Monday, February 18, 2008

Happy PrezDay, L.A.

The Militant has no particular place to ride to today, no particular neighborhood to explore, so why not get topical?

Today of course is Presidents Day, borne from the practical merger of the birthdays of iconic Commander-In-Chiefs Washington and Lincoln, but now supposedly re-appropriated to celebrate all presidents. And especially this year, as a one handful of people will win the big reality show this coming November to be the next president, this can't be a more appropriate time to talk about the residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

We know that our next president will likely be a native of either Honolulu, HI, Chicago, IL or even the Panama Canal Zone, but has there ever been a native Angeleno as president?

Everyone knows there's been a native Southern Californian as president - Richard Nixon, born in Yorba Linda, raised in Whittier, the Quaker-bred son of a onetime Pacific Electric Red Car motorman. (perhaps that's why he was more pro-transit than some of his Republican bretheren, having supported federal funding for SF's BART and DC's Metro systems). There almost was another one more recently -- former 2008 Democratic candidate Bill Richardson was born in Pasadena.

No there's never been a native Angeleno president - yet, but history boasts candidates for both president and vice president who are locals.

Adlai E. Stevenson II ran unsuccessfully as the Democratic candidate for president in 1952 and 1956 against Dwight D. Eisenhower. A former governor of Illinois and grandson of a Vice President (under Grover Cleveland), Stevenson was born in a home in the West Adams district, just a few blocks north of USC.

Not too long ago, Republican vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp ran with Bob Dole in 1996, losing to Bill Clinton and Al Gore in re-election. Though known more as an NFL quarterback, U.S. Congressman from New York and a member of George H.W. Bush's cabinet (as HUD Secretary), Kemp was born in the City of Angels and is an alum of Fairfax High School and Occidental College, and also attended Cal State Long Beach.

So enjoy the rest of your Presidents Day. The Militant hopes you get some nice Presidents Day presents as you BBQ your turkey and enjoy some nice fireworks displays while your kids dress up in costume hunting for colored eggs.

Poppy-field, I Know About Poppy-field

Ah, another nice sunny Winter's day in the metropolis. On Sunday the Militant's top-secret duties took him to Inglewood, where he decided to forgo a freeway trip along the 101, 110 and 105 freeways in favor of a direct route down the Wilton/Arlington/Van Ness corridor, passing through familiar areas like Hollywood, Koreatown, Jefferson Park, West Adams and into rarely-seen neighborhoods like Chesterfield Square and Angeles Mesa. To the sheltered Angeleno, anything below the 10 is instantly dismissed as "The 'Hood" but at least along Van Ness Avenue, the 'Hood looked quite good - quiet residential streets with well-kept front lawns, some of them nicely tree-lined, and some corners bearing some sort of designed open space. The familiar aerial landmarks of towering palm trees and descending airplanes are there, but these streets look quite quaint. This area was, after all, originally developed as a suburb.

But what a time to be passing through Inglewood -- the city turned 100 years old last week and will be putting on some Centennial events later on this year. The onetime-City of Champions is in some sort of transition, having lost the Lakers, Kings and soon those horsies on the Prairie, it is searching for a new purpose, a new stimulus, and in the process trying to shake off its "ghetto" perception.

Its downtown area, though, doesn't look quite as nice as some of its residential neighborhoods. Generally barren, it's suffering from some sort of identity crisis as it attempts to bear a "Main Street" feel in some sections -- complete with the requisite diagonal parking arrangement and widened, landscaped sidewalk along a commercial area -- but other parts appear quite lifeless.

But there was at least one thing in Inglewood's downtown that appeared pleasing to the Militant's eye -- an empty lot, of all places, right at the corner of La Brea and Florence avenues, where a field of California Golden Poppies grow in striking abundance (pictured above). How strange, yet how beautiful, it looks.

Of course, all them pretty flowers won't last for long. The lot is slated for development by CB Richard Ellis to build a shopping complex (pictured left). The Inglewood city folks seem to be banking on building a hub in the area, as planes fly low over Century Blvd and a mostly-abandoned railroad track lies on the other side of Florence (which is part of the proposed Metro Crenshaw/Prairie Transit Corridor currently under study). Maybe that's where the next hundred years of the hometown of Vicki Lawrence and Mack 10 lies.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Thinkin' Of A Master Plan...

In the last episode of Militant Angeleno, the Militant found his way though the streets of Chinatown, watching a parade, lion dances and hundreds of tubes creating confetti explosions. But that was one whole week ago.

What exactly is going on here? (dramatic horn blast)

Has the Militant gone lazy? (another dramatic horn blast)

Has the Militant Angeleno scaled back his operations to weekly posts? (yet another dramatic horn blast)

Does this mean the end of the Militant? (okay, real long dramatic horn blast)

Stay tuned, Angelenos!

The Militant got up early for a change on a Saturday morning, yet not early enough that he needed the aid of Metro Rapid 754 to take him and his two-wheeled chariot down to Exposition Park for yet another community workshop meeting junta confab-type event. This time, it was for the Los Angeles Bicycle Master Plan regional meeting for the Central and South Los Angeles areas (the first in a series of four), which took place at the historic Los Angeles Swim Stadium 1932 Olympic Venue, now adaptively re-used as a recreational center for the local community.

Around 40 concerned cyclists were in attendance, making their presence known not only in the second-floor community room but in the overflowing bicycle racks (pictured right) that stood outside the building where the attendees parked.

The meeting was largely a primer session from Mia Birk of the Portland-based consulting group Alta Planning, who was contracted by the Los Angeles Department of City Planning to spearhead the community meetings and to help update the plan itself, which currently consists of a system of 300 miles of (mostly non-connecting) bikeways out of 7300 miles of City thoroughfares. Birk talked largely about methods and facilities employed in other cities in the U.S. (especially in Portland) and in other countries that adapt existing road structures into to a more bicycle-friendly infrastructure.

At one point, four profiles of people's attitudes towards bicycle riding which ranged from the "Strong & Fearless" hardcore down to those who wouldn't touch a bicycle with a ten foot pole. One attendee did point out that another demographic - the working poor who can't afford cars or even transit - were left out of the picture (The Militant already had his work cut out for him at this point), and it was pointed out that it was them who are the everyday bicycle commuters (even though they generally ride on the sidewalk). The consultants tried to shoehorn them into an existing group, which was a stretch, but it was apparent that there was some sort of socioeconomic disconnect on the part of the Portland-based group (though the Militant has seen working poor in Portland as well). Their presence was absent from the meeting, despite the fact that there were printed materials and live translators in Spanish.

Normally at these kind of community workshop meeting junta confab-type events, there's the requisite, interactive break-out sessions, which were planned towards the end of the meeting, as the consultants and City staff were ready with their maps and Sharpie markers. But the maps - which depicted the entire city - and not specific regions - were way too small to be of any practical use (like your fist would cover all of Downtown - that small). So attendees just used the time to chat amongst each other.

Participants were encouraged though to post their routes online via the website, an international bike route resource, and save their routes with "LA BMP" in the title. The Militant will surely add his Los Feliz to Koreatown Vermont Bypass Bicycle Corridor route all up in there.

The Bicycle Master Plan Meetings continue in other regions over the next few weeks. The Militant orders you to be there, and hopefully ask for some larger maps:

The Westside: Wednesday, February 20 (that's like, this Wednesday)
6:30-8:30 p.m.
Felicia Mahood Multipurpose Center
11338 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Los Angeles

The Valley: Wednesday, February 27
6:30-8:30 p.m.
Marvin Braude Constituent Services Center
6262 Van Nuys Blvd. (Van New York Blvd?!?)
Van Noise

The Real Southside (aka Pedro, The Harbor area): Saturday, March 1
10 a.m. - 12 p.m.
Banning's Landing Community Center
100 E. Water St.
Wilmington (okay, it's not quite Pedro)

The Eastside: Sorry, guess that means that they just don't care about you.

After this round of community workshop meeting junta confab-type events, the City and the consultants plan follow-up gatherings in November.

Following the meeting, around 20 cyclists went on a ride to the Watts Towers, organized by Strong & Fearless-category velocommuter and blogger extraordinaire Will Campbell. The Militant may or may not have joined the group, but operative reports indicated that it was a very fun and educational excursion into South Los Angeles on a beautiful day.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Golden Dragon Parade: Putting The "RAT" In "CELEBRATION"

You may or many not have been wondering what the Militant has been up to the past week or so, but to cut a long story short he spent it in his Compound's Sick Bay. Cold weather worsened his condition and he elected not to bore you readers to death by writing posts about the wonders of local HDTV sub-channels, of which the non-television watching Militant was forced to spend his time on while recuperating.

But Saturday was a whole 'nother story. He had gotten well enough to not only step outside the compound, but the 80-degree sunny and smogless Winter day was an instant lure to get his Militant Ass back on his bike and huff it down Sunset to Chinatown. For it's Chinese New Year, and there be a parade goin' on!

Over a hundred thousand people or all sorts of shapes and colors joined the Militant to see the 109th annual Golden Dragon Parade, organized by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles, is the City's ushering-in of the Lunar New Year, this time being the Year of The Rat.

The Militant arrived in time to park his bike at the Chinatown Branch Public Library and wander about, as the parade was already going on at Hill Street (the rest of Hill across the freeway was where the parade assembled), and would make a U-formation back down on Broadway, so he cut across the street to see the parade in its entirety.

The streets were already strewn with multicolored confetti, and in some places, burned-out red paper firecracker shells. The Militant soon learned that vendors sold $4 bazooka-like tubes of "Party Poppers" which, after a careful twist along its bottom, caused a spontaneous explosion of colored paper and foil bits (pictured left), which got carried by the wind into various directions. Most of the confetti pieces were curly, and the wind blew them into sections of the street where they accumulated over the duration of the parade.

The parade included the usual parade amenities: floats, dignitaries, marching bands, drill teams, but a Chinese New Year parade always has much more: martial arts displays, beauty queens, benevolent associations, drums, gongs and most of all -- lion and dragon dances. An added bonus this year was the inclusion of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Mascots (pictured right - and no one seemed to turn their backs this time).

At one point in the parade a CNN reporter and cameraman went around the crowd. The reporter was instructing the cameraman to film people speaking in Chinese, and was a bit frustrated when she couldn't find too many people speak the language. Umm...why not show the diverse array of Angelenos who were there to enjoy the parade and take in Chinese culture than to show the rest of the world that this parade was just a mere "Chinese thing?"

They did find a few Chinese-speaking people to film (not interview).

It was a great parade, on the best of all possible days, weather-wise. But 3/4ths into the parade it seemed to drag on. Finally, at the end, after the last dragon dancers, the crowd joined the parade and marched south on Broadway to a festival on the corner of Cesar E. Chavez and Broadway. But that wasn't all -- even after the parade, the sound of seemingly endless firecracker explosions and drums and gongs reverberated along the urban canyons of the Chinatown streets, including a group of lion dancers visiting various businesses on North Spring, in the shadow of a very-crowded Chinatown (M) Gold Line Station (Many people went Metro today, nice, nice!).

In years past, the Militant would visit Chinatown in the evening of the first Saturday of Chinese New Year and find nothing but long-burned-out firecracker shells marking any sign of a celebration. But now Chinatown seems more alive, happening and willing to party like it was 4706.


Seeing Red: A dance troupe performs with their loyal fans.

Oh Mickey You're So Fine: Yes, the Disneyfication of a community event is lame, but hey, when it's the Year of the Rat, why *not* have the world's most famous rodent as your Grand Marshal?

Mayor (Cheong)Sam: Antonio wishes the crowd a "Happy New Year" in Mandarin, Cantonese, English and Spanish.

Joy Luck: A serendipitously-placed Angels Walk kiosk in the foreground; KNBC's Ted Chen waves in the background.

Wave Like This: Miss Taiwan(-Los Angeles, the Militant assumes) and her court greets the paradegoers along Broadway.

We Built This City: Benevolent Associations like the one above were responsible for building today's Chinatown.

Join In The Parade: The crowd spills onto Broadway at the tail end of the procession.

(Lion) Dancing In The Streets: A troupe of lion dancers, accompanied by drums and gongs, overflow onto North Spring Street and tell the evil spirits to haul ass.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008