Archive for September, 2010

So the plates came this week for our Ford Escape, and as “NML” lovers we were pleasantly surprised by the serendipitous combination of its three letters, obviously requiring it be paired with an appropriately-themed frame, which we picked up at Pep Boys on the way back from Costco and I installed this afternoon, like so:

While technically we have a menagerie of nine animals, it is the six furry ones with which we most often interact. The only thing that would have made the absolute randomness of this not-personalized personalized plate more mind-blowing is if we had received the one made 49 prior this one. The 840 would’ve matched our house number.

Today’s snapshot update on our thriving backyard pumpkin patch comes with a bonus: it is pumpkinless no more:

It’s been flowering very well, but so far the all-important pollination thing hadn’t happened. Until now! Hiding under the umbrella of leaves up against the fence, will you look at that!? Sure, it’s not even the size of a golf ball, but give it time (and prayers of protection from the squirrels and such).

The Natural History Museum’s Spider Pavilion doesn’t open up for a few more days  so in the meantime if you’re into arachnids like I am why wait? Just come on over to our house and see this magnificent monster who’s set up housekeeping over the north side walkway.

It was a few days ago when I was sitting in the livingroom watching TV and something moving outside the bay window caught my eye. It was this fantastic specimen making its web, which should give you an idea of its gargantuan size (as orb weavers around the house go). OK, so it’s not tarantula big, but it’s easily got a two-inch leg span. I’ve never seen one bigger around these here parts.

Since first spotting, it’s proved elusive to capture with a camera. Pardon the flash (click the image for maximum arachnobiggia), but I had no choice but to employ it tonight since the spider keeps such strict dark hours. Sequestered in its daytime resting place up under the window eave until well after sundown, it dismantles its high-hanging web and goes back into hiding shortly before sunrise.

Just awesome.

As a bonus, there’s a second smaller orb situated up very near that daytime den that may be its mate.

UPDATE (9/17): Here’s another somewhat less-garishly flashed image of the beauty taken the dawn after (click it for the bigger picture and to see its eyes boring directly into your sooooooooul mwaaahahaha):

Rush hour on Western Avenue just south of Sunset Boulevard in 1906. The same year,  two miles east on Sunset, construction began on our house. (Photo: Los Angeles Public Library)

Armchair LA historians like my native self will always helplessly suffer from the malleable clay that underlies our city’s shifting landscape. That’s what happens when you live in so sprawled a city of reinvention and make believe built upon such a seismically active place that’s populated predominately by imports and led by a succession of movers and shakers with less regard for Los Angeles’ past than in recreating its future in their own image.

From that you get a vast freeway system that lifts us above street level (or digs us in below it) but does more to deny us our visceral and spiritual connections to the city than to elevate them. Built then with what one can only (and naively) hope were good intentions, the gridlock of torturous commutes today ultimately brings shame upon those with such a short-sighted and ultimately obsolete idea of destroying neighborhoods and embedded mass transit systems for the romanced ultra-modern notion of commuters individually wisking themselves freely and speedily to their crosstown destinations.

Can you blame them? Idealistically, sure: they suck, bigtime! But in fairness, put me in that situation and I doubt if it were up to me I would’ve had a better idea. Could you imagine in the 1940s suggesting we upgrade an aging rail system and expand other forms of mass transportation when the population was booming and increasingly spread out — not to mention that there was the virtual promise of a car in every garage?

The automobile defined the future then in much the same way the personal computer did today’s future. So to me, the freeway was as inevitable as the information superhighway. Would you have said no to the internet in favor of growing the US Postal Service? Good luck with that!

Having lost so many personal landmarks throughout my life here I’ve long viewed my birth city as built up on a continuing series of striations. We raised a school complex on top of the historic Ambassador Hotel. We covered the length of our river with concrete. We actually considered not restoring the Central Library after arson fires in the 1980s. To torture another analogy along those lines, Los Angeles is very much like a many-layered painting created by a community. Just as Picasso or Pollack might be tempted to “improve” upon a Van Gogh if given the opportunity, so have our leaders always been tempted to do the same for us and our city. The current result is something less than a work of art.

We live in a city where the destination is always more important than the journey. Where the there is more relevant than the getting to it. As such, we are an ignorant citizenry. We call Silver Lake and Echo Park the “Eastside” because so many of those living nearer to the sea than civic center see it as east of Western Avenue, not knowing or caring that thoroughfare marked the westernmost expansion at one point.

I can remember in 2003 when I finally got the opportunity to move out of the San Fernando Valley and into Silver Lake. I told friends of mine that I was thrilled to be back on the Westside after almost 20 years away, and their eyes went wide with indignation.

“Silver Lake is not the Westside!” they exclaimed. And philosophically that is very and thankfully true.

But historically, it is to me. And always will be.

The Beverly Boulevard/1st Street bridge is a bit of an anomaly nowadays, its graceful arc over Glendale Boulevard and 2nd Street seeming like literal and figurative overkill. But from this photo found — you guessed it! — in the LA Public Library digital archive you can see the span once served a more obviously cooperative purpose. Dated September 2, 1942, the image showcases the brand new viaduct about a week or so before the $1-million project was opened to cars.

Back then the city’s train routes were still being accommodated and included in the transportation grid by building auto infrastructure around or over them rather than destroying the rail lines wholesale for the sake of adding vehicular traffic lanes. With the Hollywood Freeway still about 8 years away from its first leg opening up, it’s easy to see the importance of Beverly Boulevard as a major artery getting people to and from the civic center. But if the Red Car hadn’t been there, it’s hard to imagine the city’s engineers going up when they could just carve out the connector at street level.

So over they went, crossing the roads along with the rails leading to and from  the yard in the foreground, which is Belmont Station. The photographer is positioned on the hill above the famed Belmont Tunnel that took cars entirely underground to and from the heart of downtown.

Long after the trains stopped running, the tunnel actually remained accessible to curious urban explorers, film and video crews, graffiti artists and the homeless until some five or six years ago. But the tunnel has been permanently blockaded, and where L.A. commuters once rocked, rolled and rumbled along those rails, now on the yard’s footprint this past couple of years has stood the Belmont Station apartment complex, its facade facing the anachronistic arch that’s liable to strike anyone who considers it as a curiosity, and whose purpose now (to those of us who know it origins) is to serve both highly as a monument to a time when rail ruled, and lowly as a footnote to the transportation history of a Los Angeles that forsaked integrating its multimodal past to instead embrace a short-sighted vision of its automobile-centered future.

Dipping into the LA Public Library’s digital archives again I came upon this pretty amazing image snapped from atop Hill Street near the Fort Moore Memorial. In the foreground is the intersection of Sunset Boulevard (now Cesar E Chavez Boulevard) and Broadway. And through the haze in the distance you can also see General Hospital (now LA County/USC Medical Center) atop Lincoln Heights. I’m particularly impressed by the large tank the sun rises behind, situated behind the twin-turreted building of Terminal Annex in proximity to the railyards of Union Station.

There are memories from my toddlerhood of these towering structures as seen in passing them from the seat of the first automobile I can remember, my mother’s Corvair.

The month and day is listed as March 6, but the year goes unidentified. But judging from a couple of the bland vehicles in the traffic mix on Broadway, it looks to anywhere from the mid/late 1960s to perhaps even the early ’70s.

With the arrival this week of the duplicate pink slip for Susan’s Honda, I was excited to finally deliver it and give it to my daughter Katie yesterday. And we celebrated by taking it first to a carwash and then to get the tank filled up, and then as a bonus she drove us to the Chili’s in Northridge (site of our the reunion back in 2005 that got us to this happy day), and I bought her her first legal drink (at least with her dad) — a strawberry margarita — since turning 21 September 7.

Afterward back at her house we took the obligatory commemorative photo (click for the bigger picture). I even got a high-five from my grandson Aiden.

Then I got on my bike and pedaled the 27.5 miles home from Granada Hills to my beloved wife who I so appreciate for her genorosity in making this gift available to my beloved Katie.