Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Routine Disruption

So this is about to happen. What do you think—can I find something to do in Valencia? I bet I can.



Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Nesting

I've been hunting for a sofa for my Burbank condo for some time now.

They're all too big, too fluffy, too overstuffed, too ugly, too expensive...mostly just too big. The place I bought in Burbank is compact, and I need my desk to be by the window, which takes up about a third of what space one would normally have for a couch. I have to have light next to my desk, so I can look outside when working. Also good for fighting off glare, which is the byproduct of insisting on sitting in natural light.

I went to IKEA, to Bulkea, to Cost Plus, to all kinds of online sites, to every sofa and furniture store across LA. Maybe not. Maybe it just felt like it. I became an expert in understanding what people want...and in knowing that's not really what I wanted. I wasn't even sure I wanted a sofa. Isn't that just another thing to carry around? I try not to accumulate. It's just more to get rid of later.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sunday in Tijuana

My agenda for the morning was to walk 20 minutes to Mercado Hidalgo. This is a local market where you can buy fruits and vegetables, kitchen goods, spices, and pinatas. I enjoyed the walk around but didn't actually buy anything—what do I really need? Well, I wanted a fruit juice but by the time I realized I wanted it (I normally avoid fruit juice due to high sugar content), the juice was across the parking lot by the entrance, and I was a lot closer to the Museum of the Californias where I was headed next.

I walked to the museum—ohhh, free entrance day! Oddly, there was a special chair exhibit on display. My next stop was another 15 minute walk away, Telefonica Gastropark. This was a fun visit but ultimately, I eat at more than enough food trucks because that's all we get at my job. I have gone from finding them novel to hating them with aggressive and furious passion. Food trucks are only fun if you can choose to eat at them rather than being forced to, every weekday. Being uprooted from the center of Manhattan and landing in food truck-land is not ideal. If you think I'm being cranky, try eating at trucks for 20 lunches a month and then get back to me about your experience. (Yes, I know I could take my lunch or grow my own lettuce or buy a goat or whatever. An aside, that's the most exhausting thing about Facebook. People are just so very helpful.) 

I fired up the Uber app on my phone—Lyft does not seem to work yet in Tijuana—but the nearest Uber was seven minutes away, so I just walked back to Revolucion. That's when I had my one questionable interaction. A guy came up and walked alongside me, then stuck his hand out and introduced himself.

Oh no you don't. 

"Not interested." I shook my head and refused to take his hand. The rules don't change because you're across the border. Random people don't walk up and introduce themselves unless they want to sell you something or discuss helping you part with money.

He trailed me a while, but eventually disappeared. I don't know when. I was intent on not looking back.

I stopped at the coffee shop by 11:15, and rested for a while. What would I do with the rest of my day? I'd paid for two nights at the boutique hotel, primarily because they only accepted bookings of two or more nights. But I'd pretty much seen what I'd come to see. I couldn't use my laptop in my room because the wifi was broken. I could have taken it to the coffee shop to write, but I could do that on the Amtrak.

"Eh, whatever," I thought, and went to the hotel to check out. So what if I lost the cost of a night's lodging? I'd leave now, cross the border, and get the traveling over with instead of going home first thing Monday morning. (The boutique hotel chose to refund the second night in the end, because of the broken wifi, which was really great of them given it was my choice to leave. I had no expectation of getting a refund.)

I got my bag, dropped the key off with the doorman, and walked up Revolucion toward the arch. I walked in the direction of the border, following the crowd along the airport-like winding queues into California, where I paid a dollar to a jitney operator to get a lift back to the trolley to San Diego. Trolley to Amtrak to Red Line to bus...to Burbank by dinnertime.

Early Sunday Walkabout

I'd had a restless night sleeping in Tijuana. I'd gone to bed just after nine, totally exhausted from the day's touristy roaming. I could hear the partying on Revu all night, but muffled through double-pane windows, the way I'd heard the din of being near Khao San Road for a month in 2011 (but without Hotel California). It was like sleeping with a white noise machine, except for the occasional siren.

Because I'd gone to sleep so early, I was wide awake by five. I forced myself to stay in bed but was showered, pacing about, and ready to leave the room by seven.

That is when I learned I should not have left the room at seven. All I wanted was a coffee, but it seemed the nearest coffee shop open at this hour was in San Diego. I am probably exaggerating, but a word of wisdom: Don't try to get a decent coffee on Avenida Revolucion before eight on a Sunday morning.

I did get an accidental morning walk, however, as I prowled about seeking an open restaurant. I walked south to the Jai Alai arena, passing murals and handmade signs. I walked north to a McDonald's, then...no. I could wait.

At 8:01, I rolled into a little place called Praga, which had a nice brunch-y sort of tourist breakfast. I'd imagined getting something from a cart, like I could have in Mexico City, but Tijuana-Revolucion is an entirely different beast from Mexico City.

And probably from the rest of Tijuana too.






Saturday, January 13, 2018

Tijuana Saturday Night

Pasaje Revolución, connected to Pasaje Gomez, and Pasaje Rodriguez were more of the same as Gomez under OneBunk micro-hotel. Home-grown little shops, some selling coffee, some selling clothes, some selling comic book-related materials.

I'd seen a lot in the hour I'd been in Tijuana, so I sat down to chill for a bit in a new, upscale coffee shop down the block from Pasaje Rodriguez . The prices startled me after the 35 peso taxi ride from the border, but then, I've encountered this in other places too, where the price of a taxi seems geared toward a different standard than that of a latte. This was like taking a Lyft for $8 to the airport and then spending $14 on breakfast once I got there. We've been conditioned to spend four dollars for a mug of milk and hot water pressed through beans, but what we're really buying is atmosphere and wifi.

The wifi gave me access to Google Maps, so I noted the location of the artists market, finished my latte, and walked up Revu toward the famous Tijuana landmark arch. I passed a donkey painted to look like a zebra, some chain fast food restaurants, and a number of souvenir sellers, but I wasn't hassled. I took a right near the arch and found the Mercado de Artesenias.

I was looking for some pottery, but what I found was amazing and not terribly useful pottery. Lawn ornaments! Ceramic lions, parrots, bird baths...I wasn't going to carry a bird bath back to the border, though I still regret not finding a good source for ceramic zebras in Bangkok. I would've found a way to get those home.

Darkness fell as I browsed the stalls of the Mercado de Artesenias, and I struggled to walk back to Revu on my tired feet. I'd worn clogs as they're the most comfortable shoes I have with my high arches, but I was wishing for sneakers as I got to the Saturday night buzz of the main strip.

What to eat, though? It was time for dinner. I checked in with my phone and didn't see a really great answer. But eventually, Yelp pointed me to a tiny food court, Collectivo 9, which felt a bit like eating at the food trucks outside my Burbank office building, but it was enough. I just needed sustenance, so I could go back to my OneBunk room and collapse after a long day.


Cool Shopping in Tijuana

"Dónde está..." I started slowly talking to the boutique hotel security guy, trying to get my brain into travel mode. "Pasaje Rodriguez?"

"Across the street," he responded. His English wasn't great, but it was a heckuva lot better than my Spanish.

Oh. Across the street. I could work with that.

"Y Pasaje Gomez?" What was I talking about? I'd read that these two spots had great clothing stores. He shook his head. The hotel security guard wasn't up on the latest in women's boutiques.

Well, I'd find it. There was a tourist information booth outside on Avenida Revolución. I shoved my near-worthless speed-throttled phone into my back Levi's pocket and walked down the stairs--the hotel was a flight up from ground level.

I didn't make it to Tourist Information, though. From street level, the staircase switched back and went on down the stairs to a passageway.

What's that, I thought. I made a U-turn and followed the stairs down to what turned out to be a covered shopping plaza. It was long, like an alley, and went the width of the block from Avenida Revolución back to Avenida Madero.

I wandered through, noting the passage once would have been full of trinket sellers catering to throngs of day tourists over from San Diego. Years of bad press about border violence had damaged the tourist trade in Tijuana, but I'd read that this had led to a thriving local arts scene.

The little covered alley under the hotel seemed to support this—there were children playing in the hallway outside of shuttered stores, and about half the storefronts were full of local people selling coffee, juice, music, posters and collectibles, and secondhand clothes. There was nothing there for me to buy—I have my own share of clothing I need to repair or discard—but there was indeed a thriving local culture of people able to rent once-seedy storefronts, turning them into creative shops in a energetic atmosphere.

I paced the length of the plaza to the far side, wondering what this particular passage was called. I had a suspicion and headed to the end to turn around and see if there was a sign.

Sure.

Pasaje Gomez.



Travel to Tijuana

Walk to bus. Bus to Burbank train. Pacific Surfliner train (ugh, crowded chaos today) three hours to trolley. Blue line trolley to the San Ysidro border.

This would have gone faster and easier if I'd just gone downtown and caught a direct bus, I thought as I ran into the cambio by McDonald's. I changed twenty bucks into Mexican pesos. I'd waffled over whether to walk or catch a taxi on the Tijuana side of the border, and had decided to go with the taxi, so I'd need pesos for the taxi. Either that or five bucks, but I'd spend less with the pesos. Was I really waffling over a dollar or two? Old travel habits die hard.

I followed the crowd along a sloping walkway, entered a building, and stood in the line for non-Mexican citizens. The wait wasn't long, maybe five minutes. A passport control officer motioned me to her desk.

""Hola," I said to the officer.

"¿Cómo está?" She said.

I blanked. As in every bit of Spanish I'd ever heard or known disappeared from my head. I stared a minute and then started laughing. She started laughing too.

She filled out my entry form, stamped my passport, and waved me through.

I followed the walkway winding around to the point where it funneled out into the street. There were no yellow taxis, only the white with red-striped taxi libres. I'd read an article on the train—apparently a fight between an Uber passenger and a yellow taxi driver had led to the banishment of yellow taxis from the border.

A posted sign at the taxi rank listed the costs to each section of Tijuana. Only 35 pesos to Zona Centro. That should have tipped me off it was walkable.

A driver waved me in. Ten minutes later, he dropped me off on a busy block on Avenida Revolución between 3rd and 4th. I guessed. It's not like there were any street signs, and 3rd and 4th have other names as well. Was I in the right spot? I whipped out my phone...oh. Thanks, TMobile, for slowing my speeds down because I hadn't upgraded to whatever you wanted me to do. Awesome. Super.

Then I spotted the Hotel Lafayette building across the street. I jaywalked easily--there wasn't much traffic at 3 in the afternoon. A doorman checked me into a cute room, where I discovered the wifi wasn't working. Annoying, especially with the deliberately dragging phone signal and the in-room info featuring...Instagram posts. Yay, me.

I left my bag in my room and went out to explore.






Transit

August, 2014. 

That's the last time I used my passport. (Solvang doesn't count.)

For someone who makes it her business to run around the world, this is a dire state of affairs! I barely noticed during my big move to Los Angeles, because I was busy investigating the city as well as working ridiculous hours at my moderate-kahuna job.

But then I read about 20 articles talking up Tijuana, all saying the same thing—that the loss of tourism meant artists and creatives had taken over the tourist/red light/tequila district—hawking the same "boutique" hotel (whatever that means) and the same trendy housewares stores, and I thought "Is this for real?" The last time I'd read this many parrot-y travel articles, they'd been about Berlin. They probably still are. Hip! Happening! Berlin! I think that's how my pal Ed Ward phrased it when he lived in Berlin.

I liked Berlin enough to rent an apartment there for a month during the first MariesWorldTour, but the articles are ridiculous. I guess it's what you write when you want people to buy your material. Write what people want to hear, preferably something that sounds new and cool.

But I'm not sure where Tijuana falls on this "what people want to hear" meter...seems an unlikely match, Tijuana and travel-porn outlets, but I know a regurgitated story when I see one. But I also know I can go to Tijuana and back in a day, and that as many times as I've been to San Diego, I've never had time to venture down across the border. I loved staying in San Miguel in 2013, but Tijuana is a massive city, clearly a different beast from a colonial art town. Surely articles about the Zona Centro were like New York articles being about Times Square, no?

But getting to TJ doesn't involve a plane or days off work. I could even, if I chose to, get the Red Line to DTLA and catch a $23 bus all the way to the border. So while I was uncertain about the articles screaming "I'm a press release," I was quite certain the effort would be worth the return even if all I found was a deserted hotel and a painted donkey.

I attempted to book the boutique hotel, but it appeared to be all booked solid. A bit of sleuthing revealed that it wasn't booked solid...it just required a stay of two or more nights.

I delayed my trip until a long weekend. That's now. I paid for two nights via AirBnB...that's one way around developing a hotel e-commerce site. I was impressed. Resourceful. 

I didn't book my ticket until the Saturday morning I intended to leave. I kept waffling about the transit...did it make more sense to catch the #222 bus to the Red Line to Pershing Square and walk over to Main to catch the bus, or did it make sense to catch the train at Burbank Airport, and take that to San Diego to the trolley?

Finally, my early laziness won over my later laziness. I caught the bus to Burbank Airport and ten minutes later, was on the train to San Diego.

View from Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner. Sit on the western side to get the view. 

Friday, January 12, 2018

Meanwhile in Burbank

I like their sign, but I bet their coffee is nothing special.


Friday, January 05, 2018

Date of Note

January 4th, 1988. 

I walked off the elevator on the tenth floor of 387 Park Avenue South to my first day as the Antioch intern at the Epic division of Marvel Entertainment. I'd driven my 1974 (or was is 72?) mustard-colored Volvo station wagon through a blizzard from Ohio to New London, CT for New Year's. I had no windshield wipers, a manual choke, and only one headlight from when I'd hit a deer, but I made it, and then went down to Manhattan for my new job.

January 4th is thirty years ago today.

That’s a lotta years, for anyone still counting. There’s a lot of water under that bridge, a lot of people in and out of the door of the Big Two in comics. I don’t think anyone I met on Day One at Marvel is still there, though at least five of my colleagues (Harras, Chase, Chiarello, Gill, Lopez) are with me at DC. Heck, I can only think of six or seven people still at Marvel who were there on my LAST day.

I’ve edited, colored, written, and packaged for Marvel, Gemstone, Teshkeel, and DC in that time, with a side trip to Scholastic and a lot of side trips into my own writing. I traveled for 2001 and 2002 and did no comics work (even claimed I would never return to comics, which lasted until I realized writing paid even worse than anything I’d done up to that point, including working the salad bar at Roy Rogers), so while it’s been thirty years since my first day, I guess I have a mere 28 years under my belt.

I’m a little embarrassed that after three decades, I’m not in anyone’s masthead, not an executive with a title and parking space. But I realize too that no masthead would substitute for the job in Kuwait and Cairo, the two solo expeditions around the world (the second making comics from my laptop even behind Chinese firewalls in Tibet), the “residencies” I assigned myself in Mexico, Barcelona, Namibia, Uganda, Australia, Berlin, Cape Town, or the endless months fighting with my own manuscripts.

January 4th, 2001.

Sixteen years to the day I boarded the Amtrak at Penn Station in Manhattan to embark on my first trip around the world.

Maybe January 4th and I have a thing.