Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sittin' In the Lap of Luxury

The Militant gets treated to a special VIP look at Dodger Stadium, luxury suite seats

The Militant has been blogging for five years now, and though he writes strictly on a volunteer basis, once in a while, he'll get a well-deserved perk from all the hard militant work he's done for the people of Los Angeles over the years.

Such as the one he got recently from none other than the Los Angeles Dodgers, who offered The Militant and a few other bloggers, as part of their Dodgers Digital Series, a FREE chance to watch Monday night's game vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks from one of them fancy-schmancy luxury suites, and also get an exclusive tour of The Stadium before the game!


The Militant was even offered a free preferred parking pass. Yes, of course, The Militant prefers to either bike or take transit to The Stadium. But once in a while he can spoil himself, can he? Besides, he has not driven his car to a Dodger game in three seasons.

The group converged in the Club Level, which houses not only the luxury suites but the offices of the organization (Note: The Militant will not reveal whether he was masked or unmasked, or even partly-masked during the course of the evening's events. He can only say that special precautions have been taken to protect his identity, and details regarding this subject will not be discussed any further...mmmkay?).

The group met with team historian Mark Langill, who told us some fun Dodger facts, like how the stadium's ban on video cameras was lifted in 1995 all because of pitcher Hideo Nomo (Apparently the Japanese fans who attended his games disregarded the no video camera rule, and the organization just gave up on it because it no longer became feasible to enforce).

The group went through the halls of the club level, which resembled a Dodger museum of sorts, with all sorts of photos, paintings, uniforms, shoes, balls and bats adorning the walls behind individual glass cases. Langill mentioned that there would be a Dodger museum built in the not-too-far-off future.

The closest thing to a Dodgers museum - for the moment!
Then the group descended the escalators in the center of the stands, and entered a special doorway from field level. There the group encountered a corridor filled with Dodger uniforms bearing retired numbers to the right, and to the left, the entrance to the clubhouse.

The entrance to the Dodgers' clubhouse. That's Preston Mattingly, Donnie's son and Dodgers farm club player on the right through the doorway.
After ascending a short flight of steps, the group found itself on the field, where we proceeded to watch batting practice from the warning track. We saw the likes of Manager Don Mattingly, superstar Matt Kemp and even new Dodger acquisition Hanley Ramirez. The Militant saw him take his first swings as a Dodger in the batting cage.

Then one of the players approached us...

Y'all know who this dude is.
It was none other than Andre M'fing Ethier! Apparently he's a big foodie and loves reading food blogs. He himself maintained a restaurant blog but stopped because he felt that readers had a hard time separating the Ethier off-the field with the Ethier on-the-field. He did name off his favorite restaurants in Los Angeles (sorry, there were too many to mention), but he did reveal that a) He resides in West Hollywood; b) He never goes south of the 10 or west of the 405 and c) He's only been to the beach once after living in Los Angeles for seven years. He also confessed to dining out since he doesn't cook (and married his wife because she can). DUDE WE HAD A CONVERSATION WITH ANDRE ETHIER!!!! WUUUUUUT?!?!

New owners Mark Walter (L) and Stan Kasten (R). That's Don Newcombe in the hat to the right.
Only the Loney, only the Loney can play.

It was also Los Angeles Galaxy night, and members of the MLS Championship team (the players whose last names aren't "Donovan," "Beckham" or "Keane") were there with the MLS cup to meet Kemp, Ethier and Hanley Ramirez.
Dig that dugout. Before it's littered with sunflower seeds and paper cups.

From the field we went back up to the Club Level and got a peek at the press box. We got to stand eight feet away from a legend.

Caution: Legend at Work.

It was time to start the game, so the group was led to its luxury suite. It had a sweet view of the dugout and the field in general.  The room had video screens, a fridge, some couches, a counter with stools, and for those who wanted to be on the balcony, we sat on Aeron office chairs. Yes, how very un-baseball, since Aeron chairs remind The Militant of sitting in a cubicle. But The Militant would totally love his job if his hypothetical cubicle had a view like that.

How suite it is!
In soccer, a "pitch" is the field. But the Galaxy players throw out the first one anyway.
This Magic moment.
Hanleywood's premiere on the Big Screen.
The Militant sees you, Hanley, on your first home at-bat as a Dodger. Then he grounded out.

Most suites are catered, but unfortunately ours wasn't. D'oh. Guess there had to be a trade-off somewhere. The Militant had to go down to Loge Level for a grilled Dodger Dog!

Speaking of food, if you ever sit in the luxury suites, do not miss the infamous Dessert Cart! It's the stuff of legend, The Militant tells ya! The carrot cake is one of the most popular selections -- Though a slice will set you back $10. Yow!

The infamous club level Dessert Cart!!!!
Not a bad view from here.

The Dodgers went on to lose to the Snakes 7-2. Sucks of course (Hanley Ramirez -- The Militant sees you slackin' off!), but it was an EPIC evening otherwise! The Militant would like to thank the Dodgers for inviting him and giving him and 10 other bloggers an unforgettable evening!

Now start winning again, sheesh!

Here's some video highlights from Monday's pre-game!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Walk A L'Orange

The most interesting thing about the new Metro Orange Line extension is neither buses nor bikes...but pedestrians.

The (M) TAP card $5 daypass is a dangerous thing (in a good way). Provided one has the time, one can go off on an adventure on our transit system, which is exactly what The Militant did on Sunday evening.

Having not yet ridden on the new 4-mile extension of the (M) Orange Line from Canoga Park to Chatsworth, The Militant, bike in tow, set off on an 18-mile trek from North Hollywood just to check it out.

The new north-south bus rapid transit extension, which he had passed by on car just prior to its opening, looked pretty much like the 7-year old east-west line it was supplementing, what with park & ride stations, and a little urban renewal, eliminating some rather blighted, neglected spaces.

The only real unique things about the new extension was the sultry view of the radio tower-topped Oat Mountain, with the setting sun casting sexy shadows of its topography (as sexy as the Santa Susana Mountains can be), and the large, sweeping overpass at the end of the line that runs over the Amtrak/Metrolink/Union Pacific railroad tracks and lands the buses at the Chatsworth depot.

After poking around the area a bit and watching a northbound Pacific Surfliner train roll by, The Militant wanted to try out the bike path portion of the Orange Line.

After finally finding it east of the tracks off of Lassen, The Militant rode on south. It was nice; at one point, you had Canoga Avenue for the cars, a pedestrian path, the bike path, the Orange Line bus right-of-way and the railroad tracks, all running parallel to each other. There was a nascent plantscape with native drought-tolerant plants, and a faux creek with stone-lined bioswales running between the busway and the bike path.

There were few other cyclists at this point. What he did notice the most...were the pedestrians.

First he saw two. Then a group of four. Then a whole family of five, Then people walking dogs, then strollers. It was like a virtual boardwalk in the land-locked SFV. Wait a minute, this is the San Fernando Valley? As in the archetypal suburb?

Apparently so. This was a Sunday evening nearly an hour after sunset. The weather had cooled down considerably. What better thing to do to wrap up your weekend than to take a leisurely stroll along the Orange Line? "Honey, get the kids ready! We're all going for a walk!"

Though darkness grew nigh, the path was well-lit, and unlike its east-west counterpart, it was wide-open, adjacent to a major street, and not the boxed-in cricket jungle atmosphere where lawd-knows who might jump out of the bushes.

A trio of women, each holding water bottles, gossiped in Spanish. Couples, both young and old, walked hand-in-hand. Joggers dashed by, iPod headphones seemingly glowing in the dark.

The Militant unfortunately didn't make a count of all the pedestrians on the Orange Line path for those four miles, but he can clearly remember a dozen or so bikes, including his own. But there were perhaps over 60 people who were walking on this fine Summer evening.

The pedestrian path looked wonderfully safe, although The Militant passed by a police car finishing up its business and heading out, with a young woman walking away, holding a water bottle, nearly in tears. Whether she got a jaywalking ticket (she wasn't holding anything that resembled it) or was a victim of a robbery, is unknown.

After The Militant reached the junctioned Canoga Station, he decided to forge on east and ended up pedaling the 18-mile bike path in its entirety to the North Hollywood station. The entire journey took him almost 2 1/2 hours.

When The Militant started his bike path trek in Chatsworth, he noticed the parallel bike/pedestrian path with their respective icon markings on the pavement. Riding on the O.G. Orange Line path, it was only then did he realize that the same arrangement existed there, too, only not very many people walked that path.

Granted, on a sweltering 105-degree Valley summer day at 130 p.m., you're hardly going to see any pedestrians out on that path, unless they choose to spontaneously combust. But Metro and whoever wants to do any development on Canoga needs to seize upon this newfound pedestrian activity. Maybe a linear farmer's market. Perhaps a designated food truck zone.

 It's 2012 now. People aren't just "Walking in El Lay;" they're walking in the Valley! Who knew?!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Grand New Park Opens Downtown

When The Militant was a wee young Lil'Mil, and hadn't yet discovered his great City in its entirety, his only exposure to Los Angeles' Civic Center was during KABC's Eyewitness News when Dr. George Fishbeck read off tomorrow's forecast, listing the temps for Van Nuys, LAX, Torrance, Pasadena, Santa Ana and the "Civic Center."

"Mom, where's the Civic Center?" asked Lil'Mil.

Mama Militant explained to Lil'Mil that the Civic Center was some place in the middle of Downtown Los Angeles, near where City Hall was.

Not yet aware that the Los Angeles Civic Center is the largest government center outside of the Washington D.C. Beltway, he envisioned a large, linear park next to City Hall with a steel tower some 30 feet high that had a thermometer on it that told everyone what the weather in Los Angeles was  (Lil'Mil also thought that Mayor Bradley was the guy who, with the flick of a switch, turned on the City's streetlights every night, because that's what the mayor does).

Well, more than 30 years later, though the Civic Center Thermometer Tower still exists only in Lil'Mil's imagination, his vision of a large linear park next to City Hall did come true on Thursday with the opening of (...at least half of) Downtown Los Angeles' new $56 million Grand Park (the rest opens in October).

The Militant was there on Thursday noon with a program presented by the Los Angeles County Supervisors, making the usual grandiose statements about the importance of parks as politicians do. Then there was an Olympic opening ceremony-style music and dance performance number which involved kids in colorful costumes, puppets, people on stilts and blue people dressed as if they were in a luge competition (again, the Olympic connection, a day before London 2012, in fact).

Actually the Blue Luge Group was pretty cool, doing an interpretive dance to Mariachi music around the Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain (which has actually been there since the 1960s and not a new element of the park).

Despite all the hoopla, this actually isn't a new park, but a re-branding and renovation of the Los Angeles County Mall, which has been there, bookended by the Stanley Mosk Superior Courthouse and the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration for almost 50 years. Unless you're a Los Angeles County employee, or Joseph Gordon-Levitt dancing with a bunch of people to a Hall and Oates tune, you might have never been there before. The only actual new elements are the relatively small green space towards Hill Street, the public wading pool in front of the Will Memorial Fountain, some pink benches and a bunch of new plants, wading in a sea of mulch.

Many have wondered whether this park will be a sign of DTLA rebirth or an Epic Fail, whether it's a park made for rich gentrifiers or a true park for the people (When you really think about it, parks like MacArthur Park and Lincoln Park were originally built for their respective once-wealthy neighborhoods).

But after the County Supes left from their barefoot photo-op in the wading pool, and after the media had packed up their cameras, a bunch of children, all visually representative of Los Angeles, ran around in the wading pool, giggling and screaming with delight, some touching the water spilling over from the larger fountain, others playfully kicking water towards their parent's shins. One woman, walking a trio of dogs next to the wading pool, stopped to talk to someone, while her largest dog ran towards a column of water and repeatedly took sips from it.

As The Militant sat down in Grand Park, with the cool water mist of the fountain wafting towards him in the breeze, he finally understood what this park really means for Los Angeles. See, those kids don't think about economics or politics or demographics. They're only concerned with what's in their imagination. Except unlike Lil'Mil, that magical park in the Civic Center is for real.

More pics!

The dance performers queue up

These exotic purplish plants are from Brazil. Edumacational markers indicate the regions of the world the various plants are native to (and though there are some California native plants in the park, there are no markers recognizing them, sup wit dat?!?)
The new arrangement of the park allowed some of the old, obscure elements of the old County Mall to be more prominent, such as this memorial to the victims of the 1932 Ukrainian Genocide.
This historical recognition of Los Pobladores (the founders of Los Angeles, in case you didn't know, and if you didn't know that by now, you should be ashamed of yourself) has always been here, but The Militant just thought it was cool to look at.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What's New On The Metro

This month, our 87.8-mile Metro Rail system turned 22 years old. Now that it's firmly in its adulthood, The Militant commands you, from now on, whenever you hear a Los Angeles county resident say, "Duh, I didn't know we have a subway, nyuck nyuck," to smack them upside the head.

In addition to boasting six distinct rail lines (one of which just opened this year), there's some new additions already on the system, which you may or may not already know of:

The Late, Late Show: Come this Friday night, as you already heard, all Metro Rail lines: Blue, Red, Green, Purple, Gold and Expo (as well as that bus line in the Valley that wants to be a rail line), will now run until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, making it one of only four rail transit systems in the US (NYC, Chicago and Washington DC the other three) to offer service past the midnight hour. We even run later than SF's BART system (Another way you can stick it to your hyphy Bay Area friends). Even the stately London Underground doesn't run that late (though it will have 24-hour service on the first and last days of the 2012 Olympics). So leave your car at home and do more bar-hopping this weekend and every weekend (apparently, it's a pilot program which depends on ridership success, so if you want to see the trains stay running late, ya gotta ride them!). Just hope we don't get to see too much of this on the floors of our trains:

Twenty-two years ago, the Blue Line only operated between 5:30 a.m. and 7 p.m., believe it or not!  You've come a long way, baby!

New Train Destination Screens: The 'Train Arriving' notices on the MetroVue video screens in the subway stations, which have been in operation since June of 2008, get a long-overdue update. When an approaching train arrives at each station, instead of the big yellow screen with the subway train icon, you get a yellow and black sign that shows the name of the line, the line color and the terminus station (Union Station, North Hollywood or Wilshire/Western), with a different train icon in the background. At long last the Purple Line gets some recognition.

Although apparently the new screen notices are only activated on the outbound tracks (away from Union Station), and not yet active on the other direction. Looks like some software updates are in the works.

I Screen, You Screen, We All Screen For Transit Information:  And speaking of those MetroVue screens, it looks like at 7th Street/Metro Center, they're installing dual video screens, or adding a 32:9 aspect ratio ratio ultra-widescreen monitor there (to view football games, of course). But it looks more like the former, with one screen presumably showing Red/Purple train arrival times and the other Blue/Expo arrival times. Ultra cool, but is there any reason why they can't have one screen and scroll the arrival info for all four lines that use the station?

Take The "E" Train:  Speaking of 7th Street/Metro Center, have you noticed these wayfinding signs? Apparently Metro realized that the unspecified color designated to the (M) Expo Line can be too close to blue. No word on whether the "E" will appear uniformly on all station signage, etc., or is just there for wayfinding purposes. You don't suppose people will call it the "E" line (Though the "Easy-E" line might not be too bad...)?

So there you has it. Remember, we're only three years away from the Gold Line to Azusa and four years to the Easy-E line to Santa Monica. And between now and then, we may or may not see cool things like cellular/Wi-Fi coverage in the subway tunnels (so subway riders won't have to rely on the signal anomaly at Wilshire/Vermont).

The Militant will now leave you with a candid pic of transit gadfly John Walsh riding his favorite mode of transport, the Red Line:

Sunday, July 22, 2012

We Like the Fest, The Fest That Goes Bloom

You know that The Militant is all into our great City's outdoor festivals. But one such festival has mysteriously eluded him, until now. It's Bloomfest, the annual Summer celebration of all that is the Arts District, named in honor of the artist, businessman, community activist and neighborhood institution Joel Bloom, who lost his battle with cancer in 2007. The first Bloomfest started later that year.

The Militant has been blogging since 2007, but for some reason this event seems to pass him by. Very unfortunate, since his Downtown-based operatives keep talking about it like it's the cat's meow (or the bee's knees), so The Militant had to check it out for himself.

When he found out it was this month, he cleared out his calendar and made it a date. And literally so, as he asked an unspecified fair, sweet Angelena to accompany him.

But she kind of stood him up (not really, but the actual explanation would be too lengthy for this blog, so...let's just go with that scenario). The Militant felt crushed at fist, but then he reminded himself that he is first and foremost a militant, and militants must forge on alone no matter what to survive, and that...he did.

So on Saturday evening at around sundown, he rode his bike to the festival and saw the booth tents looming in the distance beyond Little Tokyo. To his pleasant surprise, there was a free bike valet greeting him on Traction and Alameda. He likes this thing already!

The Arts District is a uniquely funky place, but Bloomfest takes it to 11, so to speak. There were live band stages, live painting, craft and information booths (like for the coming-soon Arts District creative space called The Hub) galore, food trucks of course and most of the area's businesses opened their doors to the throngs of Bloomfesters there that day.

One of the businesses happened to be co-run by one of The Militant's operatives. They had a curious crowd of first-timers at their establishment, and even set up a makeshift bar. "Want me to make you a  drink?" The operative asked, as The Militant was quickly handed a vodka-based cocktail before he could say "Yes." And then another. And then another.

The Militant slowly walked out to explore the rest of Bloomfest. And... it... was... really... interesting.
He even got himself an Angel City beer at their beer garden, and may or may not have sampled some of that Peddler's Creamery bicycle-churned ice cream. No really, he wasn't sure.

He also may or may not have danced silly to the drum-and-bass and dubstep music being played by the DJ by Angel City. Again, he wasn't really sure.

Nor was he sure as he sauntered dizzily through Traction Avenue.

He was struggling to converse coherently with one of the gals at the California High Speed Rail booth. In fact, he was not certain if the conversation even actually pertained to high-speed rail. In hindsight, he can only wonder if she thought, "WTF is up with this guy?!"

The Militant had a sudden craving for fries, preferably of the belgian variety. He didn't want to deal with the Wurstkuche lines, but was chagrined to discover none of the food trucks had any fries available. He had to settle for the kettle corn instead. He doesn't know why that fact is relevant to the story.

This is pretty much how The Militant saw Bloomfest for most of the night.
There are lots of mysteries, but apparently, The Militant, who headed to another operative's house a few miles away after Bloomfest and crashed on a futon until 2 a.m., then rode back to his compound, seemed to have a great feeling about the night. Maybe it's just the spirit of Joel Bloom showing The Militant a great time.

All The Militant is certain of is, is that he looks forward to next year's Bloomfest!

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Militant's 2012 Lotus Festival Report!

This past weekend, The Militant, along with thousands of other Angelenos, enjoyed a weekend in wonderful Echo Park for one of Los Angeles' best outdoor Summer traditions - the Lotus Festival. The Militant has covered it year after year, and this year is no exception!

Though it was kind of humid the entire weekend, that didn't stop Angelenos from going to Echo Park and partaking in Asian/Pacific Islander culture for the weekend. There were wonderful music and dance acts that wowed the crowd the entire day.

As you can see below, a large number of people sat on the grass being entertained, while a row of clothing and crafts vendor tents stood between them and the northern edge of the lake, with the park's trademark lotus flowers in full bloom! Don't they look beautiful?

Unlike past years, The Militant made it a point to get to the festival early enough to catch one of the festival's most cherished traditions -- the Dragon Boat Races!

Here's an action shot of a couple of dragon boats skating across the water, their respective team members fiercely and passionately rowing away:

The Lotus Festival is pretty much the same every year, but the smiles on the diverse array of Angelenos' faces never gets old on The Militant. And to see an urban jewel such as Echo Park Lake shimmer under the summer sun, with tens of thousands of people encircling it, it's such a sight to behold. May we never see anything that strays from this sheer beauty.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The TAPture!

As you may or may not know, The Militant loves using his TAP Card as his preferred fare media during his various transit journeys around his City. He's been rocking one since June of 2008!  All has been going well until one recent day when he TAPped his wallet against the TAP target on one of the Metro Rail turnstiles, and instead of the usual "Go" green screen, he got the red screen you see on the left:

Expired Card
Purchase New Card


As it turned out, there was a group of three other passengers after him who all TAPped and got the same screen.

Could this be?

It may or may not be...

The TAPture!

Now, The Militant, who was in quite a rush to get to his Downtown destination, either went back and bought a paper ticket or just illegally TAPped ahead on the unlocked turnstile and on to his train... Buuut all that is sort of irrelevant to the story. The whole point was...HIS TAP CARD EXPIRED.

Which is kind of odd, since the ticket vending machine, after TAPping to get the TAP Card Status, indicated that it expired on June 30, while the taptogo.net webiste, where he has his TAP card registered online, said that his card doesn't expire until early September 2012.


Of concern to The Militant was the fact that his expired TAP card still had about $7.50 in stored value. Could he transfer that balance to a new card, or is it gone forever?

The Militant called Metro's Customer Service number and tried to find out for himself. His terse response:

"Sir, we don't handle TAP card issues. You would have to call 866-TAPTOGO."

Alrighty then. So he called the other number and got someone who sounded much more satisfied with their job. She told The Militant that he could go to a Metro Customer Service Center, buy a new TAP card for $2, and have his $7.50 stored value transferred from the old card to the new card (it would take up to four days to transfer though...). It is not gone forever in to the ether of space and time.


Later that day, The Militant happened to be in close proximity to the Metro Customer Service Center at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza mall, so he merrily walked in with his TAP card and asked to have the old balance transferred to a new card.

"Umm, sir," the woman in the window said in her 'I Hate This Job' monotone Customer Service voice. "We cannot do this right now. You need to call TAP and have them send us a fax confirming that they have transferred the balance to your new card."

Whoa, hold it there. FAX?!?! WTF?!?!

Isn't the high-tech, 21st-century RFID-laden TAP card on the cutting edge of fare media technology? Why does one have to send a fax?!? WHO SENDS FAXES IN 2012?!?!

The fact that it was already 5 p.m. and the TAP center had already closed for the day didn't help things much.

The Militant asked Customer Service Drone Lady if he could just buy the TAP card for $2 and have the funds transferred later. She told him, "We can only sell you the card with a pass or stored value."

(The Militant only had $2 cash on him...)

"Can the balance be transferred online?" The Militant innocently asked.

"No," she replied.

Both The Militant and Customer Service Drone Lady briefly stared at each other with a, "I can't believe you're such a f'ing idiot" look on their faces.

The Militant told her, "The Militant had no idea this was so complicated."

"The Mill what?" Customer Service Drone Lady asked.

"Never mind," said The Militant, on his way out the door.

The next day, The Militant called up the TAP customer service line, where people sound much more happier and much more willing to help you out, and reiterated his dilemma.

Basically, all The Militant really had to do was buy another card at a Metro Rail ticket vending machine, pay $1.50 in stored value, and call the TAP customer service again, give his two TAP card numbers, and wait for the remaining $7.50 to transfer from the old card to the new one within four days.

The Militant had no idea this was so simple.

He asked the happy TAP lady if she worked for Metro.

"No, this is a call center, we work for TAP..."

Hmm, there is no such company as "TAP," but Militant research points to a San Diego-based company called Cubic Transportation Systems, which manufactures and operates similar contactless fare card systems around the world.

But The Militant was able to replace his TAP card after all.

The Militant took one for the team. Just to make things painfully simple, to avoid this mess, this is all you have to do when your card is within a couple months of expiring, in three easy steps:

1) Let the pass period expire or the stored value go down to $0.
2) Buy a new damn TAP card.
3) There is no Step 3!

Curious, The Militant compared his old TAP card (circa 2008; top) and his new one (circa 2012; bottom):

The older TAP card has a slightly more teal tint, whereas the older one has that "Expo Line" shade of light blue goin' on.

On the back, the differences are more pronounced; the older card has a bigger "TAP" logo and single column rules and regulations table. The new one has a smaller logo and a two-column table, with additional bullet points.

(Dude, was that being transit geek right there or WHAT?!)

So why do the cards expire in the first place? The Militant had a conversation with a fellow transit-using, technologically-literate Operative, who told him that the TAP cards have an RFID chip embedded near the edge of the card. Being a hardware device, the chip has to become obsolete over time so that the TAP system's software can eventually be upgraded with new features. So, it's assumed that with each generation of TAP cards, they embed a newer version of the RFID chip.

The Militant won't have to worry about updating his TAP card until July 2015 (according to the TAP card status feature at the station ticket machines)...or is that June 2016 (according to the taptogo.net website)?