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Life Arts    H4'ed 5/9/14

Tracking down "local color"

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Santa Monica Mall
Santa Monica Mall
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For a traveler, who had flown halfway around the world intending to have a meal at a restaurant in Santa Monica, Ca. that was a favorite of one of the fellow's rock star heroes, it was very frustrating to learn that the place was operating in stealth mode. There was no mention of it in any of the travel guidebooks. In desperation the lad asked the other guests in the kitchen/dining area of a hostel on Lincoln Blvd. in the Venice area of Los Angeles, if any of them knew where Chez Jay's was located. The World's Laziest Journalist, who just happened to be one of those present when the question was asked, had been a longtime resident of that area and not only knew where it was, but he also knew why the owner had insured one peanut for a million dollars.

The place featured shelled peanuts and the floor was usually carpeted in shell fragments. One of the place's regulars, a customer named Alan Shepard, had, as an inside joke, taken an example of the conjoined twin peanuts and the protective covering with him to the moon and brought it back to the restaurant's owner. It was put in a bank safe deposit box and insured for the aforementioned sum. The place almost always operated at full capacity and so it was that it didn't advertise to attract more customers. (Google hint: "It happened at Chez Jay's")

Celebrity journalists who arrive in the area where a major news event either occurred or will soon occur find their plight similar to the traveler looking for the famous stealth restaurant. The visiting newsies have to coax the juicy historical details from the local news hounds (such as the weekly Independent Journal Newspapers' version of Woodward and Bernstein) who can supply the background for a breaking story.

For example, when Santa Monica's city clerk endorsed an idea that urged the city council to fund the building of an island (similar to the way Treasure Island was built in the San Francisco Bay?), which could be used for all kinds of moneymaking ventures, the issue became a hot potato that caused a rift in the local political scene. The feisty Santa Monica Independent weekly advocated one side (reject it?) and the daily Santa Monica Outlook endorsed the project and the candidates for the city council who promised to make it happen. The New York Times was fascinated by the David vs. Goliath aspect to the feuding publishers' backstory.

The New York Times assigned a scribe to do the story and when he landed on Third Street (when it was just another cross town street and not a world famous tourist attraction urban mall) he needed a lot of background information and he needed it fast.

Hadn't the gambling ship Rex been the inspiration for the TV series Mr. Lucky? Didn't Raymond Chandler fictionalize Santa Monica into "Bay City" to avoid nasty repercussions from litigious locals? Hadn't a sports writer from the Outlook used a tip about presidential candidate Jack Kenney taking a stroll on the world famous beach to take a scoop photo that landed a photo sale and by-line in LIFE magazine?

It wasn't like the New York Times guy had to know that WWII"s famous "See here, Pvt. Hargrove" soldier had become a resident of the city wedged between Venice and Pacific Palisades but facts are like DDT spray; when it is time to use it, you want it close at hand and available immediately. (Do they still sell DDT?) Speaking of WWII, many of the DC-3's and C-37's (the military version of the same famous airliner) airplanes were assembled at the Douglas factory in Santa Monica.

Two of the local reporters at the time when the New York Times wanted the inside scoop on Santa Monica went on to bigger and better things. One is now an editor for Playboy magazine and the other (who went ahead to the great city desk in the sky) became Time magazine's White House correspondent.

In the era of instant analysis and dealing out "This just in!" panic attacks for cable TV viewers, background information is becoming an irrelevant and unnecessary extravagance.

Do readers across the USA need to know why, how, or even if there is a chance that Senator Dianne Feinstein's husband could profit from the sale of excess Post Office real estate? Would readers in Concordia Kansas really care if a California firm gets a bargain basement price (and some breaks for the property tax which is computed on the place's value?) for some prime land and real estate in (hypothetically example) Rancho Palos Verdes?

On Saturday May 3, 2014, we heard on the CBS radio network, a fellow describe an article he had written for Fortune magazine (that would be published the following Monday) which describes how insurance rules are use to provide an instant cash bonanza for airlines that sustain a complete loss of an airliner that has become antiquated and has been "completely amortized." The writer explained in detail how that could be a factor in the continuing saga of the missing Malaysian Airline airplane. Do readers in Poughkeepsie want to read something that sounds like a goddamn Business 101 lecture or do they want to see more video of the crying families screaming at the airline spokespeople?

We have heard rumors that if the Russians cut off Europe's supply of natural gas, in a year or two, facilities which are being constructed in the USA to liquefy natural gas will open operating at full capacity if the product is in very short supply on the far side of "the Big Pond."

Doing all the work necessary to fact check this allegation is beyond the capabilities of any body who is not part of a large media organization with extensive funding available to underwrite the background check. Austerity budgets mean austerity news coverage for anything with less than an immediate crises level of news priority. Keeping citizens fully informed so that they can make intelligent decisions at voting time is a prosperity era optional feature for the free press. Tough times mean tough editorial decisions.

Aren't the media going to make a windfall profit bonanza with all the ads that will run during the next mid-term Congressional elections this year and then the 2016 Presidential elections? Conservative media owners will be quick to point out that it is foolish to spend monies that haven't been received yet. Run the ads, deposit the checks, then talk about providing extensive news coverage to the rubes in fly-over country.

The Ferrari 250 TR roadster is a very rare and desirable automobile. Online fact checking indicates that only seven were made. Seeing one being carried by a flatbed truck in Santa Monica (many moons ago) was a car-spotter's chance of a lifetime. Knowing that Phil Hill, a driver for the Ferrari race team, was a lifelong Santa Monica resident provides a feasible and logical background explanation for seeing such an exotic racing machine in the Western extreme of Los Angeles County.

Thanks to some image manipulation magic, the merry-go-round on the Santa Monica pier seemed, in the movie "The Sting," to be in the middle of Chicago. Locals got a chuckle out of that illusion.

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BP graduated from college in the mid sixties (at the bottom of the class?) He told his draft board that Vietnam could be won without his participation. He is still appologizing for that mistake. He received his fist photo lesson from a future (more...)

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