A Chat At The L.A.Times

Part of “discovering” a place is getting to know its opinion-makers and the issues they and the people in the community care about. With that in mind, I recently attended an event at the Los Angeles Times featuring a conversation with Times columnist Steve Lopez, known for his sharp reporting on people and issues affecting the city of Los Angeles.

For those who might not know, Steve Lopez is also the journalist whose chance encounter with a homeless musician living in the tunnels of Los Angeles’ Skid Row led to a series of columns and events that changed the man’s life. Lopez captured this story in a book that later became a Hollywood movie. I am talking about The Soloist, with Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx. It was a bonus to hear Lopez’s personal account of his encounter with Nathaniel Ayers and everything that happened after that, including their lasting friendship.

Lopez is a witty, engaging, and quite entertaining speaker. A real story-teller, he shared some of his most interesting journalistic experiences, from his earlier days as a reporter in Philadelphia covering the local mafia, to more recent ones in Los Angeles, including being invited by Los Angeles city attorney Carmen Trutanich to participate in a driving test while under the influence of marijuana as part of a study on the potential ramifications of California Proposition 19.

I also got a kick out of his definition of a “let’s-get-the-bastards” story, which he uses to describe his and his fellow L.A.Times journalists’ attitude as they go after misbehaving public officials, left and right. But he’ll have no problem helping city officials go after citizens who are breaking the law, as in his participation in a sting operation to crack down parking meter cheaters, for which he’s still getting some heat from readers.

An important issue that Lopez has been writing about, resulting from his experience with his ailing father, is that of end-of-life care and the need for patients to put their end-of-life wishes down on paper. In a column about his father’s illness, Lopez reminds us that with some 75 million baby boomers approaching old age, questions about the way we die will have to be dealt with.

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Lopez’s talk, rich in information and stories from his many years in journalism, gave me some interesting information and insights into local issues and L.A.’s movers and shakers. But it also reminded me of how much I enjoy conversations with journalists and how some of the best times I’ve had were spent with journalist friends. Well, perhaps the fact that my father was a journalist and that I grew up around journalists has something to do with that too…

“The Rock” Has Arrived

On March 10, the 349-ton boulder that will soon be part of Michael Heizer‘s Levitated Mass finished its 11-day journey,  arriving at LACMA at 4:45AM to great fanfare.

The rock, still shrink-wrapped in white plastic, and its 176-wheel transporter are now parked across from another LACMA signature artwork, Chris Burden’s Urban Light. The public can see it from behind a fence that surrounds the entire area where Levitated Mass will be installed.

But the installation will not be unveiled for another two months or so. This is what will take to dismantle the transporter and to erect the massive gantries needed to install the rock above Heizer’s 456-foot-long slot in the ground which will create the levitation effect.

I stopped by LACMA to take some photos and got to talk to folks who were there admiring and photographing the now famous rock. Judging from their enthusiasm, and from the excitement shown by people in the cities along its journey, Levitated Mass is already a hit. And great PR for LACMA too. Folks who hadn’t even heard of LACMA before, will want to come to the museum to see what happened to the rock that rolled along their towns on its way to becoming art. Should the excitement continue, the installation will bring large crowds and big revenues to the museum.  Kudos, LACMA!

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Levitating Mass at LACMA

If you do something truly innovative there’s a strong likelihood you’ll be called crazy, irresponsible, wasteful, or ridiculous. Artists, inventors, and entrepreneurs often face opposition when trying to break new grounds. So, if you’re pushing the envelope, it helps to have a thick skin and a lot of perseverance.

Artist Michael Heizer’s  Levitated Mass, soon to be installed on the north lawn of LACMA’s Resnick Pavilion, is an example of innovative and controversial art. It has Angelenos divided between those who love and support it and those who hate and oppose it.

Levitated Mass is a 456-foot-long slot, upon and at the center of which is placed a 340-ton granite megalith. As visitors walk along the slot, it gradually descends to fifteen feet deep, running underneath the megalith before ascending back up. Heizer dreamed up Levitated Mass more than forty years ago, but only recently found the proper boulder for it.

The project, which includes an 11-day journey from a quarry in Riverside County to LA’s Miracle Mile, will travel through twenty-two cities and is expected to arrive at LACMA’s Resnick Pavilion on March 10 if all goes as planned. Check L.A. Times’ pictures of the boulder’s journey so far.

Contrary to what critics think, the project is not funded by taxpayers’ money. It is privately funded and, according to LACMA, it’s actually having a positive impact on the economy. “From the construction teams on site who have been digging the 456-foot-long slot and preparing to install the megalith, to the transport company, to the permitting fees paid to twenty-two cities in four different counties for the transport, a great deal of the privately raised funds for Levitated Mass has gone directly into the local economy.”

I’m with those who support the project and I look forward to seeing Levitated Mass when it comes to fruition. After all, its concept is intriguing and the story behind the project is quite interesting. As for it being too big and expensive, well, maybe it is, but if all mega projects were rejected, some of the world’s most remarkable landmarks would not exist today. They, too, must have faced some form of opposition.

The hype around the “rock on the move” reminds me of last year’s fuss over “Carmageddon,” which made the national news for quite some time. It’s a fun story and just another reason to say “only in L.A…”

For an update see new post on https://discoveringla.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/the-rock-has-arrived/