Sunday, December 28, 2008

Carfree LA: Parents Edition, Part One

Bobby's family decided to visit us here in Los Angeles for the holidays. Much to my surprise, they agreed to forgo the traditional rental car and allowed us to chauffeur them through the city on foot and on public transit.
Here's a map of our first day of sightseeing. This walk, augmented by light rail, gives a brief showcase of what there is to be found on foot in LA and Pasadena.

View Larger Map

Friday, December 19, 2008

New Theme Song, Mind the Volume

Check it out to the right. I figured this space could be more atmospheric, and I always look to music to create such things.
More fun with the Squier!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What's with the USC Area?

Why no college district? The campus is unfriendly, and gated, so one can actually only access it from certain points. And it's surrounded by ugly ass cell block apartment buildings. What fair neighborhoods fell below the axe of tasteless development here? It's odd because USC's website tries to play up this "oldest university on the west coast" thing, but there's no sense of history there.
To be fair, there is an extensive complex of museums across the street at Exposition Park, but that has also suffered from the short-sightedness of the 1980s. (Really, Frank Gehry's work looks as dated as Michael Graves' at this point.) Having spent the previous weekend at Balboa Park in San Diego, which is a municipal complex that would do any city proud, I was a little disappointed by the lack of a "feel" to Exposition Park. The smattering of old buildings with their variously hideous or charming additions do not seem coherent. Maybe it's because there's some kind of construction going on in front of the Natural History Museum, maybe it'll look more like a park and less like a jumble sometime. I mean, there should be a park-like feel to it, since it centers around a big rose garden, but somehow that is not achieved.
The Natural History Museum is quite nice inside. I tabled at a Sustainable Sundays event in their main entrance hall, and got to enjoy marble walls and dinosaurs all day. Their halls of mammals are really neat. We'd recently visited the new California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, and they have kept only one original hall of dioramas with preserved creatures. The NHM has like four. And so well framed!
Later I experienced "Dinosaur Encounters," which centered on a puppeteer manipulating a rubber triceratops costume. The puppet dino was frisky and kept rushing the children seated in the front row, much to their alternate joy and horror. It even slapped a couple little faces with its big tail.
After leaving the NHM, we browsed around the park, inspecting the school designed by Morphosis and stopping into the California African American Museum. There was a Kwanzaa festival going on, so admission was free, and we got to see an exhibit of photos of the Black Panther Party in 1968. Stirring!
Kathleen Neal Cleaver especially caught my eye. She mocks the camera with her straightforward, powerful gaze. And what boots.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Colonel Griffith J. Griffith's Observatory

This afternoon, after a long bout with stomachache and lost keys disease, we rode our bicycle machines up Edgemont Avenue to the Ferndell entrance to Griffith Park. There we locked up and hit the wide, beige path that leads up the little mountain to the observatory. I'd only been there once before, and I didn't realize there's such an extensive museum open to the public. I'd figured you had to pay for a planetarium show to do anything. Wrong! There were many models to behold!
Some delights:
-a Tesla coil that, when sparking, also lit up a neon sign that said "TESLA COIL" in a rainbow of colors
-very nice old bathrooms, with tiled floors and walls and original wooden stall doors (an Adonia favorite)
-a sphere filled with orange goo that you could spin, simulating the storms covering the surface of Jupiter
-a seismograph
-the old planetarium projector, which looked like a giant mechanical insect
-this is a good one: a timeline of the universe represented by a wave of celestial-themed jewelry. Star brooch upon star earring upon moon pendant covered a wall along a long, curving, sloping hallway. Compliments of Kara Knack, a member (living or deceased?) of the observatory's friends society
-wonderful metal lightboxes that identified the various parts of the roofscape of telescope buildings
And, of course, the glorious sunset in progress when we arrived added to the dazzling view of the metropolis sprawled out below us.
After we did a quick scan of the museum exhibits, we decided to head back down the hill. It was dark at this point, but we figured our bike lights would be sufficient for the 1/2 mile trail. Once we got started we realized that the glow of the city was enough to make the path safe, even the steepest bits, for our passage.
The question remained whether we were putting ourselves in the way of bandits, etc. It was one of those situations where you're like, "I know this is possibly dangerous, but is it really dangerous?" I got a little nervous toward the bottom of the path when I saw some dark figures, human or otherwise, enter a wash near us, so I started running. We passed two silent people sitting on benches slightly apart from each other. By running loudly past them with my backpack jangling around I figure I either
a) saved some young men from having our mugging on their consciences, or
b) destroyed the atmosphere for two people in the throes of meditation on the passed sunset.
Anyway, once back on our bikes we were not ambushed. Bobby checked around the internet when we got home, and found only positive accounts of hiking in Griffith Park either by day or by night. I highly recommend a night stroll down that path; you can see the city so brightly as you reenter it from your brief sojourn to the peak of the observatory and its stairways to the stars.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Cheap San Diego by Train and Bike

We visited San Diego last weekend with our bicycles. Our plan had been to ride down from San Juan Capistrano, covering about 60 miles on PCH, but due to heavy rains we took Amtrak instead. Due to the fact that we traveled on Thanksgiving, it cost $22 apiece to get from SJC to San Diego. Normally it costs $15. Fortunately we were couchsurfing, so that was our biggest expense for the trip.

Free amusements:
- The Timken Museum at Balboa Park truly is one of the best little museums I've visited. The building soothes the eye if you're into the midcentury aesthetic like I am. Also, you can buy slides of your favorite paintings to take home with you. Brilliant!

- There is a surprising amount of bicycle infrastructure along the border fence area. We rode from where we were staying in Golden Hill down to the Coronado ferry, and then rode down Silver Strand to Imperial Beach.

From Imperial Beach we followed signs to the Tijuana River Valley, a nature preserve along the border. I'd always thought of the no-man's-land between the countries as a patch of dirt cluttered with Border Patrol vehicles, but it's actually a wetland cluttered with Border Patrol vehicles and horse stables. It had rained recently, which meant the dirt roads crossing the river's branches were mud city. The bikes did alright, though my sweater got spattered. Only one Border Patrol officer stopped to ask what we were doing riding our bikes down there. I think he was bored rather than menacing, and then was kindly enough to give us directions. Once you cross the Tijuana River you hit Monument Road, which leads west to the park on the beach where you can see the border extend into the ocean. Bobby heard somewhere that sometimes people play volleyball over this barrier in the water. I'm skeptical. We couldn't find out, though, because that park is only open on weekends, and not on weekends when it's been raining because of overflow from the TJ River. The overflow that was now all over our bikes and backs. Monument Road leads east to the San Ysidro crossing. We turned right onto some suburban road that had a bike lane, and that wound along the border fence so close that we could see traffic on a hill road in Tijuana. This road took us through a very congested area of big box strip malls, bloated with drivers seeking Black Friday deals. One of them veritable orgies of consumption. The unusual feature was not the presence of the rabid consumers, but the bicycle lane. I had heard about a bicycle crossing at San Ysidro, but I didn't realize there would be infrastructure all around the border area. We were the only ones using the lane, anyway. It was about 5 pm once we got to the crossing area, and there were some sidewalk riders, and lots of pedestrians. There's also a lot of bike parking at the border.

View Larger Map

-We sucked it up and went on a Critical Mass ride that started from the science museums at Balboa Park on Friday night. There were many kinds of riders, from Fixie Fashion Handles to Rusty Cruisers to Rockhoppers. We dropped out pretty early on because nature called, but while we sat outside this big box strip mall in Fashion Valley, three different people commented in a friendly way about the ride they'd seen go by. I'd always thought that Critical Mass mainly left a bad impression on the people who saw it pass, mainly the drivers who were outraged by having to stop for bicycles, but it seems like it actually can be a positive thing.

-Hills. San Diego sits on hills, cliffs, and valleys. If you go anywhere, you go up and you go down. The up part is harder, obviously. My gears got a real workout, flipping around to suit the rapidly changing incline the bike rolled against. It was exhilarating, if exhausting.

City in Denial

I woke up late this morning, to learn that college has become so expensive that most people will not be able to afford it soon (or already). Fortunately the Fleet Foxes sang over this news, making the pain more beautiful.
It's so hard to lure my friends to Los Angeles. It's just a big blank spot on the map in their minds. That's what I thought of it when I was growing up in Orange County. When my older sister moved here after high school, I had serious doubts about our continued friendship; if she could live there, what would we have to talk about? The sins of myself and the many who have profited from making Los Angeles a simulacra of incredibly boring visions are now visited upon me. I'm here. And I've discovered a city that's been here all along, behind the stucco malls and decadent 80s pastels. Why is there a legacy of denial in Los Angeles? Why can't it just be a city? Cities have lots of interesting things that I love, like funny little businesses, pretty apartment buildings, museums, people walking around, subways, cafés. Guess what, we've got all that here. There are charming pockets of decayed glory and preserved splendor here. There are intelligent humans producing magnificent art and lifestyles. You don't even need a car.
There's this terribly ironic situation I'm trying to help with right now, where the LA Ecovillage lost a building last year, cause it was on LAUSD land. LAUSD razed the old fourplex and has plans for a parking lot there.
Another key element of metropolis: diversity of world views. In one block here, you find ecovillagers, people quite engaged with sustainable practices, and medieval district officials, who think a parking lot's a better use of space than homes. Or something like a garden for the schoolchildren who attend the two schools across the street. A parking lot! A parking lot!
Soon I will leave my apartment, in a lovely old 20s building rimmed with the scum of ages, walk down the palm-lined, dense street I live on, to the subway that will take me to a commuter rail line. Did you know these things existed in LA? Let's cut through the lies about this city and admit its existence, all the while enjoying the sunshine.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Kenneth Anger: I'm Your Puppet

My idol spoke at Redcat last night. He is bronzed, aged, round in the middle, and possessed of a rare gift of speech. He has clearly modeled his manner after the movie queens of old. His eyes gleam and he pulls up his forehead muscles for emphasis. He uses words like valise, in reference to things like suicide bombings. As if a suicide bomber would carry a valise!

He did not like the projection of his films this evening. Too soft a focus, an “approximate focus,” he complained repeatedly. “These images are razor sharp,” because the focal point of the scene in question was a young man’s scarlet scar splashed across his forehead. He was right, the screen was fuzzy. Another scene in this introductory footage featured this same scarred young man carrying a Dopey lawn gnome. Apparently these are quite valuable, Anger said, but people don't know it and leave them out to rot in their yards. Personally, he likes a different, more intellectual dwarf better: Doc.

Kenneth Anger started making films at the age of 8, with his family’s wind-up Ciné Kodak. He moved from 16 mm to 35 mm, and proclaimed that once you start using 35 it’s hard to go back.
According to the program Kenneth Anger spent much of the time between the 60s and the present worshipping the devil or something else occult. He loves death, or, rather, death fascinates him endlessly.

We saw several films. The first screened was Mouse Heaven, a wonderfully moving homage to the image of the original Mickey Mouse. “I’m Your Puppet” played to great effect, what an ear for pop songs this man has! If only Phil Spector had turned to Kenneth Anger in the late 60s instead of to drugs and sycophants.

Next came Ich Will!, a re-editing of Hitler Youth films set to the symphonic splendor of Anton Bruckner’s 9th. Shots of teen boys in the mountains, conquering the Alps, plunging into presumably icy lakes, chowing down in the woods, and, of course, saluting their Führer, played across the screen, everything glowing redly. In one scene the boys jump off a building, one at a time, falling through space, and then, in what looks like a cobbled together sequence, they land on a sheet held by their mates and bounce, bounce back into the air. It’s strange, at first it looks like one boy after another jumps to his death, but then the sheet pops up in the shot. It is reminiscent of the child suicide in Roberto Rossellini’s Germany Year Zero, whose young protagonist plunges to his death from a building. Yet in Anger’s film there is only joy and robust health personified in countless little embodiments of Nazi physical ideals. So unlike Rossellini’s starved, desperate child. Perhaps the shades are two sides of the same coin: had the chubby boys featured running alongside the Youth in Anger’s film survived the war, they might have thinned out in hardship and the failure of the Nazi dream to reify the Aryan people forever. Anger mentioned that he talked with Leni Riefenstahl, “the best female filmmaker ever,” about the enthusiasm of the crowds for Hitler in her Triumph of the Will. He asked if she had prepped the crowd to respond in an over the top fashion; Anger noted that it looked like a rock concert. No, Riefenstahl replied; her camera captured only one tenth of the real feeling in the crowd.

After Ich Will! we saw Elliott’s Suicide, a film brimming over with grief and loss. The musician Elliott Smith meant a lot to Anger, either in life, in death, or both, it wasn’t clear.
After that meditation on what Smith’s fans lost, they screened two homoerotic pieces, Foreplay and I’ll Be Watching You. Looks like Anger had some fun in a French parking garage last spring.

And then came Scorpio Rising, his early 1960s paean to the pain of desire and the ambiguous facets of male sociality and sexuality, and death. Although I’m a Puce Moment kind of girl, this film is shockingly energetic, alive, pulsing with sex, fun, and the loss of moral control. This is Anger’s genius: to make you feel through his images, through his projected visions. My favorite part of this film is when the music segues from “Heatwave” to “He’s a Rebel.” Fucking fantastic. And the colors! And the diabolical cats! And the juxtapositions of Jesus’ followers and a secret sexual society initiation.

A line formed next to Kenneth Anger’s table after the show. Fan after fan trooped up, thrusting materials at him for signatures, plying him with praise. This sort of thing makes me sigh, since there’s nothing for me to gain from adding my compliments to those of many others. There doesn’t seem to be any opportunity for a real interaction with an artist in a performance setting. But I dutifully got in line. My heart started pounding as I got closer, grinning foolishly, trying to create a script in my head. “Your films inspire me. I’m studying to be an anthropologist, and I make little films. Any advice?” He certainly wouldn’t tell me to go to film school.

The people in front of me made me want to throw up. Epitomizing the absolute inadequacy of heaped praise, this woman told him that if something happened to her copy of Hollywood Babylon, which she brought for him to sign (what a good idea!), she would just die, she loved the book, knew it cover to cover! More of the same.

So when I got to the front of the line I felt like Little Ralphie in A Christmas Story when he made it to Santa’s lap. What was I here for? Fortunately I didn’t ask Kenneth Anger for a football, but I didn’t say much before he brushed my grinny face off and moved on to the next person, who perhaps was prepared to be more engaging. I felt crushed. He did like my name, though.

Bobby brought up Puce Moment, which just made Kenneth Anger decry the fact that he never finished the film due to his parents’ unwillingness to finance production. They wanted him to be at Cal Tech studying aeronautic engineering. Well, Dr. Anger, what is a fragment to you creates worlds of possibility for anyone who watches it. Too bad I was too dazzled to tell you so.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Destination: Cats!

Sometimes I'm too overwhelmed with trepidation to brave the streets of Southern California on my bike. As Bobby has pointed out to me again and again, the drivers here aren't really that much worse than in any other U.S. city, and I did get honked at just as much in Portland as I do here, but the subtle push, push, push forward of large SUVs here does have a psychological effect. Well, yesterday, Veterans Day, I pushed back and went on a long ride.
We rode the Red Line to the Blue Line to the Green Line, bikes in tow, and got off at Aviation station. Imperial Avenue skirts LAX to the ocean, and has either a bike lane or off-street bikeway all the way to the coast. There were still plenty of SUVs zipping past us, as there are lots of people who don't take holidays from their cars.
At Dockweiler State Beach we merged with the beach bike path that took us all the way to Redondo Beach. It was crowded with cruiser types and little children on tricycles, and there were many sand splashes across the path that made it near impassable at times. So we didn't travel with any great speed. Our destination was Royal Palm beach in San Pedro, where I hoped to film footage of the sea cats that live there, and it was a race against time to get there by sunset. We'd spent the morning finishing Chris Marker's Sans soleil and were in danger of being sans soleil ourselves.
When the beach path ended in Redondo we worked our way up the hills of Palos Verdes and rode, rode, rode our butts to San Pedro. Finally, after much pedaling, we turned right at Western Avenue, blew down that steep hill, and got to Royal Palm as the golden sunset waned.
There's a feline phenomenon at Royal Palm, with dozens of cats living in the seawall along the parking lot there. Who knows how many people show up everyday to feed these beasts? We saw three people feeding cats yesterday, and there were many tins of food tucked into rocks. Unfortunately none of the cats I saw had the clipped ear that marks a stray that's been trapped, fixed, and released. I saw one cat whose jaw was shattered and whose face was an open wound, and later heard the yowls of two dueling cats in some bushes. Most of the cats are plump and fluffy.
After the hour of the cat we headed up to San Pedro proper, where we caught bus 446 back to downtown LA. That ride takes about an hour, and we got off right near 7th and Metro.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Low Impact Ride from Bay Area to LA

According to the California Academy of Sciences (which just opened up in fancy new, Renzo Piano-designed digs in Golden Gate Park), riding the bus from the Bay Area to LA wins the lowest impact award, emitting less than a train, car, or plane ride. Greyhound, while terribly flawed as a bus system, actually offers an express bus from Oakland to LA. After a weekend of Halloweening, we hopped on a Sunday morning bus and got to North Hollywood in the afternoon. Though North Hollywood is not the first stop in the LA area (that's San Fernando), it's an awfully convenient place to disembark because the Greyhound stop is just three blocks from the Red Line station. Total cost:
$1.55 for BART ticket (this will vary depending on what stations you travel between)
$47 one way for Greyhound ride from Oakland to North Hollywood
$1.25 for Red Line ticket
= $49.85
It took approximately six hours to ride down the 5, and about 15 minutes to get to our Metro stop from North Hollywood. The Greyhound station in downtown Oakland is a few blocks from a BART station, too. Total travel time could be estimated at 7.5 hours, for, again, $49.85. And the good feeling of going sustainable counts for a lot for me.
Prop 1A passed, which means maybe one day in the future sometime we might have a better idea of what high speed rail in California might look like, but since I live in LA and like to visit the Bay Area NOW, I'd say this bus thing is a better option. There was briefly a company in LA called MegaBus that offered $20 one way tickets from Union Station in downtown LA to a BART station in Oakland, but they shut down this spring. They are still operating on the east coast. In fact, there are lots of companies on the east coast that offer competitive prices, like all the Chinatown buses. People there are more willing to go by bus.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

And nobody wearing a three-piece suit

Jonathan Richman, a musician who inspires adoration in even the hardest of hearts, has a wonderful ditty on his album Jonathan Goes Country called "You're Crazy for Taking the Bus."
The song masterfully sums up the bias one encounters when telling friends about taking the Greyhound, that much maligned transportation option of last resort for many, with lines like,
Modern Lovers (his band): You're crazy for taking the bus!
Jonathan: Well, I'm crazy then, so, what's the fuss?
ML: Two whole days on that stinking bus!
J: Yeah, and I sleep fine
You take the plane, and I'll take the bus this time
I'm with Jonathan on this one. I'm a regular Greyhound rider, and it's a damn shame their system is so outdated and inefficient that lots of estadounidenses consider it unusable.
Illustrative anecdote: we're going up to the bay area next weekend to enjoy the Flaming Lips' new movie, Christmas on Mars, with friends on Halloween (side note: oh, yeah! You bet your ass I'll be costumed). My dear good friend is driving us up there, but we're going to take the bus back. Having discovered last year that it is extremely unwise to take the Greyhound from the station in Skid Row because it stops a few more times in the city before actually hitting the freeway, I was trying to find out how close the North Hollywood Metro stop is to the Greyhound station there. The two are just a few blocks apart, as it turns out.
While using Google Maps to search for the stations, a Yelp entry on the North Hollywood Greyhound station showed up, and, ignoring my brain's pleas to stay away from that seething pit of exhibitionist ignorance, I clicked. And I discovered that multiple idiots made posts (with humorous intent, no less!) about how the people on the Greyhound, including the drivers, are smelly jerks.
Now I'm not into smelling other people, don't get me wrong, but I think bashing those who are forced (that's right, they probably don't have other options) to use this bus system, I'll just say it, using Yelp to bash poor people, is absolutely disgusting.
If you get on the Greyhound and expect to encounter stockbrokers, models, and whatever other glamorous professionals, you will be sorely disappointed. It's a (relatively) cheap way to get around, and you may have to interact with (or even sit next to! gasp!) poor people. So I'd say you should prep yourself for that and enjoy the human beings around you instead of using Yelp to display how much better you think you are than the gross, stinky bodies on the Greyhound.
Adding to the jerkstorm, Bobby discovered that right now when you do a Google search for Greyhound the autofill suggestions all involve the tragic incident in Canada that happened this summer. I'm sure that just confirmed people's assumptions about how awful the bus is.
Around the time of that incident, I took a Greyhound from DC to Atlanta, and again from Atlanta to Chicago. The highlight of the first trip was when our bus broke down in South Carolina and I spent two hours at a truck stop. Check out this gem of a t-shirt message I found there:

Now that's social commentary!

The highlight of the second trip was hanging out in the Indianapolis station at 3 am. I'm not being sarcastic here, I do consider these unpalatable inconveniences on the Greyhound valuable experiences (even if at the time I'm not so appreciative).
Anybody who is content to feel contemptuously toward the "undesirables" of the U.S. shouldn't take the Greyhound, but anybody who is interested in finding out about the lives of many, many estadounidenses should take a ride sometime. Many riders I've encountered are embarrassed to be on the bus, let's not make it worse for all of us by perpetuating this ridiculous bias.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Loud, Atmospheric Talker Broadcasts Backwardly Aboard Train

Riding down from LA to Santa Ana last week, I overheard some silly chatter on an Amtrak train. Seated somewhere behind me was a raspy voiced man speaking loudly in a regional accent about the thrills of Branson, Missouri, and I think some kind of country music festival there. He assured the man he'd accosted and started barking at that this theme park in Branson called Silver Dollar City was a real good time. I enjoyed listening to this talk, I liked the way his voice sounded when he said "Silver Dollar City," and I continued listening when the man started discussing Brazil with another neighbor who happened to be Brazilian. Silver Dollar City has a friend in Brazil, it turns out, a man who "ran from the law" some years ago and has acquired millions down south. Hmm. Slowly the conversation turned to the quality of the Brazilian's English. Silver Dollar City complimented him on it; you see, the first thing the outlaw had done when he landed in Brazil was take lessons in Portuguese. And really, thought Silver Dollar City aloud, you must learn the language of the country you're living in. Here you find lots of people who don't learn English, Silver Dollar City kept on, and that's somehow annoying to him.
Personally I find it annoying when ignorant folks loudly broadcast their narrow views in public spaces, but I decided not to confront Silver Dollar City on it.
Meanwhile, a little old lady had settled herself next to me. I didn't think much about her until a train attendant came by and reminded me that Santa Ana was the next stop. Taking this as an entré to conversation, the little old lady started telling me in Spanish about her visit to Orange County to see family. She has a little spread in Cuernavaca, and was on her way back down. She was happy to share this information with me, and I did my best to understand her fluent remarks. Leaving my seat, I wished her the best, and with a final "adios" I looked pointedly at Silver Dollar City and headed away.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Wildfire Season is Upon Us

The Santa Anas are blowing, the fires are growing, and I'm trying to remember that I'm a grown up now. Ever since I was a kid the fall wildfires here have terrified me, the apocalyptic coverage in media and the red glow on the horizon were enough to convince me that I would burn up the next time I heard a firetruck blare its siren. Good thing I don't live in one of the outlying subdivisions that put themselves in harm's way.
My neighborhood got a kick in the face last week when someone or several people doused a homeless man in gasoline and set him on fire. This man, who Bobby and I had seen several times since we moved to K-Town, had been living on his corner for about ten years. What lurks behind the busy façades of the apartment buildings in my neighborhood? What is happening that would cause this horrible act? Figuratively this incident shows the deadliness of cars (the assailants drove up and got away in a car, plus there's the gasoline factor) and the forbidden nature of our streets. Use the street, risk death, the murderers proclaim.
I am so sorry that this individual inspires more emotion in me now that he is dead than when he was alive. I did not give him anything when we walked by, all I did was mentally note his huge, swollen, bare, dirty feet, and wonder why he didn't have shoes on. I also remarked on his smell. The inhumanity of this crime inspires guilt in all those who come upon it, and that's why I'm writing out this inventory of my own thoughts.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Pleasant Surprises at UC Irvine

More and more often I find that people I might have dismissed as uninterested in bicycling and transit lifestyles are actually intrigued to hear about my work.
Last night I met the other participants in a community-based research workshop I'm enrolled in, and after listening to all their project descriptions I felt a bit defensive about my project with the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC). Most projects involved social justice activism for the poor in OC and LA, and I wondered what my colleagues would think of my work in bicycle activism. After all, bicycling does get associated with the bourgeois classes in some cases; for instance there was a long discussion on this spring where many bicyclists responded to dismissal of their activity as privileged and out of reach to the poor (tried to link to it, but it didn't work).
Of course, the whole reason I am focusing on sustainable transportation is that I firmly believe that our mobility (or lack thereof) plays a huge role in our lives, affecting every other area. It is a concern for social justice that drives me to advocate for better streets for pedestrians and bicyclists. But I know that this doesn't hit the same empathy chords that working with homeless mothers does.
Here's the first pleasant surprise: several people in the room were bicyclists, and everyone seemed interested in my project.
Further surprises: Today I visited the Parking and Transportation office at UC Irvine, intending to find out why there aren't bike route signs between the Irvine train station and the campus, why there isn't a shuttle to that train station, etc. Guess what, they've got four (!) employees working on alternative transportation. I spoke with one guy for a while about the obvious commitment Irvine has to bicycling, even if there are still gaps in making the city an easy ride for commuters versus recreational cyclists. Then we swapped specs on folding bikes, as he's considering getting a Citizen for super cheap, like a third of the price I paid for the Loose Goose (which is a Dahon Speed). UCI also has a bicycle advisory group. And there's an OC bicycle coalition. As for the Irvine train station, they do not have a shuttle in place but there are two zero emission vehicles parked there for use by the university. They were put in place by some experimental lab here. It sounds like they don't have the logistics for these vehicles figured out, like who would get to use them, but I'm impressed anyway. Looks like it's leads city for this little investigator!
Last surprise: Strida folding bikes are much cheaper in Korea. I saw one in the, er, flesh today in the UCI bookstore, and its owner told me he paid about $400 for it in Korea. Here there over $800. He is quite happy with his orange triangle.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

OCTA's Inconsistency

My commute via train has been largely enabled by the establishment of Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) route 473, which runs between UC Irvine and the Tustin Metrolink station. My morning commute works wonderfully: the train drops me and the bus scoops me up. I've never had to wait for the bus in the morning, it's always waiting when I get to the station.
The afternoons have been a bit different. For some reason the buses do not leave UCI on schedule, arriving and departing willy nilly. Today I called OCTA up after I'd waited until 4:07 pm for a bus due at 3:55 pm. I'd been waiting at the stop since 3:45 pm, so it probably didn't sneak past me. Using my patented friendly, "I'm confused" approach, I asked if perhaps the posted schedule was inaccurate. No, the nice lady on the other end of the line assured me, the schedule was correct; she would check with the dispatcher.
A few moments later she informed me that the bus had left on time, but they could not get the driver to pick up the radio. AWOL bus? Little explanation was given for why or how a dispatch center could lose contact with a driver. It reminded me of the news I read recently about the pilots falling asleep over Hawaii. They were also difficult to contact.
Lo, directly after I said goodbye to OCTA, there came little 473 along curvy Campus Drive. I asked the driver if he was driving the 3:55 pm bus or the next scheduled bus. And there the intrigue began, at 4:11 pm!
The driver disagreed with the dispatch account, claiming that he left the yard late because they did not have a bus for him to drive. He said that "the window" had lied to me, and that they had "more work than drivers." Leaving aside the question of why they would have to search for a bus if there was a shortage of drivers (and not buses), he was very polite and I find this scenario quite believable.
So who do I trust? The customer service line or an unusually composed driver?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Cars Make Strangers Hate Each Other

In case you didn't notice, driving (especially in So Cal?) turns the nicest people into aggressive bullies. It's one thing when you experience this from inside another steel cage, but when you are on the outside, as a pedestrian or bicyclist, it really hits home. Each intersection is another landscape of people pushing forward, menacing you, itching to get from parking garage A to parking garage B.
We borrowed a friend's car the other day to move some stuff from my mom's garage (thanks Mom!) to our new apartment in LA. We'd traveled around 80 miles, with a long stopover in Irvine so I could go to class, and we'd just unloaded the car and gassed it up. It was ready to hand back over, and what a relief! Driving on the 5, 55, 405, and 101 in one day is exhausting, not to mention the hell of parking and making left turns and all that crap you drivers do constantly. Ugh.
Anyway, we were driving over to give the car back when we inadvertently got involved in a bike-car crash. We stopped to turn right into an alley, blinker on, when a bicyclist who'd been closely following us passed on the left and got hit by a car passing in the opposite direction. Much confusion ensued, including the driver of the other car reversing unnecessarily and crushing the bicycle wheel more and hurting her own leg. Fortunately the bicyclist was not squished! She came through okay, with some bruises and a lot of adrenaline.
In the end, it seemed what happened is that the bicyclist and the driver both saw each other and both pushed forward aggressively. The bicyclist thought she had enough space to pass between the cars, and, finding that she did not, stopped when the car got too close. The driver, however, did not stop, and squeezed the bike between her car and our borrowed one.
While I would not pass between two cars the way that this bicyclist did, and ultimately it seemed like the blame for the crash fell on her shoulders, I was disappointed to find that the driver of that oncoming car did not stop when she saw the vulnerable bicyclist. She treated that person like another car, an opponent to be intimidated by her oncoming velocity. In LA we need help; we need to learn that human beings on foot and on bicycles are not just other cars.
Yo no soy otro carro, yo soy un ser humano.

Riding from the Irvine Train Station to UCI: It Can Be Done!

Having obtained a map of Irvine's bike routes from the UCI Parking and Transportation Office, I was all set to get from the Irvine train station to UCI on Wednesday. Since I have class late on that day, I figured it would be fine to ride a midday Amtrak train down to Irvine instead of taking my usual early morning Metrolink train to Tustin station. It's a bit complicated, see; UCI is near two train stations, but one, Tustin, is only served by Metrolink commuter trains. The other, Irvine, is a stop for Metrolink and Amtrak trains. Despite the greater number of possible train riders using Irvine station, my school has arranged a shuttle only from Tustin station. So, if I want to use Amtrak trains I must ride my bicycle from Irvine station to UCI.
Enter the blazing hot fires of hell! It was a difficult ride not because I was bullied by cars, but because of the heat wave. However, it did not help that the many off-street bike paths in Irvine lack proper signage. I'm very glad that the city has developed such an impressive network of bikeways, but it does make one's ride a little more taxing if one must constantly try out different spurs of path to figure out which one continues in the direction indicated on the map.
It's rather shameful, also, that UCI has not had signs installed to guide riders from the train station to campus. Yet another unfortunate example of my school's overwhelmingly automotive mindset.
Another quibble: Irvine's lovely bikeways map does not distinguish between flood channel trails, which are legitimately off-street, away from car traffic, and glorified sidewalks where you ride along next to traffic. Really there's quite a distinction here, from a rider's perspective. So, Irvine, if you're listening, please add more signs to the trails so that I don't have to hoist my overheated body off my bike every so often and check the map to make sure I'm not heading in the wrong direction. Thanks!
Next time I do this ride, I will make sure to bring lots of water and give myself plenty of time to do the ride. It's about an 8.5 mile ride, and even in the heat and with all my backtracking I did it in one hour, so in the future I could probably do it in 45 minutes or less. Such as it was, I arrived late for a meeting with my adviser, who was so impressed by my lobster-red face that he told my other adviser about it. Oh yeah!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Harbor Transitway = sort of like TransMilenio

The dust is settling from the stampede of tasks that have dominated the lives of the Bobs and I since we got back to LA. We have a studio in Koreatown now! No chairs or drinking glasses, though. Fortunately my Fire King mug collection comes in handy.
Last week we took an interesting trip to a most uninteresting part of Torrance. This city is home to lots of industrial and corporate parks, but Bobby once visited a charming downtown section. On this boring excursion, I waited for Bobby at a Starbucks while he visited a prospective job site.
We took our bikes on a bus from Miracle Mile that went along the Harbor Transitway, which is a bus-only lane along the 110 freeway. This lane exits on the left into stations along the way, connecting to other bus lines and to the Metro Green Line. It was reminiscent of the TransMilenio we'd come to know so well in Bogotá, though without the crowds. It was midday, so maybe it's used more at rush hour.
Then we rode our bikes along 190th from Vermont to Prairie Avenue. This street had bike route signage, though in typical LA fashion it was not by any means a street I would label "bike friendly." But it worked. Since that is an industrial area, all the trucks barreling past made for a noisy ride, but I didn't get honked at or menaced by car bullies.
Another note: the Starbucks where I waited for Bobby sat in a large big box strip mall, on the edge of the parking lot by a wide sidewalk. Yet, humorously, the strip lot was surrounded by thick hedges that made pedestrian access from the sidewalk impossible; even those on foot had to access the stores by turning in at a driveway. In the case of the Starbucks, this meant walking many yards past the café and then doubling back through the parking lot. There wasn't any bike parking.
Now we're going to buy tickets to see Kenneth Anger speak about his films in November. See, there are many wonderful things about living in Los Angeles, and access to commentary and discussion about film is a big plus for me.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Cheapest way to get from South Orange County to LA

Step 1: Ride from my mother's house in San Juan to PCH, using that handy creek trail (about 20 minutes).

Step 2: Pay $1.25 each to ride the OCTA 1 up PCH to Long Beach (about 1.5 hours).

Step 3: Ride from 7th and PCH in Long Beach to any Blue Line Station (I can't estimate the time here cause we stopped at La Palapa Michoacana for the best tacos in Long Beach, and then at Portfolio for coffee).

Step 4: Pay $1.25 each to take the Blue Line to Pico station (50 minutes).

Step 5: Ride to Bobby's cousin's house in Miracle Mile. Olympic is not busy on Sundays, it turns out, so we had a lovely ride along that thoroughfare. It's a bike route, too (50 minutes).

That's quite a long time (about three hours) to travel about 76 miles, but we only paid $5 for the privilege. On Amtrak we would have paid upwards of $16 each.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bike Ride: Beach and Frozen Yogurt

On Saturday we rode our bikes to Salt Creek Beach from my mom's house in San Juan Capistrano. There's a bike path along Trabuco and San Juan Creeks that goes to PCH from San Juan, and then we took PCH up a few miles to Selva Road, where Salt Creek is. Since there's a bike lane along the length of PCH, and since it was Saturday, the ride was actually pleasant. No SUVs honked at me for being on the road.
When we got to Salt Creek, a really nice beach that one accesses by hiking down a bunch of steps on a cliffside, I noticed several things that struck me as odd.
1. A young woman driving a large black SUV through the parking lot with the windows rolled up, hunched over the steering wheel wearing iPod headphones. What happened to the image of the beach girl in the Volkswagen convertible, top down, hair flowing in the wind? F-ed up. It wasn't even a warm day.
2. This was the first time I'd ever reached this beach outside of a car. There wasn't any bike parking in the parking lot, so we locked up to a sign post.
3. Unfortunately the cliff that overlooks the beach has been finally surrendered to the evil scions of development. What was a plateau that held an abandoned beach club has been graded down to fit more McMansions and will probably degrade the quality of the beach considerably.
Way to go, Dana Point city fathers! Nice to know that your fat pockets matter more than the future of our coastline.
Bitterness and rage aside, we splashed in the beautiful waves for a while and felt very warmed by the sun. There's a phenomenon here where once school starts the beaches empty, even if the weather hasn't turned cool yet. So we had the beach mostly to ourselves, with the usual scattering of preteen surfers and shoreline walkers.
After a good dose of beach, we headed back down PCH to Capistrano Beach. The only frozen yogurt I'll deign to eat is sold at this café there called the Kultured Kitchen. They also serve delicious sandwiches featuring sprouts, avocado, and squaw bread. Plus meats and whatnot. We feasted on a turbocado sandwich and a mix of raspberry and chocolate yogurt! The yogurt there has a texture I've not encountered elsewhere. It isn't creamy, it's chunky and icy, but smooth. The fruit flavors are tangy, and the chocolate's not too sweet.
Then we rode back to San Juan, exploring the neighborhood where I grew up, the Villas, and the bike paths beyond there. We found a bike tunnel under the 5 that was so long your eyes didn't adjust to the darkness at first and that made it spoooky.
Oh yeah, and that night we went to a free concert at the Irvine Great Park with my family. Some development interest or other has apparently decided that a large orange hot air balloon will draw enough people to this fantasy park (almost none of it is built, but there are extensive plans for a bloated sports park) that they can shift the burden of the cost of park development to the public at some point. I'm imagining the measure will say something like, "remember that awesome huge orange hot air balloon? well, if you want more of the fantasy park we promised you, sign off on a 4 billion tax break for us, Whoever the Hell Developers, Inc.!"
Ugh. Orange County makes everything beautiful sordid and dirty with development capitalism.
But at least we had a nice bike ride.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


We made it back to LA last night! Then my mom chauffeured us down to the OC, where we slept on our own dusty futon mattress, and where I reveled in the company of cats. Cats cats cats cats cats! I might as well get it out there, I don't think I've ever gone three weeks without petting any cats before (well, I pet one cat at the ecoaldea, but he didn't really appreciate human company. And I definitely didn't come into contact with any in Bogota).
I'm not really "into" flying, so I'm very happy to be home and not on an airplane. The rumors are true, we discovered on the last leg of our trip: drinks are free on international flights. So with a little help from stiff drinks, I actually managed to relax on the trip between Mexico City and LA. I even managed to follow the in-flight movie, a reprehensibly awful piece featuring Kevin Spacey as a gambling sociopath who is also a charming professor at MIT. Bobby commented that the movie renewed his belief in the simple beauty of bangs, as the lead female character had a horrific, severe part in her hair.
The important thing is, though, that I'm very happy to be home in California, for once.
Back to cats!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Urban Explorer´s Guide to Bogotá

A certain redhaired colleague of mine arrives in Bogotá the day after Bobby and I leave. I´ve been meaning to put together some information we have discovered about how to enjoy the city.
So, here comes the URBAN EXPLORER´S GUIDE TO BOGOTÁ. (co-written by Bobby)
Chapter 1: Money
The exchange rate at this time makes $1 equivalent to about 2,000 pesos. And here they write it "$2.000", so the zeros can be confusing. 1,000 is called a ¨mil¨, so ¨dos mil¨is about a dollar.
Chapter 2: Papel higienico
Many bathrooms, such as all the ones I visited at the Universidad Nacional, do not offer toilet paper. One might consider carrying a small amount when traveling around the city. Sometimes it´s available for sale, other times there is one large roll in the bathroom from which you must gather some prior to entering a stall. Used toilet paper goes into the little bin provided for this reason in each stall, rather than into the plumbing system. There are some fine ass bathrooms in the international center, at Parque Central Bavaria (where Séptima and Décima come together, near Tequendama), but my favorite is at the Centro Comercial San Martín, which is on Séptima at Calle 32. This bathroom features paper in the stall (only place I´ve seen this in Bogotá) and constant cleaning. Not that any bathrooms I´ve visited have been particularly messy. This bathroom just really goes the extra mile to make your stay there a pleasant one.
Chapter 3: Almuerzos corrientes
Perhaps my favorite part of staying in Bogotá has been the large, inexpensive lunches available absolutely everywhere. If you see a sign outside a cafeteria that advertises "almuerzos," you can just step inside, sit down, and say "un almuerzo, por favor." Soon after an array of foods will arrive, usually including soup, a plate of rice, chicken, bananos, and salad, and fresh juice. This costs between $4.000 and $6.000 (about $2-3). I stayed away from the uncooked parts of the meals at first, but now I´m digging into salsas and jugos de mora (raspberry) with gusto. And only one bout of stomach pain!
Chapter 4: Panaderias and other food notes
Colombians have a fine tradition of sweet breads. One can breakfast on a variety of roscones (kind of like donuts but not fried, with arequipe [sort of like caramel] or guayaba [yum] inside) and lots of other kinds. We´ve found that you can just point at what you´d like to try and say "uno de estos," and usually the clerk will supply the name of the bread. Another snack that´s actually meal-sized are the tamales available in most panaderias. Unlike Mexican tamales, which I find too dry, these tamales are soft and delicious. Each region in Colombia prepares them differently, we´ve had very good ones from Tolima. The best panaderias are in Teusaquillo, the neighborhood between Séptima and Avenida El Dorado and between the ciudad universitaria and the international center.
Chapter 5: Bebidas
Chocolate is prepared everywhere here. Thick, rich, not too sweet chocolate. I usually order a tinto (small black coffee) while Bobby orders chocolate. My estadounidense desire for lots of coffee has been best satisfied at Juan Valdez, the national equivalent of Starbucks, which has locations all over the city. The tinto grande is about the size of a small coffee in the EEUU, and it does the trick for this caffeine addict. Coffee in general can be found in every establishment, and many places do specialty drinks as well. Crepes y Waffles, another chain, offers many fancy coffee drinks in addition to the titular plates. Sodas are called gaseosas here, and if you want a sparkling water (which we do all the time), order an "agua con gas." And then there´s the jugos naturales. As I´ve mentioned earlier on this blog, Bogotá has a great variety of fresh juices available from a variety of native and foreign fruits. I´ve tried raspberry juice, guanabana juice, mango juice, pitaya juice (it was like sweet snot), maracuyá juice, and probably some others. Fortunately the water here is excellent for drinking, so I don´t think I´ve had any stomach upset from the juices. Also the quality of the water makes it easy to avoid purchasing bottled water all the time, something I avoid religiously in the states.
Chapter 6: Safety
It´s better to avoid streets that are empty. The beggars we´ve encountered in Bogotá have been young men who appear out of their minds on drugs or with mental illness. I´ve been told that it´s a good idea to just give them some money if they bother you in a deserted area to avoid aggression. Weekdays it´s fine to walk all over town, because so many people are out that it´s easy to stay in a crowd. Even in the evenings, up until like 10 pm, we´ve felt fine walking between buses and hosts´apartments. Saturdays are also boisterous evenings, but Sunday evenings get really quiet, since most people stay at home. I´ve felt a little uncomfortable walking after 9 pm on Sunday nights. It´s a good rule of thumb to just consider any of the things you´d usually be aware of in a large city. Bogotá does not feel any more threatening to me than Los Angeles.
Chapter 7: Transit
The transmilenio system (big red buses) is super easy to use, just look for the elevated bus platforms. They have maps that explain where the buses go just like in a metro system, so it is very convenient. However, the transmilenio certainly doesn´t go everywhere, so you will need to use the busetas, or colectivos, which are small buses that go all over town. They have signs in the front window that explain their route, which is confusing if you aren´t familiar with the city. If you´re not sure it´s best to ask a local which colectivo to take, as some places have the same name. You just flag them down at the side of the road to get on, and press a button by the door to get off. The taxis are also cheap, but we didn´t use them much.
Chapter 8: Ciclovía
Every sunday from 7:00 AM to 2:00 PM many streets in the city are closed to cars and you can walk or ride a bike on them, which is very nice. Unfortunately, there aren´t really places to rent bikes here, which was dissapointing for us. We found one bike shop that claimed to rent, by the Heroés transmilenio station, but it was too expensive for our limited budget (30,000 pesos per day).
Chapter 9: Bibliotecas
There are some excellent public libraries in Bogotá, our favorites are Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango (BLAA, haha), and Biblioteca Virgilio Barco in the Parque Nacional. The latter is a very sublime Rogelio Salmona building, who is a very influential architect here. These are good places to find out about...
Chapter 10: Free stuff!
Bogotá is host to an amazing amount of free (or cheap as free) cultural events. Clicking around on the excellent official website of Bogotá can reveal some of them. The Universidad Nacional also often has free concerts and events. Adonia and I have seen the philharmonic of Bogotá, some modern chamber ensembles, a harp recital, and an Antonioni movie for free (or not more than $1 each). Tomorrow, if we have time, we´re going to see Lost in Translation for free at Teatro Jorge Eliecer Gaitan (named after a national hero presidential candidate who was assasinated in 1948, his name comes up all the time). Not to mention all of the museums that are also very cheap or free.

Here we are on top of Monseratte, which is the one really touristy thing we did. You can take a Teleferico (tram) up there that is pretty fun, with a superb view of the city.

In summation, Bogotá is a pretty amazing metropolitan city, with lots of interesting architecture, food, art, museums, and concerts. enjoy!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Bogotá Birthday!

So on Friday we went to Aldeafeliz, the ecovillage (ecoaldea) outside of Bogotá. It took a Transmilenio ride, a colectivo ride, and two taxis to get there. Since the city is at such an altitude (2700 meters), as soon as you leave you descend rapidly. Aldeafeliz was tropical, humid, and warm, and at least 1,000 meters below Bogotá. We spent a really lovely day there talking to the ecoaldeanas. They´ve been living there for two years. There are a few communal buildings, for the kitchen, library, and computer stuff, but right now the four residents live in tents scattered over the seven acre property.
On Saturday we came back to Bogotá to meet our friends for drinks. There is a drink here called guaya that consists of a liter of fruit juice and liquor. A liter. Strong liquor! It costs 25.000 pesos, which is about $13. The place we went, Chamois, is a hotspot in the international hipster bar district called the Zona Rosa. By the time we left around midnight, the place was packed with people starting to dance to the live tropical band. Then I went to sleep.
Today we visited Usaquén, an old town in northern Bogotá that has been absorbed over the years into the city. It was very chi-chi, with artisan markets and street performers. Too rich for my blood, but my friends searched around till they found a cheap(er) restaurant for lunch. They wanted Bobby and I to try ahiaco, a popular soup here. It has chicken, vegetables, and capers. It´s somewhat thick like a stew. We also had delicious raspberry juice. Fortunately, I´ve discovered, I can eat fruit and drink the water here with little to no indigestive issues. This is good because the Colombians drink jugos naturales (fresh juices) all day long. Osterizers are ubiquitous here, you can even buy parts for them from street vendors. People chop up fruit, then throw it, skin and all, into the blender. Then they strain the chopped fruit and add water and sugar. Yum!
I should go and stop abusing the hospitality of my friend, who has had us over for a movie and let us use his computer. Our time here is winding down, and I am very happy in this city.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Going to Aldeafeliz

Today we´re going to the ecovillage that´s about an hour outside Bogotá, Aldeafeliz. We´ll be renting a tent and sleeping bags from them, and Bobby is super excited to leave the city. It should be very interesting to see the place and talk to the people there. I believe Aldeafeliz was cofounded by a woman who studied in the United States and lived at the LA ecovillage for some time. I´m meeting her next week for coffee.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

More concerts and exploring

Now we´re staying in Teusaquillo, the district west of the international center of Bogotá. Since it´s conveniently located to the cementario central (central cemetery), we finally visited on Tuesday, and even snuck some pictures. However, like the others, the pictures remain imprisoned in the camera or on a thumb drive.
This apartment is very French, at least according to what I´ve seen in my nouvelle vague films, with high ceilings, white walls, a central courtyard with windows facing each other, and cold ass floors. We´ve been having a great time with our host, a language scholar who teaches French and English and sometimes Spanish, though the three at once make his head spin, he said. There have been many conversations about the, um, odd relationship between the United States and Colombia, and our opinions about social justice. And conversations about how the Transmilenio maintains a monopoly on bus service on the routes it serves, so that people can no longer get late night buses on those roads. This is a problem for people who cannot afford taxis, and who used to rely on a colectivo to get them home at 12 am or later. Transmilenio stations stop admitting people at 11 pm, and service ends around that time. Also, there appears to be an issue with corruption regarding the quality of the streets on which they are building Transmilenio lines. Businesses get contracts to repair the streets, and consequently they are not as well constructed as they could be.
If I never explained Transmilenio, it is a system of rapid transit that has bus-only lanes that stop at raised stations (paradas) in the middle of the street. You enter with a ticket (1.500 pesos, about 75 cents, which is higher than the price of a colectivo bus, 1.150), so it has many features of a metro system but without the massively expensive infrastructure. Since the buses run on the surface, the ride is much more interesting than a subway ride. The whole system is very easy to use, and runs extensively throughout the city. They are in the process of planning new lines, like ones on two major streets that are not yet covered by the system, and there are similar systems in other cities in Colombia. I am fully convinced that a system like this is more amenable to the needs of Southern California than underground rail.
We´ve been enjoying a music festival this week at the Universidad Nacional called the Semana Colombo-Catalán, which brings together musicians and composers from Cataluña and Colombia. On Monday we went to a contemporary chamber music concert that was far too intellectual to be entertaining musically, but yesterday we heard a wonderful recital by a Spanish harpist. It took place in the Capilla (chapel) of the school, a mid-century building much to our liking. I think Bobby plans to write a post about the architecture we´ve seen in Bogotá, and it´s really a nice city to look at.
Today maybe we´ll go to a botanical garden in the parque central. Bogotá´s central park is the biggest in a Latin American city. We visited the park last week, and saw many kite-eating trees. Charlie Brown´s worst nightmare!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Trotting all over town

That's what we've been doing, walking to the point of exhaustion. Yesterday, since our plans to visit Usaquén (a small town that has been engulfed by the city and is the site of a great flea market, or las pulgas) have been postponed till next week, we left the house rather late to enjoy the ciclovía. As it turns out, the last Sunday in August is a holiday here, when they celebrate national solidarity with a big, noisy caminata (parade). We hit the parade route when our bus got to the city center, and walked along Carrera 7 following the route for a few hours. There were lots of school bands, with nice musical arrangements and a very chime-like instrument that kept the melodies going.
We meant to take the funicular up to Monserrate (the beautiful white church that hangs over the city on a mountain, the view is unparalleled in Bogotá), but dilly-dallied for too long to make it up there on Sunday, when it stops running at 5 pm. The parade was definitely very neat though. We were both reminded of Renn Fayre because of the rain and the crowds and the festive music and mood.
Having consumed many a tinto (black coffee), I led us on another expedition through the international plazas of the city center. Tequendama and Parque Central Bavaria are two big centers near the museo nacional. We walked through them and then explored a neighborhood of smaller buildings just beyond the city center, Teusaquillo. I expected this to be a prosperous neighborhood when we'd passed by it on the bus, but up close it was mostly deserted. Perhaps the people thought better than to display their money through flashy upkeep, but it seemed odd to me that a neighborhood of single family homes in this city of apartments would not be more upscale. Also, since it was after 5 pm on a Sunday, most people were probably indoors having dinner. The city mostly shuts down on Sunday.
Did I mention that we saw a perfomance of the Orquesta Filarmónica de Bogotá on Friday night? It was at the Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano, one of the many universities (around 45) in the city. What a beautiful performance! They played pieces by Haydn, Weber, Beethoven, and some English guy whose name I've forgotten. He composed ¨Pomp and Circumstance," there's a clue. The auditorio was all honey-colored wood and harmonized upholstery, and we got super great seats for only 2.500 pesos, which is about $1.75.
Today we're figuring out our next couchsurfing destination and riding the Transmilenio to Portal del Sur, which may give us a glimpse of the southern part of Bogotá, home to four million desplazados, according to a friend.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Spurious Helmets

So it´s official, bicycle rental is not something that´s commonly (or cheaply) offered in Bogotá. Despite the numerous ciclorutas. Despite the ciclovía. No bikes for us! In a way I´m relieved, cause I didn´t want to be on red alert regarding bike theft while enjoying the city, and the colectivos and Transmilenio do an excellent job of moving us around.
I´m exhausted. We started the day with a lovely breakfast prepared by our new host in Salitre, consisting of the usual chocolate, pan, and some arepas that actually didn´t taste like wood. The many stray dogs in this very modern part of the city didn´t manage to keep me awake last night with their rhythmic howling, but I´m still feeling the need to sleep like ten hours a night, so I went back to sleep after breakfast.
About Salitre: we saw an exhibit at the Biblioteca Virgilio Barco in the Parque Simon Bolívar yesterday that showed aerial photographs of Bogotá from 1947 to the present. We saw that Salitre was just a bunch of green fields until the city made plans to develop it in the style of Le Corbusier, with tall blocks of apartment buildings surrounded by park spaces. The district is fairly pleasant for the pedestrian, although I find the numerous indoor malls (Gran Estación, Plaza Salitre) to be antisocial. We also found confirmation that the Ciudad Universitaria is indeed in the shape of an owl, as we´d been told. One of the stadiums that formed the eyes of the owl has been destroyed, but the shape is still quite clear. Another feature we noticed at the exhibit was a large, third story plaza adjoining the Bancafé building. Today we found the plaza, it´s impressive, and we took some pictures that are imprisoned in the camera for now, till we go to an internet café that has USB capabilities.
We visited the Museo Nacional after we gave up on bikes, and watched a bit of a documentary about Colombia´s Pacific coast region. Then we paid 11,000 mil pesos (ouch) for coffee, chocolate, and a teensy pecan pie in the museum café.
Now we´re back in Salitre, having jumped onto a colectivo around sunset. I feel rather ill, and we need to eat dinner, and I´m stressed out about visiting this ecovillage outside the city called Aldeafeliz. It seems from their webpage that they´re accustomed only to camping visitors, and we certainly aren´t backpackers. I´ve been putting off calling them for days because I dread the scene I´ve concocted in my mind of my poor Spanish confusing the hell out of whoever answers the phone. Fortunately Bobby has volunteered (with much encouragement from me) to call.
Tomorrow we go to a town called Usaquen to visit a renowned market and to enjoy the ciclovía.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Alienation and la ciudad universitaria

Monday had its problems, since I got so frustrated with my continued money misunderstandings (it is remarkably difficult to tell 1000 from 10000 when you´re trying to pay for something quickly) that I burst into tears in a Transmilenio station. We had lunch at a bourgie but charming place here called Crepes & Waffles, an upscale chain with locations all over the city. The waitress was really nice, and the food was very good, so I gradually let the heat of my latte warm my heart to Bogotá once more.
This is a city unaccustomed to tourists, at least English-speaking ones. We get funny looks on the Transmilenio when Bobby and I chat and point at things out the window, and clerks usually look completely bewildered when I fail to understand what they said. In Southern California, many things are explained in English and in Spanish. Bogotá is much less international than Los Angeles. There don´t appear to be any ethnic enclaves, and though there are international restaurants, there´s no string of cheap Korean BBQ, Vietnamese soup and sandwiches, or Indian buffets to be found. Colombian food is delicious, mainly we´ve had platos corrientes (daily plates) of chicken and rice, with stewed vegetables and fried yuca. Crepes are big here (hence Crepes & Waffles), and they remind me of quesadillas. We´ve made our own juice out of maracuyá fruits, a tangy, starchy drink, but we have been avoiding all the delicious jugos naturales available absolutely everywhere.
On Tuesday we visited the ciudad universitaria, the campus of la Universidad Nacional de Colombia. There are campuses all over the country, but Bogotá has the largest, with 25,000 students according to our host´s friend. We spoke at length with our host and his friend about the historic and revolutionary legacy of the school. Once again I felt sheepish, having attended a tiny private college that looked admiringly to more politically revolutionary countries without suffering through disappearances, massacres, total shutdown of the school, and continuing battles with police. The campus has many interesting buildings, most decorated with graffiti urging arms and rejection of the state. The most architecturally interesting one is the social sciences library for graduate students. Bobby took some pictures, look here.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bogotá is soaking wet

This is a bus in the famed transmilenio system, as seen from the upstairs of a shawarma restaurant on this drizzly, then soaking, Saturday afternoon. Today we got up late, drugged by the altitude, and made our way toward the city center and Parque de la Independencia, passing by a swanky university and a commercial district. We toured around the apparently closed plaza de toros Santamaria, and then went to the Museo del Arte Moderno de Bogotá (MAMBO). And what to our wondering eyes should appear, but four floors dedicated to artistic interpretations of los desaparecidos de Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Colombia (forgive me if I´ve forgotten any). It was, as Bobby described it, a real tear-jerker, as well as super depressing. Many of the pieces incorporated photos of gente desaparecido, bringing the human scale right into your face. I think the most moving piece was one organized from the archives of las Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo, the Argentine group that tries to find the children of desaparecidos who were born in captivity. Picture:

The installation was organized so that for each couple who would have had a child while in captivity, there was a series of their photos and one mirror to illustrate the missing child. We were blown away.
Then we wandered the city in a daze, ending up on a seedy street where a maniacal teenager followed us for a few blocks past brothels and trash heaps. It took us a while to find our way back to the areas the city government would probably prefer for tourists to frequent. Then we took refuge in the shawarma shop, and after eating a big plate of meat and fries covered in tahini, we got soaked coming back to the hostel. Now my pants are dry and I´m hoping the rain has let up so we can go ride the transmilenio.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

PDX to LAX to MEX to BOG

we made it to bogotá! it only took three flights and four airports. ciudad de mexico was confusing, because we didn´t understand that we were, in fact, supposed to officially enter (via paperwork) mexico before we could go through customs and get on our connecting flight to colombia. we almost missed the connection, but made it at the last minute, leaving a trail of half-understood airport workers behind us in our wake. lesson #1: not everybody outside the us speaks english, contrary to what i´d fooled myself into thinking. lesson #2: the academic spanish i whisper in my head at times is not sufficient for the challenges of international travel! i´m sure i´ll get more comfortable as we´re here longer, but right now i feel like a big, dumb american.
the city is beautiful, nestled against dramatic andean cliffs, and possessing a very oregonian climate. i´m in an internet café with a different keyboard than i´ve ever used, which makes adding accents to words very easy, but using the shift key more difficult.
now we need to go figure out if we can stay more cheaply at a different branch of our hostel for the next few nights. we got stuck in the honeymooners´casa, which has rooms that are too nice for our purposes. and too rich for our blood!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Portland Traffic School ROCKS

Last night I had the privilege of sitting in and observing a "Share the Road Safety Class" in North Portland. This class, which was started a year and a half ago, was developed by Trauma Nurses Talk Tough, the Portland Police, the BTA, and the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition. It covers traffic interactions between drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Folks who have been issued citations for certain traffic violations can take this class, and it is really a great opportunity. I felt so proud that Portland includes a bicycle safety presentation in a traffic class! The room was filled mainly with people who had been issued citations while driving, and I do not know that some of these people had ever ridden bicycles in traffic before. What an amazing opportunity to educate drivers about the increasing numbers of cyclists in Portland, and how to behave around bikes and on them! This is the best example of mobility education currently offered that I have seen since I started studying this stuff.
If I were studying sustainable transportation in Portland, I would be all set to start a dissertation project this year. People up here are so willing to share knowledge and contacts about making the city more accessible to bicyclists and pedestrians. Even though drivers have honked and shouted at me for no good reason while I've been here, I firmly believe that local (and now national) media coverage of this trumped-up "bikes vs. cars" controversy only makes people feel more divided and indignant. My guess is that the guy who yelled at me the other day, who was an older man, might have read some inflammatory remarks in The Oregonian that morning before getting into the car, and the sight of me and Bobby (in a bike lane, out of his way) filled him with so much rage that he spat "get off the road!" at us. I'd never had that happen before all those articles were published this summer. I think they're leading to more self-righteous factionalism, and I'm glad that different people I've heard speaking publicly on behalf of the BTA dismiss this as the crap it is.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Preparing to Depart Country

My month in Portland is drawing to a close. It's a damn good thing for my bank account, which will barely survive my time in this café-infested city.

I have done lots of lovely things this month, including:
- riding bikes to Sauvie Island to pick marionberries and eat bbq
- riding bikes to Oregon City to see the municipal elevator and the Willamette Falls Locks
- meeting with an education coordinator at the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and finding out that Oregon's schoolchildren are already experiencing bicyclist and pedestrian education in elementary schools! Hooray!
- finding out about the Restorative Listening Project, an effort to build ties between the historically black population of N and NE Portland and the many new white residents and businesses. They're trying to be constructively open about the usually quiet, if devastating, processes of gentrification in those parts of the city. Hooray!
- spending scads of time in Opposable Thumb on Belmont and in Crema on Ankeny. Truly making the city's coffee shops my living room rather than sitting in a private home has been very enjoyable. The countless iced americanos and occasional pastry helped.
- reveling in the giant bins of fabric and clothes I left in Bobby's parents' basement. Soon they will be mother's garage. Hi Mom!
- visited a great travel clinic with a most friendly and charming doctor, the Portland Industrial and Travel Clinic. I'm now considered (mostly) immune to hep A, yellow fever, and typhoid.
- spent lots of time with good friends, people I missed tremendously in LA this past year
- volunteered at Bridge Pedal, and watched 17,000 cyclists ride by my post in downtown Portland. They liked my gold velour jumpsuit and green marching band jacket with gold accents, and also the loose goose. Quite a few Dahons, Bike Fridays, and Bromptons were in the stream of wheeled ones.

This weekend I'm visiting friends in the Seattle area, and we're leaving for Bogotá a week from today. I've made contact with some folks at Aldeafeliz, an ecovillage outside of Bogotá, and I'm looking forward to finding out about sustainability there.

Ooh, and last night I viewed 400 Blows at the Clinton Street Theater, and met a nice bartender who happened to be from Tustin. He recognized my OCTFCU card, since he's also a member. The speakers at that theater are hell on the ears, sadly, so the opening of the movie, with the lovely score, was almost ruined for me and Bobby. But I guess our ears adjusted to the static, or they fixed something, cause most of the soundtrack came through well. Such a sad movie, though not nearly as depressing as Rossellini's Germany, Year Zero or Buñuel's Los olvidados, other movies about boys lost in the shuffle of urban survival.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Wrangling all my wild tangential thoughts

Now that I'm going to be static for a month, I'm getting down to brass tacks and emptying my brain into Word. I hope I can go some way toward figuring out the connections between bicycle subcultures and gentrification while I'm here.
I've put out inquiries at several activist organizations in Portland, and I'm waiting to here back about interviews. I think that the struggle here will be useful to find out about not only because I've been interested in Portland's experience of revitalization since I was at Reed, but also because I think neighborhoods like Echo Park in LA are at a different place in the same cycle of gentrification.
One thing I love about Portland is my opportunity to patronize wonderful businesses, such as coffee shops Sound Grounds and Palio, cafés like the Whole Bowl, and of course the king of all bookstores, Powell's. I spent some time there yesterday, and I've never noticed so many tourists in the shop before. The place was packed. I think my bike helmet assaulted more than one person as I squoze past.
The Loose Goose is doing a fine job getting me around town. I find it much easier to use it when I'm not trying to get on and off trains, up and down staircases, and have a steady garage in which to leave it. I saw a couple getting two Dahon Speeds into their trunk yesterday. We exchanged a wave of folding solidarity. I'm pleased that I'm not the only woman on a folding bike in Portland; I have seen only men on them until now. And I mean everywhere I've been this summer. It definitely seems like a middle-aged man toy, the folding bicycle.
I should probably go buy some new shoes.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Back in My Familiar City

I took the bus from Atlanta to Chicago, passing through Nashville, Louisville, and Indianapolis. A major difference between East and West: we don't have cities every 100 miles or so. Our cities are like 400 miles apart. Zing! Bobby thinks that's because of the 200 year head start the East has in terms of urbanization and population growth.
I tromped around Chicago for a few hours, once I realized that I would not be able to catch up on sleep lying on a hard wooden bench in Union Station's great hall. Lots of echoes and traffic there. I walked down to the lake, viewing the landscape that defined urban studies. Seemed like a nice city, but I was definitely in a tourist district complete with ample Starbucks, CVS, and Corner Bakery franchises. My shoes filled with water because it was drizzling, and my shoes are not seaworthy. I'm not a practical shoes person, after all.
Then I got on the Empire Builder train headed for Portland. My seat was spacious, with lots of legroom. Traveling by train was a blast! I guess I'd only taken the train between Orange County and Los Angeles before, so two days on the train felt very different. Guess what: the train has extremely different clientele than does the Greyhound bus. The train is neither cheap nor swift, so I was surrounded mostly by vacationing families. The Greyhound doesn't have a vacation feel; I saw a lot of servicemen in uniform, single mothers and children, and people clearly not about to spend a week at Glacier National Park.
Sleeping on the train and the bus is equally difficult in my experience, perhaps because of the incessant rocking. And the train is very loud at night. Now I'm somewhat well-rested, and clean. And it's not humid here, not at all, it's actually cloudy and cool right now.
I've got to listen to Frankie Avalon's "Venus" a few more times before I can get started today.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Atlanta Notes

- I visited the MLK memorial. What a great orator the man was! I sobbed my way through the exhibit, hiding my tears from the other visitors.
- This city is so pretty, I had no idea. Of course, I'm sure the core is too spendy for most of the population here, but what a core it is! The big, Olmsted-designed park, Piedmont Park, is closed to cars, it looks like, so I saw a lot of bicycling there.
- The public transit system has served me well so far, except for the ticket system malfunctioning twice and my bus driver getting into an argument with a rider over her lack of breaks. Both employees and patrons despise the MARTA system, that's not a recipe for happy living.
- I spoke to a bike store owner who confirmed that there is no recent, accurate bicycle map of the city available. I was dismayed to find, when I stopped by city hall yesterday, that the office of transportation were stumped by my request for a bike map. Hmm...

Monday, July 14, 2008

I'm sold on DC

If by some twist of fate I end up studying federal transportation policy and move to DC, color me tickled. The citizens of DC seem to be facing all kinds of social problems openly, rather than pretending they don't exist like we do in So Cal (segregation? what segregation?).
Yesterday I took a somewhat ill-advised ride on the Loose Goose all over Rock Creek Park, a short distance from where I'm staying. A major road through the park is closed to cars from 7 am Saturday till 7 pm Sunday, so bikes were all over the place. Lots of gearos with their wannabe Lance attire, some families, helmets here and there, and even another Dahon owner. I took a nap like a hobo on a park bench, right next to the creek. I really wanted to jump into the creek, but it was kind of yellow, with some trash-filled eddies, so I decided not to.
The air was fixing for a thunderstorm, so my body stayed covered in a thin film of sweat all day. After napping at the park, I headed to Columbia Heights on a street with a bike lane, and had lunch at a lovely cafe called Dos Gringos. By the time I made it back to my hosts' house, I had a headache, I was heaving in the heat, and was shaky with exertion. Then it poured once I was safely sheltered.
Tonight I'm getting on the Greyhound bound for Atlanta, or ATL, as it's also known, apparently. Maybe I'll squeeze in a couple more museums before then.

Friday, July 11, 2008

DC Update

I'm staying in DC with my good friend's parents, who have given me a whole room and a bath to myself. What unheard of luxury!
I've been putting my green sneakers to good use, tromping all over and touristing with the best of them! That's right folks, the elitist has left the building and I'm actually experiencing crowds. Oh the inane conversations I've overheard. Here's a list of places I've visited on this, my historic first visit to DC:
- Takoma Park, DC (where I'm staying. It's a nice, quiet neighborhood of old brick, squarish houses, most with porches. Also, the historically black part of Takoma Park)
- Takoma Park, Maryland (the adjoining commercial district. I had a nice plum turkey sandwich here the other day, and today I enjoyed homemade ice cream. With all the lush greenery and old buildings it's downright charming. The historically white part of Takoma Park)
- Columbia Heights (a neighborhood that used to be so bad people in DC wouldn't visit relatives there. Now safe, complete with numerous shabby chic brick townhouses)
- the Mall and surrounding monuments (I went through the Library of Congress, including the wonderful sixth floor cafeteria in the Madison Building. I dined on turkey dinner, chocolate cake, and a sweeping view of the city, plus a peep of the Potomac River)
- some museums (the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery)
- Alexandria (too many Gaps for my taste, but this eighteenth century town had a bunch of crumbling old buildings. It seems to attract a lot of traffic, which makes walking unpleasant because you're constantly inhaling large quantities of exhaust. Same problem I found in Belmont Shore, Long Beach. I really think that cities should consider improving their traditional storefront retail districts by cutting back on the automotive congestion in those areas. Cause you know what? I shouldn't be punished for walking)
- Arlington National Cemetery (this one on the list represents a huge amount of walking. My favorite part was seeing the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Nice one, America! I also liked the Arlington House museum, which was built by Martha Washington's grandson, George Washington Custis. His daughter married Robert E. Lee, and the Union Army was so mad when Lee joined the rebels that they took over the Arlington plantation and made plans to turn it into a Civil War cemetery! So the story goes)
Plus I talked to some folks at the Administration on Aging about the elderly using transit, and learned a whole bunch about federal transit funding possibilities (like there's at least 62 different sources, go figure).
I've been thinking a lot about American aristocracy and how that goes against some ideals I have. It's not something I encounter much or really ever on the West Coast, and I find it nauseating. Here I am, enamored of old buildings and houses, getting tricked into reproducing hierarchies of hero worship in which I'm thoroughly uninterested. Not that these guys didn't do good things, but they also massacred anyone different from themselves and created the situation of intense racial segregation that we all find ourselves in. Not so good, early Americans! It's so schizophrenic that we're supposed to revile slavery, but still cheer for people like Robert E. Lee for supporting reunification. The man worked his slaves, everybody! Over and over in the National Portrait Gallery I read blurbs about the men I saw pictured and saw things like, "destroyed forty Iroquois villages" mentioned as the reason for army promotions. The DC institutions have obviously made a big effort to include non-white people and women in displays, though.
I'm going to stop this and get back to my important work, finishing Gloria Swanson's marvelous Swanson on Swanson.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Time To Pack Up

Today's my last day in Newark. I'm going to Manhattan in a few hours to meet with a woman who may have interests quite similar to mine. Then I'm going to stay with an old friend in Brooklyn. And tomorrow morning, I'm off to DC.
This is a picture of an old subway car at the New York Transit Museum. I particularly liked the gray, cream, and blue color scheme.
I spent July 3-July 6 in Wellesley, Massachusetts, at a friend's family home. I visited the Wellesley dump, which has a reusables area and an extensive book section. Now I have a bunch of Freud pocket editions.
I can't figure out how to get from DC to Atlanta. Amtrak is all sold out for next week, and I haven't found an alternative. I'm tired and I want to go back to Portland, but I know I have to at least try to stick it out and visit Atlanta.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Four Trains Home!

I've just arrived back in Newark from a rollicking good time in Brooklyn, where I toasted the accomplishments of the Wanderlust bike tour. My dear friend Lizbright rode into town today with the other Wanderlust folks, and the tour organizer graciously had well-wishers over for a rooftop BBQ that included a partial view of Manhattan. Charming! Getting home involved
1. the G train
2. the C train
3. the PATH
4. Newark Light Rail
All with the Loose Goose in tow. It only fell over once. So far Tri-Met trains in Portland are the only ones I've encountered that are equipped with bicycle hooks.
Earlier today I spoke with a fellow at Transportation Alternatives, a stellar organization in NYC. He loaded me up with many reports and pamphlets to peruse, I've got studying to do. If there's one thing I've learned thus far it's that I need to learn several new vocabularies, literatures, and disciplines if I really want to get my head around transportation. My brain gets foggy sometimes trying to sort out all the bikeways and policies and how it's all related to gentrification somehow.
Also today, I finally rode my bike in Manhattan. It wasn't nearly as exciting and death-defying as I thought it would be. My favorite part was the river path, which I rode from Chelsea (or something, don't ask me!) to the Williamsburg Bridge. Then I rode across the Williamsburg Bridge, huffing and puffing. My good friend the Loose Goose can do well in terms of speed, but those little wheels make the uphill parts annoying cause my feet are turning the pedals sooo much, in addition to being in a gear of less resistance. In short, some people passed me and I felt jealous that they were going faster. Then I rode on some lovely bike laned streets in Brooklyn, and I liked it.
We're going to Wellesley tomorrow for the Fourth of July. I've never been on the east coast for the fourth, so I hope I get to see some old-timey, colonial-style Americana. I'll be wearing my favorite colonial times jacket.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Aggressively Pedestrian

What's with the double meaning of "pedestrian"? How did the word come to be associated not only with traveling by foot, but also with being boring?
In this part of the country there is a totally different pedestrian culture than on the west coast. The walkers are at war with the drivers, they push into the streets regardless of the color of the traffic signal. I keep noticing how cowed I am as a pedestrian, acquiescing should a car come my way. Not so in New York or New Jersey! On Sunday in Coney Island I saw a guy crossing against the light who paused, looking unconcerned, while a firetruck screeched past him. He stood between lanes of traffic and then proceeded when the truck passed. Granted, he might have been a wee bit intoxicated, but it exemplified the attitude people here have regarding crossing the street. I love the aggression from pedestrians, but my orderly mind abhors all the lawbreaking. The drivers are pushing forward, speeding along, and the walkers are just as bad. I keep marking myself as an outsider because I hesitate at crosswalks, looking both ways. Heck, I even step back onto the curb if the light changes. Every time I do that some other person walks briskly past me and into traffic, defying the drivers.
So Coney Island is filled with garbage, big surprise! It's just like Long Beach! Lots of casual littering here, you know, a guy'll be walking along, and a wad of paper will just drop from his fingers as he ambles along. I mean, I'm not going swimming at a beach where the ground is two parts sand and one part trash. And neither should your children, folks!
As often happens when I am parted from my instruments, my fingers are itching to sew and to strum a guitar. Here I am with this silly bicycle and no creative implements. I seem to be doomed to forever desire instruments when they are away from me, and to be bored by them when I have them.
No camera cord yet, but I have lots of pictures from the New York Transit Museum, which is a Valhalla for train enthusiasts like me. It's in an old subway station in Brooklyn, and down on the platform you can go in and out of trains from every era of the IRT. Suhweet! MTA portrays itself as having a longstanding commitment to the environment and public transportation above single occupancy vehicles. I wonder if that's true.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Blueberry Overload

We went to the Whitesbog Blueberry Festival yesterday, a far cry from the artisan delights of Sauvie Island in Portland. They had blueberries for sale, but they did not come from Whitesbog. They were packaged and trucked in from some other part of New Jersey. Fortunately there was ample picking to be had, and for a fair price too. So now, since there were three of us, we have masses and masses of blueberries to glut ourselves on, not to mention the feasting we did while among the blueberry bushes.
I went to a show on Friday night at Sound Fix Records, which I think is between Williamsburg and Greenpoint in Brooklyn. My friend had asserted that W.burg is just like Portland, and the club proved her right. However, the boys are finer looking in PDX, no doubt about it. The subway was hopping when we left, after midnight, for the return to Manhattan where said friend lives. Then we wandered around Greenwich Village for a long time in search of pizza. Fait accompli!
For the record, Highlander does little to recommend itself. I think it's too bad for even ironic appreciation. The female characters, being mortal, had no depth or substance. I did enjoy the performance of Clancy Brown.
Today I'm off to see what's left of Coney Island, and to spread blueberries among the masses.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


I went on a tour at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum on Wednesday. They have an interesting setup, with a few unrenovated apartments on the tour so that you can see the decay vividly, layers of wallpaper flaking off and windows sagging. People loved big floral prints at least up until the 1930s, when the building was condemned.
My tour included a tiny coffin, go figure. Apparently there was terrible corruption among milkmen at the turn of the century, and they'd add things like ammonia and chalk to milk to make it seem less rotten. Then babies would die, hence the tiny coffin on the tour.
Now I'm supposed to watch The Highlander. Will I succeed? It looks like a pile of crap so far.

Drugged with Sleep

I slept until 3 pm today, with a short awake period during which I ate breakfast. I stayed up all night reading a book called The Time Traveler's Wife. My friend lent it to me, and said that it was a real page-turner, reminding him of times he'd stayed up all night reading as a kid. So, how could I resist staying up all night reading it? The book is not that well written, in terms of believability of the characters. There's a lot of name-dropping of punk and post-punk bands, and it sort of rings hollow. Like the characters aren't as cool as the author wants them to be, like they're just pretending so she'll like them more. And there's a traditional wedding in the book even though one of the character is physically incapable of participating fully in such a ritual. Oh well, what the parents want the parents get! But the general flow of the book is lovely, and the ending is smash-bang good. I cried and cried. Anwyay, so I slept in till 3 pm today, and now I think I'll have some coffee.
I'm going to a scholarship fund concert tomorrown night in Brooklyn, so I'll be able to see Olafur Eliasson's new waterfall installation. The comments about in on the NY Times website are hilarious, very skeptical and concerned about the logic of spending $15 million on waterfalls in the river under bridges.
The New York subway system is not fully handicapped accessible. I'm shocked by this because the system in LA is fully accessible, and the train drivers announce when the elevators aren't working and what bus line the wheelchair-bound can use to get back to the right station. Does that mean it's just impossible to use the subway if you're in a wheelchair in New York? I haven't seen anyone on a wheelchair on the subway yet, and I haven't ridden a bus, so I don't know.
Tomorrow I'll ride my bike from Newark to Manhattan.