Yonder There Be Amusements . . .



I ALWAYS think of Alhambra as a pass-through; particularly that leg of Garfield that takes me across San Gabriel Valley. However, most recently it’s where I am now frequently called for jury duty rather than that traffic-snagged hike to downtown L.A.

The last time I was called for a trial that I knew they wouldn’t let me serve (for me being a journalist always seems to be a durable excuse), I was able instead to go wandering around with an attorney from our prospective juror pool, who also later would be excused. During this lunchtime ramble, I was taken by the beautiful modest homes we walked by — a striking collection of houses that seemed hardly touched in not just decades but a century.

I never knew that the city of Alhambra is named after Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra not Alhambra, Spain. Which translates, from Arabic literally as, “the red one.”

As it turns out, Alhambra was once promoted by the region’s boosters as a “city of homes,” many of which are historic and protected as such.

Typical Southern California styles abound — according to Wikipedia: “Craftsman, Bungalow, Spanish Mediterranean, Spanish Colonial, Italian Beaux-Arts, and Arts & Crafts. Several residential areas have been designated as Historic Neighborhoods by the city, including the Bean Tract (formerly owned by early resident Jacob Bean), the Midwick Tract (site of the former Midwick Country Club), the Airport Tract (formerly the landing pad for Alhambra Airport)”

It’s a small but deeply re-calibrating dose of genteel L.A.

End of the Road As We Know It

JUST THIS MONTH, it was officially announced that in the fall of 2013, the City of Santa Monica plans to close and replace California Incline Bridge, a throughway that connects Pacific Coast Highway to the point where California and Ocean Avenues intersect. The bridge, which spans 1,400-feet has been long overdue for a sesimic upgrade. The replacement, expcted to take between 12 and 18 months, includes plans for safety upgrades for bikers and pedestrians.

For me, it will be strange not to see this sight for a while. This sort of startling “end-of-things” as you approach Ocean Avenue, westbound via California. It looks as if you will drop into nothing, the surprise is the sea.


WHEN I WAS a teenager without a car or other personal wheels to speak of, Playa del Rey — or simply “Playa,” in local parlance — was the beach that was easiest to get to. Even easier than Venice Beach, as it was what Culver Boulevard spit out into.

Strangely, in a place where everything always changes — and you expect it to — so little has changed here. It’s still “the Peoples’ Beach,” as one of my friends used to call it. There was never anything “postcard” about it. Not tonight either. Instead: Men jogging and barking (yes, you read that right). High school boys hiding their smokes. But when the sun sets, we can’t pretend we’re too blasé not to notice. Even we veterans. There it is, big reminder in the sky, another one done. If we’re lucky, there’s tomorrow.

In Process

I’VE BEEN in long stretch of assignment writing so written posts have been few. That will be corrected soon but until then, I happened upon this quote of Mark Salzman’s from his most recent memoir, Man in the Empty Boat, about what he calls the worst year in his life, 2009, in which he wades through loss and his struggles with the writing process. I had hoped to see him read and speak last night here in Pasadena (where he also apparently lives), but my deadlines and other writers-life engagements kept me away.

For all the dark grays you’d think this would contain, the book doesn’t deliver something somber, rather it’s a rumination. A cellist who studied Chinese and philosophy at Yale, Saltzman is reflective but his writing is like clear, crisp water flowing over stones and his sense of irony and humor is in tact — which makes you feel as if you are listening to someone who is acquainted with struggle, who seeks guidance, but hasn’t yet achieved enlightenment — consequently he isn’t above it all. He faces down a series of tragedies without applying easy maxims, instead he shows you his work on the page as he confronts — often reluctantly — the things that most perplex, chase and haunt him.

This quote below, about the writing process, could be applied to any artistic journey. Early on in the narrative, after a series of creative dead-ends (repeated rejections of a book he is working on, narrative tear-downs, rethought approaches), he’s been given the gift of spending time at the MacDowell Colony for a writers retreat. The first few days in a woodsy paradise, he finds that he is still blocked — can’t write at all — and consequently feels like a delinquent. That’s until one of the facilitators explains to him that that wasn’t the expectation — not the goal or role of the retreat at all:

… [T]he biggest gift of all was the removal of all reminders of art as a profession, as a way of making money or gaining a reputation, and even as a means of solving one’s own existential problems through the resolution of fictional ones. Everyone there wanted the same thing: to be reminded of what it felt like to be pulled toward his or her work and to be unable to resist.

Here’s to that journey.