Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tortilla Grill Mourners - Get Stoked!

When Tortilla Grill closed a few months ago ... well, tears were shed. It was such a great spot to grab something to go, meet your friends for a quick, cheap, Mexican bite, and watch the action on Abbot Kinney Boulevard go by. I know people that ate there multiple times a week and never got sick of it (especially Matt and Vav). I especially loved the smoothies there, that not everyone knew to try. The Fun In The Sun one ... I'm about to cry again.

But last night was the first night opening of the new Tortilla Grill replacement, Casa Linda. We were all set to have a grudge against it in solidarity for our old pal, TG, but guess what? No need. It's like a Genie came in, crossed their arms, nodded their head and SHAZAM! - way nicer, but otherwise almost exactly the same (including prices!) Mexican sit down or take out eatery! And I daresay ... the food is BETTER. Way better.

Scanning the menu when we walked in (same deal, menu hanging from the ceiling, order from the Counter Person, To Go or to sit in the nicer tables or in the nicer upstairs, but they bring you your food with a little number on your table, instead of having you hang around listening for it to be called - a plus), you get all the old favorites - tacos, quesadillas, burritos (just as big!), only the ingredients are nicer (Alaskan Halibut, roasted pumpkin seeds, etc..) , and even include more exotic Oaxaqueno ingredients like Tongue ("Lengua"). I'm not down with the tongue - yet - but my friend/Chef Mikey said between mouthfuls of tongue (blech), "It's REALLY good!" For now, I'll trust him on that.

One small problem ... the music that was playing when we sat down was that one song "Sometimes When We Touch ... I wanna hold you in my arms ... " that you probably roller-skated backwards to back in the day. I hated it then, I hate it now. {Blogtown trivia: Who sang that thing? I now know. Do you?} Rather than poke out our eardrums with our plastic knives, we asked if it could possibly be changed. The super-nice owner, Linda (hence the Casa LINDA - I thought it meant pretty house, which it is, but it's her namesake. She too is pretty.) Novak (of Hal's Bar and Grill a couple doors down) had no problem with it, and soon enough we found The Joint (Satellite Reggae Station) and the entire mood picked up in the place immediately. Everyone is happier when reggae is playing. You can't help it. I hope they kept it on. Let me know. Better yet, let THEM know.

So after that ambiance enhancement, we dug into our food. Every last one of us LOVED what we had. Awesome chips, great spicy salsas (if you like condiments), great guacamole - all crucial indicators on if a Mexican place is decent. This is far better than decent, and it was only opening night. Remember how the carne would be kind of gristly in Tortilla Grill things? Not so here. DELICIOUS carne, like how it's really supposed to be done. Lari had her selective eater brother Tommy with, and they were also very nice about accommodating his special request plainy-plain burrito. I told Linda that we appreciated her spoiling of us, and she said, "Oh, my pleasure, sweetheart." I like her already.

Jenny would like to see cheese in the Veggie burrito, but that can be asked for. What cannot (so far) be asked for is sour cream. It's BYOSC over there, which doesn't make sense to me. Let's all keep bugging them for it every time we go (and I'm sure it will be often) and that should fix that. Oh, and it's also BYOB, but that's no change from when it was Tortilla Grill. Just put your cervezas on ice at home, go pick up the food, return and indulge. If you like your Mexican (and who doesn't in these parts?), you are stoked.

Casa Linda is open from 11 am to 9 pm, and you can place your order at (310) 664.1177. The heavy wood door is also an improvement, and you will see it on the corner of AKBlvd. and California, 1357 Abbot Kinney, Venice, for you Mapquesters.

Fun In The Sun can now rest in peace, as my new jam of a drink is the Summer Melon stuff they have (a better tasting one of those watermelon water drinks TG used to have), that you drink half of and then fill up the rest with Sprite. It is delightful, and I don't mind at all if you copy me.

As I'm telling you about this, I'm thinking about how happy Matt and Vav are going to be when they get back from Australia and visit Casa Linda for the first time. I'm also thinking it's almost past lunch time and I could just amble down to Casa Linds ...

Yep, they're going to be seeing a lot of us.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Abbot Kinney Street Festival 2009!

Last Sunday was the Abbot Kinney Street Festival, or as we like to call it, Venice Christmas. Homecoming is probably more apt, as you see everyone from town, people that used to live in Venice, people that haven't been to the beach since last Street Fair, and best of all, your friends and family that have a great excuse to go nuts all day.

It was all socked in with fog for much of the day, but rather than be a drag, it was kind of nice to not be squeezed in with thousands of sweaty people that have been drinking in the sun all day. Instead, it was perfectly temperate, both weather and mood-wise.

I began the day with a big Vikings victory - and some hair of the dog mimosas at the Minnesota contingent on Victoria's pad. Then to the annual Blast Off to the Festival at the most gracious host and hostess ever, The Everhart's, perfect eye-view balcony for still more mimosas and treats. My Bikini Team started out the day in fine fashion and frolic:
They really do have the best location on the block for Street Fair - right across from The Brig stage, optimum people watching. I saw a man in an Eagle costume dancing, and his enthusiasm was to infect us for the whole day. I dug his dance style too.
We saw a few bands from our fresh roost, including pal, Peter Goetz, and his crew grooving up the passers-by with their surf-style rock.
The danger of such decadence and fun with friends, is that you can end up staying too long and missing out on the Festival. We did stay until the champagne ran dry ... and then it was out into the on-ramp of the flow. You couldn't walk three feet without seeing a friendly face you knew - or meeting one you didn't. The booths seemed to be more home-made and cool stuff than in recent years, especially my homegirl Denise's badass belt buckle booth (Denise Saffren Belt Buckles) - this year with an actual grass table to lure in the masses in.
Check out her new one, "Legalize It". I think it should be a big hit with the local crowd. And that led us into The Green House Smoke Shop to greet our familia there on our favorite holiday.
I was sporting my Abbot Kinney shirt from Firefly all day, and it was a big hit. Though an Australian friend wondered why I was wearing a t-shirt of Ned Kelly. He also said, and I think this might've summed up the entire day/experience/town - "Everyone is so colorful in Venice."
I stopped by to check out Erinn and the Firefly ladies - stunning as ever. You do almost wish the Festival was a couple day thing, as there are too many people to talk to, too many things to see, bands at opposite ends of the boulevard so you have to make choices, and I always just enjoy more of a good thing.

The lines were crazy long for the food vendor booths, so Steph and I threw down some good ol' Glencrest BBQ for our survival needs, before heading to meet up with our Little Radio gang at the Brooks end of the hoopla. Hula Hoopla, if you asked the kids.

All the worlds collided down there - it seemed that EVERYONE smushed down to that end for the highly anticipated closing act of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. And for good reason. They put on a SHOW.
The energy they riled up in the crowd (many of whom knew each and every word, as well as where to fast-clap, etc..) was so peace and love, and perfect for the day, I actually had a lump in my throat as I scanned around at all the smiling faces. This little baby right next to me was simply amazed by it all:
I think his eyes popped like that when Edward Sharpe's shirt came off. But it might have been because the band is so full of life - and instruments. I said pre-show to Mrs. Little Radio, Christina Conway, "It seems like everyone we know knows someone in this band" and she said, "That's cause there's like 10 people in it." She ain't lying. There's about three guitars, a bass, a pretty accordian girl, Edward Sharpe shaman-ing about (he's like a cross between Devendra Banhart, Wayne Coyne, and The Polyphonic Spree guy - with a samurai top-knot), a girl he looks at lovingly while he sings with her (actually, the entire band looks at each other affectionately while they play - and it's infectious), a drummer, a couple of people on shakers and other percussion, a horn player, and who knows whom else sneaking around, but the parts make up a beautiful whole. The voices mesh beautifully, and the instruments - especially that horn - made it feel so super celebratory. I said to Steph, "Do you think they all live in Silver Lake?" She answered only, "Yes."
My favorite of their all crowd-pleasing tunes was "Home". The whole attendance of the Festival was clapping along it seemed, and I would not have been the least bit surprised if it had broken out into musical-like dancing as one down the street into the sunset. Up With People!! That's what it felt like. "Home is wherever there is you!" Exactly.

It was sort of a stage in the square, as revelers surrounded the stage on all sides. It was a sense of total community, and a celebration of exactly that. I must insist that you check out ESATMZ's as soon as you possibly can. They're about to blow UP, and you should be in on it.

Despite the happy crowd's begging and clapping, and it seeming like it was about to work - the Fire Marshall stepped in and said, "Thank you for coming, see you next year." Not even one more little short song ... Sticklers. Little Radio was having a big old After Party, tons of friends were heading in different directions (me and mine were headed directly to the home of our friend Jeffrey, who had Chef Mikey Wilson grilling up eyes-rolling back delights up on the roof), and as you walked or rode (which I hope you did) through the neighborhoods, you could hear music and laughter drifting out across pockets of the whole town. Magical. Once again, why we live here.

Late night, stuffed and satisfied, we rode our bikes back home down the still closed-off Abbot Kinney Boulevard (I actually like the idea of it always being closed off, like a power Walk Street). The dismantling of another special day was in full effect, with clanging poles, direction shouting and garbage trucks moving in as the soundtrack now. Even the cops were all smiles this evening ... hey, no shootings this year! I didn't even hear of any fights! Gold Stars for everyone!! I commended the Officers on a job well done, and it seemed like they weren't sure if I was being a smart alec or not, but I wasn't. Peaceful coexistence ... one day at a time! I love it. And I love being a part of a neighborhood that above all else, knows how to celebrate itself and its inhabitants.

Up with People! UP WITH VENICE!! Dig.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Wild Thing Carol!

I could already NOT WAIT until Where The Wild Things Are comes out (October 16, unless someone sneaks me into the premiere) and then I saw this during my travels yesterday:

So I now know that it is written by one of my all-time favorite authors, Mr. Dave Eggers (who I painted walls alongside at the 826LA Venice chapter, and so highly revere I could bow just at his mention), and directed by Spike Jonze (who I met back in the old Team Haro days, and have been impressed with ever since), AND has a Wild Thing Monster called Carol? I love it, sight unseen.

And speaking of Wild ... This weekend is Abbot Kinney Street Festival Weekend! Venice Homecoming! I expect to roughly resemble the furry Carol above by the end of it all ...

C'mon down this Sunday!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Goodness, it's catchy!

Well, well, WELL! Well done, Good Samaritans of Venice! Keep up the good work. YAY!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Autumnal Equinox ... Endless Summer ...

I awoke this morning a little ornery. I wondered if it was because official Summer is over, but think it was more that I'm bearing some extreme disappointment, and had no sleep and a headache because of it. The solution for this is almost always a dunk in the sea for me. ("The cure for everything is saltwater; sweat, tears or the sea." - Isak Dinesen) So I dragged myself down there to meet up with my Bikini Team for a swim, but was late so they were already out, standing by the lifeguard station, drip-drying. Brief pecks on the cheek, an explanation for my tardiness, and I ran into the water, throwing myself under and through the waves. Bursting out the other side of one, I saw my friends Drew and Scotty P. out in the water on their surfboards. Drew offered me a turn on his board, so I clambered on and got in position. After bobbing there for a moment, I glanced back and saw that I was probably about to die if I didn't jump off (no leash either), so I did. I reverted to a swim, as I didn't think I could take bodily injury on top of the rest of my woes. Which really aren't so big, but just felt like it this morning.

Drying off with my seriously great girls, I got over myself. They told me the sun had come out of the fog the exact moment I stepped on the sand - like, they noticed it - so I felt that had to be a good sign that things would look up. And they did. We had a splendid ride through the neighborhood, with lots of smiles and nods, making me love everybody all over again.

Except for the person who is currently driving around a truck with this painted - literally painted across it, like the guy (I assume) made the conscious choice to have this permanently representing him - on his vehicle: "The only reason Women fake orgasms is because they think Men care." I seriously almost crashed my bike. WHO (Tool, obviously) would even put that nauseatingly sexist B.S. out there in the world? Who would ever date him (a bigger Tool Woman)?! I wanted to take a picture to show you (I actually wanted to make a Citizen's Arrest) but didn't have anything at all with me. So if you see that guy in front of you driving, spit on him for me. Blech.

Back home, I had a gorgeous shower, and some lovely morning repast at The French Market, with a PERFECT Cafe Mocha, all in the bright Endless Summer sunshine. I saw my Virgo horoscope in the paper that said: "It's your turn to shine. Your timing and wit are keen, but now everyone notices. Who would have thought one afternoon would bring so much laughter?" Well, that made it hard to continue moping.

I decided to go on a mission with Nath to find that truck and see who drives it. I'm just so curious as to what kind of person throws that statement out there every day. No luck, he'd gone on to contaminate someplace else, so I went and sat outside at the Juice Bar in the sunshine, taking notes on ideas that blew through my mind. I joined Nathan in a little English lesson for Harold, a Spanish-speaking worker at the Juice. I schooled another guy on the FACT that Venice at 28th water gets an A Grade from Heal The Bay Report Card, while Malibu is almost always D or F. Look it up. I set up a time to chat with The World's Greatest Wino (stay tuned!), among others. I talked to a guy outside Windward Farms about how he recently retrieved a Woman's STOLEN Wheelchair for her! For the love of Jah, who steals someone's WHEELCHAIR?! I'm on an absolute Crusade to stop this madness ... through getting to know each other better, to understand one another's scenes better, to seriously strive to be better people. I was all fuming about that one - and also REVELING in the fact that this guy got the chair back for her (everyday Heroes, man!) - while pedaling down Abbot Kinney, when I saw this:

... which just charmed my socks off. Now, that's more like it!!

It's really amazing how high a little kindness and effort can elevate a mood. The sun and the sea are no slouches in that department either. It's a brand new day - Thanks, Venice!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Ben Harper at the West Beach Festival!

When I wake up on the weekend and there's gloom at the beach, I immediately start plotting what Field Trip could happen if I'm not going to be on the sand. Last Saturday started out foggy, and I remembered that the West Beach Festival was happening in Santa Barbara and Ben Harper was headlining that day ... so a little Road Trip was in order. Nathan, Drew and I loaded into the truck and headed North, without any real plan, but also without any real worries. Things have had a way of working out interestingly lately ...

Right before we got to SB there was a little ticket fall-through, but the stupendous Edgar Oliveira lives up there, made a phone call and BOOM - 3 VIP Cabana wristbands. {Thanks, Edgar, Isabel, and Vivian Alexander of! You made our day!} Edgar even drove us down to the front gate like a Dad dropping tweens off at the concert, ("Call when you're ready to be picked up, have a good time, kids!"), so we wouldn't have to deal with parking. Now THAT is a good friend.

After the brief scramble, it was so nice to just breeze in and absorb it all. The West Beach Festival is entirely on the beach - like, in the sand. We were marveling at how clean it seemed, and how chill. They had booths for food, merch, hippie type wares, and a big old Heineken Beer Garden. We skipped all that to find our hosts in the nice Cabanas set up with couches and waitresses and no drunken teenagers. We missed Tom Freund's rousing "Hug Trees" performance, but heard that the toddlers dug it a lot. We rolled up right in the middle of the G. Love & The Special Sauce set, who had the whole place dancing around to "This Ain't Living". G. Love is always a good time roller, red baseball hat backwards and full of enthusiasm. He jumped into the crowd and reminded us all that "You've got to get on up to get down" ... and everyone complied. It turns out that G. Love still enjoys his "Cold Beverages" and he had a bunch of people joining him on that too. I was blowing my little harmonica necklace along with him to his "Love song", namely "Booty Call". That led into a little Beatles cover of "Why Don't We Do It In The Road". It looked like a few couples were about to do just that (or in the sand, rather) during that one, and no one would've cared a whit. We got "Peace, Love, Happiness" from G's latest "Superhero Brother" album. G. Love/Sauce wrapped up their set with "Bustin'" and I can report that people dug it.

There were four stages at the event, the Main one, a Reggae one, a Kids one, and another just smaller main one. After a quick bite and a bunch of sips, we watched a band I'd never yet heard of, Rey Fresco. They're a singer, a bassist, a drummer and a Harpist. Yes, a harpist, and that's what caught my ear. I feel like I might have coined a new phrase that night, when I said, "I really liked the Hip Harp outfit we heard." And I really did. It sounded super different, classical and real cool at the same time. These Ventura guys will be heard from a lot more, I think.

We wandered around a bit, hearing Schwayze and Quasar from a distance, mingled with the Noozhawk folks a bit, and then I ran into my good pal, Tom Freund, who slapped a backstage sticker on me, and off we went to say hi to Mr. Harper right before his set. This was to be my first time seeing Ben with his new band, The Relentless 7, and I was stoked. I think he was too, judging from the anticipation and excitement backstage. Ben was wearing a "Burn To Shine" Amish-y hat, and looked like he meant business.

I have to admit I was chatting a bit seeing people I knew and missed what the first song was, but the first one I heard (from the side of the stage, with bliss) was my favorite from the newish Ben Harper and The Relentless 7 album, "White Lies For Dark Times" called "Shimmer and Shine". That has pretty much been my theme for '09 (Shimmer and Shine in '09!), so it was great to rock out to it live.

Santa Barbara loves them some Ben Harper (who doesn't, really?) and they were INTO it. Especially when Ben next sat down to play his distinctive Weissenborn, for a new song called "Rock and Roll Is Free If You Want It". It was a harder rocker, as most of the songs are with this new band, and yet had a catchy hook like old-school Burn One Down Ben too. Tom Freund and I got into a philosophical discussion after this one. He felt it was a statement song about downloading music, and how it's pretty much free now if you want it. I felt it was more how the FEELING of Rock and Roll is free, and really isn't about money at all, so it's FREE, like Freedom. Ben? Feel free to chime in.

Then Gabriel Noel from Tom's band said, "Oh, they just quoted Charles Mingus' II B.S. right there." It's fun when you hang out with musician's musicians and learn stuff like that. We were both talking about how Ben's vocals sound a lot more Hendrixian on the material from this album, when RIGHT then, they merged into Hendrix's "Red House"! The crowd went nuts as soon as they recognized it. The house lights bathed everyone in red and all the sand that had been kicked up all day rose into the air like smoke, and it really felt like the guys onstage were BURNING THE PLACE DOWN! It was honestly the greatest. One of those moments where you wouldn't rather be ANYWHERE else.

Next up was "Skin Thin", with Ben switching to acoustic guitar. Excellent. They followed that up with the extra-inspiring "Fly One Time", which I love. It has a great video ( full of extreme sports people - so inspiring must be what they were going for, and it worked. "Keep It Together (So I Can Fall Apart)" featured a little call and response with the crowd, who would've yelled back anything at this point, but this time it was "TALKING TO A WALL!" that they screamed, proving that Ben was not.

It has to be said that Jordan Richardson, the drummer, is an animal. Like I hope his friends buy him that Muppet, Animal, things. He is a treat to watch. I love it when people are madly into what they're doing, and he certainly is. Jesse Ingalls on Bass, and Jason Mazersky on rhythm guitar tore it up too, but that Jordan was hard-core. As they were firmly holding things down, Ben picked up the tambourine for the next one, "Boots Like These." It goes, "You gotta live my life to get boots like these", and I'm positive everyone in the house would be fine with that. That was the last song of the regular set, and the crowd was not having it. They whistled and screamed and kicked up more sand (well, that was just me, but I saw others doing same), and were rewarded with a solo Ben coming back out with his acoustic guitar. He strummed the opening chords to "Walk Away" and the place went bonkers. This was an audience that knew every word to the old jams, and they were thrilled, hugging their friends and singing along.

That vibe continued for the 12-String loveliness of "Roses From My Friends", that people felt to their souls, because Ben clearly did. It was that feeling of WHY you go to shows. Nostalgia, closeness, that we're all in it together with our friends. There wasn't much time to relish the slow-jams though, as Relentless 7 was back for the show-closer, "Up To You Now". The entire band went OFF for this one - no one more than Ben, who screamed the last note so long and loud I'm a bit concerned for his larynx today. He knocked over the mike stand, he knocked off his hat, and ended the night, thanking everyone from his knees. It was BadASS.

So said me, but so said everyone stomping out through the sand, from the teen boys who excitedly told their friends how they got in by digging a hole in the sand under a fence (clever!), to little tiny kids still bouncing atop their parent's shoulders, to my friends, slapping me five over how FANTASTIC everything worked out.

Daddy Edgar picked us up, and we decided to get back on the road to Venice that night vs. go to After-Parties and stay over. We wanted to have a full sunshine Sunday back home, and it was the music still reverberating in our heads that gave us the momentum to do so. I still feel all pumped up from it, in fact, and offer thanks to everyone involved in such a stellar Saturday. Especially you, Ben. Geez.

Friday, September 18, 2009

To Market, To Market ...

I think a great idea for anyone wanting to know about a place is to check out their Farmer's Markets. Most towns should have one by now, but you get real spoiled in Southern California, with its great year-round agricultural climate. I've been going to the Venice Farmer's Market for over a decade now, and it always a highlight of my Friday.

{Before I get to that, I want to tell you quick about a nice moment on the beach this morning. Jenny and I were walking along the sand and I saw a guy taking a picture of his (I think) Mom standing in front of the Venice Pier with her feet in the water. We have a thing where if one person of a twosome is taking a picture of the other, we always stop and ask if they'd like a picture with both of them in it. There's something lonely about it with just the one person, and you can only have so many of those photos you take of you both with your arm stretched out. So I said, "I think it's my turn," and approached the duo. "Would you both like to be in one?," I asked. The Mom looked kind of surprised to be approached by two blonde strangers, and kind of emotional. She said, "I used to live here, and I haven't been back in 40 years." "Wonderful! I'll get the Pier and some surfers in the background, then." She looked out at them wistfully and said, "You probably wouldn't believe it to look at me, but I used to be one of those surfers." I snapped the photo of her and her (I think) Son - it looked really meaningful to them, and I have no idea what was going on in their lives, but I think it had some weight to it. I smiled and said, "Welcome Back!", gave back their camera, and on we went. It just stuck with me for some reason. I was glad it was such a beautiful day for her.}

And a beautiful Friday should include a visit to the Venice Farmer's Market. I've been going there for so long now, we're all pretty much friends. The dolls at Polito Farms Citrus (Signores Polito & Roble) will always ask how my week was and hide me a juice (Blood Orange, in season) as it goes fast. The Salad Guy, Nathan, at Maggie's Farm will say to his co-worker, like he did today, "The Hot Lady right here gets flowers every time. No matter what." and throw a handful of edible flowers in my bag on top of my greens so I can adorn my little cakes and pies with them. He says this in spite of me being straight from the sea, with matted Fraulein braid loops and seaweed probably stuck on me somewhere, in a cut-up Jagermeister T-shirt. Because he's cool like that.

People line up to get their coffees from Steve The Coffe Guy. Little kids always get a free Gerbera Daisy from the Flower Guy/Girl. They love that every time. Kids also dig the Honey Sticks, 10 for $1. Kathy the Fish Monger has the best and freshest seafood for your table. The Peach People have slices cut up of the various kinds, all delicious and lip-smacking of Summer. The Cheese Guy also has little samples, that make you dream up all kinds of cocktail parties and combos you could create. Harry's Berries - always bursting with flavor as bright as their colors. There's The Bread Man - fresh and delicious. The Potato Guy, Multiple Vegetable People, super friendly and informative Plant People, The Apple Folks, A little Rockenwagner Bakery stand, The Mushroom Lady, The dashing French Bakery Guy, who has not only buttery croissants on offer, but sage advice and adages To Go. The nice Orchid Man, who gave me a Dragonfruit a couple of weeks ago that was such a brilliant fuschia inside, I had to photograph it. There is a Hummus Human, a Nuts fellow, A Candy/Fudge Table, on and on and on. You can create probably the best meal of your life with things purchased only from this Market.

Even better than the produce and treats though, are the Neighborhood Faces. You will always run into someone you know, catching up quick in the sunshine (rain or shine, actually), and revel in how great it is and how lucky we are. This morning, for example, I had a bunch of people stop me and congratulate me on getting my bike back - "Is this her?!" (No, I'm still on my back-up bike, Trixie. Until Delores gets a new basket, lights, etc ... she is still resting comfortably and coping with her ordeal in her own way, but very happy to be home, thank you!). People seem to pay attention and care, if you do to the same with them, I have found. Give it a try.

Jim Murez is the Man In Charge of the Market, and he's an interesting character. We've pestered each other about various community activism deals for ages, and have a friendly rapport, laced with some stubbornness on both our parts. Lately he's been concerned about the Papparazzi, so he was not into getting his picture taken for posterity here. When I cajoled him about it, he said, "Let it go." So I Papparazzi'd him. Then to cancel out his gruffness, he gave me the T-Shirt I've been hounding him about for like seven years. A huge man-sized one, but still. Paid attention. Cared. Gave. That's what we're going for in this life, in this Blogtown, so he passed with flying colors.

The vibe of Farmer's Markets changes, of course, from town to town. The Santa Monica one on Wednesdays is a more serious foodie deal. The Sunday Santa Monica one is Family Time, with Pony Rides, prepared foods, and all that. But Venice on Friday mornings (7-11) is quintessentially Venice. Hipster parents with darling, colorfully dressed tots. Old Folks buying the same things they buy every week. Local Restaurateurs grabbing up fresh herbs, vegetables and flower arrangements to adorn their tables. Green-wigged Chanteuse, Suzy Williams, flying through on her fun bike. The Kid Circle, where the Mom's Morning Out Ladies let their kids intermingle, squealing with pleasure. Hung-over residents, recovering from Little Friday (Thursday) with some fresh juice and good intentions. Dreaded Travelers, bargaining with the Vendors at almost Market-Closing Time, to get deals on what didn't sell. My Friends. Me. Almost all of us on our bikes or walking. A Once A Week dosage of Community and good food. It really is pretty darn close to The Ideal.

Something about a Farmer's Market makes people friendlier. Maybe it feels a little old-fashioned, more connected to the Earth, and that rubs off on attitudes. Maybe it's the recognition of the hard work that goes into raising healthy food. (Do yourselves a favor and read a mind-opening gem of a book by Barbara Kingsolver called, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. They do a Family experiment and eat only things they grew themselves, or traded for with things they grew themselves - in a Four Season climate. You will hug yourself that you live (or could live) in California, where fruitful abundance is available all year-round. And maybe make some lifestyle changes while you're at it.) Maybe it's just the fresh air and knowing that a lot of people have the same good idea on a Friday morning, with a sunny weekend on deck. I'm not sure, but I know that I feel a big gap missing in my week if I can't make it for some odd reason. If you have out of town visitors, it's one of the best places you can take them to inject into their psyches why we love it here. You just can't be mad at anything when peach juice is dribbling down your chin and little kids twirl around you, clutching flowers in their sticky hands. That feeling stays with you too, when you're Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety-Jog, making something delicious and arranging your flowers, humming a tune to yourself that you heard in the air.

See you next Friday!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Delores Has Come Home!!!

The hills are alive ... with the sound of bike bells! Everybody! You are not going to BELIEVE this! So ... pretty much everyone knows I had my bike stolen last month and that it was very sad for me. Reallly. I'd never had a bike stolen, not even as a kid, so I didn't know how bad it felt, especially for someone who is constantly on hers. I would like to apologize now to anyone who ever told me their bike had been stolen that maybe I didn't give deep enough sympathy to. It sucks.

So then I got mad, and thought, I'm telling everyone about this and I'm getting that bike back. I don't know if I really thought I would, but I was sure going to try. I wrote an article about my loss and the state of crime affairs in Venice (see below) and dear Jim Smith from the Free Venice Beachhead put it on the front page of that beloved local paper. Walking down the streets, people would yell, "Sorry about your bike!" or "I've got my boys looking out for your bike, if she's in Venice, you'll get her back." A friend in Minnesota even wrote me to say he'd looked on LA's Craig's List to see if anything matching her description came up (Thanks, dear John Evans!). It was nice to know that people even still cared about such things, to be honest. But Delores was still gone.

Well ... Blogtown is now THRILLED to report that we have our first neighborhood victory, and that our faith in humanity is RESTORED!!! OK ... so last Saturday I came home and checked my email quick for an address to a party I was attending. At the top of my inbox was a message from Jim Smith with a subject line saying "DELORES ALERT!" WHAT?! I got chills before I even clicked it open. Inside, it said, "A reader called to say he thinks he knows where your bike is. Call Peter at #310.......". I let out a scream with a pitch that drew dogs, and dialed Peter immediately.

A guy answered and I explained who I was and that I'd written the article in the Beachhead and understood he might have info on my stolen bike. He said that about a month ago, a guy came riding up to him and asked if he wanted to buy the bike he was riding for $40 (um ... Delores would hate to know how cheaply she'd been sold for, so let's keep that to ourselves). Peter asked if it was stolen, as he had a feeling it was, but the guy said of COURSE not. Peter and his girlfriend, Nancy, had both recently had THEIR bikes stolen, and were in need, so he bought ol' Delores for the 40 bones. He said the guy was Caucasian, mid to late 30's, salt and peppery hair that was kinda curly, decently/cleanly dressed, and a little jittery, "like he parties a lot". I don't think I know the guy, but look out for him and LOCK your bikes, or better yet, bring them inside. Peter thought he might steal a bike in the Marina, ride it to Venice, sell it to someone there, steal a Venice one and ride it to the Marina and try and sell it to someone he'd just stolen one from, and repeat. Supply and Demand. Quite a racket. Thief.

Then the plot thickened. Peter said he had Delores for a few weeks ("She rides great". I know.), and then this OTHER guy came up and said, "Hey, that's my bike. It got stolen a few weeks ago." LIAR!! But Peter didn't know that, so he said he'd bought her from some guy for $40, and sorry about that. The guy said he'd give him $20 to get her back. When Peter hedged about that, the guy shrugged and had the nerve to say, "Karma"! So they each were out $20, but the bike was back where she belonged. Or so Peter and Nancy thought.

Cut to: Last weekend, Peter and Nancy are enjoying breakfast aboard the boat they live on in the Marina, reading the friendly neighborhood paper, The Beachhead. The title Jim put on "Help! My Bike Has Been Kidnapped!" caught their attention and they read the article. Peter said to Nancy, "I think that was this girl's bike". He noted the stickers, etc ... and was practically sure, so he TOOK THE TIME to track down a number for The Beachhead, where someone passed him on to Jim, who emailed me, who called Peter and jumped around and screamed like a Jonas Brothers fan-girl. I described every detail to him, and he'd been waiting for me to tell him about the seat, which is pretty distinctive, with inlaid black flame etching on it, and when I said that, he said, "It's your bike". There was just one problem ... he hadn't seen the guy who took her in a few days. We talked a bit more, he laughed at my total and absolute glee, took my number and said he'd call as soon as he saw the guy again. We hung up and I called my Mom, who said I sounded exactly like I did when I was excited about something at the age of 5. That whole night I told the story of the almost-return of sweet Delores.

Then three days went by. I left messages for Peter, un-returned. I started to get a sinking feeling, like, "Oh, NO. PLEASE don't let this be a person who was messing with me, because that would be really, really dark." I did not want to believe that would even be possible. Finally, I couldn't take the not knowing anymore, so had my dear friend Nathan call up so it would be a different number calling. Peter answered and explained to Nath that he hadn't seen the guy since we'd spoken and was feeling kind of nervous about it, and having gotten me all excited, but would call the minute he saw him again. I started to feel nervous too, like so close, but no Delores cigar-ette (both her namesakes were red-headed smokers, by the by. No nonsense broads).

Only about an hour or two passed, and my sweet friend Erinn came by to go to lunch with me. As we were getting up to leave, Nathan's phone rang. It was Peter, saying he saw the guy RIGHT NOW, and to come right away. One look at Erinn, who said, "I'm not missing this, I'll drive!" So Nathan, Erinn and I piled into her car and sped to the Marina. Peter said to turn down Mindanao, so we took the right and rolled by slow, like gangstas. All of a sudden, I said, "Oh my gosh, I think that's Delores!" It was like (um, kind of) when you hear of kidnapped kids being returned and they're not sure it's them at first, they look different, but you just KNOW. She was parked next to a scary rusty red van, looking naked and vulnerable. We then saw a guy in one of those sun-hats with the drawstring, waving his arms over his head. We pulled in and pulled up to him, and I said out the window, "Are you Peter?" He was, and he said, "She's right over there", pointing to the van and who I correctly thought was Delores. I had chills all over again. I jumped out and hugged him and his sweet girlfriend, who were all smiles, and could not have been nicer. They didn't want any money, they just wanted to see a little justice, and make someone's day, as they knew how it felt to get a bike stolen themselves. AHHH, the HUMANITY!!! In a good way.

A slightly different story was unfolding on the other side of the van. Nathan is a pretty straight-forward fellow, and he walked directly over there and said to the guy standing there, "Mate, this is my friend's bike, and I'm taking it now." The guy was not having it and said he was owed $20 and she wasn't going anywhere until he got it. Nathan said, "It's not your bike, it's hers standing right over there, and there's an article in the paper to prove it." Basically, SEE YA.

He walked Delores over to me, and sure enough, it was her. Her basket was gone, her lock was gone, her bell was gone, her stickers had been scraped off, except for partial Heal The Bay, and the Obama one was still there, cool and collected, like the Man himself. Oh, and he'd also added some gross pigeon feathers or something to the front, which were immediately stripped away. After a good scrub, new basket, new bell, and lots of love, I am confident she will recover from her traumatic DOUBLE-theft experience.

I was seriously over-joyed, insisting that we get our photo together, and as they wouldn't accept any money, Peter Anston and Nancy D'Aquino will soon be the recipients of one of my Key Lime Pies, which we will eat on their boat and talk about the GOOD in people over. Alan, the one who said it was his bike, will not be getting any pie, but by the end of it all, he wanted in on a photo too. Hilarious. When he came over to keep complaining about his $20, Peter said, "So we both paid $20 to do the right thing", and then turned the tables on ol' Alan, shrugged, and said, "Karma". INDEED.

I hugged Peter and Nancy hard, and said, "You have made a lot of peoples' days with this". But they did more than that ... they helped me to REALLY know that there is still GOOD out there. That lots of people still want to do the right thing. That a sense of COMMUNITY really IS alive and well out here ... and that we truly are all in it together. And that feels so, so great.

I gotta go now ... there is about to be a One Bike (DELORES!!!) Parade, up and down the Venice Boardwalk, smiling and waving to announce her return. Honestly, if this can happen in Venice, ANYTHING can!! ONE LOVE!

*Deep and heartfelt THANKS to Jim Smith & The Free Venice Beachhead, and the wonderfully darling Peter Anston and Nancy D'Aquino!!! Surface and begrudging thanks to that dude Alan.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Good Luck to us all!

I've been on a routine with my friend Jenny of walking each weekday morning along the beach, followed up by a swim out as far as the conditions will allow. When Jenny went to Tahiti a few weeks ago, I continued to walk alone each morning, this time with my Ipod. (My Mom said that she read somewhere that things take 21 days to become a habit ... Jenny and I are in over 100 days now, so I have to carry on without her, and vice-versa).

The Shuffle feature on my Ipod is schizophrenic, to say the least. Leonard Cohen will become Rage will become Dean Martin singing Christmas songs will become the Frida soundtrack. I like to think it's kind of psychic as to how I'm feeling, but I think I'm probably wrong. One recent morning I was rocking along, totally immersed in Prince (Controversy), when I saw a Homeless Guy shuffling towards me, and in between us was a weird bird, one I've never seen before. It was in some kind of distress as it wasn't taking off the closer the Guy and I got to it. It had webbed feet like a duck, but normal bird black and white body, but then BRIGHT red eye circles around beady black eyes. The Guy and I nodded our chins at each other, and then passed on by.

A few feet later, we both turned around and looked back at the bird. He saw me turn and said something, that was drowned out by Prince. I took out my headphones and said, "Sorry, what?" He said, "I think he's hurt". I said, "I think so too". We both walked back and looked closer. The bird stayed put. A wave would come and push it along the sand, one time spinning it around so hard it was difficult to watch. The Guy said, "Maybe if I push it up a little bit with my shoe it won't get washed away?" As I was walking barefoot, I said, "Yeah, try that". He did, and it worked a little bit, but after some hissing and craning of the neck, the bird was still not moving. "I don't want it to peck at me if it's sick", said the Guy. "Yeah, me neither", I answered. "Maybe I should go tell the Lifeguard and they can call the Marine Animal people?" We pondered that while watching some more.

The Guy said, "I think he's exhausted from trying to just survive". We exchanged a glance that kind of felt like, "I know how he feels". It was an interesting understanding, and felt pretty heavy. He asked if I had any food to give the bird. I shrugged "Nope", as I didn't have much on, and no pockets. We stood silently for a moment, just watching the poor thing. Finally the Guy said, "I think I have a Vitamin E capsule in my backpack". Kind of random, but it was worth a shot. Energy, maybe? He dug the pill out of his bag, and walked over to place it on the sand in front of the bird.

All of a sudden, the thing went bezerk, flapping its wings and squawking like a maniac. It lifted off the ground and flew to the top of a wave, and then duck-dove under it like a surfer and was back in its element, like nothing ever happened! The Guy and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows and frowns, like "Hm. What do you know about that?" We watched the bird swim along for a moment, making sure he was cool. Once that seemed to be established, I shrugged and said, "Well ... Good Luck to us all!" The Guy smiled and said, "Yep, good luck to us all".

And we all returned to our own lives, having begun our respective days with another perfectly Venice moment.

Monday, September 14, 2009

"Mercury is in retrograde, everyone needs a hat!"

One of the first things I heard when I visited Venice for the first time was a guy selling freaky hats on the Boardwalk yelling, "Mercury is in retrograde, everyone needs a hat!" I liked his logic. Even though I had no idea what he was talking about at the time. I also knew that I would live here one day. For sure.

Well, that was years ago now, and I'm sitting at my desk in Venice now, pretty much freaking out about Mercury being in retrograde. Apparently, when Mercury goes retrograde, everything having to do with communication and technology and things of that ilk go haywire and you should just not even bother, really. I am dealing with having had no internet for over a week now, the very week I launched this Blog and am trying to reach people in foreign lands and get work and hustle during Back To School week (you know how you get re-jazzed about things when it's that time of year? I do, anyway. I always want new clothes too ...), and it's REAL annoying when you're held back by a little company called Verizon. I try to be very calm and kind in my life, but a few gentlemen over there got an earful once I finally reached a human. I'll just say I was FIRM.

So ... deep breaths ... borrow your friend's computer until the new modem arrives ... sit on hold with Verizon some more ... breathe ... re-boot ... hope for the best ... and ask your readers to come back for a REALLY good story as soon as I can streamline myself back into the mix.

Oh, Mercury. At least it's an excuse for a new hat.

*Trip on this. The very day I did the Hyperlink thing for Prairie Home Companion and Garrison Keillor, I clicked on it to make sure it worked and I see that G.K. just had a stroke! I hope I didn't voodoo him by saying I wanted to be like a newer version of him. Eek. BEST WISHES for a full return to top health, Sir! I heard you're already out of the hospital and back to work. Minnesota style. GO G.K.!!!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The nature of Venice is on my mind a great deal lately ... through decades and changes, the Bohemian nature and spirit of the place has always managed to survive. There's been tough times all along the way for a good chunk of the residents, but the groove factor, and general desire for the well-being of people, place and planet has long trumped everything else. And I think it's really, really important that it persevere. So let's address a few lame things, and a few good ones for balance.

My longtime friend and companion, my bike, Delores, was stolen last Thursday. From the inside of a tall fence at my brother's place on Horizon. The two bikes sandwiching mine were left behind, so clearly the jerk thief had good taste, but that's no excuse to steal from a probable neighbor.
I get that times are tough. I'm unemployed at the moment. I have stress about gathering rent on a free-lance writer's iffy income. But it would never even occur to me to jack someone's bike, or anything else of theirs, for that matter. Delores was my main transportation.Whomever took her (Black, cool Beach Cruiser, Straw basket, Obama sticker on the back, Hinano's Girl on the front. This is a Bike Amber Alert. I want her back.), you have some rotten karma now, and Delores will most likely buck you off in my honor. I hope it hurts. You'll get yours. Once I started telling people that mine was stolen, a whole bunch more similar stories came up, bike thefts left and right, but also skateboards, money, even cars. I'm sure you've been kept awake in recent days by the hovering Police choppers too, (do they REALLY need to keep at it for three hours in the middle of the night? Questionable.) so it seems bigger crime issues are more prevalent these days as well. BOO! Criminals are losers, but they're unfortunately living among us, so be vigilant, dear friends and neighbors. Or just stop it, Criminals. Jail or worse can't be any more fun than the problems you're dealing with. Just saying.

As I type this I'm wearing a t-shirt gift from my friend that says, "BE KIND". Man, if we could all just remember that, things would be so much better for everyone. Even Bike Thieves. The shirt came from a new neighbor, Propr, on
Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Recently one of the owners had to be up on a ladder scrubbing graffiti off of their new awning. I get that people don't love having fancy new shops take over the area. Gentrification can be a real thief of a town's character, and it sucks when you can't afford the posher merchandise inside. I get it. I STILL can't go to Pinkberry - which I love - because I feel chains don't belong in Venice. But when people are trying to be good neighbors, and ADD to the spirit of Venice (which I think the guys from Propr really are attempting), it's a wrong message to send to deface their property.
I've heard rotten stories lately about nasty fights and muggings with a 2 X 4 (for another bike). I've seen people yell filthy things to people about dumb traffic stuff. I've waited five minutes in the middle of a crosswalk on Venice without one person thinking, "Oh, another human being. Maybe I should let them cross". We seriously just need to, "Remember our humanity, and forget the rest.", as Einstein said.

The people that don't want RV's parking by their homes, I also get. The people who live inside do need to be clean, noise-level appropriate, and respectful - just like any neighbor. Which is what they are. That is where the majority of them LIVE. There needs to be more compassion all around, ESPECIALLY when times are harder. We need each other more than ever. In Venice, of all places, this should just be understood. And it IS. By the majority of us. When you see the whole town come out for the Festival Of The Chariots, dancing and catching flowers, you feel confident that good will overcome evil.
When you walk by your neighbor's house and there is a bag of her fresh produce hanging off the fence with your name on it, you remember that at its heart, Venice is a small-town vibe made up of like individuals, that settled here to soak up the beauty, both of the city and its people. Not to victimize one another, Man.

When a new restaurant opens up in the neighborhood like Marla's (2300
Abbot Kinney, south of Venice), where absolutely delicious food can be had at super affordable prices, you realize that businesses can still care about their clientele, and not just rape them with hotel-style tabs and rude service, like some of the other new scene spots on the Boulevard have done.
Again, we're all in this together. It's simply essential in a beloved place like Venice, that we heed the Golden Rule. Otherwise we become just another city, with crime statistics being more the news than the good works done by our fine citizens every day. So, in closing, let's just remember that we all love this place, no matter what our circumstances are, so let's stick up for each other, not stick each other up. Thanks a lot! Word.

*check it out too at The Beachhead:

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Welcome to Blogtown!

A nickname for Venice, California is Dogtown. A nickname for me is CJ. I am a writer. It didn't take much thought to get the animated light bulb over my head saying, "BLOGTOWN (by CJ)". Of COURSE! Over the years I've written a lot of articles, and people keep asking where to find more of my work, ala "Do you have a Blog?" I did not. So when that kept coming up, I realized I'd better get with the times (um ... really. I've got a lot of work to do in that vein - you should see my phone. I keep pleading, "It's Punk Rock", but it's truthfully more that I'm just slow with things like technology. That's a topic for another day, however.), and here we are.

I grew up in Minnesota, listening to Garrison Keillor and his Prairie Home Companion radio show. My hope for BLOGTOWN is that it can be a bit like the work of a younger, wilder, female Mr. Keillor, who tells stories and rants about the happenings of not Lake Wobegon, but the ones the little city next to the Ocean Pacific ... Venice. I've lived out here for 14 years now. I've supported local businesses pretty much exclusively. I've volunteer taught many of the neighborhood's children through Venice Arts. I stand in line to vote about street permit parking (Against, fyi). I am an involved Citizen, for sure. Most importantly, I've befriended everyone from my Can Collector folks to Famous Artists, and have found that all have equally fascinating tales to tell.

There are so many people/characters I've seen around over the years that I've always wondered what their back-story is. There are businesses and shops and houses and gardens that I've longed to know how they began for ages. There are urban legends and true stories and events and community celebrations to get to the bottom of. This will be a place for all of that, but also whatever I feel like. Sometimes I get all riled up about something and just have to get it out. Sometimes I'll go on the road and tell you about other places and scenarios, which always serve to illuminate how nice it is to return to Venice (even just from Hollywood), no matter how outlandish the adventure. Sometimes I'll eat somewhere great and pass that along to you. Sometimes I'll see someone (or a Government) being a jerk and call them out (but I hope I won't have to). Sometimes I'll ask for help for someone or their Cause. I will invite you to things, and give you the heads up for things you don't want to miss. Sometimes I'll see a film or read a book that moves me to my core, and I'll beg you to see or read it. Sometimes I'll tell you about music shows I've been to, and try to pass along the same chills I've felt seeing something wonderful, and perhaps turn you on to something new. And I hope you'll do the same for me, dear readers and friends. We are a COMMUNITY, after all. If you live nowhere near Venice, or haven't even heard of it (Really?), then WELCOME! Enjoy. You'll get here eventually ...

To be born on 09/09/09 means in numerology that you will be filled with truth, justice, compassion and success (so says Google). It is my hope that this is true, for both babies and blogs. I'll look forward to sharing with you, and seeing you out and about. If you see me, please tell me YOUR story, because everyone has one. Thank you so much for visiting my life here, as we're all part of the same poem. As an old Venice saying goes, "Poetry is what Venice is all about. It ain't the only thing, but it's the fundamental thing." And away we go!

*Special, heart-felt THANKS to Matt Ellis & Vavine Tahapehi, for helping me to create this Local Venice Hang-Out Since 2009. I truly could not (as you know) have done it without you. Deep LOVE and FRIENDSHIP always.