Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Everyday Wonder

I love the stretch of Hawthorne that runs along the train tracks. Most of the time it's just a quiet, small town road. At sunset, however, it transforms into a lacy study of color and light. Just look at the leafy silhouettes, the relics of our wired world and that MGM technicolor backdrop of a sky!

I know, I know. They're just trees, telephone poles and clouds. (But aren't they grand?)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dressed Down

I spotted this gorgeous candy-apple confection the other day. But where are the hubcaps? It's like a great dress with no shoes! Still, the old girl is fetching in her bare feet...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Beautiful Decay

I'm glad South Pas hangs on to so much of its old stuff. Take this alleyway, for example. A fresh coat of paint and a new garage door would suffocate the soul of this old building. New isn't always better. In fact, new is a construct that can create insecurity, competition and greed. But entropy? It's comfy in its inevitability. Even the word sounds like poetry.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Settings: Part 17

I can't help it. I always see a place as a potential setting for a movie scene and this unusual entryway is no exception. River rock! Wrought iron! A flag! Come on, people ... if you were directing this film, what would happen here?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Canvassing the Neighborhood

Painters have descended! Rational deduction would lead us to conclude they are gearing up for the California Art Club's upcoming Plein Air exhibition: South Pasadena, City of Trees. But maybe it's just a sign that South Pas as muse brings out the Renaissance creative type in all of us no matter how we choose to express it. (Painting, making music, riding a unicycle, dancing on the sidewalk, kickboxing...)

Friday, September 25, 2009


The ee cummings-worthy sign on the door, as nebulous as it is descriptive, is just one of the reasons I love this place. (And no, there's no men's entrance. This is it.) It's on Fair Oaks in the middle of town, not far from the more zen-like sanctuary of Mission Street Yoga. Sure, kundalini energy is nice and all, but I'm happy to know that if things get too overwhelming, I'm just a hop, skip and a jump (or maybe a kick) away from some serious grrrrl-fighting expertise.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Fall Foliage, South Pas Style

I am fairy certain this is not what author Judith A. Lindberg had in mind when she wrote:

A tangerine and russet cascade
Of kaleidoscopic leaves
Creates a tapestry of autumn magic
Upon the emerald carpet of fading summer.

Nevertheless, bougainvillea and hibiscus thrive in the extreme heat of recent weather. (As you can see, the colors of autumn are different in Southern California.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Keep Clear

When the warning lights flashed at the intersection I cut the engine, adjusted the camera settings, opened the sun roof and used the top of the car for an impromptu tripod.

(It was a lucky shot.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Auto Pilot

South Pas certainly has a lot of vintage cars, but yesterday Mission Street was literally bumper to bumper with them. The 5th annual Cruz'n for Roses Hot Rod and Classic Car Show filled up the old section of Route 66 with hundreds of gas-guzzling works of art. The yearly festival promotes South Pasadena's Rose Parade float -- the oldest self-built float in the Tournament of Roses.

It was a photographer's dream of color and chrome, and wouldn't you know it? Your faithful blogger missed all of it, having spent most of the day in Beverly Hills.

Still, this fantastic lowrider lingered on El Centro late in the day, kindly posing for a portrait and allowing me to save face. (For a better idea of the festival, here's my shot from last year's show.) If any of you took pics, feel free to link to them in comments.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Or maybe they just always wanted a second story bedroom...

This is turning into a series...

So, the accountant/endocrinologist from yesterday's post must have a grandmother who lives across town in this house. And maybe the story goes something like this:

For years Grandpa must have wondered why Granny was so distant, so unreachable ... until he found the box on the top shelf of her closet. It was the one with all those pictures of a young Granny next to Johnny Weissmuller on the set of a Tarzan movie. She'd been a contract studio player then, an aspiring starlet, and she gave it all up to marry Grandpa.

He would finally show her that he understood her. After all these years, he'd be the man she always wanted! And thus ... the hammock. Placed (with great love) high in the trees of a little suburban jungle.

That's the best I've got. My other explanation involved pole vaulters. Anyone else want to take a crack at figuring out why this hammock is 7 feet off the ground?

Friday, September 18, 2009

In the Swing of Things

Hmmmm. I just can't help but speculate on the backstory here. Dig this:

Perhaps the homeowner always wanted a tree swing when he was a boy but his parents never let him have one. So he vowed that when he had little ones of his own he would give them everything he never had. But the children never came, and the tree kept growing, so the man kept changing out the rope, year after year, hoping that maybe someday...

No, that's too depressing.

Maybe the owner is a hardworking, well-respected professional -- an accountant or endocrinologist -- and he always says the same thing when people ask about the swing. "Came with the house," he laughs. "Just can't bear to take it down." But late at night, after he's put away the suit and the Blackberry, after the rest of the neighborhood has gone to sleep, he becomes a secret trapeze artist, flying brilliantly over the street in the wee small hours, lit only by moonbeams, porch lamps, and the glowing passion of the insomniac widow next door who watches from her kitchen window...

But then again, I tend to idealize. It's just a swing, right?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

When the city sleeps...

As I was adjusting the camera settings and setting up my tripod to shoot an isolated night image of the Station Lofts, I heard the faint but unmistakable sound of Green Day's Boulevard of Broken Dreams playing somewhere nearby.

Then, this guy walked into the shot.

Nice touch, serendipity!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Settings: Part 16

Oh, be careful now my little noir babies... I've been traipsing around after reasonable bedtimes, capturing shadowy possibilities and twinkly lights on cracked pavement that is so very like the broken dreams of those who just might be lurking in the darkness. Who are they? What are they doing there? Are they just figments of your faithful photog's classic film-fueled imagination?

They are?

In that case, indulge me once again. If this were the setting for a scene in a film, what would happen here?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

After Dark

Why do I love prowling around South Pasadena at night with a camera? Because even the Rite Aid parking lot looks pretty when lit by dappled moonlight and streetlamps...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Classic Stories

South Pasadena's historic old mansions exude a kind of early 20th Century literary quality. Can you sense it? There is a narrative to these homes. They read like pages out of America's personal memoir.

Or maybe I just tend to romanticize things.

Still, it's hard not to think of The Great Gatsby when I look at a place like this.

There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and he champagne and the stars.

Can't you just imagine it in this house, too?

On week-ends his Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city between nine in the morning and long past midnight, while his station wagon scampered like a brisk yellow bug to meet all trains. And on Mondays eight servants, including an extra gardener, toiled all day with mops and scrubbing-brushes and hammers and garden-shears, repairing the ravages of the night before...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Saturday, September 12, 2009

"Streets that follow like a tedious argument..."

Don't ask me why, but T.S. Eliot's Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock came to mind when I was taking this picture. These lines, actually:

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question ...
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”

Friday, September 11, 2009

Perfect Match

Chance is a great art director. (Either that, or this guy really strives to blend in!)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Paying Attention...

I pass this fire hydrant a lot. It's on the sidewalk near Orange Grove Park. You might just walk right by and never notice the Tiffany box blue top, flecked with rust and age (and stories, no doubt, because all old things have stories) and even if you noticed, you might not really look at it because, after all, who stops to look at fire hydrants?

Well, I guess I do.

And I'm glad, too, because isn't it grand? It's nice to come across a perfect rose or a spectacular sunset. Sure, those beautiful things delight ... but they don't necessarily surprise. I think it's much more cool when something ordinary sneaks up on you with a loveliness you never expected.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


The late afternoon light that falls on the earth this time of year makes ordinary things appear magical. When I saw this glowing palm frond, I grabbed my camera. I kept thinking, there should be a poem to accompany this... it really needs a poem...

But the more I looked at it the more I realized that it was a poem. All by itself.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Lovely little details...

I'm still on a quest for color -- but today, I'll add a bit of texture. I could go on and on about the beauty and craftsmanship of these old brick buildings but I'll save it for another post. After all, it's Labor Day!

Sunday, September 6, 2009


The Station Fire has turned much of our beloved San Gabriel mountainside into a black and white moonscape. I need color to bring me back down to earth. Here, an impossibly pink bougainvillea flirts with a row of green cactus against an old red brick wall.

When I took this picture, I kept marveling at the fact that almost everything grows here with little effort. This region is a botanical wonderland. I'm not just talking about landscaping or tended gardens. On every hillside you'll find sprawling native grasses, chaparral, blooms and reeds. You can't walk past a crack in the sidewalk without stumbling over a patch of clover or collection of wildflowers. It's fertile here. Things grow.

The ravaged mountains will grow back, too.

UPDATE: 11:40AM An upper hand: fire 51% contained as of today. Battle continues: blaze jumped firebreak over Angeles Crest Highway and is moving toward Juniper Hills and Littlerock. Fire has burned a quarter of our national forest.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Doors of Perception

After a week of grey days and amber nights, I've gone in search of color. Bright color. Color not muted by smoke or covered in ash. I've written about the therapeutic effects of color before, and when I saw the ridiculously wonderful blue doors of this gate I knew I'd stumbled upon the right prescription for wildfire burnout.

There now. Don't you feel better?

(Flames still advance and firefighters still defend. See yesterday's post for links to continuing fire coverage.)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Smoking Section

The fire continues to burn. Heavy smoke on the eastern perimeter yesterday limited air drops of water and fire retardant. That same smoke fills the foothill communities, choking the city and turning the moon orange. On a normal South Pasadena night, mountains would span the background of this view.

Now I fully understand the term "smokescreen."

Of course, everything reminds me of a poem. As I stood on the hillside trying to make some sense of scorched earth and shrouded mountains, I remembered these few lines by Tennyson:

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks.
The long day wanes, the slow moon climbs,
The deep moans round with many voices.
Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.


For continuing fire coverage, refer to my usual links:

Altadena Hiker
LA Observed
Firefighter Blog
LA Times dynamic map of current fire zone
LA Now (LA Times blog)

UPDATE: 8:45AM Station fire 42% contained. New fire on Ortega Highway.

UPDATE: 2:30PM 40 miles of Angeles Crest Highway closed "indefinitely" due to fires.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Who needs a distraction?

After smelling woodsmoke for days on end, barbecue seemed like a natural choice. And nothing beats Gus's for great barbecue. I can't comprehend 150,000 acres of burning forest ... but brisket and baked beans? No problem!

To peruse all the yummy selections at Gus's, click here.

To keep up with the latest fire information, check out the following links:

Altadena Hiker
LA Observed
Firefighter Blog
LA Times dynamic map of current fire zone
LA Now (LA Times blog)

UPDATE: 10:00AM Fire at 38% containment. (Firefighters are remarkable!) Check the above links for details.

UPDATE: 6:55PM It's official: Station Fire was caused by arson.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Smoke World

The good news? Finally, a number other than 5%. As I write this shortly after midnight, authorities claim the Station Fire is 22% contained. Sure, that could change on a dime, and a 120,000+ acre wildfire that is 78% uncontained is still terrifying, but we'll all take what we can get.

The bad news? Smoke. Smoke is EVERYWHERE. It permeates everything, even laundry in the dryer. It stretches out over Los Angeles like fog from a classic noir film. Radio stations reported people smelling the stuff as far away as Vegas.

But it's not just the smell of smoke that affects you, it's the way it changes the light. It's kind of like the light during a partial solar eclipse. If anyone has ever been in theatre, think of a half-dimmed spotlight with an amber gel.

This is the view from Arroyo Drive just before sunset yesterday. See what I mean?

For continuing fire coverage, be sure to check out these great sources:

Altadena Hiker
LA Observed
Firefighter Blog
LA Times dynamic map of current fire zone

UPDATE: 3:00PM Fire now at 140,000+ acres moving east toward Sierra Madre, west encroaching on Little Tujunga Canyon. More here Evacuation rumors/reports are contradictory. Altadenablog is a good place to check, including the comments sections.

UPDATE: 4:00PM We all want to help out during this crisis, but make sure the fund is legit. REad Atty Gen. Jerry Brown's news release about avoiding sham charities.

UPDATE: 4:20PM Of note: just filed by Associated Press Feds failed to clear brush in wildfire areas."

UPDATE: 10:50PM At 150,000+ acres, this is the largest fire in LA County history. Sierra Madre, Monrovia and parts of Pasadena now threatened.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


It's the first of the month, and that means Theme Day for participating City Daily Photo bloggers. I missed the last one, but when I checked yesterday found out this month's theme, I knew I had to participate. This month's theme is Big. Well, I certainly have a picture for that. (In fact, I have a whole slew of them...)

As of just past midnight, the Station Fire now exceeds 105,000 acres and may end up on the books as the biggest fire in LA County history.

From our South Pas perspective, it means worrying about friends and loved ones in Altadena, Sunland, Tujunga, Glendale, Acton, La Canada and La Cresenta who are at immediate risk from the unstable blaze. It means worrying about friends and loved ones in Santa Clarita, Palmdale, Newhall and any number of other communities who might end in the path of the seemingly unstoppable firestorm. It means marveling at the miracle work of firefighters who have tirelessly battled for five days and saved countless structures. It means grieving for the two firefighters who gave their lives in the process.

It means mourning the loss of so much forest -- of beloved hiking trails and nature walks, bike tracks and rock climbing spots. And it means mourning the loss of those secret spots off the trail -- the ones where special picnics happened. Where you might have fallen in love or figured out your life.

It means wondering if Mount Wilson is next -- home to the observatory that helped write the birth certificate of our universe, and to the telecommunications towers that hook up our cell phones. (The ones that we keep using every hour to check news updates and blog posts.) It means now knowing terms like pyrocumulus.

From a South Pas perspective, it means being nestled right up against catastrophe but still going about life's business, with smoke-filled days and uneasy nights that now have a fiery mountainside as a nightlight.

For the latest fire updates:

Altadena Hiker
LA Observed
Firefighter Blog
The Mount Wilson webcam
LA Times dynamic map of current fire zone

For other creative interpretations of today's City Daily Photo theme:
Click here to view thumbnails for all participants

UPDATE: 2:15PM Just reported by our friends at the informative Altadenablog:

The Battle for Mt. Wilson: it's on. Flames are in the complex, but there's a lot of "fog of war" as to what's really going on up there. Air support seems to be the only way to fight it now, altho' LA County Fire twittered around 1:45:

*Station IC* LACoFD is sending units to stage at Red Box Ranger Station for structure protection @ Mount Wilson.
Lots of aircraft flying over us in East Altadena, apparently headed for Mt. Wilson.

UPDATE: 5:00PM Lots of comments on blogs about aerial water drops over Mt. Wilson. Here's the latest from LA Times. It's eerie outside here in South Pas. Ash rains down on everything. Saw one woman wearing a respiratory mask as she walked down Fair Oaks. Sun blotted by smoke.

UPDATE: 8:30PM Mt. Wilson webcam is now out of commission. Click here for the last shot. This briefing about the fight to save Mt. Wilson (linked at the bottom of the webcam picture) offers encouraging news straight from the source.