95.9 FM, the Fish, Driving Through Beverly Hills


I’m driving a rental in L.A.  It’s a Ford Focus, the cheapest thing I could find.  Still has way more power than my Prius, so I still feel like I’m redlining every time I press the gas pedal.  This Focus has Microsoft SYNC, which is supposed to make connections to smartphones via Bluetooth bulletproof, except my phone, for whatever reason, will not connect.

So I’ve been relegated to listening to the radio.  After clicking through the channels, the one I found I liked the best was 95.9 FM, the Fish.  I found myself liking just about every song from this station.  It might be because many of them have these soaring melodies, almost Jim Steinmanian (that’s the guy who wrote those Meatloaf sagas, plus Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” etc.).  And then the DJ came on, Delilah, and she was talking about such deep, meaningful things, about the difficulties of life, the elusiveness of salvation, how we can find ourselves in this confusing universe of ours.  Wow, was this a cool station or what?  So very different.  Must be an L.A. thing.

And then came on a commercial about a movie I’d never heard before, War Room.

On the outside, Tony and Elizabeth Jordan seem to have it all—great jobs, a beautiful daughter and their dream home. But their appearances are deceiving: Tony relishes in his professional success and flirts with temptation, while Elizabeth resigns herself to increasing bitterness. Their marriage is on the verge of crumbling until their lives take an unexpected turn. When Elizabeth meets Miss Clara, she challenges Elizabeth to create a battle plan of prayer for her family by establishing a “war room.” This new film from the Kendrick brothers is a vivid reminder that prayer is powerful weapon.

The next song that came on was Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel,” and then I finally realized I’ve been listening to a Christian Rock station.

One strange thing about me is that I hardly ever listen to the lyrics of any song.  If I like a song a lot, then I’ll eventually pick up on the lyrics, but even with those, it’s entirely possible I just learn the words on a pure sound level; i.e., my brain isn’t actually processing anything.

Even stranger?  I’m still listening to the Fish.  What can I say, I like the music.

L.A. Stories

There are a lot of billboards in L.A., which probably comes as no surprise to anyone, since it’s a large city with lots of people.  What I did not know until I got here is that almost all the billboards are for TV and movies.  Here’s a collection.

I guess it makes sense, since Hollywood is the town’s biggest export.  But it’s just a little strange.

Speaking of strange — I took a drive up Sunset Boulevard this afternoon and climbed up Doheny Road, which led to the Doheny Estates.  Here are some photos from that little drive.

Initially, I found them impressive.  But as I kept seeing these monoliths of wealth and power, they creeped me out.  These people have such a ridiculous amount of everything…while on the streets, I see beggars, homeless people, mentally unwell people (the usual trifecta of the severely disadvantaged).  The L.A. elite live high up, like kings and queens atop their castle, looking down at the city, at their subjects, I suppose.  I don’t know.  We all know the world isn’t fair, but wow, you really see it here in Los Angeles.

It was on this drive up that I experienced one of my quintessential L.A. moments.  Because I was following my GPS, and because the road was very snaky, I was going slightly under the 25-MPH speed limit.  Right behind me was a guy in sunglasses in an Audi who was absolutely livid, and it was hilarious.  Hands flailing, head shaking, gesticulating wildly, he was like Ari Gold of Entourage come alive (“LLOYD!”).  When I finally signaled a right, he made a “good riddance” gesture, at which point I gave him a slow, measured wave.  I’d caught him off-guard — the whole time, he’d been assuming I was such a tourist dolt to witness his little angry show.  That earned me a very firm bird flip from this very L.A. gentleman.

My final stop in the evening was Venice Beach, which was quiet and dark and lovely.  I could listen to the breaking of waves all night long.  I’d read they had a boardwalk, but it’s really more like board asphalt.  How can they call it a boardwalk if there are no boards?  Maybe I’m just being a stubborn New Jerseyian, but when I think of boardwalks, I think of Seaside Heights, Point Pleasant, Atlantic City.  Real boards, made of wood!

Let’s just call L.A. an interesting place and leave it at that for now.

Adventures on a Book Tour

2015-09-16 12.01.42Today was my final full day in San Francisco, and was it ever full.  It started out innocuously enough, but then turned into something more exasperating/menacing/thrilling, mostly due to my stupidity.  But I’m jumping the gun here.  I wanted to get back to Betelnut, a restaurant that my wife and I really liked the first time we were in San Francisco together (and I also wanted to add to the “Love Love on Location” thing I’m doing on Instagram).  No problems there.

Afterwards, I walked over to the John Pence Gallery, something else I wanted to do while I was here.  Greg Gandy is an artist I’ve admired for quite some time, and I wanted a chance to see his works live.  Pence himself was there and showed me a bunch of his stuff, which was unfortunately way out of my price range.  But it was great to see some of them in person.

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About this point was when I noticed that my phone was at about 50% battery capacity.  This was not news to me, as the night before, I almost ran out of charge, something I’ve never experienced before.  That’s because at home, I hardly use data when I’m out and I never have the GPS on, both of which I had to activate in order to use Citymapper.  For those who have never used this app, I can’t tell you how wonderful it is, especially here in San Francisco, where the bus system is not easy to navigate.  The only problem with this app is that it runs through the battery like there’s no tomorrow, at least with my cheap Android phone.  I didn’t expect this, but I did think ahead before the trip, about how invaluable smartphones have become, especially during travel.  So I’d brought my spare, older smartphone with me.  The night before, I ended up draining both phones by the time I got back to my home away from home.

Anyway, I had about 45 minutes before I had to head out to Oakland for a tennis event that the lovely Eddie Pasternak (he’s not only a fantastic tennis teaching pro, he’s an excellent jazz guitarist) at The Hills Swim & Tennis Club.  That wasn’t enough time to recharge the battery all the way, but it got to 70% when I headed out the door.  By the time I’d arrived at the club, the battery was already down to the low forties, so I placed the phone in airplane mode.

I met Eddie and the half dozen others who were attending the event, and just as we started to play, it started raining!  A sparse few drops soon became a steady drizzle, though I did get someone to take this ridiculous photo before we stopped.

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What am I doing here?  I look like somebody who has never played this game.  Sigh.  Anyway, so no tennis.  Which was disappointing but not terribly so, because we all went in and talked about the US Open that had just concluded, and then the discussion went deeper into tennis.  I was thrilled, actually; it was so nice to talk about the game and the players with such knowledgeable fans.  And then I talked about my book, about publishing, we had some cheese and crackers and fresh fruit, and all was fine and dandy.

Eddie was kind enough to drop me off at the BART station, and after I bid him thanks and goodbye and saw him pull away, I realized I’d left my racquet back at the club.  So incredibly boneheaded of me.  Now I had to turn my phone back on, call the driver on Lyft.  After the trip back to the club and back to the BART station, the battery was down to the low 20s.  This was gonna be super close, too close to use to get back home.  But I had my spare phone…except I didn’t!  I left it in the Lyft guy’s car for some unknown, crazy reason.

So I changed my destination.  Instead of going home, I would go to the Amazon Locker on Baxter.2015-09-17 05.08.45

What is Amazon Locker?  I had no idea what it was, either, until I ordered an external battery pack late last night and had it delivered there overnight.  Since I did not want to go through the danger of being without Citymapper (I would literally not know where to go without it), I figured this would resolve it.  I’d planned on picking it up the next day, but I couldn’t see another way out of this.  It was getting late, and it was still raining, causing all sorts of delays everywhere.  The battery got down to 2%, only because I copied and wrote down the instructions on a piece of paper and used that to navigate through the buses and the streets.

That’s what it looks like.  You punch in a six-character code (which I’d also thankfully copied down onto paper when the battery was at 3%), and a locker door pops open and inside is…

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…salvation.  Luckily, it came with a power cable.  How ironic it would’ve been if all there had been was the battery.  And it was 75% charged, too.

So there you have it.  Who knew a book tour could resemble Mission:Impossible?

Tomorrow, I’m off to Los Angeles, where I’ll have a rental car through the weekend.  I’m very much looking forward to that.

Review of Love Love in KoreAm Journal, My First Piece for KoreAm, and a Major Bummer

The lovely folks at KoreAm Journal have reviewed Love Love, and it’s an incisive piece.  Thank you, KoreAm.

Below is the first essay I ever wrote for KoreAm Journal, dating all the way back to March 2008.  On the cover were Harold and Kumar, John Cho and Kal Penn, from their second movie.

I’m not mentioning this just for nostalgia’s sake — it’s because I just heard from the editor-in-chief that the magazine and the website has changed owners and is now facing an uncertain future.  As of now, August/September 2015 is the final issue.  I sure hope this is not the case — that they will find a way to keep going, but we all know how tough it is to run a magazine nowadays.  I wish the editors and writers the best of luck.  I’d like to especially thank Suevon Lee and Julie Ha, who polished my prose and shepherded my columns every step of the way.