Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Florence and Normandie, 17 Years Later

It looked just like any other intersection.

Two corners had gas stations, one corner an AutoZone, the other corner, a liquor store, adjoining a Subway sandwich shop.

But the liquor store, on the northeast corner, was the sole visual reference to what transpired at this intersection 17 years ago today.

In case you just got off at the Hollywood Greyhound Station in the past 10 years to start your showbiz career, April 29, 1992 was the start of the Los Angeles Riots/Uprising/Rebellion/Civil Disobedience/Urban Disturbance/Melee/Insurrection. And if you don't know what that is, Wiki it or something (You have no hope, then). You can also read the Militant's entry one year ago.

Anyway, the Militant got off the (M) bus, and saw a business-as-usual atmosphere here. There were no visible signs, no monuments, no nothing, the Militant felt there wasn't anything to write about.

Then he saw the vintage-looking Art''s Famous Chili Dog stand (pictured left) next to the Valero gas station on the southwest corner, and, history buff in him, gravitated towards it.

Inside the cramped quarters there were two young men, holding their baby daughters, alternating talk between thugs trying to mess with them, politics, and their women.

They called the sole hot dog stand proprietor "Art", even though the supposed namesake establishment predates him. According to the proprietor, who must be no older than his early 40s, the family-run stand has been in operation for 70 years, and has even been frequented by Hollywood celebs from Bob Hope and Marilyn Monroe to Sherman Hemsley and Sammy Davis Jr.

"We have hundreds of celebrity photos, but we took most of em down because people kept stealing them!" Said the proprietor, whose 'real' name is "E".

The Militant, spurred by both support for the 'hood and mere hunger, bought the Art's Famous Chili Cheese Dog, a Spicy Beef dog (with sauerkraut) and a bottle of root beer, all for under $8 (pictured right). As serendipity had it, the store was nearing its 5:30 p.m. closing time and there were just two buns left.

The Militant asked E if he was here 17 years ago. E had only been working the stand since 1998, but told the Militant that community folk and news cameras were at the corner earlier today to commemorate the riots (For simplicity's sake for the rest of this article, the Militant will forgo the political correctness of the multitude of terms used to describe the event and use the word "riot," since the locals here have no qualms about using the term).

"You just missed it," he told the Militant.

But as E closed up shop, the Militant managed to talk to another local, a husky 40-something dude named Johnny.

"Every year you guys [from outside our community] come here on this day. But what about the other days?" Johnny asked. "We got some wonderful people here, as well as all the bad shit."

The Militant explained that it was timeliness and symbolism that brought him here today. He also asked Johnny how he viewed things now that America is living in the Obama Era.

"Well a change is definitely gonna come," said Johnny, evoking Sam Cooke in the process. "But we know it's not gonna come as fast as we'd all like it to be."

Though Johnny, who lives just six blocks from the intersection, wasn't present at the intersection 17 years ago, he did tell the Militant that he personally knew the "L.A. Four," the four local men (eventually six) charged with beating white truck driver Reginald Denny at the intersection.

"We sold "L.A. Four" t-shirts for a year after the riots," said Johnny. "To pay for their legal defense."

Johnny continued by giving an epilogic update of the four: One is in jail serving a life sentence (for a different crime), one is dead, one is in drug rehab, one is still in the area, running his own [limousine] business.

The Militant asked Johnny what would he like to see most in the neighborhood, which the local simply referred to as "Florence and Normandie," rather than a formal community name.

"More black-owned businesses," Johnny said. He rattled off names of black-owned businesses up and down Florence that were either bought by non-blacks or are no longer in business, of which he primarily blamed corporate competition.

The Militant asked whether there were more supermarkets and banks built in the past decade and a half (community developments that could be found elsewhere in South Los Angeles, but not here). Johnny mentioned that there have always been supermarkets "within 10 minutes away" and didn't seem fazed that there weren't any financial institutions, since he believed not many people in the neighborhood qualified for mortgages and loans anyway.

The Militant thanked Johnny and bid him farewell before catching the Metro Local bus back to his compound. On the ride back, the Militant thought about the conversation with Johnny and realized that what was really missing from the neighborhood wasn't particular businesses, or even institutions like nonprofits or social service agencies per se, but real visionary leadership that's advocating to the local powers-that-be for the abstract change that Johnny was hoping for. Surely there should be someone here trying to make this neighborhood famous for something besides The 1992 You-Know-What.

The neighborhood lacks a real name and identity, and it seems like no one is clamoring for development or the institutions found in places like the culturally-rich Leimert Park.

So much has changed, yet so much remained the same. Johnny mentioned he attended the funeral of a local neighborhood girl who was killed. A paper flier pasted to a light pole on the intersection (pictured left) advertised a memorial car wash to pay for funeral expenses of a neighborhood girl named Hattie Brownridge. That could be her. Even worse if it was someone else entirely.

Many Angelenos, especially those who live well outside the riot zones, half-jokingly allude to the fact that, like The Big One, another riot will inevitably happen. Interestingly, 17 years ago, no one really expected one, yet it happened anyway. There was no sort of prognostication from the locals here at Florence and Normandie. There's nary a hint of neither pride nor shame when they talk about the riots. Everything is described matter-of-factly. Maybe, having initiated the one in 1992, it would be another community's turn. Maybe they're just numb to it all.

Like the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, or the landing of Columbus in the New World half a millennium before, the 1992 Los Angeles Riots have no absolute judgment to it. It was neither a good nor a bad thing, but rather an event with numerous complexities and dimensions that undeniably had an effect on the future.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Pain, Anger and Sorrow In Little Armenia

Today an entire community banded together in solidarity to commemorate the 94th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, which was known to have lasted from 1915 to 1923, where 1.5 million ethnic Armenians were systematically killed by Ottoman Turks. Businesses closed down, people wore black and marched on the streets (The Militant was there last year).

The red, blue and orange tricolor of the Armenian Flag are prevalent throughout the streets, along with the color black. Many a people have been wronged throughout history, and their presence in this country is an after-effect of it. But no other community bears their pain like this one.

The Militant spent his afternoon in Little Armenia to see it all.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

L.A. Live, Wired For 'Iron Man 2'

The Militant realizes full well that today is Earth Day, and while everyone is expecting an ecologically-themed post, the Militant asks, rhetorically, "Why only for today?" Earth Day should be every day. He recycles, rides his bike and hops on the train pretty much every day anyway, so it should be no big deal...

The Militant was walking down Figueroa today with an unspecified relative to visit L.A. Live when all of a sudden a U.F.O. (Unspecified Flying Object) shoots across Fig.

Okay, relax, the space aliens weren't turning Earth Day into Independence Day or anything. The object was being suspended by a cable that stretched from the roof of the Holiday Inn all the way to the Nokia Theatre. Whatever could this be?

Upon closer inspection, the Militant and his unspecified relative approach L.A. Live's "canyon" walkway and witness a crew busy putting up scaffolding, an archway and spotlights. What is up? Some red carpet event?

After doing some intense Militant research (okay, so the Militant just went up and asked), the activity was the construction of a movie set, and the floating object was a test weight, made up mostly of sandbags, in lieu of a camera, which would swoop down L.A. Live's canyon to capture
the scene.

"So what's the movie called?" The Militant asked.

"Rasputin," said the crewmember. "Or...Iron Man 2."

Further Militant research turns up nothing for a movie in production named "Rasputin" but there is confirmation that the production codename for Iron Man 2 is indeed "Rasputin."

So all you Tony Stark fanboys and fangirls, L.A. Live is the place to be tonight!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Logo Agogo!

The Militant, in consultation with his marketing-minded operatives, are currently executing a gradual updating of this site. The old logo is kinda played out, besides, he...kinda stole the "fist" logo off of a Google Image Search (Hey, time was of the essence, he needed to get the site up right away...). Now he's created his own icon, in the form of a monochromatic silhouette of his clench-fisted self. How freaking awesome can that be?

Anyway, he may or may not (No, really) settle on this logo design, or tweak with it in the next few days or weeks. If you're a diehard MA reader, he'll welcome your comments (But will ultimately go with his gut instinct in the end).

Monday, April 20, 2009

Stay Cool: The Militant's 'Foster' Childhood

In case you didn't know it, IT'S HOT today!

Never fear, for the Militant is here!

As long as the temps stay high, the Militant will run special posts on how and where to STAY COOL! He's done something similar, like his Pulitzer-Prize Winning** series on Ethnic Iced Desserts, which are still very much valid today.

The Militant doesn't like to reveal very much about himself, but he will let you know this little fact: He was a Foster child.

Okay, it may or may not actually have anything to do with the category of his parentage, but more to do with the type of ice cream he was most familiar with while growing up. See, down the street where the Militant grew up, there once stood a Foster's Freeze stand. It was the focal point of many childhood memories. He would pass by nearly every summer day on the way home from school (his classes were on a year-round calendar...) and buy either a regular soft-serve cone (25 cents) or the chocolate-dipped cone (35 cents). They also made pretty damn good hamburgers, too. The place had the iconic neon sign with the smiling "Little Foster" ice cream cone mascot, and was clad in blue paint, with wooden benches that had arm-desks on the side. The side of the building even had a lonely little water fountain (which always leaked on the side) that the young Militant would sip off of to or from school. The planters behind the waiting area grew sunflowers that towered high above Lil' Mil, and the entire location will forever become a focal point of memory for the Militant and his childhood Operative who grew up across the street. A recent reunion of the two yielded this conversation:

Childhood Operative: Remember the Foster's Freeze down the corner?

Militant Angeleno: Aw hell yeah! The Militant never forgets!

C.O.: Remember the day a car crashed into the side?

M.A.: Heheh...yeah...

(The driver, coincidentally a family friend of the Childhood Operative, was okay, btw...)

Sometime in the early 1980s, the old Foster's Freeze in the unspecified neighborhood where the Militant grew up in was bulldozed, and replaced with an ubiquitous local icon of retail banality. Sigh. Paved paradise, and put up a mini-mall.

Today, while passing along Fletcher Avenue in the AWV (that's "Atwater Village," in Militant Code) he saw a familiar-looking blue building with a neon sign with the smiling ice cream mascot. The Militant felt like he was 9 again.

Mommy? Mommy? Where are you, mommy?

Oh, wait (looks around), uh, heheh. Never mind that.

So the Militant's first reaction was to walk up to the window and ask for a medium (vanilla - ya gotta specify the flavor now), chocolate-dipped cone, just like back in the day.

Okay, so they cost $1.80 now, as opposed to about 1/7th the price back then...

Regardless, he was a happy "Lil' Mil" again, sinking his teeth into the thin chocolate shell, revealing the soft, cool, vanilla soft-serve goodness inside.


According to the company's website, there are still 101 Foster's Freeze locations still in operation across the Golden State, including the very first location on La Brea Avenue in Inglewood, still in operation since Mr. George Foster opened it in 1946. And no, those joint-venture Foster's dispensers installed inside nearly every El Pollo Loco do not count.

But still, for the Militant, and many other Angelenos who grew up within walking distance to one, a Foster's Freeze is now a rare icon of the past, unabashedly displaying its postwar-era, Route 66-ish image. When the Militant passes by one, and the temperature is right, he will stop by.

** In his dreams.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What An "O"-pening Day!

For the third consecutive year, the Militant dropped what he was doing and made plans to be at The Stadium for the Dodgers' home opener. After all, where else would a Militant Angeleno be?

Now, a little over one year ago, the Militant was like totally wowed with the pre-game magic from the 2008 Golden Anniversary opener and wondered, "How can they ever top that?"

Well, despite a stellar performance from Oprah-endorsed Philippine wunderkind singer Charice belting out an "Oh say can you see?" to commence the Star-Spangled Banner, and an honored, yet, almost obligatory throwing out the honorary first pitch by Vin Scully, the magic wasn't the pre-game festivities.

It was the game itself.

Sure, beating the hated Giants isn't just a Dodger tradition, but a requirement. But the Boys in Blue just plain devastated the Giants 11-1. Oh yes, Andre Ethier knocked not one but two homers into the pavilions. And Chad Billingsley's 7-11 performance (seven innings and 11 strikeouts, that is) may very well be the clear realization of the ace pitcher everyone was trying to make him out to be.

But even the omniscient Great Dodger in the Sky couldn't have willed this one: new signee Orlando Hudson, who inked a single, a home run, a double and finally a triple to hit for the cycle and become the first Dodger in 39 years to accomplish that task! The Militant may or may not have even been born back then!

The Militant Witnessed History!

And so did 57, 098 others, who combined, formed the largest Dodger Stadium attendance - evar (of course, the Militant has attended at least four games where this superlative was announced, do they like add new seats or something?).

Not only that, but the Militant got a nice view in his Loge-level seat, did not, he repeats, did not have to wait in line in the concession stand for his beers and Farmer John All-Beef Super Dodger Dog (grilled, of course), and speaking of food, since the Dodgers won by more than three runs, the team made good on its promo promise and handed out free Jack In The Box Mini Sirloin Burgers (Yipee-yi-yay!!!) after Randy Newman blared in the stadium P.A. system.

The Militant also shared some Dodger chat (and frequent high-fives) with a season ticket holder seated next to him, who offered to sell the Militant for face value some tickets for games he can't attend later in the season (season ticket holders -- good kinds of people to know for any sports fan...). The Militant will, of course, take him up on that.

Yes, all was good in Dodgertown.

Okay, wait, not exactly. The Militant was frantically trying to send Twitter updates to little avail from his seat and can't get a stable cellphone signal. He can't even grab online baseball stats in time from his brand-spanking new 3G gizmo!

Oh well, Opening Day is all about the anticipation, the hope, the experience. So in that respect, unlike the hated Giants, Opening Day '09 did not fail.

Many came to see Manny.

Browne's "Berd" art installations hit Chavez Ravine -
and seem to look quite realistic these days!


Even more history...

This picture pretty much summed up the day.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Militant Twitters!!!

Not to sound like a bandwagon jumper or anything, but the Militant has long resisited the microblogging phenomenon known as Twitter for the mere fact that he wasn't such a fan of people knowing the Militant's whereabouts. After all, the Militant operates in secret, right?

But instead, the Militant has come to grips with the thing and discovered it could be an advantage after all. The Militant keeps a busy and hectic Militant schedule, which may or may not (usually may not...) afford him enough bloggering time. So maybe a few lines texting here and there would drive the point in!

We shall see. Maybe it will be a total disaster - or worse - some enterprising and nosy reader will put two and two together and pinpoint the Militant's exact location and expose him once and for all (perish the thought!). But the Militant, none the stranger to risk-taking, is at least hopeful it will open a new avenue for him. Maybe a year from now you can only find him on Twitter?
As for right now, you can see his Twitters towards the lower right hand corner of this page, just above the "Rival Guerrilla Factions" links.

So, follow him now!