Not the Swapmeet

Her mom didn't have a car. 

Nor could she drive if she tried.

The way they would travel through and from Wilmington was through the Metro, mostly by bus. Sometimes, they would take the Blue Line to Downtown LA in the maquiladora district where her mother would go to work sewing on Charlotte Hornets and Los Angeles Raiders patches.

Every Saturday in Paramount, there was a swapmeet.  A place to get cheap stuff, and most importantly for a 13-year old, externally-motivated Araceli, cheap food.

For Araceli, going there with her mom, meant that she might get a hot dog or something.  Finally, something that wasn't divided or shared with her 4 other sisters or little brother.  Eating out was a rare luxury, something Araceli didn't do much throughout her childhood.

One day as they were at the bus stop near their house, instead they got on a different bus.  Which of course put in danger her opportunity to get her hot dog.

"Mom, this doesn't look the way to the swapmeet."  She knew her mom knew her way around the buses, and this was definitely not the way there.

"Araceli, callate!"her mother responded through gritted teeth, while grabbing her stomach.

Not just any other stomach.

"I am having this baby" she told Araceli while focusing and staring doggedly ahead, as the bus plodded its way to Harbor-UCLA from Wilmington.  She'd had 6 already, what was one more?

No frantic screaming, no panicking.  Not in public.

They made it to the entrance of the hospital when she said, "go get help, tell them I'm having a baby!"    She couldn't walk anymore.  Araceli ran frantically to get help.

She found a nurse.

The nurse asked,"Where is she?"

"She cant walk, shes at the entrance," responded Araceli

They got a wheelchair and rushed to the entrance, only to find her mom, walking with both hands on the handrails.

An hour later, the world welcomed Emma arriving by c-section, delivered by Metro bus lines.

Getting Assaulted on the Blue Line

The Eve of Christmas Eve.   7PM.

A long day of work in a week where no one else is really working.

A full and packed Long Beach-bound Blue Line.

I made it safely enough to the area where bikes are supposed to be located --- in the middle of the car.

Sitting next to one of the exits, I noticed a black woman with short hair.  At the start of the ride, she seemed to be singing feliz navidad, quite loudly.  It was then that I noticed that this black woman wasn't a black woman at all, but a gay Latino man.  He was texting, and just otherwise minding his business.

At around the San Pedro stop, a group of 10-15 black teenagers packed the car to its capacity.  They spread themselves all over the car. The atmosphere of the bus got a bit louder and maybe even livelier.  Nothing really than just teenagers in general making noise, wanting to be heard, etc.

Some of them had mentioned something aboutTrayvon Martin, or something to that affect.  I looked at them closely.

A few of them noticed that a cop had entered a car.  They announced to each other that they were going to get off at the next stop, presumably because they had no ticket.

Teens still being teens.

I didn't really care one way or the other.

Before the next stop, they called out their dance group, whatever group they were a part of. "Blah blah blahs, make some noise!"

One of them had said out loud, "damn it stinks in here!"

Then all of a sudden, arguing.

The Gay Latino man was suddenly standing up, presumably indignant at some comment they had made.

One of those teenagers was indignant back threatening to beat him up.

Oh great.

No one needs this shit, I thought.

He started hitting him and it looked really sad.

A group of cowardly teenagers ganging up on some dude.

I put my arm in front of the aggressing teen, who was probably about 5'10 - 6'0 trying to just halt any action and bring this to peace.  Why you want to start shit?  I was thinking.

Probably cause you're a hotheaded dumbass teenager, I also thought.

I said, "calm down."

A few weeks ago, I had talked a guy out of possibly getting money out of me.  I really thought I could stop what was going down.

I am a peacemaker, I was just here to make peace.

He said to me, "oh you want some of this?"  I looked at him wondering what he was about to do.

ONE BAM!  TWO BAM!  THREE BAM!  FOUR BAMS!  So much that I didn't even know where my head was or where my body was.

I was getting hit by multiple people it seemed like.  It felt like I didn't have any time whatsoever to react.

I curled up, I think.

I didn't know how it was going to end for me, but I was just concerned that they wouldn't damage my glasses.

Everyone was just looking around.  I couldn't remember, as I was just making sure I didn't lose consciousness and that I wasn't that badly hurt.

I saw the guy beat on the gay man even more.

Disoriented and looking for my glasses, it was over and they left.

The people on the car didn't seem to know how to react.  I saw some girls probably laughing.  I was just searching for my glasses, god forbid those expensive things get broken.

I could feel people's eyes on me.

The Latino man was calling the phone.  He called whomever he was talking to before and said "I just got beat the fuck up."

Another Latino man with tattoos called out at him, sort of imploring him to be quiet.

The gay Latino man, "what you want to fight me too?"

"Naw, homey, I don't prey on the weak," the Latino man with tattoos responded.

An older black man who saw the melee approached me and said, "You don't need to defend him, he's a homo-sexual."

I told him, "naw man, it shouldn't be like that, were just all trying to get home and ride in peace."

As the ride progressed, the man called the cops and got off at Florence station.

Later in the ride as the majority of people got off at the Willowbrook station, a few people gave me sympathetic nods.

A Latino man with tattoos asked me, "you stood up for that guy?"

I said yeah.

And he lamented "nobody did anything."

I was just glad that I could take a punch and that I could walk away.

I can't fight, I didn't have it in me.  I don't really know how.  I couldn't fight because I didn't have any anger in me to do anything other than to increase the peace.

The back of my head hurts a little bit as I write and recount this.  I'm grateful I was able to bike home and still have enough concentration to write this.

To those teens if you ever read this:  I don't know you or what you've been through in life, but may you find your peace.  Really. 

Maybe you got some instant rush from punching a few people, but ultimately what were you proving?

I suspect that maybe you're just looking for respect in the world. 

Well here is some.  I truly feel sorry for you and whatever your pain is.  Thank you for sharing it with me.

Overheard: Everyday Conversations and Observations in Panorama City, Mesa Angeles, and Compton

A sampling of stories, quotes, quips, glances and people I've heard while walking on the street, waiting at the library, waiting at the supermarket, etc.

As I've delved deeper and deeper into the NPR Storytelling lineups, I've come to appreciate people's stories a bit more, and the ones that I've come across.

However, me, I'm not getting the full story usually, I'm just around when I happen to hear them.

From a man at a Thai restaurant in a gas station in Panorama City:  

"It was worth it, you guys should try it," said the middle aged mustachioed white man whom I suspected to be Latino.

My mom recommended that my fiance and I order Thai food for the family.  It was on a flyer.  They had a menu.  I ordered via phone and went to pick it up.

I had already been frustrated because:  1)  it was hard to understand the lady taking my order over the phone  2)  they didn't have what I ordered  3)  their delivery person wasn't there at the moment.
After about 10 minutes of driving up and down Roscoe Blvd and finally locating this restaurant at the Arco, I took a deep sigh of relief and walked into the restaurant.

I looked in there.  Reminded me of house cooking.  The woman who was there seemed to be all alone.  Smelled good though, and at the very least I could be assured of its freshness.

The man, middle-aged, middle-sized was sitting down and rubbing his belly.

"Ahhh" he breathed in his own sigh of relief.

"It was worth it, you guys should try it," said the middle aged mustachioed white man whom I suspected to be Latino.

He recommended the curry.  He said, "she is working so hard that I feel like I need to be behind the counter"

He looked at my fiance and asked if we were married.

"Almost" I responded.

"Well, congratulations!"

He told us that he was going to be a grandpa, for the 2nd time.  He was getting a quick dinner before seeing the new child and his son.

He told us that stopping by restaurants like these for a quick solo dinner would be something we'd do when we were his age.


Random outsiders thinking of Mesa Angeles while in Mesa Angeles:

  • "When I got the call to work in this area, I thought, "this is the worst idea"
  • "If you have a nice phone, don't show it out here"

From a young man at the Smoke Shop on Crenshaw and Slauson:  I was carrying my bike and backpack through a long day of work.

I was waiting for someone in a visible area just outside of the chain-linked fenced in parking lot of a smoke shop that shared its lot with a dry cleaner business.  The parking lot's capacity was about 10 cars at the most.  There was quite the line entering in or exiting.

Not only was the area visible, but it was also highly trafficked.  Cars were in and out, as were the people, likely not for the cleaners.

About 10 minutes into my wait, a young man from behind the chain linked fence saw me, and asked, "hey do you have a quarter on you?"  No, I responded.  "Really?"  He looked at me, probably in suspicion. 

"Really you don't have a quarter," he asked as he went around the fence in a way that seemed like he wanted to take my bike and bag.

"Naw dude sorry"

"Really, you don't?" he looked at me directly in the eye, now in my face as I clutched onto my bike.

"Naw dude, man" I thought of some change I probably did have, but didn't really feel like giving, particularly at a smoke shop.

"My homies are right there."

"What?"

"My homies are right there in the corner."

"Wow, you have pennies", I stared at the stacks of pennies in his hands.

"What?"  He looked at me face to face like he was trying to stare me down.  We were about the same height. 

Realizing that he was threatening me, I just pretended to brush everything off "Ahh it's cool, man, sorry dude."

Then he turned away figuring that I wasn't going to budge.

To assure him everything was cool, I just grabbed him by the shoulder like you would a relative.

He said something to the effect of "I might've had a gun on me."  He saw his taller homey down the corner, and said, "hey this is my homey."  He pointed at me and say "This guy tried to rob me." 

I looked at the taller homey and kept a haha type smile, as if to communicate, you should know your boy, he probably has tried to pull this dozens of times.

From an elder woman at a library near Mesa Angeles:  An elder black lady sat down at a desk in the library talking with a library employee.  I didn't know what the employee exactly did nor what clout they would have.

The elder woman was talking about properties she'd owned.

While someone was making money off of her, she was getting nothing.

Someone had swindled her.

However, at this point, she didn't care about the money. She just wanted help, and for some justice to be served.

From a resident of Mesa Angeles: Seeing that I was on my bicycle, she asked me if I knew of any bike clubs that were tearing up her streets. I told her I knew nothing of it. 

From a man on the street in Mesa Angeles: For one job, I walked around the neighborhood of Mesa Angeles, which is just south of Leimert Park, but north of Inglewood.  The streets are the 50s-60s, and the numbered avenues.  Nearby is Crenshaw High School.

I met a stumpy older black man who was hunched over. The briefest of glances would lead you to believe that he was simply a homeless man asking for change.  Heh, maybe he is.  But in the brief conversation I had with him, he'd worked for Frito-Lay and some paint companies. That is until his body gave out on him.

For 14-years, he has been on SSI.

Made me wonder about how this particular society, by design, de-values you if you're old and not able-bodied anymore.

From a boy and his mom in Mesa Angeles:  As I walking the neighborhood on a Friday afternoon, passing one house that had a fence.  Behind it a dog's barking.

A black mother/aunt/family friend was walking a little black boy and girl, about kindergarten aged.  She noted that this particular residence had just acquired a new dog and put it behind a tall white fence.

I passed by them and heard the restom of what they were saying as I was walking forward.

They were about to pass the house when I saw them.

The dog barked into a kind of howl: argh argh argh argh.

The boy apparently now past the house squeaked proudly: YEAH, UGLY DOG! Passing through the big dog was an accomplishment.

From a Friday Night Bike Ride Home down from 60th St/11th Avenue through Van Ness Ave, through Florence to the 150s/Central in Compton, this is what I saw:


  • A restaurant on Florence near Central avenue featuring live mariachi
  • A black motorcycle club meeting at a bar on the 80s and Central.
  • A handful of wide and awake taco trucks
  • Friday Night Church Services and sermons, probably en espanol
  • One sleazy looking night club along Florence
  • Trucks accumulating junk or junk-accumulating trucks

Revelations While Biking "'Hoods" in the Afterhours Darkness

Central Ave from LA to Compton.



My new favorite street that takes me to home sweet home in Compton.

Never was I so relieved than to reach home sweet home in Compton than after a 13 mile bike ride after a 17-hr workday which included a 13-mile bike ride at 5 in the morning.

I rode Central relatively quickly.  At least it felt quick. About an hour to my destination in Leimert Park.

But biking at 5 in the morning in neighborhoods that have long been stigmatized as 'bad' is not everyone's cup of tea.

This leads me to wonder how we can eventually flip that script and make biking it (though not at 5 AM) any willing bicyclist's cup of tea.  Changing the norm of decidedly NOT biking Central into decidedly biking Central.

As I was pondering this in my head, I was wondering a few things:
  • To what extent does darkness or lack of light factor into street design? To what extent does rain factor into street design?  I imagine 'a little bit', but it'd be difficult for the planning department and Public Works to account for every single nook and cranny of every street, especially in as big a city as LA.
  • The idea of bike-friendly one-laned streets is something I've had a conflicted relationship with. As a bicyclist, I do like these streets to pass through, if I know about them.  That "if" is the key.  There are still many neighborhoods I do not know of in LA, even as a "native", and not all of them lead to the street I am going towards;  this means that I am likely to stay on bigger, well-known thoroughfares even though they may not be bike-friendly at all.  For instance, the terrible East-West thoroughfare that is Slauson Ave in South LA.  

View Larger Map
  • Slauson is a four-laned street with cars averaging about 35-40 mph, that parallels an old railroad track, but with virtually no passing room whatsoever for bicycles, which means a bicyclist riding it has to take the right lane.  Its not bad in itself, but factoring in the fact that drivers expect to go 35-40, you're likely to cause tension amongst drivers.  En route to work, I was kind of stuck on that street because I didn't know any better and I don't have a smartphone (and/or) the time to do a quick route map or or anything. 
  • This may upset my progressive friends, but I was looking forward to buying something from Wal-Mart.  That something?  A bike lock.  I needed it by 10 AM, and sure enough I knew Wal-Mart would have it.  Didn't know of any other alternative in the area, though I could've Yelped a bike shop, but those stores usually don't open until later.  
  • Thinking about the lack of light as well as how biking would be exacerbated in inclement weather, I think the next step in improving bike infrastructure for bike commuting would be emergency preparedness or some type of AAA for bikes, where you can call someone or stop somewhere and fix your bike or have someone pick you up, just in case.  I'd hate being stranded anywhere, but I'd like it even less in areas where there's plenty of darkness, a lot of hiding spaces, and potential for people to see you as an "opportunity."

Trick or Treating, Running, and Other Briefings about the 2nd Month in Compton

So, first year of Halloween here, near the Westside of Compton.

As I was biking back from our local Food For Less there was some excitement building up in Compton. A few houses were appropriately decored, however, none on our street, which by observational accounts appears to be a quiet neighborhood.

My fiance and I were anxiously anticipating trick-or-treaters like a community leader at a community organization anxiously anticipates community turnout.  Only we actually want to give away candy, give free stuff away, and not somehow sell people on something.

By the end of the night, 9PM, we had about 13 trick or treaters for the whole night coming in 4 droves.  One appeared to come in a van and rolled up with 5 kids.  I guess it's quite telling that they came in a van.  This is probably not a lot, but hey we got some!

Our 15 dollar bag of candy from Costco is half-empty and that's because we were giving candy away in generous amounts. 

Our neighbor, the lifer, said that not many trick-or-treaters come here.  They go to the "nicer areas."

Apparently the same happened to my cousin in Highland Park;  not many were visiting her, according to her statii on Facebook.  This had me thinking about where the kids actually were, and if trick-or-treating was somehow ruined by some combination of new generation of parents/kids, social media, technology, etc. etc.

It would be interesting to map the areas and kids trick-or-treat in.  Seems like it would be a good indicator of perceived neighborhood safety amongst residents.

* * *

My fiance and I in our efforts to re-establish/establish our lives in Compton have been running a bit.

One good thing that I do notice about Compton's sidewalks is that there does seem to be an effort to ensure safe crossing during school dismissal hours.  During this time, I do see vested crossing guards on main thoroughfares.

Otherwise, there are plenty of open, lonely sidewalks that accompany the industrial warehouses that line the East-West corridors.  Also unlike in any other neighborhood, people do look back at you as sort of a nervous tick when they hear you running behind them;  that hasn't happened as much in any other neighborhood.

All the lonely sidewalks, along with scant lighting at night, probably make it difficult for women to run around, and that is probably a contributing factor as to why there is not much of a "running culture" as Olympic trial distance runner and fellow Loyolan David Torrence put it.

In one of my longer runs, along Compton Ave to the 110 freeway, I actually got a nail stuck at the sole of my (new) shoe.  In my 12 plus years of running around Silver Lake, Eagle Rock, Van Nuys, Long Beach, Wilmington, this had never happened before, only in Compton (more accurately Gardena, but Compton has the "ring" to it)!

One of our local pocket parks, Tragniew Park, is not as scary as it sounds online.  In our weekday twilight runs, we see kids playing soccer, people casually milling around, and not in the intimidating, get off our space kind of way.  A band appears to practice there at night on the basketball courts.

* * *

We have now discovered a few of our local stores.  Food4Less is a short bike ride away from us as is a General Discount Store.  Our more durable items are available at a local Home Depot, Staples, and, Target.  What more do we need?

Probably just more money so we can get enough gas to make the trek to our local Trader Joe's.

20-Year Old Eastside Long Beach Rapper Talking Life on the Streets of Eastside LB, and Rapping

This morning, marking my month in Compton, I was just watching videos on YouTube.

It started when I watched a fight between some new Asian kid at school and some Latino-ish white guy.

Damn I wish I could've done what that Asian kid did.  I googled information about the boys and where they are now.  Couldn't really find much.

Then on the side panel of the YouTube version of that fight, I see a newsclip about some Van Nuys Filipino gang members from the 1990s being arrested.  I think about how this incident looks on TV for other Angelenos, particularly white folks. The local news, is always oriented towards crises, and all you see on local news is people of color behaving badly, but then their national programming is chocful of white folk.

While pondering about that structural juxtaposition, I'd hopped upon a Streetgangs Video about some rappers from the Eastside of Long Beach.

As you might know, I had been interested in pursuing a project on the gangs of the Eastside of Long Beach.  However, I have since switched gears and am in the process of writing on another project.

But anyway these video about a 20-year old Eastside Long Beach Asian rapper just caught my attention.






On the surface, it's easy for anyone to judge and dismiss these guys as stupid and/or uneducated.
 
However, I think if you do persist in watching, you do gain insight, just like you might gain some insight listening to minutes of a Nobel Prize winning neuroscientist giving a conference talk to fellow neuroscientists.  Both this guy and the Nobel Prize winning neuroscientist talk in ways that they are used to based on their environs.

I can say that I've had the opportunity to listen to both, but I can understand enough from each of them to gain insight.

I gleaned some insight from this rapper when he talked about Jin becoming a "gospel rapper" and the division of gangs between LA and between Long Beach. LA's gangs tend to be divided by streets, whereas Long Beach tends to divide along racial lines.  I hadn't thought about this still existing today, but then again I didn't hang around gang members as much as I did ex-gang members and mediators.

Now, the Compton Chronicles

So, a bunch of hilarity has ensued since grad school started for me 3 years ago.

3 years ago, as a 26-year old, the world was wide open, but I hadn't done much.   I could barely land a job interview, pay rent to my godsister who graciously permitted me to stay in her Long Beach condo with her and her-then boyfriend (now husband) on Monday nights.  I was also feeling the effects of a break-up.

3 years later, as a 29-year old, the world is still wide open, but I feel like I have done a little more.   I'm proud to have been part of a memoir, part of getting someone a job at a major university, and done a little tutoring, mentoring, teaching, and research.  I now have 2 part-time jobs in research (which is still not ideal), and along with my fiance, a Kindergarten teacher, will be making our first mortgage payment on November 1, 2013 for the new living quarters that I am typing from in Compton.

Nowhere in my dreams from 3 years ago did I ever envision the near-future containing any one of: proposing, house-buying, going to church, and/or moving to Compton..

But...

We here.

Just finished my 3rd night here in my house in Compton.

We've been going back and forth here for the past 2 weeks ever since we practically emptied out a large portion of each of our own savings accounts to close out the deal.  But we figured, if there's anything to empty it out for, it would be a house, right?

Life's been great the past few months, but I know to be cautiously optimistic.

Looking at the pile of bills to pay and thinking of all the imaginary ones that will need to be dealt with from property taxes to student loans, I today experienced a different edge to the phrase "making ends meet."  The edge felt a little more engulfing, and gripping. 

However,  I think about how her immigrant family of 7, sometimes on the back of just one income-earner, made it work.  They are now thriving in Wilmington.  And the kids?  They are alright.  Every time I think of their family trajectory, I realize that I am with someone who makes (good) things happen.  

And so...

Cautiously optimistic.

About the city of Compton as well.  I am cautiously optimistic.

Yes, to a large extent, Compton still seems to be defined by outsiders the emergence of NWA and the ubiquitous, iconic gangsta rap.  

But I think they've been trying to change it for a long time.  Their signage before you cross a city boundary, at least on the Southwest end bordering Gardena and Carson, says "Birthing a New Compton."  I'd seen that motto when I did a homeless count a few years ago.

I'd even attended some kind of city committee meeting one time, thanks to the work of a former partner.  Turns out she was helping to build bike infrastructure for me!

Just over the past few years, they'd also put up a new sign at the Compton stop on the Blue Line.

I'd also heard on the radio sometime in July that after years of corruption, they'd just elected a new mayor, Aja Brown, apparently a  fellow "outsider", who is around our age.

Initial Impressions?

At first, cautious.  We didn't imagine moving to Compton.  It was actually supposed to be a condo in Paramount.  But that quickly fell through.

After we'd closed on the house, I tried to learn more about the area through its online reputation, starting with LA Times Mapping Neighborhoods, Wikipedia, and looking for grocery and convenient stores, parks and libraries so that we may resume life as we knew it in Long Beach and Wilmington, respectively.

Our grocery stores:  Food4Less, 99 Cents store, Ralphs, Target. 

Most everything we need is functionally reachable.

However, we do like getting stuff from Trader Joes, the closest of which is 10 miles away from us, all the way in Torrance. 

The roads however, are rough for the most part.  Our main North/South thoroughfare is Central Ave, which has some (thin) bike lanes, a big plus, but sadly I've yet to see it put to use, at least in the night time.  There is very little lighting and there's probably still the stigma of "not being out too late" in the hood.  Even the Starbucks near us closed before I got there at 9PM.

One of the parks near us is Tragniew Park where the reviews consist of someone shouting out a set and some guy demanding in Spanish that the tennis courts be open.  My best man and sister laughed when they saw that.

I was also a bit shocked to learn through Wikipedia that once upon a time Compton was the place for middle-class black folk.  Given that information, and its iconic reputation, it begs the question, what happened?  

The answers probably won't be apparent in the immediate future, and I guess this will be an ongoing project.  Hence, Compton Chronicles!

Getting to know the neighbors has been key to the optimistic part of "cautious optimism."  Mostly older immigrant families.  My fiance speaks Eh-spanish and has been able to get good not only with the previous owners but with our next-door neighbors.  

A few days ago, I was able to talk with my neighbor --- a lifelong resident of the block, hovering around our age. He told me that things were OK in the area despite the reputation.  He was very aware of the reputation of the city, and did his best to de-construct the area around me.

Just like my fiance's area in Wilmington, this area we moved to had been "really bad" during the 1990s.  There used to be tree branches in the area that would hide drug dealers.  The trees were then mostly chopped down for increased visibility and transparency, which brings to mind a juxtaposition of images of the Beverly Hills houses hiding behind lots of greenery, and then drug dealers (power doesn't want to be touched).

He also said that the FBI were sort of stalking the area, so nothing would happen.  Wood-knocking.

Aside from this past, he made it a point that lots of people liked to get together and show solidarity with each other.  They'd have barbecues, they'd hang out.  Just like any other neighborhood. 

And just like any other red-blooded American tradition, he invited me to watch football on Sundays.

Surveying my Radio Stations in LA (1992 - 1994)

When I think of "public space", I've learned to think not just in terms of accessible, publicly-owned, physical structures where people meet, such as parks, libraries, or alleyways, I've learned to think of "public space" more broadly and in terms of "scapes."  By scapes, I can mean scenes, settings, contexts, worlds, and/or networks.  These scenes, settings, contexts, worlds, networks are all "things connected to each other" under a category or a thing.  Like a foodscape.  A mediascape.  A musicscape.  A rapscape.  A messageboardscape.  A Bullsbasketballmessageboardscape.  These are all "public space" because they are all expressed publicly, "out there" for anyone to see, hear, feel, touch, etc.

For example, in my last post, I thought of "foodscapes", which I defined roughly as "all the places my parents shopped for groceries and took us out to eat." I think of audioscapes in the same way, "all the stuff we listened to", which for me is inextricably tied to the radio stations.

This post is about my memories of radio in LA growing up from 1992 - 1994, radio having been synonymous with "music."  I will follow up with subsequent posts about other years.

I was driven around a lot.  My dad and mom were especially and surprisingly open to whatever I would tune into or would pop into our cassette player.  I was picked up in a 1987 Blue Mazda 626 with a radio that had a cassette player, usually driven by my mom.  That, or picked up by my dad in a Silver 1987 Nissan Sentra with no luxuries whatsoever, including no radio but for which we would later pick up a non-name brand neon pink and yellow 9.99 walkman to listen to while in the car, sometime in 1993.  My mom pulled out that very walkman, listening for news after the 6.6 Northridge earthquake in 1994.

1992 - 1994 was from the time I was 7 to the time I was 10.  In school year terms, that was from 2nd grade to the beginning of 5th grade in a Catholic elementary school in Los Feliz. 
  • 102.7 KIIS FM
  • K-Earth 101
  • KOST 103.5
  • 104.3 K-BIG
  • KNX 1070
For much of my radio listening life, radio has been synonymous with "listening to music."  Then I became interested in learning Spanish, and now it's been mostly news and interesting conversation, but more on that later.

1992:

As a 7-year old kid, for some reason my dad would tune into Rick Dees' 102.7 KIIS-FM with Ellen K.  Maybe it was because we'd gotten the station's bumper sticker at a local Blockbuster.  We plotted that bumper sticker on the back bumper of our light blue Mazda 626 with the automatic, backward moving seatbelts, in hopes that Rick Dees' team would spot our car and reward us with $50,000. 

This was around the same time that I started being conscious of music thanks in part to my dad video-taping specials on VH1 and MTV. KIIS-FM played Michael Jackson's music so I generally liked KIIS-FM.

I remember one time when my 2nd grade teacher was trying to talk to my dad in the car with me in the front seat and peeping from the outside.  She was trying to tell him how great of a student I was, or at the very least, how much I improved from the beginning of the year.  I wanted to show her how cool I was listening to Michael Jackson's "Remember the Time" on KIIS, but my dad just lowered the volume again without skipping a beat in his conversation with my teacher.



They also played a song that my 3-year old sister learned how to sing:



As a 2nd grader, I hardly remember us listening to a radio while at home, in part because, we didn't really have one, except a rectangular silver-colored radio with a handlebar.  My dad, a graphic artist, and going to a local trade college, would play that radio whenever he would do one of his drawings.

At around the time the LA Riots were happening, I remember him in my room at his desk, and listening to...

"Don't you know my name...if I saw you in Heaven..."



I also remember this:



For much of the Summer of 1992, I went to a nearby Filipino babysitting family in Atwater Village. They lived nearby and had a basketball hoop that was regulation height from their garage, but I was still not strong enough to heave a regulation NBA sized-ball up there.  I remember riding in their family Dodge Ram; they listened to the oldies, K-Earth 101, in which they incidentally played a song my class sang for our school talent Show.

It went something like:

"When your alone, and life is making you lonely, you can always go..."

I thought a lot about how that song didn't remind me at all of Downtown LA, a place we almost never went to but that I knew was full of homeless folk, whom my dad casually called "bums."



I didn't listen much to K-Earth, though I guess that was when I found out of its existence.

I remember at some point, being in my godsis' mom's brand new black Honda Accord and coming across this song that sounded like..."feed the coke."  The song reminds me of another moment in life where we'd actually spent time in her parking space at her apartment spraypainting a box that we would pretend was our "car."



1993:

My mom and dad at the time liked to stress their Chicago roots.  We'd only moved to LA in 1989, which was only 4 years before.  My mom had been in Chicago since 1975, my dad since 1982.

My mom was particularly was keen on this guy:



I think he played on KIIS, but also KOST.

I don't remember too much about my radio listening habits in 1993.  I remembered more my TV viewing habits:  I was glued to ESPN, Sportscenter, and Prime Ticket for Bulls games.  My fandom reached a crescendo when my mom and dad ventured all the way to Exposition Park, at the old LA Sports Arena to watch a Bulls/Clippers game.   That, was a different world.

I do remember my parents buying their first large boombox and first CD.

When we reached the summer of 1993, I do remember beginning to stay more often at my godsis' newly-bought house in front of the iconic John Marshall High School in Los Feliz.  We would be "babysat" by her Uncle, whom we referred to as Tiyong.  He was a Filipino World War II Veteran, who walked with a limp.

KIIS-FM and Rick Dees were actually something we wondered about aloud one day.  We wanted to play DJ ourselves, and did so with her cassette tapes.  However, things weren't going as planned.

Me:  This is boring, I can't believe Rick Dees actually does this, he must get really bored

G-sis:  No he doesn't.  He probably has a lot of friends he talks to while the music is playing

Me:  What do they talk about?

G-sis:  I don't know, other people?

Me:  Still it sounds boring

1994:
We lived in a unit with two rooms, but I slept with my mom, dad, and sister anyway. 

The morning everything shook, my mom grabbed hold of the neon pink, and highlight colored walkman from Pic & Save that we had been using as a radio in my dad's Nissan Sentra.  I don't remember what station we tuned into, but it was probably an AM station.

I would hear on KIIS FM later someone joking about "kicking" that stupid 6.6 earthquake.  For some reason that was funny to me.

Despite a rocky beginning, this was THE year.

No song signified the year more than this:


That song the Sign, reminded me of my two first crushes ever, the smartest (and newest) girls in our class, Jessica and Pamela.  And for those of you who are by default imagining some 1999 Dakota Fanning-phenotypes filling these names, they are Korean-American and Filipino-American, respectively.

That school-year was defined by my parents' sharp turn towards upward mobility.  We bought our first property in Glendale.  My mom had the same job as a nurse, but my dad became some kind of graphic artist for Asian Journal, a Filipino newspaper.  My 4-year old sister even became a star model for an "exotic" clothing line and was even featured in the LA Times (OC Version), which probably had a lot to do with the fact that she was 4 years old.  She also started Kindergarten at my elementary school.

My parents enrolled me in martial arts at a studio in East Hollywood, and later Filipino folk dancing in Eagle Rock.

With that turn to mobility, combined with staying with my godsis, combined with increased awareness with growing up, there was a lot I listened to, but nearly most of it from KIIS-FM

Karate reminded me of these songs:






With my dad's turn to Asian journal and my sister becoming a part of this "exotic" clothes collection, we would drive lots of places and firmly implanted in the radio were the battery of hits KIIS FM had to offer.

I quite liked practically all of it:





There was a little challenge though in the middle of the year.

At the Lotus Festival in Echo Park, I remember K-BIG 104.3 giving out fans on a wooden stick to everyone with pictures of their radio personalities on them.  I don't remember them, but they played music in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s --- I thought might give them a listen a few times.  I remember the breathy R&B.







The last song was a song I'd heard and mocked on 104.3, but it was kind of catchy.

My Foodscape of Los Angeles from 1989-2001 during my my Formative, Pre-Car Years

I am not a healthy eater today, which I'm trying to reverse.

I remember growing up and reading about athletes who "ate whatever" and still managed to perform like they did.  I remember Tyra Banks, my first celebrity crush, saying that she wanted to be able to eat anything while still looking the way she did.  Somehow, what she said has been sticky to my subconscious, and I've adapted a similar attitude --- I'll eat anything, and nothing gets wasted. 

I don't remember eating the healthiest foods.  The standard Filipino diet isn't exactly filled with vegetables, and neither were the convenience of McDonalds, KFC, or Little Caesar's.

Within our world, there weren't really any healthy grocers that we knew of other than the Asian food stores that my parents somehow knew about.  They always somehow knew how to find these markets and get some helping of vegetables, fish, and meat. There was a Trader Joe's in Silver Lake, which to me was just very eccentric.  I only went in because my godsis went there one time. 

Nowadays, I think I've shifted a bit in my tastes.  I love Trader Joe's (when affordable), and can't stand McDonald's except for its Sundaes.  I still have the attitude where I'll eat anything cheap and don't want to waste any food whatsoever, but have been trying to completely cut down on that.

Old eating habits are hard to break.  As an Anthropologist, I'm trying to understand how my habits formed in the first place:  what was ritualized, what was built into our daily lives, and ultimately how that can be countered.  In this vein, I thought it would be interesting to map out my "foodscape" of LA as the eldest child of 2 lower middle-class Filipino immigrants from Chicago.

So I present to you the foodscapes of my childhood here in LA from 1989 - 2001.


A Biking "Novice" on PCH from Wilmington to Long Beach (VIDEO)

After our bike-commute dominated trip to New Orleans which saw us cross an intimidating bridge (with sharrows though!) separating the Lower 9th Ward from the rest of the 9th Ward, I decided to get my significant other a townie bike.  She wanted something a little faster than her 40-lb cruiser, but not quite a road bike.

Previously, she'd used her 40-lb cruiser for anything bike-related.  She wasn't quite a novice, but she wouldn't bike on the streets if she didn't know bike law. 

One of the first things we did on her brand new used townie was bike from her house to her work (which would take me about 20 minutes).  I recorded our ride on camera.  I salute her for her bravery, but then again, biking to commute shouldn't be an act of bravery and heroics.

The number of times I look back is the number of times I felt nervous about the traffic creeping behind me, enticing me to look back.  It was a bit nerve-wracking sometimes, completely unsure if cars actually 1)  see us 2)  respect us on the road to a) enough to give us our room b) not yell, curse, speed up and cut us off.

So There's this Documentary Kickstarter about Pacific Coast Highway...

It'll be set in Malibu

The Documentary will be called PCH, which will stand for Probably. Cause. Harm.

They're going to focus on efforts in the Malibu community and why so many have been killed on the freeway.

It's a great title, and a great idea, and I feel for the filmmaker's loss.

However, I can't help but think about the PCH we have down here in Wilmington and Long Beach because without looking at the statistics, but merely feeling the pressure that drivers place on me as a bicyclist and the average speed traveled, the road down sure as hell doesn't seem safe for neither bicyclists nor pedestrians.

Just this morning near the Westbound biking route from Cal State Long Beach on PCH after the roundabout, a motorist was killed by slamming into a big rig. I've shared stories from other sites about how one woman was killed in West Long Beach, the treacherous route that more than a handful of school kids at Cabrillo High School took to and from, and I've even taken still video and video of my actual route to and from Long Beach and Wilmington.

Libraries: Essential in Disaster

Listening to KPCC this morning and I caught this segment about libraries. It's part of their summer-long investigation into the role of libraries in public life.

Of course, libraries are essential in my everyday life as wannabe academic + social hacker and I realize their value as social service agencies, but in areas struck by natural disaster, its apparent that they become necessary to an even larger population for basic restoration of social life.

Across the country, in places like Louisiana and Oklahoma, libraries have served as crucial hubs for information and help in the aftermath of hurricanes and tornadoes. And federal emergency planners have noticed. "The Federal Emergency Management Agency classified libraries as an essential service — like one of the things that would get early funding so that communities could recover," says Jessamyn West a librarian in Vermont and a moderator of the popular blog, Metafilter.

"People are finding in the wake of the natural disasters we've seen — lots and lots of flooding, hurricanes, storms, tornadoes — that getting the library up and running with Internet connectivity or air conditioning or clean bathrooms or a place that you can plug in your phone really has benefit to a community that's in a recovery situation," she adds.

A few days earlier, NPR quoted Carl Sagan:

We are the only species on the planet, so far as we know, to have invented a communal memory stored neither in our genes nor in our brains. The warehouse of this memory is called the library. 
The quote about library being a "warehouse of memory" reminds a bit about the communal tree of the Na'vi;  the difference is that they seem to care and nurture theirs.

Rebuilding New Orleans Post-Katrina, 8 Years Later

Part of the reason I wanted to visit New Orleans was to see how the city has re-built itself after Katrina.

I didn't do any structured observations or in-depth ethnographic interviews, I just kinda ended up taking a visual tour mixed with incidental conversations induced by waiting around in public spaces or commercial transactions.  Though I have heard about the privatization of schools and other issues, I didn't interact with any people firsthand who would make a comment about this.

There's no real verdict I can make other than to say that people have their stories before and after Katrina, and that people are resilient and will try their darndest to recover. 

The physical condition of the city is hard to really categorize as one thing or another.  While some utility poles look like they were knocked over as a result of Katrina, some things simply look old and perhaps "historic."

Some houses were really re-built, especially in the Lower 9th, others left in disrepair.  I felt that in my district, the Bywater, with much less attention, there were a lot more vacant houses left for dead rather.  Perhaps it is the deadness that has awakened the creative minds, a lot of them white.  

Though the neighborhood we stayed in (Bywater) is mixed, it feels somewhat less integrated.  By "less integrated" I mean that different people didn't seem to interact with each other so freely.  Black with black, white with white.  St. Claude Ave. the main road was full of black folk, whereas in the smaller streets we would see bicyclists, license plates from other states, the art, and the sometimes-political messages.

Katrina is still something people talk about.  And why wouldn't you talk about something that might have or actually did take away your material possessions, your family members, or your ability to "go on as normal."

When we first got into New Orleans from LA, someone was already talking about how since Katrina, bus service had simply gotten worse.  According to her, everyone bought a car to get around.  In the absence of public transportation, I observed lots of taxi cabs, charging upwards of $45 to get to the airport, whom another bystander remarked that they were simply looking for tourists.

We avoided taxis as much as possible and experienced the inconveniences of public transportation first hand:  we had to wait 30 minutes for Bus 88 to take us to where we thought we could catch the bus that would take us to the airport.  However, that bus, the E2, did not run to Downtown New Orleans on the weekends, and we would need to take yet another bus to that E2 bus.  We waited another 1 hour for that bus.  And then 20 minutes for the the bus that would take us to the E2.  All in all we had to plan to spend at least 4 hours to make sure that we could get to the airport.  

However, overall, with a modest itinerary each day, we didn't need much motorized transportation during our stay.  With a flat landscape, sharrows, bike signage, we were able to bike around somewhat comfortably on our cruisers. 

Our interactions with people were mostly short, but usually welcoming, which was a pleasant surprise to this Angeleno accustomed to the UCLA Bruinwalk-type of interaction (i.e. non-acknowledgment and avoiding eye contact).

One of the first conversations we had was a new transplant to New Orleans from Compton.  He talked about how he had been eying property to buy in New Orleans before Katrina and how lots immediately after Katrina, even near the tourist-heavy French Quarter, were going for cheap.  Not as much anymore, but still, a lot cheaper than LA.  I noticed that (re-)construction seemed to be alive and booming in the 7th and 9th wards.    

One chance conversation alerted me to the fact that Katrina robbed people of not just their material possessions.  

We talked to a man named John whom I ended up buying a lunch of jambalaya.  He was a man looking for a meal.  Testing this proposition, I offered to take him to lunch instead of accede to his demand of $2.

I learned that he was a repairman who as a result of Katrina, had become temporarily paralyzed.  He'd lived in New Orleans for a long time.

Apparently, he was able to shake off his paralyzation, contrary to what the doctors' had diagnosed for him.

He was now walking, and was simply happy to do that.  However, he was unable to resume his day job and we found him begging at the French Quarter for change. 

One of the most memorable interactions was at the French Quarter with a black elderly vendor lady named Mable.  She sewed dolls and sold incense on the weekends.  We learned that she worked for the New Orleans public school district for 30 years and was now retired.  She came to the Market to make some extra money.

We told her that we were just visiting and happened to be staying in the 9th ward.  She said that she'd lived in the Lower 9th Ward her whole life.  She was part of the 9th Ward Homeowners Association and its Crime Prevention team.  

She told us that there were a lot of people volunteering and helping to make the neighborhood better.  I got the sense that the volunteers, mostly non-black, were a new fixture of the city, as my significant other and I were asked us if we were volunteers.  

However, Ms. Mable noted that these volunteers were more so in the first 4 years after Katrina.  She'd be booked for meetings and interviews.  She traveled everywhere including to New York.  Nowadays she'd spend her day sewing, while making her hand-sewed products.  She wasn't doing it for money, but simply to get by.

I only got to stay for 6 days and got to talk to a chance few, but I feel that I needed to see it, not to diagnose what went wrong, not to pass judgment on agencies, or groups of people, but simply to be at the level where I too, could temporarily feel, see, and hear the rhythms of a daily life where people are trying to make it back.

The Upper 9th Ward

7th Ward
The Lower 9th Ward



Live from the 9th Ward in New Orleans!

It is 8 o clock CT in the morning.  Signif other is asleep.  Just finished our 3rd day out of 6 days in New Orleans, which has consisted of mostly of getting lost, biking, complaining about how hot and humid it is with each other, eating whatever anyone recommends, freely and randomly engaging in conversations with locals, dealing with any work that needs to be done back home by night.

We've pretty much spent most of our time around the French Quarter.  Yeah, yeah touristy ish, but hey I'm pumping money into the city?

Today we will see something that I don't think I'd be able to see anywhere else, something they actually, openly sell tours of:  plantations.

On deck some time in the next few days will be a tour of the Lower 9th Ward.  Luck/God permitting, a bike tour.

The first night we were here we didn't know where to go or what to do.  We got off the 88 Bus, which we'd waited a good hour for, after taking the E2 bus from the Louis Armstrong Airport in Metairie, which is about 10-15 miles West of New Orleans.  The 88 Bus flashed "Lower 9th Ward" as its destination.  A local pointed out where we would get off:  right before a bridge, incidentally, that contains a sharrow.

This is the St. Claude neighborhood.  Just about 8 blocks or so away from the Mississippi River.



I am staying in a house that I found through Airbnb that sits just right before the bridge that separates me from the Lower 9th Ward, the section of the city that has been said suffered the most devestation after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  The main host of my house hasn't been around, but has probably thought of everything, providing us with a room, bed, privacy (or so we think), our own bathroom, maps, toiletries, and most importantly, fairly-cheap but fairly functional BIKES (with locks).


View NOLA in a larger map


The area we are staying in is really unique.  One way streets, neighborhood bars, restaurants, creative spaces, a mix of clearly re-modeled homes, vacant, condemned lots with graffiti on them, or simply old ass houses.  Gun to my head, if I absolutely had to make some kind of LA reference it feels like Silver Lake when I first got there as a 5 year old in 1989, way before we knew what hipsters were.

One walk across a Poland St. with as much light as a film development room and boarded up, or deteriorating structures and little people, "had the makings of a scary movie" said the significant other.

We decided no on Church's Chicken because shiet, we could've gotten THAT in LA.  We asked around, then we discovered that local eateries were closed other than Church's Chicken, and a liquor store.  The liquor store had take out food, but there wasn't any left.  At about 9:30 PM We had to retire our search, our bellies empty since we'd left my mother's house at 6:30 AM PT.

A lot of waiting + hungry in a place known for its food + no food places open in walking distance  - reliable vehicle - knowledge of place  = disappointing first night.

We decided that to get the most out of the trip, we would need to get out and about earlier.  So we struck out early the next day, and have been on a tear from Louis Armstrong Park to the eateries of Magazine St.

First impressions of New Orleans:  a lot of good sitting there with a lot of bad.  The locals were very open and easy to talk to.  Everyone's trying to help, whether it was people simply extending courtesy, recommending food, or yes even talking about buying properties in the NOLA.

Haven't been here that long but I feel like I've experienced a lot of what I wanted to experience being here (don't care that much about mardi gras).  Here are a few of my first impressions, mostly about the different infrastructures, utility and some social:


  • I had in mind before the trip that New Orleans was an opportunity for privatization.  Make public schools into charter schools, cut out public transportation.  The locals I took to en route to the house, complained about how long the bus took.  One lady told us about how after Katrina, everyone got cars.  This got me thinking about all the taxis I saw crowded at the airport and how much they charged.
  • There are no public water fountains, not at Louis Armstrong Park, at least nowhere we've seen it
  • You do not know when to walk across the street because there are no signals whatsoever signaling for you to walk or not walk.
  • You will see utility posts that look like they are about to fall over;  I just assume that it's about to fall because of Katrina, and remains unfixed because of the slow growth.

  • Surprised at the bike-friendliness of the NOLA --- sharrows and bike lanes.  Share "dat" lane.  The signs are on the utility posts as if they are , particularly on Magazine St.
  • Tourism in the French quarter is alive and well.  Sad to say, but that's where mostly anyone who is not black will usually be staying, unless of course they went through Airbnb and chose to room with creative types. 
  • Everyone has a Hurricane Katrina story and for the most part are willing to share it with you.  From the man who moved from LA to New Orleans for the cheaper property to the native Louisiana repairman who was paralyzed as a result of the floods.  Stay tuned for more!

A Letter to the Driver of the Ford Explorer Who Threatened to Break My Fingers

Dear Driver of an Eastbound Metallic Gold Ford Explorer, License Plate 6RK979, Eastbound towards Signal Hill on Willow and Long Beach at Around 6:30 AM on Thursday, July 11, 2013 with a Dodgers Sticker on the Bumper, Who Got Out of His Car, Challenged Me to Fight Him, Yelled at Me Calling Me a Faggot, and Threatened to Break my Fingers,

We probably didn't get off on the best foot.

99 times out of 100 had I met you in different circumstances, person to person, I probably would've been cool with you, and probably you would have been cool with me as well.

I don't have beef with you, I don't even know you.  And unless your a government agent who is confusing me for Eric Snowden, you don't know me either.

So let me take this opportunity to explain everything:

I think any type of anger is due in part to unfulfilled expectation.  You expect the street to have only cars in it.  I violated your expectation by biking on the right-most lane.  I expect drivers to know a bit about driving laws, especially in a city that wants to call itself the "most bike-friendly city" and go around me.  You violated that expectation by technically getting around me, but driving so slow when in front of me, and getting out of the car hoping you as a 6 foot something man could push me around.

The middle finger I stuck up at you:  it was impersonal, but a not-so perfect solution to expressing my discontent.

Its a compromised, crappy reaction but it communicates this:  I belong on the road.

How do I know I belong on the road?  California law.

Me lifting my middle finger is a "compromised reaction" because usually drivers just speed up:  there isn't any time to have any conversation, you're moving at 20-45 MPH.  You can easily forget anything I say or do as a bicyclist.  I drive too and I easily forget the crappy moves I make.  I don't expect you to remember, me sticking up my middle finger is just a general way to get you as a motorist who likely isn't a bicyclist to remember.

To some motorists, I am the slow-moving bicyclist who is the obstacle causing traffic to move even more slowly.  I think it shouldn't be that way.  Now that I'm actually on a bike myself (and have been for the past 4 years, which is relatively recent), I actually sympathize with bicyclists on the street and make it a point not to rush them when I'm behind the wheel.  I also sympathize with motorists and make it a point to make clear that I am a vehicle and by abiding by the traffic laws --- that means I don't skip lights or run too many stop signs or red lights. 

You didn't seem to expect me to be on the road, much less put up a fight. 

I just encourage you for the sake of your sanity and your driving record that you simply expect bicyclists to be on the road as a PART of traffic.

I generally hate biking on Willow St. especially near Signal Hill, but the law says that I am allowed on the road and this was the quickest route to work.  As the video from a few months ago shows, this wasn't the first time I've had problems on this street as a bicyclist amongst motorists.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hv8kmHdGU-c&feature=youtu.be

I only got off the road and into the sidewalk while "having a conversation" with you because I don't know what a person in rage might do, inside a protective box, behind a set of wheels that can go 80 MPH, while my vehicle weighs about 20-30 lbs and doesn't offer a big box, a big bumper, shocks, or air-bags.  If you hit me with your car while I'm on my bike, chances are its not going to end well for me.  And as a believer in karma, it wouldn't end well for you either.

I was just trying to get to work, I don't need any kind of physical disability as a result of a few seconds of anger.  You are entitled to still think of me as a "faggot" as you wish, for not fighting you, but really I was just thinking how hard it would be to go to work with broken fingers or any other broken limbs.  It would really set me back as an economically-unstable student with all kinds of odd part-time jobs and no real access to health care unless you count my mom, the nurse.

A Brief Overview and History of Basketball Figures at Los Angeles State Historic Park in Glassell Park

This past weekend marked the retirement of one of the Weekend Warriors League's greats.  After 6 years of determination, player-coaching, point guard Rene Garcia has decided to call it quits and move on with his life in Sacramento.

He averaged somewhere between 2-5 points a game, and about 2 or 3 assists in his long career at the WWL.

He was most notable for playing the role of player/coach, wearing a knee brace, and talking up a landfills worth of trash.

When I think of the way an ESPN sportswriter would cover what I guess is our little basketball league/team, I guess that's how an article chronicling one our player's "retirements" would read. 

Over the last 6 years, I've been playing basketball with a hodgepodge of guys at the park on Macon St. and San Fernando at the Los Angeles State Historic Park in Glassell Park. 

Why here?

It used to be where we all lived.  The courts were new in 2007, and offered ample opportunities to get a game.

For me it's been like the adult-ized, postmodern, multicultural version of the movie The Sandlot, except on the basketball court with a bunch 20-30 somethings.  For the sake of easy reference, I am going to call what we do the Weekend Warrior League (the WWL).

While it's not as overflowing with participants as in the past, were still competitive, least when I'm around.  3 on 3, 4 on 4 basketball, half-court.  

How it has worked over the years:  I'd get a text from someone asking if I was done to play at this time at this place.  It used to be 2:00 PM on Sundays at Los Angeles State Historic Park, in its infancy, when we thought the courts were extremely slippery.  I have two bruises on my knees that will show you the extent of the slipperiness of that court. 

It's an exclusively hetero-normative male place, from the courts to the benches, though on occasion some of us will bring a female companion.  I've been the worst offender of late, bringing with me my fiance' en route to visiting my parents in the San Fernando Valley.  I feel terrible ghetto-izing her to the grass or the bench underneath a usually unforgiving sun.

Most of the time during the basketball season, we would play before or after a Lakers game.  At one point we played every Saturday/Sunday. 

No matter what mother nature spit out for us, we would play.  Sometimes, it was overcast and gloomy.  Other times, the kind of heat that makes you want to live in the ocean.  Though in all fairness, as Southern Californians we don't experience the cold that Easterners do.

Our venues aren't always at that park.  Sometimes we would play in the actual gym in actual Glassell Park in which sooner or later we'd be culled to play 5 on 5, reluctantly.  Sometimes, we would play at a vacant court in Riverside.  Sometimes we would play in Eagle Rock.

After a handful of games playing full court, matched up other random hodgepodges of people, and a general inability to locate our lungs thereafter, we've firmly established ourselves as a "half-court only" ensemble.  Someone sees that were playing 4 on 4. 

They ask us if we want to play 5's.  No, it's fine, were good. 

We've played a lot of games over the years.  Sometimes we've had as many as 12 players, and we'd have to wait to get next.  Sometimes, we'd wait and wait, struggle to get a 2 on 2.

The league has definitely been a chunk of my life now, but it's not really something that I've talked about much.  It just kinda happens, and I never really get the chance to talk about it.

Maybe The Sandlot/Fight Club.

But in this case, I think it's just something worth writing about because its taken up a chunk of my life in the public spaces of LA, particularly at Los Angeles State Historic Park.

If you're going to know anything about this league, you have to know that if there weren't a Brian or Leo, cell phone text messaging, and or a constant stream of contacts, we wouldn't have played all that much.

Here's a breakdown of all the major players in our league.

The Two Fixtures:

1.  Brian (2007-Present):  the beating heart of the WWL, texting me a day or two before we decide to play.  He's the main guy bringing in new people to play against.  I've played against his friends, his co-workers, his relatives.

He's also the only other Brian I really know, and I don't mind knowing him as the Brian, because on this court, I'm known by my childhood initials.

The curly-haired power forward/center at the legitimate 5'8.  He used to have hair like Anderson Varejao coupled with a Ben Wallace headband.  I always thought he was taller than he is, and that's due in no small part to the type of game he plays:  rebounding, defending the tall guy, playing back to basket, and scoring in the paint.

As of late, he's adopted a big dog personality, meaning he's done a lot of yelling lately.  He's also learned to develop a shot inside the paint.

Outside of the court, he's been a long-time tutor at a local high school, and now is a student at CSUDH.

2.  Leo (2007-Present):  the franchise player in the WWL.  I can say that playing basketball at public parks in LA began with him and our friend Hugo sometime back in 2007.  I actually vaguely knew about him when we first went to UC-Santa Cruz in 2002-2003, but I didn't know him as well and we were on separate parts of campus with no common classes.

A 5'3 (and that is probably a stretch) point/shooting guard who was/is the Kobe Bryant of the court with the industrial strength of a tank.  A short, quick buff guy. 

He had a dazzling array of moves and a strength inside that was difficult for me to defend.  I would hate the days where I'd be on the opposite team, trying to shut him down because I knew I would eventually smell like his Axe body deodorant.  I love being on his team, thinking that we are the street version of a 5-ft tall Ben Gordon/Derrick Rose.  It used to be like something of a law that if you had him on your team, your team was going to win.

He's relaxed now, maybe cause he's got a girlfriend and a desk job. I kid.


The Constants

1.  Rene (2007-2013): the competitive spirit of the WWL, who has "retired" on the count that he's moving to Sacramento.

He was the funniest, quick-talking trash-talker I'd ever met, which I wouldn't have known had I only played with him a few times in 2007 and left it at that.  He gets mad at you if you don't listen to his direction, but mostly gets mad at himself if he blows a lay-up.

He's a 5'5 point guard with the determination of a bull, but the legs of a turtle with an ACL injury.  He's always prioritized driving in and being aggressive in the paint.

I used to bank with his bank, specifically until they started charging for not having the minimum amount.

2.  Edgar (2010-Present): the 5'8 small forward/power forward.  He has a solid back-to-the-basket game and a shot inside the paint.  And by most solid, I mean "strong-looking" and when you find him in the right spot, he will score.

Otherwise, mostly a quiet, cool customer whom I have tried to silently figure out if he is Arab or Latino so I could know how to judge him properly.  Last I heard, he's graduated Cal Poly Pomona in some kind of engineering.

3.  Chris (2010-Present):  A 5'6-5'7 long-range shooter whose never met a shot he doesn't like.  Though when he's on my team as of late, he's found a way to pass.  When he's on you gotta give it to him only because if he gets on a streak he will make the game go a lot quicker.

I actually fought with him one time because he tried to pigeonhole me into doing all the dirty work while he he would take the shots.

He's always been an enigma to me because he's had a Captain America target tattoo on his leg and alternated his wardrobe between military or Christ worship kind of stuff.

The Ever-So-Oftens

1.  Gary: A 5'5 point guard with the body of Khalid El-Amin.  He makes plays inside and can lay the ball in.

Brian and Rene are pretty funny guys but for some reason everything Gary says is pretty damn funny.  He was the reason that I wrote the post about the question Where you From?.

2.  Mike:  A 5'6 point/shooting guard.  He plays like Manu Ginobili, he makes plays:   Driving, shooting, whatever you need.  I generally like it when he's on my team.  When we went to a tournament one time, I was super-glad that he was one of the guys that would be playing.

When he's not playing basketball with us, he's some kind of geographer at UCSB.

3.  Me:  Since there's a Brian, I am known here as "BJ", my childhood nickname.  The "5'7" (they'd love to bring me down and call me 5'5), point, shooting, or small forward.

I don't really know how to play basketball in any kind of structured, systematic way, I just...play.  I'm now in the phase where I like to keep it simple --- not as much running, but more shooting when the chance is available, getting putbacks, making weird shots.

WWL Hall of Fame
  • Hugo (2007-2011):  I used to play with him and Leo in Glassell Park, and he also went to and of the three of us actually finished UC-Santa Cruz.  I thought of him not as Hugo Lopez, but as Hugo [Luol] Deng because once he had confidence in his shot, it was automatic.  The key was just getting him in the right spots.  I miss this guy's brand of sarcasm and constant trash-talk with Rene.  Now he's playing basketball somewhere in the westside with his lab/science buddies.
  • Omar (2007-2011): A guy with a shaved head and you'd think would be intimidating, but totally isn't.  He was just a good guy to have around.  He worked in some kind of medical field, either as some kind of doctor or technical specialist.
  • Steve (2007-2010):  A 5'5-shooting guard who sometimes had a shot.  Brian remarked one time, "I like him because he plays and he just loves basketball."  He was cool. He drove a motorcycle.
  • Eric (2009-2011):  A massive 6'2 guy who loved to shoot.  Seemed like he never wanted to exploit the size advantage he had over anyone.  But if you had him on your team, you'd be guaranteed a win.
  • Tony (2007-2009): I don't know who brought him, but it didn't seem like anyone got along with him.  I think of the word "mierda" when I think of him.  He was actually pretty good and could challenge Leo, but he was also a guy who would cry foul at the slightest touch, but be ready to run you over, put the ball in, and nonchalantly call out the score.  Seemed to get along with Joe because he was a snowboarder.
  • Joe (2007-2011):  A 5'8 small/power forward who always reminded me of Metta World Peace and a running back in football.  He had the body of a running back, relatively speaking, and knew how to make headway into the middle, though sometimes he'd rely too much on this bulldozing play. I've had unexpectedly good conversations with him.  He's some kind of LVN.
  • Dave  (2007-2010):  A 5'10 power forward/center who like Joe powered his way inside but also did a lot of the big man dirty work.  Whenever he was on my team, I'd like to pass to him in the middle because I know he would've made the best of it.
  • Frank (2007-2012):  A 5'6 shooting guard/small forward who took lots of outside shots.  He was chill.
  • Keith (2007-2010):  Actually the origin of the links I made with Leo and Hugo.  I always thought of him as a resourceful basketball player all the way back to grade school. He was always the type to make the best of a bad situation, and has a knack for making things look easy.  For some reason, maybe because of lack of confidence or lack of motivation, he just faded away from the basketball court.  I've known him since grade school, and were still good friends.  He's an gung-gung-chi-cho, or engeniera, or engineer at a big computer hardware company.
  • Dom (2009-Present): A 5'5-5'6 point guard with a sweet shot, and most importantly basketball IQ.  He's all basketball IQ as you can see by his quick, decisive passes or shots;  I guess I can attribute that to his high school basketball experience. He hates running or any kind of mobility, so whenever I guard him I try to push him out of his comfort zone.  After meeting him at UCLA, he's become an academic counselor at CSUN, going to be my best man.
Honorable Mentions: Nobody called/texted any of these guys to play, but they showed up every so often, and we integrated them into our competitions.
  • Mexican Steve Nash:  A 5'6 point guard and patient player, who could find crafty ways to score a basket.  It seems like he resented any pressure defense and the fast style of basketball I'd played against him.  He played the type of defense that I'd run down all day.
  • Small Shaved Head El Salvadorean Guy with Lips Tattooed on His Neck:  He and his buddies had their own league going on, but every so often we'd play against him.  Brian called him "the Mexican Leo."  In my head I've always "pssshed" at that comment, but he is shifty, quick and you do have to guard this guy.
  • Old Chinese Man:  This guy probably actually was a grandpa.  He looked every bit like one, but his shot.  Goddamn, his shot!  At first you'd be surprised that he could even pick up a basketball, then after a while when his team is winning, and he's silently killing you, you'd find yourself actually trying to defend his old ass and get frustrated when you couldn't block it.
  • Three Korean Kids:  Some kids whom we picked up to play when there was no one else around at the height of our league.  They could probably beat us now.

Critiquing the April 2013 CicLAvia

I am no Debbie Downer.  I enjoyed CicLAvia once again, particularly the parts where we passed my old high school and seeing the "StoopidTall" Bike. 



It is truly not just a fun event, but a pretty organized one.  I am amazed at how CicLAvia has been able to garner such support in a short amount of time.  I am amazed at how they get so many to volunteer, not only to just hand out waters or give information but also to fix your bike...for FREE (at least my friend's bike was up and running without him paying)!  

In front of my old high school, Loyola High School, I even ran into an alumnus turned bike lawyer Daniel Jimenez, or DJWheels.  He'd seen me snapping photos and asked me what year I graduated.  Alumni talk ensued.

By My Old High School

I know the event people tries to account for every problem imaginable, and they do a fairly good job.

But there are a few things that were going to nag at me if I didn't post about them:

  • Inaccessibility to those who don't know how to get there.  I have tons of friends who would probably want to have gone, but gave an excuse of not knowing how to get there because of either of the reasons:  1)  no bike  2)  do not know how to get to a place without a car/not knowing public transit.   Possible solutions: 1) advertising more bike rental businesses, "designing" easier ways for people to get bikes to rent.  Realistically, biking in LA is something most people feel like they "go out of their way" to do, rather than something they use to get somewhere. Not too many people are going to strike out on their own after clicking on some link I send them unless I go with them.  2)  More ubiquitous, "social" directions to and from the event through public transit;  I guess this is something I could do on this hurr blog.
  • The Time Window to enjoy CicLAvia was really short.  The streets are blocked off from 10AM-3PM for 14 miles and 100,000+ people going either which way.  I got to the "start" of the event in Downtown LA at 12:00 PM.  Had to fix my friend's bike for about 30 minutes.  Cruised to 2:00, ending up in Culver City before we 'realized' we had to get back.  We made it back down to Hoover St. on Venice, just after the police removed the cones for traffic.  Everyday biking life for me, but the loss of protection probably harrowing to others, and perhaps makes people think about bike safety in ordinary, everyday life. Possible solutions:    If the goal is to get more people bicycling and thinking about it in everyday life, then I think the time period is fine as bicyclists have to "assimilate" with traffic once the event finishes.  But if the goal is to have people enjoy the open spaces and sights of LA without a car, then they need to find a way to extend the event as if it was the LA Marathon or other event. Get more money to stay up longer?  Do a CicLAvia at night?
  • Latest CicLAvia "felt" less multi-modal.  No I didn't count the bicyclists or pedestrians.  The latest event seems to have attracted lots of bicyclists (which does include myself);  when I went to the first one in 2010, there were a lot more runners, skateboarders, moms and dads with carts.  The latest route felt like a mini-cycling race, which I feel is OK if it were just that, but seems to take away from the idea of an open space, as the bicyclists, ironically enough, seem to crowd out other modes of transportation.  Possible Solutions: I am not sure about anything other than path segregations, but that concept seems inimical to the ideas of the free open spaces CicLAvia.

See you all June 23rd