Saturday, August 29, 2009

McGovern and Dean

As I’ve said many times before, one of the most wonderful things about living in Los Angeles is that you never know who you might see on the street or as part of an event. A case in point:

While reading the newspaper Thursday morning, I noticed a small blurb about a book-signing at the Diesel Bookstore in Brentwood, a few minutes west of UCLA. The featured authors were Watergate informant John Dean and former senator George McGovern, the Democratic presidential candidate in 1972.

Tim and I had seen Dean before when he was promoting his book Worse than Watergate, about the Bush presidency. But it had been 37 years since I’d seen McGovern.

I turned 18 the year 18-year-olds were given the right to vote. Encouraged by my aunt, who was a powerful influence in my young life, I jumped with both feet into the McGovern campaign, attending rallies whenever possible, while she worked the phones from home. I remember waiting on line with my aunt before the polls opened so I could vote before running off to class. I also remember staying up late for the election returns, only to have my heart crushed when Nixon won by a landslide. I learned then that as passionate as my family was, I was looking at a lifetime of pain if I remained a Democrat. Nevertheless, I’ll probably stay true to the party till the day I die!

I arrived at the Diesel Bookstore almost an hour early in hopes of getting a good seat. The bookstore itself is tiny—not much bigger than our living and dining rooms combined. I couldn’t imagine how they were going to accommodate a huge book-signing.

I started walking around the small shopping center and eventually stumbled upon an open courtyard, where people were already sitting on benches and chairs facing an unoccupied microphone. I figured this must be the place and claimed my seat. Most of the people there were much older than me and, as soon became apparent, were there specifically to hear George McGovern.

John Dean is entertaining, especially when he tells stories about Nixon and Watergate. His delivery is polished and self-assured and looks a lot younger than he is. Eighty-nine-year-old McGovern, on the other hand, looked frail, but was much more spontaneous and authentic. When a woman, who was asking him a question, was jeered for taking too long, McGovern calmly encouraged her to finish her query and then answered it sincerely. Though he admires Obama, he thinks the president was wrong to send more troops into Afghanistan. He also said Congress should investigate the Bush administration’s role in prisoner torture. My favorite quote of the evening, though, was when he said, "Liberalism is just plain ol’ common sense."

Half-way through the evening, the woman sitting next to me whispered, “Can you imagine how different the United States would be if he had been elected president?”

And I thought to myself, “Yes. I’ve imagined it many, many times.”

Monday, August 24, 2009

Antiques Roadshow (August 2005)

Four years ago, Karen and I were lucky enough to get tickets to Antiques Roadshow, the wildly popular appraisal show on PBS. "Our" episode is being re-broadcast tonight on KCET, so I thought I'd post the pre-blog story I wrote about our experience. If you watch the show tonight, be sure to pay particular attention to the woman with the small, dark sculpture (about 40 minutes into the program). Karen and I are lurking in the background.

The Antiques Roadshow came to Los Angeles this past weekend. Tickets, which were free, were available only through a lottery, so Karen, her mom, Tim, and I all applied through the Internet. Only Karen and I were lucky enough to get a pair of tickets each: hers were for 8AM and mine for 2PM. Tim had a remote broadcast in Colorado and Karen had a bar mitzvah to attend in the morning, so she gave away her 8AM tickets and decided to join me in the afternoon.

To get into the show, everyone has to bring at least one and—according to the tickets—not more than two items to be appraised by the now famous Roadshow antiques dealers. Karen decided rather quickly what to take. I, on the other hand, own nothing that could be remotely considered an antique—in fact, the only things of value that Tim and I collect are sports and pop culture memorabilia. So two hours before the show, I decided to take items that Tim had had autographed by rock and TV stars visiting the radio station. Now I’ve been watching the show long enough to know that people rarely bring just one or two items to be appraised—rather, they bring “suites” of items loosely joined by a theme: a suite of art deco jewelry, for instance, or an entire set of dishes. So I decided to bring two sets of autographs: album covers signed by Ringo Starr and two of the Monkees (the “rock suite”) and items signed by Star Trek actors Scott Bakula and Leonard Nimoy. Karen brought her great-great-uncle’s silver writing set (circa 1880) and a Chinese vase she had won at an antiques club auction. She also brought a small Asian vial as part of her “Chinese suite.”

We arrived at the LA convention center a little before 2PM. Despite warnings on the ticket that no one would be allowed to line-up until half-hour before the allotted time, several hundred people were already there; so we joined the end of an incredibly long queue and started looking to see what everyone else had brought. Most of the treasures were hidden away in rolling suitcases or towels, but occasionally something would pop out and we would secretly render our amateur appraisals. Among the most stunning items were a six-foot-tall spinning wheel, which a woman delicately carried, and an enormous painting of Vikings landing in North America. The painting was so huge that the owner had to lean it on a far wall while his partner stood on line.

The line quietly snaked back and forth through the convention hall and eventually onto the Roadshow set. We could see the blue-clothed back of the set and stage lights poking above, but saw nothing beyond. Everything was surprisingly subdued, perhaps because of the enormous size of the room. After we’d been there for an hour-and-a-half, the 3:30 ticketholders joined the line and we suddenly seemed a whole lot closer to our destination. At 4PM, an elderly gentleman, who apparently also had a 2PM ticket, came up to us and asked which tickets we had. “2PM,” we answered. “But I’m a half-mile behind you!” he sighed and slowly walked back to his spot.

After three hours of waiting, things started moving very quickly. Suddenly we were split into two lines as volunteers checked our tickets. We were directed to a table where we were quickly quizzed about our belongings and then handed tickets that indicated which appraisal booths to visit. Karen was to go to the “silver” and “Asian arts” tables; my autographs and I were directed to “collectibles.” A volunteer accompanied us onto the set, which was a bevy of activity—very crowded and, of course, a lot smaller than expected. People looked dazed and confused as they tried to find the appropriate appraiser tables. (Thank goodness for our wonderful guide!) Some tables, like “Asian arts,” had short lines. Others, like paintings and collectibles (of course!), had long, long lines. We were shepherded around the perimeter of the set so we wouldn’t accidentally step in front of a camera. The actual filming took place in the middle of the “room” on three separate tables: a small table for jewelry and other more intimate items, and two larger tables. Furniture had its own space toward the back of the set. Karen said that she didn’t want to be filmed, but there was no avoiding it as our guide led us to the next line. “You’re on camera!” I whispered to Karen, as we walked behind an appraiser at one of the larger tables.

As soon as I situated myself on the collectibles line, Karen scurried off to visit the silver appraiser nearby. I took a breath and started looking around. A lamp was being filmed at one of the larger tables. Two strange urn-looking things were being set-up across the way. And an impeccably dressed woman was seated at the small table. Cameras and microphones were centrally located.

My eye then wandered over to the furniture area and...there they were: Leigh and Leslie Keno, the Roadshow’s twin superstars who had become antiques appraisers in their teens. People on the show always talk about how gorgeous they are in person and they are! Karen was still meeting with the silver appraiser, so I turned to the woman behind me and said, “Oh my god! Look, it’s the Keno brothers!” She quickly turned her head and practically yelled, “Oh my god! There they are!”

Finally, after about a half-hour, I got to the head of the collectibles line and was called over by Gary Sohmers, one of our favorite Roadshow appraisers (white hair always worn in a ponytail). His eye was immediately drawn to the Ringo Starr autograph and asked how I got it. “My husband works at a radio station and met Ringo when he came in a few years ago,” I said. “Well, the signature is worth $200-300, but only if your husband writes you a letter detailing how and when he met Ringo.” Sohmers then went on to appraise the rest of my booty: $100 for the Monkees signatures; $25-30 for Scott Bakula; and $75 for Leonard Nimoy. Not a heckuva lot of money, but I was thrilled nonetheless; plus I got to talk to Gary Sohmers!

The rest is, quite frankly, a blur! Karen got her Chinese items appraised ($50 each) and then we reluctantly started to leave. At the exit was a small “feedback” booth where people could tell a camera about their Antiques Roadshow experience. We each signed a release form and then waited on yet another line to get in front of the camera. The woman behind us was carrying a gun that looked like it was last fired during the Revolutionary War. When Karen asked about it, the woman said she had found it hanging in her garage, obviously left behind by a previous owner. The appraiser was impressed by its pristine condition and said it was worth $4000—the most expensive thing we saw all day! Inside the feedback booth, we were both asked to stand on a box and talk into the camera. Karen told about her small Chinese vial, while I stood next to her clutching my Goodnight Vienna album. “I brought Ringo,” I grinned. “He’s worth $300, but only if my husband writes me a letter telling where he met him!”

With that, we picked up our favorite appraisers’ business cards and headed home. The Los Angeles Antiques Roadshow episodes will air some time after January 2006. You can bet we’ll be watching for ourselves standing behind more fortunate collectors who actually got to have their treasures appraised on camera!

August 16, 2005

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Anniversary Weekend

Sunday was our wedding anniversary—23 years (yikes)! To celebrate, we decided to spend the weekend at one of our favorite spots: Downtown L.A.

I had already bought tickets to Spamalot at the Ahmanson Theater, so Tim made reservations at a hotel, the Omni , within walking distance of the Music Center. Check-in was at 3PM. Not wanting to appear too anxious, we arrived at 4PM. Our 10th-floor room had a spectacular view (below) of California Plaza, the charming orange Angels Flight station and, beyond that, the park that’s featured so prominently in the wonderful new movie (500) Days of Summer.

Dinner was at the Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill, the latest restaurant to open in L.A. Live. We put on our fancy duds and drove the ten blocks. The food was fabulous (endive salad with julienned apples—yum!—and a fresh margarita pizza), but the noise outside was atrocious thanks to a celebrity 3-on-3 basketball tourney staged right in front of the restaurant. We did get to see Clark Gregg, the husband on the TV show The New Adventures of Old Christine, compete in the tournament. His team mate was also an actor, but I can’t for the life of me remember his name.

After dinner, we drove back up to the hotel. It was still a little early, so we decided to stroll over to California Plaza, where a free concert was being held that night. We had just turned the corner when I heard Tim yell, “HUELL!”

Sure enough, there was Huell Howser, local TV star and host of his own travel show on PBS. He is much bigger in person than on TV.

“Good evening,” he politely said to us, before joining a gentleman eating cheese and crackers on the hotel terrace.

The Plaza was starting to get crowded, so we headed over to the Music Center. Downtown L.A. is nothing like NYC, of course, but the streets surrounding the Omni were jumping Saturday night. Concerts at the Plaza and Disney Hall, Spamalot, and a huge wedding party at the Music Center—it almost felt like we were in the Big Apple.

Although we’d seen Spamalot when it first opened on Broadway, our tickets were (literally) standing-room-only, so I got us 5th-row seats as soon as the play opened at the Ahmanson. Based on Monty Python’s irreverent story of King Arthur pursuing the Holy Grail, Spamalot was a laugh riot. Plus we got to see longtime channel 4 news reporter Doug Kriegel sitting nearby in the audience—a new world’s record for number of celebrity sightings in one night! (WARNING: Results may vary the next time you go stargazing downtown.)

We don’t have kids, but we do have cats who don’t understand the concept of sleeping late (anything past 6AM) on Sundays. We slept till 8AM—heavenly!—then made our way to the breakfast buffet downstairs. Tasty fruit, waffles and, oh yeah, lots of bacon (happy anniversary!).

Even by our standards, there’s not a lot to do downtown on a Sunday morning, so we called the valet to fetch our car. Listening to “Breakfast with the Beatles,” we headed west to Culver City, our cats, and another year of adventures.

(Taken just before being yelled at for sneaking a camera into the theater!)

Friday, August 07, 2009

Julius Shulman

In all the hubbub of the past few weeks, I completely neglected acknowledging the passing of Julius Shulman, certainly the most important architectural photographer of the 20th century. If you are at all interested in mid-century design, it’s no doubt as a result of seeing Shulman’s iconic images of the period. He was 98 years old when he died on July 15.

One of the most magical times Tim and I ever spent was the day we met Julius. It was May 2003 and we were on an architectural bus tour of pre- and post-war homes designed and built by Raphael Soriano. Soriano’s first solo creation was the Lipetz Residence, located above Silver Lake, one of the city’s trendiest suburbs. The home’s round music room was made famous by Shulman, who captured so beautifully its 180-degree view of the lake and nearby hills. Shulman and Soriano became such good friends afterwards that the photographer asked him to design his own house in the Santa Monica mountains in 1950.

On the bus ride over to Silver Lake, we kept hearing folks chatting and laughing about someone named Julius and “just wait till he sees the house now!” We had no idea who they were talking about.

As soon as we exited the bus, we began exploring the grounds. Though the house was very “lived-in” and worn, the view remained timeless. Tim and I were marveling at our surroundings when an elderly gentleman, walking with a cane and carrying a camera, casually joined our conversation. He was friendly, talkative and acted like he’d always known us. We were concerned for his safety and so accompanied him as he entered the house.

Once inside, he really came to life, regaling us with how he took the famous picture of the 180-degree view of the music room and how the house, in its current state, looked so different. Unbeknown to us, we had been chatting with “The Great Shulman,” as Tim so affectionately calls him now.

The rest of the tour quickly became a blur; but at the end, word spread that everyone was meeting at Julius’s house. We got the address and jumped into our car. (Luckily I always travel with Thomas Bros.!) We drove up Mulholland and then angled to the left. We parked and climbed a very steep driveway to the house. I was dying to use the restroom, so went inside while everyone else milled around the backyard. As I entered the front door, I gasped. There, lining a long hallway, were 36”x36” prints of some of Shulman’s most notable photos, including the most famous of all: the 1960 picture of Case Study House #22! It was like walking into one’s own private museum of mid-20th century masterpieces. If I didn’t have to go to the bathroom so bad, I would have fainted on the spot.

After using the restroom—which, by the way, had a glass wall completely overlooking the San Fernando Valley—I roamed around the house and checked out all the original 1950s fixtures. The place was oddly deserted.

“Where is everyone?” I asked myself, starting to worry when I couldn’t find Tim.

Then I noticed a young couple heading toward the garage. Could everyone be in there?

Sure enough, there was Julius holding court in his crowded studio. People were crammed into every nook and cranny. Tim was quite literally sitting at the great man’s feet, while I tentatively leaned against a door frame.

Julius talked about his friendship with Soriano and how they worked together to design the house. He then showed us some of his photos stacked around the studio and described how he took each one. It was an amazing, amazing experience. None of us wanted to leave—ever! But then someone suggested we take a group photo and we all piled out to the backyard. Five minutes later, Julius appeared on the roof of the house with camera in hand, directing us all to squeeze in a little closer. We held our collective breath for fear he’d take a tumble, but he got the shot and, all too soon, we reluctantly started to leave.

“That was really incredible,” I said to Tim as we walked back down the hill in a daze.

"It really was," he replied, stunned.

We’ve met lots of famous people in our time, but none had ever quite touched us like this.

Thank you, Julius, for inviting us into your life, if only for a brief moment. We miss you, but will never forget you.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Diners, Drive-Ins and Comic-Con 2009

Despite reserving my hotel room a year ago and buying my four-day pass back in February, it looked like I was going to miss last weekend’s Comic-Con due to work and family obligations. But just as the sky is always darkest before dawn, late Friday I decided I couldn’t stand it and, like a junky, declared I had to go to Comic-Con! Though Tim didn’t have a ticket, he came along, too, lured by the promise of eating only at restaurants sanctioned by Guy Fieri. We were on the road south by 7:00 the next morning.

Our first stop was El Indio, one of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives’ best San Diego eateries and our personal favorite Mexican restaurant. I had a plate full of taquitos for breakfast—YUM!

Tim then dropped me off at the convention center. The Con was strangely quiet at 9:30AM. In fact, for a moment I actually forgot it was sold-out (125,000 tickets!) and thought the recession had finally conquered geekdom. But reality set in as soon as I ran into a nest of Predators and the fun began. I wasn’t in the mood to stand on long lines to see panels about True Blood or Lost, so focused my energies on the massive exhibit hall instead. The big themes this year: TV remakes (new versions of The Prisoner and the cheesy 1980s series V), sequels (Iron Man, Twilight), 3-D (Avatar, Alice in Wonderland, Tron), and anything having to do with vampires.

I had missed Johnny Depp, who made a surprise appearance on Thursday (boo hoo!), so was on the lookout for whatever celebrities I could see. Nichelle Nichols, Uhura of the original Star Trek, was there (as usual), selling autographs for $20; but this was not nearly as scandalous as Mark Hamill (aka Luke Skywalker), who was selling his signature for $100 (the nerve of some former science fiction icons!). I also saw Edward James Olmos and James Callis from my beloved Battlestar Galactica, plus the entire cast of the TV show Chuck (the boys were all sporting summer beards).

I was bopping around quite satisfied with myself, when suddenly everything ground to a halt. It was a complete human gridlock. I was grumbling, until someone announced that Jon Favreau, director of Iron Man 1 & 2, was standing atop the two-story G4 (TV’s gaming channel) booth! Everybody burst into spontaneous cheering. I called Karen.

“Quick, turn on G4!” I yelled. “I’m in the background screaming and waving at Jon Favreau!”

“Where are you?” she answered, not knowing I had decided to go to Comic-Con after all. Not surprisingly, she couldn’t see me through the hordes.

As always, the attendees’ costumes were a highlight of the day. My favorites: (1) an amazing yellow Bumblebee from the Transformers movies and (2) Darth Vader in a smoking jacket, which made me laugh out loud. Women seemed to be more voluptuous than ever—some wearing hardly anything at all—while fans of all ages continued to dress like the Joker, in all his incarnations, Batman, Klingons, and various Star Wars characters.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Tim had gone to the movies. We reconnected after 2PM and headed over to our hotel. As promised, we ate dinner at Luigi’s, a small pizza joint that Guy Fieri loves. To say we were disappointed would be a huge understatement, especially since we’ve had much better pizza at our own LaRocco’s in downtown Culver City. In keeping with the theme of the weekend, we then went to see the latest Harry Potter film at Horton Plaza. Back at the hotel, we could see fireworks exploding above Sea World. It was a perfect evening.

I was tempted to return to the Con Sunday morning, but had breakfast with Tim instead at the Studio Diner, yet another of Guy Fieri’s recommendations. Located next to San Diego’s only fully functioning film studio, the restaurant is decorated in kitsch movie memorabilia; but again, the food was nothing spectacular. Could Guy actually be losing his touch?

We hopped in the car and headed back to L.A., but not before stopping once more at El Indio for some last minute taquitos. YUM!