The small community of San Pedro is the Port of Los Angeles. It's the busiest port in the United States, and together with its next-door neighbor, the Port of Long Beach, it's the sixth busiest port in the world.
Sea-going travel boats, fishing, shipping - these industries have driven human civilization since its beginning, and bring with them dependent industries. Port cities become vibrant places where amusement and vice are mingled with overindulgence, and where the world's cultures intersect, both authentically and with contrived fakery.
|View from Ports o' Call Village|
The New England cottages are still there, selling a somewhat tired and tacky collection of souvenirs, but fifty years later, the place has evolved in a predictably LA way.
The gift shops now include an outlet for Mexican day-of-the-dead crafts, and another Afro-centric shop selling Bob Marley gear. Gone are the resort-wear clad matrons of the 60s; now the place teems with working-class families out for a weekend feast, with strollers full of kids, pushed by moms and abuelas. The parking lot glitters with motorcycles. The attire is casual, with wife-beater style undershirts and baggy shorts for the guys, leggings, tube tops and painted acrylic nails for the ladies.
There's a faded sit-down restaurant among the gift shops, but the real action is further north, where four seafood market restaurants seem to blend into one another, as a giant pulsing mass of noisy humanity, gorging itself on food, beer, and margaritas.
|Huachinango, or Pacific red snapper|
You deliver it to the kitchen to cook it for you, and while you wait for the pager they give you to buzz, you search among the hordes for an empty table.
|Choosing a fish|
|Yes, there are clowns here, too. With inflatable assault rifles.|
|A shrimp tray and a whole cooked snapper|
|The beer and oyster stand|
|Butterflied fish on the grill|
It's not the kind of place to dine alone, although the day I visited I was by myself. I ordered a tostada with shrimp ceviche from the little stand, then looked around for a place to eat. At one of the long picnic tables near the railing overlooking the channel, a family was clustered around one end. The father saw me looking, and kindly invited me to step in and sit at the empty end.
I sat and ate while watching a tour boat come into the dock. Next time, I'll bring more company, and maybe I'll try for the live crab!
|Micheladas and shrimp tray|
|Detritus of a meal|
Still, there's something cheerful and rich about the gusto and pleasure exhibited by the hordes of people enjoying themselves here around a communal table - and sharing it with the whole family. From the oldest grandmother to the smallest toddler, they're peeling shrimp and slurping oysters, prizing nuggets of sweet white flesh from the spines of grilled whole snappers, and from bright boiled crab claws, licking rivulets of melted ice cream from their wrists and forearms.
Everyone I encountered, from the tattooed dudes in the beer line to the acrylic-nailed and black eyelinered ladies from the broad-shouldered vatos in their heavy metal t-shirts to the young girl at the ceviche stand with the thick mascara, was having a good time. It was Saturday, it was sunny and brilliant, and there was good food and drink at hand, and the smell of the sea.
But like all incredibly tacky and low-brow popular past-times, Ports o' Call Villages is becoming a bit of an embarrassment to the movers and shakers that operate the Port of Los Angeles. People complain about the the drunkenness, the presence of gangs, the dirt and the crowds and the fried food.
|View from the patio|
|Coin-operated game at Ports o' Call Village|