Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Skills for the Coming Apocalypse

I'm not sure what was behind my current zeal to learn new things and get out of the house. It might've been how much BBF and I had seen over the Catalina weekend. It might've been the Groupon I'd bought for the electric bicycles simply reminding me to dig around for options. Or maybe it's just the knowledge that I need to do more than go to work all the time.

I'd signed up through Groupon for a soap-making class at at place called Sankofa Soap Studio, and on a Saturday afternoon, caught the La Brea bus south to a little house, where six of us put on eye protection, masks, gloves, and began mixing things in the instructor's small living room.

Oil, distilled water, scent (I chose something called dragon's blood)...and the reason for the caution, lye. The key to the process was the little digital scale and precision. And not splashing ourselves with lye. Terrifying, but watching components turn into soap was fascinating and fun. We were all pretty thrilled with the results.

We were a little less thrilled when we realized we had to return once the soap had set in the molds. Not only do I have a desire for instant gratification, but I work late every night and getting to mid-LA on a weeknight wasn't going to be easy. Still, on leaving the class, I was pretty jazzed.

Three days later, I left work five minutes early, caught the Burbank Bus to North Hollywood metro, switched to the Red Line to the Purple Line to Wilshire/Western, and caught the Big Blue Bus R7 to Rimpau. I walked four blocks to the Longwood, and picked up my block of soap. The instructor took time out from cooking her fish dinner to help me cut the loaf with a serrated knife. I walked to the La Brea bus to Hollywood, delighted with my new soap I'm allergic to.

That's right. I react to oil-based products. So here I was, carrying 7 bars of soap I couldn't use. But making soap was fun and trying something new is always a great way to spend a day.

Friday, August 19, 2016

A Short Trip to Pseudo-Denmark

Publishing traditionally has short Fridays in the summer. Of course, we'd lost that at Marvel during the bankruptcies, and my current company isn't strictly a publishing endeavor now that we moved to Burbank, but miraculously, this tradition moved with us.

Unfortunately, working in a deadline industry means you can't really take this benefit, but I did manage to take two short Fridays over the summer of 2016.

One was for the trip down to Catalina when BBF was in town. The other was so I could head up to Solvang and Santa Barbara for a night.

Solvang is a somewhat goofy tourist trap with a Danish theme. I'd heard mixed reviews, but was still curious. At least, it reputedly had a good bookstore, so why not check it out?

I took a Lyft up to the Burbank Amtrak station, which is next to the airport. My phone decided to spazz right when I was ordering the Lyft, and I nearly missed the Amtrak, but fortunately, the train was a few minutes late.

I ordered some Amtrak microwave special for lunch, which discouraged people from sitting next to me as the train sped west to the coast. I watched out the window with curiosity--these towns were all places I could live and commute to work from. Chatsworth...Moorpark...Oxnard. 

Eventually, the train halted in Santa Barbara, where I transferred to an Amtrak-chartered bus for another hour or so up to Solvang. We passed billowing smoke from a huge fire and I thought about one of the women from work taking yesterday off to rescue animals with her truck. A donkey had died. She hadn't taken it well, but who would?

The bus pulled up in Solvang in the town center, and I rushed over to the town mission, which closed in a half-hour. I needn't have worried. One benefit of traveling alone is speed. I was through the mission in 20 minutes.

My concern with Solvang was its early closing time, so I delayed checking into the hotel until I'd walked down every block I found and gone into every open store. I stopped for a coffee at a Danish cafe.

Solvang reminded me of Swakopmund, Namibia, in that way where Swakop is more German than Germany--it's stuck in time a bit, affected by the notion of how things SHOULD look rather than evolving the way a European city would. The kitschy factor was pretty funny, with windmills (um, isn't that more Dutch) and clogs and the little mermaid. The bookstore housed a genuinely interesting Hans Christian Andersen exhibit.

I can't say I was ready to stay a week. In fact, I was pretty well done with Solvang by the time I finally collapsed into my hotel room at twilight.

Which was why Saturday morning was so amusing. I went to catch the local bus to Santa Barbara, along with four others, and it simply never showed up. We called numbers, spoke to people. No one could explain why the bus never materialized, though we did receive quite a few apologies. I had four extra hours to wander the streets of Solvang before the Amtrak bus finally showed--I bought a ticket to one stop past Santa Barbara, since riding the bus without the train transfer is forbidden.

And I wandered State Street in downtown Santa Barbara for around four hours, before collapsing onto the Amtrak in exhaustion.

One bit of good fortune though--the Amtrak was running quite late, which put me back at the Burbank airport exactly when the bus to Hollywood showed up. Otherwise, I'd have had to go to Union Station and backtrack on the Red Line.

I won't be heading back to Solvang, Santa Barbara, or any of the train stops along the way anytime soon, but I'm pretty pleased with amount of touristing I got through this summer.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Excuse to Go Somewhere New

from Google Maps
I'd bought a Groupon for a pattern-making workshop. Or maybe it was a CourseHorse. Or a LivingSocial. Who can keep track?

I left work on time for the bus to the Red Line, took it to Pershing Square, and caught another bus all the way to the eastern edge of DTLA, past the tents of Skid Row. The sewing workshop was on a higher floor of an old factory, all very industrial.

The actual class itself was a bit hopeless--it was the instructor's first time teaching the class, and the structure was to basically write down everything she said to write down as she measured a dummy, then cut out the shape we'd written down. I can't say I took away any info of value.

But I took away this. There are people making things in industrial nooks and crannies on the edge of the Arts District. It's the same part of town I went to in November, when I went to the gallery where Daniel J was performing.

Night had fallen when I left the blocky old building, and I walked with a bit of skittishness to the nearest bus stop that looked useful. A mentally ill woman sat there, then she wasn't sitting, she was kind-of grinding, dancing as if she were performing at a strip club. She stopped to take a drag from a cigarette, or to glare at me occasionally, but other people waited for the bus too, so I didn't feel under pressure to leave.

I didn't learn a damn thing about pattern-making, but I enjoyed doing something completely unlike anything I normally do in Los Angeles County.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

WPA Post Office on an August Evening

Late summer, my local post office in early evening.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Day Job in Sherman Oaks

I was off to a comic book store in Sherman Oaks on Saturday, to support the appearance of the writer and colorist of the graphic novel I edited.

This went well. The kids were adorable. My assistant and the book's designer were also there.

The girl power is strong in this one.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Now Santa Can Come In

Houses are money pits. This we know.

And sometimes we expect the hit, and sometimes we're surprised when it comes.

"Your chimney leaks," MK told me a while back. He'd been inside my little ground-floor studio during a thunderstorm.

"Awesome," was my reply. Just what I needed.

I went to my building inspection report dated 4/1/2015. Let's see...


It wasn't so much I'd overlooked that part of the report as I couldn't get any chimney guys to call me back. My friend Tracy had a chimney guy who'd worked on the house she lives in, and though she'd been a bit annoyed at his "now, lemme tell you a thing or two, little lady" attitude, the work had been fine. I'd probably called the guy ten times, and just gotten full voice mail every time.

So I took to Yelp, and dug around until I found one that seemed respectable. Theron took a look, said there was good news and bad news. The good news was the sealed front chimney had nothing venting into it, and they'd be happy to removed the old bricks which had been left on the roof from when that stack had been dismantled. And the rear chimney is lined and capped, which was good...but over the years, the mortar had cracked and crumbled. Whoever had dealt with this in the past had simply tarred over it, and then the tar too had cracked.

There were two possible solutions. One was to dismantle and rebuild the chimney. The other was to ask BBF to quietly go up the roof hatch with new tar.

I'm all about the easy fix when it will solve a problem for a good long time, but tarring over a busted chimney seemed like an unexceptional plan to me, so I asked Theron to do the complete rebuild.

His team showed up on time, when they said they would, and did the work they said they'd do. MK had to go over and again ask the nuns next door for access to their driveway and gate, and my tenants in the top-floor apartment were only bothered once, when the workers initially went in through the roof hatch.

I have so far been surprised at the quality of work at each step on my house. I know people have a hard time with contractors, but I've only had responsive, excellent experiences so far. Maybe because I've researched each time and hired people with strong recommendations. Maybe I've just been lucky. But my window guys, my heating guy, my stucco guys, and my chimney guys have all been responsive, smart, and utterly pleasant. And of course, BBF did the kitchens and he does stellar work.

We frequently need to ask the sisters to open their gate.
I have a bit of sticker shock from my house, and I frequently have to remind myself. I got an incredible deal on Craigslist because the previous owners were tired of tenants, lived out of state, and had no idea of the growth spurt about to hit Bergen-Lafayette. Every time I go back home, something new is popping up. Shared bikes. A fancy coffee shop. New condo developments. More work on two empty restaurants.

My chimney will ultimately be a bigger part of a complete investment. For now, it's just another bank account hit with a hell of a view.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Touristing the Town

I wanted to go to the Batcave in the Hollywood Hills, but BBF had heard from so many people that he shouldn't miss the Museum of Jurassic Technology. I hadn't been, because it's located on the moon from where I live and work, so on Sunday, we caught the bus south, then west, and it dropped us off in front of the front door.

I was excruciatingly bored within three minutes, plus it was musty inside and my body was asking me if it could freak out. I kept saying no, and hoping BBF would finish reading the dark, tiny exhibits. I must not be the flavor of quirky that most others seems to be, since the vast majority of quirky people love this odd little exhibit space. I can't stress enough how quickly I was done with it, how ready I was to leave, how baffled I was by the appeal. (Which is one of the reasons I prefer to travel alone. How much do you like waiting for others?) I'm glad it's done and over with, simply so next time someone rattles off a list of their favorite spots in LA, I can say "Yes, I've been there, maybe you need more quirk in your life." 

We stopped by In N Out Burger for a special taste of Los Angeles. "It's kind of like Shake Shack," I explained, as BBF looked at me somewhat baffled as to why I was asking him to eat fast food. I think we had our fill of both the museum and the sliders. 

We were almost to the beach anyway, so we caught the bus the rest of the way to Venice. The bus dropped us off near where I lived in 1995, in a part of Venice that is now hip but was then skeevy, like many of my former habitats. We walked along the manmade canals of Venice, strolled the beach (which is essentially unchanged to my eyes), and caught the bus east for the long journey home. 

Topping the day off was our trip to the Egyptian, which involved no buses as it's a ten-minute walk from my apartment. Such a relief to sit in a dark room watching Thunderbolt and Lightfoot instead of dragging ourselves all over town. 

For the rest of BBF's visit, I went to work during the day, and he'd pick out something for the evening, like dinner and the new Star Trek movie (thank goodness we saw a good movie on Sunday night—kinda took the sting off). On Wednesday morning, he trundled off to the Flyaway bus stop in Hollywood, and I headed north to my job, as I always do on weekdays, and sometimes on weekends.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

A Day on Catalina

We left the breakfast place a bit appalled--the masses had descended and the experience had become wholly unpleasant, plus we couldn't get anyone's attention to bring us the bill. Then, we had the fun of trying to find a caffeinated morning beverage for me--Jack's Country Kitchen featured old-school coffee, the watery brown guck that was once the mainstay of roadside America before espresso seeped in via chain money-grabs. Not that I'm complaining. I remember the days of asking for coffee and ice in separate cups, because people had no idea what I was talking about when I'd ask if they had iced coffee.

We used my phone apps to find a little coffee godsend, Catalina Coffee and Cookie Co, and BBF tolerated sitting around for 20 minutes while I sipped my addiction. Of course, we had nowhere else to be, it being 8 on a Saturday morning. 

I had a Groupon for two hours of electric bike rental for two with Tour Catalina, so we wandered up to the e-bike place at 9. Neither of us had been on an electric bike before. 

The guy in charge of the bikes explained to us the best places to ride, we put on the supplied helmets and off we went, a bit wobbly at first, but it got easier as we rode. 

Up the hill we went to the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden, zipping past pedestrians, hikers, and the campground we'd have stayed at if we'd stayed on Catalina instead of the Queen Mary. We left our bikes at the entrance gate and walked up to the memorial, looking around at the island. 

It was beautiful, in a way, but there was a morning haze over the island. This disappeared a bit later, when we zipped up a mountain one-way road and gazed out over Avalon, but it was a teensy bit disappointing at our first stop. Though the up side was the morning temperature, which wasn't a million degrees, fortunately. 

We walked through the garden, reading explanations of plants, then zipped back through town to the mountainside. I loved the electric bike! The only problem is with the battery pack, these things aren't light. I couldn't life one up or down so much as a curb. 

We gave our bikes back at 11, wandered through a museum with an exhibit on Betty Page, enjoyed lunch, headed to the Casino, which was more like a place for big bands to play than an actual casino, took a walk to the hotel on the far end of town, caught a shuttle bus back, and exhausted after taking a spin around Avalon, managed a few rounds of skee ball in an arcade before collapsing on the ferry back to the mainland. 

I'd booked us to San Pedro after noticing the Silver Line Express Bus was right outside the San Pedro port. We walking from the ferry port through the container industrial equipment, me again fighting off the nostalgia of departing here in January of 2001 on my first trip around the world. 

We found the bus stop, and a friendly local man confirmed we were waiting at the right place. The ride home went a lot faster than the ride on the pokey Blue Line had gone, but still, when we switched to the Red Line to Hollywood, BBF couldn't help but say "Please, no more buses." 

He'd had enough. 

An Early Commute

When I'd initially gone to the Catalina Express site to purchase two ferry tickets from Long Beach to Catalina, there had been plenty of tickets. Naturally, I did nothing.

By the time I got around to checking again, all the tickets had been purchased except for ones at inconvenient times.

Which is how BBF and I ended up dragging ourselves out of the Queen Mary at five on a Saturday morning.



We survived.

I called a Lyft while BBF was in the shower, and after circling around Terminal Island for a bit, we ended up at the ferry.

I'd sprung for Business Class, it being six when we departed. This isn't really terribly different from downstairs, but you get a drink (because everyone wants a drink at six in the morning?) and some chalky carbs.

On the bright side, we were in Catalina by quarter past seven, and we were in Avalon's breakfast hotspot before the rush.

Which, admittedly, if I'd known there was going to be a rush, we'd have gone to a different breakfast spot. The entire ferry clientele appeared to descend on Jack's Country Kitchen about ten minutes after we ordered.

We ate breakfast slowly, mostly because that was the only speed we were being served at, and planned our upcoming day.

Friday, August 05, 2016

To the End of the Blue Line

My cabin on the QE2, 12/2001.
Back on the Blue Line, BBF and I headed on, leaving Watts behind. And on and on. We went all the way to the very end of this metro line, as far as we could go in Long Beach. We rode the entire length of it.

This took forever.

But finally, we were in Long Beach and thirsty. We wandered around looking for a place to get a drink, stumbling over a pedestrian mall across from the convention center, then heading over on the free local bus to the Queen Mary. 

The Queen Mary is docked permanently in Long Beach, and used as a hotel and tourist attraction. I'd previously glimpsed it from the nearby Long Beach Container Terminal aka Terminal Island, where in 2001, I'd left the US for the other side of the world on my first freighter voyage, aboard the Direct Kiwi.

8/2016, the Queen Mary State Room.
That same journey, the year-long 2001 version of MariesWorldTour.com, had me journey back to the States in December aboard the QE2. She's currently deteriorating in port in Dubai, tragically. Outrageously. One of the most historic, fabulous liners in history, just hanging out and falling apart.

I tried to not think about the Queen Mary's sister ship as BBF and I walked across the parking lot in the afternoon sun, boarding the Queen Mary and checking into out room for the evening.

The long hallways and our state room looked incredibly similar to my cabin on the QE2 some 15 years prior.

We left our bags, hurrying upstairs to get audio tour headsets. We walked the ship back and forth, following the recorded instructions to the bridge, the WWII exhibit (BFF's father had traveled as a soldier on-board the Queen Mary during the war). Eventually, after visiting the engine room, we were just too tired to continue. We turned in our headsets and headed to dinner.

I enjoyed the ship, but the lack of the distant rumble of ever-running engines was a bit odd. I've traveled around the world on four freighters, the QE2, MV Lyubov Orlova (now known as the rat/ghost ship), assorted ferries, and even a yacht in the Galapagos, and the constant of being at sea is the sound of the engines. And of course the roll of the waves.

Being docked with no engines running was odd to me, but this feeling of something being not-quite-right was pushed aside and overridden by two other gut reactions. One was the sense of tragedy over the fate of the QE2, the other the sharp pain of suppressed nostalgia, as I stared through the porthole over at the world's largest container port, the origin of my most incredible trip and one I'll never surpass, if only because after two trips around the world, running a company in Cairo, and living in...eight?...countries, I am seldom surprised by adventuring. I won't get that back, and that hurts a little.

The giraffe-like constructs of the industrial port called to me, taunted me. Join...us... no...wait...you...have...a...job...

For now, I'd have to settle for a night on the tourist ship.

Engine room 
Leaving the ship the next morning

Touring by Metro

BBF was in town last week, so I did a bit more here in LA than my usual eat-work-sleep routine. Well, we did plenty more eating, like at the Monday night half-price menu at a place called Off-Vine, or the regular menu at a place on Cahuenga called Running Goose. We went to the Egyptian to see Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, and the Arclight with the Cinerama to see the new Star Trek film (but it was in the multiplex, not the dome). I learned a bit about how to play my new ukulele (BBF plays guitar), and we even walked up to Franklin Village to eat one night, but the crowds were too thick and we ended up at the Oaks.

And we did some sightseeing. Last time BBF was in town, we packed a lot in—Griffith Observatory, DTLA, Hollywood of course, a look at Burbank, and the Grand Canyon, Vegas, and Hoover Dam. This time we kept a saner pace, but still busy enough to classify as a Marie-special.

I took an early Friday—something we're allowed to do in the summer, an old publishing habit that moved west with us—and we headed by metro Blue Line toward Long Beach.

We stopped at Watts Tower to see a bit of public art, then continued on to Long Beach. Come back for more tomorrow!