Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Me vs Humanity

With the worsening economy, our neighborhood is suddenly becoming the favorite parking spot of the indigent. It's a nice, cozy neighborhood, safe to park at, but also near enough to busy traffic so you wouldn't stick out like a sore thumb. I think about what it would be like, living in your car, hoping to remain invisible enough to survive. But, of course, there's also the fear, of who these people are, how safe the neighborhood is becoming. The other day, the guy living out of his white van came up to our house and started taking water out of the outside tap. He was hostile and unpleasant. Who wouldn't be, living out of a van, having to steal water? I'm bitchy if lunch is an hour late. Still, we felt like it was a good idea to report this to the police. Our water bill is huge and theft is theft and where is that fine line of self-protection versus social good?

This morning our friendly local police officer knocked on our door and lectured us on safety: pretend you have a dog, don't confront strangers, don't give out information, always lock the door, don't hesitate to use pepper spray, etc. He'd worked on Skid Row for a number of years and knew all the scams. His message was clear: no good deed goes unpunished. Therefore, do not feed the indigents. Do not show kindness. It made me think of the Luis Bunuel film Viridiana, where a virtuous, kind young woman opens up her house to the homeless only to be despised and raped by the very people she was trying to help. But, isn't the counter-weight to that George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London? Orwell will forever change the way you look at the indigent.

I guess even kindness is complicated. And I started thinking about living in New York and that time a middle-aged businessman came up to me and asked me for money. He had a sad, if unoriginal, story. He was at Rockefeller Center and lost his wallet — he thought someone had stolen it. He needed to get home to New Jersey. Would I lend him the cost of the train ticket home, because he would mail me back a check as soon as he got home? Of course I knew instantly I was being scammed and on most days I would have walked quickly away, my hands firmly gripping my should bag. But this time, maybe my blood sugar was really low, I started thinking: was I really 100% sure? Wasn't there a 1% chance that he was telling the truth, and I, as a human being, should help this person out? So I went to the nearest ATM and withdrew the money, money I, as a poor freelance fact-checker, really needed myself, and even gave him a subway token to Penn Station. The man looked at me with wonder and what looked like pain in his eyes. Strangely, I didn't feel conned, I didn't feel stupid. I had this firm belief that I had done the right thing. I suppose, in the end, what I was really betting on was my own humanity. After all, we are scammed and conned every day, by big conglomerates, local businessmen, insurance agents — let's not even start with politicians — and it's so hard to find a way to go against this tide that seems so universal and so timeless. To say, hey, can't we be better than this? And maybe (probably a small maybe), the man, seeing my humanity, was confronted with his.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Interstate 5, The Adventure Never Ends

I knew we weren't in Kansas anymore when the guy at the Starbuck's counter looked at us and shouted loudly, "Cappuccino? That's fancy drink. Where are you guys from?" We'd stopped off the I5, just two hours north of LA. I forget that LA isn't just different from the rest of the US — it's different from the rest of California. Yes, we were only two hours away from the heart of the metropolis, but we might as well have been in another country, like Texas. The differences are cultural and physical. LA is Democrat country where declaring yourself a Republican can be dangerous to your health. I was at a birthday party where the poor lone Republican was slaughtered and eaten alive. Well, after the last eight years, the Democrats were pretty hungry, but still, I'd never seen anything so savage. Or funny. But just north of LA, things might not have been so funny if the situation had been reversed and it had been the Democrat announcing himself among Republicans: Kern, Kings, and Tulare counties, where cappuccino is fancy drink, are McCain country and as red on the map as blood.

Leaving LA, you can feel the drama of change. LA is all mountains and hills, twisty bends, little canyons and creeks hidden in the crevices of the metropolitan landscape. To get north, you have to take the I5, traveling up and up the mountain passes, the incline so steady, you're at 4,000 feet before you know it, wondering how it suddenly became so foggy and then slowly understanding that it's not fog that has you all cottoned up but clouds. The slopey mountains don't feel like mountains at all, maybe because they're so devoid of trees or anything that give the illusion of height, not even the craggy points you expect out of mountains. And in November, not a sign of snow. Instead, the mountains are covered with pale scrub that resemble heather in the Lake District of England. More dislocation of the senses. It's odd to see a vast lake so far below you.

When the mountains disappear, so does the county of LA. This is where the I5 sadly narrows to two lanes, the landscape of McCain country straight and flat like any dogmatist's thinking. From the I5 you don't see cities but hundreds of miles of farmland, orchards and vineyards, and what you smell is the toxic fumes of manure and cow feed. Occasionally you'll see the cows, thousands of them reigned in tightly together, the dust from the cow feed suffocating the air.

On this stretch of the I5, it's the trucks that make the drive hard. You can never stay in the right lane for too long, trucks and haulers of all varieties doomed to the right lane by law, 55 mph their top legal speed. The rest of us are allowed 70 mph, which, naturally, translates to 80 mph. Cruise control in this situation is pretty nigh useless and you just have to sit back and admire the sights passing by — the maroon Peterbilt with its chrome reflecting all the headlights, the sleek fiberglass yacht being gently hauled to new owners — and hope that the next time a trucker starts dozing and almost runs you off the road, you don't freak and forget to honk the horn.

It's when we got hungry that we missed LA the most. In terms of food and rest stops, the I5 is pretty desolate. What you get are small islands of In-N-Outs, McDonald's, Starbuck's, an occasional Foster Freeze. The most exotic sight is Joe's Travel Plaza, the Vegas of truck stops, but that goes by pretty fast and then it's the same cycle of In-N-Outs, McDonald's Starbuck's ... until you hit Coalinga and the Harris Ranch Inn & Restaurant, where for your convenience, you'll find a 2,800 foot landing strip and self-serve 100 LL Aviation Fuel (available 24 hours a day). Steaks start around $28 and you can chose from three restaurants, the bar, the formal dining room, and the family room. The best thing about Harris Ranch? Since we didn't have a jet, we'd have to say the nice cold Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on tap, which after a long drive is always nice.

I5 Vitals

Time to drive from LA to San Francisco: approx 6 hours with no stops

Guide to the I5: use the excellent website Drive I5, which includes road conditions as well as exits and services info

For Northbound exits and services, click here.

Southbound exits and services, click here.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Plaza Mexico

When you step into the mall that is Plaza Mexico, it's a little like stepping into Mexico itself, although I imagine you'll see more Caucasians in Mexico than we did at the Plaza. At first, I thought it was amazing to have something like this in the greater LA metropolis, but then the more I thought about it, the more weirder it seems that there aren't more places like this. After all, LA has a sizable Mexican community. After all, this area was Mexico not too long ago. But I don't suppose Americans like to think of that. Native Americans seem to get more respect than Mexicans these days.

So what's Plaza Mexico like? The courtyard is fancy, with a fountain and a carousel. There are several buildings, but the main one is a cavernous mall with stall after stall of tiny shops, most of them selling food or, strangely, children's clothing. The food stuff was pretty diverse, from cactus tortillas to all kinds of pickles. I think you'd have to spend a week inside to get a true feel for what's there. Unfortunately, we'd just had lunch so the only thing we tried was an ice cream bar at La Michoacana, a small ice cream store. It was all very interactive because you choose the flavor of the bar, which, I think, was made from milk: mango, vanilla, chocolate, etc. The bar then gets dipped into melted chocolate and rolled around in your choice of dipping mix, like peanuts, coconut flakes, or sprinkles. It was a nice break from frozen yogurts.

I wish the Plaza was a bit closer to L.A. Here are the vitals.

3100 E. Imperial Highway
Lynwood, California 90262
Tel. (310) 631-6789 (310) 631-4989
Monday through Saturday, 10:00am - 8:00pm and Sunday, 10:00am through 7:00pm

Monday, October 6, 2008

LA puzzles

There are certain things I just don't get about L.A.

Like why do restaurants close so early? Some close at 4 p.m., others at either 7 p.m. or 9 p.m. And this even on a Saturday. Is there just too many restaurants? Do people in L.A. really eat dinner that early? Or do they skip dinner and just go straight to bars and night clubs? This is true even in Koreatown, where restaurants close at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. In NYC, Korean restaurants don't close until midnight -- quite a few are open 24 hours a day.

And what's with the curbs? Every time I get out of the passenger side of a car, I have to make sure there's enough room for the door to open. About 40% of the time, the curb is way too high for the door. What's with that?

And where are all those missing dots over the "i"s? Angelenos, have you noticed that many of the street signs are missing the dots over the "i"s? And there's no pattern. Like the signs for Pico. One sign will have the dot, while the sign a block away doesn't have one. So what gives?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fab Hot Dogs

I think I'm in love with Fab Hot Dogs. And as with all obsessions, I don't think I'll be able to rest until I've tried every single item on the menu. Thus far, I've only tried two: their famous The Bald Eagle and their Polish Firecracker dog.

The Bald Eagle is a ripper smothered with Fab Hot Dogs' homemade mustard relish. A ripper, I've come to understand, is a deep-fried hot dog. What more do you need to know to start salivating? And it isn't at all greasy or OTT. What you get is a very hot, crunchy, juicy hot dog. And Fab's mustard relish is, well -- fab. I can't imagine eating the ripper without it.

The Polish Firecracker is an extremely spicy polish sausage. I had mine with sauerkraut and it was delicious. They also have a non-spicy polish sausage, which I'm sure is just as good.

As much as I love the hot dogs, what I'm really looking forward to getting on my next visit is their tater tots. The table next door had a heaping serving -- it looked just like the tots of my dreams: small, crunchy, roly-poly, golden brown. So why don't more places serve tater tots?*

BTW, Fab also has hamburgers.

Here's their address.

6747 Tampa Ave.

*Had the tater tots. OMG. Soooooo goooood......!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

More Java

Just wanted to add one last item to the cafe landscape. In the SGV, you can find Vietnamese cafes which have an atmosphere all their own. The clientele is almost exclusively Vietnamese and male. You'll find people playing cards and mahjong. Lots of TV and computer screens, mostly for online gambling. Cigarette smoke. At each table, you'll find forms to play lotto. The bathrooms aren't as clean as you'd like. And you can order really good Vietnamese iced coffee.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Java Dance

Coming to LA, I was a little surprised that it was mostly a land of Starbucks and The Coffee Bean. If you want to get a good cup of coffee, you kinda have to work at it. Here's some of the places we like.

3922 West Sunset Boulevard

Located in Silver Lake, it's one of our favorite places. It would be our favorite place if it wasn't a twenty minute drive. If the parking situation wasn't pretty bad. If they weren't always so crowded. If they didn't close so early. What we do like is that the coffee is individually made in a Clover machine. I'd pass on the teas, though. And I didn't really like their hot chocolate, either. But you can pick up a cute t-shirt here.

There's also a great cheese shop next door that has sandwiches, so you can get a bite, sit outside Intelligentsia with a cup, and enjoy a sunny day.

LA Mill
1636 Silver Lake Boulevard

Also in Silver Lake. Great coffee. I actually had a cup with no sugar, no milk. Only, it's really a restaurant and no one can figure out if you can sit down with just a cuppa. (The food is okay but pricey.) The atmosphere is a wee bit formal and at least one person has told me they're too intimidated to go in. They do have their own parking.

Several locations: we always go to the one at 1501 N. Cahuenga Boulevard

For us, a Sunday morning isn't a Sunday morning without a trip to the Hollywood farmers market and then a relaxing cup of coffee at Groundwork. The atmosphere
isn't much, the service can be slow and frustrated, but the coffee is good and very cheap. Unfortunately, if you get just the regular coffee, it's not individually brewed. There's a table with a selection of coffees in big containers that you choose from. In the mornings, that's okay. The coffee is fresh. But in the late afternoons, the coffee isn't so fresh... The selections are nice though. I like the Angel blend, which is organic, and the Viennese Melange.

(I guess Groundwork is a little upset about Clover being bought out by Starbucks because they threw out all their Clover machines and now they have a drip system for their more expensive coffees. They even had a sign on their drip station that read something like, "This is our new Clover!" Only, I think it was something a bit more angrier.)

Aroma Coffee
4360 Tujunga Ave (Studio City)

One of our favorite cafes. Staff is friendly, good food, lovely outdoor place, good coffee, iced tea, lemonade. Just a great place to hang out. We'd love to make this our local. Oh -- if you go, check out the Portrait of a Bookstore which is right next door. Great books and great gifts. I got a bag made totally from buttons there. Buttons.

Now the thing about most coffee shops and cafes is that the atmosphere is pretty blah. If you want atmosphere, we're finding you have to go to Koreatown. Yup, Koreatown. Of course they make you pay for the atmosphere: mediocre coffees and overly sweet teas cost around $6.00 - $7.00. But where else can you have coffee in a building that looks like a ship? I'm talking about Cafe Jack.

Coffee, tea, live music, waiting staff in sailors' uniforms. Hey!

Another Koreatown cafe we liked was Cake Salon Bosco. Totally different to Cafe Jack. Stylish and quiet, they offer good fluffy confections like the scrumptious sweet potato cake.

And we also liked Heyri, mostly because of their outdoor space, which is pretty big for L.A. Large tables, pretty lights, palm trees, and on cold nights, wood-burning stoves dotted everywhere. They even provide red blankets if the stoves and heat lamps don't do it for you. We had hazelnut latte and a strawberry cake, both pretty good. One thing I found unusual for a late-night Koreatown joint was the median age of their clientele. There were just as many older Koreans, both women and men, as young high school kids.

Cafe Jack
508 S Western Ave

Cake Salon Bosco
3465 W 6th St Ste 80

755 S Hobart Blvd

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

More Zany Observations

Women aren't afraid to show their bosoms before noon while shopping at Ralph's.

You can run a successful business without knowing a word of English.

The Santa Anas are scary.

The Target underground parking in Hollywood is Hell Mouth Central. Other branches: the Whole Foods parking lot in West Hollywood and the Whole Foods parking lot near the Farmer's Market. Actually, any Whole Foods parking lot in LA.

Johnny Rockets can run out of hamburger buns.

There's a casino in Torrance.

Fichus trees are creepy -- I hear them weeping. Wasn't at all surprised to find out that their roots do battle with the underground plumbing.

The UCLA dental clinic has a great supply of recent New Yorkers.

Every time I see Johnie's Coffee Shop on Wilshire, so empty and forlorn, I get sad ... please, someone buy it and restore it into a groovy, kick-ass place with great coffee. And pastrami. And corn dogs. And macaroni and cheese. And chocolate phosphates. And ...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Gardens and Martinis

Yesterday GD and I decided to finally visit the Getty Center. Wow do they have a big underground parking garage. Wow does it become an inferno. We paid $8 to park and it took us something like ten minutes to find parking (admission to the actual center is free though!!!). It was Saturday. I'm surprised we didn't get into an accident. The corners around the lot are tight, and people don't drive so well. Especially people in very large SUVs. After we parked, we were automatically channeled into a line for the tram that goes from the parking garage to the actual center. The line was huge so we decided to walk. Uphill. In the heat. Only advisable for people who like to hike. It took us about fifteen minutes. I have a lame foot and was not really prepared. I imagine most people can do it in less than ten. Great views though!

It was such a nice day, we decided to skip the museum and just roam the gardens. The gardens were smaller than we'd expected, but not at all disappointing. We really liked it. Especially having visited so many English gardens, we appreciated all the little jokes, like the miniature central maze you can't enter. At first I thought -- Saturday! -- not such a good day to go with mobs of people! But it actually enhanced the Central Garden experience, which is so contrary to the usual museum experience. The Central Garden is a series of concentric circles. To get to the center, you have to walk around, the paths sort of crisscrossing. From a vantage point, you see the constant stream of people being used as part of a moving garden sculpture. Pretty cool! The actual plants and their arrangements were pretty cool too! Sadly, the maze wasn't in flower, but that gives us a good excuse to go back.

There's also a cactus garden, which can't be missed. Sadly, again, you can't go in.

We ended our day across town at Musso & Frank for martinis. Our idea of the perfect end to a perfect day. Musso & Frank in Hollywood is, of course, legendary, for having once been THE place for movie stars to dine. Movie stars like Gable and Stanwyck. Since it was our first time, we sat at the bar, which we decided we'd always do because it's just so much fun. I was surprised by how many regulars they had -- that's just so nice for such a legendary institution. I thought there'd be an atmosphere of dust and decay, with most of the customers being curious tourists, but not so! There's still quite a bit of life there. I'd also heard that the staff can be mean, but I found the staff really nice. Well, one more reason to stay in L.A.! I actually like living in the Hollywood area, except for the crazy traffic and all the noise!

BTW, the Musso & Frank martinis are just as good as they say. I really like the fact that they deliver the martinis in a little bottle with ice. That keeps the drink nice and cold! Why don't more bars do that? Our waiter, Manny (sp?), served the drinks with such flourish, it was worth the price of admission! Not that it was expensive. The cocktails were all reasonably priced, the martinis at $8.50. (Food is a lot more.) Try getting even a decent martini in London for that price! We also had a Welsh rarebit. Very different from the British variety. The Musso & Frank's rarebit was a cheese sauce served over toast points, with a garnish of very crispy bacon. $15.00. In Britain, a rarebit is almost like a souffle. There's eggs and cheese (usually blue cheese), sometimes port, poured over bread and baked in the oven until the whole thing gets nice and crispy. You'd think the LA version would be the OTT one!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The People

Since coming to LA, I've slowly been getting to know the people. What are they like?


For the most part, they're very friendly. Especially in Pasadena. Actually, it's scary how friendly they are in Pasadena. Don't go into The Container Store in Old Town unless you want an hour chat with the staff. In the Northeast, no one talks to you unless they know you. Here, everyone is your best friend. Like you're standing in line to buy some rotisserie chicken -- suddenly you and the girl next to you are chatting maniacally about Cyndie Lauper. You haven't talked about Cyndie Lauper in years. Why are you even talking about Cyndie Lauper? You're being fumigated with the smell of rotisserie chicken. Get out of there! But you can't because you've got your new best friend. I guess standing in line in LA is sort of like face-to-face online chatting. Easy come, easy go.


People in SoCal talk loud. Real loud. And they're standing right next to each other. They also don't seem to have a good understanding about boundaries. Like private property boundaries. You'll find old women spreading out the contents of their purses on your car. Your landlord pops up anytime of the day, unannounced, usually while you're eating, wanting to talk about taking pics of caulking. Yes, caulking.

"You have a camera? Great. Come and take the picture now."

Who cares that you're right in the middle of lunch. He had his -- what does he care about you?

He even pops over with a friend, scaring the daylights out of you as you work outside on the secluded back porch, just so he can show his friend how cute the porch is.

You couldn't have knocked?

"Don't worry, dear. We won't bother you at all."

You're bothering me now!

You begin to think of him as The Creep Man. You're even thinking of putting him in your graphic novel. He'd be the perfect poster child of the Pain-in-the-Ass Guild.

Then there's the neighbor who lets her dog wander in and out of other people's backyard. Including yours, which the dog likes because the dog was once a stray that used to hang out near your house. So it lingers and lingers and lingers. The dog wondering if the owners who dumped it near your house will ever come back. I miss you. (Whine! Whine!) And you wonder if that's the dog who was responsible for the dried up shit you found the other day near the car. Which is better than fresh.


About Pasadena being so friendly? The exception is the Gamble House. Totally different creatures there.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Renting in Los Angeles: Just the facts, Ma'am

Since August is just around the corner, here's a warning. August is probably the worst time to look for a rental in LA. I speak from experience. August is bad because that's the time families move to be closer to their children's schools. August is bad because that's the time hoards of university kids come to look for fall housing, usually with parents who are more than happy to pay $3000 a month for their children's comfort. This means rents are at their highest. Around December, I noticed similar houses were being listed for several hundred dollars less.

Going online with Craigslist and Westside Rentals seems to be the most popular way to look for a place. Craigslist is free and anyone can use their listings. Westside Rentals isn't free and not nearly so accessible: you have to be a member, and the basic membership plan is $60.00 for 60 days. A lot of the rentals will be listed on both sites since Westside Rentals doesn't charge people to list their rentals. We tried both and we couldn't find a clear advantage to either. So you might as well try the free one first.

I love the fact that even the shabbiest place in LA has a provenance. The Fleetwood Mac couple lived in ours -- and they didn't have a happy marriage -- I swear I can still hear their arguments. Be careful. There are a lot of strange rental situations around, people living under you, beside you, in a corner, down a cavity -- all sharing your washing machine. And landlords are never just landlords. Ours is an ex-graphic artist, ex-magician. And they can have a real inflated ego when it comes to their rental properties, usually because they've invested a part of themselves in the air conditioning unit they've picked or the new taps they've put in. Sometimes you just want to say, "Hey, it isn't all that!" But don't. Smile, be courteous, show up to appointments on time, look interested, and find something nice to say about what you're looking at. Remember -- they're selling their apartments but you're selling yourself. It's just like a job interview.

If you've never been to LA, keep in mind that LA isn't like most cities. You don't have good neighborhoods and bad. You have good streets and bad. And often, they're right next to each other. Sometimes, the good and bad are split right through the middle of the street. Sometimes, the good and bad alternate house by house. So unless you really know LA, you have to visit each building, each neighborhood to see what you're getting into.

Here's a not-very-thorough rundown of some of the neighborhoods.

Downtown: I'm mentioning it first because it's in the middle of being revitalized and getting continual buzz. I'm not sure if the buzz is justified or if it's just a media campaign by people who need to make their money back. But anyway, if you like urban living and would rather live in NYC, Downtown is for you. To get more of a feel for the Downtown lifestyle, try going to Angelenic or blogdowntown.

Silver Lake/Echo Park: It's an interesting mix of wealthy executives, artists, musicians, and hipsters. The only location of Intelligentsia is here and it's becoming the Grand Central station of Silver Lake. Echo Park used to be a working-class, Hispanic neighborhood. Sadly, many of the old residents are being moved out as more and more streets are becoming gentrified. But you'll still find gang activity. A really nice feature of Echo Park is the park with the large lake and man-made water geysers that shoot up high into the air.

Westwood: UCLA, frats, Stan's Corner Donut Shoppe. What more is there to say?

North Hollywood: Not anywhere near Hollywood. It's actually in the San Fernando Valley, where it's hot. Really, really hot. Like 100 degrees in the summer. In 1997, NoHo (as it's known) was the scene of an infamous bank heist. There's also the Arts District with more than 20 professional theaters. In generally, we find the area a little dull. Sorry, NoHo.

Studio City: Also in San Fernando Valley. At its heart, it's a huge strip mall, but a fun one with lots of little stores along Ventura, like the Big Sugar Bakeshop. Nice suburban streets full of nice, comfy houses, too.

San Gabriel Valley: Where most of the Chinese seem to live! Great Chinese and Vietnamese food here, and at great prices! Eat well and prosper.

Santa Monica: You'll find a lot of the alternative health industry here. And the homeless. It's also generally several degrees cooler in the summer.

Venice Beach: There's the beach, which is fun for people watching, and there's Abbot Kinney, a street lined with expensive boutiques.

Here's a list of websites that will give you a good feel about moving here.

LA Weekly
LA Curbed
LA Racked

Good luck!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Flora

The smell of jasmine lifting the night air.

Large spikes of petals falling to the ground -- realizing that the white spikes are from the giant banana trees surrounding the house. Laughing because banana trees do have flowers and they're not just something you found in a can stocked at a Thai grocery store.

Orange trees, avenues of swaying palms -- if you're new to these things, it's as if you're experiencing a fresh awakening of the senses, as if a part of you had only lived in words and pictures and you've suddenly become whole again. That the world has become real.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Gay For a Day

A great week to be in LA! First there were the local elections. Like returning heroes, we were hailed with great cheers as soon as we stepped into the polling arena. That's how desperate they were for voters. Very Battle of Thermopylae. Nothing really to vote for — just the White supremacist to vote against. And Propositions 98 & 99 (I won't go into the details because it's the usual political bullshit). Our local polling station is at The International Cinematographers Guild, which is a pretty cool place to vote. Cinematographers are so underrated. To reward ourselves for participating in local politics, we ate a great burger at The Griddle, which is just a block or so over from the Guild, took a long walk on Sunset Strip, and then rewarded ourselves once again with a great frozen yogurt at CeFiore. We're a little worried about them because Pinkberry is about to open right next door and we're not sure how they're going to compete against the Pink bulldozer. Must blog about the different frozen yogurt places.

To go back on topic, our momentous week ended with LA Pride 2008. According to the website, it's the largest pride event for pretty much everyone who isn't hetro. We didn't go to the Festival since the tickets were $15 each but we did go to the parade today. Thus we were gay for a day.


The weather. Absolutely amazing: around 80 degrees with a cool, constant breeze. The street was tree-lined, so plenty of places for shade.

The crowd. Laid back and ready to have mild fun. Some men even came dressed for the occasion, although seeing flabby buttocks framed in leather is never pretty. Luckily, the guy in the all-body netting was pretty fit. Leave it to the pros, boys.

The parade participants. Absolutely game for anything, including a little innocent S&M. At times I felt like I was part of a fertility rite with all the big boobs (mostly fake) and gyrating males in bikini briefs and thongs. In contrast, there were The Politicians. I've always thought it was too bad that they make up about 25% to 35% of all parades. All they do is ride antique cars and wave. Next year, maybe the Pride people can insert them into some of their more interesting displays? There must be enough creativity in Hollywood to fully exploit the potential.

Dykes on Bikes. Probably the most popular parade attraction. Lots of vintage motorcycles, leather and women gilded with chromed testosterone.

And there were freebies galore! I got a Carmen Miranda t-shirt (a promo for the DVD releases), a necklace of chili beads from Chipotle, free water and a CD from the Abbey, a yogurt smoothie and some tiny Larabars from Whole Foods (the Larabar lemon bar was great!), and other miscellanea.

Political Action. The Obama contingency came down the parade route amongst enthusiastic cheer. Until they hit our block. A guy near us started screaming, "Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!" with his thumbs down. This was the guy who'd been cranky the whole time and I thought, "Yup. Figures. The cranky guy is the Hillary supporter. No wonder we lost."

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Audition

People think LA is Hollywood and Hollywood is LA. I certainly did. But it's more like the Town & Gown phenomenon in Oxford, England. Yes, you see all the impressive University of Oxford buildings, and you see the students and the dons, but unless you're part of the University, you have very little to do with it. A great part of the city of Oxford is distinct and separate from the University. Well, it's the same in LA. Unless you work in the entertainment industry, and most people don't, Hollywood has very little to do with you.

But Hollywood does touch you in unexpected ways. For instance, there are so many D-list celebrities milling around -- eating vegan plates at cafes, shopping at Bristol Farms -- that everyone looks vaguely familiar, like you went to school with them but didn't ever really talk to them and can't remember their names.

And you catch people auditioning. Like the guy taking my order at Aroma Coffee in Studio City. Blond, average height, stellar smile, very good-looking face. He glistened, seduced, flirted, charmed. So in the Zone -- until a co-worker mocked him in a sing-song voice. Flustered, he dropped the ball and forgot the lines. Bad co-worker. I was really enjoying the performance. This is what makes LA the most entertaining place on earth.

Not that you don't see this kind of behavior elsewhere. You see it frequently in Paris. But while in LA this is an audition, in Paris, it's life. Like the guy selling foie gras in a make-shift shop, late in the evening, snow falling on the streets of Ile St Louis, Noel scenting the air. The shop was really a tent in between two buildings. That was strange in of itself, but to see this guy: fine, noble features, lean build, long, dead-straight blond hair tied back into an elegant ponytail. He was selling foie gras with his mouth, but listen to what he was saying with his blue eyes: "You only have to lead the way..." Right out of Maupassant, le bel ami, the snow, the old cobbled street. And none of this for my benefit. For him, this was life.

Back to LA: while some people are auditioning, others are auditioning you. The eyes staring at you intently, picking you up, dangling you in the light, discarding you. Like the time I was at The Container Store. This guy, mature Hollywood type, evaluating me at all angles. He signals to a well-groomed woman. She too evaluates. In five minutes, the audition is over.

Friday, May 2, 2008

L.A. Cracks Me Up or Maybe It's Just Cracked

There are times LA really cracks me up. Pretty much anything goes. Like the mall that's designed to look like an Assyrian castle. Or the drag queens manning the registers at the supermarkets. You have New England style houses right next to Spanish villas. Billboards billow smoke. And where else can you see a Veyron getting ticketed? The other day I saw this old woman driving a 1970s Rolls Royce -- she was dressed in a Chanel suit and had perfect 1960s hair and makeup. It was like something out of an old movie! And there are these huge ethnic enclaves where people don't speak English -- it's like teleporting into another country. These are the times when I'm luvin' LA.

And then there are times when I'm baffled and perturbed. Like when I'm watching the news and I being to wonder if someone hasn't flipped a switch and I'm now in a parallel universe where LA has been sucked into some kind of post-apocalyptic spoof in the lines of Starship Troopers or Idiocracy.

In this LA, planes fall out of the sky. All the time. Kenneth Wyatt was watching TV and boom! Plane smashes down next door. It's his second neighborhood plane crash. News just isn't news without a plane crash.

In this LA, you need to declare cease fires. I thought you needed a war for a cease fire. Is this LA or Iraq? California or the Middle East? The sheriff's office sends their officers out in full combat gear. With a tank.

In this LA, bank robbers still fly the Wild West flag. It's only a matter of time before you get involved in a bank robbery. Recently, a getaway car got spotted by the police. Mayhem ensued as the bank robbers started throwing money out the car window like some cheesy Burt Reynolds chase film.

This might be chicken or egg, but I sometimes wonder if all this violence isn't because of the LA police. They look very fascist with their black uniforms and mostly black cars. Maybe they could go Tiffany blue — blue is very calming and Tiffany blue has a nice place in my heart. And they need to be calming because they're everywhere. I've never seen so much police. And not just the LA police, but LA County sheriffs and the highway patrol. But instead of feeling comforted and secure, seeing all this black makes me feel creeped out. There's authority. And then there's Stasi. I have a feeling I'm not the only one making this connection. Yesterday, for the May Day immigration rally, the police were on bikes, dressed in purple! A really nice shade, I might add. They looked a lot less threatening, although a little plump in the tight bike outfits. Less black and more exercise?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Squirrel Power

LA squirrels are pretty fierce. I guess they have to be to survive coyotes. One day, I was washing the dishes and noticed a squirrel was staring at me. Right through the window frame, about a foot away from me, on a large tree branch. The squirrel was checking me out — we stared at each other, eyeball to eyeball, and it said to me, narrowing its eyes and tightening its mouth, "I can take you on." And it could.

I told the Grumpy Dachshund and he thought I was just being funny. And then the other day, a squirrel took him on. You wouldn't believe how vicious this thing was. GD actually had to threaten it with a stick. I told him I wasn't exaggerating. And I also told him, "Look. Any time an animal says I can take you on, just reply, 'You certainly can.'"

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Amazon Mechanical Turk

I'm afraid I have to make a digression here. Have you heard of Amazon Mechanical Turk? It's sort of difficult to explain unless you've been to Amazon's page and tried doing what's know as a HIT. Basically, the site is filled with tasks which, supposedly, computers can't do. These tasks are called HITs (Human Intelligence Tasks). And these tasks are assigned to humans. And these tasks are supposed to be things like, "Look at this picture. Describe the picture. What's in the picture?" If you successfully complete the HIT, you get paid, say, a whole cent! So basically, a HIT is something that's even too demeaning for a computer to do.

Well, I got very fascinated by this and spent hours and hours browsing the HITs. Some of it is unreal. Like: this Thursday watch TV from 8pm to 11pm and transcribe all the commercials. Pay? Fifty cents!

I was surprised by how many HITs there were for copywriting. Hardly in the spirit of the original idea. And they want to pay you less than a dollar for something a freelance copywriter would probably charge twenty dollars or so for. There were also people who wanted you to submit comments to their blogs. I have a blog. I'm desperate for comments. Would I pay someone a cent to write up a comment? Tempting.

One HIT was for a recipe that used six ingredients or less. I did that one and earned fifty cents! That's pretty good money in the world of Turk and I was pumped. Overall, for about an hour of work, I made $1.26!

So all was good in the world of AMT -- until I started getting screwed. Like UQSoft + Guessnow wanted you to submit time-sensitive quiz questions. Like who will win the Pennsylvania primary. So I did two HITs. And guess what? I never heard back from them. And these questions were Time Sensitive. Got the hint, UQSoft?

You can also earn qualifications. Take tests so you can qualify for $5 jobs. So I tried to take one from some requester (that's the people asking for HITs) who wanted transcribing done. The test wouldn't download. I was further disqualified from taking their test as that counted as abandonment.

Another problem I encountered was a HIT that was so badly worded, I ended up submitted my HITs to the wrong website (they wanted it done on their website but failed to say so specifically). I was denied payment. I complained. They didn't care.

So I did what you do. I complained to Amazon. Twice. Never heard back from them. And then I looked up the Wiki article on AMT. Turns out that's just the way it is in the Glorious World of AMT. I was surprised. Because the US Amazon.com is so responsive to problems or complaints (can't say that about the UK Amazon.com who once told me there was just no way the jewel box on the CD could have shattered in transit -- well, if you stack fifty pounds of books on top, it can!). So what's the deal, Amazon? Why can't we, the suckers who perform HITs, rate the requesters? You let buyers rate the sellers on Amazon.com. Come on, give us some power -- we're only making a couple of cents a HIT. Don't you want to know about bogus HITs? What exactly is AMT all about? A way for Nigerians to make candy money? No wonder Nigerians prefer to send scam emails. (Apologies to Nigerians -- I mean no insult to you, just to AMT.) This is when the cry of UNION has to ring out.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Tunnel of Love

I'm talking about the McDonald's at Sunset and Crescent, near Laurel Canyon. It's located at a particularly torturous strip mall. To get to the McDonald's drive-thru, you have to enter a dark, narrow tunnel and drive through a maze. My husband, the Grumpy Dachshund, had christened it "The Tunnel of Love" and was always saying, "We should try out the Tunnel of Love."

Well, this morning, we finally did it. Our incentive? A flyer with tons of coupons. We went for breakfast because it's about the only thing at McDonald's we can eat without blanching. I'm still a great fan of the hash browns. (I also loved the cherry pies -- are they still around on President's Day?) With the coupons, we got

1 Cinnamon Melt
1 Egg McMuffin
1 Sausage Egg McMuffin
1 Hash Brown
1 Medium Premium Roast Coffee

all for $5.70! That's a lot of food for TV Kitty & Grumpy Dachshund -- we're still digesting.

Here's how I rate the experience.

Tunnel of Love: very claustrophobic.

Service: friendly but faulty -- gave us the wrong change but chased us down to get us the right change; cash register didn't work so we had to wait five minutes and then reorder everything.


Cinnamon Melt had the prerequisite sweetness and goo but the bread was awfully dry (it was more like a Monkey Bread, really)

Egg McMuffin and Sausage Egg McMuffin were as good as always

Hash Brown was fabulously brown and crispy

Premium Roast Coffee was too bitter and flaccid -- I don't think Starbuck's has anything to really worry about. It was strong, though. Still have a buzz. Probably why I'm bloggin'.

Total experience? We're Luvin' It.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Thai New Year Songkran Festival

Yesterday was L.A.'s Thai New Year Songkran Festival. It was pretty darn hot, so weather wise, the festival was pretty authentic (Songkran falls during Thailand's hottest time).

For the festival, a good chunk of Thai Town's Hollywood Boulevard was cut off. I got to eat some nice BBQ from Siam BBQ, participate in the curry contest, buy a parasol, and watch some festive performances. Unfortunately, I didn't make it to the Singha beer garden. And I could have used a nice, cool glass of fresh Singha. To tell you the truth, the intense, record-breaking heat, lack of shade, long lines, and the huge turnout, made it difficult to enjoy anything. And I wish the curry competition had been a bit better organized. You had to pay for a ballot, but part of the enticement was that you could try all the curries you wanted. Only some of the booths were giving out free samples and others were charging you. Very annoying since it seemed as if all the samples were going to be free. And I thought the curries would be all Thai but there were at least two Indian curry booths.

The Indian curries were fun. One booth had curries that tasted very Asian, as in Japanese and Korean. Interestingly, curry was introduced to Japan by the Brits, which explains the peculiar, sweet taste (and the Japanese introduced that brand of curry to Korea). The other Indian booth I tried tasted very British -- like a typical local curry house in most British towns. Not too surprised to find out that the owners of the booth had a restaurant in Santa Monica, the ground zero of Brit expats, I've noticed. I'd go to the restaurant because, having lived in England so long, I too get a craving for the taste of a local curry house.

I later found out that the Songkran festival is also known in Thailand as the water festival since people go around shooting at each other with water guns. Boy, do I wish I'd had a water gun. The closest I got was a kid dropping his water bottle and splashing my leg. That was so nice...


I got to try the subway system (the festival was right at one of the stops). Mixed feelings. Like why can't you buy a round trip ticket? If you're only going to take two trips, it doesn't make sense to buy a day ticket. So you end up buying a ticket at each leg since there isn't a validation machine (I mean, come on, that's just basic). Still, nicely air-conditioned and clean.

I finally got to buy a cloth parasol! I'd been meaning to do it for awhile. I paid a bit more than I wanted and the bamboo mechanism looks like it's going to break at any moment but I can't tell you how glad I was to have it at the festival. If I spray some UV spray on it, it'll be perfect for LA summers!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ninja Delivery Service

In L.A., packages are delivered in a cloud of mystery. No one knocks on the door. No one asks for a signature. The package is simply and quietly dropped on your doorstep. Unless it's DHL, and then the package is thrown on your neighbor's yard like it was a newspaper. The amazing thing is you never hear the delivery guy (or gal). All you know is that you open the front door and there's a package. That's why I've come to call it the Ninja Delivery Service. Once, I actually caught the UPS guy dropping the package off and I said to my husband, "That's bad luck. Now he's going to have to kill himself."

Of course if it's the US Postal Service, they don't even bother to deliver it at all. They just drop off a card saying they tried to deliver it and now you'll have to go get it yourself. That's if it's signature required. Otherwise, they just pop it on top of the mailbox for anyone to pick up. What world are they delivering in? Mayberry?

Is this a nationwide thing or just L.A.? I have to admit, I don't like it. What happens if they misdeliver a package and it's really for our next-door neighbor? We have to haul the thing to our neighbor. Much rather have UPS do it because our neighbor buys big, heavy things. And I just don't like my packages just sitting there. My packages don't like it either.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Fauna

Whenever I move to a different climate, the first thing I begin to notice are the bugs. There are a lot of weird looking bugs in L.A. Most of them fly. And have too many legs. And I've never seen so many aphids. My coat brushed a rubber plant -- a colony of aphids immediately moved house.

A nice surprise was to find that L.A. has hummingbirds. Nigel is our resident hummingbird (photo above). He's not much to look at, but boy, is he fast. He has his favorite tree and his favorite leaf, and while we eat our lunch out on the porch, he eats his. At the moment, there's some territory war going on, so poor Nigel is keeping a vigilant watch. The second he spots a possible trespasser, he whoops a war cry and chases after the perp. It's better than watching Starsky and Hutch.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Feelin' Groovy

What I like about L.A.: there's such an easy friendliness here. You go to a trendy pizzeria and the hostess raves about your dress. The only compliments you'll get in NYC is from the gay guy at Saks. And then it's with a tinge of jealousy and a flavor of "I'm not complimenting you -- just your raincoat". NYC is more like Paris -- if a girl likes what you're wearing she'll maybe give you a sidewards glance or even deign to talk to you. Like the hostess at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon who let us in on a conspiracy against an annoying guest. Of course in London no one notices what anyone else is wearing -- unless they're an expat. Too much gloom and rain and booze -- everyone has a perpetual hangover. And a holiday brochure. Fleeing Ol' Blighty is a national obsession. Eleven years stuck in the UK and you too will catch the cultural fantasy of immigrating to Australia. Maybe that's what it is -- the sun. It must do something to you in L.A. Life isn't so threatening when the sun is shining and there's this dry ambient heat like a dream of lost paradise versus the gritty, disease-ridden sauna of NYC or Seoul.

You do get occasional unpleasantness. Like when Intelligentsia first opened in Silver Lake. But then you find out the Hipster staff had been recently imported from Seattle. Probably all got sunstroke the first day. Takes time to get used to so much sun.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


In L.A. rain is a natural disaster.

You need a visa to go to Koreatown.

At night, when the atmosphere is just right, the streets look surreally clear, the neon eye-piercing, the traffic lights crystal -- it's like you took some serious drugs and you can't quite trust your eyes.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


For months, I've been seeing these little things scattered all over our property. I thought they were metal nuts that the plumber had unscrewed. But actually, they're some kind of nut. A real, organic nut from some tree. Could someone please tell me what they are and where they come from?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What's Not in the DMV Book

Taking a left turn in LA is like playing Russian Roulette. Here's the rule: three cars to a yellow light. Traffic is so bad, it's a miracle if you get a chance to turn on a green light. And god help you if you deprive someone of their left turn. Which means an intersection with a left-turn arrow is like winning the lottery. Not that you get to fully capitalize, as you'll be stuck behind the crosswalk as you wait for all the cars to make their left from the last cycle.

You quickly learn the middle turn lane is really the UPS delivery lane.

The roads are so bad, you think you're in a third world country.

Valet parking is a scam. And they turn scarce legitimate on-street parking spaces into drop-off lanes for waiting cars. And how is strip-mall parking valet parking?

You quickly learn the value of "We Validate."

Crosswalks are like a quarter of a mile wide! But they kindly tell you how many seconds you have. And you're like, there's no way I can cross that in 12 seconds, but you can! The crosswalk near Cedars-Sinai is miles long!

The majority of drivers in LA learned to drive in some scary parts of the world. Like war-torn Lebanon.

Within a couple of weeks you'll suddenly be able to read passing ads in Spanish.

Outrunning the police on the highway is a rite of passage.

BTW, Schwarzenegger has got to hire some writers -- the DMV book is like a bad translation from Russian. I've seen Korean dramas subtitled better. Governor, I'm available.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Some Things That Have Come Up

I don't like coyotes. Skunks shouldn't get run over. Driving from Laurel Canyon to Santa Monica on Sunset Boulevard has a high Oh-My-God Index. UCLA is HUGE. ABC local news is more fun. I still need lots of sweaters. No one knows what haddock is, and it's easier to get smoked tuna than smoked haddock. Must get a part time job.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Just spotted

Metro bus driver. Female. Age: 30s? Bouffant hairdo. Stylish black, thick-rimmed cats eye glasses. Vibrant lime green sweater. Huge, funky matching earrings that dangled. Bright red lipstick. Driving down Sunset. For a moment, I thought she was driving a 1970s Cadillac!

Wake up, Consumers!

I've been living in England for over a decade and coming back to the US has been a shock. What's happened to American products? Like Kleenex. It used to be decent. Now the basic Kleenex is so flimsy, you need to grab two. And it feels like sand paper. The extra soft one is a joke. Kleenex in the UK is still pretty decent. And they have extra strong for men. Although both countries have a problem with quality control. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten a box of aloe vera Kleenex with half the box being regular. So I have to ask, why is Kleenex ripping off the US consumer? It seems like all the US consumer cares about is price. Quality? Uh -- what's that? Like I was researching simple things like vacuums and food processors and toaster ovens and hair dryers -- all the comments from previous buyers were the same: "Great product. Until it broke." Thank god for Amazon because how else would we know electric goods are only built to last three months? Or aren't fit for purpose (as they say in the UK, where consumer protection is pretty strong). I was thinking of buying a pretty expensive Kitchen Aid food processor because everyone claimed they were far superior in build quality to Cuisinart. Only the one I wanted has a shaft that's too short so if you fill the bowl to more than a quarter of its capacity with liquid, the liquid oozes out. And if you try to grate mozzarella, the cheese gets into the motor and it freezes. Permanently. When I get the money, I'm going French. The Magimix I had in the UK was fantastic. I nearly cried when I found out it wouldn't work in the US and had to give it away. (Meredith, I hope you're enjoying my food processor. I can't tell you how much I miss my Magimix.) And I went Japanese with my hair dryer (they have a great selection at that department store in Koreatown Plaza). Much more expensive -- but so is replacing a product every three months. And my hair looks great. I've been using a French one from Phillips (travel model with dual voltage) -- but apparently French hair dryers don't like the US. Constantly whines and complains. And takes forever. So French. :) (I actually like the French, but service at French department stores -- don't even try to buy anything at Fauchon.)

What happened to the days when the only things you had to worry about was American cars?

It's not like there's any real protection for consumers anymore. Warranties mean nothing. Who are you going to go to if a company doesn't honor them? Small claims court is the only real option. "Sent the product back -- never heard from the company again." See this comment over and over again on Amazon. My husband and I bought an Aerobed from Bed Bath & Beyond. When you open the box, the first thing you see is a piece of paper saying if the product breaks, don't take it back to the store. What a warning sign. When ours did spring a leak (within the first two weeks), we found a deluge of warnings against this company -- apparently, trying to return a defective product is near impossible. But we also found happy consumers who bought theirs online from BBB and got a new one immediately without even having to send the defective one back. So we bypassed the company and did the very thing they told us not to do. We went to our local BBB -- and this was four months after the purchase -- and they were more than happy to exchange or refund. What a great place! They didn't have what we wanted at that branch, so we asked for a refund, went to another branch, used our BBB coupon, and basically got a forty dollar rebate on the spot.

And what's going on with stores? Why is it so hard to find out what anything costs. Ralphs is a nightmare. Erehwon isn't great either. And their tofu packages leak. Hate, just hate, getting home, looking at the receipt, and finding out that small, innocuous package of carobs cost me over $20. And that the tofu leaked. Isn't it illegal not to have prices clearly marked on goods? Or is my head stuck in some imaginary consumer paradise?

Okay, rant over. For now.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Personal

Sooner or later, you decide on a new look. Here's mine.

1. Upgraded my eyeliner.
2. Got persuaded into a "The OC" haircut. Hair now too long and getting my neck hot and itchy. Decide not really suited for long "TV" hair. Don't have money to get it fixed.
3. Need more sunscreen: freckles and sun spots getting out of control.
4. Suddenly have an irrational desire to get a tattoo. A tiny Chinese dragon on the left hip? Or maybe a cup of coffee?


Unlike NYC or London, you don't have to call weeks in advance to make a hair appointment. Usually can get one in 24 hours.

Even the homeless have a style statement.

Restaurants close early. Real Early.

There seems to be more good looking guys in LA than anywhere else in the world.

There really are blond surfer dudes! The LAX Avis rental center has one making balloon dogs. I got a poodle.