A Rose for LilyI’m four days into my week-long foreign exchange program to Lalaland. Work has sent me to Los Angeles to learn the facilities of The Times and assist with operational support here. While the primary focus of the trip has been work, I have had some opportunities to explore, and that’s always something I enjoy doing. I have been to LA once before in my life. When I was in fifth grade my family took a week long road trip from Colorado out to California for Spring Break. We visited Universal Studios, Disneyland, and Sea World. I was ten; my sister was nine.

So, almost thirty years later I’m wandering around Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles and trying to understand the signs I see in the Japanese mall. I was looking for a particular sushi bar. I got distracted by something shiny. In this case it was a video game arcade completely outfitted with Japanese games — most of which I’d never heard of before. The arcade was from another time and place, sandwiched between a Japanese version of GNC called “SUPER HEALTH” and “Max Karaoke”.

If you’re curious, I did finally find Sushi Go 55 — the place I was looking for — bellied up to the bar and enjoyed some of the best sushi I have ever had. This little shop, tucked away and out of sight rivaled any sushi I have had from Chicago, to San Francisco to Vancouver. This place was delicious. Small, quiet, unpretentious. Just great fish, perfectly prepared.

And it was not the first delicious place I have discovered since being here. A few other notable meals include:

Nickel Diner: I ran across this place while exploring the historic downtown area of Los Angeles. A number of warehouses, commercial spaces and office buildings being converted to upscale lofts in the past five years or so in an attempt to revitalize this historic area of the city. The process has met with mixed success. The bottom falling out of the real estate market has made things challenging and a number of these loft conversions are now being sold at auction. But scattered in and among this developing (or redeveloping) area are a number of galleries, bookstores, bars, clubs and restraunts. I went in for dinner two nights ago and went back for breakfast today.

Spitz: Another chance discovery, this one on Thursday night. Spitz serves Turkish Döner kebabs — an old favorite of mine, first discovered as a cheap, delicious meal perfect for penniless students, during my time in Berlin. This happening joint was a nice tribute to what I remembered.

Fisherman’s Outlet: My coworkers took me here for lunch on Friday. That was probably not our most carefully thought-out ideas, given that it was a Friday during lent and Fisherman’s Outlet draws a large Catholic audience. The place was hopping! Giant plates of fresh fried fish, french fries, crab cakes and all sorts of other things that ooze “I’m not healthy for you, but I’m damned delicious.”

The Edison 1My last recommendation is not someplace where I’ve gone to eat — although they do serve food. The Edison strikes me as a cocktail lounge. The main attraction of The Edison to me is the ambiance. The Edison retains many of the architectural and mechanical artifacts from its history as Los Angeles’ first private power plant. The place is dark; the primary visible lighting are these intense fixtures of large incandescent filament bulbs. Combine that with remixed period music and the pervasive projection of artistically colorized, obscure black and white films and you have a post-modern art deco wonder world.

Yesterday I met up with one of my friends, Vern, whom I have not seen since the summer after we graduated high school. He’s been living in Los Angeles for the past fourteen years and took me around some of the sites of the city I hadn’t been able to reach on foot — and then out to Redondo Beach where he lives. We had some lunch and beer and took in a couple of the NCAA basketball games before he brought me back downtown. We caught up with what each other has been doing, although I admit it is difficult to summarize twenty years of life into an afternoon. I take my hat off to all the storytellers working in this town. And speaking of storytellers, on the way back Vern drove me through Bel Air, Beverley Hills and down the Sunset Strip, where I got to a chance to see a little bit of place wihere the magic happens.

I’ve been fortunate that the Times downtown office is only two blocks away from the Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry. I’ve wanted to see the Hall since learning of it, and I’ve gotten a chance to tour the outside of it and take some photographs. Last night was particularly interesting, as a very light fog and a bright gibbous moon combined to give me an intriguing secondary element with which to to work.

While I was walking around I came across a professional photo shoot out on one of the quiet downtown streets. They had — what looked like to me — an ambitious set up: a huge carbon graphite arm hooked under the car they were shooting served as the mount for a medium-format camera. There were lights and gels and a water truck to spray the asphalt for that proper glow. To take the shots they used long exposures while the primary technician slowly pulled the car down the street. With the camera physically attached to the car and a long exposure they were able to provide a controlled sense of motion blur behind the car and generate a compelling sense of movement. The raw photographs were dumped immediately to an editor’s workstation for retouching. I chatted with one of the grips assisting with the process for a few minutes. He was a film student and this was his first professional shoot as well.

I’m here for another three days before heading back to Chicago on Wednesday. We’ll see how these last few episodes unfold.