Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Dodgertown Showdown: UCLA vs. USC at The Stadium!

The last day of February 2009, wasn't just a beautiful sunshiny So Cal winter day, but a fine sports day. While many chillaxed at home to watch the epic USA vs. Canada Olympic ice hockey game, or see the Lakers play the Nuggets at Staples Center, the Militant got an opportunity to watch a baseball game and enjoy a Dodger Dog at Chavez Ravine.

Wait, what?

In what was the first day of baseball at the Stadium in 2010, Sunday was the day of the inaugural Dodgertown Classic, a day of NCAA college baseball played in a major league environment.

The day began with a 10 a.m. game between the Vanderbilt Commodores and Oklahoma State Cowboys (both in town to play both the Trojans and Bruins this week), which the Militant cared even less for than the Winter Olympic Curling semifinals. A whopping 1,220 attended that game. But for those curious, the Commodores edged the Cowboys 7-6. The winning pitcher was Lionel Richie.

The real game was the 2 p.m. crosstown rivalry showdown between the UCLA Bruin and the USC Trojan baseball teams in what was a Why-Didn't-They-Think-Of-It-Before match on not only neutral ground, but a hallowed ground for both Bruin and Trojan alike.

As you may or may not know, the Militant, a proud alum of one of those local universities, and obviously a Dodger fan (in case you didn't know already) couldn't pass up this chance, especially since the tickets to the game were all but $5 each (at either schools' box offices; $10 at the Stadium). Also, parking for the game was completely free, even with the RV show taking place at one of the Stadium lots.

The Militant carpooled to the game with an operative whom he went to college with and painlessly found a parking space in Lot F (only lots 2, 3, F and G were open for the event). The throngs of blue and gold and cardinal and gold filed into field level, which was the only section open for the game as everyone had first-come-first-served General Admission tickets. The Bruin team took the home field dugout, the Trojans took the visitor dugout and their respective bands, students, alumni and fans sat accordingly, though there were lots of "the other" sprinkled in on each side. Later in the game, the left and then right-field pavilions opened up (no, there was no All You Can Eat in effect today).

Speaking of concessions, prices were knocked down a bit (Dodger dogs were $3.75 for this game), but the notoriously long lines were there as expected (Hurrah, Levy Restaurants Not!). The Militant's operative volunteered to get the food and was absent for a good two innings. But the operative, a Los Angeles native who now lives in the frigid northeast for career reasons and is visiting his home town for family reasons, told the Militant that he was willing to wait in line as he told the Militant that this was his only chance to enjoy a Dodger Dog for a while. The Militant understood. And besides, a Dodger Dog (and them garlic fries) in the Stadium - in February?! That concept is beyond awesome.

The game itself was a slight paradigm shift. Unlike 56,000 loud, screaming Dodger fans, this game had some 14,500 spirited attendees, most of which arrived before the 1st inning, thank you.
The respective defensive and offensive plays for each team was cheered on of course, but the big league stadium crowd participation effects - i.e. the "Day-O"s, the "Car Wash" claps, even the venerable "Charge!" and the "Let's Go - - " chants were met with a lukewarm response from both sides. The Militant thanks the Stadium staff for not attempting to use the "Let's Get Loud"-O-Meter. But both teams got equal home field treatment with at-bat music and the like.

And even though this was a heated crosstown rivalry and engaged in good-natured ribbing of the other side's fans, it was a very chill event. The Militant Bowl this definitely was not. No obnoxious drunken fights between the schools, and the one time the crowd got distracted due to a ruckus emanating from behind the stands -- was only due to the excitement caused by the USA hockey team scoring the tying goal, as seen on the TV screens.

During the 7th inning stretch, though, the fans were not treated to the warm-and-fuzzy organ of Nancy Bea Hefley, but a cheap-sounding karaoke background track of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame." And you can bet your bottom dollar that the name of the home team one was inclined to "Root, root, root" for in the song was met with a suddenly boisterous cacophonic chant that resembled a mashed-up amalgam of "Bruins" and "Trojans."

But perhaps the thing the Militant couldn't get used to the most was the "ding" of the aluminum bats. So shrill, at times resulting in a sustained whistling tone. Since they're in a big league park, couldn't they use the wooden ones, at least for today?

As for the game, it was scoreless for five innings until Trojan DH Cade Kreuter (Son of USC baseball coach and former Dodger catcher Chad Kreuter) hit an RBI double. But the Bruins tied the score in the bottom of the 5th and ran away with the game, scoring two runs in the 7th, and three in the 8th (including a homer by Niko Gallego) and the UCLA beat USC 6-1. Of course, in the name of anonymity, the Militant will have to refrain from voicing his personal feeling towards that score.

But what he can tell you was that he hopes the Dodgers will make this a tradition; 14,500 fans ain't bad at all, and it can only grow. Fans from both sides thought this was a fun event, and all proceeds of the game's ticket sales went to the Dodgers Dream Foundation. Of course, it was also a slick way for the Dodgers to promote their upcoming USC and UCLA "My Town" nights on April 29 and 30, respectively to a captive audience.

Honestly speaking, even the Militant, a proud alum of one of these schools, will admit that both UCLA and USC played rather mediocre baseball (with a game that lasted nearly 4 hours) and that the best college baseball teams in Southern California these days are not from places like West Adams or Westwood, but from places like Long Beach or Fullerton. Those Cal State teams definitely got it goin' on.

Still, Dodger Stadium is all about tradition and history, and no matter what, the college match meant for the Ravine will always be the team that boasts alums like Jackie Robinson, Eric Karros and Dave Roberts, versus the team that owes its legacy to former Brooklyn Dodger Rod Dedeaux and produced all-stars alumni such as Tom Seaver, Fred Lynn, Randy Johnson and Mark McGwire.

Go [Militant Angeleno's unspecified alma mater]!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Los Angeles '84 Olympics Play On

For the past week, you may or may not have been watching the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics (the Militant, admittedly, has been watching the speed skating and bobsled events lately). And despite NBC's moronic prime-time tape delay of the games (which even have the east coast folks angry), this is the first Olympic games to take place in the Pacific Time Zone since the Games of the XXIIIrd Olympiad, which, as you all know, took place right here in Los Angeles in 1984 (even a transplant would know that...well, at least transplants over age 26 do).

The legacy of the '84 games live on to this very day, notably in the LA84 Foundation (formerly known as the Amateur Athletic Foundation), an organization that supports local youth sports programs with surplus funds from the games. Prior to '84, Olympic games incurred considerable debt to the host city, most notably in the '76 Montreal games. When the '84 games were up for bid in May 1978, Los Angeles was the only city in the world with the shot-put balls to host them, and after becoming the most financially successful games evar, they forever changed the game (Of course, that doesn't surprise the Militant - as does Los Angeles, the world follows, right?). Other legacies of the games include the Los Angeles Marathon, which will take place next month and will run a Los Angeles-to-Santa Monica route that is virtually reverse to the '84 Olympic marathon route (The Militant, then a teenager, fondly remembers watching the '84 Olympic marathon from Rodeo Rd and La Cienega Bl. in Baldwin Hills, across from the old Fedco).

But for those watching the Vancouver games, and any Olympic telecast since '92, there's one lasting legacy of the '84 games that lives on today - John Williams' "Olympic Fanfare and Theme":

This musical piece was commissioned by the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for Williams to compose for the games. In the '84 Opening Ceremonies, Williams conducted an orchestra situated in the peristyle end of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and performed the song for the very first time.

Okay, Williams writes music all the time, so what's the big deal here? The Angeleno composer (who moved here with his family at age 16 and attended North Hollywood High School, UCLA and Los Angeles City College), has also written themes for the 1988 Seoul and 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, and the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter games -- but his piece for the Los Angeles '84 games is by far the most memorable and still plays on today in the commercial bumpers for the NBC tape-delay Olympic broadcast (Do you know what his '88, '96 and '02 Olympic themes sound like? Anyone? Yo, all you chirping crickets, do you know?).

In fact, it's one of the most well-known pieces of music associated with the Olympics, second only to Leo Arnaud's 1958 piece, "Bugler's Dream," which was first used by ABC (now there's a network that knows how to broadcast the Olympics) in their coverage of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics (and certainly Williams' '84 music is far more recognizable than the actual Olympic Hymn).

So who says Los Angeles has no history? We make history all the time. And we certainly know how to put on an Olympics, and make them memorable for generations. In fact, we've hosted the Olympics twice (take that and suck it, all you "L.A. Isn't A Sports Town" haters out there)!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Puttin' On The Ritz

The Militant once heard in a song the line, "A skyscraper hasn't reached maturity until it has the ability to shine at night."

That line couldn't have been more true driving back to the Compound on Tuesday night via the eastbound 10 when it beckoned him to come closer.

The sight was of the awesome glowing outlines of the 54-story Ritz-Carlton Hotel building (heretofore referred to by the Militant as "The Ritz" (no not that one, nor that one either), now the 10th tallest building in Los Angeles, and the tallest non-office building in town.

As the Militant swept through the curving interchange from the 10 east to the 110 north, the glowing white LED outlines of each of the building's four curving corners seemed to vary in luminosity depending on the viewer's position, and at times, one corner would "vanish" from a certain angle. Furthermore, because of an optical illusion from the building's glass skin, when three lighted corners are visible, the "hidden" fourth corner seems to appear faintly in its expected position, as if the building were a transparent figure.

Like whoa (The Militant learned, upon closer inspection that the lighting effect is achieved through strategically-angled LED lights and a parallel column outfitted with reflectors).

The Militant, admittedly a building and wannabe architecture geek of sorts, hasn't been this excited over the first lighting of a building in Downtown Los Angeles since the 73-story Library Tower (now the USBank Tower) made its debut nocturnal illumination on the night of July 3, 1989 (yes, the Militant remembers these sorts of things).

It's no wonder since The Ritz is the first skyscraper to be built in Los Angeles in nearly two decades, also representing not just a continuing southward shift of the Downtown skyline along the Figueroa Corridor, but signifying the shift from highrise commercial office space to residential (the upper half of the tower are residential condos) and hotel use. In fact, it's not just one hotel but two: From the fourth floor to the 21st, the building houses 879 rooms of the newly-opened J.W. Marriott Los Angeles LA LIVE (a.k.a. the expensive hotel). From floors 22 to 26, it's 123 rooms of The Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles (a.k.a. the really expensive hotel), with a combined 1,001 hotel rooms.

For those of you who have been following the nearby area for the past 20 years, the hotel is a really big deal with regard to the nearby Los Angeles Convention Center. Unlike its nearby competitors in Anaheim (popular with music geeks) and San Diego (popular with comic book geeks), the Convention Center, last undergone a major expansion in 1993, has long lacked adequate hotel facilities to not only host convention guests but to provide supplementary convention space. The new Ritz/Marriott tag team changes the game at long last.

For us locals, the hotels may or may not mean much to you, unless you plan to have your wedding reception/high school reunion/overtly lavish quinceaƱera booked there. But it sure looks purty. Designed by the architectural firm Gensler, The Ritz effectively widens the skyline and adds an extra 21st-century flair to our late-'80s/early '90s style-dominated Downtown towers. And even during the day, the building's glass skin panels form a complex pattern corresponding to the various uses of the building's parts (Gensler even employed a computer-generated design to achieve this).

Most of all (and the Militant has heard all the different sorts of criticisms lobbied at LA LIVE), you can't deny that the synergy of the hotel, the new Regal Cinemas LA Live Stadium 14, the Nokia Theatre, The Staples Center and the amenities of LA LIVE itself, sort of signal the fact that Something Big Is Happening Downtown, even if it's not exactly the organic street-fronting facades us new urbanism types salivate over. But who's to say that the surrounding streets can't be that, and they already are. Getting off at the 9th Street exit from the 110 north already almost feels like exiting the 80 or the 101 in Downtown S.F. It's part of the energy that Downtown needs. It's not everything of course, but it's all interconnected. It's starting to happen folks.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Putting the 'MA' In Mardi Gras

Today is Fat Tuesday - Mardi Gras, and no doubt the home of the World Champion New Orleans Saints have an even bigger fete this year.

Tonight, the Militant will be going to a private Mardi Gras party at the house of an operative of Louisiana heritage!

No doubt, the focus is on New Orleans today. But being the Militant Angeleno (as opposed to the Militant New Orleanian), he's gonna take you from "L.A." to "La." - and back.

The Militant has been to New Orleans before (the photo above was taken by the Militant during his visit there), during an unspecified year in the last decade. As usual when he travels, he likes to immerse himself in the destination city's culture, and also learn about its people, urban life, infrastructure and layout - and usually compares and contrasts between the destination city and his own.

Believe it or not, though the tiny Crescent City is vastly different than the ginormous City of Angels, there are a few things shared in common between them (yes, aside from Reggie Bush).

Both cities were founded by a river, have a "Mid-City" district, are important coastal port cities and are multicultural cities that have spawned fusion cuisines. Both cities have a huge Catholic influence. Interstate 10 runs through both The Big Easy and The Big Orange. And singer/songwriter Randy Newman has written songs about both cities - he grew up in both of them.

But here's something interesting the Militant discovered: Both Los Angeles and New Orleans have streets named "Rampart" and "Carondelet" that are not only parallel to each other but just a couple blocks apart, with both Ramparts located to the northwest of the Carondelets. Both pairs of streets in both cities run in a diagonal direction, from the southwest o the northeast. In New Orleans, the streets are located in the Downtown area, in Los Angeles, they are located in the Historic Filipinotown and Westlake districts.

Perhaps it was intentional -- in what is now Historic Filipinotown, just behind the former Rampart Police Station (which was on Benton Way and not Rampart Blvd), lies Hyans St, which was the first block in Los Angeles where African Americans were able to own their own property.
Being that most African Americans who settled in Los Angeles in the late 1800s-early 1900s came from places like Louisiana and Texas (and prior to World War II, they settled in places like Mid City and Jefferson Park), they probably not only brought the names of places familiar to them, but familiar architecture as well.

Along Hyans St, Benton Way and Council St in the aforementioned block, a few "shotgun" houses (pictured left) can be seen, and are hardly found anywhere else in Los Angeles. These narrow houses, designed without a shared interior hallway, are a familiar sight in the South, particularly in Louisiana. Their name derives from the fact that one can fire (in a straight line) a shotgun from the backyard to the front yard, provided all the doors of the house are open.

But enough of the history lesson for now, it's time to party! recently listed places where one can get their Mardi Gras on this week.

But the Militant is also familiar with some other places that will garon-tee you a lil bit of dat N'awlins flava:

Harold & Belle's - this Jefferson Park restaurant serves up some of the finest Creole cuisine in Los Angeles for over 40 years. The Militant celebrated his birthday with some of his closest operatives a few years ago and everyone was both happy and extremely full. The menu is a bit on the pricey side, but it's more than worth it considering the portions they give you. The Militant ordered the fried catfish, and well, had enough fried catfish to last him until lunch the next day. The desserts are divine as well, do try their bread pudding. 2920 West Jefferson Blvd, (323) 735-9023

La Louisianne - another fine-dining Creole restaurant, located just over the Baldwin Hills near Inglewood. The gumbo is spectacular. Drop by at night and check out the live jazz, blues and soul music entertainmenr. 5812 Overhill Dr (at Slauson), (323) 293-5073.

New Orelans Fish Market - Not a restaurant, but if you're into doing your own cooking, check out this store in Jefferson Park for your ingredients and seafood needs. One of the Militant's operatives, who's a damn good cook, goes here for his crawfish supply all the time. 2212 West Vernon Avenue (at Arlington), (323) 296-3817

And while you're at it, you can groove to the sound of the Los Angeles-based, New Orleans style brass band Critical Brass!

Laissez les bon temps rouler! Where y'at?!

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Peak Worth Croaking About

If you're a big statistics/metrics geek, you will easily notice that the Militant Angeleno doesn't do much when the weather is cold and the days are dark. So it wasn't until a nice warm President's Day when the Militant decided to step out of his compound for a change and finally get inspired to get down to blogginess.

By now you've heard about the big hubbub regarding The Hollywood Sign, and why it's been temporarily altered the past few days - the first legal alteration of the sign since 1992 when the sign was used to promote the Ralph Bakshi animated film, Cool World (Remember, Holli Would?).

By the way, if you are so moved by the sight of 50-foot tarps bearing red and black letters urging that private development not take place up there, pause for the cause and make a contribution by the April 14 deadline. The Militant sure will.

Since the sign will be brought back to normal on Wednesday, the Militant thought it would be great to take some pics of it for posterity, so up he went into them thar hills, to a semi-secret location near the Hollywood Reservoir (or should that be the Save The Peak Reservoir?).

But apparently it wasn't that secret, as a bunch of folks got up there, by foot, by car, by bike, by Segway and by Time Machine to bask in the lovely summer-like weather in mid-February that only Los Angeles can offer.

Wait, what? TIME MACHINE?!

Okay, okay, not an actual time machine, but car owned by a dude named Paul Nigh, who tricked-out his own Back To The Future replica DeLorean car (puictured right). The owner said that the frame was salvaged from a Universal Studios backlot junkyard and built up from that. Likely inspired by the aforementioned lovely weather, he let curious and fascinated Gen-Xers and other movie fans snap pictures and take a seat in the iconic wing-door automobile (free of charge), playing amusing sound effects from the thing and bragging about how the original movie car's designer has seen and admired it.

The Militant didn't want to leave just set - due south was a breathtaking view of the Los Angeles basin, with the Baldwin Hills, Rancho Palos Verdes, the Pacific Ocean and even Catalina Island visible in the distance. Yes, it was one of those days.

But as the Militant left the area, he discovered something more far more fascinating than just a nice warm sunny day and a temporarily-altered landmark.

Upon sighting a gated archway with a bronze plaque on it (The Militant is instantly attracted to plaques (no not that kind), signifying the construction of the Toyon Tanks which hold the water source for the Save The Peak Reservoir), the Militant pulled over and saw four dudes hiking on a nearby incline. It didn't take long for the Militant to find out what brought them there. He could hear it right away.

Instead of describing it in words, let the magic of streaming video show you:

Yes, it was a swamp full of croaking frogs, right up here in the Save The Peak Hills. The Militant couldn't actually see any frogs (them critters are pretty elusive as it is), but as the video proves they are clearly heard.

A swamp full of frogs, up in the hills hundreds of feet above the City's streets, in the middle of our wonderful metropolis.

The Militant sure loves surprises like that.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love, Angeleno Style

Today is Valentine's Day, a day that may or may not have any significance to the Militant. But just go outside, it's lovely. At some point an airplane will draw a heart in the sky, only to be quickly washed away by the wind and resemble a liver by the time the skywriter is done. Such is love, such is life. But whether you're in love or not, enjoy the day with the City that you love. Happy V-Day, ya'llz.