Friday, December 23, 2011

Monday, December 12, 2011

Holiday Mode: UniqueLA

I am in full-on holiday mode.  All I want to do these days is shop, bake, eat, knit, and drink cocktails.  UniqueLA satisfied all of my seasonal cravings.  Watch my video below to see what I came home with:

Friday, December 2, 2011

Some Thoughts on Occupy LA

Los Angeles suffers from a dearth of green space.

Occupy LA was evicted, and the lawn around City Hall is now a wasteland of dirt and debris.  Surfaces have been tagged with graffiti, and according to NBC, some of the debris is contaminated with urine and feces.

I believe there is a vast misdistribution of wealth in our nation.  I believe there is a severe need for more jobs, and a stronger economy.

I know that during the OWS movement, President Obama submitted the American Jobs Act to the Senate.  The Senate voted it down, and the President took it back to the drawing board.  The OWS movement uttered nary a word about it.

OWS missed an opportunity to make specific requests of our government.  In LA, it also missed the opportunity to lead by example, and to show respect for its city.

City Hall is a working service center for the people.  It is not a big bank, it is not a corporation.  Yes, it can be a liaison between people and business, but by damaging its property, we are damaging ourselves.  Our tax dollars pay for the clean up of what was previously a lush, green, public space in Downtown LA.  That is, until it was occupied by protesters who claimed to be fighting for, among other things, more funding for human services.

There is a contradiction of message here, and it bothers me.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Messy Thursdays

I hated every second of it, the yoga class I took this morning at the Hollywood YMCA.  It was only my second of the entire year, and the last one, nearly eight months ago, was all rest and relaxation.  The instructor of this morning's class, however, didn't seem profess to anything that could be called easy.  The room was filled well over-capacity, and the collective body heat created a rather unpleasant hotbox.  The man next to me was much too close, and he dripped sweat to the rhythm of Hetch Hetchy.  The intensity of the hatha flow had my every muscle trembling within the first fifteen minutes, and it didn't let up for the next sixty.

I had been unprepared to shower at the gym, because I hadn't expected to sweat as much as I did.  My hair was dripping, and my clothes were spotted with wet patches.  I only had ten minutes to get to work, so I quickly dowsed myself under a shower head, and got dressed.  I have spent the day at my fashion and beauty network production job with my face completely un-made up, and my nappy half-wet hair tied back into a pony tail.  I have done my best to appear vibrant and wakeful to all of my fashionista co-workers, despite knowing that my visage today is not up to snuff.

It's just something that I - and they - are going to have to get used to, because I do believe I will put myself through the same suffering each and every Thursday: rising early to claim a sliver of space in an over-crowded sweat-box so that my every muscle may tremble for ninety minutes, and then rushing to work wearing a basic, easy-to-throw on outfit, with my hair still wet and every blemish on my face visible to the world.  This is, after all, what I look like sometimes, and everyone may as well know it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Autumn in LA

The air is different here.  The leaves on the deciduous trees have changed color, and the temperatures are seasonably cool.  Still, though, it's different.  Sixty-two degrees comes with a scent of warmth, comforting rays upon the face, instead of the nibbling chill of East Coast air.

This is nothing new.  This is Los Angeles.  Yet, after three and a half years, it is still surprising.  I'll probably always comment on it.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Los Angeles Metro Regional Connector

I am a fan of public transportation, but particularly of public transportation that works.  For it to work, it needs to be efficient, timely, and expansive - that is, it needs to cover the majority of a city, so that folks of all demographics, from all areas and neighborhoods, can have easy access.

I, then, was excited to hear a KPCC interview with Damien Newton of LA Streets Blog about the Regional Connector.  That's a proposed mass-transit rail project to create a new metro corridor through Downtown.  The corridor will connect all of the LA-area metro lines.  Imagine being able to get from the South Bay to Little Tokyo or Hollywood with only one transfer.  Beautiful.  

From the interview, it sounded like the Community Connector Coalition has been at work on this proposal for a number of years, conducting environmental impact reviews, community surveys, etc. etc.  However, just last month, Eli Broad, an LA-philanthropist with lots of money and tons of influence, wrote them a letter proposing that they make adjustments to the routes and/or stations at Bunker Hill, Little Tokyo, and Broadway Civic Center.

The letter states that the Coalition's main concern is Bunker Hill.  They propose moving the planned station from the current location below Bunker Hill to the top of Bunker Hill.  The primary argument is that pedestrians will have to walk up the hill to get to the cultural institutions that sit atop it.  However, it's pretty clear that the real, underlying argument is that a station at the top of Bunker Hill will empty out  right near the steps of Eli Broad's soon-to-be-built contemporary art museum.  How convenient.

Broad's influence is such that his letter has put the project into the public eye, in a way it wasn't before,  and people are inclined to agree with Broad simply because of who he is and how much money he has.  However, moving the station is no easy feat.  The coalition will have to re-do all the ground-work and research that they put into determining the original proposed location, and this could set the project back by another five years or more.

I admit, I have a lot more research to do on this project in order to feel fully informed.  But here is my immediate reaction: the top of Bunker Hill is all that many people know of downtown.  Angelenos who don't live or work downtown know little of the wonders that exist below the hill.  Grand Central Market, the historic theatres of Broadway, the numerous bars and restaurants and musical venues, as well as the discount shopping options that many low-income families frequent.  And let's not forget those that do live Downtown - it's a very diverse area, demographically speaking.  Eli Broad is concerned about patrons to his museum having to walk up the hill to access his museum - but what about the 40,000+ residents of Downtown LA who will have to walk up the hill to access the transit station at his proposed location?

Listen to the interview with Damien Newton here.

Read Eli Broad's letter here.

I want our local transit to grow, and to work, and I'm glad that our city has people like Mr. Newton leading the way.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Last Day September 11 Meant Nothing

Last week, on the tenth anniversary, I was too emotional to post this, but I think I'm ready now.  This is the story of what I went through on that day ten years ago.  


“They jumped. I saw them jump, and fall, all that way. They jumped,” the woman next to me says, her eyes frozen in stare, her face stone cold. All I can do is listen, as we ride up the island on the 1 train. She speaks softly and incessantly, a little bit like an insane person, and at first I don’t know if I should trust her. It’s the look in her eyes, though, that tells me she speaks the truth, and I begin to see what she sees. She hadn’t known what to do, when she witnessed the tower aflame and the people inside jumping out, so she decided to get back on the subway and go home. I’d done the same – boarded the subway to go to work.

On the last morning in history that the date September 11 means nothing, I am starting a new job as Research Assistant at the Columbia Journalism Review. I’m running late, gathering my purse and my keys, when I hear a resounding bang followed by my neighbor’s feet pounding our steps as he runs to the roof door, opens it, and slams it. Wondering what’s going on, my roommate Maggie follows him to the roof. A moment later, I hear the door slam again and my neighbor running the six flights down our building. Maggie returns to our apartment and says, “Something’s wrong at the Trade Center. One of the towers is on fire.”

We don’t have a television, radio, or internet access in our apartment. All I can do to get more information is go outside, see what’s happening, and hear what people are saying. I’m also running late for my new job, so rather than going to the roof, I go downstairs, and walk toward Houston Street, following my typical morning route. Some people have gathered at the corner of Houston and Avenue A, all looking south, toward the Trade Center. I join them and turn around; that’s when I see the flames leaping from the North Tower and a large plume of black smoke trailing behind it. Words rise from the group:

“ . . . could be a fire.”

“. . . a bomb.”

“ . . . just like 1993.”

“What do we do?” I ask.

“Wait for more information, I guess,” one man says.

“I have to go to work,” says another.

I do, too. I walk to the deli up the block for my morning coffee and olive bread. The owner has the television on, with live footage of the burning tower. I stand and watch it with him.

“Do you know what happened?”

“They say it was an airplane,” he answers.

The broadcaster then says something about a private jet, must have gone off course, more information will be available soon. I pay for my coffee and bread and walk back toward the group of people on the corner, on my way to the subway. The East Village Mosaic Man, a crazy local who adorns neighborhood street lamps and traffic lights with mosaic tiling, has joined them. He’s climbed the corner stop sign and is spouting off lunatic claims about the Chinese.

“They’ve always wanted to get us those, Chinese! They hate us, China hates the USA!”

People tell him to stop.

“You’re not helping, man.”

“Blame China!” he yells in defense.

I continue on to the subway – I have to get to work. (I remember descending the steps of the station, but I do not recall which station it was. Had I gone down to Delancey Street, or did I walk all the way over to the Broadway station? If so, did I watch the tower burn as I walked along Houston? I couldn’t have, because then I would have seen the second plane hit the South Tower, but I was on the subway when that happened, just seventeen minutes after the first one. I must have gotten on the B or D train, and then transferred to the 1 at Columbus Circle; I remember none of this. I only remember the woman sitting next to me, talking about the people who jumped.)

I want to hug this woman and ask her questions, but I just sit, listening, as does everybody else; none of us know what to do. The train stops at 96th Street, and the conductor tells us to get off; the subways are shutting down, there will be no more service today. Columbia University is on 116th street. I start walking along a nearly deserted Broadway, and stop in at every bar or restaurant that has a television; it’s then that I learn the second tower has been hit as well, and that the jets were commercial, not private. Get to work, I think. Get to work and find out what’s going on. At 99th street, I enter another bar along with a crowd of other astray pedestrians, in search of a television. The South Tower falls on the screen before us, and we all gasp in horror. I clasp my hand over my mouth. The bartender bursts into tears. A man standing near me shouts,

“That didn’t just happen! That didn’t just happen!”

The thought of making it to work flies out of my mind; I have to call my parents. Utah is two hours behind – will they be awake? Will they know what is happening? I try a payphone, but service is down. I cross to the west side of the street where traffic runs south and try to hail a cab; they’re all filled and none will stop for me. I start running down Broadway, trying each payphone along the way. I stop in at another bar, and see on their television that Washington D.C. has been hit as well. Panic sets in. I think of my sister, who lives just a short drive from the Pentagon, and my parents who must surely be frightened - the cities that are home to both of their daughters have been hit. I need to get a hold of them, and of my sister. Running down Broadway, I shout at traffic going by.

“Share your cab!”

I board a bus, but it is so heavily packed that it is too weighted to drive at an efficient speed. The bus driver starts denying people entry, and asking people to get off. I again take to the street, and to waving down a cab. Finally, one stops for me. It already has a passenger – a young man in a business suit. He throws open the door.

“Get in!”

“Thank you.”

“Are you alright?”

“Yes, are you?”


We sit in silence, as our cab driver tells us that his daughter, who lives with him in New Jersey, works at the Trade Center and had been running late to work that morning. He had advised her, against his character, to take the day off. He didn’t know why, but he didn’t think she should go to work today. He left her at home, while he got in his taxi. An hour later, she called him to tell him that airplanes had struck the towers.

“God told me not to let her go to work today,” he said. “Thank God, my daughter is at home.”

We listen quietly, as we observe the chaos on the streets, pedestrians running every which way, people sobbing, holding each other, collapsing on the curbs and calling out to the sky. As we get further south, we see clouds of white dust billowing up the streets, engulfing buildings and settling on the sidewalks; we see people covered in ash, their wet eyes searching out from beneath. At 23rd, the streets running south are barricaded. Our driver lets us out there, at Madison Square Park. He refuses our money, saying, “Please thank God for me that my daughter is safe.”

I run over to 3rd Avenue, and down into the East Village. I stop on the corner of 3rd and St. Marks when I see a woman collapse against a payphone. I ask her if she is okay, and I try to help her up.

“Yes, I’m just tired,” she says. “Please leave me. I’ll be fine.”

A few blocks later, I pass a businessman carrying a briefcase. He is completely covered from head to toe in white dust, and a thick layer of ash containing bits of burnt paper coats the top of his briefcase. He walks slowly, dispassionately, up the island, his moist eyes fixed on the distance ahead. My heart pounds as I feel, for the first time all morning, true panic rising within my chest. My cheeks quiver with a threat of endless tears.

“Keep calm,” I tell myself. “I’m not covered in ash, I didn’t see people jump, I’m fine.”

I once again take to running as I repeat to myself, “Don’t panic, just get home.”

I run past a row of blue-shirted volunteers at a community center who hand out cups of water to passing pedestrians. While I, along with hundreds of other people, am entirely occupied with getting home, these volunteers are focused entirely on caring for everyone else. My heart swells with gratitude for my city, and the people in it.

On Houston Street, a woman stops me, and, panting, tells me that we’re all going to get cancer from inhaling the debris.

“You know we’re all going to get cancer, right? All of us!” she cries.

She says she lives in Brooklyn and is afraid to walk across the bridge.

“They’re going to bomb the bridges, I know it!”

“I don’t think so. Nobody has bombs today.” I try to assure her.

I finally make it home, and my roommate, Maggie, is there. I’m relieved to be in her company, to have a friend to maneuver through this event with, rather than wandering alone among the crowds outside. We get in touch with our families. My sister is worried about my proximity to the attack, and the chaos on the streets. I try to assure her that I’m okay and that the streets are surprisingly safe, perhaps safer than at any other time. Security and community volunteers are out in full-force, we New Yorkers are watching out for each other.

Maggie and I don’t have access to information in our apartment, so we decide to go up to a friend’s apartment on East 7th Street to watch his television. We stop at a deli along the way for some beer, and find the shelves completely empty. The store proprietor tells us he’s clean out; it’s been a busy night. We go, empty handed, to our friend’s apartment. He cooks risotto for us, and we spend the evening watching Brian Williams on NBC Nightly News. His composure and paternal warmth gets us through the next several hours, and when his program ends and he signs off, I again feel a deep gratitude for my city and the people in it.

As we walk home that night, we see that all streets below Houston, including mine, are under tight security. Residents have to show I.D. and proof of address to get past the barricade. We don’t have proof of residence on us, but the guard takes us at our word and lets us past with a stern warning to carry such papers on us at all times henceforth. I flashback to living in Russia two years prior, and I worry about what ramifications today’s attack will have on our civil liberties.

For days, there is a thick white cloud enveloping my Lower East Side neighborhood, and a fine white powder upon every outdoor surface. The air is thick with the scent of burning metal and electricity. The streets are calm, and almost beautiful, like just after a snowstorm, but there’s that smell . . .

In these days immediately following the attacks, people mostly stay inside. Even the old Chinese man who sits on an upturned bucket outside the front door of his apartment on the fifth floor, wearing nothing but his underwear while his wife cooks on the stove range behind him, has gone inside. His front door remains closed, and I feel concerned for him.

My sister has been calling, asking me to go stay with her in Washington D.C.; She doesn’t think I’m safe in New York City. I do my best to convince her that I’m very safe, and that I have an important new job to go to. My parents take up her cause and begin calling me on her behalf. I hold my ground, and remind them that D.C. was hit, too. Finally, my brother-in-law calls.

“It’s for her sake. She needs you right now,” he says.

I pack a bag, and the next morning I go to Penn Station to catch a train to D.C.

I spend the next two weeks sheltered in the Virginia suburbs. Sylvia and I go into the city a few times, and one night we stop in at a Barnes and Noble. The cover of Time Magazine, an up-close image of the towers burning, shakes me up and I start crying in front of the magazine stand. Sylvia takes the magazine out of my hand and hugs me.

“Don’t look. Let’s walk,” she says, and we go walking, arm in arm, around the neighborhood.

I return to New York City ten days later, and finally begin my new job at Columbia. The people of New York have all gone back to work, have gotten the city up and running, and I’m proud to be part it. The gaping hole at One World Trade Center continues to burn, though, and the streets below Houston are still covered in a fine powder, and there’s still that smell.

Now, ten years later, the odor of a building on fire, or a burning electrical line, has the power to stir up a dust storm of emotion within me. It contains sadness for the lives lost, and for that immediate unity of our nation that was lost in the political aftermath. It contains nostalgia for a Manhattan that doesn’t exist anymore – a Manhattan of surety and security. And it contains gratitude that my family and friends are still with me, and I with them, and that, through my reflections on that day, I have the opportunity to live a life with a little more purpose than perhaps I understood back then – the purpose of showing compassion toward not only my city, but my nation, and my world, and the people in it. On what was perhaps the worst day in our nation's history, people came together to take care of one another. This, I believe, is our singular purpose.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Lazy Sunday Leads Me to the Griffith Park Trail Half Marathon

On Sundays, I have time, and with this time, I walk. Sometimes my walks take me into the sinuous hills of Beachwood, sometimes into the sun-baked paths of Griffith Park. Sometimes my walks turn into runs, as I join the motivated, life-affirming achievers that chase each other on the Los Feliz Boulevard sidewalk. Last Sunday, I joined their ranks, and ran from Western Avenue to Vermont Avenue and up to the Greek Theatre. I stopped at the park just south of the theatre and marveled at the visual contrast of the Santa Monica Mountains’ sandstone peaks against the bright blue California sky.

I stood there a moment, uncertain of what to do next. Typically, my Sunday outdoor excursions, whether they be walking, climbing, or running, engages a clarity in my mind of all of the other things I want to accomplish, and midway through my jaunt, I’m running (or hiking or walking) with the ambition to get home and get things done. Not so last Sunday. I was at the foot of a mountain, and I wanted to climb it. I started wandering, looking for a trail, and there, just below the Greek Theatre, I found one. As I’ve never hiked that side of Griffith Park, I didn’t know where this trail would lead. As long as it seemed like it was heading west, I figured I’d wind up near home eventually. After a steep, dusty climb, I saw the Observatory gleaming upon the hill ahead of me. Once upon its grassy knoll, I contemplated continuing along any of the numerous trails that branch off from there, but as I’d already been out for two hours, I decided I’d head home, along the familiar trail that leads straight down to Western Avenue.

That day, my sole ambition had been exerting myself across Hollywood, soaking up its sun and breeze, getting covered in its dirt, and I returned home wearing a sheen of rejuvenation that I hoped to never shed. Hence, I’ve registered for the first annual Griffith Park Trail Half Marathon. Over the next twelve weeks, I will train for another, longer, more grueling bout of physical exertion across Hollywood’s hills; another, dirtier, sweatier way of experiencing LA.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The People of Hollywood, Part II: The Schizophrenic of Gramercy Place

“Hollywood, Hollywood, Hollywood!”

A week or two after we moved in to our neighborhood, my husband and I both became conscious of a young woman who lived in the building across the street from ours. She couldn’t have gone unnoticed. She looked about twenty-five years old and very pretty, petite, and slim. She had a prim, 1950’s style, pairing Capri jeans with sweater sets and sun hats or adorable dresses and parasols. It was her personality, though, that really got our attention: she’d walk down the street shouting vulgarities to the entire population. She could be heard from blocks away, screaming “Hollywoodhollywoodhollywood! F--- you, Hollywood! F--- your Jesus! Hollywood, Hollywood, Hollywood!” She scared me. She scared the entire street. She’d sit on the balcony of her apartment and violently flip people the finger as they walked by. She’d walk down the street bearing the middle finger of both hands, waving them like wands of black magic at everything and everyone she encountered. Her every step was a thunderous clap of hatred, and I could only imagine the evil in her gaze (she kept her eyes veiled behind oversized sunglasses).

“Hollywood, Hollywood, Hollywood!”

She shouted like she was voicing the anger and resentment of generations of damaged dreams, and scolding anyone who might mistake Hollywood for a good place to be.

One hot summer day, I was on my front porch sanding down an antique desk I’d just purchased. A truck pulled up to an apartment building just a few doors down and a woman began loading her belongings into it. The woman was alone in this effort, moving her belongings entirely by herself. Miss Hollywood approached the back of the vehicle, and squatted down, hiding from the woman in the truck bed. For several minutes, she played a solo game of slowly rising into view and then quickly squatting back down, out of sight. Finally, the woman in the truck bed caught a glimpse of her, and startled back. When she regained her footing, she said something curtly to Miss Hollywood, who stood up and laughed. The woman, obviously uncomfortable but uncertain what to do, just went back to arranging her belongings in the truck bed while Miss Hollywood continued to stand in the same spot, and watch.

After a few minutes, Miss Hollywood, perhaps annoyed that the woman had ceased paying attention to her, began reaching out and touching objects in the truck. She’d rise up from hiding while the woman’s back was turned, extend an arm, and touch something. Then she’d wait for a reaction, as if the woman would be able to psychically detect that one of her belongings had been defiled. When the woman didn’t notice anything unusual, Miss Hollywood began moving items within her reach from one place to another, all while the woman was turned away. Eventually, the woman noticed that her stuff had been rearranged, and began yelling and gesticulating violently. “Just leave me alone!” she begged. Miss Hollywood laughed, and stayed put. The woman repeated her desperate gesture several times, snapping her arm and forefinger into a stern point away from the truck, each time with rising acerbity until Miss Hollywood slowly retreated. As she reached the middle of the street, she unleashed a torrent of obscenities upon the woman in the truck, who just stood there, dumbfounded. Finally, Miss Hollywood snapped around and stormed into her apartment building, the stream of profanity trailing behind her.

A few days later, I was again on my porch, this time writing and enjoying a glass of wine, when I heard Miss Hollywood’s signature soundtrack. I glanced toward the location of her voice and saw her perched glamorously on the railing of her balcony, her arms wrapped around one knee, and her other leg stretched out in front of her. She wore sunglasses, a tank top, and shorts. She looked positively relaxed, yet she spewed her usual execrations and comminations with maximum fury.

“Hollywood, Hollywood, Hollywood!” she screamed. “F--- Hollywood, F--- your Jesus, Hollywood!”

I watched unsuspecting pedestrians wandering down the sidewalk jump with alarm as they entered her range. When they found the source of the noise, they’d freeze and stare in wonderment before moving along. The whole thing was wildly amusing. Eventually, the woman from the truck-bed incident strolled by. When she heard Miss Hollywood, she crouched behind a shrub, dug a camera out of her purse and proceeded to snap some clandestine photographs of our local psycho. She’d slowly raise her arms above the shrub, take a picture and then quickly squat back down to evaluate the result. This she repeated several times, until she placed the camera back in her purse and nonchalantly crossed the street to her own apartment. Miss Hollywood maintained her particular brand of R&R – blaspheming from her balcony – for another two hours. My ears were bleeding by the end of it.

Some months later, I realized I hadn’t seen or heard anything from her since that balcony tirade. I was surprised to find that I kind of missed her, and was truly worried about what might have happened to her. Did she get dragged away in a straight jacket to the nearest mental facility? Did she piss somebody off and get hurt? One day, I ran into an acquaintance, a fellow actor from a theatre company I worked with briefly. It turns out she lives in that building across the street. I asked her what ever became of the screaming banshee, and she told me that, to the delight of the entire building, their resident schizophrenic had been evicted.  She didn’t know where she wound up going, after being forced out, and she didn’t care.

Had I lived in her building, I’m sure I would have felt the same relief at her removal, but having been a mere audience to her antics, I felt nostalgic for the coloratura with which she ornamented my first year in Hollywood. Although a nuisance, she had captured my imagination, and had helped secure Hollywood in mind as a place of true diversity and dynamism. Perhaps she was wildy disturbed, but she was also wildly interesting.


Read The People of Hollywood, Part I here.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The City Observed: Tony's Saloon

I asked for a Red Hook cocktail with Bulleit Rye, but the bartender suggested something else. A Red Car Named Desire is made with rye, luxardo, and cassis, with a peel of lemon. At first taste, it was too sweet for my liking, but it hit the back of my tongue with an intriguing spiciness before disappearing down my throat all together, as if I'd taken a sip of water. It was an interesting cocktail, with nuances on the tongue like you’d find in a good glass of wine.  Tony’s Saloon is my favorite bar in Los Angeles due this kind of personalized service. With each beverage, they craft an experience tailored specifically to the customer.

I also love Tony’s because of how comfortable I am sitting alone at the bar. This is one of my favorite activities, and I say so with absolute honesty. I’m not shy about sitting alone in bars, and I’ve done so at almost every type of place you can think of, from chic lounges in SoHo to the most divey, green-carpeted slime hole on San Francisco’s Van Ness Avenue.  Despite my non-discriminating affinity for solo bar-going, there are times that I feel uncomfortable, once seated, as if all eyes are on the lonely girl at the bar, or as if all lonely guys seem to think I’m theirs to win. Not so at Tony’s. I can sit there undisturbed for hours, until I strike up a conversation with the bartender about his favorite whiskey, or a fellow patron chats me up about books or movies. I’ve had many great conversations at Tony’s, over many a great cocktail.

My only complaint about it is that it’s becoming more popular, however deservedly. 

Photo by Colin Young Wolff

Tony’s Saloon - 2017 East 7th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90021

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Summer in Traffic

I live on the East Side, but I work on the West Side.  When I moved to Los Angeles, I found this scenario unthinkable.  I’d found a place in Hollywood, and while I looked for work, I looked solely east of La Cienega.   If I ran across an appealing day job that was based on the West Side, I wouldn’t apply, and would only consider driving to the West Side for a paid acting gig.  I eventually had to weaken this personal boundary in order to pursue a broader range of opportunities, and finally the wall came down altogether.  I now spend nearly to two hours in my car every day, commuting from home to work and back.  On days when I have auditions or meetings elsewhere in the city, this time increases dramatically.  One day, I spent over four hours driving, without leaving the confines of Los Angeles.

This is a key complaint amongst people who proclaim to dislike Los Angeles, or amongst those who’ve agreed to live here but merely tolerate it.  Traffic.  I’ve come to accept it.  That said, I take every chance I can to walk or ride the metro, and that’s what Carmageddon was for me: a weekend-long incentive to stay local, and use my feet or ride the metro when I wanted to go out.  It was great, and put me very much in touch with summertime.

Summer in New York City is tactile, and not just because the heat glues itself to you.  You experience summer with every step – to work, on errands, out and about in your daily life.  You’ll stop along the way for an iced coffee and walk down the street with it chilling your hand.  You’ll grab a seat in Madison Square garden on your lunch break, and notice what sandals every girl is wearing.  You’ll make note of how the fabric on your body is moving with the breeze, or clinging to your body on a breezeless day, and you’ll amend tomorrow’s outfit accordingly.  You’ll drink beverages that you don’t usually order in the winter – mint juleps, jalapeno margaritas, caipirinhas.   Your friends who live in apartments with any bit of outdoor space will host “garden” parties.   Your favorite bars will open their patios or balconies.  All throughout the city, you’ll feel summer.

Though the garden parties in LA are held in real gardens in spacious backyards (sometimes even with pools), these parties take place all year round, just as the patios and balconies are open all year. There’s no seasonal ceremony to ordering an iced coffee, nor will you notice it chilling your hand as you walk down the street, because instead, it will chill the beverage holder in your car.  You’ll drive past the parks most days, unless you have a confirmed reason to go to one on the weekend – for an event, or a movie screening.  Chances are, you won’t just be walking through a park and grabbing a seat on a bench for a spell.  The weather will, as always, be good, but you’ll be in your car, with the air conditioning on.  Here in LA, you don’t feel summer as much as you just feel LA.

So it goes.  It’s nice here.  What’s new? 

Friday, July 15, 2011

The City Observed: Thrillist's Punch Crawl - (Los Angeles Roars On)

During the week of Zooey Deschanel and Pat Morrison’s war of words over Downtown LA, two opportunities arose to experience the wonders of the metropolitan center of the city. The first was the Thrillist Bols Genever Punch Crawl on Wednesday night, and the second was the monthly Downtown Art Crawl. I did not attend the latter, but I did attend and thoroughly enjoyed the former.

Six bars in Downtown LA offered up unique punchbowls mixed with Bols Genever. For $25 dollars, we got one glass of punch and culinary treats at each stop. I love grainy alcohols, I love discovering bars, and I love Downtown LA. It was quite a night. I consider myself pretty savvy about Downtown, as I worked in the Oviatt building on 6th and Olive for nearly a year. However, that was two years ago, and Downtown has since changed. There are more people and more places, and I view them as a very good thing. Of the six bars participating in the punch crawl, I had only been to two: Cole’s and Varnish.

We started at Bar & Kitchen. Their Vondlepark Punch was a refreshing mix of Genever and Amontillado Sherry, and they served us two delectable morsels of bacon-wrapped dates. The deliciousness of both the punch and dates had us drooling over the menu and vowing to go back in the near future for dinner. I also enjoyed the atmosphere of the place: unpretentious gastropubbiness with an East Coast feel.

Next, we wandered over to the address of Caña Rum Bar: 714 West Olympic Boulevard, which happens to be the beautiful art deco Petroleum Building. We saw no sign or door for a bar, and were momentarily confused. We walked under the gorgeous archway into the beautifully-tiled lobby with two walls of old elevators framing a set of double glass doors. We told the security guard that we were looking for the rum bar. She directed us down a hallway (lined with historic photographs of Downtown) to the parking lot (adorned with stunning art deco light fixtures – yes, the parking lot!), where there is a tent in the corner that serves as the entrance to Cana Rum Bar. Once inside, we saw that the double glass doors at the end of the Petroleum Building lobby lead to the bar. But they’re tinted and sealed, either to create a speakeasy atmosphere, to keep rum-filled drunks out of the lobby of the office building, or to provide easy access from car to bar back to car (such is Los Angeles).

We sipped our Panamanian Detective, made with guava, Averna and limes. This was my husband’s favorite punch of the evening. I enjoyed it, though I really savored the scent of cigars from the Cigar Garden. Again, I vowed to go back for a specialty cocktail and a carefully-selected cigar from their humidor. I hope they have someone on hand to help me choose.

Our third destination was Drago Centro, in the corporate City National Plaza. I typically avoid lounging in corporate atmospheres, but as we wandered around looking for the restaurant, I noticed that the plaza is designed to offer an elegant view of the Central Library, the West Lawn, the California Club Building, and the high rises ascending out of the landscaping of the Bunker Hill Steps. It’s really a lovely view, and made the experience of wandering around a corporate plaza actually inspiring. I felt like I was in a dynamic and alluring city, because, well, I was.

Drago Centro served up a Pompeii Punch accented with nastertium petals. This was my favorite drink of the evening, as with each sip it revealed new interactions of flavor. They also cooked up a tasty fennel sausage pizza, which holds a place on their standard appetizer menu. I loved my drink, and I liked the snack, but because of the heavily corporate atmosphere of the restaurant itself, I probably won’t find myself there very often.

Next up was The Falls. We have a friend who works there, and she showed us her newly acquired badass bartending skill of lighting her finger on fire and blowing the flame down the length of the bar. This trick was far more fascinating than their punch. Called Flowing Bols, it was altogether unremarkable. We had a great time there, though.

Finally, we stepped into Cole's for a Peach Cobbler punch, with cinnamon simple syrup and angostura bitters, served with a little side of baked peach cobbler. The pie was good, the punch was underwhelming.

We were, when it came time, very ready to saunter back to Varnish, where the cocktails are always astounding. A charming gentleman named Chris welcomed us to the punch bowl and took great interest in describing to us his punch concoction, which he christened the Dutch Pugilist. He’d peeled dozens of lemons early that morning, dusted them with sugar, and let them sit for hours on end to create a zesty syrup that was the base of the punch. I remember it was wonderful, but I fail to remember details of its flavor (and failed to snap a pic), because at this point in the evening, I’d drunk a lot of punch.

Chris charmed us with his love of libations and introduced us to a distant nephew of Maurice Chevalier, who wore a well-tailored suit and stood about 7 feet tall, no exaggeration. Drinking an old-English-named beverage in a 1920’s style speakeasy, and conversing with a relative of a vaudeville entertainer transported me to a very specific Los Angeles – one you wouldn’t think exists today. And yet, behind secret doors in Downtown’s historic buildings, it endures, this roaring Los Angeles.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Liberty Weekend

My favorite way to spend the 4th of July weekend is at the beach, as I've done for the last three years. I have an affinity for Manhattan and Hermosa beaches, as do all of the rowdiest high school and college kids, who enjoy getting hopelessly drunk and baring their toasted skin. I find their antics endlessly amusing, and love being in the midst of their messy revelry.

Biking up and down the strand from Hermosa to Venice and back is a fabulous way to feel like a spoiled Californian, and I've done this every Independence Day for the past three years. This year, we have a new car, a Prius, and we didn't think to make sure that our bike rack would fit it properly. We just fastened it on, hoisted the bicycles on to it, and then by the time we entered Downtown LA, noticed that the bikes seemed less than secure. We pulled off the freeway at 3rd street and stopped in an empty parking lot.

With the skyrises of Los Angeles laughing down at us, we took the bikes off of the rack, emptied out the contents of our car, and piled the bikes inside.

The ride felt much more safe, though a little crammed, with our bicycles as our passengers.

It was, of course, all worth it, as our bicycles became our best companions on the beach. As the weekend revelers became more and more rowdy, we just sailed past them, perched atop our wheels, peaceful observers of the outrageous comedy that unfolded along The Strand.

Twenty two year old women in barely-there bikinis, their painted faces sagging with drink, dragged their flip-flopped feet behind them, as they tried to mask their lack of balance. They still, despite this charade, appeared attractive to the twenty two year old men who played less dress-up with paint and beachwear, but more with machismo. They layed it on thick.

I, too, enjoy the drink, although I avoid being drunk. My husband and I carried rum and wine splits in our totes, and we stopped in at Shellback Nation on Manhattan Beach for two bloody mary's - among the best I've had in LA - on the morning of the 4th.

Last year, on the 4th of July, we witnessed the tail-end of a night-long party that was still going strong at 10:00 in the morning. A bunch of twenty two year old men and women bounced and shouted along to each song that came on, and drank more than I've seen anyone drink at that early hour. It was a joy to watch. This year, there was no such show, and I missed it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

In Reverence to Enjoyment

One month after my return, Paris is with me still, casting itself over my every experience like a transparency overlay.  In the morning, when I walk to my driveway and get in my car, another version of me continues walking down a narrow 17th-century cobblestone road that leads straight to the Seine.  On my drive to work, I stop in at Coffee Bean where I pay four dollars for a café latte to-go, to enjoy en-route.  Meanwhile, the other me steps into the corner bistro and orders a café allonge at the bar, where the tariff de consummation is only one euro.  She stands there with the regulars who sip their coffee slowly, in reverence to the morning ritual. Nobody takes his coffee to go. She’s done it before, but it’s difficult to walk down the cobblestone streets without a lid on the coffee cup, and cafes in Paris don’t carry lids.  There, coffee is a thing to spend a moment with, not to consume in a hurry or on the go - the only people on the street with paper cups are standing in doorways, smoking cigarettes, taking time to reflect upon the morning.

In Los Angeles, “to go” is a lifestyle.  When I take the time to sit at a café or restaurant, I am usually Lunching or Having Coffee, that is, meeting with somebody I want to work with creatively or professionally, and the purpose of said Lunch or Coffee to is to move forward - to go somewhere in my career.  This is Los Angeles: always another meaning, always an ulterior motive.  I am not one who believes that these secondary, secret goals that every Angeleno has are selfish or dishonorable in nature.  We all just want help, and are usually asking for it - not outright, but in the subtext of our Coffees and Lunches.  We may be having them “for here”, but we really mean “to go”.

I have been conditioned to get along in a to-go society, but I think that at heart, I am a To-Stayer.  I excel at taking languid pleasure – sitting for hours at a café, simply observing and enjoying; walking through the city (when I lived in a walk-able city) without aim or destination, soaking in the sights and smells, absorbing the essence of the brimming metropolis; laying riverside, or seaside, or lakeside, with or without a book or notebook, maybe reading, maybe writing, but mostly relishing in the feel of the sun on my skin and the light breeze across my back; doing nothing and doing it well.

As I enter my apartment after a long and busy day, and quickly prepare an easy, five minute dinner before approaching my list of pressing, career-oriented to do’s, the other me enters her favorite neighborhood bistrot and prepares to spend the next two hours indulging, just like every night, in a three course meal, where the only to-dos that appear in her mind are the other places where she wants to eat, or wander, or play, or sip.