Monday, February 27, 2012

LA's Ghosts of the Past

“WE CAME, we saw, we kicked ass!” said Bill Murray’s character Dr. Peter Venkman in the 1984 Ghotstbusters thriller as they leaped into the Ghostbusters car with their freshly captured ghost. This random threesome of paranormal doctors paired up to create the “largest paranormal removal company in America,” while capturing audiences everywhere.  These men and their ghosts remain icons today.  The men, the car and the song are rhetorical masterpieces of the 1980’s film industry.  But what is the car without the actors, the songs, the ghosts and the magic that encompasses the giant flat screens of the theatres? Alone, the car is just that, an ordinary car.

The appeal came from the red streaks along the side and the ghost containers and trackers that lined the top.  But the real icon was in the red circle with a ghost inside and a red streak slashed through, slapped in the middle of the diver’s side door that symbolized the end to paranormals and for ghosts to BEWARE.  It zipped through the streets of “New York City” capturing all of the ghosts in sight.  It’s new home, however, is within the white lined rectangle of the third parking spot outside of the Judy Garland building on the Sony Pictures lot in Culver City. The Ghostbusters Mobile is no longer any use for the three paranormal hunters. What used to transport ghosts captured in giant vacuums by three nerdy scientists is no more. Outside of the movies, it is stripped of its magic. Its “ass-kicking” abilities have been reduced to nothing more than an old white car from the 80’s. It was the means to which those brave men captured not just ghosts, but audiences everywhere, and yet, its only friend now is the black Green Hornet Cadillac and the occasional fan walking past on a tour from the lot, who stops to take a picture on their iPhone. 

Seeing the car is like seeing a faded outline of a woman who used to captivate men and women from the big screen or an ordinary man, who we used to watch scale buildings, dodge bullets and get the girl.  The movies will build you up, but once the lights in the theatre are turned back on and shine on the cracks within the surface as the glitter in the air fades away; it breaks you down to nothing more that tin metal in the shape of a car.

Denise Hamilton said, “LA makes promises it can’t keep.” This lonely Ghostbusters car is just one of Hollywood’s many victims.  It has become the outcome of Hollywood’s forgotten dreams and the realities of the movies, without the magic.

-- Elise Fornaca
 -- image via

Untangling L.A.

I KNOW you're all blissfully decompressing on Spring Break, but I wanted to let you know that your blog got a mention on the KCET blog by writer D. J. Waldie (about whom I've spoken about  in class).

Here's a little snip:

Whatever the reasons, Los Angeles has resisted embracing its "vast accumulation of individual stories" in favor of a small store of familiar tropes: noir city, La La Land, fifty suburbs in search of a city, city of broken dreams, and the best worst place in the world.

These pages - UpDaily, 1st and Spring, Departures, SoCal, and The Back Forty among them - have been finding and telling other stories of Los Angeles since 2008. And their "vast accumulation" is only a part of what a lengthening roll of online storytellers bring to readers every day. So many storytellers, that it would be an almost impossible task even to survey them all.

And here's your closeup:

But I'd like to offer you one more - the students in Loyola Marymount University's journalism course, Telling L.A.'s Story.

Their encounters with Los Angeles (and the problems of story telling here) have the uneasy shock of first discovery. Their stories also have some of the rough edges expected of student writers. Their sympathies are not yet fully given, as they and the city continue a romance that could end badly.

A blog of million stories - including theirs - is not a mere accumulation, however.

Stories are the measure of a city's grandeur, the nerve fibers of its being, and its memories. The more stories we have and from as many tellers as can be recruited, the more we will redress this city's greatest lack: its failure to know itself.
 Keep digging, keep looking, keep thinking, keep writing.

Kudos to you all!

-- L.G. 

photos: Union Station Passenger Terminal, Downtown
credit: L.G.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The "Other" End of Sunset Boulevard

HERE'S SOME  CRAZY L.A. history...along a gently curving stretch of Sunset Boulevard on its far east leg as it bends from Silver Lake into Echo Park...

-- L.G.

Sunset's Sunset?

THE SUNSET STRIP. It's a mile and a half stretch of clubs, music venues, and restaurants. It looks, in my opinion, rather unremarkable, just more blocks of business among the many, many others in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, I don't know much music history...and it's probably for this reason that'd I'd never heard of The Rainbow Room, The Viper Room, or The Whiskey-a-Go-Go before I moved to Los Angeles.

I've learned that some of the craziest, most talented musicians have performed and made their names in these venues. It's a big deal: Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Van Halen, Motley Crue - just to name a few - have performed here. What a rush! But to walk inside? Take The Viper Room, for example. It feels rather muted. It's just another bar, really. It might even need new furnishing, and it could definitely use a bathroom upgrade. I have to remind myself that I am walking inside walls that have housed musical legends.

Thanks to my recent internship, I've been able to visit Sunset Strip on three separate occasions in the past month. Each visit has felt the same: a struggle. I was eating at a diner 0.8 miles away from The House of Blues, and I thought I'd might drive and re-park, instead of walking the barren and shady strip at night. It took twenty minutes to get from here to there, and even more time to find parking. It makes me wonder how the stars can rise here when movement is often impossible.

It's also a place I've never been to during the day. It's often unremarkable to be in a place during the daylight, but when you consistently experience a place at night, it's worth noting, isn't it? For some reason or another, the experience on the Sunset Strip would not be the same under the sun. True to its name, the only activities that should be experienced there occur at night, when the sun goes down, or much, much afterwards.

I think I've heard people say, The Strip isn't what it used to be. From what it sounds like, the Sunset Strip used to be a hub, a hip hot spot, and now it's dwindled down a bit. I'm not really sure - I'm writing in the dark (maybe I should have finished reading the WHOLE Wikipedia article instead of just scanning it before I started writing..). Sometimes I wish I could have seen it then and now - seen how it's transformed. Would I have wanted to hang out among those crowds, or would I have avoided the scene altogether?

The musicians who play there now are names I've never heard of - but I guess, maybe it's a place where everyone gets their start, before they're well known. The Sunset Strip.

-- Jennifer Pellerito
 Photo Credit: H4NUM4N via Flickr.

Friday, February 24, 2012


A "Moytel?"
Well, can someone explain?
Chinatown, 2012

photo: L.G.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

At the Tone the Time Will Be . . .

FOR THOSE of you looking for a little blog post inspiration, you might want to dip into the schedule for Pacific Standard Time. Linking art institutions across Los Angeles, the multidisciplinary/multimedia exposition explore the art scene in Los Angeles from 1945 to 1983.

Click here for the website and listings of panels, exhibits and performances that are part of the exhbition.

Just a week ago, I went to the Norton Simon and saw "Proof: The Rise of Printmaking in Southern California. It includes work by artist's Ed Moses, Ken Price,  Larry Rivers, Ed Ruscha, (yes, Michael F. Ed, Ruscha).

 I was particularly interested in learning about the artists who came out of the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Hollywood run by a woman named June Wayne who just passed away last year at 93.

The workshop's goal was to revive the art of lithography by creating "a pool of master artisan-printers in the U.S."  What it ultiamtely did was both create a community and spark a renaissance.

Check it out if you make your way to the San Gabriel Valley.

-- L.G.
image via hangout.artsounds

Los Angeles, a patchwork quilt

“I JUST DON'T get it! I don’t get how there can be such a nice house sitting right next to a small crappy house!” exclaimed a junior Loyola Marymount University student, Christie Afzal as she drove through the neighborhood of Westchester.  To see a tall tan house with a beautiful walkway surrounded by palm trees leading up to a wide mahogany door that is being overlooked by huge windows and a balcony soaking up the LA sun, sitting next a small bright teal house slouching behind a hot pink wall enclosing its wildly bushy front yard and copper tinted windows, staring across the street at a Spanish plastered house with intricate tan designs overarching a short doorway. 

Los Angeles living is a quilt.  It brings you warmth on those random freezing nights and gives you cover from the dust of the Santa Anna winds that hurl around you.  It has been sewn together by generations of families carefully binding the stories of their ancestry that brought them to LA.  While one patch may signify the “cultivation of the Mediterranean image—either Spanish or Italian,” as described in David Fine’s article “Starting Points,” “The romantic nostalgic Spanish mission myth…as authentic, indigenous regional history…[a reflection of] the mission revival theory,” others are reflections of the Midwest suburbs literally transplanted into a neighborhood.  Los Angeles, since the very beginning, when these individuals began creating their intricate family patches, has been the “unreal city,” a “theme park, the repository of exotic, bizarre architecture.”  The quilt that covers Los Angeles is the living, breathing history that covers the city.  It is constantly growing as new inhabitants add their patchwork to the history that surrounds LA.
83St. Westchester
Photo Credit: Elise Fornaca 
“I’ve lived here two years and I still can’t figure it out,” continued Afzal, a native Northern Californian.  LA’s patchwork quilt distinguishes it from any other place in the world because it brings the different places of the world to one simple street lined sidewalks and people walking their dogs and raising families.  Los Angeles is a home away from home that Angelenos have made their own.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My La, My Home: Celaya Bakery

LOS ANGELES  is an intricate maze of freeways and streets that wind through skyscrapers, businesses, and back alleys, and it is a land where the speech of its people has become laid back while their actions and motivations are fast paced. For me, the flurry that Los Angeles emits is home. Home, for a lot of people, comes with traditions and values that we grow up around. No event comes with more tradition for my family than Christmas. And when Christmas comes, so do the pile of tamales.

            Located off Sunset Blvd and Echo Park Ave., Celaya Bakery is a hole in the wall if you ever saw one. If you aren’t looking for the bakery, you may miss it. Celaya is one of only a cluster of stores and shops squeezed together on a city block. The owners tease the public by proudly displaying their freshly baked bolios (fresh baked Mexican bread) in their giant bay windows, drawing in customers of all kinds at all times of the days. The crisp bread that is taken from the oven and transported to the display case produces a symphony of sounds when an individual rips off a piece and hears the rhythmic crackle released by tiny breadcrumbs. On several other shelves line the sweet pan dulce, sugar coated with every color on the pastel rainbow. Wandering around the floors of Celaya Bakery is like wandering around the aisles of a candy factory. There is a surprise in every corner.
For my family, going to Celaya Bakery is a tradition every Christmas holiday. My mother went to grammar and middle school with the owner’s daughter and my mother tells me that little has changed to the bakery after forty years.  "Not much has changed over the years other than a few re-paintings here and there," Martha Flores, 50, proud mother of this here author, states. "My parents used to own a restaurant and Celaya was our provider [for bread]. It wasn't until seventh grade when I found out I went to school with the owners' daughter." 
Christmas is Celaya’s busiest time of the year and their reputation of flawless tamales precedes them. My mother places her nine dozen-tamale order three weeks in advance: three-dozen pork, three-dozen chickens and chili, and three-dozen cheese. For those arriving to the bakery days before Christmas are turned down because the demand for these delicious treats is through the roof.  Taking a bite into any flavor will send your taste buds into frenzy, dancing wildly over the kick of spices found within the recipe.  The sugary sweetness of candied bread combined with the perfect fluff of their bolios leaves your mouth wanting more. The bread can be nicely washed down with a glass of milk or better yet, their homemade champurrado (Mexican hot chocolate). The goal of the bakers is to leave their customer’s mouth watering and it is a goal they achieve every day.
We then package these tamales into separate gift baskets to give to friends and family, a tradition we’ve done for years. Our family has become affiliated with tamales during the winter and with every delivery to a friend or relative comes the opportunity to reconnect with those we love and haven’t seen.
For my family, bringing these tamales isn’t done for the purpose of delivering a delicious delicacy. For my family, delivering the tamales is like delivering a slice of home and for those familiar with Hispanic traditions; opening up our home is common. During the holidays, we wish to bring the warm feelings of home to those we cherish deeply. "Celaya Bakery has been run and operated by the same family for years and you really feel like you're apart of that atmosphere when you walk in," Martha Flores explains. Home is where the heart is and my heart belongs to Los Angeles. It is small businesses like Celaya Bakery that have occupied the city for half a century and continue to please its customers daily that I am proud to call myself a native.
-- Michael Flores
photo credit: James H., Yelp

My LA: Conflicted

AFTER SITTING on a long flight the plane finally begins its descent into the Los Angeles International Airport. Depending on the time of day, I look out the window to get a bird’s eye view of a cluster of lights overwhelming the smog of a night sky or a bright sun softened by smog but still able to reflect the houses stacked upon houses in between the interwoven freeways transporting a never ending amount of shiny cars against the backdrop of the Santa Monica mountains. Once upon a time either sight filled me with the joy, and maybe even relief, that I was nearly home. The feeling I get when I look out my window and see Los Angeles below me has changed. The joy is gone. I am not relieved. What I see in these iconic views of LA now is a question – What the heck am I doing back here?
Since the age of fifteen I have been conflicted about Los Angeles. Before all of Los Angeles’ clichés and smog began to taint my love for L.A. the sight of Los Angeles from the air gave me warm butterflies. The city was welcoming me home with open arms. It always felt like I left my heart in Los Angeles, and the instant I looked down from the airplane’s small window, my heart and I were reunited. The terminal had just the right amount of chaos and my home was just around the corner. When I finally made my way outside, the polluted air filled my nose with happiness and good memories. The slight breeze was cooling on my sun kissed skin.
And yet… every year, Angelenos seemed to become more fake and superficial, and more orange from their spray tans. The air seemed to increasingly thicken and the car population must have tripled. I began to think that earthquakes, Santa Ana winds, and fires overshadowed the mild climate. Perhaps the outdoor focus of the beaches, skateboarding, and hanging out was not the height of modern civilization. I became increasingly sure that maturing required experiences beyond Disneyland and In-n-Out. So when I finally turned eighteen, I packed my bags quickly, and the time came for me to break up with Los Angeles and find true love with New York City.
I lasted in New York for a year. I left L.A. to escape the suffocating smog, to never have to sit in traffic again, and to grow as a person without the influence of the bubble which seems to surround, shelter, and protect certain parts of the L.A. scene, and keeps those trapped inside the bubble ignorant and stuck, especially where I grew up in the South Bay. Much to my surprise, after six months had passed I had a longing for Los Angeles, even with all the negativity I attached to the words Los Angeles.
I didn’t even know it was possible to be twenty degrees for six months straight. Whenever I would walk out onto the cold streets of New York, my face immediately hurt. My nose, ears and cheeks felt like they were about to fall off and smash into tiny ice cubes on the dirty ground. I could not keep my body from shivering, even when I would receive strange looks from people passing by. New York’s cold winter weather made me cold towards New York.
The subway system made me miss sitting in traffic because if my commute was going to be stressful and I was going to be late, I’d rather it be my fault, and enjoy the cleanness and privacy of my car, and not because the trains were stopped for twenty minutes with people’s arms and bodies a few inches from my face. New York even had its own layer of smog. New York was grey and gloomy, but when I thought of Los Angeles all I could picture was a warm orange hazy sun shinning over the city.
New Yorkers did not seem any different from those living in Los Angeles, except they had much paler skin and more natural hair, which seemed to make them blander than those in Los Angeles. Also the people in New York could not seem to wrap their heads around my L.A. style and slang. Black was not only the new black it was the only color anybody ever wore, which clashed with my colorful Californian wardrobe. I spoke slower and used words I don’t think they thought people actually used in real conversation. When describing how bomb cupcakes tasted, instead of agreement, the three faces in front of me looked at me in confusion and entertainment, as if I said something hilarious. Then one finally said, “Bomb? As in ‘Da Bomb?’ That’s so 90’s!”
The things I happily left behind in Los Angeles were the things I began to miss the most. I missed my car. I missed the warm sand on the beach and the smell of the Pacific Ocean. I began counting down the days until I would see my friends and family, wear a bikini and sandals, and buy everything at a cheaper price. I was ready to leave New York and get back to where my heart seemed to be, in Los Angeles, so I hoped on a plane headed back to where I came from.
Arriving in Los Angeles from New York, I looked out of my airplane window to see tiny cars driving on the streets and freeways and hundreds of houses surrounding the tall buildings of the city. I felt like I was home again. I felt nostalgic, warm, and appreciative to call Los Angeles my home. This was the last time my bird’s eye view of Los Angeles gave me those feelings.
Los Angeles is the most populated city in California, and the second most populated city in the States under New York City. Over the years there has been a rising trend of people leaving Los Angeles for a place with more opportunities and more to offer. According the California Census Reports of 2008, more than 135,173 people migrated out of California and Los Angeles, however the population remains high due to births and non-Angeleno’s moving to Los Angeles hoping their dreams will come true. However, it seems as if L.A.’s natives are no longer hypnotized by the false promises L.A. continually offers
Eventually Los Angeles began to disappoint me yet again. Living in New York was not all bad, but the growing up in L.A. does not prepare someone for the fact that you can’t have it all. So, L.A. is the city I hate to love. I love it because it is my home, and my style and lingo doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb, but I hate it because it can’t keep me satisfied. I continue to look for a new place to call home, but Los Angeles keeps a firm grip on me. Every time I think I found a new place to go, Los Angeles calls me back, telling me “I am your home. This is where you belong.” Now whenever I fly back to Los Angeles and see the city outside the plane’s window, I am saddened with disappointment and a desire for a home that can offer me more than perfect weather, tanned bodies, and celebrity sightings. Instead of seeing beauty below me, I see too much pollution, too many cars, and too much concrete. I am just not sure if that overpowers my love for my home. I guess it’s true that Los Angeles is synonymous with love and disappointment at the same time.
-Nastassja Habers
- Photo credit: Steve Perrin

Voice of James M. Cain in Mildred Pierce

SINCE WE talked about our favorite writers and their unique voices, as well as what we specifically enjoy about their particular style of writing, I decided to share a passage from Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain. I have been reading this book per suggestion of Professor George in class in the attempt to expand my literary knowledge beyond my somewhat embarrassing and "guilty-pleasure" book choices which I will not name here. While I had some trouble deciphering and pinpointing what exactly I loved about "City of Thieves," my book selection for last class, I realize that in this case, it's Cain's attention to detail and ability to describe things in such rich color without being overpowering that I enjoy. This is illustrated in the following passage from the very beginning of the book, where he is describing the Pierce home:

" The living room he stepped into corresponded to the lawn he left. It was indeed the standard living room sent out by department stores as suitable for a Spanish bungalow, and consisted of a crimson velvet coat of arms, displayed against the wall; crimson velvet drapes, hung on iron spears; a crimson rug, with figured border; a settee in front of the fireplaece, flanked by two chairs, all of these having straight backs and beaded seats; a long oak table holding a lamp with stained-glass shade, two floor lamps of iron, to match the overhead spears, and having crimson silk shades; one table, in a corner, in the Grand Rapids style, and one radio, on this table, in the Bakelite style. On the tinted walls, in addition to the coat of arms, were three paintings: one of a butte at sunset, with cow skeletons in the foregound; one of a cowboy, herding cattle through snow, and one of a covered wagon-train, plodding through an alkali flat. On the long table was one book, called Cyclopedia of Useful Knowledge, stamped in gilt and placed on an interesting diagonal. One might object that this living room achieved the remarkable feat of being cold and at the same time stuffy, and that it would be quite oppressive to live in. But the man was vaguely roud of it, especially the pictures, which he had convinced himself were "pretty good." As for living in it, it had never once occurred to him." --James M. Cain, Mildred Pierce.

The amount of information that this entire paragraph provides without, to me at least, seeming like a rambling run-on sentence is astonishing. Also, I think this description helps the reader envision Glendale, California in the 1930s, which is where and when the book is set. The descriptions of the pictures on the wall were interesting to me as well because when I think of cow skeletons and cowboys, it's usually my hometown of Texas or some other Southern state that comes to mind before California does. A description of California to me now might be a palm tree, the beach, sandy shores, polluted air, or traffic, as cliche as that might sound. But I am forgetting, of course, the large Spanish population and influence that California has today as well as back then. As "The White Spot" reading taught us, Los Angeles was a settlement first founded in 1781 as a spanish pueblo. Only later was it reenvisioned as "the white spot of America," and so these descriptions make sense more sense with that in mind.

While I enjoy our class readings about the history of California, often a very informative way to learn about the history of a place is by reading a novel that is set in a certain time and attempts to capture this time through the plot and characters. I look forward to continue reading this book and pulling out more descriptive paragraphs such as this one, as well as learning about the history of California through its descriptions.

--Also, apparently it's also an HBO mini series starring Kate Winslet and others? Interesting. But my rule is to always try to read the book before seeing the movie!

-- Caroline Queen

The Exiles

THIS JUST IN. I just saw on the Los Angeles Public Library's  Aloud public event Facebook Page that they had an event discussing the artists in exile we read about in class a few weeks back.  The event sounded great and the book sounds fascinating.
 Here's the post:  "From Exile to Home: LA Literary Life," Lawrence Weschler walked us through a fascinating 'writers map' of Los Angeles in this book last night- a map that tracks the residences of literary and cultural greats like Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Shoenberg, Christopher Isherwood.

 Here's the link to the page.

You might want to "Like" "Aloud to get updates on events that are happening there. They could offer blog-worthy topics for you all.

-- L.G.

The Other Chandler: Raymond Chandler

TONIGHT, after our workshop we're going to talk a little bit about Noir and Anxiety and why Los Angeles became the capital of this sort of style.

Above is part one of a compelling documentary about Raymond Chandler, who we've talked a little bit about in class. Chandler is in many ways considered the "Noir Laureate" of Los Angeles. The writing is infused with wonderful imagery. Chandler is the master of metaphor and simile. It's what marks his voice. He's often mimicked but can't be duplicated fully. There is a beautiful lyricism in his prose about a place that promised so much yet broke so many hearts.

-- L.G.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

You Are Listening to Los Angeles

I JUST had to share a find from a while ago. Some months back, I heard a fragment of a segment on Marketplace, a show about finance and business which airs over the Pasadena public radio station, KPCC. But instead of stock averages and updates on the Nikkei averages, what floated out of the speakers was this sort of ethereal, ambient synth noise, all downtempo atmosphere, but on top of it was a live radio/scanner feed via LAPD --  in real time. There is something actually pretty lovely about this weird, incongruous grouping -- a 21st Century Music for the Spheres that syncs-up with the white noise and monotone status updates phoned in via remote. It's a conversation starter and a nice party mix actually. The project is aptly titled:  "You Are Listening to Los Angeles"  Click here to be transported somewhere down there on that glowing grid. 
-- L.G.
photo: observatory view by Marcy Reiford via flickr creative commons)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

My LA: Whirlwind Through the City

A MAN gazes confusingly across the stage and at the tape recorder across his neck, he is trying to remember who he is, where he is and what he was doing just a second ago. The widely diverse audience gazes either confusingly back at him or are stunned and in awe at the rare beauty of this thought invoking performance piece.

Cinnamon rolls, cheese filled turnovers, croissants, cakes, cookies, fresh baked goods of all kinds stare at you and you can hear them through the display case that they are just begging you to eat them.

The smell of dirt, sweat dripping from old men and delicious food being cooked fill your nostrils. Crowds mingle throughout the field, some weaving by you some plowing through, and all with the same goal in mind, pick a truck. With over fifty food trucks there is much decision making to be done. One of them immediately draws attention with over fifty people in line while the rest remain unattended. I quickly realize the line is because of the infamous “Grilled Cheese Truck” and I hop in line behind the rest, because well I love cheese. My mother asks me what the hype is about and I say, “melted cheese… of course!” The people in front of us inform us that “it is really good and well worth the wait.” SO that is exactly what we do. We are joined by a alligator sausage cooked and a Creole soup from trucks nearby. We digest our delicious and greasy food and continue our day.

I scream and yell, hoping my horse will finish first, presenting me with a hefty fifty cents. I take in the mesh of people from old men circling their stacks of papers, carefully calculating choices; to families dragging coolers behind them in order to save a dollar. Then there is my family, my husband and I do this a few times a year and we have fun seeing how long our twenty dollars can last. I remind myself that I am just having fun, after a stranger taps me and informs us that we “will make no money on that bet” as he looks over our shoulders. I ignore him and my husband and I walk away down eight dollars.

Seagulls hover over fishermen and seals chase jet skis throughout the marina. We questions species of birds, which we have never seen before and start to expand our knowledge of marine wild life. We listen to the barking of the seals mixed with the motors of the boats and the squawking of the birds.

All of the above happened in one weekend in which my family and I never left Los Angeles and there was no need to and that is my Los Angeles. There are hidden gems and well-known gems and everything in between. There are dozens of sites helping people to discover their Los Angeles, such as “”, “”, “” as well as numerous blogs about people’s own personal journeys through Los Angeles.

When I first moved to Los Angeles I did not see it for what it was and I probably could have used one of those websites. However, I began to love it when my brother visited during Christmas that first year. We went to Universal Studios, we drove around looking at all of the Hollywood landmarks and explored restaurants and movie theaters, that was when I first discovered just how much there was to do. My mother visited a few weeks later and we did a few of the same things but we also went to the fashion district and ate in Little Ethiopia. Through the awe and sparkle in their eyes I began to see what LA really had to offer and the sparkle in my own eye began to shine. Los Angeles make take a while to really discover what it has to offer, but once you do it really is a giant playground that comes up with new attractions almost everyday.

--Mickala Jauregui

Caption: Marina del Rey Wildlife
Credit:  Mountainbread via Flickr Creative Commons

My L.A.: A City and Its Secrets

AFTER QUICKLY exiting the freeway, and a turn on Gless Street, I’m transported to another world. I step onto the sidewalks of Boyle Heights, pressing the pavement down. I round the corner to reach the school’s parking lot, which serves as the children’s playground after school during recess on Friday afternoons. From where I stand on the concrete playground, I see the freeway overhead in the distance and the tall pillars of downtown, so close that the buildings feel within my grasp. The church and school are painted in an off-white, warm color that absorbs the drowning sunlight of the afternoon. 

Every week, I find myself here, at Dolores Mission Elementary. It’s just for a few hours every Friday, but each visit is a brief release from the pressures of my own world. I am able to experience another part of town, escaping my own. I’d never have found this place without finding LMU first – two communities so different and yet, connected.

We play tag, we play patty-cake. The girls like to hold my hands and skip while the boys toss a basketball around their court. We encircle each other, surrounded by blurred cars on the overpass in sight, but we’re covered more so by the scarce trees in bloom. In our games of tag, the children run in a chaotic mess. I’m always “it”, and I don’t mind, even if I’m never quite able to catch anyone else. I’m continually unable to catch up to their pace. 
Their concept of normal has been so different from my own. Throughout their young lives they have known Dolores Mission Elementary School, their memories shaped inside its cement walls. They tell me of their joys – a present from the tooth fairy, or a story about their favorite movie. They tell me of their troubles – the Boogey man, and how together, we can ward him off. Diana, keychain in hand, twirls around as we sneak through the hallways. It’s all nonsensical, childish whims and worries, but somehow, these moments bring the most clarity. The children, without knowledge of their surroundings, are still children. 
I have come to Dolores Mission much like them. Raised in Michigan, I’d arrived with no knowledge of Boyle Heights and its history. It was not until later that I discovered its historical transformations, and its notoriety for gang violence. It is home to more than more than 20 gangs, and according to the Huffington Post, it is ranked 50th out of 272 Los Angeles neighborhoods in violent crime.

While I have never experienced firsthand any occurrences to support this data, it is impossible to forget the surrounding environment. It lingers in the air, heavy, without ever being seen. I imagine that one day I may be able to press my feet to the concrete and melt the cracks and crevices together to create one smooth surface, impenetrable to those who walk upon it.

Part of what makes Los Angeles the city that it is, is its ability to reveal its secrets to you subtly. A forgotten unknown location can become a home away from home. Maybe part of the beauty of this city is its slow reveal of the majestic. It keeps us waiting until, unexpectedly, we’ve learned to find magic in the ordinary.

 Photo Credit: Jennifer Pellerito

L.A. "Protects and Preserves" Peace on the Beach

CALIFORNIA HAS been bankrupt for some time now; luckily Los Angeles is here to save the day. As of February 9, 2012 throwing a Frisbee, a football, or even digging a hole deeper than eighteen inches on an L.A. beach could end up costing you up a pretty penny, but thankfully it won’t be a $1000 fine as reported by every news coverage of the new laws. This law is intended to “protect and preserve the peace on public beaches,” as stated in the thirty six page fun killing document.

Throwing a ball of any kind, digging a hole deeper than eighteen inches, disturbing a rock, cussing, producing loud or odd noises, using a tent or structure larger than ten feet by ten feet, holding any group event with more than 50 people without a permit, including a yoga class, and operating a model airplane are all considered a crime on L.A beaches. Luckily these are only considered infractions instead of a misdemeanor. According to the California law, the fine for a first-time infraction will be $100. The second time, it will be $200. And each time after that, the crime of throwing a ball will cost you $500.

Fining people on Los Angeles’ beaches will only be enforced by lifeguards or The Department of Beaches and Harbors’ "peace or code enforcement officers" during the summer season between Memorial Day and Labor Day and will prohibit beach balls, volleyballs, Frisbees, footballs, or in-ocean water polo balls. Only during the off-season are people free to toss, throw, and dig as they please. There is some good news for those who come to the beach looking to do more than just soak up the sun, The Department of Beaches and Harbors will designate special ball-throwing areas or grant permits for a ball game.

This law seems to be a quick and easy way to a lot of money since throwing balls and digging holes are a given at the beach. L.A will make plenty of money from the law, especially when it comes to tourist who may not be aware of the anti-ball throwing and sand digging laws.

This new law is ridiculous. I have been to the beach almost every day for the past twenty years and not once has a football, Frisbee, or a hole deeper than eighteen inches disturbed my time at the beach. This law will change the atmosphere of L.A. beaches from one that is fun, free, and lively. Kids wont be able to try to dig a hole to China or dig a pool big enough for two like I did when I was a kid and adults wont be allowed to do anything other than lay out, swim in the waves, or go surfing or paddle boarding. Adults will however still be allowed to come to the beaches drunk, since that wasn’t added to the list of activities that will disturb the peace on the beach, which makes plenty of sense right? But whatever you do, don't pick up a ball or a shovel on an L.A. beach, or you will not only be committing a crime, you will also apparently disturb the peace.

-Nastassja Habers

Photo Credit: TK

You Can Get There From Here

WE'VE BEEN talking a lot about how much of Los Angeles is really determined by one's perspective -- figuratively and literally.

Last year, KCET launched a project that asked an interesting question: How would you map your own Los Angeles? The responses -- essays,  superimposed grids, quick-sketch compass points -- all attempt to in some way  reel a particular "version" of L.A. in focus.

Here is a snip from an essay on the site by D.J. Waldie, who wrote the wonderful memoir, Holy Land, about growing up in Lakewood:

1. Finding Fiction

"Window Map of Anchorage" by Scott Griffith feat in Hand Drawn Map Association's Collection
As D.J. Waldie put it, "Like a good story, a map is fiction;" they draw from the imagination of perspective and edit relevancy in relation to space. With this in mind you can create maps of fictitious places as found in the Hand Drawn Map Association's collection, featured right, or you can warp what already physically exists to want your mind desires. Imagine East L.A. Bungalows along the shorelines of Venice, or a circus in the heart of Richland Farms, Compton, for instance. You can build a world with the possibilities.
Check out the rest here:

How would you map your Los Angeles?

-- L.G.
map via kcet departures

Friday, February 17, 2012

L.A. "Booster": Blogroll

Here is the formal list of works-in-progress our L.A. Scribes are hard at work on:

Derek Dellovo:
Roy Choi, the mastermind behind Kogi BBQ, has created an expanding business and become one of the most popular food truck franchises in Los Angeles. His fusion of Asian/Hispanic cuisine is representative of the city from which he resides; modern, exciting and desired. He has turned a simple idea into a Los Angeles icon, and cemented his importance in the city.

Allie Flinn:
Ani Phyo is a raw food chef and author. She co-founded SmartMonkey Foods in Los Angeles in 1999, but moved it to Portland, Oregon from 2003-2006 when Phyo moved there to get away from her hectic Los Angeles lifestyle, but she couldn’t stay away for long. Inspired by the organic farm she and her family had growing up, along with discovering eating raw foods helped with her mental clarity and general well-being, led Phyo to be involved with the Pedal Patch Community. This organization taught at risk youth how to garden and make food in urban areas.

Art Flores:
I am going to be covering Fr. Greg Boyle’s journey as the founder of Homeboy Industries.  I am going to gathering information about where he was during the 1992 riots, and how that led him to create his non-profit.  I am going to ask Fr. Boyle about the sustainability of Homeboy Industries.  Lastly, I want to get his opinion on Homeboy Industries after he’s gone, and how it will favor in his absence.

Michael Flores:
A profile on Edward Ruscha  and how Los Angeles influences his art, but also how his art may influence LA. I would like to know how the changing landscape of our city and the impact of American expressionism acts as a muse for his art. 

Elise Fornaca:
 Larry Welk III has lived his entire life in the heart of LA’s television.  His grandfather, Lawrence Welk, started the Lawrence Welk Show in 1951.  This was the place where his mother, Tanya Welk, got her start as a cast member, and met and fell in love with his father Lawrence Welk Jr. Being a native Angelo, Larry has seen the rise and fall of LA’s television industry throughout the years.  As such, he has always been fascinated with capturing the true essence of Los Angeles. Because of this passion, Larry started the Little Angel Air company, in which he runs all of the helicopters for news and radio stations in the Los Angeles area.  He covers anything from the terrible LA traffic to car speed cases and fires. Throughout his career, Larry has seen the true landscape of LA and has exposed the cracks beneath the surface.  In this profile is want to expose Larry’s passion for what he does, as well as, why he has chosen LA to fly over every day.   
 Nastassja Habers:
For my L.A. Booster piece I will be writing on Alli Beckman. Her family owns BRS, a rigging company for the entertainment industry. BRS has worked on movies such as Spider Man, Men in Black, and The Green Lantern, and has also set up stages for the rave EDC, Rock the Bells, and Lil’ Wayne. Alli Beckman has even done a few stunts and played extra roles in some of the movies her family business works on. She is connected to L.A because she is connected to L.A’s most notorious industry, the entertainment industry. Alli Beckman’s heart resides in Los Angeles.

Mickala Jauregui
Robert Santilli always had an inner desire to work with the homeless, to help make a difference in their lives, there was only one problem he was afraid of coming face to face with them and he was ashamed to admit it. Now, Santilli volunteers weekly at the Blessed Sacrament Church in Hollywood. He is the correspondence between his Service Organization, Magis and the church. This food pantry in Hollywood has helped Santilli follow his passion and for that he is more than thankful, he is devoted.

Jennifer   Pellerito:
Lorena Chavez is a Los Angeles native who currently works at Loyola Marymount’s Center for Service and Action. She is a liaison between LMU and the communities that the university supports. Not only does she work for social justice, she also provides mentorship and guidance for many individual LMU students. Lorena is oriented toward helping others and changing the world around her. 

Julian Portera:
A ten-time champion youth basketball coach, Vice Principal Cornelius has taught and coached at over 5 different high schools over the course of his career, and oh yeah…he’s only 25. Vice Principal Cornelius is also Officer Cornelius when he enters Staples Center. In my piece, I plan to delve into Mr. Cornelius’s life in Los Angeles and the parallels between being a teacher, coach, and Department of Homeland Security Officer. 

Caroline Queen: 
Lindsay William-Ross, writer for the "hippest" Los Angeles blog, LAist. My angle is to uncover what exactly separates this blog from all of the other L.A. Blogs out there and why, if it is actually, the hippest Los Angeles blog. I will discuss the history and idea behind the blog, as well as lindsay's unique perspective on and love for Los Angeles. I am also going to delve Into An exploration of the idea that as a blogger, the entirety of Los Angeles is your office.

Carey Uhl:
 Paul Harris serves as a prime example of an Angeleno because of his diverse interests.  Not only is he an educator, a critic, Chair of the English Department, a scholar of time, and free thinker, he also is a servant of his city who actively pursues social justice.  Last year, he initiated a community based learning course that studied homelessness in LA and forced students to volunteer at homeless shelters and food banks.  He's a true Angelenohat actively tries to better his city by community involvement and education, which makes him a great candidate for a booster profile.

Jordan Younger:
Chuck Rosenthal is an American novelist and short story writer who has published seven novels and a memoir since the 1980s. He teaches English at Loyola Marymount University (and specifically he is my Fiction Writing Workshop professor). He is connected to Los Angeles because he is a part of the L.A. literary world in the writing and publishing aspects, and he is also married to poet Gail Wronsky.

Looking forward to the final project!

-- L.G.

A Question of Voice

I HAVE been thinking about the rich and varied pieces that you all brought in as examples of admired voices; the voices that continue to play in your heads.

Often when I'm just beginning to work on a piece -- particularly if I'm delving into something I know will be difficult to navigate, something long, complex or most likely will be controversial -- one of the first things I want to establish is tone. I realize that pause  is part of my process of centering myself to find my "voice" and consequently, the appropriate tone of the story. I often do this by first grabbing for writers I love and admire whose voices convey both authority and lyricism. Mine?: James Baldwin, Leonard Michaels, Joan Didion, Albert Camus -- for starters. There is something about the way the words move on the page that put me in a what I call my "writers trance" -- when I can hear myself, my voice.

Last year, around this time, I was reading a book called The Writer's Voice, by essayist and journalist A. Alvarez that is a brief meditation on "voice" and how it differs from style. I thought I'd share a piece of what I'm reading here.

"By comparing writing and psychoanalysis, I'm implying that finding your own voice as a writer is in some ways like the tricky business of becoming an adult. For a writer, it's also a basic instinct like a bird marking its territory, though not straightforward or so musical. So how do you do it? First, you do what all young people do: you try on different personalities for size and you fall in love. Young writers, in fact, are a peculiarly promiscuous lot . . . . First the writer's voice dazzles you and you read everything you can lay your hands on. If that doesn't cure you, the sickness goes critical and you become obsessed with the beloved's whole take on life: what he did, where he went, even the kind of people he slept with. You don't want to be like him, you want to be him. In retrospect, infatuation is as embarrassing as promiscuity, but for the writer it is a necessary part of the weary process of growing up."

My question to you, class: Who are the writers that you've fallen "in love with," the voices you've found yourselves mimicking in your own writing as you've worked to find your voice? To find the right "mood" for your piece? Do you still do it? How does it help you get started? Leave comments below.

caption: multiple drafts
credit: L.G.

The Profile: Norman Klein

AS DISCUSSED, in class, I wanted to post some examples of the profile at work. Here is an example of a profile written by David L. Ulin about social critic Norman Klein. Pay close attention to the structure of the piece. How the lead/opening works, how Ulin handles quotes, the scene setting and how the city emerges in the piece . . .

Remember, you'll be most likely starting with a scene or an anecdote -- maybe even an idea or a question -- but you'll be trying to move your subject around a bit in a place. Also, you'll be tying them to L.A. in some way.  

(Also, you'll be reading some of Klein's work later in the semester, so here is a little introduction to him._

City of Ruins: By Excavating the Hidden Past, Norman Klein has Emerged as L.A.'s Most Innovative Social Critic
By David L. Ulin

One evening early this fall, Norman Klein sat behind a formica table, speaking softly but insistently to a small audience at REDCAT, CalArts’ performance space that occupies the rear end of Disney Hall. Beneath the table, his right leg tapped a mile a minute, like a metronome. Wearing unpressed khakis and a white button-down shirt, hair exploding in a wiry gray corona, he had the slightly disheveled look of an absent-minded professor, which, in some sense, is what he is. For 30 years Klein has been on the faculty of the School of Critical Studies at CalArts; in addition, he teaches in the graduate program for media design at Art Center. But recently he has emerged as the most innovative Los Angeles social critic since Mike Davis—fast-talking, omnivorous, a bantam-like urban theorist with heavyweight ideas. His 1997 book The History of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory put into language what many residents have long thought about L.A. — that this is a city where meaning has as much to do with what we don’t see as what we do. The notion also motivates his 2003 novella-cum-DVD-ROM Bleeding Through: Layers of Los Angeles 1920-1986, which he had come to REDCAT to discuss.
Bleeding Through is one of those transformative works—Klein has described it as a “data/cinematic novel”—in which the form is as innovative as the content. Framed as the story of an old woman named Molly, it blends fiction, social commentary, and historical analysis in a multimedia pastiche of 20th-century L.A., constructed around a vast electronic archive of what Klein calls “traces”: photos, news clippings, interview footage, snippets of documentary and dramatic films. If this sounds compulsive, that’s the point precisely; “I’m obsessed,” Klein enthused at REDCAT, “with the idea that the evidence is almost as exciting as the story. I find it so interesting to locate bits and pieces, scars of how memory works.” For him, such a process seems particularly suited to Los Angeles, “a city,” he writes in The History of Forgetting, “that was imagined long before it was built.” Bleeding Through, then, reflects L.A.’s own unreliable memory, a notion Klein (and his electronic collaborators) highlights by weaving “forgetfulness” directly into the project’s software, which brings up different material from the database each time you load it, so the story never unfolds the same way twice.

The idea that L.A. is inherently elusive — a fragmentary landscape of glimmers and glimpses — can get a little abstract, which may explain why Klein has taken so long to catch on. With the exception of the Los Angeles Times, his books have been largely ignored by the media. Partly, this has to do with how Los Angeles intellectuals are treated. “For some reason,” says Peter Lunenfeld, who teaches with Klein at Art Center, “L.A. only has room for one public intellectual at a time, and now it’s Norman. It’s like we can’t handle more than one conversation at once.” Partly, it is Klein’s professional status, the way he straddles several disciplines at once. If you ask, he’ll tell you he’s a writer, as opposed to a theorist or professor, then cite influences as diverse as Baudelaire and Balzac, Faulkner and Joyce. Certainly, his career can be hard to classify; untenured, he has been an adjunct at UCLA, Otis, Sci-Arc, and USC, moving from campus to campus like an itinerant, leading a patchwork academic life. His course descriptions read like outlines of his obsessions, with classes on the history of simulation, or the buying and selling of L.A. as fantasy. “You set up a problem you want to solve,” he says, his Brooklyn accent muted with resignation, “and it forces you to do research. Teaching at art schools, I don’t have the degree of support I’d get from a research institution, so I have to build it in.”

If Klein is difficult to pin down, the same could be said about Los Angeles, which reveals itself in the most unlikely spaces, spaces we might never think to look. “Did I ever tell you about the ugliest place in Los Angeles?” Klein asked me one afternoon in his office, a converted garage behind his house in Highland Park. Although we were sitting together, he peered into the middle distance, face growing animated and his voice rising slightly, as if he were a kid with a secret to impart. “I decided it was in Van Nuys, at the intersection of Fulton and Burbank. I selected it because it wasn’t poverty; it was just ugly, retinal eye burn of an extreme form. On one corner was a place called Father and Me, which repaired cars. It was surrounded by rolls of barbed wire like some old lady’s hair. Across the street was a very bad trompe l’oeil lumber yard that looked like it was going to fall over. Then, there was this strange Middle Eastern restaurant in a dumpy building with a faded image on top of a man holding a chicken. It was like that in every direction.” Eventually, Klein discovered that beneath this desolate veneer of blankness were overlapping populations of Lebanese and Palestinians and Israelis, until a map of the Middle East emerged. “Little by little,” he said, laughing at the memory, “this was not the ugliest place in Los Angeles, it was just the best erased example of urban complexity. And I thought, Wow, this is one crazy city to have that much happening with so little heat you can actually see.”

To talk to Norman Klein is an exercise in excavation. It informs not just his ideas but his way of speaking, in which he keeps returning to certain subjects: the layering he sees everywhere, his idea that L.A. is less an integrated city than “like the Holy Roman Empire, nine thousand microclimates” — another favorite word. It’s a fascinating process, not least because it reflects the structure of his writing, his tendency to circle a topic, gathering impressions, fragments, evidence. “The most important aspect of his work,” says Michael Dear, professor of geography at USC, “has to do with what it tells us about how we remember: repeating stories, always embroidering. It raises questions about the very nature of remembering.” In The History of Forgetting, Klein describes the early days of the motion picture business, which developed in Echo Park. “I learned that across the street from my apartment,” he writes, “on Glendale Boulevard, Tom Mix used to ride a horse to work from his ranch in Mixville (now a Hughes market shopping center). But no recognition could be found anywhere that the entire film industry had once been centered there.” Nearly a decade after he wrote those words, Klein and I spent a few hours looking at the former site of Mixville as well as Mack Sennett’s old studio, now a public storage space. “It’s incredible,” he said. “This is the center of our whole cultural memory. This is where the language of film evolved. If we were in Paris, and this was an atelier where Picasso had painted, it would probably be a museum.” Here, however, there was nothing, not even a commemorative sign. “All cultures,” he continued, “have some kind of erasure. But what’s curious about this erasure is that it’s done mentally. In other words, you don’t see it even if it’s right in front of you.”

For the rest of the profile jump here

photo via usc interactive

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Street Folk Art

ON MY hour-long commute to my internship on Mondays, I come across an array of different sights, each replacing the next in terms of oddity and shock-value, especially considering the strange juxtaposition of a shop selling alligator meat next to a trendy fitness gym. On La Cienega boulevard, I see advertisements for "freezing the fat," wine companies, and for the annual adult video convention, featuring a girl who looks no older than sixteen in a provocative pose. As I inch along closer to my destination on Wilshire boulevard, the sights become less eccentric and more commercialized--Coffee Beans, Starbucks, chain restaurants, and big corporate buildings line the roads. By the time I reach the iconic light installation at LACMA and see the dozens of food trucks beginning to set up for the rush hour at lunch, things appear fairly "normal." Normal, that is, for L.A.

Less than a minute away from work, there are a few stop lights and lampposts that are decorated in what I can only describe as wool coasters, knitted into colorful and circular designs, and then connected together to encase the lamp posts in some sort of decorative cloak. At first, I thought maybe these were set up by bored locals or maybe were some sort of strange political or artistic statement. My curiosity led me to investigate further. I found that the lamp posts were not the only pieces of everyday city landmarks that we so often use but forget the meaning or significance of that were decorated in the same way. I walked farther along the street and found items even more useful yet ugly than a stop light lamp post, such as a stop sign pole and a water drain, both of which were dressed in the same wool fabric, intricately weaved with designs and different colors. Even a small tree was encased in wool and had little feet, as if it was supposed to be some tree creature with a body but no head. We forget that these items are even there or even what purpose they serve because they have become so commonplace. When you live in a city, or anywhere for that matter, do you ever stop to look at the post attached to the button that you are anxiously pushing to cross the street? I certainly never do. And why would I? But these decorated pieces were so eccentric and beautiful in their own unique way. It's as if someone was trying to appreciate the stop lights and water drains for their practicality by making them more attractive. I had never seen anything like them, and I know that there was a story here.

Anxious to discover the meaning behind these decorated every day objects, I took a second to observe my surroundings and found a Los Angeles Folk Art and Craft store nearby. A quick gaze inside the store, (which was closed on Mondays), confirmed that these coverings were undoubtedly created by its owners, as the inside featured wool trees and hangings in the same style as the lamp post.

For some reason, I was disappointed. I suppose I was hoping for some interesting story to be attached to these decorations, for them to have more meaning than their existence as a way to lure people into a store. Yes, it was a good business tactic and I still think they are enjoyable to look at and appreciate them (and will probably have

to go into the store sometime when it is open), but I was hoping for an interesting anecdote, perhaps one that varied with each nearby store owner that I talked to. I imagined myself going into the store across the street and asking those inside why their lamp posts and stop sign poles were so decorated? What was the story behind that? And they would say something equally vague, mysterious and fascinating like, "I don't know, one day we just came to work and they were decorated," that would send my imagination reeling.

Alas, I have high expectations. I want everything to have a story. And maybe I am being too close-minded. Maybe there is a story there. I suppose the only way to settle this is to come to the shop on a day other than Monday and inquire about their existence. Who knows what kind of answer I will get, but I hope it's an interesting story that tells me something about the history of this unique and busy part of Los Angeles. Whatever the exact story may be, I am happy that these lamp posts, stop sign poles, and city water drains are lucky enough to be adorned with colorful fabric. I hope that other busy Angelenos notice them as I did and question their existence, even if they do not have time to follow up such inquiries with an investigation.

-- Caroline Queen

photo credit: Caroline Queen

My LA: A Convenient Escape

IN MANHATTAN BEACH, California, about five minutes from the actual ocean waves, over-priced boutiques (My friend Remington works at a particularly pricey one and often comes home bragging about the "great deal" she got on a $300 dress because it was on sale), and toddlers with their nannies and bellies full of ice cream and candy from the local candy shop, there is a trail known as Veteran's Parkway. I have been familiar with this trail for some time, as I have been babysitting two boys in the area for three years now, and I regularly walk their gray Labrador, Mika, on the trail. Walking down Veteran's Parkway, or Manhattan Parkway as it was called until changed somewhat recently to Veteran's, has always been a relaxing and peaceful experience for me, despite the hyper-activity of the dog to my side. When I see another dog approaching, I prepare myself. It requires control and awareness, and I am lucky if I see another dog before Mika does. I wrap the leash around my wrist three times, so if somehow she jerks away too quickly in excitement, at least my arm will come out of its socket before I loose her to the 21 acre long trail. I move her to the opposite side of the approaching dogs in order to avoid a miniature riot on an otherwise peaceful trail. As I do so, I usually smile at the dog walkers. I'm from Texas, and we smile at everyone, say thank you no matter what, hold open doors, and call people "sir" and "ma'am" even if they insist that we don't because it makes them feel old. But the people on the trail usually do not acknowledge my friendly greeting. Maybe they are too rushed and are afraid I will try to start a conversation, or maybe they just do not care. Either way, having a "moment" of genuine and casually friendly human interaction on the trail is rare. Somehow, though, that is okay and neither a good nor a bad thing.

Despite the somewhat hectic and busy nature of Manhattan Beach, there is something tranquil about Veteran's Parkway. Instead of being twenty minutes from civilization or existing as a place that you have to drive to in order to reach, this trail cuts right through an entire road in a neighborhood right off of Sepulveda Boulevard, creating plateau of saw dust, flowers, grass, trees, and the occasional palm trees. Drinking fountains, "for dogs and their human companions" are ubiquitous, probably due to the fact that this is the only park in the city where leashed dogs are allowed. But that doesn't stop there from being signs stating that all dogs must be leashed according to Manhattan beach law accompanying the water fountains and dense foliage. The air smells of saw dust and if you accidentally stumble on your way, you will kick up a cloud of dust that disappears into the air like mist. Even on days when it's cold, the sun always shines on Veteran's Parkway, and it somehow becomes impossible to be cold. I consistently begin my walk with a sweatshirt or jacket of some kind, and end up shedding it in frustration halfway through as the warm California sun engulfs the trail in a lazy, relaxing heat.

The people that I have seen on the trail are not what one would expect. I've seen an old man walking with a cane, jogging housewives, young girls walking with their iPods, elementary school children on a run for P.E., and, most commonly, the dog walkers. The dog walkers travel with up to six dogs of all different sizes on leashes of different lengths, somehow managing to keep the dogs from nipping each other or getting tangled up in a heap of fur and paws. The dogs are not concerned with the joggers that pass by as Mika is. Maybe they are desensitized to seeing other humans because they are walked everyday on the same trail by the same person, or maybe they are more concerned with each other. Either way, just as I don't interact with the joggers and passers by, neither do the dog walkers with their army of dogs.

I see this trail as a convenient escape. It's not an experience of complete isolation in nature, wherein one packs up a picnic basket and a days worth of water to escape the mundane and routine frequencies of life, and it does not pose as such. It's right in the middle of the city and it is not trying to be anywhere else. The green, thick leaves that line the sides do not hide the fact that there are speeding cars on either side the trail, crossing guards at the corner where the street cuts through it, or houses with their balconies and busy gardeners overlooking it. Instead, the trail is apart of the neighborhood as anything else, and although I have only walked Mika for about an hour, in that time I can make my way from the edge of Sepulveda to the downtown skate park adjacent to a McDonald's and within a visible distance from the beach.

I have grown up familiar with cities such as Austin, Texas where everything is spread out and not as easily accessible at once. I don't think that many other cities besides Los Angeles can boast about being within walking distance of so may different venues, eateries, and opportunities for activities. For me, Los Angeles has been an escape from a place where not much happens to a place where everything seems to happen all at once. Compared to other parts of Texas, Austin is arguably very hip and not the image of cows and barren land that comes to mind of non-Texans when they picture it, but it is still nothing like Los Angeles. I like to be in the center of everything, where all of the action, fun, and opportunities for such are. Veteran's Parkway is almost like a walking tour of those aspects of this part of L.A.--I walk from the edge of the highway to the skate park, passing beautiful beach adjacent houses, boutiques, and an array of citizens. I do not necessarily have a destination. I am just cutting through this part of everyday Los Angeles life that might seem commonplace to some, but that is fascinating and full of action to me.

-- Caroline Queen
photo credit: Caroline Queen

My LA: Manhattan Beach

MANHATTAN BEACH reflects L.A.’s coastal attraction without telling you all about it. With that said, I am going to tell you a little about it. Originally owned by George Peck, this area was called “Shores Acres.” In 1901, John Merrill bought the south portion and hoped to name it after his old home in New York City—Manhattan. However, Peck was not in favor of Merrill’s suggestion, so the two maturely decided to flip a coin to decide on the name.
Whether heads or tails determined Manhattan Beach is up for debate, but my first tale from Manhattan Beach came by means of surfing. Local surfer Ryan Miller, who grew up surfing in San Diego, described surfing the beach’s El Porto break by saying, “the water is barely blue anymore because of the pollution and urban runoff, and the waves are nothing special.” Despite the water’s pollution, it continues to attract local surfers that are experienced enough to tackle big waves elsewhere, but settle for its close proximity. It also attracts inexperienced surfers that are looking for a place to get started. I viewed myself in this latter category the first time I got in the water. I was nervous and terrified. All I could see were waves crashing and surfers nearly crashing into one another. It seemed like driving through traffic without brakes. With all this in mind, I chose the most undesirable surf break, and left the best spots for those willing to rub surf wax with one another. After only days of surfing I soon learned that El Porto provided me with an opportunity to be comfortable in my own wetsuit and enjoy the waist to shoulder high, and occasionally overhead, waves it had to offer.
Since learning to surf I have had many more opportunities to enjoy what Manhattan Beach has to offer. For instance, while parking blocks inland from the beach to avoid overly priced quarter-per-ten minute parking I stumbled upon its residential neighborhoods. Even blocks from the sand many homes reflected the city’s beach theme. Three-story, light blue and white homes were piled among one another. One home had a large wooden sign in its front yard with arrows indicating the directions of the beach and work. In these areas, despite the lack of any view of the beach you can still smell a healthy dose of salt water, and the homes are tightly packed amongst one another as they would appear on the Stand. Speaking of the Stand, these homes sit with their feet buried in the sand reflecting various architecture and age, but all have one common denominator; the homes found here rival Bel-Air in terms of half-acre real estate by $15 million. Clearly, Manhattan Beach can be home to many walks of life. From professional athletes like Blake Griffin to everyday beach goers it offers a taste of L.A. without compromising its beachfront property.
As I have frequented Manhattan Beach for non-surf related reasons I have continued to enjoy what I have found. The Village offers commercial shopping and dining experiences with its mall and chain restaurants. While the shops restaurants between the beach and Sepulveda offer unique experiences, such as Uncle Bill’s Pancake House and The Kettle. As a college student it as has been a nice outlet at any time of day or night. With all these attractions in mind, it is no wonder that modern television utilized Manhattan Beach’s local high school and beach as a fictional representation of Orange County in Fox Television’s hit show The O.C.
--Art Flores
Caption: The Strand
Photo Credits: Mike Dunitz,


THIS IS a busy city. LA is like the 405 within that short half hour in the afternoon when there is no traffic.  People have no idea what to do so they just drive and swerve from lane to lane, cutting you off in an attempt to get to their destination as fast as they can before the next wave of break lights begin to form in the distance.  LA is the fast cars and fast people, zipping in and out of your memory, cutting of any sort of the thought you may have.  For a city known iconically by its red brake lights that so many people despise, they can however, be the one thing they need; a break, to just stop and think.  Although a foreign idea to me, I would like to think that there is a place where you can just stop.  
            Then you do.  Break lights form as you turn the corner.  You stop—finally, you have stopped.  Instead of getting frazzled by the fact that there is nowhere to move, these break lights have actually come as a relief.  LA traffic is the only time when the city isn’t moving. As you slowly inch forward, working your way deeper into, what writer Louie Adamic refers to as, “the jungle.” Grey skyscrapers enclose around you as you become trapped between the broken white lines beneath the blue and gray painted ceiling.  Through the glass of your windshield, you finally see LA for what it is: red brake lights glaring through sunlit smog and people finally moving with one another toward entirely separate destinations. 
            Freeways define the city. They are complicated mazes that connect the beach with downtown and the suburbs. In 1996, Los Angeles was ranked 44th out of the largest 57 urban areas according to Federal Highway Administration Data.  According to writer and researcher Wendell Cox, Los Angeles has the nations worst traffic congestion because is has less freeway space per capita in most urban areas. This urban city continues to grow and it has become filled to the brim with all types of people, from all types of places, that all have one thing in common, the freeways they take.  The freeways doesn’t just connect places, it connects people, families.  They establish relationships, for they make it possible for the grandmother living in the Valley to see her grandchildren in Marina Del Rey and her older sister in Echo Park. 
            When the red break lights hit, you may be alone in your car, but you are surrounded by the congestion of thousands of people.  Through the windows, you can see into the lives of Angelos that you have never met.  The mother in the white Sequoia who laughs and sings along to the radio with her teenage daughters who, for that very moment, are not growing up; the high powered man who, for this moment, can sit in his black Mercedes and doesn’t have to pretend that he likes his job or that he really wants to get to where he is going; the a hopeful twenty-something, who sits in her beat up ford that is plastered with colorful bumper stickers and pauses from memorizing the script for her audition to actually look at the world outside of her duck taped window.  LA is a snapshot and the shots, that define LA, can only be taken through the horizon of red brake lights.
Photo credit: Elise Fornaca
“Why are we stopped?  We all have somewhere to go,” my friend, Andrew Pardo,  a Northern California native and now LA resident recently exclaimed as he sat in stand-still traffic. We've all been there.
  Yes, we all have somewhere different to go; yet we are all moving together.  In traffic, time freezes.  It is in these moments that you need to take in the world around you, because once the traffic picks up again, LA will flash before your eyes.