When You Imagine California: Santa Barbara

When you imagine California, what you are picturing, is Santa Barbara. Some might say Hollywood is the quintessential California, but those who imagine Hollywood aren’t really thinking about the place, they are thinking about themselves and dreaming of becoming famous. No, Santa Barbara is the SoCal we think of when we look at a map not a mirror.IMG_5951It is the sort of place that surely has some history, possibly some substance, but mostly it has an image. The beach is beautiful, peppered with surfers. People wearing shorts and sunglasses drive convertibles to the marina past white stuccoed buildings flanked by palm trees.

I did not see it, but I sort of assume everyone here writes everything in cursive with pink glitter ink.IMG_5789You can rent beach cruiser bicycles and eat arugula salad on sidewalk cafe. You can visit a Spanish Mission or fish from the pier. You can do or see all the things you imagine doing and seeing in California minus all the things you associate with LA.

It is all Saved by the Bell and no LA Law. It might be a little bit Flaked – but glossier.IMG_5677

I’m not sure who actually lives there, though I have heard some stories, but most people I know only visit. They, or we, drive in and stay the night. We shop and browse light breezy dresses, Tommy Bahama, and beach towels fashioned to look like the California state flag. We eat something light then pay ten dollars for a scoop of ice cream on the pier.IMG_5772Then we get back in our cars, sit in traffic, sit in our cubicles, sit on our couches watching Saved By the Bell reruns, and do our best to ignore the pan handler at the off ramp.IMG_5679

Advertisements

Not Afraid to be Cliche: hangin’ ten on the bear flag republic

I am afraid of neither cliché nor dumpster. I may be a little bit afraid of going all Johnny Utah and trying to teach myself how to ride a cliché in Red Hot Chili Pepper infested waters, so I settle for sitting on the couch and painting what should otherwise be a sporting good.bearflahboard

I found it in a dumpster. I saw it as a low rent project that would allow me the tools to learn my next sporting hobby. I had dreams of riding waves and floating just out beyond the break.

Two years later I have ridden very little beyond a sofa and sadly, I float a bit too easily in the pool.img_9405

Then I got an idea.oitq1198

It is still rideable. At least in theory.img_4990

Venice Beach: exactly what you expect

There are in fact canals through the neighborhoods of Venice California, just like in that other place in Italy, but I’m pretty sure that is where the similarities end. I’ve never been to Italy so I could be wrong, but I’m going to guess the other Venice doesn’t feature a nearly nude bearded man on roller skates selling what he ensures everyone is a “medicinal” plant.freak showI didn’t take a picture of captain roller hair, I did not want that image captured, but that doesn’t mean I don’t advocate for the venue. Quite the opposite. You really should go there.

Just know what to expect.Every city has its place where the odd-balls go to commune. Portland makes the argument that they are that place for the whole United States, but Venice Beach is a little bit more. you see, there are places where “weird people” go to be with each other, and then there is Venice where people go to BE weird in hopes of being seen.IMG_5384

I mean, this is LA. Everyone is trying to get discovered, why would society’s outskirts be different?

drum circleSo, as you head to the promenade be ready for:
Your general knick-knack vendors, medical marijuana card vendors, crowds, people who are crazy, people who are high, people pretending to be high or crazy, drum circles, people riding beach cruisers, good street music, muscly folks working out at Muscle Beach, almost homeless artists selling art, homeless people selling almost art, pick-up basketball games on the outdoor courts ala “He Got Game”, street performers break dancing, street performers snake charming, street performers being a human statue, teenagers acting like this is Vegas, trash in the sand at the beach, a great skate park, beautiful sunsets, funnel cakes, hot dogs, beach houses too expensive to afford, signs advertising the world’s smallest front yard, a sign advertising the world’s laziest dog, cops looking uninterested, cops looking interested, and sometimes, you will see me.mewalkinvenice

IMG_2531 (8)

IMG_5386

fourpalmsunset

So I Heard Its a Blizzard: That’s Nice

I remember Snowmegeddon. It took a week to dig my car out of a snowbank.CIMG9264The thing I hadn’t thought about the first time I went out to shovel snow while living in a row home, was that there is nowhere to move the shoveled snow too. Where are you supposed to put it?bowboardtreescopy

I am not anti-snow per-se, I have at times rather enjoyed the stuff. But only at times and in its place.IMG_0313

But today, and here, is not the place. Enjoy hunkering down inside your little caves folks, I have to go to work.IMG_8475

An Uprising in Watts We Can All Appreciate.

Watts, a neighborhood in LA, has a reputation among some as a dangerous place. So much so that when we looked up directions and reviews of the Watts towers we were told there is no parking, the neighborhood is dangerous and you should only go there with a paid tour. Don’t believe that.
IMG_6890

I’m not exactly sure what Watts was like in 1921 when Sabato Rodia moved in, but it appears Rodia wasn’t satisfied with the place. Maybe he was bored, or just had a vision, I couldn’t say. But I do know what he did; he built something inspirational.

It was,or rather is, inspirational in that this guy, and really he was just some guy, a construction worker, took it upon himself to do something. If those towers that he built out of scraps and broken things was the result of boredom, awesome. He conquered his boredom.

IMG_6896

If the towers grew out of some aspiration for greatness or achievement, wonderful. He achieved it (the site is listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks). He didn’t contract someone to build him some towers, he didn’t move to somewhere towers already existed, he didn’t sit and pine for towers, he didn’t sit and wallow in boredom, he built towers.

IMG_6891

Not everyone was cool with his towers. Well, mostly the neighborhood was cool with it but the establishment wasn’t. He didn’t have a permit. It would have been hard to apply for a permit especially since he had no plans before or during the building. He just kind of built it. He built over a span of 33 years. 33 years to build a complex system of concrete and re-bar towers standing 99 feet in the air.

The City of Los Angeles ordered the towers torn down.

IMG_6886

But he didn’t do it. He persisted in not tearing down the towers till he was too old to argue and he simply “quit” the property and moved away. In 1959 a couple of actors bought the place with the intent of preserving it. LA is a town that respects its actors and by the late 50’s the whole world knew about these things, they were already icons.

They still stand.

They are there and they are worth going to see. Ignore the online whimpering from people who think there are parts of town that simply can’t be visited. The towers have survived there this whole time, you can survive an hour.

Just a Little Bit More: reluctantly

Seeing is believing. Television producers know this. So do newspapers, this is why they print photographs. I am not, nor was I before last weekend, one of those conspiracy theorists who think the moon landing was staged; I am one of the reasonable folks, a believer if you will. But I learned something all over again last weekend when I got to see firsthand something I already believed in. I learned it against my will. I had other plans. Recreational ones.IMG_6347

I had already done my part, I was done. A sign-up sheet had been passed around in Sunday School and I could see that there were plenty of people in the room to fill the available slots. I signed my name on an open space and passed the clipboard on to the person next to me. I silently nodded my head up and down showing approval of the great work to which I had just committed myself. Yes, I am a good man and I had just signed up to do my part.

My part was to drop off empty grocery bags on people’s porches for a community food drive. I was given a route of approximately 200 homes and a stack of bags to deliver over one weekend. The home owners were informed that if they wished to participate in the food drive to simply fill the bag with non-perishable food items and leave it on their curb the following Saturday. There was another group of people, who signed their names on a different space on the sign-up sheet, who would then drive around the neighborhoods picking up filled bags of food to then go drop off at the municipal food pantry. This food would then be given out to those in need, homeless, unemployed, or just plain hungry.

I loved the idea. This was, and shall I say is, a great example of religious congregations working together with municipalities, to involve the general community in helping the needy. Sold! I’m a believer. I read the flier and was all in, no printed picture or images needed. Done.IMG_5968

Done, just like I was after dropping off 189 paper grocery bags. I didn’t do it all alone; I made my two young daughters help. They were fairly willing participants. We all drove to the assigned neighborhood, I gave them each a stack of bags, and told them the first one to finish their side of the street was the winner. The prize was only a round of applause but they weren’t disappointed. The feelings felt from participating in something good were reward enough. Good kids, good dad, all done. Nice job.

The next Friday I found myself carrying a rolled up blanket to a neighborhood outdoor movie. I had been looking forward to this Friday, not for the movie, but because it meant it was almost Saturday. I was especially happy for this Saturday because I had no plans and a green light from the powers that be to spend my plan-less time doing only what I pleased. I was beholden to no one and I meant to capitalize in some unplanned fashion even if it meant doing nothing. I worked hard that week and I had earned it. I wandered around the grassy area till I found an open spot next to my good friend Gary and his family. I spread out the blanket, gave my small people permission to go eat some unhealthy things, and got a fabulous idea.

“Gary! What are you doing tomorrow morning!”

I blurted out the question the moment inspiration hit me. Hiking. We should go hiking. Gary is always looking for something to do, I needed some recreation, he’s a cool guy, perfect scenario.

Gary looked up from his blanket and gaggle of kids and replied, “I’m finishing up that food drive. Why? You wanna come help?”

My inspired idea popped and fizzled like “get well” balloon at a funeral.

“Um-Uh-Oh yeah. Ha, ha, no. Ya see we dropped off bags last weekend. We already helped. No, uh, I was gonna see if you wanted to go hiking in the morning.”IMG_6372

I had forgotten that Gary was the guy who had been asked to coordinate this whole food drive project. He didn’t really volunteer for it but didn’t bat an eye when they asked him to do it. He didn’t frown or fret at my stammering, he just smiled and declined the hiking and repeated his invitation for me to help.

My mind quickly retorted “Dude. Didn’t you just hear me? I said we already did our part. We are done man!” While this was in my mind, something, perhaps the memory of my mother’s advice to be nice, it didn’t come out of my mouth. Nothing came out, I just sort stood with an empty stare. He took opportunity of the pause to cheerfully explain that there was still plenty of work to be done, he had dropped off bags too but wasn’t sure there would be enough people at the food pantry to handle the response so he planned to show up there just in case. He said it the same way you recount math; matter of factly, no guile. It caught me off guard. He didn’t make me feel bad, or even guilty, though I did feel a little bit of that as I stared at my deflated hiking idea on the ground, but it didn’t come from him. It came from me.

I said yes.

He said he would pick me up at 10.

The next morning at 10:15 I saw it. I saw it and I believed.IMG_6371

Cars started showing up with bags full of groceries and drivers full of smiles. Some cars came with two bags, a couple came with twenty. I pitched in carrying bags and cans inside where the food was separated, organized and shelved. People would drive up, others would scurry about carrying and sorting, and the stack of food grew and grew. Gary was counting the bags as they came in, comparing that number to the number of empty bags distributed. Five percent. Five percent is the ratio of how many people donated compared to the number of bags left on porches. Gary had hoped for ten. By the time we wrapped up that percentage had grown to seven. In that seven percent I saw something I would have missed had I gone up the mountainside as planned.IMG_6369

I saw potential for the greatness of humanity.IMG_6374

I saw it in the smiles of the drivers delivering donated food. I saw it in the stack of food that filled the racks inside the pantry. I saw it in Gary and his clipboard. I got to see that if you drop off empty bags on the porches of strangers, they will in fact fill it with food to give to the homeless. That is amazing. I did not consider seven percent is a huge return, until I considered the amount of food that percentage produced. It was a lot of food. For and from strangers! It was wonderful. It was wonderful and I almost missed it. I almost missed it because I considered myself to already be a believer. I didn’t need to see. I wasn’t Thomas and I had already done my part. Oh, but how glad am I that I got to see. How glad am I that Gary gave me that little push to do a little more.

Before he pushed me, by just inviting, I think I was experiencing a seven percent return of goodness on that food drive. My kids had participated, we got the bags onto doorsteps, it was good. That seven percent of good didn’t compare to the good I felt and saw Saturday morning. All because Gary gave me a chance to do just a little more than I signed up for, just a little more than just my part. I saw it and my belief went to a new place.IMG_6373

Imagine if all those neighborhoods had done just a little bit more. Or maybe if they could just see what I saw. Imagine what the whole city could do with just one more little invitation. Imagine the country or the world if we were all asked to go just a little bit past that seven percent, if everyone could see that good that could be done. It would almost be enough to make me think we would never need to do such a project ever again.

If just a little. A little bit.

More.

Trapped in a Room, on Purpose, to See if you Can Escape: its for fun

So you and your friends have battled it out on the Monopoly board, Life, RISK, maybe even Balderdash. You have conquered the world, settled Catan, and need something a little more… something a bit more.  You want something a little more… real?IMG_6106

You watched Indiana Jones, James Bond, and Laura Croft then afterwards found yourself unsatisfied with your suburban Southern California life?

I have found a solution for you.IMG_6115

So there is this place where you can go get locked in a jail cell with 5-10 of your closest friends and then as you watch a TV screen count down 59 minutes, use your wits and some very well hidden clues to bust outta’ the slammer.

Turns out this is a “thing”.IMG_6120

I didn’t know it was a thing till a friend of ours invited us along to go get locked in a jail cell with them. Why would we ask questions to such an invitation? When someone invites you to a jail break you say yes first and then ask questions later. Turns out this jail cell is located in an office park near Rancho Cucamonga and is run by a guy named Rich.IMG_6117

For a very reasonable price Rich will lock you in a cell, or if you are more of the comic book sort, lock you in room full of riddles ala Batman and the Riddler, and then watch you on his security screen as you test your wits trying to escape.IMG_6105

Escape is surprisingly fun. And not as easy as you might expect. There were hidden clues, red herrings, moments of triumph, and a whole lot of moments where you find yourself praying you are never trapped by a villain in a giant room of riddles with your life on the line. Cuz this junk is hard.IMG_6107

 

We made it out with a little less than 8 minutes left on the clock. I am told it is the record. Consider the gauntlet thrown down.

I’m also considering bringing my whole office there as a team building exercise without telling them I’ve already done it. They will be mesmerized with  my clue deciphering abilities and in order to capitalize on my genius I will quickly be promoted to emperor.

What could possibly go wrong?IMG_6103

www.trappedescaperoom.com 600 N. Mountain Ave, Upland, CA 909-360-9806

IMG_6119

Dog Haus: They can spell it however they like because the food is great

So this place is kind of a chain and I am normally not a fan of such things but contrary to what I admit to most people, I am sometimes wrong.IMG_8885

All right, it isn’t kind of a chain, it is a full on chain with something like 73 locations in the works. Not all of them are open yet, including one announced for my neck of the woods, but I anticipate its opening with bated, salivating, breath.Yes, I actually want this chain to exist.

Because those dogs are hot!
IMG_8884

I think the key is the bun, because they aren’t buns, they are King’s Hawaiian rolls. Place on top of said “bun” a skinless all-beef dog, followed by all sorts of variations including fried eggs and bacon. Or maybe Thai sauce and peanuts. Or simply top the dog with glowing beams of sunshine from heaven. Because that is what they serve.
IMG_8879

Balboa Pier: Newport

I do not live in a beach town but as Californians we are required to visit the beach regularly. When others in our environs learn we are headed to the beach they unfailingly ask, “Which beach do you go to?” This is not worded, or meant, as an inquiry to this instance, but rather a broader declaration.

I refuse to declare a beach affiliation.

But we did recently visit Balboa Pier in Newport. It was nice.IMG_4723

“It was nice” is no sort of manifesto. It isn’t even a resounding endorsement. But the place was in fact “nice” and if you please I will now walk backwards into a more meaningful review.

You can park all day for $10.IMG_5719

California doesn’t mess around with those silly beach tags like New Jersey. The beaches are quite literally a “free for all”. Whats not to like about that. Nice, right?IMG_5648

The Pier itself houses the original Ruby’s Diner. Not a culinary powerhouse by any means but an Orange County staple none-the-less. You can eat your burger while sitting on the rooftop deck watching the sun set over the beach. That would make anything taste great no matter who cooked it.IMG_5727

If cold water and waves that break right on the sand aren’t your favorite you can always head for the boardwalk.  There you are treated to arcades, shaved ice, and carnival style rides like a bucking shark. Who doesn’t want to ride a bucking shark?IMG_5591

None of us wanted to ride the bucking shark but we did ride what was marketed as “possibly” the longest Ferris wheel ride in the world. It was indeed lengthy.IMG_5647

 

With full bellies we were ready to test the scientifically proven tale that one must wait an hour after eating before swimming to avoid certain drowning. We thought it a safe place to test this tale since there were at least 7 million junior lifeguards on the beach for summer camp. I found myself wondering how many 9 year olds it would take to save me if I were to go under for the third time.IMG_5721

Turns out I am too naturally buoyant to find out. No loss. I’m satisfied stating that Balboa Pier in  Newport is Nice.