Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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11/14/2015

Working Wildlife

Filed under: — stan @ 9:53 pm

Today was a tour of Working Wildlife, which is a ranch in Frazier Park where they train animals for movies and TV. This was yet another Atlas Obscura adventure. As it turned out, it was the same day as the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s stair climb, so I had to leave right after climbing the building in order to have the requisite 90 minutes to make it all the way out there. But I made it just in time, and it was a fun time talking to the animals.

At the beginning, we got a little history of the ranch, and got to meet a few of the smaller animals. Our host and guide was Jeff, who is one of the trainers, and the nephew of the owner. The lemur, porcupine, and the binturong got to just walk up and down the table and meet us directly. And after that, it was time to meet some larger animals. We saw a few foxes before heading over to the lions. We saw a couple of mountain lions, and then some African lions. They all seemed to have a good relationship with Jeff, since they all came over to him and wanted to be petted and scratched just like very large cats. I seem to recall he said that the pumas are the largest cats that purr.

The last stop was to see the bears. They also came over to be petted, although, like with the lions, the petting did not involve us, since the bears and lions don’t know us. The only other part of the operation we didn’t see was the wolves. Apparently, they trained the wolves that were used in “True Blood” and other TV shows, but the trainers were working with the animals and didn’t want them to be distracted by visitors. Still, it was all very interesting to see.

Well, I’m still slightly faster than the Average Bear…

Filed under: — stan @ 4:37 pm

Today was the last race of the year. 54 stories from the sidewalk on 6th St up to the rooftop helipad on top of the Wilshire Figureroa building in downtown Los Angeles. That’s 1,245 steps and 706 vertical feet. This is the building that I climbed 101 times in 2013.

I’m not seriously trying to compete at these things any more, but I still wanted to do a semi-respectable time on it. And I figured that to be anything under 11 minutes, since that would represent averaging 5 floors per minute. It’s also an easy pace to keep up with. The staircase in this building is an average of 23 steps per floor, and from 1 up to 6 is exactly 115 steps, even though the first few floors are weird. And then it’s just 23 steps per floor the whole way up. So I planned on checking my watch every five floors to be sure I was maintaining my pace.

The first 10 floors or so were hard, but by then I was warmed up, and it got a little easier. I just counted off the floors in blocks of five, all the way up to 49. From 49 to the roof the stairs get weird again, so I didn’t have any landmarks to measure my pace by. But when I turned the last corner and saw light coming in the door from the roof, I looked at my watch. It said something like 10:47 or so, and I realized I had only ten seconds to do the last 27 steps up to the roof to make it in under my goal time. So I had to run the last three flights, and I came out on top at 10:57. I hadn’t realized it, but Norman Schwartz was there taking pictures, and he got what is probably my most dramatic finsh-line picture ever. And only four people my age or older went faster, so I really can’t complain.

At the top, I rested for a few minutes, took a few pictures, and then I went back down and left. I had a ticket for an Atlas Obscura tour of Working Wildlife in Frazier Park. I knew I had to get going to make it there by 11:00, so I couldn’t stay around and socialize much. Still, I was reasonably pleased with this climb.

Full results are here.

11/8/2015

Barris Kustom

Filed under: — stan @ 2:40 pm

In the L.A. Times obituary column this week, I saw that George Barris had died. He had a long career building cars for movies and TV shows, and his work is seen everywhere. So I thought this week’s bike ride should be a visit to the Barris Kustom showroom in Studio City.

The route out there started by going through South Pasadena and Highland Park to get to the new bridge over the L.A. River. From there, we planned on taking the L.A. River bike path all the way to where it ends at Riverside Drive. But when we got on it, we found out that part of the path was being used as a portion of the course for a 10k run. Where we were was the turn-around point for the run, so there were a lot of people. So we just went back to regular streets for a couple of miles. We got back on the path at Fletcher. There were still people running there, but traffic wasn’t so heavy. So we rode up the path to the end at Riverside.

The Barris Kustom showroom is a small storefront on Riverside Drive in Studio City. It wasn’t open, and there was nobody there on Sunday morning. But we were still able to look inside and see the Batmobile and a couple of other show cars on display. There were also posters on the wall for movies featuring cars that he made.

We rode a bit farther west in the Valley before looping back to our snack stop at Panera in North Hollywood. Then we headed back across Burbank and Glendale. Along the way, I saw that the “Not a Burger Stand” has now truly become Not a Burger Stand. No more Magritte-style surrealism for them. It was a nice ride, although the route turned out to be a bit longer than I thought it would be.

49 miles.

Route map and elevation profile

11/1/2015

Old oil wells in Echo Park

Filed under: — stan @ 5:01 pm

A few weeks ago, I’d planned for us to go to Echo Park to see a small lot with some old oil wells on it. As it turned out, it started raining that day, so we changed the ride to go to the downtown L.A. CicLAvia. So I thought we’d try again this week. And as an added bonus, I thought we might be able to see the new freeway sign announcing “Los Fezil

We started off by riding to downtown Los Angeles. That’s where we saw some filming going on. Something that involves a whole fleet of white Dodge cars and SUVs. We headed west on 7th St almost to MacArthur Park, where we turned and headed up Bonnie Brae to get to Echo Park. We go close to where the oil wells were, and we had to change the route slightly when we realized that the street we were going to take was actually an alley, and was actually about a 20% uphill grade. So we took the next street over, which was nice and flat.

The lot with the oil wells had a fair bit of activity going on. There were two guys there doing some work, and one of the wells was even pumping. Some time ago, I’d read that there was only one producing well left on the City Oil Field, and we went to visit it once. But apparently, they’ve turned at least one of the pump jacks here back on.

Continuing on, Silvio got a flat right near Echo Park and the lake with the fountains. We fixed that, and rode the short distance to Chango Coffee. After some snacks and drinks there, we headed up across Elysian Park and down to the river. We rode the L.A. River bike path all the way to its northern end, and along the way, we were completely unable to see the “Los Fezil” sign. So either they fixed it already, like they did with Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, or maybe it was behind some trees.

So that was our sightseeing for the day. The route home was across Glendale and over the hill to the Rose Bowl. I was a pleasant ride.

42 miles.

Route map and elevation profile

10/25/2015

Down for the Count – 2015

Filed under: — stan @ 2:46 pm

It’s the end of October, and that means it’s time for our Halloween ride. Out to Culver City and Holy Cross Cemetery to pay respects to The Count – Bela Lugosi. And I also wore my “Star Trek” bike jersey today, in case we wanted to take a side trip to Hillside Memorial Park to pay respects to Leonard Nimoy.

It was a nice day for riding. We headed downtown by way of Huntington Drive and Main St. Coming down Spring St downtown, we saw a big display in Grand Park for the Day of the Dead, so that was a photo-op. Then we had to cross the course of the Rock-n-Roll Half Marathon, which was in progress. Then we continued on south all the way to Pico, where we turned west to get to Flower St. There wasn’t an Expo Line train going down Flower St at the time, which was too bad. I like to race the train when there’s one there, since it goes just fast enough to chase, but not so fast that I can’t keep up.

We had to stop for a minute at La Cienega for a quick bike adjustment. That was where we saw the VW Micr -er- “Mico Bus”. Heh.

When we got to the cemetery, we rode up and over the hill to The Grotto. It took us a couple minutes to find Bela Lugosi. Usually, his grave is decorated for Halloween, but I think that maybe they haven’t done that yet, since it’s not until next Saturday. While we were there, Carla showed us her Halloween-themed nails.

Continuing on, we went to Hillside Memorial. In the past, we’d been able to go in the back gate, but it was closed today. So we rode around to the main gate. We asked directions, and the guy gave us a little map and showed us where to go. When we got there, we wandered around a bit until one of the maintenance guys saw us and pointed us to the right spot. Apparently, there are a lot of people stopping by to visit Leonard Nimoy. And deservedly so. I’m not the only one whose childhood hero was Mr Spock.

On the way home, we stopped for bagels at Noah’s. Our route home was supposed to be through Silverlake, but we decided to alter that and go home by way of downtown L.A. So I stopped there for a minute to get a photo of the little junkyard underneath the elevated Metro tracks that’s filled with wrecked police cars. And I wonder what’s the story of the gray car with “Do Not Shoot” painted on it. And by taking Griffin Ave, we passed by the giant dragonfly again for the first time in years.

59 miles.

Route map and elevation profile

10/24/2015

A bit of aerospace history

Filed under: — stan @ 6:19 pm

Back in the late ’80s, I spent a few years working at Hughes Aircraft Radar Systems Group in El Segundo. Part of our department was moved to offices at the old Hughes Helicopter plant near Culver City. I had occasion to go over there a few times, and I’d heard that the land there had been built up after Hughes Aircraft was divided up and sold in the ’90s. So when I got something from the L.A. Conservancy about a tour of the remaining buildings there and how they were being renovated as new office spaces, I figured a visit was in order. I called up my old friend Kathleen, who I first met while we were both working at Hughes, and we made plans to go visit the old place.

The tour started in Building 15, which is an enormous wooden structure that was built in 1943 to accommodate building the H-4 Hercules, otherwise known as the “Spruce Goose”. It was impressive to see how they were able to build such a big building out of wood. Our docent said that the only metal parts were hinges, nails, bolts, and the reinforcing plates on the support arches. But I put my long lens on the camera and got a close-up picture of one of the plates, and we could see the wood grain of the plywood. So even the reinforcing plates were made of wood. They told us that the enormous building had been used as a sound stage since the early ’90s, and that it was used for movies that needed to build large indoor sets that would be used for an extended time.

The next stop was the building that used to be the company cafeteria. The docents told us about the design of the building, and also about how the Hughes cafeteria was known for serving good food for the employees. Kathleen and I could verify that. The cafeteria where we were in El Segundo was quite good. The old cafeteria building has been fixed up, and now it’s offices for a video game design company.

The next building was formerly the company fire station. It’s been turned into offices and studio space for Youtube. We didn’t get to see much on the inside there, since the studios were all in use. And the final two buildings were formerly office buildings in the Hughes days. And they’re still office buildings. The are leased by an advertising company. But because of that, we were not allowed to take pictures in those buildings.

It was fun seeing the old place again.

10/18/2015

A slightly-damp CicLAvia

Filed under: — stan @ 1:16 pm

This week’s bike club ride was planned to be a visit to yet another downtown CicLAvia, followed by a side trip to Echo Park to see some abandoned oil wells there. The weather was threatening rain, and this route would also keep us close to Metro Rail stations, just in case we needed to bail out.

Pretty much as soon as we started out, we felt a few raindrops. It got wetter as we headed down Sierra Madre Blvd, and when we got to Huntington Drive, Carla turned around and bailed out. The rest of us continued on. I figured we could go a few more miles, and if it got worse, we’d just go the South Pasadena Metro station and take the train back. But as we continued on, the rain got lighter, and by the time we were coming in to downtown L.A., it has stopped. The streets were still wet, but it wasn’t actively raining any more. So we joined up with the CicLAvia route in Chinatown and rode it all the way to the other end by MacArthur Park. It was actually kind of nice, since the rain meant that a lot of people stayed away, and it wasn’t too crowded. We stopped to look at the Spheres art installation again, and I also noticed a few Egyptian Geese wandering around in the park. We’d seen some of them when we visited the Japanese Garden in Van Nuys, and I recognized them, since they kind of look like they’re wearing Lucha Libre masks. Since it still wasn’t too crowded on the streets, we decided to skip the side trip to the oil wells, and ride back to Chinatown. By the time we got there, word was getting around that the rain had stopped and streets had dried, and the route started to get crowded a bit. So we left it in Chinatown and headed up the hill by Dodger Stadium and the 9/11 memorial by the Fire Department training center to get to Echo Park and Chango Coffee. We had some snacks and drinks there.

By now, it was pretty clearly finished raining for the day, so we headed home by our regular route up Eagle Rock Blvd and then across Highland Park on York. And in the end, it turned out to be a pretty pleasant ride.

40 miles.

Route map and elevation profile

10/11/2015

Whole Yotta Love

Filed under: — stan @ 2:05 pm

Last week, there was a column in the L.A. Times by Steve Lopez about a couple who had moved in to a rented mansion in the Hollywood Hills and were throwing big parties and annoying the neighbors. But the detail that really put the story over the top for me was that they had had a mural of themselves put on the garage door. Since houses in the Hollywood Hills are on small lots, that meant that the garage door would be right on the street, so I thought we should go see it. So I went looking, and found out that the house was right on the street leading up to the dam, and we’d been by there before. Once when we went to see the monsters on Chris Brown’s house, and once when we went to see the Mulholland Dam itself.

We took our regular route through Eagle Rock to get to the L.A. River and Silverlake. Then we took Hollywood Blvd across to Argyle Ave, where we turned and headed up into the hills. The climb up to the dam is very steep in places, but with appropriate gearing, it’s not too bad. And then, we arrived at the mansion. The decorations were only slightly over the top. There was no lion in a cage outside, since their housewarming party was over. But the mural on the garage was there, and it was just as gaudy as we expected. So overall, it was worth seeing.

Continuing on up the hill, we got to the dam, and we rode across the top of it. Stopping in the middle, we looked across the lake and we could see both the Hollywood sign and the vineyard on Mt. Lee. John looked down the front of the dam, and he noticed that it has grizzly heads cast in concrete on each column. Sort of like the walrus heads on the columns of the Arctic Building in Seattle.

Leaving the dam, we had to to the very steep climb up out of the bowl that Lake Hollywood sits in, and then it was all downhill into Burbank, and our snack stop at Priscilla’s. We had drinks and snacks there, and then headed home, back across Glendale and Eagle Rock, and up the Colorado hill back to Pasadena.

39 miles.

9/27/2015

Update of the Spheres of MacArthur Park

Filed under: — stan @ 2:11 pm

A few weeks ago, we went out to see the “Spheres” art project under way in MacArthur Park. That weekend, they were in the process of installing the painted balls on the lake in the park. So this week we went to see the completed piece.

We took our usual route into downtown Los Angeles on Huntington Drive and Main St. There was a little haze in the air there, and that made for dramatic reflections off the windows of the Ritz Carlton near L.A. Live. We’ve seen this effect before, in 2013 and 2009. It’s always this time of the year, so I think the angle of the sun also is part of the effect.

Our snack stop was at Noah’s in Larchmont Village. We had bagels and drinks there. There was a little bakery a few doors down that we noticed for the first time today. I went in to see what it was like. But when they said everything was vegan and gluten-free that was a big NOPE for me.

The route back went on 7th St to MacArthur Park. That was where Carla got a flat. Fortunately, there was a nice shady spot to sit in and fix it. Then we got to the park. There were a lot more balls floating on the lake this time. It was very colorful.

It was getting pretty hot by now, so we deviated a bit from the route and headed directly up Benton Way to Silverlake. We took York across Highland Park to avoid the Colorado hill. And we stopped briefly at my office to get some ice from the freezer to ice our water bottles down for the last few miles home.

45 miles.

Route map and elevation profile

9/20/2015

Straight Outta Compton

Filed under: — stan @ 2:57 pm

Today’s bike club ride was another celebrity grave tour. Since we’ve all gone to see “Straight Outta Compton” and liked it, today’s ride was a visit to Rose Hills Cemetery in Whittier to visit the grave of Eric “Eazy-E” Wright. It was a nice day for riding when we set out in the morning.

We rode down to the Rio Hondo bike path, and took that all the way to Whittier Narrows. Carla told me that there had been a brushfire there recently, and sure enough, a large area down there was burned. It looked like the fire went through fast, since all the low brush was burned, but the trees had not burned. Still, it looked pretty bad there.

Heading east, we went over to Workman Mill Road and the main entrance to the cemetery. The guy in the information booth gave us directions on how to get there. It sounded simple enough. Just go up the main road and turn left at the sixth street. Little did we know that that meant a mile in and 500 feet up. Wow. That was a hard climb. But up there on the hill, we found Eric Wright. His grave is obviously visited a fair amount, judging by the grass around it. So he still has fans to this day, which I think is well-deserved. He did make a pretty big contribution to our culture. While we were up there, we also noticed another nearby grave which said that its owner’s favorite saying was, “That ain’t no hard hill to climb”. Which was funny, since it was a hard hill to climb to get up there. And also, because there’s a typo on his stone. D’oh.

Back at the bottom of the hill, we headed south in to Whittier, making a loop to get back to the San Gabriel River bike path. The plan was to take that all the way up to Irwindale. By then, it was starting to get hot. And the trail is uphill going that way. And we had a headwind. A hot headwind. By the time we got to Arrow Highway, we were all suffering, so we got off to go get some cold drinks. I found a Subway and got a big iced tea. Just drinking that cold liquid just felt so good. We stayed there for a while to cool off and rest. Then we decided to head home by the shortest route possible. The last part of the ride began to resemble the Retreat from Moscow. But we made it home all right. Which was good. Napoleon’s army had horses they could kill and eat, but we can’t do that with our bikes.

48 miles.

Route map and elevation profile.

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