Monday, July 17, 2017

LA's Grand Central: Where Old and New Neon Collide

When you talk about "Grand Central" in LA, it's not in reference to a train station. Our Grand Central doesn't have a "Whispering Gallery" or a transit museum or a tunnel that leads to the Waldorf-Astoria.

What Grand Central Market in Downtown Los Angeles does share with Grand Central Terminal in New York City (besides a tunnel, though I'm not sure where the LA one leads) is an eclectic food hall.

So what does Grand Central Market have that the "Dining Concourse" in Manhattan doesn't? Lots of neon signs.

Visit Grand Central Market, and you'd think that the art of neon is alive and well in LA, with so many new vendors using the "liquid fire" to advertise their businesses.

And it's true, neon is alive in the City of Angels...

...but for decades, headlines and preservationists have been calling it a "dying art."

Others say it's having a resurgence in LA—and that may be thanks to some of those new eateries and retailers that have embraced the electrified propaganda and the nostalgia that surrounds those colored tubes filled with noble gases.

Here, they kind of have to—since signing a Grand Central vendor lease means you to agree to install a neon sign.

And that's how it should be for these upstart, non-legacy tenants, especially if they're going to be moving into buildings that are over a century old (the Homer Laughlin Building was built in 1896, and Grand Central opened on its ground floor in 1917)...

...and intermingling with veteran businesses that have been vending there for 15 or even 50 years.

Sarita's Pupuseria has been operating out of Grand Central since 1983.

Torres Produce opened in 1985—and its owner has already had to relinquish one of his stalls to make way for a member of the "new wave" to arrive.

La Huerta, a so-called "orchard" of candy and snacks, opened in 1999, nearly 20 years ago now.

Although its ownership has changed a few times, China Cafe has been slinging California-Chinese food on Broadway since 1959.

And one of the market's oldest and original tenants from its grand opening day, Valeria's, stands in stark contrast to its similarly-named neighbor, Valerie—which was one of the first of the "new guard" to come into Grand Central in 2013.

What was once a one-stop shopping destination for spices, meats, breads, cheese, and other grocery staples—in addition to a grab-and-go meal—is still a destination of sorts, but now it's drawing a different kind of crowd.

Among its long lines and crowded tables, you'll find diners and drinkers clamoring for craft beer, gourmet coffee, artisanal cheese, and house-made pastrami.

It's not all that different, actually. But the prices have gone up—and the people who frequent the market now are those who can afford them.

I'll admit that when I first visited Grand Central Market back in 2012—when it was untouched by gentrification—I didn't like it very much. Now, I quite enjoy getting a bite to eat there before a show at the Million Dollar Theatre next door. And I can't wait to see how it continues to evolve (especially if the lower level can be spiffed up a bit).

I just hope that neon clause in the lease continues to be enforced.

Related Posts:
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Photo Essay: The Neon of LA, and Its One Darkened Dragon
Photo Essay: Fremont Street Experience, Vegas

Is It Worth the Wait?

It bills itself as "The Ultimate Disney Fan Event."

But, based on my experience of D23 today at the Anaheim Convention Center, either it's not, in fact, the ultimate event for fans...

...nor am I the ultimate fan.

I can think of better ways to spend my Sunday morning than standing in line for two hours outside the Anaheim Arena (1967, Adrian Wilson and Associates).

I can think of better reasons to stand in line for two hours than to attend a convention that's designed to keep me out of its most desirable events and attractions.

And I can think of better reasons to spend $60 than on a ticket for admission to a convention that just tries to sell me more things—and then makes me wait in line even longer to buy them.

For some people, it must be worth it—to spend not just one morning but three whole days this way. I suppose if you've been initiated into the cult of Disney, this could be your revival meeting.

But this morning, as I examined the faces of all those people who were in the same boat as me...

...I didn't see anybody really looking very happy.

Most everyone—especially those who'd bothered to dress in costume—seemed to be asking the question, "When will then be now?"

But "then" couldn't come soon enough for most of us—and by the time I got inside, after two hours' worth of waiting outside, I only had about an hour left in me to look around and learn something I didn't know.

I don't regret the money I'd spent on today's event...

...because I learned a valuable (albeit expensive) lesson.

circa 2016

I may be fascinated with many of Walt's historical contributions to modern amusements, but I'd much rather do than watch.

circa 2016

At least at Disneyland, there's a ride waiting for me at the end of the line.

Related Posts:
The Cult of the Happiest Place on Earth

The Waiting Game
What Am I Waiting For?

Junkie For Your Love

I went to a 12-step meeting once, but it wasn't for my drinking.

Although I've had a history of certainly abusing alcohol in the past, I don't think I'll ever go so far as to become an alcoholic.

But I do have an addictive personality.

It may be something that my mother passed down to me through her genes—since she's addicted to anything that feels good, whether it's sugar or shopping—but it's more likely that she encoded this addictiveness in me by depriving me of things that felt good when I was a child.

She deprived me of love—and now, I can never seem to get enough of it.

I always thought that meant I was desperate for romantic love—or, as my mother called it in my pre-teen years, that I was "boy crazy"—and some of my past romances have felt like addictions.

But I don't think I even fit the profile of a so-called "love addict" whose many compulsions are those of fantasy—because I don't want a storybook romance. I don't want drama or strife or tragedy. I don't want my stars to be crossed.

I just want real love.

But there's a reason for this inextricable tie between love dependence and chemical dependence.

There's, in fact, a physical reaction that happens when you're with someone you love—and it can happen from something as simple as gazing into each others' eyes. You don't even have to be touching.

It's the release of the "love hormone," oxytocin.

And, like other hormones and neurotransmitters (like endorphins, or serotonin a.k.a. the "happiness hormone"), it can make you feel kind of high.

Cuddling after sex releases oxytocin. And you know what else does? Cuddling a furry friend.

I realize now that that blissful feeling I once had of waking up next to a man I loved is the same as waking up next to the cat I love when he sneezes or snores or whimpers from a bad dream.

And it's especially true when he comes in close for a belly rub.

Of course there's no romance with my cat—but as it turns out, I don't need it. I don't know that I ever needed it.

I think I just needed a reliable source of affection—something I've never had my whole life, until now.

For years, friends would tell me that I didn't need a man to be happy. And that may have been true, but it always felt like I needed something.

I needed something to give me that influx of oxytocin.

And maybe it didn't have to be a boyfriend or a girlfriend or even a parent or a baby.

Maybe it never had to be any human at all.

Related Posts:
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I'm Not In Love
On Motherhood

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Sleeping Through the Fear

The older I get, the more I understand things about my childhood that always baffled me.

It's taken a long time for some of these things to reveal themselves to me, though. I guess it takes a lot of living a different kind of life in a very different place to comprehend how those events that happened decades ago could lead me to where I am right now.

Sometimes, those revelations are just a vindication that I'm not crazy—that something I remembered happening could've, indeed, actually happened, and that there's a name for it and other people have actually experienced it.

I'll never forget the day a friend of mine confessed that her mother always treated her like the other woman when it came to her dad.

I felt exactly the same way.

There are other instances like that, those that have rocked my emotional world and sharpened the focus of my misty, tear-soaked memories, but I'll have to save those for another blog post on another day.

The thing that's on my mind right now is the concept of the "fear nap."

I read an article this morning that, in pretty clear scientific terms, explained how a person's "flight" response can be so strong that whatever stress they're under at the time can literally put them to sleep.

Of course, the most obvious example of my childhood flight response was the fact that I used to pass out and have convulsions under the slightest duress—in church, at the doctor's office, in my parents' bathroom while getting a bandage changed.

I even conked out once after having slipped and fallen on a wood floor that had just been waxed. I found it to be so slippery, in fact, that it might as well have been glossed over by a Zamboni.

Afterwards, my mother found me unresponsive in the living room chair, my eyes rolling to the back of my head.

Those instances can be pretty easily explained—as they were by a neurologist who, on the suspicion that I might be epileptic, gave me an EEG and determined that I suffered instead from vasovagal syncope.

That is, I was just a fainter.

I'd swoon at the sight of my own blood or at the feeling of a vaccine injection running down the veins in my arm. I was susceptible to blood pooling, the same thing that happens to military cadets who stand at attention for extended periods of time without flexing their leg muscles.

It's depicted in movies enough to seem relatively normal—like when the damsel in distress gets "the vapors" and is roused by the smell of camphor. Of course, I suppose it's not that normal, though, for it to happen to a prepubescent child who doesn't happen to be wearing a corset.

Regardless, as familiar a scene as it may be, suddenly losing consciousness is not the same as falling asleep.

And that's something I remember happening to me, too.

Sleep was almost always an issue for me as a kid. I had terrible insomnia in the days when my mother sent me and my sister to bed way too early—way earlier than our classmates or our cousins and, during the summer, before the sun had even set.

I'd lie there in my bed for hours, sniffling through my tears, not stifling them enough to keep my sister from telling me to shut up. Often, I wouldn't fall asleep until after I heard my parents go to bed.

And then, predictably, getting up in the morning was traumatic. At the time, I didn't know anything about circadian rhythms, but I knew that, for whatever reason, my body just refused to keep that schedule.

So, earlier in my life, my parents blamed my behavioral problems on me being "overtired." And it's true that I was tired.

But the solution was not to set an even earlier bedtime—a suggestion I protested vehemently.

My behavior, however, told my parents otherwise. In the inevitable fights that would ensue, usually with my mother, and the tears that would follow, I'd get so stressed out and so hysterical that I'd stop everything and start to yawn.

I probably could've fallen asleep right there, if my mother hadn't still been screaming or smacking me around.

"See?!" she'd yell, wagging her dishpan finger at me. "You're overtired!"

And so she'd try to get me to take a nap—something that felt more like she was getting rid of me (or imprisoning me in my own bedroom) rather than trying to help me. If I managed to fall asleep at all in the middle of the day, especially on those summer afternoons when the window fan blew only hot air, it would just make my insomnia at bedtime even worse.

My body didn't need sleep, per se. It needed an escape.

According to the article, you might get the urge to nap when your brain is working so hard that its supply of glucose gets depleted—and, of course, it's glucose that normally fuels your energy levels.

Although it's not officially a medical diagnosis, it's something that happens most often to children.

Of course, I've been known to fall asleep under other stressful circumstances even in my adult years—something that never made much sense unless I was narcoleptic (which the sleep study I did determined I'm not).

There were times in my heavy partying days in New York City when I'd go home with some stranger and our encounter wouldn't go so well—falling somewhere in the "gray zone" between consent and assault—and yet I'd fall asleep beside the culprit instead of gathering my things and heading for the hills.

I've sat in the passenger seat of a Jeep or some other all-terrain vehicle that's been climbing steep hills and rounding hairpin turns along a mountain ridge, and while the driver was kept wide awake by his white knuckles, I uncontrollably snoozed next to him.

After my car accident three years ago, when I was at one of the lowest points in my life, I couldn't stay awake. Sure, maybe it was the physical stress of recovering from head trauma and whiplash—but I suspect now that it was more about having just lost a job and dealing with the resulting financial crisis. Or that, coupled with the fact that a past love got married to someone else.

But this flight response wasn't just my body playing possum—it was a "time out" that my body forced on me.

If this is indeed what's been happening to me my whole life, I'm actually grateful for it. Because there's a reason why, when we've got a decision to make, we "sleep on it."

I woke up one morning and somehow over the course of my night's sleep had figured out how to mount a bike rack to my car—a seemingly simple task that had baffled me before sleeping on it.

And I like to sleep on what I've written so I can read it the next day and make sure it actually works.

Sometimes the sleep—whether it's a full night's or just a nap—will change my perspective entirely and inspire a revision I would've never thought of, had I not allowed myself to lose consciousness.

Related Posts:
Fight or Flight
Under a Sleepy Surveillance
Dancing With the Fear
Driving Through the Fear

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Photo Essay: Castle Park and The King of Theme Park Train Rides

Somehow, the concepts of amusement parks and theme parks have conflated into one.

And while theme parks are, indeed, amusing...

...not every amusement park has or even needs a theme (especially in the advent of "thrill rides," like at the themeless Six Flags).

From Santa's Village to Disneyland (whose multiple themes include "adventure," "fantasy," the "frontier," and the land of "tomorrow"), there's no better way to escape the humdrum of real life than to travel back in time or to a land that's far, far away...

...than to run off with the circus, so to speak, at least for a couple of hours.

In the case of Castle Park in Riverside, you'd be transported back to Camelot... the time of Merlin and other figures of Arthurian legend.

Castle Park opened in 1976, seven years before Medieval Times would take the concept to another level with its immersive dinner theater show (and 10 years before Medieval Times would arrive in Buena Park).

And while there are still glimpses of 11th century life in England...

...the current experience at Castle Park is definitively domestic...

...with pieces of Americana, like the antique car ride...

...and the Castle Park Railroad.

The two-foot narrow gauge railroad was built by Castle Park founder Wendell "Bud" Hurlbut, who'd already made a name for himself in miniature locomotives and train-based amusement park rides designed for Knott's Berry Farm (like the Calico Mine Train).

You can credit Hurlbut's creations for Knott's with helping it expand beyond a berry farm and chicken dinner restaurant into a full-fledged amusement park.

Trained (or, rather, self-taught) as a mechanical engineer, Hurlbut is considered one of the country's first theme park creators.

Even the ultimate train fan himself, Walt Disney, used to visit him at Knott's while he was building the Calico ride. And while many may think that Disney created the "hidden" line of waiting would-be passengers (with all of those switchbacks), he actually borrowed the idea from Hurlbut.

His work was so revolutionary and groundbreaking that after his death in 2011 (when he was still operating the Hurlbut Amusement Co. in a barn across the street from Knott's, well into his 90s), his train-building business was bought by Katiland Trains, the biggest amusement park train manufacturer in the country, located nearby in Riverside County.

With no children to pass them down to, much of the contents of his workshop were sold off in 2012. (He'd already sold the park decades before.)

As much as he's associated with trains, Hurlbut actually began his amusement park career as a carousel man at Knott's in the 1950s.

That's when he operated a 1905 Dentzel Menagerie-Jester Head model that had been relocated there (to the Lagoon) from Hershey Park in Pennsylvania.

In 1985, when Hurlbut was expanding his Castle Park beyond an arcade and miniature golf course, he moved the historic carousel to Riverside and added it to what was becoming a fully developed amusement park.

Its Ruth band organ had previously been rescued from The Pike in Long Beach (1911-1979).

Among the 20 menagerie animals on the two-level platform, you'll find a tiger...

...a lion and a goat...

...two bears and two pigs...

...three deer...

....and four each rabbits, cats, and ostriches.

Among the 30 horses scattered between three rows, 18 are jumpers and 12 are standing.

And of the 50 total animal figures, 19 are made of their original carved wood and 31 of them are fiberglass reproductions. Many of the original figures that were replaced by copies were auctioned off in 1990.

Before Hurlbut died, a documentary filmmaker asked him what regrets he had in life. His answer? "That carousel auction," he said.

Related Posts:
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