The 10: Crenshaw

Ok, so maybe when I set out to write about my relationship to the 10 and the Westside of LA and how it’s all chronological, maybe I should’ve left off Crenshaw.  But I think the Crenshaw exit off the 10 has a lot to say about why Los Angeles is appealing to me, even if it’s not the Westside, and my Crenshaw tales aren’t my first LA experiences.

First and most importantly: Earlez’s Grille.  Where I (a whitasian, but mostly white looking person) went up to a counter in a restaurant staffed by African Americans and Latinos (in a mostly African American neighborhood) and specifically ordered a “playaz punch.”  Because Yelp told me it was a deliciously delightful sugary drink.  The cashier looked amused as all hell, handed me an empty cup, and gestured behind me, noting that, “The fountain drinks are over there.”  And yeah, I looked behind me and there was the playaz punch in all its artificially pink glory, next to a tank of lemonade and a coke machine with the usual suspects.  So really all I needed to say was that I wanted a small drink.  Whoops, live and learn.

The most important thing about Earlez’s Grille (sadly temporarily closed at the moment, but in the process of moving further south down Crenshaw to make room for the metro Expo line) is their veggie dog with veggie chili and a side of seasoned french fries (I think my playaz punch expectations were too high.).  One of the owners was also on site the first time I went and he came over to my table and asked what we thought of the food.  Not much is cooler than actually meeting with an owner of an establishment you’re patronizing.

In the context of this trip down the 10, this experience sums up three of the most important things about the opportunities Los Angeles offers:

(a) Food adventures, because at the heart of why I love Los Angeles is a veggie chili dog or some weird flavored ice cream or vegan nachos at 2am.  LA tastes great.
(b) The chance to put myself in neighborhoods and situations that are completely foreign to the context I grew up in.  I don’t generally consider myself all that outgoing, but I occasionally have near masochistic streaks of wanting to feel uncomfortable and challenge myself to see how much I can make myself look like a fool.
(c) Talking to people who are connected to the places you visit.

I’ve felt comfortably uncomfortable in all sorts of LA neighborhoods, I’ve eaten some great food, and I’ve talked to a bunch of people, and that is what makes me happy.

The 10: Los Angeles becomes less of a wasteland.

Before we go for a drive on the freeway, here is some background on my evolving LA relationship:
My very first foray through Los Angeles was when I was around 8 years old.  I “saw” it from the freeway as my Dad drove the family down to Disneyland.  Despite living in LA since 2008 this is still the last time I went to the happiest place on earth.  I remember liking the tea cups and getting lollipops shaped like Mickey ears and getting the crap scared out of me on a very dinky roller coaster I didn’t want to go on.  That’s about it.

The next very brief visit through Los Angeles was a trip to UCLA right before applying to colleges.  My Dad was again in the driver seat and I mostly remember UCLA looking preppy and my Dad giving a homeless woman $5 at a stoplight.  I also visited UCSB that trip and at that time the UCSB campus and area pretty much kicked UCLA’s butt in my mind.

Despite my newfound UCSB dedication and love (that’s where I ended up going to school), while I was in college in Santa Barbara I went down to UCLA to visit high school friends.  I still didn’t feel particularly enamored of the city, but really all I saw was Westwood.

Freshman year of college one of my closest UCSB buddies decided she wanted a weekend in Los Angeles for her birthday.  We spent most of the time in Venice Beach and Santa Monica.  Kind of funny we went to a school on the beach and we drove further south for more sand, but my friend is much more a beach person than me and I guess beach culture in Venice Beach is a special kind of beach culture of its own.

My true appreciation of Los Angeles really first flickered while I was in England.  I studied abroad in a program with a bunch of other UC students.  One of the students went to UCLA and we became friends through our mutual love of food based adventures.  I told her my stereotypically Northern Californian perspective of Los Angeles (a negative one), but she was convinced I would love the place if only I gave it a chance.  I’m pretty sure the great food in LA was part of that argument.  I was skeptical, but I told her ok, I’ll be more open minded when I get back to the states.

I got my chance to be more open minded at the end of college.  Back in the lovely beachy town of Santa Barbara (or more properly Isla Vista, the student community next to UCSB) things started to feel a little constricting.  I still loved school and had a great time with friends, but after a year gallivanting around Europe I needed some more adventure.  The Santa Barbara area is gorgeous, but it felt too rich and too small.

At this point in time my friend’s sister had recently started going to med school at UCLA, so all of a sudden we had a place to crash at the end of the 90 minute drive down the 101 to Los Angeles.  We started heading out to LA once a month to volunteer with a program called Reading to Kids.  We’d head down south on Friday afternoons, hang out around the Westside, and then go to the outskirts of downtown LA early Sunday mornings to read and do book themed crafts with elementary school kids.

After Reading to Kids we’d play tourist, and I think it was around this time that I ran across Grand Central Market.  Grand Central Market’s a big food market with stalls and small restaurants nestled inside the ground floor of a historic building in downtown LA.  It’s been around town since 1917 and I’m a sucker for anything old, especially if it involves food.  (When I start to feel food obsessed I just compliment myself on my great caveman survival instincts, because a passion for food has got to say something good about your priorities for existence, right?)

Los Angeles became the place of escape and adventure that Santa Barbara was not.  It was exactly where I wanted to be.

I looked on craigslist for open rooms.  Graduation was nearing, I had no job lined up and absolutely no idea what I was going to do with myself, other than the fact that whatever I was going to do was in Los Angeles.  It was a combination of being more familiar with the Westside and finding a good priced apartment with some recent UCLA graduates that led me to Culver City.  My foray into escape and adventure had begun.

(P.S. I recently stayed up way too late for the first time in ages because I couldn’t put a book down.  The giant bags under my eyes today are thanks to Kristin Newman’s What I Was Doing While you Were Breeding.  Her tale of her travel and man escapades after getting out of a 6 year long relationship when she was 26 hits way too close to home (RIP LDRC), but in a good too close to home way. (Like in a I hope I have some international escapades in my future way.)

The tale of my relationship with Los Angeles is slightly incomplete without talking about how my relationships with the people of Los Angeles fit into the physical landscape, but this is all a little too fresh to go Newman-style on that part of my city experience.  This is mostly just a super narcissistic tale of my relationship with Los Angeles.  You and me city, you and me.

I do have another project which will remain buried in my hard drive for years and years (and years) from now that involves fictionalized short stories based on (boy) relationships I’ve had throughout my life.  I’ve written an introduction (about a boy I obsessed over in kindergarten) and one set in an apocalyptic future (because the last few weeks of undergrad can feel really apocalyptic) and they are pretty cathartic.  If there are still blogs in 2050 I might share these then.  But for now – Los Angeles off the 10!  Next exit: Crenshaw.)

The 10 Time Tunnel.

I hardly ever get over to the Westside of LA these days.  The area bordered by the Pacific Ocean on the west and (depending on who you talk to) some north-south street on the east.  An often flat area of the city crowded with apartments or plotted out with ridiculously expensive houses on small to gigantic land parcels.

This was the Los Angeles I got to know first and where I initially became enchanted, but now I tend to avoid the area like the plague.  After a couple years of living there it became more of a homebase than a homeland and I found myself driving out toward downtown or further north or east.  I’m not a big beach person, so this could be part of why I’m less enthralled with that part of town.  It’s also more expensive and people seem to express their road rage and honk at each other more often.

Despite my now disenchantment with that neck of the woods, from time to time I get a little nostalgic about my growing pains years in Los Angeles.  The other week I drove out to Culver City to visit Surfas.  As I drove down the 10, creeping closer to the Pacific, I was also getting closer and closer to those early days of living in the city.  With each exit off the freeway memories kept popping into the present.

I’ve had this idea in the back of my mind for awhile now that I should write some love letters (of a sort) to those exits on the 10.  I have friends over on that side of town still, and on the rare occasion when I test the kindness of traffic and venture out that way I always get this feeling that I’ve entered some time tunnel.

Crenshaw-La Brea-Fairfax/Washington-La Cienega-Robertson-National-Overland-the 405

It’s an almost exactly chronological backwards trip into the far dusty corners of the memories of my Los Angeles existance.  The exits west of the 405 I’m a little less nostalgic about because I’d generally take streets to get to parts of Santa Monica or Venice.  And yeah, I’d probably cut the beginning of the “Westside” off around La Cienega, but the Fairfax, La Brea, and Crenshaw exits were also part of my Westside living experience so I’m including them too.  I’m using Westside as a loose and personal concept more than a hard and fast geographic outline.

So I’m going to start off with my very earliest flickering memories of Los Angeles and then get off the 10 at Crenshaw and time travel my way backwards, exit by exit, to those very first forays into that beautiful, crowded, polluted, diverse, segregated, delicious, rich, poor, historic, engaging place that is the city of Los Angeles.

Poodle Springs.

Big Bear Lake, California

Big Bear Lake, California

I went to Big Bear and all I got was this lousy cold.

Well, actually I also picked up some postcards and some nice scenic shots of the lake and had a good time playing games with friends. Some germs I picked up while in Big Bear just came back to haunt me the following weekend when I was in Palm Springs for an archivist conference. Super drag!

In Palm Springs I managed to lead a pretty awesomesauce panel on privacy issues in archives (yay panel), and then came back to LA Saturday night and spent the rest of the weekend flopping between the living room couch and my bed. I’ve been doing my best to not hack up my lungs, but only with moderate success.

So while I’m confined to spreading my germs within the limited square footage of my apartment I thought it would be a great time to think about not being caged by illness and to relive the past two out of town weekends.

The view from my hotel room balcony, Palm Springs

The view from my hotel room balcony, Palm Springs

When I think about Palm Springs it’s really tough for me to not call it Poodle Springs, since my knowledge of the area was very recently limited to little more than Raymond Chandler’s mocking pseudonym for the city and an awareness of the existence of a crapload of midcentury modern architecture.

I’ve driven by the town on the way to Arizona and Texas.  It’s an easy 2 hour drive from my corner of the LA metropolitan region, but for whatever reason I’d not made my way out there yet.  Now that I’ve been I’d say it’s worth a revisit.  Between getting as much out of the conference as possible and then becoming miserably sick I didn’t get to see as much of the town as I’d hoped, but I saw enough that I now know I want to go back.

The conference hotel was ridiculously expensive so I looked for alternatives.  My inner hipster really wanted to stay at the ACE hotel, but it was even more expensive than the conference hotel!  Instead I ended up three hotels down at the Curve, which despite lukewarm Yelp and tripadvisor reviews is actually a pretty nifty little hotel.

The Curve has the bones of an old motel, but an updated outer appearance.  I got an upgrade from a standard peasant room to a a mountain and pool view room.  I was a little worried that the noise from the pool would be bothersome, but I wasn’t in the room much during the day and they were good about shutting down music and controlling noise after 10pm.

The hotel was great and I’d stay there again.  I had lunch and evening drinks at the ACE, and though the ambience in the diner was retro-fun, the hotel itself didn’t seem all that fancy.  I didn’t see the inside of any hotel rooms there, so I can’t speak to that, but the hotel bar, pool area, and corridors weren’t much swankier than the place I stayed at.

I should probably frame my hotel reviews with the statement that I’m not too picky of a hotel goer.  Sometimes I read hotel reviews and feel like the reviewers’ expectations are way too grand.  I once stayed in a motel in Monterey that my traveling companion said was the type of place where hookers take their clients.  I really didn’t see it that way, but I’m a pretty easy going traveler.

Mostly when I look for hotels I like to find non-chain locations in older well maintained buildings that retain some old timey charm.  Not everyone I know appreciates this aesthetic, but that’s what you’re going to end up with if I’m left organizing the travel plans.

Balcony at the Curve hotel, Palm Springs

Balcony at the Curve hotel, Palm Springs

So the Curve was perfect for my requirements.  I had some mediocre food at Lulu’s Bistro in downtown Palm Springs, but had a pretty exciting blueberry lemon lavender shake at Great Shakes around the corner.  Mixed reviews on other food I also ate there, but there are so many restaurants I think I’ll have to go back and try out a few other places.

I got a little peek at opulent midcentury design with the chance to visit Sunnylands for the conference reception.  I’m not really sure which architectural style is my favorite, but I’ve got an ever growing appreciation of midcentury modern design.  All those strong clean lines and industrial materials are pretty sexy.

Sunnylands, Palm Springs

Sunnylands, Palm Springs

Being out in the desert means seeing stars!  I didn’t drive far enough outside of town in the dark to really appreciate the night sky, but that is definitely at the top of my list of reasons to drive back out into the desert.  I probably should try desert camping one of these weekends to really get to see the universe.

Now, if I could just kick this cold I think I could call last weekend a smashing success.

Hipsters and the NRA

I recently had a conversation with a friend about how I have a lot of hipster-style leanings and I tend to want to go to hipsterville locales.  Despite this, I have a hard time proclaiming myself a hipster.  In a Catch-22 way declaring you’re not a hipster but love hipster style or have always been into hipster style somehow makes you doubly a hipster.  (Best hipster joke: Why did the hipster burn the roof of his mouth eating pizza?  He ate it before it was cool.)

At the heart of negative feelings about hipsterism is a disdain for ironic usage of stuff and a lack of authenticity.  The problem I have with calling myself a hipster is that I am actually fully in love with things old.  My 1960s-ish hipster glasses are cool because they look old, not because they are so uncool they are cool.  I pay my rent and feed my face thanks to history.  I’m in painful depths of debt because of studying history in college (undergrad and grad).  If my closet has vintage and my favorite places to go are old buildings, it’s not because I’m trying to be cool, but because old crap is my preferred way of life.  I’ve just lucked out that retro is so in right now, which makes a lot of old leaning styles more accessible.

So I don’t live a life of irony, I live a life that is authentically me.  That’s pretty much been my M.O. my entire life, and I’ve taken plenty of slack for it, so I’m just going to enjoy that what is me and what is hip decided to cross paths in my 20s.  The only thing that’s really changed as an adult is that I have more freedom in making choices in what I purchase and where I go at any given point in time.  I’d say my style has changed because I can actually go out and purchase old clothes and I’ve realized that particular decades look better on me.  I wear a lot more 1950s and 1960s style stuff because it looks good on me, not because it’s trendy or ironic. (On a side note, can we kill the word ironic, along with literally and interesting, because these words have pretty much become so overused they’re meaningless.  Everytime I use the word “interesting” I feel so lazy and disappointed in my vocab choice.  Though maybe to everyone their own since someone told me they thought awesome was overused and I love awesome.  Awesome is an awesome word.)

Now this all sort of leads to where I wanted to start in the beginning.  I have an NRA poster in my living room.  Now, to modern day readers this probably conjures up images of guns (whatever your political inclinations are then determines whether it’s a small child shot down at an unjust age or a bad ass looking hunter exercising his amendment rights).  But to me, NRA = a love for things 1930s, an admiration of President Roosevelt, and an interest in the politics of the time.  Because to me NRA means National Recovery Administration.

I had some hesistation about sticking this up in my living room.  I don’t expect non-history people to have any association with NRA other than the often maligned/often celebrated group centered on gun issues.  But it’s a cool original poster that makes me think of my favorite decade to study (and also makes me think of the Shanghai Lil musical number from Footlight Parade – all good things).

There is also a tiny part of me that thinks its pretty cool to have an inside joke on my wall (the inside being all the people into early 20th century history).  I’ve already confused one non-history person, who was concerned I was a big National Rifle Association fan after seeing the poster in one room and an outline of Texas in another room.  It’s the 1930s and where my brother lives – no guns involved at all.  Does my pleasure in confusing people make me a hipster?  It doesn’t matter because I love my old timey poster and the warm fuzzy history feelings that it conjures.

I might be a food hipster though.  That I might agree with.

Pico Adobe, Los Angeles, California

Inside the Pico Adobe

Inside Pico Adobe

One of the things that I love about Los Angeles, but also one of the things that makes its history so enigmatic, is the tendency to find very historic things next to very unglamorous things.  Earlier this week I got a chance to visit the Pico Adobe.  When it was built there was only one other second story house in existence in all of Los Angeles (according to the docent).  The core of the structure was built in 1834 and additional rooms were added on in following years.  Although it was blazing hot outside it was cool and comfortable inside, and I marveled at the usefulness of old timey construction methods.

The adobe is in the northernmost reaches of metro Los Angeles – and right next to a trailer park.  This juxtaposition of über historic California craftsmanship with a cluster of small thin walled dwellings is somehow appealing.  It’s this sort of tucked away quirkiness of Los Angeles history that often makes it difficult to parse, but also gives it its charm.

In the backyard of the Pico Adobe

In the backyard of the Pico Adobe

Trying something new by sticking to the old.

You can imbue all sorts of meaning into “Illuminated Past” as the title of a blog.

From time to time I’ve considered turning this into a more structured endeavor (see post here), but ultimately that starts to feel a little too much like work, and this is my playpen, not my paycheck. I threw a few categories up over the blog header so anyone wandering through and taking a gander can choose their poison (genealogists may be less interested in my rantings about TV and those who want to read self-absorbed posts about existence and identity might not have the faintest interest in my old dead family members – and then it’s all out there for those interested in reading general mental bric-a-brac).

This has pretty much been my lifelong writing/journaling strategy – write what I feel like when I feel like it.  I’ve hesitated to publicly claim my blog writing as I worry my slightly liberal leaning tendencies and/or rampant honesty might offend any potential future employers located in more conservative areas of the globe.

And as a human being my opinions are all subject to change over time. A post from 2010 might not accurately reflect my current 2014 attitudes.  You can learn and grow a lot in four years, but that old post will still be floating around the internet.  If someone lands on my 2010 post and reads it without noting the date they might judge my current self based on that.  I mean, it’s still me, but a younger less wise me (which is why my 10+ year old livejournal is all privacy blocked these days – I am no longer my 16 year old self, but it’s linked to my name and maybe someone would find my immature gushing over Legolas as a reason to not give me a job or be my adult friend?  I don’t know.  The world is full of judgy-mc-judgersons.).

On a personal level I’m proud to be myself at any age, but on a professional level I worry that written youthful folly might deter future potential job offers.  It’s silly really.  I’m a professional person at work and I don’t let any personal biases or opinions color the quality of what I do.  In this brave new internet era all I want is to continue to be myself in the online public in the same way I am myself in realtimes public, so I’m claiming Illuminated Past as my own.

It’s a space where I ask questions, where I muse about things, where I share stuff, and ultimately a place where I grow. (hearts and stars and rainbows sapfest time)  It’s all interests and all sides of me.  If you want to tag along put on your sweatpants and hop in – it’s like you’ve entered my living room and we’re gonna have a nice long chat over a cold beer.  Otherwise, ignore this and go find my LinkedIn profile or professional social media work and judge me as a workperson.  In this space, I’ve got my stretchpants on, Netflix is queued up, and I hear there’s a Dominos pizza on it’s way over.  Hope you like the Pacific Veggie.