Thursday, July 9, 2020

Photo Essay: Stress Immunity Training for An Uncertain Future at Camp Pendleton

In 1942, then-Colonel Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr. led the 9th Marine Regiment—along with the 1st Battalion, 12th Marines—on a march from San Diego to Camp Pendleton USMC. It wasn't just their new base—it was the biggest Marine base in the world and a type of large training ground that didn't really exist before the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

That year, the U.S. government had taken over SoCal's largest Mexican land grant, using the newly-passed Second War Powers Act. Camp Pendleton—named for retired Marine Corps General Joseph H. Pendleton of Coronado—was declared a "permanent installation" by 1944. And nearly 80 years later, it's still very much active (and, in fact, patrolled by military working dogs).

But historically, one of the "stars" of Camp Pendleton was a war horse—Staff Sergeant Reckless, a pack animal named after the recoilless rifle she carried ammunition for. The sorrel mare (born 1948) served as part of the 5th Marine Regiment-1st Marine Division in the Korean War (1952-4), learning to step over barbed wire, take refuge in a bunker, and carry the wounded to safety.

She carried more than 9000 lbs (386 rounds) of ammunition across 36 miles through enemy fire—often working solo. Although she was wounded twice—earning her two Purple Hearts, among many other military decorations—she always completed the mission before retiring and eventually being buried at Camp Pendleton upon her death in 1968.

Operations have gotten a lot more high-tech over the years—especially with Camp Pendleton's Infantry Immersion Trainer, whose Range Instrumentation System Control (RISCon) manipulates simulations in real time.

It's used for training the enlisted by introducing various scenarios they might encounter while carrying out their missions and watching how they respond via the 400+ cameras in the Tactical Video Capture System.

It gives the units an opportunity to correct mistakes in a lower-stakes environment...

...and acclimate to what would otherwise be incredibly foreign sights, smells, and sounds.

Like some of the other simulation training grounds (like at Fort Irwin), the IIT also includes role-playing actors who try to replicate real-life scenarios the units may encounter when deployed.

The idea is for units to build a tolerance or even immunity to the stressors they might face—literally, "stress inoculation."

It's not "virtual" reality—it's "mixed" reality. But even just walking through there as a civilian, it feels very real.

All that noise and all those various and foreign odors are incredibly disorienting.

Even when you know that what you're seeing is nothing more than a souped-up movie set.

The IIT has been in operation at Camp Pendleton since 2007, but it's continually being updated with the latest technological advances. 

And since who knows where we'll end up at war next, they're looking to retrofit the existing facility to a more ambiguous "generic third-world" setting—so it could be appropriate to train units that might get deployed to places other than the Middle East (like Korea or Somalia).

Two other IIT facilities now exist outside of Southern California—one in North Carolina and another in Hawaii.

Ideally, these training exercises will help disperse the "fog of war" in actual combat.

It's all about good decision-making under chaotic conditions.

Camp Pendleton has come a long way from its early days of temporary tent camps—later converted to Quonset huts to make sure the base would be permanent and ready for combat.

And that, it is. It's now the center of all Marine activities on the West Coast—producing "physically rugged and professionally invincible" Marines who've been deployed to the Pacific Theater, Korea, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and more.

It even welcomed refugees fleeing from Vietnam and Cambodia's new Communist regimes.

The hope is that these units will never have to put their training into practice. But they'll be as prepared as they can be if and when duty calls, wherever that may be.

Camp Pendleton is not open to the public and does not conduct regular tours, but I was able to join the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society on a special excursion earlier this year.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Rancho Remains of Pico's Mexican Land Grant, Seized by the Second War Powers Act
Photo Essay: The Marines' Camp Pendleton Ranch Chapel, Saved From Flooding... and Development
Photo Essay: A Fake Iraq in the Middle of the Mojave Desert
Photo Essay: The Former 29 Palms Air Academy Readies Future Iraqi War Heroes

Friday, July 3, 2020

Heading Into Chapter Three of the Coronavirus Pandemic (Orange Alert Edition)

Well, that didn't take long.

Los Angeles bars had been allowed to open for just two weeks before they were ordered to shutter again for at least three weeks.

Indoor dining is also once again verboten.

Our infection rate and hospitalizations are surging like never before. But it's not a "second wave."

We're still in the first wave. And it's getting worse.

The mayor says we're on "Orange Alert," presumably one step (or a few sneezes) away from Red Alert.


Officials are once again telling us to stay home except for essential travel, like to go to work or get supplies. I now dread every trip I have to make to Petsmart or Target to get items I can't get for home delivery (or need more quickly than that). Even curbside pickup stresses me out.

I didn't write much during Chapter Two of the coronavirus pandemic, for two reasons.

First, it only lasted about 20 days.

Second, not much changed for me during those 20 days. In fact, the more that other people began to emerge from isolation, I found myself roaming less and hunkering down more.

Sure, I ate a few meals inside, sitting down at a real table, where someone brought me food to eat on an actual plate.

I wonder if I should regret some of those visits. I wonder what I'll regret as this thing progresses.

I do my best. Not everybody does.

My in-person social interactions have been minimal. I haven't taken a cab, rideshare, or public transportation. I dyed my own hair and gave myself a pedicure. Despite having worsened my clenching habit and given myself a toothache and possibly a case of TMJ, I'm waiting to go to the dentist or an ENT.

I've been touched by another human being exactly three times since March 14, all in the month of June.

I remember each of those tiny and incidental touches vividly.

I think it's going to be a long time before I can get a massage, something that for me is less an indulgence and more of a medical necessity.

If I have to keep my saliva to myself for the foreseeable future, I may die a born-again virgin.

And I'm starting to come to terms with the fact that at some point, I'm probably going to get sick, no matter what I do.

It feels like I'm merely delaying the inevitable. It's hard not to think it might just be better to get it over with now.

Then again, my worst fear would be getting sick and giving it to my cat. And since that's a very real possibility, I'll keep trying my best to stay healthy, at least for him.

If I got sick, there'd be nobody to take care of me.

Worse yet, if I got sick, there'd be nobody to take care of him.

I'm not bored. I'm the opposite of bored.

I'm certifiably overstimulated. Just like I always am.

I've got too much work to do, writing to do, thinking to do. I can no longer distract myself, much less escape myself.

I am facing every thing, every day. Past, present, and future. Remembered and misremembered. Dreamed and hallucinated. Imagined and wished for.

Assessing threats. Wondering when the boat we're all in together is going to sink. Planning my escape route.

I might run out of my prescriptions. The pharmacy might run out of them, too.

But it's not all bad.

On the contrary, getting a three-month reprieve from my "regular" life meant I could actually afford to get my taxes done and buy the designer eyeglass frames I'd spotted at the optician's office back in January.

I got to color my roots bright pink, the way I'd been trying to convince my hairdresser to do for a couple of years now. (And it didn't turn out to be a disaster, though that would've been OK because who do I have to impress right now?)

With my more sedentary lifestyle, a toe I injured back in 2015 is finally getting the chance to heal. I'd forgotten what it felt like for it not to hurt.

Maybe there are some other parts of me that can get patched up while I'm in hiding.

Related Posts:
Heading Into Chapter Two of the Coronavirus Pandemic
Quarantine Angst?

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Will Shamrocks and Horseshoes Bring Enough Luck to Keep Tom Bergin's Open For Good?

Located on the cusp of Miracle Mile, a stone's throw from the Metro Purple Line Extension that'll revitalize the neighborhood when it opens, Tom Bergin's is one of the longest‐running bars in Los Angeles—with what's widely agreed to be the second‐oldest liquor license in the city.

But in 2018, preservationists found themselves scrambling for designation as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument to save it from a developer's wrecking ball.

Its owner at the time—former bar regular Derek Schreck, who'd bought the establishment in 2013—was essentially marketing it as a tear-down, despite having promised patrons that he'd only sell to a buyer who'd keep it as a restaurant.

After Schreck took over in early 2014—later adding the attic speakeasy, The Vestry, in 2017—he was heralded for having saved the historic establishment. Everybody thought he would carry the torch from the three prior sets of owners—none of whom had changed it all that much.

Warner Ebbink and executive chef Brandon Boudet of Little Dom's and 101 Coffee Shop operated it from 2012-3. Closing night was July 7, 2013—and the occasion of my first visit ever.

It was like the last night on earth. They'd pretty much stopped charging the crowd and was just giving everything away. Actor Luke Perry (RIP) was bartending for part of that night.

Things were different, though, when Schreck shuttered the space in Summer 2018. There was no grand celebration. The lights went out with a whimper, as the staff eked out the last droplets of Tullamore Dew and gave branded glassware away to the few patrons who knew it was still open—at least kinda open, though the food had run out and the spirit had faded.

At the time, it was easy to think, "We've been through this before." Every time the tavern closes, it seems like it's going to be forever. But Bergin's always comes back.

Then the unthinkable happened: Schreck publicly opposed landmark designation. And that created a greater sense of alarm—because why would he care, unless he was hoping to sell to someone who planned to level it?

Don't worry—this story doesn't have a tragic ending, at least not yet.

But first, let's go back to the beginning.

Tom Bergin’s present‐day location on Fairfax near San Vicente was built and opened as a bar and restaurant in 1949. The two-story building, with its steeply pitched, cross‐gabled roof, was designed to look like a cottage that had been ripped right out of the pages of a storybook fairytale, evoking the rural countryside of Ireland in the Tudor Revival style that was popular at the time.

Its proprietor and namesake was Tom Bergin (1894‐1978), the Boston-reared son of Irish immigrants who worked for a time as an entertainment attorney. He leveraged his friendships with Hollywood elite like Bing Crosby to become a successful restaurateur.

Bergin operated his eponymous establishment—which earned the nickname the "House of Irish Coffee" sometime after the 1950s—until his retirement in 1973. He then sold it to bar regulars Mike Mandekic and T.K. Vodrey. (Vodrey continued at the helm until stepping down in 2011.)

Seven decades after it was dropped down on Fairfax without much else around, this Tudor cottage sure stands out on Fairfax Avenue—with its board and batten siding, stained rondel glass windows, and sconces that light up even when the place is closed.

Its hand‐hewn, clinker brick fa├žade stands in stark contrast to the far more modern condo tower to the south and the multi-unit residences to the north...

...not to mention the nearest intersection that's littered with a gas station, fast food, and chain coffee shop and a chain pizza parlor.

And that's probably what draws people in—past the horse head busts (added in 2012), through the parking lot (which is really what makes this property valuable), and along the brick planters (also added in 2012).

Why the horse heads? Well, Tom himself was an avid horseracing fan—and originally operated his establishment as Tom Bergin’s Old Horseshoe Tavern and Thoroughbred Club.

His first location had been located a block-and-a-half north at 6110 Wilshire Boulevard, at the intersection that now contains the May Company BuildingJohnie's Coffee Shop, and the Petersen Automotive Museum.

When he relocated to a second location, he made sure he brought the horsemanship ambiance and old-world charm with him.

Back then, Tom Bergin's was more of a white tablecloth steakhouse sort of place, though its menu evolved to include more Irish pub fare like Reuben sandwiches, shepherds pie, and fish and chips.

After walking through the entrance (which has only been the front door since 2012), turn left for the main dining area, with its coved plaster ceiling, colored-glass windows, and one horseshoe‐shaped booth amidst more traditionally configured wooden banquettes.

Keep going, and you'll hit the private dining room, its wagon wheel-style chandeliers suspended from a vaulted ceiling that's supported by wooden rafters and beams. Cozy up in front of the clinker brick fireplace when a group hasn't reserved the room.

Back in the other direction—that is, if you were to turn right after entering—you'll find more hand‐hewn timbers covered in cardboard shamrocks, some stained brown from the days when indoor cigarette smoking was allowed. Each one is dedicated to a loyal patron of yore—though the path to getting your own name up there is somewhat unclear.

The horseshoe‐shaped, copper-topped bar that wraps around the room may have been relocated from the Wilshire location by devoted regulars—but the shamrock tradition hadn't begun yet, so you won't find their names anywhere on the ceiling.

At the far end—the one closest to Fairfax Avenue—you'll find more horseshoe‐shaped banquettes, though the really prized seating remains at the bar itself.

Photo: Bartender Chris Doyle, serves up quite an Irish coffee at Tom Bergin's House of Irish Coffee, circa 1979 (Herald Examiner collection, via LAPL)

If you manage to snag a bar seat, order a cream-capped Irish coffee—sipping the hot liquid through the cool topping, never stirring them together—and keep them coming.

For all these reasons and more, Tom Bergin's did, in fact, earn its landmark designation as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in June 2019.

In December 2019, it reopened under new ownership—and its manager, Fran Castagnetti, is providing as seamlessly consistent of an experience as possible (without, of course, the high-falutin craft cocktails and ultra-exclusive whiskey club that seemed to drag the business down more than lift it up).

Details of who the owner/developers are have been somewhat of a mystery—although it's likely Christopher Clifford of Colliers International. Tom Bergin's appears to be tied in with some Transit-Oriented Communities-related development that would involve building residential units on at least part of the parking lot.

The year 2020 has been as hard on Tom Bergin's as on any other eatery or drinkery in the wake of COVID-19 shutdowns and dine-in restrictions. It's successfully pivoted to takeout (pick-up and delivery), even offering Irish coffees "to go." And its existing liquor license for the parking lot—normally only used on St. Patrick's Day—has been a boon to expanding into outdoor dining and drinking.

But it's opened and closed and reopened again so many times over the last decade or so, lots of would-be patrons have been left confused as to its status. And Angelenos are easily distracted. You can't make them work too hard for anything.

I'm really pulling for the success of Tom Bergin's. I love that place.

And everybody loves a comeback story.

As Jonathan Gold wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 2013, "Bergin’s has always been decent, comforting and most of all there.... The Miracle Mile had boomed, fallen out of favor, and boomed again. The cool darkness of Bergin’s was one of the few constants."

For circa 2018 photos and lots of details as to the landmark nomination, click here

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: A Vintage Drinking Den In a Historic Irish Cottage (Now Closed, Updated for 2019)
Photo Essay: A Spirited Jaunt to The Derby

Thursday, June 25, 2020

An Abandoned Alpaca Bounces Back

This is Annie.

She really stood out from the rest of the alpacas at Temecula Valley Alapacas—and not just because of her bangs.

Turns out she's the most popular of all the Temecula Valley alpacas...

...but she didn't start out that way.

Temecula Valley Alpacas, a non-profit, took her in after her previous owners abandoned her on their nearby ranch, moving away without her and leaving her and some sheep behind.

In a miraculous turnaround, she's become the most social of their alpacas—acting as an ambassador and "therapy alpaca," if you will, at local hospitals.

But there's something else that sets her apart from the rest of this alpaca ranch...

And again, it's not the bangs, because some of the other alpacas do have bangs.

And some of the other alpacas are also very sweet.

Incredibly sweet, in fact.

But they don't "sing" like Annie does.

The sound that Annie makes is generally associated with a baby (cria) calling out for her mother or a mother crying out for her baby.

Annie has neither baby nor mother.

Her keepers think it's her cry for food—and it's true, she stops when she's eating.

But I think something about her abandonment has stuck with her. And being fed only distracts her from it.

She is one of the most loving and affectionate alpacas I've met—and this is a species known better for its feistiness and competitiveness (read: spitting) than its even-temperedness.

Maybe this gives me hope.

Maybe hope can prevail.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Cria Season at Alpacas of Menifee Valley
Photo Essay: To Know An Alpaca Is To Love An Alpaca

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Photo Essay: Cria Season at Alpacas of Menifee Valley

I've been mostly self-isolating over the past few months—remaining in the safe confines of my car if I've gone out at all (usually just to get something to eat or go look at stuff).

But if there's anything that could get me out and intermingling with the contaminated public at large, it's the news of a newborn baby alpaca (a.k.a. a "cria").


I'd already been thinking about crossing county lines to visit an alpaca ranch in Temecula for its shearing open house...


...but there being yet another alpaca ranch nearby, that I could hit on the same long drive, sealed the deal.

I mean, a double dose of adult alpacas would normally be enough to draw me out on a Saturday, especially one when I had no other plans.

These aren't normal times, though.

And there was something about visiting a couple's backyard in Riverside County—Art and Val Bradford of Alpacas of Menifee Valley—to visit some just-sheared yet still-fluffy Huacayas that made me feel like everything was OK.

Life goes on.

Madeline + her 2-day-old cria

The cycle of birth—and, I presume, death—goes on, just like it did before. 

Alpaca gestation takes about 11 months, so it's a big deal when the cria is finally born.

The one that came out feet-first on Thursday night was 25 days late—even later than I was when I was born three weeks late!

Sometimes you just need to cook a little longer.

Starting from birth, alpacas are naturally curious and have to sniff and chew everything.

It's hard to pay attention to any of the other animals when there's a cria around.

Baby alpaca fleece is as soft as silk.

It's truly a gift if the cria—or her mother—lets you feel it for yourself.

My visit would've been truly special had there been just one cria born in the past week—but there were actually two.

The darker one preceded the Thursday night baby by two days—coming into this world on Tuesday, bright-eyed and fluffy tailed.

4-day-old, 10-lb. cria with her mom Snowmass Incan Velvet 

These two will be nursing for the next several months, seeking protection in between their mothers' back legs and below their bellies. 

The grown ups missed the big alpaca show this year because of COVID-19...

...but maybe they don;t know the difference.

Their babydoll faces still seem to be smiling...

...hopefully unaware of what's going on in the world.

And some of them will even kiss you on the cheek (and let you kiss them), even if you're not wearing a mask.

Alpacas of Menifee Valley is leaving the Inland Empire, changing its name to Autumn Wind Alpacas, and relocating to Idaho by this fall. It's currently open for farm tours by reservation only, so book ahead and get in there while you can.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: To Know An Alpaca Is To Love An Alpaca
Photo Essay: Lambing Season at Apricot Lane Farms
Kidding Season