Sunday, November 30, 2008

Settings: Part 4

Vintage metal trailer... old world fountain... square cement tiles on a wood chip lawn... wrought iron gate...tree swing...

Okay, everyone. It's been a while since we've played this game but I can't resist with props like these.

Go ahead and channel your inner Fellini and tell me: if this were a scene for a movie, what would happen here?

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Everyone knows that Christmas lights start popping up this time of year, but the real light show is the one caused by the sun as it makes its winter progression south toward the Tropic of Capricorn. The change in declination -- Mother Earth's little shift in front of the big lamp -- turns the world into a giant shadow puppet show this time of year. Starting in August, when shadows start getting longer, and winding up in the long, long shade of the Winter Solstice, the sun offers spectacular mood lighting. Here, a couple of young women waited for the train at Mission Station. They paced back and forth. It was too lovely not to grab my camera.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Epic tree...

Joyce Kilmer wrote that he'd never seen a poem lovely as a tree. Well, if this one outside the library is a poem, it's one right out of Beowulf or possibly something by Homer. Look at that ferocious tangle of roots!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Sunny Forecast

Thunderstorms threw big, wet tantrums yesterday before retreating into a swirling, temperamental sky. I grabbed this shot out of my window as I drove down Huntington, coming back from the grocery store with my four bags of Thanksgiving bounty. Rain is such a blessing after so many dry months. During times of drought, it seems that Southern California -- this fragile desert paradise --might just evaporate into a mirage. But today, with its thirst quenched -- and every rose bush gleaming with raindrops -- it is rejuvenated. Thanks, rain!

There is so much to be grateful for today ... Thanksgiving groceries, the rain, the photogenic sky, the sweet joy of family, the ability to wax rhapsodic, or to complain, the tenacity of progress, the fact that humor almost always trumps melancholia, the sheer enormity of human potential and capacity for charity, the unwavering truth that light follows darkness and the knowledge that no matter how scary or uncertain life is -- it's also silly and stubborn and rooted in grace.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. The glass is most definitely half full. And after the rain, maybe even a little more than half.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Stormy Weather

The approaching storm yesterday afternoon created a wonderfully moody backdrop along Fair Oaks Avenue. I couldn't resist creating a little suspense with this high contrast black and white cloud noir...

(Actually, after the intense fires recently, rain is considered a potentially dramatic event. )

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Night Vision

I've always been fascinated by the way things look at night. If you gaze up at the sky (on a clear and moonless night away from the glare of city lights) you can see the hazy swath of our own Milky Way galaxy -- a blurry swoosh of the millions of stars that snuggle around a central black hole. We can be thankful for our rod cells—one of two types of photoreceptor cells in the retina -- that allow us to see by the fuzzy starlight of a dim night. The rod cells are blind to color and only work in very low light. The other type of photoreceptor cell -- the cone -- kicks into action when bright light is available, and is responsible for high acuity vision as well as color. My poor little rods and cones must wonder who is leading their dance as I prowl around in the wee small hours: wandering under bright street lights and then turning down a shadowy sidewalk...step, step, step, step, rod/cone/rod/cone... no wonder I get eye strain in the dark.

Which is why I love night photography. Unencumbered by something as limiting as biology, the camera sees nightscapes in a wholly different way. I think the camera captures night the way it looks in dreams. I don't recall this corner of Mission and Fair Oaks being quite this magical when I actually shot this picture. Or, maybe it was ... and I just needed the camera to reveal it to me.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Another brick in the wall

I couldn't resist a monochrome shot of a side of the old Baranger Studios building. You know the old saying about being up against a brick wall? It isn't so bad when the wall looks like this.

I still haven't managed to really capture the soul of this place in any of my pictures of it. But I keep trying...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Best of Times/Worst of Times

The macro view of the world focuses on crisis while the micro level brings happy views of comfort, fun and friends, of birthday parties and polka dot dresses, of backyard cookouts and big smiles -- the things that have always sustained people through stormy weather.

Lately, our shock-value media takes a grim and alarmist view of the world -- nattering daily about the burgeoning economic disaster like a sadistic doctor yelling, "this is going to REALLY HURT! And I mean REALLY REALLY BAD!!!" as he preps a patient for unavoidable surgery. How I wish for more wise and even-keeled journalists like Alistair Cooke, an Englishman who spent a lifetime reporting on the American experience. He was once described as a modern day Alexis de Tocqueville -- an outsider whose unique perspective offered insight into our nation's psyche.

"In the best of times," Cooke said decades ago, (when another era's people faced another disaster,) "our days are numbered anyway. So it would be a crime against nature for any generation to take the world crisis so solemnly, that it put off enjoying those things for which we were designed in the 1st place: the opportunity to do good work, to enjoy friends, to fall in love, to hit a ball, and to bounce a baby."

Or to toss stuffed animals in the air with a multicolored parachute. Life is good. (And when you get right down to it, happiness really isn't that expensive.)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fast food, financial crises and philosophy...

When Donald Trump fell on hard times in the mid nineties, he did it in a big way. Owing 900 million personally and 3.5 billion in business debt, the tycoon is famously said to have economized so brilliantly during his comeback that he "had McDonalds on speed dial." In the current maelstrom of crashing financial markets, it's not surprising that pundits are discussing examples of improbable financial comebacks, and retelling stories like Trump's to comfort and inspire a jittery business class. Although I understand the point, I've always questioned the validity of the Trump/McDonalds story -- why would anyone call a McDonalds, anyway? It's not like they deliver...

But sometimes I guess you have to see through the actual subject down to the beauty of the message. Photographs are like that too, right? Sure, on the surface this is just an ordinary picture of the McDonald's drive through on Fair Oaks... but aren't those primary colors beautiful in the morning light?

Art, success, reality ... I think the definitions are open to interpretation. It's all in how you look at things.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hot Rod

I couldn't resist grabbing a shot of this souped-up old Chevy truck in the OSH parking lot. (I was reminded of Alan Arkin in the 70s film The In-Laws as he exclaimed, "There are flames on my car! There are flames on my car!")

I love Southern California!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wine Styles

Talk about a cool town... South Pasadena has more than one great wine shop on Mission Street!

Wine Styles is dedicated to offering unique labels and hard to find wines at low prices. (Most bottle here are under $25.) Although Wine Styles feels like a one-of-a-kind boutique, it's actually part of a chain. The first Wine Styles opened in Coral Springs, Florida back in 2002, founded on the idea that wine shouldn't be the sole domain of snooty Frazier types -- that it should be brought down to earth and made more affordable and more fun. The company evolved into a network of 150 individually owned stores in 24 states, Puerto Rico and Mexico. I put this in the category of Whole Foods or Trader Joes -- all started out as neighborhood shops whose products and services were so good they ended up going nationwide.

In addition to the impressive number of unusual blends and classic varietals, Wine Styles also specializes in wine-related goodies and gadgets as well as fully customizable gift baskets. Shopping is easy for those of us who don't pour over copies of Wine Spectator -- here, taste "styles" are clearly marked -- are you feeling fruity or mellow? Bold or silky? Wine tasting and wine classes are also available.

(Here's a date night made easy: after you select your bottle, pick up a great movie at Videotheque -- it's right next door!)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Train of thought...

Ray Bradbury once said that "half the fun of the travel is the aesthetic of lostness." (And half the fun of Mission Station is getting lost in its aesthetic.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ad-libbed Lines

In an age of countless forms of visual enhancements that frost the real with a sugar-candy illusion (High def CGI, Photoshop, "reality" TV, Botox, plastic surgery, infotainment, the nightly news...) I'm drawn to the concept of lomography. Its genesis is somewhere in the many snapshots taken with the lowly 35mm LOMO LC-A Compact Automat Camera, produced by former Russian state-run optics manufacturer LOMO PLC of Saint Petersburg. Lomography's motto of "Don't think, just shoot" is the flipside of everything you ever learned in photography class. No need for image stabilization and polarizing filters -- just wave your camera and start clicking. It's the same kind of happy, spontaneous, unencumbered philosophy that inspired the French New Wave film movement, challenged artists to think outside of the purely representational and fueled free-thinking novelists to sidestep the rules established by the canon.

I know, I know... a lot of this is just a viral advertising scheme to get everyone who bought an expensive Canon digital SLR to throw down more bucks for a weird, low-tech camera. But let's take away the marketing tricks and just look at the idea...

Don't think, just shoot. Don't think, just shoot again. Forget setting up a frame or manipulating the light. Don't think, just shoot. Somewhere in this lighthearted approach you might discover wonderful little details of everyday life (sometimes literally) right under your feet.

Like here, for instance. Why had I never noticed the abstract beauty of the train tracks crossing Mission at Meridian in the late afternoon?

(Hat tip to my fellow Los Angeles photoblogger Kevin at The Jimsonweed Gazette for the inspiration to think -- and shoot -- outside the box.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Old Flame

I snapped this photo in September at the South Pasadena Cruz'n for Roses Classic Car Show. Back in the mid 19th Century, steam-powered fire engines like this were lauded as high tech marvels of the day.

No offense to this old beauty but I'm glad we've made progress in fighting fires.

Today, area firefighters continue their grueling and heroic work as much of Southern California burns. The fires extend over 34 square miles since breaking out on Thursday -- from Los Angeles County to the east in Riverside and Orange counties, and northwest in Santa Barbara County. Over 1000 homes have been destroyed, and more residents are being asked to evacuate despite calming winds.

The Pasadena Marathon was canceled due to poor air quality -- but "poor" doesn't begin to describe it. The nearby San Gabriel Mountain range that usually provides Pasadena and South Pas with such a beautiful backdrop was rendered invisible by a veil of thick smoke and ash. This is the first time in the 20 years I've lived in Los Angeles that the air was actually too bad to stay outside.

The Los Angeles Red Cross is already assisting victims, and Goodwill Southern California is coordinating donations of food, clothing, and other necessities. Meanwhile, we all watch, and worry, and wait, and hope for no wind and lots of rain.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Rest Stop

I've featured Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain several times before. It's easy to stop in and linger at this marvelous place -- it's a South Pas icon. Here's a full shot, looking across Mission at those cheerful awnings and grand old neon sign. These unusually hot November days are perfect for an ice cream soda or lemon phosphate.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Day-Ray Products, Inc.

"Since 1941," the website for Day-Ray Products, Inc. proclaims, "Day-Ray has partnered with airlines and manufacturers..." The overview continues, "Today we provide leading-edge technology and designs to meet the high demands of the modern aerospace industry."

All those advanced 21st Century solutions coming from a great old building that looks like the setting for an atomic age Twilight Zone episode or a film noir confrontation between Fred MacMurray and Barbra Stanwyck? I love it! The old Day-Ray sign is my favorite in South Pas ... well, maybe second favorite right after the wonderful neon sign for Gus's BBQ. (Incidentally, Gus's is right up the street from Day-Ray.) Even the name Day-Ray is right out of a Philip K. Dick version of the future.

Retro meets high tech... things like this make my inner nerd very happy.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Holy Family Catholic Church

The front of Holy Family Catholic Church is like most cathedral-style places of worship. It's lovely, ornate, traditional and not unusual in any way. But just take a look at what is on the other side of it! When I drove around back and saw this mural beaming into the dark night, I didn't think of the obvious bible quotations. The most famous, of course, is Matthew 19:14, "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me." And the most dreaded, oft-repeated quote I recall from my own Lutheran elementary school days was Proverbs 6:20, "Keep thy father's commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother." (I heard that one in the principal's office more than once.)

What lingered in my mind as I drove away was something Gandhi said: "If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children."

I must say, this is the most beautiful back parking lot I've ever seen. If you turn down the street between the high school and the church, you can't miss it. It's a stunning evening view ... this mural on one side of the road, and this glowing column on the other.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


The Argentine ultraist writer Jorge Luis Borges once said, "I cannot walk through the suburbs in the solitude of the night without thinking that the night pleases us because it suppresses idle details, just as our memory does."

It must be true... because I can't remember the cross street here on Oak where I snapped this picture. (Idle details...)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Shakers is a not so much a restaurant as it is a combination time warp/American archetype. Imagine a hybrid of Edward Hopper's Nighthawks and the diner where Honey Bunny and Pumpkin went crazy in Pulp Fiction. Throw in little details of every happy evening out to dinner with your parents in the 1970s -- complete with a little white porcelain container of crackers and breadsticks -- and you might get an inkling of what it's like at this legendary South Pasadena diner.

Several great local restaurants are owned and operated by the same family -- the quaint French bakery-inspired Wild Thyme (just down the street from Shakers,) Pasadena's sophisticated Central Park Cafe, Beckham --the cozy English pub and grill (also in Pasadena) and fifties-themed Diner on Main in Alhambra. Each is a local favorite, but none quite compete with the flat-out comfort and coolness of Shakers. Not poseur cool -- you know, like the kind of hipster nouveau diners that have a juke box turned into an aquarium, pop art retro advertising lithographs and a drink menu that includes a "Bogart Martini." I'm talking authentic cool. At Shakers, you half expect Dean Moriarty to walk in and sit down at the counter.

The food is yummy and affordable, the coffee is strong and the kid's menu comes with crayons and a coloring page. Come hungry, savor a meal of good, old fashioned favorites and be sure to take home a loaf of the famous zucchini bread.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day

Today is Veteran's Day -- a day that often slips by unnoticed due to a lack of fireworks displays and absence of a long holiday weekend with barbecue and football. I believe it is important to reflect on the importance of this day. So, indulge me in a look back at the history...

World War 1’s bloody campaign officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28th, 1919. The actual fighting, however, had stopped seven months earlier with a temporary ceasefire instituted on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. November 11th, 1918 is considered the actual end date of “The War to End all Wars.”

In November of the following year, President Wilson spoke the following words to a nation still reeling from the shock and devastation of such a brutal and protracted fight: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”

On Armistice Day in 1923, the ailing former president Wilson spoke again. He said, "The stimulating memories of that happy time of triumph are forever marred and embittered for us by the shameful fact that when the victory was won, be it remembered–chiefly by the indomitable spirit and ungrudging sacrifices of our incomparable soldiers–we turned our backs on upon our associates and refused to bear any responsible part in the administration of peace, or the firm and permanent establishment of the results of the war–won at so terrible a cost of life and treasure–and withdrew into a sullen and selfish isolation which is deeply ignoble because manifestly cowardly and dishonorable." Wilson continued, "There is at least one great and powerful nation which can turn away from programs of self­ interest and devote itself to practicing and establishing the highest ideals of disinterested service and the consistent maintenance of exalted standards of conscience and of right. The only way in which we can worthily give proof of our appreciation of the high significance of Armistice Day is by resolving to put self-interest away and once more formulate and act on the highest ideals and purposes of international policy. Thus, and only thus, can we return to the true traditions of America."

The next day, a cheering crowd of over 20,000 gathered outside Wilson's home to pay homage to the idealist, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and architect of the League of Nations.

In 1938, Congress approved an Act to make November 11th, Armistice Day, a legal holiday dedicated to the idea of world peace and the diplomatic resolution of conflict. In 1954, after World War II had organized, trained and deployed the greatest number of armed forces in our country’s history and also after the United States had fought in the Korean conflict, Congress amended the 1938 Act by renaming it Veteran’s Day. Thus, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

I join the rest of the country in and remembering the sacrifices of America’s 25 million veterans, and urging all to support the men and women who fight our wars.

May we move forward into a more peaceful future.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Best Fronds

Even after 20 years in the Los Angeles area, I am still awestruck and amused by our ubiquitous palm trees. Those of us who live here are trying to deny the news that a fungal disease is messing with our beloved palms, even though many specimens in Los Angeles county are already being replaced with oaks and sycamores. Every time I see new palms being planted -- their silly little topknots wrapped tight with rope, looking like giant paintbrushes stuck end down in the dirt --I smile and think, yeah, now that's the way it's supposed to be. I may be deluding myself but the many palms here in South Pas certainly look robust and healthy.

It doesn't make sense that anything as pedestrian as a fungal infection could vanquish a symbol of triumph. The palm branch represented victory and regeneration in ancient times. Romans awarded palm branches to athletic champions and victorious gladiators. A measly fungal infection? It can't dare compete with the winning vigor of a proud palm tree. And certainly not here. Heck, the motto of University of Southern California is Palmam qui meruit ferat -- Latin for "Let him bear the palm who deserves it."

I can think of someone who deserves a palm branch right about now...

When my mom was a little girl growing up in the tropical Rio Grande Valley of Texas, she actually tried to climb a palm tree by shimmying up the trunk. She managed to get up fairly high before she fell smack dab on her back. (I come from a long line of crazy women.) But after she fell, she got right back up. (And probably tried to do it again.) In that gleeful, optimistic spirit... this picture is for you, Mom! Feel better very soon.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Another night at the library...

"So the America I loved still exists," Kurt Vonnegut said in 2004, "if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries."

And the library I love, here in South Pas, deserves yet another monochrome portrait, as it twinkles in the night...

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Attention cinephiles, wannabe filmmakers and couch potatoes with great home theater systems: this place is heaven on earth. Welcome to Videotheque, the San Gabriel Valley's hippest, coolest, most extensive source for rare, classic, indie, cult, documentary, foreign and all-around-groovy film rentals. If you saw it in film school, at a midnight show or on the Sundance Channel -- you can find it at Videotheque. But not to worry, if the director's cut of Reservoir Dogs or 15 straight hours of Bergman just doesn't do it for you, there are always new releases and old favorites to choose from. (Go ahead -- get a Bollywood double feature, The Criterion Edition of Jules and Jim, a documentary on Chernobyl, a Wim Wenders retrospective, Reefer Madness and still manage to bring home Shrek for the kids!) Don't fret if one of your favorite old films has still not been released on DVD ... because Videotheque probably has it available on VHS.

In addition to the extraordinary kid-in-a-candy-store selection of rentals, the store offers DVDs for sale, too. And -- oh rapturous joy -- Videotheque will buy used DVDs for cash or store credit. All this, plus it's across the street from Busters (and just steps from the Gold Line train platform.)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Punk love

From the first time my bewildered parents insisted I only listen to The Clash in the house while wearing headphones, I've known about the power of punk to irritate and often alienate. And I know it is and always has been about being aggressively anti-establishment, often nihilistic, stripped of excess and bombast while sneering at all sentimentality and attachment...

Unless you're these two, whose joyful, sparkly, romantic vibe at the train station was so infectiously happy I couldn't help but stare (and obnoxiously snap a picture.) That's South Pas for ya. Even the punk kids are straight out of Frank Capra!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Here comes another one...

I came across yet another great vintage car the other day. (I'm beginning to think I attract these things!) Maybe this is just South Pasadena's leitmotif.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Here in South Pasadena, it's easy to be lulled into a false sense of idyllic security: beautiful surroundings, safe neighborhoods, great schools, art and architecture, culture and recreation, and a diverse community intent on preserving what we have for future generations to enjoy.

We're extremely fortunate, and luckier than a lot of other people sharing this planet.

You'll all forgive me a rare lapse into my own personal politics, but here's my heartfelt wish for President-elect Obama and his new administration: that through their work, more people will have a chance to enjoy the good life. That change and hope are not just beautiful nouns to hypnotize an electorate but action items to build a better country. That the trusted ideals of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and not the tarnished fantasies of Milton Friedman inspire new plans to benefit workers as well as shareholders. That our fragile planet's ecology receive more thoughtful solutions than Cap and Trade. That women's rights be a top priority, not just a tool for voter manipulation, and that equal pay for equal work become a reality, not just a forgotten slogan from the 1970s. That not only our children but the children in Iraq, and Afghanistan, and Gaza, and Iran, and all other regions lashed raw by violence (or awaiting a strike) will have reason to believe that America is a land of peacemakers and reformers, of fairness and humility, of innovation and collaboration, of accountability and honor, of tolerance and charity.

It's a tall order, I know. But something tells me these are extraordinary times...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Swing Vote

It's election day. Once again, in this basically half blue/half red nation, our presidential race depends on the ever-mysterious, somewhat capricious swing voters. And once again --just like we've been told in virtually every other presidential race prior to this one --we are told that this is the most important presidential race of our lifetime.

Regardless of our own particular blue, red or purple hue, I think we can all agree that it will be nice for the current occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to pack up and GET OUT. Whether our new president turns out to be the thoughtful Constitutional scholar who inspired a movement or the intense former soldier intent on bipartisan reform, we can celebrate the fact that each of us is endowed with the right to cast a vote and be counted. (Diebold machines notwithstanding...)

While the presidential race has dominated the news, I am actually more interested in the local races and measures on ballots all over the country. Despite the spin, I find most of the final stage presidential candidates in our current duopoly to be far more similar than different -- regardless of party. But as a lifetime political junkie and activist, I see so much potential on the state and local level. New faces are emerging in Congressional and local positions. Initiatives and propositions have been introduced that can greatly affect the lives of millions. Sure, the Obama/McCain show has all the star power and grabs the big headlines-- but quietly, behind the scenes, local elections can make a difference on so many levels in cities all over the country -- and in the future legislation passed by our Congress. I'm inspired by those who work so tirelessly to better their own communities and represent their neighbors. Equally, I'm horrified at the small-mindedness of some who work just as hard to hurl boulders into the river of real progress.

But mostly, I'm just honored and proud to be an American today, and be able to join in the process of my country's government. It's flawed, and sometimes corrupt, and all too often removed from the ideals behind the phrase "We the People." But it's also inspirational and revolutionary and made even better when we all participate in it.

Get out and vote, everybody. And regardless of who wins, here's to a more perfect union.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Look out!

Bellini Children's Furniture is the go-to shop for practical, beautifully designed cribs and changing tables, as well as toy chests, mirrors, desks, armoires and any number of other pieces for a child's room. I'm sure this message in the window was intended to be playful, but it always triggers weird stuff in my imagination...

Anyone else?

Sunday, November 2, 2008


You'll forgive me a little John Milton. I hardly recall his verses, but while waiting for this train to pass, bits of the following poem also passed through my mind:

"Sweet the coming on
Of grateful evening mild; then silent night
With this her solemn bird and this fair moon,
And these the gems of heaven, her starry train."

I know, I know, Milton was using metaphor. But on this particular evening mild and silent night, it looked for all the world to me like a starry train...

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Today is the first of the month, and that means it's Theme Day for those of us who belong to the City Daily Photo blogging community. This month's theme is Books, which is a candy/Christmas/winning-the-lottery/finding-the-fountain-of-youth/everybody-gets-a-pony kind of theme for me, given the fact that I am a complete and unabashed bookworm.

When we moved into our house last year, the previous owners left us a small stack of books about South Pasadena. Today's picture comes from a South Pas city guide from 1904. Most of Los Angeles paved paradise, replaced orange groves with strip malls and freeways, and surrendered much of its history to stay ever-new. South Pasadena, however, has held fast to a principle of preservation. When I thumbed through this book, I was struck with how South Pasadena retains much of the charm, close community and small-town delight those city planners wrote about 104 years ago. If someone stumbles upon an old copy of this blog in another 100 years, I hope he or she has a similar experience.

Make sure to check out the varied Theme Day posts by other city photo bloggers (and book lovers) around the planet.