Wednesday, January 30, 2008

From the Rooftop

One of the best things about living just outside of downtown is being able to look at the downtown skyline.



I got a Quit-or-Cure notice saying that tenants are only allowed on the roof in case of an emergency so I guess I will no longer be venturing up there. Alas and alack.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

One Stop Mini Mart: Dangerous Convenience

I am addicted to condensed milk.

It started innocuously enough with the Vietnamese coffee that I would make myself in the morning. Then it made its way into my tea when I didn't have whole milk on hand. Then, about two weeks ago, I treated myself to a favorite childhood snack: condensed milk on toast. I think that was my downfall; next thing I knew, I found myself drizzling the sticky sweetness over bananas, mangoes, oatmeal-- my fingers.

For better or worse, I can easily replenish my supply even though the nearest supermarket is about two miles away, a Ralphs at 9th & Flower (the first to open in Downtown in over fifty years). The One Stop Mini Mart downstairs has not only my beloved condensed milk, but a variety of other pantry staples like canned beans, rice, onions, not to mention the array of random necessities like toilet paper, safety pins, and bleach.

The owner is a friendly man named Felipe who affectionately exclaims "Mirinda!" when I walk in. (He knows my name but is thoroughly amused by its similarity to the name of a soft drink popular in Mexico, which I encountered for the first time, thanks to Coca-Colonization, in Cambodia.)

I still trek over to Ralphs to get ground coffee (One Stop only has Folgers and Nescafe, unfortunately), but I try to give as much business as possible over to Felipe. He's only been in business at this location for about eight or nine months, and he is still waiting on his permit to sell dairy. I can't wait until I can buy eggs and milk from him.

One Stop Mini Mart
1835 S. Main. St.

Walk downstairs, exit front door, turn right, walk about 12 yards.

Cost Summary:
Condensed Milk: $1.79

Friday, January 25, 2008

Parks, Sitting, Walking, & Coffee in the Financial District

I spent much of the day on Monday wandering downtown mostly on foot. I took the Dash to Grand Hope Park, which sits behind FIDM, then ambled the however-many blocks up to Central Library. I knew that the library was closed in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, and the point of going there was just to have a sit in the Maguire Gardens which face Flower Street.

Not very many people were sitting on the half-dozen benches available in the gardens, and I was the only gal. I suppose not many people would venture into the park in January to just hang out, and even less so in Los Angeles, where young people tend to make a mass exodus to the mountains for weekend snowboarding. Somewhere in me there is a crotchety old man whining about "kids these days."

It was lovely to sit and watch the pigeons flutter about frantically for food, hear the skater-kids riding down the stairway leading up to the library, see the clouds drift behind the buildings and trade places with patches of blue sky. There were actually a few people milling about and talking, which was refreshing after the near-desolation of Grand Hope Park. (In a month or two I will hopefully have found a good and affordable digital camera so that I'll be able to post photos of these lovely things I see.)

I walked over to Figueroa and avoided the semi-monstrosity of 7th+Fig, ducking into the Wilshire Promenade food court. I got a coffee from Tierra Cafe, whose menu proclaims "Vegetarian cuisine, Organic Coffee and Tea House." I think they were just glad to have another customer on what was surely a desolate business day. The coffee was hot, though, which was the most important thing at the moment anyway.

Somehow-- blame it on the caffeine, maybe-- instead of hopping on the Dash F at Flower & 7th to get home, I decided to walk toward the Dash D stop at Olympic and Hill. The next thing I knew, I'd forgone transit entirely and instead found myself walking south on Broadway, determined to walk through the Dead Zone that starts at about Olympic or 11th Avenue, where there is nothing.

I did not see much as I walked down Broadway or Main south of Olympic. A few scattered little hole-in-the-wall taquerias, and the outskirts of the Fashion District along Main mostly offered socks and sports-enthusiast apparel.

I had timed it so that I wouldn't be walking past dusk, and I made it through the 2.5-mile trek just fine, though I did have a somewhat confusing exchange with a man at an intersection who babbled something and then offered me money. I just smiled and proceeded across the street. I've since decided that he was just seeing if I needed bus fare.

Tierra Cafe
818 Wilshire Blvd. #D

Central Library
630 W. Fifth St.

Dash D from Olive & Washington to 9th, then much aimless wandering northward, followed by more purposeful walking southward

Cost Summary:
Dash: $0.25
Coffee: $1.50
Total: $1.75

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Joint Downstairs: El Sombrero Restaurant

Looking for a Mexican restaurant with $1.25 soft carne asada tacos, an offering of assorted beers, leather booths, soccer on the television, and a jukebox filled with Spanish-language music? This is the place to go.

That is, if you can catch it when it's open. There have been some weekend nights that I've walked by at midnight and seen it closed, some weekday nights that it's been open.

The place is usually fairly empty, but after eating there on Monday night, I know it's certainly not because of the food. Admittedly, it's not that easy to mess up a carne asada taco but there are places that have certainly done it. We even got free chips with an excellent homemade salsa.

I will probably end up funneling my spare change into supporting this place by purchasing tacos there as often as I can. I just hope they stay open and by some miracle start posting their hours.

El Sombrero Restaurant
1825 S. Main St.

Walk downstairs, exit front door, turn right, walk about 4 yards.

Cost Summary:
2 tacos: $2.50
Can of Sunkist soda: $1
Tip: $1
Total: $4.50

Monday, January 21, 2008

South Park Flea Market's Grand Opening

The grand opening of the South Park Flea Market was modest in terms of the number of vendors as well as visitors, but it seems very promising.

My friends and I arrived at 8th & Grand at around 10:30AM. There was no admission, and friendly greeters Carl & Amy warmly invited us to enter a raffle for an iPod.

The first thing that I noticed was the huge barbecue stall near the entrance, offering ribs, chicken, hot dogs, pulled pork sandwiches, and lemonade. The lemonade was excellent (just $2, and a refill for $1), and the pulled pork sandwich was exactly what you would expect it to be. They were the only food option, but I'm sure that will change in the coming weeks.

There was a wide array of goods to peruse, from rare books to high-end olive oils to clothing to furniture. Dawn from Bark Avenue introduced me to a gray and white rescued cat whose sea green eyes have effectively seduced me, and I may find myself a foster-cat parent very soon.

The eclectic mix of merchandise should draw a diverse crowd-- I just hope that it will be enough to sustain the flea market at this location. I spoke a vendor who expressed concern regarding whether he could afford to be a regular at this location due to the high cost of the tiny space, and he mentioned that the organizers plan to "double the rent" once the flea market gets its legs.

The joy of the flea market was the juxtaposition of some ridiculously expensive items next to things that might be considered rummage sale wares-- a jumble that I hope they manage to maintain as the market grows.

Altogether, it was a good experience and I'll probably end up going whenever I have a free Sunday.

South Park Flea Market
8th & Grand

Carpooled with non-transit-oriented friends

Cost Summary:
Admission: Free
Lemonade: $3
Merchandise: $10.25
Total: $13.25

Friday, January 18, 2008

Weekend Events

Two exciting events are happening this weekend, both of them within 2 miles of 18th & Main:

Saturday, January 19th, 5PM-10PM:
Lost Souls Cafe is holding a party to celebrate its 2nd Anniversary
Admission & Refreshments: Free
Music performances & art displays
Location: 124 W. 4th St., 90013

Sunday, January 20th, 9AM-4PM:
South Park Flea Market has its Grand Opening
Admission: $2 / $1 with flyer
Location: 8th & Grand

And here is a shameless plug for an event that will be held by the nonprofit I work for, ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives.

Sunday, January 20th, 2PM-5PM:
ONE Culture Series Presents Queer Latino Memories from San Francisco in the 1960s-70s
with Professor Horacio Roque Ramirez
Admission: Free
Refreshments: Free, donation suggested
Location: 909 W. Adams Blvd., 90007

I'm going to try to make it to Lost Souls on Saturday but I will definitely drop by the flea market on Sunday. I will be at the Culture Series event because I'll be working.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Genesis 2000 Progress & My Unit

I've gotten in touch with a representative over at Playa Vista Property Management who should be sending me more literature about the Genesis 2000 project "in the next few days," according to her email. Gary Haddock, president of Playa Vista, acquired the mixed-use buildings in hopes of bringing life to this neglected part of southern Downtown in 2000, and it seems that I arrived just as the results of the project began coming to fruition.

Nearly all of the retail spaces at street-level have been filled, and tonight I saw people moving furniture into a previously-empty space. A banner above the door announced (something like) "Marine Trading Post." A short exchange I had with one of the moving men revealed that a permanent tenant would take over within the next couple of months. Through the windows I saw enticing wooden chests and tables that I surely can't afford but will ogle longingly for as long as they're there.

The various businesses that are open or are preparing to open include:

Hilti (retail center for an international tool manufacturer I'd never heard of previously)
Jackson-Hewitt Tax Services
One Stop Market
A Mexican Restaurant (whose name I've yet to learn and whose hours I can't decipher)
Downtown Community Job Center (technically not a part of the 1821-1839 property but is adjacent to it)
C2 Reprographics

I'll be interviewing these tenants to see what brought them here and to gain their insight about what the future holds for this area. I want to see this area developed further, but it's a mystery to me that the Da Capo buildings were built here at all, so far south of the Historic Core and isolated from most older buildings. Some time spent at Central Library's archives should bring some light to that question.

In the meantime, here is a press release from Playa Vista that was posted on LA Downtown News last November.

It claims:
The restored structures at 1821-1839 S. Main St. glow with turn of the 20th century charm. The units enjoy great views, a cooling breeze and are drenched in light.
"Drenched in light" is certainly not an exaggeration-- the amount of natural light was one of the reasons I fell in love with this place. A photo of my unit, taken at approximately 3PM:

The kitchen is through the doorway on the left side of the photo, and the bathroom and a fairly roomy closet are along the same wall. The blue wall in the window is the Famsa Furniture store across the alley. It actually doesn't obstruct the view much, and affords me some privacy from traffic:

It's definitely a space that is intended for single living, but from what I can discern, many of the tenants are small families. The demographic of the 90015 zip code is another subject I plan on examining more closely in future entries.

And I thought I would just talk about where I buy groceries and toiletries.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Lost Souls Cafe

For the coffee enthusiast (fanatic, fiend, addict), living this far south of downtown poses the horrifying threat of utter deprivation from a decent coffee experience. The only prepared cup of coffee to be found on or near this block, from what I have seen so far, is from either McDonald's, Burger King, or Subway. An important creature comfort for me is to be able to sip well-made coffee in a comfortable atmosphere close to home, and those three options certainly do not fit the bill by any stretch of the imagination.

When I lived in El Sereno, I was lucky enough to have Antigua Cultural Coffeehouse a very walkable 1.5 miles from my apartment. I had planned on venturing there again on Monday night despite the 8-mile drive for their almost mystical Mayan Mocha, but an announcement on Angelenic that Lost Souls Cafe had acquired a liquor license intrigued me enough that I decided to change my plans and keep my business in downtown instead. I convinced my friends Robbie and Jessica, themselves new Koreatown residents, to join me on my excursion to the cafe.

We took Metro bus 45 from the corner of Broadway and Washington to 4th and Broadway, and a short two-and-a-half block walk later we came upon the infamous gated alleyway through which the entrance to Lost Souls can be found. Inside we were greeted by an industrial/bohemian/urban atmosphere, with tulip-adorned cafe tables in the front of the space, sofas at the rear, exposed ventilation ducts above, string lights over the bar, and clamp lamps along the wall. An inviting array of board games and books were stacked on a few tables and low shelves among the sofas.

Beverages offered ranges from their "House Drip" coffee to iced teas to Kombucha to a variety of beers. I ordered the "Soul Drip," which is their House Drip plus condensed milk and half-and-half. Since I am accustomed to drinking my coffee with either one or the other, I was intrigued at the combination. The beverage had a good mouth-feel, and the sweetness of the condensed milk was tempered by the half-and-half. The true test will not come, though, until I try a regular latte or cappuccino.

On a Monday night, the place was far from bustling, and we three comprised half of the patrons that night. I imagine it to be much more lively on their many nights with events and on weekends. I'm glad we made it here and I'm excited to check it out again alone in the near future to see if this can become a home for me the way Antigua did.

Lost Souls Cafe
124 W. 4th St.

Metro bus 45 from Broadway & Washington to Broadway & 4th.

Cost Summary:
Bus fare: 2.50 (round trip)
Soul Drip: 2.15 (small)
Total: $4.65

Monday, January 14, 2008


I moved to 18th and Main in November 2007.

Completed in the late 1920s, the Rutland buildings were acquired by Playa Vista Property Management in 2006 and renovated into affordable and pleasant bachelor, single, and one-bedroom units as part of the company's "Genesis 2000" project. The project's vision is to restore the long-neglected area south of the 10 freeway, a plan that seemed a hopeless investment.

In my short time here, I have concluded that their vision is not necessarily hopeless, and I plan on doing what I can to contribute to this area's revitalization by frequenting local businesses as much as possible and by sharing my findings with-- well, with whoever reads this blog.

About the living space:

My studio apartment is filled with light thanks to large northwest-facing windows. I estimate that the entire unit is no larger than 250 square feet, and despite the tiny kitchen (approximately 5' by 5' at best), it's a very comfortable space. Visitors find the area outside my building a bit disconcerting in its seeming desolation and have accused the marble staircase of being treacherously steep, but inside is a cozy, quiet place that belies its location between both a major highway and the Metro Blue Line.

After living in the suburban fantasy (or nightmare) of Irvine, this place with its rooftop view of the downtown skyline and proximity to public transit is a breath of fresh air, smog notwithstanding.

This is not to say that I have no qualms with my new residence: whereas in Irvine I lived within comfortable walking distance of a Trader Joe's, Albertson's, Washington Mutual, and a variety of eateries ranging from fast-food to Zagat-rated, I now must adapt to having none of them so easily accessible. There is also the issue of safety: in Irvine, I would have thought nothing of jogging a few miles around the neighborhood at 10PM or walking the quarter-mile to Trader Joe's after nightfall, things that I can hardly imagine doing here.

It is different than what I am used to, but I am excited to adapt and discover what this place has to offer.