Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Rapid-Fire Book Club, Everything Has Cilantro On It Edition

I have returned from Los Angeles. It was very, very nice out there all week, the people were nice or at least indifferent (save for the occasional crazy-aggressive driver who'd be going about 20 mph faster than everyone else so he could dart into a lane of traffic with about two inches of clearance on either side), got some beautiful pictures- the Pacific Coast Highway in particular was just breathtaking, both from visual appeal and the fact that I was not exhaling or inhaling very much because I was driving on it during a red-flag warning and that was not a little bit harrowing when you've got high cliffs on one side, a big drop to the ocean on the other and no place to pull over and let people pass you so you can cower behind the wheel in peace.

There were really only three bad things about the trip:

A) You cannot find a Mountain Dew in that town for love or money. It's like every place I went was a Coke place.

B) There is waaaaaaay too much driving to be done. The dread of Los Angeles traffic, I think, is a little overblown- I didn't find it quite as awful as it's made out to be. It's bad. Certainly. But it's not unmanageably bad. You just have to be a little patient and a little calm and you'll be fine. (Having a Taylor Swift CD going during this process helps. About half the radio stations on my dial seemed to be up-tempo Latin stations, and really, what is going to be more helpful for your mood during a traffic jam, 'Back To December' or remixed salsa music?) The real sticking point is the act of driving itself. Getting from anywhere to anywhere is a good half-hour at least. I really wish LA was more compact than it is, and not spread out, blob-like, across the Southern California landscape.

C) Back in September, I noted the presence of LA's Skid Row district and its notoriety for being essentially a dumping ground for the homeless. The thing is, it doesn't matter where in Los Angeles you go. You will see the homeless. Often. Do not travel to Los Angeles thinking you're going to get some sanitized, totally touristy experience with no unpleasant sights whatsoever. They're there. They are wherever you are. They are in the tourist areas, they are in the parks, they are walking alongside major streets at red lights- and sometimes IN those streets during red lights- hoping someone will roll down the window and help somehow. Homelessness in Los Angeles is a problem you cannot run from, Skid Row or no Skid Row.

But from that bad thing comes at least one good thing. At one major tourist area in Santa Monica, the Third Street Promenade, if you look, you'll see a big bronze dolphin with a coin slot where its spout would be. It's one of several set up in Santa Monica (including another dolphin on Santa Monica Pier), as part of something called the Dolphin Change Program. The idea is, instead of giving to panhandlers directly, you're supposed to put money in a dolphin instead, and the money collected from the dolphins will go to various local homelessness nonprofits that can put the money to a little more effective use.

Yes, of course I put money in the dolphin.

I also brought home a whole lot of books. One was bought for the plane ride in; the others were bought in Los Angeles itself.

Bathroom Readers' Institute- Uncle John's Bathroom Reader: Vroom! A World Of Motorized Marvels (the one bought for the plane)
Foer, Franklin- How Soccer Explains The World: An Unlikely Theory Of Globalization
Huang, Yunte- Charlie Chan: The Untold Story Of The Honorable Detective And His Rendezvous With American History
Muller, Eric L.- Free To Die For Their Country: The Story Of The Japanese American Draft Resisters In World War II
Myers, B.R.- The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves- And Why It Matters
Napoli, James- The Official Dictionary Of Sarcasm: A Lexicon For Those Of Us Who Are Better And Smarter Than The Rest Of You (think Devil's Dictionary, 2010 Edition)
Richardson, Peter- A Bomb In Every Issue: How The Short, Unruly Life of Ramparts Magazine Changed America

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