Monday, March 31, 2008

The ONLY reason to go to the Coliseum

The last time I was at the LA Memorial Coliseum, UCLA got beat by USC by about 9803672038697 points. My friend Jake and I left at the end of the 3rd quarter and we made a pact that we were never going there again. The benefits simply do not outweigh costs (especially for the case of the ever-under performing UCLA football team).

When another friend, let's call him Alan, asked me to go to the Coliseum to watch a Dodger exhibition game I accepted with more than mild trepidation. The Dodgers are celebrating their 50th anniversary in Los Angeles this year and because they played their first 4 seasons games at the Coliseum before Dodger Stadium was built, they had an exhibition game there Saturday against Boston.

For those who have been to the Coliseum you know that this was not an easy feat. For those that haven't, there are a couple of problems. The major problem stems from the fact that when the Dodgers played there it was a track and field facility, in addition to a football stadium. In the intervening years, USC has built a T&F stadium on campus and the Coliseum was retrofitted to support mostly football (Trojans, Raider, and Rams all played there as well as UCLA for a few years) with the occasional soccer match thrown in, meaning the grass field was reduced in size and more seats added. This totally threw off the dimensions of the baseball field that was constructed for the game; now the left field fence was only about 200 feet from home plate, which is shorter than an official LITTLE LEAGUE field. To make sure people didn't die a mesh net was erected - kind of like Fenway's Green Monster. Or the 'Invisible Monster' of the Coliseum as it were. Center and right field overcompensated for minuscule left and combined to form a veritable ocean of grass. There was also general admission seating beyond the right field fence where the east end zone grandstands usually are.

All told there were over 115,000 people there, which is estimated as the largest crowed to EVER see a baseball game. Pretty cool. I got there 45 minutes beforehand (after watching UCLA DEMOLISH Xavier in basketball and earn a berth to their third consecutive Final Four) and was able to park off Exposition west of USC. For such a large event I was pleasantly surprised at how the streets just a few blocks away were relatively unaffected - Normandie and Exposition were surprisingly free of traffic. I imagine the parking lots at USC and Exposition Park were a nightmare but since I am familiar with the area and don't mind a little walk I had no problems parking for free and getting in a little exercise.

Once I walked to the stadium there were a ton of people still tailgating, there was a crazy line to get in, and ludicrous lines to get beer and snacks. Once I got into the seating are the view of the spectacle was amazing. Having been to a few football games there, I was used to the stadium being full but for USC they generally get about 90,000 and don't fill in all the stands, leaving the seats around the peristyle empty and filling the aforementioned grandstand. It was really neat seeing the entire stadium full and as an added bonus the Olympic torch was lit, which I don't remember seeing before.

The only bad parts were that the game didn't really feel like a game (lots of 'stars' weren't playing), it was hard to see the game and the batter from where we were sitting, and the sound system was TERRIBLE. It can't be easy to have a good sound system for such a large facility but I thought it was especially bad. Singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the 7th inning stretch was disjointed and there were several times that you couldn't hear the organ music because someone got too close to a microphone on the field and let the entire Coliseum know how terrible their voices were.

As these pictures (which are not mine) show, however, it was a pretty neat spectacle and I'm definitely glad that I was a participant. It got me thinking that the Dodgers should really try to have something like that during every spring training but in different places around LA. For instance, you could do it in the Rose Bowl, Home Depot Center, and maybe even Hollywood Park, Santa Anita, the racetrack at Fontana, or even a college or minor-league stadium. It would be a great way to build Los Angeles loyalties and have funky stories for kids. They probably wouldn't because it wouldn't make any money but I think it would be awesome. Anyway, Go Dodgers!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Great Video for UCLA BBall Fans

Unfortunately I don't have a real post but I DO have a really funny video (at least for those of you who are UCLA fans and watched last weekend's Texas A&M game).

Also, I'm glad we won last night and everything, but do they have to give me a heart attack?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Your mom goes to college

In lieu of a real post, I'm publishing a Google Map I put together of LA Area colleges and universities. It's by no means complete so if you see any glaring errors or omissions let me know. Or pass along to any and all of your friends.

The reason I was thinking about it was that I finished a class at UCLA Extension. It was about economic geography, dealing with themes of globalization and developed/developing countries. Pretty interesting. It was nice because it A) wasn't super hard and B) was online and did not require a weekly drive to Westwood. I already drive to Santa Monica College once a week and Westwood is that much further and infinitely worse traffic. I can actually get to SMC in ~30 minutes from El Segundo (that will be a separate Google Map, along with my routes to the Rose Bowl and Staples Center).

View Larger Map

Friday, March 21, 2008

Several Odds and a Couple Ends

The LA Times' Joel Stein had a really interesting take on the latest actions by the Federal Reserve: infusing the market with $200 billion and JP Morgan Chase rescuing Bear Stearns with another $30 billion. It was really toned down in this article and his points came across more concisely. I read Stein's stuff occasioanlly but more often than not I find his humor heavy handed. As far as Times' columnists, he and Jonah Goldberg are usually orthogonal to each other, but I am usually orthogonal to the both of them. Basically, it's like a 3 dimensional space and we're the X,Y, and Z axes. Linear algebra references aside, Stein's piece was actually written really well - he seems to know what he's talking about without confusing people with too much technical detail.

The LA Land blogger, Peter Viles, did an interesting analysis on the real estate market declines in Los Angeles. He did a simple zip code breakdown to see which classes of houses were declining the most. His results show that the low end (Palmdale/Lancaster) is declining more than the high end (Palos Verdes, Mar Vista). As the houses increase in value, the percentage decline decreases, until there's actually an increase for houses over $800k. What this means is that the market is really starting to sort itself out and to echo Stein, the faster we get to the bottom, the better.

In sports news, UCLA won it's first round game against Mississippi Valley State in the NCAA tournament while USC got smoked by Kansas State. KSU was robbed by selection committe, only getting an 11 seed (3rd Place in the 2nd toughest conference only gets an 11 seed? Come on....). Ken Pomeroy could have told you that the Trojans drew a really tough first round game. Great news for the Mighty Bruins as they should be getting Luc back for Saturday's game against Texas A&M, which starts at 6:15 at the Honda Center in Anaheim.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Birthday Wishes

So today is my birthday. In lieu of an actual post I will post the 10 most interesting facts (5 dates and 5 births) about March 19 from Wikipedia:

1687 - Explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle, searching for the mouth of the Mississippi River, is murdered by his own men.
1863 - The SS Georgiana, said to have been the most powerful Confederate cruiser, is destroyed on her maiden voyage with a cargo of munitions, medicines and merchandise then valued at over $1,000,000. The wreck was discovered on the same day and month, exactly 102 years later by then teenage diver and pioneer underwater archaeologist E. Lee Spence.
1918 - The U.S. Congress establishes time zones and approves daylight saving time.
1931 - Gambling is legalized in Nevada.
1941 - World War II: The 99th Pursuit Squadron also known as the Tuskegee Airmen, the first all-black unit of the Army Air Corp, is activated.

1590 - William Bradford, Pilgrim and First Governor of the Plymouth Colony (d. 1657)
1813 - David Livingstone, Scottish missionary and explorer (d. 1873)
1848 - Wyatt Earp, American policeman and gunfighter (d. 1929)
1891 - Earl Warren, 14th Chief Justice of the United States (d. 1974)
1900 - Frédéric Joliot, French physicist, Nobel laureate (d. 1958)

Interestingly enough, 8 of the 10 are American related. The exceptions are David Livingstone ("Doctor Livingstone I presume") and Joliot. Livingstone is also the name of a hugely popular basketball game and Joliot was Marie Curie's son-in-law (go radiation!).

Monday, March 17, 2008

About Loving Nachos Anonymously

I'm Brad and I write NachoLoversAnonymous as a hobby and creative outlet. I am an engineer in the defense industry and have far ranging interests from nachos (duh) to urban issues of geography and economics. Having already done a stint at graduate school, I am looking at going back. As I learn about prospective subjects and participate in different activities relating to our built world of Los Angeles I will post about them here, hopefully bringing logical arguments and keen insights. In the process my writing should improve and this 'about me' and the blog will become more focused. You can reach me at Hurrah!

The above paragraph will become my new 'about me', replacing the venerable:

He was a giant of a man and a friend to none and when he rode into town he blocked out the sun.

That line was from a Jack In The Box commercial for their Outlaw Burger. It's about five hundred years old and I barely remember the commercial itself - Cowboy Jack does battle with the Outlaw or something like that. My friend Aaron and I can sing that song like there was no tomorrow and with little prompting. It's definitely my favorite commercial theme song, Taco Bell's Bonanza-inspired song coming in a close second (no links to either commercial because they occured before the advent of the internet and YouTube - otherwise both of these would have totally sweet video and audio). Fortunately Jack is bringing it back (not really) because the burger itself is what my mom would call a fat bomb. It certainly looks delicious though. Take that Boca Burger!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Return of the Real Estate Ranter

The real estate bailout plans slowly gain momentum while the market continues to decline. As I ranted about earlier, I am not a big fan of any of this bailout business. I continue to be outraged that significant steps are being taken without giving thought to their long-term consequences. Don't get me wrong, I am all for making changes to help regulate the system. But how can anyone (be it consumers, investors, mortgage brokers, or bankers) be expected to change long-term behavior if they face no penalties when engaging in inherently risky activities. The conformal loan limits is a good example - I don't disagree that they should be raised. But instead of raising them by almost 100% (from $417,000 to $729000), why not raise them by a more modest amount, say a percentage tied to inflation?

And then comes the data that of all people who own homes, a third don't have a mortgage at all. Of the remaining 2/3 there are about 2% who face foreclosure. We're really not talking about a large percentage of people. But because people had been using their homes to finance consumer spending, and the demand for homes had driven the construction industry, there are significant portions of the economy that are being affected. Here's an interesting post about how a small percentage of people can affect the economy.

So we trudge along. LA Prices are still declining (generally now back to 2005 and even 2004 levels), the conformal loan limits have been raised (most dramatically in California), and the bailout plans are being fleshed out by the powers that be. At some point there will be a confluence where the external factors and my personal situation intersect and I am able to purchase a house. As I wait I vacillate between outrage and fear, wishing that everything could achieve some kind of impossibly peaceful balance. Serenity now, serenity now, serenity now.

Also, Calculated Risk is a really good blog. I just wish I had a firmer grasp of the concepts they talk about.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wire Finale

Watching the last episode of season five (and the series), what do I expect?

A montage? No, not really in line with the rest of the series.

How will the series play out? Still trying to figure out what happened to Omar (and the switching of the body tags), will Marlo get got, what happens to Avon. Will Templeton get found out or win the pulitzer, does McNulty come to terms with himself (no), will he get found out and fired (yes). Can Kima live with her decision? What happens to the rest? Does the scandal go public? Will the Sun comply with any coverup? Does Gus quit? Get fired?

Bill Simmons and Jason Whitlock also spoke about the series (and last episode) on Simmons' latest podcast. Even though they are both sportswriters, there were a couple of interesting points, notably Whitlock's introspective comment of the cycle of the street (not his exact terminology but nonetheless). His premise starts with someone watching the show, who has no idea of what the street is like, asking questions like "How did these people get to be this way". And The Wire, by virtue of his story arcs that include kids (notably season 4), tells stories that show not only specific events and how they shape people's lives but more importantly it shows how self-sustaining the 'cycle of the street' is.


My roommate and I watched the finale last night. It wasn't quite as good as the last episode but covered a ton of ground and tied up a lot of loose ends. I was wrong about a couple of points (no montage? Perish the thought!), right about a couple of others, and simultaneously happy and annoyed how things turned out. I was annoyed because everything turned out just a little too well for some (Carcetti, Templeton, and Rawls), and not well enough for others (what happened to Kima?). On the other hand, I was happy that Daniels didn't take the commissioner's job, that Marlo had to get down and dirty in the street, and that they didn't shy away from Duquan's descent (more on that later). For some strange reason my roommate and I were a little too excited that Michael is the new Omar - speaking of, we never did find out about the switched body tag.

Is it just me or is Duquan the most tragic character on the show? He's already living on the street and then he burns the only the bridge he has so that he can buy dope to get high. He has a sweet disposition, a way with kids, and is smart and computer savvy. I think that's what Simon was trying to say about the street - it does not discriminate, it is harsh, and once you're there getting out is nearly impossible.

To me that's the biggest shame of all: unchecked, the cycle feeds on itself. With the current social system, the cycle feeds on itself. With corrupt government systems, the cycle feeds on itself. While there are many ways of dealing with poverty in our culture, it seems there are very few good ways. Even those good ways have a high chance of being abused and in turn feeding the cycle. While the show did have many personal stories of redemption (notably Bubbles) it was deservedly harsh on the systems that have failed so many.

Monday, March 10, 2008

LA Bike Tizzle

On Sunday, March 2nd, I participated in the annual Acura LA Bike Tour. This was the 14th annual and the second year I did it. The backdrop of the tour ensures a unique experience: Not only are all the streets (23 miles snaking through downtown LA!) closed off but the race starts at 5:45am.

But my story gets weirder - I stayed the night at my friend Tim's in Gardena. I got to his house at 2am so I only had about 3 hours of sleep. When he woke me up at 5 I thought I was still asleep. Going down to load the bikes, I met one of his neighbors who was leaving for the same event. The neighbor's wife was even going along to watch - ouch. As we got on the freeway my sense of community only increases as I realized that most of the other cars had bike racks and similarly exhausted riders - almost comical that we Angelenos still relied on cars to get to a bike ride.

The ride itself was incredible. Starting at the Coliseum to the sound of Randy Newman and the shrill encouragement of the LA Bike Tour harpy, the mass heads generally east, then north, zigzagging across the LA river via a couple historic bridges. We meandered through the Toy District (my guess for the next neighborhood to be gentrified in downtown), eventually through the heart of downtown, through Koreatown, and back to Exposition Park. A Google Map of the route would be appropriate.

As the sun rose over Los Angeles, I was overcome by how connected I felt. Connected to the other riders and to the city. Isolated in a car it's easy to neglect the neighborhoods who's main purpose in my life are as barriers keeping me from where I am usually headed. When those neighborhoods become the destination they take on much more significance - like a Thomas Brother's Guide coming to life with people, places, and things. In other words, nouns.

There are other rides I want to do: Long Beach Bike Tour, LA River Ride, City of Angels Fun Ride. I doubt I do more than one or two but just the thought gets me excited to explore and connect.