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Loving LA Despite Itself

cinespia screen

How a Black Eye Made Me Remember Why I Keep Going Back to LA

I usually visit Los Angeles a couple of times a year, returning to the hangouts I frequented when I lived in the city six years ago. I also make it a mission on each trip to discover new places and adventures. My most recent trip didn’t disappoint, as the good and bad of the town never fails to bubble up, like the ooze of La Brea Tar Pits.

It had been a year since my last trip to LA in summer 2021, which had started well with COVID’s dissipation but then ended badly with an unexpected surge in infections that sealed up the city once again. This time, the pandemic was almost a memory, as masks were the exception, tent encampments were fewer, and crowded public events were back in swing.    

Not knowing what might happen with the COVID situation, I planned a lot of outdoor and open-air activities, which I figured were a safer bet for avoiding rubbing elbows with the unmasked masses. I also found a way to avoid waiting in line to buy tickets for attractions like Universal Studios and the Van Gogh exhibit by using Tiqets, an online booking platform. The service offers a flexible cancellation policy, in case circumstances change, and they offer special deals and packages, like express access passes for Universal Studios Hollywood, perfect for short vacations so you can skip lines and enjoy more of the rides and shows.

The incredible surround-sight-and-sound Van Gogh Experience was pleasantly uncrowded, especially since my group took advantage of the VIP access tickets with an hour early entry. Plus, we all got a cool poster and $10 for the gift shop, which I applied toward a Starry Night jigsaw puzzle, which I will put together, someday.

As I always do on my LA visits, I explore the touristy attractions. It only makes sense when you’re in one of the world’s biggest tourist destinations to enjoy cruising the Sunset Strip and strolling the Hollywood Walk of Fame — but also to do the things that makes LA LA, like hiking Runyon Canyon, and going to Cinespia, my favorite outdoor movie event, where thousands of movie lovers flock with their blankets, coolers and LED votives for an alfresco dinner to DJ tunes followed by a modern classic movie. While the Cinespia enterprise has grown exponentially since I first started attending 20 years ago, expanding into multiple cinematic locales, I still gravitate toward the original venue of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. There I have enjoyed beloved films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Point Break, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Die Hard (yes, in December, because it is a Christmas movie), and Dirty Dancing (the latter on July 4th, complete with fireworks timed for Patrick Swayze’s climatic lift of Jennifer Grey, projected on Rudolph Valentino’s Mausoleum.

As has been my LA story, when I am in LA, something dramatic, and sometimes traumatic happens. This time, I had a bad fall, breaking and spraining my fingers, suffering a concussion-inducing face contusion, and banging and bloodying my knee, thanks to the dark alleyway and awkward steps leading to my Airbnb accommodations. After a trip to Cedars-Sinai Urgent Care, I was wrapped in a cast and doped up on pain killers. This is when my perspective became a little foggy yet clearer about what was different in LA this trip.

While many of my plans – like my favorite bike ride on the path from Santa Monica to Manhattan Beach — had to be scrapped due to my injuries, I carried on, as the show is apt to do in Hollywood. So I did what I could, which was eat and drink, at least a few times a day, at some of my favorite restaurants and bars, like Hugo’s in West Hollywood, Real Food Daily (where I never fail to see a celebrity enjoying the city’s finest vegan menu), WeHo Bistro (for to-die-for French onion soup), Sun Café on Ventura Blvd., (best vegan smoothies around), and the Abbey (where the burgers and fries are passable, but where else can you drink and watch nearly naked men dancing on the bar, surrounded by statues of saints?).

In a couple of days, I was cleared to drive, so my friends were relieved of taxi duty. Luckily, I had the next best thing to a chauffeur, which was a Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve 4×4. Of course, I was doing the actual driving, but it hardly seemed like it. Despite busted fingers and my hand bandaged up like Rocky, I was able to navigate the side streets like a champ. I’ve been driving SUVs for 16 years, so I am used to sitting up high, which is a definite advantage driving LA streets, otherwise known as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. For instance, I was easily able to steer around a guy dancing in his underwear in an intersection (an actual event during my trip), and quickly react to the usual entitled LA drivers cutting me off to get one car length ahead. I felt insulated and protected by the heft of this car, such that if, heaven forbid, someone pulled out in front of me, I would probably plow through them War of the Roses style and be just fine. I was also thankful for driver assist and auto parking features that helped compensate for my compromised dexterity.

During every trip back to LA, I take account of what got worse, what stayed the same, and what changed for the better. For instance, my old go-to grocery store in Santa Monica, formally a Lucky’s, then an Albertson’s, is now a Gelson’s. Chalk one up for improvements. Other upgrades include my son’s old playground in WeHo by the public library, which is now the home of a spanking-new aquatic center; and new green bike lines that sprouted up throughout Santa Monica and West Hollywood – though even with these dedicated bike lanes, motor vehicle drivers still encroach on biking right-aways, but it has it helped improve biker safety by a degree. Another sign of progress was that almost every public bathroom was all-gender.

Things that have changed and stayed the same can be summed up in an incident that occurred when I was leaving T.J. Maxx in Santa Monica. A security guard tackled a homeless guy stealing a purse. That’s the usual thing. The new thing was that the guard was wearing latex gloves, presumably for COVID.  Another stayed-the-same thing was that the Abbey was packed. The new thing was large screen TVs behind the bar flashing, “Warning. Beware of pickpockets. “Again, I presumed this was due to the COVID-driven pre-recession climate ratcheting up crime rates. There were fewer tent cities, especially at the beaches, though there were plenty of the usual vendors selling sage and crystals.

Despite my spill at the Airbnb, I felt lucky for the rest of my trip. Maybe because of my injury and not in spite of it, people treated me nicely. Like the woman at the Walgreens who looked at my broken fingers and my blackeye and whispered quietly to me, “Are you OK?” Others stared sympathetically at me, held doors, smiled and otherwise extended kindnesses to me, possibly assuming I was a victim of domestic violence. I experienced this kinder-and-gentler LA all the way to my gate at LAX, when the United Airlines boarding agent took a look at me and invited me to board early, gave me an entire row to myself despite a full plane, and checked my carry-on for free.

As I clicked my seatbelt around me, I realized I had forgotten my scapular, a religious amulet I wear on flights for the protection of the Virgin Mary. Usually, I would’ve considered this a bad omen and freaked out; but as I reached into my jean pocket, I found a scapular patch, which I had found lying on a bench during my visit to Universal Studios. I pinned the scapular to my shirt, over my heart, and I relaxed into my five-hour-10-minute flight back to DC. So went another typical, atypical trip to LA, where good, bad and the surgically enhanced come together in a way that happens “Only in LA.”

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Real-life street performers take their show on the road with electrifying VOLTA

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Cirque du Soleil’s VOLTA mash-up of stunts astonishes and inspires crowds of all ages

When I was 10 years old, my parents took me and my brother to see the circus. We never went again, because my dad said, “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” That was of course before Cirque du Soleil, the extraordinarily unique circus that amazes beyond comprehension, time and time again. The newest show on tour, VOLTA, is no exception. The show will visit Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles February 18 – March 8, and then Costa Mesa March 18- April 19.

This high-powered BMX spectacular exhibition puts the X Games to shame. Vicariously living adrenaline junkies will not be disappointed in the death-defying triple flips and seemingly impossible stunts that these superhero-like performers execute, apparently effortlessly.

The vivid costumes, which look like the cast rolled in a bath of paint, glitter and feathers, perfectly suit this glam grunge gang of street performers turned circus pros as they dazzle and delight in a high-energy world of color, grit and technology.

Like all Cirque du Soleil shows, this one has a story, acted out in acrobatics, accompanied by a stirring live musical score and evocative, poetic vocals. VOLTA is a tale of transformation, about being true to yourself, fulfilling your potential, and knowing you have the power to make it possible.

The protagonist is Waz, a blue-feathered-haired young man, who longs for social acceptance, which he hopes to gain by becoming a star on the hit TV program, the Mr. Wow Show.

His big chance fizzles when his hat falls off, revealing his unique locks. He slinks off feeling embarrassed and defeated. He fades into life among the Greys, zombie-like city dwellers, faces illuminated by the glare of their cell phones, mindlessly trudging through life, disconnected from each other. Despondent, Waz retreats into himself, finding comfort in childhood memories. Then, Waz encounters the Free Spirits, a gang of life-loving individuals. He is lulled out of his comfort zone by the beautiful Ela, who guides him through his personal journey to finding himself.

The story is compelling, but you don’t have to follow the plot to be astonished by the show. If you get a program book, you can follow along with the various acts, such as, Rise & Shine, in which the performers demonstrate that, “a wall is not a barrier but a springboard.”

The set transforms into a giant framework of a wall of windows and compartments where wild and raucous street performers leap from the highest ledges onto a trampoline below, propelling themselves up the side of the structure, yelping and cheering each other on. It’s the kind of energy that makes you want to join them, as they float and sail past each other, in a choreographed yet chaotic bouncing party.

In Urban Jungle, gymnasts herald in Yaz’s awaking to his new self, as they of jump through hoops, diving, flipping and twisting their bodies to fit through tiny hexagonal rings, like a champion run off of Tetris.  

For the kids, there was the crowd pleaser, the showy Mr. Wow, and his alter-ego, who entertained as the bedazzled host of his talent show, wowing the crowds by speaking only one word, “Wow.” He later made an appearance as the clown, who struggled to tame a laundry washing machine that has a life of its own.

Then there was Mirage, which was a cringy one-woman-suspended-by-her-hair act, expressing that one must live life on the edge.  While this was an impressive display, it was not enjoyable for me because all I could do was wonder if she was in pain.

All the acts build to a climax with Momentum, a celebration of spirit, freedom and bravery, demonstrated by real-life BMX street bikers. In this jaw-dropping fast and furious finale, riders invade the stage and fly overhead on a translucent half pipe, crisscrossing, spinning and somersaulting on their bikes in a spirit of brotherhood.

Amazing is an understatement to describe the experience. What is not surprise is that the bikers are genuine street bikers, recruited from city streets. The backstory from the cast is that at first they rejected wearing make-up, costumes and choreography, but as they integrated into the show, the bikers embraced the magic of the circus, and they became one with the Cirque du Soleil family.

The melding of energies and passion in VOLTA is evident. If it were simply a display of extraordinary tricks, it would be satisfying enough. Add to that a heart-felt storyline about the fulfillment of one’s true potential and liberation from the judgment of others, and you have a gripping and inspiring tale for the ages for the whole family.

Photo credit: Matt Beard. Costumes: Zaldy.

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Outdoor entertainment into autumn, LA style

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Mild temperatures keep LA outdoor nightlife lively into fall

LA outdoor nightlife

Southern Californians don’t know how lucky they are. While East coasters are storing their patio furniture for the long winter, SoCal dwellers can enjoy shirtsleeves outdoors for months to come. Even at night, when temperatures drop to their lowest, a sweater or light coat is all one needs for a comfortable evening under the stars. So rejoice Angelenos, and enjoy the bounty of alfresco activities into autumn, such as these venues and events that define LA outdoors nightlife.


You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in LA who would not agree that the Hollywood Bowl is the most fabulous place to experience an outdoor concert. With a full summer series that trails into early fall, the Bowl hosts international musical headliners, such as this season’s lineup of artists including Jack Johnson, Ziggy Marley, Pentatonix, Kool & the Gang and The Village People, Blondie and Garbage, movie soundtrack sing-alongs, and of course many of world-class symphonies like the Los Angeles Philharmonic and resident Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.

Over the years the 17,500-seat amphitheater has expanded to include a number of food venues inside the complex, along with 14 beautiful picnic areas so patrons can BYO-picnic, but in addition to its unique ambience, this iconic landmark continues to be most renowned among music lovers for its phenomenal acoustics, owing to the natural hillside setting in which it resides, where sometimes coyotes can be heard howling during lulls in the music. The bowl is the kind of place that makes you glad you live in LA, and it’s worth every moment of waiting to get out of the stacked parking.


Screen time

Well into fall weekends, Cinespia, the original and the largest outdoor movie event, hosts movie nights on the lawn at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Drawing crowds of thousands, this remains one of the coolest events in LA, with guest DJs spinning tunes and throngs spreading out across the vast grassy grounds in font of Rudolph Valentino’s mausoleum, with their low-back chairs, gourmet picnic dinners and flameless candles. Film aficionados talk along with and cheer their favorite lines from modern classics like Superbad and The Princess Bride and horror flicks that seem apropos among the headstones, like Night of the Living Dead.  Get there early to stake your space with a blanket, or pay a bit more for early access and VIP reserved seating.

Another excellent outdoor movie event is Showtime’s Eat See Hear, held at unique settings around LA, including Autry Museum in Griffith Park, La Cienega Park in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles State historic Park, Rose Bowl Stadium, ROW Downtown LA, and the Santa Monica pier. This movie event boasts the largest outdoor screen in the West has a big focus on food trucks, and the Showtime sponsorship and dog friendly nature of the events distinguish it from others around town. With the variety of venues, it feels like a different event each time you go. For a slightly increased ticket price, patrons can get “Fashionably Late” seeming in the most desirable front-and-center section.

Endless summer

While the list of outdoor evening events in LA is nearly as long as the line at Pink’s on a Saturday night, other don’t-miss venues and attractions that are open into October or later, including The Greek Theatre at Griffith Park, The John Anson Ford Theatre in the Cahuenga Pass, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which hosts Jazz at LACMA through November.


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Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkEntertainmentRestaurants

Beloved by Walt Disney, Tam O’ Shanter is still serving up legendary prime rib, 95 years later


Known for its prime rib and Scottish style, LA’s oldest running restaurant hosts Hollywood history you can feast on

Tam O’ Shanter is most famous for being the oldest running restaurant in Los Angeles, and if you know anything about the fickle LA culinary crowd, you know this is a notable achievement.

Besides its historic longevity, this legendary Scottish-pub-inspired eatery is renowned as a celebrated venue for special family gatherings, anniversaries, office parties and other events, accommodating its clientele within the rooms of its storybook-house walls, with a variety of dining spaces that offer either a subdued or festive atmosphere or something in between, for anything from a romantic dinner for two to a boisterous office party for 20.

Patrons in-the-know often request to sit at the Tam’s busiest booth, table #31, where Walt Disney frequently sat with his team of a imagineers and doodled his ideas on the table, where his sketches have been preserved. It is said that Disney’s visits to the thatched-roof burnished wood Tudor-style facade, which houses a labyrinth of banquet rooms and tucked-away private booths, inspired some of the buildings and rides at Disneyland and Disney world.

As far as the restaurant’s Scottish pub fare menu, the prime rib has a reputation as one of the best around Los Angeles, owing to the aging process, whereby the meats are hung to dry for weeks and kept at a precise temperature to achieve ideal curing, which accounts for the mouth-watering tenderness and flavor of the cut. Besides the steaks and chops, the Tam is a favorite for its signature dishes like the Toad in the Hole, Yorkshire Pudding, English Triffle dessert, and of course, their artfully distilled and aged single-malt scotch drinks.


Because the restaurant is owned by Lawry’s, founded in 1922 by the owners of the esteemed restaurant group, diners may expect a certain quality and ambiance, which the Tam delivers, but with distinction.  Tam O’ Shanter’s is as independent as its famed namesake. And in case you were wondering about that, name comes from a fabled Scottish soldier, the eponymous plaid wool-bonnet wearing hero of a poem written in 1790 by Scottish lyricist Robert Burns. In honor of its historical inspiration, the servers at the Tam wear plaid kilts and knee socks, and as a salute to the finest drink of the land, the restaurant features a Wall of Scotch, with more than 102 single malts and blends from distilleries around the world. 

The Tam remains one of the few institutions in Hollywood that has lasted through the city’s many restaurant fads and fancies, and by Hollywood standards it is a legendary superstar on the restaurant scene, where it has continued to age gracefully for the past eight decades, bringing many generations of families together to celebrate reunions and anniversaries, and it has been the backdrop for many gatherings of celebrities and famous love affairs, where gentlemen have proposed on one knee, couples have raised a glass to toast to anniversaries of their lasting love, and families have come together for reunions and milestone celebrations.

After all, if you are going to choose a place to visit each year to commemorate a special occasion, you might as well choose a place that has been there forever and will likely stand until its walls fall down.

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Pop-Up Magazine Embarks on All-New National Tour

Pop-Up Magazine Contributor Jamie Meltzer

The critically-acclaimed live magazine’s Spring Issue travels to San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C., New York and Los Angeles

Heralded as “A sensation” by the New York Times, “Something special,” by PBS Newshour, and “A hit” by Forbes.
“Do not miss,” says the Los Angeles Times.
Tickets on sale now at

Following a string of sold-out shows across the country earlier this year, Pop-Up Magazine, the critically-acclaimed evening of live journalism, embarks on a national tour to San Franicsco, Chicago, Washington, D.C., New York and Los Angeles. With performances by award-winning writers, documentary filmmakers, radio producers and artists, Pop-Up Magazine features true, multimedia stories created especially for the stage and a live audience.

“Imagine your favorite magazine came to life,” lauds the Boston Globe. Each contributor presents a vivid, multimedia story about the world around us, accompanied by illustrations, animations, photography, sound, film, and an original score, performed onstage by musical collaborators Magik*Magik Orchestra. Story topics range from politics, food, art, sports, design, business, science, and more. The night ends gathered around the bar, with the performers and audience mingling together. Nothing goes online after the show — you have to be there to experience it.

Contributors for the Spring Issue tour are as follows:

· Jon Ronson, New York Times bestselling author, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, The Psychopath Test, The Men Who Stare At Goats — SF, LA
· Gillian Laub, Award-winning photographer & filmmaker, Southern Rites — SF, DC, NY, LA
· Yassir Lester, Actor, Girls, Making History, writer, comedian — SF, DC, NY, LA
· Tabitha Soren, Artist and photographer — SF
· Daniel Alarcón, Novelist, At Night We Walk In Circles, host, Radio Ambulante — NY
· Alexandra Petri, Columnist, The Washington Post — DC
· Fazeelat Aslam, Award-winning documentary filmmaker, producer, correspondent, VICE — SF, CHI, DC, NY, LA
· Carlos Javier Ortiz, Award-winning director, cinematographer, photographer, 2016 Guggenheim Fellow — SF, CHI, DC, NY, LA
· Samin Nosrat, Chef, author, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat — DC
· Karen Duffin, Producer, This American Life — SF, CHI, DC, NY
· Brittany Spanos, Staff writer, Rolling Stone — SF, CHI, DC, NY, LA
· Mary Melton, Editor and writer, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Times Magazine, L.A. Weekly — NY, LA
· Lu Olkowski, Radio producer, Radiolab, This American Life, CBC’s Love Me — SF, CHI, DC, NY, LA
· Dan Engber, Writer, Slate, Wired — DC, NY
· Sandra Allen, Writer, BuzzFeed News, Paris Review Daily — SF, CHI, DC, NY, LA
· Robin Amer, Deputy Editor, Chicago Reader — CHI
· Talia Herman, Photographer, The California Sunday Magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, Fader — DC
· Zara Katz, Photo editor and video producer, The Economic Hardship Reporting Project — CHI
· Rachel Monroe, Writer, The New Yorker, Texas Monthly, The New Republic — SF, CHI, LA

Cities, venues, show dates and times, local on-sale times,

and ticket price are as follows:


San Francisco, CA – Curran

Wednesday, May 31, and Thursday, June 1, 2017, at 7:30 PM

Tickets on sale now at

Ticket prices: $35 – $55


Chicago, IL – Harris Theater

Saturday, June 3, 2017, at 7:30 PM

Tickets on sale now at

Ticket price: $25


Washington, D.C. – Lincoln Theatre

Tuesday, June 6, 2017, at 7:30 PM

Tickets on sale now at

Ticket price: $30


New York, NY – The Town Hall

Thursday, June 8 and Friday, June 9, 2017, at 7:30 PM

Tickets on sale now at

Ticket prices: $35 – $55


Los Angeles, CA – The Theatre at Ace Hotel

Tuesday, June 13, 2017, at 8:00 PM

Tickets on sale now at

Ticket price: $32

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