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Saturday, May 26, 2007

California - the Sights and Smells

I took a training class in Long Beach, CA, last week, on the topic of Lean Six Sigma / Value Stream Management for the Transactional Business Environment. Had I not had the foresight to bring along some sudoku puzzles, my brain certainly would have crawled out of my skull and caught the next Greyhound back to the east coast.

It was actually a very interesting class, no it wasn’t, it was so painfully dull I thought I had died and gone to heck. But I did learn a lot, no I didn’t, I think my IQ is actually lower now! There was a generous snack and soft drink bar in the hallway - that was one silver lining.

My brief stay in “the land of fruits and nuts” did afford me the opportunity for some people-watching and sight-seeing; any trip to a new place is implicitly worthwhile, even if you’re not planning to stay. Long Beach is a small pocket of semi-nice surrounded by the oppressive drabness of Los Angeles, CA. There’s a sea port there, supposedly the largest in the world, subject to some abstruse qualifications blah blah blah, and Long Beach boasts a downtown/artsy/touristy area with plenty of mechanisms for separating the intrepid traveler from his per diem.

I actually expected LA itself to be a little nicer, based on the scenery in the background during OJ’s slow police chase, but it’s basically just a big American city surrounded by miles and miles of housing and concrete, with the added benefit of being ensconced in a dome of dense brownish-gray haze. It does have a lot of palm trees, so it’s a lot like Florida, but without the charm and sophistication.

LA weather is pretty much the same every day, all year; I think easiest job in the world is LA weatherman. And the traffic report is pretty predictable, too - gridlock every morning and afternoon. One thing that struck me, though, was the smells -- maybe Los Angelinos are used to it, but their city really smells bad. The smog blanket that creates the “bloody red sun of fantastic LA” that Jim Morrison sang about so eloquently also contributes to making the place smell like a German latrine. So instead of traffic and weather, the AM radio stations should broadcast periodic smell reports: “…and along the Santa Monica Freeway, we’re detecting heavy nitrous oxide odors with a hint of sulfur, possibly a mix of diesel and gasoline exhaust fumes, and we expect that to clear out by midday to be replaced by a tinge of dank wood smoke from the Catalina Island fires…”

The Long Beach architecture was nice - kind of old Spanish / art deco. Big deal; I’m not going to live there. It smells.

My last trip to CA was in the early 90’s for a mini-course in some aspect of control theory at the UC-Berkeley. During this trip I discovered that CA is not all mountains and vineyards and movie stars; in fact, a lot of it is pretty seedy. I nearly got mugged on sunny, palm-lined Telegraph Road in Berkeley.

In addition to accumulating arcana from my academic field of endeavour, I was entertained by an assortment of weirdos on the UCB campus:

- A man painting madly away on an easel that only he could see, with equally nonexistent brush and pallette.
- Another man fighting invisible enemies with what appeared to be invisible medieval weapons.
- A woman badgering whomever was not sufficiently agile to avoid her, with articulate but insane rantings.
- An overachieving Chinese bum collecting cans. His bag of cans was enormous. Maybe he was a professor. Maybe he had a yacht payment due.

And in San Francisco we were treated to the din of one disheveled “street musician” after another, banging out the hits, deploying a potent mix of guilt and pathos to extract greenbacks from the well-fed tourists.

So I was a little disappointed in the rather tame human circus I saw in Long Beach. I did catch sight of an 80’s vintage punk rocker with spiked hair, face full of fishing tackle, etc., more than a few George Michael fans, and plenty of urban campers, but no genuine full-fledged lunatics. One curious thing we saw was a number of men who circumstantially appeared to be hetero but looked like they shopped for clothes in the Lane Bryant casual department.

One member of our group was describing her walk home one evening. “I just about jumped out of my [expletive deleted] skin when the [expletive deleted] bushes started [expletive deleted] talking to each other!” (you’ll have to forgive the language - she’s former military so I figure she’s entitled to it). Anyway, she was just describing the bums in the bushes talking to each other, not a prophetic biblical experience.

I’ve been to a lot of different places domestically and abroad (thank you taxpayers, automobile purchasers, and utility customers), and often when I’m in a new place, my mind wanders into pondering the prospect of living in that place, where I’d work, what I’d do for fun, etc. Maybe you know what I’m talking about. Well, not so with Los Angeles. To commemorate this important finding, I present the following haiku:

               O Los Angeles
   Home of Jed Clampett and Cher
          You smell like wet dog


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