Friday, July 28, 2006

Mountain Escape

In which M2 heads for the hills to escape the heat and learns some fun facts

It’s been hot. Very, very hot. And humid. It was 120 F in Woodland Hills, about 15 miles east of my Studio City home last Friday. To beat the heat and get some exercise—you just can’t exercise when it’s that hot—I motored up to one of my favorite places in Southern Cali: Mount Baldy. At 6000-odd feet, or about 2000 meters, above sea level, Mt. Baldy Village is 15 to 20 degrees cooler than the San Gabriel Valley below.

The Indians that lived here knew this and what is now the Mt. Baldy Village was once the summer home of the Tongva people, who lived in the valleys most of the year but retreated to the highlands in late Summer and early Autumn.

Behind the Mt. Baldy ranger station is an exhibit of early regional dwellings, including an example of a Tongva summer home.

Gold was discovered in the San Gabriels in 1842, six years before it was discovered at Sutter’s Mill. For several years the area was an epicenter for mining operations. The miners lived first in tents and later in stone cabins, much of the desert alpine wood being unsuitable building material for large dwellings.

The miners used what was called a Long Tom to separate gold specs and nuggets from pebbles and soil.

After buying this year’s Adventure Pass at the ranger station I went up to Ice House Canyon to start my hike. The Canyon is the coolest, shadiest place I know of in the San Gabriels. A babbling stream rushes down in consecutive waterfalls to join up with San the Antonio River at the mouth of the canyon. The water is clear and cold—the perfect companion to a hiker on a long trek.

I hiked until black summer thunderheads began to loom over the peaks above and thunder began to echo down the mountainside.

Afterward, I tooled up to Wrightwood for a look round and a sandwich. On the way I stopped to snap a pic in the Mormon Hills along the San Andreas fault zone. The electric storm fired up on the way, offering a spectacular display of white lightning ripping across the blue-gray sky.

Ice House Canyon Hike
34°17′20″N, 117°38′45″W
Rating: ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Valley Oddities

The first of a series in which we explore the strange, the peculiar & the slightly off-kilter

This round house stands halfway up La Tuna Canyon Road in the Northeast corner of the Valley.

I discovered it a while back during a cycling trip. It's one of several round houses I've come across in and around the Valley. But this one, with its crown and columns, is the most spectacular so far. I wonder if it was built as a home, originally, or if it started out as a spa or a restaurant or as some other attraction. One day I'll knock on the door and find out.

Be sure to click on the image to see all the detail.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Governator Joins Sierra Club

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has joined the Sierra Club as part of a move to oppose off-shore oil drilling. The Sierra Club e-newsletter reads:

'California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced Monday that he will "do
everything I can to protect our coast" and will fight against the offshore oil
bill the Senate is poised to vote on this week, as well as any weakening of the
25-year moratorium on coastal drilling. In a teleconference hosted by Sierra
Club Executive Director Carl Pope, the governor echoed the Club's concern that
if the Senate bill passes, it would be merged with a House bill sponsored by
Representative Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) that could "lead to the weakening of the
moratorium that has protected our California coasts for 25 years."

The governor touted alternative fuels, new technologies, hydrogen fueling stations, hybrid and electric cars as better solutions. "For anyone to think that this will bring gas prices down is making a big mistake."'

As a Sierra Club member and proponent of energy diversification myself, I welcome the governor on board. But as a Set America Free Project supporter and as a proponent of U.S. energy independence, I am concerned that now is not the right time continue the moratorium on offshore drilling. Even if every vehicle in America magically turned itself a PHEV tomorrow morning, we would still have to get oil from somewhere. I would rather it come from here than from the Middle Eastern, terror-supporting tyrannies, even if it means a little unsightliness along the coast.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Class Not Dismissed

In which we get a peek at how status works in the Valley

I recently borrowed a copy of Paul Fussell’s “Class: A Guide through the American Status System” from a friend. It’s an entertaining jaunt through this country’s unwritten but ever evident caste constitution. Though slightly out of date in its semiotics—it was written in the 1980s—the book’s essentials still resonate.

The other night I came home from the office and went to my local for a pop or two and a chat with the barkeep. In observance of Rule #1—always bring a book*—I took “Class” along with me.

Once inside I was hailed, boisterously, by a fellow semi-regular patron. I’ve spoken to this fellow once or twice but don’t know his name, so his effusiveness was lost on me. Until, that is, I realized he was talking to a celebrity and clearly wanted me to know it.

Burt Young is a fine character actor. He’s most noted for his role as “Paulie” in the “Rocky” movies, and as a frequent character in the TV detective series, “The Rockford Files” in the 1970s and ‘80s. He lives in or around Studio City and frequents many of its eating places and watering holes. He seems like an amiable fellow—a regular guy.

And on the fringes of Hollywood he is revered by many as though he was all but a prophet or a prince.

In Fussell’s book, high class has to do with association with, or the appearance of association with, East Coast, old money, Anglophilic culture. Family roasts on Sunday, Harris tweeds, attendance to the right schools, expensive and wasteful leisure activities, a distinct absence of legible attire such as printed ball caps and t-shirts, a proper sense of distanced irony and aplomb… that sort of thing. You can see in people’s houses their attempts to achieve that elusive high caste status—the 1950s ranch-style tract house that has been tarted up to look like a Tudor manse, colonaded colonial bungalow, or Milanese palazzo.

But Studio City is situated on the edge of Hollywood. It turns Fussell’s model, if not on its head, then at least on its side, and with its leg in the air. Here, it’s not class per se that counts, but status. It’s a status that can be acquired in a number of ways by those who care to. Notoriety and celebrity are the two quickest and easiest routes and usually involve, these days, some kind of orchestrated outrageousness (such as being a contestant on American Idol or doing schtick like Marylin Manson). That’s the L.A. way. But in my quiet little corner of the Valley, among those keen to make a living in TV, commercials, film, and more recently, computer games, it’s industry chops that counts.

So in my neighborhood, Burt Young, with his long acting history, is treated, if not as royalty, then at least as nobility. People act funny around him. They bask in reflected glory in his presence, hence my fellow patron’s unusual, beaming gregariousness. He was saying: “Look! Burt Young, the actor, is talking to me, and I am talking to Burt Young!”

I sat down, ordered my drink, exchanged pleasantries with the barkeep, and opened “Class.” Young and the other fellow went of with their chat in low tones. After a short while I noticed that many of the other patrons on the bar kept casting furtive glances in Young’s direction, each cocking a surreptitious ear to hear whatever wisdom might issue forth from between his lips. Maybe, just maybe, they would catch the one little bagatelle of showbiz insight that, if acted upon, would fling them into character-actor film and TV success and allow them to quit their day jobs.

After Young left, my fellow semi-regular beamed and, shaking his head, said, “He’s such a nice guy… Wow… What a nice guy…” And everyone listening had to agree, nodding “…nice guy…yeah…great guy…” finishing off with the extended “Oh, yeah—sigh…”

Not that Young isn’t a nice guy; he certainly seems to be. But that’s not the point. In a milieu of struggling actors, directors, writers and producers, it’s his chops, more than his amiability, that have earned him his status. It's what makes people want to be around him, listen to what he has to say and make sure others know that they have his attention. If he were an amiable plumber, no one, perhaps not even his fellow plumbers, would give him the time of day.

That’s the way class, caste and status roll in the Valley. I wonder what Fussel would say?

*Rule #2: Never start a land war is Asia; Rule #3: Never drive through Dallas in an open car.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Fauna Report

In which we find some of your fine feathereds flitting about the Valley-O

Poly wanna no paparazzi
Found this fine fellow—a canary-winged parakeet—with some his feral friends while cycling round the Valley near my offices just north of Bob Hope Airport. There was a whole flock of them flitting about in the eucalyptus trees on West Pacific Ave., no doubt escaped jailbirds from some pet parakeet Pelican Bay. You can see by the poorness of the picture that polly, wanting no papaprazzi, kept perambulating. This is one of a number of such feral flocks I’ve seen in the Valley, including one of full sized parrots. When I catch up with them again, hopefully I’ll have my camera handy.

Critter Count

Feral parakeets: 1 Flock

Saturday, July 15, 2006

It Just is Cricket

Captured today this vid of a party of hearty young chaps from the subcontinent playing cricket in Griffith Park.

Guess it was a "home run."

His Little Pony

In which we admire a little urban horse flesh

One of the minor joys of living in Studio City is its proximity to the Rancho Equestrian District. The Rancho is an area within L.A. City limits where homeowners are permitted and encouraged to keep horses on their property. The hub os the district is the Equestrian Center, which includes many acres of stables, paddocks and arenas, and many miles of bridle trails through Griffith Park. The streets even have special lanes just for horses. The avid horseman can literally spend all day riding through the Rancho.

I snapped this pic on my way to through the Rancho this morning. It’s good to have a pony. In fact, every little boy and girl should have one. Be sure to click on the image for a larger and higher resolution pic.

Want to learn more about horses or even learn to ride? Hit up the Los Angeles Equestrian Center.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Best Valley Coffee Houses: I

In which Travels West explores Priscilla’s, the first in a series about the Valley’s best coffee houses

What makes a coffee house a success—a meeting place, a town hall, an artist’s or scholar’s home away from home—and not just another bare room with an espresso machine? That’s what this series will attempt, however furtively, to uncover.

First up is Priscilla’s on Riverside Drive. Resting in the northern shadow of Mount Hollywood, near the Warner Bros. studios, Priscilla’s caters to an eclectic but generally well-heeled ensemble of industry-fringe haute bohemians and Taluca Lake householders. While many have something to do with showbiz or its ancillaries (think "project manager" rather than "producer"; "interface designer" rather than "animator"), as a group they’re hard to pin down, and that’s a good thing. It shows that Priscilla’s is the sort of place where people like to mix. When you walk in through the café’s French doors, you never know quite what you’re going to hear: A World Cup wager? A political dialogue? A little Celebrity dishing? Some cycling tips, perhaps?

Priscilla’s foliage covered brick façade gives it a stately, old school look that’s almost deceptive. If it was not 96 degrees Fahrenheit out, you would almost think you were in Cambridge, Mass. Its located right on the flatiron corner where Alameda veers off from Riverside, a patch of relative calm in a tumultuous sea of Hollywood go-getting that allows one to watch the fray with necessarily taking part, which is the sort of vital detail that can make the difference between a place to buy coffee and a coffee house proper.

Staff at Priscilla’s trend young, attentive and jovial—almost effervescent. Most importantly, they're forgiving. They make it a pleasure to walk into the place, especially when you're all bleary-eyed in the morning, when all one can hope to do by way of wit is mumble some ill-conceived wisecrack or other.

On the weekends, Priscilla’s is also a haven for cyclists, who enjoy a little refreshment after a hot ride while sitting at one of the sidewalk tables.
4150 W Riverside Drive
Rating: ♠ ♠ ♠ 3/4

  • Beverage quality—Superb coffess and teas made with care.

  • Staff—Friendly, personable, helpful and engaging people with a sort of young turk/surfer vibe.

  • Patrons—Interesting crowd from the fringes of “the industry.”

  • Look and feel—Well-lit, classic surroundings, easy on the eyes. Includes a walk-up window for busy associate producers on the run.

  • Minuses:
  • Music—Tends to be a little too FM radio top forty for this old fart’s taste.

  • Ergonomics—Patrons are obliged to toast their own bagels using a toaster provided. Not bad thing in itself but the toaster, along with condiments like cream and milk, are badly placed, forcing patrons to fight the crowd that often forms around the register in order to get what they need.

  • Know of a Valley coffee house you'd like Travels West to review? Leave a comment here or drop me a line.

    Tuesday, July 11, 2006

    Wimply Crue

    In which a friend nearly kicks the crap out of a genuine Rock Star

    My buddy, Buddha, who plays the stand-up bass in the jazzy-rock fusion ensemble, Renfield, had bit of a run in the other night with once-famed Motley Crue rocker, Vince Neil. After Renfield’s set, according to witnesses, Neil groped one of Buddha’s women friends, was brushed aside and returned, repeatedly, for more gropage. Mayhem ensued, with Neil having a very public fight with his wife, who also witnessed the gropings, getting up into Buddha’s face, being ditched by his wife, then being chased into the traffic near Pink's by a very angry Buddha, insisting all the while on the untouchability of his rock stardom.

    For more detail, visit Buddha’s MySpace.

    Monday, July 10, 2006

    Bang, bang

    In which M2 and Vebs hit Burbank's shooting range and get some nice nosh afterward

    Yesterday, Sunday, friend Veblen and I went out to the Firing Line indoor pistol range in Burbank for an afternoon of relaxation, shooting at paper silhouettes of pretend crooks. I hadn’t been to a range in more than two years and never to this one near my new home here in the sunny Southland. Vebs had never before indulged this particular aspect of violent human nature, but had expressed an eagerness to try his hand.

    I arrived at Vebs’ place on Buena Vista about half past one. We chatted, enjoyed coffee and talked a bit about pistol range etiquette before heading over. I brought my own firearm, a Colt Mustang .380 pocket pal. But since it was Vebs’ first time and the .380 is a jumpy little number, quick to jam and with an irritating habit of locking in safety position during firing, we opted to rent, in addition, a smoother-operating firearm from the range shop. We chose a Ruger Vaquero .357 magnum. We chose this for two reasons:

    1) I wanted to shoot a “cowboy gun” (boys will be boys)
    2) The heavy weight and simple action of the Vaquero would let Vebs concentrate on the things like his aim, his stance, proper relaxation and so forth without worrying about how to operate a complicated, idiosyncratic and unpredictable piece of machinery.

    A busy indoor firing range is an atmosphere of chaos, especially for the beginner. Spent cartridges from automatics—“brass”—are flying all over the place and the random but persistent BANG! BANGS! tend to make even those with some experience a bit jumpy. But it took Vebs only a few minutes to get used to the atmosphere, and then he took to his Dodge City street canon like a misbehaving hound dog to fleeing cat. He hit his target with each shot on his first cylinder. Very good.

    Afterward, we motored over to my friend Chensvold's bungalow on Princeton Street and kidnapped him for a nosh and a drink or two at a place called Tantra in Silver Lake. There we enjoyed a few cocktails and some tasty Indian-style vittles, served by the magnificent Phoebe, a native of the Portobello Road area of London who once spent time in the L.A. County Jail for assaulting police officer, and is now writing a play about it. Damn, but ain't she Our Kind of Girl?

    All in all a fine and very refined sort of Sunday.

    I highly recommend Firing Line. I found the sales people personable and professional but firm in a helpful and safety conscious way. An hour for two at Firing Line cost about $65.

    I also recommend Tantra, but less for the food -- a tetch too fusiony for my taste -- than for the elegant lounge and Phoebe's provacative panache.

    Firing Line Indoor Shooting Range
    ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠
    1060 North Lake Street, Burbank

    ♠ ♠ ♠ (for food) ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (for Phoebe)
    3705 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles

    Thursday, July 06, 2006

    What a Racquet

    In which M2 finds a new game—and works up a sweat

    For a while now, friend and co-religionist, Chensvold, has been trying to get me to come out and try my racquet at his badminton club. Last night he finally got me out to McCambridge Park, the impressive community recreation facility near Beautiful Downtown Burbank. Chensvold had been telling me what a fantastic workout badminton is, how the shuttlecock can reach speeds of more than 200 mph, how it’s supposed to be four times the aerobic workout of tennis, how it helped him get his waist down to a youthful 31 inches, and so forth. Now, Chensie’s an inveterate sportsman who quickly becomes a fanatic about whatever sport he’s into. So while I certainly knew he wasn’t having me on, I also maintained a bit of raised eye-brow skepticism about some of his more out-there claims for the game.

    I’m not likely to be skeptical again. We started out with Chensvold showing me some basics: how to swing the racquet in short jerks, how to keep an eye glued to the shuttlecock, how move about the court so as not to get off-balance, etc. Then we started warming up. Twenty minutes later I had already worked up a mean sweat and was nearly panting for breath.

    My friend went on to play with the more advanced players while I continued to thwack the shuttlecock around for another 3/4 hour or so with fellow beginner. By the time we were done my shirt was soaked through, my thighs were a-screaming, and I had a wicked ache in my extensor carpi ulnaris which continues today. (But it's a good kind of pain--the kind you experience when you've learned something new and have excersized muscles you didn't know you had.)

    I didn’t play a proper doubles game last night--at my current skill level, that would be a joke and a frustration for my fellow players. But I loved it. It really is an amazing workout, and the best exercise is playing a fast-paced game you enjoy. I am definitely going back next week.

    Here are a few badminton resources in Southern California and beyond:

    Burbank Badminton Club
    SoCal Badminton Association
    Badminton Central

    Basic Civilization

    Web chum, Joe, in Miami, teaches us all the things we need to know to be grown up men -- how to shave, what made to measure shirtings to wear, how not to dress, etc. -- at Basic Civilization.

    Wednesday, July 05, 2006

    Technical Difficulties

    Travels West is experiencing technical difficulties related to the posting of images. Features like Travels West Goes to England and other shiny, pictorial posts will therefore be on hiatus until the issue is resolved. In the meantime, we have installed a Flickr badge (below, right), where you can peruse some truly dazzling photographs.

    Stay tuned.

    Tuesday, July 04, 2006

    Space Boy

    Space Boy
    Originally uploaded by ypnblogs.
    Friend Scott in Vero Beach, Florida, took this snap of his handsome son, Oliver, this morning (July 4) just as the Space Shuttle Discovery blasted off from Kennedy Space Center, more than 60 miles away. It was a picture perfect launch with all systems nominal. Godspeed to our astronauts and safe return!

    Go, baby! Go!

    Sunday, July 02, 2006

    Yankee Doodle, Dandy

    In which I tell it like it is, in my own special way for the holiday

    Revolution 2.0

    “The first duty of an American citizen is that he shall work in politics.”

    —Theodore Roosevelt

    Left, right or center, many of us spend too much time griping about what we think is wrong with America. Independence Day is a day to celebrate all that is right with it—but it’s also a day to consider where our republic has been in the past, where we want to take it in the future, and how we want to get there.

    Our founders rode the crest of a wave of intellectual reformation and revolution called the Enlightenment, and at great peril to their lives put into motion what others in the Old World could only dare dream of. Today, a new wave is cresting, an electronic wave energized by the voices of the 172-plus million Americans now online, that promises to shake the nature of politics and government to their cores.

    In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776

    …We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

    We can quibble ad nauseam—and we will—over what words like “men,” “happiness,” and “rights” meant to the Founding Fathers as opposed to what they mean to us today, recognizing that it took nearly two centuries, a civil war and a civil rights struggle before the dream evoked by the words was realized, and even then, only in part.

    Sure, we’ve got a ways to go. But we ought to be thankful that we have inherited the inspiring doctrines on this parchment, because without them, this republic, this nation, would be just another accident of geography.

    Fathers of Invention

    Our nation’s founders were also fathers of invention. Thomas Jefferson invented an encoding machine for protecting state secrets, a portable copying machine, automatic doors and a bookstand. He also made improvements on the plow and the swivel chair. Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals, the lightning rod, the Franklin stove and an odometer.

    Surely, Tom, Ben and the rest would be dazzled by how far we’ve progressed in our ability to store, reproduce, publish and share knowledge, and they would immediately recognize the impact for society and democracy. (It took me less than five minutes on the Web to find lists of the founders’ inventions, a task that might have taken me several hours or more in my high school library, 25 years ago.) But they would also, I think, be pretty miffed about how much we take what they handed down to us for granted. (Between 1960 and 1996, voter turnout in presidential elections dropped from 69 percent to 49 percent.)

    The e-Merican Revolution

    But a second American revolution is in full swing. Call it the e-Merican Revolution...

    Since political blogs first gained influence in the 1990s, literally millions of blogs and sites have sprung up, created by enthusiasts committed to putting the personal back into politics, making the national local, and showing how political issues and the policy decisions made by our leaders affect us all. The Internet is rapidly changing the culture of politics not only in the U.S. but around the world, empowering individuals, and governments and bureaucracies out of their long, torpid siestas:

    • Political organizing by mobile phone text messaging is believed to have been a major factor in bringing Viktor Yushchenko to power in Ukraine 2004.

    • In Northfield, Minnesota, citizens have been organizing on the Internet since 1993.

    • In Canada, citizens voice their opinions and making an impact on foreign policy issues via the Web.

    • In Malaysia, citizens of Subang Jaya influence policy through their local community portal.

    • Seattle residents are collaborating with their city leaders through, a virtual civic affairs community.

    (For more case studies, visit

    In between firing up the barbecue and slipping into the board shorts and bikinis this holiday weekend, we humbly suggest that you try to find a little time for e-democracy. Crank up the AC, crack a cold one, jump onto that ol’ Internet and get involved. It’s your Web, your country, your government, your life; so put your John Hancock on it, big and bold.

    Here are just a few of the millions of resources out there to help get you started:

    Yahoo! Directory: Politics

    World E-gov Forum




    Revolution 2.0 will be televised—and blogged, vlogged, podcast, chat grouped and text-messaged.

    Have a happy and safe Independence Day!

    (This post appears on my day job blog for Yahoo! Publisher Network. I've also got a few things to say about the holiday over at