Archive for the ‘commerce’ Category

I Made A Book

Friday, April 15th, 2011

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.

Despicable Them

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

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.

How Much Is Too Much?

Monday, October 18th, 2010

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!

Belmont: When The Horses Were On The Tracks

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

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.

The Latest In Our Long Line Of Rescues

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

Since this may pretty much be the first I’ve mentioned anything about us wanting a new car, you might think of our purchase yesterday of the above-pictured Ford Escape Hybrid was something of an impulse buy. To the contrary, this is the end result of a process that began about two years ago with me telling Susan that while my trusty 1997 Nissan truck and her trusty 1994 Honda Civic hatchback would last us pretty much forever, it would be pretty nice: A) not having to rent a vehicle whenever we wanted to go for a road trip, and B) having a vehicle capable of carrying more than the two of us… you know, for those rare instances about once a decade when we’re sociable and want to take someone out — but not need them to pick us up because while technically our vehicles can each seat four, we don’t hate anyone enough to make them have to struggle getting in and out of the backs of either ride. And I do mean struggle.

But two years ago we were in no hurry, what with hopes of refinancing and renovating the upstairs. Neither were we much more in that hurry a year ago when that monumental task was finally completed.

But then came last December when we went to Yosemite and back with my mom in a Ford Escape rental and we really liked the car. And while we remained pretty laid back over the idea of  a new addition at that point, we recently got the ball rolling on another refi that shaved a couple hundred off the monthly mortgage payment, and we were thinking that with year-end clearances coming up, now might finally be the best time for a vehicular upgrade.

So Susan put on her research cap and started comparing models and prices and options and narrowed it down to what she wanted in a 2010. About the only thing our opinions differed on was the color. I preferred the dark gray, she the silver.

As luck would have it, Vermont Ford is basically down the street from us, and it just so happened to have a 2010 that most closely matched what we wanted. Susan signaled her interested to the dealership via the internet and yesterday we went over there first with something of an unusual request. We told the first salesman to intercept us that we didn’t need to test drive it so much as test park it in our tight 1916-built, two- jalopy river rock-walled garage — not so nuch to make sure it would fit (we measured that out already), but to make physically certain it would fit comfortably.

We were a bit disheartened to learn that the one Susan wanted (and pretty much the only one in the greater Los Angeles area that had the package she wanted) had sold. So instead we took a base model they had and sure enough it fit in the garage beautifully.

As we were driving back the salesman mentioned they had a new 2009 practically identical to the 2010 we wanted that they saddled themselves with in a dealer trade and had unsuccessfully been trying to get off the lot for months. So when we got back to the lot we looked at it and not only did it have all that we wanted (and only 200 test-drive miles on the odometer), but it was in Susan’s color and at a remarkable deal not just several thousand below the sticker price, but a couple hundred more below the invoice.

But it wasn’t quite enough below invoice for hardball-playing Susan who wouldn’t budge from the price she wanted and neither would the salesman from what he begged was the lowest he could go. So we left, and literally a minute after we walked in the door the phone rang and it was him willing to move down $500 of the $700 Susan wanted.

Good enough for us. So we went right back and bought it and brought home the poor 2009 Ford Escape XLT  Hybrid that no one else wanted.

Welcome to the family, Silver — which is what we named her. As in “Hi ho, Silver. Away!” And by “away,”our first trip with her is next month to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park.

But first, who wants to go to dinner? We’ll drive!

Crying Over Spoilt Milk

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

So I did route sign posting for today’s L.A. River Ride with my good friend Stephen yesterday and afterwards we met Susan for lunch  who was waiting for us at Blue Star and then after that we scooted over to bike around enjoying the West Adams House/Art tour. On our way home we stopped at a 7-11 local to us because I was craving a Coke Slurpee, and while we were there Susan picked up a half-gallon of milk.

Later on that evening after watching “It’s Complicated” (which would have been more appropriately titled “It’s Almost Embarrassingly Stupid”) and while washing up the dinner dishes, Susan cracked open the milk and took a quick chug and immediately rushed to the bathroom to spit it out.

How decomposed was the cow juice?

Pretty damn so: the “Best Used By” date read 05/19/2010. As in 2.5 weeks ago. How the fuck does that happen?

Susan, like me, is not in the habit of ignoring dates of foodstuffs that can go bad. But in this case she misread the 5 as a 6, which is a relatively easy thing to do.

Fortunately she suffered nothing more than psychological ill effects from the encounter and this morning I brought the carton back to the 7-11, where I set it on the counter and told the lady behind the cash register that I had purchased the milk yesterday afternoon, that it was rotten, and that I’d like to exchange it, preferably for a carton with a date that’s somewhere in the future.

“Do you have the receipt?” she asked.

I smiled because I had a feeling that question was coming.

“No, I was not given a receipt.”

And the lady shook her head while trying to find the least idiotic way to use that as a ridiculous reason why they couldn’t accord me my entirely reasonable request.

“Are you seriously about to tell me no?”

“I’m sorry,” she started, and I stopped her.

“Because if you do that, I’m going to pour this crap all over your store, then I’m going to file complaints with the police, the  city attorney’s office, Knudsen, the Better Business Bureau, 7-11 headquarters, and the California Milk Advisory Board!”

That last one just kinda snuck out… I’m not at all sure I would’ve contacted them or if they would’ve given a damn.

The lady quickly grabs the carton off the counter and looks at the date. She doesn’t say anything but her eyes go wide.

“May 19!?” I say.

Then she asks the next stupid question: “Do you remember who was at the register?”

That amazes me, because it implies she thinks I’m trying to rip them off.  That I’ve either bought this milk elsewhere — or worse, that I’ve actually held on to this carton of milk for 18 days.

“What does that have to do with anything?” I ask. Pointedly.

She just stares at me, waiting an answer.

“Male. Had a beard. Mumbled his speech.” That last part is true, it took three tries for me to get him to say the total clearly enough for me to give him the proper amount of cash.

So now she calls out to someone in whatever her native tongue is and in response a young man who was not the fellow I had described steps out from one of the aisles, crosses to her and the two engage in a conversation until the young man finally asks me in English  if all I want to do is exchange.

The look I give him is the equivalent of DUH!? “Yes, that’s all I want.”

And so he takes the carton from the lady, his eyes going wide also when he looks at the date. Then he sets it down and escorts me to the dairy section, pulling out a carton whose “Best Used By” date is 06/11/2010.

“Perfect!” I say.

So A Funny Thing Happened Right At The Start Of The Watts Happening Ride Saturday

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

And by “funny” I mean not at all. Unless contriving a conflict is funny.

As teflon-coated as I like to pretend I am, I do get and remain peeved by trivial affrontations for far longer than necessary or required, and my rule of thumb is if I’m still stewing more than a day later, then it’s time to vent. Well, here it is a day and a half later and in my head I’m still telling the jackasses to fuck off, so of course it’s time to loosen up the pressure valve.

I had just started my pre-ride spiel to the awesome group of cyclists who had gathered in the parking lot of SilverSun Plaza for the Watts Happening ride when this semi-haggard, possibly hungover guy who looked foul-mooded enough to have been able to find easy fault in butterflies or a beautiful day, interrupted me with a demand for my attention as he passed by.

I obliged Sir Surly who then wasted little time in condescendingly chiding me for what he perceived as my obvious lack of consideration in allowing my fellow cyclists to loiter directly in front of SilverSun Liquor the overpriced booze farm that anchors the east end of the garish stripmall. He instructed me that our presence there in the lot along the front of the repository of drowned sorrows  at such an apparently high alcohol-demand hour of 10 a.m. was bullshit because it was preventing patrons from accessing the store’s two nearest parking places and thus in the span of the 30 or so minutes spent gathering there we had dramatically impeded its sales and thus were in the midst of inflicting great negative impact both upon the proprietor’s livelihood and the phantom patrons’ convenience.

His advice, in so many words, was for us silly cycling second-class ingrate lot hogs to stop being dicks and understand that the world doesn’t revolve around us, because it more appropriately revolves around his and the booze dealer’s sour grapes.

Let’s go to the neverminds, shall we?

Nevermind:

  1. That there were plenty of empty parking spaces in the lot.
  2. That we obviously would have moved had a driver chosen to park in one of the two in front of the store where we were — but none did.
  3. That several of the assembled cyclists had actually patronized the liquor store.
  4. That by delaying my opening remarks the idiot was actually keeping us there longer.
  5. That the grumblebum made an argument that didn’t at all pertain to him when he showed himself to be a  pedestrian when he walked from me to the corner in order to cross Sunset Boulevard — perhaps to see if there might be an impromptu Alcoholics Anonymous session taking place on the other side of the street at Cafe Tropical.

I wasn’t sure what this jerk’s vested interest was or what motivated the blindside, but  in the interest of not really caring and also not wanting to provoke the assbag into provoking me into getting all foul-mouthed and demonstrative, I basically shooed him on his way with “You are absolutely right, sir. Cars rool. Cyclists drool. Have a great day!”

Then I turned back to my riders, trying to remember what I’d been saying before being so rudely interrupted, and dang if the liquor store’s Sikh proprietor in all his mustachioed, bearded and turbaned glory was standing in the doorway skewering me with a glowering glare as if I had insulted something dear to him.

I tried to ignore the burn of his stare while getting back on track, but I could only withstanding the searing heat for a few moments until I diplomatically offered to the elder not to get his headwrap all in a bunch because we would be on our way in a matter of minutes. The contemptuous codger kept his laser gaze leveled at me for several deathless and silent seconds before finally nodding almost imperceptibly, as if it took every fiber of his arrogant being.

True to my word, I finished up my speechifying shortly thereafter and we were soon on the road away from the assholes of the morning and on to what turned out to be a most awesome 32-mile excursion to South Los Angeles and back. In leaving I did none of the below, but had toyed with letting the owner know that:

  1. As an area resident and past patron he’d never have to worry about me buying anything from his store again ever.
  2. That I’d be back next Saturday morning to gather riders together in exactly the same place for the Frank Lloyd Wride. And the Saturday after that for the Two Rivers Ride. And the Saturday after that for the Black Dahlia/West Adams Ride. So get the hell used to it.
  3. I’d be strongly encouraging that all of my fellow riders set neither a foot or spend nary a nickel there.