The Story in a Snapshot

A LITTLE over a week ago, I received word that a collaborator, confidant and friend Carolyn Kozo Cole had passed away. Carolyn was the head of the Los Angeles Public Library’s photo collection for nearly 20 years and through her creativity, focus and imagination she was able to help us all see Los Angeles in a more complete and inclusive way.

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from LAPL’S Shades of L.A. Collection

I met Carolyn in the early 90s when I arrived at one of the branch libraries in South Los Angeles  do a story for L.A. Style magazine on the then-nascent photo collection project, “Shades of L.A.”  “Shades” was Carolyn’s brainchild: Her plan set-in-motion was to collect snapshots from diverse family albums from across the Southland to fill in the library’s holdings. This she knew would mean an active search for images that would tell us a deeper and more complex story about the region — photos beyond ribbon cuttings, and landmark buildings and new parkways.

The photo below, of a garden wedding in Watts has stayed with me for decades now. It is from the book, Shades of L.A. a brief compendium that samples some of the project’s key finds. This photo is meaningful because in certain ways it was the very absence of quotidian images like this that sent Carolyn on her journey.  “What did Watts look like before the uprisings of 1965? The houses, the streets, the businesses?” “How and where did people celebrate milestone moments in their lives?” she wondered.  The library didn’t have anything beyond a photo of the old railroad depot. Surely there was more.  Those, she realized, would be part of family collections. They would be the photographs that chronicled the everyday.

I wrote an appreciation about Carolyn that will appear in  Sunday’s Los Angeles Times  you can read it here online.

I miss her emailed anecdotes and her phone calls and her little stack of special finds just for me. But every time I happen upon a photo like the one above from the online Shades archive, I know that she has truly given us so much that we will be using to understand Los Angeles and tell better stories about it for generations to come.

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I know what it means …

A FEW weeks back, I received a  voicemail from a friend who was on a desperate search for crawfish. He knows all the same Louisiana spots that I know, so I was at first confused by the phone call. I was on my way to a conference and prepping my final notes in the car so admittedly I was distracted. But I kept listening. When he got to, “My usual spot on Arlington and Vernon is gone!”

That snapped me to attention.

He kept repeating: “It’s just rubble. Like fresh rubble. Like this just happened.”

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The remains of the New Orleans Fish Market

There are places we frequent and then there are places that define us—places that make neighborhoods truly neighborhoods for us. The New Orleans Fish Market was mine.

It was plain and worn around the edges, but you knew they would have precisely what you needed. Plus you got a little taste of “home: People asking about the Saints, carrying on about “Your people and ’em” and of course, “So, when you going home?”

I have been shopping at the New Orleans Fish Market for decades. And before that, I followed my mother into a Louisiana Fish Market that was just a little further down the street, on the north side, if I recall correctly. It had a little yellow shingle sign that lit up at dusk, but most of all I remember that it would bring New Orleans back to my mother.

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“It’s just rubble. Like fresh rubble. Like this just happened.”

This was an essential stop for her to get the proper ingredients for her gumbo, jambalaya and étouffée. No other market had the proper crab or shrimp. Sometimes she would have special items flown in (Creole Cream Cheese). I know for my mother, having this market an easy ten minute drive from our home meant that she wouldn’t ever be *that* far away from New Orleans.

It was the fact that it was so specific and specialized and that if you were “in-group” or at least in the know, you knew to stop there. You also knew that if you didn’t have time to get over to Pete’s to get your hot links, the Fish Market stocked them as well. They knew that sometimes you needed to grab everything at once in a pinch. Save extra steps.

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Mel Melcon via L.A. Times

 

Word is that the business owners are looking for another spot. I know a tearful group of folks have been posting on their Facebook page wondering what happened. With the holidays coming up and gumbo season in full swing, I know there will be plenty of patrons who will be as slack-jawed as I and my friend Darryl were to here this news.

I had to see it with my own eyes to believe that it was true. And even still, I can’t.

Missing New Orleans in Los Angeles, for sure.

It wasn’t just a building, it was an extension of a community. It was a hub and a place  for Southern families to reconnect. I wasn’t born in the South but the South lives in me. This was a place to nourish that small but significant part of me. That home inside of home.

 

 

 

California Souls

A FEW months back, I had the pleasure to sit down for a few hours with San Francisco Poet Laureate Kim Shuck for a wide-ranging conversation facilitated by Denise Sullivan for Boom: A Journal of California. You can find it here.

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Wandering North Beach: My Home Away From Home

For two cities that are so very different on the surface, we found we had similar experiences  growing up  in our respective home towns. I have lived both places and have watched both cities shift around me.  Each one has left its mark in ways that are measurable and indelible.

Out and About

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TWO EVENTS this week as we ease into the end of the year:

On Thursday evening,  I’ll be heading over to the Pasadena Central Library to join our lively and opinionated crew for a far-ranging conversation. We’ll be discussing and reading from the anthology:  L.A. Baseball: From the Pacific Coast League to the Major Leagues. We get started at 6:30pm in the beautiful Donald R. Wright Auditorium. There will be a reception afterward and we’ll be  signing books.

On Sunday afternoon, Angel City Press will be hosting a holiday party and signing, featuring books honoring Los Angeles’s rich history and culture.

Authors include:

  • Bill Bradley, Los Angeles Union Station: Tracks to the FutureAfterImageCover

  • Stephen Gee, Los Angeles City Hall: An American Icon, Iconic Vision: John Parkinson, Architect of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Central Library: A History of its Art and Architecture

  • Rachel Surls and Judith Gerber, From Cows to Concrete: The Rise and Fall of Farming in Los Angeles

  • Jim Harris, Santa Monica Pier

  • Robert Landau, Rock ‘n’ Roll Billboard of the Sunset Strip,  Hollywood Poolside, Tales from The Strip: A Century in the Fast Lane

 

And, I  will be there as well signing and discussing After/Image: Los Angeles Outside the Frame.

Join us from 2 to 4pm at Traxx Restaurant in Union Station (we’ll be gathering inside, adjacent to the concourse) near the Alameda entrance to the terminal).

 

 

 

Honk!: Drive-Time Stories

I HAD one of my first birthday parties at the Bob Baker Marrionette Theater, oh so many years ago. Puppets and sugar, who wouldn’t be happy?  So it will be a thrill to be part of this event next Wednesday evening, November 14.  Join me and these fine folks for a new episode of “Tom Explores Los Angeles” for an evening of  puppetry and storytelling, “told through the windshield.”

This will be one of the final performances at the treasure of an old space that miraculously still sits at that busy crossing where Glendale Boulevard meets Second Street at the edges of downtown Los Angeles.

To purchase tickets, follow this link. 

We will have a reception afterwards and books will be available for purchase.

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