Monday, March 16, 2009

An Ocean’s Gargled Vomit on the Shore

My first morning in California, I awoke to an empty apartment and a skittish Chihuahua. I had all day to meander around one of the most famous cities in the world. Los Angeles, in all of its glory and filth, was waiting for me.


First though, let explain the title on this particular entry. In the age of connectivity, I saw a phrase someone had posted on an online profile about dreaming of being an architect. I mocked him only later finding out it was a lyric from a song by The Decemberists. After YouTube-ing the band and exploring their music I bought one of their CDs. A track that I’ve become fond of, called “Los Angeles, I’m Yours,” explores the life and culture of the city. It parodies the vanity and hilarity that the diverse culture exhibits. The title of this entry is a lyric from that song. So Bobby, if you are reading this, thank you for shaming me.


Anyway, back to LA. I was actually in Santa Monica. Jaime’s apartment is only ten blocks from the beach, and practically in line with the Santa Monica Pier. Seems as good a place as any to get started, so that’s where I cycled to. I spent about an hour just hanging out and observing the people on the pier that day.


It’s become a hobby to capture average people in my photographs doing normal things. Sometimes it creates a nice composition, other times it’s a challenge to see how close I could get to somebody and not have them notice I was taking there picture. Any way, here are a few of mine from the Santa Monica Pier:

It’s not often I end up in my own photos, so here I am with the roller coaster over my shoulder. And as if it’s not bad enough that I’m not photogenic, I have my jeans rolled up, high style, I know!

On the beach in Santa Monica is the 1988 L.A. Art Tool that has been dubbed “Walk on LA.” It’s a huge concrete drum that they hook to a tractor and smooth out the sands on the beach. The drum has an inverted impression of the city of Los Angeles so it leaves a map of the city in its wake. That way you can do your best Godzilla impression and stomp over the grainy citizens of the miniature repeating sand castle version of L.A. I imagine it gives one a power trip. Here are my photos of the drum.

And one more of my bike looking like a beach bum.

The L.A. beachside has a long bike trail that parallels the Santa Monica Bay coast side. It’s about 20 miles long and stretches from Malibu all the way to Redondo Beach. I rode the short distance to Venice Beach and took in the sights. As one would expect near Venice Beach, lots of hippies and homeless, and because if was an off season time, it meant most of the boardwalk business were closed.

There were also some nice beach front homes that edged the boardwalk.  I don’t know of any architects that specialize in beach front properties, but it would be a nice opportunity to play around with ideas.

(Note: these pictures were taken while I was on my bicycle)

It was at this point in the day in which I got the idea to give a video editorial. I set my camera to video mode, held it so I could comfortably frame my face as well as the path and views ahead all while pedaling down Venice Beach. But when I hit the shutter button to start the video, I apparently hit it twice. So there is a two second clip of my bare handlebar with the sidewalk zooming by and the static-like sound of the beach winds disturbing the microphone. Anybody who ran into me that day saw me talking to myself as though I were on a Travel Channel documentary show. Odd, sure, but in L.A. odd is commonplace.


Few pictures taken while cycling…

Oh yeah!


It was a good 8-10 miles cycling around that morning. I took a breather under a palm tree. It was here that the realization set in: I was in freakin’ California! It was also a decent place to take a portrait, so what do you think I did…

Jamie had recommended a Caribbean Jerk joint called Cha Cha Chicken, near the beach. I found my way through the high rises to discover a neat hole in the wall restaurant that looked fun.

The outdoor dining room was a neat tropical garden. Little cramped, but still made for an appropriate atmosphere.

And this is a treat. I ordered the daily special, a platter of jerk chicken in served two ways with a side of fried plantains. There was a jerk chicken tamale and the salad dish was something that they claimed as a unique. It was all gulped down with a delicious watermelon juice beverage.

After lunch I took to the streets in my car for a driving tour of Los Angeles. I decided to plug in the Hollywood sign into the GPS, and what do you know, it worked. It took to a location in historic Hollywoodland, the housing community that the sign was originally made to publicize. The final four letters were removed as the sign became popular and now it’s a landmark known around the world. Oh by the way, the view from Hollywoodland…

Then I headed for downtown, right through L.A. traffic. It has been called the most famous traffic in the world, and even though I had been warned, I got stuck. It took me about 25 minutes to go half a mile. I didn’t even touch the accelerator pedal; I just let the idling engine slowly pull the car forward.

The sad part about this, it was 3:00 pm in the afternoon. Folks, it only gets worse! If you don’t like traffic, avoid L.A. But I bet you’re asking, “Why head down town?” Let me tell you. I wanted to see the Walt Disney Concert Hall. I was a little upset to not be able to find parking near by, and with 6 months of my life in the backseat of my car, I was not about to risk it to chance. That meant settling for taking pictures through the windshield. Since I’m in L.A., I’ll call it a drive-by shooting!

The rest of my time downtown made me feel like I was on the set of Jack Nicholson’s movie Chinatown.


Here’s one of my favorites, it’s the sun rays reflected off a neighboring building.

I decided to drive by the La Brea Tar Pits, but once again parking was an issue. My La Brea experience was limited to a tall fence that surrounded the complex. With issues about parking clouding over doing anything downtown I scanned the map for other attractions I wanted to see that weren’t in the urban area, The Getty Center seemed perfect. It was another attraction that Jamie recommended and being an architectural case study, I was longing to see it.


By the time I got there and pulled in to the parking lot, the realization that not only were cars everywhere but capitalists were going to make you pay to drive. The Getty center sits perched up on a cliffside that over looks L.A. from the north side. On top of a presumably $10 or more museum entry fee, they wanted $20 to park my car, and on top of that they wanted to search the back seat and trunk! First, that’s a lot of money being by myself. There are a lot of things on this trip that would have been better if they were shared with a friend or loved one. But the searching the car! I just opted to avoid the hassle and turn the car around. I’ll come back, it’s L.A. I imagine I’ll come back later for an AIA conference or a sports event.


The rest of the evening was spent talking and enjoying being with Jamie and her boyfriend. I learned the ways of the inner city and the rules about throwing out good food in a manner that feeds the homeless. Put it in the dumpster and they know it’s no good; on top of the dumpster and it will be eaten in a matter of minutes.

We also discussed my escape route. The next day was the trip to San Francisco. I could take interstate 5 and be there in 5 hours, or I could take the road less traveled, also recommended by Sonya, and enjoy the natural beauty along the Pacific Coast Highway. Sure the PCH added three to four more hours the trip, but it was the PCH! After all, it’s not where you go; it’s how you get there that matters. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I've got a beard that'll disapear if I'm dressed in leather

It's fairly obvious that this coming along slowly, and the stories, how exciting or boring you find them, will keep coming. But first, a video slideshow!

Some have commented that the blog is too long to read, so here are the pictures... and you too can travel over 4500 miles in just over 13 minutes!

Part One

Part Two

Enjoy, and Los Angeles to Astoria is coming, I promise.


Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Sneaky Suspect was Suspicious Citrus

When I first began this trip the purpose was to get to the Northwest. My ideas and lifestyle fit better into the culture. The travel plans were laid out to get there as soon as possible. Drive straight through and began a job search.

It took a car accident in Tucson to slow me down. No real damage to any of the cars; just minor scratches and a bent license plate frame. But life was going too fast. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “stop and smell the roses,” but I was ignoring them. I think if I were going to do this again, and with better funding and a media deal I would want to, I would take my time and “smell the roses.”

There is so much in life that you will miss if you just zip right by. In my everyday life I prefer going into the bank and fast food joints as opposed to the drive-through service. I would rather shop in a store than shop online. I would rather use face to face human interaction than impersonal transactions. With phone orders, dot-com shopping, infomercials, and drive-throughs, we, as a culture have lost touch with human reality. Convenience used to be getting gas and your slurpee in the same purchase, now it’s banking by text message. Human labor is no longer a necessity for doing business. I don’t think it’s to blame for the economy crisis, but it doesn’t look good to replace humans with robots and computers. As a side note, we’re just paving the way for the machine take over in the year 2012. Life has shifted into high gear, and if you aren’t ready to jump on the speeding bandwagon, then you are going to be left in the dark ages (a.k.a. the nineties). You can have a dinner ready in 90 seconds, just add water. You can get lose up to 10 pounds in just 10 days, just pick up the phone and dial now. You can lose your entire financial worth with one bad day in the stock market, suicide not recommended. It’s a bummer that we can’t receive speeding tickets in life.

I rant because I found myself a victim of this vicious cycle most people call normal life. While planning my escape to California, the easy route was I-10 west out of Tucson. It goes northwest to Phoenix, the turns west and makes a beeline through the desert into L.A. That route takes me directly through the little dry spot known as Death Valley. Great, as if West Texas wasn’t enough, all I need is more desert. There was nothing really exciting that I wanted to see on this route. Most of the incredible stuff to see, like the Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, or the Casa Grande ruins, were too far off the road and would make better side trips; perhaps that media deal trip I mentioned earlier.

A short time out of Tucson, my GPS informs me I need to prepare to turn left. But Phoenix still an hour out and I was about to change course because an artificial voice knew a better way. She was already leading me into the middle of the desert, hopefully not towards a weekly meeting of a nihilist cult armed with tainted Kool-Aid. Without rigid plans, and not really knowing where I was going, I decided to roll with it and turn where she wanted me to; she being the GPS unit, my tragic friend along for my journey. She led me onto I-8 and when I realized that it wasn’t to get onto the Phoenix Bypass, I pulled out the atlas to check. I-8 parallels I-10, except that I-10 runs in to LA and I-8 goes into San Diego.

When you think San Diego you do you think Sea World? Maybe thoughts of running across the border to Tijuana strike your fancy. Or for those of you who follow golf, it’s also the location of the famous Torrey Pines Country Club, Tiger’s home club. But for me, and most of the architecturally influenced crowd, it’s the home of a famous design by Louis Kahn. The Jonas Salk Institute’s laboratory set on the cliff side coast in La Jolla, CA. In the midst of city traffic and urban lifestyle, Kahn was able to craft holistic and spiritual space for the advancement of scientific discovery. It’s safe to say that I got excited. Jason and I had joked about a day trip to San Diego to go see this, and now I was going to be there in few short hours. First, I had to get out of the desert.

I drove most of southern Arizona with my knees. Well, when the road is practically a 200 mile drag strip, why not?

I believe I have already discussed the potential of dozing off on these highways; even in the middle of the day I had to resort to three large coffees, six caffeinated sodas, and several power bars. Okay, I think I just wanted the coffee.

Secondary risks of these roads, foreshadowed by the metaphor above, are speeding tickets. I saw plenty of law enforcement officers just lurking on the roadside waiting for the chance to pounce. I was happy to get out of there without meeting any of Arizona’s finest.

Arizona gave me one final city to say goodbye, Yuma. It was about lunch so I had planned on stopping. Also, I wanted to scan throughout the car; I had been warned before I left about the California Produce screening. I had a car packed out with gear, so I was expecting to get stopped. If you had my luck, you’d have been paranoid too! All I found was a banana so I had it with my lunch.

It’s nothing special, but a big deal for me. In Yuma, I had my first taste of In-N-Out Burger. The delicious crafted beef with fresh toppings served with unprocessed French fries. The billboards had my mouth watering for eight miles, and the eleven years of waiting for my first taste was finally drawn to a close. While it is still fast food, it brings back memories of backyard outings and family picnics. It also brought back memories of volunteering in the nursing home. This particular day was apparently old folks day. I had to stand in line behind a flock of short, snow capped little ol’ ladies. It was like looking out over the clouds from the vantage of an airplane window as it crested the white blanket. And the dining room behind me was filled with septuagenarians alike. I was one of six people in this place in the 18-45 demographic, and it was stand room only. That meant the burgers had to be good.

So I had my burger and chewed on that banana and I searched the car over again, and re secured the bike in its place. I had driven from the Chesapeake Bay to Alabama, from Alabama to Arizona, and today, I going to see a sight that inspired musicians, speechwriters, painters, and adventurers alike: the Pacific Ocean. This was the day that completely conquered the width the states. The first step: the California state line and that produce inspection I had been warned about.

But where was it. Yuma is on the border of Arizona and California, so I expected it to be across the bridge. It wasn’t. Had someone lied to me, gotten me all worked up over nothing. I expected a border control station like those on international lines, where you couldn’t step foot in the politically controlled region without first going through rigorous questioning. But nope, nothing was even there. At least not the way I pictured it.

Not gonna lie, probably like this part of the blog entry, the produce search station was a bit of a let down. It ended up being fifteen or so mile into the state. Here I thought I was in clear. I was even mad that I had eaten that banana on top of my lunch. But not when I saw the sign: “Prepare to stop.” I don’t like law enforcement or any job that required a metallic badge. I’m not a bad person, but how many encounters have you had with an officer and ended with joking laughter and advice about women. It’s something about the obvious observance for me, I always feel like I’m being judged, measured and trial fitted into various profiling cookie cutters. Similar to approaching beautiful women, my palms sweat, my voice cracks, and I stumble over my word choice. It’s just my luck.

I pulled up to what looked like a toll booth and was greeted by an officer, who quickly eyed me, glanced about the car, and uttered “You got any fruits or veggies with you?” Then let me go after I told him no. He seemed like the kind of guy who not only never won employee of the month, but never cared enough to try. I’m sure his wife if a happy lady.

Pulling out of there was a relief, I could’ve had a bushel of apples or a crate of tangelos, but nope, I freaked out about a banana and scarfed it down.

When you hear the word ‘desert’ I’m sure you picture the Sahara or the dunes of Egypt: picturesque mountains of sand painted by the bristles of the wind. From San Antonio to the California line the desert landscape was nothing like that stereotypical desert. It was more a rocky barren undergrowth that didn’t have anything to be growing under. It’s the American Wild West, most often pictured during a sunset in a dramatic scene as a single tumbleweed traverses the dusty path. But the desert offering in Southern California was different.

First, let me clarify the word “southern.” The only roads south of the interstate were Border Patrol access roads that ran along the fence of the Mexican border. Looking out my driver’s widow I could see a tall fence that caterpillared across the sands. It was in admiring the fence that I noticed the barbed wire enclosing the interstate roadway. On the outside of the lanes was a four to five foot high barbed wire and steel post fence. Similar to what you might find on a thrift cattle farm. It was bit nerve racking to realize that safety in this country meant herding its citizen’s down the road. Shocking even more was the high quantity of breeches in the fence. I could easily picture a desperate patriarch cautiously checking sightlines as he snapped the wires, the last hurdle to his version of American freedom. For that added soap opera effect add a medium rain, two lighting flare ups, and a distressed look as he peeks from under his rain cloak. Breaking the roadway’s restraints put him into the vast sands where he knows what’s waiting for him just as well as he knows how to decipher American tax laws. A common site along I-8 was a lookout tower or a green and white truck perched atop a dune. Good luck to anyone who dare tries to cross into this country.

The desert that such an alien would be forced up against was that idyllic picture. There were a few stops that advertised potable water and advised you to stock up. The roadway was a seam through the desert. The only thing in the visible landscape that wasn’t beige, it was the aqueduct for transmission lines and automobiles alike. Glancing to the right was to look at the photograph adorning a National Geographic magazine spotlighting Egypt: just add camels.

I’ll share two photographs with you. The wind was really strong that day and caused my car to drift pretty bad, therefore snapping picturing while driving was not recommended. First is a photo forward. It looks more like a roadway in Abu Dhabi. The streaks that cross the road are sand particles being swiftly relocated by the wind. The second picture is a camera view out my side window. Not the best picture, but to capture it I stuck my hand to the right and snapped with out looking. My eyes had to stay on the road. I would have loved to stop and capture a sand dune with my camera, but given my already close encounters and the density of Border Patrol vehicles, that was a risk I could do with out. I already had my share of Homeland Security interrogation at the airport in Dallas.

Next stop I made was El Centro, California. Not much there but in an area where cities were far separated by hundred of miles of desert, I took the opportunity to gas up and refill my water bottle. What I found was a city under the sea. Well, under sea level. From the vantage of a parking lot I managed to capture proof. According to the Garmin, I was only 50 feet below the water line, but the graphic on the reservoir was more powerful. Plus is fits in my category of architectural potential that could display the scars of time.

Same ol’ same old on the back side of El Centro: sand, rocks, and an asphalt ribbon. I think somewhere in there was a checkpoint; I went through several that day. Other than lost time waiting in line I wasn’t hassled at any of them.

A sign appeared on the road side as a mountain range filled my windshield. It read: Turn off air conditioner to avoid over heating, Next 60 miles. It was followed by repeated warnings to check radiator fluid levels. A stark contrast in my view was it went from sand to rocks. Massive rocks! These boulders must have been the size of passenger vans, and yet there smooth texture was a feature you find in river rocks.

These rocks were everywhere. The road seemed to climb a pile and reveal what looked more like the segregated piles of building blocks I used to make when playing with my Legos. They are organized remnants of a celestial being’s playtime. And the pile of rocks was huge! I could feel the pressure on the engine as it struggled to mount the massive pile of rocks. The road began switchbacks when it had to weave around the smaller piles. The photo below is one of the magnificent views that I did a crappy job trying to capture.
I used my GPS device to monitor my elevation change. It was fairly obvious that in the short distance from El Centro I was quickly climbing up. The most drastic elevation change in one day that I can recall and it’ll probably remain that way until I climb a mountain. The Southern California hills that I was climbing that day peaked around 4050ft; I was able to register 4034ft on the GPS monitor. At the top I found California’s version of the green energy windmill generator.

They were significantly larger than their cousins in Texas and noticeably different in style. I know they aren’t apart of T. Boone Pickens’ windmill collection, and if I had to put down money, I would bet that these were chosen due to environmental health benefits of the production, transportation, and installation process. California is the known leader of legislation meant to improve the life of its citizens by taking preventative measures against carcinogenic and environmentally harmful goods and processes. Often times these legislations tend to stretch the severity of danger. Just about anything can cause cancer, but only within the borders defined by the state of California.

I mentioned earlier on the blog, I believe it was the second entry, about my personal jubilation upon attending the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. Of the famous projects that I’ve been able to see, Louis Kahn’s design for the Kimbell is a rarity that possesses the respect it earned in my personal studies. The display of art is not a unique problem but he devised a unique solution. As one would later come to expect from Kahn, he constructed the space with simple materials and simple geometries but utilized a superior level of craft and unique details in the composition. His work truly is allowed to speak for itself.

This is why Jonas Salk, a biomedical researcher, physician and developer of the polio vaccine, approached Kahn about a new research laboratory he wanted to build on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Kahn’s plan was developed to accommodate the habits of scientific researchers and the harsh environmental conditions in the Southern California climate. By breaking up the laboratory space into two large rectangles he was able to separate them with a vast courtyard. To maintain proximity to their specific lab, the scientists are given offices that adorn the edges of the courtyard. The office space utilizes an angled wall to bounce indirect sunlight into the interior of the office where it can be used as task lighting. A small trickle of water traverses the courtyard space providing an auditory stimulation yet remains a seemingly unimportant compositional element. Yet this element is single thread that holds together the decision to split the laboratory block into two separate blocks. This small tickle of water has been designed to give the impression that it feeds the Pacific Ocean. Note the first photo: this is a view from the lemon tree garden at the entry gates.
I didn’t spend much time at the Salk Institute, I still had a few hours of driving left and I wanted to be in L.A. by dinner time. I imagine it is an incredible site to be there at sunset as the orange and purples cast a warm glow over the concrete and travertine surfaces in the courtyard space. Maybe next time I’ll call ahead and try to get a tour of the facility.

But like I said, I was on the road to L.A.! A beautiful drive that pretty much followed the coastline until it got to the city. This was a chance for me to get my first California sunset and it was right along the coast! I did my best to capture the view so you could what my eyes saw, but traffic was just pitiful and looking through a viewfinder was not an option. I used the self-taught skilled I discovered in the desert and just held the camera facing in the direction of the coast and pushed the shutter button, all with out ever taking my eyes off the road. Take a gander what my better frames:

Ok, so those aren’t that great. And if you can tell what the heck those two things are in that last one, please let me know. My guesses are a water purification or desalination facility, an energy turbine house of some type, or perhaps a geotech seismic measuring station. It’s obvious that they are either producing are consuming a lot of electricity as a massive amount of power transmission lines cascade down the hill and tap into those large spheres. I also figure they have some type of societal benefit (producing power or warning of earthquakes) because several pairs lined the oceanfront in periodic elements. Maybe someone can let me know if my observations are correct.

This coastal interstate brought me from southern San Diego into the southwest section of Los Angeles. This was the key reasoning for allowing me through San Diego. The route that I had googled (psst… when you use ‘google’ as a verb, should you capitalize it?) from Tucson to Santa Monica had me take I-10 into Phoenix, through Death Valley and into the east side of Los Angeles and travel across the entire city. The chosen route allowed me to enter on what was supposed to be a lesser congested roadway. Much to my dismay… I ran into the infamous traffic that most visitors complain about. To fully get an idea of what I in, I present you with this next image. It really captured the essence of LA traffic. For reference this is in hour 3 of the 4pm-8pm rush hour.
I reached Jamie’s apartment in Santa Monica at a relatively decent hour. Jamie had prepared a roast for dinner and it was about ready. There was plenty of time to unload the car then sit back with a cold drink. I was also introduced to her pet Chihuahua, Lefty. He’s named Lefty because his insane infatuation with the involuntary left spin. No matter what the occasion: going outside, somebody new walking in, just a loud noise in the kitchen, or perhaps he hears the signature sound of food dropping into his bowl, he always marks the occasion with several fully body counter-clockwise rotations. While I’m not too fond of smaller dogs, Lefty was a pretty cool perro.

I sat down to dinner with Jamie and her boyfriend and indulged in a conversation tailored to the great and sometimes not so great times back in the southern Presbyterian high school we both attended. Several laughs and even some gossip, most of it about those who have already gotten pregnant. There was a lot of discussion about the future: what each of us wanted out of life and where we saw ourselves in the next few years. Assuming this economy turns around, I may actually meet my goals. And dinner was finished with a discussion about outdoor activities easily accessed out west. Her boyfriend is big into rock climbing and was telling about his adventure in Joshua Tree National Park.

The evening at Jamie’s was rounded off by a riveting screening of the Showtime hit Dexter while eating a chocolate bar, then passing out on a futon. I apparently don’t know how to sleep on a futon. I woke up with my body hanging halfway off the mattress and the most awful pain in my back. A college degree doesn’t help you sleep better, they aren’t soft enough.