A few nights before I picked up a hand-drawn map called "Guide to An Other LA" at the Echo Park Film Center. The map gives information about the sort of places you don't expect to find here – housing and food cooperatives, community gardens, anarchist and hacker spaces. I was most intrigued by the listing for "Bamboo Charlie," a squatter artist the map placed somewhere near where Olympic crosses the river. I park at the old Sears warehouse and walk under the bridge.
The river is a wide grey canyon spanned by concrete arch bridges. Train tracks run alongside the river, and all the walls and warehouses are covered in graffiti. The graffiti here is much more varied and interesting than the graffiti I've seen in the South and Midwest. I wander down the tracks looking for Bamboo Charlie. This is the first place that has felt "off the beaten path" since I've been in the city.
I meet a squatter under the next bridge, but he tells me I've missed Charlie's place. It turns out that I walked right by it after getting out of my car – the compound is hidden behind a wall of bamboo plants in the dead space between a warehouse and a parking lot. Charlie is used to visitors and shows me around his squat. The place feels like a cave, bamboo curving overhead and stepped pathways carved into the hard dirt. There are found objects, mostly toys, placed along the path, and at several points Charlie has created small shrines.
Three young men are also hanging out at the compound. They work nearby, and come to Charlie's to have lunch.
The warehouse owners don't mind Charlie living on their property. The building's wall is covered in graffiti art – really good graffiti art. Charlie tells me that local street artists come and paint for him, and we walk down the winding path past one extravagant tag after another. Some of the tags are signed "to Bamboo Charlie."