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!