Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Urban Iditarod

In which dogsled puppies do it doggie style

The 12th annual Urban Iditarod will be under way in San Francisco (my preferred home town), Saturday, March 3rd. Mushers and mushies will come from all over the Bay Area and the state to be a part of this urban legend. And, this being San Francisco, it's bound to get kinky, and playfully so! Woof, baby! Woof!

Wish they all could be California cave girls

Yes, but did cave men tell blonde jokes?

Turns out, according to a recent article in the Times of London, that blonds really do have more fun, and been having it since the Pleistocene, 10,000 years ago.

"European women evolved blonde hair and blue eyes at the end of the Ice Age to make them stand out from their rivals at a time of fierce competition for scarce males," notes the article, citing a study out of the University of St. Andrews.

But, blondies, enjoy the attention while you can, because:

"A study by the World Health Organisation found that natural blonds are likely to be extinct within 200 years because there are too few people carrying the blond gene. According to the WHO study, the last natural blond is likely to be born in Finland during 2202."

Natural? Ha! This is SoCal, baby!

(Painting above by Tom Simonton, channeling Frank Frazetta.)

Friday, February 24, 2006

It's time

In which M2 goes way off-topic

It’s time to call it quits on Iraq. No, I don’t mean that it’s time to bring the troops home in defeat, but to call it quits on Iraq as a viable nation-state. As vividly illustrated by the Golden Mosque bombing and its bloody aftermath, sectarian violence in Iraq has become increasingly bitter, savage and sadistic. It seems that the country is in the midst of a bourgeoning civil war, and our troops are caught in the middle.

To avoid a drawn-out, brutalizing struggle that will likely end in the breakup of Iraq, anyway, it’s time partition the country into its major ethnic and historical territories: the Kurdish north (Kurdistan), the Sunni-dominated middle, (Mesopotamia) and the Shiite south (Sumer). Some coalition forces would remain – perhaps with the assistance from NATO and the U.N. – as peacekeepers. They would also insure that oil revenues would be divided equitably among all parties, and keep a close watch on Iran and Syria, so that they don’t meddle in these emerging nations’ internal affairs.

Partition has worked in other places – the former Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, for example – albeit with varying degrees of success. In Israel-Palestine the policy of separation has, at least for the time being, lead to a decrease in violence.

To continue a policy of nation-building out of peoples as hostile to one another as they clearly are in Iraq seems foolish in the extreme. It took the kings of France more than 500 years of authoritarian rule to build a nation out of the peoples of Gaul. The British Empire was in India nearly 350 years before the nationality we know today as “Indian” began to emerge. Saddam Hussein and the Ba’athists failed forge a nation out of Iraq in 30 years of brutal dictatorship.

Some, typically, will point to Japan and Germany as successful efforts in building democratic, peaceful and economically successful nations. But Japan has had a distinct and largely homogeneous identity for a millennium, and the Germans, already very similar in culture and language, were forged into a nation by the Iron Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, the Franco-Prussian war and two world wars.

It’s time we Americans realize that, unless we are willing to take on a truly imperial role in the region and commit lives and treasure to it for countless years to come, at least, we cannot hope to weld the factions of Iraq together into a distinct nationality, much less a peaceful and democratic people.

Will partition guarantee a total cessation of violence? There are no guarantees. But is it worth the life of one more American soldier, sailor, or airman to defend a failed policy that if continued is bound to get many, many more killed, maimed or wounded and result in more of the quasi-religious barbarism to which we are all now daily witnesses? I say we need to try another course, and partition in the clearest choice.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

One good turn

In which Travels West gets blogged

The good folks over at The Valley Observed weblog have been kind enough to... well, blog my Travels West blog, and even link to it from their Blogs and Valleyites section. And here I didn't think anyone read this thing except my pops. I guess I'll be posting more frequently now to keep all the new readers entertained.

I would have sent them a nice note, but I couldn't find The Valley Observed's email link. Anyway, thanks, V.O.!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

'Star' Sightings of the Week

Eric Idle, of Python fame, at the Fox and Hounds Pub on Ventura BLVD; Dweezil Zappa at Jerry's Deli, also on Ventura BLVD.

Studio City is a great place to see minor celebrities and people you recognize from TV commercials.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Viva comida Mexicana!

In which we discover some good Mex in The Valley

I went to high school with Michael Franti, the lead singer/provocateur of the band, Spearhead. He was one year behind me in school. Nice guy, rather into New Wave at that time, as I remember. Now he is quite admired in contemporary music and progressive political circles. These days, he doesn't wear shoes in sympathy with the poor of the world, a thing I would find admirable if I didn't have a typically bourgeois fear of dirty feet. Prior to Spearhead, Franti was in a band called the Beatnigs, which did a song - or rather a poem set to music - called “Burritos,” that I remember was a lot of fun to listen to and rhyme along with. I’m sure also that it had some social justice spin to it, but I don’t remember all of the lyrics and I can’t find them on the web. Anyway, doesn’t matter. I’m here to talk about burritos, the food, not “Burritos” the song. I just used Franti’s song as a segue. (Sorry, Michael.)

Anyway, being a San Franciscan, I am a stickler for a proper burrito. No doubt San Francisco’s Mexican food is influenced by the city’s rich “foodie” culture. In any case, San Francisco has the best burrito joints in the world, the entire country of Mexico notwithstanding. There is a degree of options, freshness and volume unavailable anywhere else.

When I first came to the L.A. area two years ago, I was surprised at the limitations I found at most burrito joints and taco stands. After all, there are more Mexicans in L.A. County than there are in some Mexican states. You’d think the Mexican food culture here would be plentiful and rich. But nooo – choices are few, menus are strict, and freshness is, well, lacking.

But since I’ve moved from the Southern slopes of the Hollywood Hills to the Northern slopes – and moved to a new job to boot – I’ve found two great Mexican joints that I want to recommend. The first is Tortas Mexico. A torta, for those of limited experience with the cuisine of the nation of Quetzlcoatl, is a sandwich on a firm roll. The joint serves tortas, of course, as well as tacos, chile rellenos, burritos, enchiladas, chile colorado dinner plates and all that at very, very good prices. Not as much choice as a SF burrito house, but pretty up-to-snuff. And it’s half a block away from my new apartment, in a little strip mall at Vineland and Ventura, next to the popular Hollywood "key grip" bar, Maeve’s Residuals. Location counts for a lot in the Southland.

The other is near my office. It’s a little hole in the wall called Los Chavos Tacos, on the corner of N. Buena Vista and Victory. The great thing about this place is that it is fresh, fresh, fresh! Their carne asada is some of the best I’ve ever tasted.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

So where in the world is Hollywood, anyway?

In which M2 shows you just where to go

Monday, February 13, 2006

The plastique mystique

In which M2 is truly horrified, and yet cannot look away

Just now I went to have a li'l afternoon fog-lifter -- a cup of joe, of course -- at the Daily Grill near my office across from Bob Hope Airport in Burbank. I was seated at the bar chatting with the barkeep, when in glides this... woman.

She was dark and thin and sported a pair of melons the size of, well, melons. She was in typical Valley-girl teenie-bopper drag -- Kangol cap, sheer black blouse, rhinestone bracelets etc. -– but she was anything but teen. The closer she got, the scarier she looked. If I had to guess, I’d say mid 40s; boob job (or two), nose job, cheek implants, and, by the way her eyes narrowed when she sat down, a couple face-lifts, at least. Her upper lip was so plumped-up with whatever it is they plump lips up with I thought she was going to dribble her drink all over her décolletage for lack of control.

This, I thought, is typical L.A. run amok. I mean, L.A.’s alternative weekly paper , for crying out loud, has literally dozens of ads for “cosmetic enhancement,” lipo-suction, breast “augmentation,” Botox and all other the gee-gaws of celebrity culture-driven hyper vanity.

Surprisingly, though, she was from Manhattan, and had been trying to get there for three days, what with the storms and all. She was eerie look at, but I couldn’t help looking at her and wondering, OK, it looks weird, what does that feel like?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Portal of the Folded Wings

In which M2 tells of his meeting with a geniune WWII flying ace.

Today I met “Coffey” Coffman. Coffey was a 1st lieutenant in the Second World War. He was a fighter pilot who flew the P-38 Lightning, truly one of the most curious and beautiful planes flown in the war.

I met Coffey because I had cycled over to the Portal of the Folded Wings this sunny Sunday afternoon. In an industrial corner of Burbank, near the railroad, down from the National Guard’s 144th Artillery battery HQ*, and in the glide path of Bob Hope (Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena) Airport, the Portal is a shrine to the aviation history of the area and to the pioneering aviators who flew here. I’d ridden by it a few times, but today decided to find out more.

Coffey, who was acting as docent this Sunday afternoon, explained that the Portal was once the entranceway to the Valhalla Memorial Park, a cemetery, under whose archways hearses used to pass on their way to their cold passengers’ final resting places. In the early ‘50s it was rededicated as the shrine to aviation it is today.

Coffey, who had been polishing his black Lincoln Town Car when I rode up, greeted me and let me roam through the three little display rooms packed with aviation models, photographs and memorabilia. The P-38 Lightning was prominent among the displays. Coffey also had one embroidered on his cap. I asked him about this. The P-38, he said, was designed and built by Lockheed a few hundred yards from where we were standing.

“I flew a P-38 in the war,” he said.

“Wow,” I answered. “What was that like?”

He sort of tilted his head and looked at me. I realized that there really is such a thing as a dumb question and retracted, saying, “Well I guess there’s nothing like it… But was it exciting?”

“I guess so,” he replied, his clear grey eyes looking off into the distance.

“Well, what did you do after the war?” I asked.

“I worked for Northrop.”

“Was it more exciting than that?”

He let a big grin spread over his face. “Well, yeah. It was a lot more exciting than that.”

Then we got into some technical aspects of the P-38, such as the odd twin fuselage. Turns out the major impetus for this was simply to put the guns – one 20m canon and four 50 cal. machine guns – in the nose. Single engine planes – such as the P-51 Mustang – fire from the wings, so that the pilot has to get just the right distance for the paths of the bullets to intersect and make a bull’s eye. But the P-38 fired straight forward. I asked how this made things different for him.

“Well,” he said. “Once I was strafing an enemy column near Saigon. I was only a few hundred feet off the deck and I saw this guy pop up and shoot at me with a rifle. So I flipped around, set my sights on him, and… nailed him.”

There was no emotion one way or another when he said the word “nailed,” just the vehemence of a small victory. He could have been talking about a poker game, except there was even less callousness in it than that.

"If I’d been in a Mustang," he went on after a pause I probably never would have made that shot.” Beneath that simple statement simmered the implication: “And he might have shot me down and killed me.”

Coffey showed me a photograph his P-38 from a picture book on WWII aircraft nose art. The nose of his ship featured a leggy, buxom redhead, rather stiffly painted. The legend read “Miss Amber,” named, he told me, for the heroine in Kate Winsor’s classic 1944 Restoration-era romance, “Forever Amber.” This Amber’s attire, however, was anything but 17th century.

“I wanted to paint my wife up there,” Coffey laughed, “but I wasn’t that good a painter, so I copied pin-up calendar art.”

The Portal’s sculptor, Federico A. Giorgi, was among those who designed statuary for the Panama Pacific International Exposition, which opened in San Francisco in 1915. He also designed sets for the likes of D.W. Griffith.

*Anyone who thinks the military over-budgeted should look at this base with its broken windows and peeling paint.

To sidecar or not to sidecar?

In which M2 asks the profound question, "Should I get a sidecar for the scoot?"

What with The Bunnee now gone, and the car with her, I'm relying on scooter transport a lot these days. (See To Live and Scoot in L.A.). For shorter trips, such as my daily commute to the office, I ride a bicycle. But for touring around California's Southland, seeking out new eateries, weird hangouts and experiences, it's definitely the stylish Chetak 150.

But I'm struck with a dilemma. The Chetak’s a great ride, relatively fast compared to other scoots, handy in traffic and so forth. But its carrying capacity is pretty limited, as you can imagine. So I am considering getting a sidecar for it. Bullet-shaped retro sidecars are definitely groovy looking and they would increase my hauling capacity significantly. But there are drawbacks. For one thing, I couldn’t maneuver as well in traffic (lane-splitting would be difficult). For another, it would decrease my mileage (75 – 90 mpg, currently). Lastly, Barry, who owns S.F. Scooter Centre, once told me “It’ll perform like you gotta refrigerator strapped to your side."

Still, it would be nice to be able to toss a suitcase or two into the sidecar and spend a few nights up in Mt. Baldy Village if I want to. Plus, sidecars are cool.

What do you think? To sidecare or not to sidecar? Post a comment and let me know!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Little change of plan

In which M2 outlines his new blogging strategy

The fact is that me and the Bunnee have gone our separate ways. Sad but true. If you're one of the lucky five or six people who actually read this blog on occasion, then you know that its ostensible subject matter was our road trips together through the West. Well those aren't going to happen any more. And since the Bunnee got the car and I took the cute-scoot (see To Live and Scoot in L.A., below), I'm not going to be doing a lot of long-distance travel on my own, at least not for a while. So the focus of this blog henceforth will shift to shorter travel-related experiences in which I explore my surrounding environment -- L.A., Hollywood, Studio City, the Valley, the nearby mountains, etc. Don't look so glum. This place is a goldmine of wierdness just begging to be exploited for our amusement.