Friday, November 25, 2011

Tony's SOUPer Debut

I am blessed to have more than a fair share of hugely talented and creative friends.  Last weekend was a rare opportunity to "travel" into the working world of one of them, into a bit of the creative sphere of a friend.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  My friend works at a JLOOP: a brand & interactive agency located in Long Beach, CA.  The advertised focus of the Saturday night event [through a few email invitation reminders] was a celebration of the company's 10 year anniversary.  The added bonus for the group I attended this outing with was that the celebration was also a soft-launch of a project that my friend had been working on for several months now, an iPhone game called "Tortilla Soup Surfer."

The game features a tomato surfer named Tony [example image to the right] who is riding the wave of tortilla soup inside the bowl of a little boy: Juanito.  As Juanito tilts the bowl to slurp his soup, the wave begins.  Extra points for collecting chili peppers, performing tricks, and staying in the tube.  Not only is the game fun and addicting [like a good bowl of soup is] for us, but it had the additional bonus of featuring accidents that branded it as something out of my friend's artistic vision.  The original type used to inform you of a "gnar"ly job done or a "sick" trick executed screamed his aesthetic.  The decor at the top of the bowl was reminiscent of pottery he bought for his parents on a trip to Mexico.  Without knowing the creator, the game is great...but knowing the designer makes it that much more awesome to see it come to life. 

The process getting to this day deserves mention as well.  Watching the progression of the game development in stages  [via his tumblr account and him showing us short demos of the work-in-progress on his iPhone - if you've ever been to the Reina Sofia in Madrid and seen the photo exhibition that followed Picasso's progress & editing process of Guernica...the experience was essentially a modernized version of that] has enabled us to "travel" into an innovative arena most of us would never experience otherwise.

Before going, some of us wondered if the meet & mingle would be a bit...well...awkward.  We considered that we might feel like fish out of water since most of us aren't designers, making that world foreign to us.  Our fears were put at ease from the moment we stepped through JLOOP's office doors.  We, surprisingly, felt comfortable and part of the crowd.  This wasn't just because 'we knew a guy,' but the vibe itself felt like a family.  All the employees we met were friendly and welcoming...and then of course there were all the party festivities that made the night the enjoyable occasion it was.

Since this party was also a soft-launch for "Tortilla Soup Surfer," the food was themed appropriately : taco bar with all the fixings & the taco stand man assist in the principle assembling, tortilla soup[don't Tonys were harmed in the process of consumption] , and plenty of chips & guac.  Mini cupcakes were passed around on trays for dessert [not exactly themed appropriate...but well received nonetheless and I'm quite certain Juanito would not bat an eye having a cupcake after he finished his soup].

While there was much meet & mingling occurring, there were also activities provided such that those wall-flowers among us [ah-hem] would have something to facilitate them from social anxiety and potentially awkward small talk.

First and foremost, after the 8:30pm announcement of Tortilla Soup Surfer, there was a running posting of the top scores of the game.  Creative profile names abounded...

Next there was the avatar-creation board.  JLOOP's website is accented with chibi-like figures that mimic the look of their employees.  So, all guests of the event were invited to create a JLOOP avatar of their own.  Just like paper dolls, there was a pile of stickers that allowed guests to construct a JLOOP version of themselves to stick to the wall.  An example of one is here:

 Then there was the instagram clothes line.   They had a small photo printer that was synced to print out any photos taken on the instagram app with a hashtag to JLOOP.  The photos were then hung on a close line creating both a "party favor" of sorts and also a collage of the evening's events & attendees.  As an aside, this is ingenious for a wedding [note to future brides-to-be]: you'd save a bundle by using this idea in lieu of a rented photo booth.

That night is something my group of friends has been talking about ever since.  It was a fun outing, but mostly just an incredible blessing to share in a public exhibition of a friend's hard work and creativity...I mean we've always known him to be talented, but it is great to have a larger group recognize this and share in the enjoyment of it as well.

Taking a trip away from your own desk, cubicle, 9-5 into the working realm of another is like traveling to a different state or country: it is a different cultural microcosm.  If you get such an opportunity to get a glimpse of the working territory of someone else and to see bits of themselves reflected in a creative medium of choice, don't pass it up.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Derby - Mission Viejo, CA

And sometimes you close your eyes
And see the place where you used to live
When you were young
~The Killers~
For another after-work-travel in So Cal try an evening at The Derby in Mission Viejo.  It qualifies as a pseudo-trip in a few ways.  As advertised on its website, its bread is baked using New York water, so in a way you are getting a taste of the Big Apple.  Its deli sandwiches are made from cold cuts imported from Italy, so you can get a piece of the European Boot.  If you go on a Tuesday you can benefit from obtaining portions of two foreign nations at once: Ireland [because every Tuesday is "Irish Tuesday" featuring $3 Schmidick's Irish beer & "authentic" Irish decor - i.e. lepricon hats and a large Irish flag] and Mexico [Tuesday also offers $2 Coronas and $1 tacos].

The main draw to The Derby, however, is the dueling piano bar show.  The basic set up is two pianists facing each other who alternate playing songs requested by customers.  Once you are seated, your waiter comes by to drop off request cards.  I was impressed by the breadth of their repertoire, everything from Disney songs to hip-hop-adapted-to-piano accompaniment [of course they did have the aid of MacBooks to find lyrics and music, but still].  Some of the songs even are accented by video clips like the Chip & Dale audition SNL skit or the orange mocha frappuccino scene from Zoolander.  And the crowd gets exponentially more into the whole experience as the evening hour, a number of Coronas drunk, increases.  If you come around 8:30pm you'll just see most people singing along reservedly and toe-tapping but a few hours later will have a good majority out of their seats dancing with strangers or even performing a rave-like-swirling light show with flashlights.  Its an entertaining outing for people watching alone. 

Our crew attended to celebrate a birthday.  And you may be thinking to yourself that this sounds like a perfect place to celebrate a birthday...but be ware.  Although it may appear to be an ideal night of entertainment for a birthday, a portion of it will come at the birthday boy/girl's expense.  The pianists will recognize and "celebrate" your day of birth in a way that may just destroy those among us who shutter at public attention [ah-hem] wasn't even directed at me and I was anxious the moment they called our birthday friend to the piano to acknowledge him without even knowing what they were to do to him.  As for the details of how they commemorate the completion of another year of life...that will remain something you will have to discover by attending a piano-dueling evening.  Curiosity may convince you to go, no? 

The larger of a group you go with the better...although you will certainly make friends if you go solo or in a smaller group.  There is something about singing along to well-loved and well-known songs that inspires instant kinship.  But, if you go with enough friends to chip in some doe, you can take a stab at some mic time.  For $20 you can get yourself, or force a friend, to sing to the pianists accompaniment in leiu of the weathered dueling piano man.  Our group readily did so for a voice among us...a somewhat willing victim.   Now I am sure for some, hearing a karaoking friend may be more enjoyable for a laugh at them than enjoyable for listening to them.  For us, however, it was the latter and was additionally one of those memories you place in a time capsule to pull out when you need a reminder of a carefree time when you were young.  He's good, as in "could-steal-the-show-from-the-piano-man" good, which equated to augmented enjoyment of forcing a friend to display his talent.

So for a potentially scarring birthday outing, to enjoy the under-celebrated talent of a friend, to  unwind from a day of the 9-to-5 with some familiar tunes, and to get a taste of vacation, The Derby is your fix.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Theatricum Botanicum - Topanga, CA

I pass'd, methought, the melancholy flood,
With that grim ferryman which poets write of,
Unto the kingdom of perpetual night.

On a drive along pacific coast highway  you can eventually take a turn away from the Pacific, leave the iconic California coast line of LA county behind, the glitter of Malibu, and begin  a Narnia-Wardrobe-like transition into Topanga Canyon.  The six mile road twists and turns with rocky cliff sides towering above: sagebrush-accented and prehistoric looking.  There's a deli and one or two cafes, but not much else besides pure nature until you see an unobtrusive sign indicating you've arrived at the Will Gear Theatricum Botanicum

Actor Will Gear opened the Theatricum Botanicum on his property for fellow black listed actors who were victims of McCarthyism.  Since he could not get work in Hollywood, he and his family survived on his Topanga Canyon property by selling herbs, vegetables, and theatre.  When the blacklisting ended, he converted the Theatricum Botanicum into a non-profit organization that offered free workshops, and since his death educational programs along with traditional productions.

This is not  your typical theatre experience.  Not the conventional concert hall or play house, with assigned seating or air conditioning.  Attending a production here is like entering a time machine, going back to how plays were traditionally preformed: in the open air.  But I am getting ahead of myself.  When coming to see a play at the Theatricum Botanicum, it will not be a complete experience if you arrive just in time to sit down for the performance.  Arrive early and have a picnic on the grounds before hand.  There are picnic tables provided and the Hamlet Hut offers some concessions as well.  Camping trip meets night at the theatre is an unexpectedly perfect marriage.

Although matinee shows are also offered, the evening performances are the way to go.  The walk leading up to the amphitheater are lit by antiquated lamps, which begins you passage into thespian fantasy.  The set up of the stage itself is what distinguishes the viewing experience at the Theatricum Botanicum from other theatre outings you might have.  The stage itself seems like one of the actors or at least an interactive, elaborate prop rather than merely a platform that supports the actions of the characters, but remains largely unseen, forgotten.  It is a simple wooden set up with two balconies and a set of doors.  There are no curtains so no scene changes made in the dark.  If props need to appear in some scenes but be removed in others, the actors come up with creative ways to do this with the audience watching, we become part of the production.  The hill side above, with pathways leading through trees, and the stairs leading past the benched seating of the audience, become an extension of the stage.  The movement of actors from in front, behind, and to either side of the audience keeps us engrossed and integrates us as part of the play, forced participation, rather than leaving us detached and distant. 

The open-air element, to me, was the best part.  Feeling the breeze, hearing frogs and crickets mixing melodies, and the sight of periodic leaves falling form the trees above somehow made the play feel more real like it was possible that we simply went on a hike on some walking paths in the woods and stumbled across an engaging interaction with a troop of people in uncommon costume.  Best of all, since its rather chilling in Topanga Canyon in the evenings, everyone comes equipped with blankets.  So now not only is it camping trip meets night at the theatre, but you now throw in the feeling of watching a movie from the comfort of your home, bundled up in your favorite throw with a warm cup of hot coco in your mittened hand.

Our maiden voyage at the Theatricum Botanicum was for Shakespeare's Richard III.  I'd, shamefully, never read the play but was instantly absorbed.  The cast was captivating from the first uttered line and had me holding my breath in anticipation at some points and laughing out loud [too loud?] at others.  The costumes were over-the-top in ideal Shakespearean fashion making me long for a return to an era where all were required to wear cloaks and capes.  Most of all, however, is the undeniable passion the actors of this production have for theatre.  I mean, good acting is good acting, but you can tell when an actor or actress truly has a passion for it, sees it as art, as part of breathing for them, rather than just their means to a paycheck.  All the actors of this production were clearing of the former type, creatively committed to their characters, and exhibiting their devotion for their chosen art.

I can't believe that I did not know this place existed.  For all the money people are willing to shell out for performances of various kinds, many are missing out on a truly unique experience [and at a much more reasonable price at might add] at the Theatricum Botanicum.  A great way to spend an evening: picnic dinner, bundled in blankets, and transported into fiction as if a participant in its making.  The end of the performance will leaving you wishing you could stay the night, hoping that this theatre-Narnia might just keep you forever.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Laguna Beach Art Walk: Hangin' with Horace & Co.

There are these rare moments in life when you find yourself sharing in what feels like the first chapter of what will be a well loved novel [or call it a life path, niche, or creative purpose] of someone dear to you, a chapter that you will re-read over in your mind's eye for years to come.  Tonight was such a night.

Laguna Beach hosts an Art Walk the first Thursday of every month.  Various galleries & shops in Laguna Beach feature well established or budding artists.  Essentially, if you're looking for something free to do after work in Orange County this is your ticket: free peeks at art, free music, and [at some locations] free drinks and snacks.

Although art exhibitions are enjoyable in-of-themselves, the are made much more exciting and memorable if you know a bit about the artist... or if they just so happen to be a very dear friend. 

Tonight was the first public exhibition of the art of my friend, Kristina.  Since the first days of knowing her, noticing her sketches on the back of a church program while sitting next to her in a pew, I was enamored with her style.  And that captivation has only increased as she shared bits of her work, which was done mostly for herself, not to share.

The past few weeks especially have been a blessing and privilege because I was allowed to see various stages of the pieces she was working on to exhibit in the Art Walk.  It was almost like watching the growth of a seed from something with great potential, yet not quite itself, into a stunning bloom, a creation one can't drink in quite enough.

I don't just express enthusiasm here for her work because she is my friend, although I will say that it is convenient bonus.  I truly think her work is amazingly creative, original, and inspiring.  After seeing each piece I was immediately inspired to write, and what better purpose for art than to prove a catalyst for thought and further creativity?

This exhibition featured four works.  All are wood burnings with color added after with acrylic pencils [*need to verify the correct terminology with her...out of my element here :)].

While I adored all four, three of the pieces were more thoroughly tied together with the motif of a old man.  Her old man character started with Horace [as she called him]: an elderly gentlemen made complete with a pipe, smoke billowing out from both sides of his mouth, a crew cut slate-blue sweater, and white-with-side-burns-connected beard.

Each of Horace's posse that followed would contain similar features: smoke, vacant white eyes, a defined nose, boney hands, and shar pei wrinkles [and I mean that in the most endearing way possible because who is not comforted and intrigued by the outlandish wrinkles of a shar pei?].

The second piece was inspired by Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea [as an aside, both Kristina and I were delighted to discover that on this day in 1952 Hemingway first published The Old Man and the Sea in Life Magazine...perfect timing? I think so...]. The old man drifts at sea on a stormy, full-mooned night while dreaming of a past memory [nightmare?] when his ship was wrecked by a giant squid.  His lacquered yellow rain coat fails to shield him from being haunted by the memory of losing his ship, what every fisherman and captain would be most dishonored by.

The final old man, a pilot, evokes bits of Charles Lindbergh and the Red Baron [the Snoopy version or Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen variety], but mostly just bits of her husband as he might look 50 years from now.  Bomber jacket, red scarf, goggles poised on his head and twisted-point-mustache make the pilot all the more endearing.

There is something so very inviting about these old men, such that I wish I could crawl into their frames and sit down for a cup of earl grey served with a blue berry scone and just drink up their tales of their adventures from long ago and soak in their lifetime of wisdom.  If only.  But seeing these characters frozen onto their flat wooden realms is the next best thing.  I could just stand and look at them, share their company, for hours, imaging what their life could have been like.

Besides day dreaming of fire-side chats with these fellas I was also thrilled to have the chance to collect some wall-flower moments of watching strangers become intrigued by her art and then compliment the pieces or ask her about her process.  To share artistic creations, especially the first time, is a risk, anxiety provoking.  It is making yourself vulnerable because every creation contains a piece of their creator.  To see others around me become equally as swept away and in awe of her work gave me as much joy as if they were my own works they were enjoying, probably more joy in fact.  To see someone, especially a friend, in their creative element is one of the greatest blessings to be had.

Art is not limited to conventional platforms either.  Part of the exhibition was also displaying the pieces in just the right way.  With the help of our mutual friend, Kristina's pieces were displayed at the Hobie in downtown Laguna Beach, where Luci works.  As Kristina set up her pieces our friend worked in the window nearby to create a display for Tom's Shoes.  After observing both girls at work I have a much greater appreciation for the creative energy, patience, and artistic vision that goes into a window display.   Kristina set up her pieces by hanging from twine and placing the other two among an menagerie of wicker baskets, rope, balls of string, and pieces of drift wood. 

Our friend's display featured, among other things, shoes draped over antique books, some with the centers carved out to act in lieu of the traditional clay pot for tiny succulents.  I'd like to hire her, the bashful & modest interior designer, to decorate my house.  Artists abound in more venues then you imagine.

So the Art Walk is most certainly worth in investigating.  Laguna Beach has much to offer the art appreciators among you, permanent galleries abound, but the Art Walk has a lively vibe and you have the added bonus of being able to speak one-on-one with local artists while enjoying their creations [something unattainable at most larger art galleries].

Check back here soon because Kristina is working on getting an Etsy sight going to sell her designs. I will post a link here soon!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Crown Lake Crusade - High Sierras

the woods are lovely
dark and deep
but i have promises to keep
and miles to go before i sleep
~robert frost~

It is comprised of many moments of pain, border line torture at times, which inspires a flurry of grotesque  internal monologues…yet we return to it annually: backpacking.  The high sierras call our name yearly, and a group of friends and I have become determined [or perhaps I’m just blindly driven] to make this a tradition amongst our group.  No matter where life takes us, once a year we reconvene in the backcountry.
This year’s trip was intended to eventually land us in Black Cap Basin…however, the mosquitoes had a little [or rather a lot] to say about that.  I have read of plagues in the Bible, and this was the closest personal relateable experience I ever care to have.  Since the sierras were so wet this year, which also created swamp-like conditions with muddy trails and stagnant water collections on part of our route, the mosquitoes reaped all the benefits at our expense. 
After day 1, deprived of being able to rest for more than a few moments on the trail without being swarmed upon, we were exhausted and feeling mentally defeated when it came time to set up camp that evening.  We almost decided to turn around then and there, but some warm food, a small camp fire, and a night of sleep in mosquito-proof tents provided us with new perspective and the formation of a compromise: we would cut the trip in half.

So our 7-day “Black Cap Basin Blitz” become a 4-day “Crown Lake Crusade.”

And to be honest, it was not just the mosquitoes that caused this decision.  The route from Rancheria Trailhead to Black Cap Basin is not an overly popular route to peruse, so it has not been as well maintained as other areas of the Sierras like Evolution Valley and the Rae Lakes region, for examples. There were fallen trees and brush that covered many sections of the trail, which caused us to venture into cross country endeavors in the hopes of recovering the covered trail. This appeals to the wanderer in me, but does not bode well for trying to keep a group of 11 trekkers together over a week of hiking.
Despite the quitting of our original plan, the 4 day venture was a blessing, and a great time spent in fellowship with one another.  We went from Rancheria Trail head to Lacey Camp on Day 1.  Then Lacey Camp to Crown Lake on Day 2.  Crown Lake to Lacey Camp area [found a random flat area to camp when we discovered we had over shot Indian Springs] on Day 3.  And then hiked out the next morning back to Rancheria Trailhead where our cars [and a dip in the Wishon Reservoir] awaited us.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 miles when it was all said and done, 5-8 miles per day.  Although we only got to 10,400 in elevation, we were still blessed with fantastic sights and that sound of silence that is particular to alpine heights.
There were three experiences in particular that characterized this year’s saunter. 

First, was meeting cowboys at Crown Lake.  After not seeing any other humans for the past 48 hours, stumbling across a crew of 10+ cowboys in the middle of the woods was a surprise to say the least.  They had come out on horses, so they had the full spread of camping supplies: chairs, large tents, a music player, beers and hard alcohol.  The contrast between their supplies and what we brought with us on our backs was quite a contrast.  I was immediately humbled by their hospitality and kindness.  They offered us fish they had caught, brought over steaks, diet coke, and French bread for our dinner saying they had “too much” of all these things…and after freeze dried dinners and trail mix, these items were most welcome to us. Later that night we joined them at their camp fire [actually prohibited in that region of the Sierras…but they’re cowboys, so since when do they follow such regulations?].  They passed beers around, played country music, and asked to pose with the 3 of the girls [one of the other girls was occupied by getting dance lessons from the lone cowgirl in the group and two of the remaining were shielded by their husbands] amongst our group [enforced that they wear cowboy hats in the shots].  As we quit their area to get ready to hit the sack [sleeping bag that is] I was struck by how there is an unspoken camaraderie of any and all who venture into the backcountry.  There is something in all of us that enjoy roughing it out away from civilization that breeds for instant friendship, as if we come from common stock of some sort.
The second defining experience was found at Chuck Pass.  This was the single area we found along the route that was relatively mosquito free.  It was about 2 miles out from camp on Day 3.  And we luxuriated in the small space of land which was free from the fearful chorus of buzzing.  We stopped mid-hike for a lunch break there and stayed for a few hours sleeping in the sunshine, reading & drawing [for the more artistically inclined among us].  Towards the end of our rest we had a devotional time, led by one of our fellow hikers.  It was a treasure to me, to us all, to be able to commune with the Creator in His creation.  To see the symbolic connection of things we faced in the backcountry with things we face in life. 

One thing that struck me as we hiked was the symbolic lesson I have learned from switchbacks.  Switchbacks are common place when backpacking in the sierras.  The most irritating thing about them, is that you almost always can see the end point you want to read long before the switchbacks end.  Like a moth to a flame, you long to just take the straight route to that horizon point rather than take the winding, longer, switchback route to get there.  So often in life we have goals that we long to achieve, a prize that we “know” will give us instantaneous happiness….and we want it NOW.  But, just as climbing straight up a hill rather than taking the switchbacks will often lead to injury or just a more exhausting route, so to does going after things with OUR timing and with OUR plans usually yield less joy than waiting for God’s timing and God’s plan to be fulfilled.  The switchbacks in life are placed there for our own good and for the greater glory of God.  That devotional time was impactful for us all, and allowed us to each share a bit of our soul with one another.
The third memorable occasion was at our spontaneously found camp site near Lacey Camp area on Day 3.  We found a high, dry, and flat area and set up our camp for the night.  As dusk drew on, a golden light dance amongst the trees in the forest to the left of our nomadic sleeping area.  Like sailors hearing the sirens song, we were drawn irresistibly to venture through the trees to find the source of that light.  It brought us to a cliff edge that gave a panoramic, sweeping view of a valley below.  It was just such a peaceful moment, crunching off trail through trees, chasing that amber light.  It was intoxicating.  Like we could not drink in the sight enough.  There was just something about that moment, with our limbs fatigued from miles of hiking, staring at such beauty that can only be fully appreciated by enduring uncountable steps with a pack on your back, that in beyond words, but a treasure I shall always keep.
Over the course of those four days, we all mused about why exactly we do this ever year.  As I said before, there are many parts of backpacking that are unpleasant, painful, and sometimes even torturous. Yet, even as we complain internally or externally, there is pat of us that is already planning the next jaunt. 
We return each year for a few reasons.  First it is for the challenge, the twisted sort of exhilaration that comes from pushing oneself beyond what you thought you could endure.  Of being out of breath, sweaty, and dirty.  Of exerting yourself and becoming fatigued by fresh air and sunshine such that you fall into the normal sleep-wake cycle of darkness = sleep and sunshine= rise.  Second is for the escape from our routine, technology driven lives.  When you experience the sound of silence, and there is a sound to it, you realize just how much life in Western societies is brim-full of sounds and stimuli.  You forget the beauty of silence and simplicity.  When you are out in the backcountry, carrying as few things as possible because every additional item means additional weight on your back, you realize how little you truly need to feel joy.  We return every year for the opportunity to strip down our lifestyles, realign our perspectives, and realize the blessings of simplicity.  Finally, this has become an annual tradition for us for the chance to have fellowship with one another and fellowship with the Creator.  There are few better ways to truly know a person or grow closer to them then to see share in an experience that makes one dirty, tired, hungry, and mosquito-bitten.  The shared bond of suffering breeds deeper ties than few other things can.  I would not trade such moments for the world, for once experienced together, it is something you will always fall back on, creating friendships that last a life time no matter where life takes you next.  “We’ll always have the Sierras….”[ok...not quite the Humphrey Bogart affect...but you get the idea]  And being in nature 24/7 allows you to understand and see God in new ways, there are reminders of Him everywhere such that you begin to realize how little you think of Him at home when He truly is everywhere at all times.  The backcountry reminds of this, it is refreshing, rejuvenating, and when we return to our routine, our laptops, televisions, desks, and cell phones we can lean upon that memory of the bombardment of His presence in His creation and realign our thoughts to a mindset of unceasing prayer…for we can commune with Him everywhere. 

Despite the change in course, the mosquito bites, blisters, and dirt that stubbornly refuses to come off after multiple showers, I praise God for the blessing it was to have 4 days in the back country with friends I love dearly and for the opportunity to re-learn the beauty of simplicity and God’s omnipresence.   Can’t wait for next year.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Art in the Streets - Los Angeles

This past sunny summer Sunday was spent at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles checking out the Art in the Streets Exhibit. A word to the first-time-visitors of the Museum of Contemporary Art: there are three locations for this museum. When planning our outing to the exhibit of your choice, be certain that you Google-mapped the correct location. They are all in Los Angeles, but, as you already know or will soon find out the hard way, driving anywhere in L.A. can feel like driving to another city (state? country?) with the traffic as unpredictable as it tends to be.

The Art in the Streets exhibition is currently at the Geffen Contemporary location, in the heart of Little Tokyo. Find the closest parking lot [we found one with a flat rate of $6.50 within 100 yards of the MOCA entrance], and follow the crowds to the street art candy land. The Geffen Contemporary, architecturally, is essentially a large warehouse. I have been here before for a Murakami exhibit, and the space never disappoints, this time being no exception.

The exhibit begins before you enter the MOCA with murals on walls of the surrounding buildings, a spray painted bus, and even a tagged steamroller truck [Yogi bear met a most cruel demise...picnic basket for one now BooBoo].

I am a great fan of street art, I love discovering it where ever I go, in side streets, in little nooks and corners that many people don't look down. Going into this exhibit was like being a kid in a candy story, sensory overload from the moment I walked through the door and instant enthusiasm to take in all that I could. The scale of the show alone is overwhelming as you take a sweeping panoramic visual digestion of all that lay before you in the hours you have to peruse the exhibit. Color screaming from every corner and you wonder how they put all this together.

As much as I like seeing street art I, quite ashamedly, know very little about individual street artists. Fortunately for me, two of my friends that I explored the MOCA with that day happen to know a great deal about many of the featured artists. So, I stuck close to them as much as possible to hear the factoids and back story of the various artists, and was amused to notice that several strangers lingered near by, obviously listening to the same unofficial tour guides that I was.

The Art in the Streets exhibit had the typical throw ups on walls, but also more unconventional pieces including constructed ally ways made of found objects, enormous stencils used to great shadows on a tent, videos, black-lighted rooms with music, tagged cars, model trains, and a wall made of "lost pet" flyers. What was most valuable, to me, about this exhibit is that it allowed street artists to be featured as what they are: artists. I will readily admit that until about 7 years ago I had thought graffiti to be defilement of public property, vandalism. But, once learning about how it is made, hearing the back story of individual artists, and seeing more of it in general in various cities I became fascinated with it and realized it to be a medium of creative expression.

There is so much to see at this exhibit, that I would recommend going more than once if you can, especially if you live or work in the Los Angeles area. After three hours of surveying the exhibit, we decided to grab some dinner before heading home at the popular sausage grill Wurstküche. As I came to discover from my friend who'd been there before, this place usually has a line out the door, but we hit it just right with only a 10-minute wait in line. However, I will go ahead and say now that whatever the wait would be to dine at this location is worth it...don't let yourself be scared off. The menu is pretty strait forward: pick your sausage, select your two free toppings, and choose a beer. As far as sausages go, they cover their bases pretty well: the more familiar bratwurst & Italian sausage, the more gourmet mango jalapeño chicken or sun dried tomato & mozzarella turkey/chicken sausage, the exotic alligator & pork or rattlesnake & rabbit sausage, and even 3 varieties of vegetarian sausages. They also offer double dipped Belgian fries with an option of white truffle oil glaze and a selection of dipping sauces. For drinks you choose among Belgian, German, and North American beers & ales.

After you stand in line to place your order, you grab your number and head down a hallway to the indoor eating area. It has some private tables, but the greater atmosphere is featured at the commonly-shared beer garden tables complete with brown paper taped to the tables allowing for doodling and games of hangman or tic-tac-toe while you wait for your food. When your food arrives, don't forget to choose among the 5 varieties of mustard and then enjoy.

After dinner we spotted a cream puff place called Beard Papa’s, apparently a chain. The most grabbing thing about it is the little old-man-sailor icon. Cream filling selections abound including coffee, earl grey tea, pumpkin, chocolate, and the original vanilla. The ultra-sweet cream is balanced well by the plain but moist pastry that embraces it. Beard Papa's claim their cream puffs to be “the best in the world,” so are at least worth a try to say you’ve “had the best.”

A wonderful day spent with friends drinking in the creative endeavors of notable street artists. This exhibit truly should not be missed. Whether you see the exhibit or not, you should check out the list of artists and Google their work so on our next day trip or vacation you can be on the watch for their works in their natural environment: the streets.