Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Secrets of the Metro: Wilshire/Vermont's 'Metro PCS'

One of The Militant's favorite Metro Rail subway stations is Wilshire/Vermont, because it's so different. First off, it's the only 'junction' station in the subway, being the diverging point for the Red and Purple lines. Also, because of that, it's the only stations where the tracks run parallel on top of each other (as opposed to the perpendicular nature of the 7th Street/Metro Center and the Imperial/Wilmington/Rosa Parks/Willowbrook/MLK Medical Center/Metro Central Control/Dennys stations. It's the only Metro Red/Purple line station to have a weekly farmer's market at street level (Though The Militant recently learned that one will also be coming to Hollywood/Western this Spring). It also sports the looooooooooooongest escalators in the state of California.

But most of all (and the whole dang point of this blog post), is the fact that it's the only Metro subway station that offers cell phone coverage.

Kinda sorta.

Metro bus and light rail riders currently enjoy chatting, texting, surfing and Tweeting from their phones during their journeys, and most of the time it makes the long ride a bit more enjoyable (unless you're not on the phone and sitting in close proximity to someone who's yapping louder on a call than they would talk to someone in person...). Even the Blue Line offers a place to charge one's mobile device.

But Red and Purple line riders do not have that privilege. Those QR codes on the subway car advertisements are useless. This all may or may not change in the near future though.

Some frequent riders who board at Wilshire/Vermont know what's up though. They can talk, text, Tweet and surf from 120 feet below the street - the deepest station in the entire system.  Because of the particular design of the station, which lacks a proper mezzanine level that would buffer cellphone signals from the surface, mobile users are able to get coverage here.

Cellphone reception is best near the escalators on either level, but if you're sitting on the train and your car is situated close to the escalators during your stop. you can send out that text or Tweet you were suddenly inspired to write while immersed in the zen of the whooshing of tunnel air and the acceleration and deceleration of the train's electric motors (Hey, at least The Militant finds those sounds to be soothing...).

So there you go Metro subway riders...you can use your mobile phone in at least one station. Of course, in that not-too-far-off future when those calming subway noises make way for the cacophony of People Yapping Too Damn Loud and the annoying din of Really Awful Ringtones, y'all gonna look back fondly at the days when only one station gave you the privilege of cell phone usage.
And lookie here, there's even a plug for you to charge up!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Suddenly Sylmar

One of the Militant's great joys is visiting the many communities of this great City. The Militant has covered both The Eastside and The Westside, and has ventured 24 miles south of Downtown Los Angeles to San Pedro. This time The Militant heads 24 miles the other direction, to Los Angeles' northernmost 'hood -- Sylmar.

For most Angelenos, Sylmar is famous for just two things: The eponymous 6.7 earthquake in 1971 (which was actually centered five miles to the northeast in Canyon Country) and the visible terminus of the 419-mile Los Angeles Aqueduct.

But there's so much more to Sylmar than historical quakes and one MF'er of a waterslide.

Okay not that much, but it's got some interesting places of note...

Compared to the rest of the City, or even the Valley, Sylmar is somewhat different. Most of its population of nearly 80,000 lives in the usual SFV suburban tract homes or large apartments, but a great deal of Sylmar is rural or semi-rural -- A horse in a stable is just as common a sight as a car in a garage.

Originally called "Morningside" and settled in the mid-1800s, having named two of its major streets after then-U.S. presidents John Tyler and James K. Polk, Sylmar was named so because of the many olive groves that once grew in the area, originally planted by the friars from nearby Mission San Fernando who found the immediate area's climate uncannily similar to certain olive-growing regions in Spain. In the 1890s, over a thousand acres of the pitted fruit were planted and Sylmar olives were known throughout California as da shiznit. On certain days, the wind would ripple the treetops like waves in the ocean. Thus Syl ("sylva" or forest) + mar (sea) = "Sea of Trees."

The Militant was on a mad search for these olive trees, which were seemingly away from view in Sylmar's main drag, which is the Foothill Blvd corridor from Maclay Avenue in the south to Bledsoe Street to the north. But alas, The Militant finally found the last vestiges of the old groves along...Olive View Drive (duh...).

On the corner of Olive View and Bledsoe, a ranch-style house sits on a large property that's mostly covered in a grove of mature olive trees. And to add to the quintessential nature of the scene, under the tree, there was a horsie (pictured left)!

The nearby mountains, thrusting thousands of feet above the Valley floor, are also popular with hikers and mountain bikers. Across the street, a pack of MTB'ers were loading up their bikes back into their cars, congratulating themselves after a long, rewarding ride.

Also across the street is a major icon from the earthquake of 41 years ago.

Olive View-UCLA Medical Center stands on the other side (pictured right), rebuilt 16 years after the quake, which caused several sections of the building and its parking structure to collapse. The entire structure was on the verge of collapse due to its weakened structural integrity, and the entire building was demolished two years later. The quake occurred just one month after the building re-opened after a 1962 fire. Today, it's operated by LA County and serves the health needs of the region's lower-income residents. A few of its own hospital staff could be found walking home or waiting for the Metro Local bus.

The facility originally opened in 1920 as a tuberculosis hospital, as the warm climate of the area was favorable for respiratory health patients (this obviously before the smog era). Ironically, the location of the building -- on an alluvial plain (where mountain runoff water traditionally flows) below a mountain range --caused it to be extremely vulnerable to liquefaction during the '71 temblor.

Speaking of history, just a few blocks down Bledsoe Avenue from the hospital is the 4-acre Pioneer Cemetery (pictured left), the final resting place of over 600 Valley residents interred between 1889 and 1939. A handful of Civil War vets were laid to rest there.  It after being threatened with abandonment in the late 1950s, the Native Daughters of the Golden West successfully fought to preserve it and got the cemetery State Historical Landmark status.

Okay, so where to the living hang out then? Like many SFV communities, there are chain stores galore, but Sylmar boasts its own local hangs.

Places like El Chaparral Mexican Restaurant on Foothill, opened in 1967, which is a local archetype of large chain Mexican restaurants like Acapulco or El Torito. Gary's Sports Lounge, just south on Foothill by Hubbard Street, is the old standby dive bar in the neighborhood.

But perhaps the most unique hang in Sylmar is Buffalo Bruce's Mercantile (pictured right). Tucked away behind a strip mall on Hubbard and Foothill, blink and you'll miss it. But if you're ever curious how a hippie-dippy coffeehouse and wild west barbecue joint can somehow coexist, then this place is worth a visit.

Sylmar has its own Metrolink station on the Antelope Valley Line, which is several blocks further west along Hubbard, so despite its relatively isolated location, it's still transit-accessible. Metro buses also serve Sylmar of course...but even The Militant doesn't want to endure a bus ride that long!

The Militant strongly believes that all of Los Angeles' communities have their own distinct charm, you just have to look sometimes. The next time you're in the north Valley, try your own olive tree hunt or try to discover what even The Militant couldn't discover in Sylmar.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Militant Gets Wet...For The Wetlands

A couple of weeks ago, everyone was talking about the brand spankin' new South Los Angeles Wetlands Park that was about to open. So The Militant, preparing to do a whole big-ass post about its opening, scoped out the area, took a few pics and was all set to go to the dedication on February 9...

...But some unspecified matters came up, and The Militant put it on the shelf.

In fact, The Militant put many things on the shelf the past couple months. But he didn't think it would matter. Aside from a couple rabid Militant Geeks out there, who cares? No one reads The Militant's Blog anymore. Heck, no one really ready blogs anymore period.

Basically, The Militant has taken some time off to think things over. Should he change his game, or hang up his cleats? Should he try a different angle? Should he try to stay ahead of the game? He is still trying to think these things through.

But here's the part of the blog post where The Militant realizes he's gone off on a large tangent, some four paragraphs into his post, and has yet to really tackle the intended subject matter.

So what's new?

Okay, Angelenos, The Militant was in The South Side on Friday, and after he got P.O.'ed at the Sectional Center Facility down on Central Avenue, he decided to pay the South Los Angeles Wetlands Park a visit.

It was a neat place, albeit slightly barren. White light poles with large, angled solar panels in some systematic fashion lined the grounds like an array of SETI instruments. The ground comprised of nearly all dirt paths.

The focus was the large lagoon running through the north end of the park, its main functional feature. Water is diverted from the San Pedro Street storm drain, separated, filtered and runs through the 3-foot deep body of water, and then out back again into the storm drain system, where it winds up, cleaner than ever, in Compton Creek, The Los Angeles River and The Pacific Ocean, respectively.

The symbolic Elephant In The Room is a massive "Existing Concrete Structure" (according to the park map) which seems to have no functioning windows nor doors. More on this later.

At the 2:00 p.m. hour, the park was quiet and serene. Aside from the whooshing of cars and the planes queuing to land at LAX, it was mainly the sound of the breeze, and occasionally the cacophony of seagulls or crows flying overhead. This was pretty cool.

There were a few teenagers walking in the park, a mother and her kids taking a walk through the park and posing for pictures, and a few other parents pushing their little ones on strollers. But come 3 o'clock, the kids from The School With No Name across the street (really, there's no signage whatsoever, but nearly a half hour's worth of Militant research came up with the name "Dorothy V. Johnson Opportunity High School," formerly known as Central Region HS #16...typical LAUSD, always making things more complicated than they have to be...tsk, tsk...) filter out and make the park their hang...which both may and may not be a bad thing.

Already the few picnic benches have permanent marker graffiti -- albeit more of the bathroom stall variety than gang turf markings. And snack food wrappers (Cheetos Puffs seems to be the most popular around here for some reason) can be found on the grounds and on the shores of the lagoon, as well as discarded water and soft drink bottles. But the youth have found value in the place, some of whom were seen kicking a mini-soccer ball around an open area towards the west side of the park. Teens being teens, The Militant's sure that a few adolescent couples have found this to be a place to walk while holding hands [Cue "Awwww" sound effect].

During this time of the day, the parking lot started to fill up, but not with park patrons -- it's turned into a temporary parking area for parents to pick up their kids.

Thing was, the parking lot could hold some 67 automobiles, but 0 bicycles! Zero! Zilch! Nada! No bike parking! So much for all this eco-wetlands-runoff-oasis! Like WTF?!

But alas, this is a young park. Its barren look will in time be overtaken by the eventual growth of the California native flora (The Militant, after learning much about native plants since his Native Month series, was quick to spot some white, purple, Cleveland and Bees' Bliss sage).

Most importantly, the park was made not so much for curious urban explorers from other parts of town, but for this South Los Angeles community. The community will find its own value and worth for the park, which admittedly, even in an upscale neighborhood, would still look a bit odd at the moment.

Now about that "Existing Concrete Structure." The property was once home to the Los Angeles Railway's South Park Shops (and, until recently, Metro's Division 14 Bus Yard), a facility where streetcars, and eventually buses were stored, repaired and maintained.
The old Los Angeles Railway South Park Shops. The left half of the property is now the South Los Angeles Wetlands Park, the right is now The School With No Name. The dividing line is 54th Street.
The South Park Shops were in operation from 1906 to 2008, encompassing the various transit entities of the City over those 102 years. The Existing Concrete Structure was a relatively new addition to the facility, built in 1926. It kinda looked like this inside:
Inside the South Park Shops. Safety was highly regarded here, though for some reason the few fatalities that did occur were attributed to workers named "Kenny."
It has no function today, but there are rumors that the Existing Concrete Structure will one day be turned into a streetcar museum. The Militant is feelin' kinda giddy over that. But other remnants of the area's transit past are still evident, for just a block north, on the corner of 53rd and San Pedro, one can see fractures caused by paved-over Yellow Car tracks:
See them cracks? That's track! Cool, huh?
The Militant was glad to finally visit the park, which inspired him to get off his lazy ass and finally do a blog post. Urban design, open public space, environmentally sound (well, mostly...get those bike racks installed, people!), native plant life, and with a historical transit theme...how much more militant can you get? The Militant looks forward to returning a few years from now when the plants are all grown up and the streetcar museum is ready. South Los Angeles, take good care of this place, and enjoy it with pride.

AW HECK WHY NOT (a.k.a An Excuse To Post More Pics):
Looks like a river. Existing Concrete Structure representin'.
A local family enjoys their new park.
A young native California Laurel grows here. Why, they even named a canyon after it.
Did you know Purple Needle Grass is the State Grass of California?
Underneath this gated section is where the storm drain water enters the park and gets filtered.
The new look of South Central.
Poor Jan Perry, she just doesn't get any respect these days...
The infamous School With No Name.
No comment.
These birds find the new Wetlands Park something to crow about.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Heavy Metro

Here's absolute proof that Metro Rail RAWWWWKS!!! The Eastside-based hardcore band It's Casual performs "The Red Line."