December 31, 2014

Photo Essay: Top Posts of 2014

In looking at what people were reading on my blog, it's nice to see that posts dating back to 2011 and 2012 are somehow still being found and clicked on. With both my photo essays and my word essays, I try to capture a place in time, but convey a certain timelessness and universality to the thoughts and themes.

The two most popular posts on this site for the year 2014 were actually from 2013, but as relevant as ever:

Photo Essay: Rancho Los Amigos, Abandoned County Poor Farm, Downey (Exterior)

Photo Essay: George Air Force Base, Abandoned & Consumed

Among those essays that were posted this year, here are the most read ones, in descending order of popularity:

Photo Essay: The Rock Art of Dunsmore Park, Former Home of Mt. Lukens Sanitarium

Photo Essay: Lanterman Developmental Center, Pomona, Haunted & Closing

Photo Essay: Verdugo Hills Cemetery - Deteriorated, Vandalized, and Washed Away

Photo Essay: 100 Years of Trona

Photo Essay: Boeing Rocketdyne Santa Susana Field Lab, Declassified & Decontaminating

Photo Essay: Lincoln Heights Jail, Closed to Public

Photo Essay: (Mostly) Abandoned Hawthorne Plaza Mall & Parking, Exterior

Photo Essay: The Path of Destruction of the St. Francis Dam Flood, 86 Years Later

I'm sensing a trend here. Although I post a lot about hikingarchitecture, trains, planes, Halloween and Christmas – as well about my childhood and existential crisis – it seems that the rest of the world shares my fascination with the beautiful decay, the pornography of ruin, the delicious abandonment of urban exploration (and exploration of places not so urban). These vacant, often haunted places may scare off the mildly curious who don't dare explore them, but their stories and their varying stages of decrepitude attract a certain cult following, and photos of them create a certain vicarious thrill.

I'm grateful for the few people I've found to join me on adventures in real life, and for all the people out there who join me vicariously. I share my life with you all, through my lens. It's not always pretty. It's often speckled and dirty. But it's ours. It's nice to know that someone wants to be a part of these experiences.

Related Posts:
Obsessive Collector of Experiences
Photo Essay: Top Posts of 2013
Photo Essay: Top Posts of 2012

December 30, 2014

Obsessive Collector of Experiences

Now that the year is coming to an end, I suppose people are compelled to ask, "So what do I have now?"

What did I get this year?

But I don't care much about things. If I could, I'd stay in my apartment until I had someone to share a place with. I didn't even choose the color of my car.

I grew up in a house that felt more like a gallery, or a department store, thanks to my mother's collecting habits. At one point, the kitchen was so full of mushroom decor – from cookie jars to curtains to potholders – it would seem a showcase for the designer's line of wares. The dining room became so overrun with porcelain dolls, we could no longer use it for Thanksgiving dinner, so we went out. The living room clanged with three different Westminster chimes ringing every quarter-hour, slightly offset from each other from one running just a little too fast and another running just a little too slow. Upstairs, curio cabinets full of music boxes were just waiting to be wound up and left to play their tinny tunes.

Every room had its own theme, with its own collection of curios, which sometimes fell out of favor and were cleared out in one fell swoop, sold at a garage sale or given away to my uncle or, later, the Salvation Army. As much as our mother was a compulsive shopper and exhibited tinges of hoarding, she got even more pleasure out of throwing things away. And not just her own things, but anything in the house, regardless of who it belonged to. You couldn't become too attached to anything in our house.

So I learned not to want things, and not to love things. I couldn't bear it when they were taken away from me.

The only things I really ever bought were records, because they made me feel something. Through music, I could experience the outside world while I was locked inside that house, in its freezing basement or its sweltering attic. And even though my mother managed to wrestle some of those records away from me, she couldn't take away the lyrics etched in my brain, the melodies recorded onto my heart.

So as early as I can remember, I've spent most of whatever money I earned – from chores, or tutoring, or babysitting, or being a teen reporter – on food and experiences. I'd rather go to Arby's or Burger King and pig out rather than buy something that could break or be withheld as a punishment. My parents couldn't take taste away. And in that realization, I became a total child hedonist, a pleasure-seeker of the most atemporal, immaterial and intangible realm. I wanted to do things, see things, learn things. While my mother spent money on stuff, populating each room of the house with a TV and VCR (though God only knows why), I became a hoarder of memories.

Overprotected as I was, I didn't have a lot of freedom to explore or adventure as I do now, so I turned to my high school drama productions, in which I could sing and dance in vastly different other worlds and periods, from medieval to Dickensian times, turn of the century American south and Prohibition-era Chicago.

As I broke away from my family and began to experience the freedom I'd sought for so long – which unfortunately was accompanied by the feeling of being orphaned and abandoned – I began to see my mother in myself more and more. I was becoming the party girl I knew her to be, thirty years before. And I was obsessively collecting, with the same fervor and voracity as I'd witnessed in my mother, which was terrifying to behold in her, and now in myself. But I was collecting something very different: I was collecting stories.

The stories were full of lovers and late nights and embarrassments and rock stars, some memories muted under the haze of blackberry brandy or kamikaze shots. Some stories were good, and many of them were bad, but they were all exciting, and far beyond anything I'd ever experienced back home. And one exciting encounter begat another and another, always trying to top the last one, outdo myself over and over again.

I've done many of the big things now – skydiving, ziplining, paragliding, stock car racing – but I've yet to enjoy some of the more innocent transgressions that many of my peers got out of their systems when they were teenagers. I've never gone skinny-dipping. And because I haven't, it's on the list.

I've never ridden a horse.

I've never loved someone who's loved me back.

But this year, I learned how to pick a lock. I learned how to mount bugs. I learned how to lease apartments. I met Dennis Quaid. I smelled the Corpse Flower and traipsed under the monstrous wistaria.

I didn't travel much, but I saw a lot of stuff. I saw myself on the big screen, twice. I saw Saturn.

I survived a car accident. I battled my brain which turned against me and gave me night terrors, calmed only by medication that has made me yawn uncontrollably. I looked down the barrel of 40.

I found partners in crime.

I left one lover, watched another one get married, and rebounded with another in a gloriously catastrophic way.

I haven't done everything I want, and I don't have everything I want, but nobody can say I haven't tried. I've lived life more than most people. I've crammed everything I can into this year, all these years of my adult life.

But for those of us who are collectors, it's always about the next one.

So onwards and upwards to 2015. I can't wait for this year to be over. I can't wait to see what experiences the next one brings.

Related Posts:
This Addictive Life
At the End of the Year

Photo Essay: Mission San Fernando Rey de España (Updated)

It's curious that I'd gone to San Diego and Santa Barbara counties to explore their missions, yet I hadn't been to the only mission within Los Angeles city limits. It was time to remedy that.

The 17th mission (of 21 total) along El Camino Real, Mission San Fernando Rey de España was established September 8, 1797 by Fray Fermin Francisco De Lasuen, the second Presidente of the missions after Junipero Serra.

It was one of nine missions he established in his 18 year tenure.

Its layout follows the common footprint of the California missions:

...several adobe, Spanish-tiled buildings in a quadrangle...

....surrounding a central fountain.

The Convento, a guesthouse and the padre's quarters, is this mission's most famous building, unique with its four foot walls, 21 Roman arches...

...and restored wine cellar, though no wine has been produced here for over 100 years.

Winemaking was a necessity for many of the missions to be economically self-sufficient...

...and to supply the wine used (as the blood of Christ) in the traditional Roman Catholic mass.

The Mission San Fernando, the only mission named after King Ferdinand of Spain, still has an active congregation, with regular services...

...conducted in the Old Mission Church...

...which is an exact replica of the third church that stood there, built in 1806 and destroyed in the 1971 San Fernando earthquake.

Much of the mission has been preserved – the bells still ring in the tower above the statue of Fray Junipero Serra –

...but it fell on hard times in the mid-1800s, when prospectors literally dug up its floors looking for gold...

...and the buildings were put up for sale, later repurposed for a number of secular uses.

It was returned to the Catholic Church in 1861...

...though it continues to be famous in the non-religious world, as a frequent filming location (and repository of some movie props, including the chandeliers in the Convento)...

...and the burial site of Bob Hope. No matter where you go in LA, you can catch a little glimpse of Hollywood.

[Update August 2015]

For some reason, you can't actually get directly into the San Fernando Mission Cemetery from the San Fernando Mission, and vice versa.

But if you drive around to the other side and re-park your car, you can experience the beautiful landscaping...

...and more statues... this much more modern cemetery that was founded in 1952.

And although the cemetery is full of signs pointing you to the Mission Chapel, you can only gaze at it through a locked gate.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Faces at California's First Mission
Photo Essay: Past the Mission
Photo Essay: On a Mission in the Santa Ynez Valley

December 29, 2014

Photo Essay: The Horses of the Rose Parade

I've been fascinated with the Rose Parade for a while now, but unwilling to get up early enough on New Year's Day to make it out to Pasadena in time for it, or, worse yet, camp out for a good spot, as some people do.

But there are other ways to participate in the fun, without having a sober New Year's Eve. Last year I volunteered to help decorate Glendale's float and got to see a lot of the other floats in progress.

This year, three days before the Rose Parade, I spent the day with the horses that will be trotting down Colorado Boulevard while I'm still in bed on January 1.

Equestfest is, quite simply, a gathering of horse people at the LA Equestrian Center. It's a festival and a show, where you get to see the Budweiser Clydesdales in action...

...learn some history...

...root for your favorite opponent in a medieval jousting competition...

...and marvel at rope tricks and choreographed horse dances.

But the real action is outside.

Before, during, and after the show... have many chances of getting up close and personal with the riders...

...and, more importantly, their equine companions.

Whether it's those of the Norco Cowgirls Rodeo Drill Team...

...or the New Buffalo Soldiers...

...they all seemed to be calm and relaxed...

...well-treated and even-tempered...

...even with a member of the Prime Time Express dressed as Tina Turner mounted atop.

It's amazing that these horses can perform such tricks and dance moves...

...and receive all this attention...

...letting dozens of children grab at their noses.

Buttercup even showed us her hoof when asked to.

The intimate time with individual horses is special, but during and after the show... get a unique behind-the-scenes look... the equestrian units (like the Long Beach Mounted Police) line up in the staging area to get ready to enter...

...and squeeze in some quick rehearsal time.

It's better than the VIP seats inside the Equidome.

And afterwards, the festival organizers open the barricades by the stables, and allow attendees to come meet the horses...

...who, having worked hard inside, show a bit of sweat coming though their thick winter coats.

Not all Equestfest participants actually appear in the Rose Parade (sorry, Long Beach), and not all Rose Parade participants appear at Equestfest, but it's a great opportunity to really see what these horses can do, and admire the skill and sport (and costumes!) of their riders. And eat a giant bag of Kettlecorn and pet as many noses as you can.

Because there's only so much time left in 2014. And Thursday is a new year.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Rose Parade 2014 Floats, In Progress
Photo Essay: Rose Bowl Stadium, Renovated Again, and Open for Tours!
Photo: Feeding the Wild Horses
Photo Essay: Welcoming 100 Mules to LA After Walking the Aqueduct
Photo Essay: The Gentle Barn, Healing Hearts in A Forever Home