commerce


First you might wonder why I really biked all the way to Montebello and back (28.29 miles) to buy egg nog? Well, this is not just any egg nog. This is Broguiere’s Egg Nog. THE BEST egg nog I’ve ever had. And sure, I could’ve biked (probably about the same distance overall) to stores in the vicinity and beyond hoping and praying I might find some in stock, but the trip out to the source has become something of a holiday tradition, albeit up until this year it was done by car.

See, when it dawned on me that it was three days until Thanksgiving and our fridge was lacking the seasonal staple, I loaded up the two glass bottle empties from last year into my backpack, headed out to make the trek to trade them for full ones, and on my way there wouldn’t you know that a press conference had broken out on the lawn of the new LAPD headquarters at the corner of 2nd and Spring streets to inaugurate the new buffered green bike lane that was installed on Spring from Cesar Chavez all the way down to 9th Street.

So I stuck around for the speeches and then went on the ceremonial first ride along the wonderful lane, then headed up and across the 6th Street Bridge and out Whittier Boulevard well into Montebello, coming back the same way.

Timelapse of the journey:

On the hottest day Los Angeles has experienced in a looooong time, I ventured into the triple-digit heat yesterday afternoon with three errands to run: the Hollywood Bowl, to exchange tickets for that night’s performance since Susan is out of town helping out with matters in the wake of her uncle’s death last weekend; the New World Camping store, to exchange the fishing rod we’d bought the weekend before, which snapped our very first time out with it last Sunday; and a recommended body shop to get another estimate for the bumper damage to the Ford that I caused rolling into an unseen boulder on the side of the east fork of the San Gabriel River during our aforementioned fishing day trip.

HOLLYWOOD BOWLING FOR DOLLARS
I took the leap this year and became a subscriber this season, meaning I purchased a package of four performances within the Bowl’s jazz series. Susan and I have enjoyed Bobby McFerrin and Chris Botti, Robert Cray, and the Buena Vista Social Club Orchestra among other acts on the first three Wednesday nights we attended. Last night’s was headlined by Quincy Jones and promised to be excellent, but I called up the Bowl yesterday to tell them I couldn’t attend and ask what my options might be. I was advised to take advantage of its ticket exchange policy, a subscriber benefit, by going to the box office.

Allow me to note ahead of time that during the call I was not informed of any service fee involved in swapping tix on the same day of the event. Had I been I would’ve gone Tuesday, not yesterday.

So I arrive at the Bowl and walk up to a representative at one of the windows. The markedly effeminate young man with scruffy facial hair behind the thick glass asks through the speaker and how he can help me. I tell him while sliding the tickets through the window. He looks at them and tells me that there will be a $10 per ticket charge to complete the exchange. Surprised by that I ask why and he tells me that’s the standard fee for any exchanges made on the day of an event.

“How disappointing that wasn’t mentioned to me when I called yesterday because I could’ve come yesterday and avoided being penalized.”

At this point the young man adopts a decidedly defensive demeanor and unhelpful tone, asking “Who did you call?”

“The Hollywood Bowl.”

“What number?”

“The number on the back of my subscriber ID card.”

He pauses and regroups before plastering a simpering grin onto his mug and launching into a pointedly condescending spiel that he’s obviously practiced a lot about how a comprehensive subscriber information manual was provided with my ticket package and in it is clearly stated that any tickets exchanged on the day of an event are subject to a $10 service charge.

I consider telling him where he can stuff that detailed document, but instead I ask “What page?”

That catches him off guard and the simpering smile falls off his face as he realizes there is actually something he does not know.

I bridge his moment of horror with “Look, had I known there was going to be an exam I’d have studied your hallowed manual and committed it to memory. My issue isn’t whether or not there’s a fee. My issue is with the representative I spoke with Tuesday when I called and said I can’t attend Wednesday’s event who could’ve mentioned that but didn’t. As I mentioned earlier, had that courtesy been extended I would’ve come yesterday and avoided this BS.

Over-dramatically taken aback at my use of the acronym for “bullshit,” the young man sat up straight and said he thought it was entirely unfair of me to expect such consideration.

Now I’m the one taken aback. “Reeeeeeally. Well then I’ll go you one further: Both the person I spoke with on the phone and you turn the term “customer service” into an oxymoron.

And with that he ceremoniously stripped off his headset, slammed it down on the counter while jumping up off his chair and flitted off in full hissyfit out of sight, replaced a few moments later by another rep who eyed me warily upon approach.

“Don’t be afraid,” I said. “I’m not as bad as your thin-skinned predecessor would have you believe.”

Taking a seat he asked what the issue was. So I gave him the quick recap.

All business and no bull, when I’d finished he asked, “So where do we go from here?”

I give it a shot: “Well, since I’m guessing you’ll be able to resell these and make my $20 almost two times over is there any way you can have mercy on this first-time subscriber and waive the fee?”

His mouth moved into a smile, but not his eyes as he looked from me to the tickets. “You’re right, these are decent seats someone will probably purchase, but I’m afraid I still can’t waive the charge.”

“Then let’s get on with it.”

And in a few more minutes the Bowl had 20 of my dollars (plus another $12 for the $6-per face-value increase between the two performances), and I was signing a receipt with an intense feeling that the Hollywood Bowl will not see another dollar from me as a subscriber ever again.

Sliding the tickets to me the man asked if he could be of any additional service.

“Well, yes. Do me a favor and apologize for me to the young lady I scared off. I didn’t mean for my frustration to compound the obvious bad day she was having.”

Somewhere out of sight from within came: “Oh that bitch!”

Turning I said “That’s 100% bastard,” and walked away.

FISHED IN
From that joyful experience I headed down to New World Camping on Western Avenue in Koreatown with the broken fishing rod we purchased from the place the weekend before last. Walking in with it I found the same man who sold us the defective pole and just from his demeanor as I approached him I had the sinking feeling an exchange wasn’t going to be easy.

And it wasn’t. I told him what happened and he looked at the pole. Instead of doing the honorable thing and giving me a replacement, he starts right in with how it will cost me $15.

I ask why and he tells me because that’s how much it will cost him to return the rod to the manufacturer.

“But why is that my responsibility?” And he launches into a tirade about customers who are chronic pole breakers/returners.

“But I’m not one of them!”

“I know, I know,” he said. But still he wouldn’t budge. It was $15 or fuck off.

I attempted to reason with him, by pointing out how medievally unethical such a return policy was when compared to other retailers, to which he exclaimed, “This is not Costco!”

“So there’s no way you’re going to replace this item unless I pay you more money for it.”

“That’s right.”

“Then enjoy that piece of crap and the $29 I paid for it, but I’m not giving you another penny now or ever.” And I walked out wondering if I had a “Give This Guy A Hard Time” sticker stuck to my forehead while vowing to make it cost this jerk more than the fifteen bucks he was unsuccessful in extorting from me.

And it will, eventually: When I got home I posted the following description of the disgusting encounter on all sorts of review sites: Yelp, Super Pages, Yellow Pages, Insider Pages, Chamber of Commerce and several others (even the store’s Facebook page where I wrote a recommendation which began “I recommend you avoid this place.”):

I purchased a $29 rod August 28, 2011 from New World Camping, and used it for the first time a week later September 4 (mainly to practice casting in the San Gabriel river). During that outing, a foot of the rod snapped off at the tip. I returned September 7 with the defective rod to make a simple exchange but the proprietor refused to do so unless I paid him $15 to cover what he said would be the cost for him to return the rod to the manufacturer. I attempted to reason with him, but he refused to listen so I told him to enjoy the broken rod and the money I’d spent on it initially but that I wouldn’t spend any more — and certainly not at a business with such an unscrupulous regard for its customers.

As to the body shop visit that was also planned, I decided not to risk enduring a third battle and instead headed home with plans to return today. I’ll be going there in a few minutes with fingers crossed that I’ve broken the streak at two.

 

 

 

 

I’ve met Tony Pierce the blogger on a very regular basis since 2003, but I’ve only met Tony Pierce the person once since then. It consisted mainly of a brief handshake coupled to my expression of sincere appreciation at finally meeting him, before he moved on to far bigger names in attendance. It was at Bar Lubitsch in West Hollywood, site of a blogger get-together organized by some blogging get-togetherers that required RSVPs and shit. All the cool kids were there.

It may have been the spring of 2007 while I was temping at DirecTV, though it might have been after the summer of that same year when I had enthusiastically started the editor job that I enthusiastically quit this past April. But whether it was El Segundo or Westchester where I had been gainfully employed at the time,  I biked to the bar and then home because that’s how I roll.

Nowadays Tony’s rolling in a sweeeeeet Chevrolet. A gift he gave himself for a job excellently done as blog editor at the LA Times — a job he got that same year, and given the success he’s had invigorating the Times’ blogging presence one he just shockingly lost recently as a result of the latest rounds of layoffs to thin the paper’s ranks and thicken its bottom line. Among other things, the Chevy’s on Tony’s mind right now, because it’s gone from reward to burden as he realizes its lack of practicality and its hindrance to his freedom both physical and creative.

He argues that he could be better a better artist if he could more readily avoid the materialistic trappings that come from the ever-quest for the dollar.

I can testify to that. I quit my job to be that artist. After practically a lifetime of back-burnering my creativity I gave myself an entirely unrealistic  four-month window to realize that dream. Now that window’s closing and surprise: I’m not much closer than when I started. And so I’ve started looking at/for job opportunities.

One found me. An email came Friday from a TV network’s online content manager who wrote that he found me via my work at Blogging.la and that a freelance gig was basically mine if I wanted it. Focusing on DIY’ers it would involve me parking myself in front of various hardware stores around town and finding people exiting to interview them about who they are, what they bought and for what project. The guy wanted 10 of these profiles. By August 15. The pay was $750 for the bunch. Fixating on that dollar amount like it was a golden carrot, I said I’d do it… making myself believe I could knock this thing out with a few hours work.

I couldn’t have been more wrong — and what pisses me off is I knew better. A few hours? Hell, by yesterday afternoon I’d spent two hours prepping and then more than two teeeeedious hours at two different hardware stores in Silver Lake and Echo Park along with a brief visit to the Hollywood Home Depot (long enough for an over-zealous security guard quick to demand I cease “soliciting” patrons), and what did I have to show for it? Not a single interview.

People were buying light bulbs and potting soil and extension cords and timers and crescent wrenches — or nothing at all. Or they were contractors or subcontractors shopping for materials. The single solitary person who came closest to having shopped for an actual project — she had a can of paint for a wall in her new apartment — was initially interested but practically ran away when I told her some snapshots would be involved.

With all that time spent I couldn’t help but realize how I’d so vastly undersold myself. At a cost of 750 of the network’s bucks I’d agreed to first spending an untold amount of time wrangling 10 subjects, getting them to read and sign the consent agreement (always a great ice breaker), then interviewing them relatively thoroughly from a set list of at least six questions, and then photographing them (a minimum of three different images involving the person, product and store were required). From there I then come home. Transcribe the recording of the interview, produce a 400-600 word profile, format the photos, write captions using quotes not in the profile, scan in the consent form and email all of it to the content manager.

Given the time I first spent familiarizing myself with the provided style guide, while printing out 10 of three-page consent forms, followed by those two-plus  hours vested in not even finding that first interview, it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that it could take me four, five — maybe even six hours per profile. Beyond the low dollar-per-hour rate that amount of work would equate to, was the fact that given the looming deadline 144 hours into the future I was looking at spending upwards of 60 of them just grrrrrrrinding this out. And I do mean grrrrrrrrrrinding.

So in actuality that overbearing guard at the Home Depot did me a favor. He said: You’re better than this, you don’t need to be on the streets “soliciting.” I came home hating to quit but hating even more that I prostituted my talents so eagerly for such a meager payoff (and maybe just maybe for the opportunity to be burdened with forthcoming and similar projects).

I emailed my regrets to the content manager and withdrew from the assignment.

I’d like to say with what was left of yesterday afternoon I immediately hunched over the keyboard and focused that negative aggravation into positive creativity, but instead I just stared at a blank page open on my monitor did a pretty good job beating myself up for being the sellout Tony’s trying hard not to be:

What he wrote early this morning sums it the fuck up:

if this aint the time to be making art and or making a difference out there i have no business calling myself an artist.
meanwhile, we all should be making art. while rendering unto caesar whats caesars.
because our mommas didnt go thru labor to produce sellout half-assed mediocrity.
when they saw us, they thought we’d be so special.
so for just a little while, lets be so fucking special.

 

I took 120 or so of the 5,818 stills my camera captured during last Sunday’s CicLAvia and dove into Lulu.com to create a photo book that can tell the visual story of last Sunday’s CicLAvia. I’m not quite at the stage to publish it, but as soon as I get there, you’ll be the first to know.

I’m there. But please don’t get all wide-eyed at the high pricetag. Lulu’s base cost left me no choice — and for what it’s worth, I’ll be donating half the proceeds from each book sold to CicLAvia.org.

Approaching my tenth anniversary as a subscriber, I’m pretty much an OG when it comes to Netflix. But I’m thinking it might be time to call it quits. It’s not really Neflix’s fault, but it’s certainly their predicament — one made ever the more aware to me with last night’s spinning of the “Despicable Me” Blu-ray they sent.

Hollywood studios have certainly been trying to make Netflix and other mail-order/point-of-purchase movie rental companies pay in an effort to recoup losses piling up from a drop in the number of their DVDs the public is no longer purchasing. And they’ve succeeded on certain fronts. Last year Warner Brothers won the right to delay providing new releases to Netflix for 28 days in an effort to bolster sales.

Maybe that’s worked for them. Certainly there are legions of OMG-gotta-have-it impulse buyers who will race to purchase the latest from “Harry Potter” and “Twilight,” but I’m not among them. Case in point: my last DVD purchase was “Avatar” when it came out last spring. Before that the latest “Batman.” Before that I’m pretty sure it was a couple years with the latest (and hopefully final and definitive) version of “Blade Runner.” In other words, I’m very picky with the movies I add to my sparse — and dusty — collection of DVDs. The day you see me spending aaaaaaany amount of money to add a Jennifer Aniston vehicle or “The Green Hornet” to my permanent collection is the day I need to either be dressed up in a t-shirt saying “I’m Hollywood’s Bitch” or smacked soundly about the head and shoulders. Preferably both. In either order. Every day for the rest of my life.

Like the good little Netflix OG subscriber I am, I’ve shrugged and accepted the imposed delay because with the exception of films such as “True Grit,” that hold extraordinary appeal enough to get me into a theater seat, I can wait until the DVD release and beyond a month or two to see pretty much everything Hollywood throws at me.

But last night was different. Last night something changed. Last night I personally discovered how petty and ugly and unblinkingly desperate Hollywood’s crackdown is getting while spinning the Blu-ray Netflix had sent me of Universal’s “Despicable Me.” After the movie ended I clicked to access the accompanying extras listed in the main menu and instead of being able to see an array of short films was shown that as a “rental copy” the disk contained only the film and should I wish to view the additional features it was demanded that I buy a copy.

Despicable, indeed.

And while I’m not readysetgo to finally say to hell with Netflix, it’s not going to take many more similar rental roadblock experiences before I enact my own across-the-board crackdown and cancel — even though I know it’s not really their fault they were dressed up as Hollywood’s bitch.

I wonder at times about high-priced bicycles and the companies that make them. When the people involved decide upon the retail price, do they do it in all unblinking seriousness believing it an entirely valid amount, or do they nervously hunch over somewhat reflexively in wide-eyed incredulity, like they’re doubtful they’ll get away with such an outrageous thing.

Certainly I understand that R&D, and materials and manufacturing and design and components and craftsmanship and overhead and advertising all play important roles in bumping up that final figure. But when I see Cannondale’s Flash Hi-Mod 29’er profiled in the Health section of today’s L.A. Times and priced at five thousand eight hundred and ninety nine dollars, all my mild-mannered and rational understanding goes out the window and what I really want to do is storm their HQ, kicking all sorts of ass between the front door and the vault that keeps the documents showing the actual total per-unit cost as being $795.23. Or for the sake of argument let’s say it’s $1795.72.

For a bike. Not including the 200% mark-up. Or the sales tax.

Yet the folks there at Cannondale with the key to that vault in one collective corporate hand manage to staunch any snickering and straight-face you when they hold out their other collective corporate hand demanding payment of  five thousand eight hundred and ninety nine dollars for what I’m sure they pretend is the privilege of riding such an exceptionally state-of-the-science mountain bike.

And it may be. But it’s still just a bike, one that’s sporting a huge profit margin.

I’m sure there are people out there with that kind of scratch who will oblige. Just as there are those who’ll fork over amazing amounts for designer blue jeans.

Now, I don’t want to squelch the evolution of bike technology. Like I said, I understand that there’s a pricetag attached to the latest and greatest and I’m all for making bikes betterstrongerfaster. I just will never accept a figure so exorbitant. Because I come at it from an insulted perspective that probably insults Cannondale and any other company charging such sums. I rode a $300 track bike for more than 6,000 miles until the frame weakened a year ago. Then I sent the manufacturer the old frame and  $119 for a replacement frame, and I’ve been riding that ever since. Prior to that I put more than 5,000 miles riding a 1970s-era 10-speed someone had thrown away and that I invested a few hundred bucks returning to rideable condition.

My mountain bike: a $350 expenditure purchased over the internet more than seven years ago.

My most expensive bike? A 2000 Giant OCR-3 for which I paid $500.

The most expensive bike I ever bought: a $900 Klein that I returned less than a week later wondering how I could’ve been such a sucker.

Even if I had a spare five thousand eight hundred and ninety nine dollars hanging around and could get past the ridiculousness of making such an obscene purchase without having myself committed to an institution for the financially inane, do you think I would actually go up in the Verdugos or the San Gabes and actually ride the thing?

No, I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. At that price, it would be a far better thing to hang it on the wall as testament to wretched excess then to risk getting such a masterpiece dirty!

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.

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