Long Beach, from a Lifetime Los Angeleno

They have their own MacArthur Park, a first through 59th street, a Spring Street, a Temple Street.

In the many conversations that I eavesdropped and participated in thru grad school, whenever people would reference one of those landmarks, I would automatically think of the LA referent with the name.

But nope, they never referred to LA.  Ever.

They were always talking about Long Beach.  Referring to things in Long Beach, wearing CSULB sweaters, Long Beach certified shirts, and the ever-popular baseball cap with an LB initials on it, as if it was the only city and school for miles around.  It was like its own universe, almost if not completely detached from its ultra-popular, wieldy, worldly, sprawling cousin to the north.  I can honestly say that I'd never seen any of that decal or clothing in and around LA, and I've been through and around many parts of LA.

Growing up, Long Beach was at least an hour away from my parents' abode in Central Los Angeles.  We took all kinds of freeways to get there, hell if I knew.  I just knew that Long Beach was where they had the Queen Mary...and...it had...the Queen Mary.  That's the only time I remember ever venturing there.  I was 9 years old, and Long Beach was about as far as Disneyland.

In high school, Long Beach meant Long Beach Poly, main rival school in football.  It was/is a multi-cultural huge public school, a stark contrast to the all-boys, private Catholic school Loyola High School that I went to.  Long Beach to me was also the home of Snoop Dogg and Warren G, Doveshack's Summertime in the LBC, and the Twinz who got the sound to make you go round and round

When I found all kinds of random friends in college, that is the UC-Santa Cruz part of college, Long Beach was just "chill."

Harlan and Desiree are the random friends in question.  Harlan and I golfed, beached, and played some random pick-up basketball at his alma mater, the non-Long Beach Poly school down the way, Wilson High School.  Wocka Flocka Flame would be very afraid of just how hard we went into the paint.  Harlan said that the best part of Long Beach was his ability to get out of the city right away.  He now lives somewhere in the Bay Area.

Desiree invited me to b-boying/breakdancing events, which included a set of tight-pants wearing killer breakers pulling off some deadly twists to a cover of Sublime's Santeria.  Breakers tend to raise one arm, palms down and shake it a bit after every cool move they see another breaker does.  Saw lots of that, and eventually incorporated that hand movement into my habitus for at least one summer.   

For a quick second, Long Beach was also home to what used to be a store-turned record label called Beatrock Music.  Watched the Native Guns, my favorite progressive Filipino rappers (along with Prometheus Brown) "re-unite."

Long Beach also kinda gave me the start to my career and room to my interests.

When I did Americorps, I spent part of my time in North Long Beach at a housing development they call Carmelitos.  Didn't seem so bad during the day, but my co-Americorpsers said, "it's different during the night time."  I didn't stay there, so their comments never really registered.  To me the developments looked just like college dorms.  My most memorable moment there was a Thanksgiving Celebration put on by staff members.  The episode could be summed up in two words: "Soula boy" and if you want to add two more "Soula boy told em."  Incidentally, it was at Carmelitos that I met an inspiration to pursue Anthropology at Long Beach, one Sarah Cote.

When I was with an ex-partner around December 2009, we led a bike count through a gloomy rainy day at the PCH and Anaheim stops off the Metro Blue Line.  Additionally, as a then-7-year veteran of the car-driving wars in LA, that was the first time I discovered I could actually take the Metro all the way to Long Beach.

When we put bike to gravel, I discovered something else:  Long Beach was kind of scary to bike thru, particularly PCH.  It had nothing to do with Gangstas, gangsta rap, or being afraid of getting jacked.  It had everything to do with crossing the Metro Blue Line tracks, to the 3-lane streets full of traffic, to cracked roads. None of the streets we surveyed seemed the least bit "bikeable" or "bike friendly."  And if it was, it seemed to be due to the fact that we were riding in groups of at least 8 people.

After one of the counts, she checked Yelp via her blackberry for places to eat.  A Thai-Cambodian place called Siem Reap.  Karaoke playing in the background, and the Thai-ness was really clear.  It was just another place for me to eat.


Before grad school happened in 2010, Long Beach was Queen Mary, Poly High School, Sublime, Snoop Dogg & Warren G, and a town that needed to improve its bikeways.

August 2010.  My arrival at Cal State Long Beach. Which meant, a looot more Long Beach.

I'm in my 2nd year now, and I'm living temporarily in Lakewood, the city Desiree technically came from, which butts up against Long Beach.  I've accumulated a bit of a love for the LBC.
  • Home to tons of our Southeast Asian homies - Cambodians. 
  • People in the nonprofit circles actually know each other and there seems to be an infrastructure of folks already working together; 
  • Impressed that they had a bunch of youth programs at their Parks & Rec, specifically Homeland Cultural Center
  • People seem to work efficiently there;  at a neighborhood clean-up in MacArthur Park, due to budgetary constraints, we had only 2 hours to do "something."  With a gang of volunteers numbering about 50-60 on a Saturday morning, the something we did was clean up some alley-ways.
  • Kinda easy to get involved in whatever nonprofit work you want to do
  • Everything is scaled down to some sense of manageability - everything in LA is just big and unwieldy
  • Little to trace amount of "hipsters"
If I could define my time here, this my 2nd year in and around Long Beach, it's revolved around commuting and Cambodians.

For my first year, I would commute from LA via a Metro student pass and would bike from the stop at PCH to Cal State Long Beach.  This was the same PCH that I found quite frightening.  I still look behind me to make sure some impatient driver isn't going to let rage consume him/her.  The most frightening street however is Lakewood Blvd/CA-19, includes a tunnel and about 4 lanes, which means blind and fast drivers.  I thought it would be a shortcut to my place, and technically it is, but the pervading culture of vehicle promises that it won't be.

On Mondays in my first year, I'd bike and sleep over at my Godsis (G-sis) and her partner, Cy's condo in Downtown LB.  A cacophany of crazies there.  From the random yelling of a next-door neighbor about how he "could not eat his hambugers", to the next-door lady whom Cy yelled at but expressed so much love for bikes, to a muted black guy who took care of the property, I felt I had enough credibility to say that I was sometimes "in the hood."

I also got my bike jacked, which according to Cy is a bit of a Long Beach tradition. 

While at school, I'd learned very quickly that one of my profs was very interested in Long Beach and Cambodians.  One conversation I had early on with her was about the lived experience of the LA Riots in Long Beach in 1992.  Indeed, the snippet of a police report in the Sublime song April 26, 1992 was referring to a place in Long Beach instead of LA.  Anaheim Street in the heart of what is now known as Cambodia Town.

She was talking about how she was living at the epicenter of the riots, which meant looting, and how she tried to dissuade a bunch of Cambodian men from participating in the mayhem.  A substantial amount of damage occurred in Long Beach totalling $20 million.

Since that conversation, I've enjoyed a grip that LB has had to offer. I've had the opportunity to tour my Cambodian grandparents.  Drive a cyclo or as the French call it a cyclo-pousse.  Played a bunch of sey with my cohort member Adam, a game similar to hackey sack but much easier with a feathery contraption.  Went to Dragon House and do all kinds of line dancing and hand movements.  Attend a Theraveda Buddhist temple during Cambodian day of the Dead.  Get involved with a community garden.  Listen to the stories of Khmer Rouge survivors at King's Park in the LBC.

More on that later.

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