Baldwin Hills Overlook – Homesplorin’ Edition 5

It goes without saying that people in LA love hiking up the various hills surrounding the city. Of course, there are many famous spots in Griffith Park and Hollywood Hills for that Insta-worthy photo overlooking the distant downtown skyline and palm-tree lined streets. One such viewpoint is from the peak of Runyon Canyon, which is undeniably gorgeous especially on a clear day. However, this post is not about Runyon Canyon; it is about Baldwin Hills, which I believe gives any viewpoint hike in LA a run for its money.

Where is the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook? Well, this gem is located on the westside, technically in Culver City. The surrounding neighborhood of Blair Hills is pretty nice, though the Baldwin Hills area itself does not have the best reputation. This, however, does not detract from the experience whatsoever, as the park felt secure and was very family-oriented.

There are a couple of ways to make it up to the viewpoint – you can start at the Culver City Stairs and step your way up the hill (while getting some great exercise!), or there is parking available near the top where the photo op is a only a short walk away. We parked in the residential area of Blair Hills on Wrightcrest Drive; if you do this be sure to abide by posted signs and be considerate of the neighborhood. There is also a lot near the Community Center on Hetzler Road, which costs a few dollars to park in. 

Here are the highlights:

Experience: 

Pros:

  • Want to experience a cool LA spot for absolutely free? Well, this is the place! I hosted a couple of friends during their stay in LA, and this activity was definitely a winner.
  •  As I’ve mentioned before, the view is breathtaking. Really, I might have to say it a few more times so that the point is really driven home. 
  •  Many active LA locals come here to exercise – most people are dressed in athletic attire and it isn’t uncommon to see dudes and gals doing sit-ups or push-ups at the top of the hill. 
  • Of course, if instead you’re looking for a place to capture some headshots or modeling portfolio pics, you’ll fit right in.
  • The Baldwin Hills Overlook is pretty easy to get to from the Westside, Hollywood, or Downtown (if you have a car).
  • Visiting this spot is definitely not an all-day affair – you can see most, if not all of the park/hill in an hour or less!
  • It’s undeniably beautiful. 

Cons:

  • There aren’t many cons, but if crowds aren’t your thing I would avoid coming here during peak times. Late mornings on weekends are quite popular, as are late afternoon hours as dusk approaches. Probably your best bet would be to go in the early morning to avoid the people, and the heat. 

Price: As mentioned, entry into the hill and viewpoint are free. If you plan to park in the lot, bring a few dollars for every hour you plan on wandering around. 

Is it worth it? Yes, yes, and a third yes! For a free activity with gorgeous views of LA, you really can’t go wrong. This is definitely more of a locals spot, but tourists can enjoy it just the same (I’ll probably face some heat for saying that). Do yourself a favor and go check it out!

Pictures:

Thirty Day Trial Challenge – May

I may be a little late to the party, but Happy Spring! This month, I wanted to choose a themed challenge that revolves around this beautiful season. Of course, the idea of spring cleaning popped into my head and naturally I came up with multiple excuses to avoid spending the month scrubbing the deep, dark crevices of my apartment. Still, the allure of decluttering stayed present in my mind, and I was inspired to look for outside-the-box ways to achieve physical and mental cleansing.

I came across a pretty interesting list called the Spring Cleaning Minimalism Challenge. Initially, I wondered what sort of cruel tasks this list would propose – would it suggest that I unceremoniously dump all of my expensive, but untouched, makeup products that I’ve convinced myself that I’ll eventually use? Or would I need to discreetly get rid of my boyfriend’s collection of Magic: the Gathering cards that have been accumulating dust in a shoebox on the bookshelf? 

Upon further inspection, this list provides extremely practical and (mostly) non-emotionally draining ways to declutter. Particularly, it suggests many ideas for technological cleansing along with a few non-traditional home cleaning tasks sprinkled in. I found that this list provides brilliant ideas to clear out electronic junk that I’ve forgotten about simply because it does not occupy a physical presence in my living space. I’m interested in seeing how much (mentally) lighter I feel after checking off each item on this list, and will report back with my final thoughts. In the meantime, check out the Spring Cleaning Minimalism Challenge below!

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Thirty Day Trial Challenge – April

The inspiration for this month’s challenge is yet again derived from Jack Kerouac, and I’m not ashamed of it. I spent the majority of this month re-reading Kerouac’s Big Sur, partly in conjunction with the project I began working on in January. It goes without saying that the beatnik poetry and philosophy spark my creative imagination. For those that are unfamiliar with his work, all you need to know is that Kerouac and his buddies founded what they called the Beat Generation, the post-war literary movement in the 1950s that sought to reject traditional values and replace them with spiritual exploration and other modes of uninhibited human expression.

Though often criticized for being a pseudo-intellectual and drug-induced endeavor (something which I don’t necessarily dispute), the Beat Generation did leave behind some poetic treasures that I find particularly raw, human, and beautiful. My favorite passage from Big Sur is as follows:

“But I remember seeing a mess of leaves suddenly go skittering in the wind and into the creek, then floating rapidly down the creek towards the sea, making me feel a nameless horror even then of ‘Oh my God, we’re all being swept away to sea no matter what we know or say or do’ – And a bird who was on a crooked branch is suddenly gone without my even hearing him.”

Needless to say, I ate this passage up and have been fantasizing about writing my own poetry. This is something that I have dabbled in before, but it will be nice to dedicate time this month to write my own excerpts about life, nature, and whatever else happens to come to mind. I plan on sharing four original short poems – check back in at the end of the month to see how I did!

1. Nonsense (a Limerick)

There once was a man full of nonsense                                                                                    Blah blah blah was his correspondence                                                                                  There then came a day                                                                                                                       He had nothing to say                                                                                                                            The world waited in silent suspense

Thirty Day Trial Challenge – March

Alright, here we go. It’s the end of March and you have no idea what I have been challenging myself to do this month. I’m not going to lie – I did get started a little late on this one, but that doesn’t mean I have abandoned this project before a third of the year is over. That would just be sad.

In case any of you were wondering how my February challenge turned out, follow this link or see below this post. As a reminder, every week I watched a different documentary film from the last four decades and wrote down my thoughts, impressions, and probably overly-invested feelings about each one. I’m done being a critic (for now), so for March I decided to develop a skill rather than continue being the world’s loneliest peanut gallery from my living room couch.

I feel that it is necessary to provide some context for the skill I selected to develop this month. My boyfriend has been learning the Japanese language for 1.5 years, and can speak and write at a 3rd grade level (yay, him!). For everyone that has tried to learn a language, you know it’s not something that happens overnight. He’s worked long and hard to achieve that level of proficiency, so I’m definitely not suggesting that I’m going to spend this month learning Japanese so that I can be his conversational partner. That would be nice, but who am I kidding – I’d be lucky if in a year I could  write “I love you” or “can you stop yelling at your video game, I’m trying to read” in Japanese’s THREE types of scripts.

Domestic annoyances aside, being able to participate in even a portion of my boyfriend’s Japanese language journey would be special. Over the course of his study, he has introduced me to various scripts, grammar rules, and verb conjugations, all of which I have found to be very logical. One of the Japanese scripts – hiragana – caught my eye. It is essentially the Japanese alphabet, composed of various consonants and vowels. The combinations of these sounds are limited, and would actually be a realistic thing to learn in a about a months’ time. Actually, as I write this, I’m almost through learning all of the sounds and strokes – stay tuned for how this month’s challenge ends!

How Did I Do?

I was successful in learning the Hiragana “alphabet”! I am a visual learner, and found the grid below to be very helpful during my study. I also learn well when I have to explain concepts, rules, and techniques out loud, so I recorded a video of myself walking through the sounds and scripts of Hiragana. Even though I made a couple of minor mistakes, I think this tutorial could be useful to anyone who wants to learn the basics of Hiragana. Enjoy!

 

The Original LA Farmer’s Market – Homesplorin’ Edition 4

Any place featuring the word “Original” in its title is worth checking out. Although this wording may inadvertently lead you to a tourist trap, it doesn’t diminish the fact that these places are usually a historical treasure.

I decided to visit Los Angeles’ Original Farmer’s Market one Friday afternoon during my commute home from work. It was quite the spontaneous decision actually – I was working offsite most of that week and drove past it on the new route I was taking. At the end of that week I decided to pull over and walk around; what I saw there was nothing short of magical.

The Farmer’s Market, located in the LA’s Fairfax district right next to the CBS Television studio lot, first opened in July of 1934. Unlike other farmer’s markets, it is a permanent installation open every day of the week. Unbeknownst to myself, it is connected to the Grove outdoor shopping mall by an electric streetcar. I’ve been to the Grove countless times, but never ventured far enough down the mall to see the Farmer’s Market.

Here are the highlights:

Experience: 

Pros:

  • It is a beautiful space hidden away in a type of alleyway courtyard. It may be difficult to find it you aren’t paying attention, but the Market’s isolation within a pretty poppin’ area of LA adds to its allure.
  • The décor and layout gives off an antique vibe, though nothing looks old, run-down, or dirty.
  • There are tons of stands with ethnic cuisines, including a couple of Brazilian BBQ joints. Some stalls also offer fresh produce and seafood; others sell specialty goods and treats.
  • Visiting the Farmer’s Market can be a quick, limited engagement, or an extended event for socializing with friends. I went there to walk around, but there were a lot of friends and families gathered for a Friday evening meal.
  • Parking is free for 90 minutes with validation from virtually every stand in the Market. I bought a baguette from one of the French bakeries and had my validation covered, all for about $3.

Cons:

  • There aren’t many cons, but as a pescatarian the dining options seemed to be limited.
  • It wasn’t very crowded on a Friday early evening, but I can imagine that it would be busy on weekends or during lunchtime. The Farmer’s Market is contained to a relatively small space and the walkways are very narrow. Avoid going during the rush times if you don’t want to brush shoulders with strangers.

Price: Entry to the Farmer’s Market is free. As stated above, 90 minute parking is free with validation. Otherwise, parking will cost $3 for the first 15 minutes and $1 for each additional 15 minutes thereafter, with a maximum fee of $24. It is also accessible through public transportation – take bus 14 or 16 from Downtown LA.

Vendor prices are a little higher than, say, a normal grocery store or fast food eatery. They aren’t outrageous, but keep in mind that these stands are small businesses AND are in a premium location. People sometimes equate Farmer’s Markets with Flea Markets – note that nothing here is a knock-off or offered at a discount. The experience is different than going to a restaurant or shopping at Trader Joe’s; seating is community-style and the selection will be limited. However, I think it’s a worthwhile way to support local businesses and experience a rich part of LA history and culture.

Is it worth it? Absolutely! If I lived closer I would visit the Farmer’s Market at least once a week. It’s clean, it’s safe, and it’s fun. There is no other place in LA like it and it’s worth a visit whether you’re a tourist or a local. Tucked away in a ritzy part of town, the Original Farmer’s Market is a relic of old Los Angeles not to be overshadowed by the Grove and Hollywood glamour. Meet Me at Third & Fairfax!

Pictures:

Wicked at the Pantages Theater – Homesplorin’ Edition 3

Despite how cool we think we are here in LA, there’s really no competing with the ultra-hip eastern folk in New York. Sure, we have Hollywood and the movie studios, but they have Broadway.  Having seen The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway myself, it’s hard to dispute the quality and excitement of a live-stage performance. 

Lucky for us little people in LA, we have the Pantages Theater which hosts all of the most popular touring musicals from Broadway. Situated right on Hollywood Blvd. and Vine, the theater is accessible from the Red Line metro (shocking, I know) if you’re not down to sit in traffic moving at a crawling pace. You’ll be dumped off right by the Walk of Fame and other kitschy shops and eateries, though the main attraction really is the Pantages Theater.

We took my mom to see Wicked for her birthday at the Pantages. It was the same crowd (sup, fam) with whom I saw The Phantom of the Opera in New York, so the standards were high. Here are the highlights:

 

Experience: 

Pros:

  • Disregarding some of my sarcastic comments above, the Pantages is actually in a great location. You could easily spend a few hours walking around Hollywood drinking, eating, and shopping before a show. Think of it as a mini Times Square, but with weirder people.
  • The theater, although appearing small at first glance, is spacious and beautifully decorated.
  • Even though I personally enjoyed the music and storyline of Phantom better, Wicked‘s touring group was extremely talented and very entertaining to watch. The caliber of performance is comparable to what you’d see on Broadway. Generally, you can always expect to see a quality show at the Pantages.
  • With the ticket lottery system you can score some great seats at a cheap price — more details below.

Cons:

  • Buying tickets outright ain’t cheap. But there are ways to get around this – see below. 
  • It is crowded – as Hollywood Blvd. typically is. I point this out simply because some people hate crowds.
  • The parking situation is out of control – be prepared to circle around for a while to find a reasonably affordable lot if you absolutely have to drive there (i.e. take the metro). 

Price: Pricing for tickets varies the most by seat or section, though prices sometimes are higher on weekend evenings. The Pantages’ ticket vendor is Ticketmaster, which also doubles as a resale market. Usually resale tickets are more expensive for a worse value, so try to buy direct from the vendor. Unfortunately, Ticketmaster slaps on an additional $20 or so of fees, which they don’t include in the price you’re initially seeing. For Wicked, the cheapest tickets were about $85 plus taxes and fees. If you want to go on a specific day and want guaranteed seating with your party, this will undoubtedly be a “splurge” experience. 

For those who have a flexible schedule and are flying solo or don’t care about sitting next to your significant other, there is an option to “win” tickets at a heavily discounted price. The terms of this lottery may vary slightly by show, so be sure to check the Pantages website for the most accurate information. My aunt and cousin were successful at getting these lottery tickets for Wicked – so their experience was as follows: 

To be eligible for the lottery, you have to arrive at the Pantages box office 2.5 hours prior to a scheduled performance, where your name will be placed in the lottery. Thirty minutes later, the winners are announced. Those whose names get called have the option to purchase two orchestra seats at $25-30 each (which are typically side-by-side). If you’re not one of the lucky ones to win the lottery, sometimes the theater will offer single seat tickets for $40 each. You won’t get to sit with your friend, mom, dog, etc., but it’s still a great deal.  

For those of us who would rather not leave our couch only to come back empty-handed, digital lotteries are also sometimes offered. Entries for the digital lottery can be submitted online with Broadway Direct beginning two days prior to the performance at 11am until 9am one day prior to the performance. Winners will be notified via email and will have an hour to pay for the tickets online – same pricing as the in-person lottery.

Is it worth it? Definitely yes, regardless of whether you purchase tickets outright or get them through the lottery. Of course, buying full-price tickets would probably be a special occasion for most people; if you have a lot of free time, then trying to score tickets from the lottery could be a way to enjoy this experience more often. Furthermore, the theater is a gorgeous attraction and Hollywood always provides hours of entertainment. A Broadway musical event does offer a different kind of magic than a movie at the cinema – go see for yourself!

Pictures:

Thirty Day Trial Challenge – February

It’s time for my February Thirty Day Challenge! If you want to know how my challenge for January turned out – follow this link!

This month, I have decided to watch one documentary film per week. I am a big fan of true crime and thoroughly enjoyed watching Making a Murderer, Evil Genius, and Brother’s Keeper. I’ve also seen a few health documentaries such as Supersize Me and Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.

Documentaries and programs on the History channel usually got a bad rap from most people in my generation who would prefer to watch the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie (don’t worry, I was one of them). As I’ve aged – gracefully I may add – my taste for nonfiction and real life storytelling has improved. With Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon collectively hosting the archive of practically every documentary ever made (don’t quote me on that), I decided to make up for my adolescent close-mindedness by watching one documentary from every decade since the 80s.

Using Flickchart‘s lists of the highest ranked documentaries of each decade, I have selected 4 documentary films, each of a different genre, to watch this month. I will periodically update this post to share my impression of each film, and to show off the random tidbits of knowledge I have gained from this challenge. 

First up is the highest ranked documentary of the 2010s – Exit Through The Gift Shop!

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

I don’t really know exactly what I was expecting from this documentary, but I certainly did not predict that I’d be watching the story of Thierry Guetta, an awkward French street-graffiti artist’s rise to fame in the street-art world. The film was created by another renown graffiti artist – the notorious and elusive Banksy – who with a disguised face and distorted voice chronicles the events that brought life to Guetta’s alter-ego Mr. Brainwash.

At this point, it is necessary for me to add a *spoiler alert* disclaimer. If you haven’t seen this film and are interested in reaching your own conclusions about the meaning of the title, and, quite frankly, Guetta’s artistic talent, then I recommend seeing it for yourself. Although Exit Through the Gift Shop ultimately leaves the audience with more questions than answers,  it provides context for my (and many others’) conclusions about Mr. Brainwash and the purpose of the documentary itself.

We are introduced to Thierry Guetta – who can’t seem to sit still – a Los Angeles thrift store owner moonlighting as an amateur filmmaker. Guetta, during a visit with his family in France, becomes fascinated with capturing his graffiti-artist cousin’s nighttime acts of vandalism. Under the pretense of using all of his video footage for a street-art documentary, Guetta then slowly gains favor with the most prominent urban artists in the world, including LA’s Shepard Fairey and the Britain-based Banksy. 

Banksy, whose entire gimmick is about being anonymous, claimed that Guetta was the first person he trusted enough to film his artistic process and illegal escapades. When it came time for Guetta to showcase the so-called documentary that featured years of street-art video, it became apparent that he was not a skilled filmmaker and never intended to follow through with the project. You’d think that would be the end of the story. It isn’t.

Annoyed at being deceived, Banksy convinced Guetta to hand over the footage and go back to Los Angeles. In order to keep Guetta away from him while he reworked the film, Banksy tasked Guetta with putting together a small art show in LA. What started as an innocent distraction became a full-blown production – Guetta, now operating under the persona “Mr. Brainwash”, booked a giant studio space and was clearly in over his head. Banksy and Fairey, after hearing Guetta’s pleas for help, provided staff and publicity for the event. Guetta’s show quickly became the talk of the town, and the hype around Mr. Brainwash grew exponentially in the days preceding the show. 

The audience never really knows where or how Guetta acquired the art for the show, but we do know that it essentially was a repackaging of Andy Warhol-like concepts. He somehow pulled it off, and tickets for the show sold like hotcakes. Even though Mr. Brainwash’s artistic style is derivative, to this day his pieces still sell for thousands of dollars. Banksy wraps up the documentary with feigned disbelief at and disapproval of Guetta’s overnight success. After all, he unintentionally enabled this wannabe artist and compromised the integrity of street art. 

My impression of Exit Through the Gift Shop is essentially based on how believable I consider it to be. A mainstream opinion is that this documentary is itself a ruse, lead and orchestrated by Banksy. The theory is that Banksy used Guetta to create Mr. Brainwash in order to manufacture the public’s excitement about a talentless artist who lacked any kind of individual creativity. If the film was indeed about a “prank” that Banksy pulled on all of us, I’m more inclined to take it with a grain of salt.

To be clear, I do feel that Banksy’s contribution to the rise of Mr. Brainwash was definitely deliberate. I don’t know exactly how much Banksy actively and financially assisted Guetta, but I’m convinced that he was well aware of the magnitude of the show and its inevitable success. Therefore, if Banksy is trying to demonstrate that our society has been brainwashed into accepting all forms of art regardless of originality, then I don’t think his “set-up” actually drives this point home. Alternatively, I believe that Exit Through the Gift Shop does reinforce the idea that recognizable brand names and images (and plenty of money!) can ignite the public’s interest in otherwise forgettable art. But for Banksy to claim that he inadvertently created a monster in Guetta that makes all of us look like artistically-devoid fools, well, I simply don’t buy it.  

Check out my mini-review and synopsis of the top documentary in the 2000s decade, Dear Zachary, coming real soon. 

Dear Zachary (2008)

Something about the name and premise of this documentary seemed eerily familiar, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. However, within the first five minutes of the film, I recognized the faces of David and Kathleen Bagby and had the sinking realization that I have seen this story before. 

Ever since my teenage years, I have been fascinated with true crime; I preferred watching Dateline and 48 Hours over reruns of Friends. The real-life stories featured on these true crime programs were of course horrifying and tragic, despite being narrated by a host with an unnecessarily theatrical voice. I could have very easily heard about the devastating murder of the Bagbys’ son Andrew on one of these shows, but my memories of the case and the victims were far too vivid to have originated from a streamlined episode of 20/20. It turns out that I had watched Dear Zachary a number of years ago, and there is a reason why the story stuck with me as it has with so many others. Beware of spoilers below. 

I decided to re-watch Dear Zachary instead of choosing another documentary because I couldn’t bring myself to turn off the television while Andrew’s parents vulnerably recounted the harrowing circumstances of their son’s death. I didn’t want to deny them a voice, especially since I know how this story ends. To say that the resilience and determination of the Bagbys are remarkable would be an understatement. 

I’m not going to delve into every detail of this story – it is something better left to the loved ones of the victims in this case, of which there are many. In summary, Andrew Bagby was the charismatic, outgoing only child of David and Kate Bagby who, despite having many friends, struggled with his own loneliness and transition into adulthood. While completing his medical residency at a family practice, Andrew began dating Shirley Turner, an abusive and unstable woman many years his elder. When Andrew attempted to end the relationship, Shirley allegedly shot, killed, and dumped his body in a parking lot. After local police issued a warrant for her arrest, Shirley fled to her hometown in Canada.

The Bagbys were devastated, and justice for their son seemed as elusive as ever. Then, unexpected, yet purposeful, news came – Shirley was pregnant with Andrew’s child. When Zachary Andrew Turner was born, David and Kate were determined to gain custody of their grandson and moved to Canada to begin the arduous legal battle against their son’s alleged murderer. Meanwhile, Andrew’s friend and filmmaker Kurt Kuenne was creating a video diary filled with loved ones’ memories of Andrew for the purpose of someday introducing Zachary to his late father. 

For years, the Bagbys patiently waited for the Canadian justice system to incarcerate and extradite Shirley for the murder of Andrew. Meanwhile, Shirley continued to have legal custody of Zachary, and the Bagbys tried to spend as much time with their grandson as possible by remaining on good terms with her. Ultimately, Shirley was released from jail on bail while awaiting trial for Andrew’s murder, and shortly thereafter drowned herself and Zachary in the ocean.

After losing their son and grandson at the hands of the same vicious woman, the Bagbys had lost everything, including their faith in the government. They began advocating for a change in Canadian law, and were successful in passing legislation permitting the courts to deny bail to offenders who pose a risk to a child’s life. Despite the fact that these noble efforts wouldn’t bring back their son or grandson, the Bagbys channeled their grief into positive social change. Kurt Kuenne’s emotional account of David and Kate’s heartbreaking journey is raw, tear-jerking, and infuriating, all elements that make Dear Zachary a standout documentary. 

Hoop Dreams (1994)

It seems appropriate that the third documentary for this project would be Hoop Dreams, since March Madness is quickly approaching. And, as a former athlete myself, I of course was excited to hear the story of two young men trying to be the next big names in basketball. Considering that this documentary was made 25 years ago, I already inadvertently knew the ending – these boys did not become the next Michael Jordan. This is also not a film about the adolescent journeys of Lebron James or Kobe Bryant; in fact, the subjects of this documentary are likely unknown to even the most diehard basketball fan. 

So, why is this documentary relevant 20 years later? Shouldn’t it just stay back in the 90s where it belongs? Well, even though the fashion and music are clearly outdated, the social issues that permeate the lives of youth in underprivileged communities all across America are still very, very real.

Hoop Dreams follows the high school years of William Gates and Arthur Agee, two African-American teens living in metropolitan Chicago.  The audience first sees their talent for basketball while playing in their neighborhood park court. At first glance, they appear energetic, quick, and skilled. In fact, they draw the attention of a scout from the prestigious and predominantly white St. Joseph High School in Westchester, Illinois. St. Joseph has a strong basketball program, with alumni such as NBA player Isaiah Thomas bearing testament to its excellence. 

Arthur and William struggle to adjust to the 90 minute daily commute from Chicago to St. Joseph, as well as the rigid and competitive culture of the private school. William impresses the head coach of the basketball team and lands a spot on the Varsity squad as a freshman. Arthur, on the other hand, lacks the refinement and maturity of a top player and is placed on the freshman team to develop his skills. 

Within the first year at St. Joseph, Arthur’s family could no longer afford the tuition and he returned to his local high school in Chicago. Meanwhile, William drew from the support of the St. Joseph community and had his tuition and schooling costs covered by a generous donor. At this point in the story, I was expecting to see Arthur’s decline as a student and basketball player contrasted with William’s skyrocketing success in an affluent community. This, however, was not the case. Both young men struggled – Arthur with his parents’ tumultuous relationship and his brother’s death,  and William with an injury and unplanned fatherhood. For both, maintaining academic eligibility for competing was an ongoing concern. Regardless of their undeniable talent and access to educational opportunities, William and Arthur still encountered barriers that stood in the way of their dreams. 

Even though they were ultimately recruited to play basketball in college – William at Marquette and Arthur at Arkansas State -, neither of them made it to the NBA. In fact, they weren’t even that close. William’s interest and passion for the sport deteriorated over the years, which also meant a decline in his performance. Arthur, despite his energy and obsession for the game, didn’t quite have the talent to gain notoriety as player bound for the NBA. What I found most poignant about this documentary was the realization that this story is not an isolated instance of disappointment, hardship, and unfulfilled dreams; becoming the very best in the world at a sport takes more than simply talent and hard work. It takes the perfect combination of money, a stable home environment, confidence, and perhaps most of all, luck. 

Stop Making Sense (1984)

I love music regardless of the era it came from. One of my all-time favorite bands is Pink Floyd which, without totally aging myself, was way before my time. That being said, I am extremely grateful for the technology of the 60s and 70s that made it possible for me to enjoy such relics of the past.

Although I’m mostly poking fun at my millennial-ness, I have finally reached a decade in my documentary challenge that I was not alive in. The top documentary of the 80s was Stop Making Sense, a film about the band Talking Heads. I’m not very familiar with Talking Heads’ music, but I was hoping this documentary would offer some of the same excitement and drama as the recent Queen/Freddie Mercury biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody. It turns out that Stop Making Sense was purely a concert documentary, so I simply watched and listened to a Talking Heads live performance for an hour and a half.

Despite being slightly let down that I didn’t learn anything about Talking Heads, their band history, or their societal impact, I still enjoyed bopping my head to some of their recognizable hits such as Burning Down the House. Otherwise, there isn’t much else for me to say about the last documentary of February’s challenge.

Final Thoughts (2019)

All in all, I really enjoyed watching these documentaries this month. I ended up with an Amazon Prime Documentary membership for $2.99/month, which is a pretty good deal for access to virtually every documentary ever made. If anything, this project has incentivized me to seek out more documentaries. Particularly, Exit Through the Gift Shop  and Hoop Dreams reminded me that I could venture into genres outside of true crime and actually enjoy other content. I won’t be reviewing any more documentaries for the moment, but if I happen to watch one that I find particularly intriguing I’ll be sure to share my thoughts. See you in March for my next challenge!

Highland Park Bowl – Homesplorin’ Edition 2

Next on my list of “do you really live in LA if you haven’t been to these epitomes of gentrification at its finest” is… Highland Park Bowl!

Located in Northeast Los Angeles, Highland Park is a historic, yet trendy hipster enclave with smatterings of culturally authentic restaurants and eateries. The entertainment options here are top-notch, and you’re sure to find great night-life and diverse experiences near the centrally located York Blvd. and Figueroa St. One of my favorite spots is the Highland Park Ebell Club, which frequently boasts small, but excellent, productions of world-renown operas. The Pacific Opera Project (POP) has even staged a “hipster” version of Puccini’s La bohéme. If that doesn’t scream fun, then I don’t know what does.

Within walking distance of the Ebell Club is a delicious pupuseria and, you guessed it, Highland Park Bowl! Here are my reflections about LA’s oldest bowling alley:

Experience: 

Pros:

  • I went on a RARE rainy LA day, and spent a couple hours in a warm and welcoming space that was not my bed
  • The interior is beautiful and is reminiscent of similar Prohibition-era themed speakeasies in LA
  • It doesn’t feel like a grimy, stinky bowling alley…it’s bowling with class and sophistication
  • The cocktails are fun, delicious, and old-timey. The beer selection was pretty good
  • Kids 21 and under are not allowed after 8pm (I consider this a pro)

Cons:

  • It is a small bowling alley with 8 lanes. Reservations are recommended, if not practically required, to make sure that you don’t have to wait a couple hours for a lane to open up
  • The food is decent, but not great. The menu is pretty much designed around medium-sized pizzas to facilitate eating slices mid-bowl
  • Parking is tough in the area and is paid (either metered or on a flat-rate lot)
  • The experience is not cheap without a large group – see below

Price: Pricing really does vary depending on the day and time. The cheapest time to rent a lane for one hour is for $25 on Saturdays from 11am-4pm, but be prepared for larger crowds. Peak times (late afternoon and evenings) have an hourly lane rate ranging between $50-$70, and late nights (until 2am) outside of Fridays and Saturdays are $40 for an hour. Reservations come at $20 a pop. Shoe rental is $5 per pair. Since up to 8 people are allowed per lane, this may be a better outing to do with a group of friends.

Is it worth it? I’d say yes, as long as you’re aware of the cons and don’t set your expectations through the roof. The ambience is really neat and the idea of pinky-finger-up bowling is hard to resist. The old-fashioned mechanisms for the pins and ball-return are super cool to watch on their own. But, like any retro experience in a neighborhood like Highland Park, expect crowds and steep pricing.

Pictures:

LA Zoo Lights – Homesplorin’ Edition 1

I couldn’t put a proper close on the holidays without going to see a spectacular light display. The Los Angeles Zoo Lights caught my attention since it seemed to be one of the places trending on Instagram for this kind of thing. I know what you’re thinking – is the city zoo really the place to go see Christmas lights? What about the animals? Wouldn’t the lights, the noise, and the crowds disturb them? My dear boyfriend presented this kind skepticism when I proposed we go check it out. How romantic, right?

Passive aggressiveness towards my boyfriend aside (totally kidding, I love him and his concern for animals), I found the evening at the zoo to be pleasant and completely tame (pun definitely intended). Here is a breakdown of my opinion of this holiday-specific excursion:

Experience: 

Pros:

  • I went on the last day of the display and found a really great price on Groupon (see below)
  • Parking is free!
  • There were a couple of really great exhibits, such as the Water Laser Show, the Tunnel of Lights, and a nicely lit forest grove with a disco ball
  • Most of the animals were put away or in a location not accessible during the event – it seems like they weren’t really disturbed too much by the guests. The reptile room was open.
  • The zoo sells food, snacks, holiday treats, and yes, alcohol!

Cons:

  • It was crowded. This may have been because it was the last day, but I can imagine it being even more crowded on days around Christmas.
  • Pricing varies depending on the night you go, so if your budget is tight it requires some planning ahead.

 

Price: If you were to buy tickets at the gate or on the LA Zoo website, they cost $21.95 for premium nights (most weekends and holidays) and $14.95 for value nights (typically weekdays that fall outside of Christmas and New Years’ week).

Groupon also offered discounts for specific nights, so if they happened to offer a coupon for the day you were planning on going then a premium night ticket would be reduced to $14.95. I personally went on the last day (a Sunday) of the approximately month-long display. I found a Groupon posted three days before I went which offered admission for the last weekend of the event for $11.25.

Is it worth it? My verdict is that it’s a nice one-time experience. It was fun and festive to walk around and see a concentration of animal-themed bright lights. Since a lot of the zoo was closed off to the public, it did make for a smaller space which made the crowds a lot harder to navigate. There are lots of other places to see holiday lights in Los Angeles (some are free!), so I do think I’ll be going to a different place next year to mix it up.

Pictures:

Thirty Day Trial Challenge – January

Okay yes, I will admit that I got started a bit late on my 30 day trial for this month. Regardless, I am excited to start this project and explore new skills.

As you can probably tell from my work on this blog, I like to write. However,  I am very analytical, logical, and <insert boring adjective here>, so I feel that it is a lot easier for me to write about my observations and recently acquired tidbits of knowledge rather than creative fiction.

Because I love movies (and often dream about making a movie one day), I decided to try my hand at writing a screenplay. With only 30 days, I’ve committed to writing a screenplay for a short film. I am using an app called Celtx (yay, technology!) which provides screenplay templates and has a bank of screen directions to choose from for lay people such as myself.

I have found it challenging to visualize every aspect of a scene in my head while also experimenting with a new story, dynamic characters, and the proper dose of suspense. I’m a murder-mystery-plot-twist kind of girl, so that should give you an indication of the genre I am writing for.

I’ll update this post periodically with my thoughts, obstacles, and other interesting discoveries as I write – and if someone out there has experience with writing screenplays, I’d love to hear from you!

January 30 Day Challenge – Update

I’m slightly hesitant – but also a bit giddy – to share the outcome of my 30-day attempt to write a screenplay for a short film. I’ll cut to the chase and eliminate the building suspense – I didn’t do it.

Well, sort of. I tried brainstorming ideas for an exciting and shocking screenplay with the simplicity of American Beauty, the creativity of Inception, and the perplexity of Memento. Obviously that proved to be a lofty goal, and I realized that I may be aiming too high. After suffering from writer’s block for about a week, I remembered a vision that I had a couple of years ago for a similar project.

I had fallen in love with a song by Death Cab for Cutie called Bixby Canyon Bridge. The song, written from the first-person perspective of vocalist Ben Gibbard, chronicled his attempt at introspection while isolated in nature. Ben modeled his isolation after author Jack Kerouac, who wrote about his own individual journey in On the Road and Big Sur.

Upon listening to the lyrics and reading Kerouac’s novels, I felt compelled to bring the story in the song to life. Instead of writing a screenplay for a short film, my new task become to write a music video shot list. Using a template from Studio Binder, I created a script with the visuals on one side of the pages, and the lyrics on the other. It was actually really fun to write, and the ideas flowed.

Without saying too much (as I’m now going to work on getting this thing filmed), the premise of my story is based on the last lyric of the song:

“And then it started getting dark/I trudged back to where the car was parked/No closer to any kind of truth/As I must assume was the case with you”

I interpreted this closing statement to mean that Ben, in his quest to find some answer or purpose for his existence, came out of his isolation disillusioned and possibly more confused that when he started. He can’t help but take a small jab at Jack Kerouac, whom he criticizes for being shallow, hypocritical, and basically full of sh*t. Can you blame him – Kerouac’s life was cut short at the age of 47 from an abdominal hemorrhage caused by heaving drinking.

Still, I think we as humans try to find answers for the unknown elements of existence and often find ourselves going around in circles. In my personal experience, descending into the rabbit hole of “why am I here”, “what’s the meaning of life”, and other philosophical questions usually brings about negative emotions such as sadness and apathy. I’m not saying that we should never think about these things, but I’ve found that acceptance of the unknown has relieved some of the tension in my life.

The protagonist in my music video story embarks on a similar journey, only to find out that she has been prisoner to her mind all along. I can’t wait to share it with you.