Gustavo and me (and Frida)

Photo by Hugh “Front Row” McBride

My book talk Sunday afternoon in the homey environment of Cafe con Libros in downtown Pomona drew an audience of 15, one more than my launch event at the Pomona Public Library. (If each event for “On Track” draws one more than the previous event, someday I’ll be at Staples!)

Above, Gustavo Arellano listens attentively as I read from my book, which collects the best of my columns from 2001-2005. The longtime journalist and author, best known for his previous gig writing an advice column called “Ask a Mexican,” and now an op-ed columnist in the LA Times, among other gigs, drove up to Pomona from Santa Ana, a generous gesture. He got lost, mistaking Valley Boulevard for Mission Boulevard, but he made it on time.

I didn’t give him away, although when he raised his hand during the question period, I said, “Is this ‘Ask an Anglo’?” “‘Ask a Gabacho,'” he corrected me.

Gustavo, by the way, contributed the flattering blurb for my book’s back cover: “David Allen is the most underrated columnist in Southern California. Anyone who doesn’t buy this book deserves exile to Orange County.” As he likes to say: “HA!”

I’m kicking myself, though, that I didn’t put him on the spot and ask him to do a dramatic reading of his blurb.

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Column: These horror films are silent except for organ music, screams

“The Phantom of the Opera” and “Nosferatu,” both from the 1920s, will screen at local churches in Claremont and Pomona, respectively, with live organ accompaniment in the days before Halloween. I preview those in Friday’s column, as well as update my list of book tour stops (come see me!), present a bunch of Culture Corner items and offer up a Valley Vignette.

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Restaurant of the Week: Chase’s

Chase’s, 2079 Bonita Ave. (at D), La Verne; open daily, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday, 2 p.m. to midnight Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday

Chase’s opened in 2011 in a converted house downtown on Third Street as a wine shop with a short menu and wine bar, if memory serves. It was a tight fit the one time I was there, for a colleague’s going-away party, but we had a good experience. And now Chase’s has moved to expanded quarters in a former bank building at the crossroads of Bonita and D.

Two friends and I met up there recently for lunch, gathering on the sunny patio, shaded by large umbrellas. It was a warm day and I’m not sure anyone was eating inside on such a pleasant afternoon.

It’s one of those menus of salads, sandwiches and pastas where you find nearly every item appealing. Do I want the wild mushroom grilled cheese, the pear and fennel arugula salad, the special burger, the roasted ragu shrimp pasta?

One friend got the No Name Salad with grilled chicken ($13.50 + $5.50). It came with kale, carrots, pecans and cranberries. Her verdict: “Mmm-mmm.” That’s your quote? Second friend added: “If you add that she shook her head emphatically, they’ll know.”

I got the Mojo Pulled Pork ($13.25). So did the second friend. But you only get one photo. This concoction came on sourdough with mustard, onion and pickle. The pork was tender and the sandwich delicious.

“Plenty big,” second friend remarked. “I’m glad I didn’t get fries.” Same here. I didn’t eat again for hours.

Chase’s has a dinner menu, and a brunch menu for Sundays.

There’s also a full bar in an island that looks like an instant classic. Chase’s seems to have successfully transitioned to its new space. The blog wishes them well. It’s a good option for downtown La Verne.

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Old tree, new art

Here’s a new, but perhaps not entirely unfamiliar, piece of art in downtown Ontario. It came about after the city’s arborist determined that an ash tree next to City Hall in the Conservation Park was past saving.

“Rather than cut it down, we commissioned an artist to create something in keeping with the Conservation Park,” assistant city manager Al Boling said.

And so the tree was stripped of bark and limbs, and woodcarver Eric Garcia created “Shamel Ash” with chainsaw, hand tools and a blowtorch. The trunk now appears to be made up of flowers, butterflies, seeds, caterpillars and a praying mantis. Cost was under $5,000.

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Reading Log: September 2018

Books acquired: “The Annotated ‘Big Sleep’,” Owen Hill, Pamela Jackson and Anthony Rizzuto, editors

Books read: “The Sheep Look Up,” John Brunner; “The Maltese Falcon (Film Classics Library),” Richard J. Anobile; “Cats, Dogs and Other Strangers at My Door,” Jack Smith; “The Perfect Horse,” Elizabeth Letts

It seems it was September, not March, that came in like a lion and went out like a lamb, based on my animalistic titles last month. My reading encompassed a science fiction novel, a collection of newspaper columns, a nonfiction World War II account and a stills-and-dialogue version of a film noir classic, all with a critter in the title.

I’d been wanting to read “The Sheep Look Up” since being struck by its summary in a display at the science fiction museum at Seattle’s Space Needle in 2006, and remembered its unsettling cover from book racks in the 1970s. So that’s the edition I acquired a year or two later (from where, I forget). At 450 pages, it was a little intimidating and I kept putting it off, but I took it with me on my overseas trip and, after reading “The Trial,” read almost half by the time I returned.

This sprawling, character-filled novel (1972) charts environmental ruin (acid rain, unbreathable air, poisoned water, a sun that never emerges) that people manage to ignore even as their quality of life erodes. Experimental, but easy to follow, with black humor and real anger at the fouling of Earth. Brunner’s alarm about pesticides and antibiotics that no longer work hasn’t quite been borne out (yet?), but “Sheep” is still scary and deserves to be more widely read.

“Cats, Dogs and Other Strangers at My Door” (1984) collects some 30 years of columns by the LA Timesman about the cats, dogs and birds that found their way to his and his wife’s Mount Washington home. I love Jack’s writing but had some trepidation about this one, as a non-pet person. As the seventh of his nine books, which I’ve been reading in order, one per year, it was this one’s turn. But no need to fear. His clear writing, sly humor and observations about the foibles of both human and pet alike made this book another semi-forgotten gem.

“The Perfect Horse” (2016) chronicles the little-known tale of the purebred horses rescued at the end of WWII by equine-loving American troops before the Russians could grab them for horsemeat. Some of them were shipped, at least briefly, to Kellogg Ranch in Pomona before being dispersed to auctions in other states. I saw Letts give a talk at Cal Poly earlier this year, bought the book to help me with the resulting column and got it signed. I read the few Pomona pages in writing the column, then put the book aside. I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend the time on it, as it’s not really my thing, but thought if I were ever going to read it, it should be this year, and so I inserted it into this animal month.

Well, it was frequently quite good, with Letts playing up the drama and humanity of the men involved. But there may be too many characters, riding camps and breeds for the reader to follow for the narrative’s own good, and the story kind of trails off, as the dramatic rescue in many ways seems to be for naught. Life is often like that. Still, maybe I’d have been just as well off skipping the book after all. (Among the copious works cited in the back is my own Kellogg column from my Pomona A to Z series, although I can’t imagine it was of much help.)

As for “The Maltese Falcon” (1974), it’s one of a series done by Richard Anobile in which he presented portions of old comedies, or even full movies, as frame blowups accompanied by typeset dialogue. I have his “Casablanca” and two Marx Brothers books.

Now that we can enjoy “The Maltese Falcon” in our own home anytime we like — I’ve since watched it again on Blu-ray after finishing the book — this is an antique. But “Falcon” is such a great movie that the chance to linger over its details and chuckle in recognition of favorite moments is not to be dismissed. Also, you might learn something; in my case, despite repeated viewings, it was exactly how Captain Jacoby figured in, which had glided right past me.

I bought “Falcon” at Powell’s Books in Portland in 2016. As mentioned, “Horse” came from Cal Poly in 2018. “Cats, Dogs” and “Sheep” date to the mid-2000s, prior to the Reading Log, from used bookstores, although I’ve forgotten which ones. Smith’s, like my others by him, is signed.

How was your September, readers? Hope you read some good books, and not too many dogs. Let us know in the comments section.

Next month: a favorite author or two.

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Restaurant of the Week: D Grill Boy

D Grill Boy, 4323 Mills Circle (at Concours), Ontario; 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily

Formerly a Lollicup, this small eatery has a new name. Not a great name, but a new name, since June, with new owners to match. A friend and I checked it out recently for lunch.

D Grill Boy is an unassuming place, mod and with communal tables. The menu is mostly hibachi-style grilled entrees — chicken, steak, shrimp, salmon, lamb or chicken katsu — with rice and vegetables. You won’t get a floor show from the chefs, like at Benihana, but you’ll also pay a lot less.

There’s also yakisoba dishes (stir-fry noodles with chicken, shrimp or steak), which are Japanese, and loco moco (rice, gravy, eggs, with sausage or Spam), which is Hawaiian. Additionally, they make tea drinks, milk tea, slushies, smoothies and salted cheese teas.

I had steak and chicken ($11.59) with — why not? — one of the salted cheese drinks, a matcha green tea with cheese foam ($5.29). My friend went one better by getting steak, chicken and shrimp ($14.59), with an upgrade to fried rice ($1.50), plus a watermelon slush ($4).

He pointed out something about the steak and chicken that I was beginning to notice myself: They tasted, essentially, the same. Had I closed my eyes, I might not have been able to tell the difference. As a non-cook, I couldn’t tell you why they would taste the same, but maybe were both overdone. “The shrimp was the best — by far,” my friend concluded.

Our drinks were OK. (I didn’t like mine $5.29 worth, but I liked it.) You might be better off getting a beverage here than food: There are many more options, including 16 slushies and 15 smoothies.

Overall, the food might be comparable to WaBa Grill — but unlike WaBa, you can get boba. And maybe that’s enough.

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