do weird things, like curve and veer. Or end. So I'm heading along north, waiting to see anything I recognize, when suddenly the road I'm on comes to an end. Now I'm forced to make a turn in a direction I don't want to go. So I'm looking for the nearest opportunity to course-correct and set myself north again. By the time I'm headed the right direction, I have no idea where I am and where this road might be taking me. All of a sudden, I find myself driving past some oil fields.

Oil fields! Where the hell was I? Did I manage to slip over to Texas?

Whenever I get completely, thoroughly lost, I always go west. If I can find my way to the ocean, which is extremely hard to miss, then I can figure out where home is. Once I know where home is, I can find things such as where I work and where I shop and stuff like that. So I started going west. Eventually, I found the ocean, and was able to take the long trip back to Band Apart again.

When I got home that night, I reported to my roommates that there were oil fields in L.A. Yes, right in the middle of the city! It's like you're driving through the middle of civilization, then suddenly everything goes dry and bare, and then there are oil drills! And then you keep driving, and you're back in the middle of the city again.

What I was unable to tell my roommates that night was exactly where those oil fields were. Because I had no idea where I was when I found them. But they'd have to take my word for it. There are oil fields in L.A.!

Well, it's been a good six years since that incident, and my knowledge of L.A. has grown a tremendous amount since then. I still manage to get myself lost occasionally, but I can correct that situation much quicker now.

As for the oil fields, I can tell you exactly where they are because I now live about two miles away from them. They're in Baldwin Hills. The road I had been on that day was La Cienega. It's all very normal for me now, and constitutes my typical route to the airport.

Click around on the map/street view below for a look at L.A.'s oil fields.

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