Wednesday, June 29, 2011


The annual American Library Association (ALA) conference was held this past weekend in New Orleans (NOLA). Even though I swore I’d never attend another ALA conference in NOLA (too damn hot!), I couldn’t resist the opportunity to speak on a panel of librarians who, like me, work several part-time jobs. Plus I’ve been missing our good friends Suzanne and Mike, who live in Baton Rouge. So I packed my cotton summer dresses and several pairs of flip-flops and off we went to Louisiana.

We did the typical touristy things, like take a horse-and-buggy ride through the French Quarter and ride the trolley—oops, I mean streetcar—to see the Victorian mansions along St. Charles Ave. We also visited the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, which is still rebuilding after losing most of its sea-life during Hurricane Katrina.

But the true highlight of the trip was seeing the National World War II Museum, located in the central business district of New Orleans. Now, you may be asking yourself why on earth a national WWII museum is located in New Orleans? Well, the “Higgins boats,” which were used to land American troops during D-Day, were built in New Orleans, the hometown of Stephen Ambrose, author of such WWII classics as Band of Brothers and Citizen Soldiers. He apparently spearheaded the movement to build the museum in NOLA. It opened on June 6, 2000. Although the museum was surrounded by 6-foot-deep flood waters during Katrina, the building—a former brewery—sustained minor damage.

The museum complex spans six acres and will eventually include several buildings. For an extra $5, you can see a 45-minute film, called Beyond All Boundaries, about the war. Narrated by Tom Hanks and featuring the voices of a stellar (but uncredited) cast, including Brad Pitt, Kevin Bacon, Blythe Danner, Neil Patrick Harris, Chris Pine, and Gary Sinese, the film is far more interactive than the usual two-dimensional movie-viewing experience. Anyone remotely interested in WWII should see it.

We stayed at the W Hotel, one of the more luxurious accommodations offered through ALA. Our room was very nice, but the hotel itself was far too hip for us two old codgers: minimalist interior decoration and loud techno-music pounding in the lobby. And no gift shop! (Where’s a gal supposed to go when she has a 9PM crave for candy?) They did, however, offer free car service (an Acura hybrid, of course!), which I took advantage of on our first day in town. (Too hot to walk 5 blocks!) They also provided a DVD player and free movies; so, on our final night, we stayed in and watched Oliver Stone’s Kennedy-assassination treatise, JFK. The movie was much better 20 years ago when it was first released, but fun nonetheless because of all the New Orleans locales.

Although my delicate SoCal stomach eventually rebelled against the rich Louisiana cooking, we did manage to consume some excellent local food. The best was chef John Besh’s Lüke, a brasserie within walking distance of our hotel. Tim treated himself to oysters on the half-shell, gumbo, steak, and a chocolate crepe, while I feasted on salad, roasted chicken (yum!), and, by far, the most amazing bread pudding I’ve ever eaten. We also loved Besh’s American Sector, a small diner located within the WWII museum.

But our most fun dining experience was at Mother’s Restaurant, a beloved greasy-spoon that’s been around since 1938. Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter Sunday, and, of course, Mother’s Day, Mother’s is open 7AM-10PM, seven days a week, and frequently has a line outside the door. Once you get inside, you stand on another line to order and pay for your food, which is then brought to your table. Tips are not allowed. The house specialty is something called “debris,” a shredded beef concoction served either with grits or as a sandwich. Tim didn’t eat any hot dogs on this trip; but he did enjoy a debris and cheese sandwich an hour before leaving for the airport. I silently wondered if I should call ahead and arrange for an ambulance to be waiting, just in case, but he and I both made it home just fine. We’re having salad tonight for dinner!

The appropriately-named "debris" sandwich (ack!)

Breakfast with friends at Mother's

Friday, June 10, 2011

Dick Tracy

I never was a fan of the Dick Tracy comic-strip when I was a kid nor did I much like the live-action movie released in 1990. I am, however, very interested in Warren Beatty, the film’s director and title character star, so I schlepped all the way out to Hollywood (a 50-minute drive during rush hour), Thursday night, to see a special screening of the movie, followed by an in-person Q&A with the otherwise elusive Mr. Beatty.

I was surprised to find myself actually enjoying the film. I couldn’t decide which star looked more gorgeous: Warren, who was then in his early 50s, or Madonna, who played the lounge singer Breathless Mahoney and was famously rumored to be Beatty’s real-life mistress at the time. The movie was eye-poppingly beautiful, shot in primary colors that evoked the look of the comic-strip. No wonder it won that year’s Oscar for art direction.

Warren emerged as soon as the film ended and immediately asked that the spotlight shining on him be dimmed so he could see the audience. He is notoriously cautious about speaking in public for fear his words will be taken out of context. Still, he was extremely talkative and answered audience questions well after the evening’s host, L.A. Times writer Geoff Boucher, finished his interview.

Beatty insisted the audience could ask him anything, but nonetheless declined to answer several questions. He teased us with news that he’s been thinking about a Dick Tracy sequel, yet refused to give any details. He talked about Bulworth, one of his more recent (and best) films about a politician running for office, but stopped short when he realized he was about to go into a political rant. He spoke affectionately of Ishtar, his biggest box office flop, and seemed quite thrilled at Boucher’s suggestion that it be shown as a follow-up L.A. Times event. His comments about movie ratings being obsolete in a world where kids see everything on the Internet were especially insightful.

Most interesting, though, was when he explained why he was attracted to Dick Tracy. He said he wanted to make a movie about a man who was ready to settle down and have a family. I’m sure I wasn’t the only pop-psychologist in the room who saw parallels to Beatty’s own life: as everyone knows, Warren met his future wife, Annette Benning, on the set of his next film, Bugsy, and quickly had four children together.

Click here to read Boucher’s review of the evening. And oh, by the way, Warren Beatty still looks pretty damn great.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Buffalo Springfield

Summer officially started for us Sunday night as we stood outside the Wiltern theater, waiting to see the recently reunited band, Buffalo Springfield. Sure, we had seen Paul Simon perform in an amazing concert just a few weeks before; but Sunday night’s audience was truly a summertime Woodstock crowd in jeans and vintage rock t-shirts. This was the first time Buffalo Springfield was going to perform in L.A.—the group’s hometown during the 1960s—in over 40 years.

Our tickets said the show started at 7PM, so we arrived by 6:15PM. Walking from our secret parking spot two blocks away, we passed the band’s tour buses tucked behind the theater. A handful of fans stood outside the barricades, clutching albums and posters they obviously hoped would be autographed. We walked around to the front of the theater and joined a short line. Two men panhandled us, while a woman hawked peace symbol stickers, supposedly to raise money for hungry families. We eavesdropped on the couple behind us as they related what just happened to them at dinner.

“We mentioned to the young waitress that we were on our way to a concert,” the husband said.

“Who are you going to see?!” the waitress asked excitedly.

“Buffalo Springfield,” the couple replied.

“Buffalo Springfield—how great!” the young woman responded. “Isn’t that the guy who also starred on a soap opera several years ago?”

“I think you’re thinking of Rick Springfield,” the wife told her, stifling a laugh.

The theater doors opened at 6:30PM as we all headed into the lobby. The concert was sold-out. A guy, who had bragged that he was going to sell his ticket for twice what he paid for it, yelled to a group of passersby, “Last chance to see Buffalo Springfield!” while waving his ticket. No one bit, so he entered the theater with the rest of us.

Built in 1931, the Wiltern is an art deco masterpiece clad in blue and bronze terra-cotta. The interior is equally beautiful, with hand-painted murals on the walls and ceiling. Renovated many years ago, the Wiltern remains one of L.A.’s most magnificent theaters. Its sound quality is outstanding, too, as we eventually found out.

We were in the relatively cheap seats and so headed upstairs. The doors to the mezzanine didn’t open till 7PM, so we had plenty of time to gaze at our fellow audience members. Most of the people were our age, looking ready to spend the evening reliving their youth. Some had seriously outgrown their tie-dye t-shirts (yikes!), but overall our generation has aged fairly well.

The opening act—folksingers Gillian Welch and David Rawlings—were terrific, but they didn’t start till 8PM—meaning, of course, that Buffalo Springfield wasn’t going to take the stage until well after 9PM. Now, we had waited 8 hours—in the rain, no less—when we saw them at the Bridge School concert in northern California last October, so I can bide my time with the best of them. But come on! The tickets said 7PM!

Still, all was immediately forgiven the minute Stephen Stills, Richie Furay and rock legend Neil Young began to play. The three surviving bandmates (two others had died several years ago) took turns singing the lead on their greatest hits, while the crowd went wild. At one point, Neil introduced the band as “Buffalo Springfield—we’re from the past!” They obviously had a blast playing together again and had clearly practiced many times since we saw them in October.

Before they came out, the woman sitting in front of us kept asking whether we thought they’d play “For What It’s Worth,” one of the most famous anti-Vietnam War anthems and arguably their best song.

“They’ve just got to play it!” she insisted. “It wouldn’t have been the ‘60s without that song!”

And play it, they did, during their show-end encore. And, yes, it was almost like the ‘60s all over again.

For an excellent review of the concert, click here.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Where in the World is Timothy?

Can you find my husband in this picture?

When former Laker Shaquille O’Neal announced earlier this week that he’s retiring from basketball, CBS immediately sent a reporter to Tim’s radio station to film commentary for the Early Show. Tim, who’s never met a video camera he didn’t like, used the opportunity to test the equipment in the next studio. Hey, who wouldn’t want to be on national TV? You can see his puzzled coworker asking, “Tim, what are you doing here?” The footage aired yesterday morning.

Here’s a close-up, in case you missed him the first time.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011


We’ve always been fans of L.A. cop shows—Dragnet, The Shield, Law and Order: Los Angeles, and the still lamented Boomtown. But the best one, hands down, is Southland, the gritty docudrama that was picked-up by TNT when NBC foolishly canceled it two years ago. The show not only takes place in real-life Los Angeles settings (hooray for Molly’s, one of Tim’s favorite hot dog stands!), but is credibly acted by a terrific ensemble cast.

We made reservations last night to see Dick Van Dyke in conversation with Carl Reiner at the Writer’s Guild, but canceled immediately when we heard the Paley Center for Media was featuring Southland as the topic of one of its monthly evening events. Unlike its annual film festivals, which are staged in large venues to accommodate thousands of fans, events held at the Paley Center are small, intimate affairs (less than 200 people), where stars and admirers sometimes even intermingle. We’ve attended many such Paley events—an early Mad Men panel, a tribute to filmmaker Robert Altman, a Friday Night Lights panel, the final episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, etc.—and have never been disappointed.

The stars of Southland were already walking the “red” carpet by the time we arrived. All the actors on the show are brilliant, but we were especially happy to see our favorites: Michael Cudlitz, who plays John Cooper, the training cop addicted to painkillers; Ben McKenzie, a rookie cop from the ritzy westside; Regina King, the sensitive but grounded female detective; and Shawn Hatosy, hotheaded Sammy Bryant, whose partner was killed this year in the most heart-wrenching episode yet.

Cast members and show co-creators Christopher Chulack and John Wells sat at the front of the small Paley theater after screening the last episode of the season. We learned that the show is shot entirely on location, helping make the action seem very true-to-life. Since Southland is on cable, seasons are only ten episodes long, allowing the writers to create story arcs that begin and end relatively quickly. Plots are inspired by events experienced by LAPD officers, who work closely with the cast to advise on how cops would actually handle real police situations. Everyone was obviously very grateful to still be on TV.

Filming for next season starts in October, so keep your eyes peeled for live location shoots around town. Then set your tivo. New episodes of Southland begin airing in January 2012.

(Photos: 1. Cudlitz. 2. McKenzie, Hatosy, King. 3. Hatosy)