The Dude Arrives

Last March at Disney Concert Hall I considered it a once-in-my-lifetime event to hear my favorite symphony, Felix Mendelssohn’s “Italian” played live. After all, I’d been waiting for that since I was 12.

dudamel

Last night at the Hollywood Bowl, in attendance with my wife and mother among 18,000 others in the capacity crowd, under a full moon and a smattering of bats flittering about the dusky skies, I truly was privileged to witness a Once-In-A-Lifetime event — nothing less than a defining and historical milestone in the cultural landscape of this city. Not only was I there for the much-anticipated debut as Gustavo Dudamel officially lifted his baton for the first time as the L.A. Philharmonic’s musical director, but I exulted in an uncompromised presentation of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony the likes of which I’m pretty sure I’ll never see again — nor ever expected to.

In front of a full orchestra and a chorus some 200-strong behind it Dudamel transported me and I marveled in the Ode To Joy finale as it reinvigorated my creative spirit in reminding me of the pure power and prestige of  music and the arts.

Pure and simple: It was superb and glorious.

Threat Successfully Diffused Defused

I’m southbound on La Brea, pedaling in the curb lane. There’s a parked car between me and Wilshire Boulevard so I work my way to the left edge of the lane and as I get there a sedan in the center lane passes me and I see there are four males in it — all of them wearing identical redshirts. Maybe they’re carpooling to work or a job site. Or a parole hearing.

The light at Wilshire is red and as they come to a stop in their lane I pass them noting both front and rear passenger-side windows are down as I come a stop in mine. At the green I get going across the intersection and by the time I get to 8th Street they’ve pulled abreast of me and slowed slightly and I’m getting a sense something’s up. Keeping my focus ahead of me I brace for anything from a “Get off the fucking road!” to having something thrown at me, but nothing happens until the driver hits the gas and the four bust out loudly laughing and they pull ahead. Then the passenger riding shotgun sticks his arm out the window with his fingers splayed wide yells out “Honk!” a couple of times as he makes ass-squeezing gestures with his hand.

One might argue that perhaps it wasn’t about me. That maybe I wasn’t the subject of their moronic attentions. I’d counter that given the arm’s-length proximity of my rock-hard gluts to their soft-serve intellects, it’s hard to imagine the display being meant for anyone else but me. Either way, I smile at the buffoonery, mostly in relief that that’s all there was to the encounter.

But that’s not all there was.

Continue reading Threat Successfully Diffused Defused

Disappointmentland

Forty years ago this summer my Aunt Frieda, Uncle Jack and cousins Margaret, Laura and Allan came out to visit my mom and me from Chattanooga, Tennessee. We were living in a two-bedroom apartment in a building on the corner of Hamilton Drive and Gregory Way in Beverly Hills, and being 5 years old I could not tell you how we housed everybody — but that’s not important.

What’s important is that the high point of their visit included my very first trip to Disneyland. Being that there was no internet and my social network was a couple neighborhood kids, plus I couldn’t do that whole reading thing with any consistency yet, I can only guess that I learned of the park’s newest attraction — The Haunted Mansion — via TV commercials, but however it branded itself on my brain it quickly became my entire reason for being on this planet as a human being.

On the big day I could barely contain myself, and we drove down to Anaheim in style with mom renting a 1969 black Impala convertible to tranport all seven of us.

I won’t beat around the bush with all the other rides we went on first and all the wonder and happiness I experienced, because honestly I don’t remember anything accept maybe a bit of Autopia and the submarine ride. Anything else fun that happened got cloaked because when we arrived at the awesome house to finally fulfill my dream of going on the ride I’d been dying to do there was a sign on the entrance: CLOSED. For what? I don’t know. Probably to work some kinks out as it had only been open a short while.

I can’t quantify the devastation I felt there at what’s purported to be the Happiest Place On Earth. I literally thought this had been my One Shot and I was never ever ever going to get another chance to go to Disneyland or ride The Haunted Mansion. Ever again.

When you’re 5 there’s no tomorrow, only Tomorrowland. And  it would be three more years of tomorrows before I returned and finally got a chance to fulfill my long-denied amusement park destiny.

Fast forward to this morning and I’m up at this insane hour because Susan and I are going to do our second-annual Super Bowl-Day Disneyland run. Last year was my first time back in 22 years and I fell in love with the place all over again. The only bummer for me was the Jungle Cruise was closed for long-term refurbishment (It’s A Small World was also shuttered, but that was more Susan’s disappointment than mine). Wondering what might be down for this visit, Susan and I looked online but we couldn’t find any info. Then this morning after I Twittered prior to bedtime about today’s excursion my friend David Markland tweeted back about the status of The Haunted Mansion, and it wasn’t good.

Indeed, I found the right webpage and confirmed that on the 40th anniversary year of its arrival and the 40th anniversary year of me learning about disappointment because of it, The Haunted Mansion won’t be looking for its 1000th resident today. Kinda bummed, but it’s kinda appropriate.

Inauguride

I biked downtown this morning to L.A. Live. Grand plans had me getting down there at 6 a.m. for breakfast at the Pantry and then hanging out until Obama gave his first speech as the 44th President of the United States of America.

What actually happened was that I left the house around 8: 15 a.m. and got town to L.A. Live with just enough time to meet a fave blogger Bryan Frank of BeFrank (that’s his pants and camera below in the upper right corner thumbnail. Then as I milled around Aretha sang. Then Vice President Joe Biden took the oath. Then Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma and others played an original composition. Then President Barack Obama was administed the oath of office. Then he gave a terrific speech that brought tears to my eyes.

Then I got on my bike and I opted to ride in to work via a route that would take me on or across streets named for past presidents: Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Hoover. I thought about adding Lincoln in the to the list, but I was already an hour late. So instead, I included Martin Luther King Jr , where on that boulevard I encountered a  heartbreakingly magnificent female pitbull who I doubled back and gave my kibble stash to eat. And then after that I encountered what I can only suspect was a bitter McCainiac behind the wheel of an SUV with Nevada plates 711 VHS who intentionally  lane-hogged me not once but twice on Sepulveda, probably because of the red, white, and blue bike jersey I was sporting for such a momentous occasion. After that we exchanged fingers and he made his getaway.

thumbz

Photoset of the above screencaps is visible here on Flickr. YouTube timelapse vid is here.

I Do Hereby Resolve To: Bike Every Day

So in terms of resolvolutions for the new year, in regards to my bicyclingz I’ve decided not to peg a 2009 finish line to any specific number. Instead, my goal for the new year is simply to Bike Every Day — whether it’s one mile or 100 — and see how far it takes me across the year.

Toward that end, here’s the begining: my first 10 miles on the first day of the year, which of course features my first encounter with a sightless driver in Elysian Valley (blink and you’ll miss it at around 1:42 in) who makes a full stop at her cross street stop sign but then basically bursts across the intersection right in front of me. Glad one of us was paying attention:

PS. There’s nothing quite like standing at the top of a year-long accomplishment on December 31 and less than a day later starting the long climb up from the bottom of the next one to put it all in perspective. I know it all adds up, but erasing 6,600 miles and replacing it with 10 in my little bike mileage tally box on the right was a lot tougher than I thought it would be.

Oh Jerusalem Cricket!

Up until a few moments before this picture was taken on Santa Cruz Island in 2004, if you’d said I’d ever get this close to a Jerusalem cricket aka potato bug without having to be physically restrained and sedated, I would’ve punched you in the arm and said you were nutso.

But there I am. Letting one crawl upon my hand (albeit begloved) that we found near the site of one of the island fox captive breeding pens we were invited to the island to build (see previous post).

After the jump is a reprint from the archives about the childhood backstory to the phobia and this fateful encounter that to me is indicative of my present respect and consideration for all critters — especially the ones prone to illicit irrational revulsion. Except maybe camel spiders — I’m still working on accepting them into the big circle of life.

Continue reading Oh Jerusalem Cricket!

Elmer Dills Changed My Life

I was sad to learn that famed local restaurant critic Elmer Dills died yesterday. A foodie fixture on KABC’s Eyewitness News and before that KABC radio for decades I well recall the time in the late 1970s when I called him up on his radio program one afternoon to tell him about a hole in the wall hoagie shop on Pico at Crenshaw called Paupers that my mom discovered and took me to occasionally.

I was all set to gush right to the moment Elmer welcomed me  on the air and then I froze up in a bundle of pre-pubescent stagefright and couldn’t speak in anything more than mono syllables and so my mom had to take the phone from me and save the day. I sat there really bummed at my freeze-up as she spoke into the phone and I heard her voice coming out of the radio, but instead of hanging up afterward he asked that my mom stay on hold until he hit a commercial break and then he came back on the line and asked to speak with me.

“OK young man, it’s just you and me, now” he said. “So tell me what it is you like about Paupers.”

And all the fear melted away and I told him about how much I loved the sammiches and that my favorite one was the meatball and cheese and that the sauce was awesome and the owner was really cool and I looked forward to those times when my mom had some extra money and could take us there because they were my favorite in the whole world next to Tommy’s hamburgers.

“See? That wasn’t so tough was it,” and after thanking me for calling we hung up. I felt relieved but still frustrated that I couldn’t have said that live when I had the chance.

Wouldn’t you know right after the commercial finished he came back on the air with “I had a chance to talk to the young man who just called me during the break and here’s what he had to say…” Then the next thing I hear is Dills saying “OK young man, it’s just you and me, now. So tell me what it is you like about Paupers,” and then my voice answered him. I was ecstatic at its sound, and later deeply appreciative of the shot at redemption he took the time to give me.

Since then, I can’t say Elmer Dills quite cured me of stagefright, but whenever those rare opportunities arrive now where I have to speak to a group of people I always remember it’s little different than speaking to just one person.

Thank you for that Mr. Dills. And rest in peace.