Friday, March 27, 2015

Tower Records

Grammy Museum theater

On Wednesday night, Tim and I attended a special screening of the documentary All Things Must Pass at the Grammy Museum. Directed by Colin Hanks, the film chronicles the rise of the mega-record-store-chain, Tower Records, from a small phonograph collection at the back of a Sacramento drugstore, to its sad demise in 2006. A Q&A panel followed afterward with Hanks and store founder Russ Solomon.


As a kid, I bought all my LPs and 45s at local discount stores (does anyone else remember Zodys? ) and a small record shop on Burbank’s “golden mall.” But once I became a young adult, I started shopping at the legendary Tower Records on Sunset Blvd., where I often stopped on my way home from classes at UCLA. The store was enormous. Even though I only ever bought pop and rock albums, the inventory was tremendous: everything from movie soundtracks to jazz to Top 40 to classical to world music. The staff wasn’t the friendliest bunch on the planet, but they certainly knew their music.

Favorite memory: Not knowing what else to do, I drove up to the Sunset Tower the day after John Lennon was killed. I guess I just needed to be with other people who loved John. His music was playing overhead and someone had pulled together an exhibit of his albums. Otherwise, it was business as usual--which in its own way was comforting. It was good to know the entire world hadn’t gone as crazy as I was feeling.

The film is fabulous--completely evocative of the period and the Tower Records experience. Still, Hanks hasn’t yet found a distributor and so is showing the doc at festivals and small venues, like the Grammy Museum. If you’ve ever bought anything at Tower Records—hell, if you listened music, any kind of music, during the 1960s, ‘70s or ‘80s—you must see this movie.

Colin Hanks (second from left) and
Russ Solomon (right)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

L.A. Marathon



L.A. marathoners, with City Hall looming 
in the background (click on images to enlarge)

We woke-up at 5:30AM to catch an early train downtown to see the L.A. Marathon. Usually we watch it on TV at home; but this year Tim's good friend Mike was running, so we decided to go and cheer him on. We said we'd be waiting for him between miles four and five, on the far side of the Music Center.

We arrived at the Civic Center subway stop a little after 7AM. A man, holding a hand-made poster, got off the train with us.

"Do you have a runner in the marathon?" I asked him.

"My wife and daughter," he said. He told them he'd be waiting at Disney Hall, but had no idea how to get there and so followed us upstairs. As we emerged, we could see helicopters overhead.

"Quick!" I yelled. "The elite runners are approaching!" Professional runners leave before the amateurs: first the women, followed several minutes later by the men. Despite the time advantage, no woman has ever won the L.A. Marathon.

We made it to Grand Ave. just as the last few elite women runners were passing by.

"Go, women, go!" I shouted, clapping madly as our new friend headed toward Disney Hall. 


Last of the elite women

We turned right and walked toward Temple. A man with a "CHRIST" sign had planted himself across from Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral. He was blasting Christian rap music on a boom-box.

After a few minutes, the helicopters reappeared as TV trucks suddenly zoomed around the corner. They were tracking the elite men, who were running in a close pack. They were so fast I hardly had time to cheer. Other non-elite runners soon followed, as we strained our eyes looking for Mike, who said he'd be wearing a green hat and blue jersey.


The elite men—the runner in red (left) eventually won the
race

There they go!—camera crew and elite men

Hundreds, and maybe even thousands, of people ran by. We were on a downhill slope, so one running coach yelled at his group to use this time to recharge. Several people carried large crosses, others carried banners. We saw runners—males as well as females—wearing tutus and some dressed as superheroes. One man wore what looked like an Aztec headdress. Elvis was there, too.


Tim shooting the crowd

I was starting to get dizzy watching everyone run by and so stepped away, when I heard Tim yell, "There he is!" Mike was running toward us. What a thrill! We took a couple of photos and then he was off again, down the hill.


Yay, Mike!

Off again

Swallowed by the crowd

We waited a few minutes and then turned back toward the subway, but were stopped by the sound of drums on First Street. Sure enough, there was a group of musicians pounding on huge red drums. The sound reverberated off the surrounding buildings. It was all quite wonderful and unexpected and everyone loved it.


In front of the Music Center

Drummers . . .

And woman in green tutu!

What a great way to spend a Sunday morning! I think we'll be back again next year, even if we don't know any of the runners.

The Original Pantry Cafe

Waiting on line at The Pantry (can you find Tim?)

Watching other people run a marathon can really open one's appetite, so we high-tailed it down to The Pantry after waving good-bye to Mike. Located on 9th and Figueroa, The Pantry has been a downtown L.A. institution since 1924. And yet, amazingly, Tim and I had never eaten there together.

Everyone waits on line to get inside The Pantry. An employee staffs the door to monitor the traffic flow and make sure no one cuts in. When we were two people away from the front, we asked if we could sit at the counter. Happily, there were two seats available in front of the grill, which we hungrily eyeballed.


The grill: pancakes, French toast, bacon, sour
dough toast, and, oh yeah, a plate of bacon being kept
warm below (yum!)

It had probably been 35 years since I'd eaten at The Pantry, so Tim took control. He ordered bacon and eggs with potatoes and suggested that I get pancakes, so we could share. I was a bit dubious—I usually need my own order of bacon and potatoes when we go out for breakfast!—but he was right. The portions were massive. We had a feast and still didn't finish everything. The bacon was crispy, the potatoes fresh, and the pancakes sweet and light. 


Sitting at the counter, waiting to eat

What a feast!

Breakfast is served 24/7 at The Pantry. When can we go back?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Happy Pi Day!

Pizza pie

Today is Pi Day—that is, the day that's represented by the numbers 3/14, just like pi or π, the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter (trust me, I had to look-up that definition!). Today's Pi Day is even more special because it carries pi out to five digits (3.14.15) and even ten, if you include the time: 9:26 and 53 seconds. Freaky, huh?

To celebrate, many math geeks around the world eat dessert pie on Pi Day. But we decided to be a little different: instead, we ate pizza pie. Which reminds me that I've been wanting to review pizza joints in Culver City for a while now—this is as good an excuse as any.

When we moved here 17 years ago, there was no good pizza in Culver City. If we wanted a slice, we had to go into Beverly Hills (oh, Jacopo's, how we miss you!) or Hollywood. Today, you can't hardly go half-a-mile without running into a pizza restaurant or two. We haven't eaten at all of them; still, here's our ranking of the ones we have eaten. Of course, none of them compare to Mozza, but what does?

1. In our humble opinion, the best pizza in Culver City is LaRocco's, located on Main Street. Claiming to be the only authentic New-York-style pie in town, this is the kind of pizza we loved when we were kids: light crust, mild but tasty sauce, and real cheese. We order slices and always end-up eating the equivalent of a whole pie. Lots of other pizza places have come to town since LaRocco's opened several years ago, but none are as good. Their motto: "Open 11:00 AM and when we run out of dough we close…that’s it!" 

2. Relatively new to Culver City is EnojEAT, part of the Eatalian Group of L.A. The food is fresh and fabulous and the pizzas hand-thrown, with a cracker-crust so light we can each eat an entire pie ourselves. I'm a purist—nothing but cheese, sauce and seasonings—but Tim loves mushrooms. EnjoEAT is a bit off the beaten path, tucked away behind the Pacific movie theater in downtown Culver City, but well worth the extra footsteps. It's our new favorite restaurant to take out-of-town guests.

3. Located in west Culver City, Pitfire offers artisanal pizzas that are made to order. Part of a chain that extends throughout L.A. and Orange counties, our Pitfire is always crowded with young westside (i.e., hip) couples and their kids. The pizza crusts are thin and crispy and the sauce is way tasty. Good salads, too. But, unfortunately, there's always a wait, so we've stopped going there on weekends.

4. Ugo has been part of downtown Culver City for a while now. They started small and then expanded nextdoor a few years ago, adding a wood-burning oven that makes a yummy Neapolitan pizza. We used to go there when we wanted a full meal; but then discovered EnjoEAT, which is always less crowded, especially on date nights.

5. Pieology is the latest addition to downtown Culver City's hot restaurant scene. It's a build-your-own pizza place with a stone oven and airy seating area. The crust was nice and thin with good toppings, but I had to add a lot of oregano and pepper to jazz-up my margherita pizza. We liked it, but will continue to go to LaRocco's when we're on Main Street.

6. If you want to build your own pizza, we recommend Pieology over Blaze, which we tried only once. The atmosphere was fun, but the pizzas not so much, though they are fast: cooked in three minutes. I was not impressed.

7. For many years, one of the most highly lauded pizzas on the westside was Abbot's, located on Abbot Kinney in Venice. We were, therefore, thrilled when an Abbot's opened within walking distance of our house. My excitement quickly waned, though, after taking a bite of their "famous bagel crust"—far too doughy for my taste, plus they put "things," like sesame seeds, on their crust. Not necessary! Our Abbot's soon turned into a Grey Block Pizza, similar to its predecessor (seedy crusts!) without the bagel dough. We occasionally go there when we just want to grab a slice without having to drive.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Happy Birthday, Boys!

Together forever: Jack and Bobby

A year ago, our friends Karen and Eric came home to find that a feral feline, who'd been living in their garage, had given birth to a litter of four kittens. Karen sent photos and before we knew it, we were going over to visit the new little ones. For more than 30 years, I've been addicted to orange tabbies, so we agreed to adopt the two gingers. After debating several different names, we settled on Jack and Bobby, in honor of two other brothers we greatly admire. 

Our Jack and Bobby are monsters. But they keep us young and we love them very much.

Maternity ward photo (Jack in the middle and Bobby
to the right)

Their new home

Brothers

Sharing a bed

Bathroom sink

Big-headed Bobby

Teenagers

Beautiful Jack

Sweet Bobby (on Mommy's office chair)

On Daddy's lap: Jackie, close-up and personal



Watching the world go by

Happy birthday, boys!

Sunday, March 01, 2015

All Disney, All the Time

Dapper Day at the Disney Resort

We spent another exhausting but fun weekend living la vida Disney. Yesterday we attended an auction of Disney memorabilia in hopes of out-bidding collectors from around the world. After six hours, we gave up and headed for the Disneyland hotel, where we stayed the night in preparation for Dapper Day, one of our favorite fan events. We had tickets for the first-ever Dapper Day lawn party hosted by the one-and-only Charles Phoenix; but with rain on the horizon the event was brought inside. Good food, entertainment and fabulous mid-century outfits. I wish every day was Dapper Day!


Van Eaton galleries Disneyland auction: lots of
wonderful posters and park artwork

"it's a small world" dolls!

Character heads and other
collectibles

Disneyland costumes and banners

More stuff I'd love to own, but the bidding was absolutely
cut-throat—before I could even raise my hand, someone
had already bid way above my limit, so we just watched
and either laughed or cursed under our breath

Tim wielding our unlucky paddle number (113)—he
was the only who bid on a 1967 Grad Night (the year he
graduated from high school) booklet and tickets, so we didn't go 
home completely empty-handed!

Dressed in faux vintage for Dapper Day

Lawn party host Charles Phoenix with
special guest Mickey Mouse—matchy-matchy!

With Mickey

P.S. Excellent photos of a lot of the folks we saw dressed up for Dapper Day at L.A. Racked.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Little Dumbo

Little Dumbo with big brother

Like I've written here before, the Dumbo ride at Disneyland holds a special place in my sister Vicki's and my hearts. No wonder then that my ears perked up when a woman we met, while waiting for the Christmas candlelight procession to start at Disneyland, said she had spent the day trying to track down a Dumbo popcorn container at the various popcorn stands in the park. She showed me a photo and I was immediately hooked. There was the most adorable Dumbo I had ever seen! I had to get one for my sister for Christmas. So as soon as the candlelight ceremony ended, I dragged Tim from popcorn stand to popcorn stand in search of Dumbo. This being December, the cast members all said they had to sell the Mickey Christmas containers before they could offer Dumbo. Disappointed, I eventually gave up and forgot all about Dumbo.

That is, until a couple of weeks ago, when we decided to stop by the park for a few hours and I suddenly had a crave for popcorn. And there was Dumbo in all his little glory! I bought one, ate all the popcorn inside, and then walked around the park with him hanging from my arm. Several people stopped to ask if he was a purse or lunchbox. Everyone thought he was adorable. When we got home, I washed out the popcorn smell and mailed him to my sister. But first, Tim and I did a quick photo shoot at the Dumbo ride, sort of in the spirit of one of my favorite books, Barbie Loves L.A. How cute is Dumbo?

Me and little Dumbo

Little Dumbo flying with his brothers

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Walt Disney's Trains

Exhibit poster

Many people believe Disneyland would not exist if not for Walt Disney’s passion for trains. Some cite the influence of animator Ward Kimball, who owned and ran a full-sized locomotive in his backyard, and Ollie Johnston, one of Disney’s “nine old men,” who introduced Walt to narrow gauge model trains. Walt himself said he always loved trains and insisted, from its earliest conception, that whatever shape Disneyland ultimately took, it had to have a train running around its perimeter.

The Walt Disney FamilyMuseum is currently featuring a temporary exhibit--“All Aboard: A Celebration of Walt’s Trains”--that chronicles Disney’s lifelong interest in all things locomotive. Special programs are also occasionally presented at the museum in conjunction with the exhibit. Yesterday, for instance, was “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad:Building and Running Walt’s Trains,” a highly anticipated program about the trains at Disneyland. This was such a big deal that the Carolwood Foundation, the organization dedicated to preserving Walt’s railroad legacy, offered members the opportunity to take a 12-hour vintage railcar ride, Friday, from L.A. to the Bay, to see the exhibit and attend the presentation. We joined 20 other people, including folks from St. Louis and Orlando, on the trip.


Our train car, the Silver Splendor

Tim and I boarded the train at Union Station well before departure. Our car, the Silver Splendor, was built in 1956 and has a lounge, dining area, and galley downstairs. Upstairs is the glass-enclosed Vista Dome and table seating for about 24 people. We were early enough to claim one of the prime tables at the front of the dome, where, except for meals, we rode the entire trip. Fellow passengers cycled in and out of the dome area, depending on the view. As one member of the group pointed out, everyone was either a Disney employee, a former Disney employee, and/or a Disney fan, so our ears were constantly perked for insider Disney stories being shared around the tables.


Luggage and dining area downstairs

Downstairs hallway

Looking up the stairs to the Vista Dome

Looking down the stairs. Silent auction on the left.
I won a cup full of brass Disneyland conductor buttons!

View north of Santa Barbara. Note the Channel Islands
in the background.

Our car was attached to Amtrak’s Coast Starlight, the rail that apparently travels the longest stretch of coastline in the U.S. The weather was absolutely perfect: I don’t remember the last time the Channel Islands were so clear off the Santa Barbara coast. But for me, the best part was getting a rare glimpse of the Vandenberg airbase, the site of countless westcoast rocket launches. Tim and I still remember seeing mysterious contrails streaking across the skies when we were kids. “They must be launching rockets again out of Vandenberg,” my dad would always say, as if this was the most natural thing on earth. What a thrill to actually see one of the base’s still-in-use launch pads.


Launch pad, Vanderberg airbase

California coast

Rounding a bend: looking toward the front of the train

video
Standing on the back "porch," watching the world
speed by. Yee haw!

We spent the night in Oakland’s Jack London Square and so took BART the next morning to get to San Francisco and the museum. En route, we stopped at the old Ferry Building, which was renovated into a public marketplace over 10 years ago. Lots of tasty temptations—a real destination spot the next time we’re in town. 


Looking up at the Ferry Building roof

At the museum, we went through the special train exhibit, which was wonderful, then waited on line for the program. I kept looking for Disney “legends," who might also be there for the event, but didn’t see anyone other than Carolwood and D23 members. We then entered the theater.


Walt and his narrow-gauge train

Walt's actual train

Three speakers were introduced: Bill Colley and Craig Ludwick, both of whom worked on the Disneyland railroad, and Sean Bautista, president of Hillcrest Shops that rebuild and maintain many Disney-related trains. I, of course, know nothing about the mechanical workings of locomotives, but even I was fascinated by all the talk of preserving steam engines and stripping cars down to the frames. Ludwick’s story about saving the Lilly Belle, the presidential train car Walt named after his wife Lillian, was an especially heart-tugging high point of the program. That is, until a surprise speaker was announced: none other than John Lasseter, chief creative officer at Pixar and huge train buff! He told a moving story about buying and refurbishing his mentor Ollie Johnston’s former Porter steam locomotive, the Marie E., as a way to help celebrate Disneyland’s 50th anniversary in 2005. He then showed a short, but highly emotional film of 92-year-old Ollie driving the train around Disneyland—to this day, the only privately-owned train to ever ride around the park. (You can see the film at http://frankanollie.com/Movies/MarieE.mov.) By the time Lasseter finished, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. What a wonderful day for Disney and railroad fans alike.

***********


P.S. It’s now Sunday and Tim is aboard the Silver Splendor, heading back to L.A., while I spend the night in Sacramento. I have an early meeting here tomorrow morning, so took Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor line directly to Sac, instead of going home. The ride was scenic enough, but Amtrak is certainly nothing like traveling in a restored 1956 domed Pullman. I miss the Silver Splendor. . .


Silver Splendor, heading home

Tim, bidding me adieu

Sun setting over the California coast