Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Ralph Angel - Pasadena, CA

After weeks in tranquil mountains and deserts, the arrival in Los Angeles is a little jarring. The whole "freeway nation" thing is not so hard to get used to. It's eleven lanes going every direction. Big deal. My wife has the lead foot. We have the handheld GPS unit. ("In 1.67 miles, honey, jam on the brakes and skitter across nine lanes to hit that exit. It's either Disneyland or ... you know what ... even if it's not Disneyland, too bad.") 

What's interesting about the everpresent freeways is the absolute necessity of knowing what they're called (number and name) when getting any kind of directions. Los Angelenos seem to delight in sending you on a pet path. It's impossible to get directions that don't involve you "hopping" on the 10 or the 5. Even to go to get milk, locals want to get you up on the Pomona Highway. They spend half their days looking at brake lights, and it brings them a bit of comfort to know that you will be stranded likewise.

No matter where you stand in LA or Orange County, you can see an on ramp looming in the distance. It's a little romantic, of course, to someone who loves to drive. People come here for Disneyland and Hollywood. I'm here for the feeders, the acceleration lanes, the deliciousness and precision of the lane change.

We're here to see Ralph Angel today, a terrific poet originally from Seattle, but now a long time resident of South Pasadena, a lovely neighborhood east of LA proper. As we drive through quiet streets, we spot a Rose Bowl float being constructed along Fair Oaks Avenue. We pull in and peer through a little opening, but Marty - a large man with a small man's shirt - asks us to move along. "Come back next weekend to get a look," he says. "They're going to show it then. Or you can wait till the TV."

Ralph's got a two story blue house from the 50s. Inside, he and I climb a gorgeous set of tile stairs to the main floor, but then go out the back, around, and down a slanted walkway that leads to his office. The office is 20 X 25. One wall contains a large bookshelf. He's got two large desks, one with a computer, one with pencils and legal pads. During our conversation Ralph talks about the "trance," a period that all writers seek in some way, a period of time when we are simply writing, channeling the information. We're making our little things, poems, stories. Art. Ralph says, "If you asked me my name, I wouldn't have an answer."

We go out in the back yard for some photos, and I make him preen and posture more than either he or I would like. What can I tell you. The camera has a lot of dials and whozits. He tells me a bit about the neighborhood, about the young men who built this fence, planted these trees. It's been fifteen years in this place.