January 29, 2012

Another Sort of Anniversary

Last week marked not only the anniversary of my move to LA, but also the anniversary of the last time I spoke with my parents.

How do I remember that?

Because it was on my father's birthday, January 26, a date I still am able to remember despite not using it, like my mother's work phone number from over twenty years ago, the last time she ever worked (315-422-0121).

What don't I remember?

How long it's been.

I have a sense it's been about five years. But time hasn't been dragging. I haven't been counting the days, much less the years. I've been living. I've been doing all the things they never let me do, and way more.

And what have they been doing?

It's weird when you're new in town, because besides "What do you do?" and "Where are you from?", the most commonly-asked questions are "Are your parents still back there?" and, oddly, "Are they still together?"

My answer is inevitably "As far as I know," bringing quizzical looks to faces and cracking open an unexpected nest of unwelcome conversation killers.

Are they alive? Are they still in Syracuse? In the same house? Together? As far as I know. I have no reason to believe otherwise.

If I ever really cared to verify their status, of course I could always just call. I could have stopped by while I was in Syracuse for Christmas. My sister could have checked in with them. But after a lifetime of alternating abuse and neglect, neither one of us have any desire to have anything to do with them.

And if they had wanted to have anything to do with us, they would have called. They would have sent something in the mail.

But now five(ish) years, later, we've both disconnected our home telephone lines, moved to different cities (my sister, twice), and forged our own parentless lives. I rarely think about my parents unless someone else brings them up, mostly because I've embedded myself into a new family that actually loves me and isn't shy about saying it - something I didn't think would happen until I'd snagged myself some in-laws, which is taking longer than expected.

So upon the passing of another year, the anniversary becomes more and more of a celebration rather than simply a commemoration. As I meet new people, whose fallen faces express pity over my broken family, my parents' abortion of their adult child, I have to try to convince them that this is a good thing. My unloving parents, unto whom I was born, did me a favor by releasing me, making me available for those who would really love me to snap me up.

Pity my parents. They have to live the rest of their lives (whatever is left of them) without their own children, and no loving surrogate children to replace them.

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January 28, 2012

A Year in LA

Yesterday was my one year anniversary of living in LA.

I'm renewing my apartment lease.

I renewed my car registration.

I renewed my renter's and automotive insurance.

And so begins another year in LA.

I guess some people who move here - especially from New York - don't make it this long. I wasn't sure I would, having been up for an HSN hosting gig that would've moved me to Florida less than four months' into my residency here. But when I lost my job, and everyone asked if I would return to New York, I simply said, "Uh, NO...."

Even still, even now, people - from both NY and LA - seem surprised. "Do you miss New York?" they ask.

"I miss my friends terribly," I say. "But I don't miss New York."

"So would you ever consider moving back?"

"Uh, I don't think so."

Will I stay in LA forever? I don't know. Maybe after 14 years alone in LA I will have had enough and will want to move onto another city, another country, another life.

But for right now, I still feel new in town. It took me three years before I felt like NYC was really home. I don't know when I'll feel like I belong in LA, maybe never.

But regardless, it's where I live now, and where I'll live for the next year.

Unless the Universe has other plans for me. And that, I do not yet know.

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Photo Essay: Red Rock Canyon, Nevada

I took a trip to Vegas last weekend to tag along on one of the popular monthly tours of the Nevada Test Site, which I had to book months in advance and unfortunately on a Tuesday, necessitating a few days off from work.

After griping about not getting Martin Luther King Jr. Day off, and anticipating no President's Day off, I was grateful for a little post-Christmas vacation.

But being a not-very-Vegasy Vegas traveler, besides the test site tour, I wasn't really sure what I was going to do while in Vegas. After all, most of my trips there have been on business, during which I've been stranded on the Strip carless, shackled to my hotel casino.

Once I got to Vegas Saturday night (after an uneventful stay at the Hooters Casino), all I could think about was getting out of Vegas.

Fortunately, like many popular getaways of the mid-20th century, Vegas is nicely situated in the middle of nowhere desert land. Although densely populated and commercialized now, a half hour drive in any direction takes you out into the wilderness, and to the northwest: Red Rock Canyon.

Red Rock is probably one of the best-maintained Bureau of Land Management sites I've ever visited, with clear signs off the main road, a large visitor's center (with multiple bathrooms), and a paved scenic drive loop that takes you through the park, past all of the overlooks and trailheads.

It also takes you by some desert tortoise crossings...

...and wild burros, grazing their way off the shoulder.

Of course some people just drive through Red Rock Canyon (as I would've been apt to do four or five years ago), but between two visits in four days, I got out of the car and meandered along four different trails, including...

Calico Tanks

(where the moderate trail seemed to end at a big pile of red rocks, prompting me to turn around and go back)

Pine Creek Canyon, site of an ancient pine forest

(which featured ruins of an old homestead)

Lost Creek

(which required some pretty unfamiliar bouldering from me)

On my final hike in Red Rock, towards the end of daylight on Wednesday, an hour before I was supposed to start driving back to LA, my hiking date (a local who I'd only just met three days before) led me deep into Ice Box Canyon, whose temperature reflected its name. I didn't take any pictures, mostly because I was trying to keep up with my fellow hiker whose familiarity with the path allowed him to hike at a pretty fast clip. And I started to wonder why I'd agreed to hike with a complete stranger, out into the middle of nowhere, surrounded by no one, with nothing but rocks to echo my own screams back at me. Alone, I usually worry about getting lost, but with this other person, who knew his way well around the canyon, I worried about never coming back. My inner New Yorker took inventory of my hiking pack - car keys, ID, Blackberry - and wondered what might be taken or used against me, what might be left to identify my discarded body should something go terribly wrong.

But in the cold box of the canyon, we sat on a rock and rested, sweat cooling my hot, worried forehead, breathing slowing. It was quiet, though I thought I could hear a distant creek, one of the many lost creeks of Red Rock.

I waited to see what would happen.

My date got up and faced me.

"Ready to go?" he asked, as he held out his hand.

I scrambled up off the rock on my own. "OK..."

A quick hug and a kiss later, and we hiked back to my car before the sun dipped behind the mountain.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
Photo Essay: Joshua Tree's Pine City

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January 25, 2012

Photo Essay: Pinball Hall of Fame, Vegas (Updated for 2024)

[Last updated 5/4/24 11:59 AM PT—In 2021, the Pinball Hall of Fame moved to its new location on South Las Vegas Boulevard, just south of the Vegas Strip. See the bottom of this post for some new photos.]

I'm like a bird.

Or a cat.

I like shiny things.

And bells and whistles.

And flashing lights.

This attraction leads me to amusement parks, Times Square, Hollywood Blvd, arcades, and Vegas, which is full of all of those things.

Vegas' Pinball Hall of Fame is billed as sort of a roadside attraction - a museum of oddities - but really it's just an arcade full of old pinball machines (and some video games) from the last several decades, dating back at least to the 1960s, maybe earlier.


And with enough quarters, you can play almost all of them.

January 24, 2012

Photo Essay: Fremont Street Experience, Vegas (Updated for 2019)

[Last Updated 5/2/19 10:50 PM PT—New photos added, details updated]

When I first visited Las Vegas in the late 90s - dragged there by my friend Tony who abandoned me when I got sick on our trip, leaving me shivering with chills under the covers in our room while he galavanted around town, not even spending the night in our hotel - I couldn't figure out where the Vegas I'd seen on TV and in the movies was.

circa 2019

Back then, the Sands was still open, as were many of the other soon-to-be-imploded "Old Vegas" resorts, including one nearby with a mechanical bull, which I gazed at wistfully through the window of our hotel room at the Stratosphere.

circa 2019

But even back then, Vegas seemed

circa 2019

Now, in the advent of Steve Wynn's Vegas takeover, glimpses of that old Vegas - predating my first visit - are hard to find, but not impossible.

And one of the best places to find Old Vegas is downtown, on Fremont East...

...starting more or less at the El Cortez Hotel...

...past Oscar's Martini neon...

...and the rotating high-heeled shoe from the Silver Slipper Gambling Hall...

circa 2019

...right down to the Fremont Street Experience...

...where you can walk without traffic or whizz by the still-lit neon and incandescent bulb signs on a zipline.

There, you can also see some of the costumed characters you find on The Strip or on Hollywood Boulevard...

...who are somehow so much more charming on Fremont Street.

One of the main Vegas landmarks that I never found on that first trip—and took me years to find—was "Vegas Vic," the waving cowboy and unofficial mascot of Las Vegas.

But there he was—right there on Fremont Street—at the Pioneer Club (or the Famous Pioneer, or both), right alongside an Elvis impersonator and what appeared to be a two-person gospel choir.

Viva Las Vegas indeed.

relocated to The Neon Museum Boneyard main gallery

The neon signs that were preserved and relit by The Neon Museum and once on display on Fremont...

relocated to The Neon Museum Boneyard main gallery

...have since been moved to the Museum campus...

relocated to The Neon Museum Boneyard main gallery

...some of which are still lit up in the boneyard...

relocated to The Neon Museum Boneyard main gallery

...others of which have gone dark (at least temporarily).

Some new signs have actually been added...

...though the Trader Bill's neon has been covered and arrow painted blue by the building's new tenant, White Castle.

And the Golden Goose (circa 1974)—like the Las Vegas Club and (Topless Girls of Glitter Gulch) on either side of it—are altogether gone, forever. All three (plus a couple other neighboring businesses) were demolished in 2017.

Related posts:
Photo Essay: Waking Up in Vegas (On Fremont Street)
Photo Essay: Neon Boneyard At Night

January 21, 2012

Photo Essay: The Mysteries of Brand Park in Historic Glendale

What draws me to any trail?

Usually, it's some sense of history.

Which there is plenty of in LA.

Airplane parties were numerous in the days of private flying, and Miradero, the estate of Leslie Brand - who had a strong hand in the establishment of the city of Glendale, just east of Los Angeles - was central to the era of private flying parties. Brand had his own airfield on his private property - just south of the mansion and estate which now constitutes Brand Library in Brand Park - but his estate was also situated close to the old Grand Central, one of the many now-defunct municipal airfields of Los Angeles County.

Climbing the trails behind Brand Library, you can see some of the remnants of those private flying days, most notably a light beacon, perhaps having served Brand's airfield, perhaps Grand Central.

But there are plenty of other mysteries surrounding the old Brand estate, including some post-Brand city of Glendale developments whose vestiges litter the historic trails.

When hiking behind the library, I discovered some concrete footings that reminded me of the remnants of the Corralitas Red Car Property in Silver Lake, which would have been bizarre given the elevation of the Verdugo Mountains back there (although apparently there once was a plan to build a funicular in the Verdugos...).

Most certainly there hadn't been another incline railway here, but Glendale does have plenty of rail history...

...And Brand himself (the man often referred to as "The Father of Glendale") had been instrumental in a lot of the railway development in the city of Glendale, where one of the Pacific Electric lines used to end.

So then...what?

The Parks Department thinks that they look like remnant from some old water line components left over after the systems have been demolished over the years. Apparently, long gone are the water tanks and other piping servicing some of the improvements below, but concrete items like these would have been left behind because they were too heavy to move and wouldn't have had any scrap value.

And there are some pipes still up there.

The interesting thing is, no one really seems to know.

"That's Glendale..." said the librarian I visited at Brand Library.

Down below, along the fire road that becomes the Brand Motorway past the Debris Basin, you can find plenty of other ruins - your garden variety stairs-to-nowhere from once-razed structures, etc.

Equally mysterious is the Brand Cemetery, which was once the family's dog cemetery while they still resided at Miradero, and where the family is now laid to rest. The cemetery - and the pyramid-shaped headstone - lie behind a locked gate amidst the ruins...

There is a graffitied shed (reminiscent of Murphy Ranch) that historians speculate could have once served as a meat locker...

But what the heck is this boat doing there?

For now, much of it remains a mystery.

But that doesn't mean I'll stop trying to figure it out...

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