A small lecture on the local real-estate market follows the complaint that "all anybody talks about these days in San Diego is real-estate values!" Each military base and reservation you pass is carefully pointed out. "People here don't notice the wall-to-wall military. They don't see the death all around them, the killing platforms. They just edit it all out." And every now and then, an odd memory from earlier days surfaces. ("The only good thing about growing up in San Diego was Navy-town and its cheap movie theaters. It was a teenage paradise.") Sitting shotgun in his car, you can't help but be aware that you are watching a dazzling -- if everyday -- performance from a polymath who seems never to have forgotten a thing.
His modest house is at the edge of one of San Diego's poorest neighborhoods which you get a brief spin through -- with a passing discussion of local graffiti thrown into the bargain. His small living room, where we set up my tape recorders, is dominated by a giant, multi-colored plastic playhouse for his two year-old twins, James and Cassandra (or Casey). To interview him in this house is to be surrounded by a world of revolutionary history. No wall, no nook or cranny, not even the bathroom, is lacking its revolutionary poster. ("Camarada! Trabaja y Lucha por la Revolution!") All around you feet threaten to stamp on Russian plutocrats, giant hands to smash the German exploiting class, while you are urged to "Vote Spartacus!" in 1919.
Mike Davis, whose first book about Los Angeles, City of Quartz, burst into bestsellerdom and put him on the map as this country's most innovative urban scholar, has since written about everything from the literary destruction of LA to Victorian holocausts of the 19th century and the potential avian flu pandemic of our own moment. He has most recently turned his restless, searching brain upon the global city in a new book, Planet of Slums, whose conclusions are so startling that I thought they should be the basis for our conversation.
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