Political scientist Fernando Guerra directs the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. Before participating in a panel about why Angelenos won’t vote, he explained why it’s never wise to turn down a shoe shine, and why he was wrong about bicycle lanes, in the Zócalo green room.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
My dad would always say to me, “No matter where you are, if you have the chance to shine your shoes, go ahead and do it.” It applies to every opportunity. Don’t pass it up. When people ask you to do something, don’t say you’re busy. You may not have another opportunity. You never know when you’ll have the next chance to shine your shoes.
What’s the ugliest piece of furniture you own?
It would have to be a sectional couch that doesn’t really fit anywhere. There are two pieces in different parts of house … neither place being appropriate. But we can’t bring ourselves to get rid of it. It fit perfectly in our old place.
What was your worst subject in school?
Psychology as an undergrad. Everybody was so into it, and I just didn’t get it.
What inspired you?
It was one day … realizing how little I knew, especially about the city I lived in. I know the exact year it happened—it was late spring of 1969. I made a comment to my father that no African-Americans lived in the city of L.A. My father was a security guard, and the majority of his coworkers were African-American. He looked puzzled. The next weekend, he brought me to a barbecue at his coworker’s in South Central. It was eye-opening about the diversity of this city … how vast this city is.
What’s your favorite condiment?
Pico de gallo. I put it on everything.
What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
I’ve had only one job in my entire life. One job interview. So I guess this is the strangest job I’ve ever had!
What surprises you most about contemporary Los Angeles?
The degree to which people are using bikes, walking, and using mass transit. The data shows that this is the case. I was on the Transportation Commission in the mid-’90s. I actually voted against bike lanes because I thought they were a waste of money and no one would use them. I was completely wrong. Now all MTA buses have bike racks.
Where would you like to travel to next?
Either South Korea or the Philippines or Armenia. I made a list of the largest populations in L.A., and I want to go to the countries of origins of those populations. I want to see how the culture in L.A. differs from the culture of the home country.
How do you pass the time when you’re stuck in traffic?
I listen to KPCC. I love all the programming. Take Two is favorite show. I think it’s fantastic and captures what L.A. is about. I also like Larry Mantle. And Warren Olney on KCRW.