Camilla, the colonist

19Nov08

camilla1Late 90s Los Angeles, the newly hip eastside was brimming with energy. Young bands, writers and artists were establishing a community in what had been thought of as the barrio for the last thirty years. I had long been an eastside evangelist, living in my grandparents garage above Silverlake resevoir. I’d tell my incredulous coworkers at the local public radio station that my neighborhood was a hidden gem buried in Los Angeles’ epic sprawl.

I met Camilla at a café in Los Feliz to conduct an interview about her upcoming opening in the neighborhood. She was still drunk from the night before.

“I haven’t slept yet, darling,” she said, her head on the table. “I feel like I know you from somewhere.”

Convinced this interview would be a wash, I mumbled, “Well, you know, I get around.”

In a eureka moment, she picked herself up off of the table, “Wait a second. I see you running around the lake! We’re neighbors! How long have you lived out here in the colonies?”

We started talking about the scene emerging around us and her drunken fatigue was replaced by giddy excited. “Mr. Radiojournalist, this might not be what you’re looking for, but I have to show you something.”

She took me north on the 110 until we reached a neighborhood called Highland Park in Northeast LA, which had yet to resurface as a viable district for anything besides gang activity and 99¢ stores. She showed me a huge abandoned storefront on Figueroa and said “THIS is the future of Los Angeles art.” Her plan was to be the first to open a gallery on this side of town and plant the seed for a similar revival that had taken place in our present community. “Once people see how beautiful the landscape is here, we can raise Highland Park from the ashes of collective neglect.” It didn’t seem to dawn on her the basics of gentrification, for one community to move, that means another has to move out.

I fell in love with Camilla, but we didn’t start dating. Instead, I became her business partner. We took out leases on the storefront and quietly started picking up other commercial real estate along Figueroa, while trying to convince members of our extensive network that we had struck a claim to a future culture goldmine. It may be that we were ahead of our time and as the months turned to years, our investments languished.

I was still captivated by Camilla’s energy and believed we truly were on the cusp of something huge, but apparently, she lost faith in her own rhetoric. She  vanished. Our holding company fell apart. My personal finances were in shambles. Never again will I confuse a dreamer with a hustler.



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