Letter From LA: May-June

Posted on July 17, 2021
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Los Angeles (and, for that matter, all of California) opened wide June 15 and it was, in some quarters, as if COVID-19 never existed. Sporting events, concerts and raves are back on schedule; bars and restaurants were turning away customers — not because they were enforcing a “no-mask no entry” rule but because they were swamped with clientele. If you ever wanted a low-paying restaurant or retail service job, now is the time — all sorts of establishments lost their help over a year ago and were now scrambling to hire new employees.

Just as the tourists and Los Angelinos have returned to the once-empty streets, so too have the insane drivers. LA drivers have always been a mapcap lot — with lowriders, gigantic Humvees, Cadillac Escalades and party buses jostling each other for space on the streets of Hollywood, West LA and Santa Monica. Not to mention the blaring stereos and subwoofers shattering upper decibel levels. But now there’s a new craziness, adapted from the just-passed COVID era. It seemed that the empty streets from March 2000 to March 2021 fostered a daredevil impulse in LA drivers, who took advantage of empty streets and synchronized traffic lights to drive amazingly fast down deserted thoroughfares. Now, with the streets filling with cars again, these drivers have yet to lower their velocity, zigging and zagging in and out of traffic to keep their momentum going. Abrupt U-turns, right turns from center lanes, tailgating, running red lights, fast acceleration with just as fast sudden stops. Its enough to make me want to keep my high-beams on all the time (another new, annoying LA trait). But, fear not. We may yet encounter empty streets again. The Delta COVID variant has reached us and LA County health officials recommend wearing masks indoors again, whether or not you have been vaccinated. Since June 15, cases and hospitalizations have alarmingly been on the rise. Still, 99 percent of those cases were people who were not vaccinated. Almost 70 percent of the population has been vaccinated but 30 percent are still out there, possibly spreading the disease. A British study last month found the Pfizer vaccine is 88 percent effective against the variant after two doses, meaning that even those vaccinated can be at risk, though slightly. Stay safe.

 


 

One of he benefits of the COVID lockdown was an uptick in pizza sales. Everybody loves pizza  (Well, not everybody. My father hated pizza — I don’t exactly know why — I think it was because he disliked mixing foods together — no peas in his mashed potatoes, no nuts in his cakes — and a pizza is, basically, mixing meat and/or vegetables with cheese and tomato sauce and bread — not for my Dad, I guess. He preferred his meats separate — he had a Saturday night tradition of deli platters with salami, corned beef and pastrami — all separate, of course) and COVID has been good to pizza lovers. Not only did take-out pizza sales surge — according to Restaurant Dive, major pizza chains saw significant sales gains during the pandemic — but frozen pizza sales have jumped: In March, 2020, Americans bought $275 million worth of frozen pizzas, which was a 92% increase over the same period a year earlier, according to data analytics firm IRI. And according to Ad Age, frozen pizza has been a “go-to item” during COVID. Dollar sales across the category jumped 18.1% to $5.94 billion in the 52 weeks ended Oct. 4 (overall, frozen food sales gained 17.4% last year).

Accordingly, the ranks of frozen pizzas at supermarkets swelled. Before COVID you could count on two hands the number of different pizza brands; now there are literary dozens of pizza manufacturers offering vegetarian, vegan, artisan, authentic, gourmet and upscale frozen pizzas. You can add a host of such pizzas to the old-standby list of supermarket pizzas by Totinos (the first frozen pizza company, created by Rose and Jim Totino in 1962 and sold to Pillsbury Company in 1975 for $22 million), DiGiorno, Celeste, Tony’s, Red Baron, California Pizza Kitchen, Newman’s Own, Tombstone, Screamin’ Sicilian  and Freschetta. There include Amy’s Margherita Pizza, Caulipower Veggie Pizza, Real Good Foods Cauliflower Crust Margherita Pizza, Alex’s Awesome Sourdough Pizza, OH Yes! Personal Pizza, Sweet Earth Veggie Lover’s Pizza, Cali’flour Foods, Cappello’s Grain-Free Almond Flour Cheese Pizza, Daily Harvest Flatbread, Banza Plain Crust Pizza, Alpha Foods Pizza, Chloe Delectably Vegan Cheese Pizza,  American Flatbread Classic, Connie’s and CLO-CLO Vegan Foods. Some of these brands have been around for awhile but are now just making it to our local frozen pizza shelves. The latest pizza fad — vegan and plant-based pizzas — has certainly accelerated thanks to COVID. Sure beats the day when the only pizza in town was available at the Piece o’ Pizza restaurant on Pico Blvd. near Veteran Avenue. Bon appetit!

 


 

I spent a great deal of time in May and June digitizing two issues of InterMedia Magazine to post at my website, InterMediaMagazine.com. Many of you might not know it, but in the late 1970s I published and edited InterMedia, an alternative art magazine that highlighted photography, conceptual art, mail art and literature. The first three issues were in a magazine format; the fourth was a tabloid newspaper of fiction and poetry; the fifth (called Entropy) a compendium of artist-designed posters; the sixth a box containing unbound artist-designed postcards, broadsides, folders, and posters; and the seventh, and last issue, a newsprint magazine of some 100 pages containing art, poetry and fiction, many of an experimental nature. InterMedia got its genesis while I was affiliated with the Century City Educational Arts Project in West Los Angeles in the early 70s, a performance space that included a theatre company, Jazz jams, underground films and poetry readings. It was there that I met Bill Mohr, who, through the arts project, founded Momentum Press. Bill and Momentum published Momentum Magazine on a regular basis as well as publishing works of some of the best poets then living in Southern California; his two anthologies, “The Streets Inside: Ten Los Angeles Poets” and “Poetry Loves Poetry” pretty much encapsulated the extant poetry scene in Los Angeles in the 1960s through the 1970s; Bill also authored “Holdouts: The Los Angeles Poetry Renaissance 1948-1992,” a critical history of the often ignored or misunderstood post-war L.A. poetry scene. Bill was an invaluable resource when putting together InterMedia. Through InterMedia I linked up with an international group of mail and performance artists, many of whom lived in San Francisco. I eventually moved to SF to take part in the burgeoning conceptual art scene there, and occasionally joined in with the Bay Area Dadaists; one of the members was Anna Banana, a Canadian ex-pat who published “Banana Rag” and “Vile” magazine (a combination of art, poetry, fiction, letters, photos and manipulated advertisements), and was active on the international mail art scene. She was also responsible for making me one of the New Dada Brothers (that’s me on the post card with Bill Gaglione, Anna’s SF boyfriend).

After returning to Canada in 1981, she pioneered the artistamp, a postage-stamp-sized medium of artists’ works. You can visit InterMediaMagazine.com, which documents my years in the art world as well as presenting Issue #5 and Issue #7 of InterMedia. There’s links there for Bill and Anna. Bill, by the way, is a tenured professor in the Department of English at California State University, Long Beach, and still writes and publishes poetry. Anna just recently retired after some 50 years in the art world and is currently putting together her magnum opus, the Encyclopedia Bananica. I admire them both.

 


 

About three years ago — pre-Pandemic — I was at a gas station in Beverly Hills and spotted what I thought was so antithetical to automobile reality that I couldn’t believe my eyes — a Lamborghini S.U.V. I rubbed my eyes and opened them again and the Lamborghini was still there — pasty white and shiny, sucking gasoline like the mere common brethren surrounding it (ever see Ferraris or Lamborghinis at gas stations? No, these cars lead pampered lives and, one can surmise, fuel up at special gas depots only the rich have access to). Lamborghinis are super expensive, elite sports cars and an S.U.V. version just shouldn’t exits. I’ve never seen one since — until last week, driving down Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. What I had thought was an anomaly or a dream was s reality. What I was seeing was the Italian sports car maker’s entry into the super-lucrative S.U.V. market, where profit margins are double that of modest sedans and luxury cars. The Lamborghini Urus (the name comes from the ancestor of modern domestic cattle, Urus) was unveiled in December 2017 and has a starting sticker price of $218,000. According to ChannelNewsAsia, “From a purist’s point of view, there’s no reason for the Lamborghini Urus to exist. A Lamborghini that’s over 1.3m tall is an affront at best and an abomination at worst. Then again, there will be some from the fringes of that puritan segment who will argue that any Lamborghini with a door count greater than two is blasphemy.” But purists be damned: the Urus now accounts for over 60 percent of the company’s sales volume. Which is great news for Volkswagen, which currently holds a majority share in Audi, Scania and Porsche, and also wholly owns Skoda Auto, Lamborghini, and Ducati. Get the picture? Porsche started the high-end sports car-marquee S.U.V. market in 2002 with its Cayenne which, along with its baby brother, the Macan, has boosted the company’s bottom line. For Lamborghini, profits from the Urus will, according to CEO Stephan Winkelmann, be ploughed back into their iconic two-seaters, currently consisting of the Aventador and the Huracán. But wait, there’s more — hold onto to your seat belts. According to Car & Driver magazine, “We never thought we’d see the day where a Ferrari S.U.V. became a reality, but in the wake of successful high-dollar, high-performance sport-utes, the stage is set for the 2022 Ferrari Purosangue” with prices that could start as high as $350,000. The times they are a-changin.

Til next time,

Harley

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