flashback


On May 1 1969, when I was 4, Fred Rogers appeared before a US Senate subcommittee to fight for the half of the $20,000,000 in funding that President Richard Nixon wanted cut from PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that year.

Watch him below as he charms the pants off of the subcommittee’s chairman Sen. John Pastore.

More than 40 years later, listening to him speak so wholeheartedly and eloquently about how much he cares about children and how important he believed his program was to them is something of an aha! moment in realizing that way back then I was one of those children for whom he was fighting.

I was reminded the day before yesterday that biking isn’t just good for you, it can be good for others, too.

Fast-backward with me to March 2009 when I saw a traffic accident occur at 3rd and Commonwealth (read my post all about it, here) and stopped to be of assistance and come forward as a witness. What was unique about my capacity as that witness is that I later learned that I had conclusive proof who was at fault. With my handlebarcam timelapsing the ride as usual, and me also testing a separate digital recording device on the way in to work that morning I had both audio — and more importantly a physical visual of a definitive moment immediately prior to the impact that determined who was at fault.

At issue was who did and did not have the right of way. Was it the first party westbound on 3rd and making a left to go south on Commonwealth, or was it the second party heading east on 3rd across Commonwealth? The first party, who you hear me talking to shortly after the impact was pretty sure, it was the second party. And frankly, I wasn’t certain he was wrong until I looked at the timelapse later and saw the following two frames (both slightly enlargeable):

In the top frame you see my cam has captured the second party’s car just as its nosed over the crosswalk and into the intersection, and in the bottom frame there’s juuuuusssst a little bit of the rear of the vehicle visible all the way over on the left edge of the frame, a fraction of a second before the collision. What’s also visible is the indisputable fact that the cross street light is red.

When my testimony was taken I told the interviewer that with absolute certainty, the 3rd Street light was not red when the eastbound party entered the intersection and thus had the right of way.

Fast-forward with me to this Monday. I’m sitting at my desk having another of a string  of hellacious days of what will be an hellacious workweek and the phone rings. Is it someone from the office wanting to know why I’m sucking so exceptionally at the moment or is it a telemarketer? Neither. Instead, it’s the son of the elderly couple who were in the Ford sedan pictured above. I’d spoken with him shortly after the accident when he called to thank me for coming to his parents’ assistance, and he was calling again almost two years later at the request of his mom and dad who thought of me now that the case is getting closer to a settlement and asked him to ring me up express their gratitude for me doing something that’s a total given for me: being of help to someone in need.

And in a way they did the same thing for me by reaching out to say thanks. Given how much I’ve been colliding with myself mentally this past few pressurized weeks , I couldn’t’ve asked for a nicer attaboy to brighten my day.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of Evelyn Ruth Billings. I wrote about her demise back when I was editor-in-chief at The Roundup, the student newspaper of Los Angeles Pierce College.

From her tragedy came a personal triumph. My op-ed piece went on to take first place in the column writing category at the 1994 statewide Journalism Association of Community Colleges competition. Judged so by none other than one my my favorite columnists of all time, Jack Smith (which was as great an honor as winning).

The plaque hangs today off my desk hutch, and while the prize ain’t no Pulitzer, it’s my pride and joy — but one always tempered by the knowledge that it came at the expense of another’s pain.

Why do I bring this up? Not so much because of the passing of the 17th anniversary of  Evelyn throwing herself off the Mulholland Drive Bridge in the Sepulveda Pass, but moreso because of the bridge itself.

Coincidentally I just learned today that the span is destined to be demolished and replaced to accommodate a widened San Diego Freeway beneath it. From what I understand Caltrans and Metro will actually build the replacement bridge first and then destroy the existing one.

I’m not upset because the city is going to lose another landmark. The bridge is eye-catching for its height above the 405, but other than that there’s nothing notable about it architecturally or historically. But I am somewhat sad to see it go because not a passage that I’ve made since, either beneath it or across it has gone without me remembering the last place Evelyn stood upon this earth alive and saying a little prayer for her.

Rest in peace, Evelyn.

What is it about vintage images of everyday street scenes, such as this one from the northwest corner of Hollywood & Vine in the early 1950s (hat-tip to LA Observed)? I can’t help but extensively examine and explore them as if they are some archaeological find.

Yet should someone venture out this afternoon with a camera and post a snap of this same landmark location, I’d give it, at best, a passing glance.


Click image for the bigger picture

Next in my occasional trippings down memory lane through the Los Angeles Public Library’s digital archives, I share with you this blast from the past. Undated, but if the visible vehicles are any indication probably taken somewhere around the late 1920s to early ’30s, we find Carpenter’s Drive-In that once stood at 6285  Sunset Boulevard between Vine Street and Argyle in Hollywood.

As one carhop serves a customer at the right of the image, a pair waits for arrivals at this prime example of a city catering to the automobile where one could order up  “A Real Hamburger Sandwich” for 15 cents and wash it down from behind the wheel with a few draught beers (see the sign above the heads of the two carhops) before hitting the [*hic*] road.

Can you imagine?

Both the then-acceptable behavior of drinking and driving and Carpenter’s were long gone by the time I came around. But I’m old enough not only to have childhood memories of the eating at the similarly circular Delores’ drive-In that stood on Wilshire, just west of La Cienega, but also to have teenage recollections of  when it was torn down in the early 1980s to make way for the office building that occupies the real estate now.

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.

Today marks the anniversary of the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. The day after that horror, as the theater critic for the Pasadena Weekly I couldn’t help but draw parallels and distinctions between such a fresh hell and the subject matter of the play I covered, whose review, follows:

Taking ‘Heart’
Political drama points finger at causes of AIDS epidemic
By William Campbell

The Whitefire Theater’s production of Larry Kramer’s “The Normal Heart” opened April 20 in Sherman Oaks, one day after the tragic and horrible bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, Okla.

“So?” you ask.

Well, directly, there’s no connection, but at the close of the show that evening, it was all too easy to draw similarities between the play’s subject matter — the first, desperate years of the AIDS crisis and this country’s slow response in dealing with it — and the terrible event that had occurred in America’s heartland.

Both have had devestating effect; destroying lives and families, causing us to question our safety and security, and dragging into the light how vulnerable and fragile we are as both a nation and as individuals.

But in watching the events of the bombing unfold, amazed at the organization and mobilization of resources, appreciative of the forces being utilized to apprehend those responsible, and proud of the countrywide — if not global — outpouring of support for the citizens of Oklahoma City, the similarities abruptly end.

Because in the opening years of the AIDS crisis, well-depicted in Kramer’s play, there was no massive mobilization of resources. The only forces marshalled were those on the grass-roots level with little or no support from the government. And as to an outpouring? “Trickle-down” took on a whole new meaning in the early-to-mid 1980s.

Just imagine it if an organized, concerted effort — comparable to that witnessed in Oklahoma — had been concentrated against this nightmare disease early-on. Dream of what such a dedication of energy might have acomplished, what advances might have been made, what pain could have been eased, and what lives might have been prolonged or even saved. Because in looking back at the AIDS epidemic, a past of might-have-beens and could-have-dones, dreaming of what never happened is all that’s left — that and a lot of pain and death.

But dreaming of the non-existent past is not what “The Normal Heart” is about at all. Instead, Kramer’s semi-autobiographical drama is about hope and acceptance, triumph over fear and death, and the search for the face of truth in a world that has turned its back.

Directed by Ekta Monica Lobo and starring an ensemble cast that features Robert Bakkemo as outspoken, opinionated, brash and head-strong Ned Weeks, “The Normal Heart” takes place in New York City between 1981 and 1984, and chronicles Weeks’ struggle to create an effective organization to lead the fight against AIDS.

The production itself has a workshop feel to it, with its bare-bones sets and close-to-interminable gaps between the numerous scene and set changes, but it is not without its passionate moments.

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