Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Shaken, Not Stirred


That is what you might have thought if you saw the wall-to-wall coverage of L.A.'s big, huge, giant, scary earthquake on Tuesday. If you actually bothered to watch any of the coverage, however, you'd find it mostly consisted of shots of some bricks knocked loose from a building and a few canned goods that tumbled off a store shelf. Heck, John McCain somehow managed to wreak more havoc on a supermarket than a 5.4-magnitude temblor.

Not to say that being in a earthquake isn't somewhat unsettling. But after about 20 minutes of milling around aimlessly outside while trying to get a cell phone signal, everyone pretty much went about their day. Unlike the national media, I find that Californians are somewhat unflappable when it comes to natural disasters. There seems to be an acceptance that the occasional ravaging wildfire, mudslide, or tectonic plate movement is merely the price one pays for year-round sunshine and abundant natural beauty. (The truly weird part though is that it only takes about a quarter-inch of rain for all hell to break loose.)

This was actually the third and largest earthquake I've experienced since moving to California. The first time, it was around midnight and I was alone in my apartment in bed. My initial thought was that a giant truck had slammed into the side of the building. When I realized what was actually happening, the sensation was not what I would have expected. If you're close enough to the ground during a quake, you can actually feel the earth rolling underneath you like waves. And I think that feeling, even more so than the fear of crumbling concrete or shattering glass, is what makes earthquakes scary. For a few heart-stopping seconds you are completely aware of how anarchic nature can be--how with no warning it can literally pull the solid ground out from underneath your feet. It's a pretty convincing example of man's powerlessness against nature.

The second time, I was in the middle of a company-wide staff meeting at the newspaper I used to work at. I imagine that being in a room full of news reporters and editors in the seconds after an earthquake hits is somewhat similar to watching a pack of rampaging wildebeests take off after a gazelle. In one fluid motion, everyone in the room leaped to their feet and made a mad dash for their phones and notepads. (Sometimes I miss the single-mindedness of journalism.)

On Tuesday, when the windows and desk drawers started rattling, I realized pretty quickly what was going on and had the presence of mind to move away from the large window near my desk to a more protected part of the office. Some of the newer California transplants dove under their desks, which I probably should have done, but I just kind of hovered in a doorway exchanging nervous laughter with a co-worker until the ground became firm once again. Shortly thereafter it was back to work--but the rest of that afternoon had that kind of carnival-like feeling that ensues when SOMETHING HAPPENS to break up the monotony of a typical workday.

And maybe that's the trick of living in California, a place that seems to be constantly perched on the precipice of disaster. Eventually, you learn to be more at peace with its unpredictability and sometimes savage beauty. Maybe you even develop a perverse pleasure in challenging it, which is the only reason I can imagine why people would choose to build their multi-million dollar mansions on stilts along the sides of unsteady mountains.

Well, that and the views I suppose.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Bats and Wolves and the Apocalypse (Oh My!)

There's been a bit of belt tightening around the old homestead these days, a condition that has opened my eyes to how much life in this city revolves around spending money. Turns out all there really is to do in L.A. is eat and shop and drink, which means there aren't a whole lot of options when you're trying to conserve money (and gas) by cutting back on these delightful pastimes.

One benefit to this is that I've been reading at a furious pace lately, catching up on a number of books that had been sitting idly on the shelf for far too long. I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy this weekend, and I haven't been able to get it out of my head. It's a beautifully written story, but good GRIEF is Cormac McCarthy bleak. I'm actually just basing this assessment on The Road and the movie version of No Country For Old Men, but judging by those two examples, I'd say that The Joker from Dark Knight has a rosier outlook on the human condition.

Speaking of which, I was SUPER excited about the new Batman movie, despite the fact that all the billboards planted around town of Heath Ledger looking maniacal kind of freak me out. It didn't disappoint. I really liked Batman Begins, and I love Christan Bale in the role. But the movie completely belongs to Health Ledger. Even after all the hype I was totally blown away by his performance. It definitely does add to the creepiness of the character to know that the actor died so soon after making the movie, but mainly it's just sad to reflect again on how incredibly talented he was. If for no other reason than his indelible performance in Ten Things I Hate About You back in the late 90s, I will always remember him fondly.

And just so you don't think my weekend was all gloom and doom, I also saw the excellent band Wolf Parade in concert. (I realize that movies and concerts, and $10 drinks at said concert, don't really fit into the new ethos of fiscal responsibility. I plan to do better next week). There are two kinds of concert-going people that I simply don't understand:

1. People who sit.
2. People who stand still.

It seems to me that the whole point of going to see live music is for the experience--to let the lights and the music and the collective rhythm of the crowd wash over you. Apparently, in this area I break rank with my fellow white people because I MOVE at concerts. I tap my foot, I bob my head, I flail my arms around wildly. Yes people...I Dance Like No One Is Watching. Because, really, is there any other way?

Monday, July 07, 2008

The San Francisco Treat

I. Am. In. Love.

I had thought, nay was sure, that I had found my one true soul mate in Boston. But, suddenly and unexpectedly, another has come in to my life and I can't deny my feelings any longer.

Yes, it is true. I went to San Francisco for the first time this past weekend and I am smitten.

I've always found that cities are a lot like people. They have pulses and beating hearts. They can be moody. Sometimes you fall in and out of love with them as quickly as the fog rolls in over the bay. Sometimes they exceed your expectations and sometimes they disappoint. Spend enough time with them and they will almost always surprise you.

San Francisco swept me off my feet. (Almost literally, since it is quite windy there).

It's always interesting to visit a new place and see just how closely it matches the idea in your head. Based on what I knew of it, I thought San Francisco would be picturesque and that its residents would be quirky and maybe just a little smug about living in what is probably the most naturally beautiful and socially progressive city in the country. This turned out to be pretty accurate:

We spent our far too short time in the city being proper tourists. We watched fireworks over the water, ate chocolate in Ghirardelli Square, walked across Golden Gate Bridge, rode a cable car and browsed through the City Lights Bookstore (home to all the great beat poets such as Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg and Mike Myers in "So I Married An Axe Murderer"). It was all completely delightful, but I think the most quintessentially San Francisco moment of all occurred when I overheard this snippet of conversation spoken by two uber-trendy girls walking down the street in matching lace dresses, black tights and faux fur coats.

Girl #1: "I so do NOT over-medicate.
Girl #2: "WHATever, Jude."

Here are a few more photos of our San Francisco adventure.

A couple of other noteworthy items:

MANY thanks to Kelli for sending us a list of things to do in San Francisco so comprehensive that we hardly needed to consult the Time Out guide we had purchased. If you're ever looking for a career change, I see a future for you in travel guide writing my friend!

Also, if you happen to drop by my Facebook profile where the rest of the photos are posted, you may notice that I'm wearing the same black sweater in almost every picture. This particular sweater was purchased in a London H&M in 2002, and has been with me everywhere I've gone since then. It was tragically lost during a trip to Las Vegas in 2005 and then miraculously recovered. It's lightweight yet surprisingly warm. It goes with everything and can be easily folded up and transported in a shoulder bag.

If you yourself do not own the perfect travel sweater, I seriously suggest that you invest in one. Particularly if you are ever planning a trip to San Francisco, where layering is key.