Thursday, August 21, 2014

'Hood #45: San Pedro for Giant Rubber Duckie and Pi-Rat

I've been a slacker on seeing LA 'hoods, but today I went to the Tall Ships Festival in San Pedro—something I'd NEVER have done if I wasn't trying to see all the neighborhoods. I'm not necessarily into "tall ships," but I heard about it because the world's largest rubber duck would be making an appearance.

I went with my friend Shelly who knows San Pedro well, and she showed me around the town.  San Pedro is the southmost 'hood in LA, and home to the Port of Los Angeles.

The highlights for the festival:
World's largest rubber duck...the whole reason I came...that's the Vincent St. Thomas Bridge behind the duck. 

The USS Idaho... we didn't get to tour this but we did get to see another ship. Cool! 
As part of the fun duck theme... I learned a cargo ship of 29,000 rubber ducks overturned in 1992...since then, those ducks have washed up all over the world!

A pirate holding a Pi-rat!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

'Hood #44: Koreatown for POT, a Roy Choi restaurant

Today I visited the neighborhood of Koreatown to have lunch at a new Roy Choi restaurant called POT (complete with marijuana dispensary-inspired logo). Although perhaps not so appropriately I brought Kara, the 13-year old daughter of a friend to a place where the menu has a picture of an old lady smoking a blunt.  Ah well, we ended up at POT because she had a hankering for a noodle joint. (Haha...I said joint.) And at least there weren't any brownies on the menu. In my defense, "pot" really refers to the fact that most of the food comes in a big pot meant to be shared.

We were originally aiming for Ma Dang Gook Soo, which got good reviews on Yelp. When we got there, however, it was perhaps a bit TOO authentic...people jammed at tables into a small room with a Korean woman yelling at us to look at the menu outside, which was sparse on the English. So... we moved on.

POT noodle of the day: a vegetarian spicy noodle, delicious!
POT is straight-up Korean food, located in the chic Line hotel on Wilshire Boulevard. They have a "noodle of the day" which was only $11—a bargain considering this is a Roy Choi place (the chef famous for starting the food truck movement and technical advisor on the movie, Chef).  I loved that you got faded, grandma-ish bibs to wear and there was a full roll of paper towels on the table to use as napkins. Lunch came with a bowl of slightly spicy bean sprouts and a weak, iced tea that reminded me of accidentally drinking water that someone had put a cigarette out in, but it kind of grew on me.  

I've never had Korean noodles—they were pretty darned good. Sweet, with a kick. These came with some kind of sweet radishy thing, mushrooms, edamame, green beans and kimchee.

Another highlight: along with your check, you get an awesome trading card (apparently there are several versions... come back to collect all!)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

'Hood #43: Echo Park to See the (Stolen) Lotus Flowers

The neighborhood of Echo Park is probably best known as the home of Dodgers Stadium, but since I'm not a sports fan, I had to find something else to do there. Today I went to see the lotus flowers as part of a weekend lotus festival.

I was chatting with a friend who filled me in on a bit of history (which I confirmed via an LA Times article) about the Echo Park Lake lotus plants. They're believed to be direct descendants of plants imported from China in the 1920s, but by three years ago for reasons unclear the lotus flowers had entirely died out. It was, however, rumored that years prior a man had (illegally) stolen a shoot, cultivated it and had been selling the offspring. The team restoring the lake followed up on the rumor... and in the end, the guy who stole the clipping sold lotus blooms to the city for $30,000 and everybody's happy.

Anyway, Echo park is in northeast Los Angeles.  I'd wondered if I should have picked an ordinary day (vs. a festival) to see the flowers to avoid crowds—but as luck would have it, there was a World Cup game happening so it was lively, but not jam-packed.

There are several beds of lotus flowers in the lake, and they really are quite spectacular. The lake and park feel like a calm oasis with downtown LA in the distance.  We went for a pedal boat ride (only $10 for an hour), which burned off the calories in the delicious Vietnamese chicken salad I bought off a cart that was there from Gingergrass restaurant in Silver Lake.

Mary Jo and me on Echo Park Lake
Just as we were leaving, my friend reminded me we were going to see the Angelus Temple—a huge baptist temple built in the 1920s that sits at the edge of the park—but we were out of time so that'll have to wait for another day.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

'Hood #42: Theater as Tupperware Party in Westwood

I've been waiting for just the right thing to do in Westwood since it's so close by, and today I found it: Dixie's Tupperware Party, which is both a play and an actual Tupperware party at the Geffen Playhouse.

(Westwood, btw, is only a couple miles from where I live in Palms and is home to UCLA, which I've been to many times for various writing classes.)

Before the performance, I met my friend Sandra for a nosh and a drink at TLT Food, a new, casual restaurant (counter ordering, community tables) that was born from a food truck called The Lime Truck...and in typing that, I just now get why it's called TLT.

I ordered a Mr. Potato Taco ($3) and a beet/arugula salad ($5) and they were really quite amazing.  I'd go back there again in a heartbeat. (The original plan was to go to CPK when I stumbled across this online—I'm glad we tried something different.)

Then on to the Tupperware party, which featured the lovely Dixie—coming straight to us from a trailer park in Mobile, AL—in a mix of bawdy humor and product demonstration as she interacted with the audience and pitched the hell out of Tupperware.  (She, btw, is a he, and as I understand stays in his Dixie alter-ego through interviews, awards, etc.) Set on the smaller of Geffen's two stages, it was a cozy audience of about 50 or so people, four of whom sat right up on the stage.

I didn't buy anything — truth be told I'm trying to switch over to glass storage —but I did have a jolly time.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

'Hoods #40-41—the Hub of LA's African American Culture in Leimert Park/Arlington Park

I first heard of Leimert Park when talking with a young woman who several years ago moved to LA, living in Manhattan Beach and a couple other beach cities until finally she asked a friend, "Where are all the black people?" That's when she found out about Leimert Park, the neighborhood I visited today (and where she now lives), which is a middle-class 'hood considered the hub of African-American culture in LA.... also known as "the Black Greenwich Village."

(BTW, I'm rolling Arlington Park into this because it's just a tiny, tiny strip on the east of Leimert Park, which itself is only 1.9 square miles total. I have no idea why the map I'm working from separates them into two 'hoods because nobody else - including Google - seems to.)

I went for the Festival of Ancestors and African Mask Parade along with my friend Jenifer. It was every bit as small town, community-oriented, hokey as I'd hoped: families, art in the park, street artists, drumming, singing, etc.  

Being there, I learned Sundays are a big day in Leimert Park—even though many of the restaurants are closed, apparently there's jazz and food in the park and later in the bars; things were just getting hopping as we were leaving at 5:00.

I'd planned to eat lunch at a local restaurant, but before we found one that was open, we found this guy in the park making amazing Jamaican grilled salmon, veggies and rice—we must've looked pretty happy eating it because more than one person came up to ask where we got our food.

A highlight: a city lot with parking all day for $2.50... for all day!!!  You don't get bargain parking like that too many other places in LA. Oh, and having grown up in the Detroit area where cruising Woodward Avenue was the happening thing, I was amused by these signs we saw around the neighborhood:

Also, KCET recently aired an interesting video on the gentrification of Leimert Park.

Friday, June 20, 2014

'Hood #39: Mar Vista & a Goodbye

For my 39th LA neighborhood, I went to Mar Vista—specifically, to Pepy's Galley diner, which, after more than 50 years, is going to close on June 30.  The reason: it's part of the Mar Vista Bowl bowling alley that's been bought out by BowlmorAMF, which will boot out this genuinely retro diner so they can remodel and open a—ready for it?— faux retro diner.

Anyway, I read about it in the local paper, and I wanted to go there and show my support in their final days. I'm not a regular customer—in fact, I've never been—but they're not being closed due to lack of business but, rather, in the name of "progress." Now, I understand the new owners have a right to remodel, and that it wasn't feasible to remodel the bowling alley and not the diner, but it's still a big bummer.  I can't help but feel sorry for the diner's owner, 74-year old Joseph "Pepy" Gonzalez (who greeted my friend MJ and me as we arrived), as well as sad that another faceless corporate business is taking over a mom & pop shop.

The place was packed on a Friday at lunchtime, and the prices, for the record, were cheap.  I got a huge turkey melt and fries for $6.95 and took half of it home.

As for Mar Vista, I was already familiar with the 'hood, as it's located between Palms (where I live) and Venice and is close enough that it was about a 30-minute bike ride each way.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

'Hood #38: Griffith Park... for More of an Encounter With Nature Than I Was Counting On

I signed up for quite a while back, and today I went for my first meet up: a hike in Griffith Park (the largest urban park in the nation, home to the LA Zoo, and also neighborhood #38 on my list). I was actually surprised to see that Griffith Park is considered a 'hood vs. just a park.

Other than the zoo, I've never spent any time in Griffith Park—and even that's been about 15 years.  I got there a bit early so I decided to go see the Merry Go Round (which opened in the 1930s and according to my  hiking guide later, is rumored to have inspired Walt Disney to create Disneyland).  I didn't have any money on me so could only watch vs. ride.  It seems like it could use a bit of "freshening" (couldn't we all?) but that also kind of added to the charm.

Then I met up with the group, about 20 or so people.  I know there are people out there who are natural minglers—I'm not one of them.  Still, as we set out for a 2-hour hike,  I would have felt weirder not chatting with people, so I trotted out the standard variations on "come here often?" and had some nice conversations along the way.

Some of the route was less then scenic (a long strip adjacent to the 134 Freeway interchange), but other parts were breezy, tree-lined and perfectly lovely.  It was mostly flat but the sections of uphill were enough to get my decrepit old heart pumping.  It's my understanding from the other hikers that there are hikes far more naturey at the park—but those fall into a more difficult range.  This was just fine for me.

Just as we were nearly back at the cars, something totally bit me in the ass! (OK, upper, upper thigh). Or, I'm guessing, stung me.  I'm putting my money on a bee sting.  All dignity went out the window as I jammed my hands down my pants, fishing around to remove whatever had done the damage. It hurt like crazy, and now as I sit here back home, I'm icing it.

Well, I wanted to find nature...but I guess it also found me.

Oh, and I keep saying this, but it keeps being true: I wouldn't have done this hike if it hadn't been for my challenge to visit all of LA's neighborhoods. I'd have been too lazy to make the drive and would have opted for something closer to home, but it was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon (minus the sting).

Saturday, June 7, 2014

'Hood #37: Pacoima for "Mural Mile" & an Awesome Kabob Plate

Pacoima is considered by some to be the armpit of the San Fernando Valley, and the LA Times once described it as "somewhat depressing—" but this is a 'hood that may be poor, but it has pride.

Today I went there with my Aunt Marcy to check out what's known as "Mural Mile" and then grab lunch.

The story behind Mural Mile is that—in an effort to rejuvenate the neighborhood—a local artist, Levi Ponce, in 2012 at his own expense painted 12 murals along a one-mile stretch of Van Nuys Blvd. (between Foothill and San Fernando). Other artists then followed suit, and now many murals brighten an otherwise pretty dreary strip of check-cashing outlets, pawn shops, taco joints and auto repair shops

We decided to walk vs. drive to really get a good look, but we walked nearly the entire mile and only saw three murals. We started to get discouraged... only to turn around and see how many we missed.  And then as we drove to get food, we saw a lot more—maybe a couple dozen in total? (It's actually more like "Mural Two Miles," but that doesn't have the same ring to it.)
This is one of Levi Ponce's murals, signed in the corner.

Another Levi Ponce - can't miss this driving down the street.

This is actually deceptively cheery—books in the mural include "Rethinking Columbus" and "Pedagogy of the Oppressed."

Antonio took excellent care of us!
For lunch we went to a little hole-in-the-wall called Antonio's Tacos and Kabob, a Mexican-Lebanese place in a strip mall on Van Nuys Blvd. that served absolutely delicious, homemade, fresh food.  Antonio himself took our order and recommended the chicken kabobs—which we decided to split with an order of grilled veggie kabobs.  It included a side of shirazi and hummus, a bbq tomato & jalapeno (all absolutely delicious!).  They started us off with a basket of chips and quite possibly the best salsa I've ever had. 

1/2 chicken and grilled veggie kabob plate for under $8!

The entire afternoon was one of those happy surprises and nowhere I'd ever have gone if I hadn't specifically been looking for something (anything) to do in Pacoima.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

'Hood #36: Hollywood Forever Cemetery for a Movie

Tonight for a true Hollywood experience, I saw a movie under the stars at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.  Because it's one of those cool, old cemeteries where a lot of film royalty is buried, it seemed only fitting to see a classic:  Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window starring Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly.

The movie started at 8:30 after the sun set, but I met my Aunt Marcy and cousin Dani earlier so we could get a good spot on the lawn and picnic on shrimp cocktail, chicken sate, salad, veggie chips & wine...yummy!

Even though I've already seen Rear Window, it's probably been about 20 years so it was just as fun and suspenseful as before.

I may try to squeeze in one more movie here before summer's over—although next time I'm bringing my down jacket. I was freezing!

Well, that makes 37 neighborhoods down... 100 to go!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

'Hood #35: Venice-a-Palooza

Even though I just went to Venice Beach the other day to ride my bike along the bike path, I didn't count it because I wanted to experience the neighborhood in a different way.  So today I met my friend Kirsten for lunch on Abbot Kinney (a hip, artsy street) and then we set out to walk the canals for which the 'hood is named.

Venice, btw, is a straight shot down Venice Blvd. from where I live.  Of course, this was Venice so parking was a nightmare, but all part of the adventure.

First: lunch. We went to Lemonade, which is  a cool, healthy cafeteria on Abbot Kinney Blvd.  Oddly enough, in all my years in LA, I've never done Abbot Kinney, nor have I walked the canals (at least that I remember).  Anyway, Lemonade has a long line-up of really lovely salads to choose from: I selected two that were delicious (a lentil/feta salad & a snow pea/corn one), but turned out to be so different in flavor that I pretty much needed a palate cleanser between bites.  

Then on to the canals, just a short walk away.  For some reason, I'd pictured the canals to look like the LA river—as in a trickle of water down a concrete riverway.  These were, well, canals, banked by dirt and flanked with gorgeous homes, all nicely landscaped.  

Loved these lanterns hanging from an old tree
We wound are way around for an hour or so enjoying the sunny afternoon, the cool breeze and lookie-looing the homes.  I can't believe for all the times I've been to Venice Beach, I've never done this before.  

I'd definitely do it again!

****Update**** No sooner do I post this blog than I get an email from a friend who—having no idea I just went there today—asked if I'd go with her on a walking tour on the history of the Venice Canals coming up in June.  So I guess I WILL definitely do it again! 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

'Hood #34: Encino for a Bookish Party

Well, it's been far too long since I've visited a new LA neighborhood.  As much as I love this challenge, life for a while got in the way.  I'm not giving up, but I may have to give myself some wiggle room on the one-year deadline. We'll see.  Whatever happens, I know I won't give up.

Author Mary Hogan
Anyway, today I dove back in by visiting Encino, where I was invited to a book party for an author friend of mine..  The only thing I know about Encino is that it's the home of the Jackson family compound and that it's in the Valley.  Upon looking at it on Google Maps, I noticed that it's directly across from Sherman Oaks.

My old buddy from my days working for 'TEEN magazine, Mary Hogan, wrote a novel called Two Sisters, which I loved so much I blurbed it (as in, endorsed it as a fellow author).  She lives in New York, but while she was in town, friends of hers held an author meet & greet.

Encino was just a quick jaunt up the 405 (as quick as a jaunt up the 405 can ever be). The party was lovely, and I had a chance to hear about her inspiration for writing the novel (did I mention I highly recommend it?).

Because you all know I love a good celebrity sighting, besides Mary's husband, Bob Hogan (who is an actor who has been in about a bazillion things) I chatted for a quite a while with a woman before realizing she was Bridget Hanley,who played Candy Pruitt, love interest of Bobby Sherman (squeeee!) in Here Come the Brides. Yes indeed I grilled her about Bobby (squeeee!). He was the third love of my life, right after Davy Jones of the Monkees (#2) and Dr. Sommerville, our family doctor who looked just like Christopher Plummer.

But back to Encino.  I did get to see a bit more of it than I'd thought—mostly residential streets—because, in true LA style, my freeway on-ramp was closed without any sort of warning.

It was only when I got home that I realized I should have looked for the Jackson Family compound.  I Googled how far I was from it and—do'h!!—less than 2 miles away!  Even though I know the best I'd see are some tall bushes and maybe a mailbox, I'm still a little mad at myself for not thinking of it in time.  

Sunday, April 13, 2014

'Hood #33: LA Times Festival of Books in University Park (USC)

Even though LA has a rep as being comprised of mostly uncultured beach bimbos, one weekend a year we show off our intellectual side with a huge book festival, held at USC (which is in the neighborhood of University Park).

Getting to USC is an easy trip on the Metro Expo Line, which is what I took to get there today.

As luck would have it, the event opens with a few numbers by the Trojan Marching Band which got me into that bookish collegiate spirit.

I'd bought tickets for several panels and interviews.  The first was with four authors writing women's fiction, three of whom I've read: Gigi Levangie (Starter Wife), Jane Green (Jemima J, Beach House), Lian Dolan (Helen of Pasadena) and Lacy Crawford (Early Decision).  It was like watching a bunch of my girlfriends sitting on a stage gabbing about this & that. Entertaining.

The next session was a "conversation" with Barbara Ehrenreich, who was talking about her new book Living with a Wild God.  She pulled in a crowd.  I know her from her nonfiction book Nickel & Dimed in which she spent a year living on minimum wage.  Smart, funny lady.

I blew off the rest of the sessions (so much for my intellectual side) and instead met up with a couple friends for lunch at the Moreton Fig, a cafe on campus named for the incredibly gorgeous giant fig tree whose fruit pelted customers throughout the afternoon.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

'Hood #32: Westlake for the Grilled Cheese Invitational

Kraft slices chaps & string cheese bullets
Today was all about cheese & bread at the Grilled Cheese Invitational, a quirky festival held in Westlake (just west of downtown LA) that includes cheese calling, a costume contest, the Mayor of Cheese & just general goofiness.  The event actually started as a group of friends competing at a backyard bbq to see who had the best grilled cheese and grew to become a cheese lovers paradise.

I went two years ago as a contestant (I entered with a sandwich of goat cheese, provolone, basil, strawberries and pepper jelly on sourdough, but didn't win). This year, I bought a judging ticket, which was a much more relaxing (and fattening!) way to enjoy the day.

It's sort of luck of the draw which sammiches you get to rate as a non-professional judge—luckily my friend MJ had a gift for charming the servers into giving us the ones that looked really good.

Our favorites:
The Crust Lord with nut bread, some amazing cheese, caramelized shallots & lemon

Banana split cheddar grilled cheese, fresh whipped cream with maple sauce

Yeah, people get creative with names - this one had a mild cheese & pesto ... my 2nd  fave behind Crust Lord
I also liked some gooey cheesy mess called the Famous Queso Dip Grilled Cheese that involved pepper jack cheese, Velveeta-Rotel Dip Cheese Slabs and Dijon-Mayo Butter on crusty bread—seemed like it would rule at a Superbowl party.

The dud:  (sorry): something involving (we think) apple butter and ricotta.

The only other time I went to this festival was at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena and it was hot & felt like a suburban event - with this being so close to downtown LA, it felt far more funky. Super nice crowd.  Small town even though we were in a big city.

BTW, Westlake as a neighborhood is probably most famous for MacArthur Park, which is melting in the dark, all the sweet green icing flowing really, MacArthur Park is a real park which has a bit of a dodgy history, but according to what I read online, the neighborhood is in an upswing (as is much of downtown LA).