RIP Sujatha and Little Mac

Sujatha and Little Mac Together (Which Is Which?) in 2013

In yesterday’s post, I wondered what happened to the elephants at the Santa Barbara Zoo. When we got home yesterday, I looked them up on Google and found that both had died, Sujatha in 2018 and Little Mac in 2019. Although I have no pets, I have felt a sense of loss for these two Indian elephants who had been together at the zoo since 1972. You can read more about them in this article from Radio Station KSBY’s website.

Apparently, despite their size, Indian elephants do not normally live as long as humans. In fact, after 40 years they are considered to be due for geriatric care. Little Mac had to be euthanized at the age of 48.

My relationship with the animals at the Santa Barbara Zoo surprises even me. It is a small zoo, walkable in a couple of scant hours, but I feel more strongly about the birds and animals there. Why?

Gemina, the Giraffe with the Deformed Neck

I had become enamored of a giraffe named Gemina who died of natural causes in 2008 despite a neck that went off at a ninety degree angle. Despite her neck, Gemina lived a greater than normal lifespan (by six years) and had normal offspring. When I heard that Gemina had passed on, I was disturbed, hoping that she did not die in inordinate pain occasioned by her disability. Apparently she didn’t. She received excellent care at the zoo and was widely mourned.

So now that the elephants are gone, their home will be turned into the “Australian Walkabout” some time this summer. I will continue to return to the zoo whenever I can so that I can see my other friends there.

In Cloudy Santa Barbara

Humboldt Penguin at the Santa Barbara Zoo

Today Martine and I set out for the Santa Barbara Zoo, which is open for prepaid admissions. The Spring marine layer was in force, with heavy clouds and some drizzle between Ventura and Santa Barbara. It had stopped by the time we got to the zoo, so we were hopeful. We had a nice time despite the absence of the elephants (which were being replaced by an “Australian Walkabout” of some sort.) Also, the aviaries and some of the indoor exhibits were closed down “because of the virus.” Also, many other animals were either missing or hiding from view.

I suppose I could understand this. If I were in a cage at the zoo, I would not be too terribly interested in gaping at the teams of children and their harried parents. So I would probably present them with my hindquarters, like the above Humboldt Penguin. (Curiously enough, these Penguins come from near the Equator off the coast of Peru—not Antarctica.)

One animal which had no problem facing down the staring zoo visitors was the African lion:

We were done in about an hour, but satisfied by our walk in the cool, cloudy weather. Zoos are never perfect, but the small Santa Barbara Zoo is better than most. The LA Zoo is characterized by massive traffic jams and stroller collisions with adult ankles.

After the zoo, we drove down to the harbor and had lunch at Brophy Brothers, one of our favorite seafood restaurants in Southern California. Their New England clam chowder is to die for, and I also enjoyed the grilled mahi mahi sandwich.

By the time we were headed back home, the sun came out around Ventura and stuck around for the rest of the afternoon. In celebration, we drove home on the relatively uncrowded California 126 and stopped for strawberries the size of clenched fists at Francisco’s Fruit Stand in Fillmore. Also I picked up some yummy dried mangos and Banderita Mexican cocoanut candy.

It was a fun day, probably the most fun we had together since the onset of the plague in March 2020.

Southeast

This Is the Part of Los Angeles County That Most People Know

Although I have lived in the Los Angeles area for over half a century, there are parts that are almost totally unfamiliar to me. Today, I had a chance to visit one of them as I drove Martine to a ophthalmologist appointment in Lakewood, which is a place I have whizzed past on the freeway, but never stopped to visit.

The part of LA that is most unfamiliar to me are the so-called “Gateway Cities” in the southeastern part of the county. I am somewhat familiar with Long Beach, which I regard as part of the tierra cognita of my experience.

The City of Los Angeles occupies much of the center of the county. Then there is a narrow corridor of the city that stretches down to San Pedro and the Port of Los Angeles. To the right of that corridor are a number of independent cities that include such names as Bell, Bell Gardens, Bellflower, Cudahy, Downey, Hawaiian Gardens, Lakewood, Lynwood, Maywood, and presumably other -woods.

Here is a map of the Gateway Cities:

Los Angeles’s “Gateway Cities”

When you remove the dark blue of Long Beach, you are left with a bunch of small, tightly squeezed together communities that for all intents and purposes have little of interest for people visiting Southern California. There are a couple of colleges, no major museums, only one ethnic community (the Indian and Pakistani enclave along Pioneer Avenue in Artesia), and a couple of historical places, mostly in Whittier. Other than Long Beach, the only community people outside of California are likely to have heard of is Compton, mostly as a high-crime place to avoid.

Martine is due for another appointment in Lakewood in a couple of weeks, so I should probably learn a little more about this apparent black hole in the city where I dwell.

And where do I live? If you look at the top map for Santa Monica slightly to the left of center, look for the number oval 2, which indicates Santa Monica Boulevard. I live right under that oval 2.

Orphans

There are several things I could write about today. For instance, I could celebrate my 40th annual boycott of the Academy Awards Show. Or I could tell you what V. S. Naipaul thought about politics and politicians—well, maybe tomorrow on that one. I think instead I will talk about the Automobile Driving Museum’s Orphan Car Show held yesterday.

By “orphan” was meant all discontinued makes and models. There was a Hudson, a LA Fire Department Hummer, several American Motors and Nash products, several Austin-Healeys, even a weird Fiat that competed with golf carts. And the place was crowded with affable car collectors eager to talk about their prize possessions.

Poster for Yesterday’s “Cruise-In” Car Show

Martine always enjoys the Automobile Driving Museum because of its emphasis on classic American cars and because of its nearness to where we live. On May 1, the museum displays inside will re-open, and Martine will once again be able to sit inside a classic Corvette and dream about the old days when Detroit made some great cars.

The Front End of a Classic Hudson

You Can’t Stop the Change

Walter Mosley, Author of the Easy Rawlins Mysteries

Yesterday afternoon, I “attended” the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books symposium entitled California Dreamin’: Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s. Actually, the event was virtual, so I tuned in with my computer for what turned out to be an excellent discussion. The moderator was USC Professor David L. Ulin, and the guest speakers were novelist Walter Mosley and political analyst Ron Brownstein.

One of the most interesting points made was about political mobilization against cultural change. Irrespective what the hippies tried to do in the 1960s, enough voters were freaked out to elect Republicans like Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump. As Mosley said at one point, the voters’ response was along the lines of “T don’t want to hear the truth; I want to hear what makes me feel good.” However, cultural change eventually wins out. For example, today’s youth do not tend to oppose homosexual marriage or transgender identification.

The Atlantic Editor Ron Brownstein

This was an interesting conclusion to someone like me, who is amazed that a shrinking demographic like that of the Republican Party can still win elections. For now, anyhow.

After the one-hour discussion ended, I immediately ordered the featured books by Mosley and Brownstein shown in the above photographs.

I arrived in Los Angeles at the tail end of 1967. One would have had to be deaf and blind to recognize the ferment that was taking place—only to be replaced by the 1970s and the onrush of a paranoid political conservatism.

Lost in Oxnard

Interior of the Murphy Auto Museum in Oxnard, CA

Way back in Cleveland during my childhood, there was a TV host who called himself Ghoulardi. He screened horror films and made fun of local figures and places—and he mad fun of one very distant place called Oxnard in Ventura County, California. He even had a raven whom he called Oxnard on his show.

Today, Martine and I drove to Oxnard looking for the new location of the Murphy Auto Museum, which was on a street called Eastman. I spent an hour circling around the place on Rice (where I missed the turnoff, which had a small sign) and Oxnard Road (which didn’t intersect). Eventually, I stopped at an Arco Service Station and found a smog technician who set me straight.

1930 Silver Phantom Rolls Royce with “Boat Back”

We had been to the old location of the Murphy about three times in the past. The museum had to move to a smaller location (about one-third the size) because the former landlord saw an opportunity to make more money. (Bad cess on him!) I am hoping that the Murphy manages to survive under its straitened circumstances and grow back to what it used to be.

It’s Not Just Cars: There Are Also Exhibits of Popular Culture

We did the museum in about an hour (it used to take us three hours) and sought out the local Chick-Fil-A for chicken sandwiches and French Fries. And then I drove back to L.A.

Boardwalk

Pacific & Windward, the Center of Venice, California

If you squint hard when you look at the above picture, you can see the set of the Mexican border town in Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil (1958) in which Charlton Heston plays a Mexican drug enforcement officer—one of his weirder roles.

Now it’s just ground zero for one of Los Angeles’s main tourist attractions: The Venice Boardwalk. The boardwalk runs roughly between the Santa Monica Pier and the Venice Pier. It’s only when you cross the border from Santa Monica into Venice that the fun begins. There are scores of tattoo parlors, cafés, tourist junk shops, fortunetellers, psychics, and handcrafts. including a lot of dubious art. The Midwestern tourists who come by the busload see what they think is the “real” Los Angeles, whereas what they see has been created largely for their benefit.

I sort of enjoy the tatty atmosphere of the Boardwalk, but I mainly go because it contains one of Los Angeles’s last surviving bookshops, Small World Books. Today I picked up a copy of James M. Cain’s last novel, The Cocktail Waitress, and a book by Alan Watts about Buddhism. Then I had a slice of pepperoni pizza from Rey’s and trundled back to my car, which was parked at a confusing intersection of streets a few blocks away near Electric and Abbot Kinney.

If you go a few blocks south on Pacific, you will find the bridge over the Venice canal that was the scene of where Joseph Calleia plugs Orson Welles’s corrupt Captain Hank Quinlan.

Carvaganza

A Perfect Car for the Road in Los Angeles

This weekend, a number of museums opened up for Covid-weary Angelenos, among whom are Martine and me. First we ate—indoors—at Du-Par’s Restaurant at the Original Farmers’ Market at 3rd and Fairfax. Then we breezed down Fairfax to the Petersen Automotive Museum at the corner of Fairfax and Wilshire.

Unfortunately, the current exhibits were more oriented toward the bearded and tattooed grundgerati. The museum’s former emphasis on the history of the automobile has been replaced by racing cars, including Maseratis, Lamborghinis, and others. In addition, there were a number of fantasy cars such as the monster above, which was designed for some movie which I likely never saw.

A Lamborghini Racing Car for the Cash-Non-Challenged

Still and all, it was nice to go eat out at a restaurant and visit a museum—quite a change from the previous twelve months. The Petersen was packed to overflowing with visitors who had no idea what social distancing was and why it is still essential. On the plus side, the wearing of masks was de rigeur.

Finally, here is a peak of the dashboard of the original Back to the Future car:

Dash and Front Seat of the Original Back to the Future Car

I Might As Well Be Back in Cleveland

Southern California Is Being Buffeted by Winds

When I lived in Cleveland and in New Hampshire, I was the plaything of various seasonal allergies. There was the sneezing (and the bloody noses), the itching eyes, and borderline asthma. Now with the Winterspring Complex we are now experiencing, it’s back again. Not only do my eyes itch, but the discharge is sticky, such that I have to open my eyes with my fingers in the morning. And I am going through handkerchiefs like they’re going out of style. (I don’t use Kleenex because I feel bad about destroying trees just so I can blow my nose in them.)

As my friend Bill Korn says, these winds are usually accompanied by winter rainstorms, but we have had precious few of those. The current rainy season, which will end soon, is another bad one—just a few inches of mostly occasional showers and only one thorough wetting.

California is well on its way to becoming the next Atacama Desert, which is the world’s driest desert, clocking in at less than 3 mm of precipitation a year. That’s not even as big as one of my sneezes.

The Atacama Desert of Chile and Peru

When the weather starts getting hot, my allergies will gradually disappear. But then I’ll start complaining about the heat.

Eve Babitz’s L.A.

The Sunset Strip, Where L.A. Came to a Head

Whenever I read Eve Babitz, I think of L.A. the way it was when I first came here from Cleveland by train at the tail end of 1966. Being a stuck-up Easterner and a graduate of an Ivy League college, I naturally thought there was something fundamentally wrong about the West Coast. In time (lots of time) I grew even to love it.

I just finished reading Eve Babitz’s novel L.A. Woman, which brought memories rushing into my brain:

And I was an L.A. woman. In fact, looking back on those one-night stands, I must have been crazy. Yet there were thousands of girls living between Sunset and Santa Monica in between La Brea and La Cienega who painted the town red like me—and who got away with it too.

When I arrived, Eve was hanging out with Jim Morrison of the Doors, whom she just refers to as Jim in the novel. Every weekend when the weather permitted, thousands of Teeny-Boppers rioted on the Sunset Strip. The war in Viet Nam was entering a new and uglier phase, and I thought that nowhere else were there women quite so beautiful as the ones I saw on the street every day.

Eve Babitz When She Was Younger

Eve Babitz was, to put it mildly, a righteous babe. What set her apart from all the others was that she had a brain and was able to describe her wild life without prejudice.

If you want to see Los Angeles from a different perspective, I recommend these books of hers as an excellent place to start:

  • Eve’s Hollywood (1974)
  • Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, The Flesh, and L.A. (1977)
  • Sex and Rage: Advice to Young Ladies Eager for a Good Time (1979)
  • L.A. Woman (1982)
  • Black Swans: Stories (1993)

I have read all five of the above and look forward to reading her recently published collection of essays entitled I Used to Be Charming: The Rest of Eve Babitz (2019).