Highland perk was just the ticket

As regular readers know, I take Metrolink for day trips whenever I can, which isn’t as often as I’d like, in part because it seems like a full-day thing and full days are rare. Sunday, though, I made it a half-day thing just for lunch.

There are numerous good restaurants near a transit stop in L.A. Why not just go have lunch somewhere new and fun? I decided to try Good Girl Dinette, a Highland Park cafe that bills itself as “American diner meets Vietnamese comfort food” and which made LA Weekly’s LA 99 list of notable restaurants.

So I got on the 11:39 a.m. train from Claremont with an armful of reading material (Sunday papers, an LA Weekly, an IE Weekly, Westways magazine, two Record Collector News issues and Mark Twain’s “Roughing It”), took the Gold Line light rail trolley to the Highland Park stop, walked two blocks in an unfamiliar part of L.A. to the restaurant, had a satisfying repast (beef stew, housemade lemon pop, bread pudding) for $24, walked back to the light rail stop, took the Gold Line back to Union Station and immediately got on Metrolink for the ride back home, arriving in Claremont at 4:20 p.m. carrying only the Twain book, having shed everything else as I read it.

Yes, the ride cost $11, making this a long and slightly pricey meal, but it was worth the extra time and cost to have a mini-adventure, one with almost no unproductive time. The smooth, air-conditioned ride certainly wasn’t roughing it (ahem).

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Reading log: February 2010

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Books bought this month: “Sleepless Nights in the Procrustean Bed,” Harlan Ellison.

Books read this month: “The Thin Man,” Dashiell Hammett; “Pulp Culture,” Frank M. Robinson and Lawrence Davidson; “Miss Lonelyhearts & The Day of the Locust,” Nathanael West; “The Sign of the Four,” A. Conan Doyle; “Best Music Writing 2002,” Jonathan Lethem, ed.

Choosing to ignore Chairman Mao’s dictum “To read too many books is harmful,” I made it through five books in January and, as seen above, five more in February: two mysteries, a classic L.A. novel, a collection of music essays and a coffee table book about pulp magazines.

I’ve owned Hammett’s “The Thin Man” for a very long time and have intended to get to it since reading his “The Maltese Falcon” in fall 2008. I liked “Thin Man” more than “Falcon,” as it turns out, although this could be because the movie version of “Falcon” overshadows the book and because I’ve never seen the Thin Man movies (but now I want to).

I read “The Sign of the Four,” Doyle’s second Sherlock Holmes novel, in the 1970s and had long wanted to revisit it. From the first paragraph about Holmes’ cocaine and morphine addiction, it’s a grabber, moreso than “A Study in Scarlet.” A noncompletist reader could start here.

“The Day of the Locust” is often called the best Hollywood novel ever, despite having been written in the 1930s; I haven’t read enough Hollywood novels to compare, but despite some startlingly good passages, “Locust” is sour and grotesque. “Lonelyhearts,” a 60-page piece that shares the book, is about an advice columnist and is even more disturbing. They’re both okay but not my cup of tea. I bought this one used in 2008 in L.A. at Gene de Chene Bookseller (which has since closed).

“Pulp Culture,” which I bought last summer at Rhino Records, is a collection of eye-popping, lurid and lovely covers to pulp magazines of the Depression era, when a dime or quarter could buy you a thick magazine of fiction on cheap pulpwood paper. “Culture” has wry captions (the authors don’t take this stuff too seriously) and short chapters that give an overview of the various pulp genres. Breezy, informative and fun.

“The Best Music Writing 2002,” bought used a year ago at Book Alley in Pasadena, might seem dated, but most of the essays are as interesting for a committed music fan as ever and aren’t about music of that year anyway. Topics include Ralph Stanley, J-Lo, the Beatles, the Strokes, power ballads, the recording of “Help Me Make It Through the Night” and Korla Pandit, who was a turban-wearing organist on TV in L.A. in the ’50s who is posthumously discovered to be black, not Indian. That one might be the best piece in the book.

As for the lone book I bought, I own almost all of Ellison’s stuff, but this one’s a rarity, a small-press collection of essays. Up until now it was known to me only as a listing in his “other books by the author” page. It was so far off my radar I didn’t even have it on my want list. So when I found it at Book Alley, I snapped it up.

Now, a few words about strategy. To try to finish 50 books in 2010, I arranged to read five per month in January and February. With 10 books behind me, I can (if I choose) “relax” with four per month for the rest of the year. This might allow me to work in a handful of longer books to go along with the 200-page average I’ve been hitting.

My big book of the year may be Mark Twain’s “Roughing It,” his travel memoir of the Western U.S. of the 1860s; my edition runs 800 pages with textual notes and such and after a month of off-and-on reading I’m around page 200. I could devote all my reading time in March to it and might not finish, which would really blow my schedule (and result in a photo of a blank floor), but I’m going to read it as I can and try to finish in April or May.

So: Have you read any of the above? What are you reading now?

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Kogi BBQ truck visits Pomona

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The cult food favorite Kogi BBQ sent one of its trucks to Pomona and Diamond Bar on Saturday night and Twitter followers were there for its fusion of Korean and Mexican foods. A friend from L.A. advised me to get there an hour early, which I did, but then the problem became figuring out exactly where at Valley and Temple the truck was going to park. Hmmm…the minimall? the business park? the Cal Poly residence hall? the muddy field? or just on the street?

I shuttled back and forth between the residence halls (SW corner) and minimall (NE corner), finding nothing. Just as I was returning to the minimall to eat at the curry place, I saw a line at the business park. Success!

I waited in line 45 minutes, then another 15 minutes for the food itself, but the short rib taco, the spicy pork taco, the kimchi quesadilla and the tres leches chocolate cake (see menu and pictures here) were worth the inconvenience. At least once.

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Air raid, Hawaii!


Reader John Evans contacted me from Maui, where he and his family are vacationing, to fill me in regarding the tsunami warning after the Chile earthquake. After an air raid siren went off at 5:30 a.m. Saturday, police evacuated them to higher ground at Hana High School.

The tsunami warning was canceled that afternoon.

The family is in Hana to celebrate his in-laws’ 65th wedding anniversary. They’ll still be talking about this one on their 66th, I bet.

A Claremont native who is deputy chief of the Ontario Police Department, Evans referred to a recent posting here about Claremont’s two inactive air raid sirens by e-mailing this photo with the comment: “Unlike the Claremont air raid siren, this thing really works.”

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