To people who see the LA River for the first time, when it is dry, which is mostly, it seems an innocuous and silly piece of engineering: A river entombed by concrete.

But this flood control system, built by the US Army Corps of Engineers, after the disastrous 1938 rains, is awesome when it is full of H20.

As a boy growing up in Chicago, I had a phobia about the Chicago Sanitary Canal. As it snaked its way north along McCormick Blvd., the canal was a bleak and greenish river of sewage. At the corner of Howard and McCormick there was a dark, penitentiary like brick water treatment building, with a vaguely odorous and ominous look. A correctional facility for Windy City shit….

For many years, an enormous pea green natural gas tank stood at the corner of Kedzie and Pratt, looming over the canal like a prison tower. Natural gas and sewer gas and all the terror of these civilized utilities….. The thought that every single toilet flushed in Chicagoland wormed its way to the sewer canal gave me (and still gives me) the chills. The imagined explosion of the natural gas tank. I conjured up all sorts of terror in my juvenile mind. But that was then….

Today, in Studio City, all the garbage from the manholes was floating downstream. I could see a blue plastic football speeding by at 40 MPH.

Standing on a bridge overlooking the flowing waters, I was like a boy again today in the Land of Lincoln. Yet it was in the LA way: its reality could only be captured digitally.

In Chicago, the water is cleaned and returned to Lake Michigan. In LA, some of it is purified, but most of it evaporates and disappears like so much else out here.

3 thoughts on “The River Reigns.

  1. In Tucson they call such things “washes.” Anticlimactic when dry but a man-made force of nature during monsoon season. Quite entertaining.

    Where in Chicago did you grow up? I thought you were from NJ. I was born in Evanston; didn’t grow up in Illinois but ended up finishing my degree at SIUC.


  2. When the rains stop and the sun comes out, some of the remaining water in the river will evaporate. I believe the LA City Nerd can confirm this.


  3. It doesn’t evaporate. It flows to the ocean. LA does the same thing Chicago does, we just have a much bigger “lake”.


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