Archive for October, 2019

Grand Central Market

October 26th, 2019

On my last visit to LA I kept kicking myself for not taking any photos of Grand Central Market, the big local food hall downtown. It’s also one of the best food halls I’ve ever been to and I have some recommendations. So here we go.

 

Grand Central Market Grand Central Market Grand Central Market

 

Opening at 8 AM, a handful of vendors serve coffee and breakfast. Although I’m not much of a morning person myself the weirdly named Eggslut chain has a popular outpost here with their various egg-based sandwiches, and long lines to show for it.

Lunch is the main attraction at Grand Central Market when everything is open. Aside from made to order lunches from pasta to tacos to salads, you can also buy ingredients from tiny grocery stores to cook your own food.

Snack foods and beverages are also available. I’d recommend trying La Fruteria, a Mexican street food joint with spiced fruit cups and aguas frescas.

 

Grand Central Market Grand Central Market Grand Central Market

 

Grand Central Market closes around 10 PM, but many of the vendor stalls close after the lunch rush and the crowds thin out.

One solid place for dinner — also open for lunch, but is usually slammed — is Olio, an Italian place. Though they offer salads as well, the real focus is on small thin crust pizza. It’s a better bet for dinner just because there will be open seats and you won’t have to wait as long, though if you’re willing to take it to go lunch works too. The dough is a little chewy for my taste, but the perfect tomato sauce, cheese, and toppings more than make up for it.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a “foodie” Grand Central Market is located between two Los Angeles landmarks: Angel’s Flight and the Bradbury Building.

Pershing Square

October 26th, 2019
Pershing Square Pershing Square Pershing Square

 

Just like my last visit to Los Angeles I’m staying near Pershing Square, a public plaza spanning an entire city block. I’ve also found it’s a convenient orientation point when I’m not quite sure where something is located in downtown LA.

The square is named after American WWI general John J. Pershing. Though he was a famous general in his day, as far as I can tell he has no direct connection to Los Angeles.

In its current incarnation the square features a mix of boxy and curvy concrete structures, mostly painted in pastel purple and orange. It should come as no surprise this design is the work of the late Ricardo Legorreta, whose designs are notorious for this style and color scheme.

But what surprises me most about Pershing Square is just how similar it is to Union Square back home in San Francisco. Aside from being public squares in California, consider these similarities:

  • Both are named to honor wars that have very little to do with their respective locations, let alone the west coast.
  • Both are in historic neighborhoods, surrounded by hotels, shops, and restaurants.
  • Both were rebuilt on top of underground parking garages in the mid 20th century.
  • Both are located downtown on one city block and are about the same size.
  • Both have a subway station located located nearby.

Obviously there are many, many differences between Los Angeles and San Francisco, but I think anyone who spends time in both California cities would be surprised by the similarities in their respective downtown squares.

The Last Bookstore’s upstairs labyrinth

October 25th, 2019

The Last Bookstore: Upstairs

 

On my last trip to LA I just sort of stumbled across The Last Bookstore, a large bookstore selling new, used, antique, and rare books and comic books as well as vinyl records.

Both times I wandered in I was a little distracted by well-attended events they were holding in the store with authors and poets. Not a bad problem to have for The Last Bookstore by any means, but it meant I couldn’t explore the space as freely as I would have liked.

As it turns out I’d missed two key aspects to the store. One I knew about: the upstairs. The other took me by surprise: the bank vaults. Yes, the building was once a bank, and the open bank vault doors now reveal small rooms lined with books.

So what’s upstairs? Balconies on each of the four sides of the building are roughly half devoted to art gallery spaces, and half to a quirky “labyrinth” of oddball book decor and oddly arranged shelving.

On those shelves you’ll find a strange blend of genres from science fiction to identity politics. A few bookshelves are devoted to single topics — Sherlock Holmes, for example.

Here’s a short video I put together of the crazy upstairs labyrinth at The Last Bookstore. I had to remove the ambient audio due to copyrights.

 

LA’s Union Station

October 25th, 2019
LA Union Station

 

It’s been almost two years since my last visit to Los Angeles, a trip I accidentally over-planned to the point where I had three times as much stuff to do as I did time to do it. So today I’ve returned for a few nights in an attempt to cross a few more of those items off the list.

But my first stop was actually a new item for me: Union Station. I’d become interested in the grand train stations of yesteryear during my Ameritrip2019 excursion on Amtrak. Many of these classic stations are named “Union Station” since they served a group — or union — of different passenger train services, like the one in LA still does today.

As it happens Union Station was the closest stop to my Airbnb on the LAX Flyaway “express” bus — which in reality has to share the same clogged freeways with everyone else.

The bus stops at a bus area behind the station. A short walk down a ramp leads into the newer half of the station, with the LA Metro’s subway downstairs, and both the regional Metrolink as well as Amtrak and Amtrak California on the outdoor upstairs level.

 

LA Union Station LA Union Station LA Union Station

 

The main passageway continues straight into the old part of Union Station. Unsurprisingly it’s the most interesting part of the complex, the uniquely beautiful interior in particular.

The building was completed in 1939, combining the Mission Revival style with Art Deco — a combination that sounds objectively terrible on paper, but the designers somehow fit it together perfectly. It’s worth noting the LA City Hall was designed by the same team.

Today the old half of the station is mostly waiting areas with shops, cafes, and a pair of outdoor courtyards. Still, my favorite feature in today’s 98F weather was a little more modern — the air conditioning.

Thoughts on the first episode of Truthpoint: Darkweb Rising

October 18th, 2019

Dril and Derek in a screencap from the trailer

 

There’s no easy way to explain the new Adult Swim show Truthpoint: Darkweb Rising. It’s a conspiracy theory fueled debate show, allegedly originating from the dark web. I might describe it as though aliens on the other side of the galaxy picked up Crossfire and InfoWars and somehow tried to produce new content for human viewers.

Before the show, a government warning appears telling us what we’re about to see is unfit for public consumption because it’s “too real.” The primary host is Dril, an anonymous Twitter user who has spent the last decade posting weird yet somehow hilarious messages like these:

To maintain his anonymity on television, Dril wears sunglasses over a cheap rubber mask that makes him look like a cross between Max Headroom and a burn victim.

Derek, a loud skinny white guy with a thick head of brown hair is the co-host. We’re told Derek’s list of accomplishments include inventing a new mental disorder as well as getting fired from running the Wendy’s Twitter account when he used it to promote Burger King.

The two sit at desks in front of a screen displaying images of a spinning globe, a city in flames, and occasionally a photo of Larry King. A CNN-like headline ticker at the bottom of the screen scrolls various headlines including “Spinning Around Really Fast Could be the Hot New ‘Cheap and Legal High,’ Warns Pastor.”

The hosts are occasionally joined by Truthbot, an allegedly AI character who speaks through a voice synthesizer that sounds like it would be at home in a 1970’s Kraftwerk single.

 

Episode one

The first episode “Money” jumps into a segment called “The Throw Down.” They play a clip about getting money through positive affirmations, along the lines of countless generic self-help materials.

This leads into a debate segment called “Bullet Points” which features gun-related images. Dril kicks things off, emphasizing that “money will make you rich,” and recommends selling out to someone like George W. Bush or Jeffrey Epstein.

After Drill hands Derek a pen and demands Derek sell it back to him — one of those cheap disposable Bic pens — they get into an ongoing debate about who owns the pen. Dril hands Derek three dollars and begs for it back, but Derek only returns the cap.

In contrast to Dril, Derek recommends throwing your money away because it’s from the government — which he doesn’t trust — and mining cryptocurrency instead. But he supports Dril’s message about selling out.

In a segment called “Arena of Expertise” they bring on Dr. Branson, a “Professor of General Studies” via satellite. Branson conducts a thought experiment to prove money isn’t even real.

Dril and Derek decide this expert is a moron and “flush” him away with a toilet flushing sound so they can take some phone callers, none of whom have anything interesting to say. The callers are all flushed away as well.

Towards the end of the episode the two hosts don party hats while displaying completely incoherent “internet memes” in a segment allegedly sponsored by Monsanto. They try to pick the one that best fits Monsanto’s brand image.

The episode ends with “Zero Hour” where each host makes a closing statement. Dril’s “Final Thoughts” segment reveals a new self-help affirmation condemning Derek. Derek uses “The Last Word” to show off his new pen and the three dollars Dril gave him.

 

Critical reception

Early critics of Truthpoint, who aired their grievances before the show’s premier, seemed mostly annoyed that Dril would do a show at all — presumably because it shattered the illusion that he’s the person seen in his Twitter avatar, an old blurry photo of Jack Nicholson. (Note to people of the future: if that previous sentence sounded strange, and I hope it does, go look at the real news from this year.)

After the episode actually aired a few reviewers who watched it praised the show for taking the mock-news comedy format in a new direction. It’s certainly true that nobody will mistake Truthpoint for SNL’s Weekend Update, The Daily Show, or Last Week Tonight.

 

My thoughts so far

Personally I’m on the fence. On the one hand, satirizing the typical debate shows these days that are just hosts yelling hot takes at one another with a show where the hosts are yelling literal nonsense is a clever subversion. There’s potential, the first episode definitely has some laugh out loud moments.

But on the other, the hour long format, filmed live, and with Adult Swim’s low budget it didn’t quite come together — at least not in this first episode. 

Over the years my favorite live action Adult Swim series have been Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job!, Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule, The Eric Andre Show, and On Cinema At The Cinema. All four of those mock low budget content while simultaneously being filmed on a shoestring budget themselves. Just as importantly, they do so in 15 minute increments. 

My only criticisms of Truthpoint so far is it’s kind of long, and the live element doesn’t add much. I realize Adult Swim has 24 hours a day to fill on their web stream but this particular show would greatly benefit from tight editing to keep the humor moving along at a steady pace.

Regardless I do hope the argument about ownership of the pen is resolved by the end of the season. We’re through the looking glass here people, and we need answers.