Take Me Out To The Ballgame

May 20, 2016

guestcommentary

(While we’re off visiting New York City, our Los Angeles correspondent, Ned Teitelbaum, writes a post about Dodger baseball, linking it back to Brooklyn and public transit. [Did you know them Dodgers got their name from Manhattanites derisively referring to their borough counterparts as ‘trolley dodgers’ because the Brooklyn streets were once filled with trolley cars?] The serendipity of things, huh?)

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There are times during baseball season in Los Angeles when I feel closer to my father’s Brooklyn than I ever did living in New Jersey or Manhattan, or even Brooklyn itself, which we’d pass through on our way to see my grandmother when I was a kid. dodgerstadiumThose times are when the Mets are in town and I am lucky enough to catch one of their games at Dodger Stadium.

“Pick you up at six?” my friend, a New Jersey transplant with season tickets offers one recent evening. Great seats at the game, a meal that comes with the seats, and door-to-door service as well? He’s a great friend, but I decline the ride.

“I’ll just meet you there,” I tell him, thinking that’s how busy people do it in a big city, even if Los Angeles long ago abandoned its urban rubric for a more suburban slant. My friend knows I’m on a transit kick, and now since my car was recently totaled, I just walk and take transit practically everywhere.

Still, I feel a sense of guilt at not taking the ride, as if I’m being anti-social, biting the hand that feeds me.

“I just need to walk a little, climb some stairs,” I explain, and he pretends to understand. We’ll meet up at Will Call.ebbetsfield

I gather my things — my glove, my cap, my Lee Mazzilli shirt — and am about to leave when the phone rings.

“I can’t talk right now, Mom,” I say quickly into the phone.

“Where are you going?” she asks.

“I’m taking the subway to the Dodgers game…” But even before the words are out of my mouth, I am struck by a mysterious, ghostly and disjointed nostalgia, as if I had spoken those exact words in that exact order countless times before.

But of course, I hadn’t.

The Dodgers left Brooklyn for the West Coast the year before I was born. reeseandrobinsonStill, I would hear stories all my young life from the devout Brooklyn Dodger fan that would marry my mother and become my father. He would tell me stories about Pee-Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, the Duke of Flatbush and of course, Jackie Robinson.

But Pee-Wee was his favorite. I’d never seen my father do anything more athletic than mow the lawn or pull up his socks, but in clips of Pee-Wee Reese playing shortstop, I recognized my father’s own physicality – short, quick and tightly muscled – and imagined him as a kid in Bed Stuy playing stickball or handball against the wall.

I take the Red Line down to Union Station from my local stop in Koreatown. When I get to the game, my friend has just arrived. He smiles under his Mets cap, and sports the team shirt as well. I read the name on the back – Dykstra. Lenny Dykstra, nick-named ‘Nails’ for his toughness and unrelenting drive to win. I see my father in him too.

We enter and take our seats. roycampanellaThe sun is coming down behind the palms that top the ridge out beyond the parking lot, and while the visiting players are out on the field, stretching and cracking jokes before the game, I am distracted by the swallows flying above their heads and feasting on the gnats. A breeze, fragrant with sage and mountain pine, comes down from the mountains and fills the stadium. There is no question that the Dodgers’ current home is a powerful place.

After the Star-Spangled Banner, the game starts. The Mets lose a pitchers’ battle on the last at-bat of the game. My friend drives us home in his electric car with the disembodied female voice telling him how to go.

“We’ll get ‘em next time,” he says, and we both know it’s just part of the game, what you say when your team loses. I thank him as I get out of the car and close the door. I am grateful for such a friend.

The next day, I’m waiting for the 206 bus to take me back to my office after a Chinese lunch. A man sits at the stop. He has curly, prematurely white hair and looks up at me, at the top of my head.

“How long you been a Mets fan?”newyorkmetslogo

At first I think it’s odd that he knows. But then I remember I am wearing the team cap.

“All my life,” I tell him with a certain pride.

He reaches into his bag and pulls out his own crumpled Mets cap and puts it on.

The man starts talking. And he is a fast talker, mostly about the Mets and how he was there when Shea Stadium opened in 1964, and for some reason, he gets free seats to any game he wants.

I want to tell him that I was there in 1969 when the Mets won it all, in the fifth game of the World Series at Shea, when they beat the Baltimore Orioles. But I can’t get a word in edgewise.

He continues talking, mentions ‘clients’ of his and I wonder what kind of clients he means. losangelesdodgerslogoHe tells me he got a ball signed at the game at Dodger Stadium the other day and the Mets players who had signed it.

“I got Campbell and Syndegaard and Morales,” he says, then doubles back. “Actually, I already had Morales. But I got Wright and Cespedes and De Grom and…”

He goes on like this even as we get on the now crowded bus and sit next to each other, taking up seats you’re supposed to give up to the elderly and the handicapped.

I glean from his non-stop stream that he is a professional drummer, which probably explains the round canvas bag in his lap. He plays the clubs in Koreatown, he tells me, knows a whole bunch of people from the world of entertainment, including Stevie Wonder and Zsa-Zsa Gabor, and is traveling around the country come June with the Platters. brooklyndodgerslogoWherever he goes, he checks out a baseball game. Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia…

We get to my stop and he gives me his card.

“Call me anytime,” he tells me. “We’ll go to a game.”

I nod and thank him and climb over a few people to get out of the bus. And then I realize I never got a chance to ask him where he was from. Then again, why would I have? It was obvious. As obvious as Pee Wee and Syndegaard, the Duke of Flatbush and Wright.

echoingly submitted by Ned Teitelbaum


Traffic

April 8, 2016

It finally happened. Nearly 3 months into my stay, having painstakingly calculated my every movement in an effort to avoid ever having to experience it, there I was, smack dab in one of those legendary Los Angeles freeway traffic jams.slamonthebrakes My own personal apocarlypse.

There’d been brief whiffs of it previously, of course. Unless you lock yourself away in your house, never venturing outside and bringing the world to you through modern technology, you can’t not be aware of the traffic. Freeways, surface streets, there is always evidence and glimpses of gridlock here. Up until this moment, however, I always had an escape plan at the ready, an alternate route to hop off onto in order to give myself the sensation of getting to where I was going less slowly.

And it wasn’t like I deliberately drove right into this one with no exit strategy. I carefully calculated timing so as to not arrive right at the brunt of rush hour, whatever time that actually was. Left late, arranged stops along the way, happily toodling along the Historic 101, the Pacific Coast Highway, through the beach towns that line the coast between San Diego and Los Angeles.lafreeway2

But just beyond Oceanside, the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base turned me inland from the water, toward Interstate 5 and things began to unravel. Not immediately, mind you. The first stretch of the 5? All good. Zipping right along, all the way up into Orange County. Easy peasy.

The plan, it was working to perfection.

So smooth the sailing, I decided not to return to the PCH at Dana Point, opting instead to take the 73 toll road connection toward the 405, up past Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, well on my way back to L.A. I mean, it was a toll road, for chrissakes! It had to go fast, right? I was prepared to pay for the privilege.

So were a lot of other drivers, apparently. But that wasn’t the source of the problem. An accident somewhere up the way, past Aliso Viejo, ground everything to a halt, a slow, grinding, halting McHalty grind halt…

I will say this about traffic jams. They are the great equalizer. No matter what your vehicle type, a Maserati or a Tercel, SUV or some tiny thing, in a traffic jam, you’re all going the same speed ultimately. lafreeway4Some may offer a better quality ride while you’re idling, a/c when it’s hot outside, heated seats and steering wheel when it’s cold, a state of the art sound system to make it seem like you’ve got nothing better in the world to do, nowhere else you’d rather be than sitting in your car, listening to tuneage.

In the end, though, we’re all still stuck in traffic. The clock keeps the same time. The same number of minutes, ticking away in your life.

How people cope with this on a daily basis I do not know. For many, I realize, it is not a lifestyle choice but one foisted upon them by economic forces. Others put up with it as a fact of life if you want some more square footage, a backyard, a quiet street. Some even embrace it, I imagine, as a symbol of success, of having made it.

Whatever the reasons, it’s just the way it is. So sit back, crank the music and enjoy endure. The coast will clear, sooner or later.

For me, sitting in a car, stuck in traffic, even the rare times such a thing happens to me, I cannot stop wondering how on earth we as a species have advanced as far as we have. roadrageCongestion, caused by an over-dependence on private vehicle use, is not a new phenomenon. As soon as we started building roads and freeways to accommodate cars travelling further and further distances, we found ourselves in traffic jams. The math is pretty basic, the variables few. Volume, dimension, space.

Yet, we keep trying to massage the numbers, rework the equation. Build more roads. Bury and elevate transit lines. Synchronize traffic lights.

So far, to no avail. Congestion is demonstrably worse in large urban regions than we’ve experienced previously. It turns out that there’s simply not enough room to provide for, in workable, sustainable way, more people driving more cars. Never mind the adverse environmental, social and psychological effects of trying to do so.

But wait! What about smart, self-driving cars? Won’t they be the solution to all our transportation problems? Technology will save us. trafficcongestionTechnology always saves us.

No doubt such technology will alleviate some of the stresses that cause congestion. Reduce the number of accidents that snarl traffic. Increase the smart decisions that can help traffic flow, instead of the random, stopping and starting, weaving back and forth between lanes that constitute driver-led traffic management we witness now on our roads. Maybe it might even lessen the need to own our own automobiles.

Self-driving technology will very likely even make sitting in a traffic jam more enjoyable. Without having to concentrate on driving, car users will be able to go about their daily business while still behind the wheel, getting a jump start on work, helping their kids with homework assignments, even just sitting back and enjoying the scenery. Just like you can do now on a commuter train or subway car.

Rest assured, self-driving cars will not eliminate road congestion. By making driving more enjoyable and feasible, you will entice more people to (self) drive. Having more people in cars on the roads means…

We know what it means. sittingintrafficJust look around, the next time you find yourself stuck in a traffic jam, inadvertently or not, wondering why and how to make it better. The answer’s obvious. We remain stubbornly convinced that there has to be another way, and determined to find it, no matter how long it takes us to get where we’re going.

traffickingly submitted by Cityslikr


Take It Easy

April 6, 2016

I’m standing on the corner… no, not in Winslow, Arizona. Why would that be the first thing to pop into my mind? sandiegolibraryI fucking hate the Eagles, man.

San Diego, California, actually, having just toured around their gherkin-shaped Central Library, a symbol of the city’s downtown renewal that hasn’t yet cleared all the streets of their homeless and indigent. Maybe next trip. Fingers crossed!

That was unduly harsh. It’s the fucking Eagles, man. I tell you. Just talking about them gets me blood-boilingly irrational.

I’m on the corner. The traffic light changes, signalling my turn to move. I take two steps into the street when I stop up suddenly, staring as a car runs the red light. Another car, coming surprisingly quickly through the intersection with the green light, expertly swerves behind this car, avoiding a serious t-bone collision I am absolutely convinced is unavoidable. A second vehicle stops successfully, allowing the red light runner to crawl through the intersection, in a manner I’m imagining to be sheepishly, out of harm’s way. runaredNo harm, no foul. OK. Some foul language shouted out the window by one of the drivers. But no harm.

As I continue across the road after all this excitement I notice the car that had run the red, a white Jeep Cherokee, I believe, how I know these things, I do not know, has pulled over to the side of the street. Sensible, I thought. Collect your thoughts. Regain your composure. Take a deep breath and thank you lucky stars. It could’ve been so much worse.

Only afterwards do I think I should’ve walked over to the parked car, that white Jeep Cherokee, tapped on the passenger side window and asked if the driver was alright. Maybe assure them that mistakes happen. This one was a close call but, you know, all’s well that ends well. Or something like that. I am terrible at consoling people.

No matter. I didn’t. I just proceeded on my way which, when you stop to think about it, is really weird and inconsiderate. reliefIf such a scenario had happened under any other circumstance, someone slipping off a curb and falling down, say, or two people, both distracted, running into each other, knocking one another to the ground, a cyclist hitting a bump and going ass over tea kettle, most of us would stop to make sure everybody was OK, nobody hurt enough to require medical assistance.

Granted, there was no actual physical damage or possible injury with the automobile near-miss. Maybe the driver who ran the red light wasn’t rattled at all, maybe they simply stopped to finish sending that text they were in the middle of when the light so rudely changed to red on them. I don’t know. I certainly didn’t stop to check either way which I still think is odd.

The automobile enables us to not really give a shit about anything or anybody around us. There’s outside the car and there’s inside the car with very little overlap between the two. We give ourselves leeway to disregard laws while driving that we would rarely do outside of it. takeiteasyWe shout profanities out the windows, lean on the horn at the slightest little perceived slight or inconvenience, and just generally act in aggressively assertive ways that would be shocking if we behaved similarly in a restaurant or theatre or elevator. Politeness and civil behaviour are for pedestrians. Behind the wheel of a car we are all battle-scarred warriors.

And when a driver throws out the anchors to steady their shaken nerves after a near-death experience, one they are almost entirely responsible for, we just keep on walking, thinking to ourselves, Just another inconsiderate asshole driver.

self-reflectingly submitted by Cityslikr


Westwood

March 30, 2016

More news on the lunacy of our parking policy/philosophy front: It’s tough finding a parking spot at your local Trader Joe’s!traderjoes

Read through the Twitter timeline in this Buzzfeed post, 23 Hilariously Accurate Tweets About Trader Joe’s Parking Lots, and after about the 4th one in, try not screaming, THEN GET OUT OF YOUR CAR, YOU FUCKING DIMWIT!! WALK A BIT!

Let me add a personal anecdote. There’s a Trader Joe’s about a 10, 15 minute walk from our place here. It pretty much sits right in the heart of Westwood. Even before reading this article, we noted the hazard of walking past the store’s underground lot. Cars flew out, past the gate with little obvious thought to occupants on the sidewalk ahead. Cars turned madly into the lot, not making eye contact with the pedestrians they just stopped in their tracks as if this was perfectly acceptable behaviour. Horns, the soundtrack of Los Angeles, frequently sounded.crazedparking

It must be pure pandemonium down there, we thought. A real knock-em-down contest for precious few spots. I even wrote about it earlier, the importance of validation, some weeks back.

What’s particularly frustrating about this is that, after downtown Santa Monica, and the ocean strip between it and Venice, and maybe Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Westwood is probably the most pedestrianized area on the westside of Los Angeles. The UCLA campus anchors it on the north. Many of the students live in low and medium rise buildings within walking distance to the west and southwest of the school. The western end of the so-called Condo Canyon strip along Wilshire Boulevard stops just to the southeast.

There is lots of built-in density in the area, in other words, which should provide a natural pedestrian constituency to Westwood. Yet cars still rule. Aside from a couple scrambled pedestrian crossings up nearer to the campus, traffic lights are geared to car travel. zeegogglesYou could stand for minutes waiting at even the non-busiest of side streets, vainly pressing the walk signal. Zee button! It does nuss-ing!! At other spots, the pedestrian crossing is awkward, unnecessarily two-stage. Another is simply fucking dangerous.

Why?

This entire section of Westwood would be perfect for some tactical urbanism. Close streets to car traffic here, reduce it to a single lane there. Encourage more restaurant patio life which is surprisingly sparse, given the generally agreeable climate.

The truth is, it couldn’t hurt Westwood. While memory shouldn’t be considered reliable, at least not mine, at least not mine contemplating over 20 years, I do remember a much livelier neighbourhood back when I lived here in the early-90s. More restaurants and bars. Retail didn’t feel as, I don’t know, shopworn and trinkety. I mean, even further back in the day, Westwood was the place for big Hollywood premieres. westwoodA couple of those theatres remain in place, carrying the pedigree if not the status they once did.

It’s not that Westwood is devoid of street life. While not exactly bustling, there are people on foot, getting to the places they’re going. There’s just no sense of lingering. No just hanging out. No Gehl-ing.

Westwood seems like a perfect place to try and instill a little of that sensibility in Los Angeles.

There is a weekly farmer’s market on one of the side streets. Further down Westwood Boulevard, south of Wilshire, a block was cordoned off from cars last Sunday, for the Persian New Year celebration, Nowruz, in the area of the city known as Tehrangeles, for the Iranian population that settled there. People flocked to the event, once they could find a parking spot on a nearby sidestreet.

In fact, the whole strip of Westwood Boulevard, from Santa Monica Boulevard north, which, to these eyes, is far too wide already for the amount of traffic it accommodates, could be scaled back on its auto primacy, and reconfigured in a more equitable way. Remove a couple car lanes. westwoodblvdInstall an actual bike lane instead of the painted lines that are more notable for their disregard than actual use. Widen the sidewalks. Green it up. Actually try embracing the boulevard in Westwood Boulevard.

An uphill battle in most cities, even those less entrenched in a car culture, this would be the steepest of inclines here. Those who might benefit and enjoy it most, UCLA students, have their own public commons on campus, although it’s surprisingly small and contained, competing as it has to for space with the various parking lots. I guess Westwood as it stands serves their needs as much as it has to, with its various grocery stores, drug stores, quick eats joints and bars.

And much of the rest of the surrounding community, living in some of the most expensive real estate in the country, Brentwood, Bel Air, Beverly Hills adjacent, has shown open hostility to any sort of suggestion that would get in the way of their cars. tuscanyA dedicated rush hour bus lane along the Condo Canyon section of Wilshire. Bike lanes on Westwood.

I guess you don’t buy your expensive automobiles in order to leave them parked in your laneway while you walk over to do some shopping or grab a bite to eat. There are parking spots at Trader Joe’s to fight over and bitch about the lack of, dammit! If people want to stroll somewhere to grab a bottle of good, inexpensive wine, can’t they just go to Tuscany like everybody else?

in vainly submitted by Cityslikr


Irvine

March 29, 2016

I spent a couple days in Irvine, California last week. It was the longest 4 hours of my life!

irvineca1That’s sort of how the joke goes, right?

But seriously, folks…

I went to Irvine last week to visit what is considered to be one of the best examples of a “planned-community” there is in post-war North America. It is full of green space and bike trails, nationally ranked schools, good paying jobs, a robust economy and all the other good and positive things you read in local brochures. Which made the gentleman’s suggestion at the Chamber Tourist office that I go to Newport Beach if I only had a few hours in Irvine somewhat strange.

I’ll confess. I am suspicious of these master-planned communities. They elicit thoughts of Disneyland, and its real world manifestation, Celebration, Florida. Not so much communities as enclaves, escapes from the world around them instead of additions. This is my bias that is more visceral than well-thought through.

The city of Irvine itself was something of a reaction against the ill-planned and wild west suburban development that haunt urbanists’ dreams, the types of formless suburban tracts then encroaching upon Irvine, spreading in all directions out from the city of Los Angeles. This particular area of land was owned by one family, the Irvines, natch, irvineca5who successfully ranched and farmed it for about a century before turning their eye toward urban development. The idea, initially, was to carefully construct a city of 50,000 people, radiating out from a University of California campus, Irvine, natch, sitting at its centre.

Irvine is now a city 5 times that size, the university campus an integral part of but not at the centre of the city. Irvine is, according to the Chamber’s 2015 Community Report, “an economic powerhouse…the address of choice for Fortune 500 companies and start-ups in cutting-edge industry sectors like life sciences, advanced manufacturing, information technology and digital arts and media.” The city regularly tops lists of the country’s most liveable and safest cities. It’s young, with a median age of 34, and fairly well-to-do, a median household income of over $90K.

Irvine sees itself as the ‘centre of Orange County’.irvineca

Depending on your perspective this can be seen as either a) simple civic boosterism; b) more or less geographically correct; c) damning with faint praise.

It dawned on me during my brief Irvine outing that cities are built (in a planned manner or ad hoc) not primarily to be visited but to be lived in. To really get a sense of the place, I should’ve brought my bike down south with me, tried out the off-road trails that, apparently, would connect me to everything the city had to offer. Evidently, I was missing something.

Here were all the progressive fundamentals taught at architecture and planning schools since the 1920s (earlier if you count Ebenezer Howard): superblocks, pedestrian paths, mixed uses, integrated landscaping, public amenities. Here were concepts championed by Catherine Bauer, Lewis Mumford, Clarence Stein and other reformers, in the decades when suburbs were not yet reviled as soulless bedroom communities. And here was this vision built, lived in, mature, and thriving. Even as I remembered the intellectual planning history, my reaction was primarily emotional. Before me was not a theoretical treatise, but a real neighborhood with real architecture rooted in good principles: logically planned town organization, the useful integration of nature, multifaceted community, variety of choice. Its pleasures were obvious.

This was the assessment of Irvine by architect, historian and resident, Alan Hess, back a couple years ago. The article, at least in part, evoked a city I didn’t really catch a glimpse of. Its pleasures may have been obvious but were fleeting.

Certainly, the views out over the Little League baseball diamonds in the parklands abutting the Irvine Civic Center were fantastic, looking as they were toward the Santa Ana Mountains. northwoodA path between a couple of the fields led to a bike trail running along some sort of culvert, the San Diego Creek, perhaps? There was a bridge across it to a hockey rink, playing Kanye West over the loudspeakers, All of the Lights/All of the Lights.

Without a bike, however, I got back into my car to head off to my next destination, one of the early areas of development in Irvine, although developed independently of the “plan”, Northwood. It was about 6.5 miles away and if I wanted to get there really, really fast, I could, barring any adverse road conditions. In Irvine, there are arterial roads where you can drive between the various “villages” as they’re called, at 55 miles per hour! That’s right. 55 miles per hour. In a city.

That’s not to mention Irvine is cross-sectioned by a couple of major interstate freeways, the 5 and 405, along with a couple lesser ones, the 133 and 261.irvineca4

Bringing me to the crux of my discomfort with a planned city based on the primacy of moving people in cars, easily and speedily. I know that concept doesn’t appear stated anywhere. Mr. Hess writes of the “logically planned town organization” with its “superblocks, pedestrian paths, mixed uses, integrated landscaping, public amenities.” From his townhouse, he can walk to a library and grocery store.

So where are all these pedestrians, I wondered, gunning down the street like Sammy Hagar. Could they be tucked away, out of sight, off-road, going about their daily lives? Granted, it was a Monday afternoon, so maybe Irvinites had other things to do aside from just walking around, enjoying the good life. In my travels, I did stop at a park near a schoolyard that was full of kids, and their parents, waiting by their cars to drive them home.

Another detour took me through a couple of these dizzyingly laid-out neighbourhoods where, if you didn’t know your precise destination or lacked a keen sense of direction, could turn you around and have you discombobulated in no time. Interestingly, in one of these neighbourhoods, the streets had no stop signs, irvineca2no traditional visual guideposts. It was almost as if I’d stumbled into some secret, magical place of complete streets. With no obvious right of way, no authoritative directions on how to negotiate the streets from behind the wheel, I naturally drove far more cautiously, slowly.

Which left me crawling along empty daytime streets, not quite sure where I was going, rounding every corner in the hopes of catching a glimpse of some speeding traffic on a nearby arterial road where I could reorient myself and collect my bearings.

Having arrived in Irvine, unprepared to take advantage of the natural attractions of the place, the biking, the hiking, I was ultimately left with one thing to do if I was unwilling to go to Newport Beach. Head to the mall. The Spectrum, to be a exact, in the eastern part of town, not far from what will be the Orange County Great Park on the site of the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.spectrum

As far as malls go, the Spectrum is a nice mall. All open air with most of the familiar franchise shops you’d recognize. There’s a ferris wheel, merry-go-round and train ride around the place. Still. It’s a mall.

It seems to me that as well-intentioned and as well-executed as your planned community or city or neighbourhood is, if it’s planned around the automobile, ultimately, you end up driving to a mall. For all the talk of ‘logically planned town organization’, ‘superblocks’ and mixed uses, Irvine struck me as single-use as any suburban development I’ve been to. Maybe, back in the early days, when Irvine was a town of 50,000 residents, most people could walk to their local library and supermarket. If you live in one of those houses today, maybe you still can.

That’s not what most of the city felt like currently, at least to this outsider. All your recreational needs are within an easy car ride, a longer bike ride, a walk maybe, irvineca6if you don’t have anything else planned for the day. The automobile is the key integrative element to any sort of successful flow in Irvine.

The best laid plans will not mask that. No amount of green space will change it. Or will having the best school system in the world.

At some point of time, there will have to be a reckoning. That’s just basic math.

touristly submitted by Cityslikr