Tuesday, May 30, 2006

I knew it was close, but I didn't realize until today (my first on the summer job) that the office is only a block and a half from Beverly Hills. Turns out that with the restaurant situation very limited in Century City itself right now due to some construction, this comes in very handy. Two associates took me to the very cool Crustacean today. Apparently it's a pretty good place to see A-listers; we had to settle for the decidedly C-minus-list Judith Light.

Monday, May 29, 2006

The latest edition of the LA Weekly took note of the 10th anniversary of the death of Sublime lead singer Bradley Nowell. The story suggests something that I find so obvious as to be barely worthy of argument: Sublime belongs on a a very very short list of the most influential bands of the last 15 years, even though they never had mega-hits of their own. (The story says their highest album chart ranking was #13, and their highest single peaked at #87; that tells you everything you need to know about what's wrong with mainstream musical taste, IMO.) The article does a nice job of summarizing how Sublime anticipated several trends, mostly involving new musical fusions.

I'm not sure just how heavily Sublime's music penetrated the national consciousness; I first heard What I Got on the quirky independent public station WYEP in Pittsburgh, but Santeria got a lot of national alternative rock-type airplay I think. Their music remains unquestionably huge in SoCal, however. Case in point: this weekend KROQ played their top 500 all-time requested songs, and Smells Like Teen Spirit was surprisingly only #2. #1? Date Rape. Sublime also grabbed the following slots in the countdown: 16 (What I Got), 27 (Smoke Two Joints), 39 (Wrong Way), 59 (Santeria), 74 (Doin Time), 95 (Bad Fish), 122 (April 29, 1992), and 247 (Caress Me Down). That's 7 of the top 100, and 9 total.

Given that KROQ is one of the most influential radio stations in the world, I imagine that Sublime's influence will only grow over time; it's just a shame their body of work didn't have the same chance...

Sunday, May 28, 2006

When I last lived in Koreatown, I only sort of lived in Koreatown. It certainly felt like K-Town, based on the businesses on the corner and the other families in our building, but I think that's only because any strong ethnic enclave will creep over its borders. If you asked most Angelenos to circle K-Town on a map, the old place would probably fall just outside the circle.

My current place is right in the heart of K-Town, geographically, with the strange caveat that my block and those immediately surrounding it seem less Korean as a purely demographic matter. Admittedly, any ethnic "town" (Thai Town, Historic Filipinotown, etc.) in Los Angeles is likely to be just as Chicano/Centroamericano as it is its named ethnicity. Still, my building and block have substantial African-American, Chicano/a, and East Asian populations. It really is melting pot, or a tossed salad, or as one memorable admissions essay from my time at Pitt proposed, a melting salad.

Restaurant-wise, there are approximately 5,000 Asian restaurants of one variety or another right around Wilshire Boulevard, as well as at least 3 other restaurants. If you want Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, or Japanese food, you have no end of options. If you want falafel, there's one super-sketchy looking place. There's also an Italian place that seems to be run by Koreans, and a Carl's Jr.

The real gems, though, might be on 8th Street, which is right out my back door. Just on my corner is a steakhouse that came highly recommended even before I knew what neighborhood I'd be calling home. I haven't tried that one yet, but stay tuned. What I did try yesterday for lunch was Guelaguetza.

Guelaguetza is "un autentico comida Oaxaqueña," which is to say it features the cuisine of a particular Mexican state. The menu felt somewhat familiar but not really--even the things that sounded basically familiar as "Mexican food" were given a totally different spin. (I like to think of it as the menu of the Aztecs, minus the still-beating hearts of enemies.) Even the complimentary tortilla chip basket was different--covered with a brown sauce I can't identify and what I assume was goat cheese. Still, yummy. I ordered banana-leaf-wrapped tamales with black mole, and they were unbelievable. I also had horchata, which I love, which was served with chopped nuts and cactus fruit puree, which I could have done without but which was interesting anyway.

Bottom line: I'll be back early and often, and anyone who comes to visit this summer can count on a culinary trip to Oaxaca.

In less happy local retail news, Hollywood Video does not trust people with out-of-state driver's licenses, even if you give them a perfectly valid one and (more importantly) Visa-flavored security. Sigh. I suppose this will finally turn me into a Netflix person.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

I went to one of my favorite places last night: the New Beverly Cinema. You might think that the film capital of the known universe would be overrun with revival houses; in fact, there is one. It's kind of a dump, the restrooms are bad, the seats are too clase together, and the stuff on the walls is heavily tattered. The sound system and screen, though, are pretty good. And the movies are fantastic. In the next 10 days alone they will have double bills of Kubrick, Coen Bros., Robert Towne, Woody Allen, and a Marx Brothers triple bill. Each evening of movies is a mere $7. You could get a hell of a cinematic education just by going there for a couple of weeks. I don't know how much I'll get there this summer, but it will be as often as I can manage.

I only went for the second movie last night, The Last Waltz. If you ever wondered what a concert documentary by Martin Scorsese would look like, well, you don't have to wonder because he did one. What it looks like is most concert documentaries, although with some nice cinematographic flair and more backstory. The subject is The Band, and specifically their 1976 farewell concert after 16 years of touring. You get insights into the life of a successful rock band, along with the self-awareness that a life of touring wears heavily. You also get an amazing array of guest stars performing with them: Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Dr. John, Neil Young, Ringo Starr, Ron Wood, Neil Diamond, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Muddy Waters. Because the concert was held in 1976, you also get to see every single one of them with ridiculous haircuts and outfits--especially Van Morrison's life-changingly-bad Elvis jumpsuit thingy. You also get sights such as Neil Diamond awkwardly hugging Dr. John during the closing number. High comedy.

Mostly, though, you get The Band and its music. I'm not a huge fan, though I got into it as the movie went on. If you don't like their music, it would be a long 2 hours. Otherwise, it's probably worth checking out if any of this sounds interesting to you at all. Also, in the privacy of your home on DVD you won't have the weirdness of 25-33% of the audience breaking into applause at every song, while I muttered mostly to myself, "Um, they're not, um, here..."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The promised updates...

How CO tried to kill me: The Eastern half of Colorado is just a whole lot more of Western Kansas. Now, I will freely admit that I was somewhat wrong about Western Kansas--it is not as flat and featureless as I had remembered from my previous crossing of it. Of course, in the interim I have driven across Wyoming and Saskatchewan, so I now have a better grasp on the concept of "flat and featureless." Still, the highway is very straight, and the hills are gradual, not extreme.

I suspected there was about a 60% chance I would die on I-70 in Colorado, but I would have bet the house that it would be in the mountainous terrain west of Denver. However, that was eased when I stopped at a Starbucks and asked the barista if the mountains were as treacherous as I remembered them, the downhill parts, that is. She said no, not if you have a decent second gear--and after 14 years of driving I finally learned what "D3" and "2" are for. So Western Colorado was a snap.

However, in the Eastern part, I had the cruise control on and was coming up on a pickup in the right lane. I moved over to pass and was approaching it, when the driver failed to follow a curve in the road, moving over into my lane and cutting me off. I was pissed and slowed down and honked, but then grew even more curious when she didn't stop in my lane but continued well into the grassy median. About two-thirds of the way through, she realized what was happening (or, I suspect, awoke with a start) and turned hard to the right, but she over-corrected and shot across both lanes a few dozen feet in front of me (now that I was down to about 40 m.p.h.) before pulling over and stopping on the right shoulder. In both the initial failure to curve and the over-correction, I was at most a second and a half away from being rammed at 75 m.p.h. Bad times. I wasn't even really scared so much as I was pissed and confused, until about 2 minutes later when it really hit me what had just happened. Oh well, bygones.

Perhaps that banked the karma that I needed when I blew through a one stopsign town in Arizona the next day at 70 in a 45 zone, and yet got off with a written warning. I'll take it.

Why Laughlin is so depressing: I went to Laughlin because it was a very cheap place to spend the night, and since I was travelling I-40 instead of I-15, it wasn't just an alternative to Vegas either--it was an alternative to Flagstaff. Most people who go to Laughlin, however, go for two reasons: (1) they can't afford Vegas, but (2) they have a gambling problem anyway. Now, I'm not a moralist about this--I believe that Charles Barkley, for instance, has a gambling habit, but not a problem since he can afford it. But if you can't really afford it yet gamble anyway, that's a problem.

Laughlin is like Vegas Lite with all the glamour sucked out. The crappy shows are crappier; the previous time I was there the big show in town was a production of Driving Miss Daisy starring Sherman Helmsley, and this time it was comedian Bruce (the Lesser) Smirnoff. Even if you have been in a forest fire, you have never been anywhere smokier than a Laughlin casino. (Yes, Ann Arborites, smokier even than the 8 Ball.) You have also never seen so many people in wheelchairs, on oxygen, or both. Further, it is as if the developers said, "Sure, Vegas is 85 degrees at 8:30 a.m., but we've found a place that's 95!" It is a sick, sad place, and if like me you are not a big gambler, I would suggest the form of recreation I chose--dinner and breakfast buffets, separated by 11 hours of sleep.

The return to L.A. and Koreatown: In my first 24 hours in town, the following things happened:

  • The first 2 songs I heard on STAR 98.7 ("Today's best music") were Spiderwebs by No Doubt and All the Small Things by blink-182.
  • The 2nd song I heard on Indie 103, preceded by: "This one goes out by request. I'm sure you know it..." was Grey Cell Green by Ned's Atomic Dustbin. (For the record, yes I do, but I didn't think anyone else did.)
  • I navigated Santa Monica Freeway traffic from Ontario to downtown pretty well, only making the rookie mistake of staying in the I-5 lanes and not the faster-moving I-10 lanes that I needed anyway right after the 101 split-off.
  • I had to pee extremely desperately on my way into town so I went to the first place I could think of, the Starbucks at USC University Village, where I spent approximately 1,500 hours of 1999-2002, a fair number of them listening to Spiderwebs and All the Small Things.
  • I reupped with both Washington Mutual bank and 24 Hour Fitness.
  • I tried (and probably failed) to eat a bowl of pho as if I'd been there before.
  • I [barely] managed not to yell "hey, I'm almost but not totally positive that you're Ron Livingston" at someone who was probably Ron Livingston at dinner, no doubt to the ever-lasting thanks of Derek and Jessica.
Finally, in honor of the move back to K-Town, I've decided to go retro and adopt our old blog handle for the summer; don't worry Carly Simon fans, "Watching Myself Gavotte" will be back in the fall. Unless I think of something better.

Safe and sound in L.A. and settling in. Coming soon: stories about how Colorado tried to kill me, why Laughlin is the unhappiest place on earth, and whatever K-town throws at me in the next few hours...

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Sometimes you just have to drive 915 miles in a day. I don't recommend it, but sometimes it's the thing to do. It sucks a little extra to do that, only to end up in Topeka. So after being turned away by the Super 8, here I am overpaying at Sleep Inn. Though, admittedly, it probably doesn't compare to how I'll overpay if I get to Moab tomorrow as hoped. A day like this is always kind of a blur, as random thoughts pop in and out of your mind all day, and (like dreams) you forget most of them as quick as they come. But I do remember thinking: hmmm, possible state chamber of commerce motto: Missouri Loves Companies!

Also, Illi-NWAH is a boring state to drive across, but I have 356 more miles of Kansas ahead of me tomorrow, after which it might look like the Emerald City. Or at least one of those Emerald Nuts commercials.

BTW, I promised the semi-anonymous proprietor of Brain P**n (linked in the blogroll as Interim32) that I would help him reach his goal of 200,000 subscribers so he can make blogging his day job. I hope he's not sitting around waiting for that to happen, but you should all read him anyway; it's the most consistently well-written blog I've seen.

Friday, May 19, 2006

I'm hitting the road tomorrow first thing; as John Denver would say, all my bags are packed, I'm ready to go. The ambitious plan has me staying in Topeka, Moab, and Laughlin the next three nights; the less ambitious version puts me in Kansas City, Grand Junction or Glenwood Springs, and Flagstaff. Either way, I don't know whether I'll get any internets access on the road, so I'm not sure when another post will happen. In the meantime, I'll leave you with video of the song that is threatening Punk Rock Girl's 18-year run as my all-time favorite:

Oh, what the hell, here's Punk Rock Girl too.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The football player with Los Angeles and Pennsylvania ties has won the Republican primary setting up a challenge in November with a formidable Democratic incumbent. No, not this guy. I'm talking about current Los Angeles Avenger Greg Hopkins, who won the local primary here for the 50th District of the PA state House. Here's a nice profile, though it really doesn't explain how his career as a wide receiver/linebacker has prepared him for Harrisburg. The profile does answer some important questions, such as are there actually towns around here 5 times smaller than Beallsville? (yes, Nineveh, pop. 88) and is it possible to have an 11-year arena football career? (also yes)

Not much new to report here--still leaving Saturday, still shooting for L.A. on Tuesday evening. The unquestionable highlight of my week was finishing 2nd in a 30-person poker tournament at my brother's bar (he tends and bounces), and the specific highlight was this: With 7 people at the table, the guy with the 4th biggest stack out of 7 (I was 2nd biggest) decided to buy a pot by going all-in as the dealer. I'd called before that, planning to raise heavy on the flop, but laying low until then. I was the only one who met the challenge. He flips over his KQ suited, and I countered with what I think were my first ever pair of pocket aces. The table went nuts, and I took the guy down.

I would've won the whole shebang too because I had a slight chip lead when we got down to 2 people, but the other guy went all in with 2 kings and got a 3rd on the river, and it was all-but over at that point. Still, it was nice to sit down at a table with people who play regularly and more than hold my own.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

I've been working out this week at the gym that lumber built. OK, I'm sure that there are many gyms that are partially or mostly built out of lumber. But that's not what I mean. This gym is across the street from the world headquarters of 84 Lumber in (wait for it) Eighty-Four, Pennsylvania. A few strategically placed logos suggest strongly that the gym itself is under the corporate umbrella. While they clearly try to make some money by opening up to the public, the number of people working out there suggests that it's heavily subsidized by the company for tyhe executives and others working at headquarters, because there's no way it's thriving on its own. I'm pretty sure yesterday was the only time I've ever been the only person in a cardio room at 11 a.m. on a Saturday. Not for all that long, mind you, but still.

On the plus side, that means I've generally had control over the TVs in the cardio room most days, with the exception of the awful morning we'll call The The View Morning. Otherwise it's been a steady dose of the ESPN family of networks, and/or the surprisingly decent music video channel that I think is specifically for fitness centers. That's where I saw the bit of awesomeness below, which any fan of Beck--or in the alternate, Mad Magazine--should enjoy...

(Or here, if my embedding experiment fails/takes too long to load)

Friday, May 12, 2006

I kicked off my summer movie season this afternoon with a viewing of Poseidon at a local mall. As some of you may know, I am a huge fan of the disaster-movie genre--good, bad, and truly awful. In fact one of the factors (ok, relatively minor, but on the list) influencing my choice of travel dates is making sure that I am somewhere where I can watch 10.5 Apocalypse a week from Sunday and the Tuesday hence. More on that below. I don't believe it's possible to make a better disaster movie than the original Poseidon Adventure, so I was bound to be disappointed. And of course I was.

Disaster movies have a tried and true formula like most specific genres do. You can tweak the conventions, shatter them, parody them, or stick to them with a cheesy wink and nod. Any of those can produce a fun movie. Instead, Poseidon does none of those things, but merely reproduces the formula with updated special effects. The result is a workmanlike effort that doesn't suck, but doesn't make you laugh and doesn't do much of anything else either. It's just kind of there. If you're not particular about your disaster movies or your summer movies, then by all means go and enjoy it. Just don't expect anything particularly new, interesting, or memorable. If you really want to see a disaster movie done well, rent the original--it's cheesier, slower, and sillier, and that's arguably why it's the much better movie.

As for my travel plans, I'm settling into the notion of leaving next Saturday, which will put me in L.A. a week from Tuesday, the 23rd. I'm going to take the I-70 route to Utah, which I haven't done since my first cross-country trip in 1998. The one thing I hated about that trip was driving in Denver rush hour traffic; when it was slow it was bad, and when it was fast it was worse, as people careened down steep grades I'd never seen before while honking at me for only going 75 because I was terrified. I'm remedying that somewhat by planning to go through Denver on Sunday. I should get to around Kansas City on Saturday night and either Glenwood Springs or Grand Junction in Western Colorado on Sunday. On Monday I'm leaving the interstates just over the Utah border to drive down through Moab, stop at Four Corners, and drive through Monument Valley. I'll pick up I-40 in northern Arizona, and will stay Monday night in Flagstaff or possibly Laughlin, Nevada. Tuesday the home stretch should be an easy half-day drive.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Under normal circumstances I get all of my news from a small and predictable list of sources: The Daily Show, espn.com, ESPN minus the .com, and random shit I overhear people talking about allowing me to pick up just enough buzzwords to smile and nod and occasionally add to a conversation about a hot-button topic.

When I come home, however, I am inundated with "news". I fall right back into my habit, from growing up, of reading the local paper cover to cover. This catches me up with local controversies, and allows me to see if anyone I went to high school with got arrested and/or divorced. Every once in a while, someone even writes a letter to the editor that isn't batshit crazy. More commonly, though, they look like my favorite one from today's edition.

I also get to watch the local news, which my folks watch endlessly. I gave up on watching any form of local news years ago, around the time when the local NBC station WPXI got to the point where this little bit I came up with was barely parody: "It makes up 20% of our atmosphere, scientists say we need it to live, but it is the cause of all household fires. Could oxygen be killing you....or your children?!" The problem with not living either in L.A. or within 50 feet of everything you need, though, is that you have to somehow ascertain what the daily weather is going to be, so local news is the standard fallback.

If local news is to be believed, the single biggest thing going on in our area right now is the decision of a local school board to suspend a 10-year-old for bringing a squirt gun to school. The second biggest thing is a student walkout over budget cuts at a suburban high school. The third biggest thing is a scandal involving boys at a suburban high school ranking their female classmates based on hotness and, um, skillz. (OK, let's be honest, the scandal isn't that they did this--they're teenage boys for god's sake; the scandal is that they wrote it down.)

The biggest story in international news (or any form of news other than contrivo-versies in our local schools), of course, is Ben Roethlisberger's trip to Switzerland to get in touch with his roots. We can only hope this ends better than it did for Levar Burton.

I also get to see all the commercials for candidates for local office, which I would normally be skipping through the magic of Tivo. (Oh, how I miss you sweet Tivo.) The favored style for state representative ads this season seems to be having a bunch of normal folks (just like you and me!) talk about how they just don't trust Candidate X's opponent, Candidate Y. It's not clear exactly why they can't trust Mr. Y--they just can't, dammit! But now I may have a new favorite, which I saw during today's noon news. Some 21-year-old is running for state rep, and his opponent is running an ad saying, "Can you really be qualified for the state legislature if you don't have children in our schools? if you've never paid property taxes?" Now, I will freely admit that I would have reservations about electing most 21-year-olds to anything. But it's good to know more generally that electoral restrictions on the unpropertied and childless are still in effect.

Western Pennsylvania: where it's always still sort of 1810 A.D....

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

If our rustic vernacular literary tradition in this country were centered around Western Pennsylvania rather than the Deep South, then everyone would know that the enemy of all 5 to 10-year-old boys is not the "briar patch" but the "jagger bush". I know jagger bush was a local colloquialism, but I didn't realize that even the power of Google would not allow me to show you exactly what one is. There are two problems. One is that searching "'jagger bush'" yields no images, while searching "jagger bush" yields only pictures of the president and/or one or more Rolling Stones. Two is that the definition linked to above does not quite do the phrase justice. A jagger bush is not merely any thorny bush like a rosebush or something; a jagger bush describes a very specific weed whose job is to hide in grass, be very pointy, and injure the unsuspecting. They generally lie flat on the ground, with their prickly branches, or petals, or whatever they are, and generally wreak havoc with sandlot sports and other yard-based games. They are, I think I can fairly say, the embodiment of pure evil.

I only deign to give the lowly jagger bush an entire paragraph's worth of your time to convey this: today, the lawnmower and I did battle with the largest jagger bush I've ever seen by an order of magnitude. Instead of lying flat, this thing had a stalk--it would only be a moderate exaggeration to say, a trunk--a good (bad!) 18 inches tall. I probably only imagined hearing the monstrous thing plead for mercy; I showed none. The lawn is now entirely mown, for the first time in some amount of time about which it can only make me sad or angry to speculate. I only fell on the slippy hill part twice, and only one of those times did the lawnmower come tumbling down sort of toward my face. But the mower has a good safety that shuts off when you let go, plus the rolling hill topography creates weird angles that allowed myself and the mower to fall in different directions.

With all the yard work out of the way, I don't know what I'm going to do with myself over the next 10 days; if you take that as a subtle hint to check this space frequently, so be it...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Highlights of the last several days:

  • I ate one of my last Ann Arbor meals Saturday lunchtime at Chinese Buffet II out past U.S. 23 toward Ypsilanti. Not good. But cheap. In fact, that may be their motto. Plus, it was about 2:30 p.m. and I'd moved my life into either my car and storage or just my car (as the case may be) in the previous 24 hours. So it was needed. But it'll be a long time before I go back to any restaurant that's a sequel.
  • I watched the second of two cinematic train-wrecks I've seen so far in May on Saturday night at the Thorsley residence before leaving town. Pterodactyl, starring Coolio, follows a bunch of people who are inexplicably at the Turkish-Armenian border, who are eaten (or who narrowly escape being eaten) by pterodactyls, whose inexplicable existence is inexplicably unquestioned by any of said people. Still, it made about 10 times as much sense as Spike's current favorite Steven Seagal opus, Today You Die.
  • I drove home through rural Ohio on U.S. 250, which reminded me of all the things I do and don't like about dipshit small-town America, that description hopefully suggesting which list was longer.
  • I arrived home to find my folks at my aunt's house, eating leftovers from the funeral of my elderly great aunt who passed away early last week, and got reacquainted with extended family members I'd forgotten about or never known about. None of that is too bad, but it's not my scene, and certainly not after 6.5 hours in the car.
  • Yesterday I mowed a large portion of my parents' lawn, some of which was a surprise inspection and three pieces of paper away from being declared a federal wetland. But somehow the little mower that could persevered; that machine deserves a medal.
  • I also made the wise move of buying a temporary membership at a local gym so that I can work out while I'm home, and so that I have an excuse to leave the house for at least two hours every day.
  • Today I took my dad into Washington (PA) for his final chemotherapy session, and picked him up 5 hours later. At the end I got to watch him work his magic on a bunch of nurses in the large doctors' office. He's been telling them about this alternative therapy elixir shit he's been taking to lose weight--never mind the fact that the real reasons he's lost weight are that cancer has kept him away from his travelling-salesman eating habits, and sapped his appetite to boot. But according to him, it's this elixir that he's "selling"--which in the multi-level marketing game means mostly "buying," of course. Still, he managed to sell the nurses 7 bottles, which is a minor miracle. Of course, he's also selling it at cost to try to drum up business and potential distributors. Because every successful business is based on creating your own competition, of course. My dad could sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo--but only if the refrigerator company were screwing him out of the profits, the refrigerator company claimed its products ran on magic beans found somewhere in the Orient, and refrigerators weren't a particularly lucrative business to begin with. Also, he would try to convince the Eskimos why they should also be selling them to other Eskimos, and letting him skim profits without actually doing any selling.
  • The good news is that I wouldn't be bitching about dad if his health didn't seem substantially improved since I last saw him.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Finals: over
Papers: written
Drinking: commenced

Pittsburgh (ok, Beallsville) on Sunday, two weeks give or take at home, driving L.A.-ward starting on or about May 22...