July 15, 2004

How I Spent My Summer Vacation (So Far)

Spent a good while visiting family in Southern California in June and July, which was a lot of fun.

I had a chance to visit the gallery my brother runs in Los Angeles’ Chinatown. It’s called Oulous Repair Shop, and I really like what he’s done so far. The web page for the gallery doesn’t actually list the address, which is 945 Chung King Road.

Speaking of which, he’s trying to put together material for a show sometime this fall on fringe technological designs. He’s been writing a few scientists to see if they receive and keep letters or inquiries from fringe inventors or technologists, both to try and get names of people to contact and to see if he can gather together any sketches or visual material that were included in such inquiries. If you’ve got any ideas or sources of possible material, contact him at xing@oulous.com .

I also spent a bit of time at my mother’s store, Mixt, which is in the Rivera Village shopping district in Redondo Beach, 1722 South Catalina. It’s a great place—she’s got a nice mix of little doo-dads and very interesting high-end craftwork.

Los Angeles as a whole still puzzles me. I like it (and California as a whole) a lot better than I did when I was a surly teenager. In fact, some of Southern California’s best features are tailor-made for the middle-aged: good food, good booze, great weather, easy living. It’s a tough place to live if you don’t have money—the housing market there now staggers me, after two decades on the East Coast.

One of the interesting things about LA to me now is that it seems to me that the ceaseless reworking of its built landscape has slowed somewhat. I remember a period from about 1980 to 1995 or so when I would visit and find that the retail and residential landscape had shifted once again within a very short time frame. We’d go to places where there had never been houses and lo! Giant developments sprawling as far as the eye could see, people moving in who were facing daily commutes of two hours in each direction. You’d go back to a mall or neighborhood with stores you liked and they were all gone. There are areas which are still very much in flux, but a lot of things seem to me since 1995 or so to have been much more static across the core of the LA Basin. Maybe I’m wrong—it’s hard to know when you only visit twice a year or so. My brothers often have pointed out that there's much more visible, physical history to California's built landscape than most people, including locals, think.

It also seems to me that high-end food retail nationwide has caught up somewhat with California—it’s much easier now around us to find very good produce and meats, and quintessentially California businesses like Trader Joe’s are now national (though I think Trader Joe’s is going to be very hard-pressed to maintain anything close to its traditional quality/price ratio at its present rate of expansion).

But even with overdevelopment, pollution, crowding, traffic and the like, I’m pretty hard-pressed to think of anywhere on the East Coast that has the attractive mix of weather and landscape that a number of California cities do, including Los Angeles. I just can't work up enthusiasm for East Coast beaches or East Coast mountains in comparison. My Dad, who was born in California, always used to say whenever the Rose Bowl was on, showing people playing football on a sunny day to the rest of a miserably cold nation, “Well, here comes another 50,000 assholes”.