Column: In line at chicken eatery, it’s always crunch time

On a day off last week, I decided to try a popular restaurant in L.A. known for its long lines (and good food), Howlin’ Ray’s. I thought a weekday would have a shorter line. No such luck. But like with other ridiculous experiences, I thought, well, I can get a column out of this, so I’ll tough it out. The result makes up Wednesday’s column. (Print readers, bless their hearts, will miss out on the tweets embedded in or hyperlinked from the online version.)

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Column: Fan’s website for Grauman’s cements its lore

I met Grauman’s Chinese Theatre fan Kurt Wahlner in Pomona in January for the neon dragon christening. We had a nice chat, aided by the tidbit that a lot of the research on his website was done at the Pomona Public Library (long may it wave).

I took his photo by the neon dragon, thinking he might make a good column. Upon further reflection, meeting him at Grauman’s itself seemed like a better photo opp and a chance to go into more depth on the subject. And so, Wahlner and his website are the subject of Sunday’s column.

The first and only film I saw at the theater was 1996’s “Independence Day,” when my parents were in town on vacation. (According to Wahlner’s site, it played five weeks.) I meant to mention that in the column but forgot. So I definitely needed a refresher on the theater, which my meet-up with Wahlner provided.

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Column: Artist felt driven to improve freeway sign

In 2001, artist Richard Ankrom took it upon himself to fix a Caltrans sign over the 110 Freeway. The agency didn’t catch on. (Courtesy photo)

Remember how I watched two artists work on restoration of a neon dragon from Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in a Pomona warehouse? (If not: read about it here.) One of them had a great backstory, a piece of modern L.A. lore involving a one-man fix to a troublesome freeway sign. The story has been documented many times, but it seemed worth revisiting because the perpetrator was right there in front of me, and because it’s so awesome. I set the story aside to run during the dead period of Christmas to New Year’s, where it occupies Wednesday’s column.

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LA County Arboretum

I’d never been to the L.A. County Arboretum and Botanic Garden in Arcadia until October, when a friend and I met up there after years of idle talk. We met shortly after the 9 a.m. opening on a Saturday that promised to hit triple digits and did by the time we left around noon.

In the meantime, we paid our $9 admissions and wandered portions of the 127-acre grounds. The Arboretum was established in 1948 on Lucky Baldwin’s old spread. Paved paths wind past trees, flowers and native plants, as well as a pond and the Queen Anne home, formerly Baldwin’s, that became famous due to TV’s “Fantasy Island.” Baldwin also imported Australian peafowl. Descendants roam as well, a fun sight even if none displayed its colors for us.

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The new Proud Bird

Have you ever been to the Proud Bird, the aviation-themed restaurant near LAX? Even if you have, you may not recognize the space after a renovation this summer.

The 1967 restaurant was, in LA Weekly’s words, “a dark, crowded, wood-paneled relic” — but beloved. Now it’s a “food bazaar,” with several food stations from rotating operators, plus a permanent stand for Bludso’s, a barbecue joint whose Compton location has closed (but which still has one in Mid-City; it gets my vote for best barbecue in LA).

I had never been to the old version of the Bird but recently combined a stop there with my visit to LAX’s Lost and Found to retrieve my keys. It was a good twofer. Now, in some respects Proud Bird was a letdown, as I was picturing something livelier like Grand Central Market. Still, a plate of ribs, brisket and greens from Bludso’s salved that disappointment.

And the aviation memorabilia, and replica P-40 Flying Tiger suspended from the ceiling, were fun to see. Some vintage planes are on display in front and out back, and through the expanse of windows one can watch planes coming in for a landing on the parallel runways 25 and 25R.

The lunchtime crowd on a weekday seemed to be mostly made up of people who work nearby, plus a few travelers. I saw a family with a son wearing a shirt from Austin’s famed Franklin Barbecue. Proud Bird didn’t strike me as worth a special trip from our parts. But it’s worth a visit if you’re near LAX with some time to kill, especially if you like planes.

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