Friday, February 29, 2008

Coffee & Donuts II: Startling Night

Last night turned out more perfectly than I could have imagined. The plan had been to get a donut from King Donuts and then send up a little prayer for Ollin Cafe to be open so that I could have my usual Thursday sugar and caffeine fix (about 10 hours late). I was close to not going through with it but I suppose the inertia of my initial desire was enough to keep me from turning toward home.

As I rode my bike around the corner of Hoover and Venice and Ollin Cafe came into view, I was saddened to see that its aluminum panels were closed, except for the ones at the entrance. It was only 8:00PM, but I wasn't surprised-- I hadn't really expected the plan to work out anyway, especially with the notoriously early closing times of most businesses in this part of town.

What surprised me was that when I came to take a closer look, the woman sitting inside came to the door and invited me in, offering to get me coffee even though they were closed. I told her that it was fine, that I didn't have to have coffee and that I'd come back when they were open, but she was so friendly and insistent that I couldn't just ride off again. She even let me bring my bicycle into the cafe.

It turns out that she was sitting inside waiting for her husband to pick her up, passing the time by watching television while making quinceaƱera center pieces with her mother-in-law. There were at least a dozen of the handmade creations sitting on the floor upstairs beyond the view of passers-by. Her name was Veronica and she was incredibly engaging; she offered me much more information about herself than I would have expected, was so open. She told me that the owner of Ollin Cafe is actually Lebanese and the Latin American theme of the restaurant sprung from his love of travel. Veronica also revealed to me more details of her life than I would have ever expected to hear. I suppose part of it may be due to the fact that I am a rather unthreatening-looking young woman, but even so, her openness and kindness warmed me.

Veronica didn't just let me in so that she could sell another cup of coffee-- she invited me in and urged me to have a sit and stay awhile. She made me a cafe au lait in the ceramic mug that I brought with me, and talked to me about things that I will not mention here, but which made me feel that fate had brought me to this place on this particular night-- that I had ended up in exactly where I should have.

She apologized for her English, to which I responded by apologizing for my lack of Spanish. She communicated with me beautifully. Her compassion and kindness were apparent and I think she spoke much more eloquently than she realized. After talking for a while longer, she returned upstairs to work on her centerpieces while I sat with my mug of coffee and the chocolate twist from King Donuts (which closes at around 9PM, contrary to their "Open 24 Hours" sign).

Veronica's husband arrived an hour or so later, but there was no rushing me out at all. When I did finally decide that it was time to leave and asked to rinse out my mug myself, she took it and not only rinsed it, but took completely unnecessary care in drying it for me. She continuously amazed me.

I thanked her profusely as I left, and she just kept saying that it was fine, "it's okay, my friend, good night." Incredibly, she even told me to just call ahead if I wanted to stop by another evening, and that she would wait for me. Amazing.

Sometimes I feel like I am a traveler in Los Angeles, wandering around Downtown with a backpack filled with not only a notepad or books, but a first aid kit, my own mug safety pins, and a canvas bag, among other miscellaneous items. I guess that in a way, I am living in this city like a backpacker-- I just happen to have a one-year lease on an apartment instead of one-month's booking at a hostel. Perhaps the best way to experience a place is to pretend that you are leaving it.

USC Students, venture northward and support this place, please! $1.00 Coffee 6AM-11AM! And there's Wi-Fi!

Ollin Cafe

1325 Venice Blvd. (just east of Hoover) -

Cost Summary:
Donut: $0.60
Coffee: $1.50
Total: $2.10

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Nightshot at St. Vincent's Court

Something feels sad and wrong about this:

Lovely lights, tiled sidewalk, and Big Lots. Sigh.

And a few yards away:

St. Vincent's Court
7th & Hill

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tea & Cookies I

After a rousing bike ride from Adams & Figueroa to Harlem Place Alley & Fourth, it was wonderful to sit down to this:

The cookie was still warm and gooey from the oven. I admit that I thought that $1.90 was a little pricey for a chocolate chip cookie, but look at all those chocolate chunks-- plus it was nearly the size of my face. Pictures are deceiving.

Though it may seem so, I am not on their payroll. Honest.

Lost Souls Cafe
124 W. 4th St.
Harlem Place Alley

Monday, February 25, 2008

Got A Rack?

A bike rack, that is.

I've spent the last few weeks storing my bicycle in my third-floor apartment, lugging it up and down the stairs or using the tiny elevator when I am too weak to carry it. I don't mind this too much, but as I continue to furnish my apartment, the presence of my rusty, three-speed Schwinn Breeze is becoming more of a nuisance (read: serious eyesore).

It seems to be an unnecessary one considering there is this gigantic space downstairs in the lobby:

It houses our mailboxes and little else.

Sometimes, people leave free things in the corner near the door.

I found out from a tenant who moved in five years ago that Playa Vista's original plan had been to install a rack there, but apparently that hasn't come to fruition. Is it bureaucracy, budget, or simple neglect?

Do many Downtown apartment buildings have indoor bike racks? It certainly doesn't seem to be very high on the list of generally-sought amenities. Does your building/complex have bike racks at all, anywhere?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Coffee & Donuts I

I love taking detours on my morning commute and discovering things on the new path that I would never have come across otherwise.

I came across bright Ollin Cafe on one such detour last week. It was refreshing to see a bright cafe like this so far south of Downtown or Koreatown and north of USC. They serve decent Gavina coffee, and the inside is welcoming. I passed by the place at about 8PM on Friday and it was closed so I am guessing that this will be a day-time destination only until they gain more business and/or the neighborhood becomes more welcoming to it. It looks like with some time and support it could become my South of Downtown-equivalent of my beloved Antigua Cultural Coffeehouse in East LA.

This particular donut shop has become a weekly stop for me since I dropped in and bought a chocolate-glazed twist a couple of weeks ago while waiting for the Dunn-Edwards across the street to finish mixing paint for work.

I had a minor moment of revelation upon biting into that donut: it was ethereal and tender, and I had never before had a twist with anything other than a regular glaze or just sugar. I could have eaten ten of them.

Thursday breakfast indulgence (please ignore the office supplies in the background):

That raisin-custard roll was perfectly cooked. A rarity.

Ollina Cafe
1325 Venice Blvd.

King Donuts
1955 S. Hoover St.

Cost Summary:
Coffee: $1.00
Donut: $1.35
Total: $2.35

Monday, February 18, 2008

Favourite Place: Central Library

The first time I visited Central Library was four years ago, and until I moved nearer to Downtown, it had remained a distant and fond memory. Now it is often where I begin my excursions around Downtown if it is not the destination itself.

It is easy to hop on the DASH F Line, walk up
those steps and take in the skeletal sculptures, the foreign languages engraved on the steps, the trees and benches and pigeons.

I could wander through the place for hours and often do. There is always something new to see, such as the current exhibit in the library's first floor gallery: Leo Politi's Bunker Hill. I love the way the vast center of the library is flooded with natural light and looking at these sculptures above me as I ride the escalators down.

I usually enter and exit the library on Flower Street, but the last time I was there I discovered that the Hope Street exit is quite lovely as well. I sat on the wide wall at the entrance and read with the company of kumquat trees. It was the perfect way to enjoy the unseasonably warm winter day. I had to suppress the urge to eat one of those kumquats; I probably looked out of place enough sitting on that wall without devouring the shrubbery.

Central Library
630 W. 5th Street

Friday, February 15, 2008

Lost Souls Kill Radio

Tonight I was at Lost Souls Cafe for five hours.


I'd wandered over for coffee and writing, and ended up talking to Nicanor, a musician who told me that he would be performing that night. (He also happens to work there.) I hadn't planned on staying long but after two hours of writing, it was too close to showtime for me to justify leaving.

I'm extremely glad I didn't rank out--the event tonight was hosted by Kill Radio's Marc and Jon of Hear Here and featured some excellent bands from the LA area. The lineup consisted of four very different performances which each brought a unique energy to the stage:

Daniel Spree | His manipulation of vocals and acoustic guitar captured me from the start, and he manages to hit a falsetto without turning it into a whine. He endeared himself to me with the very sweet "Thanks" he gave after each song before going on to the next.

The Redd Sea | Nicanor played electric guitar and provided vocals while acoustic guitarist and percussionist Richard provided the backup. The spiritual energy of their instrument-focused songs (dedicated to Dreams, Sound, and Mother Earth) combined with my caffeine haze and put me into a wonderful trance-like state.

Temple | Sharon Temple and Mark The Bassist switched up the feel of the show with their electro-dance sound and made it difficult not to make a spectacle of myself by getting up and dancing. The confidence of their shiny blue tights and tight red pants (try to guess who was wearing which) showed in their performance and was hardly shaken by a computer error (accursed technology!) during their set. Analog forever.

Confessions of a Corn Silo
| Daniel Spree made a repeat appearance on bass along with the band's frontman Matt Reischling, percussionist Richard Pacheco, and a guitarist I deduce to be Mike Locke from their MySpace (forgive me if I'm wrong). They closed out the show on a strong note with nostalgic yet sardonic songs. I think I was initially won over by their song "Cow Town," which included a lyric about fertilizer that made me smile and reminded me of UC Davis.

This was only my second encounter with Lost Souls Cafe and my first encounter with Kill Radio and I am impressed. It was fantastic to experience the quality of these local bands; Lost Souls is definitely doing something right with their space. With their packed calendar, it takes effort to find a night where something isn't happening.

Kill Radio: support music. Or as Marc called it: the non-sucking solution.

Lost Souls Cafe
Old Bank District - Harlem Place Alley
124 W. 4th Street

My path meandered too much to record-- Take Metro if you can!

Cost Summary:
Soul Drip over Ice: $2.85
Donation to Hear Here: the last $1.00 in my wallet
Total: $3.85

Stern note to self: never leave the camera at home again.

Art: "One Way or Another" at JANM

One Way or Another: Asian American Art Now, a traveling exhibition organized by Asia Society of New York, is showing at the Japanese American National Museum February 10 to May 4.

The exhibition
brings together seventeen artists from across the United States who challenge and extend the category of Asian American art. The title of the exhibition, drawn from the 1978 Blondie hit song, suggests a non-formulaic way of making or seeing art. The artists and their works characterize the freedom to choose, manipulate and reinvent different kinds of languages and issues, whether formal, conceptual, or political. Together, they defy a definitive conception of Asian American art.

The exhibition features painting, sculpture, video and installation art by contemporary Asian American artists who—with a strong sense of being American and an acute critical consciousness of world matters—grapple with issues of self in a way that sets them apart from their predecessors.

- One Way or Another Website

I have yet to take an excursion into Little Tokyo and this is a very good reason to make it out there. Hopefully long before May 4.

Japanese American National Museum
369 East First Street

Dash Weekend Downtown Discovery Line

Dash: $0.25
JANM Admission: $8.00 or free every Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. and every third Thursday of the month

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ride the Metro and (Maybe) Run into the Mayor

I was browsing MetroRiderLa and the "Daily Transit Links Roundup" included this article which states that Mayor Villaraigosa is going to begin taking the bus once a week.

Resurrecting a pledge to use more public transit as Los Angeles grapples with gridlock, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has begun stepping aboard more buses and rails to encourage Angelenos to leave their cars at home once a week.

"If I said to everybody, `Get out of your car and take public transit,' the likelihood of people doing that isn't great," Villaraigosa said Tuesday after arriving on the 710 Metro bus to catch the Purple Line at Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue.

"So the goal is: Get out of your car once a week. I want to model that."

Villaraigosa's "Go Metro with the Mayor" effort is a pledge from his first 100 days in office to ride public transit once a week. While he said his work schedule prevents him from using it more frequently, the overall goal is to lead by example.

But the real test of Villaraigosa's leadership will be whether he can stick to the new routine.

It's a model Los Angeles - and the nation - needs as mayors in major cities gush about the benefits of public transportation but don't always practice what they preach.

I hope that Villaraigosa succeeds. It's not easy to plan even a single workday around public transit when you are accustomed to driving, but if the mayor can do it, maybe more people will be willing to give it a try.

I ride my bike to work when
I don't have to run any errands that require driving, and sometimes that means I only get to bike to work once a week. It's not so bad, though, since I live only 1.5 miles from work, and hopefully more people will find living near their place of business a viable option. With the number of fancy condominiums and lofts going up all over Downtown, that actually has a chance of happening (for those who can afford it, anyway).

If enough people follow the mayor's example, maybe we'll be able to see the thick haze of smog over the skyline clear just a little bit.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Free Pancakes in Downtown

Every year on Fat Tuesday, IHOP hosts its National Pancake Day Celebration and gives out one free shortstack to each customer, asking only that we consider making a donation in support of local children's hospitals. Since Fat Tuesday fell on Super Tuesday, National Pancake Day was moved to today instead.

I'll be heading over to the Downtown IHOP tonight for a shortstack and hashbrowns. Yes, it's an all-carb dinner, and no, I am not ashamed.

It ends at 10PM, so don't be too late.

800 S. Flower St.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Look Inside

Presenting 1821 South Main Street:

The entrance is on the right where that small tree is optimistically growing. The unmarked shop with half-open blinds between Viva Cellular and my entrance is El Sombrero Restaurant from my previous post. The operating hours are still confusing, and there are sometimes men loitering outside-- occasionally inebriated, generally harmless enough.

The building was completed in 1928, fifteen years after the completion of the Rutland Hotel Apartments next door.

Inside 1821 South Main Street:

The giant mural that lines this wall is somewhat contrary to the "dignified" Art Deco lobby in the Rutland, but it has grown on me. I like walking past the row of images and being reminded of the events this building has stood through, what its past tenants witnessed.

Completion in 1928

Completion of the Orpheum Theater on Broadway, 1958

Vietnam War, 1973

The events catalogued by the mural go on. There are more (equally poor quality) photos on Flickr.

From my research at Central Library, it doesn't seem like the buildings were ever associated with anything particularly important. I guess I can attribute the existence of this and other buildings like it to pre-Depression era optimism. It's a shame that segregation lines probably destroyed chances of further development, though the gentrification that is slowly happening now is an interesting issue in itself.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Beautiful Day at the Flea Market

The turnout for the second-ever South Park Flea Market was sparse once again, but the vendors were still friendly and enthusiastic. Most everyone seemed to be in generally good spirits-- I'm sure that we were all half-delirious from the bright, eighty-degree weather. (I have to admit that I was absurdly happy to be able to wear flip-flops out!)

Fat Sam's barbecue stand was once again the lone food vendor-- not ideal but certainly was not a problem. Their ice-cold lemonade was exactly right for a day like today. We just have to figure out a way to get them to start using paper cups instead of styrofoam.

Food vendors are a key component in any outdoor market event; we'll know that SPFM is in good shape when more appear.

One of the first encounters I had at the flea market (other than the lemonade from the BBQ stand) was with this beauty from Bark Avenue.

Bark Avenue is a dog and cat boarding company just south of Downtown which also has a nonprofit arm called the Bark Avenue Foundation. The organization seeks to end pet overpopulation as well as place stray cats and dogs into homes. I visited their facility a couple of weeks after meeting Dawn Vargas, their Feline Specialist, at the first Market. Watch out for this tent if you're a cat-lover: Dawn brings along her rescues and you run a serious risk of feline seduction.

The total number of vendors was sparse, but there was still a variety of people selling books, clothing, records, candles, furniture-- all of the things that you would want to see at a flea market. We just need to make sure we keep coming out every Sunday to let it be known that we want SPFM to become a permanent fixture in Downtown.

More of my photos of the flea market can be found on Flickr.

8th & Grand (entrance is closer to Olive)

A meandering path on foot, from Main & 18th to 8th & Grand, dragging along a friend from Orange County foolish enough to visit on a Sunday

Entrance: Free (this time)
Lemonade: $2.00
Merchandise: $3.00
Total: $5.00

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Flashback: $35 Per Month

From a classified ad in the Los Angeles Times, November 2, 1930:

Fifty-eight years = 2072% increase in rent and no more maid service.

The Los Angeles Times Historical Database is an amazing resource.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Flea Market's Second Run

The weeks after South Park Flea Market's inaugural run were tough: it was canceled due to
Weather, Super Bowl and pure frustration!
(as stated in their weekly newsletter. I highly recommend joining the mailing list for the latest updates on whether the Flea Market is on or not. Hopefully there will be more "on" than "not" notices.)

This Sunday, February 10th, will see the Market's return to 8th & Grand for its second run. I sincerely hope that nothing comes up in the next few days to impede this. The sun has been out all week and it looks like the warm streak is going to continue through the weekend. Ah, Southern California winter-- it never wants to last too long.

If you are in Downtown this weekend, please strongly consider at least dropping by the Flea Market to take a gander at all the fun, eclectic goods offered by the vendors. I'm crossing my fingers for more food vendors than the lone, albeit impressive barbecue stand, but I won't be too disappointed if there aren't; the lemonade and the pulled-pork sandwich I had last time were delicious.

Since my social life had been taking me down to Orange County for the past four weekends, I am happy that I have this to look forward to for my first Sunday in Downtown in a month!

South Park Flea Market

8th & Grand

I plan on taking the Dash, and you can use the Metro website to find out whether public transit is possible. If you will be driving, there should be ample (and free) street parking within a block of the Market.

$2 entrance fee, $1 with a flyer

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Super Tuesday & DineLA

Hillary is ahead. I had nothing to do with it-- I'm not registered as a member of any party.

Where did I vote on Super Tuesday? My polling location was incredibly convenient:

Audi Green Room
1900 S. Figueroa St.

After work, I dropped off my absentee ballot, got my "I Voted" sticker, then went with two friends to check out LA Prime at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel. We listened to NPR along the way and griped about how long it would take for the ballots to be counted.

The trip to LA Prime was an instance of seriously living beyond my means that I will not be repeating any time soon. I was only enticed by dineLA week's lowered prices, not to mention the 35th-floor view that we would have while dining there. listend LA Prime as their best deal and my friends and I decided to spoil our brink-of-adulthood selves.

I had the lobster bisque, petit filet, truffle mashed potatoes (an extra $8), and a ridiculously large apple cobbler. The (free) bread was excellent, the steak was cooked perfectly, and at the end of the night I was sure that I would end up in some sort of gluttony hell for consuming as much food as I did.

Perhaps losing my "I Voted" sticker during the course of the night was a form of punishment.

Never again, I say. Until maybe the next dineLA week.

LA Prime New York Steakhouse
Westin Bonaventure
404 S. Figueroa St.

North on Figueroa, complimentary valet is at Flower & Second.

Cost Summary:
3-courses (Prix Fixe Menu)
Truffle Mashed Potatoes
Tax & Tip
Total: $55.00

Monday, February 4, 2008

Organic in South Central

Community Services Unlimited, Inc. is a nonprofit organization based in South Central Los Angeles that I stumbled upon while searching for grocery stores on

CSU, Inc. runs various programs focused on creating sustainable communities through educating youth about farming and gardening, supporting local farmers, and making locally-grown, fresh produce available to the community.

I met briefly with Neela Sharma, Programs Director of CSU, last week in order to inquire about volunteering. She was at the tail-end of prepping for the weekly Village Marketplace and Farm Fresh Produce Bag program that happen every Thursday at the corner of Menlo & King Blvd. The programs are ambitious and, like most ambitious programs, under-staffed. The Village Marketplace is a produce stand which sells fruit and vegetables that were either grown in CSU's "urban mini-farms" or by local farmers. The Farm Fresh Produce Bag program is similar to CSA: for a small monthly fee, participants can receive seasonal, locally grown produce on a weekly basis ($32/month/1-2 Person Bag, $64/month/3-4 Person Bag).

Finding out about CSU feels like fate, considering all the griping I have been doing lately about "kids these days" being too far removed from their food and how difficult it is to find good produce outside of less-than-convenient-and-likely-expensive farmers' markets. I'm excited to begin volunteering, whether it is on one of the mini-farms or at the produce stand.

It's wonderful to know that there is an alternative to negotiating downtown traffic (of all sorts) to get locally-grown produce, and that it will support such an important organization at the same time.

Village Marketplace by CSU, Inc.
In front of the LA Swim Stadium Pool
Thursdays, 3PM-5PM

3980 Menlo Ave.