Google Maps updates their aerial views every so often, replacing the old images with newer ones. And I see that they updated the views for Pasadena recently. So what are the odds that the aerial photos they would update with would just happen to have been taken on the afternoon of April 24th, 2014, when a horrific two-truck crash completely closed the eastbound 210 freeway and also took out the Metro Gold Line light rail tracks?
A week or so ago, I saw an item in the Los Angeles Times about how they had planted a new tree in Griffith Park in memory of George Harrison. The former tree had died last year after being infested with beetles, which of course made the news around the world. We’d gone to see the stump of the old tree, so I thought we should go see the new tree today. Also, I’d read recently that the city is doing an experiment with allowing car traffic on Mt Hollywood Drive for the first time since 1989 in an effort to relieve congestion brought on by the crush of cars bringing people to the park to see the Hollywood sign. So I wanted to take a ride up there so we could see just how bad it was, and decide for ourselves just what we thought of it.
The day was cool and overcast. It was actually quite pleasant for riding. We headed out by our usual route across Eagle Rock. We had a relatively big group today, and we even picked up a couple new riders on the road who joined us for a part of the ride. We went up into Griffith Park to the observatory, where we saw the new tree.
Leaving the observatory, we went down to Mt Hollywood Drive. We were expecting the gate to be open. GT had been riding up there during the week, and he told us about the traffic on the road then. But the gate was closed, and there were no cars. There were cones and signs directing traffic everywhere, but for some reason, they did not open the gates today. So we rode up to the spot they had designated for people to park to see the sign. And while we were there, we looked back for the first time ever, and we saw that that spot actually has a nice view of the observatory and downtown L.A. We’d never looked back from there before.
Continuing on, we got to the top of the hill, where we regrouped before heading down the other side. Along the road there, we saw movie trailers parked on the road, and then, just around the bend, we saw two wrecked cars. Apparently, they had been filming something that involved those cars, and I guess they weren’t done with them yet. The one that was completely upside-down had a hose connected to it. I presume that this was to pump fuel into it so that it could explode in a fireball, like cars always do in movies.
At the bottom of the hill, we rode into Burbank for our snack stop at Priscilla’s. Then we headed back by way of the L.A. River bike path. Since the Riverside Drive bridge isn’t quite finished yet, we tried an experiment and rode back up Fletcher, but then cut across on a small street we’d never ridden on before to get to Cypress and Figueroa. Then we took Figueroa back up through Highland Park, cutting over on Ave 57 to get to South Pasadena. It turned out to be a pretty good way to go, so we’ll probably do it again in the future.
Here’s the route map and elevation profile: http://1134.ddns.net/routemap.php?xmlfile=georgeharrison
Today, Lucinda and I went on the Dearly Departed Tour. This is the Hollywood tour that takes us to all the spots where the stars died, as well as a stop at the Pierce Brothers Westwood cemetery, which is the final resting place of many of the biggest stars in Hollywood. I took her on the Helter Skelter Tour about the Manson Family last year, so it seemed like it was time to do the regular tour now.
We had a nice brunch at Off Vine before the tour. That’s still one of my favorite restaurants. Then we headed over to the tour office on Sunset Boulevard. The tour showed us a weird collection of locations, including Bela Lugosi’s last apartment, the apartment in West Hollywood where Marilyn Monroe lived for a time, and the bit of sidewalk in front of the Viper Room where River Phoenix collapsed and died. In between, we had a stop at Pierce Brothers in Westwood, where we saw many of the most famous stars’ graves. And we weren’t even the only parent and kid group on the tour. There was a mother and son, about our ages, who were visiting from somewhere in the midwest. They had even gone so far as to be staying in the motel room where Janis Joplin died. They were making it a complete death-pilgrimage experience.
We had a nice time on the tour. And on the way home, I let Lucinda drive my car for the first time. It was actually her first time driving on the freeway, and she did pretty well at it.
We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when…
But we’ll meet again, and I’ll climb the stairs…
(Apologies to Ross Parker and Hugh Charles)
Tonight was the last practice at the Aon building in downtown Los Angeles. In past years, we had two practices a week for three months leading up to the race there next Saturday, but for some unknown reason, this year they only held six sessions. So most of us hardcore-nutball-stair-climbers were disappointed, but we still showed up. I’m still working on building my fitness back up after the troubles with my back last year, and other issues. Each time I came downtown, I’ve been doing five climbs. The practice course runs from 4 to 55, which is 51 floors, 1,186 steps, 690 feet, and 210 meters. So doing five climbs makes for a vertical kilometer. With my reduced speed this year, it’s an attainable goal, but just barely. The Vertical Mile is right out. Still, I’m making some progress.
The other times I came here for evening practice, my goal was always to do five climbs. The first one, I always aimed for my vertical mile pace of 4 1/2 floors per minute, which gets me to the top in about 11:15-11:20. Then for the subsequent climbs, I just tried to see how close I could stay to that pace, and it usually wasn’t all that close. By the fifth climb, I usually didn’t even bother timing it. But tonight, I was feeling a bit stronger, and I’d remembered to bring along a quart bottle of Gatorade.
The first time up, I managed 11:16, which was right on target. The second time, I kept an eye on my watch for splits. At the mechanical floors on 22 and 42, I lost a few seconds going through the fire doors, but I still felt strong enough to dial the pace up for a few floors afterward to make up the time. And I came out at the top in 11:18, which I was pretty happy about. The third time up, I was starting to drag a bit. I was falling behind the pace by the 20th floor, so I just kept an eye on how far behind I was, with the idea that I just wanted to make the top in under 12 minutes. Having three climbs all under 12 minutes would be the fastest I’ve gone at this since last year, and I managed to make it to 55 in 11:48.
The fourth time up, I was really feeling it. I knew there was no chance of making it under 12, so my goal became to make it as close to 12 as I could. And 12:33 was still not bad, considering that the last few times I’ve done this, my fourth climb was in the 14-16 minute range. So with all that done, I went back down and got ready to do it a fifth time. This time, I started my watch, and my only goal was the make it in under 13 minutes. When I got to 45, I could see it was going to be close. But just knowing that when I got to the top, I could stop. So I was able to put on a burst of speed for the last four floors, and I came out on top at 12:54.
Overall, I was pretty happy with this evening. It’s the best I’ve done in a long time. But on the other hand, I still have a long way to go to get back to the level I was in 2013. For comparison, about a year and a half ago, I was able to do five consecutive 51-story climbs, averaging under 11 minutes each time. That’s not even a pipe dream now. But I’m going to keep plugging away at it. We have the Aon race a week from Saturday, and then the San Diego Towerthon in June.
Sunday was the big day. We got up early and got dressed to climb lots of stairs. We walked over to the building from our hotel. When we got there, we met up with our group and got ready to go. This event is very well-run. It has to be, since they have something like 6,000 people doing it. We went off in the first group to go up, which was nice, since it meant that the stairwell was relatively clear. Pretty much everyone in front of me was going faster, so I really didn’t see anyone on the way up, aside from a few people who passed me. As I’ve been doing, I didn’t go particularly fast. But I maintained a steady pace, and I didn’t stop. I figure there’s no point stopping. There’s no scenery to look at in a stairwell. So I just kept going until I got to the top.
When I got to the top, I walked around and looked at the views. This is one of the few races where we come out in an observation deck level in the building, so there are views to look at on all sides. So I just hung out there until Kathleen came out of the stairs. Then we took a picture together before heading back down.
At the bottom, we didn’t hang out for very long. We had to get back to our hotel to get cleaned up and checked out. And then we were going to meet my cousin Irene for lunch before heading back to the airport. We rode the train to near where she lives, and then we went to lunch from there. Afterward, we got back on the train for the short ride to the airport. When we got there, we went looking for some food we could get to bring aboard with us, since it was going to be dinnertime when we were in the air. In the process of scouting out the SeaTac airport, I was very amused to see that Sub Pop had a store there. Overall, it was a fun trip.
One thing I thought was a bit odd, though. On the way back, at least four times, we passed very close by other airplanes flying the other way at nearly the same altitude as us. I thought it was unusual for air traffic to pass close enough that we could look out the window and recognize the airline flying by.
The Big Climb wasn’t until Sunday, so Saturday was our day to play tourist in Seattle. In the morning, I took a walk over to the storefront that had an exhibit about the tunneling project they are doing there. We’d heard about this last year, when the big news was that the tunneling machine, Bertha, had gotten stuck on something. Apparently, she got unstuck, and is again tunneling away. I was interested to see that they said that this whole project was set in motion by the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake in Seattle. The Nisqually Earthquake is one that I’ve always felt close connection to, even though it wasn’t in southern California. This was the earthquake that caused a tremendous surge of traffic to the USGS earthquake program web servers, and most of them were crushed by it. But the two that I ran survived. And that made my reputation around the office. So it was an exciting day. But aside from that, apparently, this earthquake caused a fair bit of damage to the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which was built in the early 1950s, and the engineers had to strap steel girders to it to stabilize it so it wouldn’t fall down while they were boring the tunnel to replace it. So I asked the docents at the museum where I could see the temporary repairs, and it turned out that they were down the street, almost right next to our hotel. So I walked over there to see them. And I was also glad to see that the temporary repairs were providing good nesting spaces for birds.
After that, we went to Pike Place Market. That’s the big tourist attraction in Seattle where they have the fish market with the flying fish. And we were not disappointed. We saw the flying fish and more. It was a fun time.
Finally, we went back to Pioneer Square to take the original Underground Tour. Last time, we’d taken the other underground tour, which was also fun and entertaining, but this time, we wanted to take the original, just to see something different. It was obvious that this tour had been operating a lot longer than the other one. The spaces they took us through had wooden walkways constructed for the tour, while the other tour was much more rough and wild. Each has its place and charm.
It’s March, and time to visit Seattle for the Big Climb again. We did this last year, and it was a fun time, so we signed up again.
We flew there on Friday morning on JetBlue out of Long Beach. That little tiny airport is so easy that it made up for having to get up too early to get there early in the morning. We made it to Seattle by lunchtime, and we took the train from the airport to our hotel in Pioneer Square. Our plan was to play tourist for the afternoon and then meet up with my cousin Irene for dinner. I’d read recently about the EMP museum there, and I thought we should pay a visit. We’d seen it last year when we rode the monorail, but we didn’t have time to go inside then. So that was our plan for the afternoon.
We rode the train to the end of the line downtown, and then got on the monorail to get to the museum. Going in, we didn’t quite know what to expect, but once we were inside, we realized it was a great collection of odd and interesting stuff. We started off with the “Star Wars” costume exhibit. We’d both seen a similar exhibit some years ago at the Fashion Institute in downtown Los Angeles. After that, we wandered through the gallery about the history of Nirvana, complete with hand-written notes on songs and guitars smashed by Kurt Cobain at the end of shows.
Wandering upstairs, we found a gallery about music videos. They had an exhibit about variations of music videos. The “Gangnam Style Without Music” video was funny, and they had examples of “literal music videos”. Look them up on YouTube. They’re hilarious.
Heading back downstairs, we saw the gallery of costumes and artifacts from fantasy and magic movies, including costumes from “The Wizard of Oz”, some of the “Harry Potter” movies, and others. Then we went down to the bottom level for the horror movie gallery, where we saw Simon Pegg’s bloody shirt from “Shaun of the Dead”. All told, the EMP museum was great fun, and well worth the visit. Next time we’re going to plan on getting there earlier so we don’t run out of time.
After that,we rode the train back and met up with Irene for dinner, and we made plans for playing tourist on Saturday.
Years ago, I saw an episode of Huell Howser’s show where he visited the giant wisteria vine in Sierra Madre. And now that I’ve been living two miles away from it for 20 years, I figured it was time to go see it. So today was the “Wistaria Festival” in Sierra Madre. They deliberately spell it that way, although I have no idea why. But they have a big street festival in the center of town, and the yard where the vine is growing is open for tours.
The story is that the vine came in a 1-gallon pot, and it was planted about 120 years ago. It grew up and over the original house, crushing it. A new house was built off to the side, and the owners constructed a steel trellis for the vine to grow on, and it now takes up two whole lots. The festival is timed to coincide with the relatively short time it spends blooming every spring. So we went to the festival and had lunch before heading up the hill to see the vine. And yes, it’s big. It covers most of the space between two houses. It’s not obvious from the street, since I’d ridden my bike down the street by the vine a few weeks ago, when I was scouting out where the trail to Jones Peak started. After taking in the vine, we walked back down the hill and browsed around the festival a bit more before heading home.
Today’s bike club ride was another trip to North Hollywood to check out the barrel-shaped restaurant. We’d gone to see this in January when it was being renovated, but I’d read recently that it was finished and open for business. So it was time to go see it again.
There’s a spot on Riverside Drive where businesses park their trucks as advertising while they’re not being used. There’s the “Hot Topless Maids” van, and today there was also a junk-hauling truck. And thanks to reality TV, apparently now “Extreme Hoarding” is a thing.
When we got to NoHo, the barrel was all out in the open and nicely refinished. We were able to peek in the windows and see the inside, and it really looked pretty good.
After looking at the barrel, we continued on up Vineland Ave to Chandler, where we stopped for snacks at the Panera across the street from the Metro Red Line station. That was where we’d caught the train home three weeks ago when the ride was rained out.
Heading back on the Chandler bikeway, we came across a big group of people running around in circles carrying medicine balls. I guess that’s one of those fitness boot camp things. I think riding the bike is just more fun. And we get to cover a lot of ground. And today, I finally got my photo-op riding the shaggy dog sculpture in Burbank. That makes for a companion to the time I got to ride the rattlesnake sculpture in Rattlesnake Park or when Lucinda was a little kid and like to ride the little fox sculptures in the park downtown.
On the way back on Riverside Drive, we saw that apparently Rene Magritte has a hamburger stand now. It must be, because the sign clearly says “Not a Burger Stand”.
Here’s the route map and elevation profile.