Saturday, February 24, 2018

California Democratic Party Convention

Standing ovation for Nancy Pelosi

I’ve been a Democrat my entire life. In fact, one of my earliest memories is of me keeping a manual tally of delegate votes during the 1960 Democratic National Convention (DNC), when John Kennedy was nominated. I was six years old and have wanted to be a party delegate ever since.

Although I haven’t served as a DNC delegate (yet!), the national political situation has become so dire that I’ve been feeling the need to do more than just voting and donating money. So I answered a call for volunteers to help-out at this year’s California Democratic state convention in San Diego. I completed the requisite volunteer application form, describing my extensive experience planning and participating in other (non-political) conventions, and was soon invited to participate. I attended the convention today, helping one of the ethnic caucuses.

Tim and I follow the political scene very closely, but we have little knowledge of how candidates are selected, etc. Turns out the state convention is extremely important as this is where endorsements—which translate into campaign funding—are generated. Support is courted through the official party caucuses that represent various political constituencies: veterans, labor, seniors, Chicanos/Latinos, women, environment, Native Americans, etc. I was hoping to help either the women’s or environmental caucus, but was ultimately overjoyed with my assignment.

The caucus chair wasn’t expecting any help and so was pleasantly surprised to have me and another first-time volunteer. He quickly asked us to assist the staff member registering attendees before they entered the relatively small (only 60 seats) meeting room. A short business meeting was held before the floor was opened to candidates, who were each given just one minute (!) to explain their platform and solicit votes. Although most of the campaigners were apparently scheduled in advance, candidates could sign-up on-site in case there was leftover time to speak.

Non-caucus members were welcome to attend, but only members could vote. Therefore, much of the activity at our desk consisted of registering and collecting dues ($25) from new members who wanted to vote. While the staff member and the other volunteer handled that task, I signed-up unscheduled candidates who wanted to speak. I then physically carried their business cards into the meeting room and handed them to the caucus chair, who added their names to the agenda until there was no more time.

 John Chiang (in glasses), running for governor

The caucus meeting was almost two hours long, so we had lots of time to watch the state’s political world pass by. All four Democratic candidates for governor—Gavin Newsome, John Chiang, Delaine Eastin, and L.A.’s own Antonio Villaraigosa—walked by us several times. Most of them were with just one or two companions, but Chiang surrounded himself with a large retinue of folks carrying signs. At one point, both Villaraigosa and Chiang entered our tiny caucus room, causing a big flurry as their followers tried to get inside, too. A convention organizer happened to walk by, just then, and was amazed at the overflow of people spilling out into the hallway. “We’ll have to assign you a bigger room next year!” she said excitedly. We nodded knowingly.

 Antonio Villaraigosa (right), facing right, with supporters holding signs

By the way, I asked the caucus staffer if the proceedings automatically stopped for big-name candidates and she said no—they would not be allowed to speak unless they had signed up in advance. We were outside the room and so couldn't see if they actually spoke or not. We did hear later, however, that the women’s caucus went crazy when congressmember Nancy Pelosi (who we had seen rush by earlier) unexpectedly entered the room. Big-name candidates do get noticed even if they don’t speak.

Other impressive candidates who caught our eye were state senator Ricardo Lara, who had a HUGE crowd following him and chanting (“Lara! Lara!”), and Katie Hill, congressional candidate from Santa Clarita/Palmdale, whose camera crew seemed to film every little thing she did. Everyone who walked by either wore a t-shirt or carried a sign promoting one candidate or other. Quite a show!

After my shift ended, I joined everyone else downstairs for the general session in Hall F. Speakers included Lupe Valdez, the first openly gay Latina running for Texas governor, L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti, and Pelosi. They were all received warmly with Pelosi getting a standing ovation. After a while, I decided to grab a quick snack at Starbuck’s and was shocked to hear jeers when I returned 20 minutes later. I did not recognize the speaker, but apparently not all Democratic candidates are created equal! He was followed by Ricardo Lara, whose supporters screamed and waved signs. For a moment there I thought I was at a national convention, watching delegates cheer for their favorite presidential nominee. So much excitement!

 Pelosi signs on every chair in the general session

There were far more candidates to see and hear, but I left the convention early so Tim and I could start heading home. Such a fascinating—and exhilarating—experience. I might just have to do it again next year . . .

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Women's March, 2018

City Hall, January 20, 2018
Last year’s Women’s March in downtown L.A. was one of the most validating events I've ever experienced. A half-million protesters joined together to alert the newly inaugurated White House occupant that we would be watching and weighing everything he did. The march was spontaneous, joyous, and exhilaratingly hopeful. We took our despondency over Hilary Clinton’s loss and turned it into positive collective action. I insisted that we march again yesterday, one year later.

Yesterday's protesters met at Pershing Square with the goal of marching to City Hall, several blocks away. Even though the actual march wasn’t scheduled to start till 10AM, participants were advised to arrive early to attend the pre-march rally and get fired up.

On the train to downtown L.A.: me in my 

Tim and I boarded the eastbound lightrail at 7:45AM. Most seats were already taken by (mostly) women, wearing pink “pussy hats” and warm clothes. Except for a handful of coeds, who got on at the USC stop, the great majority of riders were from the westside. We amused ourselves listening to them describe their recent trips to Europe and complain about managing their rental properties in Venice, CA. One woman’s mother skyped her as we approached downtown. “Hi, Mom,” she chirped. “I’m on the train to Los Angeles to march. Look, here’s my protest poster!”

We arrived at Pershing Square by 8:30AM and staked out a spot to stand. Occasionally, the crowd would cheer, but we didn’t know why because we couldn’t see the speakers or hear what they were saying. It was a colder-than-usual morning, so we tried to stay warm, while more and more people arrived, carrying signs and wearing pink hats. 

Lots of vendors this year—better prepared than last year
Several themes dominated this year’s march. Although there were many signs in support of the Dream Act and the “Me, Too” movement, most protested the current occupant of the White House and his recent rant against immigrants from “shithole” countries. The general consensus was that he should be impeached and that Congressional Republicans should be voted out of office next November. We wholeheartedly agreed.

"How to spot a dictator . . ."

Human march and "Spank Him Mueller!"

Who's a shithole now?

Some pro-abortion signs, too

Several of these . . . 
As the clock ticked past 10AM, the crowd started to grow restless waiting for the march to begin. Finally, we spotted a group of mutineers, pushing their way back towards us from the front of the crowd.

“Everyone is gridlocked,” they reported and so were trying to find another route to City Hall. A few minutes later, I looked over my shoulder and saw people behind us starting to march toward Broadway. We quickly joined them and were on our way.

Marching down Broadway
Suddenly I forgot about being cold and was soon chanting along with the marchers. “What does democracy look like?” someone yelled. “THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!!” I screamed back and almost started crying with joy. It was truly wonderful.

We marched and fist-pumped our way down Broadway to City Hall. Even though this was not the planned route, Tim was happy to see several entrepreneurial street vendors selling bacon-wrapped hot dogs and so stopped to grab breakfast. Protesting, after all, can be hard work!

Grabbing breakfast from street vendor

Bacon-wrapped hot dog (gag!)
Thousands of people were already in front of City Hall by the time we arrived. We basked in the fellowship, took photos and then turned around to walk back down Broadway in search of restrooms. We missed the celebrity speakers—Olivia Munn, Natalie Portman, Viola Davis, et al.—but felt we had done our civic duty and so were now heading home. The lightrail was blissfully uncrowded.

Protesters at City Hall: "HISTORY IS HERSTORY"

Spotted on the way back home: Channel 7 news van with a
hand-scrawled note on pink paper, saying, "THIS IS WHAT 
DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!" No fake news here. 


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Throwback Nite at Disneyland

Sleeping Beauty Castle in pink and blue, just like the old days
When we were kids, it seemed like families visited Disneyland during the day, while evenings were just for adults and couples. In fact, the only time I remember going there after dark was "Grad Night," when I graduated from high school in 1971.

Taking advantage of the recent nostalgia craze for all things mid-20th-century, the resort has started a new series of evening events called "Disneyland After Dark"—named (I assume) after the 1962 World of Color episode where Walt showed us how much fun the park was at night. On TV, Annette Funicello sang on the Tomorrowland stage and Louie Armstrong played trumpet on the Mark Twain riverboat. All very exciting and magical.

This year's first "After Dark" event happened last Thursday and we, of course, were there. Marketed as "Throwback Nite," the evening promised to recreate, as much as possible, the early days of Disneyland, including original attraction posters and characters (the Blue Fairy!) and favorite 1950s/60s menu items, like mac & cheese, chicken pot pie, and dreamsicle beignets (gag!). They even staged "Fantasy in the Sky," the original 1958 fireworks show. Park visitors dressed in their dapper best—all petticoats and hats—and because it was a special ticket event, attendance was limited. Absolute heaven.

Plenty of photo ops in front of original attraction posters
But the best part for us: just like the "Disneyland After Dark" TV show, music was everywhere! The Dapper Dans barbershop quartet sang a cappella on Main Street, a small club combo entertained riders on the Mark Twain, a pair of female DJs played 50s/60s rock-n-roll records throughout the park, and a swing band blasted out hot dance tunes in front of it's a small world. So we pretty much danced the entire night away. Every time we started to leave, we'd get pulled back in by a toe-tapping song. At 11PM, we finally made it to the Main Street train station, only to stop and dance to Jerry Lee Lewis's "Great Balls of Fire!" broadcast over the park speakers. As you can see below, a Disney photographer loved our impromptu jitterbug and went crazy taking pictures of us dancing. Oh, what a night!

Excellent video of the night's festivities. You can (briefly) see us
dancing 4.38 mins into the video.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Griffith Park Zoo

Griffith Park Zoo, circa 1940s
I am not a fan of zoos, but I am a big fan of Los Angeles history. So we jumped at the chance to tour the Griffith Park Zoo, which predates the current L.A. Zoo, just two miles from its former location. Amazingly, neither of us had ever been to the old L.A. Zoo.

Opened in 1912, the original zoo was built alongside one of Griffith Park's many hillsides, within walking distance of the area's historic merry-go-round. Many of the animals were donated by the movie studios and local moguls, who either died or grew tired of their private zoos. As was typical in those days, the animals were kept in cages. More realistic "pit" habitats were eventually created in the 1930s as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. 

Despite the apparent popularity of the Griffith Park Zoo, the animals were not well treated and so a modern, more humane zoo was opened in 1966. The old zoo now serves as a free picnic and hiking spot and is mostly covered in colorful graffiti.

The first thing one sees: 1930s habitats, built by WPA workers

Larger animals would have been housed here

Picnic tables now occupy one of the "pits"

Another pit

Stairs the zookeepers would descend to feed the animals

Cages for smaller animals

Horrible . . .

Inside a graffiti-covered cage

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Modernica Props

With Charles Phoenix and his latest book,
Addicted to Americana
It's no secret that we love pop historian Charles Phoenix and so were thrilled to go to his most recent book launch at Modernica Props, a veritable museum of mid-century furnishings. I loved seeing Charles, but loved seeing all these wonderful artifacts even more!

Plastic tables—flower power, baby!

Walls of old tube TVs 

And colorful radios



What every office needs


My kind of kitchen

70s glasses

Formica tabletop design—can I please have a dress
in this pattern?

So many wonderful kitchen clocks, so little room

Just one of many showrooms

Wicker furniture

Spinning vinyl

Glorious lamps galore

Monday, December 18, 2017

El Pueblo de Los Angeles

As native Angelenos, we've been to Olvera Street and the surrounding El Pueblo many times. But we had never taken a formal tour and so were thrilled when the L.A. Historical Society offered a free member tour on a Thursday morning, two weeks ago. Oh, the joys of retirement!

Although officially developed by European settlers in 1781, the city of Los Angeles didn't truly take root until the the first decades of the 19th century. The oldest building in El Pueblo—and the oldest church in the city—is the Plaza Church. Constructed in 1818, it remains one of the most active Catholic parish churches in the western U.S.

Plaza Church

Other important buildings in El Pueblo include: the 1869 Pico House, the first modern hotel built in Southern California; the Old Plaza Firehouse, now a museum; the 1883 Plaza House; and the five-story Brunswig Building, which was the tallest retail/residential space in L.A. when it was built in 1888.

Pico House

Old Plaza Firehouse

Brunswig Building (left) and Plaza House (right)

Perhaps the most notable—and certainly most well-used—part of El Pueblo is the Plaza itself, which served for many years as the center of Los Angeles. Quite lively, especially on weekends, residents as well as tourists gather there for events year-round.

Plaza bandstand

One of four Morton fig trees that ring the Plaza

The Plaza is located a few blocks north of City Hall and directly south of Olvera Street, a block-long Mexican marketplace that was created in the 1920s as a tourist attraction. Olvera Street is also home to L.A.'s oldest residence, the Avila Adobe, built in 1818 for one of the area's first mayors. 

City Hall looming a few blocks away

A beautiful mural by children's book illustrator Leo Politi,
who lived close to El Pueblo

 Colorful wares on Olvera Street

Avila Adobe: dining room

Avila Adobe: the study

We had taken the train from Culver City and so ended our day back at the glorious Union Station, one of our favorite buildings in downtown L.A. Built in 1939, it is still the hub of all local transportation and a true architectural icon of Los Angeles.

Union Station, dressed up for the holidays

The grand waiting room