Sunday, March 30, 2014

'Hood #30: Del Rey to See My Pal Tyrone

I did the math and figured out that I'm sightly behind schedule on my challenge to see every neighborhood in Los Angeles this year.  (I should up to 35 by now, and that's not even accounting for times out of town when I won't be able to see any 'hoods.)

That said, I've been in a bit of a slump mood-wise.  It happens, but when it does—perhaps it's my writer's personality—it is my tendency to hunker down and stay in.  My saving grace that the writer in me also hates to miss a deadline... so here I am, doing my best to get out there and stick with the challenge.

Tyrone, always ready for a w-a-l-k
'Hood #30 is mere miles from home in a neighborhood called Del Rey, which is sandwiched between Marina del Rey and Culver City.  It's where my BFF Mary Jo lives, along with the supremely handsome and hilarious Tyrone.  

Sometimes a walk with a dog is just what a gal needs, so that's what I did to experience Del Rey.

An odd thing about this neighborhood:  Mary Jo has been living in her house for more than 10 years, only it used to be in Mar Vista.  Somewhere along the line, borders shifted, and now she's in Del Rey.  (Mar Vista is now to the north).  That's the thing about LA neighborhoods:  Many aren't all that official so shifts like this can happen.  

Anyway, it was a blustery day (but, hey, wind is nothing compared to these earthquakes we've been having lately).  We walked for an hour along Bollona Creek, a nearly 9-mile waterway with a bike path that goes from Culver City-ish to the coastline.  I've biked portions of it before, but this is the first time I've deliberately walked it and (embarrassingly enough) even noticed the creek had a name.  Sometimes I have to marvel at my lack of geographical curiosity.

And there we have it: 30 down, 107 to go... I can do this!
Bollona Creek Bike Path in Del Rey, Los Angeles

Saturday, March 22, 2014

'Hood #29: South LA "Secret" Food Tour

In my quest to visit every LA neighborhood this year, I just got home from a food tour of South LA (formerly known as South Central), a large neighborhood comprised of more than 20 smaller 'hoods that runs west of the 110 Freeway, south of the 10.

If you are, say, hypothetically, a middle-aged white lady who grew up in the midwest and has lived primarily by the beach since moving to LA, it's an area you probably don't know.  Your strongest association with it might even be as the epicenter of the LA Riots in 1992 or as a place that's struggled with gang violence—even though you also know it's where many people live and work and have a community and probably eat really cool food in really cool places.

Today I was one of those people eating really cool food in really cool places. 

The tour was run by Secret City Tours, which specializes in organizing tours of Los Angeles taking you to places you might not otherwise discover.  Every stop felt like a real find and I swore at each one I'd be back. Our guides John and Laura were amazing and knowledgable, so if I get any factoids wrong, the errors are all mine.  

Stop 1: F&J Bakery, a Mexican-American owned Armenian bakery in West Adams

The story goes that the original owner was Armenian, and upon his death he willed it to his two long-time cooks, who were of Mexican descent (hence the Mexicano on the sign).

We were served Lahmajune—an Armenian flatbread also called Armenian Pizza with tomato, bell pepper & spices—I got a vegetarian version with eggplant (yum) but the rest of the tour got lamb (they say also yum)

Stop #2: La TaQuiza on Figuroa in South LA

This is spittin' distance from USC and Metro's Expo Line—I'll definitely be back.

A La TaQuiza specialty: the Mulita, homemade tortillas stuffed with stuff—cheese, guacamole and mine had beans & rice ... the others had chicken.

Stop #3: Hawkins House of Burgers on Slater Street in Watts

One of the fun things about this tour is that we got to meet the proprietors—in this case, the lovely Cynthia Hawkins—daughter of the founder of Hawkins House who keeps her father's legacy alive by serving quality food at affordable prices.  I loved hearing about how they were one of the first restaurants in the community, and how they strive to reach out to people in an otherwise underserved area of LA directly across from the Jordan Downs housing project.  I don't eat beef, but the fries were fab... and I hear the Whipper burger with pastrami and a hot link is not to be missed.

Cynthia Hawkins serving up Angus-beef sliders with fixins'

Stop #3 1/2: We also stopped by Watts Towers... which I've already visited as part of this challenge but a delight to see again.

Stop #4: Watts Coffee House on 103 St. in Watts

You've got to really work to find it, tucked as it is inside an unmarked community center, but wow oh wow was the food good... mostly soul food, with a side of healthy in a charming, sit-down restaurant that's casual, comfortable & cozy.

Our intrepid guide John at Watts Coffee House with some guy you may recognize

I nearly weep thinking about what we ate: a Red Velvet Waffle with some sort of sauce that I'd like to inject directly into my soul, chili cheese grits and turkey sausage (camera shy)
Desiree Edwards, Watts Coffee House chef, owner and manager  who is clearly passionate about her neighborhood and her restaurant

In addition to the eating stops, we learned about South LA "then & now"... on Century Blvd. I was astounded to pass Kindle's Donuts.  Whaaat???!!!  If you're a Los Angelean, you know about Randy's Donuts in Inglewood.  I've lived here 30 years and never knew there was another giant donut.  Huh.

Last stop:  Harold & Belle's in West Adams on West Jefferson

Nearly four hours later, heading back to where we started in West Adams, we hit Harold and Belle's, a creole restaurant located in an area where—according to our host—many people from Louisiana once migrated.  We sat in the bar which we were told was once the entire place.  They've since expanded, and at 2 p.m. on a Saturday they were hopping.

We were served up a bowl of their Crawfish Étouffée—"crawfish tails smothered in rich and spicy crawfish gravy".  It was the first time I ever had etouffee.  I was already stuffed.  I ate the entire thing.  It was all I could do not to nab the bowl of the person sitting next to me.

I know I gushed throughout this entire blog, but I had such a great time—a wonderful group of people, truly the most knowledgable and enthusiastic guides I've ever had on a tour, and fun hotspots I'd never otherwise have encountered.  A definite highlight of my 'Hood Challenge and something I'd never have done if I hadn't set out to see all of LA.

Friday, March 21, 2014

'Hood #28: Fairfax to See Bill Maher Being Taped

I seem to be on quite the star-studded run here.  Today, I went to a taping of Real Time with Bill Maher, which films at CBS Studios in LA neighborhood of Fairfax and is adjacent to The Grove in mid Los Angeles.  My friend Melinda goes so often that—when I arrived a bit later than the rest of the group—I just dropped her name and was ushered in like a celebrity.

Tonight's guests were Errol Morris (director The Fog of War, The Thin Blue Line), Sheila Bair, Rep. Keith Ellison, Simon Schama and Shane Smith. I wasn't familiar with most of the guests but it was interesting anyway... especially since I don't subscribe to those fancy channels like HBO so it's nothing I could otherwise watch from the comfort of my home.

As a bonus, to add to the star-studdedness, after the show was over, Seth Rogan stopped by to say hello to us and film a brief scene for his upcoming movie The Interview—a short bit of Bill Maher doing a fake monologue.  I (along with everyone else there) played "the audience."  Although we were not actually captured on camera (other than our applause and laughter), I'm sure I'll personally be mentioned in the credits.

Monday, March 17, 2014

'Hoods #26, 27: A Hidden Gem Thrift Shop in Sunland & Top Filming Location in Tujunga

To check two more 'hoods off my list, I headed to the sister cities of Sunland-Tujunga for Sunday dinner at Aunt Marcy's.  (As quaint as that sounds, she's actually three months younger than me...but she can cook up a storm).  In addition to mooching a meal, I felt I needed to "experience" these 'hoods just as I would any others.

Sunland and Tujunga are located north of Burbank/Glendale on the edge of the Angeles National Forest. I lived in Sunland very briefly years ago.  While I'm sure many love the area and call it home, truthfully, there were really only two things I liked about it:  1) having family nearby and, 2) Sun Thrift.

Sun Thrift, located on Foothill Blvd. right off the 210 Freeway, is one of those hidden gems of a thrift store.  In fact, I hesitate to even mention it here for fear if word gets out, it will be swarmed by hipsters.  It's large, cheap and always jam-packed, and the fact that my very cool 19-year-old cousin shops there underscores that among the piles of junk there's some great stuff at bargain basement prices.

We only spent about 20 minutes poking around, but honestly, you could spent hours.  There's row after row of clothes, dishes, furniture and PILES of misc.  Right now I'm in a downsizing mood so didn't buy anything, but I'll definitely be back—especially right before Burning Man when I'll be stocking up on clothes I can use as costumes.  Can't believe I'd forgotten about this place.

On to Tujunga...

To check out the highlight of Tujunga, on the suggestion of my aunt we  stopped at Verdugo Hills High School, which—due to its proximity to Burbank, its 1930s charm and (most likely) its need for studio dollars— has been the location for more movies, TV shows and commercials than any other school in the world.*  Among them: the TV shows  Felicity, Beverly Hills 90210,  Quantum Leap, My So-Called Life; the movies Heathers and 10 Things I Hate About You and many, many more.

The nice thing about this challenge is that I love stuff like this—yet even though I lived minutes from Tujunga at one point, I never bothered to find out anything about it.

Due to it being a weekend the school wasn't open, but I at least got this pic so I can cross-reference it later with any TV shows & movies I might see:

Oh, and for dinner Aunt Marcy cooked up bbq chicken, roasted potatoes and asparagus & cousin Dani made an amazing salad—at least for me making Sunland/Tujunga definitely worth the drive.

*According to the school's website

Sunday, March 16, 2014

'Hood #25: Take a Dam Walk in Lake View Terrace & Dam It Was Hot

Today, I started the day by taking a dam walk—a play on words that never gets old between my aunt and me, because it means we walked Hansen Dam in Lake View Terrace.

Lake View Terrace is an LA neighborhood in the northeast San Fernando Valley that is perhaps best known for being the location of the beating of Rodney King by LAPD in 1991.

(Actually, I didn't know that—I just looked it up on Wikipedia.)

It is also home to Hansen Dam, part of a large recreation area and a popular place to walk.

The dam is a nice elevated walk four miles round trip with a view of nearby valleys and mountains.

Even though it's only mid-March, by 1 p.m. when we got to the dam it was a blazing 90-degrees—or dam hot.

Still, thanks to some nice breezes along the way, it was a delightful walk.  Dam nice I'd say!  (I told you that pun never gets old for me.)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

'Hood #24: Wilshire Vista for a Famed Cake Shop & Irish Pub

St. Patty's Day is Monday, but I'm all about avoiding the rush, so today I set out to visit Tom Bergin's Irish Pub on Fairfax Ave., one of LA's oldest pubs (since 1936), the first in the US to serve Irish Coffee and rumored to be the inspiration for the TV show Cheers.  Unfortunately, I realized I couldn't count this toward my 'hood challenge because Tom Bergin's is in the Miracle Mile district, which I've already checked off the list.

Hence, the plan was amended to make a stop along the way for a cupcake at Hansen's Cake shop, which is also on Fairfax in the tiny neighborhood of Wilshire Vista.  Oh the sacrifices I make for this 'hood challenge.

Back when I got married in 1990, Hansens was the place to get a wedding cake, and they were often featured in the bridal magazines I read like porn.  Alas, one of their cakes would have (pardon the pun) eaten up too much of my budget, so I went with one from a local bakery.  It was fine, but it was no Hansens.  As a side note, about six months into my marriage, I came home to find my then-husband John eating the cake top that the couple brings home to share on their first anniversary... by himself.  Yeah, that was probably a sign.

Anyway, my friend MJ and I got to the Hansens cake showroom just before it closed. There were dozens of cakes on display, er, ah... I had to wonder if some of them were the same cakes that were on display back in 1990.  Seriously, the cake shop was fairly tired and worn looking, and—while some cakes were pretty—some were downright tacky.  It was, however, fun playing "which cake would you choose if you were to get married again."

The actual bakery was a few doors down, past an erotic cake shop (which, unfortunately, had already closed for the day).  We each had mini cupcakes—I did not choose wisely (it was basically a lemon rock) but MJ enjoyed hers.

After checking Wilshire Vista off my list, we headed a block up the road to Tom Bergin Public House.  Technically it's not worth a mention because it's a different 'hood, but it's a landmark and this is my blog so I'm mentioning it anyway.

Other than being surprisingly small inside, it was everything you'd want & expect from an Irish pub.  Alas, because they had a special St. Patrick's Day event happening, they'd cleared out their usual full bar and were only serving beer and whiskey drinks & lots of 'em—but I don't like beer or whiskey.  (I may be excited about the idea of Irish coffee, but not so much with the actual drink.)  With his only prompting being, "Do you perchance have any wine?" the absolutely adorable bartender hunted around until he found the very last half-empty bottle of Chardonnay and proclaimed it mine.  With service like that, needless to say, 5 stars for Tom Bergin's pub!

Monday, March 10, 2014

'Hood #23: After Touring the "Disneyland of Poop," I Go for Lunch in Playa Vista

Today, my friend Sandra and I went on a tour of the Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant—or as the tour organizers called it, "The Disneyland of Poop"—in Playa del Rey.  Truth be told, I've already checked Playa del Rey off my 'Hood Challenge list, so to make this count, we tacked on lunch in nearby Playa Vista.

An "air scrubber" pipe
But let's face it: what's really exciting is finding out about how LA handles its sewage.  Seriously, I've wanted to see this place for years, prominent as it is right there off the ocean.  The tour guides warned us the facility would be smelly—and parts of it were.  What keeps it from being unbearable—and also from stinking up the surrounding areas?  They use air scrubbers (??!) that remove odors.

Rather than give you a blow-by-blow of the tour (which was really interesting!) I'll share a few fun facts I learned:

• This is the largest of four LA wastewater treatment plants and it treats, as our docent dubbed it, "sewage of the stars" that's piped in from upscale areas like the westside, Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Sherman Oaks, etc.

Our lovely volunteer models the poop sorting machine

•  Incoming sewage gets the big stuff pulled out (condoms, cardboard, etc.) and then is treated twice through a settling process in which water is separated from remaining solids.

•  There are pipes that take the treated water five miles out to sea so we're not swimming in it —it's not clean enough to drink.

•  The solids ("the poop stuff") get ground down and put on trucks to be used as fertilizer.  (We got to see it being loaded up into the trucks—good times!...and I'll be washing my veggies a whole lot more thoroughly from now on.)

•  Only stuff that goes down drains/toilets gets treated—anything that goes into storm drains (motor oil, plastic trash bags, doggie poo, etc.), goes directly into the ocean.

• Weirdest things that've come in through sewage lines:  a bowling ball, a motorcycle without its wheels and, yes, body parts.

The tour lasted three hours, after which Sandra and I went to Piknic restaurant in Playa Vista.  We'd considered lunch only a "maybe" based on whether we were too grossed out by the tour to eat.  Ha, I should know myself better than that.  Nothing stands between me and food.

There's really not much to report on Playa Vista.  It's a new, clean community of condos, offices and shops next to a restored wetlands.  My salad was delicious.  Yep, that's about it on Playa Vista.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

'Hood #22: Rancho Park for a Star-Studded Movie Screening

Full disclosure: I'm claiming this neighborhood retroactively.  Usually, I wouldn't allow that, but I went to a screening of Wes Anderson's wonderful film The Grand Budapest Hotel at the Landmark Theater five days ago. I thought I couldn't count it toward my 'hood challenge because I'd already "done" West LA, but now I realize the theater—which is part of the Westside Pavilion— is actually in Rancho Park.  So Rancho Park it is!

Anyway, Tuesday evening my well-connected, movie buff friend Kate invited me to go with her to the screening, which included a Q & A afterwards.

The Landmark is in central Rancho Park at the corner of Pico and Westwood Boulevards, only about a mile from where I live in Palms.  Poor Kate had to battle rush hour traffic from Glendale, so I got there early, picked up the movie passes, loaded up on popcorn, saved seats, and then stood at the entrance of the theater waiting for Kate.  As I waited, Angelica Huston breezed past me just as the movie was starting.  (You think she'd recognize me by now; I see that woman everywhere.)

The movie was a delight from beginning (well, we missed about five minutes) to end.  I highly recommend it!  Seriously, go right now to the theater! Go!  (If you don't want to take my word for it, the LA Times called it "a four star delight.")

The Q & A afterwards included director Wes Anderson, one of the lead actors Tony Revolori (who played a lobby boy) and the film's set designer.

I lead a very humble, un-star studded life (other than the aforementioned frequent run-ins with Angelica Huston) so I get a big kick out of stuff like this.

I think the Landmark is a hotbed of screening activity because I noticed quite a few screenings were going on that night, and it seems to be a regular thing.  My new goal is trying to figure out how to finagle my way into more of them.

Maybe Ms. Huston can put in a good word for me.

Friday, March 7, 2014

'Hood #21: Cheviot Hills to See Claire & Phil Dunphy's House from Modern Family

Here's a fun fact I learned while doing this 'hood challenge: I live less than a mile from Claire and Phil Dunphy!  (Or at least, the house where they film outdoor scenes for them on Modern Family.) I discovered this as I set out to visit Cheviot Hills—the neighborhood directly north of where I live in Palms that is, although adjacent, much, much swankier than my 'hood.

I drive through Cheviot Hills often since Motor Ave.—which runs through its center—is a shortcut to Pico Blvd.  I hadn't planned to visit it today, but my friends Jenifer and Jan were game to check it out on our way back from going out to lunch together.  Usually I research a 'hood before visiting it so I can look for what best represents it, but since this was impromptu, we were winging it.

Other than a country club and a large park, Cheviot Hills is all residential, so we were excited to see filming trucks near the park, which gave us something to investigate. (At this point, I had no idea about Claire and Phil's house and—no—it wasn't Modern Family being filmed.)  Turned out, it was a shoot for an HBO "sexuality drama" called Open from the producer of Glee.  They were packing up as we rolled by, so we didn't see any stars—but now that I know about it, if I ever fork out the money to get HBO, I'll be sure to look for it if it gets picked up.

Claire and Phil Dunphy's House
Now on to Claire and Phil.  I was already home and starting to write today's blog entry when I looked up Cheviot Hills on Wikipedia to get a few factoids (such as that it's 1.54 square miles and one of LA's most white, least densely-populated areas).  That's when I discovered it's also home to the Dunphys.

Well, there was no way I could say I saw Cheviot Hills if I didn't see what for me (Modern Family fan that I am) would be a highlight.

So... I popped on my iPod and went for a walk.  It took me all of about 12 minutes to get there and, yep, it's definitely the house!  I had to wait while a neighbor hauled in her trash cans to take a photo (I'm guessing I'm not the first fan geek to stalk the house)—go squeeeeeee a bit—and then head home.

NOW I can say I've seen Cheviot Hills.

Filming the HBO pilot for Open

Thursday, March 6, 2014

'Hood #20—Palms, Part 2, an Awesomely Oddball Little Museum

Since Palms is the 'hood I live in, I decided it was worthy of both a day and evening exploration.  Last night was karaoke at Boardwalk 11, and today I set out with my friend Sandra to visit the Museum of Jurassic Technology—which is possibly the weirdest museum I've ever been to (in a good way).

I hate to ruin the fun, so let me just say that the displays included deteriorating dice... collections from California trailer homes... microscope slides of art made from scraped butterfly wings... cat's cradle art and—a highlight for me—a taxidermied fox in which you look through a scope to see a holograph of a man in its head, along with barking noises.

Oh, and mice on toast!!

The beauty of it all?  I have no idea if the entire thing was on the level or one big joke... and I don't care.  It was a delight either way.

Before I left, I asked where the name of the museum came from, given that there are no dinosaurs.  I was told that there used to be dinosaur artifacts, but when those were rotated out, they kept the name because... well... and I am paraphrasing here... why the  hell not?

Admission: a suggested $8, or $5 for students & seniors.  It takes about an hour to get through the museum.  Don't miss the tea room & aviary (with cookies)!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

'Hood #20: Palms for Some Really Bad (but Fun!) Karaoke (Pt. 1)

For my 20th neighborhood, I thought I'd aim closer to home — like real close — Palms, which is where I've lived for the past year and a half.

Palms is a small Westside 'hood north of Culver City, at the Intersection of the 405/10 Freeways.
Although mostly residential, it happens to be home to a great karaoke bar—Boardwalk 11—named one of the top neighborhood bars in Los Angeles.  I'd only recently stumbled upon it in a mini mall about a quarter-mile from my condo.  Tonight, I went with my friend Mary Jo for the happy hour ($3 drinks until 8 p.m., 1/2 price appetizers till 7 p.m.).

What I love about this bar: there are some really good singers... and there are some really bad singers. I fall into the latter category, and I'm not being overly modest.  In fact, I've never sung karaoke solo anywhere ever before, but there is so much love here.  No matter how bad you suck, people will sing along with you.  They'll clap.  They'll whoop along when you stumble.

I put out a plea on Facebook for song ideas—I got some good ones, but none I felt confident singing.  Rather than torture other peoples' eardrums, I would have gladly just sat and listened— but since I'm doing this challenge, I feel that I need to participate.

On a whim, I started out with Rhianna's Umbrella.  The ella ella ella's were fun, but I have a whole new respect for Rhianna because you'd be surprised by how high the notes in the song go, or at least I was surprised. While on stage. With a microphone. And people watching.  It was a minor train wreck.

Mary Jo sang The Talking Head's Road to Nowhere (she was surprised by how low the song went). Her next song was Build Me Up Buttercup, which was a real crowd pleaser because, seriously, who doesn't love that song?

For my final song, I went with Christina Aguilera's Candyman.  It's not all that well known, but I figured if you can't carry a tune, go with a peppy 1940's vibe and some saucy lyrics, which include "He's a one stop shop, makes the panties drop" and "...makes my cherry pop" and "...with a real big *ugh.*"

The most fun songs of the night:  Pharell's Happy (which I'd considered singing but knew I didn't have the chops), and—surprisingly—a slightly off-tune but super enthusiastic version of Michael Jackson's Off the Wall.

So the question is... what's YOUR karaoke song (or at least your favorite song to sing)?  And any suggestions for an easy song for someone who can barely carry a tune?

Palms, Part 2: Coming up, I'll explore Palms' other treasure: an oddball museum called the Museum of Jurassic Technology—which has nothing to do with dinosaurs and is rumored to possibly even be a total sham.  Stay tuned!