Inside the City ... Outside the Box

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Blogging when blogging isn't cool...

Does anyone actually read blogs anymore?  

After a few years of hanging out at the popular table, blogs seem to have crept back to their isolated, anti-social Livejournal-era spot behind the gym.  It’s not that there aren’t great things being written on blogs … I’m sure there are.  In fact, we should read one sometime.  We can’t be that busy watching YouTube unboxing videos, ordering handmade socks off Etsy or drawing neon glasses on Snapchat selfies.  

I realize that the preceding statement will soon sound just as old-timey as the term “reading blogs” because technology evolves at an almost supersonic pace and, thereby, renders its former incarnations obsolete.  Hello AOL Instant Message, MySpace, Friendster and (fingers crossed) Facebook!

I digress.

Blogs seem to be going the way of cable TV and full Brazilian waxes: once ubiquitous, but now kind of dated.  But, screw it, I’m going to blog anyway.  

I fully acknowledge that I might just be talking to myself, and that’s okay.  When I first started my daily photoblog back in 2008, I expected that I would be talking to myself.  It never occurred to me that anyone would notice me.  Blogging seemed kind of like a message in a bottle.   Throw it out there, but don't hold your breath for a reply.  A blog was easy to set up and publish, but how would anyone know it was there?  It wasn’t like Twitter was a thing yet, and Facebook was just a weird place college kids used to rate girls.  Sure, there were message boards — which now seem as old fashioned as actual bulletin boards — but it wasn’t like I really hung out on the LOST usenet .  (Much.) And even if I did, it would have been weird to tell anyone there to visit my brand new WEBLOG!

I’m beginning to remind myself of that Simpsons episode when Grandpa Simpson reminisces about wearing an onion for a belt. Stay with me kids.

The thing is: only 8 years ago, even when blogs were hitting their stride, I could have never imagined that mine would get any traffic.  That I ended up with an active, friendly readership was a (shock!) joy because for most of my writing career, I had never known or conversed with the people who actually read what I’d written.  Then again, most copywriters don’t inspire great discussions from content of a pizza commercial or lingerie catalog.  Okay, maybe that’s not true.  Pizza and lingerie can be pretty inspiring.  Even so, it’s not like the one who writes the stuff ever gets to talk to anyone about it.  Print journalism was even more lonely.  Unless someone was outraged enough to write a letter to the editor about a story, I could pretty much rest assured that my prose would end up, at best, lining a bird cage.  The short stories in those tiny literary magazines didn’t even end up in birdcages.

But blogs.  Blogs!  I know it seems weird to wax nostalgic about a comment section, but the one on my blog was an active conversation.  The coolest part? I always got to choose the topic.  I also could make anyone who acted rowdy simply disappear with the touch of my moderator’s delete button.  Luckily, trolls didn’t really find my little corner of the blogosphere, and I mostly just  made friends, shared ideas and felt like anyone in the entire world could stop by and sit on my virtual front porch.  

 As a photographer, blogging was a great way to share images with other amazing photographers, as well as people who just loved the art of photography.  I’m old enough to remember when forcing people to look at your vacation pictures was considered rude.  Blogging made it cool!  Fellow shutterbugs pushed the limits of the digital sensor, shared tricks and techniques, recommended cameras, and made me a better photographer.   As technology advanced, we had a place to congregate, play Show & Tell, and eventually all admit that many amazing, unbelievable shots were actually taken with an iPhone.  

Now, in a world of ice-bucket challenges (wait, that’s already as passe as blogs) and Instagram, I know that my blog’s soundtrack is the ceaseless drone of crickets.   People are too busy livestreaming on Periscope to bother with anything as mid-2000s as visiting a blog.  There are personal websites, but they mostly just have links to social media.  In fact, the  word “blog” is to social media what the phrase “world wide web” is to the internet.  I get it.  Blogs are middle aged.  They’re no longer fresh. When blogs were in vogue, you still had to say “www” before the web address.  The world has moved on, man!  A blog is a big, annoying Gen-Xer asking for merlot at a millennial’s Moscow Mule party! 

But there’s something liberating about middle age.  You can enjoy that merlot.  You get to a point where you just don’t give a crap if you’re wearing last year’s skinny jeans in a season of kick flares. Trying to be on point in the digital age is almost like an act of Sisyphus, anyway. 

It doesn't really matter, though.  Eventually everything finds its way back to itself  — hint: those kick flare jeans ARE REALLY JUST BELL BOTTOMS — so if you wait long enough, you might just come around again.  Blogs may end up like vinyl records or martinis or horn rimmed glasses or, I dunno, actual paper books.  At some point, when everyone is tired of trying to curate a Facebook page that is appropriate for both clients and friends of your grandmother; at some point when the noise on Twitter really does sound like the clamor of birds; at some point when the word “hashtag” is filed next to “groovy,’ when the kick flares have been put away for the new season’s skinny jeans … maybe quaint little old blogs will seem new again.  How positively meta.  

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day

When I was a freshman in high school back in Austin, Texas, I fell madly in love with the boy who sat behind me in my English class. His name was Tim. He had dark brown hair that fell across his forehead and dark blue eyes that sparkled every time I turned around to tell him to stop kicking my chair. He wore a beat-up, 40s-era bomber jacket and could make archaic slang words like "swell" sound effortlessly new. If someone insulted him -- you know, with one of those classic high school put-downs that usually involved unspeakable acts with farm animals or insinuations about inbreeding -- Tim would pause, slowly nod his head, smile and say, "oh yeah?" He was ridiculously handsome, even at 15, and managed to carry it off with a goodhearted sheepishness that made teachers look the other way when he ambled into class late -- and convinced me (to the depths of my very soul!) that he was the most exceptional creature on planet earth and if I lived to be a hundred I'd never be able to express the extent of my feelings for him.

Instead, I played it cool. We talked about Shakespeare and The Clash when we bumped into each other at our lockers. I tried not to stutter when we split a beer together at a party -- the one where he confessed that he believed in fate and that was why he didn't worry about things. I told him that I thought fate needed a good kick in the ass most of the time. He laughed and said it was more fun to go with the flow than to fight.

In fact, the only time I ever saw Tim get into a fight was when one of the football players picked on a nerdy drama kid at an outdoor concert in the park. I wish I could say Tim pummelled the bully in a scene worthy of Clint Eastwood. It wasn't quite like that. But after an inelegant scuffle of a few thudding punches, Tim walked away with the grace of a triumphant samurai.

Tim and I never became real sweethearts, but we remained good friends throughout high school. Whenever my boyfriend broke my heart, Tim let me cry on his shoulder and flirted with me just enough to make my boyfriend jealous. At graduation, Tim was the first person I hugged. Tim was also the last person I ever expected to tell me he was joining the Marines.

"I'll see the world and do some good," he said. And then he laughed and said, "Or knowing me, maybe I'll just get in all kinds of trouble."

He was killed the following year in the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. He was 19.

It's Memorial Day here in the United States. A time for most people to sleep late and linger over coffee before applying sunscreen, stocking the cooler and tossing the steaks on the grill. Those are all good things. In fact, they're the kind of good things that most of the members of our armed forces think about when they're stationed around the planet seeing the world, doing some good and, too often, getting in all kinds of trouble.

Lets take a moment to remember the ones who never made it home.

In remembrance of Timothy McMahon, 1964-1983

Post originally published in Glimpses of South Pasadena

Friday, March 6, 2015

Out and About with LAOther: The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Want an easy ticket to a real winter wonderland?  Just hop aboard the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and in a stunning 15 minute ride you'll be almost 9000 feet up on top of beautiful Mt. San Jacinto which, during most of the winter, looks a lot like it does in the above video.  (Not sure?  Just check the current weather right here.)

No snow chains required, and you can go swimming in Palm Springs when you get back down.  And people wonder why I love Southern California so much...

Friday, February 20, 2015

Quantum Mechanics ... and the Farmer's Market


Schrödinger said it was the defining trait of quantum theory. What is it? It’s that quirky talent discovered by quantum physicists whereby a weird telepathic link allows teeny tiny subatomic particles to mysteriously influence each other’s properties even if they are very far away from one another. These particles are linked together -- or entangled -- so that one can't be sufficiently described without a full mention of its counterpart. In fact, you can instantly influence the properties of a particle on the opposite end of the universe by merely nudging its entangled twin. Some say the power travels at millions of times the speed of light. Even Einstein was baffled. He called it too spooky to be real.

Okay, so I can’t really get my head around it either.

But it gets me thinking…

The overly simplified but deeply poetic explanation of chaos theory told us that a butterfly beating its wings can eventually lead to a storm on the other side of the world. Everything is connected. Everything affects everything else. Some physicists now think quantum entanglement has macro implications, too.

So lets extrapolate ... or perhaps just take huge license with scientific theory. Sometimes it really does feel like little patches of life are oddly harmonious, as if seemingly separate things -- and people -- are somehow connected. For example: here at the Farmer’s Market the people strolling along seemed to just fall into a perfectly aligned formation and simultaneously smile, as if each separate individual was – somehow – inextricably linked. I couldn't have choreographed it any better. Coincidence? Probably. Entanglement? Heck, I'm gonna go with that...

Post originally published at Glimpses of South Pasadena

Thursday, October 30, 2014

We're All Children of the Corn...(Out and About at Lombardi Ranch in Saugus)

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When I think of LA County, a few things come to mind...

Palm trees.
Vast, creepy corn mazes worthy of a Stephen King novel.

Wait, what?

Okay, so Los Angeles isn't a big corn maze mecca ... but it does have a dandy one right at the Lombardi Ranch in Saugus.  From late summer through November, this family-owned working farm grows tomatoes, onions, peppers, squashes, melons, flowers, pumpkins and corn.  (I don't mean a few cute stalks for atmosphere, I'm talking rows upon meandering rows of corn laid out in an actual maze. Seriously, I'm surprised an alien hasn't placed a crop circle in the middle of it.) 

During October, the ranch is a veritable fall wonderland with all kinds of activities including pumpkin picking, a petting zoo, wagon and train rides, face painting, a scarecrow making contest and an opportunity to wander around the mother of all corn mazes!

Check out the website for more info and a calendar of future events.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sometimes it's Okay to Play Games (Out and About at Game Haus in Glendale)

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What happens when you combine caffeine and 850 board games?  Find out as Jon, Raine and I check out Game Haus, a board game library and cafe at 1800 S. Grand in Glendale.  (It's in the historic Seeley Studios building.)  This is seriously one of the coolest places to spend an afternoon, but it's almost impossible to choose from among so many rare and bizarre games.  Of course, you'll find the usual amusements like Risk and Battleship, but when is the last time you sat down to a competitive round of Killer Bunnies or The Game of Nuclear War

You have been warned.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Joy Ride through South Pasadena

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When I first moved to South Pasadena almost 8 years ago, I noticed that old buildings and heritage trees were not the only historic reminders of the past.  The town has a LOT of vintage cars.  Hang out in front of Busters on a weekend afternoon and you’ll see a promenade of enough old roadsters, coupes and muscle cars to satisfy even the most persnickety car buff.  I’m not just talking about your standard issue American Graffiti-worthy hot rods, either.  I’ve spotted a late 1930s Peugot 402, 1949 Hudson Commodore and a mysterious, black sedan that confounded two car aficionados arguing about it nearby. (One insisted it was an unmarked 1939 Cadillac.  The other swore it was a Citroen Traction Avant.)

It’s not surprising that South Pasadena, Pasadena and the surrounding areas have so many examples of our driving history.  The area has always held a prominent spot in the changing landscape of Southern California transportation.   Back at the turn of the 20th Century, the horseless carriage was considered no more than an amusement created by eccentrics.  The future, according to those in the know, would not be paved with asphalt but rather etched in rail.

In 1901, Henry Huntington incorporated the Pacific Electric Railway Company and began work on what would eventually develop into the largest interurban electric rail system in the world.  One of the main hubs was Oneonta Station, located at the corner of present-day Huntington Drive and Fair Oaks in South Pasadena.  This spot marked the junction of the Pasadena Short Line and the Monrovia line, two of the most important Big Red Car trolley routes.   Within a few decades, a huge network of trains and streetcars wound their way through Southern California, connecting Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.  The system was hailed as the one to copy, and reporters all over the world began to refer to Los Angeles as a mecca of reliable public transportation.  South Pasadena was at the heart of it all.

But by the mid-1920s, those reliable trolleys had been upstaged by Henry Ford’s mass-produced, reasonably-priced automobiles.  No longer a carnival curiosity or novelty, the personal car was becoming a viable means of transportation.  By the time the Model T was discontinued in 1927, Ford had sold some 15 million cars – many to Southern California residents.  San Gabriel Valley contractors had a huge upsurge in business as local homeowners tore down carriage houses to build carports and garages.  The trolleys might have been efficient and dependable, but the mild SoCal climate tempted residents to put the top down and cruise around.

While the Red Car line continued for several more decades, it was no match for our region’s growing obsession with cars.  Little by little, rail rights of way were lost to the roads.  Once again, South Pasadena was part of an enormous transportation shift when the Arroyo Parkway – now known as the 110 or Pasadena Freeway – opened in December of 1940.  Similar to how the rails had once made South Pasadena , the Arroyo Parkway etched the city forever into the region’s road maps.  “Travel down the Arroyo Parkway,” on reporter wrote, “and you’ll end up in the fairest city of all: South Pasadena.” 

Although the Pennsylvania Turnpike had opened a few months earlier, many historians argue that the Arroyo Parkway more closely matches the definition of an actual freeway.  Hailed at the time as a marvel of motoring, the sleek, well-paved Parkway offered South Pasadenans and neighboring residents the chance to open up their vehicles full-throttle and travel at top speeds.  Connecting downtown LA with Pasadena along the Arroyo Seco, the parkway was revolutionary because engineers had designed the gently curving road to accommodate modern speeds up to a dizzying 45 miles per hour. 

The 110 we know today is almost identical to the one that beckoned South Pasadena car lovers 60 years ago, with modern SUVs whipping over those 45 mph curves at speeds the original engineers would never have believed possible.   It is a National Scenic Byway, a National Civil Engineering Landmark and a State Scenic Highway.  And if you sit at the overlook on Arroyo Drive and watch the traffic flow, you’ll see a lot of vintage cars heading to and from South Pasadena. 

Every September, South Pasadena puts its love of classic cars on display by hosting the Cruz’N For Roses Hot Rod and Classic Car Show.  There, local car owners are joined by hundreds of others around the region in a display of enough steel, chrome and shiny paint to make the most jaded gearhead swoon.  Proceeds of the event go toward South Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses Parade float.

The original owners of those vintage cars discovered something that is still true today: when you’re behind the wheel on the open road, it’s not always about the destination.  Most of the fun is in getting there.  

A modified version of this post originally appeared in my former column for Patch.