Posted in Uncategorized

Local Hero

My brother is visiting from Portland, and we decided to go to the Dodgers vs. Angels exhibition game tonight.

I head over to Craigslist to hunt down some tickets. The first guy I call is Carlos, who is out in Calabasas but who knows Pasadena very well. Turns out he went to John Muir High School (very near my house) and also to Allendale Elementary, where my sons went. Alas, Allendale is no longer with us–a victim of declining enrollment in the Pasadena Unified School District. Carlos sounds like a great guy, but I’m not up for driving out to Calabasas, so…

I keep searching and find an even better deal (that includes the all-important premium parking pass).  I call the guy up, and he’s driving on the 210 freeway west, heading home. As it happens, he lives about a mile away from me.  I tell my son, “Hey! Some guy named Sean Porter has four tickets and  he’s going to deliver them!” He says, “Sean Porter…that sounds familiar.”

Turns out that it is the Sean Porter who is the subject of the film Gridiron Gang.  He was instrumental in assembling a football team at Camp Kilpatrick, a juvenile detention center. More about the real-life story and the film here.

If you live in LA long enough, you see celebrities.  I’ve seen Debbie Reynolds, Ali McGraw, Dean Paul Martin (before the plane crash), Tim Roth, etc. etc.  It’s kind of fun, but there is a difference between an icon and a hero.

Today I met a real hero.

Posted in Around Town, Uncategorized

I’m Walkin’ Here

Three interrelated issues continue to dance around in my brain:

1. The development of high-density housing in Pasadena’s central area

2. The fact that little/none of this housing is “affordable”

3. The (nice but unrealistic) idea that the residents of this housing will not use their cars to get around. I agree that some will choose alternate forms of transportation some of the time, but they will still be car owners and car drivers. That’s how we roll in SoCal. We roll.

I’m not thrilled about high-density development in the downtown area of Pasadena, but I would stomach it if middle-income and low-income people could afford the housing that is being built. But since none of this new housing stock is affordable to those folks anyway, it’s a bad thing happening for no good reason.

So here’s a letter I wrote to the Los Angeles Times, which is based on my previous post No Car Left Behind:

The article “History, density are uneasy neighbors in Pasadena,”(March 23) reveals the fuzzy thinking behind the development of the old Ambassador College site.

Mike Winter of Sares-Regis says the Westgate development “…will complement Old Town’s commercial space, placing consumers within walking distance of Colorado Boulevard’s shops and restaurants, and giving them less reason to drive.” Greg Galletly of Dorn Platz makes similar comments about the Ambassador West development.

Their assumption? If we build it, they will get out of their cars and walk. Pasadena already has several mixed-use, high-density projects in areas more central than the Westgate and Ambassador West projects. The growing traffic in Pasadena indicates that no one has left his/her car behind.

If we build it, they will get out of their cars and walk. To get to Old Town, Ambassador West residents, most of whom will be seniors, will have to cross the freeway. Been a pedestrian lately? Walking over the freeway just isn’t that pleasant. It’s noisy and smelly. There is no shade, no window-shopping, just cars whizzing below.

If we build it, they will get out of their cars and walk. High-density development alone will not shake that steering wheel loose from the hands of a typical Southern Californian. The perceived safety and utility of the personal automobile outweighs the perceived pleasure of a stroll to the shops and restaurants.

As much as we’d like to–for our waistlines, our wallets, and the environment–most of us aren’t ready to get out of our cars yet. We’re not ready for the lifestyle change. Developers need to quit pretending that their money-making projects will do the trick.

I believe in walking. I’m lucky enough to be able to work at home, to walk to the office of one of my clients, to walk to the gym, and to the new Farm Fresh Ranch Market. I don’t know what’s up with that market though…it looks like they never finished the floor. It’s orange, uneven and blotchy and makes the whole place look tacky.

I believe in public transportation too. Sadly, walking is infinitely more reliable than public transportation (in my experience).

Every once in a while, I will take the bus–the 260 southbound. It runs along Fair Oaks Avenue. It is a quick and easy way to travel the 3 miles from home to Pasadena’s Old Town (and I don’t have to park when I get there!). The route starts in Altadena, just north of where I catch the bus, so the southbound bus is usually on time.

But when I’m ready to leave Old Town, waiting for the northbound bus can eat up the better part of a day. Typically, the bus is 30-40 minutes behind schedule, and sometimes it just never shows up. Sometimes, after a long wait, two buses will arrive at the same time.

After 30 minutes of waiting, I start walking. It’s a game that I call “Walk as fast as you can to the next bus stop and see if you can make it there before the bus shows up.” I take off at a fast clip for the next bus stop (usually 2-3 blocks away). I look back once in a while to see if the bus is coming. If I get to the next stop, I stand there for a few minutes, searching the street for the bus bearing those words in orange that I long to see: Line 260 Fair Oaks Loma Alta.

If I don’t see the bus, I keep going. Once, I made it halfway home. I got to a bus stop and could see the bus was coming. Yippee! There was another guy standing at the stop with me. Turns out the driver recognized the guy as a problem passenger, so the driver didn’t stop. Fortunately, one of Pasadena’s ARTS buses came by, so we both hopped on that.

Despite the difficulties I’ve encountered, I won’t stop riding the bus. But I’m a believer. I believe we need to get out of our cars and get ourselves around some other way.

Posted in Around Town, Current Events, Uncategorized

No Car Left Behind

Today’s article in the LA Times: “History, density are uneasy neighbors in Pasadena” reveals the fuzzy thinking behind development in Pasadena.

Westgate, an “urban village” of 820 residences and 22,000 square feet of commerical space at the eastern end of the old Ambassador College campus, will be the largest housing development in the city’s history. Referring to Westgate and the neighboring Ambassador West development, the article says:

“Those projects will complement Old Town’s commercial space, placing consumers within walking distance of Colorado Boulevard’s shops and restaurants, and giving them less reason to drive, said Mike Winter, a senior vice president of Sares-Regis, the developer of Westgate.”

If we build it, they will get out of their cars and walk.


Southern Californians will offer you a limb before they will part with their four-wheeled appendage.

There is a Ralph’s grocery store with a medium-sized parking lot situated between Old Town and the Ambassador West development. Here’s my question: Does that Ralph’s have to patrol its lot because visitors to Old Town try to get away with parking there for free? Or is the Ralph’s on West Colorado perceived as a little too far from Old Town, so no one even bothers to try and sneak parking there?

I’m guessing they don’t have much of a problem with sneaky parkers. I shop there from time to time and never have trouble finding a space.

There is a big bridge over the freeway that makes Old Town seem far from Ralph’s. The Ambassador West development is even farther from Old Town than the Ralph’s store is. What are the chances that residents will really walk to Old Town?

Mayor Bogaard is quoted in the article as saying that Pasadena’s General Plan, which encourages mixed-use, high-density development, is intended “to reduce dependence on the automobile. The hope is that our downtown will be vital and exciting.”

High-density development alone will not shake that steering wheel loose from the hands of a typical Southern Californian. Especially if one has to schlep kids around. Or haul a bunch of stuff back from the store. I know people who live within walking distance of Target, but they don’t walk there. Who wants to heave-ho 300 fluid ounces of laundry detergent all the way home?

The perceived safety and utility of the polluting metal bubble on rubber wheels outweighs the perceived pleasure of a stroll to the shops and restaurants. Changing that perception, changing a car-based lifestyle that is integral to SoCal culture–those kinds of lifestyle changes are the hardest to come by. Developers need to quit pretending otherwise.

Want to rent a nice two-bedroom apartment in a historic building at the Ambassador site? Here’s an ad from Craigslist–only $2,300 per month!

Posted in Around Town, Current Events, Let's Get Visual

Where the Boring Mayor Lives

Eye Level Pasadena posted an interesting link to an LA Times article about Pasadena’s mayor, Bill Bogaard, the quintessential nice guy.

“My political style,” deadpanned Bogaard, 69, explaining his win of a third term with 89% of the vote, “is to actively pursue [voter] boredom.”

“My success has come from remaining calm, speaking last, letting other council members speak first. As a result,” he added dryly, referring to televised council meetings, “the cable TV ratings have plunged.”

Bill is successful because Bill is the kind of guy that would make you feel safe on the deck of the Titanic. That’s a nice quality in a human being.  He obviously has a sense of humor, a charming ‘tongue-in-cheek-ness’ about himself. There is a humorous tone to the whole article, but for some reason, joking about voter boredom and lack of interest in City Council meetings just isn’t funny to me.

Whether he tried or not, Bill was quite successful in his appeal to voter boredom. Check out these election results. Turnout rate for this election? 17.8% (thanks for the info Aaron).

I’ve lived in Pasadena for over two decades, and I’m becoming a curmudgeon. Why? Because of the way this city has changed. Change is difficult, change is hard, change can be bad or good. Change is constant, and because of that I try hard to embrace it.

Some changes I am able to roll with. Target moved into the old Robinson’s-May building on Colorado. Fedco is gone (yes, I still miss it). But here are the things that pinch: Pasadena now has scads of expensive, ugly rental housing. (Note to self: post photos of egregious examples.) Our traffic has started to rival the famed Westside of LA traffic. And lower income folks are moving out of this town because they cannot afford to stay here.

I’m glad to read that Bill wants to address the affordable housing issue over the next four years. Sadly, that train left the station quite a while ago. Pasadena does have an affordable housing ordinance, but developers can buy their way out if their deep pockets are so inclined (scroll down to “The Breakdown”).

Section 8. The wait for Section 8 housing in Pasadena is over three years long. The demand for affordable housing in Pasadena is huge.  There is no incentive for owners to make their properties compliant with Section 8 regulations, which are more stringent. For example, if you rent out a property to someone with a Section 8 certificate, it is supposed to have a stove and a fridge in working order. But property owners in Pasadena know that they can get renters without providing the stove and the fridge–so that’s what they do. Nothing illegal about it. The owners are able to get market value for their properties without the extra expense of providing the appliances–because the demand for housing is so high.

Here’s where Bill lives:
The Mayor’s Pad

Posted in Around Town, Uncategorized

Urban Nightmare: The Bucket Gets Torched

A while back, I blogged about my bucket–my 1980 Toyota Corolla with the bashed in door and pro-peace bumper stickers, like “An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind” and “Who Would Jesus Bomb?”

We bought a new car for The Scout (Mr. WCGB) last December, so The Bucket was no longer needed. I let my friend Adela have it. Last August, Adela was rear-ended. Though it was clearly the other driver’s fault, Adela ended up with bupkis. The Bucket had been a gift to me from my priest…it was only right to pass it on to someone who really needed it. It’s been on my to-do list: Go to DMV and change the title over to Adela’s name.

Adela lives in the Highland Park area of Los Angeles, and she tells me her neighborhood has been getting worse. (Antonio Villaraigosa, are you listening?) Crack dealers, homeless people drinking all day and night in the alley behind her apartment building, drug-addicted prostitutes hanging around…your basic urban nightmare. Adela encouraged her landlord to fix the back gate to the apartment building, which he did. But now that the gate is locked, the druggies can’t get to the dealer who lives in Adela’s building. (Crack? Crystal meth? Both of those and much more?)

Retribution time. First, Adela’s tires got slashed (on The Bucket and the other car that her partner drives). Then last night, they torched The Bucket.The Bucket Interior-Steering Wheel 1

The Bucket-Thru the Front

The Bucket-Back SeatThe Bucket-Back Seat 2

Adela’s neighbor knocked on her door at 1:30 am to tell her about the car, which by that time was fully engulfed in flame. The Fire Department came, but didn’t bother to call the cops, even though it was clear that arson was the likely cause of this fire. So no police report. That’s how it is when you live in a low-income neighborhood in metropolitan Los Angeles. Those who live in Hancock Park get a different level of municipal services than those who live in Highland Park.

Adela called Pick a Part to come get the car. She wanted to get it out of sight as soon as possible–told me that she didn’t want her kids to see it (she has four). Jessie (towing guy) let me take his picture, though he declined my offer to e-mail him a link to this blog. He’s smiling because I was making jokes. “Well Jessie, thanks for picking up this car. Now, when will you be bringing the new one?”

Jessie the Towing Guy

There was so much debris in that little car. I’m sure when Jessie got on the freeway, all kinds of stuff was flying out all over the place.

The Bucket’s Last Ride

A tan boot had been hanging on the electrical wires above the car. The fire turned the boot black.  I hear that shoes/boots on wires is tantamount to a store hanging out a shingle: Drugs Sold Here.

Black Boot Hanging

The intensity of the heat flattened one of the tires.Featuring the tire

We say farewell.Down the Alley

Adela just called me to say that this afternoon, someone bashed the windshield of the other car in. She’s afraid to call the police.

Adela needs a car, and a new place to live. I’m going to ask my church for money to help her out. If you want to help, let me know.

Posted in Current Events, Film, Uncategorized

Making A Difference

As mentioned previously, Bill commented on my Mardi Gras post and was very complimentary. I wrote back to him about making difference, and he blogged about it. Bill mentions me in his blog–so much so that I feel celebrated! Thanks, Bill!

One of the things I didn’t say in my e-mail: I know people who did not go see Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth because they were afraid they would be depressed. They figured they knew about the whole global warming thing anyway, so what’s the point of sitting through a downer?

I saw the film, and the take-away message that I got? That one person CAN make a difference, DOES make a difference.

So that’s my kick in the butt to those of you who have been avoiding the film!

Posted in Uncategorized, Writing

Happy Birthday, Dave Eggers

This is from today’s Writer’s Almanac:

It’s the birthday of the writer and editor Dave Eggers, (books by this author) born in Boston (1970). He grew up in Lake Forest, Illinois, a city that was famous when he was growing up for having been the setting for the movie Ordinary People. He originally wanted to be a cartoonist, but when he was in high school, he worked on a project where he had to write and illustrate his own book. He found that he loved all aspects of the process, from writing to designing the layout of the book. He went on to study art and journalism at the University of Illinois, and it was while he was in college that his mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Then, just after his mother went through severe stomach surgery, his father was diagnosed with brain cancer. Six months later, both of his parents were dead. Eggers was just 21 years old.

Of the experience of losing both of his parents so suddenly, Eggers later said, “On the one hand you are so completely bewildered that something so surreal and incomprehensible could happen. At the same time, suddenly the limitations or hesitations that you might have imposed on yourself fall away. There’s a weird, optimistic recklessness that could easily be construed as nihilism but is really the opposite. You see that there is a beginning and an end and that you have only a certain amount of time to act. And you want to get started.”

Eggers had to drop out of college to become the guardian of his 15-year-old younger brother. They moved to San Francisco, and Eggers used the insurance money from his parents’ deaths to start his own magazine with some high school friends. They called it Might Magazine. It only lasted for 16 issues. But Eggers went on to start a new literary journal called Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern. He wanted to experiment with graphic design and printing techniques, so he changed the format of the journal for every issue. One issue consisted of 14 individually bound pamphlets. Another issue included a music CD with a different piece of music composed specifically to accompany each piece in the journal.

All the while that he was starting up these magazines, Dave Eggers was staying up late at night trying to write a book about the death of his parents and the effect that it had on his life. That book grew into his memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which became a big best-seller in 2000.

Eggers has gone on to write a collection of short stories, How We Are Hungry (2004), and two novels: You Shall Know Our Velocity (2002) and What Is the What (2006). He also founded a writing center for young people in San Francisco called 826 Valencia, which has grown into a national organization designed to help and encourage young people to write.

Posted in Grindstone, Uncategorized, Writing

On Being Read: A Dying Person’s Gift of Love

Your resident blatherer has received a very nice comment from Bill. I am wowed by the comment. “Excellent post,” he says.  Thanks to my post about Mardi Gras, he thought about something in a way he hasn’t thought about it before. This is very encouraging for me–like getting an “A” in blogging. (The old paradigms just don’t go away, do they?)

WordPress kindly gives me the option of receiving an e-mail if someone posts a comment on my blog.  When I received the e-mail, I didn’t recognized his blog address right off the bat–I’ve only just started reading his blog thanks to a referral from my home grrl at Eye Level Pasadena.

So I click on the link to see who Bill is.

Holy moly guacamole–Bill is the author of The Dying Man’s Daily Journal. Bill took the time to (1) Read my blog, and (2) Post a comment!

I think Bill’s blog is awesome. We don’t talk about death in our culture…we don’t talk about the process, the fact that it is going to happen to all of us. We don’t talk about what a good death would be vs what a not-so-good death would be.

To borrow from what my priest says, a good death would be one in which you got to say good-bye to people. The people around you would have a chance to get used to the idea of life without you around. You’d even be able to tell jokes about it (insert good family-oriented death joke here). I love Bill’s blog, because it is the chronicle of a good death.

By contrast, a ‘bad’ death is sudden. Car accident, plane crash, sudden heart attack while jogging. No one has a chance to prepare, to say good-bye, to prepare for the inevitable, yet unexpected, event.

We all know that we are all going to die, but it isn’t in our human nature to keep that at the forefront of our every thought. And it wouldn’t necessarily be prudent to think that way, either. Yes, I might die the next time I get behind the wheel of a car. But am I going to write farewell letter to my loved ones instead of doing the dishes before I leave? No. I need to do the dishes.

And maybe I need a file entitled, “Open in Case of Sudden Death” so my family has something should something/anything happen to me.

Life insurance companies have grown rich on the likelihood of sudden death. Likely and possible–but how probable? Enter the actuary…

Back to writing, which is necessary and difficult for me.  And this blog, which I use to exercise my writing “muscles.”  (All two and a half of them.)  Maybe it is about quality and not quantity after all. So what if this blog has received fewer than 5,000 hits? (Okay, fewer than 3,000…but who’s counting?) Someone I admire read my blog, and paid me a lovely compliment.

Thanks, Bill. Thanks to you, I’ll stop thinking that I blog in vain, that what I’m doing here doesn’t really matter, that no one reads me (my current readers excepted–you know who you are).

So on I blather…

(If you read Bill’s March 10 post, the last sentence, this post could also be entitled:  “See How Fast Prayers Get Answered.”)

Posted in Uncategorized

Act of a Patriot

I’m not a fan of fanaticism, especially when it comes to religion and politics.  Sports fans make sense to me (well, I guess because I am one), but viewing sports belongs in the general category of recreation.

Strict adherence to certain lifestyle things, like not wasting water and recycling and reducing use in the first place so you don’t have to recycle…well, those things are important to me.  I don’t want to be a Nazi, but saving resources is important, especially for us first world people because we use a disproportionate amount of stuff.

I try not to buy stuff made in China, because I think workers are treated unfairly there.  Not to mention the fact that your average Chinese person can’t leave the country without government permission.  So for all you shoppers out there–Here’s a link to help you buy American.  I think they are more fanatical than I am, but oh well.