My trip to Ohio

Exterminator’s Window

While I probably have more to say about my weekend trip to Ohio than what is summed up in this photo, I found it very amusing that these exterminators thought it would be good marketing to make a display of stuffed animals having a picnic. Exactly the same types of animals they specialize in killing. If you are ever walking up High Street in Columbus, be sure to take a look.

I suppose it isn’t much worse than having a talking chicken in an ad for fried chicken…

Across an Inland Sea: reading a book that starts in the place you know best

Grain elevators on the Buffalo River
Grain elevators on the Buffalo River

Update: I am deeply saddened to have discovered that Nicholas Howe died of Leukemia nearly two years ago. I guess I won’t be meeting him any time soon after all.

I just finished a great book that I stumbled upon by accident while browsing at William Stout Architectural Books last weekend. It’s by UC Berkeley professor Nicholas Howe and is titled Across an Inland Sea: Writing in Place from Buffalo to Berlin.

It caught my eye at the bookstore because it has a photo of one of the Buffalo grain elevators on the cover with the frozen expanse of Lake Erie stretching in every direction. It’s a sight I am very familiar with as it is next to the highway that goes from Hamburg (where I grew up) to downtown Buffalo, and I’ve passed it more times than I can count. For many years, there was a huge blue-green rusting cruise ship docked next to it.

The book is about how the places we live change us and make us who we are, and what it means to write from various locales. The book starts with a description of Buffalo, where the author grew up and where his family had lived for several generations to Paris, Oklahoma, Berlin and finally Columbus, Ohio. I found the book particularly fascinating because not only did I grow up in Buffalo, but I have lived in Columbus and I’ve ended up in the Bay Area- where Howe moved shortly after the book was finished to teach at Berkeley.

Lake Erie in winter, before the freeze
Lake Erie in winter, before the freeze

I don’t think it was until I reached graduate school that I realized how fundamentally different peoples’ sense of the world could be, even amongst people who grew up in the same country speaking the same language. There were people in my classes who didn’t realize that there were parts of the country like Detroit (or Buffalo) where full grown trees had pushed their way up through buildings and railroad tracks vacated decades earlier. Seeing this gives you a world view where you realize how transitory the world around you can be, despite its seemingly permanent materiality. It is definitely at the core of how I view architecture and the urban realm.

Now I have to bump Berlin and Paris up my list of places I want to visit.

Rite Aid Beverly Hills

Yes, that’s right (or should I say “Rite”). Not only is there a Rite Aid in Beverly Hills, they actually call it “Rite Aid Beverly Hills” with “Beverly Hills” written in script on the sign as if it were a Bentley dealer or Cartier. Upon going into the store, it was mostly good old Rite Aid- sunscreen, medicine and snack food as far as the eye can see. There was an ice cream parlor inside too, but I have seen those in other Rite Aid locations. It’s not like they were selling caviar and pate flavored soft serve or anything either, it was just regular ice cream.

Back Window at the Lingere Shop This picture depicts a display window on the back of a trashy lingerie shop on La Cienega Blvd. in West Hollywood. What was I doing at a trashy lingerie shop? I was on my way to the organic vegan restaurant next door, of course. Note that one of the mannequins in this photo is disintegrating. I don’t have any theories on that, or at least any theories I could reveal in a family-oriented blog like this.That’s the best part about LA- you’ll find insane juxtapositions of high and low culture, good taste and bad, or hippie food and pervert mannequin fetish all on the same block (oh, wait, this is starting to sound like my Master’s Thesis).

Men on the RoofAs long as we’re on the subject of weird juxtapositions in Los Angeles, don’t white plaster statues of men with American flags make you want to run out and buy a suit?

Topiary Dinosaurs & The Museum of Jurassic Technology

Santa Monica Topiary Dinosaurs, proudly guarding the Promenade.

Yes, even Los Angeles has dinosaurs. Of course, they are made out of shrubs and shoot water from their mouths while people casually eat frozen yogurt and shop at an outdoor mall. This is one of the many highlights of last weekend’s trip.

Museum of Jurassic TechnologyAnother highlight of the trip was visiting the Museum of Jurassic Technology. I’m sure many of you have heard of it by now. It’s a museum that is really more of a conceptual art project. While it projects the trappings of an “official” museum, you never quite know whether the things on display are real or not. You also never really know why they are on display, as much of what’s in the museum looks either obscure, insignificant or both. Long story short, I can’t describe it well enough to do it justice. If you are passing through Culver City, give yourself at least an hour and a half to see the displays and more than that if you want to read everything (actually you would need a whole day for that).

Barking Man in a Dog's Head One of the displays featured this glass case with a dog’s head inside. Through a series of prisms, the image of a man fidgeting in a chair and barking is projected into space so that when you look into the case, he appears to be in the dog’s head. Then he starts barking. It’s priceless, and this one exhibit is worth the price of admission alone.

Bike Blender Margaritas

You know it’s a party when someone whips out a bike blender. Actually, if you don’t live in the Bay Area you probably haven’t seen one before (unless you have been to Burning Man, I have a suspicion you may have seen on there). Our annual party was enhanced this year by the addition of frozen margaritas mixed up in the courtyard.

Governor Schwarzenegger Opens a new Overpass

Cupcakes from Caltrans Okay, I admit I’m posting this a bit late. I have been really busy and we actually had some hot weather for the first time in about a year last weekend, so I haven’t been blogging. Last week, Caltrans (the California department of transportation) threw a festive gathering in front of my office to celebrate the new overpass that has been under construction on the other side of the wall at my office for the last year. They call it the “West Approach” because it is the west approach to the San Francisco Bay Bridge. The Governator showed up, but nobody actually saw him. He pulled up in an SUV on the overpass, out of site of the party, and gave a speech the was telecast to people standing on the ground about 200 feet away. Following the speech he drove away. It was completely surreal. Then, they served really awful (free) food including vegetarian baked beans that tasted like wet packing peanuts. Oh, and cupcakes. Sweet, delicious blue and orange cupcakes. Unfortunately the frosting melted instantly in the sun. Special thanks to my friend Angela and her iPhone for the photos.
Freeway Opening Festivities

The Olympic Torch meets the Bay Quackers Bus in San Francisco

The Quackers Bus and the TorchAs you may be able to see in this blurry photo I borrowed from the CNN website (and they apparently got it from the local KRON4 helicopter) the infamous Olympic Torch struggled to make its way through San Francisco today. While thousands of people on all sides of the China issue were gathered at the baseball stadium and the waterfront downtown (the official route), the Torch was being secretly run through several of the most unsuspecting parts of the city accompanied by the Bay Quackers Bus. What is this bus, you ask? It is a duck-themed amphibious tour bus for tourists. Thank God they upheld the dignity of the Olympics. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to cancel the whole thing before it even started?

You can check out my photos from the protests at flickr.

San Francisco Olympic Torch Protest

A Rugged Plant for Men

A Rugged Plant for Men, from Better Homes & Gardens.

In 1959, Better Homes and Gardens published a book titled “House Plants.” I didn’t discover this book until this afternoon. I don’t know how I made it this far without it. I had previously underestimated the influence of proper houseplant selection on proving one’s own masculinity. Luckily, I read the page titled “Hardy beauties for a man’s office” today and learned that all I need to do is get a nice Fiddleleaf fig (pictured above), place it next to a wood-paneled wall and sit down for a satisfying smoke on my davenport (or sofa). I can almost taste the Scotch now (which inevitably would have been procured for me by an adoring female, who can’t resist the manly charms of my houseplants).

It also helps to put philodendrons next to eagle-themed paperweights.

Plant with Eagle

Warning signs: reasons to stay inside

Snakes! Mountain Lions! Mountain Lion/Rattlesnake warning at Mt. Tamalpais State Park

When venturing into the outdoors, there is always a certain amount of risk involved. I think people used to take that for granted. The State of California (probably because they don’t want to be held liable) recognized that people probably aren’t as savy as they used to be, and therefore has posted signs about every dangerous animal you could possible encounter on your adventures into the wilderness.

Mountain lions and rattlesnakes are, to some small degree, avoidable while hiking. Especially rattlesnakes- at least if you are aware of them you can watch where you step and take precautionary measures. The sign about mountain lions at least tells you to wave your arms over your head and try to scare it away. I really don’t understand this sign:

Sharks! Shark warning at Stinson Beach

“A shark attack occurred here in six feet of water.” Oh great. Something tells me waving your arms in the air isn’t going to do the trick if an 18 foot long great white thinks you are a seal.

Finally, my favorite sign from the Montreal Bioshpere:

Ne Pas Toucher the otters Don’t touch the otters!

Snowshoeing in the shadow of the Donner Party

On Saturday, Natasha and I drove to Truckee, CA to see the snow and go snowshoeing. I didn’t realize that it was going to be nearly 50 degrees outside, which is approximately the same temperature as our kitchen in the morning. Needless to say, it wasn’t a very “wintery” experience, but was fun nonetheless.

We rented snowshoes at a place called “The Backcountry” and then headed to the other side of the I-80 to Donner Memorial State Park. The park has a small museum, camping, and cross-country ski trails in the winter. It is located at the spot where most of the Donner Party spent the infamous winter of 1846-1847.

The trail takes you to the edge of Donner Lake, along the shore, and then back to the museum. I think it is about a 2.5 mile walk. It is flat, and would have been pretty easy had we not been snowshoeing through heavy slush.

After our expedition in the wilderness, we headed to Truckee where we ate some “food” at a place called “Coffee And.” If you are a vegetarian, you might want to consider other options. It’s a pretty classic small diner-style restaurant where you get eight ounces of Italian dressing on a handful of iceberg lettuce and a cup of coffee in a questionably clean mug. They did have veggie burgers though, so I have to give them some credit.