Today’s bike club ride was a sightseeing trip to the Stonehurst Cottages in the northeast San Fernando Valley. Since we went to see the Watts Towers last week, it seemed appropriate to go see yet another local oddity that was built by one man with a vision and a lot of time on his hands.
We’ve done this ride before, and it’s a fairly pleasant one, with just a few hills.
The prop company in Sun Valley still had the pair of giant hands outside their building. I found another hot-rod mailbox for my collection. We toured around the cottages, and marveled some more about the single-minded determination of Dan Montelongo for building them. And of course, we saw the beer-keg mailbox.
Our snack stop was at Goldstein’s Bagels in La Cañada. It was a pleasant ride.
A few days ago, I saw a posting on Facebook from the Greek Theater. They said that they were filming some scenes for the season-ending show of “Californication” there on Thursday night. They needed an audience for the fake rock concert, and they were offering us free tickets and a little bit of a show to go along with the filming. And since this is Los Angeles, they also offered free parking. They know the way to our hearts. In any event, since we’re fans of Hank Moody and his tales of woe, we thought this could be a fun time.
The basic premise appeared to be a rock show at the Greek with a fictitious rock star named Atticus Fetch, played by Tim Minchin, as well as the real Marilyn Manson. The banners all said it was the “The Two-Headed Monster Tour”. They gave away about 1,000 tickets, so the Greek was nowhere near full, but they had us all sit in the front section, so as far as the cameras could see, it looked like a full house.
The show was a bit of a grab bag. They had one guy whose name I’ve forgotten who was not part of the show, but he played some songs for us. They had a stand-up comedian to perform while they were moving things around on the stage. Then Tim Minchin performed a bit as himself. He was really funny. This was followed by Steve Jones, who did a very strange and mellow version of his old Sex Pistols song, “Bodies“, followed by “Hotel California”.
By this time, it was dark, and it was time to make the sausages. They had Steve Jones as the announcer introducing Atticus Fetch, and then a big opening number, complete with some impressive pyrotechnics. They did that maybe three times. After that, they took a short break, and Marilyn Manson came out and did a couple of songs for us.
Here’s a little video of the first number. And check out the big Panavision camera on the boom that was gliding over our heads:
Then they moved some things around on the stage to get ready to hold a wedding. They had Charlie and Marcy Runkle on stage getting married, again, presumably, with Atticus officiating. Pamela Adlon said it was a spoiler alert, but she assured us that something terrible would happen at the end of the episode to keep our interest. After this, Atticus asked if anyone else wanted to get married, and Hank appeared to be proposing to Karen, although that seems unlikely, given the history of his character. But I guess we’ll see one of these days, when the current season is over and on DVD, and Netflix has it.
At one point, they wanted us to all sing along with the chorus of one of Atticus’ songs:
Preggers and poor
bed on the floor
wolf at the door
It should be interesting to see how that gets worked into the story.
They had said that they had to be finished by 11:00, due to city noise regulations at the Greek. But they were still going at 11:45. At that point, there was still no end in sight, so we left. It was just a bit too late for us to be out on a weeknight. They had made up T-shirts for the fictitious tour, and they were offering them to anyone willing to stay the distance. That might have made a fun collector’s item, but it was just too late for us. Still, it was a fun little evening adventure.
Today was the last day for practice sessions at the Mellon Bank building in downtown Los Angeles. And this time, Morgan and I had an entourage. Her friend Chris and my friend Nick agreed to come along. On the way there, they were both saying that they only wanted to climb the building twice. I was planning on doing it at least four times, and maybe five if time allowed. Each time up was 26 stories and 580 steps.
I did the climb three times for time. The fourth I did just to go slow and practice the footwork to make the most efficient path up the stairs. My best time was 4:36, which really isn’t all that good for a building that height. But then again, I’m just coming back from several months off, so I’m out of practice. Yeah, that’s it.
In the end, Nick and Chris both climbed the building four times.
Today was the start of stair climbing season for me. I’ve been practicing at the library at Caltech all summer, but this was my first trip downtown to climb a big building. The venue was the Mellon Bank building at 400 S. Hope St in downtown Los Angeles. It’s only 26 stories, but that’s about the same size as the building we raced in in San Diego back in June, and so I thought that this could be good practice for that event next year.
I rode the train downtown with Morgan from my office. We got signed in at the YMCA and walked across the street to the building. My first trip up the stairs was a leisurely one. I’d brought a pad and pen to make notes on the way up so I could make a map of the stairs. I didn’t time my first trip up, but I think it was about 6 minutes. At the 25th floor they had the door open and a sign directing us to the elevator for the trip down. But the stairs continued on, so we kept going up to the roof door, which was two more floors up.
On the way back down, I had a look at my notes. It was 533 steps to the 25th floor, and 580 to the roof door. Almost all of it was flights of 11 steps with right turns. This was good, since it meant that the pattern I’d worked out last spring at the Aon building would work here. So when we got to the bottom, I stashed my notepad, put on my gloves, and we headed up again.
My first timed run came in at 4:43, which works out to about 10.3 seconds per floor. I was averaging 10 seconds a floor for 56 floors at Aon practice last spring, so I think I need to get back in the swing of things. I climbed the building three more times after that, posting 5:05, 5:21, and 5:23. By the end, I was really dragging. Still, that’s not bad. The climb to the roof is an honest 26 stories, so that makes for 130 stories, 2,900 steps, and about 1,765 vertical feet.
This Sunday’s bike club ride was a sightseeing trip to Watts to see the Watts Towers. I’ve always been fascinated by strange things that are the product of someone’s strange obsession. And since the towers were built by Simon Rodia out of junk he found over a period of more than 30 years.
When we crossed into Watts, we saw “111st St”. I presume that is pronounced, “eleventy-first street”.
Then we got to the towers. There is a small park around them, and there are plaques that tell the story. There are docent-led tours there, and Carla said that they are interesting. Someday I’ll have to go see that.
I rode down to the end of the block to see the Blue Line tracks there. I rode the train to Long Beach once, and I didn’t know that the tracks go right by the towers.
On the way home through Montebello, we saw some emus and llamas by the side of the bike path. That was odd. The sign said “Montebello Barnyard Zoo“.
It was a nice ride, with some cultural interest, and almost no hills at all.
I recently read The Ghost Map, which tells the story of the 1854 cholera outbreak in London. Central to the story is the fact that, according to medical thinking at the time, disease was spread by bad odors from sewage. And as a result, great efforts were made to build a sewer system to pipe all the sewage into the Thames. Sadly, the Thames was the main source of drinking water for London, so you can pretty much guess how well that worked out. But due to the efforts of Dr John Snow, it was established that cholera was transmitted by contaminated water.
So we know now that bad odors don’t spread disease. But that doesn’t change the fact that they do, in fact, stink.
My neighbor’s house caught fire back in June, and they are currently in the process of fixing it up. So the construction company has set up to do a complete rebuild of the interior of the house. They’ve been working on it for about two or three weeks so far. The construction guys said that it was probably going to be several months before they’re finished.
At first, I was a bit concerned when I saw that they’d put their portajohn on the driveway about five feet from my bedroom window. But it wasn’t a problem.
Now that it’s been a few weeks, and it’s been hot, it’s becoming a problem. It cools off nicely here at night, so I generally put a window fan up to bring in the cool air. And it brought in more than cool air last night.
I called the company today, and they said that they’d make arrangements to move it and call me back. You can pretty much guess the rest. I came home, and it’s still there. And it’s Friday afternoon. Fortunately, it’s not all that heavy. So I was able to just scoot it about 10-15 feet away from my house and onto the neighbor’s front lawn. This should take care of the problem for now.
We didn’t have time to do any more tourist-things before we left to go home on Tuesday. Gordon gave us a ride to the airport, so we didn’t have to make the epic journey by train this time. And it also gave us a little more time to visit.
When we were getting ready to take off, I looked out the window and saw an Airbus A380 for the first time. It was on the taxiway, right behind a little regional jet, which made it look even bigger, and it’s pretty comically big to begin with.
There were thunderstorms most of the way across the continent today, and some of the thunderheads went up to over 40,000 feet. So the airplane spent a good deal of the trip sort of slaloming between the big thunderheads. This went on all the way to Nevada, where the clouds ended. I saw the big solar power plants that are under construction in the desert just inside the California border.
And finally, we were home. It was a fun little trip.
Monday was our big playing-tourist-in-New-York day. We had a short list of things to see, and all day to go see them. Since Gordon is effectively retired, he was able to come along for the sightseeing.
We started off with a ferry ride across the river from Hoboken. That was actually the first time I’ve ever taken a ferry across the Hudson, despite having grown up in New Jersey and gone into the city countless times. We stopped off at the World Financial Center to admire the palm trees in the atrium. We’re used to seeing palm trees growing like weeds everywhere, but it must be quite a sight to go there on a winter’s day in New York.
Our first stop was the 9/11 Memorial. I’d gone to the World Trade Center back in 1976 when the observation deck first opened up. And I’d been there a few times more over the years. So it was more than a bit jarring to go back to the site and see the memorial. They did do a good job with it. It was nicely done, and it really seemed appropriate. They had the names of all the people who died in the attacks written around the two waterfall pits that took up the spaces where the towers had been. Just like the Vietnam War Memorial, it was just wrenching to see all the names of all the people whose lives were cut short. I saw the Luis Eduardo Torres, and I recognized his name from having read his story not long ago. I also saw Todd Beamer, the “let’s roll” guy from United Flight 93. The edges of his name were polished just a bit more than all the others. I think that because he’s become something of an American hero, people must be taking rubbings of his name at the memorial.
Moving on in our tourist quest, we walked over to the Brooklyn Bridge, only stopping to get some iced tea at a Starbuck’s. The ice was a wonderful thing, since it was hot and muggy, and I find it hard to believe that when I was growing up, I just thought that feeling like that was just normal. Yick.
We got to the Brooklyn Bridge and walked about 1/3 of the way across. We read the plaques telling the story of the bridge, and it was pretty interesting.
Our next stop was the Museum of Sex. This was up at 27th St, so we took the subway. I was always fascinated by the beavers on the wall of the Astor Place subway station. I know that they’re there because the Astor family started out as fur trappers, but it’s still weird to think that there used to be woods and beavers living in Manhattan.
The museum was pretty fun to see, although the air conditioning wasn’t working in some of the rooms. So it was a bit of a steam bath in most of the galleries. But it was still fun. And it was kind of odd to see some people we know in some of the exhibits.
After the museum, we walked up 5th Avenue to 34th Street and the Empire State Building. I’d been there once when I was about eight years old. I remember that they took us up to the observatory to look at the view, and I thought that there must be a staircase going up there, and I wondered what it would be like to climb it. Maybe someday I’ll get the chance to try it.
Our last stop was for pizza. By then it was raining, and we were very tired. But the pizza was good, and after that, we headed home to Gordon’s house. It was a fun time, even if we were tired, hot, and sweaty at the end.
On Sunday, we began the second part of our trip. A visit to Hoboken to see my old friend Gordon, and then to play tourist in New York City.
We started with a short cab ride from the hotel to the Park Ridge train station. While we were waiting for the train, I noticed Cyclesport across the street. Back in the ’70s, when I was racing for the North Jersey Bicycle Club, Cyclesport was the headquarters for our arch-rivals, the Italian Cycling Association. It appears that they still have a racing team, although it’s under a different name now.
This was my first time riding the New Jersey Transit Pascack Valley Line. I always remember seeing it when I was out on bike rides, but I don’t recall ever seeing a train on the tracks ever before. I always wondered how they did it, since most of the line is single-track. So while we were riding the train to Hoboken, I paid attention, and I saw that there were about two or three places where there were passing tracks built along the line to allow trains in opposite directions to pass each other. It was a pleasant ride, and pretty soon we were in Hoboken. I’ve been through the Hoboken station countless times before, but never before have I actually gone out the door to the town outside. But this time, that’s what we did. We walked outside, and Gordon met us there to give us and our suitcases a ride to his house.
After a short rest, we decided to start our sightseeing. We took a walk down to the waterfront, passing the “Cake Boss” bakery and the line down the block of people waiting to get in. There is a park built on one of the old piers where we had a nice view across the river to Manhattan.
Next, we walked back to the train station and took the PATH across the river to the 14th St station. From there, we walked west to go to the High Line. I’d read about this park some years ago, and it sounded interesting. It’s certainly a good way to reuse an old structure.
We met with Thaddeus and his family at Veselka Bowery. We had a nice dinner there, and we got to talk and catch up on stories. It was a nice evening, and afterward, he showed us to the subway entrance so we could make our way back to Hoboken. It was amazingly hot and stuffy down in the subway stations. I know I’ve been in the subways in summer before, but I don’t remember it ever being quite so totally uncomfortable. But the trains were air conditioned, so once we were moving, it was all right. We rode the train back to Hoboken and Gordon’s house, and we planned our sightseeing for Monday.
The second day of our New Jersey adventure was a full one. No traveling, but some activities.
It started off in the morning with a tour of our old school, led by a classmate who is now a teacher there. For the most part, the inside of the school looks pretty much the same. They replaced all the leaky old windows years ago when they put in air conditioning, but aside from that and one small new wing, it was pretty much the same. And looking at some of the graffiti on the walls confirmed that human nature hasn’t changed at all in the last 35 years. Still, it was fun to see the old place again.
The afternoon was our off time, so we could rest some from the long day yesterday. And then when evening came, it was time for the main event. The big party at the hotel ballroom. Paul had set up a reception, buffet dinner, and bar service for us. And we had a good turnout. Out of 600-something graduates back in 1977, we had about 120 or 130 show up. That’s not bad for 35 years later. And I wasn’t even the one who traveled the farthest. There were at least five of us I met who had come from the west coast.
A big part of going to things like this is to tell stories of adventures we’ve had over the years. I told everyone about winning the baking ribbon at the Los Angeles County Fair, and I’d brought along a batch of my award-winning cookies to hand out to everyone. I told stories about running up skyscraper stairs, and also about the old days of bicycle racing. I got to see some more old friends from way back when, and got to hear a lot of good and amusing stories from others there, too.
"By the 45th floor, I'd worked up a lather worthy of Big Brown. On the 72nd floor, I had to sidestep someone's breakfast splattered across the landing. And by the 93rd floor - still ten flights and 100 vertical feet shy of the finish line - I was seeing spots. Such are the joys of competing in the Go Vertical Chicago Sears Tower Climb, a race from the lobby of the continent's tallest building to its sky deck, 103 floors, 2,109 stairs, and 1,353 feet above. The masochistic intensity of this event... is offset only by its merciful brevity - about 20 minutes, if you're good." The Tortoise and the Stair