September 26, 2012

Back to Bakersfield

So far, my least favorite towns in Southern California have been Barstow and Bakersfield, both in the high Mojave Desert, sharing a common feeling of poverty, listlessness, and urban desolation.

So why would I go back? Because there's always more to explore.

As the county seat of Kern County, of course Bakersfield hosts the annual Kern County Fair, one of the neighboring county fairs I had not yet attended. It seemed reason enough to drive two hours north and back in my rental minivan just to check it out, but fortunately there was plenty I hadn't seen during my last trip to Bakersfield just over a year ago, including the Wind Wolves Preserve with its tall grasses...

...the riverside bike path with its industrial relics, under bridges and past oil fields...

...the Kern County Museum, a kind of graveyard for historic structures, steam engines, cabooses, and neon signs of the area...

...and, of course, the fair itself.

It didn't have the newest rides, the brightest lights, or the splashiest entertainment.

But it did have one good ferris wheel from which to watch an incredible sunset...

...and somehow, that was worth the two-hour drive to me.

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Photo Essay: Surfridge, LAX's Beachside Ghost Town, Part 3

[Last updated 8/16/21 4:59 PM PT—video embed added at bottom of post]

...continued from Parts One and Two...

The last time I visited Surfridge, I made it as far as Sandpiper Street, its last remaining street with an actual sign that's not fenced off. Although currently blocked to traffic, and prohibits pedestrians, it's not exactly closed.

Per se.

But because I cut through Sandpiper, there remained a whole chunk of Surfridge I hadn't seen: the section that lies closest to LAX, bordered by the Imperial Highway.

Because I was certain there must be a way in—a way in to see nothing, because really there is nothing left to see—I had to go back. I am a completionist.

September 24, 2012

Photo Essay: Planespotting at Santa Monica Airport

With no access to a car, I missed the space shuttle Endeavour fly over LA.

It's the kind of event that only happens every 10, 20, 40 years.

And I missed it.

And I'm pretty sure it flew right over me. Though, in my two-story building with no roof access, I don't know how I would've seen it.

And I spent all day on the phone trying to get a car, any car.

So this past weekend, with a rental car at my disposal, I had the sky on my mind as much as I did the road.

Though no comparison to space travel, I decided to explore LA's history in aeronautics at the Santa Monica Airport (otherwise known as Clover Field), from which the first flight to ever circumnavigate the globe took off (and returned). It predates LAX (and its predecessor, Miller Field), and it shares in LA's aviation history with the nearby Hughes Aircraft Company Campus and the long-decommissioned Venice airstrip.

Santa Monica Airport has an imposed weight limit, so you'll never see large commercial aircraft landing at or departing from its short runways, but it hosts several small, corporate and private jets (including actual lear jets) and owns and displays many historic planes. It even houses a flying school.

Once a year, the Santa Monica Airport is open to the public - to flyers and non-flyers alike - to explore its runways and aircraft, on the former Douglas Aircraft Company campus.

Here's a glimpse into what you might see:

There are houses right next to the airport (which makes you wonder where their noise abatement measures come into play), but one must remember that there used to be nothing out there. Unlike LAX and its neighboring ghost town Surfridge, in the case of Santa Monica, the airport came first, and the community built up around it.

There are no space shuttles at Santa Monica Airport. But it has seen its share of historic events, and as a visitor, I feel like I caught a glimpse into its past, and didn't miss out on entirely everything that has taken to the skies of LA.

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September 22, 2012

Breaking Point

I reached my breaking point this week.

I'd gone exactly two weeks without a car (excepting the two days I'd rented one to go to The Cat House), and by Thursday, I'd had enough.

Sure, I was able to get around, on foot and by bus, if I had to. I could get my hair done, attend Tuesdays @ 9, make my audition, hustle on over to Hollywood for my Mortified debut, and even hitch a ride home with a couple friends. But despite the freedom of having no job to commute to every day, I was reticent to make any other plan that wasn't necessary. Could I get there? How long would it take? How many busses would it take? How sweaty would I be when I arrived?

Was it worth it?

By Thursday, I was in full-on hermit mode. If I was going to be ready to be picked up for dinner by 5 p.m., how could I possibly go anywhere or do anything? Even a jaunt to Echo Park takes all day.

And in a fit of classic post-show depression, the denouement from the prior evening's performance high, I didn't really want to do anything.

At least, not without a car.

I called home to tell my adoptive family how the show went, but inevitably the conversation came back to my car. (Having a car in Syracuse is probably even more essential than in LA.) My surrogate mom urged me, "You have been nice for too long. You've got to get that car back."

"Uh huh. Uh huh. I know. Uh huh."

"You can do this, Sandi. Bring that same attitude you have at work..."

"Uh huh." I knew she was right, but I hadn't wanted to fight. It's not what I moved to California for. "I just feel so helpless and desperate..." I groaned.

"You're not! You're NOT."

"I know."

I'd been so focused on proving that I could survive in LA without a car - which I could, but didn't really want to - that I'd shifted all of my efforts there, rather than in advocating for myself, to make sure my car was repaired in a reasonable period of time (which it hasn't) and to defend my right to actually have access to vehicle.

It turns out, I could only (and just barely) last two weeks. Two weeks was my breaking point.

So I started making calls. At first, I started registering complaints against the body shop, Auto Body Masters in Culver City, just to feel like I was doing something. But any investigations launched by the Bureau of Automotive Repair or the Better Business Bureau would take weeks in and of themselves, and my situation would probably be resolved by then anyway. If it wasn't, I could take them to Small Claims Court, but as I know from past experience, that can take years.

Then I posted a satisfyingly negative review on Yelp.

The next day, I toggled between making calls and crying in bed. I called Allstate, who claimed, "We just cut the checks." I called AAA (which recommends Auto Body Masters as a repair facility), who couldn't or refused to help and sent me back to Allstate.  I called my Honda dealership every two hours, hoping they had some influence over Auto Body Masters, their preferred body shop. Finally, I called Honda corporate, begging for help, bemoaning the lack of response from my dealership. After all, I was paying to lease a car I had not been able to drive for the last six weeks. I was paying for automotive insurance that I was unable to use for the last two weeks.

I had in invoke my inner New Yorker. I began pronouncing words like "cawl" and "wawk" and "fawlt" in some subconscious act of cultural aggression and verbal assertion. It, too, was something I could do, but didn't want to. I don't want to be a New Yorker in California. I want to be Californian.

Finally, I called Auto Body Masters and, once again, pleaded my case. "You have to fast-track this car repair. You can't fix any other cars before mine. You have to get this done as quickly as possible."

"We are, we are, that's happening."

"I am losing my mind."

It turns out, it took me approaching a total mental breakdown and clinical insanity to get the body shop to secure a rental for me at their expense. People will push you as far as they can until you break, run away, or fight back. ("It ain't about how hard you can hit. It's about how hard you can hit and keep moving forward.")

Sometimes the best way to fight - or maybe to win - is to let yourself lose your mind, alert your opponent, and let them back down.

After all, after you've lost your mind, you've got nothing else to lose. And no one wants to fight someone who's got nothing to lose.

Related Post:
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September 18, 2012

In Captivity

I guess I've always felt like a caged animal.

My earliest memory is in my crib, gripping the protective bars like a prison door, wanting to get out.

I spent my entire childhood, desperately seeking a way out.

Ironically, once I graduated to a bed without bars, I repeatedly would fall out of it while sleeping, most times not even waking up when I hit the floor.

As I got older and my relationship with my parents worsened, they often exiled me to a hot attic in the middle of summer, for hours, as punishment usually for something I didn't do.

Even worse, they wouldn't ever let me sleep, change my clothes, take a bath, or go to the toilet with the door closed - the only times I would have desired such enclosure.

Now, as an adult, despite my reticence to share any commonality with my mother's phobic nature, I get claustrophobic easily. By the time I left New York, I felt its high-rises and subway doors closing in on me, too tightly, too emphatically. In past jobs, I've often referred to my office as "my cage." The same could be said for my apartment. The worst punishment for me is to be stuck in there all day, all by myself.

So as much as I love to visit animals at zoos, farms, fairs, and bird and animal sanctuaries, it really bothers me to see livestock in a pen, chickens in a coop, horses in a stall. Zoos often rehabilitate injured and/or lost wildlife, but what happens to them if they are not, then, set free? If endangered, they are kept to forcibly breed and ensure the survival of the species? And then what?

It's not that I think that every creature should roam free - there are enough perils that greet our local mountain lions who find themselves crossing the 405 freeway in search of food - but what kind of life is there to lead in captivity?

I was reminded of my own struggles with being held captive as a child during a recent visit to the Exotic Feline Breeding Compound's Feline Conservation Center, colloquially dubbed "The Cat House," in the Mojave Desert just north of Los Angeles. The Cat House is run by a non-profit dedicated to the protection and preservation of the world's most endangered felines, and studies show that the life expectancy of these wild cats is far greater in captivity than out in the wild.

But during the day, especially when it's hot, these leopards, jaguars, cougars and tigers just sit there. If they emerge, they pace back and forth, as spectators like me gawk at them, waiting for them to do something. They appear restless, and, at times, disaffected.

We visit them at twilight, because this is when they're most active, but still, they don't really do anything. Volunteers toss cardboard boxes into the cages as "enrichment items" to get them to play. The boxes are presently stomped upon and torn to shreds, as are the whole watermelons gingerly deposited into the cages as snacks.

Once the boxes and the melons are obliterated, then what? There is nothing left to do. Unless they're lucky enough to also have a phone book to turn to and tear apart.

I'm pretty sure my parents held me captive in their house to protect me from the dangers of the outside world: skinned knees, twisted ankles, strangers, dirt and deathly disease. But, kept inside all day, I was pale and sickly, weak and fearful, fat and overfed, socialized only with a legion of stuffed animals, my sole companions. My fingertips pruned under dishwater and bathwater. My nostrils burned under the fumes of harsh cleaning fluids.

I often thought I would be better off in the wild, exposed to the elements (and all that "night air"). I repeatedly considered running away from home to escape my imperiled life on the inside, bruised easily and visibly by my mother's angry whollops. Eventually, after years of my fruitless deliberation, my parents made the decision for me, casting me out of the house with the suggestion that I find "somewhere else to sleep." It was the best thing they ever did for me, in the 18 years since my birth.

And once I was released, I never wanted to return to anything that reminded me of my former capture.

So it's hard for me to stay at home, for any extended period of time, alone.

It's hard for me not to drive.

It terrifies me to stay inside for too long.

And yet, it is so familiar, and somehow so easy. I spent half of my life as a prisoner. I know captivity as well as I know freedom, perhaps better. After all, there is less to know inside the cage than outside of it.

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September 16, 2012

The Island of Misfit Toy

There is only one time in my life I ever remember feeling like I belonged: during (most of) my seven years working at a company called Razor & Tie. I always referred to it as "The Island of Misfit Toys" because its staff was mostly comprised of whip-smart, charming, and somewhat idiosyncratic folk who would never fit in at a traditional record label. But somehow, together, the core group who stuck around for more than a year or two - myself included - all were in sync, despite our wild differences.

I've been kind of lost since I left Razor & Tie.

I've been looking for the same camaraderie amongst the companies and clients I've worked with for the last two and a half years since, but haven't found it. I hold that quality of teamwork and collaboration we had in the highest esteem. It has set the bar very high for my future career endeavors.

But career aside, I am still a misfit, and always have been. In high school, I tried to fit in with various groups - the dirtbags, the metalheads, the geeks, the popular kids - but even when I embedded myself in the drama department, successfully getting cast in a variety of musicals and plays, I was always on the periphery. My mother never let me stay for late rehearsals. She never let me go to cast parties. I had to beg to even audition. I was an oddity among oddities.

And now, having moved to LA at such an advanced age, and left my friends and family back in New York, I am facing my own oddball nature more than ever.

My preexisting LA friends are busy. They're working. They're married, or cohabitating. They're parenting. It's important.

Sure, I can try to supplement them. Fortunately, with no punishments or curfews holding me back as an adult, I can seek out and pursue a whole world of new social groups into which I can try insinuate. So over the course of the 20+ months since moving to LA, I have tried mingling with a variety of groups with whom I'm certain to have something in common. There have been the naturalists. The bikers. The hikers. The sailors. The architects. The Art Deco enthusiasts. The foodies and the homebrewers. The historians. The preservationists. The environmentalists. The nostalgists. The lovers. The ghost-hunters. The dearly departed. Not to mention the actors/screenwriters/directors - but that's just about everybody in LA, at least a little bit.

I am alone - and lonely - amongst all of them.

And now I realize: I have found my island - but I'm the only misfit toy on it. If I can't find another (more populated) island to hop to, I've got to find some other toys who want to come join me on mine.

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September 14, 2012

This Pedestrian Life

In the English language, the word "pedestrian" has two very distinct meanings: both on foot, and prosaic, dull. In the late 18th century, they were used practically interchangeably, because walking was considered, perhaps, common. Since then, walking has transformed from a mode of transportation to a recreational activity (hiking, which has recently resurged in popularity though not to the extent of its Golden Age in the late 19th century) and to a present-day Olympic sport (racewalking). A friend of a friend has walked back and forth between LA and Boston several times. People have walked across the entire U.S. and (more or less) all around the world. Fundraisers walk for charity, and in memory of those they've lost (to cancer, AIDS, and other illnesses).

I simply walk because I can. I walk to get to the other side.

Walking is decidedly uncommon in LA.

Yet, since my car won't be released from the repair shop until at least the end of next week, I have been relegated to exploring LA on foot (and by bus) for another week.

Although not dull, it is getting a little tiresome for me.

But it's also getting easier.

I recall that walking three miles in Manhattan was a relatively regular occurrence for me, inappropriately shod, without sunblock or water, either as a replacement for hiking after returning from Joshua Tree, or merely as an alternative to going to the gym.

But Los Angeles is a very different city.

As a pedestrian, it's difficult to figure out how to enter some of LA's buildings from the street level, on foot. Malls, shopping centers, and grocery stores are often built around a parking garage, which has no pedestrian entrance, requiring a bit of investigative ambling to reveal a course for entry.

I arrive, face dripping, back soaked, breathless and beaming. "How are you?" the clerk or hostess asks cordially, perfunctorily, cringing at me as I head into a dressing room or onto a barstool declaring, "I'm great! I walked!"

I've always been the odd walker in LA, sparing myself a drunk drive home or a rage-inducing search for street parking when I can. In my car, I almost always stop 0.2 miles away from my destination and pull into the first parking spot I can find, foregoing the potential rock star spot right in front of my destination. (My fellow Angelenos are aghast at this technique.) But now that I have no recourse other than to walk, I've lengthened my distances and loosened my itineraries. I leave early and take my time, meandering into random storefronts, examining menus of new restaurants and bars, planning for future excursions along the same path.

You can't do that in a car. (Though, in truth, I have been known to unsafely pull over at the last minute because something has caught my eye...)

You can't pet the dogs out for their afternoon walks in a car.

But I don't like experiencing LA in a way that's reminiscent of New York. I want LA, not New York. But the familiarity of walking (and taking public transportation) has made this (temporary) adjustment easier for me than it would be, I think, for a California native, or for anyone from any other road-reliant community.

I know that I can do this, for a while. I don't want to, but I can.

What is there that I can't do? I haven't figured that one out yet. I just keep trying....

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September 13, 2012

Photo Essay: Surfridge, LAX's Beachside Ghost Town - Part Two

...Continued from Part One...

When I got to Sandpiper Street, the only non-fenced street that runs through Surfridge, I hadn't walked around the entire perimeter of the LAX-bordering ghost town yet, but I chose to stop and walk through the town rather than proceed farther south along the border of the airport. After all, this was probably going to be my only way in.

September 09, 2012

Day Two Without Driving

People always joke that "nobody walks in LA."

But why is that?

Is it because the city is just too huge to navigate on foot? Is it possible that nowhere you'd want to go is within walking distance?

There are some incredibly walkable areas in LA - Los Feliz, Silverlake, West Hollywood, Mid-Wilshire - but typically, those neighborhoods only allow you to walk around within their own perimeters, and not from one area to another.

In fact, based on the way the cities of the Greater Los Angeles metropolitan area were built, it can be very difficult to be a pedestrian. And, in some cases, it's nearly impossible to walk safely.

Today I chose to walk two and a half miles each way in an out-and-back to the movie theater in Century City, a destination that's within easy walking distance from home. This time, I would only be traveling through two cities (as opposed to yesterday's four): Beverly Hills and Los Angeles, since Century City isn't actually its own city. If one can trust modern cartography, it's a straight shot from home, all the way down Santa Monica Boulevard. A walker coming from my street shouldn't have to navigate their way over there; they should just keep walking. Right?


Like a typical hike along a river or a creek, with several water crossings where the trail just ends and picks up on the other side, the appearances of sidewalks along the north and south sides of Santa Monica Boulevard are spotty at best. There are some lovely gardens on the north side of the boulevard near the eastern boundary of Beverly Hills where I live, but once you get to Wilshire at the Beverly Hilton, pedestrians are forbidden. You have to cross Santa Monica over to the south side in order to cross Wilshire at all, but if you stay on the south side, you are imperiled. Past Wilshire, the south side's sidewalk narrows greatly along a line of cypress trees, and then disappears altogether where North Santa Monica Boulevard and South Santa Monica Boulevard converge, necessitating some median-hopping and Frogger-like maneuvering without aid of crosswalks, traffic lights or yield or stop signs.

There is another choice: after crossing the Santa Monica / Wilshire intersection, if you then double back to the north side of Santa Monica from the south side, you get a nice, long stretch of uninterrupted sidewalk all the way to Century City. Only problem? Getting back across Santa Monica, which, at Century City, becomes as wide as the Sargasso Sea, with multiple lanes of traffic moving in both directions around a central bus/transit lane. A crosswalk is hard to find, and without one, a pedestrian becomes likely roadkill.

On the way back home at dusk, the north side of Santa Monica - though walkable - is poorly lit, particularly at the gardens area, where the sidewalk becomes a dirt path that winds its way far from the street lights and traffic, in a worrisome, darkened area ripe for a surprise attack. Instead of following it, I gripped my pepper spray and walked through the grass by the curb, ready to jump out into traffic if approached by anyone. (I think South Santa Monica Boulevard may be a better option in the dark in either direction...)

Given my experience today, it is no wonder that I saw few other LA walkers along the same path. Although today's (relatively) easy excursion was worth the trip, maybe I'll just stay in my neighborhood tomorrow...

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Somebody to Love

Five or so years ago, I spurned Phil's advances once, telling him, "I'm tired of being convenient."

It was true: I was tired of being the only one who returned his calls at 5 a.m. But I wasn't tired of spending time with him, and I soon allowed myself to be seduced by him again. Immediately thereafter.

Dating in New York is all about convenience. In 2001, I hooked up for a while with a cute Irish construction worker who lived in Maspeth, Queens - which, as the crow flies, isn't that far from Greenpoint, Brooklyn, but with no car and a minimum of two busses to get there, the hour and a half commute got to me. I was plenty convenient for him, since I was the one to always go over there, but I ended it after a couple of months. It was just too hard, for too little payoff.

I think a lot of long-term relationships (regardless of where) arise out of convenience and proximity: you work together, you're neighbors, you have mutual friends, you're classmates, you frequent the same bar. Constant, repeated impressions finally sell the product successfully, and once you're together, it's just too much of a pain to break up and find somebody else.

But in LA, nobody is that close to anybody. If you want to be with someone, you have to work harder for it.

But somehow I've found myself convenient again. A person I've been seeing somewhat regularly but not seriously has taken to sending me late night text messages that read something like "I don't want to be alone" and "I would love someone here with me." Even if they wake me up, I've taken to ignoring them.

I don't want to be just someone. If you're looking for anybody, anywhere, keep looking. I want to be wanted for who I am, not because I'm there (or I can get there more quickly than others).

Find another hole.

Despite my bleak track record in the romance department, I do think it's possible for someone to choose me. On occasion, I have been admired by lovers and friends and distant acquaintances and classmates who are vocal in their adulation of me, and so I know that it is possible that I may fascinate someone. It is possible that they may think I am an amazing woman.

Will they love me? Well, that's a different story.

But I guess I can hold out hope, and not share my cookies with just anybody. After all, I'm not looking for just anybody. And I'm not looking for just somebody to love. I've loved plenty.

It's time to be loved back.

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First Day on Foot

My starting point: Venice Blvd. and South Robertson Blvd, Culver City

I returned my rental car yesterday. My car is still being fixed. I have chosen to be carless for an undetermined amount of time.

I was wildly agitated upon my arrival to Enterprise in Culver City, vocally aghast at the lack of parking spaces, at being asked to move my illegally parked car (twice), and at the disappearance of the attendant. I was behaving badly, reminiscent of the last time I had to face the possible separation from my vehicle.

"Oh you're not picking up your car from the dealership?" the clerk asked, when she finally attended to me.

"No, I'm walking five miles home."

"Well, I'm open 'til 6 p.m. if you have some errands you want to run first..."

I tsked and sighed, explaining that Allstate had instructed me to return the car by noon, and then staring blankly at her.

"Just...take the car now..." I had already mentally prepared myself for its return as best as I could. When someone breaks up with you, you don't want them to linger, you just want them to go, so you can start figuring out how to go on with your life without them.

As I walked away from the rental office, receipt in hand, I burst into tears, wincing from behind my aviator sunglasses. As a hiker, a five mile walk home wasn't so daunting, but I immediately recalled my days in junior high and high school, begging for rides from my teachers, friends and their parents, taking the bus when I could, but mostly being stuck at home. More than once during college Christmas breaks, I was nearly stranded at Shoppingtown Mall, working extended holiday hours past the time the Centro bus stopped running.

One June day in 1993 or 94, I was grounded for the entire summer, and my sister had refused to let me participate in her birthday celebration. So, with nothing to do, and no one to come home to, I decided to walk home from work in Downtown Syracuse, about four miles. It was summer, with plenty of daylight left, but as I left behind the dowtown derelicts, I secretly hoped to be attacked or abducted. I felt punished and helpless. That was one of the loneliest days of my life.

All those feelings of abandonment and desperation came rushing back to me in an instant. Everything I've done over the last 20 years to liberate myself from the shackles of my youth and the grip of my parents seemed to dissolve in the ether.

Not yet ready to embark on my journey home - because what would I do once I got there? - I stayed in Culver City awhile and went to the movies. I got brunch, skipping the booze because it costs the same as a day's car rental. I got coffee. And finally, at 2:30 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon, I set off on my journey.

It's actually a straight shot up Robertson from Culver City, under the 10 Freeway and through a neighborhood I've discovered has been coined "SoRo" (South Robertson), then Beverlywood, Beverly Hills and Los Angeles (across the street from each other), West Hollywood, and back to Beverly Hills. At first, my trek seemed, in some ways, wilder than any of my hikes. There were few other trekkers on the urban trail of concrete and blacktop, and nearly everyone I passed who wasn't in a car was either on a bike or headed to or from their car.

Walking up South Robertson - a street I've driven up and down several times to and from Culver City - provided constant discoveries of abandoned storefronts, stretches of thriving industry (upholstery!), historic-looking buildings (a Masonic temple!), and tiny ethnic eateries. I soon forgot about my distress and enjoyed the adventure as though it were just another hike, but one of a very different kind: not a loop, not an out-and-back, and not a one-way with a car shuttle. Just a one way.

I thought about the next few days - with nothing really planned for Sunday and Monday, and plans for Tuesday night in a familiar area that seems easily reached via bus - and the task of surviving in LA without a car seemed surmountable. Not easy, but doable.

I got through the first day, at least, unscathed: no blisters, no sunburn, and only one solicitor tried to sneakily sell me magazines. "I got no money..." I said, as I walked away.

Did I feel safe? Not really. But I never really feel safe on the trail. And at least I knew I wouldn't get lost. This time.

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September 08, 2012

Photo Essay: Surfridge, LAX's Beachside Ghost Town—Part One

Unlike Sunken City, Surfridge is an LA area ghost town that fell victim neither to the landscape of a coastal town nor to natural disaster, but to the accelerated growth of a major metropolitan area and the infrastructural expansion necessary to accommodate its ever-growing population.

Life Off the Road

As of today, my car has been in the repair shop (actually, two repair shops) for a month.

As of today, I have reached the limit of my 30-day car rental, covered by my insurance. They refuse to extend it past the contractual time period dictated by my policy, despite my repeated phone calls to multiple claims representatives and their managers.

I begged for mercy from my dealership's service center, which normally provides a free car rental during repairs. I tried to get a rental from them a month ago when I deposited my car there, but they told me to take the insurance rental instead. Now, after having repaired my car for two weeks, my time is up, and I am without a car.

The body shop refuses to cover a car rental, though they offered to call Enterprise and see if they could "work something out" for me. I can only imagine that would entail a discount off the $30/day rate which Allstate has covered for the last 30 days, but honestly, I could probably do better on Hotwire.

But without employment, I simply cannot justify the expense of even $12/day when I don't have a daily commute and no obligations compel me to drive. At this point, my travels are purely recreational. It's been so hard to justify the cost of gas, which has rocketed up to $4.20/gallon, that I've come to only fill the Toyota Camry's enormous tank halfway at any given time.

So, with no other recourse, and without unlimited funds, I've decided sacrifice the liberation of driving everywhere and try living in LA without a car. For a week. Maybe two. We'll see how long it takes to fix my car. We'll see how long I last.

For now, I'm taking it one day at a time. I've cancelled my Orange County adventure for the day. I can go some other time. I can walk five miles home from the car rental place. Though they probably could shuttle me home, I'm going to take advantage of being in the area and enjoy Culver City for the day. I could take public transportation today, but it's a straight shot home along a familiar way, and in the absence of a day hiking, I have chosen to hoof it along the city sidewalks, under the 10 Freeway, hydration pack on my back, pepper spray in hand.

I'm already feeling the separation anxiety, the onset of home-bound panic. There is a whole world out there waiting to be experienced and learned, but it will just have to wait a week. Or two.

I can always rent a car next week. I can always rent a car on Monday.

Anyway, I miss my car. This giant rental has been a poor replacement for it, and it has become an albatross that renders me constantly anxious behind the wheel, uncharacteristically driving under the speed limit, laboriously cranking the steering wheel to wind around corners, refusing to parallel park in any space smaller than a mack truck - and God forbid on a hill. Certainly I am still traumatized by the events which led to my wrecked car needing six weeks' worth of repairs, and driving an unfamiliar, unwieldy, burdensome boat has not helped calm my nerves. I worry about impacting everything around me. I worry about being hit.

Maybe I need to walk for a while.

Maybe friends will want to hang out with me and will be willing to come pick me up.

Maybe I have all I need within a five mile walking and a ten mile biking radius.

Maybe I should just stay in one place for a while.

We'll see how it goes...

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September 06, 2012

Photo Essay: A Day at the Rancho, A Step Back in Time

There are these little pockets in LA where you can catch a glimpse into the past, where time has almost stood still despite the huge, encroaching, surrounding metropolis that has become the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area. Sometimes, you can get away from freeways, concrete and industry to find a spot of quietude in the wilderness of an urban park, or at an urban farm, at a cemetery or inside some old, preserved home.

Near Long Beach, there remains the last of one of five ranchos that was partitioned out from an original Spanish Land Grant of 300,000 acres: Rancho Los Alamitos, which now provides modern day access to a tiny sliver of LA's ranching history, tucked away in a tremendously developed, populated area (unlike the ranches of, say, the Santa Monica Mountains, which are still pretty much out in the wild). Named after the area's native cottonwood trees, Rancho Los Alamitos used to be quite huge - extending across 25,000 acres into present-day Orange County - but over time its perimeter has shrunken, now occupying a mere 7.5 acres.

The sprawling rancho - comprised of  multiple buildings of the working ranch, housing for the workers, and school for their children - has contracted, and although many of the buildings were relocated as the city crowded in, and were placed into historically inaccurate locations, they've recently been restored and put back into functionally appropriate places, though now much closer together than they ever were before.

Only five of the original barns - which have been restored and repainted - remain, including a feed barn which is still in use.

In fact, the ranch retains a bit of its original feel, with a couple of adult horses (and a napping baby horse)...

...and chickens.

There are lots of vestiges of the old ranch, including some rusty old equipment for shoeing horses...

...and lampposts...

...but one of the two main attractions to the property is the original 19th Century adobe house, which the Bixby family renovated extensively and built major additions upon. You can still witness its incredibly thick walls, and amazingly, 90% of its decor and furnishings are original...

...including Mrs. Bixby's prized apple cider lamp.

The other highlight of the property is its historic gardens, whose landscape architecture was designed by the famed Olmsted Brothers firm (whose other famed projects included such civic designs as Central Park), but the vision of the showplace gardens was clearly that of Florence Bixby herself.

Somewhat anachronistic on a 19th century ranch whose most plentiful crop was sugar beets, these European-style gardens were so sophisticated, they could compete on the same level as those of Greystone Mansion, or even Hearst Castle.

And for Florence Bixby, the rising greenery obscured the oil derricks cropping up along the Long Beach shore, which totally destroyed her view of the ocean as the oil industry boomed in the 1930s.

Today, it's still easy to lose yourself amidst the Native, Cactus, and Rose Gardens, the Cypress Steps, and the Geranium, Oleander and Jacaranda Walks....

...forgetting all sense of time and place...

...with one path leading to another in a circuitous wander with no exit or entry in sight... times, surrounded by succulents, and at others, bamboo.

And yet, as a reminder of civilization, elegance, and society beyond the gardens, all paths somehow lead back to a central tennis court, net hanging, ready for a serve.

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September 05, 2012

Paddling Downstream

Today I kayaked the Los Angeles River for the second time this summer. I was anxious about the trip, and momentarily considered canceling it, because once again I was sleep-deprived and too exhausted to undertake the challenge of a tour double the length of the "short" course which had drained me back in July. I'd paddled so hard then, digging my oar into the upstream, slicing the water to navigate the turns, pushing myself off of rocks and the river bottom which I dragged along.

But today, when I got in the water, I felt lighter, motile. I glided along the water's surface with no effort at all, my paddle propped across my lap. When I finally dipped it into the river, I merely brushed at the surface, scooping water gently out of my way from side to side, propelling myself forward easily, quickly, silently.

"It feels a lot easier today than the last time," I told one of our guides. "Maybe I was just trying too hard last time." For a moment, I felt proud that I'd figured out the trick to effortless kayaking, and relieved that I wasn't so lacking in upper body strength.

"It's a lot easier going down river," he said. "You have to paddle pretty hard to go up."



Sometimes, when something is really important, when you're really worried about it, you try really hard. You work and lift and wince and groan and huff and sweat, just to do what you need to do, just to get where you're going.

But life doesn't always have to be so hard. I struggled through the wallet-stealing, subway-groping, sexual harrassing, pee-smelling culture of New York City for 14 years until I came to the realization that it's OK for some things come more easily.

Sometimes, you can glide downstream, and just let the current take you down while you take a moment to look all around you.

Throughout childhood, until I got to college, schoolwork came easily to me. I scrawled out lengthy essays at the last minute on Sunday nights. I rarely studied for tests. I barely read the novels or watched the movies. But I went to class, I paid attention, and I let the lessons wash over me, absorbing it all as my eyes peered out from behind my thick-lensed glasses, and my ears listened above their gold-hooped lobes.

My sister, on the other hand, agonized over her studies. She always seemed to have her nose wedged in a textbook, flanked by stacks of flash cards, pens, pencils, erasers, and highlighters. She worked hard, and she cared deeply.

We both graduated at the top of our respective classes.

My mother always criticized me for flying by the seat of my pants.

But would working harder, trying harder, have given me any more sense of accomplishment? Could I have accomplished anything more than the top percentile?

I think after a lifetime of trying to be the superlative of everything, I've learned that there's something to be said for exerting yourself just enough. Work as hard as your compensation commands. Set achievable goals. Identify actionable means of achieving them. Manage your own expectations. Avoid diminishing returns.

And for God's sake, try to enjoy yourself.

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September 04, 2012

A Round of Kissless Dates

I am perpetually perplexed.

In New York, I was plagued by men who kissed me but never took me on dates.

In LA, I am plagued by men who date me but for some reason do not kiss me.

On behalf of the kissing kind, I miss the relative promiscuity of New York.

People ask me all of the time what "Avoiding Regret" means to me, and most recently I chose to explain it as such: "If I want to kiss someone, I go in for the kiss. If they recoil, so be it. At least I know. I don't want to ever say that I've always wanted to kiss someone but never did." (This was inspired, in part, by a friend who recently closed a night out by saying, "I've always wanted to kiss you" and then planting one on me. I respected him for having the balls to do it, and so I kissed him back. I rewarded him with a good one, I thought.)

So, if a person who invited me out on a date wanted to kiss me, why wouldn't they?

And if they didn't want to kiss me, why would they invite me out on a date?

At this age, life is a ticking time bomb. Engagements happen quickly. Pregnancies abound. Jobs relocate people out of dating distance. For God's sake, what is the point of waiting?

When I was 14 years old, I bemoaned the overprotectiveness of my parents, and worried that my kissless lips would shrivel up and rot, rendering me an 80 year old spinster with no lips. After the one date I did go on in high school, my best friend asked me, "Is he a good kisser?" and I admitted, "I don't know. He didn't kiss me." I was as baffled then as I am now.

I eventually was kissed, and my lips haven't fallen into a degenerative state of disuse yet, but I wonder: without the seductive influence of alcohol, does it really take that much courage to initiate a lip-lock? Is my only hope to liquor the person up so they succumb to my advances? When we do kiss, is it because I throw myself at them as they sit, shocked and defenseless, suffocating at my mouth being mashed against theirs?

Isn't the act of kissing pleasurable enough to warrant doing it with whomever seems a willing accomplice?

There were nights in New York when I would kiss multiple people within a few hours, and now I can go weeks without being kissed.

Is that some sign of maturity, responsibility?

Adulthood be damned, let my youthful lips run wild.

Perhaps my recent companions have just been shy, carefully gauging my receptiveness before leaping forth, erring on the side of caution in avoidance of embarrassment or rejection. But to them I would say: go for it. Even if I'm not sure if I want to kiss you yet or not (hence why I haven't made the first move), I've rarely turned down an offered kiss.

After all, I'll never know if I'll like it unless I try.

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Photo Essay: Before Malibu Was Malibu

[Last updated 8/13/20 6:02 PM PT—some minor edits to text and layout]

Malibu is now known for its scenic beaches, active surf, and imposing mountains whose rocky soil gives rise to enough grapes for an entire wine industry to spring forth. Vista-seeking celebrities and socialites have flocked there since parcels were first leased to the public in the late 1920s (and still populate what's now the gated community of Malibu Colony).

But before that, Malibu secured its place in Southern California history in surprising and fascinating ways: the former native Chumash settlement became a sprawling rancho operated by May K. Rindge and her husband Frederick, who purchased it as the final owners of one of the last Spanish land grants.

Frederick preserved the integrity of his land by warding off the encroachment of the Southern Pacific Railroad with the construction of his own tiny, private railway. After his death, the Widow Rindge couldn't prevent the future Pacific Coast Highway from being built right down the middle of her prized rancho, which she was now running.

And so the pristine beachfront property, once known to the Chumash as Humaliwo ("where the surf sounds loudly"), evolved into present-day Malibu.

The Adamson House, situated at what was the center of the rancho, was originally built in 1929 not only as a vacation home for May's daughter Rhoda Rindge Adamson and her husband Merritt Huntley Adamson, but also primarily as a showcase for the tiles from the factory May founded, Malibu Potteries.

Although it only operated for six years during the heyday of California's decorative tile manufacturing before burning down in 1932, Malibu Potteries established Malibu Tile in the world of ceramics, a legacy that is being honored by several modern tile manufacturers (e.g. Malibu Tile Works, Catalina Classic Tile Co., Malibu Ceramic Works, Native Tile and Ceramics).

Neptune Fountain

But there is nothing like the original. And so, on the beach by the Malibu Lagoon at the mouth of Malibu Creek, the Adamson House stands as a reminder of what Malibu once was.

Designed by architect Stiles O. Clements with a number of Moorish influences in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, the house features decorative elements derived from Islamic art.

The original paving stones are still set in the courtyard...

...and both the interior and exterior of the house resemble a combination of a castle...

...and a ship.

There's even a turret.

But while even the windows are ornate in their design...

...including some stained glass...

...the real attraction of the Adamson House is the tile.

At the front entrance, a cacophony of broken tile pieces confuse evil sprits at the doorstep (which apparently can only travel along straight lines).

There are tiles everywhere - both inside and out - and in every style offered by Malibu Potteries at the time, including the distinctive cuerda seca style of keeping the colors from running by outlining them in black (a technique also seen in art of the Islamic world) and the cuenca method of depressing the pattern into the clay so the colors would sink in and not run into each other (also seen in Spanish tile).

Unfortunately, photos are not allowed inside the house...

...but there are plenty of tiles to be seen outside...

...lining every fountain...

...on every patio...

...and even at the poolhouse and pool... which you need a docent to give you access.

The pool, with its stunning ocean view, was constructed by combining decorative and utilitarian tiles...

...those immediately surrounding the pool's edge having a non-slip surface.

The original wooden diving board still hovers over the honeycomb tile pattern at the bottom of the 10-foot deep end... does the original ladder, which descends all ten feet down to the bottom.

It's really a shame...

...because the only light of day that the pool house ever really sees anymore is through a couple of original windows...

...and it's been a long time since any clothes hung off the rods in the outdoor laundry room.

In fact, although the Adamson House has been carefully preserved (including its furnishings, which were painstakingly catalogued and locked away during the years after Rhoda's 1962 death, after which the State of California leased the property to Pepperdine University), it really has not undergone any restoration. Amazingly, it doesn't seem to need it: The only tiles that really show any wear and tear  (despite many of them exposed to constant sunlight and moist air conditions) are those on the kitchen floor, presumably because of heavy foot traffic.

Among the historic relics outside the house along the rest of the property include an original railroad tie which was found nearby...

...the original greenhouse of Rhoda, who was an avid gardener...

...and a relic of original flooring from the burned-down Malibu Potteries factory, which washed ashore out of the Pacific Ocean.

The Adamson House's presence on Malibu Beach is now somewhat eclipsed by the surfers on Surfrider Beach, sportfishermen on Malibu Pier, affluents at upscale restaurants and shopping, and lots of cars passing by on the highway.

But if you look beyond the trees, behind the stone wall that marks the estate, you'll find one of the many treasures of LA's historical past.

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