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Synchronicity Space To Move Into The Hel-Mel ‘Shack’

Just heard from an anonymous reputable source today (okay, it was Tai Kim, owner of Scoops) that the Synchronicity Space art gallery will be moving into the small stand-alone storefront “shack” at 713 N. Heliotrope Drive currently operated by The Fixx Carlton, a business that specializes in building custom fixed-gear bicycle frames. Synchronicity had been operating out of the storefront at 4306 Melrose Avenue since 2008, but recently closed, presumably due to high rent. Apparently The Fixx Carlton hasn’t been doing that well, and Kim also said he’s heard of problems with the Environmental Protection Agency reportedly getting on their case over the improper disposal of toxic chemicals. Yikes!

The shack was previously the original home of Orange 20 Bikes before it grew and moved two doors down to its current digs at 4351 Melrose. Back in the 1980s it was also the original home of the eclectic Y-Que Trading Post t-shirt/novelty shop before it moved north to Los Feliz Village.

Nice to know Synchronicity remains dedicated to staying in East Hollywood/Hel-Mel; Owner Katie Vonderheide has been a big supporter of the neighborhood through her involvement with the EHNC, its Arts and Culture committee and the East Hollywood ArtCycle.

Thank You Very Mulch!

Appropo for Earth Day today, I was able to make a little addition to the garden thanks to Friends of Cahuenga Library president Sylvia Gutierrez, who donated three bags of mulch to our library garden! I met with her in Pico-Union where she signed off on the contribution form for our CD13 Clean & Connected Communities grant application where the Friends of Cahuenga Library would act as partner and fiscal agent for the Library beautification project.

After picking the mulch up, I immediately took it to the Library where I spread it amongst the sages in the front. Granted, it was a little too red for what we were looking for, but after a while the color will fade from sun and weather exposure and it won’t really be much of a big deal. It does make the plants stand out more, and most importantly it covered up the ugly common mallow, dandelion, ragweed and horseweed that grow wild in the garden.

Real Local Shoe Repair

I have three pairs of shoes that are in bad shape, but not in that band enough shape that they couldn’t be saved. Fortunately there’s a place in the neighborhood just a few blocks away that’s able to help. Inside the massive indoor bazaar known as “Uni Discounts” (4632 Santa Monica Blvd) carries a veritable hodgepodge of items: Everything from bicycle parts to athletic shoes to clothing to army surplus gear to sports jerseys to computer parts to massages, this place has it all. One of the many vendors inside is a shoe repair place (F&G Shoe Repair), where the proprietor, Francisco, was able to re-hab one of my shoes by replacing the heels, and give a shoe shine/polish on the other (just $5). There were also a pair of work boots with a busted vinyl shoe collar padding. That will take a couple more days to fix, but not a problem. But how awesome to have such a resource so conveniently close.

A Great Evening At The Streetsblog Fundraiser

It was a perfect, warm Friday spring evening at last night’s Streetsblog Los Angeles fundraiser at Eco-Village near Koreatown. I was in the company of many familiar faces in the bicycling/transit/sustainability community and even put faces to familiar names I’ve encountered in the online world.

Last weekend’s CicLAvia was the big talk of the evening, and many folks who organized the event were present (several of them are current or former Eco-Village residents). There was a short film shown on the event (which I thought, further edited would make a perfect public service announcement). The CicLAvia organizers even received a “Streetsie” award for their work, which hands down was the transportation story of the year.

From L to R, CicLAvia's Joe Linton, Streetsblog's Damien Newton and CicLAvia's Bobby Gadda, Stephen Villavaso and Colleen Corcoran accept their Streetsie award from Newton.

I also met Colleen Corcoran, who was mainly responsible for designing the awesome CicLAvia logo, branding and signage seen throughout the route. I gave her much props for something so relatively simple, yet so classy. I even asked her (geek mode) what font was used for the “CicLAvia” logo typeface. Her reply: “American Typewriter.” So there you go, trivia hounds.

As mentioned earlier, this was my rare opportunity to cross my music and community worlds; I was one of the live musical performers for the evening (Telematique, comprised of my friends Somerset Waters and Aurisha Smolarski, was the other act), and played and sang some choice pop/soul tunes with a social-consciousness bent to it. Here I am doin’ mah thang (courtesy of Mikey Wally’s blog):
I felt a little awkward driving to Eco-Village in my car (of course, I had a guitar and keyboard in tow), but didn’t catch any flack for that, heh. Technically this was my first live performance of the year, so I guess I haven’t been active that much in my own musical endeavors lately. But overall, a cool event with some cool people.


The New Ice Cream Shop in Town – Paradis in Los Feliz

The former storefront of the Los Feliz Pinkberry on Vermont,  vacant since last fall, has given way to Paradis, a new ice cream store in the area which just opened on April 7.  Barely two miles from the new-legendary Scoops in East Hollywood and from Silver Lake’s Pazzo Gelato, the new shop seems to fill in the ice cream void in Los Feliz — the only other ice cream place in Los Feliz (not counting the Thrifty counters at the Rite Aid) is the Baskin-Robbins on Western Avenue – directly a mile to the west.

Though totally remodeled, the interior is just as spartan and sterile as the previous Pinkberry, trading in the lime-green-and-white for red and silver. But far from an indie shop, Paradis is actually an ice cream chain based in Denmark. This is actually Paradis’ second store internationally; they also operate a location in Montrose. Apparently overseas ice cream operations, like New Zealand Natural, see Southern California as an important test-bed for the international/US market.
I ended up having a scoop of stracciatella (a vanilla with chocolate shavings) and cappuccino chocolate chip, on a cone. Cost me $4.50, but at least the waffle cone didn’t cost any extra. Pretty good stuff, although any ice cream on a warm day is good. They do boast that they make their ice cream in-store with fresh ingredients. Paradis doesn’t have the eclecticism or value of Scoops or the boldness of Pazzo Gelato, but not a bad addition to the ice cream scene. I wouldn’t go out of my way for this, but would definitely come back whenever I’m in the area.

Paradis will throw a grand opening celebration on Saturday, April 30, with free ice cream from 12-4 p.m.

The Great FroYo wars of the late-2000s (won-out by the bang-for-your-buck Yogurtland chain) proved that it was nothing more than a passing fad. But ice cream is timeless.

Paradis, 1726 N. Vermont Avenue, Los Feliz.
Open Sunday-Thursday, 12-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 12-11 p.m.
Paradis’ Facebook page

Show Some Support for Streetsblog Tonight!

I honestly have no idea who actually reads this blog regularly – the only time people read it is when I post links to it from my Twitter and Facebook sites – and I generally assume this blog is an unknown entity when it comes to blasting news and announcements, but I’ll say it here anyway…

Streetsblog Los Angeles, which isn’t an unknown entity, has been offering insightful info on transportation, sustainability and everything-in-between-related issues to Southern Californians since 2008. They were one of the foremost online blogs to tell the world about CicLAvia, they reported on my friend and fellow former EHNC governing board member Ed Magos’ fateful bicycle accident last year (I saw him at CicLAvia on Sunday, riding on his bike and he’s doing great nowadays), which was perhaps the main reason why the motorist who hit Magos turned herself in and was charged. Far from just a blog (elsongeles is “just a blog”), its a reputable news source read by policymakers and the general population alike. Even the Mayor of Los Angeles wrote a post recently.

Tonight from 6 to 10 p.m., Streetsblog is throwing a fundraiser party at Los Angeles Eco-Village near Koreatown to ensure it keeps going and informing the public. A $20 sliding-scale donation gets you in  with an evening of food and drink (Sponsored by Trader Joes and New Belgium Brewing), a silent auction, a CicLAvia film screening, the company of cool people and live music from Telematique (an electronic string duo consisting of my friends Somerset and Aurisha Smolarski Waters – BTW, did you know Somerset and I coined the name “Hel-Mel” in November 2005?) and…yours truly, doing a solo set on acoustic guitar and keyboard, playing some acoustic soul music.

Most people there don’t even know that I’m also a singer/musician, so this will be an interesting opportunity to see my music and community worlds intersect again. Usually good things come out of those kinds of situations!

I was selected to be a member of the host committee, which consists of a whos-who of folks active in the transit/environment/sustainability/cycling communities. So as one of the hosts (if you’re reading this), this is my personal invite to you — do try to come out and show some support for Streetsblog!

For more information on the event, click here. You can also RSVP on the event’s Facebook page.


It’s hard to believe that an entire six months had passed since the inaugural CicLAvia open streets event, but the first of three in 2011 had arrived on Sunday. Like the first one, it again used the 7.5-mile route from East Hollywood to Boyle Heights, but this time, there were at least 50% more people taking part.

This time around, I had to miss the first few hours due to my church gig at St. Eugene’s near Inglewood. But driving home on the 110, I was able to see CicLAvia already n action:

CicLAvia on 7th street from the northbound 110 freeway, 12 noon.

I finally got down to Hel-Mel at about 1 p.m. and despite having my bike stolen a couple months ago, my friend Lorna was generous enough to lend me her unused spare road bike (with an option to buy), so I got to ride that one. This time around, though I captured the day with digital still and video cams, I wasn’t intending to make a full-on documentary like I did for the first CicLAvia (it was the first one, anyway). With really only two hours to enjoy the event, I just wanted to be there.

Hello everybody.

A couple observations and anecdotes:

• At New Hampshire and Oakwood, I overheard a fellow rider ask LAPD officer on the curb, “Any problems today?” The officer replied, “No, nothing, except we do have a lost 7-year old girl…I’m sure the parents will find her.” I asked the officer for a description and the girl’s name. He didn’t know the name but I instantly whipped out my phone and Tweeted the information (which was also retweeted by others). Having not heard of any missing children in the news tonight, hopefully it helped. [Update: the little girl was not only found, she rode the entire route all the way to Boyle Heights!]

• Mayor Villaraigosa and Lance Armstrong kicked off the event in the morning, and the world’s most famous cyclist casually rode the route and back along with everyday Angelenos. I didn’t get to see Lance (though I already rode with him, kinda – incidentally on the very same day I first heard about CicLAvia), but I did spot the mayor later in the afternoon, having lunch with his shawtay at Bottega Louie on 7th Street:

Mayor Villaraigosa, having lunch at Bottega Louie.

CicLAvia had a lot of great coverage in the local news, though the reporter’s and anchor’s inconsistencies in pronouncing “CicLAvia” and deeming it the “second annual” event (even though the last one was half a year ago and the next one comes in 90 days) were a bit unsettling. Hopefully, people will get it right eventually.

Speaking of which, here’s a list of things I’d like to see in the next CicLAvias:

– Pronounce ‘CicLAvia’ Correctly: Whether it’s participants, news reporters or anchors covering the event, most people get it wrong. It’s not “sick-clavia” nor “sick-clay-via” nor “sick-la-gadda-davida.” It’s “SEEK-la-VEE-a.” Or as I like to say, “SEEK LOVE, YEAH!”  The capitalized “LA” is not for verbal emphasis, but for literal emphasis — this is the L.A. version of Bogota, Colombia’s Ciclovia.

– Five Hours is Not Enough: Not necessarily in length, but duration. This time around, with only two hours to enjoy the route, I tried to rush myself getting from East Hollywood to Boyle Heights and back. But then I realized that CicLAvia much more than just the bike ride. It’s running into your friends and having a nice chat. It’s stopping to give people assistance or directions. It’s chilling at the park to listen to the drum circle. It’s pausing to take pictures. It’s so many things. The route’s organizers want to expand the route eventually, but even at 7.5 miles, five hours isn’t enough. Or maybe it’s just a ploy to get us wanting more…How about 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (during Daylight Savings Time)? That’s ten whole hours of CicLAvia bliss! I so want to play music alongside the route, but I also want to ride, and even try walking it sometime. A ten-hour CicLAvia would allow me to do all that.

– Stupid L.A. Traffic: There are simply too many bicyclists! Argh! Just kidding. But future CicLAvias might want to explore various methods of traffic management, especially if the number of participants rises exponentially.

– More Activity Centers: There should be more official (and unofficial) activity areas than just Hel-Mel, MacArthur Park, City Hall and Hollenbeck Park to serve as an attraction/diversion to get people off the course (see the traffic one above). I would vote for one in Koreatown (Shatto Park?) and another around the financial district in Downtown (Flower Street between 7th and 8th streets — it’s a one-way street going south, so that whole block would be devoid of cars anyway).

– Pedestrian Lane: Perhaps create an informal “pedestrian lane” on the far right, so walkers, joggers and runners can enjoy their space.

As the saying goes, “Freedom (from cars) Isn’t Free.” CicLAvia needs support to keep going, and to keep growing!

Aside from one business owner on Melrose who threatened to “block” the next CicLAvia because he couldn’t get parking, I didn’t hear about any other CicLA-villans on Sunday. Overall, it was a wonderful day. The only thing that really went wrong for me on Sunday was that I signed up to volunteer packing up the CicLAvia booth at 3 p.m., but at that time, I was stuck somewhere in Downtown L.A. trying to rush my way back. By the time I finally arrived, everything was all packed up. So I wasn’t able to volunteer after all (Sorry bout that, Joe L.) I blame CicLAvia! 🙂

This is really what it's all about.

CicLAvia is many things to many people, but the biggest thing that makes me smile is the sight of parents walking or biking in the middle of the street alongside their smiling young children in small bikes with training wheels. For the parents, CicLAvia is a special event, but for the kids, when they grow up, it’ll simply be another part of their weekend.

Some other random sights from Sunday:

My favorite CicLAvia sight - palmtree-lined New Hampshire Avenue in Koreatown.

A team of Kohl's employees at Hel-Mel gets ready to ride.

Wonder what they're investigating?

Oops. A few crashes, like this one on 7th St in MacArthur Park, happened along the way, none serious.

Bunch of folks draw chalk art in Hollenbeck Park.

At around 3:30, the motorists of Los Angeles put on their own CarLAvia, lol...

Just Another Day In The Neighborhood: Thai CDC Retreat, Library Gardening

Not as frenetic as last Saturday, but this Saturday was a day of much community activity (So what’s new?)…

9 a.m. – 1 p.m.: Thai CDC Strategic Board/Staff Planning Retreat

Saturday morning was spent at the Hollywest Apartments’ multipurpose room as Thai CDC had the first part of its board and staff retreat. As a member of its Board of Directors, I joined fellow boardmembers and members of the nonprofit’s staff as we collaboratively spent the half-day doing strategic planning for the next several years. One of the “aha” moments brought on by facilitator Tom Hayashi was that the organization needed to formulate a clear and definite “Vision Statement,” which is separate (yet related) to its Mission Statement.
I volunteered to join an ad-hoc committee with two other boardmembers and our executive director to draft it. The retreat continues with the second part in early June.

4 p.m. – 5 p.m.:  A Little Library Gardening

Later that afternoon, I went over to the Cahuenga Branch Library to catch the end of their booksale – not to purchase any books, but to catch up with Sylvia Guttierez, who leads the Friends of the Cahuenga Library group. I needed to talk to her about our grant application for Council District 13’s Clean and Connected Communities grant that I was putting together, and getting their formal endorsement. Though they don’t plan to meet until May, She agreed to have the Friends Of The Library group be a partner in the beautification project.

Since it didn’t really rain the past week like it was forecast, I watered some of the native plants in our garden at the Library, mainly the baby California Golden Poppies in the front. I also pulled out some Common Mallow and other unsightly weeds that were sprouting out of the front planters. And since it was there, I made a mini (micro?) clean-up out of it, taking out the bits of trash in front of the Library.

Interesting thing – the wastebasket at the Santa Monica/Madison Metro Bus stop was overflowing as I arrived, but when I tended to the plants, it was emptied, with a new bag. I guess they made their infrequent rounds when I wasn’t looking!

At the back of the Library, I watered the sage garden in the rear entryway. I also discovered that one of the irises (a Pacific Coast Hybrid “Rubies” variety)  in the back had begun to flower already:

The first iris bloom at the Cahuenga Library Gardens!

I also noticed that the lone Hummingbird Sage I planted after Park[ing] Day in September had really flourished. I mean it was all over the place:
New plants of this variety spring up from rhizomes underground. I need to learn how to divide them so I can plant them elsewhere. I’m still a n00b at this gardening thing, so bear with me!

Shoppin’ at the Galleria Market on Vermont

On Friday night after a day of last-minute Robert Group outreach work in Inglewood and accompanying the choir on piano during rehearsal at St. Eugene’s right afterward, I decided to check out the brand spankin’ new Galleria Market on Vermont and 5th. This new supermarket/shopping center was recently re-purposed from the shell of the old Vermont Chevrolet dealership, which closed down a couple years ago.

The Galleria Market, affiliated with the Koreatown Galleria a few miles southwest of here, is a unique building in that it only includes a handful of parking spaces in a front lot; the rest of the parking, about two levels worth, is located above the single-story market. An elevator and escalator (complete with parallel shopping cart lift) takes one down to street level.True to its name, it’s neither shopping mall nor supermarket, but both. The front end contains a Cake House pastry shop, a small food court and a couple of other retail shops, most of them closed by the time I arrived.
However, the majority of the space belonged to the supermarket, brand new in the you-can-eat-off-the-floors clean. The aisles were neatly stocked and items were relatively easy to find. They also offer conventional shopping carts, and the baskets come with casters and a long handle, in that they can be pulled like a luggage trolley:
A couple months ago, my favorite Koreatown supermarket, California Market (a mile west of here), closed down for a 2-year rehabilitation. My favorite part of that place was the banchan section, which had  everything from various type of kimchi, to fishcakes marinated in hot pepper sauce, to other sorts of neato side dishes, all packed in plastic boxes for a reasonable price. Naturally, I was delighted to see this at the corner of the market:
The selection, though, wasn’t as impressive as California Market. There were few items which jumped at me and made me go, “Dang, I gotta try this!”  They did have a “self-serve” banchan deli section directly adjacent, which I got some fishcakes and squid. Having experimented with making my own bibimbap a couple months ago (and having done it quite well), I also picked up some ingredients here as well for my next attempt.
They did have an extremely well-stocked Korean snack section, pictured above. I bought a couple packages. Of course, much of this stuff has little sentimental meaning to me since I haven’t really visited Korea yet, save for a 4-hour airplane layover back in 1981/82. Usually when I travel to some country, I get traveler’s nostalgia upon coming home. One of these days, I’ll pay a visit to the Land of the Morning Calm.

I was also looking for some soju, or at least a bottle of some Korean beer, but none was to be found here. Guess they didn’t apply for the beer/wine license. I did find a beverage called “Black Bean Drink.” I guessed it was sort of sweet black bean in a soy milk kinda thing, and I figured I’d either really like it, or really hate it. On sale for only 99 cents, I figured I couldn’t lose.  When I got home, I gave it a try, and I the former won out. I finished the bottle just minutes later. That was my golden find here.

I’ll return to Galleria Market again, they seem to have nice seafood, meat and produce sections. Their bulgogi seems pretty decently priced.

As I returned to my car with my four lightly-packed bags of groceries, I happened upon an older Korean woman, about my parents’ age, about to close the back hatch of her SUV, filled with several bags of groceries. It seemed this place was new enough that she was a first-time customer as well. She commented to me, “The prices are nice here, no?” and then mentioned something about the days of the week which I couldn’t understand but nodded anyway since I didn’t want to come off as rude. I did mention that I liked the banchan better at California Market on Western, and she mentioned to me that the owner of that market is the same as Galleria. I took her work for it, though she might have thought I was talking about HK Market, which is affiliated with Galleria.

Typical with many K-town establishments, Galleria Market keeps relatively late hours (7 a.m. to midnight), so I’ll check that off as another good point. A nice addition to the Vermont corridor, and not too far away either. Come to think of it, I might have a craving for some of that black bean drink…

Songkran, Songkran, Gonna Get Down On Songkran…

Sunday afternoon was spent at a great community tradition for the past eight years on the first Sunday of April: the big Songkran Thai New Year Festival on Hollywood Blvd, between Western and Normandie avenues, in Thai Town.

“Songkran” translated does not mean “New Year,” but refers to the first month of the traditional Thai calendar, which means “movement or change.” In Thailand, Songkran festivals are actually celebrated in the middle of April, which, in that country is also the hottest time of the year. Songkran festivals in Thailand are traditionally celebrated with the splashing of water, to signify cleansing or renewal, and also to cool those who are standing outside in the hot sun. Here, we had a mild 70-degree, mostly sunny day in Los Angeles, so any sort of splashing was probably kept to a minimum.

But it didn’t stop tens of thousands of people from converging on Hollywood Blvd for the day. In 2009, the festival attracted around 100,000 people. Sunday’s crowd didn’t seem that large, but it was somewhat larger than last year’s Easter Sunday Songkran attendance of 50,000 (which also had an earthquake as a bonus).

The Songkran Festival is a rare treat. Though centered on a particular culture, it seems to be one of the rare events that attract immigrant Thais, Thai-American young adults, Latino families, Armenian senior citizens and white hipsters alike to the boulevard. And perhaps because there’s something for everybody: Music and dance stages, a beauty pageant, a children’s activity area, clothing, arts and crafts for sale, fruit carving demonstrations, a Muay Thai kickboxing tournament, tourism information and of course, Thai food.

The event was close enough for me to walk to — parking is generally hard to find and most people are smart enough now to take the Metro Red Line into the festival at the Hollywood/Western station.

It is also an event where most every Thai organization, with the help of the Royal Thai Consulate and large corporate sponsors like Singha Beer and Thai Airways, collaborate. The  Thai Community Development Center (full disclosure: I am a member of their Board of Directors and currently serve as the board’s acting chair) had not only an outreach booth but were also selling copies of the newly-published Arcadia Images of America book, Thais In Los Angeles. Here’s the book’s authors to tell us all about it:

EHNC Vice President Eric Moore reaches out.

I also volunteered at the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council outreach booth, near Hollywood and Winona. EHNC Governing Board members Armen Makasjian, Shahan Suzmeyan, Eric Moore, Jennifer Robinson and IT Committee member George Pelham also pitched in to help, giving away our “I Love East Hollywood” bumper stickers and meeting info fliers – the latter of which all ran out, thanks to Eric’s enthusiasm. The EHNC also contributed $1000 towards the festival, directly sponsoring the children’s arts and crafts pavilion.

Me (left) and EHNC IT Committee member George Pelham show some love for the 'hood at the EHNC booth.

Songkran is a great event that I look forward to every year. It is, after all, the largest festival in East Hollywood, and one of the largest in Los Angeles (probably only eclipsed by Fiesta Broadway). Suksan wan Songkran!