los angeles

ped·ant – noun: a person who is excessively concerned with minor details and rules.

Here in the greater Los Angeles area we’re blessed with not one, but two excellent public radio stations, KCRW at 89.9 FM and KPCC at 89.3 FM. The former operates out of Santa Monica College and the latter out of Pasadena City College.

I’ve personally always been a KPCC’er, I guess ever since my stint in the mid-to-late ’90s first as a freelancer and finally for a spell as editor of a local weekly newspaper in Pasadena — my allegiance probably had a lot to do with location and also the fact that one of the station’s “stars,” Larry Mantle, would occasionally have me on his public access TV program to discuss issues facing the area. But in the ensuing years since the dawn of the new millennium as a satellite radio subscriber, my commercial radio listenership of any channels had fallen off dramatically.

A few weeks ago, though, I was driving home from work and because I hit a deadzone that blanked out the Sirius satellite music channel I typically listen to, I clicked over to the FM band on my stereo and found myself at KCRW. It had been awhile since I’d listened to public radio and found the news and views a welcome change.

But whether it was that specific day or one shortly thereafter, their traffic reporter came on and referenced an accident on the “east” 101 Freeway in the San Fernando Valley, and though I had a minor physical reaction to the error at the time, I really thought nothing of it until over the course of several days and reports she did it again and again; “East on the 101 at White Oak there’s a collision blocking the No. 1 lane,” West on the 101 at Coldwater Canyon a stalled vehicle has been moved over to the shoulder…”

What’s my problem? Like any and all of our nation’s roadways, The 101 Freeway runs a specific direction, in this case: north/south. Period. To my knowledge there is no highway anywhere that officially changes direction just because it doesn’t happen to literally go in the figurative direction it is originally designated.

My other problem is that I’m a proud and entirely unapologetic card-carrying member of Pedantics International whose motto is “There Is No Detail Too Small Or Meaningless Upon Whose Error We Will Not Fixate.” Or is it “Miniscule” instead of “Small?” See what I mean?

As yes: That Pedant, I was compelled to go that extra step of seeking out and finding the traffic reporter’s email address on the KCRW website and thus send her a polite attempt to redirect her to correctly refer to the 101 Freeway by its proper directions, like so:

I enjoy and appreciate your afternoon traffic reports and the enthusiasm you bring to them, but I would like to respectfully point out that every time you refer to incidents on the 101 Freeway as occurring on the “east” or “west” sides, the traffic gods disable a Prius. The 101 has been, is and always should be referred to as a north/south thoroughfare:


Humbly submitted,
Will Campbell

To which I received the following polite reply:

Hi Will! I’m glad you like my reports! Thanks for taking the time
to write! I hardly ever get to engage one-on-one with listeners.
Technically, you are right, the 101 is a North/South freeway. However, due to the topography of the State, like in the San Fernando Valley & Conejo Valley it literally runs east and west from Burbank into Ventura County. It runs North/South geographically speaking at the 134. You may or may not know the 134 runs east and west. In Studio City if you stayed straight on the 101 and didn’t take the turn into Hollywood it becomes the 134. By turning South you stay on the 101. It is that section, as well as the area of northern Ventura county into Central & Northern California that it actually runs north and south. Even the on-ramps onto the freeway, say in Thousand Oaks for example, are marked East 101 and West 101.

As far as your Prius is concerned, she may just need a spa day. Take her to a nice car wash and get her insides vacuumed. And tell her to pull it together – you’re the one in charge.

While she is certainly correct that the 101 does follow an east/west trajectory through the San Fernando and Conejo valleys, I was surprised that she’d sacrifice accuracy in truly believing such a deviation qualified as an official directional change, and frankly I was entirely blown away at her insistence it was signed accordingly through those stretches.

So of course I wrote back proving her wrong (images biggable if clicked):

I appreciate the response, but with your rejection of my attempt to correct your error the Prius has sadly committed hybridicide. The 101 is in its entirety officially designated and posted as a north/south roadway, regardless of segments that you point out do indeed traverse along an east/west course. Case in point, attached is a Google Streetview image, say in Thousand Oaks for example, of a 101 SOUTH onramp. Show me a single 101 Freeway entry point that says EAST or WEST and I’ll show you a Caltrans sign hanger who made a mistake.


Unwritten at the end of that last sentence was “…and a traffic reporter who believes it as fact.” Curiously the only thing she responded with was… this:


Huh. Anyway, a few days passed with no other contact and I was surprised to hear her refer on-air to incidents involving the 101 as occurring in the north or south lanes. The rub was those incidents hadn’t occurred in the valleys so it was unclear if she had come to see the light or hadn’t. Then came this to my inbox:

Hi Will. Hope you are doing well.
Here are a couple of screen shots from two of my traffic sources I thought your Prius might find upsetting. California Highway Patrol considered the authority regarding traffic information. Better put the hybrid on suicide watch. 😉


Sigh. Should you click on the above screen shot you’ll find the CHP does indeed and wrongly refer to an incident through the valley as occurring on the “US101E / Las Virgenes Road. EB101” Below that is another incident “US101E / Coldwater Canyon. EB 101.” That explained a lot, which I elaborated on in the following farewell:

Prius, still dead. Buried even. In your honor I now have a 1968 Chevrolet Caprice convertible with an eight-cylinder 404 engine and I actually put a dose of lead additive in the tank every time you call the 101 wrong. On the good side, it’s a relief to know it’s not your fault, but on the bad side the old adages of “you’re only as good as your source,” and “if it’s on the internet it must be true” stand up. I appreciate knowing that you’re blaming a law enforcement agency because the police are never wrong and almost always justified even when they are.

I personally recommend Caltrans, which would be the actual authority on our state’s roadways. They also have an awesome traffic mapping system (http://quickmap.dot.ca.gov) that you should check out some time.

But in case you’re too busy with the CHP you’ll note in this latest edition of Disproving Your Misinformation, I’ve attached a screen grab of the Caltrans Cam on the 101 SOUTH at Los Virgenes. It’ll also be my last attempt because frankly it’s time for me to humbly surrender the fast lane to you. I’ve given you concrete proof that refuted your initial all-too-confident assertion as to the highway’s signage, and you give me pixels on a screen that allow you to proudly perpetuate in the east/west myth. I gave it my best shot and failed. You go girl.


I said at the top, we here in the greater Los Angeles area are blessed to be able to choose between two public radio stations. The subtext in surrendering the fast lane is that I also surrendered the station to her and moved (south, not west) down the dial to good ol’ KPCC. Of course in doing so, I run the risk of hearing their traffic reporter make the same mistake. It hasn’t happened yet, but if it does, I’m thinking I’ll be able to refrain from picking that same battleflag up again. In fact, I’m pretty sure. Mostly.

Here’s a 5-minute hyperlapsed version of the roughly 18-mile, 105-minute casual bike ride I did Labor Day morning that went from Silver Lake and back via Atwater Village, the Los Angeles River Bikeway, Boyle Heights, the Sixth Street Bridge, the Scrap Metal District  and back up Central Avenue across downtown and through Echo Park:

titoHaving never been to Tito’s via automobile (nor ever planning to), should I find myself attending tomorrow’s CicLAvia and pedaling past it with anything resembling an appetite + a desire for their style/version/class of tacos, I’m of a mind not to continue my unintentional life-long boycott of the place and instead ignore its owner’s stupidity and order up something just to make the ironic point that despite having motored past it scores of times throughout my loooong life, it took a CAR-FREE event they hate to get me to patronize the place.

I typically resolve not to do anything on New Year’s Day except eat, drink and watch some college football bowl games. I was successful in all three endeavors yesterday (though left despondent in defeat with the latter, watching them northern boys from up there in O-Hai-uh beat up on my beloved Crimson Tide in last night’s national championship semifinal (Good luck with Oregon, ya Buckeyes).

But as usual, I digress. My point was supposed to be that I’m not beyond the reach of resolutioning, I’m just predisposed to waiting a day to get that party started. Or nine.

This year it was a day. My resolution? To log a total of 2,015 miles on my bike this year, part of a grand fitness scheme to reverse the silly amount of weight I’ve gained in roughly the year-and-a-half since I graduated Rio Hondo Academy (I still haven’t gotten on a scale because I haven’t steeled myself for whatever that reality is; but I don’t really need a specific number to know it’s long past the time to reverse that course). Almost two years ago going into the last module of that training, at 198 pounds I was at the best fitness level I’d been ever. I could go into the backyard and do 10 sets of circuit training (20 push-ups, 30 sit-ups, 100-revs jump rope, 10-band-assisted pull-ups, 15 TRX strap body-lifts) in 45 minutes. I would go for four-mile runs around the Silver Lake Reservoir because anything less would be uncivilized. I would bike to Whittier on Saturdays, put in a full strenuous stress-laden day at the academy and then bike home.

Those days are gone my friends and I’m now – unofficially – waaaaaay greater a shadow of that former fit and trim self.

But enough of the pity party and back to the biking. In the past, I’ve made vows to “ride every day” or for a consecutive number of days, but I always fail at that. Because inevitably one night early on I’d grumble procrastinatorily and end up doing some meaningless half-mile ride around the block at 9 p.m. just to keep the streak alive. Afterward I’d be all: Enough. It’s bull taking something as fun as riding a bike and turning it into an obligatory chore.

So this year, it’s simply a totally doable milestone of 2,015 miles pedaled over the course of 2015. And it started this morning. I woke up still heartbroken over last night’s Alabama loss and I felt that lingering depression working its way up to being an excuse to drive to work rather than get out and roll through the cold morning, but I shut that devil down and rode my standard south-and-west morning commute, which according to my Cyclometer app is 8.43 miles.

Only 2,006.57 to go.

Bonus:  Since I’ll be documenting each and every ride with my handlebar cam I’m also aiming to showcase something interesting that it captures along the way, “interesting” being relative and subjective, of course. Here’s today’s snap shot at Jefferson Boulevard and Western Avenue. The guy leaning against the post at right caught my eye, especially that he’s not focused on a smartphone but rather old schooling his intent on what he’s writing with a pen upon paper. You don’t see much of that anymore (click to enlargify):


Cahuenga Pass, circa 1938CAHUENGA PASS

I dreamed there was no knife in my hand after I took the punch to the side of my head.

It was a nice dream while it lasted, but I came awake with a jump at the subconscious knuckle crunch of fist against temple, much in the same way people who are falling in their sleep jolt awake just before they impact whatever hard parcel upon which they are about to land.

Blinking the blur out of my eyes, the flood of relief I felt at the absence of the knife boiled entirely away in the instant I found myself still in the jail cell I’d been placed in after being booked for murdering the road-rager who’d thrown the blow.

Because there had been a knife in my hand. Funny thing, not only do I not remember how it got there, but I had initially planned on just accepting the slug. In a way, I totally deserved it.

I’d gotten off work. I was coming from Hollywood into the valley through the Cahuenga Pass where I’d been in a hurry to drop off a package for my boss at the FedEx near a curve in the road past Barham. I was in a rush to get home to my Encino apartmetn and cleaned up for a date later all the way back over on Melrose with none other than Elie Tolsen. I’d known Elie since high school, but back then crush be damned, I was a stoner fuck-up to whom such a princess wouldn’t give the time of day. Since then, I cleaned up nicely and got a promising job at Paramount. She’d filled out nicely and landed a co-starring roll on a popular TV cop show that just so happened to film at the same studio.

So there I was, FedEx package delivered and putting my car in reverse there on the driveway apron, trying to make every second count. Instead of backing out, heading east and turning around safely and sanely somewhere back in the direction from which I’d just come, I opted instead to back out across the clear eastbound lanes and arc into the space for left turns in the center of the street.

While I executed the obviously questionable maneuver perfectly, it surprised the driver of a car coming west around the bend who laid on the horn as he passed me, an alarm I fully deserved. After pulling into the lane I came up behind him stopped at a red light a couple blocks down. While the driver of the car was just glaring at me in his rearview mirror, it was the passenger who’d gone totally apoplectic with anger, turning fully in his seat full-throat yelling at me and flipping me off through the rear window. Seriously, there was spittle involved. Man overboard!

The irony is not only did the driver try to calm his friend down, but I also gave it my best attempt to placate the asshole. I mouthed sincerely that I was sorry and gestured as best I could to indicate I was certifiably the worst driver in the world who shouldn’t be allowed to walk the streets much less operate a motor vehicle upon them.

It didn’t translate to the guy riding shotgun. He just kept laying on with the fuckyous and the assholes and the middle fingers and the kickyerasses to the point where I had enough and returned fire. Then he gestured: let’s fucking go right fucking here, right fucking now.

Next thing, the light’s turning green, but he’s out of the car and moving towards me. Nothing about him was outwardly concerning — 5’10” maybe 175 pounds, no guns in his hands. But regardless of his lack of physical stature or weaponry, logic dictates that one should not stay frozen in a confined and hardly defensible space such as the interior of a vehicle as some stark and raving lunatic closes the distance. One should get out, the better to fight or to flee.

But for some strange reason, I stayed put — surprisingly calmly so. Ignoring the psycho as he arrived at the driver’s side window and instead looked straight ahead at the driver of the car who also remained behind his wheel but now in exasperation held his head in both hands.

I don’t remember what the fellow yelled and spit at me through the open window, neither is it important. What is important is that my failure to engage enraged him further enough to first slam his hand down on the roof of my car and then bitchslap at the side of my head, coming into contact with my left ear enough to cause an intense burning sensation.

Here’s the thing. I don’t take pain well. I don’t mean to say that I have a low threshold for it, it’s just that I woefully lack the ability to ignore whatever thing — be it animate, inanimate or in this case highly animated — that is the cause of that pain. I’ve destroyed chairs that I’ve stubbed toes on. I flushed a hamster down the toilet that bit me on the pinky. During my first year in junior high, I put a towering ninth grader in the hospital for suckering me into accepting a high five with a nail held between his middle and ring fingers. The school security guard had to pull me off him to stop me with hands full of his ears and hair from banging his head face first into the playground asphalt for the tenth time. It’s a byproduct overdrive impulse to inflict an equal or greater amount of damage to that which has been inflicted upon me.

Slim as it may have been, any chance of me not going batshit at the eird slap was taken off the table when his fist came in full contact to my temple, the force of which drove me across onto the passenger seat, upon which sat my backpack and in which resided the buck knife with a folding four-inch locking blade that was a gift from the warehouse manager of a previous employer back when I hadn’t quite cleaned up so well.  The job was in a bad part south and east of downtown and the manager told me for very good reason that I should never ever be without a knife.

In the ensuing daze of ear-ringing semi-consciousness I won’t deny going through the complicated process of opening the appropriate pocket of the backpack, removing the knife from its leather case, and locking it open. It’s just that I sincerely don’t remember doing so. All I recall is that when I felt him grabbing at my shirt and pulling me back toward him, I came up more quickly than he expected. With my left arm I pinned his right arm against pillar of the car frame and kept pushing the forearm away from me at an unnatural angle until there was a very satisfying crack and and even more satisfying a scream. Then what may have been the butt of his left palm connected with my forehead and I saw a light show before my eyes during which I drove the knife in my right hand into and out of and into and out of his midsection.

I couldn’t tell you how many times, other than I didn’t stop until he slumped and fell away from my car onto his back in the number one westbound lane just in time to be run over by a passing FedEx truck. Whether he was dead before he hit the street, or was finished off under the tire treads, I don’t know.

All I knew when sirens sounded in the distance and grew louder with each passing second was that I had killed two things, a man and my date with Elie. I was far more upset about the latter.

In the 12-plus years I’ve been a-blogging, I don’t think I’ve ever gone more than a week or two without posting SOMETHING. So you can imagine my shock when I saw I’d last been seen here basically more than three weeks ago.

The funny thing is, I’ve still been communicating, but mostly on Facebook, which for reasons known only to Mark Zuckerberg has been able to squirrel its way in to becoming something of my defacto mode of e-communication. I don’t even tweet much anymore.

But enough about that. Without any further preambling, here’s some of the stuff I’ve been doing of late:

1) Kayaking The Los Angeles River

As part of a pilot program this summer, a section of the long-lost Los Angeles River coursing through Elysian Valley was reopened to the public for use as a recreational resource, an opportunity angelenos have not had since the 1930s when the river’s channelization was begun to prevent flooding.

As a boy I accidentally discovered the river, and from that single experience I have never stopped being enamored with and zealously protective of what so many others have dismissed as our city’s woeful waterway — little more than a drainage ditch to the sea. Though I’ve been aware of its potential, I never imagined that one day I’d see such a sea change in perception so that  the river would made accessible and embraced not as a prohibited place but as public parkland to be explored and experienced and as something to connect with after so long a disconnect.


So for me, thanks to L.A. River Expeditions (Facebook), to be among the first wave during this historic first season and doing what you see in these clips at the top and after the jump: putting a kayak into its waters and putting my butt into that kayak and paddling — however awkwardly — downstream for a water-level perspective of my beloved river, it’s not a dream come true. Because I never dared to dream this could ever happen. Not in my lifetime.

No, it’s much more than that. To me it’s nothing short of a glorious miracle. And for that I’m thankful to everyone who has fought so tirelessly and valiantly over the years to get the city’s much-maligned and misbegotten river recreated in enough influential minds so that it can now be leisurely recreated upon.

Physically and soulfully these waters were very moving.

2) Unrocking The parkway in front of our house

I can’t remember if it was four or five years ago, but it all began when our next door neighbor contacted me to tell me he was redoing the section of parkway in front of his house with river rocks, and would I be interested in going in for half of the cost and doing mine as well to give the two parkways some continuity.

I figured why not. It would look better than the dirt and dead grass that had been there and it would be an opportunity to do something positive with the guy with whom, frankly, I’m not on the best of terms.

So a few weeks later he shows up with a metric ton of the palm-sized rocks and we pour them out, and the continuity lasted for all of as long as it took for the grasses and weeds to grow from between our rocks. See, he keeps his section of the parkway completely sterile, using gardeners he’s instructed to pluck pretty much even the slightest growth of green. Me? I’m my own gardener and I instructed myself not to give a hoot about what grows.

The only thing I’d been meticulous about is putting the rocks back that people for some stupid reason can’t resist kicking or tossing all over the place: the gutter, the street, the sidewalk, our front steps. And yes, I’ve even confronted people I’ve witnessed taking the rocks – literally picking up several and walking off as if there’s a “Free Rocks — All You Can Carry!” sign posted.

Fast forward to this week, and I’m finally done with these rocks. Agreeing to partner this design option for our parkways did nothing to improve things with the neighbor, and so I decided that it’s time to reclaim or refresh our decidedly seedy section of the parkway and remove the river rocks.

I started yesterday (August 12), and quickly discovered that it was something easier said than done. What I thought would take a couple hours of clearing the roughly 40′ x 4′ area, is going to take about eight or more… mostly because over the ensuing rainy seasons, what started as one layer of rocks on the surface of the soil is now in places two or three layers of rocks that have been buried by the flow of water and soil, hastened by those people who’ve tromped on them and pushed them deeper. It’s really quite remarkable how low some of these rocks have gone.

I found out during the first four/five foot long section I cleared from the driveway apron to the magnolia tree, which also involved digging up all the dead patches of grass. And there are a LOT of dead patches of grass.

Soooo, what you’re seeing here in this timelapse is roughly 45 minutes of me attacking with little more than a spade and begloved hands the second four/five foot section between the magnolia tree and the brick walkway. Ended up filling the bucket three times. That’s a lotta rocks. And I’ll do it again tomorrow. And the day after. Until it’s done.

Not sure yet what I plan to do once it’s all cleared. I may just leave it bare. I may plant something. Or I may supersaturate the soil and set the rocks back into the wet dirt side by side like so many tiles. At least that way if some idiot wants to take one or toss one  it’ll require a little more effort than just bending over and getting grabby.

Menial labor? Meaningful labor? Bit of both from where I’m toiling.

It’s not like me to go more than a couple days between posting anything, and my excuse is that it pretty much took me the weekend to recuperate from the all-nighter I pulled Friday shadowing the 340-ton rock between South Los Angeles and its destination at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on the final night of the journey that began in Riverside County about a week and a half ago.

I left the house at 8:45 p.m. to bike downtown and meet up with my friend Joni, wherein we pedaled down to Figueroa Street south of Gage in time for the rock’s 10 p.m. departure aboard its elaborate 200-foot long, three-traffic-lane-wide transporter.

Here’s a clip of the monster vehicle juuuuuuust barely clearing a speed limit sign at the bend in Figueroa Street just south of Exposition Boulevard:

That above location will now forever hold a frustrating place in my head as it was where I suffered one of the most dumbfounding brainfarts of my life. In addition to the camera I used for the realtime footage, I was also timelapsing each pass-by with my GoPro cam on a small tripod. After the truck had passed, I packed up what I thought was both cameras into my pack and Joni and I headed up through the USC campus to get ahead of it to await its first left turn at Figueroa and Adams. Upon arrival I went to unpack the GoPro and it wasn’t there — meaning I’d somehow managed to leave it behind. I made the obligatory return to the scene of my idiocy but I knew the whole way back that the odds of the device sitting there untouched amidst all the foot traffic were slim, and sure enough when I arrived it was gone. Sigh. All I could do was hope whoever found it needed it more than I did and would take better care of it than I had, and I returned crestfallen to Fig and Adams where I spent pretty much the rest of the night (and weekend) flip-flopping between letting it go and kicking myself for committing such an incredible and inexplicable fail.

The good news is that the rock was making great time. We met up with my friend Elson at Adams and Normandie and after that the crew flawlessly executed the rig’s toughest turn of the night, a right onto Western from Adams. Not much later the rig completed the left from Western onto Wilshire at 1:30 a.m., and things suddenly looked like they might wrap up way ahead of schedule. But thanks to illegally parked cars along that homestretch as well as a traffic signal that needed to be moved out of the rock’s way (see photo below), it then took three hours to get from there to the front of LACMA, pulling to a stop at 4:30 a.m. for an extended stop/photo opp before a large crowd who cheered its arrival. Continuing west it made a right from Wilshire Boulevard onto Fairfax and then a right halfway up the block onto the museum’s grounds where it will be installed in the Levitated Mass exhibit slated to open in about six weeks. I said goodbye to Joni via text as she was somewhere else near a plug recharging her phone, and Elson and I headed back east through the quiet streets by the dawn’s early light.

Here’s a clip of the vehicle passing in front of the United Methodist Church on Wilshire Boulevard between Highland and La Brea:

About a block and a half after the church, an LADOT service crew jumped into action to elevate the traffic signal at Fremont Place so the rock could continue rolling:

Not taking anything away from the largest rock to be transported since ancient times, but honestly, the vehicle was more impressive than its precious cargo. And not taking away from the enjoyment of being witness to the final leg of its journey across town, but by the time I got home at about 7 a.m. all the coffee in the can wouldn’t have kept me awake, and I crashed until 11 a.m. and then again from 1 to about 4 p.m. on the backyard hammock. Sunday, I did manage to do some leaf sweeping in the front of the house and go get Susan and me some lunch, but that was about it for productivity.

Still, if I had the chance to do it all again, I wouldn’t hesitate. And I wouldn’t lose any of my equipment.

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