I used to live in the future. In fact, I still live in a city whose original motto is Tomorrow's City Today.
Tomorrow didn't exactly bypass my town. But like Disney's Tomorrowland, keeping up with the future was an impossible demand. Disney and my neighbors found out quickly that it's hard to live in a tomorrow that's always out of reach.
Pasadena's Colorado Street Bridge, which turns 100 this December 13, bears more than a passing resemblance to an ancient Roman aqueduct. In a way, that makes sense. Both use the same engineering solution -- colossal arches -- to create an artificial topography and overcome the natural contours of the land.
In Pasadena's case, those contours are the consequence of the Arroyo Seco, a seasonal watercourse that flows through a deep ravine from the base of the San Gabriel Mountains to its confluence with the Los Angeles River. Pasadena's historic core sits atop an elevated mesa that, to the west, drops suddenly into the arroyo. To get from Pasadena to Highland Park, Garvanza, and other westward settlements, travelers faced two obstacles: the stream of the Arroyo Seco itself, and its ravine.
The earliest bridge in the area -- J.W. Scoville's wooden trestle span, built in the late 1880s -- overcame only the first obstacle. Travelers still had to descend into the ravine, cross the bridge, and then climb the opposite bank -- a true hardship for horse-drawn vehicles, but an almost insurmountable one for the early automobiles that began using the bridge around the turn of the 20th century. So when Pasadena resolved to build a new bridge that would extend Colorado Street over the Arroyo Seco, it commissioned a structure that would cross the ravine at street level.
One of the most memorable songs I learned in first grade was "Abraham, Martin and John." This was 1968 and we had a record player in the classroom, something I thought was pretty luxurious. The song caught my attention right away. I had no idea who the three men were -- I knew Abraham Lincoln, but didn't make the connection -- but from the first moment I heard the sad, aching but urgent melody, there was no doubt in my 6-year-old mind that these men, whoever they were, had met a tragic end. Or they had gotten lost and really couldn't find their way back to this mutual friend, the young singer who was so plaintively asking where they had all gone. Either way, I was fascinated and for some reason I couldn't fathom yet, troubled.
The song was a misfit, a new song not about love or romance or dancing or feeling groovy or anything I usually associated with pop songs on the radio; it was too modern to feel like any of the folk songs or spirituals -- think "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" -- my teachers sometimes played in class during the designated music hour.
"Abraham, Martin and John" was very adult to me, more adult than the sonorous "Swing Low," its meaning a mystery that my teacher pointedly did not explain. This made the song vaguely forbidding, reinforced by the fact that as it played we all sat and listened and did not clap or sway or sing along, or stand up to march. Maybe because of this I heard "Abraham, Martin and John" in a way I had never heard a song before. It was not about being entertained, but like opening a letter and hearing it read aloud. I puzzled over the words yet I knew the singer was directing his sad, unanswerable question to the world, a world that included me. I was part of that "anybody here."
Less than a month after the central Philippines was hit by a powerful 7.2 earthquake, the even more destructive Category 5 Typhoon Haiyan -- the most powerful cyclonic storm in recorded history -- tore through the region on November 7. The storm's wrath was most notably felt in the eastern Philippine provinces of Leyte and Samar, where the typhoon's storm surge flooded cities and villages, while winds of as high as 195 miles per hour pummeled houses and denuded trees. As of this writing, over 4,000 lives were confirmed to be lost, with tens of thousands rendered missing, and millions affected. And by the time the storm dissipated in southern China on November 11, it also caused serious damage, injuries, and casualties in Micronesia, Palau, Taiwan, Vietnam, and China.
Across the Pacific, the Filipino American and medical communities, immediately sought ways to help those most in need.
Just days after Haiyan (also designated within the country as "Super Typhoon Yolanda" by the Philippine weather administration) wreaked devastation, Mammoth Medical Missions, a team of physicians based out of Mammoth Lakes in Mono County, California that specializes in providing emergency medical aid to rural and mountain areas worldwide, was one of the first relief groups to respond in the region most affected by the storm.
Originally scheduled to perform a routine surgical mission that week in Chiapas, Mexico, the 16 doctors, surgeons, and support volunteers from the Eastern Sierra made a group decision to make last-minute arrangements to fly to Manila, Philippines instead. Coordinating with the Philippine government and an emergency assistance group there, the Mammoth group was transported from Manila to Leyte courtesy of the Philippine Air Force.
"We asked them to take us to the worst spot," said Mammoth Medical Missions' anesthesiologist Wayne Anderson, "They told us they'd send us to a bad spot, but not the worst spot."
Our Ventura Pier has size on its side. It is currently 1,958 feet long. Originally built in 1872 to accommodate steamships and commerce, it was reputedly once the longest wooden pier in the United States. Or California. Depending on who is doing the reputing.
Size matters, but not so much to me. I love our Ventura Pier for smaller reasons.
Pronging out into the Pacific at the base of our folded hills, our pier is visible from almost any high point in town. Walk our beaches and, in the distance, it wavers like a child's matchstick project. Sit on the sand at its base (on a calm day) and it whispers a lovely song any ocean (and pier) lover knows -- quiet sighs and eternal lappings, and maybe the faintest creaks of wooden adjustings -- that are salve for the soul.
I come to our pier often, but since communing is best done alone. Most of the time I sit beneath the very end of the pier in a kayak. I have done this countless times. It's one of my favorite places. My sitting there has practical value (it gives me a chance to rest), but mostly it has magical value. Yes there are the sighings and lappings, a hushed serenity I have found in only a few other places, deep inside a cave or diving in the equally silent world of submerged shipwrecks. It's also fun watching the swells rise and fall about the pilings. At the waterline, the pilings are crusted with fat balls of mussels that resemble alien pods. When the swell is bigger, as the waves pass the water rises high above these mussel thickets, and then, as it drops again, water spills from the mussels in thousands of tiny waterfalls. I love the smell of creosote -- it brings back memories of honky-tonk boardwalks and summer romance -- and the cooing of pigeons strutting smartly about the overhead beams sounds like a mother's murmurings. You can see that it is a nice place.
I have come to the pier at dawn, in rain and storm, and more than once at night, the lights from our pier throwing wobbling fingers across the water and the stars winking as if this place is our secret. Often I feel like I could sit for a very long time, and sometimes I do, for I am less militaristic about exercise than I once was. It is nice to be carried away.
Serendipity: One of those hothouse words born in the second flowering of literary English in the 18th century. It means -- sort of -- a pleasure found by accident or an unsought good thing. While the word was intended to name something truly unexpected, it's best to say that the serendipitous comes to the prepared.
Frequent returns to the museums of Long Beach and north Orange County -- the ones with exhibitions almost never reported in the Los Angeles Times -- are a prerequisite for the "accidental" pleasures to be found at the Grand Central Art Center and the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art in downtown Santa Ana and the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton.
It was shrimp 25 years ago. The FBI had set up a phony seafood business in the mid-1980s that eventually netted state legislators, staff members, and lobbyists in a bribery sting. Today, it's an FBI front company offering money for film production concessions. So far -- and only in the form of a leaked affidavit -- the only star of this latest FBI sting is Senator Ron Calderon (D-Montebello).
Calderon isn't happy about being in the spotlight. He's protested that the leak was a crude attempt by prosecutors to force him into a plea deal. He lashed out at Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) who called on him to resign. And he's claimed that other legislators -- notably Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Senator Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) -- were the FBI's real targets.
(Some evidence suggests that Calderon may have been sought as an informant against other state legislators, an offer he says he refused.)
Calderon is busily pointing fingers, but at least one of his complaints -- being smeared by a leak -- led U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley on Thursday to order prosecutors to respond.
Calderon has denied the allegations of bribery in the FBI affidavit. He's not been charged with any crime. But he has been stripped of his senate committee appointments by Steinberg, been taken off the state film commission, and bounced from the legislature's Latino caucus.
Eventually, we'll know what case -- if any -- the federal prosecutor intends to make. But it will be a mistake -- and a tragic loss -- if the case goes no further than an indictment for bribery. The politics around Calderon and his extended family that have festered for decades in the cities of the southeast county ought to be the focus.
It's safe to say that a more distinctive pier never adorned the Southern California shore. Unlike the many pleasure piers that stretched beyond the breakers only to dead-end above the ocean's swells, the Rainbow Pier in Long Beach extended more than a quarter-mile into the cold Pacific before arcing back to shore. The 3,800-foot-long structure resembled a giant horseshoe, or a rainbow -- hence its name.
But its shape was not all that made the Rainbow Pier unique. It was also among the first of its kind designed explicitly for the automobile. Built atop a granite breakwater, the pier's roadway could easily support the weight of a motorcar. And the fact that the road returned to shore eliminated the need for awkward turnarounds.
"When it is finished it will be possible to board an automobile any dark night in Los Angeles, bowl over a continuously illuminated boulevard all the way from the metropolis via the great white way of Huntington Park to Long Beach, and then out from shore...over the ocean," the Los Angeles Times reported in 1913, long before the pier was actually built.
The Proud Bird is about to be grounded. Next week, barring some eleventh-hour breakthrough, the restaurant and banquet center near Imperial Highway and Aviation Boulevard will close up, the victim of rising rents and the inability to secure a long-term lease from its landlord, Los Angeles World Airports, the L.A. City agency that operates LAX, among other properties. This situation seems to be going around, such as the several long-standing places in Leimert Park Village are looking at potential closure because a new owner who bought property earlier in the year will likely change the terms of rents or raise them.
But whatever happens to individual shops in Leimert Park, Leimert Park will live on. Not so the Proud Bird, which is really a village unto itself.
The rambling grounds that included the huge parking lot and rustic landscaping around the entrance, the generous foyer, the restaurant with the vintage aircraft parked outside the window, the banquet rooms that included a Tuskegee Room named for the pioneer black fighter pilots of World War II -- all of it made the Proud Bird a kind of theme park/resort that felt both part of and far away from the airport-adjacent neighborhoods where it sits.
According to the American Libraries Association, librarians in this country received 464 requests to take books off the shelves in 2012 -- up 42% from 2011. In my mind the question is not which books did these folks earmark for ban, but why should we believe our opinions should be foisted on others?
Banning books is nothing new. Arbiters of what we should and shouldn't read have been around since the written word. The Catholic Church condemned Voltaire's "Candide," published in 1759. The United States Government said no to "The Arabian Nights" in 1873. Dubbing it "trash suitable only for the slums," the Concord Public Library banned "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" in 1885. Everybody's favorite whipping boy (sorry, Christian Grey), J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye," published in 1951, has probably been kicked around more than any other work; censored, banned, challenged, shrieked at, deplored, for what some arbiters of taste deem excessive sex scenes and vulgar language. It is certainly true that young Holden Caulfield may be literature's most famous potty mouth.
I learned about the increase in judges of literary taste during the recently passed Banned Books Week (September 22-28), but the topic of what we should and shouldn't read really struck home when I visited Greg Raney's Creative Writing class at Ventura High School. I came to talk to Mr. Raney's students about the joys and business (often two separate things) of writing, but once again -- my favorite thing about my talks -- when I shut my mouth I learned something from the audience.
Before I came to his class, Mr. Raney said to me, "There are some very talented writers in the class who are thinking seriously about a career in writing. Unfortunately, their world seems to dismiss writing as a nice little hobby. I'm not trying to force them into a career in writing, but I want them to consider it as a serious option."
Already you can see that Greg Raney is precisely where he should be.