Friday, September 29, 2006

Octopus Promotes Other Transportation Blogs

Sure, space tourist Anousheh Ansari blogged from the International Space Station. The Octopus blogged from the 81 in space, en route to Venus. You decide which is more impressive. From Ansari's blog:

This wonderful feeling of freedom that puts a smile on everyone’s face. I slowly lifted off my seat and continued giggling. I just couldn’t believe it… to be honest with you, the whole thing is still like a dream to me… I was strapped in so tight that I couldn’t look outside. Finally when we were safe in the orbit, we were able to open our visors and to loosen our belts…

L.A. took his glove off and it started floating in the cabin. I could not stop giggling the whole time… I was finally able to take a look outside and saw the Earth for the first time… Tears started rolling down my face. I could not catch my breath… Even thinking about it now still brings tears to my eyes. Here it was this beautiful planet turning graciously about itself, under the warm rays of the Sun… so peaceful…so full of life… no signs of war, no signs of borders, no signs of trouble, just pure beauty…
Anyway, I'm wondering why there isn't more press coverage about Ansari's trip. You'd think Americans would be interested in the story of a 40-year old Iranian-American woman from Dallas who made a fortune in the software industry and paid $20 million to take a trip to the space station. Or maybe now's a tough time to promote Muslim female pioneers in Peoria? (That's not an Italian flag on her jacket.) Because, you know, Abraham Shulsky and the Office of Special Plans have very Special Plans in the works for Ansari's relatives in Iran, and this muddles the storyline. Iran bad. Freedom good. Bring Freedom to Iran. Just shift it over the border from Iraq. Boom! Blam! Kapow! You're Free.

Happy Ramadan

Octopus Eats Alone, Sinks Into Existential Abyss, Fails to Ride Bus

this is an audio post - click to play

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Octopus Burns the Midnight Oil, Fails to Intervene in Life-Threatening Situation

That's right, I'm working. And not on anything fun. But I can't go into that, lest I get fired.

Anyway, today, on the bus home, some oldish guy in his late fifties or so got into a little spat with the bus driver. He had grey hair and spoke in some kind of Eastern European accent. I was minding my own business, reading the newspaper and daydreaming about alternate careers in dermatology or comic book writing when I noticed that this old guy was sort of yelling at the bus driver. The bus driver started talking back. Not really yelling, but clearly irritated. The complaining guy was in his seat mumbling something, saying "You have no right to speak to me that way." The bus driver said something, and then the complaing guy said "I'm not German. You're so ignorant. I'm not German at all." At around this point, the complaining guy rather suddenly got up out of his seat and sort of leaped toward the bus driver -- while he was driving the bus. Luckily, the complaining guy did not intend to attack the driver: he leaned over the driver and read his nametag. "Mr. So and so. That's who you are. Okay, that's where we'll start. Thank you." And then he returned to his seat with a satisfied grin on his face. The driver said something sarcastic, like "Yeah, go ahead. And the time is 7:30." Meanwhile, the complaining guy was actually fishing in his shirt pocket for a pen and writing down the bus driver's name. He said again, apparently unprompted, "I'm not German." The bus driver responded, "Whatever. It's all Greek to me."

I should note that complaining guy wore dark pants, white sneakers, and lavender socks.

The whole time this was going down, I felt a strong urge to inject myself between the two and to try to relax the situation. Maybe because I didn't want the bus to crash and kill all of us. Instead, I did nothing and just watched.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Octopus Orders Medium Pie to Go

With Mrs. Octopus out of town until Saturday, I must battle every day to meet my basic needs and survive. My struggle finds me tonight at Pizza Buona in Echo Park, waiting outside while my pizza cooks (onions, olives, and green peppers). Pizza Buona is located at the corner of Alvarado and Sunset, smack dab in the middle of gritty-chic Echo Park. Just outside the restaurant, where I'm now standing, is a bus stop (2, 4, 302, and 304). Sadly, I drove here: the 81 does not come down this way.

There was a classic Echo Park guy standing out here on the sidewalk, also waiting for a pizza. He was a fresh-faced white kid in a zip-up hooded sweatshirt, skinny jeans, and white canvas sneakers, telling a friend excitedly on his cell phone that he was "gonna be playing tomorrow night" at some place I didn't catch. He looked like he was from Michigan or New Hampshire. He had sort of medium-length mussed hair, wore a collared shirt, and had that studious, hungry look -- an uneasy blend of soulfulness and ambition -- that is so prevalent among aspiring indie rockers (and their ilk) in the L.A. Hipster Eastern Empire. I was the Bengali guy in a business casual shirt (sloppily untucked after a long day of playing grown-up) and slacks with comfortable, scuffed brown leather Rockport shoes -- the kind your middle school Social Studies teacher might have worn -- his expression of absorption and self-satisfied amusement illuminated in the wan blue glow of his Blackberry as he typed out a blog entry about Los Angeles.

American Apparel stores tend to appear in the areas where you find the aspiring indie rocker, but the aspiring indie rocker most probably does not shop there. There's one across the street from Pizza Buona. It is sort of a mystery as to who, in an economically "mixed" neighborhood like Echo Park, actually does shop at the store for $12 briefs. I don't think I've ever seen anyone inside the American Apparel here. The store's vaguely illicit ads, which famously feature very young women who appear to have been abducted by a pedophilic sex offender with a disposable camera and depressing interior design tastes, are always somewhat distracting when you drive by. They make you feel a little dirty. It's a way to sell underwear, I guess.


I'm back in Eagle Rock now, after driving the pizza home in a car redolent of tomatoes, cheese, and onions. I'm standing on the front steps listening to all the dogs and cats in the neighborhood freaking out, barking and meowing. Obviously, the effect is ominous: I'm considering safe places to hide in the event of an earthquake.

Mondays with Octopus

I'm composing this post on my way to the bank and library during my lunch break.

Another Monday. "Time. Meteorites. Bombarding us."

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Octopus Alone

I dropped Mrs. Octopus off at LAX this morning: she's going to Tokyo for a week. She's somewhere over the Pacific right now, chasing the sun.

It's like 9 pm on Saturday night here in Eagle Rock, and I am realizing that L.A. is a pretty lonely place when you're alone at home. I'm almost tempted to go ride the 81 around town just to be around other people.

Octopus Reflects on Mass Suburbia as Anti-City

Every now and then, I take Lewis Mumford's The City in History (1961) off the shelf and reads bits of it. When I was making my big push to read through the book back in 2001, I got mired somewhere around Venice in the Middle Ages. This morning, I was thumbing through Mumford's observations on Mass Suburbanization and Los Angeles; his observations, though obvious now, still seem interesting:
Under the present dispensation we have sold our urban birthright for a sorry mess of motor cars. As poor a bargain as Esau's pottage. Future generations will perhaps wonder at our willingness, indeed our eagerness, to sacrifice the education of our children, the care of the ill and the aged, the development of the arts, to say nothing of ready access to nature, for the lopsided system of mono-transportation, going through low-density areas at sixty miles an hour, but reduced in high density areas to a bare six. . . .

By allowing mass transportation to deteriorate and by building expressways out of the city and parking garages within, in order to encourage maximum use of the private car, our highway engineers and city planners have helped to destroy the living tissue of the city and to limit the possibilities of creating a larger urban organization on a regional scale. . . . By discouraging and eliminating the pedestrial, by failing to extend and to perfect mass transportation, our municipal officials and highway engineers have created a situation that calls for extremely low residential densities. Here again the monopoly of private space not merely reduces the social facilities of the city but sacrifices public space to open space to private.

The absurd belief that space and rapid locomotion are the chief ingredients of a good life have been fostered by the agents of mass suburbia. . . . The reductio ad absurdum of this myth is, notoriously, Los Angeles. Here the suburban standards of open space, with free standing houses . . . has been maintained: likewise the private motor car, as the major means of transportation has supplanted what was only a generation or so ago an extremely efficient system of public transportation.

Los Angeles has now become an undifferentiated mass of houses, walled off into sectors by many-laned expressways, with ramps and viaducts that create special bottlenecks of their own. These expressways move but a small fraction of the traffic per hour once carried by public transportation, at a much lower rate of speed, in an environment befouled by smog, itself produced by the lethal exhausts of the technologically backward motor cars. More than a third of the Los Angeles area is consumed by these grotesque transportation facilities; two-thirds of central Los Angeles are occupied by streets, freeways, parking facilities, garages. This is space-eating with a vengeance. The last stage of the process already beckons truly progressive minds--to evict the remaining inhabitants and turn the entire area over to automatically propelled vehicles completely emancipated from any rational human purpose.
Sure, I can blog about the bus and try to promote public transportation, but it often feels hopeless: Los Angeles seems beyond saving. As Mumford noted back in 1961, so much of this city, a beautiful landscape between mountain and sea, has been senselessly paved over and imprisoned by freeway and endless on and off ramps, massive parking lots and parking garages; one wonders how all of this space will be reclaimed when, inevitably, the era of the private automobile comes to a close. Perhaps we'll be able to rip much of it up. Or perhaps the thousands of miles of asphalt will fall into disuse and disrepair, and nature will inexorably crawl back, break through the asphalt, climb over these massive public works, blanket the highway dividers and ramp supports, and bury them, the evidence of the height of Automobile Culture in the lost American Empire.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Happy Foot

this is an audio post - click to play

I'm sorry if the audio recording doesn't make much sense. I was trying out a different "happier" voice, which ended up being extra creepy. Anyhow, I will provide a transcript upon request.

Update: My toe still hurts. I bumped it into something in the dark last night and fucked it all up again.

Octopus Visits the Doctor

this is an audio post - click to play

The return of the Octopus Audio Blog. This was recorded on the way to the doctor's office to check out a very bruised and battered toe (soccer injury). Look for more audio blogs in the future as the Octopus sinks further into work hell.


Too busy to post. Hopefully, I will resurface in a few days. Best of luck to all of you until then.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Better Luck Next Year

A somewhat sedate crowd today on the 81 back to Eagle Rock. It's only 5:55, and the bus isn't that busy. People seem especially spent today. These first weeks in September, after the languid, hazy daydream of June, July, and August, can be tough. It's like suddenly we are meant to snap back to attention and our concepts of time to become rigid and tightly structured once again.

One's concept of time in the summer is more gaseous: perhaps it's the seemingly endless sunlight. Things will get done "sometime" or "after I get back from vacation" or "in August". (Everyone knows that nothing, absolutely not one thing, ever gets done in August.) And then, suddenly, you're back from the Labor Day road trip, you've got a suitcase of dirty laundry and a stack of summer reading you were planning to get to, and seemingly bottomless August is used up once again -- perhaps you'll have 40 more -- and you're thrown back into the grind of real time and waning days.

A sense of urgency and creeping panic sets in as September and the daylight evaporate with alarming speed and the year begins to show signs of tapering to another twilight end. One begins to scramble to salvage the year, to redeem it from the slack and lazy efforts of Spring and Summer. At least I have October, you tell yourself. I'll get this all done in October. But if you don't, November and December, shot through like Swiss cheese with holidays, lie in wait. .

And, of course, you don't get it all done, that first chapter of the novel you started to write lies fallow, your belly has not been reined in, and your mastery of Spanish is worse than it was last year.

[Finally, some drunk people have gotten on the bus. Well, at least, they smell drunk.]

You have all Winter to reflect on the various errors of your ways.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Have Camera, Will Commute

A day in the life of the 81 from Eagle Rock to Downtown.

Onto the bus at 7:06 or so in the morning. Pretty empty when it picks me up in Eagle Rock. It usually also smells like some kind of industrial strength deodorizer. It's probably sterilized overnight.

Early morning sun over Highland Park through scratchiti on the bus window. This is what I look at as I resign myself to another day of drudgery.

The bus drops me off near the steps up Angels Flight. This is the view from the bottom of the steps looking up, which, for whatever reason, looks a lot like the view from the top looking down. The quotidian grind will do that to things. Up, down, what's the difference? You're just running a little circuit to nowhere.

It's now the end of the day, and I've just left my building. All those hours between 7 in the morning and 7 at night? Lost for all time. I'm looking up at the nearly identical tower across from my office building. These towers were designed, for some reason, to look flat. I'm sure that helps earthquake-proof them somehow. How long can people be excited about this effect? What was the point of making these towers look flat from certain angles? Just for kicks? To satisfy some obscure theoretical urge of the architect's? I'm convinced it's very bad feng shui.

Speaking of which, as I cross Grand, I look north to see Frank Gehry's Disney Center billowing out into the street. Probably better feng shui there, with the near absence of straight lines. I don't know. I'm not an expert.

The view from the top of the steps at Angels Flight, looking down. Looks a lot like the view from this morning. Feels like I was just here. At least the way down is easier. Although, it tends to stink a bit more at night.

There is always a lot of rustling in the weeds and tall grass bordering the stairs. This is one of the guys responsible. These guys seem to thrive among the trash and piss lining the Angels Flight stairs. It's so cliched, how the graffiti and the piss and the rats go together. So stock.

The stinky pee trail down the Angels Flight stairs.

The Angels Flight railcar renovation seems to be getting closer to completion. They started turning on the lights on this arch at night a few weeks back. I find the lit arch, under all that construction, sort of hopeful and uplifting. The railcars will run again sometime soon.

The view from the bus stop, up at the gleaming power structures on Bunker Hill, and the Library Tower.

Here it is. The 81 in all its glory.

The 81 at night. With plasma TV and young people in love.

Off the bus and on the can

In what is sure to go down as one of the grosser episodes of the Octopus, I am blogging from the bathroom. I won't describe everything that's going on here, and I certainly won't be taking any pictures. I did take some pictures on the 81 this morning; I'll post those shortly.

To keep you entertained, I have uncovered the fantastic Poop Report. Check out this interesting excerpt from an academic essay on poop.

We will return to our regular coverage of the 81 shortly.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Like a Bus to a Flame

As the 81 shifts gears and Earth and moon begin to recede behind us, it becomes increasingly clear that the bus driver has us on a course straight for the Sun. The 81's air conditioning appears to be holding up, although a passenger puts down his copy of El Diario and begins to fiddle with one of the windows. I suspect that this might be a bad idea since we are in outer space.

I make a mental note that the woman next to me checking the text messages on her cell phone is carrying a large bottle of water; that could come in handy when we get closer to the Sun. Amazingly, we appear to get service out here, albeit analog roam.

Did I mention that I get to ride free tonight? I tried to feed a dollar into the fare machine when I got on at Hill and Third, but the driver told me it "wasn't working" and directed me to have a seat.

At this point, we're pretty fuel efficient because, in space, you can mostly coast, and you rarely need to brake.

The guy in the dusty wife beater, leaning way back in his seat, looks pissed. He totally got on the wrong bus today.

The Bus That Never Stops

We should've stopped somewhere back on Colorado in Eagle Rock. There was this fire in the brush right below the 2 overpass on Broadway, across from Ernie Jr.'s Taco House, lighting up the Eagle Rock evening. It was a large ring of fire, with smoldering blackness at the center, throwing up thick clouds of smoke. The 81 picked up speed as we approached the circle of fire; we were immersed in smoke that smelled of cherry bombs, sparklers, and vanilla.

And then we were in the air. Leaving the hills of Glendale and Glassell Park behind us, the twinkling little cars coursing by the mountains along the elevated track of the 134. I pulled at the cord and the got the "Stop Requested" message.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The End of a Season, the End of a Continent, the End of an Era, the End of an Empire, the End of this Title

I'm in my office on Sunday, just before 7 p.m. The sun is hanging out to the west in a golden pink haze behind the office buildings of downtown L.A. -- almost exactly as in the scene from Tyrell's office in Bladerunner in Los Angeles in 2019.

Tyrell Corporation building

Unfortunately, my office building does not look like a gigantic Mayan temple, although it is pretty weird looking.

Octopus often found deep inside here. Usually wedged into the very acute corner of the building.

I don't think they had flying buses in Bladerunner. Perhaps they should have. I think the flying bus below is Chinese. They really are quite ahead of us these days.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The 81 Doesn't Come Today

Sometimes, the 84 pulls up at the stop for the 81. It has the same headsign as the 81, "Eagle Rock Plaza". I'm often tempted to just get on the 84 and hope for the best, but I haven't yet made that leap of faith.

It's a lovely evening in Downtown Los Angeles. The sky is the rich royal blue of early evening, suffused with the glow of the city grid.

The bus is finally here. It's packed tonight at 7:39 p.m. There's a man in neat clothes standing in front of me holding a bag filled with empty soda cans. The hefty woman next to me in sweats has a tiny pink phone in her ear and smells like cigarettes and pot. I think she is reading this over my shoulder as I type. She's scrolling through contacts on another phone in her hands.

The driver of the 81 tonight is the same driver we interviewed on the Throwback Edition last week. True to form, he nearly flipped the bus on the 110 just now.

The Bus TV is playing the cooking show that often runs on the evening rides - the one where the two guys dress up in theme according to what they are preparing. Tonight they're wearing Star Trek: The Next Generation uniforms and standing in front of a spacey background. I can't make out what they are cooking.

The woman in sweats is now talking on the tiny phone in her ear. She's telling her friend that "I tried to call you but my phone was dead.". Which phone? I wonder. She's describing a first date: it sounds like they went to a movie and then got something to eat. They talked about "all sorts of stuff.". Apparently, they talked discussed a prior girlfriend: "He was like really nonchalant: 'Si se llama, me llama.'"

I switched to a seat across the aisle from the woman in sweats and she just gave me and my blackberry a very suspicious look.

We just passed another 81.

For the first time, there's a crying baby on the bus. The 81 smells like roasted chicken tonight.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

2006: Where the Fuck Are the Flying Cars? (Or Buses?)

Okay. So maybe this question's been asked before. But seriously, what is the point of this whole forward march of time bullshit if things only get worse? The world is more dangerous and polluted, the weather's getting miserably hotter, our leaders more idiotic and deranged, and we Americans ever fatter, dumber, and more arrogant.

What do our crazy ass fellow Americans want? What do the idiots who drive Escalades and listen to Hannity on the radio fervently desire? Do they look forward to fucking Armageddon? Do they want to "win" the war on terror by bombing and invading Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, and, oh, maybe Syria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Malaysia, etc.? Best of luck!

I don't blame these people too much. They're scared and stupid. They have no better ideas. Let's imagine that this is just like WWII and we can bomb the fuck out of everything and then we can go back to driving Suburbans and getting fat in peace and satisfaction. Well, we'll also want to deport all the illegals. And stop outsourcing everything to India. And prevent China from becoming the world's next superpower.

This isn't making a whole ton of sense. I'm feeling a bit despondent this Labor Day weekend. We're far from the good old 81, down in Julian, California, an old gold mining town in the mountains outside San Diego, now famous for its apples and apple pie. The town's charm, I guess, is that it's like going back in time to an old small town out in the sticks (i.e., general store, ancient hotels, horse-drawn carriages, etc.). It seems to be immensely popular, this whole going back to the good old days thing. And I understand the comfort in that, especially now: I think we'd all like to pretend we're not where we are, and not heading where we are.

They say it sometimes still snows here in Julian.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Bus Etiquette

So waiting for the 81 this morning, an Octopus doppelganger of sorts comes strolling up to the bus stop in Eagle Rock. This guy looked similar to the Octopus in many ways: dressed in business casual with the standard blue "no iron" shirt, generic tan slacks, comfortable shoes, satchel filled with newspapers and magazines. He looked very much like an associate at a downtown law firm, or maybe some kind of admin person in a nonprofit.

Anyhow, business casual man, young, thin, educated-looking, gets onto the mostly empty bus in Eagle Rock and sits on the outside seat of one of the two-seat rows, and puts his satchel on the inside seat. I can see where this is going. I sit, as I usually do, on the inside seat of one the two-seat rows.

As we roll down Figueroa, the bus gets packed, and aisle begins to fill with people. I'm watching business casual man: he is studiously avoiding eye contact with any of the people hanging onto poles in the aisle (some of these people are elderly, no one looked pregnant). He remains buried in his magazine -- it looked like Harpers or The New Yorker, or something like that. His satchel remained on the inside seat. He was the only person on the bus to have his bag on the seat next to him.

Linda Wertheimer

I'm not going to get all racial or class warrior -- insensitive people come in all stripes and colors -- but it was hard not to notice that business casual guy appeared to be the only "white collar" worker on the bus besides myself. And yes, he was the only white yuppie on the bus. He looked fit, relatively prosperous, and like he had been to grad school. He looked like he listened to NPR, read blogs, and sometimes watched C-Span. (How can the Octopus tell? We don't know. I may be totally wrong.)

Now it's absolutely great that business casual man is riding the bus from his nice house in Eagle Rock to his job downtown. More people in our socioeconomic range need to give up their Corollas, Saabs, and, yes, even their Priuses, and get on the bus. Still, I couldn't help but read business casual man's actions as follows: Sure, I'll ride the bus, because it's the right thing to do, it's civic-minded, it's good for the environment -- I saw "An Inconvenient Truth". I'll give up my comfortable car ride and listening to Linda Wertheimer as I sip my latte on the 2. But I'll be damned if I have to, on top of all that, be forced to sit crammed together with all manner of bus people, who often are less than pristine. I deserve, at the very least, to sit alone, unmolested.

Maybe I'm being unfair, but that was my take. I don't really know. And it's true, as I've noted, sometimes stinky people ride the bus, and sometimes they sit and rub up next to you. Still, the picture of business casual man grinning at his nice little magazine with his satchel occupying the open seat next to him while people crammed into the aisle, tired like everyone else on a Friday morning, eyeing the open seat with longing, really irked me. It struck me as a familiar picture of a sense of privilege and entitlement, in a new context. It's probably a stupid thing to get hung up on, but whatever. Maybe I should've said something to the guy. It's a wonder no one else did.