Drought Fight

rock-mulch

The drought: hot topic of the summer as its effects slowly make themselves felt.  For me, although we’ve tightened up our water usage for a while now, I’ve only begun to actually see the consequences as of late.

While camping in Cachuma Lake this past weekend, I climbed down into what seemed like a rock quarry before reaching the lakeside.  Two thirty-foot walls of white rock cascaded down on either side of me.  It was obviously not a designated hiking trail, and the “missing” water was blindingly apparent.

Then today, at an outdoor meeting with the Health Department, the woman I met with pointed out the City’s new means of landscaping: mulch mounds.

“It’s a bit unsightly, but they aren’t watering the landscape anymore.  They’re basically letting everything under the mulch just die.”

I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I didn’t understand the extent of the drought until now.  It hadn’t yet touched my little life here in Long Beach.  But here it is, staring at me with eyes of rock and mulch and asking, begging, for a fight.

You can report water waste here or call the Long Beach water waste hotline at 562.570.2455.  I’ve done this twice already, through email and phone, with ease and anonymity.

 

Next Stop: Dream Job

This past month or so has been quite a blur:  I resigned from my first professional job, which brought an onslaught of emotion; and I also landed what I suspect might be my dream job–which has presented some fascinating reflections.

I’ve started a Designer position with City Fabrick, a nonprofit design studio that promotes all forms of urbanism within the Long Beach community.  We design, we advocate, we write, we advise–all in the name of creating a healthier, safer, and better quality of life.  The thought of my work here makes me giddy.

The overriding emotion, however, is one of commencement.  In just these past eight days, I’ve already participated in two meetings with city planning, met more than one dozen Long Beach community members, and have been charged with leading the studio’s effort on pedestrian planning.  I’ve also set my own schedule, made my own task lists, and given my opinion on matters both foreign and familiar.  The sudden freedom and trust has emboldened me, and I’ve been made adult.

Read more about my work with City Fabrick:

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Restore Pershing Square!

Calling all Angelinos and Urbanists:  Sign this petition to help restore Pershing Square as our central park.  As I write this, only 234 more signatures are needed!

Prior to the 1950’s:  A Lush and Inviting People-space

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After the 1950’s, including the 1990s redesign:  An Isolated, Concrete Desert

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You can read more on KCRW’s Which Way, LA? blog and the Los Angeles Times website.

“What’s the good news?”

I can usually count on a certain supervisor of mine to greet me with this particular question.  Despite how often it’s posed, I am almost always caught off-guard and almost certain to offer a standard response.

Yesterday morning however, I greeted him with some wildly good news:

“Joe [my husband] dropped his wallet while biking to work this morning, and a father and son returned it to us.”

Truly incredible.  While biking to the Metro yesterday morning, my husband’s wallet fell out of his pocket and onto the street.  While reaching for his Metro pass, he realized in horror that it was all gone and had retraced his steps with no luck.  Returning home, he dejectedly told me the story and then took the morning off with plans to get a new driver’s license at the DMV.

As soon as he left, however, an unfamiliar truck rolled to a stop in front of our house.  I was standing on the steps, preparing to bike to work.  An older Hispanic man hopped off of the truck, followed by a young one.  Glancing hesitantly back and forth between me and our house, the younger man waved a small object at me.

“Did you lose this?”

What joy!  What absolute relief.  Gratefulness overcame me for the moment, and I wordlessly embraced each of them.

Frank and Manuel were their names.  Manuel, the father, had found the wallet while stopping at a bakery on 10th Street.  I’m sheepish now that I didn’t offer them any reward other than my thanks, but I often remember their good deed, and I hope that karma will repay them in kind.

Manuel had found the wallet while stopping at a bakery on 10th Street

Home, Sweet Home

Well, it has been about a year since I’ve taken my writing (typing) pen out.  I am married now, and my last name is officially not Tran anymore, but I think I’ll keep it like that on here for a while longer.  Maybe.

The last ten (?) or so months have been quite full–full of love, full of life, full of new and old joys.  I’m not sure where I was in the planning of this the last time I wrote, but last September, I decided to move out of my mom’s house and into my first place of my own.  I chose downtown Long Beach, somewhere between 8 and 10 minutes walking from my office, upstairs from a coffee shop in a former naval hotel.  Not a bad kind of life, I’ll tell you, walking a few minutes to and from home to get everywhere you need to be.  It was my way of liberating myself from the stink of suburban Southern California, and though it lasted only six months’ time, I cherished every day of my little European life.

In thinking about a place of my own, I began to think of the meaning of “home.”  Yes, it is sweet, and yes, it is where the heart lies.  But why is that?  What is it exactly about a place that causes us to bestow such affections upon it?

I began this train of thought a couple of weeks ago.  My husband and I had just moved into our first apartment after our nuptials and were in the midst of unpacking.  Although no longer walking distance from work, I had moved only a couple miles to east Long Beach.  He had gone somewhere on that Saturday morning, and as it was the first weekend in months that was devoid of any wedding business, I made some coffee and peeked out upon our new world.

Long Beach, California.  What do I love about it?

The people here share.

Share the streets, share the parks, share the public realm.  After having lived here for almost a year, I can now easily pick out the Long Beach visitors from the residents.  When driving, for example, the visitors feel uncomfortable and especially angry at having to weave around the bus, bike, and pedestrian who are all somehow taking up the right-most lane of traffic.  The residents, however, just make their way around the obstacles, even using the center turning lane to make it work.  Living gets tight sometimes, but Long Beach residents are space efficient like that.  Congestion in this form, “is often a symptom of success” (John Norquist, CNU).

Long Beach Sharrows

Long Beach Sharrows

The city has “good bones.”

In a lunch conversation on my very first day of work, I remember asking my colleague why he thought that Long Beach was such a vibrant city.  He responded in architectural lingo, saying, “Long Beach just has good bones.”  That is, unlike many newly developed cities and towns, Long Beach has a true city street grid, with blocks that are small enough to promote walking and other forms of urban life.  This gives future development, and re-development, a much-needed foundation on which to build.

Say that the average person takes twenty minutes to walk one mile or 5, 280 feet.  If your city block is only 300 feet square, think of how many directions and places a person can go in those twenty minutes.  Think of how many types of buildings and uses can have street frontage.  But if your city block is 5,280 feet square…it’s pretty likely that for the next twenty minutes, a pedestrian is limited to that single direction in which he or she started.  And it’s pretty likely that the buildings and uses are farther and fewer.

“…Summertime, and the livin’s easy”

Sublime isn’t the only one who has said that life in Long Beach is “easy”–my boss, who has lived here since the 1980s, also told me this one day.  “I really like Long Beach.  It’s just…easy.  It’s got everything you need, all in one place…even an airport.”

And so I’ve discovered for myself.  There’s more art, music, and food–and life–here than I know what to do with.

Meet Bella

Bella.  She’s my 2002, Intensa Blue Pearl, 5-Speed, Lexus IS-300.  Dream car since the eighth grade.  Searched high and low for her throughout Southern California when my family decided that I needed a more reliable car to take with me to college.  Bought her beat-up and modified beyond recognition and have been returning her to her original condition ever since.  I’ve repainted her rims, replaced her floor mats, replaced her center caps, replaced her tires, replaced her battery, replaced her cold-air intake, changed her oil, Seafoamed her engine and crank case, and have hand-washed, clay-barred, waxed, and polished her regularly, and with only the best products, since she has been mine.

In college, I used to hose her down once a week without fail during the winter so as to keep the salt from corroding her undercarriage.

I once slept in my car, refusing to leave her to go home with my friends after leaving a bar too intoxicated to drive.  And it was by no means a safe neighborhood.

And she has always had 91 octane gas, if not better.  Always.

As you can see, I love her.  She’s my beautiful beast, and until yesterday, nothing had changed.

I gave her a wash yesterday, and with sadness, it dawned on me that I no longer fervently loved to take care of her.  Why?  I asked myself.  And as I write this, I am still figuring it out.

It is a combination of things.  With my knowledge of urbanism continuing to expand, I have wholeheartedly begun to celebrate the pedestrian way of life.  This is the feeling of growing excitement you have as you walk through any outdoor market or festival: the energy, activity, and laughter of others permeates the air and beckons you to share in it.  “What’s that crowd over there?  Someone performing?  Let’s look!”  “What’s that wonderful smell?  Oh, he’s roasting chestnuts!”  Even outdoor shopping centers, like the Block at Orange or Bella Terra can recreate that feeling, that connection with people.  And sadly, Bella and her kind do not share in this sort of life.

The Metro as well, I think, has un-romanticized the private automobile for me.  I use Bella very sparingly, partly to save gas but mostly because I have found that I don’t need her.  The public bus and public train are so convenient for me, that I drive only two out of five weekdays, sometimes two out of all seven days a week.

I don’t think I love her any less, but rather, I see her in a different light.  The romantic view of her as an icon, as part of my identity on the street, is gone.  I now love her and appreciate her for what she is: a vehicle.  My fiance and I have talked about selling one of our cars after we’re married, and I should’ve realized something in me had changed when I volunteered to let Bella go without much hesitation.  It makes sense–she’s beautiful but…we wouldn’t need her.  And at 17-18 mpg, she’d cost a small fortune more than his Corolla.

It is always a moment for pausing when you realize that your priorities in life have played musical chairs on you.  When did this happen?  When did I begin to actually consider letting someone else wash and detail her?  When did I stop associating myself with the type of vehicle I drove?

I will still fill her up with premium gas.  I will still turn off the AC as I go up a hill and will still warm up the car before I drive.  But when I do hand over her keys…I think I’ll smile and be okay, and I’ll look forward to a more people-centric way of life.

A carne asada burrito, please.

There is something about bus stops that encourages people to tell their stories.  You can see this phenomenon in movies–Forrest Gump, for example, begins as he retells his whole life’s story to different strangers who come and go at the stop’s bench.  And you know, I think we all recognize it not only as a story-telling place where it’s acceptable to share your day with complete strangers, but also as a listening place, a place where it’s also okay to just sit and listen.

I experienced a bit of this story-telling magic on a late afternoon last week.  Instead of taking my car to the train station that morning, I had jumped on the bus in efforts to avoid the soon-to-be-full parking lot.  I had however, missed the last bus home that evening and was waiting for my mom to pick me up.  Tired, I made my way to one of the benches and plopped down to wait.

A man was already sitting there, wearing the strangest of outfits (and that’s saying a lot when you see a good sampling of people riding the train every day).  It reminded me of a baby suit–you know, a baby “one-sie”, where you have to put the feet in first and then pull it up, shove the arms in, and then zip up the front.  His was all black, and made of the same kind of material of those paper blankets they give you when you’re getting that annual physical checkup at the Doc’s.

“Cold, huh?”  He said to me after a few minutes of silence.

“Yeah,” I said, nodding.  I was not in the mood for chatting.

“You just come from work?”  He continued.

“Yeah.”

“Where at?”

“Long Beach.”  I hesitated.  Did I really want to open up this potential can of worms?  Something about him seemed…okay though.  After a long pause, I asked, “What about you?”

“Me?”  He laughed.  “I just got out of jail, just like an hour ago.”

OH.  Well that explains the outfit, I guess.  Wow.  Having grown up in your typical suburban pleasantville, this was my first ever encounter with any sort of “criminal.”  I was surprised to find my feelings as normal as ever–not shocked, not suspicious, and most importantly, not scared.

“How does it feel?”  I asked.

“Out here?  Man, it feels good.”

“How long were you in there?”

“Two months.  Some guys though, three years.”

“What did you miss most about being out here?”  At this point, he had my full attention.

“The food.  We had peanut butter and jelly, for every meal, every day.  I won’t touch no peanut butter now, no way.  And we had to sleep on wooden benches, hard like this bench.  It’s going to be nice to be in a bed.  And I’m tired of showering with other guys.”

I laughed.  “What’s your first meal going to be?”

“Carne asada burrito!”  He said immediately.

“Those are soo good!”  Connection made.  This young man, though scruffy and garbed in an accusing prison uniform, was a goddamn normal person.  “So what are you going to do now?”  I asked.

“Well I know how to drive a fork-lift.  So I’m gonna get me a fork-lifting job tomorrow.”

“Oh, wow, okay.  That’s good, right?”

“Yeah.  Always work.  Keep you from gettin’ mixed up with the wrong crowd.  That’s what I’m gonna do, always work.”

“Do you have any family around here?”

“Yeah, a sister.  Gonna go see her tomorrow.”

I nodded, and we paused and sat in silence.  What an interesting conversation, I thought to myself.  I marveled at how normal he was–just another human being who cares about family, good food, and getting by.  I asked for his name before he got on his bus.

“Jerry, with a J”, he said.  We shook hands, and he waved from the window–like a scene from a movie, I know.

“Good luck!”  I yelled after him.

Oh, the magical bus stop.  Where else can one learn to connect with those with lives so unfamiliar to us, but in a good ol’ public place?  A place that truly belongs to all–from corporate business execs, to students, to parents and their fussy children, to homeless men and women.  A place that bridges each other’s worlds and quiets racial stereotypes, simply by its very nature of inclusion.  For what, you ask?  To lessen that dark, four-letter F word that drives segregation and hate:

Fear.