Sorry about that.

I’m going to switch this blog over to forrestbrakeman.com. Sorry for the inconvenience, but follow me there!

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Arcadia – L.A.’s Bloomin’ Onion

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I recently had the mundane pleasure of spending the day in Arcadia, California.  For those of you that have never heard of this San Gabriel Valley suburb of Los Angeles, let me try and help.

On the map of Los Angeles, Arcadia is way to the right.  Even more.  That’s it, keep going, farther right, farther, still farther, now up a bit.  There you go.  Though some say that Arcadia in French translates to “I don’t think the GPS is working,” actually it is Native Southern Californian for “Dude, I moved how far from the beach?”

Arcadia is Pasadena’s neighbor to the East, and that earned it the enviable distinction of being the suburb of a suburb.  That is not easy to do because usually one city wants to be the favorite suburb, then arguments ensue and things get thrown across fences and border streets.

Though Arcadia is just as far away from downtown Los Angeles as the San Fernando Valley, it couldn’t be farther away culturally.  Besides lacking enough groovy coffee houses to sustain its population, Arcadia is the land of Outbacks, Macaroni Grills, Orchard Supply super centers, and countless nail salons; a place where chain stores compete against each other in an annual contest to see who is more similar, and where Bloomin’ Onions grow in the center medians of the “downtown” shopping district.

Arcadia is home to the world famous Santa Anita Racetrack, where you can lose your life savings while gazing at the picturesque and occasionally snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains, trying desperately not to see the “inquiry” sign flashing next to your horse’s name on the board.  And if losing money isn’t your thing, come by select weekends in the off season and you can get drunk at a microbrew garden while wandering around looking at vintage cars and listening to live rock bands.  Cars, live music and booze; some things just go together.

The curious thing about Arcadia is the longer you stay there, the longer you want to stay there.  It is a place whose inhabitants wonder, “Why would anyone want to go to Hollywood?  Or anywhere for that matter?  We’d have to get a hotel, we’d have to pay to park, and then where would we eat?  Let’s just stay here and eat at the Claim Jumper – they do such a nice Chinese Chicken Salad.”

Arcadia does have one great accomplishment, however:  they produced my wife. And for that, I will always have a soft spot for Bloomin’ Onions.

 

 

This post originally appeared on HumorOutcasts.com

I Know Southern California History, Part 2

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The “Other” Valley – The San Gabriel Valley

“Where in the hell is the valley?”

As the unofficial historian and self-proclaimed expert on all things Southern California, I completely understand the confusion.  The problem for those without tans and agents is there are so many valleys.  Too many.

There is The Valley (which we covered last week), the Antelope Valley, the Ojai Valley, the Santa Clarita Valley, Simi Valley, Death Valley; even Orange County claims to have a valley – the Santa Ana Valley, just to name a few.  Hell, even some guy named Victor has a Valley.

“But L.A. is just one big desert that steals all our water, isn’t it?  How can you possibly have so many valleys?” whine my friends from Northern California.  Guilty as charged.  We’re just making them up.  But remember, if you cut off the water, then no more Duck Dynasty or Dancing With The Stars.  Have I made myself clear?

This week we will discuss the granddaddy of all the valleys, the San Gabriel Valley.  The history of this area officially begins once the Spaniards drove the Native Americans out with their fancy ideas and newfangled diseases.  They started the very first Rose Parade, using the flowers that the fleeing Originals left behind.  Nothing existed before the Spaniards came.  Just like the Mayflower.

The San Gabriel Valley is located northeast of downtown Los Angeles and is separated from the San Fernando Valley by the Crescenta Valley.  How can a valley be separated from a valley by a valley?  Because countless municipalities lay claim to the name “valley” to try and suckle from the lucrative endorsement deals that come to valleys.

A lot of people don’t realize that at the turn of the 20th Century, the entire area of the San Gabriel Valley used to be parking lots and gigantic malls that were, in fact, invented by Leonardo DaVinci over 500 years ago.  Not a home in sight.  From Pasadena all the way past Azuza, nothing but concrete.

Around that time, people from all over Southern California would take the electric trolley out to cities like Pasadena, Bradbury, Covina, even the breakaway rebel West Covina, to hang out at the malls and convenience stores, smoke, and buy beer for the poor, underage kids from the Westside, which at the time was considered Hollywood.

Entire families would ride the rails in shiny Red Cars to shop from such fine San Gabriel Valley establishments as Carriages R Us, AM/PM Bales of Hay, and the 3-Day Fedora Warehouse.  Imagine, a comprehensive mass transportation system designed for everyone to take them anywhere.

But with the arrival of Ford and all of his oil buddies came the demise of the popular Red Line, and the San Gabriel Valley was cut off.  Concrete gave way to rural sprawl, and with it, miles and miles of hideous and unseemly avocado and orange orchards that sprouted like weeds through the mulch of asphalt and faded glory.  Big ol’ honkin’ houses with large grandparent-style yards dominated the area for decades, and a way of life for Angelinos was gone forever.

Thankfully, years later the urban sprawl, and with it the modern strip mall as we know it today, returned to the Other Valley save for the one little pocket of big houses and pieces of orchards that Skeeter Bradbury bought, renamed after himself, and preserved as a monument to how far we have come.

 

This post originally appeared on HumorOutcasts.com

I Know Southern California History When I See It

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I am the unofficial historian of Southern California.

I back this up with absolutely no credentials or merits of any kind. I am unqualified beyond belief. But since moving here many years ago, all my out-of-town friends ask me questions about The Great Southern California Basin, and seem to accept my answers as fact. Foolish tourists. So here is a sampling of what I tell them.

Like, You Know, The Valley

The Valley is a vast, geographically flat and emotionally barren, stretch of land that lies 45 minutes to the northwest of anywhere you want to be in Southern California. It has been mocked and ridiculed throughout its history, and reviled by hipsters with piercings and flavor-savers as a place they would never ever ever live. That is, until they have kids. Oh, and then the last laughs can be heard for miles.

First off, let me just say that everything in The Valley does not look the same. Each of the bazillion strip malls is uniquely different. How is this possible? Because there are over 400 shades of beige listed in the official color registry, so people should just get over it. Besides, Van Gogh’s brilliant colors have yellowed and browned through the years. The Valley’s plethora of beiges will not suffer that fate.

The weather in The Valley is indescribable. Meteorologists around the world claim that El Azizia in Libya is the hottest place on Earth, but anyone who has lived in Southern California for 5 minutes or part of September will tell you that just isn’t true. It’s The Valley. In fact, when you watch the El Azizia Local News, featuring the Libyan Doppler 7000 in HD, they show temperature readings from Van Nuys.

Finally, once and for all, yes people in The Valley talk funny. Always have, dude. Today’s “OMG, that is, like, you know, so, um, like cray-cray, right?” was born from history’s “Would that my astonishment could be banished from my mind’s eye, so that I, nay, all present could portend to comprehend but word oneth of thy prattled speech.”

San Pedro – Long Beach’s Stinky Neighbor

Far to the South of downtown Los Angeles is Long Beach. Long Beach is where the Queen Mary is permanently docked, and that is something they will never let their stinky neighbor, San Pedro, forget. Never mind that San Pedro is home to many attractive refineries and the Port of Los Angeles, which holds the distinction of being the number one container port by volume in the United States. I have no idea what that means, except that there is lots of industry blocking the water views from any hotel.

Many people don’t realize that San Pedro is actually a Native American phrase that means “God forsaken place at the end of the Earth.”

In the days before the arrival of oil leaking vessels and golden parachute CEO’s, the non-union natives of California would frequently bundle up their children in wicker papooses and embark on the Family Vacation – a custom that we still inflict on our families to this very day. By horseback and on foot, they would spend their council-approved vacation time in close quarters travelling to San Pedro, not so much because of the scenic vistas (believe it or not, those oil tanks are actually natural formations that have been here for millions of years), but because of the journey itself.

Countless bronze-skinned Originals would whine to their parents the lines that still echo in our culture today: “Are we there yet? I have to water the sacred ground with my body.” To which the haggard but colorfully adorned parents, who were regretting that magical night under the stars years earlier, would respond, “We’re not stopping ’till we reach the first refinery altar. So help me, Babbling Bear, I’ll pull this Pinto over right now . . . ”

Next week . . . the true history of the “other” Valley. You can’t find this stuff on the internet. No, I’m serious, you really can’t.

 

This post first appeared on HumorOutcasts.com

I Believe Life Is Like Baseball

No matter how old I get, every Spring I am filled with the youthful anticipation of the coming baseball season.  Anything is possible, and every dream still has the chance to come true. Yet every season seems to mirror life, with its capricious tragedies and underdog successes, its spectacular triumphs and its unpitying twists of fate.  That’s why, with each passing year, I am more convinced that life is like baseball.  Here are 10 reasons why:

1.         In order to succeed in life, you have to roll up your sleeves and work hard at the details.  In baseball, a player hasn’t really played the game unless his uniform is dirty.

2.         There is no such thing as a “sure thing.”  You can be completely prepared for your presentation, or the arrival of your new baby, yet unexpected things can occur, like a power outage or twins.  A routine pop fly can be blown out of reach by the wind, or a pitched ball can hit a bird.

3.         It is best to try and help others triumph, rather than take someone down with you when you fail.  That’s why the double play is one of the worst things that can happen when a team is hitting.

4.         If you think beyond the moment, and look ahead to what happens next, you can achieve your goals.  That’s why the double play is one of the best things that can happen to the team in the field.

5.         It always seems like things were better in the “old days.”  But right now we are creating the events that will become our “old days.”  So pay very close attention when Carlos Gonzalez and Joey Votto play.  And be sure to play with your own kids.

6.         Someone else will want the job you have, just as much as you and sometimes more.  That’s why you always have to do your best and try your hardest, even if it’s just slinging burgers or fielding routine grounders.

7.         There are always obstacles to overcome, whether it is a geometry test or a flame-throwing kid with a nasty change-up.

8.         It really sucks when someone breaks your heart and dumps you.  It also sucks to get traded from a contender to Seattle.  Sorry Justin Smoak – no World Series appearance for you.  Every so often, though, heartbreak can be for the better because it leads to someone you eventually marry.  Right honey?  Sometimes Seattle trades you to Texas and you get to pitch in the World Series.  Right Cliff Lee?

9.         If you surround yourself with supportive, caring friends, there is no limit to what you can accomplish; you have the confidence to take risks and know they will have your back you no matter what.  The chemistry of a baseball team can contribute more to winning than high-priced pain-in-the-butt stars.  Just ask the 2010 Giants.

10.      Someone will always try and steal from you.  That’s why you should never leave valuables in plain sight in your car, and always leave lights on in the house when you leave on vacation.  Oh, and get yourself a catcher with a cannon for an arm, and for heaven’s sake teach your pitchers the slide step.

11.      There is no time clock in life, or in baseball, though both will surely and absolutely end.  So make the best of both.

Okay, that is more than 10 reasons.  I guess we went extra innings.

 

 

This post originally was published on NPR’s thisibelieve.org