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

...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.

Upon my return visit, I drove around most of the periphery I'd missed previously, seeing nothing but that ubiquitous fence, and a few signs indicating the El Segundo blue butterfly rehabilitation area.

That is, until I reached Vista Del Mar, the road that separates Surfridge from the beach.

At this point, the impenetrable fence - which casts its shadow across everything that lies in its interior - is completely covered in grayish-brownish beach, which clings to camera and hand when pressed against to get an unobstructed shot.

There is plenty of rubble at this end of Surfridge, relics from the widespread demolition of all of Surfridge's residential and commercial properties, large and small.

The bluffs are higher here, and sand seems to have blown up from the beach or down from the peaks to cover up whatever remains of the razed community.

Sea birds flourish.

In this section, I started to question whether LAX had actually built some runways, because the paved surfaces looked too wide, too recent, too maintained to be merely abandoned roads.

Some of the vestiges looked downright...industrial.

And then there's an odd patch of green - Vista del Mar Park - that juts into the bluffs surrounding a palm grove. It's a small lawn, a tiny playground, surrounded on three sides by abandonment, and one side by an ocean view.

At least someone gets to enjoy it.

A few steps later, you're back to roads, weeds and sandy fencing.

Most of the lampposts (which apparently still light at night) line Vista del Mar, but a couple of them got trapped inside the fence, behind the barbed wire.

Those that haven't been removed altogether serve as reminders that Surfridge was a real town once, and not just a big empty plot...

...with a palm-lined boulevard...

...retaining walls and foundations of buildings that once stood.

The hills roll dramatically, the closer you get to LAX.

But you can never escape the shadow of the fence.

In my final trek around Surfridge, I witnessed plenty of additional patches in the chainlink, indicating that at some point or another, there was a way - and multiple ways - in. But for the timebeing, it is very much closed to the public.

And I could only loiter for so long...

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Surfridge, LAX's Beachside Ghost Town, Part One
Photo Essay: Surfridge, LAX's Beachside Ghost Town, Part Two

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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:
The New Yorker

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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.

Related Posts:
First Day on Foot
Open Door Policy
Out of Hiding

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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.

Related Posts:
Not What I Moved to California For
This Is It
Someone for Everyone
Get a Move On

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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.

I saw few signs of Surfridge's vandalized past - only a sole, rusty can, possibly of spray paint, tucked next to the ubiquitous chain link fence.

Several roads bisect the town from every direction, with weeds sprouting up through them, with no regard for their pavement.

Planes fly like migrating birds overhead, their engine roar a deafening call of their journey. Beyond the south side of Sandpiper, the land is industrial rather than residential - decidedly more municipal than what I imagined had been razed beyond the north side.

Although already atop a bluff above the beach, at this point, Surfridge becomes downright hilly, ascending to a peak elevation...

...ripe for planespotting. I was not alone, but my fellow trespasser was enrapt with the sky above, and now with the streets below, as I was.

As the road crests over the hill, the ocean opens up below...

...and you can imagine why this view was so sought-after by beach-dwellers and Hollywood elite, and why being cast out of Surfridge was such a loss for its residents.

The old asphalt continues to crumble, weathered only by sea air and not by wheel or foot, and nature slowly takes over. Greenery sprouts from below, reaching towards the sun. Perhaps one of those landscapers will come wack the weeds.

LAX seems to have no plans for Surfridge, other than doing nothing to let anyone enjoy the view.

I never actually got inside of the fence, which was particularly frustrating on the beach-side of Surfridge where you can see a couple standing foundations that remain beyond the threatening signs prohibiting trespassing and loitering (the latter of which I was most certainly guilty).

But amidst some of the palms that managed to be spared outside of the fence...

...and the stairs that now lead to nowhere...

...I did see one patched area that clearly used to be the way in, for someone, at least once.

I remind myself that, by choosing to walk down Sandpiper, I didn't actually walk around the entire property - only the entire northern chunk. Perhaps more delights await in the southern chunk, even closer to LAX. I'll have to go back.

In the meantime, the area is largely untouched, where birds intermingle with planes in the sky, flying equally as low, circling in memoriam of the lives that once thrived in Surfridge.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Surfridge, LAX's Beachside Ghost Town - Part One
The Road to Nowhere

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