April 30, 2013

Photo Essay: The Getty Center, On a Clear Day

The first time I visited The Getty Center, I was in LA on a business trip in June, still not used to the gloom of the summer, and I encountered not just an overcast day up there in the hills overlooking the 405, but a misty fog so low and thick, it was like being in the clouds.

It was a soft focus version of LA that's common in June, unable to see past the neighboring Bel Air communities.

I went back a few weeks ago, nearly three years later and a couple months earlier in the year, and I got probably the clearest day The Getty Center will ever see, a day so clear you could see forever.

From the blindingly bright tram ride up... our first arrival, jaunting across the lawn...

...we could see a clear blue sky...

...and straight out to the ocean.

The sun glistened off railings...

...reflected greens and blues that I had not yet seen at The Getty...

...casting shadows in stark contrast...

...whether from building...

...or human.

The cleaved travertine undulated in the light...

...its fossil-like leaf impressions exposed...

...and its stacked columns glowing an unnatural orange.

We went to The Getty for a couple of special exhibits for the currently-running Pacific Standard Time...

...but I've always been a bit more interested in The Getty itself, than in its collections.

I'm happy now that I've seen it under a bright bulb.

Related Post:
Photo Essay: The Getty Center Under Fog

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My Time Has Passed

I think it's too late for me.

I think my time has passed.

I think I have grown so resilient to the perils of life and love that I can't stop being suspicious.

I can't stop being hurt. It's the most natural thing for me.

I can't stop assuming I'm going to be hurt.

I can't stop assuming the worst.

I can't stop waiting for the worst to happen.

And when it does, I'm kind of glad.

When it does, I'm kind of relieved.

Because I knew it. I just knew it.

I was right all along.

And I am not good at letting someone prove me wrong.

No one has ever loved me back. Why would anyone start now? Or later? Or then? Or ever?

I have gotten good at being alone. It is both the easiest and hardest thing I do, every day. My independence is perhaps my greatest accomplishment.

And yet, perhaps, it is also my greatest impediment.

Related Post:
Damaged Goods, Or, The Female James Bond

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April 27, 2013

An Alternate Route

I had such a good time at last fall's CicLAvia that I considered asking Edith to come visit from NYC during the spring weekend so she could experience it too.

But then six months passed and I forgot, and when Edith attempted to schedule her next visit, her only available weekend just happened to coincide with CicLAvia.


Last fall, they had free bike rentals, but this spring, we'd have to arrange a paid bike rental for her. This hung over me like a dark cloud, as did the inevitability that my own bike would have two flat tires after having sat dormant all winter, locked to the fence in the back.

The route was different this year, too, making its way all the way down Venice Boulevard - a former Venice canal - "to the sea."

At my suggestion, we started at the sea, for easy bike rentals and a reverse route to fight bicycle traffic from Downtown LA. At first, it was smooth sailing.

I wanted to go as far as Alvarado and Venice, to see all the route I hadn't seen before, but it would've been 12 miles one way, 7 or 8 miles more than I did last year round trip. So instead, with Edith in tow, with whom I've biked a minimum of 12 miles before in the past, I set a minimum goal of Venice and La Cienega, a familiar intersection 12.4 miles away from our starting point. At LaCienega, my usual turning point off of Venice, I asked if we could go farther, so I could at least see a bit more of a stretch of boulevard I never drive on.

We made it as far as Airdrome Street, only a few blocks past LaCienega, when I suggested we turn around. We didn't have much time before the streets were going to reopen to traffic. We didn't have much energy left.

And we would have to fight the crowds back to the sea.

On our bike ride back to Venice, we encountered the worst traffic jam I have ever seen in Los Angeles, making me think that alternative transportation is not such a viable alternative, and - after getting hit* by two fellow bicyclists - making me wish for my car. With only one side of the road closed off to vehicular traffic, there were too many bikes vying for their route to the sea. Tricycles competed with unicycles. Fifteen-foot custom bikes competed with tandem bikes, sidecars, and motorbikes. I kept having to look over my shoulder to make sure Edith didn't get left behind.

These were not the open streets of last fall. This was a nightmare.

I blame the popularity of the event, as well as its infrequency, causing such an outpouring of support that a half a boulevard could not handle the demand. I blame multiple municipalities (Los Angeles and Culver City) being unwilling to completely shut down their streets, allowing cross-traffic at too many intersections. I blame a route designated along one half boulevard with no other options.

I hate to see something I love in LA get worse. But things change. People change their minds. Routes vary. We rely on genetic variation and biodiversity for the ultimate success and survival of the species.

But as much as I like trying new things, sometimes I don't like change. If something tastes good, feels good, works well, and makes me happy, why alter it?

[*corrected from typo "bit"]

Related Posts:
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Proceed With Caution

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April 26, 2013

Photo Essay: A Venice Without Canals

I grew up in Syracuse, New York, a town known better for its canal (the Erie Canal, that is) than even its salt.

I would spend hours as a child staring at old postcards of Downtown Syracuse, marveling at how the canal used to run right through the middle of it, right in front of the clock tower where I sang Christmas carols at the city treelighting. I couldn't imagine how it had been dug in the first place, much less then filled back in. And whenever I cruised down Erie Boulevard, I always thought about how I was riding on top of that old canal.

When I moved to LA and started working in Venice, the canals didn't really occur to me. I couldn't look much beyond the hippies and the homeless that littered my way to the Whole Foods.

I kind of hated Venice back then. It took me four months in - and one month after being laid off - to even figure out where the existing canals still are.

It didn't really occur to me that the whole thing used to be canals.

This weekend, as a precursor to CicLAvia (for which we were going to use Venice as our starting point), Edith and I took a walking tour of present-day Venice, with its modern architecture - but seen through the lens of the Venice that once was. Edith pointed out United States Island to me, with its century-old palm trees and tiny vacation rental houses, each named after a different U.S. state.

"What do you mean, 'island'?" I asked, puzzled.

She pointed to the triangle between Windward Avenue, Altair Place, and Cabrillo Avenue - an intersection completely unfamiliar to me - and said, "That used to be an island."

"What do you mean?!"

"Um, these streets were all canals."

Mind blown.

Our walk led us down Windward Avenue (the old Lion Canal) to Windward Circle, a modern day traffic circle that used to be the swimming lagoon of the recreational area that bordered the amusement park and the "Race Thru the Clouds" rollercoaster, a behemoth that was demolished in 1923, two years before the City of Venice became part of the City of Los Angeles, and six years before the canals were filled in.

Now, in modern day Windward Circle, there are a trio of structures built in the late 80s that are meant to evoke the original lagoon and rollercoaster, including the "Race Through the Clouds" building...

...the Arts Building (which evokes the old Hotel Antler)...

...and the Ace Market Place, reminiscent of the dredging machines that dug the original Venice of America canals.

But you really have to look at them to know.

As you walk atop those filled-in canals, you can find some original structures... The Architecture Gallery on San Juan Avenue, a brick building built in 1914 which once stood on the banks of the Venus Canal and - we think - was used to store boats.

It's got a bright sea blue coat of paint, but you can still see some of the original brick facing the street.

Dating back to 1912, a brick warehouse on Abbot Kinney Boulevard (named, of course, after the founder of Venice whose vision gave rise to the canals) still stands...

...after having been used for over 40 years as the offices for Charles and Ray Eames.

Inside, the warehouse has been modernized to house its current occupant (Continuum, a design consultancy), but the wood beams and skylights have been preserved.

Newer construction in Venice is baffling as the community itself.

Frank Gehry designed another trio of buildings on Indiana Avenue, the Arnoldi Triplex, each as an artist's studio with its own theme...

...the first theme being "stairs"...

...which can be seen even from the green-stained exterior from the entryway.

Gehry also designed the Chiat-Day building, a roadside attraction for its giant binoculars (which Gehry himself didn't actually design) facing Main Street (formerly Coral Canal).

I always wondered where this building was.

Its address was so close to my old office, yet I never saw it.

When I finally found it, I realized I had walked by it, a few times in fact, but had never looked up to really see it.

I don't know how I could've missed its huge and bizarre facade. But I wasn't looking for it.

A block away from Main Street, after Electric Avenue (where the Pacific Electric used to run) turns into Hampton Drive which turns into 2nd Street, we also found an old Edison electrical plant built in 1910...

...having been converted into the Powerhouse Theatre for live stage performances...

...and now pending another renovation into a restaurant.

In many ways, Venice remains true to its roots as an artist community and a seaside recreational destination, but long gone are the trains that took you there, and the boats that got you around.

Now we drive, bike, and walk our way through the city which lost its incorporation and got gobbled up by Los Angeles.

This is what Venice is without its canals.

Related Post:
Photo Essay: Venice (Beach) Canals

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April 24, 2013

Avoiding Regret Through Exploration - from Atlas Obscura

My favorite database of weird and wacky places around the world, Atlas Obscura, featured some of my photos and an interview with me today.

It tells the backstory of Avoiding Regret and takes a neat peek behind the scenes of my various explorations.

You can read the full article here.

You can see all the places I've been and want to visit - a work in progress - plus a lot of my photos (some of which have not been published here) at my Atlas Obscura Profile Page.

I am tickled pink.

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April 22, 2013

A Good Woman

Lately I've been thinking about what it means to be a good woman.

I've spent my whole life obsessed with walking the fine line between good girl and bad girl, hard on the outside but soft on the inside, innocent and vulnerable yet naughty and nasty.

I was an excellent student in school, so much so that none of my teachers expected any evil-doing when I showed up late to or skipped class.

I was obedient to my parents.

I lost my virginity relatively late, at the ripe old age of 19, to my first and pretty much only boyfriend.

After that, I let myself loose on the world. And even though at heart I think I was always a good person, I became a bad girl.

In New York, though, it doesn't matter so much. We're all bad girls in New York. That's why we can't find boyfriends in New York. That's why we don't get married in New York.

But does it have to be one or the other?

I mean, the Virgin-Whore Complex is a bore.

We girls grow up. We become women. And if we didn't marry while we were still girls, if we didn't have children while we were still children, we can't maintain this Madonna image as a Single Woman late into our 30s, 40s and beyond. It's just not realistic.

At age 37, I now qualify as a cougar. I've been having sex for nearly half my life.

At this point, I'm not wearing white to my wedding. I am scientifically old enough to be a grandmother. I surpassed advanced maternal age two years ago.

When can I stop worrying about being coy, playing hard to get, waiting for the third date, batting my eyelashes, saying no and putting up a good fight and just do what I want to do?

It seems to me that a Good Woman is honest about who she is, how she feels and what she wants. She respects others, but above all, she respects herself. A Good Woman knows the life she wants to live and the person she wants to be, and she doesn't let anything or anyone stand in the way of letting her become it.

A Good Woman enjoys a meal.

A Good Woman makes eye contact.

A Good Woman knows how to put together an outfit, order a drink, and find her way out when she gets lost.

A Good Woman can pay for herself but lets you pick up the tab.

A Good Woman stopped calling herself a "girl" a long time ago.

I'm not sure I was ever a very good girl, but I'm trying to be a Good Woman. I am not a mother. I am not a wife, and may never be. I am no longer my parents' daughter, nor my sister's sister. I am no more than a passing fancy, a fleeting memory, a stolen kiss or a one night stand to most. And I am a friend to fewer people than I ever have been in my adult life.

So, perhaps for the first time in my life, I am no longer defined by those who surround me. I have no work to do, no titles to hold, no roles to portray - only my own self, embodying my best womanhood I can, while I figure out what that even means.

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April 18, 2013

Photo Essay: Rancho Los Amigos, Abandoned County Poor Farm, Downey (Exterior—Updated for 2020)

[Last Updated 6/19/20 12:19 PM PT--The Los Angeles Conservancy has launched a campaign to preserve as many of the 100+ buildings as possible, many of which are threatened with razing and have suffered from demolition by neglect by Los Angeles County. From the LA Conservancy website: "On June 23, 2020 the County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors voted in full support of a plan for nearly wholesale demolition and redevelopment of Rancho Los Amigos. This will demolish nearly 60 historic buildings and destroy a nationally-significant historic district." Read more about the campaign here.]

I was excited enough to wander around the exterior and peek inside Linda Vista Hospital, a relatively large, abandoned medical complex in East LA. But then I heard about Rancho Los Amigos in Downey, which is practically an entire town of abandoned hospital facilities.

The former Los Amigos is not to be confused with the currently open Rancho Los Amigos, a very much open rehabilitation center.

Just south of it, across the highway, is a huge complex of other hospital buildings and residences, all abandoned.

They say that when it closed in the 1980s, all the workers and residents left so quickly, they just left everything behind.

They even left the lights on.

[Ed: Superintendent Harriman's house, once eligible for the National Register, burned in a 2017 arson fire and is slated for razing.] 

This complex is where the old Los Angeles County Poor Farm used to be (1888-1906)—once simply called "The Farm"—where paupers of the elderly and disabled variety would be sent to rehabilitate...or not.

Renamed Rancho Los Amigos in 1932, this area also housed the Hollydale Mental Hospital...

...and an old polio ward.

It is famously haunted.

Everything is fenced up and boarded up now...

...but not too long ago, doors swung wide open. Brave souls wandered through. Many got spooked enough to go running out.

The facilities many buildings and support and maintenance structures, however, aren't entirely in disuse.

In 2006, the Marines were using the abandoned buildings as part of a military exercise (reminiscent of the firefighter training that used to happen in Governor's Island's old Coast Guard barracks)...

...when they made a gruesome discovery:

...a freezer in the morgue...

...full of mummified body parts.

[Ed: Historic water tower is eligible for National Register consideration]

Upon investigation, a pathologist explained that the severed body parts were probably from amputees...

...but who knows what else is lurking in these buildings?

power plant

The County Poor Farm opened in 1888, but it continuously expanded over the following decades...

...evoking the same Mission Revival style of the current Rancho Los Amigos Rehabilitation Center across the highway...

...and bearing modern ephemera and signage.

Because most of the structures are relatively well-protected and locked up now...

Casa Consuelo patient ward (built 1930), slated for preservation

...they have been able to keep people out of them...

Casa Consuelo patient ward (built 1930), slated for preservation

...but not nature. Trees grow where they can grow, where there are no humans to stop them.

Casa Consuelo patient ward (built 1930), slated for preservation

That being said, someone does come and trim the lawns surrounding the buildings. There was no overgrown grass to be seen lining the sidewalks and open walkways.

Casa Consuelo patient ward (built 1930), slated for preservation

Some of the areas of the old Rancho seem like they must've been quite nice, once, surrounded by palm trees...

...and balconies...

...but gazing at the broken windows on a drizzly, cloudy day...

...the silence and abandonment is enough to make you shudder.

Reportedly, feral cats have taken over many of the cottages and buildings...

...prompting neighbors and animal lovers to set out food to take care of them, a practice which is strictly verboten and prohibited by ubiquitous signage.

I wonder if the cat-feeders know they are also nourishing a giant skunk, who I spooked out of one of the shelters. (I was lucky enough not to get sprayed, but unlucky enough not to get a photo.)

With all the cats there, it's surprising that a couple of people can be spotted walking their dogs...

...but there are areas of this ghost town which are actually quite lovely and open, like by the Art Deco auditorium with its pergola-like shelter [Ed: slated for demolition]. I wanted to get in there.

power plant

With all the No Trespassing signs, there's nothing really keeping anyone from skulking around... long as they respect the boards and fences...

...and it's kind of nice to explore a traffic-free environs in LA County.

But people did once live here...

...and parked here...

...and there are constant reminders of that.

Now, decades after closing, this expansive area remains in limbo... the birds build their nests in the rain gutters...

...the paint peels...

...the locks rust...

...and the lights go out.

Update for 2018: I'd heard that accessing Rancho Los Amigos had become trickier, some intrepid explorers having been shooed away by private security officers or law enforcement. So, I thought I'd go see where things stood, five years later, with my own eyes.

Unfortunately, much of the access to the interior of the "town" has been fenced off, preventing you not only from driving through it but also exploring by foot.

Of course, many of the buildings had already been gated off before, but now you can only explore the perimeter...

...and not any of the interior pathways that lead to the auditorium, administrative housing, etc.

It seems a shame to vanquish such a sprawling property by merely neglecting it.

Considering the housing shortage and the severe homeless situation in Southern California, it's hard to believe such a sprawling property is being wasted.

[Ed: Slated for preservation]

And now, people can no longer ride their bikes or walk their dogs through it as they once were, treating it as a kind of makeshift park—in an area that's severely lacking in publicly accessible open space.

At least people could somewhat enjoy the beautiful decay of Rancho Los Amigos five years ago. But now, the people have been pushed out, padlocks locked, sheriff's patrol car stationed as a lookout. And what for?

The LA Conservancy hasn't given up yet. On its website, encourages supporters of the preservation of Rancho Los Amigos to call Supervisor Janice Hahn at (213) 974-4444 urge her to reconsider. You can also email Ivan Sulic in Hahn's Field Office and cc: Adrian Scott Fine at the Conservancy

To read a nice thorough historic account of Rancho Los Amigos, visit "Ranch of the Friends: The Extraordinary Evolution of the L.A. County Poor Farm" by my friend Hadley Meares on

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