Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Open Letter, For Whom I Linger

I'd never been to the place where we met before. I didn't even live here yet.

A friend brought me to the place where we met.

Our eyes met from across the room in the place where we met.

You took my number from across the table in the place where we met. And you used it. The very next day.

We tried to meet again, but I didn't live here yet, and I was with a friend.

I told you I would come back.

And I did.

We found each other again, in a different town, far away from the place that we met.

Our eyes met from across the pool. They met again from across the restaurant, and then again from across the parking lot. We didn't know we'd already met.

You gave me your name again, and I gave you mine. And then we realized, we'd found each other. Again.

But I still didn't live here yet. I told you I could come back.

And I did come back. I came back for work. I came back for vacation. I came back for myself. I came back for you.

I kept coming back, and you kept coming to meet me - late night, overnight, early morning, never letting go, never holding back.

And then you stopped.

But I was coming, I was almost here.

And then I was here, and you were gone.

And so I had to find you. I couldn't stay away.

And now I return to the place where we met, just to see you.

I went on a date to the place where we met, even though you weren't there to see me.

I feel close to you in the place where we met.

You're mine in the place where we met.

Our eyes still meet in the place where we met, across the room, across the bar, across the table and across the stool.

My heart leaps and my fingers tingle in the place where we met. My eyes well and my legs cross. My arms fold but my hands reach.

But there's no tonight after the place where we met. I have to leave you in the place where we met.

I know I can find you in the place where we met.

I'll keep coming back to the place where we met.

Even long after you're no longer there.

And maybe we'll find our way back to each other again.

Related:
Alone on Valentine's Day

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Photo Essay: Miracle Mile

Living in my Art Deco apartment has amplified my interest in Art Deco architecture and design, so when I had the opportunity to walk along LA's Miracle Mile with the Art Deco Society, I jumped at the chance.

Unfortunately, these days, when you celebrate the aesthetic of a bygone era, you also mourn its losses.

The Miracle Mile actually began as a showcase of Spanish Revival architecture, most of which has been subsequently destroyed or covered up, leaving only one building remaining. Once upon a time, Art Deco eclipsed Spanish Revival along Wilshire Boulevard, a once undeveloped, dusty stretch of land near the tar pits that had been deemed unlivable. Between airstrips, oil fields, and city zoning laws, it was a Miracle that this commercial district ever got built at all.









In the years since World War II, when Art Deco evolved from the ornate zig zag style to a more streamlined style, in a time when materials were scarce and expensive, and more functional architectural approaches like California Modern and International style took over, much of the original Art Deco splendor has been lost. Neon signs have been added....



Cornices have been removed. Lampposts (or, at least, their toppers) have been destroyed. Signs have been thrown away. Cafes have become MTA offices....



Department stores have been vacated...







Banks, hardware stores, restaurants and five-and-dimes have become The Hair Store, Staples and IHOP...









Some buildings are so unrecognizably changed, you'd never know what tile or carvings or color palettes of paint lie underneath their current facades....You might not even notice the details of what's standing right there.

Then again, you'd probably be driving past. And even though many of these historic masterpieces were built with the era of the automobile in mind (favoring grand entrances from the rear parking lot over modest pedestrian entrances in the front), it's only on foot that one can now examine and appreciate what's left on the Miracle Mile.

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Slideshow: Taking Flight

Here's a slideshow of the photos taken by the 35MM camera mounted on the sailplane that I helped fly in Warner Springs, CA a couple of weeks ago. Enjoy!





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Friday, March 25, 2011

Under My Rock

I have a friend who never knows pop songs til months after their chart peak, rarely sees movies until they hit cable TV, and refuses to sign up for Twitter, preferring to remain blissfully ignorant of today's trending hashtags. I always tell her she's living under a rock.

But now that I've moved to LA, refused to get a TV, spent my days in a windowless office digging deeply into metrics and data analysis, I realize: I, too, am now living under a rock.

I always used to criticize New Yorkers - especially New York City-based marketers - for thinking the rest of the country was like The Big Apple, because somehow I'd managed to hold onto my humble Middle American roots. I could always remember that the rest of the world wasn't open until 4 a.m., that other people in other places actually drove and listened to the radio and shopped at Wal-Mart.

And now I'm one of those people. Except I'm in Southern California, with (mostly) idyllic weather, exposure to sunlight, ethnic diversity, gorgeous people, delicious food, and easily accessible mountains and canyons.

What? The rest of the world isn't like this?

Oh, it's snowing there? Still?

What do you mean I'm calling too late? It's only 9! (Ohhhh it's midnight where you are.)


Where is New York again?


I don't know why or how I've acclimated so easily to Los Angeles, an admittedly sprawling, overwhelming, hidden city that's just as metropolitan and cosmopolitan as New York. But whereas it took me a good three years after my arrival for New York City to feel like home, it took me days, maybe hours, to start calling Los Angeles (or, more specifically, Beverly Hills) home. Maybe it's how welcoming this city has felt to me, and how its residents, two months later, still greet me with a "welcome home." Or maybe my inner New Yorker just needed to accelerate the assimilation process, refusing to allow for any transitional period. I scoff when people ask me if I'm here on a trial basis. "No," I say. "I have a job. I signed a lease. I am here now."

And I've hit the ground running. Compared to most other Angelenos and Californians, I am, as they tell me, "hardcore" for all the parties, concerts, hikes, tours, and dinners I've already done. But it doesn't feel that way. Since moving here, I've retained my lifelong phobia of missing out on something - anything - but the pressure I feel is completely internalized. I stress myself out as little or as much as I want to. The external forces - the people around me, the mountains and the canyons - are just fine with me either way. They'll be here when I'm ready for them, whether that's tonight, next week, next month or next year.

So while I may be living in my own little world here in LA, I am a master explorer of that world, surpassing most of my neighbors' knowledge of local eats, hidden treasures, cultural events and secret spots. My rock is vast and varied, huge and hulking, rough and imposing. But it is my rock right now, and I'm happy to examine its fossils and crevices and moss, its sunbaked top and its clammy, shadowy underbelly.

Maybe I'll get a TV one day. But I lived an entire childhood raised by television, my only source of insight into the outside world. I think it's time I continue my break from drug-addled celebrity antics, cholesterol-raising cooking demonstrations, and unrealistically swift romantic connections and figure out what reality really is. New York it is not. It may not be Southern California either, but it's a nice alternate reality that's similar enough to NYC in good ways, and dissimilar to NYC in some really really good ways.

Related Reading:
Trying to Unhook Myself
Not Road-Weary Yet

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Photo Essay: Hughes Aircraft Company Campus

As much as I try to leave behind the Type A personality characteristics that once made me fit in with other East Coasters, as much as I try to assimilate into a more relaxed California lifestyle, I constantly feel anything but laid back when it comes to one thing: missing out.

So when I hear of a tour of a place with restricted access, not usually open to the public, it doesn't really matter what the place is. I must go.

So most of my urban exploration has actually been sanctioned rather than surreptitious, save for excursions out to California City and Salton Sea. And I've gotten to see plenty without breaking and entering.

This weekend, I joined a rain-or-shine tour of the Hughes Aircraft Company campus in Playa Vista, near Culver City where Howard Hughes both built airplanes and made movies in the 1930s. I went despite the torrential downpour, both because I'd managed to nab a $25 ticket to the sold out tour, but also because I couldn't not go.

Eleven of the original 15 buildings are still there, despite the new Playa Vista-related developments that surround it (including some 2009 structures on the campus, built to be complementary to the original structures' international style architecture). The original airstrip that ran parallel with Jefferson Boulevard - first grassy, then paved - has been demolished, but there are plenty of other interesting things to see, mostly abandoned and neglected, slated for a facelift in a hopefully good case for adaptive reuse.


Building #15, the main building complex / cargo hangar erected to house the construction of the H-4 "Hercules" plane, the all-wood "Spruce Goose" (actually it was made of birch) whose only flight didn't go high enough or far enough to warrant a return to the skies. This is only one of two bays - there currently is a super-secret movie using the other bay as a soundstage.


original interior of the H-4 "Hercules" plane


Building #3, the five-sided wood structure that was used to mock up the H-4's nose cone and systems. It now stands abandoned, with a leaky roof.



old signs in Building 3



Outside Building 3


Between Buildings 2 (left) and 1 (right)



Building 1 (ground floor), Administration Building. All of the downstairs offices were demolished by a prior developer who never ended up using the space. Now the new developer plans to build offices for creative workspaces. You can still trace the lines of phantom tile flooring...



Upstairs of Building 1, "Mahogany Row." It is believed that this was Mr. Hughes' office. Red X's mark where his desk might have been.



Upstairs in Mahogany Row



Upstairs in Mahogany Row



Upstairs in Mahogany Row



Upstairs in Mahogany Row


This map was found in one of the demolished walls and was rescued, though it had already fallen victim to some wear and tear and graffiti.



The red lines trace flight patterns, but it is unknown whose or for what...



Downstairs Administration Building front entrance / reception desk. All visitors would have entered here. The black lines on the wood paneling are remnants of the glue used to affix darker wood paneling which was added in later decades.



Outside Administration Building front entrance. The cantilever awning once displayed the letters H U G H E S


Building 10, Cafeteria



Building 10 interior, the old kitchen


The Hughes Campus - soon to be called the Hercules Campus, after the infamous H-4 - went through many stages of its own adaptive reuse, transforming some of its buildings into medical facilities, and developing as an emerging avionics (aviation electronics) powerhouse. Aircraft was still being built there as late as the mid-1980s, but the production shifted from wartime airplanes and cargo planes to helicopters. Because of the large empty spaces, many television and film production companies have set up shop in the buildings on the Hughes Campus over recent decades, though now their presence will become more formalized as the Hercules Campus becomes a dedicated facility for creative spaces.

Many thanks to the Los Angeles Conservancy for the opportunity to take a simultaneous peek into the past and the future. Now I really want to fly another plane.

Related post:
Here It Comes Again (Floyd Bennett Field, NYC)
Photo Essay: Taking Flight

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Avoiding Worry

Considering the fact that I was raised by a mother with about every common phobia that can afflict a woman (water, heights, fire, dirt, germs, leaving the house), I'm not much of a worrywart. I don't check the stove dozens of times before I leave the apartment. If I worry that I didn't lock my car, I probably didn't. And if my bank account is showing a negative balance, I remain remarkably calm.

I attribute some of that to my ability to intellectually cast aside any genetic tendencies towards obsessive-compulsive behavior, depression, psychosis, schizophrenia...But you can't always just decide not to worry about something, just as you can't necessarily refuse to regret something. Sometimes, you have to be proactive, and do something to prevent it from happening altogether.

There are entire industries predicated on providing zero service for the majority of their consumer base except for peace of mind. People sign up for warranties, service plans, insurance policies, some with relatively high premiums, and then never actually use them. In the case of car insurance, usually the deductibles are so high, it's not even worth claiming a relatively minor repair on your insurance, so you just pay cash anyway. I paid for dental insurance for years and never used it because they wouldn't reimburse me for seeing my dentist, and I refused to switch. But it was there, just in case, something horrible happened.

But the problem is, when you're uninsured (as I was for two years), you worry about everything, even if nothing actually happens. Did you just sneeze? Have I washed my hands enough? Is that bus going to actually stop before it hits me? Is this taxi driver going to kill us all? Am I getting a sore throat?

Now that I actually have had health insurance (and renter's insurance, and auto insurance...) for six weeks, I haven't used it once. And I haven't worried once.

The one thing I do worry about is worrying too much. Worry takes too much time away from other things I want to do and focus on.

So this weekend, I signed up for AAA, just in case. It's not that expensive, and driving without it, I wasn't able to fully enjoy my new car (even though it's already succumbed to a few slings and arrows in the short time I've had it). I wouldn't go hiking without a compass, a GPS, or a cell phone, even though I rarely get so lost that I need to use them (and even though there's rarely a good cell signal wherever I climb alone). And so I didn't want to drive - around LA, or off to other far-flung, remote places - without knowing someone could come rescue me if I got into trouble.

I live enough of this life alone, self-sufficient, on my own. It's OK to ask for help every now and then.

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Upping the Ante

As I reflect upon my new career, and back upon the years that have passed, I let out one resounding sigh of relief:

Thank God I am not the smartest person in the room.

In fact, in my new job, I am far from the smartest person in the room, pretty much all of the time.

And that's how I like it.

I recall adjusting to that at Colgate University, where I met and befriended some of the most brilliant geniuses I have ever met - even to this day. I had to get used to making B's and C's in classes rather than the A's and A+'s to which I'd grown accustomed. I had to work. I had to learn.

That didn't make me any less smart. It just upped the ante.

Working at Media Play - still my favorite job I ever had - I would often volunteer to leave the music department and cover someone's lunch shift in the "Hardlines" department, which sold video games and computer software. One day, our manager Mike said, "You like it don't you? You like it because it's hard."

I said, "Yes, yes I do." I could flip through those music racks in a coma, but I had to concentrate very hard on selling software for devices I didn't even own.

Now, 14 years into my career, I am learning something new every day. I am asking questions. I am inquisitive and inspired.

I'm not there yet, but I'm getting there. I try not to fall into spells of panic, self-doubt, insecurity. I try not to feel stupid when I don't know something, which is all of the time.

Thank God I am surrounded by those with the patience to teach me, to encourage me, to put their faith in me.

I hope I'm able to live up to expectations - not only theirs, but those of myself. Which are the greatest of them all.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Wrong Trail?

Out in the desert, I doubt the existence of any wrong trail. In the middle of nowhere, you find footprints everywhere. Anywhere there's a clearing free of boulders and cholla, by now someone has cleared a path and walked through.



In national and state parks, there are designated paths on a map, but out there, on the land, they're often poorly marked, or not marked at all.

And when they are marked, following them can still be confusing.





If you're lucky, you find a path lined by stones or tree trunks...



or a creek to follow...



...but sometimes you have to look off in the distance to see what you're walking toward, and find the path of least resistance to get there.

During my most recent visit to Anza-Borrego State Park, down in the previously-unexplored south region near Bow Willow, that was the palm groves.

There were plenty of distractions along the way, including some cacti and red ocotillo...





...but the real payoff was going to come in the form of a couple palm oases, from which water still flowed down a damp creek bed.



Although I could see them in the distance, I kept wondering if I was on the right trail.



I followed the prints underfoot, but couldn't those before me have been wrong? Where was I supposed to walk? Where was the right trail?

Was there a right trail, if I ended up at the same destination?



Must I follow the steps of those who have blazed the trail before me?



Must I always blaze my own trail?



At the end of this relatively short hike, I decided to retrace my steps back up to the bustling Visitor's Center, where a volunteer had warned me that the nearby Borrego Palm Canyon trail was the most popular one in the park, and would be quite crowded. At the time, I asked for something a little farther off the beaten path. But once I was off the beaten path, I thought it might be nice to be around some people, and at least follow them down the trail. If we went the wrong way, at least I wouldn't be alone (which I usually am when out hiking).

I also wondered how I could visit Anza-Borrego during peak wildflower season and not visit the trail that's so popular because of its abundance of what I came in search of: wildflowers.

As I embarked on the trail alone, I greeted my fellow hikers at the trailhead and remarked on the vibrancy of the colors, the variety of species. But less than a mile down the trail, I was once again alone, passing many an elderly hiking couple, or family of hikers with small children, marveling at the honeycombs looming in the stone hills above, and swatting away at the bees that had descended down below, chasing the scent of desert lavender and other perfumes both natural and unnatural.

On my way back, I tried trailing different groups of hikers so I wouldn't have to navigate myself, and could just follow in their steps. Inevitably, whoever they were, they would stop, hands on hips, turning head left to right, wondering if they were, indeed, on the wrong trail.

And, I thought, I am not so alone after all.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Photo Essay: The Wildflowers of Anza-Borrego

The only other time I visited Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, it was the end of summer, officially still the off-season, and about as deserted as a desert can be. Its brown, dusty flats showed no stark contrast against the brown, rocky mountains. We saw a few red ocotillos hanging onto their color, but otherwise, we drove through its monochromatic palette and focused instead on brilliantly-colored sunrises.

Since then, I kept reading about how colorful California's largest state park is in the spring, when wildflowers sprout along the road and up the trails if the winter rains have been plentiful enough.

This was my only free weekend to check them out.

Along with legions of Japanese tourists, Californian hikers, and pint-sized day campers.



















It was quite a turnaround from my last visit, but it was nice to see so many other people enjoying the place I love so much. Hopefully that means it'll stay open for a while, unlike some of California's other state parks...

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