Saturday, May 02, 2009

Post-jet lag musings

I'm back home after an incredible nine day vacation/visit to Los Angeles. I flew west on the 22nd to for some needed R & R, to visit my son (who I hadn't seen since August), and also, to take in the LA Times Festival of Books last weekend, at UCLA.

There were so many positives to my trip. How can you quantify spending time with someone that you love and haven't seen forever? Plus, Los Angeles is an amazing city. The sprawling nature of the place, the diversity (more Koreans live in Los Angeles than any other place in the world, other than Korea, with 100,000 Koreans making LA their home), the myriad of choices in what to do each day, plus watching the Celtics at Sonny McLean's Irish Pub, a favorite sports bar with other expat New Englanders, made this a vacation to savor, and remember.

The diversity factor was something I was especially attuned to. Given that Los Angeles is really a group of ethnic communities, within a larger metropolitan framework, you literally could experience much of the world, and never have to drive more than 30 minutes in any direction.

On Wednesday, I had lunch with an old Portland Pigeon buddy, who is now attending graduate school at USC's Anneberg School of Communications. We met at Chung Kiwa, on Olympic Boulevard, in Koreatown, for Korean barbecue. Here's a link with a photo from the web.

This veritable smorgasboard of tastes and smells takes place at your table, with a server firing up a gas flame in the middle of your table, and cooking your meat in front of you. That, and about 20 seperate banchan, or side dishes, like kimchi, pajori (green onion salad), and some type of pickled zucchini that my friend and I required seconds on. Truly amazing!

One great thing about the past nine days is how I took in information, and how little affect the swine flu paranoia affected me. I learned from one of my Media Matters emails that the right-wing used this to jack up the fear, and of course, a hater like Michael Savage used it to assail Mexicans, given that he's in California, and hates every other non-white ethnic group.

Since my son and his girlfriend don't have a television, I didn't watch any television news whatsoever. I listened to the NPR affiliate on occasion, usually after I dropped my son off at work (I drove him to work each morning, in Beverly Hills, which was an experience in and of itself). I'd allow myself to get a brief sampling of the news, and then it was back to KXLU (the Loyola Marymount college station), or KJazz 88.1, originating out of Cal State/Long Beach. These two became my musical cornerstones of my visit and time in my Toyota Prius rental car. I also enjoyed the amount of Latino music available at a quick tweak of the dial.

[What would LA be without its freeways?]

With so much music now streaming online, and corporate control of radio ruining what small vestige of originality remained on the FM dial, it's easy to forget the thrill of driving into a major radio market like Boston, Chicago, or elsewhere, 10-15 years ago, opened up possibilities of music not available in out of the way outposts like Maine, at the time. That and even the wealth of college rock that has changed given the interweb's influence on radio and music programming.

The morning and late afternoon shows on KXLU were amazing. One afternoon, Ikey Owens, from LA mainstays, The Mars Volta (and side project, Free Moral Agents), was in the studio, choosing music, talking about Los Angeles' music scene, the band, and winning a Grammy, and shitting on some of the celebs at the awards show (which Mars left after receiving their award).

KJazz provided accompaniment from jazz giants like John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and others, as I made my way across the vast web of boulevards, and freeways that make up travel in greater-LA.

The city of Los Angeles has nearly 4 million inhabitants, but Los Angeles County, of which Los Angeles resdides as part of, consists of slightly more than 10 million people in a region of 4,700 square miles. Maine, my home state, has slightly more than a million people in an area eight times the size of LA County.

I loved the diversity and experiencing a sampling of world cultures during my brief stay. Unlike some that tend to demonize those coming to the U.S. for a better life, I see the benefits of the blending of cultures that places like Los Angeles represents.

On Wednesday, I spent my afternoon at Griffith Park and visited the park's Observatory. What an amazing place, made possible for Angelenos and visitors, because of the vision of one man, Griffith J. Griffith. Just like Maine's own Percival P. Baxter, who bequethed land and set up a permanent wilderness oasis in the Pine Tree State, Griffith has done the same thing, providing a place to escape the craziness that can become urban living. If I lived in LA, Griffith Park would a be one of my refuges, when I needed to disconnect from the negatives of urbanity.

[The Griffith Park Observatory]

You can read more about my trip over at Write in Maine, including my visit to the Festival of Books.

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