Theatre Thursday: How to start an argument in L.A.

Here are eight surefire ways to start an instant argument among your L.A. friends, family, and co-workers.

I know the subject is Theatre Thursday, but this topic is appropriate here because every one of these things can lead to a lot of drama.

Now, L.A. is generally a pretty laid-back place, except during the occasional riots — although the legitimate protestors are never the rioters here, and vice versa.

But there are some things you can say or do in the City of Angeles that will immediately start disagreements. Here are some of them.

  1. Declare that (Establishment X) has the best (Food Y) in the city

You can fill in that Y however you want because that part doesn’t matter. It can be donuts, pizza, burger, chili, hot dogs, Chinese, Thai, Korean BBQ, comfort food, whatever. You can even extend it to cover bars, bakeries, food trucks, or anywhere else that people can stuff their faces.

No matter what you pick, there are strong partisans on all sides. You might get agreement with a statement like “Randy’s has the best donuts,” but you’re just as likely to get a range from, “They used to be good until the original owners sold it” to “They taste like stale oil and barf.”

And, of course, you’ll get plenty of people with their own preferences. This includes the very wrong, who insist that it’s either Krispy Kreme or Voodoo Doughnut (hint: It’s neither. The former are bland and mass-produced; the latter are way over-done and aimed squarely at foodie hipsters.), as well as those who have a very specific and independent hole-in-the-wall that they’re fond of.

Personally, I tend toward the latter, although not necessarily a specific place. Look for a tiny storefront donut place run by a Vietnamese or Cambodian family, and boom. Best donuts in the city, guaranteed.

When I was still commuting to work, I found one in North Hills called Uncle Joe’s Donuts that was amazing and cheap. Caveat: I never had any non-donut items from their menu, so I can’t speak to those, but in the morning, the donuts are fresh, hot, and amazing.

The most polarizing places in L.A. seem to be In-n-Out Burger, Pink’s Hot Dogs, and anything with “Gastro” in its name.

  1. Pronounce the city of “Los Feliz” in proper Spanish

Now, in some ways this is a shibboleth, meaning a word or phrase that only locals can say properly. A famous one in L.A. is “Cahuenga,” which most tourists either badly mangle or just give up and ask before they ever try to say it, with the most common mispronunciation being “Cahoo-enega.”

The proper way, at least to Angelenos, as “kuh-WANG-uh,” which isn’t how it would be pronounced in Spanish except that it’s just the Spanish version of the native Tongva name Kawengna, which means “place of the mountain.” Perfectly appropriate, since it denotes the mountain pass connecting the San Fernando Valley to Hollywood.

If you’re feeling lucky and don’t believe in curses, you can also look for the famous lost treasure of Diego Moreno up there.

Now there’s an Angelino pronunciation for “Los Feliz,” but also the Spanish one, and this has strong proponents on both sides. Generally, English speakers will say it as “Loze FEE-lis,” while Spanish speakers will say “Lows feh-LEASE.”

It can vary beyond this, though, and quite often native Angelenos who grew up bilingual will say it based on whichever language they’re speaking at the moment, or just default to the gabacho version.

Now, while places or streets like Sepulveda or Ventura or Alhambra or Alameda tend to get a pass on being mangled, rendered “incorrectly” as “Se-POLE-vay-duh,” “Vin-TYURE-uh,” “All-HAM-bra,” or “A-la-MEE-da,” Los Feliz is just different.

That’s probably because its origin is so much a part of city history. The area was named for a rancher named José Vicente Feliz, who was granted land called El Rancho de Los Feliz in the early 1800s. Eventually, after the land went to the city of Los Angeles, it kept the “Los Feliz” name.

However, a lot of people prefer the Spanish pronunciation simply because it refers to a family and not a word. Yes, it’s amazing how many people just think that the name means “the happy,” which it almost would in Spanish because “feliz” does mean happy. But… “feliz” is singular and “los” denotes plural.

So, if you’re referring to a generic group of happy people, then “los felices” is correct — or “las felices” if they’re all women. On the other hand, when you’re referring to an entire family named Feliz, then “Los Feliz” it is. This is the equivalent of Mr. Jones and his brood in English being known as “The Joneses.” We pluralize the name. Spanish doesn’t.

So, really, for those of us who insist on the Spanish pronunciation, it’s more out of respect for the family who gave their name to the place than anything else. Still — nothing funnier than being contradicted on this by someone who only speaks English.

  1. Mispronounce “Los Angeles” in the worst possible way

Oddly enough, this is one that even L.A. native Spanish speakers pronounce in the local way. it’s “Laws ANN-juh-luhs,” with a very short “s” sound at the end. At least it’s accented exactly the way it would be in Spanish.

But all the local desert gods help you if you come here and end it with a long E and drawn-out Z sound, giving something like “Lows anjuh-LEEZ.” You will be corrected and laughed out of the room if you pull this one.

Primarily, I find this to be a prominent sin of British tourists more than any other group, and it makes me want to ask them of they’ve ever been to “Lone-done.” Oddly enough, it used to be a lot more common in American English, apparently, and if you listen to old newscasts or movie news reels from the 30s through 50s, you’ll hear it a lot.

This may have been due to the use of the so-called “Mid-Atlantic” accent very common in this era, which was a blend of British Received Pronunciation and upper-class east coast American, and it mostly existed for two reasons: First, because early recording equipment sucked, and this over-emphasis was just easier to capture. Second, because it made it easier for Americans to understand British actors, and vice versa.

Cary Grant, British, and Katharine Hepburn, American, both had the accent, as you can hear in the 1940 film The Philadelphia Story. In fact, they probably epitomize it. In reality, Grant was born Archibald Leach, and grew up with quite the Cockney accent.

  1. Declare out-loud that you’re a Giants Fan

If you’re a diehard baseball fan, Los Angeles is Dodgers Country, period. However, people who moved here from elsewhere will get a pass if they root for the Yankees or the Red Sox — and no one else.

What they should definitely not do is be an open Giants fan, since that team, from San Francisco, is part of the enormous, sometimes joking and sometimes serious, rivalry between the two cities.

San Francisco is the much older city that became the hub of west coast life in the late 19th and early 20th century until the film industry came to Southern California and a little earthquake in 1906 wrecked the City by the Bay for long enough that it lost its prominence, rebuilding in the same time period that development in L.A. was exploding.

Wearing their gear in the wrong place can be dangerous. This one can actually start fights, or at least assaults, and it once did during a very unfortunate incident in the parking lot at Dodger Stadium on opening day just over a decade ago, in 2011.

This is the worst place on Earth to show your Giants pride.

San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow and several friends were heading to the car wearing Giants gear when they were viciously attacked. Stow wound up in a coma and it wasn’t sure he was going to survive. Fortunately, he recovered, and his experience turned into a positive, as he now tours schools teaching kids anti-bullying.

  1. Suggest the best route from Point A to Point B during rush hour

 You’ve no doubt seen the long-running SNL bit The Californians and thought, “Oh, that’s funny, but it’s not real.”

I can assure you that the discussions in this bit are 100% a documentary, and for every shortcut or best route one person suggests, someone else will have a better trick. And never, ever insist that the freeway is actually the best route no matter what (even when it is) because you will get slammed with five hundred alternate routes on side streets.

Really experienced drivers do know, though — just take the damn freeway or take public transit. The only reason surface streets seem better is because there’s more to look at, but while they create the illusion of making good time for short stretches, you’ll eat those time savings up stropped at every ill-timed red-light in the city.

Meanwhile, on the freeway, you may be moving slowly but, for the most part, it’s also steadily.

  1. Talk-up the “wrong part” of town in the wrong part of town

Largely because of the geography and traffic of Los Angeles, we may be one big city and one much bigger county, but the city and county themselves are sliced up into much smaller bits that are often separated by mountains, canyons, crappy urban planning, and more. The city also has plenty of carve-outs for smaller cities within it, like Malibu, Santa Monica, Culver City, West Hollywood, Burbank, and so on.

It’s really hard to make a nutshell version of this, but I’ll try. L.A. is divided up by borders both natural and manmade. The natural ones are our mountains, canyons, and coastline. The manmade ones are neighborhoods, roads, freeways, and mass transit.

This naturally created a few divisions — the Valley in the north; the Westside, which hugs the coast from the northern end of the county all the way down to south of LAX; Mid-City north, which includes some of the most affluent areas; Mid-City south, which includes a lot of the poorest communities; Hollywood, which is the tourist magnet slapped in the center and mostly avoided by locals; East Hollywood, which is the corridor leading to downtown (or DTLA) via Los Feliz and Silver Lake, home to many ethnic neighborhoods; DTLA, a strangely evolving clusterfucked mess that is both gentrified as hell and homeless central; and then, to the east and south of DTLA respectively, East L.A., still largely Hispanic and not gentrified; and South Central L.A., still largely Black and not gentrified.

The 405 Freeway creates one of the major divisions of the Valley as well as separates the Westside from everything else, while the Santa Monica Mountains keep the Valley from falling into L.A. and environs.

Connectors from the Valley to Mid-City include the Canyons — Beverly Glen, Coldwater Canyon, and Laurel Canyon — and the route from the Valley into Hollywood is through the Cahuenga pass or down the 101, although for the latter, the Metro is also perfectly acceptable. The Cahuenga pass is the last division in the Valley that separates the Mid-Valley from the East Valley. The 5 divides the City of Burbank from everything else.

On the other side of the hill, the 10 is pretty much the dividing line between “rich and white” and poor and black,” and yes, it was damn well planned that way as well way back in the day.

But the point is this: Go to Santa Monica and rave about the Valley (or vice versa), tell someone in Burbank that Culver City has much better nightlife, try to convince someone in Woodland Hills to take the Metro G and B line to DTLA with you, try to convince a designer on Robertson or Melrose that you’ve seen much better and cheaper stuff in the fashion district, and on and on.

You won’t be able to do it.

It’s a stupid and silly divisional argument that has been going on for no reason since forever. The point is that every part of this city is interesting and has its advantages and disadvantages. Plus, if you’ve been paying attention and are willing to take proper precautions (get vaxxed, wear a mask, get boosted, and wash your hands a lot) our current Metro system can get you to a lot more places more easily and cheaply than you’ve ever suspected.

Hell, it’s now even possible (and has been for a while) to take the train from the Mid-Valley right to Santa Monica. Sure, it takes about as long as the freeway, but you don’t have to look for (or pay for) parking, and you actually get to see a lot of the Mid-City on the way.

Win-win.

  1. Ever try to argue that (Thing X) from (Home State Y) was just better

To be honest, if it were really better, then we probably already have it here. Shit — you can find White Castle sliders in the freezer section of any grocery store, although I hate to tell you this but… overrated!

Likewise, most of your beloved IPA and craft beers are probably also being sold here, too. Chain restaurants? We either have the ones we want or never allowed franchises for or quickly ignored and let shut down the ones we didn’t.

Philly Cheesesteak? Yeah, we got it, and we won’t make adults talk like giant babies and demand “Wit wiz.” Chicago deep dish pizza? You might find it a couple of places here, but I’m sorry to disappoint you. Put this crap in front of most Angelenos and they’ll just look at you and go, “WTF is this, a tomato sauce casserole?”

The best New York style pizza, meanwhile, is at a little place in North Hollywood. And L.A. native pro-tip for tourists: If you come here, you must absolutely eat at Porto’s Bakery and Café three times: Once for breakfast, once for lunch or dinner, and once just for the desserts.

We have probably every conceivable kind of ethnic food and restaurant here and, more importantly, all of the good ones were founded and run by people actually from those countries. Well, the ones who arrived recently.

Yes, American “Chinese” food is just stuff made up by railroad workers from ingredients they happened to have access to, and it bore little resemblance to the real thing, but it’s still really amazing, and it was born here.

I’m also pretty sure that IKEA probably knows what it’s doing with its cafeteria and off-the-shelf Swedish food.

But, yeah… pick a food, give a home state example, and there’s an Angeleno ready to prove you dead wrong.

Even about your Grandmother’s blinis. Especially about your grandmother’s blinis.

  1. Write an article on “How to start an argument in L.A.”

Seriously — every item on this list will meet with either hearty nods of agreement or red-faced indignation, with no middle ground.  The only thing worse than accidentally starting one of these arguments in L.A. is intentionally point out that they happen.

Oh well…

So what are the big argument starters or local disagreements in your home town or city? Tell us in the comments below!

Friday Free-for-All #63: Boring, character, tattoo, vacation

Here’s the next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers or ask your own questions in the comments.

What are some boring games or sports and how can they be livened up?

Clearly, cricket, but I won’t get into that one because all I know about it is that it’s the incredibly slow British attempt at baseball with incomprehensible rules played by the elite. It’s probably just s trolling attempt — a handful of upperclassmen at a few of the top universities got together and decided to create their own sort of early version of Numberwang in which there really aren’t any rules, and the players just make them up along the way.

So I’ll have to settle for the most boring game and sport I know: golf and baseball, respectively. (Golf is definitely not a sport.)

“Golf is a good walk spoiled” is true, although Mark Twain never said it. At this point in time, and especially in desert climates like Southern California, it is also a ridiculous waste of land and resources, particularly water. Imagine the benefit if we could turn all of those country clubs back into parkland and forest, or even convert them into cheap, livable neighborhoods. What a concept.

As for the game itself, what could be more boring than groups of usually four people, all with questionable fashion sense, individually taking turns whacking a tiny ball toward a distant target? I mean, you can’t really see the ball until it’s on the green — and only if you’re standing there — and on longer holes, it can take forever for each player to final knock that ball onto the green.

Plus, everyone has to whisper or golf-clap for some reason. Apparently, golfers can’t handle noise. Can you imagine if the NFL or NBA had their own requirements that the crowds of fans just had to shut up?

Anyway, here’s my suggestion for livening golf up. After the last player in a group has taken their first shot and they get into the cart to find the ball that went the least distance, it’s time to unleash the wild animals from the pens hidden among the trees along the fairway — bears, or buffalo, or the occasional tiger of the four-legged variety. The challenge is for a player to get to their ball and take the next shot before the animals get to them.

They already do this in Florida, by the way, except with alligators.

Anyway, make the U.S. Open look more like The Hunger Games, and it might justify the ridiculous amounts of money players make, as well as the incredible waste of land and water.

As for baseball, America’s most boring pastime — since they never did create the American Paint-Drying League — during each half-inning, let the pitcher slip in a surprise for one pitch out of every six — ninja throwing star, “exploding” chalk ball, Christmas ornament, whatever. The only requirement is that it can be thrown over the plate.

Meanwhile, around the infield, set second and third base on robotic platforms that activate at random using proximity sensors so that they can change position in unpredictable ways. Position the shortstop on top of a spring-loaded platform that will launch them harmlessly into the air utterly at random.

Finally, make all of the players wear huge, ridiculously fake “old-timey” baseball player stick-on moustaches. In order to tag a player out, you not only have to have the ball, but have to rip off your moustache and stick it to their ass.

Players keep extras in their caps, and if they run out, then they can no longer tag players out.

During the “Seventh Inning Stretch,” the opposing teams need to line up in alternating order, and then proceed to do the Bunny Hop around the baseline, with the home team pitcher leading the way.

Now that would keep it interesting.

What actor played their character so well that you can’t watch them in any other show or movie without seeing that character?

It’s actually a Doctor Who reference, and the answer is John Simm, who played the Master in various episodes opposite David Tenant and, later, Peter Capaldi. He just brought such energy and panache to the role without overplaying it that he became that rare thing: A totally evil villain that you actually kind of root for.

Michelle Gomez actually matched that energy when she appeared as Missy through a series or so but, then again (SPOILERS, sweetie!) she was playing the same character.

Anyway, Simm brought charisma and a sheer joy to playing the part that made it immensely watchable, but also branded him in the role. To his credit, though, I do have to say that when I later saw him in Life in Mars, it did take a little bit to see past the master and appreciate his work as lead Sam Tyler. (Note: Life in Mars actually debuted in the UK before Simm played the Master, but got to the U.S. later, as is typical with all things BBC.)

What’s the most ridiculous tattoo you’ve ever seen?

It’s not so much a tattoo as it is degree and location. Some people seem to become addicted and lose the ability to stop once they start getting tattooed. Anything from the collar bone up is suspect, possibly short of a subtle motif on one side of the neck.

Hands are equally off-putting, and when we get to portraits of people’s faces, names, or quotations, you really need to reconsider your choices. There’s a reason that tattoo artists make big money in covering up things like ex’s names or faces.

Quantity is also a big “ick” factor. If you can take all of your clothes off and still look like you’re wearing a shirt or pants or both, then that’s just too damn much.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate tattoos, and one or two in the right place and done well can be absolutely beautiful. But, otherwise, tattoos are like beards. Simple and subtle are the way to go. But when you start looking like walking subway graffiti or a hipster wizard, then that is just too, too much.

And the two of them together? Just walk away.

Where did you take family vacations to when you were younger?

Since I grew up in L.A., a lot of those were basically staycations, since they involved Universal Studies (a few miles from home) or Disneyland/Knotts Berry Farm (over an hour from home.)

The former was always a day trip and a lot of fun. At least it was in my young mind, but I can happily report that, as a jaded adult who has worked far too long in entertainment, the place is still enjoyable.

For trips to the Orange County Duo, we would frequently drive down, book a room in the Holiday Inn across from Disneyland, then spend a day or two there, followed by a trip to Knotts, which always included dinner at the fried chicken restaurant.

As for out-of-town vacations, the one big and different one we made was when I was a preschooler and we drove up to San Francisco. I think I was only about four years old, but everything about that trip made an impression and I fell in love with the city, mainly because it was just so different than L.A. You could see the ocean from just about everywhere in it, it had hills and fog, and cable cars.

It was also small — the trip from where I grew up to Universal Studios would have crossed the entire city from the beach on the west, driven across the bay and then across Alameda Island, finally landing in Fruitland in the East Bay.

Even now, when I live much closer to Universal, that would still be a Breakers to Bay drive, or vice versa.

The other big vacations we did were to either grandmother, either my fathers (easy) or my mom’s (difficult.) The ease factors are based on location. My dad’s mom lived about 350 miles north of us in California. My mom’s mom lived about 2,700 miles away from us, in a small town just outside of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Consequently, we would visit Dad’s mom frequently, often several times a year — around Easter, during the summer, and Thanksgiving at the least. As for Mom’s mom I can think of five visits in my lifetime.

The first I don’t remember, because it was not long after I was born and, since I was born prematurely, it was basically the opportunity to show grandma, “Hey, here’s the baby, in case it dies or something.” (Seriously, it was a big concern, since I popped out two months early.)

I know that we flew out, but that’s it. The second time was also by airplane, and it was for my mom’s younger sister’s wedding, in which I was the ring-bearer. This trip I definitely remember, and it was the first time I learned the concept of “cousins,” and that I had this whole family on the other coast and we all really looked like each other.

We still do, btw. Via social media, I’ve reconnected with my first cousins, as well as having gotten to know their kids (my 2nd cousins) and even their kids (my 3rd cousins) — and some of those third gen folk look eerily like me.

The rest of the trips to grandma happened every other year over the course of six years, from the time I was eleven until I was fifteen. Sadly, grandma died two years after the third drive out, although she had visited us in California between trips two and three.

Each place provided something unique and different. Dad’s mom lived on a small ranch/orchard near the Central California coast, and it was full of woods and trees, and they had their own livestock and poultry. It was about 23 miles from the nearest slightly big city, and every visit was like an escape from concrete and noise. There was nothing better than waking up there to the smell of the wood stove and bacon cooking, and the sound of the peacocks caterwauling in the trees.

Meanwhile, Mom’s mom lived in a Victorian-style two-story house (with basement and attic) in a very woodsy, suburban neighborhood. During the night, the fireflies would come and frolic, to our delight.

It was really kind of a river city, separated from the slightly big town of Wilkes-Barre by the Susquehanna River, and the distinctive morning sounds there: the clang of ship’s bells as they went up and down the diver, an occasional mournful foghorn early in the morning, and a distant rumble that I later learned was the sound of dynamite in the still-working coal mines over in Forty-Forty.

It didn’t really sound at all unlike San Francisco in the morning, except for the dynamite.

There really wasn’t a whole lot to do in Kingston but, for some reason, Wilkes-Barre was one of those small towns in which corporate America liked to test everything first, so it had an inordinate amount of cool stuff. It was also home to Planters Peanuts, and trips to the Planters Peanuts store in the mall there were always magical.

To me, though, the real treat in the driving trips to visit Mom’s mom were the drive itself, although I know that my mom did not agree. She was only concerned with getting there as soon as possible. Meanwhile, my dad and I would have much preferred to stop and explore everywhere.

And considering that we made our last trip before I got my license and Mom didn’t drive except in cases of extreme need, it was entirely on Dad to do all of the driving all the way there and back. Ironically, I’ve inherited that superpower, although I really haven’t gotten to use it for a long time.

But to me, a fledgling writer in the backseat with a few of ever-changing America as we made our way east, it was nothing more than a giant canvas to play with. When I wasn’t being inspired by sights and place to come up with imaginary scenarios and characters, I spent plenty of time myself reading in the backseat, particularly science fiction.

I remember one year making it through all three volumes of Isaac Asimov’s anthology The Golden Years of Science Fiction, in which he presents the stories that influenced him as a kid growing up, and that sure did influence me. I think I managed that entirely on day two of the trip, from Rock Springs, Wyoming to Elkhart, Indiana.

Along the way, a lot of places made an impression on me. The arid, one-street nothingness of Rock Springs; the absolute joy of small-town Kearney, Nebraska, that still showed its rail-road route roots; the discovery of Lincoln, Nebraska that seriously made me consider going to university there; how Cleveland actually felt a lot like L.A.; how familiar Chicago felt even though I’d never been there; and so on.

These weren’t all on one trip, of course. We took slightly different routes each time, stopped at slightly different franchised roadside tourist traps (can you say Stuckey’s?) but always stayed at Holiday Inn.

Hey, I guess that something had to be constant.

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