1099-Miscellaneous

It is possible in Los Angeles to list your apartment on AirBnB on Friday afternoon, crash with friends or lovers until Monday morning, pocket the cash flow, and in the right sort of neighborhood prize the rent without a day job.  That’s one kind of gig.

There’s an app you can use to clean the place and handle the next booking for you.  That’s a gig for the cleaners.  Also, the bookers.

If the guests can get hungry, they can scroll through their phone, and someone will shop for them, then dash to the door with food. That’s a gig for the dashers.

If your guest gets bored she can press a button on her phone and a car will arrive at the door in minutes and take her to the club. Driver gig.  Or side hustle, to borrow the corporate sales pitch.

Her boyfriend can beg off, stay in the house and go online.  “Take off your underwear,” he can text, and somewhere on the other side of the city or the planet a woman will remove her underwear, slowly, to keep the meter running.  The sharing economy, in action.

More of us are working, but fewer us are employed.  Our world is rounded in 1099 forms.

Uber has been extraordinarily good to me. So good I don’t have to consider renting a room in our house on AirBnB.   Everyone knows what it’s doing to the taxi business. Few know Uber has become so ubiquitous in the past two years it has displaced rental cars as the most commonly utilized ground transportation, even among corporate clients.  Last week Hertz disclosed massive losses, and may default on its bond debt.  Its fleet of aging cars are flooding the after-market. The inventory spike will put pressure on the dealerships to unload inventory, which makes for a buying opportunity if you want a new car to drive for Uber.

Whole Foods has been good to me, but its formerly dominant position in organic foods is under extraordinary price pressure from all sides and it may not survive another two years in its current form.   Uber has been selling rides at a loss  since arriving in LA, with no plans to stop doing so.  Amazon and Etsy are slowly strangling Fashion Square.   On the other hand, the Century City mall is expanding, upscale.  Our economy is bifurcating into hyper-luxury and dollar stores. Concierge service or waiting at bus stops with street people. UberPool is getting cheap enough to displace Metro riders. Soon, perhaps only derelicts will ride the bus.

Steve Jobs’ bicycle has democratized capitalism.  It means MacLeod Ale can rise out of an auto repair shop, find a clientele, and prosper where retail never could. It also means 100 people are simultaneously gripped by the same fever dream of selling biscotti made from their kitchen. Ninety-nine of them end in tears.  But they can console themselves by renting out the spare room.  Unless there isn’t one. Then they make themselves scarce while tourists cavort in their bed and rifle their drawers.

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It’s an extraordinary time to be grinding out a living in Los Angeles. Unless you’re not.

Perhaps we should hedge our bets, like my friend Johnny.

Sunday at the Brewery

Brain lock!

Locked in…

MacLeod Ale's favorite son, Roderick, and his cigar boxes

MacLeod Ale’s favorite son, Roderick, was there with his cigar boxes

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Jim Payne explains his deceptively simple 3-D technique

Jim Payne explained his ingeniously low-tech 3-D photo technique

Which proved the most engrossing exhibit of the show

Which proved unexpectedly engrossing…

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The downside of the artist’s life: hauling the un-sold wares back to the car, Willy Loman-style, at the end of the weekend.

The Return of Mid Century Cool?

Destined for Landmark status?

Destined for Landmark status

Don’t laugh, Van Nuys may already be happening. If Glassell Park can be totally a thing….

…lets explore the process in depth with this graphic analysis:

Gent Map

The prerequisites are already in place:

1) the last neighborhood of pre-war buildings ideal for adaptive re-use

2) along the Sepulveda corridor, lots of car-oriented low-rise dreck rapidly being replaced with higher density, with ground floor retail

3) Quiet streets with a full canopy of trees

4) The Orange Line

5) Uber

6) MacLeod Ale

7) Historical reference points embedded in our collective pop culture

 

Surcharges and Grace

Why optional?

The muddy waters of “optional”

Karl Strauss, a mid-major brewery out of San Diego, has a new branch pub in DTLA. Interesting beer, if not quite as fresh, or as sublimely complex as at MacLeod.  Good happy hour pricing.   Nice appetizer plates. Terrific service. Also, as Mrs. U and I were to discover, surcharges. Related to labor. Which are optional. Confused?

Lemme back up.  We knew about the surcharges in advance because they were referenced in the Yelp reviews.  Those who referenced them were outraged.   As in: “You should not pay it or even go here. I have never seen this kind of unethical business practice before and you should NOT visit here.  -Bo L.”  As in:  “there is a 2 dollar charge on our tab for some sort of minimum wage increase bs story our server told us about which we highly disagreed with so we took it out of the tip, that’s not cool. -Erik D.”

Over our beer flight, we talked about it with our server who explained it was due to the Los Angeles minimum wage going up Jan. 1. Instead of raising prices on food and beer (and purchasing new menus), and to keep the prices uniform across the other seven pubs in SoCal, they were adding a 3% surcharge. But, she assured us, we could talk to the manager if we wanted it removed.  Hello?

No, we said. If it’s going to wages, we’re happy to pay it.   Who would refuse to pay this?

As the Yelp reviews suggested, she let us know some customers were deducting the surcharge from servers tips.  On her behalf, we left $30 on $24.63.

Later, driving, I thought about it some more.  The surcharge wasn’t going to her. It was going to the kitchen people. Servers feed off tips. The back of the house runs on wages. Since the opening in November Karl Strauss has used four different terms: “GovMandatesSurcharge”, “EmployerSurcharge”, “KARLcharge” and now, simply: “Surcharge”, with the caveat you can opt of paying it altogether.

This raises more questions than it answers. If the 3% add-on exists to satisfy the minimum wage mandate, then it shouldn’t be optional. Raise prices and be done with it. Optional makes it seem like only some of the money is going to Carlos at the fry bin for making the garlic truffle fries just right, the rest is fattening profit margins.  The skinny girl in the black t-shirt behind the bar was implying it was going to her. Naturally, we overtipped (modestly) to compensate for those she implied were punishing her in retaliation.

Who, exactly, is electing to cross this unspoken line of shame and demand the manager to recuse them from the 3%?  As someone who works in Brentwood and drives Uber at night, I think I have a pretty good idea. The mannerless wealthy, that’s who.

Lemme paint a picture here.  There is a certain type of person who returns from a weekend ski trip to Utah, walks pass the cab stand at the airport into a waiting Uber, leaving three enormous suitcases on the sidewalk to be loaded into the back. As you enter the onramp to the 105 they demand to know, in a particularly anguished tone of voice, “why are you going this way?”   Because the 105 to the 110 to the 5 to the 2 is the most direct route, you reply.  By about eight miles. You point helpfully to the Uber app mounted on the dashboard, which displays the correct route on a map,  clearly visible from the back seat.  In response, they passive-aggressively open up their own navigation app, turn up the volume on their phone, and you spend the next half hour taking orders from a disembodied voice with a British accent: “in one quarter mile, merge right….” Orders which duplicate, turn by turn, the exact route you are already taking.

When you arrive in La Canada, a maid scampers out to take the bags as you unload them.  They disappear into their five bedroom house, unburdened. You’ve just saved them about $30. They tip you…..nothing.  And why not? Travis Kalanick told them the tip was already included.   Everybody knows you tip for service, even when not explicitly told to. But when you tell people it’s optional…

That’s the problem with financing wage increases through semi-voluntary surcharges.  A certain type of person will feel entitled to opt out, and it won’t be the guy who delivered pizzas in college. Anyone who worked in service or owned a business serving the public knows better.

Which makes me wonder why Karl Strauss is doing it this way.

Amy to Austin, With Love

Her last night at Macleod...

Her last night at Macleod…

She’s taking her Punter’s Club mug, ring tone laugh and Indiana niceness with her. Also, the red hair, the maxi dresses and her peripatetic, public book-reading way. The full Amy.

Sigh.

That’s not fair.  She’s going for the right reason.  Love, the only permissible rationale for abandoning our beloved working class brigadoon of Van Nuys.   In five years we will be Highland Park, and everyone in this photo will be regaling the newcomers with anecdotes, but for now the Nuys is still so un-cool, it’s actually cool to be here.

And Amy?  Enjoying the full measure of happiness she extended to everyone else.

Bending and Tipping at MacLeod

Yoga, then a pint

First yoga, then the pint

“Turning yourself into a pretzel is less important than coming to center.”

People fond of such aphorisms, I can’t help notice, have no problem pretzeling themselves at will. Me, I huff, I puff, I grunt, I teeter-totter on the balls of my feet, trying to hold a basic warrior pose. Eventually I re-establish my breath, and then its on to the next position, and fresh agonies.

Sweat enough, and you forget yourself.  Shavasana arrives like your own happy coffin.   An afternoon baptism: death, burial  and resurrection.  Then you roll over onto your side, reborn.

You’ve earned a pint.

I’m not sure why people didn’t think of this earlier, but the beer and yoga era is upon us.   MacLeod has its own yogi now, Jess Bishop, up from WeHo on Sunday afternoons.

The cool concrete floor is well-suited to practice.

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Jess entered her practice from the side door of college athletics at Pitt, where she ran track and obtained a Masters in Teaching. “Yoga deceived me. I thought it would make me a better runner”, said Jess, “but what it taught me is acceptance.”

There followed three years of teaching English in Phoenix, a bad breakup,  moving to LA, acting, yoga teacher training (on the advice of her mother) and steady work based out of CorePower along with private sessions.

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“There’s something about taking an hour for movement and mindfulness and breath, then unwinding with a beer.”

Twelve bucks, Sundays at 1pm.  Chaser pint included.  Down, dog.  Brewasana.

An Artist’s Work

No ranch dressing needed

No ranch dressing required

I spent an inordinate amount of time last week meditating on our trip to P.F. Chang’s and why it outraged me so much.  On Friday at work, Bruce the Chef brought me a scotch egg.  I ate it standing up, on the loading dock, during my break.   It clarified a few things.

Peasant food, done right, can be the most satisfying meal you will ever know.

If the food is shiny on the plate, you’re in trouble.

If you can’t see the core ingredients in their original integrity, you are about to get ripped off.

Look… Mother Earth has been recreated in layers. A lightly breaded crust, a mantle of sausage meat, pinkish, not over-cooked, a core of egg white enfolding a bright sunflower of yolk, the molten core.  Each element in its proper portion, complementing the others. To add a dipping sauce of any kind would be a diminishment of the whole.

Free to me, four bucks to you at MacLeod.  All pleasure, no regret.  I had to remind myself it’s actually a fried product.  Bruce likes to mock himself as “a lunch lady at a grocery store”, but he knows enough to pick a quality egg, and honor the gift of the layer.

It made me feel bad, almost, for the grifters behind the grill at P.F. Chang’s. What goes through one’s mind, night after night, watching the stingily portioned shreds of bulk-issue beef shank from Restaurant Depot disappear into the breading, corn syrup, and branded “flavoring” in the giant wok, then fried until there’s nothing left of the source material but a memory? A dish that requires a picture on the menu to make the suckers at table 57 believe what they’re eating remotely matches the title.  Because their hypothalamuses are telling them otherwise.  You must have gone to cooking school of some kind. How do you live with yourself?

Cheap scotch. The kind they sell in half gallon plastic containers on the bottom shelf at BevMo.

Too harsh? Here’s a review:

"Food"

“Food”, $17.95

A chef's work. Made in Encino.

A chef’s work. 

Okay, I’m letting it go now.   Bruce’s pork pies and Scotch eggs will be at MacLeod on Sundays from time to time.

The Lesser Work of P.F. and Jane

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Riyadh and Los Angeles switched places overnight Monday, two months ahead of schedule. As is our wont during heat waves of this scale, Mrs. U and I fled the Valley, finding sanctuary in the air-conditioned pleasure palace of the ArcLight.  Love and Friendship, Whit Stillman’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s early novel Lady Susan, awaited us.   I hadn’t heard of it either.  Who cares? It was 120 degrees by the dashboard gauge, and we had gift cards. There are fringe benefits to teaching in private school, and one of them is gift cards from parents at the end of the year.

We entered the Cinerama Dome to discover a gleaming lobby and no one behind any of the eight registers.   No ArcLight employees in sight.

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Finally a woman with a head set appeared and ordered us to “go to the kiosks”. Unfortunately, the kiosks didn’t take gift cards, nor cash, so we were shunted off to a nuisance line at the coffee bar. “He’s the only one who can help you.”  Oh, nice.

The ArcLight charges $16 a ticket, and we the public pay this $3-4 premium in exchange for full staffing: lots of registers open at the snack bar and the box office, short lines, plush seats, no soda and gum on the floor. I’ve even seen expediters standing behind the cashiers, doing nothing but filling popcorn tubs and soda orders.   In short, we pay Clipper class rates for a theater that won’t be run like the Regency or the AMC.  We pay for good service, at a price point that’ll keep the riff-raff out.

Yeah, I know we had gift cards.  But still…..it was my day off, it was friggin hot, and I was feeling a certain consumer entitlement coming on, like a flu.

We get upstairs to find one very harried guy running the snack bar.  One. Half the audience for Jane Austen is waiting in line.   The line is not moving.  It’s not moving because a woman has decided her coffee was too cold.  The Snack Bar Guy offered to brew her a fresh pot. This of course would take a couple minutes, and boy oh boy was that going to be a problem for her.  “My movie is starting in a few minutes,” she proclaimed, as though the rest of us weren’t going to the same movie. “Unacceptable.”  Flopsweating, he put out a distress call for the manager.   She then parked herself at the register in a manner which suggested no one else should be served until she received satisfaction.

Here was a moment which called for an Austen-tatious riposte from someone in line, but no one said anything.  Our world froze in suspended animation as the Kiosk Lady climbed the stairs, huffing, the weight of the world upon her underpaid shoulders, to issue a refund to the Coffee Bitch.  Did I mention this was the hottest day of the year?

There I was, an over-educated working-class guy, looking to redeem a freebie bestowed upon my middle-class wife by upper-class Westside families as a tip for guiding their precious Lacey one rung closer to the Ivy League, and here was this bizarre collision of personal selfishness and corporate stinginess impeding my escape from the furnace of the Valley, and yet I did not act.  Nor did I have a clever thing to say. Yesterday would prove to be one of my lesser works.

Love and Friendship would prove a lesser work as well. Made me feel sad for Whit Stillman, auteur of Barcelona and Last Days of Disco, the closest thing we have to Austen in contemporary film, a man whose creative output apparently peaked twenty years ago, and is now hanging by his fingernails at the cineplex, trading on Jane’s good name.  We stepped out into the merciless sun, unsatisfied. It was only 5 PM. Hotter than ever.  We took refuge at P.F. Chang’s.

"Food"

“Food”, in a manner of speaking

I hadn’t been in years.  I know it’s corporate and overpriced,  but my sense-memory placed it at the upper end of the middlebrow taste scale. Comfort food, well-slathered, packing some heat.  Perhaps a frou-frou drink to sip with a steady breeze of air-conditioning tickling the sweat hairs on the back of my neck. I’ve been living under self-imposed austerity measures for a long time.  We buy ingredients at the store, we prepare them at home, and we declare ourselves well-fed. Now I had a $50 credit to burn, and I was going to take my full share of consequence-free eating, like everybody else.   It felt like the American thing to do.

Then the Orange Peel Beef arrived.

Imagine a flank steak fell off the back of a truck. Then someone found it on a road, still in the cellophane wrapper, and brought it to a rendering facility, where it was re-processed as meat byproduct. Then it was sold to PFC, where it was dropped into a giant vat of breading and corn syrup and chili flavoring, and a button was pushed and the mixing blades churned and what emerged was plated, drizzled with yet more goo and sold for $17.95.

I know there was “beef” in there, somewhere, because the menu told me so.  It was just a wee bit…ellusive.  I kept shoveling it in my mouth, like cotton candy at the county fair, waiting in vain for the carnivore tickle spot that lives behind my pancreas to vibrate with joy.

It occurred to me the initials P. and F. could stand for anything, including Profit and Fool, and when you put them together and blow, you’re farting with your mouth.

Outside, it was still over a hundred degrees.   Hurry, sundown.

Jakarta Twilight

Still life, with PTSD

Still life, with PTSD

I work the closing shift, which means I get to drive over the 405 in the middle of the afternoon, and return to the Valley at 10:30 pm. On a good day, Brentwood to Van Nuys in under 12 minutes, if I hit all the lights. I’m one of the few people in LA who loves his commute.  Like an idiot, I’ve tempted fate by saying this aloud.

Yesterday, I had to go to work early, which means I left early, which means I joined the tail end of the normal commuter flow, with everybody else.  How bad could it be?

Lets put it this way: at seven thirty, I was on Barrington,  four cars away from Sunset Blvd, looking out the window at this beautiful vintage gas station framed in milky twilight, and in a very civil mood. Off early! I could go to the gym!  Perhaps Mrs. UpintheValley was still awake and could be had for the price of a foot rub!  No tired lion, me. All possibilities were on the table.

At eight o’clock, darkness had fallen, and I was still next to the same gas station, on the Sunset side, and I was plotting revenge against everyone who ever wronged me.

The stoplight would cycle through, and nobody would move.  This didn’t dissuade anyone entering from side streets inserting the nose of their car into the scrum.  Unhappy honkings all around…random, pointless, like steer lowing in a slaughterhouse pen.

I thought of Joe Gillis evading the repo men in the opening sequence of Sunset Boulevard, and how comically unrealistic that would play now.  When much of LA was laid out, traffic signals looked like this:

Traffic_Signal_and_Streetlight

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Gas stations looked like movie palaces and Westwood Village looked like this.

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K-Town looked like this. That’s Oasis Church on the right.  It is now one of the shorter buildings on Wilshire Blvd.  Add three million people to this picture and take away the Pacific Electric Red Car.  That’s where we find ourselves today, scurrying to rebuild the public transportation we once had.    A bus and rail line for the working poor, slumped over in their seats, ear buds on, locked into their own podcasts, dreaming of the day they’ll be able to afford a car of their own.  And a house in Van Nuys.

It took me an hour to reach the freeway. That’s .25 mph.  Point two-five! The full Jakarta…

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When I entered Macleod, they were playing traditional Irish songs and ballads.  iPads were used in place of sheet music,  I couldn’t help noticing. Here, two centuries were working to shared advantage.  I ordered a Better Days ale. Beer has rarely tasted so good.