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Month: July 2014

Wednesday night hikes

Wednesday night hikes

For about two years now I’ve been going on Wednesday night hikes with a rotating group of friends.   I usually bring my camera and sometimes snap some sunset shots.  Usually we park by the Greek Theater and take the long route to the top of Mt. Hollywood where we’ll drink some wine and eat whatever the group brings.  Sometimes we go to Runyon Canyon if there is a concert at the Greek that night.  The gallery above is a sampling of some of those shots.



(see if you can spot my cameos in Sam’s video)

It was either for a birthday gift or a christmas gift, I don’t remember which at this point, that Sam gave me a skydiving ticket.  We originally had to schedule it way out in May, but then minutes before we were going to leave the house the company called and said they were “short handed.”   It took us nearly three months, but yesterday, in a record breaking heat wave, we headed to Camarillo for our dive.

The intake process was very simple and fairly quick.  It was easier than any of the ziplining arrivals we had, and the only training was on what to do with our legs and hands when we jumped.  It wasn’t until I was in the plane, thousands of feet up in the air, that I realized they hadn’t given us any emergency parachutes, nor had they told us where the cord is on our instructor’s chute.   Essentially, if your “instructor” loses consciousness for any reason during the free-fall part of the jump or you come unhooked from him… you’re dead.

That was a little odd, but I wasn’t about to bring it up packed into the back of that little plane and spoil Sam’s fun.  In fact, we were both surprisingly calm for being minutes away from leaping out of a perfectly good airplane.  We went up and towards the Ventura coastline, almost reaching the beach before turning back around and heading inland, always gaining altitude.

The only slight moment of jitters for me came when the little door opened and I had to maneuver my legs out of the cramped cabin onto the little ledge without falling out accidentally.   Even then it would only be comparatively maybe 1% of the nervousness I feel when presenting to a group.  Who would have guessed that someone who gets panic attacks before public speaking would have no problem doing a barrel roll off the wheel of an airplane nearly two miles above the ground.  The strange thing was, I was actually looking forward to it.  It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized that the tiny part of me that wants to jump off of tall buildings (when I’m up in them) is something not that abnormal.  I’d been looking forward to skydiving for a long time because I knew I’d get to indulge that little devil that says “jump.”

You still don’t actually get to jump though.  It’s the instructor calling all the shots up there, you just dangle your legs out and then they decide how and when to jump.  My guy decided we’d be going headfirst.  I think we rolled two or three times before flattening out belly down.  The weird thing was that instead of any fear I just felt relaxed.  It’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to feeling what it’s like to float in space (even though you’re actually plummeting at 120 mph).  The only thing that detracted from the experience was the dude’s arm in my face or field of vision all the time.  They really try hard to sell you on their gopro video, but I’d said before the jump I wasn’t interested.  They’re so hot for that easy money though that they insist taking the video anyway and trying to sell it to you again when you’re on the ground.  Other than “move your hand” the only other thing I remember thinking was “should I close my mouth?  I’m going to get bugs in my mouth. Wait, bugs can’t fly this high, right?  Right, okay, keep it open then -“

After what seemed like only ten seconds (the website says forty) the chute was deployed and WHAM- all my weight was slammed into the harness at my groin.  It wasn’t the worst pain in my life, but it definitely wasn’t something I could have put up with for more than the few minutes of the parachuting to the ground.  We floated up there for a minute or so and then did spirals – which were even more painful on the harness as the G forces were ramped up a bit since it was gravity PLUS spinning.   After that we glided over to the landing site and it was all over.

My instructor, after we’d opened the chute, had pointed up and said “look, there’s your girl.”  I looked up and maybe two hundred yards away (distances are tougher in the air) there was a little ball falling at the same speed, but above us.  Quickly their chute deployed as well and Sam ended up following us down, landing just a few seconds after we did.

Our experiences were very similar in that there wasn’t anything scary about the whole experience and we found it (other than the pain from the harnesses) relaxing.  Once the parachute deployed it actually seemed familiar to me, and I couldn’t figure out why until we were getting driven back tot he airport.  About a year ago we’d gone para-sailing for my birthday, and since para-sailing is simply hanging from a parachute up in the air, it’s basically the same experience except there’s no freefall and it lasts a lot longer.   And parasailing isn’t painful.  And I could bring my camera.

I’m not kidding about the harness pain.  When we got home and were changing I saw bruises around my shoulders and in one spot below the belt an inch and a half long bleeding cut in my skin.

The instructors were quick to tell us that the solo harnesses are much more comfortable and the tandem ones are tight for safety.  As it turns out, I was also on the heftier side of the skydiving public.  Apparently there is a weight limit of 200 pounds, so the harnesses are made more for, well, the ladies, I think.

I’m not sure I would want to go solo unless I could start from higher up for a longer fall.

Actually what it really makes me want to do is hang glide (hint hint anyone looking for future birthday or christmas ideas).


Downtown Art Walk July

Downtown Art Walk July

For the first time in about three years Sam and I went to the downtown art walk.   We wouldn’t have gone on our own, our friend who is moving to Italy soon had never attended and wanted to experience it before leaving.

We didn’t know what to expect since it had been so long and the area had been through some turmoil.  At first nobody came to the art walk, then everybody!  Then the wrong people and it nearly got shut down, then they got professional and hired a director,  businesses went in and out of businesses and galleries transformed into restaurants or dance studios or whatever and time marched on.

The most obvious things this time were:

1) They REALLY made the Last Bookstore a happening place.  A few years ago it was a shitty upstairs gallery and a bunch of books downstairs, but maybe some good art on the walls surrounding the bookshelves. Now the inner walls of the upstairs gallery have been removed, turning it into a sort of balcony to look down on the thousands of books below (and a live book reading).  And of course there are now more books than art upstairs, but it’s okay, because where before there were lame paintings now there are little “curio” shops with things that are either crazy, unique, old or all three at once.  In short, it’s steampunk heaven.  It should be noted that I’m not a fan of anything steampunk, but this was at least a coherent theme.

When we went into one little shop called The Fold the proprietor (?) gave us all paper airplanes and told us we were about to have a contest.  They lined us up by the window and we all threw out the airplanes in unison.  This was kind of fun, but we felt a little odd when we realized there was nobody down on the street below us aware of what was going on.  A few onlookers became actually very angry at what they (rightly) presumed was a group littering party.

Walking the rest of the way around the upstairs brought us a lot of interesting little booky concoctions, like an area where all the books were arranged by color in a rainbow.  Another area had a walk-through tunnel made of books.  Another had a wall of books with a hole blasted through.  The place no doubt now appears on a “must see” eccentric LA list right along with Wacko.  However, I think this has more to do with what I’m about to talk about next than “art.”  (Don’t be alarmed though, although there is a lot of “junk” there, there are plenty of interesting books, including a robust sci-fi section full of old stuff)

2) The gentrification of the area has taken a distinct toll on the art walk.  It was immediately obvious how few galleries remained.  Many times we’d walk up to what used to be a gallery, right up to the door and realize that the “Sculptures” inside were actually pieces of furniture… and that the gallery was just a hip furniture store now.  We only saw one food truck lot, actually two blocks east of where the art walk traditionally ended.  There used to be almost one food truck lot on every block, creating an unending panoply of tastes for perusal.  We used to get food truck fatigue, wandering from lot to lot not sure where to eat from lest we pick wrong and regret it at the next lot.  No chance of that now,  the rest of the food truck lots have now reverted to regular parking lots, which created wide quiet patches to walk past.

Don’t worry, the folks banging on drums and wailing about social change are still down there on Main Street next to the nickel diner, but now they’re asking everyone passing by where our bicycles are.  (what?  yeah, I didn’t get it either)  Former large impressive spaces that once entertained live painting and music were now, well, just closed.   The old theater that used to have art and live music now proudly proclaimed that it would be a theater again in earnest soon.  Why?  Well to give the folks now living in the brand new condo complex next door, which used to be a parking lot filled with arts and crafts, somewhere to watch movies.  Come to think of it, I guess there’s no art for the art walk on Main Street at all until you get to the old bank building, which still houses atmospheric installations, but now much much less impressive.   C’mon guys, I got a projector and showed people weird stuff on white sheets draped over weird shapes in the dark when I was in college, it’s not a big deal unless you put some effort into it.  (and I mean that, I literally did that in a “new media class,” we even hooked up a motion sensor to a laptop that would play weird sounds based on the interaction of the audience… nothing that sophisticated was at the old bank building in Los Angeles last night)

Although more and more the downtown area looks like a nicer place to live (Simply Salad where we ate dinner was awesome, and there’s more where that came from), the Art Walk feels a bit like it’s on its last legs.  Even the galleries that traditionally had something interesting were filled with things much less so.  The one exception, of course, was my old haunt, the Hive.  There we saw the one stand-out piece from the night; an extremely realistic, although purposely out of proportion, bust of Jack Nicholson (from The Shining).

In another ironic twist where once there were live bands and huge crowds at an indoor alleyway on Spring Street, there is now a gelato shop called Uli.  Sam being Sam we tried it and it was very good.   The chocolate, plum and peach are great and is something you should try if you’re ever downtown.  Of course their menu changes daily, so if you’re down there you’ll probably get something else just as interesting.

(which reminds me, Lost Souls cafe, where we used to stop and get drinks every Art Walk, is closed as well now. Apparently this happened not long after we stopped going)


There’s something missing.  Something hollow about the experience now.  I thought at first it was the lack of galleries or the lack of crowds, but I remembered that most of the galleries didn’t have good art anyway, and most of the crowd was only there to drink and be rowdy in public.  What really struck me after I thought about it was the lack of anything new to discover at this art walk.  All the little arts and crafts markets were gone.  There was only one dedicated New Brow gallery left, and some of the resident artists there were sadly still trying to sell the same pieces that they had up when I was alongside them three years ago.  That takes this art walk away from what it once was, away from what excited me five years ago.  They took away the heart of the event, which is discovering good new art and inspiration.  Anyone going now won’t find an amazing crab roll truck, or delicate hand made succulent plant sculptures, or an insanely talented portrait artist (Robert Vargas) drawing members of the crowd on the sidewalk.  It’s all gone.  Even Ricky the Pirate is gone, and not just gone, deceased.

Apparently I was a small part of a little piece of Los Angeles subculture that only existed in earnest for a brief moment in time.  It could happen again, sort of.  With all the young people moving in they could easily have events, but there won’t be the raw energy that drew the talent and those that wanted to see it.  These won’t be folks looking for a “happening” they’ll be folks looking for something to do after they leave bottega louie.  I.e., the kind of people I couldn’t have afforded to be ten years ago, or even five years ago, when I was hungry to make art again because nothing else in my life was figured out yet.

Check out this video from 2010 which features Vargas and Ricky together.  This is clearly very early in the night, before most of the crowd showed up, and it’s looks massively overwhelmingly packed already compared to what we experienced the entire night last night.  I was at this art walk four years ago, I remember Ricky walking around with his portrait later showing everyone.

Now there’s nobody drawing the portrait, nobody showing it, and nobody to show it to.