Musical Therapy

I hear all the time that New York City is one of the loneliest places on Earth though there millions of people traversing the streets at all hours of the day and night.  I understand the rationale of being surrounded by the masses yet never speaking to a single soul.  However, I would venture that driving in Los Angeles is worse.  At the very least, while I’m walking through any city I have the option of talking or interacting with my fellow pedestrians.

This weekend was the first in a long line of weekends that I had a car to myself.  A friend was out of town, and I was given keys to a beautiful Honda Fit.  The freedom of the open road was at my fingertips ready for me to go anywhere or everywhere that my heart desired.  Though I only ended up taking the car to Long Beach to pick up some furniture I bought from a guy on Craigslist, I was reminded of the one thing I miss about driving a car:  musical therapy.

I cannot carry a tune to save my life, but sometimes a little musical therapy is required (and I much prefer it to retail therapy).  Speeding on an semi-open highway with the windows slightly ajar and a song blasting that describes how I’m feeling at that very moment is the perfect time to belt out a tune.  Have a Rachel Berry moment.  Close your eyes, though only for a second as driving requires you to be aware and responsive to the other cars around you, and really sing out that chorus.  There is something relieving about complete freedom in the car.  Sometimes that is the only time I get to block out the world around me.  It is the single loneliest and yet most meditative place for me.

It’s unfortunate that singing while walking would classify me as being off my rocker while singing in the car is completely normal.  My fear of public ridicule and also my understanding that singing in the presence of others may not be a pleasant experience for anyone involved has kept me from succumbing to musical therapy while walking.  However, I’ve definitely had my moments when the music takes over and I start humming a tune and walking to the beat.

Never say never.  I don’t mind a few strange looks in my direction.  Maybe musical therapy for a pedestrian is still possible.

The importance of the head nod.

Have you ever considered the importance of acknowledging people around you?  My dad was a talker.  He developed the habit from his dad, I’m fairly sure.  I recall many times when I was growing up and visiting my grandparents in New Mexico, my abuelita and I ended up hanging around outside a grocery store waiting for my grand-papi to finish his conversation with some random person inside the store.  Every time it happened I would ask my grammy, “did he see someone he knew?”  The response was always the same, “he thinks he knows everyone.”  I never seemed to learn to stop asking.  My dad was the same.  Any elevator, line or general space where people were standing around waiting for something he would always wait out his chance to start a conversation or at least acknowledge someone’s existence with a smile and a nod.

Often it is suggested to me that I am very much like my dad.  I accept that wholeheartedly, and I had to finally agree when I started repeating his bad jokes to friends.  Because of this, I find myself at odds with city living.  I do the city thing walking with an iPod whenever I leave the house in my attempt to signifying that I’m too busy listening to music to be bothered.  However, I rarely keep up the charade.  If someone talks to me, I will respond as long as it’s not (1) obnoxious or (2) rude.  For example, I had a short conversation with a man trying to sell knock off Coldplay CDs while I waited to cross the street on my way to the Financial District.  It was amusing because I told him I wasn’t enough of a fan to buy a CD and he wanted to know who Coldplay was in the first place, so we ended up chatting for a few minutes about music in general.  Another time I learned from a guy around Pershing Square that the dog in Mel Gibson’s Mad Max movies was an Australian Cattle Dog.  Learn something new every day.

I find that I continually walk through downtown assessing people as I pass them.  Step one:  are they a little on the crazy side and if so how crazy because I have yet to meet anyone completely sane.   Initial assessment done, move to step two: are they going to acknowledge that I’m walking by them?  If yes, then step three: smile and give a head nod.  I don’t care who you are.  Homeless, artist, transient, hipster, business person, entrepreneur, if you’re in downtown then we should learn how to coexist.  And by that I mean acknowledge each other.

When I first moved to the Historic Core, I found that I needed to walk down Main Street quite often.  In the mornings there was always a group of guys sitting in the same general area drinking, smoking or doing whatever else they do on a regular day.  For the first week I ignored their comments and kept walking, though as the week progressed they seemed to get progressively more annoying.  So finally, I decided to try something new.  The following week as I passed the group, I looked at one gentleman in the middle of the pack who never said a word to me.  I made eye contact, smiled and said “good morning, sir.  I hope you have a nice day.”  Everyone stopped talking.  The man returned my good morning and wished me a good day, as well.  From that point on, those guys have never bothered me again.  Do I recommend this course of action to everyone in all circumstances?  Of course not.  But the power of acknowledging someone worked quite well.  If it hadn’t worked, well I would have come up with a different plan.  I still see several of those guys today as I walk to work in the morning and we’ve kept up the routine.  “Good morning, sir.  I hope you have a nice day.”

There have been many times that the people I’ve met have helped me out in different ways, and I am always grateful for their assistance or general civility or, even minimally, humorous conversation.  I like knowing the people who live around me, and I welcome those experiences.  It’s my continued attempt to bring a little Southern hospitality to Downtown.  It’s feels good to be nice to people.  More likely than not those around you will return the favor.

Photo credit:  Photo taken from the blog site Doggie Stylish.

No me toques!

Many moons ago, or the equivalent of three years, there was some crazy talk about sending me to Nicaragua for work.  Why, you might ask, is this crazy.  The crazy part comes in the fact that I am not fluent nor semi-fluent nor do I even have a passable understanding of Spanish.  I studied the Russian language for eight years and nearly had a minor in Russian literature.  (For those that know me but never knew this fun fact, I realize it’s a bit strange because I’m of Mexican heritage, but whatever.)  So, the thought of sending me into the jungles of Nicaragua to speak Russian seemed a bit crazy.  A good friend of mine told me that if I was sent to Nicaragua I would only need to know three phrases:  1) Dónde está [insert name of person I am traveling with]?, 2) Quiero una cerveza, and 3) No me toques!

I realized that the third phrase comes in handy in my every day life.  If you haven’t used Google translate or some other internet device to find the English translation of my favorite phrase, it means: Don’t touch me!

We live in cities.  A study conducted in 2008 found that there was somewhere around 40,000 residents living in downtown and nearly 500,000 people in downtown on regular weekday.  A lot has happened in three years since the study and so those numbers are much higher now.

That is a lot of people.  There will be times when someone will bump you or brush against you as they are walking.  It’s a part of city living.  Urban dwellers have come to understand personal space does not always exist.

However, and this is a big however, there are a few no-no’s in this unstated agreement between me and the world.  The biggest no-no of them all occurs when I utter the words “no me toques!”  Yesterday evening as I walked home caught up in my own world semi-listening to music on my iPod, a gentleman decided he wanted to get my attention and touched my arm as I walked by him.  My response was to take a step, position myself to kick him in the most sensitive spot I could and then run.  When he saw me take pose to strike, he jumped back and said “wait, wait, wait, I just wanted to tell you that I’m a Libra!”

Among the multiple problems with this situation the most important to note:  do not ever grab a person you do not know while walking through downtown.

In honor of my newly realized desire to learn more self-defense moves, I am going take some Krav Maga classes.  Beware!

Photo credit:  From the blog Archives of Our Lives.

Pet Peeve

I am a proud dog owner living in DTLA.  The only time I pretend my pup and I are not together is when he goes ballistic at the sight of a large dog (though the leash and doggie bag in my hand usually give me away).  Napoleon complex.

Now, I recall an article in the LA Times awhile back that claimed there were more dogs in downtown than people.  I don’t know if that is true, but what I will say is that there are prime walking areas where people go and meet, let their dogs play, and…do their business on every tree in every section of greenery or non-greenery that exists in downtown.  As a dog lover, I have no problem with the number of dogs in downtown.  However, I do have an issue when dog owners do not pick up after their pets.  I would love to be able to tell my dog “you made that mess, now please go clean it up” and while he might be smarter than me at times, I am fairly sure we will never reach that point.  And, as a side note, thank you to whoever it was that put flyers on a couple of trees around my block showing a photo of poo left on the ground.  It was a disturbing image to see first thing in the morning, but your point is sound.

Please, dog owners in downtown, pick up after your dog.  I have new rules for my pup when we go out for walks in an attempt to…spread the love around downtown as opposed to marking the same tree over and over again.

Rule #1 – We will not stop at every tree.  I know which three are your favorites on our block and that is fine, but the others will remain unmarked.

Rule #2 – You are not allowed to relieve yourself on anything other than grass or other green space.  This sidewalk stuff is not happening on my watch, and I’m definitely not allowing any marking of potted plants outside a store front.

Rule #3 – Well, I don’t have a rule # 3 yet, but I’m sure the list will grow.

I love dogs in DTLA.  I often stop to pet them when I’m out walking (as long as they are friendly and the owners don’t mind).  It is crazy to expect anyone else to do your dirty work.  You got the dog, be a good owner.

To cross or not to cross…that is the question.

I could go on forever about the differences between Los Angeles and New York, and I likely will at some point, but for now let’s focus on crosswalks.  It may sound boring, but I am fascinated by the differing mentalities between Los Angeles pedestrians and New York City pedestrians.

Picture this:  A girl from Los Angeles visiting friends in Brooklyn.  As we walked through the city, everyone would cross the street at any given time, in any given location without rhyme or reason.  The hinderance to crossing occurred when the New York pedestrians begrudgingly waited for cars to pass.  It seems entirely logical.  However, for the girl from Los Angeles, crossing the street in such a manner was foreign…forbidden really.  I’m sure this girl looked like a fish out of water when everyone else crossed the street and she was waiting on the corner for the light.  In her defense, she came around quickly.

Picture this:  A girl from Los Angeles, having recently returned from New York City where she became accustomed to crossing the street the New Yorker way, walking along a sidewalk in Culver City.   The girl may have been texting while walking and not really paying attention, but she was aware enough to notice the cars with the right of way driving.  She stopped at the crosswalk next to three other people also waiting to cross.  Now, not realizing where she was, the girl assumed that she could wait for the other walkers to begin those treacherous steps across the street as her sign to start walking too.  She waited…and waited…and waited.  Finally, when she glanced up from what she was reading, she realized that there were no cars, there was a green light in the direction she was walking, but no one was willing to move.  Why, you might ask.  Because that little man that symbolizes “it’s OK to cross the street now” was not lit.  The girl looked around and saw the “fear of crossing when not allowed” on other pedestrians’ faces.  Taking matters into her own hand, she reached over and pushed the button for the crosswalk.  Low and behold, the little man appeared instantaneously and everyone began to happily cross the street.

Now, I will  never say that (1) New York does it right or (2) I laugh in the face of the law and jaywalk all the time (unless it’s 11pm and I’m walking home alone then all bets are off) or (3) that Los Angeles pedestrians are too timid when crossing the street.  No to all of those.  I actually think the reason we do not cross the street as willy nilly as those crazy New  Yorkers is because there really are police officers ticketing at times (and who wants such an unnecessary ticket), the streets in DTLA are quite a bit wider (at least when comparing DTLA to Williamsburg), and really LA drivers have no idea what to do with pedestrians yet.  I get it.  However, there has to be a middle ground for us.  We should be able to cross the street sans the little man symbol granting us permission!

*The* LAX CarShare Conversation.

It’s my favorite conversation that happens ALL THE TIME.  It involves phrases like:  “Seriously, you don’t own a car” and “How do you possibly live in Los Angeles without a car” and my favorite “are you crazy?!”  As to the last question, it remains to be seen.  As to the first two.  YES, IT’S TRUE.  I DON’T OWN A CAR.

Then the conversation always continues:  “Well don’t you need a car sometimes?” or “How did you get there if you don’t have a car?”  Wake up and smell the gasoline (OK, don’t, that’s really not healthy.)  Anyway, today I was FORCED to travel to the outskirts of the world…Malibu.  I find Malibu fascinating.  I don’t know what everyone out there does for a living, but I want in.  Going surfing in the middle of the day sounds awesome.  However, getting to Malibu and seeing those surfers and then back to downtown in under…a million hours…required a car.  I cannot stress enough how much I love LAX CarShare.  Without it, I’m sure I would have broken down and gone back to the world of car ownership.  Not having that responsibility is amazingly freeing.  And yet…I can drive to Malibu at the drop of a hat.  It’s super easy, really.  And while I love this conversation that has an official title now because I’ve had it so many times, it would be fun if the LAX CarShare idea was not so alien to everyone I meet.

Now for the exciting part.  You all know you want to be LAX CarShare members too.  I want more shared cars in Los Angeles, not only downtown.  For everyone who says “well you can do that because you live and work in downtown,” all I can say is sure it takes a little more thought and some adjustment, but don’t knock it until you try it.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN JOINING THE LAX CARSHARE FAMILY SIGN UP NOW!!  Even better, enter the promo code “Be Green” and let them know that you learned of this deal through my blog (Flat-Footed) for 10% off the sign up fees.  It’s worth it.  I love my life without a car and yet…I have a car whenever I need it.

Surviving Los Angeles without…Internet?

I actually remember the days when computers were new and fun.  They all had that black screen and green writing on it.  This was before we all went social media crazy.  Now, if I don’t have my blackberry on my person at all times, I feel like there is a piece of me missing.  I know it’s sad.

So imagine my despair when I lost Internet access in my house.  That’s right!  NO INTERNET!  Now, not only am I car-less, I don’t have the ability to sign up for CarShare or look at Google map locations.  I was lost!  (As a side note, really my despair was self-imposed as I had to work all weekend anyway so leaving downtown was not going to happen, CarShare has a phone number you can call to reserve a car, and I still had Google maps on my blackberry.  So essentially I’m taking some dramatic license here.)

That means no e-mail, no Facebook, no blog posting.  I did my duty and called my service provider to find out that…oops…apparently autopay wasn’t as automatic as I thought, and they decided to shut down my deadbeat backside.

Alright, fine.  So, now what.  Thank goodness for local spots along Spring Street that provide free access to the Internet while supplying customers with coffee, pastries, sandwiches and pretty much anything else you may ever need for sustenance.

I need to give a special thank you to L.A. Cafe.  Now, I can’t opine on their food so much as I only had the granola, berries and yogurt one morning (excellent) and coffee the other times I was there.  However, the beauty of L.A. Cafe is that THEY ARE OPEN 24 HOURS AND PROVIDE FREE INTERNET ACCESS.  They do request that you limit your time at their tables to an hour.  The times I was visiting their establishment were off-peak hours, so I tended to stay a little longer, e.g. 4am this morning when I sat with a cup of coffee at one of their tables for a couple of hours finishing up my work.  I would be frantic and near tears right now if I hadn’t found L.A. Cafe in my walking tours of the neighborhood.

My only complaint, though there is not much they can do about it, is that there is no seating inside the cafe.  Granted, how many times will I need to sit outside working in the wee hours of the morning, but hey, if it happened once it could happen again.  However, fate stepped in and I met a nice man who became my bodyguard for a few hours.  He told me his life story that included a need to get back to Long Beach and so I offered a deal:  $10 (half at the beginning and half when I was done working) to sit at the table with me, not interrupt me while I worked, and to keep other people from distracting me.  Deal struck, mission accomplished, work finished.

Thank goodness I will have access to the ever addictive Internet again tonight…