Back to Earth

I guess I’ve been back from LA for almost a week, but haven’t done the full stupid trip report, as usual. Not a lot to report; I tried to get out and do a few things, but I wanted to avoid three particular activities: eating ten times the normal amount; doing tourist trap stuff; and catching the plague. I gained a pound and a half, but tested negative on Friday, so partial success, I guess.

Let me try to reconstruct a bulleted list of stuff:

  • I forgot to mention, but the new gear for the Random Life project is a DJI Osmo Action camera, which is essentially a GoPro competitor. It’s about 2×3 inches, an inch thick, with screens on the front and back, waterproof (allegedly), and takes both still or a variety of video formats, up to 4K. It is extremely tiny. In practice, I found that it’s great for dash cam footage or tripod use, and would be good if I did any sport more extreme than walking. When I’m just randomly walking, I found that I would never hold the thing perfectly straight, which is problematic. Wind noise can be an issue too, I guess. Anyway, I brought that, the Canon EOS M mirrorless, and my DSLR, which never left the case. The mirrorless was great for quick shots, but horrible for video. Oh, I had an analog point-and-shoot, the Vivitar, but only shot maybe a roll of film.
  • Went walking at Dockweiler beach one morning. I used to live just east of here, and would walk to the beach a lot during the day. It was pretty empty but a lot more people than I expected. I got there just as the marine layer was not yet clear, and there was a slight haze over the air. It’s so peaceful on that beach, and I wish I still lived nearby so I could walk it every day in the morning.
  • Went to Santa Monica and saw the Space Shuttle Endeavour. There’s some other great stuff to see at the science center, like they have a Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsule, and the only surviving F-20 prototype. But I hustled past everything to get to the Shuttle. It did not disappoint. I was such a huge space nerd as a kid, and the Shuttles were such a big part of my childhood, it honestly made me emotional just to be standing right next to one. It’s also amazing to look at one up close, because from a distance, they look like an airplane with a solid metal body painted white and black, but when you’re a few feet away, you see that it’s made of 21,000 tiles, which look like a reptile’s skin. I took many laps and many pictures around the thing, and the museum was almost dead on a Monday morning, which made it even more awesome.
  • I mentioned the malls in the last post, and didn’t go to any others. Fox Hills (aka Westfield Culver City) was too new and bland with the latest refresh; Galleria Redondo Beach had some good bones to it, but looked like it was in the slow slide;  Galleria Sherman Oaks is now an office building (no more Fast Times); FIGat7th is not a mall at all, just a semicircle of stores downtown, with insane parking fees.
  • Always fun to go back to Ralph’s, and even more weird when it’s the one I used to shop at every week. I forgot that I still have a Ralph’s fob on my keychain. Also forgot that their parent company is one of our biggest customers at the day job.
  • If you were looking to buy houses in LA in 2008 and still remember the prices, do not go window-shopping on Zillow. Just don’t do it.
  • The Promenade in Santa Monica was somewhat depressing to me. I think I’m used to going on a Saturday afternoon in the summer when it’s busy and there isn’t a pandemic going on, so going on a Wednesday morning was a drag.
  • I’ve never been to the Getty, so I drove up there and checked it out. I was more interested in the buildings and grounds, even more than the art. You park at the bottom of a giant hill and take this tram that snakes upward for a mile, but you can also hoof it, which was a nice break. Lots of great architecture, and amazing views of the city from up there.
  • Went to an air museum in Torrance, at Zamperini Field. I primarily went because they have two rare prototype planes there: Northrop’s YF-17 and YF-23, which are the planes that lost out to the F-16 and F-22 in bake-off competitions. Unfortunately, both are locked down in a part of the field you can’t get to right now. But they had a lot of other great stuff on display, and were very nice and helpful there.
  • I ate a lot, ate too much junk. Went to Shake Shack twice. In-N-Out once. Went to Carl’s Jr. once to try their chicken sandwich and only got halfway through it before I had to pitch it, because it tasted like it had a cup of mayo on it. I went to Veggie Grill I think three times, because it was a 30-minute walk each way, and I needed the walk. I walked 30 miles over the course of the week.
  • Didn’t get a lot of writing done. Got some video editing finished. Some reading. I realized how hard it is for me to relax in general. But at least I didn’t check work email.
  • Trip back was pretty easy, and ran into no traffic on the way out of LA. Two traffic jams in the middle of the state, so there’s that.
  • No pictures posted, maybe I’ll get to it. Videos have been showing up or are scheduled on Random Life, so like, share, subscribe, etc.

The Second

So, change of plans on the Seattle thing. I am not ready to fly. And I’m not ready to see people, or see any of the various ghosts of Seattle that would bother me. And then there’s Delta. So, about two days before leaving, I canceled everything, backed out, and then needed to correct course. I wanted a place to hide out for a week, somewhere that wasn’t in the bay area, wasn’t Las Vegas, and was somewhat within driving distance.

So, I’ve been in Los Angeles since Saturday. More specifically, I’m staying in a residency suite in El Segundo, which is about five miles from my 2008 apartment. I figured the weather was nicer here, it was all easy to drive, and maybe I’d see some malls and get some writing done. And of course that hasn’t happened.

* * *

First, the drive down took about six hours and change, a pretty much straight shot through the middle of the state on I-5. The longest trip I’ve taken in this car was maybe two hours. I did the SF-LA round trip a couple of times in 08 with the Yaris, but it’s been a while. And it’s been a while since I’ve done any long-distance driving. (I have had four-hour drives home from work, but that was about 38 miles.)

The middle of the state is a strange world, and reminds me of what’s left on the surface of the planet in those Asimov robot books where everyone lives underground. It’s factory farms in every direction, broken up by stretches of nothingness. It would be the perfect long run to zone out on some true crime podcast, except it’s two lanes each way, and a constant war between people going way too fast in the left lane and way too slow in the right. There was also this strange haze in the air for the entire trip. At first I thought it was just morning fog, but after I got further south, I could tell it was some combination of agricultural dust and the debris from the fires up north, getting sucked into the wind tunnel of the central valley.

I stopped about two or three hours in for lunch, at this weird little non-town that was nothing but four mega-stations on each corner of an intersection, each with a fast food place grafted onto it. A bit further out, an older set of fast food joints lay abandoned, either arsoned or destroyed by the elements and vandals, probably stripped of any metal. I got out of my car at the gas station and realized the temperature had risen maybe forty degrees since I left the house. There was no sun overhead, just an amber-brown haze of dust.Too bad John Steinbeck’s not around to write a sequel.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. I had to stop maybe 50 miles out from the hotel for a tank of gas. Not only had I forgotten to turn on Eco mode, which cut my range maybe thirty miles, but I didn’t remember that the last bit was a rough uphill climb through the pass, going from sea level to about 4400 feet and back down. I went to a station right by Magic Mountain, which reminds me of my very first trip to LA in 1997. No restroom there, so I went to a McDonald’s, After using the facilities there, I ordered a drink and some fries that I probably should not have eaten anyway. After ten or fifteen minutes of waiting for a simple order, I said fuck it and left, $3.14 off into the universe.

Once I got back on the highway, it was pretty much bumper-to-bumper for the next fifty miles. Welcome to Los Angeles.

* * *

Somewhere on the 405, Google Maps started complaining about the traffic and routing me onto various parallel surface roads, which I usually ignore, but this time I went for it and dumped off on Sawtelle, maybe around West Los Angeles. And then it became rows of tall palm trees and tournefortia, rows of rancher houses and stucco cottages. And the first reaction was that I really, really missed LA.

And then it was weird, because I’d shut off the GPS, and was just driving, and I realized that Sawtelle runs into Culver, and Culver runs out almost to the ocean, and hits Pershing, and Pershing goes straight to my old apartment. And keep going past LAX, and hang a left on Imperial Highway, then a right on Sepulveda, and you’re at the strip of stores like my old Walgreen’s and my old Ralph’s. And hang a left a block from that, and there’s my hotel. The entire week has been half-remembered connections like that, strange deja-vu moments of remembering driving on a road a dozen years ago, and that it connects with another road and goes to another neighborhood I dimly remember.

* * *

I had almost zero plans coming down here, except that I brought all of my photo gear, thinking I’d take pictures, and of course I haven’t. I thought about going to every mall I could find, and made a list of maybe a dozen of them. But every mall has been bought by Westfield and looks identical. I went to what was Fox Hills Mall, and it feels like it was 100% changed from when I was last there in 2008. Went to the Galleria in Redondo Beach, and it has the bones of a great mall — three stories, giant domed ceilings, plenty of walkways — but it’s largely abandoned. When your Nordstrom leaves and the anchor becomes a dinosaur museum that doesn’t have actual dinosaurs in it, good luck. Today I drove out to Sherman Oaks to look at the galleria that was in Fast Times and Valley Girl, and I should have read the wikipedia before I left, because it was redeveloped into office space.

That’s been the depressing theme here. Everything has been redeveloped. I only lived here for about six months of 2008, so my set of reference points is very small. But it seems like every place I ate or shopped or hung out has been completely nuked. Any strip mall with a large parking lot has been blown up and replaced by a 500-unit apartment building with a Trader Joe’s on the ground floor. I was in the middle of a weight loss thing when I was in LA, and only ate at two places: Koo Koo Roo chicken and Souplantation. Both of those chains are bankrupt. The tiki-themed Fry’s Electronics down in Manhattan Beach went bankrupt. The Panera in Marina del Rey is now a physical therapy place. It’s understandable that chains flip and new things come in, but there’s an insane amount of redevelopment. I guess that’s better than closing stuff down and letting it sit vacant for tax purposes, though.

* * *

Anyway. There’s probably more to write about here, but I have to get stuff done. I have been mostly hiding out in this hotel room, because it has a kitchen and an office, and I can get from the room to my car without passing through a common area. There’s a staircase downstairs, and nobody here uses stairs. Other than that, it’s mostly been driving around randomly. It’s weird to have my own car, And LA is driveable, but not parkable. I went to the new “mall” at Figueroa, which turned out to not be a mall, but three anchors butted together with a piss-poor food court. I turned around and left, and that was $21 in parking. Went to the beach Sunday morning for an early morning walk: $13. An hour at the science center: $20. And the hotel is charging me $15 a day to park, too.

I’ll be here until Saturday. I should probably hit the book stores tomorrow, since I don’t have a weight restriction on my return luggage.

Oh, the title. El Segundo is Spanish for “The Second.” It’s where Chevron’s second refinery is.

Also, still working on this: Random Life. Check it.

general reviews

City of Gold (2015)

City of Gold is a documentary about Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold. I’m ambivalent about the current spate of foodie-oriented TV and movies, but this was less of that and more about an interesting and quirky artist, and the real main character was the city of Los Angeles.

One of the main focus points is how Gold is the champion of the off-the-beaten-path restaurants, largely immigrant-focused. It’s a healthy counterpoint to the current post-election culture that has swallowed the news cycle, and the doc shows several examples of how he championed a hole-in-the-wall restaurant and made their business explode. An example was Meals by Genet, a restaurant in Little Ethiopia on Fairfax run by Genet Agonafer. She fled Ethiopia for LA with her young son, and struggled through the usual low-pay food service jobs. Her son, through her support, eventually grew up, went through medical school, and became a doctor. When the space on Fairfax opened, he maxed out every credit card he could find to get her restaurant going. When Gold reviewed it, she could not cook fast enough to handle all the new traffic, and now she’s flourishing because of his nod on the 101 Best Restaurants list he publishes.

There are several stories like this, where he writes about his favorite Thai food, taco trucks, Korean places, and works the Pico strip, eating at every small ethnic restaurant along its length. And that’s why I say LA is the main star here. I’m unapologetically a massive fan of Los Angeles, and wish I would have spent more time than the brief half-year I lived there in 2008. There’s some city planning porn in the doc explaining how LA has multiple city centers, and grows outward from each one. Many people — mostly those who have never spent any time there — decry this sprawl. But it’s a feature, not a bug. It means different parts of the city blossom and grow to provide different experiences for a widely diverse population.

Sure, that sprawl means unending chain restaurants. You’ll find at least 150 McDonald’s chains in LA county. But it means there are so many spaces for weird, eccentric, or authentic food. This is one of the big surprises of the city, and shown well in the film. There are big Zagat-reviewed fancy places in LA, which are all stuck in the 90s. But you can roll into a mini-mall in El Segundo and find mind-blowing food from any country or region of the world, sitting next to a cash-for-gold place.

Gold writes for the LA Times, but the movie shows his ascension through the ranks. He started at the LA Weekly as a proofreader back in the early 80s, when he was studying cello at UCLA. He moved up to music editor, then got into food. There are so many interesting intersecting paths here; he’s got the connections to the food criticism world, and you see Robert Sietsema, Calvin Trillin, Ruth Reichl, and so on. But he’s also a regular on KCRW. He was a champion of the early LA gangsta rap scene, spending time with Snoop Dogg in the studio while he recorded his first album. He played with the post-punk band Overman. He was around for the early 80s punk scene with X and the Germs. And it seems like he’s had a thumb in every little food scene within LA, from the old Jewish delis (he actually worked in Spielberg’s mom’s deli back in college) to food trucks to everything else.

One of the things I liked about the film was showing Gold, how he lived in a house filled with books on every horizontal surface, his close relationship with wife Laurie Ochoa (now entertainment editor at the Times) and his struggles with writer’s block, even though he still publishes 150,000 words a year. He’s a jovial looking guy, with long hair and always with a smile on his face, and it’s humorous to see him pecking at his Macbook at the kitchen table, then wandering off to pick up some random book and not get to a review his editor wanted yesterday. We’ve all been there, but I think the rewarding thing was to see him struggle with it and then at the last second crank out such engrossing and descriptive criticism.

The only sore spot with this film is it really, really made me want to go back to LA. Watching those long pan shots of the strip malls and restaurants of West Hollywood and Koreatown and Culver City and Sawtelle gave me such overwhelming nostalgia for the place. There are things I like about Northern California, but we don’t have city centers like that. We have downtowns surrounded by bedroom communities, and it’s just not the same. Yeah, the traffic sucks, but the traffic here sucks too, and we don’t have 350 days of sunshine a year and such an overwhelming food scene. I really wish I was back, to drive down Pico and look at everything, even if I do just end up at Norm’s at three in the morning, eating pancakes. Great film.


LA Weekend

I had an unexpected trip to LA last weekend.  It wasn’t unexpected as in bad; S had a Monday work thing at the last second, and she extended it and I tagged along, leaving Friday after work and coming back Sunday morning.  I always like to go to LA, although the trips are always far too short, and it always leaves me with that hollow feeling that maybe I should have stayed there instead of moving up north.

Anyway, we stayed in Long Beach this time, a new one for me.  I think I went to Long Beach once when we lived down there, on a trip to bring the Subaru to the dealership for maintenance, and that was way the hell north, up by the Long Beach airport, and not really in the city proper.  The actual city, on the water, reminds me a lot of San Diego.  It has the same kind of modern openness to it, a downtown that’s been scrubbed clean and revitalized, the new businesses poking through in the main drag of older buildings.  Our hotel sat by the water, among this strip of chain big-box restaurants and carnival rides and roller coasters, a fairly sterile convention center vibe.  Outside our window, a massive Indian wedding happened Saturday morning, the whole nine with the saris and the white horse and everything.  Later that day, some kind of bible convention was going on, so we got two very different vibes going on during the stay.

We landed at LAX just in time to hit the rush hour traffic on Friday, so we went to the Veggie Grill in El Segundo.  I spent a lot of time in that area when we lived in Playa Del Rey,  because that main drag on Sepulveda had our grocery store, drug store, bank, Petco, Frey’s, and a host of other regular destinations.  The Veggie Grill is this place with all vegetarian food that’s got fake meat in it, but it isn’t like most health food stores, which are typically these run down retreads of 70s hippie joints, with dim lighting and patchouli smell and a shelf of strange astrology books about fasting and crystals.  It’s a very modern-looking place that resembles a Chipotle more than anything, with lots of bright colors and a smart interior.  I got this huge kale salad and sweet potato fries, and gorged on that stuff, wishing I could eat there every day.

I always associate LA with healthy food, because it’s where I lost so much weight, and if you want to do a vegan, gluten-free, macrobiotic diet, it’s the place to do it.  But it’s also interesting, because it’s the fast food capital of the world. I mean, you don’t see all of the people who live on it 24×7 in morbid obesity, like you do in the Midwest.  But everywhere on the main drags through town are taco stands and burger joints and diners and every possible chain you could think of: In-n-Out, Jack in the Box, Rally’s, Fatburger, and all of the usual ones.  I guess I started my 2008 stay in LA eating everything and everywhere, but then graduated to just the healthy stuff.  It’s really both ends of the spectrum.

On Saturday, we ate at a mostly forgettable omelet place in Long Beach, then went on a long drive into Orange County to see a friend of S’s.  We drove back into Culver City to eat at Leaf, this raw food place.  I’m not a huge advocate of raw food, and I think some of the claims are dubious, but I also like it when it’s done right. I first found out about this place because I arrived in LA for a week-long apartment hunting mission back in 2008, and stayed at a crappy Econo-Lodge right across the street.  I went there a few times that summer, and even when I was on a fries-and-burgers diet, I always liked the food there.  Unfortunately, the place is closing down this week – they are razing the whole block and building a giant apartment complex.  But we got there just in time, and I had a falafel and a sampler plate of hummus and chips and rolls, and although the service was terrible, the food was great.

That’s one thing that’s always night-and-day for me when I go back to LA.  Oakland can be a real shithole when it comes to urban renewal.  Like our neighborhood doesn’t even have a grocery store, and every time someone starts talking about building one, it always gets derailed with discussions from causeheads about whether or not it will have locally-sourced organic nut-free options serviced by transgendered indigenous peoples or whatever the fuck, and it drags on for years.  There’s something fundamentally broken in Oakland’s zoning or local government, and I think it prevents any development or major investment in the city.  Right across the line in Emeryville, things have absolutely exploded with new development and businesses and construction and offices and jobs.  The only thing we’ve seen new in our neighborhood is a tent city full of homeless people that shit in a field next to an overpass.  I think when we moved here, I had high hopes that the neighborhood would get gentrified and cleaned up, and five years later, I have pretty much given up hope for that, and drive to Emeryville or Berkeley for everything.

Anyway, when we’re in LA, I always see that insane urban development, with every square foot suddenly spouting up new businesses and mixed-use developments.  On one of our previous trips, I think 2011, I was on a sort of depressive riff in my head about the economy and state of the union, and we went to Santa Monica and walked around the promenade at night, and it was absolutely out of control there.  They built this giant addition to the mall, all filled with high-end retail, and every spot of the old main drag had some kind of store in it, selling high-ticket items or hand-crafted clothes or super good food, and the streets were filled both with tourists dumping cash at every turn, or locals driving their fine European autos and wearing expensive clothes to go spend serious cash on drinks and dinner.  And just outside of the bustle, every little area that was vacant was currently under construction, erupting with new retail space.  It reminded me of New York, the parts of New York that were always expanding, always growing, like the quick cell growth of some mutant superhero, constantly replicating and strengthening.  Compared to our neighborhood, which is nothing but empty lots and vacant warehouses, it was astonishing.

Anyway, very far off topic here.  We also went to the Museum of Jurassic Technology, which is… interesting.  It’s a very meta art project more or less, a museum poking fun at museums, filled with exhibits of questionable verifiability.  I don’t know – it might be a little over my head, but the basic gist of it are that there are a lot of freaky exhibits, and you don’t really know what’s real and what’s completely fictitious.  The whole thing reminded me of walking around a living Tool video of some sort.  I bought a book about it, and will read and review it later, but it’s worth checking out if you’re ever in Culver City and have eight bucks to spare.

The trip was, unfortunately, over just as fast as it started.  I had to fly back Sunday morning, and Sarah dropped me off at LAX after an unprecedented drive up the 405 with no traffic whatsoever.  When we zipped past Carson, I saw the GZ-20 Spirit of America, better known as one of the three Goodyear blimps, which is always nostalgic, because I was obsessed with the Goodyear blimp when I was 5 or 6.  I got through security at the airport in record time, and got to camp out and get my day’s writing done before the flight.

And like I said, I got that bummed feeling after getting back home.  I know you’re supposed to hate LA, and all of the people are “fake” etc etc, but I really do like it there.  I now must resist the urge to go to redfin and start looking up house prices there, and try to get more work done on the next book.

Linky links for you:  go check out my new book, Thunderbird.  Like it on Amazon, add it on goodreads, help a brother out.  I’ve also been stepping up my review game on Amazon a bit.  Check out my reviews, and click that like button a few times and show some love.  Also, if you’re a writer and you’d like to swap books for review, leave a comment or drop a line at jkonrath at this site’s address and let’s set up a trade.  Thanks!


Angel City and the Circle of Life

It’s Friday, and in about an hour, I’m off to OAK to catch a flight to LAX and spend a weekend celebrating my birthday.  No real plans, except for a quick trip, and probably a lot of nostalgia for the time five years ago when I lived down there.  I really do love LA, even if it’s trendy to hate it; I probably like it more than any of the other places I’ve lived, which makes it seem silly that I own a house in the dreary north part of the state, but that’s another discussion.

I was thinking about the first time I’d ever visited LA, and then realized that I wrote about it in the early days of this site, as one of my very first entries ever.  It’s funny to read it after having lived there, and it seems like it happened a million years and several lifetimes ago.  Like, I remember having to stop and fill up the car near LAX, and pulling into a neighborhood that at the time seemed like some kind of Tarantino-esque inner city gang nightmare.  Now, I realize I was probably in Hawthorne or something, which isn’t far from where I lived in 2008 and is a fairly sedate place to be.

I always divide my life into these discrete eras, like my Seattle era, or my K era when I dated her, or whatever.  And all of the eras are very compartmentalized from each other.  So it’s always interesting to me when different eras have these hyperlinks to each other, like when we visited the place where, ten eras later, I’d live.  Or another example: I lived in New York, and went to this conference in San Diego for a week, back when big companies actually paid for tech writers to go to conferences.  And one night, I drove up to LA to see a friend of mine.  And on the way, I swung through Anaheim, and stopped to eat a late lunch.  There was this McDonald’s right off the main drag by the Disney property, and it was a huge version, designed for giant lunch rushes of tourist busses dumping off scores of kids.  I remember eating there once in 1997, only because at that time, they had the McPizza, and only the highest-volume stores had the pizza, because the prep time of the pizza was longer than the holding time, so you had to move serious units to get it on the menu.  I didn’t get one, and for whatever stupid reason, went back to that specific McDonald’s in 2000 to see if I could get one, but by then, the McPizza was McHistory.

So that one visit for a Quarter Pounder meal deal knitted together at least three eras:  The Seattle/K era, the New York era, and the future 2008 living in LA era.  I did not visit the same McDonald’s in 2008, although I did go to Anaheim and see it when I went to an Angels game.  I was on Weight Watchers and off McDonald’s by then, though.

Another thing I remember from 2000: I was sitting there, reading a newspaper and picking at my fries, when this lady was mopping the floor.  It was an off hour, like maybe 2 or 3, so nobody was in the dining room but me.  This was a redneck woman, maybe someone who was working there either because it was all she could get or it was part of the terms of her parole or rehab.  And she started talking to me about the nomination of George W. Bush as the Republican candidate.  She told me “well, I’ll probably vote for him.  He probably knows the most about the job, since he already was President.”  I did not correct her.  This was the beginning of the next era.


Pulp Fiction

I watched Pulp Fiction for the millionth time last night. We’re trying to get through that AFI 100 films thing, starting with all of the ones I have on DVD at the house. I haven’t seen Pulp Fiction in maybe ten years though, so it was interesting to see it with some distance. I think the big thing I realized is how much of a big chunk of my past has to do with that movie, and how much it influenced my writing.

When Pulp Fiction came out in the fall of 1994, I was living with Simms, and that movie wrapped around his brain in a big way.  I don’t remember if I was with him the first time I saw it, but it absolutely obsessed him.  I think a big part of it was the soundtrack, which was all of this old surf music, a big thing with Simms at that point.  He had this band, a rotating cast of characters, called The Surfing Richards, and they were essentially this ever-changing group of music theory PhDs obsessed with Frank Zappa.  Their music was a mashup of Dick Dale, Devo, and Zappa.  So the Tarantino soundtrack really clicked with him, and our house was filled with it for months.

Simms became this prophet of Tarantino.  We’d be record shopping or walking around Bloomington, and he’d run into someone at the store he hadn’t seen in a semester or two, and ask them if they’d seen the movie.  If not, he’d immediately drag all of us out to the mall to see the next showing.  I think I saw the movie at least a dozen times because of this, and he really got off on seeing people’s reaction to the film.  We pretty much memorized the film, and it got worse when I got a tape of it.  Back then, there was usually a year between a theatrical release and the home video release.  But I found some guy on usenet that made a pirated copy; he worked in a theater, and set up a camcorder in the booth to record the whole thing, with the audio jacked into the booth sound.  I think I traded him something for it, and got a VHS copy months before it was available in stores.  This meant we watched the movie constantly, even running it in the background while doing other stuff. So in the back of my head, I’ve still got the film memorized.

This was the first time I’d seen the film since I lived in LA.  I remember when I first visited Los Angeles in 1997, the Tarantino-verse very much molded my preconceptions of the city, and the feel that I had for the city reminded me of what he caught in his films.  When I lived in LA in 2008, I worked from home and spent most of my time in Playa Del Rey, which is not really LA, but I’d have to wander around Hollywood or Culver City or El Segundo on various errands and doctor’s appointments.  And I also remember the week or so I spent driving all over the city trying to find us an apartment, going to all of these little places during the day to meet with realtors that never showed up for their appointments.

There’s one scene that really captured a specific feeling for me, and that was when Butch went back to his apartment to get his watch.  The scene is very quiet, nothing but ambient noise of the North Hollywood neighborhood, as he cuts through an apartment complex and then a vacant lot on the way to his apartment building.  That eerie silence, aside from the Mexican families cooking or babysitting kids in the background, and the sight of those old Bukowski-looking walled compound apartments captures a certain LA that I always felt when I was driving through side streets or walking from my car to various doctor’s appointments or whatever else I was doing back then.  The film itself is not an LA film in many ways; he captures bits and pieces in the background, but a crime film could be filmed almost anywhere.  What he does is use those background pieces to fill out the film and give it a vibrancy that transcends what a typical TV crime drama usually is.

I also found that there was a lot of dialogue that I picked up on that bled into some of my early writing.  When I was hacking out Summer Rain, there were so many exchanges and bumpers and pieces of wording that came out of Pulp Fiction without even thinking about it.  Tarantino’s dialogue can be corny, and tries too hard to be hip, and I think that rubbed off on me a bit.  One of the advantages of spending so many years rewriting that book is that I had many opportunities to kill my darlings, and beat the hell out of the dialogue until it shook any of those references.  But while I was watching the movie, little lines would jump out at me, things that I know got morphed into my character’s words at some point, and then cut.

Tarantino also relies heavily on cross-references through his work, little things like Fruit Brute cereal or Jackrabbit Slim’s (which also appears in an almost inaudible radio commercial in the background during the aforementioned scene with Butch.)  Simms, being a Zappa nut, was really big on conceptual continuity, which I assumed, being a literary idiot with about six credits of literary theory that I barely passed at that point, was some kind of common term, although now I find out that it’s something only used in the context of Zappa.  But Tarantino has all of these little recurring things that appear in all of his films, like Red Apple cigarettes.  And I never thought about it in the context of his influence, but I constantly do the same thing.

I think the biggest influence of Pulp Fiction to me was the idea of a non-linear narrative.  I spent a lot of time in my first couple of years of writing trying to figure out plot, trying to think of how to twist together a huge, linear story, and Tarantino’s films were one of the first things that really sent me sideways on that, and challenged me to think in other terms.  Rumored to Exist started at the end of 1995 because of a perfect storm of a few things swimming in my mind, all of which were consumed over a long and boring holiday break: the book Catch-22, and the movies Naked Lunch, Pulp Fiction, and Slacker. Put those in a blender, give me too much free time without an internet connection, and that’s what happens.

I’m almost done with my next book, and I’ve got a todo list a million things long.  But now I really want to watch Jackie Brown.  Let’s see which one wins.


Hot Dog on a Stick

What happened to the “on a”?

I went to LA this weekend.  It was a quick mission – we flew out Saturday afternoon, flew back Sunday night.  Just long enough to get a taste, and to get the cats pissed off that we abandoned them (although we had someone feed them; it’s entirely a psychological game to show us who’s boss.)

So we stayed in Santa Monica, which is probably one of my favorite parts of LA.  I know a lot of people hate LA, especially New York people that feel that paying far too much for the privilege of bedbugs and living in garbage somehow defines character.  New York has its points, and I’m glad I did my time there.  But I really do love LA, and just seeing the people and walking around in the sunshine and looking at that crazy mix of old neon signs faded by the barrage of UV rays mixed with the modern glass and steel architecture.

We were at a hotel right off of the beach, and yesterday morning, I got to take a nice walk and snap some pictures and see a bunch of stuff I recognized mostly from playing Grand Theft Auto.  It’s always weird to have that geographical reference in your head, where you know “hey, you can walk under this pier here, because sometimes I hide under there with a shotgun and kill hookers, and the cops take forever to get here.”

I took this picture of Hot Dog on a Stick, which for some reason showed up in the two posts previous to the trip, so there’s some weird synchronicity/conspiracy thing going on.  This is the original location, on Muscle Beach, and it’s missing the “on a” on its sign, but the cashier is wearing that weird rainbow uniform and fez hat.  I didn’t stop and get one, since I had just finished a giant breakfast at the hotel, but maybe I should have.  I try to limit my consumption of hot dogs to when I’m at baseball games, and corn dogs, from a nutrition point of view, are absolutely evil.  But sometimes, you have to.

HDoaS is primarily a west coast phenomenon, although there are some locations scattered across the country in malls.  I first remember seeing them in a Beavis and Butthead video, where some emo punk band was wearing the rainbow uniforms.  Years later, I remember seeing one at the Lloyd Center mall in Portland, which is one of those weird mid-century malls built in the early 60s when indoor malls were a new thing, and this was built to be the biggest mall in the country.  I think Simon owned it when I was going there (mid-90s) and I always liked it because I was really into shopping malls at the time and it reminded me of all of the Simon malls of the midwest.  (I never liked to shop, never bought clothes, and the record and book stores in malls have always sucked, so I’m not sure why I was so damn fascinated with malls at this period in my life, but I was.)

Later, when I lived in New York, I found it damn near impossible to find a good corn dog, frozen or fresh.  I think since then, it’s become easier, but I spent many an hour scouring the poor excuses for grocery stores in Queens, trying to find one that had any corn dogs in their freezer case.  And a frozen corn dog is always crap, because you microwave them and they split and the casing gets all moist and soggy, or you bake them, which takes forever, especially if you have a piece of shit oven that doesn’t work because you’re renting your apartment from the mafia and they don’t even keep the hot water on half the time, let alone service the appliances.  So when I was coming out to Vegas two or three times a year, I was happy as hell when a Hot Dog on a Stick opened at the Fashion Mall and I could go to their food court and eat them until I got sick and swear off cased meat products entirely, until my next visit of course.

But LA, man I missed LA.  I went back two years ago for a trade show, but spent all of my time answering stupid questions under fluorescent lights, and didn’t get to wander around.  This time, we had a car, and drove all over the place, up PCH and around the twists of Sunset and through Bel Air and the giant gated communities and houses where billionaires still had lawn jockeys, and into the strip where we passed the Comedy Store and the Rainbow and the House of Blues and the Whisky and all of those places memorialized by big hair bands of the 80s.  And we drove through our old neighborhood in Playa Del Rey, and through the Bellona Wetlands, and past my old Ralph’s and my old Pavillions and my old Fatburger and my old gas station and all of this stuff that made me miss 2008 and the summer I lived there.

So now I am back to 52 and rainy, and wish I had two million dollars to buy a nice beach house and watch the joggers and eternally fit rollerblade past, and peck at writing all day.  But it’s Monday and time to work, and go find the 2011 baseball schedule and figure out when I can catch the Rockies down at Chavez Ravine, although they are something like 2 and 22 at Dodger Stadium in the last couple of seasons.  But their horrible road record against LA is outweighed by Dodger Dogs and Vin Scully and a chance to spend another weekend down there, so it’s on.


LA impressions

Another week is done, and all of our stuff arrived in mostly one piece. After a few more days (or months) of rearranging, it will be business as usual here. Which brings me to thoughts about what I like, what is good, and what’s odd about this place. Rather than try to write some prose, I will start with a big bulleted list.

    • I am in awe anytime I drive past something and realize it was in movie XYZ or some recent TV show. I had this to the point of overload in NYC, especially with all of the Law and Order shows, but I think moving to Denver knocked that out of my head, and now it’s all amazing to me again.
    • I’m always reminded of Bukowski. There are old dive bars that still have their signs from the 60s, the styleized cursive words in neon, dull after 40 years of dirt and smog, and I always wonder if that was a bar where he hung out. This is further confused by the fact that a lot of brand new bars and restaurants have similar signs that were made to conform with the whole Swingers retro craze.
    • (As an aside, I want to make a google map of all Bukowski stuff. I have heard there is a bus trip that makes this route, so maybe I better get off my ass.)
    • I forget if I mentioned Fry’s, the electronics store. There’s one down in Manhattan beach, and I think I’ve been maybe once or twice. I don’t know how I missed out on this all of my geek life (probably because I didn’t live in California) but that place is off the hook in a very major way. Basically you start with a Best Buy or Circuit City, but instead of, say, only three types of computer keyboard in stock, they have an entire aisle, like three dozen types. And they aren’t all from one manufacturer, they hit all of the bases, and even have the el cheapo Taiwan junk you can only get in mail order. It’s the same way in every section. Like in Best Buy, if you need a USB cable, they have the Belkin 3-foot or the Belkin 9-foot, end of story. At Fry’s, they have 863 different USB cables, half of them things you’ve never heard of before. And the place even has resistors and oscilloscopes and soldering irons and computer parts at the level the big boxes would not. The customer service can be a little surly, and the ambience is Costco meets a room in the MIT computer science freshman dorm. But yeah, very dangerous to the wallet.
    • I’ve spent very little time in what most people would think of when they envision LA, because Playa Del Rey is isolated. With the ocean to the west, LAX to the south, the LMU campus west, and the Marina Del Rey channel and Ballona wetlands to the north, there’s a pretty decent buffer zone on all sides.
    • That buffer also includes smog, which seems to be broken up by the ocean. And the temps are about five degrees cooler here, which is weird, because I put forecasts for both here and LA in my dashboard.
    • When I drive to/from anything north, I have to drive on Culver (which just got repaved last weekend) and through the Ballona wetlands. It’s strange to be in LA and be driving down a road in which nothing but swamps are on either side of you. It sort of reminds me of the farming in the middle of Oahu, if you drive the back roads to the North Shore. And at night, you hear very loudly the sound of frogs out in the swamp.
    • (Yesterday I determined that the best song to listen to while driving there is Lynard Skynard’s “Swamp Music”.
    • I still hear and see the jets from LAX southeast of us. The jets aren’t that loud, and the sound is almost soothing. I am sure when I go on vacation and I’m not near an airport, I won’t be able to sleep.
    • We were driving around, and south of LAX (at Imperial and Main) is this little observation park, where you can see jets taking off and landing. There was a small group of dudes with gigantic camera lenses the size of tallboy beer cans taking pictures. I guess before 9/11, you could park and go inside the terminal to a roof-top restaurant and see the jets close up, but that ended quickly.
    • There are a ton of old cars on the road here. I always thought the draconian emissions laws kept cars older than a decade or two from geting plates. But with no salt and no rust, cars last forever here. There are fuckloads of old classic Beetles still rolling here, with perfect sheet metal. And at least once a trip, I see some completely cherry car from the 50s or 60s, like an ancient Packard or a topless GTO with three twos. And I’ve seen many classic Camaros, the early 70s models that are my favorite. For a fan of old cars, it’s a phenomenal place to be.
    • The best food in LA tends to be in strip malls. I don’t know if that’s because all of southern California is a strip mall, or if just one of those backward things, like that the best doctors don’t take insurance, or the best clubs in NYC don’t have signs outside. We went to this soul food restaurant, which was like next to a TCBY or Vons or Rite Aid or something, and it had been there forever. They had the signed photos on the wall, and I’m looking and there’s a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. – personally signed to the owner. Their fried chicken was also like the best I’ve ever had. I need to forget about that place if I want to make it to 40, though.
    • Hughes Aircraft had a huge facility just up the road in what’s now called Playa Vista. They built the Spruce Goose there, then disassembled it into chunks and trucked it to Long Beach for its maiden flight.
    • Prices of almost everything here is back to about what I was used to in New York, with a few odd exceptions. For some reason, the McDonald’s closest to me is very cheap. My usual (#2, no pickles, coke) cost $5.95 in Denver, and now it’s $4.84. Other cheaper things: car washes, housecleaning, lawn care and landscaping, and anything related to fresh fruits and vegetables. (See a pattern?)

And I am now in bachelor mode, as Sarah goes to Atlanta to visit Mitsubishi. This will largely consist of playing the now-connected PS3 and trying to write this game I am working on. So I better get to work on that.


The Sopranos were not the dream of an autistic kid in a coma

The ocean isn’t two miles away, as I previously thought. I went for a walk yesterday, heading west, and up this huge hill. At the top of it were all strangely shaped houses of the sort you’d only see on a shoreline, with impossibly-sized windows and turrets and none of the right angles you find on a straight-up ranch house in the suburbs. And just past that, the ocean. And it’s the full-on ocean, not a canal connected to a sound connected to an inlet that eventually dumps into a sea. I walked around a bit, trudged through the sand, watched the sailboats in the distance and the huge planes jetting off from LAX to all points west (i.e. Asia) It’s not a bad walk at all, although the hill part really taxes out my fucked up knee, but maybe doing it more will help.

In a couple of hours, I get into one of those big tin cans at LAX and head east, back to Denver, to rescue the furniture. This will be a weird trip – in today, back Wednesday night. The weird stuff has to do with driving a rental car into the space where I’d normally park a car; having to stay in a hotel for a night because all of my stuff will be boxed or shrinkwrapped; said hotel is less than a mile from my old place, and I used to pass it every day on my way to work. Basically all of the tourist in my own town stuff will be in effect. Not to mention that I will have but a few hours to somehow condense down my Denver experience and eat my last three or four meals at places I will probably never see again. (And in reality, all of those will probably end up at McDonald’s.)

I think the one thing that I will truly, truly miss is Coors Field and the Rockies. I was thinking about this last night, about how I am not one who has ever had some great belonging, especially one full of rituals. Some people have religion, and I tried that and it didn’t work out. But the closest I came to religion was getting to Coors Field an hour and a half before a game, watching the opposing team take batting practice, getting a hot dog, looking out at the field in front of me and the mountains in the distance, hearing the same soundtrack of crappy music they play before every game, hearing Reed Saunders read off the same safety information and where you can buy food and all of that other crap the PA announcers read before the game. I guess having Coors Field right next door was like having a major league ball park in my family room, where I could go down there any time I wanted and catch a game. So I’ll miss that, a lot. I can get stuck in traffic for two hours and go to a Dodgers game, but it won’t be the same. No matter how much you hate some place, there’s always one thing you miss. Seattle: mountains. New York: best subways ever. Elkhart: you always have a new car stereo, because yours gets stolen every month.

I went to a movie at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood on Saturday. We went out with four of Sarah’s old friends, and it’s really damn nice to finally have friends to go out with. (And one was a baseball guy who said we have to go to a game in Anaheim, so there you go.) We saw Jumper, which was forgettable, but it was hilarious to be down in Hollywood on a Saturday night. There was some kind of cheerleading contest that night, so there were all of these 14-year-old girls in cheerleader costumes running around, which was a pedo’s wet dream. There was also a very large hoochie mama contingent bussed in from Orange County or something, and all of the clubber types going to clubs in that area. And Grauman’s is completely over the top, with all of the handprints in concrete out front, and all of the hollywood stars in the sidewalk, and the people dressed up as various famous iconic stars. The vibe of the place was very Times Square, which means don’t act like a fucking tourist, but it was pretty overwhelming.

I finished the last episode of The Sopranos, and that has to be the stupidest ending ever for a TV series, aside from making the whole thing a dream of an autistic kid in a coma or whatever the hell. Bleh.

Gotta shower, eat lunch, pack, get to the airport. This will be a fun one.


Crossing the nothingness of Utah

We’re here, more or less. I forget where the story last left off, but we are in our new place in LA, but our furniture isn’t. My car and a carload of stuff has been waiting here, and then yesterday and today, we drove the other car, a carload of stuff, and the two cats here. I go back next Monday to orchestrate the full-pack movers and get the last couple of suitcases of stuff. In the meantime, no phone, no internet, no TV, and no place to sit down except the aerobed. (I did cop a slow wireless signal from the business center, though.)

The drive was long and extremely cramped, as every square inch of the car had something in it. The first day was about twelve hours; the I-70 run through the pass in the mountains, dropping into the nothingness of Utah and then the I-15 shot into Vegas. The two cats had very different approaches to the trip: the little one cowered in fear inside of her carrier, and stayed comatose the entire time. The big one started crying about five minutes into the trip, so I let her out and she greatly enjoyed watching the landscape roll by. Neither ate, drank, or used their litter pans, so thank someone for small miracles.

In Vegas, we stayed at a La Quinta, which allowed pets. It’s way the hell over on Paradise Rd, kinda-sorta near UNLV. We had a two-room suite, and the cats were fine and dandy once we got set up there. We ordered some really shitty food from the proxy room service thing and watched the Oscars. (After watching John Stewart host, it’s odd that I’d actually miss Billy Crystal’s saccharine schtick.) By the time that was over, we were both out for the night, and that was the extent of my Vegas trip.

Today was a quick drive, maybe five hours, but it still seemed like forever. We stopped in Baker to see the world’s tallest thermometer, but I was bummed to see it was just a tower with a bunch of digital signs on it – I was expecting a giant glass tube filled with mercury. Anyway, we got here, hauled everything upstairs, made a giant Costco run, and now we’re trying to unpack a bunch of luggage and gym bags filled with toiletries and clothes.

I got a new iPod, btw – the 60G classic, in black. Sarah gave it to me for Valentine’s day, but I did not get it until today because it went to the address here. I just synced it up, and that’s ready to roll. I did sell the Mac Mini anyway, and that money will probably go toward a new office chair, or something to make my new home office more habitable. You know, “if I buy this I might write more” stuff.

BTW I just got copies of a new book I am in, called Santi: Lives of Modern Saints. It also includes my pals John Sheppard, Erin O’Brien, Timothy Gager, Grant Bailie (all AITPL contributors) and more. And it comes with a CD, although I haven’t listened to that yet. Anyway, well worth the $25, and also I got a handful of free copies, so state your case or make your best trade offer and one could be yours.

Way too much to do. I think Verizon shows up tomorrow, I need to look into that, too.