Today is Los Angeles' 226th birthday! September 4! It's a fact celebrated by ... well, pretty much no one! It may be another example of L.A. not being very good with the whole civic identity thing, or it may be because the founders of the city, the 44 people now known as Los Pobladores, chose the hottest day of the year in 1781 to make the nine-mile trek from San Gabriel Mission to somewhere near what is now downtown Los Angeles. Or that the founding happened so close to what became Labor Day weekend. That way, for every year afterward, Angelenos would spend the anniversary of the city's founding getting out of town or crowding the malls with the best air conditioning.
But if you're really into the whole civic thing, as I am, you show up in San Gabriel on Sunday at 6:30 a.m. right outside the mission for L.A.'s best effort at a birthday celebration -- a walk to retrace the steps of the Pobladores. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich was there, as was Assemblyman Mike Eng, Councilman Jose Huizar and City Council President Eric Garcetti.
"As I was re-reading the founding documents of Los Angeles in bed last night...," Garcetti begins telling the crowd. Eric, I'm not sure that's the kind of thing you want to admit in public. True, it's dawn on the Sunday of a three-day weekend, but there are about 150 people here to hear you.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's press schedule says that "Mayor Villaraigosa will participate in the City's 226th Birthday celebration and the nine-mile Pobladores Walk."
So where's the mayor? True, if you read the statement closely, it says only that he will "participate." It doesn't actually say he will walk. Although he has done so in the past.
Antonovich provides hats for everyone. Or, perhaps, L.A. County taxpayers provide hats for everyone.
Enough with the speeches, already. It's 7:20, it's already 90 degrees, and we haven't moved. Can we walk now?
And we're off. Garcetti and Huizar are in front, carrying flags, and they lead the pack down Mission Boulevard through the tidy city of San Gabriel. Mission becomes Alhambra, which becomes Valley Boulevard; the police escorts from San Gabriel give way to motor cops from Alhambra; the lawns and trees give way to rail warehouses on the left, storage buildings on the right. It's hot. We know we've crossed into Los Angeles when we reach a stretch of tree stumps, hacked off a foot or two above the ground, where the shady street trees once stood. Ah, L.A. It's hotter. Are we there yet?
Eng, the assemblyman, is walking as though the temperature was in the 60s. Not a drop of sweat on him. Vans come by with bottles of cold water. And they pick up a few people. It's really, really, really hot. What were those Pobladores thinking?
More sights to welcome us into Los Angeles: the coroner's headquarters. The jail. Four LAPD officers arresting three guys at a bus stop. Oh, no, one officer says, no need to go around, walk right on through the arrest scene.
And now we're at Union Station, waiting to gather everyone together to make the triumphant walk across the street to the Pueblo. Never mind that the Pobladores didn't actually come here, or that there was nothing at what we now call the Pueblo (or Olvera Street, if you prefer) for another 50 years after the settlers camped at -- well, we may not really know where. Some historians believe it was a few miles up the road at what is now the Downey Recreation Center.
I'll vouch for Eng; my walking companion and I saw him do the entire nine miles. Still not a drop of sweat on him. Or on Huizar, for that matter, but he looks suspiciously refreshed. "I walked PART of the way," he admits.
As we cross the street we're joined -- no, the officials in front are joined -- by Councilwoman Wendy Greuel. Hmmm.
Now, across the street, Villaraigosa is at the microphone. "I've walked every year for the last few years!" he says. But not this year. "It was a great walk!" Huizar says. I think you mean half a walk, councilman. Greuel takes the microphone. "I walked outside this morning and it was 110 degrees," she says, "and I knew -- I'm not going to be able to walk."
Come on people! It's the city's birthday!
Which means, by the way, there is cake. For the walkers? No, it's for the elected officials on the stage. The assembled walkers are told to just sit tight (in the sun) while the folks on stage take photos, and we'll be right with you.
In L.A.-style anti-climax, the walkers wander away as officials present each other plaques. "It's hard to believe," says my walking companion, "that these people can run a city."
UPDATE: Councilman Huizar wanted to let me know that the cake was available for all, and that there was other free food and stuff as well, but that the announcement may have been made before the bulk of the group came over from Union Station. He also wanted to let me know that he just had his wisdom teeth out and that his doctor didn't want him to walk ANY of the nine miles, let alone the half he did walk. Oh, and he wanted to make sure I got my free yellow T-shirt. I did, councilman. Thank you.