Living far from Southern California for almost twenty-years, I enjoyed reading Gold’s reviews and poring over his lists, especially his annual 101-restaurant lists, to keep updated on the unique nature of the LA-area. If you are not familiar with Gold, he was the subject of a recent documentary, released in 2015, that you can stream on Hulu, among other places I’m sure.
As has been noted elsewhere, Gold’s writing tried to bond the city and its various ethnic communities together through food. His wasn’t the adventurous explorations that were popularized by Anthony Bourdain. It was as if he was trying to make everyone comfortable and familiar with what Los Angeles and its environs had to offer.
In an era when a food connoisseur is one who posts a beautiful photo of a lovely plated dish bathed in warm light, optimized for an Instagram post, he will be missed.
Apple Watch had a festive animation for the new year.
Happy new year, everyone!
I spent the last week of 2017 and the first couple of weeks of 2018 in Southern California, extending going “home for the holidays” into a twenty-six day vacation. There’s a lot of reasons why I stayed out there as long as I did, but most of them are related to weather and my schedule.
First, New York can be a pretty sad place in January. It’s cold, and there aren’t a lot of social activities happening during this time of year. Consequently, people are pretty anti-social this time of year. People stay at home to cook at home, doing a dry-January thing, or are just bundling up at home because, like I said, it gets really cold this time of year. I’m not missing much being away from New York this time of year.
Second, the extended holiday vacation allows me to visit new places throughout the ever-changing Southland. Like most other places, Los Angeles shuts down during the holidays. I would often fly back to New York in early January and miss out on a lot activities in Los Angeles because a lot of interesting things happen again in mid-January. Staying out there later allows me to do these things in a strange land. And, of course, it’s noticeably warmer in Southern California than it is “back east.”
Third, I don’t plan a summer getaway like most everyone. As popular as it is to complain about the heat and humidity of New York summers, I actually really like New York during the summertime. Regular readers know that a lot of my favorite activities —specifically cycling and softball—happen during the summer, and the fair-weather New Yorkers depart for the shore until Labor Day weekend. That makes the city a kind of playground for those of us who remain, and when the douche-set returns in September, I don’t mind getting away then. As a friend once quipped, “September is the new August.”
Lastly, my schedule this time of year gives me some degree of freedom. I taught an online winter class at Queens College this semester, which I was able to run from my parents’ home and a couple of area coffee shops. I did have to come back for my first in-person class at Pratt, which started on Wednesday, January 17. Consequently, I didn’t fly back until the day before, on Tuesday.
I had reserved four tickets to the Broad Museum, but only my mom could make it so we gave these two Dutch tourists our spare tickets. They looked hot and tired, and I wanted to assure the Dutch that Americans are nice, despite our president.
There were many highlights on this trip. I did a lot of cycling, and I drank some beers, both of which I will cover in a separate post. I saw some family members. I visited the new Broad Museum in downtown Los Angeles, whose location across the street from the Museum of Contemporary Art, strikes me as a middle-finger from Broad to the museum he cofounded in the 1980s. I shopped a fountain pen store in Monrovia, California, run by a gentle yet passionate expert in pens and inks. I visited the Wende Museum of Cold War objets in Culver City. I dragged my mom and dad out to the same movie theater, where a generation ago, I would have been embarrassed at being spotted with either my mom or dad. As I’ve said before, young people are stupid. My dad and I teamed up to take and print my own passport photos; it’s harder than you think.
But now, I’m back in New York. Aside from jumping back into work, I finally got around to doing that MoviePass thing and started going to more movies. That’s been great because, as I said earlier, everyone is anti-social, and something I can do on my own.
It happened again! Someone used a photo I posted on Flickr for a news story.
KPCC, an NPR member radio station in Pasadena, California, used a photo I snapped in January 2010 to illustrate a story about the rising crime in downtown Los Angeles. The 37% increase in crime, over the last two years, has recently unnerved residents, workers, businesses, and tourists. The area has undergone a “renaissance” over the last decade, perhaps best exemplified by the presence of a Whole Foods Market at Grand Avenue and 8th Street. But the recent rise in crime could undermine gentrification in the area.
I snapped the photo in January 2010 during a Los Angeles Conservancy walking tour through the Historic Core of downtown Los Angeles. The photo shows a bustling street on a Saturday afternoon, teeming with pedestrians walking alongside the businesses on Broadway that largely catered to Latinos. A lot has changed in downtown since I took this photo.
Although this is not the first time that a photo of mine was used for a news story, nor do I mind very much that it was used in the first place, I do find its use to be a bit uninspired. The photo doesn’t really illustrate anything that is discussed in the news story. My photo doesn’t show the relatively new nightlife scene, it doesn’t show any symbols of gentrification in the face of growing homeless camps in the area, and it doesn’t show any signs of crime in the area.
Earlier this week, The New York Post published a front-page propaganda piece about the reason why vehicular traffic in Manhattan has been getting worse. The story claims that it’s a conspiracy, between two different mayoral administrations, to “shift as many drivers as possible to public transit or bicycles.” Talk about blatant lies.
Of course, the story quotes two unnamed sources within the NYPD to base this conspiracy, and you should be really suspicious about the story. First, the whole story relies on anonymous sources. Who are these guys? Traffic beat cops? Second, these sources don’t point to any directive or mandate from one of their superiors or from the mayor’s office. They just know…like in their gut. Or maybe they overheard something at a station house. We don’t know because they don’t say.
Not only that, the article lets one of the sources claim that traffic is being engineered for partisan reasons to “blame congestion on President-elect Donald Trump, whose Trump Tower in Midtown is now ringed with security.”
Clearly, the whole traffic-engineering conspiracy theory is partisan propaganda: to support the flooding of Manhattan streets with automobiles and reverse just about every traffic calming measure the city has undertaken to make the streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists—and other automobiles, too.
Since what this story propagates is bullshit, what is the real reason for traffic? According to De Blasio spokesperson, Austin Finan, who was the only official source to go on the record, the increased traffic is a healthy sign of “economic growth, record tourism, construction activity and a growing population.” The streets, he continues, “are overburdened like never before.”
But since The New York Post is listening to crackpot theories, here is my list of reasons behind the insane gridlock on Manhattan streets:
Deliveries: It’s the Christmas season, and there are an insane number of delivery trucks circling the streets to drop off your Amazon purchases. That’s a lot of additional traffic. And in Manhattan, it’s not like they can pull up to a parking lot. They usually have to double park.
Double parking: I don’t understand how on-street parking is legal in Manhattan. When all those spots are taken, others resort to double parking to pick up and drop off passengers or goods.
Dignitaries: And, even if Trump wasn’t President-elect, Manhattan streets were already crowded with all kinds of VIPs who drive and park as if they’re above the law. These dignitaries take up bike and car-traffic lanes to park their vehicles.
Those who complain about traffic forget that the purpose of streets is not to maximize the number of cars it can carry, but to transport a maximum number of people and goods.
For example, Los Angeles learned this lesson after spending five years and $1.6 billion on expanding the perpetually congested Sepulveda Pass on Interstate 405. Adding 15% more automobile capacity on that stretch of freeway didn’t reduce commute times. They actually increased, on average, by a minute. How is that possible?
According to Juan Matute, who is the Associate Director of UCLA’s Institute for Transportation Studies and also spoke on the record, “increases in traffic generally correlate to economic activity. When construction on the Sepulveda Pass began in 2009, the country was in the midst of an economic recession. As the recovery progressed, more people began traveling for work or to go shopping or out to dinner.”
“Moving more people,” he says, “is a social benefit in and of itself.”
If March is “in like a lion and out like a lamb,” August represents another transitional month if you’re in the academic game. The beginning of the month treats us as gently as a lamb, but the end of the month beats us like a rented mule. However, the month of August also has the reverse effect on travel. As the kiddies go back to school at the end of the month, it becomes a lot easier to travel, especially par avion.
Airports become more pleasant. You begin to see fewer over-burdened families clogging the airport lines and more experienced business travelers zipping through security checkpoints and boarding areas.
The weather at most places begins to cool significantly. The heat waves that make most people too grumpy to do anything begin to dissipate in late-August. New Yorkers begin returning to our heat island around this time and stuff begins to happen again. It’s the same in Europe, they tell me.
Airfares drop from the stratospheric prices over the summer. It’s been years since I’ve flown to California over the summer because it costs about $500-$600 for a domestic flight to LAX this time of year. That’s double the usual fare. I still don’t get how people afford European summer vacations at these nutty prices.
As happens at this time of year, the off-peak travel season is nigh, and airlines have been discounting airfares for fall travel. That’s great because, as we all know, early fall is the best time of year to travel. Over the last month, several airlines began discounting flights between New York and Los Angeles, the markets I travel most frequently, to some pretty reasonable levels. Because I wasn’t deliberately tracking these fares, I don’t have exact figures, but I recall that it started with the LCCs and ULCCs.
Virgin America started a fare war with $300 round-trip fares, between JFK and LAX, for travel between August 25 and November 18.
Sun Country did something similar, but every time I’ve searched their fares in the past, there was a ridiculously long layover in Minneapolis–St. Paul. It wasn’t worth it.
Then things got more interesting as the legacy carriers got involved, and these guys know how to wage a fare war.
American Airlines and US Airways began offering flights between LGA and LAX, with a connection, for $238.
American lowered the price on tickets on their own stock to an even lower price: $216. That is about as cheap as I’ve ever seen a non-mistake fare between NYC and LA.
On Wednesday morning, American offered two fares, LGA-DFW and DFW-LAX, that when combined could zip you across the country and back for $150.
I implored friends and family to take advantage of these fares, especially when it dropped to $150, because there’s no way that fare was going to stick around long. And it didn’t. By Wednesday night, that fare had evaporated and flying between LGA and LAX, via DFW, cost $370 round-trip.
Yes, I am aware that this site went all of April neglected like a dissertation chapter and a pile of ungraded, poorly written undergraduate. I didn’t get to update it much because I’ve been preoccupied with a few things:
Yes, I did get that MacBook Pro with Retina display. As you know, I decided the newly updated 13-inch model was the best computer for me…as long as we define “a computer” as a Mac portable. That turned out to be a curse because the computer and I have been inseparable since then. As is common at this time of the year, there’s a lot of work to do. A lot!
I made two, two, two trips to California in April for a couple of weddings. Despite being very sour on flying recently, I kind of enjoyed getting back in the air. If one can be in “mid-season” form going to an airport and boarding a plane, I was in it. Personally, I hate taking taxis to an airport, especially by myself, because of the disproportionate cost in traveling five miles to, say LaGuardia, compared to flying 2,500 miles to Los Angeles. And the chances of crashing are much higher in an Uber on the BQE than sitting in a Boeing six miles above the ground. Thus, I prefer to save some bucks and go multi-modal, using the subway and bus. That results in some just-in-time arrivals, which I don’t mind because it spares me from the gate lice. My friend Mark, a multimillion-miler on American Airlines, concurs with this approach.
Of course, the trips themselves were fun, too. I saw a lot of people, including lots of friends and family. I ate King Crab on a pier in Santa Barbara and fried scallops in the warehouse district southeast of DTLA. I even got to go on a bike ride.
And the weddings were great, too. I realized that, despite my earlier reservations, I like going to weddings. It helps that I don’t have to hear Sarah’s friends criticize every aspect of their own friend’s wedding, such as “can you believe this food?” and “this has to be the worst one yet!” Also, since there’s no immiment threat of staging my own wedding, I don’t feel that sense of failed dread I had when I was a teenager riding in my friends’ cars before I had even had my learner’s permit.
The weather is finally nice enough to enjoy cycling. Aside from crashing my bike on East Third Street in late March, I have really enjoyed being out on a bike. That crash, which happened on my way from Brooklyn to NYU, was bad enough that since then I’ve been unable to fully bend my knee. I can extend it just fine so I can ride a bike as far as ninety miles with almost no pain, but tying my shoes has been an entirely different matter. March was an especially miserable month for bicycling, and we had to two rides shortened because of icy road conditions. However, in the last few weeks, we’ve stepped things up and have been riding 80-90 miles on a single weekend day.
It’s softball season. Softball really is like the mob. No matter how hard I try to get out, I can’t not play. The only possible ways I can see “getting out” is to relocate to a far-off, remote place where no one knows I ever played softball… or to die. I wound up on four teams again, although I have missed a lot of games to that nagging cycling injury and because of my other commitments. However, it’s nice being out there again doing something I’m relatively good doing.
Now that I’m becoming accustomed to this new pace, to carrying around a heavy backpack and a light sweater, I’m genuinely excited about breathing and such. No, seriously. Not only has it been a hard eight months, but over the winter, it literally hurt to breathe that bitter, icy air. I’ll settle for the occasional allergy attack.
Just as our long, brutal winter ended in the northeast, major league baseball swiftly returned last week to usher in the new spring season. It couldn’t come soon enough.
Although I didn’t mention it on this site at the time, baseball—along with late-season bicycling—was a welcome distraction last fall as my life was basically falling apart. Baseball seemed like an unlikely source of solace at the time because I had essentially missed the entire 2014 regular season. As a cord cutter, it was impractical to watch a game on television. Also, watching baseball at home was, to me, not unlike drinking—it’s kind of fun but socially unacceptable unless you’re doing it with other people.
The unthinkable happened: I managed to miss an entire season of baseball
Even more unusual for me, I didn’t attend a single baseball game in 2014. I hadn’t gone an entire season without going to a baseball game since the Clinton administration. The closest I came to following the 2014 baseball season was catching a few occasional glimpses, such wood-cover notebooks for the hipster set that resemble baseball bats, better-than-perfect games, a film about the late Doc Ellis, and yes, Derek Jeter retiring. It was so bad that I was basically shocked to learn that the Washington Nationals were considered a favorite to win the World Series.
As I was sleeping on a friend’s couch in late September, I learned via Twitter that the As and Royals were playing perhaps the best one-game playoff in the history of the game. That excitement, that connection to other people, and that feeling of not-knowing the outcome are why I loved watching baseball in the first place. After that game, I was determined to watch as much baseball as possible to reconnect with friends and strangers alike. I had felt alone for the past two months and, even if I was always around my friends, they were around mostly to console me. With the baseball playoffs, however, it was an activity we could all share that wasn’t about my own emotional pain. In the end, I watched every almost game of the playoffs anyway I could: on a television screen at a friend’s place, on a projected image at a local bar, or through a streaming device using a VPN. By the time the World Series finished at the end of October, my life seemed to make a little more sense than it did before the that crazy game in Kansas City.
All I want is one more baseball game. “See you tomorrow night!” I need the distraction
For all the relief baseball brought me last year, I had basically missed spring training and was vaguely aware that baseball was starting this year. But last week, while I was in California for a wedding and some other business, my brother came through with an irresistible offer: he had tickets to Opening Day at Dodger’s Stadium.
I forgot how exciting it is to go to an Opening Day game. It had been close over ten years since I had been to one, most recently at the now-demolished Shea Stadium. It had been even longer, since 2001 or so, since I had seen an opening day game at Dodger Stadium: I remember Chan Ho Park pitching a shutout against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Last Monday was a truly exhilarating experience that included several highlights.
The Dodger Stadium Express bus didn’t exist more than five years ago, but it was a very popular way to get to the stadium that day. When we saw the long lines of people waiting board the bus, one guy in our crew called an Uber to take us to the stadium. It was a foolish decision because the driver couldn’t get us any closer than a mile from the stadium. We ended up getting out of the car and hiking up the hill. After the game, however, we waited patiently to board the bus, but it took close to an hour to travel down the hill to Union Station. The interminable trip however did not dampen our mood: most everyone remained festive recounting the game’s highlights and debating about the best option for post-game revelry. By the way, the duration and popularity of this shuttle bus service convinced me there are two places in Los Angeles that could really use direct rail service: LAX and Dodger Stadium. I hope to see it happen in my lifetime.
Two things happened around the same time. Pitcher Yimi Garcia entered the game in the seventh inning to relieve Clayton Kershaw, and new Dodger and veteran shortstop Jimmy Rollins hit a three-run homer to break a 3-3 tie in the eighth inning that ultimately won the game for the Dodgers. First, we learned to pronounce Garcia’s first name—Yee-mee!— in the seventh. We later repurposed it for Rollins in the eighth—Yee-mee!
Getting reacquainted with Mexican slang and their colorful uses at a ballgame. Although this is hardly what I would call a “family blog,” I won’t get into any details here.
Watching the game in person was not only the best way to watch the game, it was probably also the only way for most people. For the second season, most fans can’t watch the Dodgers on TV because of a retransmission dispute between SportsNet LA and most area MVPDs, including DirecTV. My guess is that the game was available on TV for as many people in 2015 as it was when Dodger home games were available only on ON-TV in the 1980s.
It was not only a great way to start watching baseball again, it was the best way end this awful and depressing winter.
During last month’s end-of-the-semester Gradeathon, which is as painful but not as fun as the Climbathon, I spent a bunch of hours sitting at a few coffee shops around my Superfund site grading papers and exams. I like grading outside of the home and office for several reasons: it allows me to feel like a social being watching other “knowledge workers” do their thing, someone other than me makes me a fussy coffee, and I get to listen to something other than my stale music collection and esoteric podcasts.
And I don’t know if I can make it,
and I don’t know if I should,
I think I’ll say goodbye to Hollywood.
I don’t know if I can fake it,
if they tell me I’m no good,
I think I’m gonna fry in Hollywood.
It’s a lovely tune for what is a common refrain about struggling in Tinseltown and might make a suitable musical accompaniment for Life and Death of 9413: A Hollywood Extra, a 1928 silent film by Robert Florey and Slavko Vorkapich. In 9413, an actor with dreams of stardom arrives in Hollywood only to find a series of rejections. Instead of stardom, 9413 is anonymous and disposable.
As I listened to Jesso’s “Hollywood,” I kept thinking of 9413.
Kino included a version of this film on the DVD set Avant Garde: Experimental Film of the 1920s and 1930s, which is the same as the one I embedded above (and linked here in case oEmbed stops working). The music is so grating and distracting I always try to watch it silent. “Hollywood” might be for a better soundtrack to accompany 9413, or at least it will make for something to keep in my head because the song is much shorter than the film.
But unlike 9413, Jesso’s prospects are looking bright. Earlier this week, he released a second song, “How Could You Babe.” He also has an album, Goon, in the work for release in March on Saint Patrick’s Day. And he’s touring, too. He’ll be in New York at Baby’s All Right on Friday, March 27.
The above links to Amazon are affiliate links. If you buy something through those links, I will earn a commission fee.
If you’ve been around me for the last few months, you’ve heard that I am not planning on staying in New York beyond May. Nothing is imminent at this time: I’m not planning on leaving, but I am seriously considering moving out of here to start a new different life .
One of the places that makes a lot of sense for me to move is Los Angeles for a few compelling reasons:
I could be near my family. My entire family is in Southern California within 60 miles of downtown LA. It would be nice to be close to my brother, watch my nephew grow up, and be around my mom and dad while they’re still in good health.
I could ride my bike year-round. It was a pleasant treat to ride almost 200 miles over the holidays, and with year-round riding, I would someday be able to ride a double century or something crazy like that.
I could find work in my field. Even if I don’t teach, either part-time or full-time, I could still work in IT and media like I do at NYU-TV. And talking with a stranger at a bar in West Hollywood during my most recent trip, I learned that there a exciting prospects for me there.
I could still have a kind of big-city life. I know very well that LA and New York are very different, and I would be a fool to think that I can transplant my life here out there. Instead, I would be open to finding and making great things out there. I still get excited every time I visit and feel a little frustrated that I didn’t do as much as I would have liked before I have to head “back east.”
Unfortunately, as I learned while listening to KPCC’s The Breakdown, I probably could notafford to live there:
You need to earn at least $33 an hour — $68,640 a year — to be able to afford the average apartment in Los Angeles County, according to Matt Schwartz, president and chief executive of the California Housing Partnership, which advocates for affordable housing.
The news is not all that bad. First, this report quotes average not median prices. I might not be affected since I’m used to being a below-average renter. Second, I would likely find a job that pays above this $68,000 figure, so I wouldn’t be in too bad of shape. The point of this report is to simply show how impossible it would be to get by with the proposed $13.25 minimum wage for the city of Los Angeles.
However, my prospects turn gloomier should I want to buy a home. I would need to earn significantly more to afford the median-priced home.
In order to afford to purchase the median-priced home in Los Angeles, you’d need to earn $96,513 a year, according to HSH.com, a mortgage information website.
The most surprising finding from this report was that Los Angeles was the least affordable city in the United States—something that should surprise people in San Francisco, New York, or Washington, DC. It’s not that housing is the most expensive in the nation’s second largest city, it’s just that wages are lower, making it harder for the average worker to afford the average apartment.
My California adventure on two wheels continued unabated in the New Year because I have done something a bit foolish.
I got a used road bike off Craigslist.
Like the Green Monster I rode with the LA Wheelmen after Christmas, this bike is also from the late 1990s. Curiously, the late 1990s was about the time I started riding a bike more than a few miles at a time because gas prices spiked to the then elevated $2.00 per gallon, and I was unhappy paying more than $20 per week to fill up my tank.1
There’s a bit of lunacy in getting a bike that will sit in California while I live in New York, but I suspect that I will be coming out west a bit more frequently in the coming months. If that’s true, it might make sense to keep a bike to ride out there rather than renting one from time to time, as I’ve been doing. Also, my dad said he was thinking of riding it.
As soon as I got the bike, I made some minor though necessary repairs such as replacing a worn-out front tire, truing a rear wheel, and buying new bar tape. The chain could have used a thorough cleaning, but I was itching to get on the road the next morning and figured that the drivetrain might need more work than I was willing to do after getting it to my parent’s place. Instead, I said, “fuck it!” and rode to Oxnard on New Year’s Eve.
I rode the bike again on January 2. I had initially planned to ride a century from Orange County, where I was visiting my cousin for the day, to San Diego. But after talking with my family, I skipped that idea and decided to ride north towards Los Angeles.
My planned route seemed easy enough. I would start in Anaheim and head towards the San Gabriel River Bikeway, where I would proceed south towards Long Beach.
From there, I would ride along the beach and connect to the Los Angeles River Bikeway and head north towards Maywood and then onto surface streets to downtown LA.
If you’ve tried to ride this route, between the San Gabriel River and LA River Bikeways along Long Beach, you’ll find that it’s not very easy to connect from one bikeway to another. The bicycling layer on Google Maps suggests that it’s just a matter of keeping the beach on your left, but it’s not quite that easy.
When I finally found the bikeway on the beach, I found that the bikeway was closed due to construction, and there was no marked detour to continue. As I backtracked, I noticed another cyclist also riding to the closed section. As I looked back to see his course of action, figuring he might know something I didn’t, I ran into a curb and went over the handlebars. Ouch!
Fortunately, I was not seriously injured besides a sore shoulder and a bruised ego. After gathering myself for a few minutes, I got back on the bike and proceeded to Ocean Avenue in search of this elusive Los Angeles River Bikeway.
The other blow to my cycling adventure came the day after riding from Orange County to downtown Los Angeles: I caught a pretty bad cold. That and the residual soreness from the crash basically kept me off the bike for the rest of the trip. I skipped two rides that I had wanted to do before heading back east. Instead of coming with a hundred-plus miles ridden for the new year, I returned to New York, where there is snow on the ground and temperatures that will not reach above freezing this weekend. I will also be nursing a tender left shoulder and a crushing sinus headache.
As I’ve said before, riding a bike sometimes requires a bit of insanity. I’ll be needing some of that to ride again in the coming days.
It’s funny how gas prices, not adjusting for inflation, are about that price again at the beginning of 2015. ↩