Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ditching My Car?

I've been driving since I was 16. Driving is, of course, a rite of passage for American teenagers. But driving has also been a necessity since I joined the workforce (and during my four years commuting to UC Irvine).

Now that I'm relocating to LA, that's changing. LA's MTA is building the Expo Line, which will offer two stops within a five minute walk of my office. My employer, USC, also operates several tram lines that connect to LA's burgeoning rail transit system. So when I move this fall, you can be sure I'll move somewhere close to a Metro Rail stop. (Right now, we're leaning towards the Gold Line, but the Red Line is an option, too.)

The Expo Line that someday will possibly take me to work

It won't be my first experience commuting to work via public transit. When I spent a summer of 2003 in the Washington, DC, area for an internship, I took the Metro from my apartment in Silver Spring, Maryland to my office in Alexandria, Virginia. (Don't ask.) It wasn't the most convenient way to get there, but I loved being able to relax and simply read. Driving, especially when you have to deal with traffic and stoplights, can be stressful.

I'm even considering selling my car. Why make payments -- and pay for parking -- on a car that will sit in the garage almost all the time? I have a certain friend who did something similar a while ago, and even blogged about it. Turned out well for her!

And besides, as others too are realizing, car ownership isn't what it used to be.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

LA's Street Grid

The City of Los Angeles's sprawl (from the San Fernando Valley to San Pedro) masks the fact that it has a relatively straightforward street grid... at least if you stay close to Downtown. Numbered streets run east-west, named streets (Figueroa, La Brea) north-south. 

The numbered streets begin, unsurprisingly, with 1st St., the street that City Hall and the Walt Disney Concert Hall live on. What I was surprised to learn was that the street grid runs all the way to 266th St., in LA's Harbor City neighborhood.

View Larger Map

Looks charming!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Life in Miami... er, Long Beach

When I moved to Long Beach, I thought I knew what to expect: laid back aging surfer dudes strolling Second Street in flip flops, rowdy college students hopping from bar to bar, and even freak tornado storms that make Belmont Shore look more like Venice.

So when, driving to my apartment, I saw something that looked quite out of place -- a Miami-Dade police car -- I knew I had to investigate.

Miami-Dade police in Southern California?
Turns out that Long Beach is a the television and film production business' go-to stand-in for Miami. This particular day, CSI:Miami had chosen to shoot in Naples, my neighborhood. One of my favorite shows, Showtime's Dexter, also routinely films in the area. (There's even a website that lists all the shooting locations. This beach shack where Dexter met a serial killer is actually a tiny taco stand that I jog past everyday.)

Miami is this way!

When you think about it, the choice of Long Beach is not too surprising. Palm-tree lined streets, boats filled with marinas. And viewers will never notice the cooler, dryer air, of course.

Anyway, back to the more mediocre procedural drama on CBS. My main route to PCH was blocked by police -- this time, genuine Long Beach police officers:

Sorry, we closed to road to help put another piece of crap on network television.
The policeman I spoke to was helpful, though, and pointed some things to check out: a charred car, a Hummer rigged up with cameras and sound equipment, extras walking around in colorful sub-tropical outfits, and a planned explosion for later that afternoon.
A forensic mystery!
Although I've never seen the show, I do have to thank CSI:Miami for making me aware of my town's Miami-like qualities. Since that day, I've even taken to wearing guayabera shirts, smoking cigars, and snorting coke... well, maybe not.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Backpacking in Big Sur

Last weekend, I drove up with my buddy Chris for a short hiking trip in Central California's Ventana Wilderness. When I read in a California backpacking book about a trail to natural hot springs just eleven miles out of the town of Big Sur, I knew I had to take the hike. I'd never soaked in a natural bath before, and I had only driven (quickly) once through the famed region that inspired so many artists and writers.

Highway 1 was, of course, absolutely stunning -- it must be one of the most beautiful drives mile-for-mile in the world. On the way, Chris and I listened to one of my recent favorite albums, "One Fast Move or I'm Gone" by Jay Farrar (of Son Volt) and Ben Gibbard (of Death Cab for Cutie). Farrar and Gibbard adapted Jack Kerouac's lyrical novel "Big Sur" for music. Here's one of my favorite tracks:

Another video here (of Farrar singing the title track).

The hike itself was lots of fun, although we did hit some bad timing -- a cold front moved in on our last day, and we were hampered on our seven mile hike back to the trailhead by strong winds and constant rain.

Here's a repost of my trail review on Yelp:

Warm natural springs, shady redwood groves, and open vistas. Also, swift streams, fallen trees, and miles of ups-and-downs. And, oh yes, crowds and crowds of hikers.

The trail to Sykes Hot Springs (signed as the Pine Ridge Trail by the Forest Service) must be one of the most congested backpacking routes I've taken. When solitude is one of the reasons for seeking out wilderness, as it is more me, running into hikers every fifteen minutes on the trail is sure to earn the trail a demerit. But the novelty of soaking in a natural sulfur spring after an eleven mile trek is still worth it.

On paper, the trail doesn't seem to difficult. Eleven miles (one-way) to the springs, with not very much net elevation gain. Once on the trail, though, you realize that it's a long, maddening succession of climbs and descents -- nothing too steep, but demoralizing nonetheless. We also encountered dozens of fallen trees that we needed to scramble over or around, and a couple stream crossings that required more than easy rock-hopping. For someone who's taken a few long hikes in the Sierras, it was nothing new, but the surprises didn't wear well on my inexperienced hiking buddy.

We split the trail up into three days (two nights), and I would recommend this to anyone who has the time. We camped both nights on the wooded banks of the Big Sur at Barlow Flats, a large campground that's a short but steep hike from the main trail and hence more secluded than either Terrace Creek or Sykes Camp itself. Barlow Flats is seven miles from the trailhead, so we split the trail up into seven miles upstream with a pack, four miles up to the springs and four miles down with out a pack, and then a seven mile hike downstream with the pack again. I'm sure this was much easier than hiking the entire 22 miles with a 35 pound pack.

We hiked through a storm on our last day; a tree snapped and fell only twenty feet from me (loud as a thunderclap!), and we arrived at the parking lot soggy and fumbling for the car's temperature controls.
Wish I had photos, but I didn't bring a camera!