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Happy quasquicentennial, Orange County!

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 11, 2014 03:00pm | Post a Comment
On this day in 1889, Orange County, California was born, making it 125 years young today. 


Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Orange County

In early 1889, Pemberton Medicine Company (later Coca-Cola) incorporated in Atlanta, Colombia Phonograph (later Columbia Records) launched, Japan adopted the Meiji Constitution and the Eiffel Tower opened in Paris. Meanwhile in Southern California, the communities on Coyote Creek's left bank seceded those on the right bank and incorporated as the County of Orange. More precisely, on 11 March a bill was signed into law which allowed for voters to vote whether or not to approve the motion to incorporate -- which they did (2,509 to 500) on 4 June, 1889. But today's date is the one that is observed by most of Orange County's friends and family as its birthday.

It wasn't the first time county borders within California had changed. In the first half century after the US invaded and conquered Alta California from Mexico, the county borders have changed several times; San Bernardino County split from Los Angeles County in 1853, parts of Los Angeles County became Kern County in 1866, and in 1893 Riverside County was formed out of what had been parts of San Bernardino and San Diego counties. Several attempts were made and failed to establish Orange County in the 1870s and '80s.

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That's not amazing -- California's Gold, Huell Howser, has passed away

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 7, 2013 01:49pm | Post a Comment

Huell in the Antelope Valley amongst California Poppies (source: Cameron Tucker)

I am utterly gutted to hear that Huell Howser has passed away.



I heard the news as I was writing about my exploration of Irvine for this blog, and simultaneously planning on exploring the route of the Expo Line Phase II tomorrow. If it weren’t for Huell, I may not have had the idea of doing either. (When I was approached about working for KCET, one of the names I proposed was California's Fools Gold, a self-deprecating homage -- they went with Block By Block instead). I’m sure he inspired a lot of other people to go on adventures in their back yards too (this page has a map showing the communities he visited). Even though I never had the pleasure of meeting him, I will miss him terribly.


Huell canoeing on Mono Lake (source: Cameron Tucker)

Back in November, Huell announced that he was retiring amid rumors that he was seriously ill. Just last week I was chatting about him with a customer at my shop and the customer expressed his dismay. I too was saddened by his retirement but expressed that he'd earned it and that even his biggest fans have, in most cases, hundreds if not thousands of episodes to catch up on. Still, the customer hoped that someone would soon fill his shoes. I expressed doubt that any single person could.


At the amazing Gourmet Cobbler Factory in Pasadena -- in the San Gabriel Valley (image: KCET)

It's impossible to know how many adventures Huell Howser inspired. I suspect that he's one of John Rabe's biggest heroes. (Check out Rabe’s episode with him here). I loved his earnestness, enthusiasm, unpretentiousness, boundless sense of adventure, energy, and intelligence. Despite the fact that Angelenos are constantly told that we are obsessed with celebrity, glamour, fame and fortune; Howser showed thankfully little interest in any of that. He even seemed to hint at a healthy disgust with politicians and ambivalence for authority.

Instead he championed the everyday, the immigrant, the ignored, the uncelebrated and in doing so showed what really makes California truly special. 


Huell's hometown

Huell Burnley Howser was born 18 October 1945 in Gallatin, Tennessee, a small town in the Upper South near the border with Kentucky. His name was a portmanteau of his parents' names, Harold and Jewell. He received a BA in history at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.





After serving in the Marines he began working Nasvhille’s WSM-TV, where he traveled around the central part of the state and Kentucky in a motor home filming what he called "happy features." 

Huell with Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn in the 1970s


After spending some time at WCBS in New York where he hosted a show called Real Life! (and later, To Life!). In the age of Candid Camera, The Gong Show, Real People, and That's Incredible, New Yorkers seemed confused by segments on window washers and "turkey mavens." Howser was later told that New Yorkers were uncomfortable being touched. In 1981 Howser moved to hug-friendly Los Angeles where there's no shortage of people happy to be on camera. It was in Los Angeles that he stayed.


Huell Howser with the Del Rubio Triplets in 1987 (source: KCET)

His career in LA began with him reporting for KNXT (now KCBS). He then briefly worked on Entertainment Tonight which is kind of remarkable since when he next moved to KCET (then a PBS affiliate) in 1987 and began producing his Videolog segments, he showed himself to be a one man antidote to ET -- and the other shows like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Access Hollywood, Extra!, and all the other shows that seem so determined to make Los Angeles look awful.





The first episode I remember seeing was Visiting… With Huell Howser episode #903, in which he visited Iwasaki Images of America in Gardena to learn about how plastic food commonly seen in the display windows of Japanese restaurants is made (something I was and am fascinated by as well). The previous episode had been about visiting Cambodia Town in Long Beach. The following was about Downtown's LA Barber College. The most recent episode I watched was episode 104 of California’s Gold, “Cornish Christmas.” 


Howser with a construction crew underground in L.A. (source: Cameron Tucker)

In an interview with the LA Times’ television critic, Robert Loyd, he expressed “Let's explore our neighborhood, let's look in our own backyard, let's go down to Koreatown and buy some kimchee. We won't do a story on what it's like to spend the night in a $10,000 hotel suite.” I thought he had the best job in the world and the best attitude to boot. Though he once claimed to be a Methodist, he had the soul and outlook of Laozi.


Huell Howser in his former residence in Midtown's Hancock Park neighborhood (source: Kevin Hively)


Though outgoing, friendly, and on TV all the time, Huell was guarded about his private life – which I really respected. He was one of the few people on TV who didn’t seem interested in promoting himself as a celebrity, even though he was one. He never bothered to go out of his way to deflate tired, cynical stereotypes of California, he just ignored them. Likewise, he understood that Californians come in all shapes, colors and accents and in a culture where southern accents are almost always equated with stupidity and/or bigotry, he was not only proudly southern, but unprejudiced, and intelligent. 




He was often parodied albeit more-often-than-not, lovingly. I'd bet that all of his self-professed fans have an imitation of him. He turned up on The Simpsons twice, the Beverly Hills, 90120 episode "Jobbed," as well as Thoughts of Suicide on an Otherwise Lovely Day and Who Killed the Electric Car? He leant his voice to Winnie the Pooh, and was mentioned on Weeds. He has a hot dog named after him at Pinks, a honey ham & pineapple cheeseburger at Peggy Sue's 50s Diner (in Yermo), and his face on a bottle of milk from Broguiere's Farm Fresh Dairy (in the Southeast LA County city of Montebello).


He passed away at his Palm Springs home on 7 January 2013, aged just 67. We should all honor him by undertaking adventures at the next opportunity and keep our eyes open the what's amazing all around us. In 2000, Huell said "I have this theory that when I die, my tombstone will say, 'Huell Howser: he did the pig story,'" -- a reference to a profile he did of a 500-pound pet pig named Porky who then lived in a Powderly, Kentucky. In a 2003 story in Los Angeles Magazine he was quoted saying, "Seriously, what I want to do is to be saying 'Good night' and fall over dead in a sand dune and have the credits with the sand blowing over my body and the people at home just going, 'Well, I guess that's Huell's last show.' That is the way I would like to die." RIP Huell!

Click on this link to share your memories on KCET's page

*****

Nature's a language, can't you read? -- Seasons in the Southland

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 20, 2012 03:45pm | Post a Comment
A FEW GENERALIZATIONS ABOUT ANGELENOS

While I caution anyone attempting to make generalizations about a group as diverse and large as the 13 million or so people known as “Angelenos,” I have nonetheless made a couple of observations about a much smaller subsection, my Los Angeles friends, that I have to assume share more widely-held views with Angelenos with whom I'm not personally acquainted. Just one example; as far as I can tell, only in Los Angeles do people say things like “only in LA” about things that happen pritnear everywhere.

In this entry I'd like to address and reflect upon another completely nonsensical but widely held view – that Los Angeles (and presumably at least the entire Southland and possibly all of SoCal) has no seasons or weather.


Los Angeles's The Byrds weighing in on seasons...


IN ONE CORNER -- THE SPOILED BABIES


As far as most people are concerned, temperatures in Los Angeles are usually quite pleasant. The daytime average is 24 °C (75 °F). The warmest days rarely exceed 32 °C (90 °F) and rarely dip below 15°C (59 °F). When temperatures deviate from this narrow comfort zone, legions of thoroughly-spoiled (and acclimated) complainers express their indignation on various social media and to their friends. As someone who has truly suffered through 48 °C (118 °F) heat and -42 °C (-44 °F) I have little sympathy for our weather whiners -- we have it so easy!

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Happy Birthday, Los Angeles!!!

Posted by Eric Brightwell, September 4, 2010 06:27pm | Post a Comment

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Los Angeles County

Happy Birthday Los Angeles. The City of Angels turns 229 years young today (sort of). Back in 1781, so the story goes, 44 Spaniards from Mexico established El Pueblo de Los Angeles. Of the Spaniards, 26 were black, sixteen were Native or mestizo, and two were white. The city has grown even more diverse in the past two centuries and now L.A. boasts the greatest ethnic and cultural diversity of any city not only in the known universe, but the known space-time continuum.


Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's bird's eye attempt at a Middle Earth style Southland map

Los Angeles also boasts more food trucks, Scientologists, playhouses, Angelenos, lowriders, smog and miles of freeway than any city in the US. A host of surrounding towns put the "great" in "Greater Los Angeles." Any regular readers will know that I like to explore the Southland, in an attempt to entertain and uncover the music, movie, culinary, cultural histories the many and varied communities of the great sprawl -- sort of Los Angeles' extended family.



If interested, please take a look at the list below and click here to vote for more LA neighborhoods, here for LA County communities, and here for OC communities to be the subject of future blog entries. 

California Fool's Gold -- Orange County Here We Come...

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 14, 2010 03:32pm | Post a Comment
 
A hand drawn and hand painted map of Orange County from Pendersleigh & Sons

OK, since the Los Angeles neighborhoods (click here to vote) and Los Angeles County communities (click here to vote) polls have gone down a right storm, I'm making a poll for Orange County communities and neighborhoods (conflated). After all, Orange County was just another part of Los Angeles County until March 11, 1889 when it became a separate entity.

Please vote here for as many as you'd like to see become the subject of a future blog entry. Thanks! Oh, and if I've forgotten any, kindly get at me. If'n yins 'r' rude yis'll get treated like a you-know-what. 

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Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICSHidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft ContemporaryForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the book SidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistCurbedLAEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRWWhich Way, LA?, at Emerson College, and the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on AmebaDuolingoFacebookGoodreadsInstagramMubiand Twitter.

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