Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Going, Going, Gone: Remembrances of Eras Gone Past

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Dec 24, 2015 @ 9:33 am PDT

userpic=tombstonesThis is another in my ongoing series of news chum posts about things that are going away. In doing this, I’ve come to realize another connection between the items: they are emblematic of an era that has also passed:

  • The 747. Production of the Boeing 747 — an iconic jetliner of the 1970s and 1980s — is slowing and may soon die. Right now, the fate of continued production is in the hands of a Moscow firm: specifically, a Russian freight company that promises to buy 18 over the next few years. If that pledge falls through, and finding financing won’t be easy, Boeing faces a tough choice: End production and take a financial hit, or try to limp along until a cargo rebound yields more sales. For now, Boeing’s backlog is enough to keep building 747s only through mid-2017. Boeing would really like to keep production limping along at least under Congress orders a new Air Force 1: the current AF1 is a 747-200 that is over 20 years old. What’s killing the 747? On the passenger side, it is size: most routes are not economical for the capacity of the plane. Overall, it is pure economics: a four-engine plane guzzles a lot more expensive jet fuel than a two-engine plane. Both of these work to kill the demand. The death of the 747 is the death of an era: the era when flying was glamorous, of piano bars and lounges in the sky. We’re left with an Air Bus.
  • The Vegas Showgirl. The MGM Grand in Vegas has posted a closing date for Jubilee, the last hotel-produced Vegas-showgirl spectacular. At one time, the Vegas showgirl was in every hotel. Hotels produced their own entertainment, and each show featured long-leggy girls, often topless, in a very Vegas-styled entertainment. Today, most shows are four-walled: the hotel rents the room to the promoter, who handles everything else. This results in very different entertainment than in the 1960s-1980s. Jubilee was a relic from that era, and — like the 747 — was no longer economical or the draw.
  • The Physical Camera Store. Bel Air Camera in Westwood has closed as of yesterday. At one time, camera stores were everywhere. There were at least three that I recall in Westwood, all feeding off the neighboring community and college kids with cameras. Now there are none (just like there are no more record stores in Westwood, when once there were at least 3). This, again, is the passing of two eras. The first is the continued decline of Westwood as a college town for UCLA; it is not what it was when Star Wars first premiered at the AVCO. The second is the passing of the film camera. What was once expensive photographic equipment is almost worthless — I know I have expensive film cameras and lenses from my dad that I’m not sure I could give away. We’ve gone to digital, and thus all the infrastructure devoted to lenses, lens effects, developing, mounting, etc. has all been rendered, if not obsolete, than rarely used.
  • LA Chinatown. A few months back, I wrote about the reopening of Empress Pavillion, a long-time dim-sum palace in Chinatown. While it was closed, the business had to shift to Monterey Park — which is where the Chinese community had moved as well. A move, by the way, similar to the migration of Jews from Boyle Heights to the Westside. This week confirms that shift: that Chinatown is perhaps in name only, and is more of a tourist Chinatown than a true home for that culture. The confirmation: Empress Pavillion has closed again as a restaurant and will only be used for banquets and events. Chinatown — your era has passed.
  • Curvy Women. Some of us are old enough to remember the days of the pin-up calendar. Think LeRoy Neiman, and the nudes he would draw for Playboy. An article this week reminds us of one pin-up heroine that has been forgotten: Hilda. Hilda was the creation of illustrator Duane Bryers. She was one of pin-up art’s best kept secrets: voluptuous in all the right places, a little clumsy but not at all shy about her figure. I actually think she’s a lot sexier than the stick-figures society is obsessed with today.
  • Soviet Era Buildings.  This one is just creepy. Here’s a collection of photos of abandoned Soviet era buildings. They are reflective of an era and of an artistic style that has (thankfully) all but disappeared.

 

--- *** ---

Nuts.

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Feb 10, 2014 @ 11:21 am PDT

userpic=compusaurToday’s EaterLA brings news of the closure of the last Good Earth restaurant in California. This brings to mind a story…

When I was in college at UCLA in the late 1970s/early 1980s, I used to hang around the UCLA Computer Club (3514 Boelter Hall — we would receive mail addressed to “the messiest room on the 3rd floor, Boelter Hall”). Club members would regularly walk down to Westwood to get dinner — this was when Westwood was a much more vibrant college town than it is today (alas).

At this time, there were two general interest bookstores in Westwood: the Pickwick Bookstore near Westwood and LeConte, and College Books (or was it University Books) near Westwood and Weyburn. College Books originally had a basement from which they sold textbooks, but by the early 1980s they had lease out that space to the Good Earth. The Good Earth was one of the restaurants regularly frequented by clubbies (there was also a Thai place behind Ships, but that’s a different story). The Good Earth seemingly had nuts of some variety in every dish one could order.

One day we went to the Good Earth for dinner. As I recall, someone ordered their meal with no nuts. After this, everyone started requesting no nuts, eventually resulting in our singing “nuts, nuts, nuts, nuts” in the manner of the Monty Python spam routine.

I guess you had to be there.

 

--- *** ---

It’s Hot Enough to Fry News Chum

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jun 29, 2013 @ 2:03 pm PDT

userpic=observationsIt’s Saturday. It’s lunchtime. It’s 105.7°F in the shade on the back porch. You know what that means — it is time to fry us up (on the sidewalk, ‘natch) some tasty News Chum, using those links we saved earlier in the week. Better eat it quick, before it spoils in the heat:

Music: Memories (Barbra Streisand): “My Heart Belongs To Me”

--- *** ---

Revitalizing Westwood

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Jun 18, 2013 @ 5:40 pm PDT

userpic=ucla-csunOne of the lead articles at the LA Times today is on revitalizing Westwood, and there’s a companion article at Curbed LA. Both are bemoaning how Westwood has changed, and both suggest ways out of the problem. The Times article notes how Westwood is looking to Downtown for its revitalization model, and looking to bring it more arts (think galleries), performance spaces, and trendy foods. They believe this will restore Westwood to its former glory. I think both are wrong.

Let’s explore what Westwood was, and how to bring it back.

In its heyday — the 1960s through early 1980s  — Westwood was primarily a local community. It had mostly non-chain stores, and catered to the people living in West LA, H0lmby Hills, and Bel Air. It also catered heavily to the student community at UCLA. It had quaint restaurants, and lots of movie theatres that tended to host premieres (because Hollywood had gotten sketchy).

In the mid 1980s, Westwood began to die. Most attribute the death to a gang shooting in 1988 and an incident where some clown drove on the sidewalk (we were actually in Westwood that evening with clients when it happened). However, that’s not what killed Westwood. What killed Westwood was rising rents, “mallification” (that is, takeover by the chain stores with “trendy” clothes), and corporate consolidations that removed classic entities (such as bookstores). Further, the single screen theatres that Westwood had were no longer profitable… so they started closing. In short, what killed Westwood was that it became a mall — just like any other mall — and lost its audience for newer malls.

Westwood was also hurt by poor accessibility, especially with the continuous construction on the 405. Downtown is now accessible via MetroRail, but Westwood won’t have that for at least another decade or two. You have to drive to Westwood, and that’s increasingly difficult. What this means is that, to succeed, Westwood must focus on the locals, not drawing from elsewhere.

So what does Westwood really need to do to come back? First, it doesn’t need art galleries and super trendy joints. These do not attract students and the middle class that used to shop in Westwood all the time. Put the art galleries in Beverly Hills. Here’s what I think Westwood needs:

  • More Live Theatre. Although the single-screen movie theatre is out of vogue, live theatre is inherently single-screen. Westwood should work on expanding its live theatre presence, especially with relationships with the excellent theatre program at UCLA. Get some small storefront theatres (there are at least two major companies in LA (Celebration is one) that are looking for new spaces). Small theatres are also much more affordable for students (especially when compared with the only theatre currently in Westwood, the Geffen).
  • More Club Space. I don’t necessarily meet nightclub space, although having a local space that would appear to the UCLA student crowd would be great. I was thinking more along the lines of comedy and music clubs, that could attract stand up and local acts.
  • Be a Student Town. This needs to be the mantra regarding both food and shopping. Bring in quirky restaurants and shops, but keep them affordable for students (and if you can, accept UCLA meal plan points). I grew up in the days when Westwood had wonderful places such as Yesterdays, Old World, Annas, Bratskeller, and others. We need to get this style of place back.
  • Aim for the Eclectic. What makes a college town special is its eclectic nature. You never know what you will find, and it is most certainly not a mall. There needs to be enough going on in Westwood to draw the students out of the dorms, and to draw the neighbors into the shops.

Basically, Westwood will succeed again if you can attract the students back, and they start bringing their friends. That’s what has always made Westwood special.

--- *** ---

University News of Interest

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu May 23, 2013 @ 11:12 am PDT

userpic=calToday’s news chum brings a number of items related to my favorite schools – UC Berkeley and CSUN:

--- *** ---

Alma-Maters

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri May 17, 2013 @ 5:32 pm PDT

userpic=ucla-csunThis week, UC Berkeley ends its spring semester (and students have to be out of the dorms by 10am the day after finals end). So colleges are on my mind this week. Here are two articles (I really tried to find a third) about our family alma-maters:

  • UCLA. Back when I was at UCLA, one of our favorite underground activities was a hike through the steam tunnels. Usually we would enter through the portal in the basement of Boelter Hall (someone in the Computer Club had a master key), and we would wander through the tunnels, usually up to the underground bridge near Murphy Hall. I bring this up because the Daily Bruin has posted a photographic tour of the tunnels. There weren’t as many pictures as I would like, but it does bring back memories.
  • CSUN/UC Berkeley. I ran across an interesting opinion piece on the website of the Daily Sundial at CSUN. This piece looks at the identity of CSUN, and constrasts it with that of UC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara. The conclusion: “CSUN may have a non-existent party scene like UCSB, it may not have diverse student housing cooperatives or the prestige of UC Berkeley. It may have no strong culture to identify with and it might have no definitive identity in the scope of UCs and CSUs other than “that commuter school,” but that’s fine. I wanted an education, and I took what I could get. Being able to drive 30 minutes to school every day from the stability of my mom’s house is exactly what I need. CSUN is the only university that offered me the luxury of not having to turn my world upside down to get a degree. Maybe we lose out on a definitive identity,  but I’m okay with that.”

In closing, I wish all the college graduates out there good luck, and I’d like to reassure those high school graduates that you’ll survive the first year of whatever school you choose.

--- *** ---

University News Chum: UCLA, UC Berkeley, Emerson

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Mar 01, 2013 @ 11:44 am PDT

userpic=ucla-csunToday’s lunchtime news chum brings together a number of articles related to happenings on campus:

Music: Once On This Island (Original Cast): “When We Are Wed”

--- *** ---

Teach Your Children Well

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Jan 23, 2013 @ 11:33 am PDT

userpic=ucla-csunToday’s lunchtime news chum brings together a collection of articles related to education:

  • The Middle “R”: The Ventura County Star has an interesting article on California’s writing standards: particularly, the standard that requires cursive to be taught. It’s an interesting debate: in this era where “typing”  (or is that “keyboarding”) is a required skill (when I grew up, it was optional), is there a need for two styles of writing: block and cursive? Is block sufficient? In particular, is block sufficient to provide a unique written signature upon which we still depend? As for me, I know my normal writing style is a mix of block and cursive, with a signature that doesn’t match either. But what about you? Do you still use cursive?
  • GPAs above 4.0. When I went to school, back in the dark ages, the best grade you could get was a 4.0; perhaps a 4.2 if you got an A+. Nowadays, AP classes permit even higher grades, and students are going to college with a whole portfolio of AP classes. Universities are fighting back. Here’s an example: Darthmouth has announced they will no longer accept AP credit. The concern is that AP courses do not resemble actual college courses in any way–for one thing, they are “teach to the standard test”.
  • Community Colleges. Community colleges are in trouble; in fact, the community college in San Francisco is on accreditation-watch and may close. So Gov. Brown is trying to rescue the institution (which is vitally important to the middle-and-lower tier HS students — it is a way to get the education HS didn’t provide and get the associates degree — a vital stepping stone to CSU or UC). Brown’s goal is to keep community colleges affordable, keep classes accessible and move students faster through the system to allow them to graduate or transfer to a four-year university at higher rates. His plan is to limit the number of credits students can accumulate, with a cap on state-subsidized classes at 90 units. Students who exceed that to pay the full cost of instruction, about $190 per semester unit versus $46 per unit. He would also change the funding formula to reflect students who complete the class, not students enrolled at the 3rd-week.
  • Online Courses. The Internet (founded, I should note, at my alma-mater UCLA) has revolutionized education. Earlier this week my daughter posted about the distance between two courses, noting that the second course (which was a 700 person Astronomy lecture) had a webcast that the professor was encouraging students to watch instead of attending†. The impact of the Internet is also seen in funding — based on direction from Gov. Brown, the UC Regents are exploring expanding online courses, although they are not sure whether they will make or save any money.  I think online courses can work if done right — in particular, they need the equivalent of face-to-face small sections to encourage student discussion and critical thinking on the topic. These sections could also be online, but if the online course is lecture only, it won’t be successful.
    [†: PS to my daughter if you are reading this: I encourage you to go the lectures anyway. Not only are you likely to meet interesting people outside of your discipline (History ≠ Astronomy), but you are likely to be able to see the board better, and being at the lecture will eliminate distractions.]
  • Paying for College. There were all sorts of things hidden in the fiscal cliff legislation — that probably doesn’t surprise you. Providing goodies to congresscritters (or there constituencies) is a way to get a bill through. I’ve previously mentioned the commuter benefit. Here’s another. The bill extended the American Opportunity Tax Credit. This credit “allows students and their parents to claim up to $2,500 a year for college expenses, (which) benefits 9 million families a year.” It also extended a few more tax deductions and credits until the end of 2013 and gave permanent status for employer-provided education expenses, the Student Loan Interest Deduction and Coverdell Education Savings Accounts. I know that these will affect us — both the credit and the interest deduction (we are paying the interest on our daughter’s loans until she graduates). Alas, there may be some cuts to Federal Work Study programs.

Music: I Can Get It For You Wholesale (Original Broadway Cast): “The Sound of Money”

--- *** ---