Or How I Learned to Combine New Topographics with a Pandemic
There are 8 million pandemic stories in the Naked City. This is one of them.
I’ve had two safe bubbles during the pandemic – my house and my car. The house has been my shelter; the car my escape. As I made weekly drives around Los Angeles and its environs for stimulation, all the new normals were on display; the empty streets, the newly flowing traffic, the closed businesses, the masks, the distancing, the palpable tensions and fear. I tried the urban areas, the suburbs, the beaches and the mountains but could not escape the weight, look or shape of the crisis.
Until I found a place that, visually at least, seemed totally untouched by it.
It is a sprawling area in the high desert 40 miles north of Los Angeles. Being unincorporated (being in Los Angeles, but not of Los Angeles), its boundaries are my invention. But I wanted to give it a singular identity so I named it “Lancaster West.” In an area of approximately 450 square miles and a population of about 5000, there are 5 functioning restaurants (none on Sundays), 3 churches (only on Sundays), zero museums and no theaters of any kind in which to congregate and get infected. As I returned week after week, I was moved by the landscape (both natural and manmade) and began to realize how comfortable I was; as if the pandemic had never happened. The people, houses, buildings, ranches, roads and vistas seemed unchanged and unchanging and the open spaces a safe refuge during this crisis. That is not to say it is a utopia; far from it. But it turns out that 65% of Los Angeles County is unincorporated and for some people “Lancaster West” may be a model for a post-pandemic way of life.