Years ago, while wandering Joshua Tree National Park, I came across a curious natural formation. A lifelong Yankee fan, I quickly determined that these were rocks in the shape of Billy Martin, and I wrote this piece about said rocks. The rocks are a marker for me, indicating the deep connection between baseball and the desert - the infinite sandlot. Years later, I mentioned the rocks in the
New York Times travel section, and a fact checker called and asked me where they were. "A couple of dunes over from Sandy Koufax Wash," I said, or something like that, and it was enough to convince her that a) they actually existed, and b) if a New York Times reader happened to get lost while searching for the rocks in the shape of Billy Martin, they would have another landmark and therefore could find their way back to a water faucet and not sue the Times.
I mention the rocks because Joe Torre may be coming to LA to manage the Dodgers, further deepening the Yankee connection with our region. Observers say that Torre would bring sparkle to the local team, following in the path of Tommy Lasorda. But Torre's gift would go far beyond glamour. With his ever-beleaguered look, he carries vast reservoirs of suffering and endurance. Sometimes he smiles, and that makes his regular demeanor all the more wrenching. Yet in the past few days, there appears to be a change. He looks different, but I'm not sure exactly how. Is he happy? I want to say that but can Joe Torre ever be really happy? I guess he looks hopeful, and, yes, I think I detect a slight spring in his step, now that Steinbrenner is out of his life and he may be on his way to Los Angeles, where you can hit a ball out of the stadium and all the way to the Mojave.* This is not to say that he no longer bears the weight of the world inside him. For that is who he is, and the Dodgers - like LA itself, a team steeped in history but unable to give it its due** - will be the better for it.
* Apologies to Vin Scully fans, but it's time to channel Phil Rizzuto: "Holy cow, that thing is headed for Barstow!"
**One of the first stats on the official stadium history page is the number of available parking spaces. That's history? Can't Dodger copywriters do better than that?
Robert Goulet has left us, too soon, too soon. He was waiting for a lung transplant that never came ... but he retained his humor until the end, asking doctors who entubated him to please avoid his vocal cords.
I first saw Goulet on Broadway, in “Camelot.” I was thirteen, maybe younger.
Many years later, in 1991, my Chicago writer pal Bill Zehme and I collaborated on “The Bob Book: A Celebration of the Ultimate Okay Guy,” (that would be Bob). Just in case you're wondering why two guys named David and Bill wrote about Bob it's because we realized that unlike men with any other name, Bobs were basically alike, and they were everywhere. My epiphany came when I pulled into a roadside eatery's parking lot off Highway 5 near Sacramento and looked up to see a red neon sign that read "SmorgaBob's." Bill's dad is named Bob. Anyway, we put some ads in various magazines soliciting Bobs everywhere to send for the Bob Survey. Thousands did. (These were the days before tacky-back stamps. Our dedication to Bob took a licking but never flagged.) We also sent our Bob Survey to famous and semi-famous Bobs far and wide. Among the respondents: Bob Barker, Buffalo Bob Smith, Bob Costas, Bob Cummings, Bob Denver, Bob Dole, Bob Dylan, Bob Eiger, Bob Elliot, Bob Eubanks, Bob Evans (not Hollywood Bob Evans), Bob Feller, Bob Guccione Jr., Bob Hope, Bob Kane (Batman), Bob “Captain Kangaroo” Keeshan, Bob Mackie, Bob Newhart, Bob Saget, Bob Vila, Bob Balaban, Bob Schieffer – and Robert Goulet.
Robert Goulet was one of the rare Robert "Bobs". While we strongly emphasized the point that Bobs were not Roberts, Robs, Robbs, Robbys, Bobbys, or otherwise, we did reveal how some Bobs had to go by Robert for professional reasons. Robert Redford (who sent us a nice note signed, “Just another Bob”), Robert/Bob/Bobby De Niro, and Robert “Bob” Urich are just some examples.
For some reason, after the book came out – and became an instant and best-selling classic, I might add – Robert Goulet sent us a Seasons Greetings card EVERY YEAR, featuring a picture of him and his wife Vera. What a gentleman.
Here in honored memoriam, are Goulet’s entry in The Bob Book, and his answers to The Bob Survey.
Robert “Bob” Goulet is a classic Robert “Bob.” He has an extremely deep voice that would be missed if ever Bob should leave us.
WHAT BEING BOB MEANS: A helluva lot more than Bubba.
MY GREAT WEEKEND: To be somewhere on a cliff overlooking the sea with a bottle of good wine, some excellent food, my loved one by my side, and plenty of “Gomer Pyle” tapes.
BAD BOBS I’VE KNOWN: None yet!
I’M HANDY AT: Opening the refrigerator door.
BEHAVIOR I DISKLIKE: Stuffy, or that of those who think too much of themselves.
MY HELL ON EARTH: A bad marriage.
WHO I TRUST AND DISTRUST: My wife. Oh Lord, I used to trust everyone, but after a few personal and monetary loses I’m much more wary.
MOST IMPORTANT THING TO KNOW ABOUT WOMEN: You never really know. But all you need to know is to love and respect them.
ON MY NIGHTSTAND: Magazines, books, a TV clicker, and a cup of coffee.
TIME ON MY HAIR/MY LOOK: Very little. I just try to keep it out of my eyes.
COMFORTWEAR: Blue jeans, cotton sweaters, running shoes.
BOYHOOD DREAM: To be a gynecologist.
FREE ADVICE: Do everything in moderation except when it comes to showing your love to your fellow man.
Book: Poems of T.S. Eliot
Movie: On the Waterfront
Magazine: World Press Review
Cereal: All Bran
Song: The Star Spangled Banner
After Shave: Sea Breeze
Sandwich: Tuna Fish
Drink: Iced tea
News Anchor: All three
Smoke: A good cigar.
Tough enough to make it as an indie press these days, but 13 years? A milestone. Champagne for everyone! Well, everyone who reserves a spot at the the celebratory brunch for Red Hen Press this Sunday. Equal parts poetry reading, awards ceremony and bacchanal, the event's at 11 a.m. at the Luxe Hotel-Sunset in L.A.
Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins will read his work, Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler gets a “Lifetime Achievement Award,” and the winners of the Ruskin Poetry Award, the Short Fiction prize and the Benjamin Saltman Award will be announced. (And if your Sunday's already booked, you can visit the site for Red Hen's "Poem of the Day.")
For more awards info, call Red Hen Press at 818.831.0649.
In the tsunamis of ink spilled in coverage of the fires, there has been nary a mention of wildlife and habitat loss. Yet there are important refuges and sanctuaries that may well have gone up in flames, even as firemen stood by and watched. For example, I heard a disturbing story about something that happened the other day in Orange County (names changed and I'm writing generally to protect those who wish to remain anonymous). As the fire approached a piece of property that abutted a local wildlife refuge, one of the owners asked the firemen if they were going to protect the refuge as well as the private property. They said no. Then the fire ripped through the wildlife haven.
Elsewhere in Orange County, there is the raging fire at Modjeska Canyon. My friend Susan Compo tells me that she is concerned about the fate of the Tucklife Wildlife Sanctuary, canyon home to many birds as well as a desert tortoise named Henry. "It was a staple of my childhood," she says. I searched fire coverage and could find no reference to the supposedly protected area anywhere. Its website says that it is closed because of the fires.
In San Diego County, there is the famous zoo and wildlife park. There has been some coverage of how the fires have impacted these places, but not much and you have to dig deep to find it.
In the ongoing triage that characterizes our region, it's not surprising that animals, plants, and the land itself have been thrown overboard during the latest infernos, just as they are during other times. I understand that there have not been enough resources to fight all of the fires. In fact, the entire country is now in flames, with fires of all kinds raging on many fronts as most of our resources are poured into Iraq.
The So Cal fires are dying, for the moment, and the finger-pointing has begun. As always, the official narratives will be driven by the media, which sees damage only in terms of "structure loss." It certainly would have been easy for assignment editors to go through lists of refuges and sanctuaries and ask reporters to make a few calls, or better yet, send them out for a visit. But that's not the kind of thing that editors think of these days, and now, what little wildlife and habitat remained a few days ago may well have gone up in smoke - a tragic story about a different kind of loss, but one that ultimately is our own.
Updates: On October 25, Noaki Schwartz of the AP bureau in LA filed this important story about one aspect of the environmental damage.
On October 27, Raw Story ran this unsettling story from AFP, about the cataclysmic effect of the fires on endangered species; talks about the need for new protected wilderness areas in California.
On October 29, cartoonist and writer Donna Barstow sent me her blog from this summer's Griffith Park fire. She too was concerned about the fate of the park's wildlife, and made a few calls. Here is what she found out.
Today I talked with LA County Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke and LA Weekly reporter Sophia Kercher about the Lights Out LA initiative. To increase awareness of the need to conserve energy, Burke asked LA residents to turn off non-essential lights for an hour on October 20th, an idea modeled after a successful Australian event held last year. But was it a success?
As Halloween approaches, my thoughts turn from the merely morbid to the macabre, so I’m dreadfully sorry that a previous commitment will keep me from the Huntington Gardens this Saturday night, when actors of the mysteriously named “Guild of St. George” will dramatize 12 tales by two of my favorite dementors, Edward Gorey and Edgar Allen Poe.
I’ve often wished the gardens were open at night. The sprawling emerald grounds, so pastoral and inviting by day, cast a distinctly eldritch spell as twilight falls.
Several times each summer, the Huntington throws open its doors from 5:30-8 pm for concerts, which provides a window into a wilder, spookier gardens. Still, 8 pm in high summer is more dusk than dark. Deep night is when the Huntington Gardens really come alive, something I recall from my mis-spent youth when a Bad Influence occasionally convinced me to shimmy over the back wall and indulge in Coleridgian antics in the Japanese Garden.
Now that I’m a responsible adult, I content myself with merely imagining such transgressions – and many darker ones – in the crime novels that I write. That’s why I appreciate Edgar Allen Poe. He’s widely considered the father of the mystery novel and the Edgar Award, given by the Mystery Writers of America, is considered the field’s highest honor. (My first book, The Jasmine Trade, was a finalist).
As for Gorey, he’s in a serenely sinister league all his own, mixing exquisite pen-and-ink drawings with archaic, archly humorous prose. I’m especially fond of “The Unstrung Harp, Or Mr. Earbrass Writes a Novel,” which I think should be required reading for all would-be authors.
So the thought of seeing these authors’ worlds brought to life under the cold Autumn sky on the moonlit grounds of Henry Huntington’s ritzy old estate in San Marino almost makes me swoon.
They’ll be enacting “The Tell-tale Heart,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Insect God,” “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” and more. We have a “Gashlycrumb” poster in our bathroom and the 11 year old already walks around muttering “S is for Susan, who perished of fits.”
The whole family is going except me, boo-hoo, so they’ll just have to tell me all about it. But things aren’t all Grimm. I’ll be at the Biltmore Hotel for the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association banquet, where the anthology I edited, “Los Angeles Noir,” is a finalist for “Best Mystery of the Year.” May the spookiest book win!
Once again, your man in the field notices the little things so you don't have to ...
Just got a new microwave after the old one died. My wife likes the sensor reheat setting that just warms up leftovers without having to use the pesky math we took in high school, and thought we'd never need, to calculate cooking times. We didn't pay much attention to anything else, other than the box dimensions so it could fit on the kitchen counter. And then yesterday, we both noticed the small print on the keypad. Why is America fat? Mystery solved.
Coming soon: How the ad-mentioned side effects of a medication for RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome) may cause rampant compulsive gambling, hypersexuality, and over-eating (stay away from that microwave!). I kid you not. But I'm not complaining. At least those are better side effects than the usual phlegmatic, excremental, gaseous, achy, cough and nausea-inducing regulars.
Now, if I melt some chocolate, I'll need some pecan walnut ice cream to pour it over ...
On December 31, 2006, the health insurance I purchase through a group for freelance artists and writers cost me $4715/year. On January 1, it jumped to $12,268. That's $1.40 per hour. I watch a Dodgers game, and I'm down $3.50 by the 7th inning. I go to sleep, and I've paid another $11.20 for health insurance by the time I wake up.
Like so many people in California, then, I've been watching with high hopes this year as the Democratic legislature and the Republican governor both try mightily to pass a health-care reform bill. This is California, after all--the state that's decided to unilaterally stop global warming. The state that brought you emissions inspections on automobiles and no smoking in restaurants. We aim for the sky and the stars. We love to pave the way.
The bad news, of course, is that Schwarzenegger and the legislature have proposed moderately different plans, and are battling fiercely to prevent passage of the other. The worse news, unfortunately, is that both plans fail miserably to tackle two major causes of the health care crisis--the link between insurance and employment, and the central management role for private insurers, which maximize profits most efficiently by minimizing health care.
The competing plans aren't worth a seed-spitting contest, much less the raging foot-stomping political brawl.
California, rather, seems to be dead-set on showing the rest of the country how to keep us all in a state of mass anxiety about how to get and pay for health care. The governor and the Democrats are duking it out over how, exactly, to deny Americans the basic right to affordable health care that other developed countries in the world (all of them, actually) guarantee.
The centerpiece of both plans is that employers are required to spend a minimum percentage of their payroll to cover their workers--4% in Schwarzenegger's plan, and a decidedly massive 7.5% in the other. Surprisingly, the governor's plan mandates that every state resident has to buy insurance, while the Democrats' does not--though to be fair, the Dems resorted to this plan only because the governor vetoed their single-payer plan last year. Both sides propose to control the cost of premiums, and to prohibit denial of coverage even to Californians who have shown the bad judgment to acquire health problems. Neither plan, however, imposes clear-cut restrictions on the rates insurers can charge, nor do they regulate closely the exclusions, deductibles, and other provisions that determine extent of coverage. So it's a very good thing that both plans propose to subsidize poor residents, since the declining number of Americans who are neither poor nor rich (remember them?) will likely continue to be saddled with insurance rates and medical bills that can readily make them impoverished enough to qualify.
Essentially, the competing plans both add moderate regulations to a system that a majority of Americans say is radically broken. Both strengthen, rather than sever, the reliance on employers that's an accidental artifact of the post-World-War-II economy, when companies started to use health coverage to compete for workers. California's leaders are showing us show how to perpetuate the problems that Americans have reaped in the ensuing decades by deploying this policy on a mass scale. The employer-based plans restrict career choices and discourage self-employment. They burden small and lower-profit businesses, especially. And any American who becomes too sick to work loses coverage at exactly the moment when he or she most desperately requires health care.
By keeping decisions and profits in the hands of private insurers, the Golden State also aims to show us how this country can continue to tie up the costs of health care in the earnings of hugely profitable companies--such as CIGNA, my insurer, which made $1.63 billion in 2005 and earned a 37% return for shareholders. Which paid its CEO $28.8 million--$54.83/minute, and 6117 premiums at my 2005 rate. And which does not bother to mention health care provision in the eight criteria the Board of Directors has developed to assess CEO performance--nor in its self-described purpose as a company "that focuses on our control environment, risk management and shareholder return." I can't say what "control environment" is, exactly--but I'm pretty sure it's not health care.
Yes, California will lead the way to leave the management of Americans’ health care in these companies’ hands, since, as Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez has declared this year, "We're not trying to turn this state into Cuba...or Canada." They'll show us how not to do something so un-American as prioritizing the health of many over the profits of a few, which is a priority that every other prosperous democracy embraces. They'll patriotically lead the charge to support a free-market health care economy that increasingly has stripped Americans of the basic everyday freedoms of deciding what careers they can pursue, and whether they can move to another town or state, and even how many children they can realistically think about being able to afford.
In sum, California's political leaders, who are pioneering the way to global re-cooling, are inexplicably and pusillanimously leading the way toward health care reform that will use modest regulations to cover more people and provide moderate cost reductions. And it energetically preserves a system in which the extreme difficulty of getting and paying for health care will undemocratically restrict the most essential choices in our lives, and will remain an omnipresent source of anxiety.
Or to put it another way--A night of sleep in California might soon cost slightly less than $11.40. However, in any state that follows California's lead, a good night's sleep will continue to be exceptionally hard to get.
(A version of this piece appeared on the Huffington Post Blog)
The daughter of legendary architectural photographer Julius Shulman remembers that, as a child growing up in Los Angeles, her father wasn't particularly eager to show her the city's landmarks. Judy McKee says, in fact, that she first remembers seeing Angels Flight with her neighbors. But in discussing her father's affection for Los Angeles, McKee leaves no doubt. Julius Shulman loves the varied neighborhoods, landscape and innovative architecture of L.A.
He is, she says, just as passionate about his dislike of over-commercialization and endless tract developments.
The just opened exhibit "Julius Shulman's Los Angeles" at the Los Angeles Public Library's Getty Gallery is a love letter (albeit a complex one) from Shulman to his city. The show is a survey of the city's development. Included are some of Shulman's most iconic images such as "Case Study House #22" (1960) and "Chemosphere" (1960). Viewers unfamiliar with Shulman's work may be surprised at the wide-ranging scope of his photographic wanderings. He takes us to Wilshire Boulevard, the Watts Towers, LAX, Hollywood Reservoir, and yes, even to Angels Flight. There are images of the San Fernando Valley and Baldwin Hills.
He expresses his disdain for cookie-cutter tract housing in a 1960 photograph of a neighborhood With oil fields in the distance. His dismay at the destruction of private homes in favor of office buildings downtown is evident in "The Saltbox and the Castle, the Last Remaining Houses on Bunker Hill" (1967), shown here.
Although Shulman fulfilled his duty to the clients who retained his eye, I was struck in this show by how he also communicated his personal feelings about the effect architecture has on a city and, ultimately, on the people who reside there.
If Los Angeles had a list of municipal treasures, Shulman would certainly be on it. As a resident since 1920, he has been a keen observer and documentarian of the city's architectural history and growth. His images of California Modernist architecture, made in the 1950's and 1960's, define that period as much as the buildings themselves do. When Shulman began his career as a professional photographer in 1936 (through a now-famous chance encounter with architect Richard Neutra) he had no way of knowing what kind of impact his images would ultimately have. This exhibit at the Central Library displays the passion Shulman feels for Los Angeles and the persistence of his razor-sharp vision in expressing it.
On Nov. 7 at 7 pm in the library's Mark Taper Auditorium, Shulman will discuss his life and the city with the Getty Institute's Wim de Wit, co-curator of the exhibition. It's part of the Aloud series. "Julius Shulman's Los Angeles" can be viewed at the LAPL Getty Gallery until January 20.
Photo: Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute.
Newsprint is the 21st Century's buggy whip, its railroad and rotary-dial telephone.
But, for all the wonders of the fast, vast Internet and the machines on which we access its content, newsprint still does some things better.
Check out this morning's print edition of the Los Angeles Times, Section S -- Stanley Cup: A day with hockey's holy grail.
Times photographer Robert Gauthier traveled the world this summer with individual members of the Anaheim Ducks as they each claimed some quality time with the one-of-a-kind award (one player took it to bed). The result was Section S, seven advertisement-free pages of photographs (there was one house ad on the back page that, yep, pushes the Web site).
The Stanley Cup section is the first fun effort by the Times that I've thought to save since the elaborate array of candiate portraits it published during the circus-like California Recall of 2003, the sort of thing I hope someone finds in my files 100 years from now and wonders why we ever stopped publishing the news on paper.
I don't know how I could have gotten through a certain part of my life without KNAC, the late, great heavy metal station that played the kind of music once known as rock and roll. I grew up in Ohio, garage band central, and as the 80s rolled in with its "greed is good" top ten play lists, Led Zeppelin and Van Halen and Black Sabbath were dropped from the airwaves, and the bands that ran with the groove - Metallica, Alice in Chains, Faith No More, Guns 'n Roses, and so many others - were outlawed. But KNAC played them all and Tawn Mastrey was the siren, calling the faithful to the fire and taking you through the night. "If I played Jethro Tull," she once told a reporter, "the station would get bombed." Ironically, KNAC had a weak signal and in 1989, Tawn left for a better gig at another station.
Years ago, I interviewed Tawn for the New York Times. During the course of our talks, she introduced me to another great LA character, Lonn Friend. While Tawn was the voice of heavy metal, Lonn was its scribe, and without his memorable chronicles of those years, the era would be lost to the ages. Last Tuesday, Tawn passed away. She was fifty-three. I leave it to Lonn to sing her song:
In Memory of Tawn Mastrey
With immense sorrow and profound tenderness in acknowledgment of her talent, beauty, and eternal heavy metal heart, I bid fond bon voyage to my old friend, Tawn Mastrey, the sexy, throaty veteran DJ who succumbed to the ravages of hepatitis C last week. Back in the prurient, poseur-filled day, Tawn held court at KNAC FM while me and mine rocked RIP magazine. Our paths crossed at numerous shows and promotional events, like the '89 TJ Martell Charity sports blowout where Tawn lent her low-cut lovely light to our Leibowski lanes and rolled for the good cause along side side Married With Children upstart, Christina (the other) Applegate, Scott Ian and those two millionaires from KISS. A few years later, we shared air shift space at Norm Pattiz's Pirate Radio. Tawn never had an ill word for anyone. She adored the decadence with a genuine sense of playful wonder. Above all, she lived for and loved rock n' roll. And rock n' roll will miss her.
I was disappointed with the story, which I thought could have been much more fun and informative. But, Bates saw the blog post and was kind enough to write a note that filled in some of my blanks.
Most important to writers of unpublished books (that would be me) was how Bates managed to get the gatekeepers of a Pasadena Barnes & Noble to stock her book, let alone put it in the window.
The answer: A good book (well written and attractively packaged) really does sell itself, if you talk to the right person.
Once contacted about the product, the chain's regional buyer realized the value of what they were looking at and gave it front-window display space.
To understand how significant that is, it helps to know a bit about the industry. Display placement doesn't just happen. Most authors never see the light of a center table in a bookstore (bargain bins excluded), let alone the front window. The displays shoppers see just inside the front door of corporate bookstores, those tables with copies of the latest book artfully arranged, are often purchased, which means they have nothing to do with what the wise employees of the store think about the book.
Publishers pay fees for prime placement, often what's called a "co-op" (I think the grocery industry calls them "endcaps"). Only the biggest names, or those expected to become big names, can count on a publisher to invest in this kind of play, so for a local writer to make it into the front window on merit is a very big deal.
There's a lot more to the marketing stragegy employed by Bates. She obviously did not go into this effort blindly. As a veteran of the New York publishing machine, she knows her way around the engine. That aside, anyone can do what she did. This success wasn't the product of a complicated rebuild, nor was it the result of name dropping, or calling in favors to do the heavy lifting. Rather, it looks to be proof of the benefits of smart and deliberate planning.
Also encouraging was Bates' experience with Borders, yet another chain that signed up to stock her book. Say what you will about the corporate monsters (and I've said a few things about them lately), but Borders provides a budget to buy and sell the work of local authors. They don't get credit for many socially responsible acts, but this one is worthy of it (also worthy of note is the fact that I'm unaware of how big, or small, this local book budget may be).
As for the fun part ... how many copies of Hometown Pasadena were able to fit in the Subaru Outback that Bates used to deliver them ... the answer was 17 cases, or 544 books per haul. (Pssst, Subaru: The literary demographic buys cars too, not just that call-of-the-wild segment of the market. With a little encouragement, I bet you could even persuade Bates to run through couple mud puddles on her way to selling the next 10,000 copies of Hometown Pasadena.)
[CROSS POSTED at TJ Sullivan in LA.]
This morning I found myself in need of a term that defined the stereotypical Los Angeles motorist at rush hour, that driver who becomes so frustrated with the stop-and-go that he stomps down on the accelerator, rips up a dusty shoulder and squeals into some quiet neighborhood.
When nothing came to mind I Googled and found not only a term, but an entire Wikipedia definition complete with details of an ethical debate about such behavior ...
There's just one problem.
Does anybody in LA ever use the term "rat running?"
Wikipedia calls it "a controversial practice" and says "some motorists, as common courtesy, have admitted to refraining from rat running in support of their beliefs." There are even laws against it in some states.
This must be an East coast thing.
Despite more than 10 years of rush hour experience in LA, this is the first time I've ever heard of "rat running."
Not that we don't do it. Los Angeles has got to be the world headquarters of rat running. And that term, "rat running." It's perfect, so compact, the most beautiful term I've learned in years, but I can't use it if no one's heard about it.
So, writing about it here is my way of joining the effort (I hope there's an effort) to help inject the term into the vernacular, all for the very selfish reason that I want to use it in my book and can hear a publisher's reaction in my head: "What the hell is a 'rat runner?'"
Here's what Wikipedia says:
A rat run is a colloquial term for a short cut or detour taken by a motorist, usually on residential side street in an urban or suburban area, in order to avoid the heavy traffic or lengthy traffic signals on a congested main route. Rat runs are frequently taken by drivers who are familiar with the local geography. They will often take such short cuts to avoid busy main roads and junctions, even at the expense (or in spite of) having to negotiate traffic calming measures that may be in place to discourage them..
The associations with "beating the crowd", the rush hour, and the rat race likely gave rise to the term. However, it literally derives from the habit of rats in finding and maintaining covert foraging routes.
Still, it spurs the eyes to roll when stories like this come up.
Last week, LA Times Publisher David Hiller suggested that his venerable broadsheet might publish a free tabloid styled after Times parent Tribune Co.'s RedEye, a commuter daily aimed at young readers and produced by the Chicago Tribune.
The names of good editors, reporters, photographers, copy editors, page designers and support staffers continue to be scratched from the Times' employee directory, yet the suits still look for new ways to lose money, rather than focus on the improvement of what's fast becoming the dullest read in its circulation class.
"The two words that spring to mind are 'get real.' The young demographic won't suddenly start reading newspapers, especially in a city with minimal mass transit"
"A basic problem at the Times, for instance, is the continuing weakness of the features section - home of the funnies and advice columns and so traditionally looked down on by the rest of the paper. But this is the section where kids first develop a daily paper reading habit, and I don't think you need a team of investigative reporters to learn that tolerating weak feature writing and editing in features is the surest way to alienate young readers for life."
Scheer wrote this upon the LA Times' closer of the Santa Monica edition of Our Times:
It's a matter of geography: We all know there is no simple Los Angeles that the Los Angeles Times must serve. Not in the sense that it's like New York, Chicago or Pittsburgh, where the centers of power and responsibility -- be they in education, policing or commerce -- are concentrated and easily covered by journalists, the first step toward holding powers accountable.
I am not suggesting that it's impossible to create a successful daily tabloid aimed at the youth market in Los Angeles, only that it's impossible for the LA Times to do it. LA Weekly once dominated that demographic.
An LA Times effort in that regard would require too much of an investment — both in terms of dollars and years — far more than any publicly traded (or some privately owned) companies seem willing to risk. Success would require the creation of original content, not syndicated schlock combined with a regurgitation of LA Times copy (no doubt produced by witty-but-underpaid college graduates seduced by the possibility that MAYBE, if they work EXTRA EXTRA hard, SOMEDAY the LA TIMES might hire them at a REAL salary, with business cards even, medical benefits, and a parking space, er, well, maybe not the parking space).
To "get real" the LA Times would have to turn its version of the RedEye into a destination paper/Web site, the type of publication/Weblication to which young writers would apply to work, not a backwater for tenured deadwood and promising-but-unqualified applicants to the BIG daddy paper downtown. It would require gifted editors who enjoy passing on the secrets of their craft, but who also remain open to the reality that times, and standards, change. Any editor candidate who spouts that "family newspaper" tripe ought to be bounced before the obligatory newsroom tour.
Failing this most basic structure, the LA Times' RedEye will surely result in little more than red ink in the ledgers on Spring Street. In an ideal world, there'd even be a few red faces. But, c'mon. Get real.
ForSaleByOwner.com, one of many for-sale-by-owner Web sites, released some statistics today that suggested New York City home sellers may be braver than their Los Angeles counterparts when it comes to going FSBO, a move that can save a potential $60,000 in sales commission on a million-dollar home.
ForSaleByOwner.com, a subsidiary of Los Angeles Times corporate parent Tribune Co., said listings located in the New York City metropolitan region accounted for 12.7 percent of all homes for sale on the Web site during the first half of 2007. Tribune Co.'s hometown of Chicago ranked second with less than half the New York total, 5.1 percent. But Los Angeles, trendsetter or no, didn't appear until No. 5 with 2.3 percent:
Top Cities in 2007
1. New York, NY (12.7%)
2. Chicago, IL (5.1%)
3. Washington, DC (3.2%)
4. Miami, FL (2.6%)
5. Los Angeles, CA (2.3%)
6. Norfolk, VA (2.1%)
7. Atlanta, GA (2.0%)
8. Salt Lake City, UT (1.8%)
9. Dallas, TX (1.7%)
10. Tampa, FL (1.6%)
ForSaleByOwner.com claims to be the leading FSBO Web site, which, if true, adds some weight to the data, though not as much as the August 2007 Northwestern University study added to the whole concept of do-it-yourself online sales. (The ForSaleByOwner.com news release also mentioned the Northwestern study.)
The Northwestern effort looked at a Wisconsin FSBO Web site and arrived at what Northwestern's media relations folks touted as a "provocative" conclusion, probably because it suggested something real estate agents dread (and often dismiss as blather):
"... that sellers who joined a for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) Web site got at least as much for their homes as sellers who did their real estate business through the use of an agent and the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). Houses sold through the MLS were more likely to sell faster.
The recent study shows that the FSBO sellers ended up with a significantly enhanced net sale price because they didn't have to pay the brokerage commission that real estate agents charge sellers, generally six percent of a house's sale price -- $12,000 for a $200,000 home.
(The Northwestern study is available online at this PDF link)
I wrote a story in 2006 for the Los Angeles Times about FSBOs and explained why it's difficult, if not impossible, to determine what percentage of the home sales market has been claimed by the DIY subculture:
Determining exactly how many homeowners sell using this method can be difficult, as the parties that track such numbers have a stake in the answer.
One recent study released by the National Assn. of Realtors purports that by-owner sellers represented a record low 13% share of the market [in 2005].
Yet there is no shortage of websites that provide services to people selling their own homes [SNIP ...]
ForSaleByOwner.com [SNIP ...] said its client base has nearly doubled every year for the last several years. The site logged 24,299 listings in 2003, more than twice that the following year and 108,022 in 2005.