Happy Foot / Sad Foot

I’m nothing if not a creature of habit. For years on our morning dog walks we would trace the same route, one point of which overlooked a Silver Lake landmark — the famed rotating sign on the corner of Benton Way and Sunset Boulevard for a foot clinic that was dubbed “Happy Foot / Sad Foot” because on one side of the sign there was picture of a (see below) — you guessed it: happy foot and on the flip side was one of a sad foot. The legend that built up around the sign is that you will have either good luck or bad luck depending on which foot you see when you look up.

The sign had been there for as long as I can remember (going back to the early 1980s) and I couldn’t imagine it ever going away. But this is Los Angeles and of course it did, about five years ago when the clinic moved to Virgil Village, one neighborhood over to the west.

I’ve witnessed the disappearance of a lot of my Silver Lake treasures in the 20 years I’ve lived here, but it was the loss of the sign that signaled something of a deathknell for the community as I knew and loved it, and potentially one for what had become a morning ritual of getting to that point on a bend in the road where the sign would come into view and my wife and I would call out whether I saw the happy foot or the sad foot, something of a mini predictor as to whether our days would unfold happily or sadly — not that I believe in that sort of thing.

In the sign’s mourned absence, I thankfully found a company called World Famous Original that sold sets of enameled Happy Foot Sad Foot pins, so I didn’t hesitate to purchase one after which I’d keep them in my pocket on our walks and whenever we’d hit that spot I’d dig in and come out with whatever pin I touched first. The tradition continued.

But it was an imperfect system in that I would find myself sometimes slow to extract a pin from my pocket, feeling for a familiar indicator of the happy foot over the sad foot, which defeats the spontaneity. Some might even call it [que the dramatic music] cheating.

I know, I know… I take this shit WAY too seriously. Case in point: A year ago I actually looked into making a custom coin to flip with the images on either side. Heads, happy. Tails, sad. Entirely too pricey.

So I finally did the next best thing yesterday, I DIY’d my own coin by cutting off the pin bits from the backs of each and then filing them down flat, after which I glued them to an old self-serve carwash token, like so:

I put it to use during this morning’s dog walk and its inaugural random flip came up Happy Foot. As it should!

It’s Alive! Bigfoot Reanimated!

Back at the end of August, a fatal crack appeared along the weld at the top of the seat tube of my beloved Rad Power Bikes RadRover ebike, and to keep a long story shortened pleas to get Rad Power Bikes to help by offering me a discount on either a new bike or perhaps even a replacement frame were met with decalarations that my three-year-old bike was loooooong past Rad’s stinky one-year warranty and a consolation offer of a $50 gift card (to which I told them where they could put that token bullshit).

I was fortunate in that I had my wife’s ebike to ride while I mourned the apparent demise of Bigfoot. But instead of just breaking her down for parts and relegating the leftovers to the broken bike heap, I got proactive and hopeful that I could find a welder who could make repairs.

The first place I found was out in Fontana, which is about 50 miles away, and I kept it in reserve while I tried to find something that wouldn’t involve roundtrips totaling 200-plus miles. The second place I found was north of Woodland Hills in the San Fernando Valley, and when I finally got out there toward the end of September the guy took a look at the job and said he was lacking a special tool needed, a cylinder that would sit snug inside the tubing and block the new weld from encroaching in that space, which would be bad. He subsequently recommended a third welder — Jaytech Fabrication & Welding further north in Chatsworth who he was pretty sure had said tool so I drove out to his place. He inspected Bigfoot’s injury, determined he had the right sized tool and could fix it, but was so overbooked with jobs at the moment and so limited on space he wouldn’t even allow me to leave the bike and instead directed me to call the following week and book an appointment. I did and secured an October 3 return date, after which for $120 he fixed it in a couple days. But when he called me to let me know he was done he said there was a problem.

In a nutshell, he said that after doing the work he determined an issue that more than likely caused the first crack and would guarantee his weld would be doomed to cracking again. He said for reasons unknown to him, a few inches down from the top of the seat tube the interior was wider than at the top — juuuuust enough that the actual seat tube that sits in there will flex and move in the course of every day riding exerting stress on the top where the weld is and ultimately causing it to fail.

“So I just threw away $120?” I asked, and he said something close to “Well here’s what I would do if it were my bike. I would drill three holes in the area where the interior of the tube widens, then I would weld three threaded supports aligned over those holes after which I would run set screws into those mounts and holes that when tightened against the seat tube inside would stabilize it in place inside the frame, prevent any such internal movement and add years to the life of the bike.”

When I asked what the additional charge would be he said $200. “Sold,” I said.

He had gotten busy again and was even shorter on space than before and at first wanted me to come get the bike out of there and bring it back at a later date when things had calmed down. I had to practically beg him to let me drop off the actual seat tube the next day and leave the bike with him until he could get to it, and he finally said OK.

The next morning, I showed up bright and early with my seat tube, got it situated on the bike and told him I would look forward to hearing from him when it was done. Three weeks later, it was, and I picked it up this morning.

The work done brings to mind the term “Frankenbike,” but I love the unpainted welds and bolts, and the newly exposed aluminum framing. They’re like a survivor’s badges of honor.

It goes without saying how completely thrilled that Bigfoot will ride again.

Angels Flights: Ups & Downs

I’d imagine there have been hundreds to thousands of operators over the history of Angels Flight funicular at its original location at Third Street for its first 68 years (1901-1969), and then for these last 26 (1996-2022) at its present location a half-block south.

However many operators there have been, these last several months I have been proud to be counted among that legion doing what may very well be one of the most quintessentially LA jobs — one that I expressed interest in on total impulse when I saw a social media posting last summe that the railway was hiring.

I was not yet five years old when the final nail in Bunker Hill’s coffin was hammered and Angels Flight was closed down and dismantled in May 18, 1969. Frankly I can’t recall even being aware of its existence until it was announced in the mid-1990s that after sitting in storage Angels Flight was being restored and returned to service.

As a Los Angeles native who had lost so many personal touchstones and civic landmarks to a city that has no rearview mirror, the idea that one that had been destroyed was being reborn really struck me as nothing short of a miracle.

And that miracle happened when Angels Flight reopened on February 26, 1996. My first ride was about a month later on the afternoon of March 25, 1996. I know the exact date, because as coincidence would have it, a fellow passenger on the ride down from the Station House to the Hill Street Archway was actor Nicolas Cage, who the following evening would be awarded the Best Actor Oscar for “Leaving Las Vegas” at the 68th Academy Awards taking place then at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. I surmised that Cage, resplendent in a bright white leather sportcoat, had been at the nearby Pavilion for rehearsals and was on a break heading to Grand Central Market for something to eat.

Admiring his attire while sitting across from him on the rickety ride down, I said “That is one nice jacket, Mr. Cage,” to which he tossed me back a thank you. Once out of the car and through the turnstiles, I wished him luck tomorrow night, to which he turned back and said with a smile, “It’s in the bag!”

Back in the present day as a current operator, I find myself taking opportunities to document the railway with photos and videos. In the past I’ve mounted a cam to the cars and just gotten clips of them moving up and down the tracks. Most recently this past Saturday, I memorialized via timelapse, a bit of the mundane in my pre-opening duty of sweeping the decks and cleaning the windows and seats. After that I moved the camera inside the station house, and timelapsed a couple hours of the literal ups and downs of doing the job I am honored to perform.

Timelapse: Pre-opening Cleaning
Timelapse: The Ups & Downs

Showdown At The Cahuenga Onramp

In the summer of 1976 I was 12 years old and lived with my mother and a cat named Puddy in Hollywood. Our apartment was on Holly Drive, a residential street north of Franklin Avenue and east of Cahuenga Boulevard. Built in the late 1930s, our building, consisting of four staggered connected two-story units, — each one stepped out from behind the other– had moderne architectural details such as round windows and curved railings and balconies that made it resemble a ship. My mom has long told me the builder was named Sam Harwick whose similar apartment buildings could be found all over Los Angeles, but I’ve never found any information about him. Coincidentally, my mother lived there as an aspiring actress in the 1950s, long before I came along. A friend of hers from back then, an elderly man named Jack Demers, still lived in the house nextdoor to the north.

1931-1937 Holly Drive

It was a great place to live. There was a vacant lot on the corner across the street which was great for ball games, and an established neighborhood grocery store called Triangle Market stood down at the corner of Franklin and Cahuenga — with a brand new 7-11 a half block further south. The Hollywood Reservoir, Hollywood Bowl, Hollywood Boulevard and Hollywood Sign were all but a few minutes away by bike or hike, and the neighborhood had a great collection of kids around my age from all walks of life. Two who lived across the street from me were brothers, Casey and Brady. Casey was a couple years older.

At that same time, the 101 Freeway, which passed over Holly Drive a few doors north from us, was being widened in a project that seemed like it would never end — part of which was the addition of a southbound onramp to it from Cahuenga. It was on that unfinished onramp where I recovered Casey’s stolen bicycle from its thief.

As Casey told it, he’d dropped his bike, a red Schwinn, outside of Triangle Market and went in to get a soda — more than likely a lemony Pepsi Light in the new small six-ounce cans that were all the rage. When he came out the bike was gone. He was really upset, as would anybody be.

A few days later, I had ridden to Triangle Market where I saw Casey’s bike parked outside the front door. I waited to see who would claim it, and the kid who came out a few moments later was about my age, but not a member of our group. Dark-skinned with a head of thick messy black hair, I’d seen him around before, most notably because he had a disfiguring split in his upper lip and jaw that always left him looking like he was smiling. He lived further up on Cahuenga with a large family. My mom called them gypsies, whatever that meant. The only gypsies I’d known of were in “Dracula,” by Bram Stoker, a comic book version of which I’d recently read.

The kid got on the bike and rode north from the store on Cahuenga. I followed him. When he realized that he tried to get away, but I was on a 10-speed and gained on him as he got past the Chevron gas station up the street. When he got to the freeway onramp he made the mistake of trying to get away up it, but the roadway at that point was all loose gravel and he didn’t get far before the tires got stuck. He made an attempt to pick up the bike and run with it, but he rightly gave up on that idea . He had nowhere to go, the onramp was all blocked off further up the rise.

“That’s my friend’s bike,” I told him.

As his eyes darted from me to possible escapes and back, he didn’t say anything so I cut to the chase, my heart pounding in my chest.

“I’m not leaving without it.”

Truth is, if the kid had pulled a knife or had made even a half-convincing bluff to fight me for it, I would have left without it. But he didn’t. We just stood there facing each other until he finally shrugged, let go of the bike’s handlebars and let it drop, after which he crunched through the gravel wide around me back down the onramp and up Cahuenga. Once he was out of view, I wasted no time getting me and both bikes back to Holly Drive and a very grateful Casey.

My First Game With Vin

I remember my first game at Dodgers Stadium. I was six years old in 1970. They played the Giants. I don’t remember the final score or who was pitching, playing or who might’ve hit a homerun or who won.

But I remember where I sat. The seats were level with the field, a few rows back halfway between home plate and the outfield wall down the first base side.

I remember my awe at the size of the place. I’d never been to anything so big.

I remember my amazement at the size of the crowd. I’d never seen so many people in one place. And I remember its deafening roars of approval and its thunderous boos of angry disappointment. It was kind of frightening at first and took a little getting used to.

I remember the baseball mitt I brought hoping to catch a foul ball. It was my Pee Wee League mitt for the team I played on in the park across the street from where I lived with my mom and a stray cat we took in named Puddy. The mitt was black and signed by Claude Osteen, who I didn’t know was a pitcher for the Dodgers at the time.

The only Dodger pitcher I knew was Sandy Koufax and I remember hoping he was pitching, and being very disappointed when told not only that he wasn’t pitching that night, but that he’d retired from the game a couple years earlier. Sandy Koufax was my idol not because I’d followed baseball — hell, at that young age I could barely follow the leader — but because he was left-handed like me, which I learned after my mom invoked his name to my team’s coach when confronting him for trying to convert me to right-handed.

She wondered to him if Sandy Koufax’s first coach had tried to change his throwing arm, to which the coach snorted and asked her if she thought I was the next Sandy Koufax. She said the point wasn’t who I might become, but that I was who I was and that included being left-handed and that if he did anything to change that she would make sure that who he would quickly become is my ex-coach.

After I then learned more about Koufax’s legendary pitching, a hero was born. And other than my mom, there were no other southpaws in my world so for a while I fully believed Sandy and I were related.

But most of all at the game, I remember the voice. It seemed to come from everywhere once the game started and the crowd settled in. It was on my left, my right, behind me, and in front. I didn’t know who it belonged to or where it came from. All I knew is it was a soothing, friendly voice that was describing whatever was happening on the field — almost as it happened; pitches, strikes, balls, hits, runs, fouls, ground outs, fly balls, catches.

I remember whipping around in my seat trying to figure out how this magic was hapening until my mom pointed out a transistor radio a couple rows in front of us, then one a few seats behind, and another a few seats to the left. Then I saw another. And another. It seemed as if more people had radios than didn’t.

“Who is he?” I asked.

She told me the voice belonged to Vin Scully, the game announcer.

And another Dodgers hero was born. One who remained a beloved and irreplaceable constant throughout my life and all of its subsequent Dodgers’ baseball until his retirement at the end of the 2016 season.

“Where is he?” I asked my mom and she pointed upwards over her shoulder towards the center of the stadium.

“Heaven?”

She targeted a span of brightly lighted booths about mid-way to the top.

“Not quite. The press boxes.”

My Own Personal D-Day

Glad I checked the archives: Today — June 6, 2022, is the 10-year anniversary of my very first day as a cadet in Rio Hondo College Police Academy Class 2012-1

Back then I was but a lad of (cough) 48 years, daring to put what became a frustrating journalism career behind me and undertake a very much younger man’s endeavor in entering into the field of law enforcement.

In the months after leading up to June 6, 2012, I’d done my best to prepare mentally and physically. I dropped to 220 pounds (10 pounds lost of which was my hair that I hadn’t mowed in more than two years).

I studied codes both radio and penal, ethics, history, grappling and a wide range of law-enforcement scenarios. My new Glock and I got well-acquainted at a local range. I could run a mile in less than seven minutes, three miles in 25, crank out 30 damn good push-ups and 60 solid sit-ups, and a whole mess of (band-assisted) pull-ups.

But all that work wasn’t enough during that slow drive to Whittier for Day 1 to prevent me from questioning my resolve on what coincidentally was the anniversary of D-Day in which in my own small way I was advancing nervously into foreign territory not all that confident I could survive the ordeal.

I don’t think I passed a single offramp the length of the eastbound 60 Freeway from the 101 to the 605 that the doubting devil in me didn’t say was an opportunity to save me from making myself a fool. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t listen, give in and get off at Garfield Avenue.

But I fought the fear and instead of turning tail back west I got going east with my impromptu battle cry as I got back on the freeway being something like “Man the fuck up and let us go see what happens!” And the devil and I did.

Fast-forward 13 months, and having successfully avoided/overcome the innumerable hurdles that DQ’d more than half of my fellow cadets, I stood on stage with the other Class 2012-1 graduates, one of the proudest achievements in my life. But that’ll be an anniversary I recall next year.

P.S. I was not kidding about my hair:

Barnaby Jones: Forty-Four Years Later

It wasn’t long in 1977 after my mom and I moved to 514 N. Wilton Place (she liked to call the neighborhood Hancock Park-adjacent, to me it was still Hollywood) that notifications were posted announcing filming of scenes for an episode of “Barnaby Jones” would be taking place in the alley behind the duplex property that we shared with the landlord next door — a youngish fellow named David Bruns who seemed nice in the beginning but turned out to be a more than partially unhinged Vietnam War veteran we had to call the police on a time or two.

I was 13 at the time and while aware of the detective show it aired too late on a school night for me to watch. I certainly was aware of its star Buddy Ebsen who I long knew and loved as the patriarch of “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Perhaps even more acutely was I aware of Ebsen’s costar Lee Meriwether, who was a major boyhood crush of mine going back to her time as Catwoman on “Batman.”

It struck me at the time as bit of a big random deal that of all the alleys in all of greater Los Angeles, a popular TV show was going to be setting up shop for a day in the one that dead-ended behind our modest residence. But as bad timing would have it the day of filming was a school day so I didn’t get to see a second of it. To add to my disappointment, Bruns, who was home that day, told me that the scene, which was shot right outside our back fence, involved Meriwether. I was bummed not to have been able to see Catwoman in person!

I don’t remember making too big a deal trying to catch the episode. As I mentioned above, it aired too late during the week for me. And bear in mind, this was still B.V. — Before VCR — when, barring lucking into catching a rerun during the summer, you either saw a show when it aired or you just didn’t.

So ultimately I didn’t, but for whatever reason that’s occasionally irked me throughout my life — especially within the last decade or so with the entrenchment of on-demand streaming that has allowed so many old television shows to be rediscovered by old fans or gain fresh life with new generations of viewers. Apparently “Barnaby Jones” is not among them. Sure, DVD boxed sets existed of the series, which ran for eight seasons from 1973-’80, but I don’t buy DVDs anymore and even if I did I was too cheap to want to invest anything more than my time digging a proverbial episode needle out of a haystack of several seasons. So instead I would occasionally check a variety of streaming platforms to see if the show was available, and most recently found it only available on something called MeTV airing Tuesdays through Saturdays at the ungodly hour of 3AM. No thanks.

Fast-forward to this past weekend and an author named Paul Haddad who I follow on Twitter (his handle is L.A. Dork; @la_dorkout) posted about how the Beverly Crest street his family lived on, Betty Lane, was the location where the gruesome milkman scene from “It’s Alive” was filmed (small world-coincidental to Betty Lane, at that same time in the mid-1970s, my godparents were his neighbors living one street up from the Haddads on Stuart Lane). Paul ended his tweet asking his followers who’s had a movie or TV show filmed at or near their house?

I commented about “Barnaby Jones,” which then led me to another round through Netflix et al to see if my streaming dreams had been answered. They had not. That got me to look up the show’s Wiki page and from a detailed episode listing figured the show in question had to have aired sometime during its last three seasons. I found one in the seventh season that was based in Hollywood, and a subsequent Google search for that episode titled “The Picture Pirates” led me to find the full episode on YouTube through a channel called MovieWorld. Scrolling through its timeline did not reveal a location appearing to be an alley, but it did lead me to discover that pretty much every episode of the series has been posted to the MovieWorld Channel.

So with that resource suddenly available it was time to get to work and with nothing particularly pressing to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I started with the last one of Season 8 and worked backward with a methodical scroll-through of the timelines of each episode looking for any exterior scene that might be an alley. While overall it sa bit tedious, it only took a couple minutes to roll through each episode and the process ultimately led me to finding my alley in Season 6 Episode 20 titled “Uninvited Peril” (link to full episode: https://youtu.be/escGrfETaFk) that aired more than 44 years ago on February 2, 1978.

For context/set-up, Lee Meriwether has just fled from a loyal husband and his batshit crazy wife who were holding her and a doctor hostage at his private practice. The clip below opens after Meriwether has run out with the husband (actor Michael Strong) trying to find her.

The large boxes that Meriwether is found hiding behind were props. I remember those being delivered a day or two before the shoot and being gone immediately thereafter. When the husband comes to a stop by the utility post before turning back toward the boxes, the land yacht briefly visible behind him and the fence is our crazy landlord’s car. I was bummed that none of the duplex and only that bit of the backyard is all that ended up in the episode, but I am pleased that the huge avocado tree towering over the garage in the neighboring backyard got some background screen time. The homeowner, a friendly Hispanic woman, would pay me in avocados for climbing up the tree when they were in season and harvesting as many as I could reach/bring down. She would take what she wanted and from my payment I would leave a few in the kitchen for my mom and then take the rest over to Lucy’s El Adobe nearby on Melrose Avenue across from Paramount Studios and make a couple bucks selling them there for a dime a piece.

And that’s it: the alley I biked up and down countless times, where at the dead end I set up my old Pitchback net and threw countless balls and strikes while entertaining daydreams of pitching in the World Series for the Dodgers — all immortalized in a minute of television. Their’s something pretty poignant about seeing this hidden and personal place after all these years, exactly as it was. Exactly as I remember it being.

I have MovieWorld and YouTube to thank for being a surprise “Barnaby Jones” repository, and I have Haddad to thank for his Twitter post setting things in motion that finally allowed me to cross this off my bucket list.