Tag Archives: MacArthur Park

LAT Op-Ed: Parks, Gang Free, Returned to Owners

An opinion piece of mine is out in the LA Times — this one about the radical changes at Southern California parks.

Parks, by and large, are now free of gang presence. They are, generally speaking, places where families can play and relax without the fear that not so many years ago kept them away.

As I say in the piece, this mostly benefits working-class families who couldn’t use gang-infested parks near where they lived years ago.

This marks a real revolution, I think. Dominating parks was part of how gangs emerged and grew strong in Southern California.

Hope you like the piece.


Filed under California, Gangs, Los Angeles, Prison

LOS ANGELES: Someone Left the Cake Out in the Rain

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately at MacArthur Park.

So the sad passing at 63 of Donna Summer sent me scurrying to her version of “MacArthur Park” (youtube version) — with its classic “cake out in the rain” lyric, wondering what that lyric was all about, as I’d spent my life never really considering the question.

I know I’m not alone.

Did not know that Jimmy Webb, the song’s composer, wrote it as a metaphor for a breakup of a relationship — with Susan Ronstadt, cousin of American singing icon Linda Ronstadt. Apparently, the couple used to frequent the park — this coming, I presume, in the days before the park was run by the Columbia Lil Cycos clique of 18th Street.

Moreover, the cake/rain reference is why the song has been deemed the “worst” and the “oddest” ever written. (Waylon Jennings also did a version, so it couldn’t have been that bad.) However, later in the song there’s this pressed pants metaphor for the affair that makes you imagine that Webb must have been pretty overwrought at the breakup, his imagination running into high gear: “We were pressed, in love’s hot, fevered iron like a striped pair of pants.”

Apparently the relationship also inspired Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.”

That must have been some love affair!

Webb’s quoted as saying, “I see it as a relatively simple love song with some very sad imagery and about things passing away and never being the same again.”And then in another interview: “Those lyrics were all very real to me; there was nothing psychedelic about it to me. The cake, it was an available object. It was what I saw in the park at the birthday parties. But people have very strong reactions to the song. There’s been a lot of intellectual venom.”

Sammy Cahn called the song a “major piece of work” and compared it to Rhapsody in Blue. It was in the Top Ten twice — once in 1968, with Richard Harris’s version, then a decade later for the late Miss Summer.

Shouldn’t surprise anyone that there’s a blog, Someone Left the Cake out in the Rain.

Or a Pinterest photo collection. Or a Mardi Gras float.

Urban Dictionary says “a cake out in the rain” has come to mean an eccentric person.

So, because I know that by now you want it, here are the lyrics in full to  Jim Webb’s …


Spring was never waiting for us till
it ran one step ahead
as we followed in the dance.

Between the parted pages
we were pressed,
in love’s hot, fevered iron
like a striped pair of pants.

Mac Arthur’s Park is melting in the dark
all the sweet green icing flowing down
someone left the cake out in the rain
I don’t think that I can take it
’cause it took so long to bake it
and I’ll never have that recipe again
Oh, nooo!

I recall the yellow cotton dress
foaming like a wave
on the ground beneath your knees
birds like tender babies in your hands
and the old men playing
Chinese checkers
by the trees

Mac Arthur Park’s is melting in the dark
all the sweet green icing flowing down
someone left the cake out in the rain
I don’t think that I can take it
’cause it took so long to bake it
and I’ll never have that recipe again
Oh, nooo!

There’ll be another song for me
and I will sing it
there’ll be another dream for me
someone will bring it
I will drink the wine while it is warn
and never let you catch me
looking at the sun, oh yeah
and after all the loves of my life
after all loves in my life
you’ll be the one

I will take my life into my hands
and I will use it
I will win the worship in their eyes
and I will lose it
I will have the things that I desire
and my passion flow
like rivers through the sky
oh and after all the loves in my life
after all the loves in my life
you’ll still be the one
and I’ll ask myself why.

Mac Arthur’s Park is melting in the dark
all the sweet green icing flowing down
someone left the cake out in the rain
I don’t think that I can take it
’cause it took so long to bake it
and I’ll never have that recipe again
Oh, nooo!





Filed under California, Culture, Los Angeles

MIGRANTS: “We’re like cockroaches. We’re surviving.”


Roberto Chavez

Over the weekend, I spent time at Westmoreland and Francis avenues, a few blocks west of MacArthur Park, where on Saturday and Sunday a kind of street-vendor mall spontaneously pops up.

On a couple blocks, vendors crowd together, looking for all the world like some street in Mexico City, and selling toothbrushes, electric hair curlers, bleach, boots, DVDs, tools, laptops, cellphones, clothes of all kinds. Each vendor has  a little space – first come, first served, I take it.

I met Roberto Chavez, from Honduras, who owned a hardware store at 6th and Union for 10 years until Home Depot and 99-cents stores moved in and crushed him.

“Since then, I’ve been on the streets” selling wallets and ladies purses lately at the Roadium Open Air Market swap meet.

Chavez said his father was a journalist and died when Chavez was 5. His mother cooked at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, he said. Chavez said he came here more than 30 years ago.

Street vending is part of the economy that L.A. cannot do without, he said, because it helps keep its cheap labor force here.

“People just try to survive here,” he said, looking at the vendors that surrounded us. “Nobody’s making money.” Most folks have full-time jobs and come here to sell on weekends to make ends meet. Otherwise, he said, they’d have to return home. It’s too expensive to be poor here, with cars, rent ($700 for a miserable single apartment that he has to share to afford, he said).

“You can measure the economy here,” he said. “We’re like cockroaches. We’re surviving.”

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Filed under Migrants

LOS ANGELES: A legend of the raspado

I spent some time yesterday with a legendary street vendor.

Ramiro — don’t know his last name — spent 15 years as a street vendor before moving to an established shop a month ago. He’s from San Andres Yaa in the Sierra Juarez in Oaxaca.

In the neighborhood west of MacArthur Park, he was famous for his raspados — shaved ice, snow cones essentially, though with amazing flavors added, such as mango, coconut, cucumber, various chile powders. (During colder weather, he sold steamed corn. Made it all in his house.)

People would form lines for his raspados and some got his cellphone number so they could find him each day.  But the police have been tougher on street vendors lately, so he rented a shop and is easy to find, in his business at James Woods Boulevard and Westmoreland Avenue.

However, he shows signs of not really having left the street behind. When I visited, he did almost everything — just as I imagine he did on the street — while his wife and two employees stood around and watched the maestro at work.

The world of street vendors in LA is now deep and rich — with must be thousands of people making their living this way: selling sodas, fruit, corn, Popsicles, hot dogs, candy, and more. A robust informal economic ecosystem with direct roots in Mexico and Central America.

Quite controversial, too, as tax-paying, rent-paying merchants see no reason why they should have to compete with others who don’t. The health department, too, has issues with the way a lot of the food is prepared and stored.




Filed under Los Angeles