December 14, 2007

Christmas in Cali

For an east-coaster in southern California, the holidays can really sneak up on you. The passing of time is quietly veiled by the drug of moderate temperatures and warm sunshine. Seasonal senses are lulled into a state of blissful ignorance. December seems such a distant notion. Until one day you wake up and realize ... December is half-way in the past and Christmas is less than two weeks away! Yes, we have the lights, the carols, and the rampant materialism here in Cali ... just no Jack Frost reminders. But for those who would object that Christmas isn't Christmas without blistering cold temperatures, just heed the reminder left us from A Moment of Science that "although Jack Frost nipping at your nose can be the subject of happy, winter songs, actual frostbite is nothing to smile about." Indeed. Wishing you a Merry SoCal Christmas!

October 04, 2007

Shake It Up, Burn It Down ... California's Natural Disasters

Nature can be a terrifying force, and each year the U.S. experiences it's fair share of nature's mayhem. Devastating hurricanes slam the southeast ... violent tornados tear through the midwest ... blizzards bury the north ... and southern California watches it all on TV while enjoying moderate temperatures and sunny skies. "Oooh, only 62 today .. better pull out a sweatshirt." But not so fast. California weather may be idyllic, but nature's fury has not left this great state untouched.

California has earthquakes. And moving to California, I was constantly reminded that at any moment "the big one" could hit and rock the state back to the Stone Ages, leveling cities and swallowing up whole cultures. "How could you possibly want to move to a place with earthquakes?" Friends, friends ... nothing is going to get swallowed up. If you do your reading, you will find in the "Putting down roots in earthquake country" brochure that large gaping crevices inhaling the helpless masses during an earthquake is a complete Hollywood myth. If you ever experience such a phenomenon, you can sit back and chuckle, because this is definitely not an earthquake. Then you can pull out your trumpet and play along with the heavenly angels because the end of the world is probably upon you.

Cracks everywhere!
SoCal faultlines

But how about all that shaking. Well, as the Southern California Earthquake Data Center can attest, there are over 40 earthquakes a day in California!!! You can hardly stand up straight here! Actually, despite the fact that I have experienced an estimated 30,000 quakes since moving to California, I have yet to feel the rumblings. But that day may come unexpectedly, and I need to be prepared.
California residents are frequently reminded of the importance of being prepared. We are given such timely advice as protect your head and neck, don't run toward downed electrical wires, tie your belongings to the walls, and be ready to "stop, drop, and roll" at a moments notice. Wait ... maybe that last one was in case of California's second most famous natural disaster, the wild fire.
Wild fires are no laughing matter. Every year, thousands of acres of dry tinder burn to the ground in California, threatening countless rich white folks with houses in the hills. To avoid property damage due to wild fires, there is a simple solution ... don't buy houses in the hills! Come join us in the streets of Long Beach! Barring an outbreak of riots or illegal fireworks displays, it is highly unlikely you will ever be affected by "wild" fires in Long Beach. But if you do, however, find yourself out in the trees on a sunny autumn day with the dry "Santa Ana wind" blowing through your hair, causing your lips to crack and nose to bleed ... do be careful and control your inner pyro.


SoCal Eats - Part 1: the Chains

Food is such an integral part of every society. EVERYONE EATS ... and most of us enjoy it. So one of the first tasks of moving to any new location is scoping out the meal selections. And in southern California, there are many options. After almost two years of residing in this vast expanse of culinary choices, I am only just beginning to scrape the top of the iceberg of restaurant selection. My taste-buds still have much to experience, but I feel the need to share some of my initial findings. I begin with a discussion of some of the famous SoCal chain restaurants that I've discovered, and later I will add an entry on some of my favorite local flavors ...

In'n Out: Without a doubt, the king of southern California chains is In'n Out, the state's favorite drive through burger joint. Californians hold In'n Out with great affection and reverence. On the rare occasion that anyone actually leaves California, you're sure to find them reminiscing about a "double-double, animal style" or some other In'n Out memory. The chain of restaurants is owed by a family who decided not to franchise, but instead maintain control of all branches with strict quality standards and subtle Bible references. They are known for their simple menu and insistence on fresh ingredients. And also the "secret" menu ... which happens to be posted in its entirety on Wikipedia. But probably the biggest reason for the mass adoration is that they are almost exclusively in California ... a classic case of Californian exceptionalism.

Classic California

Wahoo's Fish Taco: One of my favorite discoveries in southern California was the "fish taco." Back on the east coast, I never would have guessed that this combo was so right on. But that all changed with a visit to Wahoo's. Great food, great price, and great atmosphere. Wahoo's was founded by surfers in Hawaii, and the surf culture is still infused into every restaurant. Kick back over a filling meal while watching videos of top-notch wave-riders. You'll soon be inspired to rush out, grab a board, hit the beach, ... and seriously injure yourself. Wait at least half an hour before getting in the water.

Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles: Wow. Just the name of this restaurant brings saliva to my lips and tears of joy to my eyes. The first mention of Roscoe's left me dreaming of the day I would experience the savory fried chicken and tasty waffles combined together in mysterious culinary harmony. This, my friend, is urban "soul food" Los Angeles style. I'm speechless. Consult a doctor if you have high-blood pressure or a weak heart, but by no means pass up a visit to Roscoe's.

Tasty ... very tasty

April 04, 2007


Breaking News!! Breaking News!! OK, I'm not exactly sure what's going on, but I guarantee you that right now somewhere in southern California there is something "captivating" happening. With so many people from so many cultures all thrown together in California, there is always bound to be something unusual happening. And the local news stations are sure to be there to bring us live coverage. Fleets of helicopters are hovering over LA at this very moment just waiting to swarm to the next incident ... a high speed car chase, a raging wild fire, a massive pot bust ... there's sure to be something to warrant a media frenzy. If not, we'll get excited over just about anything. I can't even begin to recount all the bizarre stories that I've seen reported on the local news, including a toe-sucking predator, cell-phone heists, and canine hit men.

Something incredible has happened!

It's unbelievable how often the local news casts cut away to cover live "Breaking News." People are intrigued by real-time misfortune and disaster observed at a safe distance, and I didn't realize how captivating it can be until I moved to California. Once, for example, I sat down for lunch and watched half an hour of live footage of nothing but a helicopter circling a wild fire. The only interruption of this phenomenal coverage was a cut away so that viewers could keep an eye on a fascinating car chase and police standoff in progress. Or how about the time a mysterious man on a motorcycle cruised the streets of LA for hours with the cops following him, waving casually to pedestrians while ignoring the flashing lights and sirens behind him. Yes, this is the Southern California that brought us OJ and the "White Ford Bronco."

Typical Californian driver
(photo as found on Flickr)

Perhaps at this point you may be thinking ... "Is California safe?" My friend, the world is not safe. But I am a rational man of probability and statistics, and with over 37 million people living in California, I estimate my chances of being a victim of something reaching "Breaking News" proportions as being "very slim." And besides, southern California is home to places like Irvine, one of the safest cities in the U.S. You'd better have your game on when you enter this town. With Singaporean like zeal, Irvine cracks down on all things "unsightly" including abandoned shopping carts, jaywalkers, late model cars, and poor people. The appearance of imperfection is outlawed. I roll more cautiously in Irvine as I worry that my '93 Accord may lack the mandatory shine and sparkle leading to heavy fines and possible deportation to Santa Ana. It's always refreshing to arrive back home in the LBC ... sometimes a little color in life is worth the extra risk of bodily harm. Yeah ... that's one thing I love about southern California ... it's certainly a "colorful" place. And so I leave you with a link to a local news station's web page ... dedicated to SoCal car chase footage.

Rolling free in the LBC

February 27, 2007

Cold in California?

Whenever I talk with people about my move to the west coast, the question inevitably arises ... "So, why did you move to California?" The first assumption is always work ... hmmmm ... hard to have a convincing argument there when my boss is 3000 miles out of state. But the next topic is invariably the great California weather. No matter how much I try to explain the complexities of my decision to pack up and head west, people always get stuck on the weather thing. No one dares verbalize such accusations, but the slight smile says it all ... "Yeah, you know you just went for the warmth and sunshine." Come on people! Am I so petty to base my life decisions on fine weather? ... Of course I am! Who wouldn't flee to paradise in the face of blistering cold east coast winters. Logging on to recently, I was moved to spontaneous "hallelujahs" upon seeing that Washington DC was only 20 degrees ... southern California was in the mid 80's.

Californian's do winter sports too.

Often those unacquainted with the subtleties of California weather make grandiose statements about how they could never live in a place without four seasons. If by "four seasons" you mean the potential to experience miserable weather, you can keep your four seasons. But what's the truth about SoCal weather? Is it really always perfect temperatures and cloudless skies? Absolutely ... it's just hard to tell sometimes through the smog. No, no ... the smog's really not that bad ... and the weather's not always what you would expect either. Clouds and fog frequently roll in off the ocean during parts of the year, and temperatures can cool off pretty quickly in the evenings with the absence of moisture in the atmosphere to trap in the heat. Visitors may be surprised to find that many houses and apartments contain heaters but no AC. And if you drive a few hours east to the valley, mountain, or desert areas, and you can sometimes see a 40 degree temperature swing. But in general, the weather stays pretty moderate year round, as can be seen by checking out average temperatures and precipitation in Long Beach. Californians have nothing to complain about ... or do they????

Click for Long Beach, California Forecast

Current Conditions: Long Beach

Ironically, Californians are notorious complainers when it comes to the weather. "It's so hot today" ... "It's so cold today" ... "It's so dry today" ... "I heard a thunder today" And as soon as you move here, you start to get sucked into the mindset. Once ... and I am not making this up ... a viewer called in to the local news station to report a "thunder" in Anaheim ... not a severe lightning crashing torrential downpour put-the-fear-of-God-in-you thunder storm, but a single clap of thunder. It is completely understandable if you think Californians are a bunch of pansies.

Is that a cloud in the sky?

Although the weather in Southern California is generally quite nice, there are some interesting phenomena that the casual observer should be aware of. They have special names like June Gloom, Santa Ana Winds, and the Marine Layer. To fit in with the locals, you should casually slide a few of these terms into your conversations ... and then whine about how cold it was last night. But after all of this, you will go out and see the tourists running around half naked and diving in the frigid Pacific waters, and then you realize that good weather is a relative concept.

January 13, 2007

SoCal Segregated Diversity

Southern California prides itself on its diversity. And it's true ... no other place in the U.S. contains such a mix of cultures. Ethnic communities give SoCal a unique flavor where you can experience the world just a short drive from home. But it's also no secret that southern California is one of the most racially divisive areas in the country. Visions of Rodney King (see picture, left) or scenes from the movie "Crash" come to mind. As Los Angeles developed into a melting pot of ethnic communities, competing economic interests and ingrained prejudices led to rising racial tensions. With such a diverse range of people living in close proximity, it's no surprise that racism rears it's head all too frequently. Long Beach is a prime example.

Do an internet search on "racism in Long Beach, CA" and you will probably come across a variety of articles and discussions about a current court case. On Haloween night 2006, three white girls were severely beaten by a group of black teens in an apparent racially motivated attack. (NPR report) Accounts of the event differ dramatically, but the accused attackers are now standing trial for the crime. Racial tensions are high in this potentially explosive situation. The case is unusual in that the alleged "hate crime" was perpetrated by the minority, and ethnic and community leaders have been slow to respond. Read the online discussions, and you will see underlying prejudices being revealed. Attempts at unity have been initiated, but many people are skeptical. (Press-Telegram Report)

Interestingly, on January 5th, a new movie opened that deals with racial tensions in Long Beach. "Freedom Writers" is a Hollywood account of a true story ... a story of a Long Beach teacher who stood up against racial hatred in a local high school and made a real difference in the lives of her troubled students. The movie reflects a situation that continues on today. In Long Beach, there are several ethnic minority communities ... the African American community, the Hispanic community, and the Cambodian community. Gang violence among and between communities is a very real problem. Racial and class tension may be hidden at times, but it is always simmering below the surface as the recent court case has revealed.

How long will we allow the violence to continue? SoCal is a microcosm of the world at large, and the issues of racial misunderstanding, prejudice, and hate are prevalent around the globe ... wherever cultures collide. The heart of man naturally tends toward mistrust and fear of those who are different. But who will stand for reconciliation? Who will make the sacrifice necessary for real progress? Leaders argue and debate, task forces are organized, and money thrown at the problem of racism ... but who is willing to love their neighbor as themselves? Racial reconciliation must move beyond words into tangible and sacrificial action.