I return to Los Angeles a year later for a Hanover family function. I end up in a lot of odd places with my relatives, like a maid café and a Beverly Hills call-girl absinthe bar. The day before we leave, I get together with Sunny, an old high school friend. Sunny works as a story producer for a reality show, which means she's the one who writes both sides of the interviews and oversees some of the more creative editing. Sunny tells me that some of what she does isn't pretty, but it's better than what they do on other reality shows. Also, she'll work her way out of reality shows.

A lemonade stand in Los Angeles, 2011

We drive to Simi Valley, which we think feels like a teen movie from the 1980s because that's our only reference for the Valley. There are kids skateboarding near a 7-11, and there is a shopping center and a few houses and then out of nowhere there is Bottle Village. I like the juxtaposition, at least until I realize that when Grandma Prisbrey built it there wasn't a town here.

Bottle Village is in disrepair, due in large part to damage from the 1994 earthquake. Two women from Preserve Bottle Village let us in and show us the site. Prisbrey worked on the property for twenty-five years, as it evolved from a shed to house her pencil collection into a narrow garden of cement walkways and colored glass outbuildings. When you are inside the buildings, they glow.

Nine pencil displays, orange bottles, and a heart

A mixed-media cone

Sunny and I listen to the long history of thwarted preservation efforts. Back in the 90s, Bottle Village was granted almost half a million dollars in federal restoration funds, but a local congressman introduced a bill to block what he saw as wasteful spending. I wonder if there is much hope for the site. The construction wasn't very durable to begin with, especially in an earthquake-prone area, and much of Bottle Village has already been lost for good.

But there is so much left that could be saved. And here we are, 30 minutes away from incredible wealth, from a huge city that prides itself on art and culture. Where there are world-class museums and universities, and scholars and collectors and foundations. Why are you letting this rot, Los Angeles?