It was 20 years ago today…

13 Jun

On this day 20 years ago I was sitting on a folding chair on a tennis court wearing a cardboard hat. It was commencement weekend at UCLA and after a hard fought five years I was being released out in to the wild with a newly minted degree in American Literature & Culture. This was a new major that popped up the year before and I jumped on the chance to avoid having to take that final Chaucer class. The ceremony was long, a little boring and they didn’t call out individual graduates just majors. Being a newly introduced category we were skipped over when the different departments were being called out. The woman next to me immediately burst in to tears about it and asked if this means we weren’t graduating. We tried to assure her everything was going to be alright but a few minutes later she broke free from our row and went running to the podium to tell them we had been overlooked. Her actions made me immediately think maybe I hadn’t chosen the right major but it was too late to change that now. What can you do with a degree in American Literature & Culture? Turns out it’s not a highly in demand field of study and it was basically go be a teacher or take your bachelors and find something completely unrelated but still requiring a degree. I wouldn’t necessarily tell someone not to study literature, I had a great time but I would ask them what their end plan was and to set expectations that they are not likely going to need to call on what they’ve learned about post modernism prose in their day to day life.

As I sat on the tennis court with my mortar board shielding out a bit of the late afternoon sunshine I thought about my early days on campus when I found out the tennis center had an elevator that would take you to the top of the stadium and out on to the road by the dorms. UCLA is built on hills and if you lived in the dorms you can genuinely use the phrase “I had to walk to school uphill both ways”. Everyone living in the dorms had impressive leg muscles.

UCLA was never on my horizon for schools, I always thought a kid like me was better suited for UC Berkeley or the Claremont colleges. After a visit to Berkeley I knew it wasn’t the place for me, Claremont seemed like a nice fit but was far too expensive. I had a modest stack of acceptance letters and UCLA was somewhere in the middle of the pack. At some point I just thought it was the easiest option and at least it was a place that had a name that people recognized. My sister went to a small private school in upstate New York the following year and to this day when she tells people where she went to college they ask if its “teller school for Wells Fargo”.  UCLA was geographically close to where I grew up but my only visit prior to Orientation Week was the ill fated Morrissey show at Pauley Pavilion a year before – which was at night and ended up in a riot.

UCLA Hat

I went on to love my time at UCLA and I spent most of my five years working at the Cooperage in the student union and the concession stand at Pauley. The 90s were a spectacular time to be there – the sports teams were on a hot streak, bands would come through campus some times and the Taco Bell on campus offered a 99 cent 7 layer burrito that would sustain you most of the day. At the restaurant I learned how to chop lettuce correctly, use a Hobart machine to make hundreds of pounds of pizza dough, why you should always turn the slicer off when you clean it (it wasn’t my hand that was sliced open, I’m not that misguided), how to change out soda syrup, how to wrap a giant burrito without splitting the tortilla and the fine art of patience in customer service. The Coop was open to anyone and we had our fair share of weirdos coming through the door like the guy who wanted his chicken strips fried again, the customer that came in looking like he was on an ancient trek across a frozen tundra complete with plastic flocked bunny banks hanging off of his walking stick like they were his fresh kill and finally the man that always wanted his change in dimes. If you tried to hand that customer any coin outside of a dime he would toss it back at you rather forcefully. Learning how to deal with these difficult customers was the greatest skill I took away from my time on campus.

So my suggestion to anyone thinking about pursuing a degree in the arts? Go for it but make sure you get a job on campus that will teach you how to handle the world outside of North Campus.

 

 

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Riot Act

29 Apr

This weekend I’ve been watching many of the documentaries about the LA riots in 1992. I remember the riots, we watched everything unfold on the afternoon news programs and in our government class at school the next day. I was a newly minted adult having just turned 18 the month before and the only thing I really had my mind on was deciding which school I was headed off to on the other side of summer.

Geographically we weren’t that far away from where this was all happening. Pico Rivera was just suburban enough to make this all look like something that was happening somewhere else but heading up to the hills around town after school you could see the smoke off in the distance and there was some attempted looting a few days in to the unrest at the Town Center in Montebello. We were aware of the videotaped beating and the trial, discussed this in class but never really did a deep dive on racial tensions. We had entire sections on Civil Rights era action in the 1960’s but weren’t really taught that this was still such a prevalent problem. The focus at the time all seemed to be on the gang wars and the drug epidemic.

My father worked as a Sheriff most of my life, he spent a lot of that time working in South Central. Stationed primarily in Lynwood, Compton, Watts and Willowbrook he left us each morning to try his best to keep peace and make it home to his kids each night. He wouldn’t tell us much about his days on patrol, we were fed tidbits when he would come home with a used car he had spotted while on duty or our dog Lynn a beagle he said he found wandering across Imperial Highway. When the riot happened Dad was the on campus officer for Lynwood High School. We never thought to ask why a high school needed a full time armed Sheriff on site, had we asked we are sure he never would have told us. When we saw what was starting to happen we knew not to expect Dad to be home that night. I don’t remember exactly when he came home, I do remember him calling us to make sure we were ok. My brother was off at UCSB so it was just my sister and I left at the house but we had family just on the other corner and we were quite capable teenagers.

As an adult looking back at this footage it still seems like it was something that didn’t happen in my beloved Los Angeles. But it did happen, months later when we were making our way through the streets to drop me off at the UCLA dorms we passed through areas that had boarded up burnt out buildings, some were never rebuilt and even now driving through Compton (right next door to me now!) there are entire sections of the city that never recovered. Even if the shopping centers didn’t burn they were just frozen in time, the signs look like they’re from the 80’s and there are very few national chains. There are some shiny new developments though, new centers and parks that have sprung up and a train that connects the area to downtown where you can get to the Westside or in to the Valley. There’s still so much more progress to be made though – the same issues that brought about the unrest in 92 are still happening today. With cameras in our pockets able to capture and quickly spread injustices maybe all of these protests are helping to vent this anger so it doesn’t boil over in this city.

In a way I’m glad I was a bit sheltered from what was really going on. It wasn’t bad where my only concern was which Smiths shirt I was going to wear the next day to school or when Middle Earth the long gone record store in Downey was going to get the latest issue of the NME in stock.

High Wind Advisory

13 Apr

Heading out in a few minutes for yet another Coachella. This is an annual tradition that has only been broken once when I skipped the festival in 2015 and went to Shaky Knees in Atlanta with a friend that really needed to stay a bit more local that year. I really love this weekend, it’s an amazing time with friends and most of us are seasoned veterans with excellent fest survival skills. The first time I went to Indio for this magic weekend was during the inaugural festival in 1999. We had all heard about this new thing happening in a city we had never heard of but I was on the fence about going. There were many reasons to go along with Morrissey being on the bill and one of our friends spinning in the DJ tent. That friend connected us with the guest list and we packed our bags and headed out picking up a $50 (with fees!) ticket for the friend we threw in the car that morning and with a belly full of Del Taco we stepped on to the polo field for the first time. That first year was a sparsely attended event, the polo field seemed massive and many parts of the field were completely dark. The grass was a perfect shade of green and felt wonderful beneath my feet, apartment dwellers miss things like having a lawn. Food vendors were a mix of local groups and some restaurants that made the trek to the desert, I chose to buy a cheeseburger from the Boy Scouts for my dinner that night. I took my burger and walked back across the field and found a quiet spot a few hundred feet back from the main stage and listened to Moz sing about meat being murder while the grease from this burger slid down my arm.

A lot has changed from that first festival, I’m now far out of the target demographic and I have to pay for my wristband now (big ups to Virgin Megastores for many years of free VIP wristbands).  The crowds are different, social media has come in and the Instagram Girls rule the field for the weekend but it all makes for some great people watching and you know you’ll get your view of the band back in a few minutes when they get the perfect selfie.

Gummy Bears

I’ve had some stellar experiences at the festival, the VIP years are far behind me and I’ll probably never get a photo pass again but I’ll always cherish those memories. Meeting bands wandering around the bars, having Robbie Williams buy me a gin and tonic, walking away from Stuart Murdoch mid interview for my radio show because I wanted to get a picture of Noel Gallagher, blagging a photo pass for Keith because he was wearing a CNN shirt he picked up in NYC and looked like a journalist enabling him to play rock photographer all weekend. What this year will bring besides the winds is unknown but I know we’ll have a great time.

Bits of Vespa in my purse

1 Apr

Weather in Long Beach has been beautiful the last few days. The space heaters are tucked away for the rest of the year and jackets are being swapped out for lightweight hoodies. Fantastic weather means I change my commute and leave the Mini at home and head out on two wheels.  My drive to work is pretty short and traffic is very light so it’s a very easy ride in.  I’ve been on two wheels for nearly 30 years now and have owned a lot of different bikes but the one I have now is oh so special. A Vespa Primavera 70th anniversary edition in Azzurro, yes it’s just as fancy as it sounds. I bought this scooter in the fall and rode it all the way home from Sherman Oaks loving every minute of it. When I go out riding I’m often stopped by people with one of two questions – “how much does it cost?” or “aren’t you scared to drive around here?”. I generally won’t answer the first question because I don’t want to get pushed off the scooter and have it stolen from underneath me. The second I tell them that having an accident on one of these things is bound to happen and it’s a lot easier to just get on with things once you accept that.

I’ve been fortunate not to have an incident for 20 years, the roads on my way to UCLA were very big and me and that Honda Elite 80 met many a pavement on Santa Monica and Wilshire boulevards. Nothing was every too serious and walked away unscratched from most of those. Yesterday I stopped after an appointment to grab a lunch to take back to the office. The row of restaurants close by has an impossibly small parking lot and spots are very hard to come by which makes it an ideal place to swing by on the Vespa as it can just park by the dumpsters outside of Starbucks for a few minutes. I was headed to that spot when the car in front of me stopped. I saw a car a few spaces up start to back out and just sat on the scoot to let this all happen. The car in front of me spotted a better spot right next to them and decided as it was 20 feet closer to the restaurant to back up and grab that one instead. Of course they backed up without looking. When I’m stopped at an intersection waiting for a light to turn my biggest fear is someone not seeing me and plowing in to me smashing me in to the car in front of me or in to the intersection. When waiting I’ll try to pump my brake handle to make a little red flashing light for a little more visual awareness. So here I am in a parking lot watching this Kia just coming for me in reverse. I honked my horn, yelled, and tried to move the scooter back but she didn’t hear any of this and collided in to the front of Miles Kane (the Vespa). The driver didn’t stop once she connected me and kept going, pushing me back a few feet. I was standing by now ready to jump away from the bike if she kept pushing back and pulled it under the car. It was a terrifying moment but one we all were able to walk away from, both vehicles scarred, my body aching and head pounding from the incident even after a good night’s sleep.

Miles is still roadworthy just looking a bit battered, it’s going to cost quite a bit to get him back in to shape but that’s what insurance is for. Not sure how long it’s going to be for me to get back to normal but I know that day will also come. Today I made a point to get out back on the mean streets of the 562 and run all my errands on the Vespa rather than the Mini. Breezing around the traffic circle doing 40 it’s hard to see the bits missing from Miles and the cracks on the front fender, drivers just see a woman in a pink glitter helmet riding past on a beautiful bike. It wasn’t a very busy weekend around town with most of the action happening closer to the water for the Grand Prix the traffic was particularly light. Miles and I just had to get out there and show everyone this wasn’t the first accident (well it was for him), it won’t be the last but that’s not going to keep me off the road.

Miles 0401

City Mouse in Suburbia

28 Mar

There were days living in West Hollywood when I longed for the helicopters to cease circling and just let me have a peaceful night at home. I never thought I would miss the sound of those beasts crossing through the air above my various apartments but now that I am firmly planted in suburbia I find it to be a bit too quiet. I’ve been here about two years and live in a small apartment building that’s one little curved block in the midst of single family homes. If I come home any time after the sun goes down I’m probably going to have to park near the homes around the corner from me. I came home from trivia tonight just after 9:00 PM and I noticed most of the houses I was walking past were dark. Cars in the driveway but everyone had gone to bed! The streets in LA shut down but never that early. There was always someone out skateboarding, walking a dog, fighting with a roomie, making some shady handoff or just blaring out their favorite tune. Sure it was annoying at times but it was the sound of the city and I miss it. I found myself clutching my keys in my hand tonight as I walked by these dark residences so the little jangle wouldn’t disturb anyone.

So what do you get in the suburbs? You get the sound of birds waking you up in the morning, actual birds! It’s quiet enough here that if it’s a nice warm morning you will hear little birds chirping in the trees nearby. When I lived off of Wilshire there was a hummingbird that lived near my window but it didn’t make any noise and was always hanging about when my then boyfriend would sit by the window with his awful cloves cigarettes. You get neighbors that want to know who you are and will take packages in for you or bring by some random baked good they made. There are also pets just roaming free like Patches here that are super chill and let you just come up and pet them.

Patches

As much as I like abundant parking and friendly street creatures I still don’t feel at home here. My apartment feels like home, it should – it’s where I keep my stuff but I still long for a sound of the choppers flying by or some crazy event breaking out on Melrose Ave. Maybe I’ll get to go “home” to the city again one day but for now I’ll remain in the land of slow drivers, coffee shops and school run ‘traffic jams’.

Terminal 3

23 Mar

Just a shade over 10 years ago I walked away from a job I loved because it was getting too painful to watch what we had built up start to crumble around us. I was offered an opportunity to work with a friend and I jumped at the chance. That company didn’t work out but before a year had passed I found myself at a small family run company that would put me on the road a few times a month to Northern California. I was new to sales and was excited about the possibility of all of the free Southwest flights I was going to rack up. Ahhh yes back in the day when 10 or so trips to Sacramento would equal a free flight to see my friends in Nashville. Before long my trips started to take me to San Francisco which made me very happy because I could take Virgin America! New on the scene and with routes to San Jose and San Francisco I would take them whenever I could to spend some time with the brand.  With mood lighting and unexpected treats like these sweet pinback buttons they had a very loyal customer.

Virgin America Pins

Last year Virgin America was sold to Alaska Airlines and this morning I woke up to the news that this lovely airline would soon be gone. As most of my travels take me overseas now I haven’t flown VA in quite some time but I was looking forward to their new Nashville route. I’ll have to try to take one last trip before it’s all gone and bask in the soft purple mood lighting and think about all of those mad dashes made through security when running late for the flights, the fog delays, Pringles on demand, flirty chats with other passengers using the seat messaging system and so much more.

It all comes back to Manchester

20 Mar

This weekend I left sunny Los Angeles to visit my friend Darryl in Toronto. I met Darryl a few years ago while he was working on Pride in Travel (available on Amazon here and features yours truly in chapter 5). It was a chance to head to Opera Bob’s and meet the other members of the Toronto Supporters Club. The global City community can seem small at times and we all seem to know someone in every city. This feeling of camaraderie reminds me of the early 90s Morrissey crowd that followed those early solo tours around the states. There are a few worlds that overlap but this is one case when they did spectacularly. What follows is one of the greatest stories I’ve been a part of in the last few years.

In the fall of 1992 Morrissey came through Los Angeles with his Your Arsenal tour. That was also a monumental year in my life in which I turned 18, had left home to move in to the dorms at UCLA. My friends and I made plans to attend the Hollywood Bowl shows then follow the tour to the Del Mar show because it was a general admission show and you could get to the front if you arrived early enough. We camped out for two days in an unusually rainy Del Mar while rotating out trips for naps and showers at a nearby Motel 6 that we were sharing with no less than eight other fans.  Our efforts paid off and we were rewarded with a few hours smashed up against the barriers while Moz tore through his set. Somewhere during the show someone tossed a flag on stage that Morrissey whipped around for a few seconds before he threw it to the side of the stage. Any rabid fan knows that after the show your main goal is to get whatever you can from the Roadies tearing down the stage. I was the lucky one that grabbed the flag from the stage with a little help from my friends helping me plead to get it thrown down to us. It was a cross of St. George flag – a nice one as well that wasn’t just screen printed but stitched together pieces of nylon. I went skipping back to our car to head home with this new treasure firmly in my grasp.

I hung this flag in my dorm room for a few weeks until the morning I left for New York to catch the last few nights of the tour. I had a free ticket to fly anywhere in the US thanks to my newly acquired AmEx and I could think of no better destination. I traveled with two friends to the city where we had no hotel room booked or tickets to any of the shows! These were no ordinary shows on the tour they were three small club sized shows around New York City and ending the week in Philadelphia at the Tower theatre. That trip is a tale for another time but in the midst of these shows was Thanksgiving when no show would be played and we took our chance to try to meet Moz at his hotel to get a few things signed one of these items being my flag. After hours of waiting at The Mark we were rewarded with a few moments of his time and were told to wait in the lobby. Linder Sterling came back to the lobby to gather up what we had and took it to Morrissey’s room to get signed, she returned 20 minutes later with everything bagged up for us and we ran back though the cold streets to our derelict hotel off of Times Square giddy with our interaction.

I’ve held on to this flag and kept it as the ultimate Morrissey souvenir sure to win all arguments of who has the best object from the era. I haven’t displayed it in many years because I’ve been worried about the flag becoming worn and the autograph fading so it’s been tucked safely inside a box for the last 5 years. Flash to October of last year when I was selling my beloved Vespa LXV to my friend Andy to make room for my Primavera. Andy is also a City fan, member of the supporters club and a MASSIVE Morrissey fan. He had never been to my home and had a bit of a nose around at my memorabilia covering the walls. We got to talking about various items we had and I knew I had to bring out the flag. I couldn’t find it at first and just told him about how great it was. He asked some questions about where I got it and pretty specific details about the flag itself and quickly realized this was the flag he had thrown on stage that Halloween night! I knew I had to find it. A few moments of opening nearly every box in my office I found the folded flag and presented it to Andy. He marveled at seeing this flag he last had in his hands 25 years ago now with the oil crayon inscription of “Bernadette Hoist It High – Morrissey” in the distinctive Moz scrawl across a panel. I was a bit worried he would ask for it back but instead wanted a photo with it and put up a post about it.

Andy Flag 2

There are certain people in my life I feel I was always meant to be friends with but had never been brought together until recently. We all moved in the same circles, knew many of the same people and have shared experiences. It wasn’t until something like your team pulling an impossible victory out in overtime spawning the need to form an official club that you meet these people.