This week hundreds of school kids in Ventura County will be released on fall break, some of them headed off on adventures where soul-stirring memories may or may not be made.
Young adventurers, I have a short story for you.
Rafting down the Colorado River is said to be one of life's greatest adventures, lauded for the more than 160 rapids squeezed within the Canyon's confines, some of them among the most hellishly hair-raising whitewater on earth. Approaching certain rapids you hear a sound like the thunder of stampeding horses and mist rises in billows and you sweat in places you didn't know you had.
Rafting down the Colorado is certainly adrenal at points, but my favorite reasons for drifting (much of it is a leisurely drift) down the Colorado are different.
Rafting down the Colorado gives you access to remote places otherwise reached only with great difficulty or a very long fall.
On my own trip down the Colorado, we strode into side canyons serene and glorious, hushed places pressed in by walls smooth and cool as satin sheets, where clear creek trickles ran, and here and there sat truck-size rocks deposited at times when the creek was nothing like a trickle. Some side canyons were dry; tomb still and quiet. Others drummed; waterfalls cascading into pools with a sonorous boom, blowing sprays of rainbow mist. One canyon held turquoise pools so clear and still they appeared to be not pools at all, but vast emerald gems set in the earth. First we plunged into these pools hooting like ten-year-olds who had discovered their parents' hooch. Then we went quiet. We sat in a hush so silent we felt its weight. We sat for a long time. We might still be sitting there if our guide hadn't gently ushered us back to the boats. I'll never forget the silence, or the rising joy. It didn't seem possible, but with quiet observation the hidden canyon grew in beauty. It was like watching my bride walk down the aisle.
The radio promised rain, or at least the 50/50 chance of it. A low sky, wind, and a block or so of spitting rain accompanied me down South Street and through the intersection of South with Clark Avenue. By then, 50 percent of my walk had been dry and 50 percent had been wet. The radio was right.
The sky was mostly blue through another quarter mile, the blue punctuated by rows of white clouds that seemed to be exactly the same size, exactly the same distance apart, and moving together south by east.
Rain from a concrete colored sky squalled through at lunchtime, followed by a deep band of black sky to the north and innocent blue overhead.
Today has been dividing up half-and-half almost too neatly.
Mayor Garcetti, sounding like a spinster wooing a hesitant suitor, told an audience of downtown business and civic types earlier this week that he intended to be a reliable mayor. "It's not the girl you're going to go out on a date with for one or two nights, but the one you're going to settle down with. That's who I want to be."
In terms of honeyed persuasion, "hizzoner" isn't Dolly Levi.
But he's not Tony Villaraigosa either, thankfully. Garcetti has put an earnest, unflashy face on city government. The style is vastly different. The problems remain largely the same.
Talk about adding insult to long-standing injury.
Yesterday's L.A. Times Calendar piece on the impending rebirth of the Forum considers its chances of seriously competing with the 800-pound gorilla known as the Staples Center for favored-concert venue status.
The Forum, which is winding up its $75 million facelift by new owners Madison Square Garden, has various things going for it: a new look, a storied past that includes performances by a who's-who list of rock and pop artists, an intimate setting that those artists evidently prefer (Prince did. When he swung through SoCal a few years back, he camped out at the Forum and offered scandalously low-priced tickets, some as low as $25, so that virtually anyone could go. I doubt skybox-conscious Staples would have done the same.) The Eagles are slated to kick off the Forum renaissance in January, followed by a range of acts from Justin Timberlake to more recent phenoms like Imagine Dragons.
Sounds like a good start. Of course, the biggest risk factor that the story suggests but doesn't say outright is the fact that the new and improved Forum is located not in newly hip downtown, but in Inglewood. That's not a new fact; it's been here since it opened in 1967. But Inglewood was different then, still mostly white and comfortably suburban. It's neither now. That's not to say it's a wasteland, far from it, but re-branding the Forum to folks who may not have experienced its glory days is evidently a new challenge for MSG and a riddle for the live-entertainment business generally.
Traffic may have been sluggish, but Wilshire Boulevard in the late 1920s was a road on the move. Developers like Henry de Roulet and A.W. Ross had overcome zoning restrictions on surrounding land and were busy transforming the boulevard into a major commercial corridor. Wilshire and Western had become the nation's busiest intersection, and the Miracle Mile was emerging as an important retail center.
But this "grand concourse of Los Angeles," to quote Kevin Roderick, still wanted for a connection to downtown Los Angeles -- a business district fated for decline but then still the center of the city's commercial life. To the west, Wilshire extended all the way to the sea. To the east, however, it ended abruptly at Westlake (now MacArthur) Park and its recreational lagoon. Beyond the park was a smaller retail strip named Orange Street, but that, too, ended abruptly when it reached the central business district at its intersection with Figueroa.
Anticipating the freeway construction of the coming decades, the city's solution privileged road building over the integrity of existing neighborhoods. The plan: widen and rename Orange Street, bridge the lake to link the two sections of Wilshire, and then extend the boulevard through several dense city blocks into the heart of downtown.
Advanced by real estate and business interests who stood to gain from improved connectivity, this plan countered another, bolder proposal to transform Wilshire into an "Archway," a super-wide automobile thoroughfare that would not have accommodated street-front businesses. Auto Club of Southern California historian Matthew Roth chronicles the battle over the Archway proposal in his dissertation "Concrete Utopia," accessible through the USC Digital Library.
Two weeks ago the oceans belched forth mystery and marvel. Jasmine Santana was snorkeling off the beach at Catalina Island's Toyon Bay when she happened across an oarfish.
One can only imagine what ricochets through one's sympathetic nervous system when a snake-like creature 18 feet long suddenly hoves into view. Ancient mariners likely went to their knees and prayed aloud for sins until that moment unprofessed. Marine biologists of today surmise that the serpentine, saucer-eyed oarfish, which can reach lengths of 50-plus feet, spawned the sea serpent myths of yore. Whether they did or didn't is anyone's guess, but there is no doubt Ms. Santana kept her wits. It is also possible that, as a marine science instructor at the Catalina Island Marine Institute (CIMI runs a popular camp at Toyon Bay), she benefited from mankind's current coin purse of knowledge, identifying the sinuous creature immediately after the first palsies subsided. Sadly, it also helped that the oarfish was dead.
No doubt Santana, and the gaggle of onlookers who helped haul the oarfish ashore, were excited; and the Catalina Island Marine Institute, too. Oarfish reside at depths of depths of 1,500 to 3,000 feet, and so are rarely seen, spotted mostly either dead or near dead when they surface and wash ashore. In a news release, CIMI proclaimed the Catalina oarfish find the "discovery of a lifetime." A few days later a 14-foot oarfish washed up in Oceanside.
I prefer to think of this not as mud in CIMI's face (though perhaps the press release might be rephrased to read "the discovery of a mayfly's lifetime"), but as yet another glimpse of the ocean's proclivity for endless surprise.
Last Monday evening, I found myself in a sports bar in Los Feliz, my eyes attentively glued to the action on the television screens, rooting for my beloved Dodgers to win Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. It was a lively, raucous, and jubilant scene, where claps, cheers, and high-fives erupted whenever one of our boys in blue reached home plate.
But somewhere in between Hyun-Jin Ryu's strikeouts and Yasiel Puig's hits, I scanned my Twitter feed and saw a tweet mentioning that a 7.2 earthquake just hit, which was centered near "Balilihan, Philippines."
A large earthquake had just hit the Philippines, which struck early Tuesday morning in their time zone. I was immediately concerned. Somehow that place -- Balilihan -- seemed to ring a bell. Was it a place I've been to during one of my five visits to my parents' home country?
And somehow when I heard the name "Balilihan" in my head, I could hear my mom saying it, in her voice, in her accent. I started to grow more concerned.
I Googled "Balilihan" on my phone and when I saw a map with the dot in it indicating the town's location, I suddenly knew why I mentally heard my mom's voice.
And then I became extremely concerned.
Lakewood is getting ready to celebrate its 60th year of incorporation in 2014. I've been assisting city staff as a sort of volunteer archivist, gathering and scanning the city's historical photographs and printed ephemera.
It's our hunger of memory, I suppose, or maybe just my own.
Memories in Lakewood don't have imposing sites to house them, but for one. It's a jet plane on a pylon in Del Valle Park.
On Sunday, November 10 at Rancho Los Alamitos in Long Beach, I'll join Claudia Jurmain in a conversation that includes Frances Anderton, host of "DnA: Design and Architecture" on KCRW; USC History Chair William Deverell; UCLA Urban Center for People & the Environment Director Stephanie Pincetl; environmental journalist Jon Christensen; architect Alan Pullman, and downtown developer Tom Gilmore.
The program (the last of three in 2013) is A Place for Us.
Like some of the very people who drive on them, a few Los Angeles streets have achieved the height of fame. Sunset Boulevard lent its evocative name to Billy Wilder's classic film noir. Pasadena's Colorado Boulevard appears on millions of television screens each New Year's Day as the route of the Rose Parade. And to many around the world, Pacific Coast Highway instantly conjures up images of surfers, convertibles, and movie stars. (In L.A., we're more likely to think of traffic, wildfires, and landslides.)
But fame belies the humble origins of these celebrity streets. Horses once casually left droppings where shoppers stroll today along Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade. A dusty wagon road alongside the Ostrich Farm Railroad eventually became Sunset Boulevard. A century ago, Los Angeles was a much emptier place, and what today are major thoroughfares were then dusty cow paths through open countryside or pockmarked roads rutted by wagon wheels.
Even in dense downtown Los Angeles, street conditions brought complaints to Angelenos' lips. "After heavy winter rains mud was from six inches to two feet deep," groaned merchant Harris Newmark in his memoirs, "while during the summer, dust piled up to about the same extent." Mud often mingled with contributions from livestock. Dust was such a problem that street sprinkling enterprises were counted among the city's public utilities. Angelenos like Newmark would have to wait until 1887 for the city's first paved streets: Main, Spring, and Fort (now Broadway).
Macadam paving, followed by concrete and asphalt surfaces, eventually helped Los Angeles' roads shake their rustic character. But the following images -- culled from the region's rich photographic archives -- show some of Southern California's most famous streets before they achieved stardom.