Tuesday, November 19 2013
location: room 515, Piero Condo complex, just west of Downtown Los Angeles, California
This morning we returned to the coffee shop on Wilshire and Beaudry, where the staff treated us like regulars. Gretchen was delighted to find that they had an "oatmeal bar" featuring a small pot of oatmeal and various fruits and nuts to sprinkle on it. (I've never much liked oatmeal, particularly since college, when my friend Kristen described it as the ideal bulemia food.) We sat out in front again and watched that same sign twirler twirl his sign on behalf of 1010 Wilshire. (I prefer watching crows soften stale bread in irrigation water, but I hadn't seen that since we'd left Westwood.)
The core of today's events would be happening in Culver City, and we started out by heading there for lunch. Gretchen's old friend Jacob met us at a vegan place called Sage and we had lunch together. Jacob is a deeply depressive guy who nevertheless married a woman and had two kids. He admitted over lunch that he and his wife might not be together were it not for the children, which, he contended, give him a mature purpose in life. (Gretchen, it should be mentioned, finds the creation of children to secure marriages or provide purpose absolutely revolting.) If it weren't for Jacob's dryly acid conversational style, I would have found the conversation extremely tedious, at least until he got to the part about how he was supporting himself these days. Jacob, who once worked in the film industry, claimed to have made hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past two years by making risky bets on telecom stocks.
After lunch, Gretchen and I drove to Sony Picture Studios to attend a taping of the nationally televised gameshow known as Jeopardy (which we watch every weekday at dinner time). Gretchen had set the whole thing up weeks ago and was very excited.
Sony Picture Studios is a huge lot jammed with large hastily-built wooden buildings that rather resemble barns. Those who had been approved to be in the audience of today's Jeopardy contests were assembled in a line, marched in a line to the appropriate barnlike building, and then we waited (because that's how it always is). I'd been impressed by the relative youth of the others attending todays's taping, but then as we waited line, a larger number of weakly-ambulatory senior citizens arrived from around a corner and proceeded into the studio ahead of us. Evidently they'd come in separate bus. (I know it's inconsiderate to say this, but I have little patience or empathy for people who cannot walk to the things they want to go to unless they have something seriously wrong with them.)
Eventually we were let into the studio, which (unlike similar studios in New York City) was just inside the building. As with all the other live tapings Gretchen and I have attended, the set for Jeopardy looked smaller and much cheaper than it appears to be on television. The studio audience about the size I expected, filled out as it was by all those last-minute grey hairs. On taking our seats, Gretchen turned to me and complained that we wouldn't be having a good view of the contestants (who we could see side-on). "You get what you get," I declared. I was perfectly happy with where we were.
So then the show began. There in the flesh was Alex Trebek doing what he does. Neither Gretchen nor I particularly like Trebek as a host of Jeopardy; we find his charisma weak and his sense of humor terrible. But he impressed us today with his no-nonsense back-and-forth banter with the audience.
Jeopardy needs a bit more post-production than a show like The Colbert Report. Alex Trebek sometimes flubs the reading of questions, so there have to be retakes of those during the commercial breaks. And at one point a chair fell over when Trebek was talking with one of the contestants, so the thing he said during that moment had to be re-recorded.
As for the contests themselves (we were there for the recording of two consecutive ones), they were to be broadcast in late February of 2014 and happened to fall in the middle of a dazzling performance of one Arthur Chu, who, during the two contests we attended, became the third most successful Jeopardy contestant of all time. Spoiler alert: in the first contest we watched, he won over $50,000. It's too bad Mr. Chu has almost no charisma (and we unsuccessfully rooted for other contestants).
The losers of the first contest joined the audience for the second, and nearby in the crowd were a couple "alternates," people who would have been in the game had something unexpected befallen the preferred contestants.
In terms of crowd management and inter-round banter, most of this was handled by Johnny Gilbert, an older gentleman with a golden voice and a mop of artificial-looking brown hair. As I said to Gretchen, "He looks like a real Los Angeles institution."
After the second show was a wrap, we were dismissed from the studio and set loose on the grounds with little in the way of supervision. Had we known where to go, it would have been easy to crash some other show, but instead we headed back to the parking garage and drove ourselves back to Downtown Los Angeles.
Me in front of the Jeopardy studio in Culver City.
This evening Gretchen and I went out to Echo Park to dine at a second instance of Sage. (The restaurant completely changes its menu from lunch to dinner, so it hardly mattered that we were dining at two different Sages in one day.) Meeting us tonight for dinner were displace friends we'd originally met in Brooklyn: Michelle V. and her husband Ryan, as well as Linda (Nancy's sister). (The fact that we were meeting again for dinner was part of the justification for their sneaking off early at the end of Gretchen's poetry performance Sunday night.) The Echo Park Sage doesn't have a liquor license, so Ryan went off to a wine store and got a couple bottles. The food was good, the conversation was punchline-and-laughter rich, and I drank enough wine to unleash my inner extrovert.
Gretchen and me in front of the Jeopardy studio in Culver City.
My remote development colleagues Michæl and Marc wanted to meet up again tonight, so Gretchen had arranged to see them nearby in Echo Park after dinner. I actually left Sage early, driving a few blocks east to a place called Sunset Beer that Michæl had picked sight unseen. It was a divey beer store with some couches and I thought "this is fun" and immediately ordered an extremely strong (12% alcohol) beer served in a wine glass. It tasted like chocolate. The beer possibilities there (either on tap or to go) were endless, but the customers were all 20-something Angelenos. The beer was a hard one to drink quickly, which was just as well because it was awhile before Michæl finally showed up. Awhile before I'd arrived, he'd stuck his head in Sunset Beer and decided it was too much of a dump, and sent Gretchen an email to suggest we go to Mohawk Bend instead. But of course I don't have a cellphone, so I'd missed out on that chain of communications.
Michæl drove me over to Mohawk Bend, a decidedly classier joint. Gretchen, who was sitting with Marc in front of a fire somehow licking up out of a fireplace filled with glass beads, was already in love with the place. Not only did they have cauliflower prepared like Buffalo Wings, but everything on the menu was vegan unless otherwise stated. She pointed out the long list of IPAs available, and I was so overwhelmed that I just told the waiter to get me the IPA that tasted the most like grapefuit juice. This was how I discovered the amazing Sculpin IPA. Unfortunately, that was only one of the IPAs the waiter selected based on my request and it went to Michæl; the one I got was not quite as good.
Michæl had requested that I bring my laptop so we could look at some forelorn website that only works with Internet Explorer 7. We potentially have a job porting it to a more modern software stack, but tonight (despite a working WiFi connection and my onscreen keyboard) we couldn't successfully login.
Driving around in Los Angeles is usually a pain in the ass except at night. After a certain hour, the surface streets and freeways open up and it's effortless to go anywhere. Nothing in Los Angeles is more than about ten miles away, and if there's an open freeway or an empty stretch of Wilshire ahead of you, you'll get there before you're ready to get out of your car. That was the story of our drive home from Mohawk Bend tonight. But in the daytime when we're stuck in traffic to or from some shithole like Culver City, the radio helps enormously. In Los Angeles we've been listening to Exitos 93.9, which plays mostly mainstream contemporary radio pop (electronic dance and melodic hip hop) with occasional Hispanic tunes. (Pop music has gradually become our preferred go-to format when driving, particularly when far from home.) The great thing about Exitos 93.9 is that there is a lot DJ banter between songs, and that banter is a perfect mix of both Spanish and English, both pronounced immaculately. The DJs slip back and forth between languages with complete fluidity, with no apparent rhyme or reason. The switching is so random that it can occur in the middle of a phone number, for example "One ochocientos six seven nine cero siete nine six." The epitome of this style of bilingual banter is practiced by the DJ Raq-C, who crops up not only in live radio, but also in the advertisements (most of which are attempting to convinced uninsured drivers to buy car insurance). Gretchen is convinced that if we had a station like this in the Hudson Valley, she'd be fluent in Spanish in no time. It probably works the other way as well, with native Spanish speakers tuning in in hopes of improving their English skills.
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