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.

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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.

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-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, caf├ęs. 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.