Column: It was ‘Idol’ finalist, crew, Ben Harper and one columnist

Prior to Alejandro Aranda’s Pomona activities, he stopped in Claremont at the Folk Music Center. And (intoning gravely) I was there. This fly on the wall saw the “American Idol” finalist reunite with store owner/musician Ben Harper, tour the store, talk and jam, with the store staff and the TV crew the only witnesses. Get the inside scoop in Sunday’s column. And yes, I know I’ve written three straight columns on Aranda. Don’t worry, Sunday will be something different. After that I’m on vacation so you’ll get a break from both of us.


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Restaurant of the Week: Pie Hole

The Pie Hole, 12466 N. Mainstreet (Victoria Gardens), Rancho Cucamonga; open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday

The Pie Hole, as in “shut your — —-,” specializes in pies by the slice, plus coffee. It began in downtown L.A.’s Arts District in 2011 and has since expanded to Long Beach, Orange, Venice, Glendale and good ol’ Rancho Cucamonga, where a location opened in the Victoria Gardens outdoor mall in 2017. Nice of them to take notice of us fairly early instead of decades from now.

I’ve been to the Arts District shop a few times, where slices are $8, a lot to pay even for an artisanal slice of pie. While I was excited by Pie Hole’s impending arrival in Rancho Cucamonga, I never ended up going. Somehow I was under the impression it was only going to be takeout only, kind of a turnoff, and also I rarely go to the VG.

Earlier this year, after a friend expressed surprise and amusement (as we ate at the Pie Hole in the Arts District) that I hadn’t been to the one in Rancho, I resolved to make a trip soon, and did.

It turns out our Pie Hole is just as full service as DTLA’s. Oops.

It’s got a few tables indoors and out, and floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides that let in a lot of light. Very appealing. The menu has pies, pot pies ($7-$7.50) and breakfast pies ($7), as well as coffee, draft beer and ice cream.

The seasonal pies change, but the current ones include Earl Grey, Mexican Chocolate, banana cream and a few more. One crucial note: slices are $4, half the price of L.A.’s. I like the 909 pricing.

On my first visit, I went with Mom’s Apple Crumble, got it heated and splurged on ice cream for $1.50 more. In other words, $5.49 total, still cheaper than $8. The pie was excellent, loaded with apples, and the ice cream was premium.

I was back a month later and couldn’t resist ordering the Cereal Killer pie. On my Arts District meet-up, one friend got that kind (I had ordered a Blood Orange slice) and while his choice hadn’t struck me as appealing, not being prone to getting, say, doughnuts with cereal on them, the slice actually looked pretty good. So at the VG, I got one.

It’s a cheesecake with bits of cereal inside. The clerk asked what cereal I wanted on top. I forget the choices; maybe Froot Loops or Fruity Pebbles? I went with the more prosaic Frosted Flakes. It was a fun slice, but truth to tell, I’m more of a fruit pie person and having indulged this whim, I doubt I’ll order it again.

But I’m sure I’ll be back to the Pie Hole to fill mine. Sorry it took me so long to visit!

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Column: Triumphant homecoming for Pomona’s ‘Idol’ finalist

I was there Tuesday for Alejandro Aranda’s return to Pomona for his “American Idol” “hometown visit,” which comes with being in the Top 3. And so were thousands of others. “Idol” had said to expect 8,000 to 10,000 and that seemed possible based on what I saw. That segment will air during Sunday’s finale.

It was a fun day, culminating in a free concert. It was also a stressful day for yours truly, as when the concert was over, at 7:30, I had until 8:30 to finish my column, partly written earlier in the day but with lots to add and adjust. I made it. Read about the day in my Wednesday column. And look for a sequel on Friday, as I had an inside view of Aranda’s low-key visit to Claremont earlier Tuesday.

Above, Aranda tunes his guitar while speaking from the stage in front of the Fox.

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7-Eleven sign now less heavenly

This old-school 7-Eleven sign at Towne Avenue and Mission Boulevard has delighted me the past year or two that I’ve been eating regularly at a couple of Mexican restaurants nearby. Last November, when I was parked next door at Taqueria Oaxaquena, I thought I’d better document the sign by taking a photo.

Good thing I did, because in March the sign was updated. The new version said “Open 24 Hours.” It does not say “Oh thank heaven!” I shot this one while parked at a red light, so it’s the opposite face of the sign.

I had this post all ready to publish last Tuesday when I happened to be stopped at the intersection Monday evening and saw the sign had been switched out again. Instead of “Open 24 Hours,” it now says “Slurpee,” on both sides. So I stopped, took a fresh photo and put the post on hold until I had a chance to update it. Sheesh.

If the sign has been changed in the past week, I don’t want to know about it.

The “Oh thank heaven!” slogan appears to date to the late 1960s, which doesn’t mean the sign was necessarily that old. It was emblematic enough to be used as the title of a corporate history, 1977’s “Oh Thank Heaven!: The Story of the Southland Corporation” by Allen Liles.

Last I looked, La Verne still had a 1960s 7-Eleven sign, pre-slogan. Thank heaven.


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Column: ‘Idol’ visit swings on Sunday vote for Pomona contestant

If Alejandro Aranda, now in “American Idol’s” Top 5, makes the cut Sunday for the Top 3, the show will visit his hometown of Pomona on Tuesday, with events including a parade downtown and a free concert outside the Fox. If he doesn’t, then none of that happens. I write about the planning for an event that may not happen, but hopefully will, in Sunday’s column.

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Restaurant of the Week: Pepo Melo

Pepo Melo, 301 Harvard Ave. (at Bonita), Claremont; open 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday

Taking the place of a Chinese antiques store that never seemed to have any customers and yet hung on for years, Pepo Melo is a hive of activity in the morning, and for all I know at other times of day as well. It specializes in fruit bowls, most of which are vegan, and seems to be a hit with the colleges crowd.

I’ve been there twice so far, starting with an inaugural visit on my birthday, which shows I had confidence in them. I wanted a light breakfast to take me with on the train.

You might remember the building as the Sugar Bowl, a malt shop that was a setting in a “Fugitive” episode of the 1960s. It’s across from the Harvard Square complex that was once the Village Theater.

The Pepo Melo menu is below (click for a larger view), although you can customize your own bowl based on the fruits and toppings that are available. The bowls are made in front of you behind a row of ingredients, like at Chipotle.

I went with the PBB&J ($6, medium), with strawberries, bananas, hemp granola and peanut butter drizzle, plus a $2 fruitade drink, cucumber mint, of the two options. These are made from leftover fruit from the previous day. The drink was refreshing and the cost less than expected.

The bowl was similar to the chunky strawberry bowl at Jamba Juice, a favorite, only without yogurt. It was tasty and had lots of fruit, but was slightly dry.

I returned a month later for an Aww Snap ($9), with ginger, mint, lemon, raspberries and pitaya sorbet base. (It’s supposed to have granola but they were out.) An impressive amount of labor went into this, with the employee slicing mint, grating ginger and cutting a fresh lemon to squeeze. The result had zing. I liked it, although I missed having granola.

Pepo Melo has no seating, but Shelton Park is right across the street, and that’s where I ate the Aww Snap bowl.

According to a story in the Student Life campus newspaper, the owner is a melon broker, Pepo is the scientific name for the flesh of a melon and Melo is one letter shy of melon. I think it’s a nice addition to the Village, although a Claremont friend hooted at the whole idea: “All they sell is fruit bowls? Who’s going to buy that? I don’t give them long.” Hey, I’d have said the same thing about the antiques store!

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Column: Library tutors boost young readers. Comprehend?

The Back 2 Basics literacy program at the Rancho Cucamonga Public Library (both branches) offers free tutoring in reading to qualifying youngsters who are behind a grade level. I write about the program in Wednesday’s column. After all, library officials had invited me to address their pint-sized graduates, and first I had to learn what Back 2 Basics was all about.

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Wagon Wheel memento rolls to Ontario

When I toured the Paul R. Williams house on Ontario’s Sixth Street in late 2017, I was surprised to see a sign from Oxnard’s old Wagon Wheel restaurant complex decorating the kitchen. The homeowner said he’d picked it up before the complex was demolished in 2015.

I found the photo recently and, since I’d always meant to share it, decided to go ahead.

Do you recall the Wagon Wheel ? Built starting in 1947, the complex consisted of a motel, restaurant, bowling alley, roller rink and more and was a quaint sight along the 101. Says Wikipedia: “One of the most recognizable features of the motel was the giant neon sign that included an animated stagecoach driver and galloping horses.”

I got to bowl at the bowling alley a couple of years before the end. If I remember correctly, I came in third against two friends who rarely bowled. It’s a good memory anyway.

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Reading Log: April 2019

Books acquired: “The Hippest Trip in America: Soul Train and the Evolution of Culture and Style,” Nelson George

Books read: “Dreams and Schemes,” Steve Lopez; “The Simulacra,” “Lies Inc./The Unteleported Man,” Philip K. Dick; “Only Apparently Real,” Paul Williams; “The Colour of Memory,” Geoff Dyer; “The Orange and the Dream of California,” David Boulé

April is the cruelest month, they say. For me it was dreamy, at least based on the titles of the books I read. Or if not dreamy, then unreal or not to be trusted.

I read six, even though you’ll see seven books pictured above. Explanation to come.

“Dreams and Schemes” (2010) collects the best of the LA Times columnist’s first decade on the beat. I’d read all these in my daily paper but was happy to read them again. Lopez has a lively voice that keeps his paragraphs moving. His topics shift too, from politics to slices of life to human interest. In an early one, he hires a day laborer to fill his passenger seat so he can take the carpool lane across the county. Several of the later ones are about the city’s marginalized, including a half-dozen about the homeless musician who went on to inspire his book (and movie) “The Soloist.” In the concluding column, they’re invited to the White House.

“The Simulacra” (1964) is one of several Philip K. Dick (and -related) books this month. He was a master at questioning reality, after all. As with many of his novels, the plot is almost impossible to describe, being overstuffed with ideas. It’s set in a near-future America in which the government is a fraud and the president is an android, married to an eternal first lady who’s been in office 76 years. We also follow the last legal psychiatrist in America, a psychokinetic pianist who thinks his body odor is lethal and a jug band duo who specialize in classical tunes. I’d rate this second-tier PKD.

“Lies Inc.” (2004)/”The Unteleported Man” (1984): This is a special case. Dick wrote a novella-length version in the 1960s, wrote an expansion to turn it into a novel that wasn’t published and started to revise it for publication prior to his death. That’s the 1984 version. Then a few missing pages turned up, misfiled among his papers, and that became “Lies Inc.,” which places his expansion material where he apparently desired it, which was 3/4 of the way through part 1 rather than at the end, scrambling the time sequence and making the effect more experimental. I read “Lies Inc.,” assuming it would be definitive, and decided it is now my least favorite PKD. Then I skimmed “Unteleported Man” over an hour to see what was different. Well, it made a little more sense and had a more chipper ending. I preferred that version, even if it’s still not a very good book.

What’s it about? Millions of emigrants are making a one-way trip to another world’s promised paradise. But is that world all it’s said to be, or is this an interstellar version of the final solution? There are parallels with “The Man in High Castle,” but overall this is one of his potboilers like “Vulcan’s Hammer” or “Dr. Futurity.”

Anyway, I’m putting a slash between the titles and counting this as one book, completing my penance for stretching a point with my Harlan Ellison reading last month. You’re welcome.

“Only Apparently Real” (1985): I liked it, but it’s for fans only, a modest attempt at biography and analysis. It’s made up largely of Q&As with Dick conducted by a friend who was later executor of his literary estate. An awful lot of the conversations concern a then-recent break-in at his home, about which Dick characteristically spun a great many conspiracy theories, which are entertaining to a point, and then tiresome.

“The Orange and the Dream of California” (2014): Photos and memorabilia from the days when citrus was king and marketing oranges was a way to market California and a fantasy lifestyle of gentleman farmers, snow-topped mountains and perfect weather. The text sketches the history and underlines the ironies and dissonances.

“The Colour of Memory” (1989): A warm, funny debut novel that follows a group of friends, all smart, around age 20 and underemployed by choice in late 1980s England. They hang out, drink beer, listen to “Sketches of Spain” and try to avoid getting burgled. There’s no plot, but plot is overrated, right? Often very funny, it’s also lyrical and elegiac for a time and circumstance the narrator understands needs to be remembered before it fades.

“Colour” is the literary winner this month, followed by “Dreams and Schemes.”

You might find it interesting to know that I read Lopez’ book at a pace of one column per night from mid-January to mid-April, and likewise read Boule and Williams from my nightstand too, a little per night in recent weeks. “Simulacra,” “Lies Inc.” and “Colour” were my only daytime books.

I bought Dyer at Powell’s in 2016 (it’s the last of my purchases from that trip); Lopez from Vromans in Pasadena in 2012; “The Simulacra” I know not when or where, but many years ago; Williams at Glendale’s defunct Brand Books in 2008, “Unteleported” from Next Chapter Books in Canoga Park in 2009, “Lies Inc” the same year (appropriately enough) from somewhere forgotten. Boulé sent me his book last November after I wrote about his donation of memorabilia to the Claremont Colleges Library.

How was your April, readers? I hope any cruelty was confined to the pages.

Next month: Shakespeare and lesser lights.

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