Good Morning

I’ve been walking to work about once a week lately, which is worth mentioning since it’s a little farther than two miles.  Obviously, I haven’t been doing it for the time efficiency; rather, with my work having been so pedestrian focused as of late, I’ve adapted this form of transportation to more parts of my life in attempts to practice a bit of my preaching.  And, of course, it gives me the illusory feeling of being in a big city, one for which I’ve hungered since leaving Rome.  On this particular day, I had left the house later than usual, and as I came upon a certain intersection, I spied a somewhat familiar sight.

He was a white-haired gentleman likely in his eighties.  Wheelchair-bound, I could always count on him to be parked on the sidewalk in front of his apartment building, black leather jacket on despite all weather conditions and a cigarette hanging placidly out of the corner of his mouth.  I usually only saw him as I biked past at this hour and was secretly pleased to now be able to get a close-up look at one of the characters in my commute.

He had his back turned toward me as I walked up, and so as not to startle him, I passed in front of him before unleashing my excitement.

“Good morning!”

I had startled him anyway.  “Good morning,” he repeated, voice a little raspy.

And that’s all.  I smiled and continued on my way as he continued with his cigarette.  However, with the encouragement of that first greeting, in that two mile walk, I passed through six neighborhoods of vastly different demographics and exchanged 14 “Good Morning”s with a real sampling of the Long Beach community–with chatty crossing guards, busy gardeners, young folks and old.  No commitments had been made, no friendship offered, no privacy sacrificed–yet, basic human connections had been realized.  And it really made my morning.

It’s convenient to isolate oneself even when so close to strangers–to roll up our windows and pretend that we live in a box.  But if we’d each just reach out, just enough to acknowledge each other’s existence, we’d have everything to gain from it…even if it’s only a more enjoyable walk.  Go on, see for yourself.

(Helder Santana via Flickr)
(Helder Santana via Flickr)

 

Good Morning

Drought Fight

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.

Cachuma Lake (PatsPics36 via Flickr)

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.

Drought Fight

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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Next Stop: Dream Job

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.

Restore Pershing Square!

“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.

Pan Dulce (John.Fisch, Flickr)
Pan Dulce (John.Fisch, Flickr)
“What’s the good news?”

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 (San Clemente Patch)
Long Beach Sharrows (San Clemente Patch)

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.

Home, Sweet Home

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.

(DianeRocks, Flickr)
(DianeRocks, Flickr)
Meet Bella