Sunday column preview

In Sunday’s column, readers sound off on two recent column topics: TV converter boxes and Santa Ana winds. Some folks can’t get their TV situation worked out, and several old-timers insist the winds are called Santana.

I suggest in print that perhaps the winds are called Maria, which led to some back-and-forth with my editors over whether the spelling should be Maria or Mariah.

I wasn’t much help, doing some research and informing an editor that the character in “West Side Story” is named Maria. This must have seemed like a non-sequitur, given that the song, he told me, is from “Paint Your Wagon.” Fresh research was conducted. Virtually every Internet source gives the song title as “They Call the Wind Maria.” Even though it’s pronounced like Mariah. I’m pretty sure I’ve always seen the title as “…Maria,” despite not knowing what musical it’s from.

Anyway, it’s been a while since I printed much reader response, but it’s worth doing on occasion. I have responses about my St. Louis column too but couldn’t squeeze everything into one column. So, those will wait for next week.

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Restaurant of the Week: Red Devil Pizza

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Red Devil Pizza, 1465 Foothill Blvd. (at Wheeler), La Verne

Red Devil is in the CVS Center near the old Vons, placing it across the street from the new Vons. Red Devil is a longtime La Verne favorite.

The interior is nicer than expected, with vintage-style Italian posters and such decorating the walls. Also, a “GoodFellas” poster autographed by Henry Hill. Although there’s a counter for takeout orders and paying, they have waitress service. A couple of gents near me were chowing down silently on large bowls of pasta.

Pasta dinners range from spaghetti ($9) to seafood linguine ($17); they also have sandwiches, beer and bottled wine up to $25. And, of course, pizza. I got one of the $8.50 lunch specials, a mini pizza with one topping (mushrooms) and a salad and soda or beer (iced tea, in my case).

The salad was iceberg but it was large, almost entree-sized, with cheese, olives and tomatoes. Not bad. The pizza was also large at 10 inches (2 inches larger than most mini pizzas), chewy and tasty. I took home three of the eight slices. It was a good deal for the price.

La Verne’s a good pizza town. Still gotta go back to Sal’s for a Sal’s Special, as some of you recommended.

*Update, August 2014: I returned to Red Devil so I could update this 2008 post with photos. Actually, I returned twice; the first time, a Monday night, the place was packed, so I left. I came back for lunch on a Sunday and the place was much quieter. I got a small Joey’s Special ($10.50), which has sausage, bacon, pepperoni, ham, mushrooms, onions and bell peppers. Pretty good pizza, light on the sauce, generous with the toppings, a medium-weight crust. Service was attentive. They also have 16 pastas on the menu, from $9 to $17.

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Halloween horror

From indefatigable trivia buff Don J. comes word of a trio of horror movies with scenes shot in the (gaaaah!) Inland Valley.

* Says Don: “William Castle’s ‘Macabre’ (1958) was cited by no less an authority than Stephen King as the scariest horror movie shot in Chino.” I wonder how much competition there is?

(For screenings of “Macabre,” incidentally, theatergoers were issued a life insurance policy, payable if they died of fright. Begging the question: Would anyone die of fright at a movie shot in Chino?)

* Elsewhere in his “Danse Macabre” essay collection, King “namechecked ‘Massacre At Central High’ which is top-heavy on Claremont College locations (like ‘Teen Wolf Too’…).”

* Don concludes: “Oliver Stone’s 1981 horror film with Michael Caine, ‘The Hand,’ has a few scenes where arguably the biggest star ever to shoot in Cucamonga (accompanied by D-Day from ‘Animal House’) drinks heavily and picks up a stripper at the lamented, notorious Cowgirl strip club.”

Sounds like another Michael Caine high point. The Cowgirl was in the current Omaha Jack’s location on Foothill.

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Friday column preview

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Claremont has a trolley, or at least a trolley-like conveyance, which began service Thursday after a dedication ceremony. Yours truly was there. So were city officials, each of whom made remarks. Councilman Corey Calaycay kept his brief.

“To mirror the words of William Mulholland when he opened the Los Angeles Aqueduct, ‘There it is. Ride it,’” Calaycay quipped.

Calaycay voted against the trolley, worried about the cost, but told me his attitude is, now that we’ve made the investment, Claremont should get the most of it.

In her own remarks, Councilwoman Linda Elderkin said the service’s virtues are that it’s both “an important economic development tool” and “incredibly cute.” Not even the $700 billion bailout can make both those claims.

I talk about the “trolley” in Friday’s column. Side note: Apparently the vehicle makes all four stops automatically, but there is also a bell cord, which can be pulled to indicate a stop. But it’s suspended near the roof and can’t be reached without standing. What’s the deal with that?

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Boos and boo-boos

At my doctor’s office in Upland, the door leading from the waiting room to the inner sanctum is decorated with Halloween-themed caution tape that reads: “Caution: Enter at Your Own Risk.”

As if going to the doctor weren’t scary enough!

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Blue (jeans) state

Passing by the Levi’s store at Victoria Gardens recently, I couldn’t help but notice the provocative window display, of which the four or so mannikins were the least interesting part.

At their feet, in two piles, were bundles of a single issue of the LA Times from Oct. 4. Its six-column, two-deck A1 headline:

Approval of bailout comes amid signs
that a steep recession is just beginning

On the temporary wall behind the mannikins was a map of the United States with one word across it: “Vote.”

Whoa.

The message isn’t necessarily partisan (but may be). I would interpret it like this: These are tough times. Elections matter. So does your vote.

Speaking of the economy, the display must have given the LAT a (brief) shot in the arm, since it includes 120 copies of the Sunday paper, at $1.50 each..

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Ah, comics!

When I was growing up in Olney, Ill. (population 9,000), in the 1970s, there were a half-dozen places you could buy comic books: three or four grocery stores, a convenience store and a newsstand, plus a used bookstore and a five-and-dime that had some pre-bagged comics. I don’t think you could buy a new comic within Olney’s city limits today. You certainly can’t in many Inland Valley cities. What kind of a world is this??

Chris Peterson, owner of Claremont’s Comic Bookie, started reading comics in 1972 while growing up in Claremont. He rode his bike to the 7-Eleven in La Verne to get his comics and often stopped at the Mount Baldy Drive-In’s swap meet next door (now a Target) where vendors sometimes sold older comics. He had an allowance of $2 per week, which would net him 10 new 20-cent comics.

He also patronized two stores in Claremont.

R.U.R. was a used bookstore on Yale run by two hippies in the space that became Claremont Books and Prints, and it sold new comics and some older issues. (“R.U.R.” was a sci-fi play from 1921 that introduced the word “robots.” Shades of Android’s Dungeon!)

There was also a newsstand at Indian Hill and Arrow whose name Peterson never knew. The sign’s biggest word was Paperback, except the B was missing. Peterson and his friends would routinely say, “Let’s go to Paper Ack.”

In the 1980s, there were comic shops. Pomona had Funny Business (and still does) and also Fun Time Comics on Antique Row, run by an older couple who, surprisingly, kept up on Watchmen and Wolverine. Upland had The Comic Room downtown; the store later had a satellite store in the Claremont arcade near today’s Viva Madrid. Claremont’s packinghouse had a small vendor space named Packinghouse Books, a used bookstore with old comics run by Dwain Kaiser (of today’s Magic Door Books in Pomona).

Comic shops popped up in every valley city during the 1990s but virtually all of them are gone. Er, the shops, not the cities.

The current generation has pretty much given up on comics, if they even know comics exist. But for older generations — anyone over 30 or 40 — comics were part of childhood. Even if you didn’t read them regularly, you probably got one as a treat at some point.

Young or old — where did you buy your comics?

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Pei Wei closes

Tried eating lunch today at Pei Wei Asian Diner in Rancho Cucamonga (Foothill and Haven, in the Rancho Cucamonga Town Square) and found all the tables bunched together. A couple of workmen dismantling the place told me it’s closed for good.

Nooooo!

Signs on the door direct customers to P.F. Chang’s, Pei Wei’s parent chain, or to the Pei Wei opening soon in Chino Hills. Another sign suggests that if you walk a few paces to Daphne’s Greek and tell them you had intended to eat at Pei Wei, you’ll get 10 percent off. Which I did.

I liked Pei Wei, even if they did drop scallops as one of the items (leaving chicken, pork, beef, shrimp or tofu) that you could order in various presentations. The beginning of the end?

City Manager Jack Lam was quite the fan. So was Bulletin sportswriter Clay Fowler, who lives in the adjacent apartments and professed to be “devastated.”

Rather than intrude on Fowler during his grief, I asked Lam for his thoughts. He ate at Pei Wei frequently and even celebrated Chinese New Year there.

“I will miss the restaurant. It was a favorite haunt for those working at City Hall nearby. I liked several dishes but my favorite was the lemon pepper pork!” Lam said via e-mail. “Apparently the lunch crowd was good but the dinner crowd had thinned because of the economy.”

Lam also forwarded a news story about P.F. Chang’s troubles, which you can read by clicking below.
Continue reading

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Wednesday column preview

The Comic Bookie in Claremont is closing Friday after 18 years, a fact noted on this blog a while back. The store is also the subject of Wednesday’s column.

Owner Chris Peterson and I had a long chat Monday afternoon about the genesis of his store, its evolution and the factors forcing him to close. It surprised me to learn just how precarious his finances had been for a number of years. He’s a relaxed guy and hid his stress well.

I also learned that he had retail experience as a Music Plus manager, mostly in the La Verne store, during the 1980s. That’s why he was so good at customer service.

He takes some of the blame for the Bookie’s demise, referring to the point when he stopped carrying new comics. That cut his expenses, but not surprisingly, he also lost customers, some of whom never came back even when he did carry new issues again.

In retrospect, he wishes he’d sold the store at its height. He’d hoped to sell in recent months but was unable to find a buyer: “A lot of people want to own a comic shop. Not too many people have the money to buy a comic shop.”

Some of the factors that did him in are afflicting all comic shops.

“The comic shop as a paradigm worked because it was so unique,” Peterson explained. Unsold stock could be sold at a markup as “back issues.” That was stores’ lifeblood. But few fans today collect back issues, many opting for paperback reprints, which are sold at chain bookstores, or online, at a discount.

In a business climate like that, greeting customers by name, as Peterson did, can only take you so far.

Peterson isn’t sure of his next move but may go into teaching. This was a relief to me. After hearing that he’d been involved in records and comics, two dying industries, I was worried he’d go into newspapers.

Comic Bookie is at 1420 N. Claremont Blvd., Suite 203 B, Claremont — but only through Friday.

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Baja Montclair

Passing by the former Tony Roma’s on Montclair’s Monte Vista Avenue, I noticed a banner up on the building promising a new restaurant named Rockin’ Baja. It gives a web address, www.rockinbaja.com. Another banner says “Now Hiring.”

According to its website, Rockin’ Baja Coastal Cantina specializes in buckets of shellfish, especially lobster tail, crab and shrimp, prepared “baja style.” (I hope this doesn’t mean there’s sand in it.) There are seven California locations: San Diego (2), Newport Beach pier, Oceanside, Burbank, La Quinta and San Jose.

Sounds more promising than Tony Roma’s, “a place for ribs” where I ate a total of one time.

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