Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts dies at 80

From Bill Mohr’s Koan Kinship blog:

The Rolling Stones were founded almost sixty years ago by Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, and Ian Stewart. Stewart was soon relegated to being their road manager and an occasional sessions musician. The news is breaking that Charlie Watts died in a London hospital earlier today. The original band now has only Richards and Jagger as the remaining members of the band.

Watts’s original musical interest was jazz, and in the 1990s he used the money he made from drumming with the Rolling Stones to form a jazz orchestra. His interest in jazz was long known: his drawings on the back of the album cover of Between the Buttons were the first clue to the breadth of his musical preferences.

Watts’s choices in percussion made significant contributions to the distinctive sound of his bandmates. One only has to listen to the inexhaustible resonance of “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” to hear how Watts’s brief but propulsive solo interlude makes all the difference in how that “Hey Hey Hey” chorus churns the song headlong into the next full verse. Rae Armantrout has written about how much of an impact that song had on her as a young person living in San Diego in the summer of 1965, and I can vouch that it had an equal impact on me in Imperial Beach, when that tiny, working-class city had yet to be cut in half by an annexation to San Diego.

In a recent interview, Watts talked about his refusal to get a “smart” phone and how his steadfast allegiance to a flip phone irritated Jagger because the band’s lead singer and songwriting collaborator wasn’t able to send Watts documents and drawings for immediate approval. For someone still using a flip phone at that point, I felt as if my obstinacy had received a major social endorsement. Thank you, Charlie, for one last gift!

The Stones are set to go on tour, but I suspect that it will be a more melancholy event than even the remaining members of the band anticipate.

R.I.P. Charlie Watts (1941-2021)


Posted on August 24, 2021
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Letter From LA: May-June

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


Posted on July 17, 2021
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Letter From LA: April

April is the first month of spring (in the Northern Hemisphere; down under it’s autumn). Generally it’s tax time and the annual return of the Lyrids meteor showers. It’s also Financial Literacy Month, National Poetry Writing Month, National Grilled Cheese Month and Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month. This year, April began with the birth of my third grandchild, Foster, a seven-and-a-half-pound boy, who joins Dahlia (six years old) and Sawyer (three). Foster had a little bit of jaundice (common, I’ve been told) but is home now and is thriving. They live with mommie Elizabeth (our daughter) and daddy Alex in the city of Lake Isabella (population 3,466, in the southern Sierra Nevada, in Kern County, California, just adjacent to the Lake Isabella reservoir, which was created in 1953 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers). The area is a destination for hikers, boaters, water skiers, fishermen, birders, hunters, wind surfers, kayakers, and even white water rafters, since the dam sits at the foot of the wild North and South Forks of the Kern River; it’s also home to these three beautiful kids.

Letter From LA April



 

April was a busy month for me; several websites that I run (and host for friends) got hit by nefarious malware, which wreaked havoc with the blogs by embedding viruses on some pages, and by altering search engine results (Google would redirect visitors to foreign websites selling mail order Cialis and Viagra; for my technical friends, this is called “Spammy SEO Keywords”). One site, LAPotholes.com, was hit so hard that I couldn’t even log in to my administration dashboard to try to sort things out. I finally bought a suite of powerful anti-malware programs that allowed me — after considerable work — to sort things out. This took up a lot of my time, which is why it’s been a month since my last Letter.

 


 

Although the curse of COVID-19 still lingers around the world, Los Angeles — like much of California — has opened up. That means that bars, restaurants, massage parlors, amusement parks and gyms are open again, and the streets are filling up with people and cars. In Hollywood, that means that tourists, partygoers, bar-hoppers, exhibitionists, the homeless and the crazies have taken over the sidewalks and intersections. Several years ago the city decided to turn the intersection of Hollywood and Highland (where the Dolby Theatre and the Acadamey Awards normally exist) and the intersection of Hollywood and Vine (near the legit Pantages Theatre) into scramble crosswalks — allowing pedestrians to cross in any direction (Westwood, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills have had such intersections for years). This also means that there are no right turns on a red light, putting an end to one of the hallmarks of Western Civilization. If you happen to get stuck at one of those red lights and have to wait for pedestrians to cross in five directions, you might as well bring a book or listen to a symphony on your radio … or people-watch during the interminable wait for a green light. On one recent Saturday evening, all four corners of the Hollywood-Highland intersection was alive with the flora and fauna of Hollywood night life. On the Dolby theatre side of the street, a tall, wiry young man had set up a boom box and was wildly free-form dancing to loud hip-hop music (actually, he had long-dominated this corner for almost a year, dancing his head off even during deserted weekends). Not to be outdone, across the street in the shadow of the Hollywood First National Bank building (built in 1927 and vacant since December 2011) a group of eight or nine young men had set up a table loaded down with speakers and amplifiers; they were playing hip-hop and trap beats and dancing the Afl and the Roller Skate. On the SouthEast corner of the intersection a bearded young man’s sign asked us to repent and, across the street on the Southwest side, another man was selling tickets for one of Hollywood’s many bus tours (there’s more than a dozen companies offering bus tours of Hollywood). Later this year, as more and more tourists arrive, the free-form dancer and the hip-hoppers will be replaced by hordes of comic book superheroes (Iron Man, Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Captain America) jostling for tips from camera-wielding tourists; more sophisticated teams of break dancers and street performers will show up angling for tips. Where are the Hare Krishnas when we need them?

Letter from LA April


 


 

I read the news today, oh boy:

Several news outlets in LA have reported that violent crimes were up in April, but property crime was down. Killings began to surge in Los Angeles after the onset of the pandemic — similar trends were reported in other cities across the country. In 2020, Los Angeles recorded 347 homicides, a 36% jump over 2019, and the first time in more than a decade that the annual figure had surpassed 300. (Last year, murders in Los Angeles County spiked nearly 200%). In Los Angeles City proper, according to police chief Michel Moore, the number of people shot in 2021 so far has increased 73% compared to this time last year: 445 compared to 257. Additionally, the city has experienced a 20% increase in motor vehicle thefts this year. Moore added that property crime has decreased by 2,725 incidents compared to this time last year, with decreases in residential and commercial burglaries, theft from vehicles and personal thefts. As a reference point, murders across the United States rose an estimated 25% in 2020, according to preliminary data from the FBI, the largest increase since modern crime statistics have been compiled. Is there a connection between staying at home during a pandemic and killings? One factor: boredom and social displacement, unemployment and a bad economy can make people more desperate and cause them to turn on each other. So, with the pandemic slowing down, and the streets again flooding with people, we can only look forward to more property crime and fewer bodily injuries.

 


 

My apartment is right across the street from the Gardner Street Elementary School in west Hollywood (not West Hollywood) and now that the schools in LA have reopened, I again get to hear the sounds of children playing, laughing, screaming. One of the greatest soundscapes in the world.

Til next time,

Harley


Posted on May 16, 2021
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Letter From LA: 04-01-2021

Bob Dylan turns 80 on May 14, 2021, and in honor of this anniversary, I’ve decided to listen to every Dylan album I can get my hands on (I have about 25 on CD and vinyl; the rest I’ll listen to via Amazon Music Unlimited); watch every documentary and feature I can get access to (“Don’t Look Back,” “I’m Not There,” “No Direction Home,” “Rolling Thunder Revue”), and read — or re-read — as much as I can (“POSITIVELY 4th Street,” “Chronicles, Volume One,” “Another Side of Bob Dylan: A Personal History on the Road and off the Tracks,” “Why Dylan Matters”). Dylan is the true king of rock and pop (roll over Elvis, tell Michael the news) both in his music, his influence on pop culture … and his staying power. What set me off was reading Nat Hentoff’s New Yorker article “The Crackin’, Shakin’, Breakin’ Sounds” from Oct. 24, 1964 (anthologized in “The 60s: The Story of a Decade”) in which he followed Dylan as he recorded his fourth album. Dylan is a true American mythmaker, and it really comes out in this article — you just don’t know what’s true and what’s made up. By the way, other 80th birthdays this year: Ringo Starr, Tom Jones, Al Pacino, Neil Diamond, Dionne Warwick, Nancy Sinatra, Martin Sheen, Raquel Welch, Nick Nolte, James Brolin, Faye Dunaway, Joan Baez, Herbie Hancock, Sam Waterston, and Bill Medley.

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I read the news today, oh boy:

CBSN and the Los Angeles Times summed up recently what many scientists have been talking about for months: The long-term effects of COVID-19 that some people experience. These include: fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, joint pain, chest pain, muscle pain, headache, intermittent fever, fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations), rashes, hair loss, smell and taste problems, sleep issues. On the psychological front, many people who have recovered from COVID-19 have reported feeling not like themselves: experiencing short-term memory loss, difficulty with thinking, confusion, an inability to concentrate, and just feeling differently (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”). That sounds like some Republicans I know.

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I usually don’t take afternoon naps, but for some reason today, while watching my latest go-to-streaming-series-so-as-not-to-think, the French “Profilage” (translated as “Profiling” but called “The Paris Murders” on Amazon Prime), I dozed off on the living room couch. I dreamt about several of my dead friends: Jim, Mark and Rusty.

The summer after we graduated from high school, Jim and I would cruise around town looking to meet girls. We still dated girls from high school — in fact, once we double-dated with two of the most beautiful girls from our graduating class but, as if in a JD Salinger story — we got too drunk and threw up. But the prospects of “more mature” women tantalized us, and we drove wherever rumors hinted at wayward women and easy girls. We drove as far as Lake Piru in the hopes of scoring. But we always came home alone.

I met Mark and Rusty at Santa Monica City College (now just Santa Monica College) after I flunked out of UCLA. Mark was six-feet-tall, red-headed with freckles, and walked around wearing an Abe Lincoln stovepipe hat; he was an impressive sight to see. Mark was a true 1960s outlier: he was a political humanist and about as anti-authoritarian as anyone I knew in that era, but was also intellectually inquisitive and emotionally warm. Days at SMCC we organized a Students for a Democratic Society chapter; nights we got stoned and would drive to the Kaleidoscope (which eventually became the Aquarius Theatre and then the home to Nickelodeon) in Hollywood, where we saw Iron Butterfly, Canned Heat, The Fugs, Moby Grape and Rhinoceros among other archetypal 1960s acts. We tried to change the world and succeeded.


I met Rusty while at SMCC; he kind of hung around with some of the SDS students but politics was not his forte; he was immersed in the conspiracies surrounding the JFK assassination. Rusty hailed from Texas and had met and befriended Penn Jones Jr., editor of the Midlothian (Texas) Mirror and author of one of the original Kennedy conspiracy bibles, “Forgive My Grief.” His family had money — his dad was an executive with Ronson Corp. and they had a comfortable home on a tree-lined street north of Montana Avenue in Santa Monica — but I remember Rusty as the prototype 1960s hippie — pot, sex, psychedelics. Rusty taught me the joys of sitting in the front seat of a car on a sun-bright street on a warm summer day, swigging RC Cola and chain-smoking cigarettes. There’s really nothing quite like that high. Rusty later traveled across the US in the 1970s with a slide show on the JFK assassination and became quite a celebrity on college campuses. RC Cola is not that easy to find in LA, but when I do, I’m tempted to buy a bottle in honor of Rusty.

Try as I might, I just couldn’t remember any of the particulars of my dream. But it sure was good to see my old friends again.

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I read the news today, oh boy, part 2:

Georgia GOP Gov. Brian Kemp. and the Republican-led Georgia state legislature pushed through a strict new voting rights law last week that makes it tougher to cast votes — as a response to a surge in Democratic votes and the election of two Democratic senators last November and January. The voting system in Georgia was AOK when Trump was elected in 2016 — why change it now? To make it harder for people of color in under-served areas, who vote Democratic, to use absentee or mail-in ballots to cast their votes. The law makes it harder to use mail-in ballots, limits the number of ballot drop box locations, and makes it a crime to offer food or water to voters waiting in lines.

Several corporations based in Atlanta — including Delta, Porsche, Home Depot and Coca-Cola,  some that have supported Kemp and Republicans in the past — have criticized Georgia’s new law … but are keeping quiet on whether they will continue making donations to Republicans who support the law. Additionally, Major League Baseball is considering moving this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta to a different location.

Other states also have restrictive voting legislation in the pipeline, including Arizona, Florida and Texas; Iowa has already passed one. Their motto: “Welcome back Jim Crow.”


Posted on April 3, 2021
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Letter From LA: 03-18-2021

We had a glorious short burst of rain Tuesday night, March 9, which left the city sparkling with puffy white clouds, clean air and baby-blue skies. It was a gorgeous, brisk winter day, the kind of weather that most likely drew thousands and thousands of emigrants to Southern California decades ago (along, of course, with the possibility of jobs and decent housing). Unfortunately, Travis Bickle’s wish did not come true: “Someday a real rain will come and wash all [the] scum off the streets.”

Post Rain in Los Angeles

The next day was the 10th anniversary of the aborted “Arab Spring” in Syria, which was brutally put down by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Despite calls for US intervention in what turned out to be one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes of the 21st century, President Obama didn’t want to commit this country to another Middle Eastern war. According to the BBC, Obama’s advisors “argued that a more limited engagement could have effectively tilted the balance of power against President Bashar al-Assad. Among the options: arming the rebels and setting up a safe zone from where they could operate early in the conflict, or military strikes on the Syrian air force to push Assad to the negotiating table.” Instead, the administration provided humanitarian and some covert military aid, while attempting political negotiations aimed at Assad’s departure. It didn’t work. Russia entered the war in 2015, turning the tide against the rebels. The BBC again: “Its anti-aircraft weapons closed the door on even the remote chance of a US intervention. Its air force solidified Assad’s grip on Syria’s cities, culminating in the military victory over Aleppo and giving Moscow new leverage in the Middle East while sidelining the US.” And we all know the horrible results.

Add this to your corporate greed files: The Los Angeles city council had decided that grocery store workers in the city were due hazardous duty pay (being that they were on the frontlines, facing COVID-19 every minute of the day), so they finalized a temporary $5 per hour hazard “hero pay” (for 120 days) for grocery workers. Shortly thereafter supermarket giant Krogers announced plans to shut down three grocery stores. The chain — which operates Ralphs and Food 4 Less in Southern California — blamed the closures on the city’s new law. Grocery store workers make about $15 per hour — about $26,000 a year — which, for a family of four, falls just short of US poverty levels. A recent Brookings Institution report found that Kroger’s profits increased by 90% in 2020, thanks to the pandemic as consumers avoided eating out and bought more food to prepare at home. Thank you, Ralphs.

As Los Angeles opens its doors again to restaurants, movie theaters, theme parks and non-essential retail stores, life may return to (semi)normal — meaning traffic and congestion again on the city’s streets. Empty boulevards and freeways were a hallmark of COVID-19 for almost a year — actually making it a pleasure to drive around (except for the lousy third-world, pot-holed roads, but that’s another story) — but in the last few weeks traffic has worsened and is now approaching pre-pandemic levels: i.e., meaning it takes an hour to drive a mile that should take five minutes. Ah, life in the big city.

Want to add insult to injury? The annoying tourist buses are back!!

Hollywood Tour Bus


Posted on March 18, 2021
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