Last of the Bohemians

Posted on April 13, 2012 by

When I moved to Los Angeles 30 years ago, Ocean Front Walk in Venice Beach looked like a hippie parody.  It had a counter-cultural veneer, but didn’t rate as an authentic bohemian hot spot.

Contrast, for example, with New York’s East Village with its revolutionaries, junkies, artists and various iconoclasts living side-by-side.

The weekend spectacle at Venice – vendors, performers and “street people” showing off to crowds of tourists – struck me as self-conscious and phony. Plus, I could never call Ocean Front Walk a “board walk” because (unlike Brighton Beach and Coney Island) there was No Board.

Since then, of course, New York has been “cleaned up.” Now Tompkins Square is family-friendly and the old walk-ups are inhabited by urban professionals worried about layoffs and declining property values.

Times have changed.  The gulf between haves and have-nots is widening.  Living on the edge is not just a life-style choice.  “Drop-outs” need somewhere to go.

These days I see Ocean Front Walk in Venice as more a refuge than a counter-cultural carnival.  With overnighters climbing out of their sleeping bags each morning, it’s a pretty good location for people without money.

Where else should they live?

I understand why local residents are advocating that something be done to make Ocean Front Walk safer and more sanitary.  With some calling for a police “crack down.”

But now that the “tune-in, turn-on, drop-out” sub-culture is a history text book sidebar, I’m glad there is, at least, someplace warm for the dispossessed to hang out.

Here at Venice Beach, where the continental U.S. ends, could be the last stop for these new bohemians.

Comments (4)


  1. DK McLeod says:

    Yes, sadly, the hoped-for “greening” of our youth has been supplanted by this much uglier “Greeding” of America.

    I mean, Brother, Can you spare a Paradigm?

    If the inconvenienced rich of our beach cities really want better sanitation, how about springing for some cheap, even temporary public toilets for the dispossessed “fellow” citizens (many of them veterans) in their midst?

    If they want safer, cleaner beaches, how about a real, hands-on, WPA-style jobs program offering decent outdoor jobs and temporary shelter in America’s otherwise empty, foreclosed homes in exchange for honest, hard work (Call it “a Will work for food – and Shelter” program)?

    Wouldn’t it make life better for everyone to have work crews hauling radiators out of Malibu Creek? And organized cleanup crews regularly sweeping clean, rather than fouling, the beaches, creeks and LA River channels that lead to the sea? The work crews could be bussed back and forth to the beaches every day, if need be.

    Meanwhile, a notorious few in Malibu continue to ignore the law and fence off public access to their “private” beaches and surf spots with barbed wire – a sight reminiscent of prison camps.

    This is not what the boys on the beaches of Normandy, the beaches of Iwo Jima, or even the sands of Iraq, had in mind. It’s not what so many of them died for.

    On the contrary, the current, heartless status quo is a betrayal of American progressive values of family, fidelity, community and (as The Boss so quaintly has been singing lately) “taking care of our own.”

    If the selfishness, callousness and bleating complaints of our inconvenienced beach city elites (these “sons of beaches,” if you will), with their endless calls to “clean up” Venice are to continue, perhaps those elites should consider defending themselves the next time Imperial Japanese warplanes, Nazi subs or their future equivalents come a-knockin’ on these self-same, shining shores.

  2. [...] post originally appeared on the author’s Labor Lou blog.) Los Angeles-based union activist Lou Siegel teaches labor studies at L.A. Trade Tech [...]

  3. Jamie says:

    The guy in the photo is Sadhu Nada. He’s an awesome musician!

  4. [...] on the beach in L.A. is still homeless but might be the most tolerable option.  The warmth and beachy, bohemian atmosphere make this last stop in the west a prime [...]

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