Carmageddon, or Carmaheaven?

A little over a year ago, Angelenos were bracing for what they called “Carmageddon,” an epic traffic tie-up resulting from the closing of a 10-mile stretch of the 405 Freeway for an entire weekend as part of the freeway-widening project.

For those who don’t know, the 405 Freeway is a U.S. interstate route that runs from Irvine, California, north to the Mission Hills district of Los Angeles. It’s been ranked the most heavily traveled section of freeway in the US. And in 1994, the 405 was the stage of that infamous low-speed police chase of O.J. Simpson, then a suspect in the killings his ex-wife and a friend in Brentwood. But for many people in the area, the 405 is their route to work, shop, and visit friends and family.

Would Angelenos survive a weekend without the 405?

Well, they did, and “Carmageddon” never happened. Angelenos listened to the warnings from county officials and public service announcements from celebrities to avoid L.A.’s Westside, and averted the anticipated epic traffic jam. The work went on smoothly and crews were able to finish it ahead of schedule. Locals even found a way to have fun with Carmageddon.

Fast-forward to September 2012, and here we are all hyped up about Carmageddon II. As usual, the media is playing up the event, which started on Friday, September 28, and will end before rush hour early Monday, October 1.

Friday night, working crews closed ramps along the 10-mile area of the 405 Freeway between the 10 and 101 Freeways, and early Saturday morning demolition of the remaining half of the Mulholland Drive Bridge was well underway. Later in the day, there was news of a few glitches during the demolition, but apparently they were dealt with satisfactorily and contractors still expect to finish the work on schedule.

Given last year’s positive experience, Angelenos are taking Carmageddon II in stride. As advised, they are giving themselves plenty of extra time to get to their destination and  avoiding using streets near the 405. Many chose to stay home or to enjoy places close to home. Mayor Villaraigosa is calling this enterprise “Carmaheaven.” I hope he’s right!

As for me, living in Brentwood, not too far from the area under construction, I can’t wait for this to be over. Since it started, helicopters and small planes have been a constant nuisance flying over our neighborhood at all hours, even as late as 1:30 am. Hopefully, once the frenzy over Carmageddon II is over, we’ll have some relief both in air and road traffic.

As if to remind me that this is not happening any time soon, a chopper just hovered over the house, proving that even at home, one cannot escape Carmageddon II. Sigh!

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The Seasons in L.A.

I’ve been in L.A. for almost a year now, and from what I’ve seen so far, there are just two long seasons here: Autumn, from October through March, when days are mostly sunny and pleasant and nights are cool; and Summer, from April through September, when it’s mostly sunny and warm, with some very hot days in August and September.

I was delighted to find out that autumn/winter temperatures here vary from the high 50s to the high 70s, even 80s –in late November 2011 temps reached 88F in Santa Monica and people flocked to the beach.

Unfortunately, fall foliage in L.A. is nothing like the breathtaking color spectacle found in other parts of the country. In the Washington D.C. area the change of colors is a major attraction, and one I miss a lot. But the vegetation in L.A. is very beautiful, with different trees and flowers blooming all year-long. So there’s always a lot of color everywhere, even in the winter months. Every now and then it gets windy and chilly, especially near the ocean. But it still doesn’t compare to even mild winters elsewhere. Even on colder nights, a light coat is all you need. The secret here is to dress in layers. Scarves, trendy sweaters, leggings, and boots are a styling must and, most times, all you need for day outings.

There is a lot of talk about the Santa Ana winds but I’ll need a few more years here to master the exact frequency and effects of the Santa Ana winds on L.A.’s seasons. According to Wikipedia, “southern California coastal region gets some of its hottest weather of the year during autumn while Santa Ana winds are blowing. During Santa Ana conditions it is typically hotter along the coast than in the deserts.”

Low fog is also common during fall/winter months, especially around the beaches. It’s kind of creepy, actually. Walking around Santa Monica on a foggy night feels like being on a scary Halloween movie scene.

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Spring and early summer in L.A. are filled with warm, sunny, delightful days, with temps in the 70s and 80s. June mornings are generally foggy and gloomy, due to the marine layer that blankets the city for hours just about every day. This phenomenon happens along the entire West Coast and is known as June Gloom.

Thanks to L.A.’s low humidity, I found hotter summer days here much more tolerable than on the East Coast. But the sun is brutal and can be devastating to one’s skin. Since a lot of activities in L.A. take place outdoors, regardless of the season, one should never leave home without applying (and reapplying) sunscreen.

Finally, what they say about never raining in Southern California is true –this past year it has rained only six times as far as I can remember; and not a drop since early April! But when it rains, sometimes it pours! And Angelenos are terrified of rain the same way Washingtonians are terrified of snow. They are not used to driving in the rain, the streets don’t seem to have proper drainage, and traffic becomes a nightmare. Weather forecasters talk about rain in L.A. as if the city were about to be hit by a deluge. Most times, after all the fuss, the rain turns out to be just a passing drizzle.

In terms of weather, I think Angelenos really have it made. I love having the sun around all year ’round. I love not having to worry about tornadoes and thunder storms that destroy homes and leave thousands without power, or snow storms that leave people stranded at home for days– all too common in the East Coast.

Even though I feel lucky to live in a place with this great weather, I do miss those cool, crisp October days in Washington. I miss the dry, cool air hitting my face, the multicolored leaves, and that unmistakable, yet indescribable, smell of autumn. Oh, and I do miss seeing a bit of rain. There’s nothing more delicious than a good rainy day now and then.

Happy Autumn everyone!

Endeavour Is Home!

It was the visual spectacle of my lifetime, that’s for sure!

This morning was all about Endeavour for me. We went to Venice Beach, one of the venues selected for the shuttle flyover. It was a long wait –about an hour– but well worth it. Close to noon the shuttle and her entourage emerged from the foggy skies of the Pacific coast and excitement took over the crowd. It was flying right towards us.

Seeing Endeavour fly over my head, piggybacking on that huge Boeing 747, was an amazing experience. It flew quite low –about 1,200 feet, someone said– but it went by very fast, leaving everyone wanting more. If only it had hovered over us for a just a few seconds… 🙂

Being right under Endeavour was exciting from a viewing perspective, but that was not the best vantage point for photographing it, so my pictures reflect that. They also reflect the wrong choice of camera (I decided to use my compact Canon!) and the fact that I was blinded by the sun as I looked up to photograph the majestic apparatus. Needless to say, I missed the spot completely. But here they are…

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Now, if you want to see spectacular images, see these photos from the L. A. Times photographers. 

L.A. Will Be Home To Endeavour

Last March Angelenos saw the complex logistical operation of moving a 340-ton boulder from a quarry in Riverside County to LACMA, to become part of “Levitated Mass.” Now Angelenos are about to witness the historic transportation of retired space shuttle Endeavour to the California Science Center, which will be its permanent home.

Endeavour arrives at Edwards Air Force Base tomorrow, Thursday, Sept. 20th, and on Friday it will fly low over several California cities and landmarks. It will reach the L.A. area around 10:30 and fly over the Getty Center, the Griffith Observatory, Malibu and Disneyland before landing at LAX.

This is just the beginning of Endeavour’s journey. It will stay at a United Airlines hangar until Oct.12, when it will begin a two-day celebratory parade through the city’s streets to the Science Center.

But the historic hauling of Endeavour through the streets of L.A is not without controversy. It turns out some 400 trees will have to be cut down along the 12-mile route between LAX and Exposition Park so that Endeavour can pass through. Residents were understandably up in arms so the Science Center had to do a lot of convincing and agreed to replant four times as many trees, repair sidewalks, and other things. That’s a win-win outcome, I’d say.

In the end, Endeavour’s homecoming (it was built and maintained in the area) will be good for L.A. The city will have another major attraction and the privilege of hosting the last of NASA’s shuttle fleet. Children and adults will enjoy visiting it when it’s finally on display.

Unfortunately, I will not be in L.A. on the days of the shuttle parade. But I’m looking forward to visiting the exhibit, which opens to the public Oct. 30.

Getty Center: A Must See in L.A.

Last weekend I visited the Getty Center, which happens to be just a ten-minute drive from my house. I had been to the Getty a few times before during trips to L.A., but had not yet visited it since moving here.

The Getty is not just a museum. It’s a beautiful campus on top of a hill, with fantastic grounds, beautiful gardens, breathtaking views of Los Angeles and a very good collection of pre-20th-century European paintings, drawings, sculpture, and decorative arts; and 19th- and 20th-century American and European photographs.

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We saw two specials exhibitions: Gustav Klimt: The Magic of Line, a collection of Klimt drawings, and Herb Ritts: L. A. Style, a collection of stunning black and white photos of famous people from the L.A. scene, from actors and supermodels, to athletes and unknown models.

The Getty Center is part of the so-called Getty Museum. The other part is the Getty Villa, a replica of an Italian villa that J. Paul Getty built next to his home in Pacific Palisades to house his collection.  I haven’t been to the Villa yet, but it’s on my must-do list!

If you’re visiting L.A., make time to see the Getty Center. If you live here, make it a habit to visit the Getty often and enjoy its many attractions.

I Felt the Earth Move

L.A. is synonymous with perfect weather, sunny beaches, Hollywood glamour, and a laid back lifestyle that sharply contrasts with that of more uptight areas of the country. “No worries” is a common phrase Angelenos use. It’s as if they’re saying: relax, this is L.A….

But life is not all fun and games here. Angelenos face many challenges. L.A. is the second most expensive city in the US. It has too many cars and too many people, most of whom spend too much time driving. And then there are droughts, wildfires, and the infamous earthquakes.

Part of “discovering” L.A. is to understand these challenges and learn how to cope with them. This includes incorporating disaster preparedness into our daily lives. Which takes me back to the title of this post.

Yes, on September 3, 2012 I felt the earth move right under my bed. It was 3:26 a.m. when a strange sound, followed by a strong jolt woke me up. Or was it a strong jolt, followed by a strange sound? It’s hard to remember how things happened when one is abruptly taken away from the sweet arms of Morpheus…

Anyway, after the sharp jolt, things around the room kept shaking for five seconds or so, especially the large mirror we have leaning against the wall –something every Angeleno would tell you not to do. And then, it all stopped.

I was quite shook up. My heart was pounding and I wasn’t sure what I should do. I realized I didn’t know the drill! My husband, a heavy sleeper, woke up with the tremor –we assume– but didn’t feel anything so we couldn’t even discuss the experience. And much to my surprise, he was back asleep in no time!

This being 2012, I resorted to the Internet to find out what had happened and to see what others were saying about it. And sure enough, the L.A.Times was reporting a shallow 3.2 magnitude earthquake centered in Beverly Hills. (Update below) And people from various parts of L.A.’s  Westside were reporting feeling the tremor and were also quite shook up. I was not alone.

Mind you, this was not my first experience with earthquakes. I lived in Berkeley for five years and experienced several minor shocks in the Bay Area. I also experienced the 2011 5.8 magnitude earthquake in the Washington D.C. area, which was one heck of a tremor. But the Beverly Hills quake was scarier because it caught us sleeping, which is a very vulnerable place to be.

Small quakes happen every day in California, often in the L.A. area. Just days before the Beverly Hills tremor, nearby towns were hit by a series of quakes. So, understandably, Angelenos are a bit blasé about earthquakes. But what I’ve realized is that many people, myself included, don’t even have a basic plan for handling an earthquake. And that is not acceptable.

I’m writing this post several days after the quake in part to help me keep focused on preparing for an eventual larger earthquake. I’ve been reading about earthquake preparedness and seeking as much information as possible about what to do in the event of an earthquake. We already have a plan of action with our daughter in case we can’t communicate after a quake hits. Next, I have to put together a couple of earthquake emergency kits.

With at least the basic stuff in place, if and when the “big one” comes, we will be in better shape than we are today. Meanwhile, we’ll continue to enjoy the wonderful weather and great vibe of this fabulous city.

Update: Minutes after posting this, another shallow magnitude 3.5 earthquake hit Beverly Hills. Ironically, this time I was walking around the house and didn’t feel anything but my husband, who was sitting watching TV, felt the jolt and called my attention.