Thinking L.A. »

Behind Every Witty, Punning, Trademarked Name, Is the Psychology of “Verbal Identity”

By | November 21, 2016

When I tell people at cocktail parties what I do, they’re always curious. “You’re a namer-of-things? That sounds like fun. Tell me more,” they say, seemingly surprised that it’s an actual job.
In fact, the profession has grown in the last 15 years or so with the explosion of entrepreneurs and startups that need to name everything from products and services to websites and apps. “Verbal …

Thinking L.A. »

See UCLA in the 1950s Through the Eyes of a Damn Average Raiser

By | August 30, 2016

John Burke and I, Class of 1948 graduates of Mt. Carmel High School, and new UCLA students, sat quietly, bewildered, on the lawn of the quad eating our brown bag lunches. Around us swirled groups of stylishly dressed, exuberant students greeting one another and sharing stories of just-ended summer vacations. John was distraught. He had received the results of the Subject A Examination, administered to …

Connecting California, Thinking L.A. »

What County Fairs Are Good For

By | September 24, 2015

I’m feeling guilty for having failed, as of this writing, to fulfill a central responsibility of California citizenship.
I haven’t been to my county’s fair this year.
The Los Angeles County Fair can be an ordeal. It is an event as sprawling and vast as L.A. itself, and parking is $15. The county insists on holding the fair in September, when the Pomona fairgrounds can feel …

Thinking L.A. »

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Fracking

By | September 23, 2015

In California, few environmental issues are as hotly debated as fracking. Short for “hydraulic fracturing,” fracking is a process of drilling for gas and oil by blasting a high-pressure watery mixture into shale, an underground sedimentary rock, to release natural gas and petroleum. This natural gas is cheaper and cleaner to burn than coal, but many environmentalists argue that fracking still spells disaster for the …

Thinking L.A. »

L.A.’s Rampart District Gave Me the Life I Wanted to Lead

By | September 21, 2015

When I first moved into the Rampart neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1986, the gunfire down the alley outside our bedroom often kept me awake at night—not just the pop-pop of single shots but the stuttering rat-a-tat of automatic weapons. Police helicopters beat the air overhead, seemingly for hours at a time, shining down bright conical beams that swept across the windows.
There was a kind …

Thinking L.A. »

Keeping My L.A. Hood Together, One Baseball Bat at a Time

By | September 17, 2015

L.A.’s Mid-City area stretches roughly from Crenshaw Boulevard west to Robertson Boulevard and from Pico Boulevard south to the 10 Freeway. In the northeast corner of Mid-City, nestled between three neighborhoods where the asking price for houses starts at $1.2 million—Wellington Square, Victoria Park, and Lafayette Square—is a little dead-end street called Lafayette Road.
I’ve been on Lafayette Road my entire life, now in an …

Thinking L.A. »

Understanding the Meaning of Shopping Carts

By | September 16, 2015

In 2006, I started taking pictures of shopping carts. At the time, I would shoot them as if they were wild animals on safari. Not paying attention to shape, form, or composition, I used a “snapshot” style with a medium-format camera. Yet, I wasn’t sure why I was photographing them; there was something deep inside me compelling me to do so, but I could not …

Thinking L.A. »

What the Heck Is the Mexican Mafia?

By | September 11, 2015

In California, there are individuals who have been tried, convicted, and sentenced to prison—and gained significant power from behind bars. The sanctions of imprisonment have become the source of their strength and proof of the limits of government sanctions.
That’s the story of the Mexican Mafia.
Today, the gang is mentioned over and over in reports of crime and the prisons, but often without any context, …

Thinking L.A. »

Professional Football Has a California Problem

By | September 10, 2015

Pro football has a “California problem.”
So say some of the most powerful people in the sport. And as a new National Football League season kicks off this weekend, they are busily pursuing thoughtless solutions to the California problem that won’t be good for the state or its biggest regions.
Which makes this the right time for California to go into a hurry-up offense, and come …

Thinking L.A. »

Lessons From a Fishmonger While the Twin Towers Fell

By | September 9, 2015

The story goes, my grandpa was sitting on his recliner watching TV when the news broke. JFK had been shot and killed. My mother was seven years old. She’d been playing in her father’s corn patch in the back of the house on Mahar Avenue in the Wilmington section of L.A. She saw my grandpa shed a tear for the 35th president. JFK’s portrait was …