EXPAT—More Adventures of a British Exile

by Ian Whitcomb


Ian Whitcomb is a highly respected performer, composer, and music historian. You can find all of his CD's, DVD's, Books, and Songbooks by clicking here,
or by going to

    Frogtown, near Los Angeles, California.

    My Internet radio show, reaching Godalming when I last reported, is now heard in Vienna. The problem is: everywhere else. Potentially we can be received worldwide, but the station tally counter hovers around 90. Where is everybody? Perhaps I should simply resort to a roving mike program because the street action round here is as violent as anything you see on the screen. The other night, seconds after I’d played Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again” and said goodnight, there was a rat-tat-tat of machine gun fire right outside the window. I rushed to take a look. “Not a good idea”, said Chuck, the engineer. “Why not? I’m wearing my volunteer sheriff jacket”. “That’s what I mean”. “But you told me they only kill each other” He gave up and I went exploring.
    The street was crammed with police cars, lights whirling like a fun-fair. “Who the hell are you? said the chief cop. “I’m security for Twinkies Bakery”, I said waving to the row of shabby brick buildings where by day sugary cakes and white bread are manufactured but there’s no delicious aroma because they bake with chemicals. “Well, move on, buster—we got corpses to deal with”. I slunk home, miles from this mayhem, wondering what in the world I was doing out west.
    Next day I got an answer, a beautiful surprise. Joseph Wambaugh, the ex-cop-cum-best-selling crime novelist and old friend of mine, e-mailed to ask whether I’d research the riverbank near Frogtown for a scene in his next murder mystery. A river in L.A? I always thought we were in desert country and stole our water from unsophisticated farmers up North. But, with Chuck as my guide, I took a look. It was a revelation:
    On a balmy late afternoon, an hour from cocktail time, we strolled behind Twinkies Bakery, through bright metal gates in the shape of two bronze herons welcoming us to “Rattlesnake Park”, and there on a rock was painted a poem: “I wish you would walk with us here more often/ Redwing blackbirds nesting in the cat tails/ Electricity humming in the high tension wires”. Gurgling and swishing below us was a mighty, but tamed, river.
    As we walked down the paved path above the concrete trough that keeps the L.A river from flooding during the brief rainy periods (when she overdoes it in the Californian manner) we were overtaken my merry cyclists in full costume, waving and grinning. On the other side of the rushing water, complete with tiny waterfalls, were ducks relaxing in a nook sheltered by swaying reeds and palms and bushes. A little further on were lush green islands visited in the summer, said Chuck, by homeless folk from other states, keen to set up camp and get down to solid partying.
    Two of the early birds, aromatic bums, were sitting rather too closely together on a nice wooden bench (inscribed with another riparian poem). “Are you guys here to put in the new grass?” demanded one. We moved on, noting the neat pile of soiled underwear and enormous bra. Other colourful details include the rear quarters of a sinister armed van company called GARDA (“The System Is The Solution”) and of course the multi-coloured graffiti covering bridges and riverbank and anywhere enticing, an angry Latino culture seeking legacy in outlaw artwork. Most apparent are KAOS, PRISNT and KENTI; in careful penmanship on a tree trunk is “Slay Zion But Pleaz Don’t Buff”.
    As we reached a rather bleak bridge, dark with frenzied lettering, a woman resembling a Mexican peasant emerged from the gloom, cycling at a furious pace. She whizzed past shouting: “Banditos! Banditos!” Chuck understood and ordered us to leap over a fence. We found ourselves in a dead end street, like an abandoned movie set, with industrial buildings painted with trompe d’oeuil scenes. From daintily curtained windows storybook characters gazed down: a flushed Swiss-type gent enjoying his meerschaum pipe; a fat contented cat. Spoiling the magic was a sign stating: “ Standard Arms Manufacturing”. Within minutes we were back at the radio station, ready for a Martini.
    It felt good to know that there is this exotic and exciting riparian world just beneath the window. So next time you visit the Southland take time off from Disneyland, Malibu and Beverly Hills and come join Chuck and me on a river walk. And perhaps pitch a tent on one of the verdant islands. Wikipedia says our water is only 80% recycled sewage, cleaner than most urban rivers of the world, including London. But I haven’t seen any frogs lately. Maybe they’ll come with the hobos in the summer.

    PS: Joseph Wambaugh thanked me for my work but said he’s thought twice about the Frogtown river scene.


Ian Whitcomb,
Altadena, California,
Otcober, 2007.


Ian Whitcomb is a highly respected performer, composer, and music historian. You can find all of his CD's, DVD's, Books, and Songbooks by clicking here,
or by going to