30 August 2007

Musings on Urban Living in Los Angeles, Pt. 1

1. I ate my lunch next to a commercial shoot for Kentucky Fried Chicken today. The shoot was in the garden next to the main library downtown. I had fruit salad and a turkey wrap as I watched a female and a male actor - both quite fit, mind you - do take after take of eating a fried chicken sandwich from KFC. I wonder how much they'll have to exercise to work off all of those calories. Also, I wondered what a commercial for KFC would look like using people who actually eat there in a neighborhood that actually has a KFC.

2. Riding a bike in traffic is really not that bad. Cars for the most part tend to avoid you or at least respect your space. Riding on the sidewalk, however, is much more hazardous. Too many obstacles and pedestrians with attitude. Sometimes, however, the bus is much too intimidating. So, I'll take the traffic over the sidewalk but I'll take the sidewalk to avoid messing with the bus.

3. Now, when I'm not riding my bike, I like the bus just fine. It's so easy. And cheap! It cost me about $2.00 to get around in the past 5 days. Seriously. Do me a favor and take a few minutes to calculate how much gas you buy weekly versus how much it would cost you to take the bus for some of those trips. I think you may be surprised.

4. Urban grocery stores rule! We have one and I am going to be greedy and say I want us to have another one.

5. Urban hardware stores rule, too! We do NOT have one of those. I may open one, just for kicks. Also for hardware.
That's all for now. There will be more.

29 August 2007

Next up: iHome?

Well....isn't this exciting: iCar? Volkswagen and Apple discuss deal

Yes, many VWs already have iPod hookups....but what will really happen when they integrate an Apple with a VW? Will it be like Kit from Knight Rider and talk to us? Will we be able to write papers on our way to school by talking to our dashboard? Better yet, will there be a hipster add-on package?

Perhaps this new car will include a GPS system which has directions to every IKEA in the country preprogrammed into it. I think that if they added a Chipotle-burrito-making bar, I would vacate my apartment and live in it.

Of course, nothing can top iRack...

27 August 2007

First Day of School!

It is a surreal experience returning to school after a 5-year absence. If you think about it, you spend the majority of your life to a certain point in an educational environment.....so when I graduated from college, I remember the transition to the world of working full-time being particularly tough. But coming back to school feels very natural....as if I left a few months ago, and I've just returned from a long summer break.

Particularly for me, tonight was a small triumph. It took me a long time to realize how much I loved learning, and by the time I appreciated this fact about myself, I was finishing my senior thesis. I began to tell friends in lower grade levels, half-joking, to "do anything necessary to stay in school as long as possible - fail thesis if you have to". This, of course, was humorous considering that failing a class was never an option in my game plan. But by the time I knew I didn't want to leave, I had to, and I've missed school ever since.

So, tonight was the first class of my first higher education course in 5 years, and I have a feeling that it will be my favorite class this semester. The course is loosely titled Materials and Methods; we will be studying all manner of building materials, their properties, and how they react in various design situations. Projects include two 18"x18"x18" "cubes", constructed with materials of our choosing, and a large case study of a building of our choosing. My brain is already churning with ideas and my hands are itching to start using power tools again....fortunately, this course will open the doors to both!

26 August 2007

Sights of the City

Following are some snapshots that I took around Los Angeles in my last week of freedom before classes start....

A new building on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice Beach:

A 2-story light fixture in a downtown club called The Edison:

A panoramic view from the top of a hill in Runyon Canyon (click for the full shot):

A sculpted piece of patio on the back of the Gamble House....the rest of my pictures turned out poorly but I'll go back eventually:

25 August 2007

Living next to a film set. No, really.

I can hardly walk outside my building or down my street without running into a film crew of some kind. They are everywhere in downtown Los Angeles, at any time of the night or day, any day of the week. They are magazine shoots, commercials, TV shows and movie crews. And every time I strain my neck ever so slightly to see if I can see anyone famous.

Today the film crew "watching" came to me....in our back parking lot, in fact. From the logos in the windshields I deduced that the crew was shooting for scenes from the TV show "NUM3ERS", which I know nothing about. I didn't see anyone famous, either. Oh well....at least we (the cat and I) tried.

23 August 2007

My Ode to Cincinnati

I love maps. I like them so much that I decided to create one that shows architectural points of interest, places to eat, and things to see in Cincinnati, my now far-away hometown. I'm going to keep working on it but currently, it looks like this:

And you can find it here. I will be updating this in the weeks to come, so stay tuned!

22 August 2007

So I hear my school has a football team.....

I like spectator sports as much as the next person. I actually enjoy watching football games sometimes, I love soccer, and I'm a big baseball fan. I never really got into college sports so much though, even when I was in undergrad. So imagine my surprise when I realized that my new school - the University of Southern California - has a football team!

I'm kidding of course, USC has a legendary football team which is currently ranked #1 in the pre-season. It just struck me as funny today while in my school orientation session that everyone echoed the same sentiment...."just get football tickets". So, are you saying I should get football tickets then, LOL?

Also today in orientation I learned something very interesting. Our administrators went over the emergency evacuation procedures with us, as they are required to do by law, which include fire drill procedures and what we're to do in an earthquake. Included in this discussion, we heard the city of Los Angeles informed USC that in the event of a major catastrophe, the university is required to sustain itself and its entire student population for one week. USC went the extra step and is prepared to be self-sustaining for a full two weeks, apparently, in the event that something happens that requires us all to remain on campus. So that's good.

If something that terrible were to ever happen here, I feel bad for the people who had football tickets for that weekend! What a let down....

21 August 2007

Just Like Indiana!

For lack of anything better to post about this evening, I thought I would make mention of something worth watching on TV. The Daily Show this week is showing segments each night that were produced in Iraq (yes, really Iraq) by correspondent Rob Riggle (a major in the Marine Corps Reserve), writer Kevin Bleyer and field producer Glenn Clements. The three visited recently in support of a USO sketch comedy tour known as "Operation Feel the Heat" and created segments for use on the show with handheld cameras. Tonight's segment referenced the assertion by Indiana representative Mike Pence (R) several months ago that walking in Baghdad was just like walking "in a market in Indiana". Riggle set out to compare the troops' experiences in Iraq with the finer parts of The Hoosier State.

Sometimes this show is the only reason I turn the TV on the whole week.

20 August 2007

My First Week in LA: Testing the Waters

Well, here I am. Living in the center of one of the most car-obsessed cities in the country without a car. The good news, of course, is that I am living in center of the city so my public transportation options are plentiful. Plus, I am withing walking distance of a drug store, a couple of markets, and several restaurants and bars. I am within (easy) biking distance of school, and soon I will start freaking people out with my mad bus-riding skills.

One thing I've noticed is that people seem amazed that it takes them so long to get from one side of town to the other in their car. The reality is, in a city of similar size, like Chicago or New York, you'd be lucky to get from point A to point B in an hour by car, and it would probably cost you a chunk of change in tolls. In fact, in New York, if you went the 13 miles from the northern tip to the southern tip of Manhattan by Subway, you'd be lucky if it only took an hour. This is roughly the distance between Downtown LA and the West side.

One of the highlights of my first week was an "architectural bike tour" given by the architect David Hertz in Venice on the western edge of LA. It was massive and chaotic, with probably 100 people on bikes, which was both difficult and highly amusing. At points we were certain that someone was going to get arrested, but we biked on and got to see a lot of cool buildings.

Early work by Frank Gehry:

Several times when we stopped to look at someone's house, the owner would come out with a look of complete awe on their face at how many people were staring at their home. Then they would tell us about the house, and we would roll on.

I could not have imagined a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

19 August 2007

Pulling into town, meeting my new neighbors

From Vegas, it's a "quick" 4-hour jaunt into Los Angeles, unless you hit traffic, which is almost always, in which case it's a 5+ hour jaunt. On our way around the desert, we saw a classic piece of roadside Americana....the world's largest thermometer in Baker, California. It said it was 108 degrees, and I believed it.

We arrived at my apartment on Thursday evening, August 9, unpacked enough stuff to sleep with, and passed out. We spent the rest of the weekend while Laura was there unpacking the truck and meeting my new neighbors. Three of them, specifically, are very large and rather famous. They are the Disney Concert Hall, by Frank Gehry; The Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels, by Rafael Moneo; and the new CalTrans building by Morphosis. Here they are in order.

...And here concludes my "cross-country travel blog" series. The next few days I'll post some images from my first week here and then next week, I start school! I'm sure I'll have plenty to talk about then....

Before I go, have a look at the view of the city from my new apartment building's roof deck:

Not bad, eh? :o)

Hoover Dam - 9 August 2007

Hoover Dam is very possibly the coolest thing I've ever seen.

I mean, I don't know. It's a tough call. I've been to Paris and seen the Eiffel Tower...I've been to Barcelona and scaled Sagrada Familia, which I still regard as one of my favorite buildings in the world...but this Dam was pretty incredible. I think it may have stunned me because here was this naturally gorgeous canyon and human beings came into it and actually built something in it, something huge, and something very functional and beautiful. It helps that these designers were building it during the Art Deco period of the 1920's and 30's, a period of time in which buildings like the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building were erected (perhaps you've heard of them???). It just made me think that when human beings work together, they are capable of creating objects or built environments which inspire awe in many generations to come. I wish for our generation that we could work together to create something that magnificent....

Upon leaving the dam, the most logical way out to California at this point was through Las Vegas. We gave Vegas its 15 minutes.....

18 August 2007

London Bridge - 9 August 2007

The story of the London Bridge is long and messy, but the reason why it was ceremoniously plopped in the middle of the desert in Arizona is simple - it was sinking. Apparently it is now the second-largest tourist attraction in Arizona, after that small hole in the ground known as the Grand Canyon. We found that it was as good a place as any to spend our last night on the road, plus we got to take some silly pictures before we got the hell out of there....we think it hit 90 degrees plus humidity before we left at around 10 am.

17 August 2007

Grand Canyon - 8 August 2007

What can you say about the Grand Canyon? Everyone who's ever been there has the same ridiculous pictures that don't look real. Laura and I now have some as well! This was the major planned stop on the trip, so we had plenty of time to wander around and look at it. We even brought the cat with us, mainly because we were afraid to leave her in the truck for that long, but I also wondered if perhaps she was one of the only cats ever to see such a view. If she only cared about such things....


16 August 2007

New Mexico - 7 August 2007

When we left Abilene on the morning of August 7, we knew we had a long drive ahead of us to get to Roswell. Fortunately we had lots of beautiful views on the way there.....er, OK, not really. West Texas is flat, and southeast New Mexico was even flatter. Lots of open space and hardly any trees. Apparently this area is good for wind farms, which was great to see.

I really wanted to go to Roswell. I knew it was a bit off the main path but what I was hoping for, and what we found, was a town born of kitsch. I guess the whole alien ship/weather balloon thing went down in 1947, because there had been 60th Anniversary celebrations earlier in the summer, and all the store windows were decked out for what appeared to be an annual alien window dressing contest. It was glorious. Aliens everywhere. I could have taken a hundred more pictures, but I restrained myself.

Roswell was actually a cute little town, and had lots of nice people. We thought that everyone there probably had to be a tad bit eccentric, but all things considered, it seemed like an OK place to live, if you are looking for a small, southwestern town.

We left Roswell and drove through Albuquerque on our way to the hotel in Gallup for the night. We had wanted to stop in Albuquerque to eat dinner but it started to storm and there didn't seem to be an opportunity. Fortunately when we got up the next morning in Gallup, we were greeted by the local Giant Indian, which I felt made up for anything missed the previous night.

Kimball Art Museum - 6 August 2007

Our last stop on this very long day (before we headed into Abilene to sleep) was the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth, TX. We went right past Dallas to Fort Worth, and although it was dark, it was nice to finally see this building in person. It was designed by Louis Kahn, a well-known architect who is possibly most famous for his Salk Institute in La Jolla, just north of San Diego. It's hard not to admire Kahn's buildings....they are at once simple and quiet but honest in their use of geometry and materials. You have to appreciate a designer who uses so much concrete so well.

We realized as we left the Kimball that we were absolutely starving....so we indulged in that very American activity, the drive-in restaurant, with our gigantic moving truck. I think the girls at Sonic got a big kick out of us.

14 August 2007

Little Rock, AR - 6 August 2007

I've visited Arkansas before for work, but they were two trips to areas that I don't care to revisit, and I had never made it to Little Rock. Laura and I were both itching to see the Clinton Presidential Library, for a couple of reasons: A) we fall into the category of people that reminisce fondly about Bill Clinton's eight years in office and B) it seemed like a pretty cool building.

As it turned out, it was a cool building. For those of you who were around when I was working on my thesis in architecture, it reminds me a lot of the building I designed, except that mine was a full bridge that spanned a river. In fact, if I had to pick any building in the country to have designed (even though I really hadn't), I would probably pick this one. I just like it.

Clinton Library:

My senior thesis:

We checked out the rest of Little Rock and were pleased to find that they are trying to revitalize their downtown area, starting with the streets that lead up to the Library right next to the river. They even have a light rail system! Which is more than you can say for many larger cities.

All in all, it was a nice visit, if brief.....we were glad to get back in the truck though as the heat on that day was stifling at about 100 degrees plus humidity. Good thing we were listening to Al Gore in the truck talking about "the assault on reason" and global warming.....

13 August 2007

Memphis - 6 August 2007

Having never visited Memphis, I didn't know what to expect, except that Graceland is there. We didn't see enough of the city to really reconsider this opinion, although we did come away from it with the impression that this is a very poor city, and that Graceland may well be its pulse. This reminded me a lot of Pisa, Italy, in a way.....a city where, when you step off the train, they immediately give you maps to the Leaning Tower as if there is nothing else to see.

Yep, there it is.

Nashville - 5 August 2007

Nashville is a fun little city. It is definitely influenced by its prominence in the country music recording industry, with a large district of busy country bars in the downtown area. I've been to the city before but it was nice to have dinner with a local (our friend Natalie) in a neighborhood eatery called Fido. It was a Sunday night and we were lucky it was open as there are not many places that stay open late on Sundays in this southern city.

Seen during dinner....this crazy bike:

I appreciate any city in which hipsters and cowboys can coexist.

12 August 2007

My Big Move to LA

Back from hiatus which involved carting all of my worldly possessions in a Penske truck from Cincinnati, Ohio to Los Angeles. It was exhausting but also amazing. I was joined by my friend and trusty co-pilot Laura and my cat, Hootie, who behaved beautifully. Below is the approximate path that we took...the colors represent different days.

Now that I have arrived and am halfway settled, I will be posting stories from each stop or excursion separately with corresponding Flickr sets. The collection for the whole trip is located here. Enjoy!

04 August 2007

D(eparture) Day

Packing sucks.

However, whoever thought of putting 1000 feet of cling wrap on the end of a handle was a genius, in my humble opinion.

03 August 2007

Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend

There's something to be said about Americans and their relationships with their cars. Months ago, I decided that upon entering grad school, I would go car-free. If I am going to be studying sustainability, I should walk the walk by trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle, I thought. However, today I discovered that I am no different from millions of other Americans who get behind the wheels of their cars and drive every day. I was attached to my car.

It was not the most efficient car on the road.....it was not the most attractive.....it was not the most well built, nor the fastest (although at times it seemed like it)....but it was my car. To me, like nearly everyone else, it meant freedom. Freedom to go to the store at any time of day or night, freedom to visit friends and family hours away, freedom to get somewhere quickly, and on my own terms.

And here's the kicker: I think this freedom manifests itself as power. Having this freedom, and flaunting it, is powerful. However, I think we in the US are seeing this power run amok....for instance, don't the giant, gas-guzzling SUVs just scream, "I have more power than you, and I intend to show you"?

I gave up my car today, and it was hard. It's like a family member that you have to take care of; you pay for it to live, you take it to checkups, you feed it, you get upset when it gets hurt. And you name it. Well, I did anyway.

This next phase of my life will be an experiment in a new type of freedom....freedom from automobile cash drain. As much as I enjoyed having a car, I want to see how effectively I can live without it, and how much money I can save. Will I experience power in my liberation from the car?

Until I find that out, I need to say goodbye to my old friend....farewell, Petey!

01 August 2007

Would the World Miss Us?

If everyone in the world disappeared tomorrow, what would happen to the environment that we've created on Earth?

In The World Without Us, Alan Weisman conducts a long thought experiment to examine this very question.

Weisman says that our homes and our cities would start to be overcome by nature almost instantly. In fact, if it weren't for the pumps that keep the water out of the subway tunnels in New York City, they would be underground rivers. So the subway tunnels would fill up with water and New York would start to crumble in 15-20 years.

But that's not all. The chemicals that we started using on our plants to make food are going to stay in the soil for a long time. And aside from nuclear waste, which will never go away, the other big thing that will never really biodegrade is plastic.

Finally, if humans went away tomorrow, how long would it take for the carbon in the atmosphere to return to pre-human levels? According to Weisman:

Well, carbon dioxide has . . . the amount of it in the atmosphere has varied in the past, depending on what was going on geologically. Now, that said, there are three ways that carbon get absorbed, and the ocean is one of the most significant.

The ocean turns over every thousand years, so in the first thousand years, if the ocean couldn't get it all, it would get a good percentage — perhaps up to 80 percent of the carbon that we've overloaded into the atmosphere. And in the first few centuries, a lot of that would go. But to get back to where we were before we started tinkering with the atmosphere, think 100,000 years.

So 1000 years after people leave the planet, will there just be nuclear waste, plastic and cockroaches? Sounds like it....