Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I've been driving around for at least a week with a burned out tail light, so I shouldn't be one to talk...but...I always wonder why some businesses will go weeks or months before fixing their sign lighting problems.

I do like the Hayward's new turn as the 'Hot Ayward.' Funny.

Oh, and the Cecil Hotel went from 'Ho Cecil' to the less snappy 'Ho Cec.'

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mendota, California: Cantaloupe Island

We spent Thanksgiving with my family in Fresno, where my parents moved from San Jose when they retired. After a not-so-bad drive with three dogs in the back seat, it was nice catching up with aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Doesn't happen every year, but on the Day After Thanksgiving I like to drive out to Mendota, a small agricultural city (population approx. 10,000) in western Fresno County. My grandparents moved there in the '40s, my mom was born there, and I enjoyed entire weeks there during my childhood summers.

These days Mendota is known for an astonishingly high unemployment rate and dismal job prospects. The water due to drought and diversions to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The bad news keeps coming, like Greyhound dropping service, the last bank closing up, and the local sugar beet processing plant shuttering.

Lucky for me the nice memories won over...buying Richie Rich and Captain Carrot comics at the Food Center, drinking bottled Coke at the Snowden Market, throwing rocks in the alleys and vacant lots, climbing trees with my cousins, hanging out at the Mendota Slough.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Watts Towers of India...Nek Chand

I'm big on folk art sites like the Watts Towers in Los Angeles, Bottle Village in Simi Valley, or Forestiere Underground Gardens in Fresno, so I was excited to check out Nek Chand's Rock Garden when we were at Chandigarh, India. Genius...this was my favorite place in India, even topping the Taj Majal.

Visiting the Rock Garden is like looking through a kaleidoscope for the first time. You know, the way light plays with color and prisms turn the stomach a little but in a good way. Watts Towers can cause the same reaction but Nek Chand's use of urban waste material into ingenious modern art sculpture and buildings left me shaken. Beauty formed from refuse is the ultimate recycling. Believe me, it left me almost teary.

Someone said that Mr. Chand could be found walking around the garden. I live in Los Angeles so it's inevitable that I stumble upon movie stars and such but I never had the cojones or the drive to get their autograph. But at the mention of Chand twiddling around the garden, I was determined to get his John Hancock. Too bad I didn't bump into the octogenarian artist because I would've cherished anything from him.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


I'm finally feeling better after bringing back an unfortunate souvenir from India. Campylobacter. You supposedly get it from eating undercooked chicken, but I've been chicken-free since 1998, so who knows what happened...

One of the more interesting cities we visited was Chandigarh, which was planned out by Le Corbusier in the '50s after the Punjab's historic capital was partitioned over to Pakistan.

To check out the High Court, Assembly, and Secretariat buildings, we had to wait an hour for a signature from the Department of Tourism and another hour for permission from the Chief of Protocol. Funny...the electricity went out while we were sitting in a government office. The workers passed the time by suggesting KFC as a lunch spot and observing that Mexicanos look like Indians. "You have the Red Indians, do you not?"

The verdict...I like Le Corbusier's architecture as stand-alone modernist designs, but his master plan gave rise to a harsh, disconnected city that's tough on the pedestrian. Why are the major government buildings waaayyy to the north rather than a central location? Where are the sidewalks? Why must the neighborhoods have such wonderfully mechanical names like Sector 18 and Sector 22?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Delhi Metro

Back from a memorable trip to India! We love our October vacations...nice weather, less crowds, no whiny kids on the plane.

Our stops...and the first word that pops in my head for each city...


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

don't bong me around

As I was walking home down 3rd Street from dropping off some specimens from Quest Diagnostics near Little Tokyo (it was regarding my recent India trip), I noticed that the shops I used to frequent during my Ebay days were gone. Instead of Japanimation toys and video games, most of the storefronts showcased bongs of every sizes and in different incarnation of the human anatomy. I love toys and marijuana does terrible things to me - like cause me not to have fun. The explosion of medical marijuana butted its way to the front of the popularity competition. I don't begrudge it, only the unbelievable amount of chemicals and lead found in dispensed spliff. I vote that the Toy District be renamed Bong Village. It'd be more appropriate and will attract more business. The face of L.A. could change to something huge. Amsterdaic paraphernalia galore.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Made in India

We'll be traveling in India the rest of October...see you in November!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sylvanjail bears

I attended San Jose's Sylvandale Junior High in the '80s, when the school district installed a ten-foot high chain link fence topped with barbed wire around the perimeter. Sylvanjail was born.

Even then I didn't like feeling like a prisoner, and I'm still not a fan of gates, walls, window bars, private streets, vacated alleys, and security check points.
I prefer hearing about walls being dismantled, fences reduced in height, bridges constructed, bus stops added, rail lines planned, and hiking and biking trails extended and connected.

The photo shows the Hayward Hotel at Spring and 6th in Downtown Los Angeles. A gate on the Spring Street side has been removed...that's what I'm talking about.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Century City's got everything covered

I found this 1960s sign advertising a Century City construction project. It's still sitting in the most run-down, godforsaken vacant industrial lot in the city I work in. If you look carefully at the upper right corner of the sign, you'll see the faded words, "An Alcoa development."

I'm amazed that I've been at my current job for almost five years. My previous employment was a three-year, whacked-out tour of duty with the State of California, and ahead of that was scattershot work with titles including words like...substitute, contract, part-time, temporary, assistant, or student.

One gem was retail work hawking souvenirs at the since-demolished Schubert Theater in Century City. I tended a little kiosk before and after plays and musicals, and occasionally I'd recognize a face from film and television. This one co-worker (I forget his name, but he looked exactly like the Chief from BSG) was always on the active lookout for celebrities to harass.

Michelle Pfeiffer wandered over by herself one evening, and sure enough, the Chief came running over from across the way. "Has anyone ever told you you look like Michelle Pfeiffer?" he panted. He always used that line.

"Yes, because I am Michelle Pfeiffer."

"I knew it! I knew it! Can I get an autograph?"

He never succeeded in getting an autograph.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Sunday papers don't got no eyes

This sad LA Weekly newsrack had been yanked...most likely for being an oddball color...and was sitting on a scrap heap behind the Historic Downtown Los Angeles BID HQ on Spring Street. A Newsrack Ordinance has been on the Los Angeles books for several years, and one of the regs stipulates a single color...Ivy Green...for all racks.

When I moved back to Los Angeles after five years in Santa Ana, I suspended my Los Angeles Times subscription, and I intended to try exclusively reading the online version. I gave it a month, but I had to resume delivery to my new place.

Say all you want about the death of print media, but there's really no substitute for flipping the freshly printed news sheets, folding the paper under your arms, or getting lost in column inches continued from the front page. And I was having a hard time lining the birdcage with LA Weekly tabloid-style pages.

My only complaint is that the delivery person drops off the morning stack at the front security desk in my Downtown building. When I lived in a multi-story college dormitory in the '90s, the delivery folks had no trouble walking upstairs. What happened?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Last century modern

On Wednesday night (I know, might as well have been the Jurassic in blog-time) EzraPounded and I attended a panel discussion about preserving '60s architecture, set up by the Los Angeles Conservancy and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. They're ramping up for the magic year of 2010, which is the 50-year mark for 1960, and 50 years carry a ton of legal weight in HistoricPreservationLand.

It will be interesting to see how the preservation battles continue to play out in the upcoming years, especially here in Southern California. In Los Angeles County alone there are 88 individual cities, and a good share of them incorporated around 50 years ago, starting with Lakewood in 1954. In fact, 43 out of the 88 cities incorporated in 1954 or later. That means that preservationists will need to keep tabs on a lot more cities -- young cities -- that had not previously put too much thought or care into saving and restoring local treasures.

Here's a building on my watch list...the Pico Rivera Library, a nice circular library built in 1961. County Supervisor Gloria Molina has pledged $6 million in matching funds if the City of Pico Rivera is ever ready to cough up for a library replacement, blasting the existing library back up to the mothership. So far, no movement.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Which way LA?

Someone needs to reverse-install this pair of pedestrian wayfinding signs at 8th and Spring Street in Downtown Los Angeles. The sign that should be facing east is facing west, and vice versa. I feel bad for the innocents looking for Broadway theaters or flower bargains who end up walking the opposite way from their destinations. Good luck to them. How long have the signs been incorrectly up like this?

When I was in kindergarten I went to school once with the left shoe on the right foot, right shoe on the left foot. Damn. As you see, I've never forgotten, but at least it never happened again.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

KFC: the new spliff dispensary


When the KFC shut its doors on Exposition and National due to the bad economy, a new business took over the prominent trademark building. And the newbie entrepreneurs kept the famous initials. Kind for Cures is now KFC. Instead of extra crispy chicken leg, you can order rice krispies laced with the best Oregon bazooka. Yes, ganja is available at this medical marijuana dispensary. They even have an on-site medical doctor ready to hear your troubles and write a prescription for you then and there. Nice.

frank lloyd wright slammed and dunked

One of the attractions of going to Kansas City was seeing the church Frank Lloyd Wright designed. It was a twist in the gut to see that the great architect was karate slammed by churchies who had no idea whose bench they were sitting on. Cottage cheese was everywhere. 80s block glass lined outer walls giving it a Less Than Zero look. The clear glass windows with Lloyd's signature etching were wrenched out. Only one pane of glass was left. Painful...

KSC moderns modern

Never assume anything...a wise person says and she was right. I thought Kansas City was going to have hay to trod on instead of concrete (this is an exaggeration, of course). But here it is. The downtown is well-preserved and the modern and contemporary buildings don't disappoint.

Historic Jazz Row in Central L.A.

After our stint in Kansas at Charlie Parker's old haunts, B,S, and I went cruising down L.A.'s Central Avenue in search of Jazz Row. A park dedicated to musicians that frequented the club scene was tagged up. Important buildings looked deserted as well as dilapidated. I am truly humbled by Kansas City...the way they preserved their musical history.

The Bird, Kansas City, and Lots and Lots of History

Southwest threw out their $30 each way trip and we picked up the drippings with tissue. Everything was sold out - including New Orleans which was our first choice. Since we didn't jump the bandwagon early, we ended up in Kansas City, MO. I gotta say, I'd never been asked, "What's there?" so many times. "Charlie Parker," I'd say. Again, the blank look.

The Blue Room where Charlie Parker played was first on our list. I had this image of smoky, body-to-body-crowded jazzio, and the Bird playing Ko-Ko with "Lady Face", his legendary alto saxophone. Instead, a group mostly comprised of white jazz players performed the Saturday night we came. I counted five minorities and the rest looked like bored gangs of sorority and fraternity waiting for the song to be over. So I closed my eyes and took painful sips of martini which I thought was cool since James Bond liked it so much. Drinking the stuff was like downing rubbing alcohol. I imagined the footage I'd seen on Ken Burns' Jazz and tried to conjure the man who brought back improvisational playing that bands like Glen Miller killed. I touched my stool, tapped the table I imagined Parker got drunk on. I waved away the nagging voice that said, "The table's newish, you dummy."

It was a great experience though. After we left the club, we walked around 18th and Vine where clubs, movie theaters, and the magic of jazz still existed. Kansas City and other cities in Missouri were good to us. Jesse James, Pony Express. Just a throw away in Kansas there were Amelia Earhart's childhood home and Topeka's monument to the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. Great weekend trip. Truly.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Seasick sea serpent

How common is it for a student to skip a grade? Does every school have a skipper, or are they extraordinary kids of legend? They're certainly less common than students who have to repeat a grade...I actually know someone who flunked kindergarten.

I remember this girl...Cecil was her name, pronounced like Sa-seal, not See-sal. She was with the same batch of school kids that came up with me at Hellyer Elementary in San Jose, but come 7th grade at Sylvandale Junior High, she leapfrogged into 8th grade. And that was that...8th graders universally don't hang out with 7th graders.

So Cecil pops in my head when I see the Hotel Cecil on Main Street in Downtown Los Angeles. Normally. But now the blade sign is stuck as "Ho Cecil," and Sylvandale Cecil was the last girl you would associate with "ho."

Hehehe...even funnier considering that last week the sign was illuminated as "Ho Cec." In other words, the property management took care of the burned out "il," but thought "Ho Cecil" was worth keeping.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Three apples high

I spent Saturday morning on the Green Building Walking Tour set up by the City of Santa Monica. Those folks are waaay ahead of the mossy green curve. We took in several LEED-rated projects, including the Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility (yes yes...SMURRF), and I learned that the local storm drains have been known to take in lovely deer carcasses.

When the coordinator asked who lives in Santa Monica, this one joker said, "I live one block south, but I consider that Santa Monica." Wow...when did it become too embarrassing to admit you live in Venice?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Here's one cutesy design flourish that's overused...wall tiles adorned with punctuation marks. I first saw this in Westwood, and now we have...

The Collection in Downtown Burbank...

...and the Ralphs parking garage in Downtown Los Angeles...

...although I do like the birds and trees. They can stay.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Here comes the Predator

I have news...Predator has been defeated. These two unassuming fellows saved the residents of SB Lofts in Downtown Los Angeles from a dreadful fate. Los Angeles thanks you both.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Eastridge Boys

When I moved last month I found a stash of old marketing brochures I had saved when I was a young whippersnapper in San Jose. It's a half-decent set of amusement park maps, park highlights, and chamber of commerce rehash. Amazing the things that avoid the landfills...

These are photos taken from a Eastridge Mall pamphlet from the early '80s. That place has seen its ups and downs as shopping tastes have changed through the years, but in those days Eastridge was a sparkling, regional retail destination.

And it was a playground to kids like me. The intoxicating scent of popcorn filled Sears, and in this pre-VHS era we could watch cartoons for a quarter in a filthy plastic booth. I remember getting in trouble with my cousin Marcos, who had brilliant ideas like sliding down the dividers between escalators and wading in the fountains to filch the coins. You've heard of mall rats...we were more like mall rugrats.

Looking at these pictures, I love the geometric patterns, the elongated bubble canopy over the information booth, and the sculpture (since relocated to downtown San Jose), which I liken to a metallic peacock.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Raul Leanos, I Hardly Knew You

Today marks the anniversary of the 1986 mid-air collision of Aeromexico Flight 498 and a private plane above Cerritos. Aboard the jetliner were Raul Leanos, a kid from my junior high in San Jose, and his mother, Elva Leanos, who worked in the school cafeteria. They were on their way back from a summer trip to Mexico before the new school year.

In those days the school would post up lists of homeroom teachers and their students outside the main office. I remember walking to school to check on the assigned teacher for my upcoming 8th grade year, and a crowd of television news reporters blocked my way. Another kid explained that someone had died in a plane crash, and a cameraman taped footage of the homeroom list, surely zooming in on Raul's name for dramatic emphasis.

A few years ago the City of Cerritos dedicated the Cerritos Air Disaster Memorial by Kathleen Carcicof as part of a quiet sculpture garden tucked away near the library. It's a nice place to sit, contemplate, and think about the good folks we've lost.

Monday, August 24, 2009


I admit it. I spend a lot of time thinking about fast food restaurants. And the crazy part...I haven't had beef/chicken/pork/duck/lengua/cesos in ten years. Not intentionally, at least, unless you count the time in Japan when the owner of the Mexican restaurant in Umejima surprised me with beef tamales.

Here I go again. I swung by the Tacos El Gavilan on Central and Washington and saw that the old sky-fly McDonald's arches by Stanley Meston had been neutered. When did this happen?

I may have to take a drive by the alive-and-kicking McDonald's in Downey, but the McVeggie doesn't exactly sizzle my grizzle. Grimace.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Broadway way

Hmm...putting up a sign after business hours on a Friday night, two dudes on the same ladder, and the third guy looking distracted....I have just a hunch that they "forgot" to pull permits.

Downtown Los Angeles. Gotta love it.