EPISODE 68 – METRO’S NEXTGEN WITH KENNY UONG

In our 68th episode, we chat with Kenny Uong, a Junior student studying Metro and Urban Planning at Cal State Northridge, and one of the most recognizable figures for the urban planning community in Los Angeles today. Kenny and I discuss the roots of his passion for all things Metro, the importance of bus-only lanes for transportation service, Metro’s NextGen rollout, and more. See if you can keep up with Kenny’s various adventures via public transpo on Twitter at @_KennyUong_.

J.T.

Kenny Uong: Metro is the way to Go

Traveling in Los Angeles is not a fuss,

if everyone rides Metro Rail or Metro Bus.

Going with a friend, you can’t say no,

Since Metro is the way to go!

The county is connected

via public transportation.

Together, we are one big nation.

When we take transit everywhere,

We feel courageous, like a bear.

It’s always exciting 

to soar over the traffic

that is causing all of the havoc.

Passengers wait for the train to arrive,

after a work day from nine to five.

Surfing the internet or reading a book,

then into the distance, they all look.

For only a dollar seventy-five,

you don’t have to drive.

To request a stop while riding the bus, simply pull the cord.

But for heaven’s sake, please don’t pull it if you are bored!

A public transit enthusiast like me,

would always use transit to get from Point A to Point B.

I definitely feel positive and free,

when I am not the one who’s driving, you see.

From skyline to sea,

or from SFV to SGV,

people all know

that Metro is the way to go!

K.U.

Kenny Uong is an avid transit rider and transit advocate who is currently an Urban Studies and Planning Major at Cal State Northridge. Having grown up in a household that relied on public transit to get around the region and seeing firsthand how unreliable transit service negatively affects riders, he strives to help improve it in the near future. Kenny originally published this poem in 2016.

EPISODE 16 – JAPANESE AMERICANS ON THE EAST SIDE OF L.A.

In our sixteenth episode, we discuss Japanese American history in Boyle Heights, Roosevelt High school, the Metro Gold Line’s impact on communities in the area, and much more with Victoria Kraus, of the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council. A can’t-miss session for listeners.

J.T.

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Secret Agent: How to Discover Your Neighborhood in Los Angeles

Kev with the new Los Cuentos Black & Gold Cap; Summer 2019

So it’s the second week of summer and you read How to Beat Summer 2019 Parts I III, 10 Ways Not to Beat Summer 2019, and even How to Outline Summer 2019, but you’re still not quite sure what to do with all this newfound time on your hands.

In this case, you’re likely making it just a tad more complicated than it needs to be (I know from experience). But with this blog, we’re going to give it one more shot in a last-minute challenge for you.

The only requirements for this challenge are a few hours of time on your hands, permission to go out for a few of those hours, and either a parent, friend, sibling or pet turtle to accompany you. Okay, maybe not the pet turtle. Sorry pet!

Ready? You’re now officially a secret agent going on an adventure. Your mission: to explore the second most populous city in the world and bring some of its top secrets back to headquarters. Your key ‘weapons’ for the mission are: walking shoes, a smart-phone, a Los Cuentos hat, and a water bottle.

There are also no cars allowed for the assignment. Metro buses and rail-lines only.

Ready to find out where you’re going? You will choose one of the following places for this mission:

  1. Little Tokyo
  2. Plazita Olvera
  3. Koreatown

In true secret-agent fashion, you’re not visiting these places just to ‘have fun.’ You’re going to ‘excavate’ them for some classified info like a world class spy. Sure, you can go with your people, get some ice cream at the stores, and check out the stuff on sale like a lookie-loo. But the real purpose of your visit to these other places will be to find out the following:

I. Where is ‘the heart’ of the neighborhood? (As in, where is the public square, or main area? What kind of businesses are there? Is there any kind of art you see there?)

II. How does it differ from your side of town? (What kind of people are there? How many languages do you hear spoken? And what can you tell about the ‘other’ kids at this other part of town?)

III. How might your neighborhood ‘be’ more like this one? (Could there be a different Metro Station to make it easier to get to your side of L.A, like with these other neighborhoods? If you could choose the stores you’d have in your neighborhood’s main area, what would they sell? And apart from the stores, where would the kids in your neighborhood hang out? Would they have their own main area too, or public square?)

That’s it! It’s true that these are quite a few different questions to remember during your visit to the assignment, but we both know you can glance at this blog while you’re out there on assignment.

We also both know that this is a mission you can definitely accomplish in three to four hours. Metro’s lines were made for you to use for exactly this kind of challenge, just as these ‘other’ places were made for you to visit and learn about.

At the end of the assignment, you’ll feel accomplished for learning about a new part of Los Angeles for yourself, send me the answers to your questions for a top-secret review, and receive a brief follow-up mission, if you so choose.

So, what are you waiting for? Give this last-minute challenge a shot and get out there, young storyteller. Your city is counting on you!

J.T.

City of Quartz: Opening Remarks

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City  of Quartz,

We meet at last. It’s taken me twenty-four years to reach Mike Davis’s legendary “excavation” of Los Angeles, and yet I know I’m right on time. Published just two years before rioting rumbled through the streets of South Central, the book is renowned for its unfaltering confrontation of the money and politics underpinning life, crime, and movement in Los Angeles. For this, the book is particularly special to yours truly, as it paints a unique portrait of worlds in The City that I walk through each day of my life. As such, my next few posts will be reviewing the book’s chapters in hopes of “carpooling” with J.T.’s readers on a journey with the author.

For some time, I’ve done my best to steer clear of politics with my writing on JIMBO TIMES, and yet I’ve always known I could only look away for so long. My writing has always been a world exploring contrasts, honoring what’s beautiful throughout the world, while also acknowledging what threatens its beauty. This is what makes it an honor to reach the pages of City of Quartz, as I know the book will play a significant role in shaping The L.A. Storyteller’s perspective.

In fact, it already has. Just a few pages in, the book’s very preface has already helped me to identify a key aspect of my relation to The City. I’m reading the re-edition of Quartz, published in 2006 with an updated preface from the author, and I think a great starting point for reflection can be found in Davis’s assessment of then-Mayor Villaraigosa’s impact on the city.

After a municipal election (2005) sadly devoid of new concepts, genuine passions, or substantive debate, Los Angeles at last has a mayor -Antonia Villaraigosa- with a surname that resounds with the same accent as the majority of the population. The election of Villaraigosa – once a fiery trade-union and civil-liberties activist – should have been Los Angeles’s ‘La Guardia moment,’ an opportunity to sweep city-hall clean of its old scheming cabals with their monomaniac obsession with gentrifying Downtown at the expense of the city’s blue-collar neighborhoods. Instead…the former rebel from east of the river is now the jaded booster of a downtown-renaissance that promotes super-cathedrals, billionaire sports franchises, mega-museums, Yuppie lofts, and drunken Frank Gehry skyscrapers at the  expense of social justice and affordable housing…

Even before Davis’s mention of Villaraigosa, I’m almost immediately reminded of L.A.’s 2013 race for Mayor between then-councilman Eric Garcetti and City Controller Wendy Gruel, which finished with the lowest voter turnout in L.A. history. In fact, according to the L.A. Times, “Garcetti’s complete tally was 222,300, just 12.4% of the city’s registered voters. That was well ahead of his opponent, City Controller Wendy Greuel, but a smaller vote total than any incoming mayor since Frank Shaw in 1933.”

I was in Davis, California when the elections were taking place, but even from afar, I observed a contest that showed hardly any concern over the city’s housing, education, or transportation crises. Like Villaraigosa before them, both candidates seemed nearly oblivious to the worlds facing the people of Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles, or the neglected black and Latino students of L.A.U.S.D.

Garcetti spoke of “revitalizing” L.A., but for who? In the two years since his election, his time in office has merely been an extension of Villaraigosa’s liasoning to developers and other displacers with a stake in L.A. property. Just last year, despite heated protests from riders, Garcetti voted along with the Metro board to raise the fare on Metro’s ridership, the vast majority of whom – as cited by the L.A. Weekly – barely earn “an income of roughly $20,000 a year and more than 80 percent [of whom] are minorities, according to a Metro survey in 2012.”

Naturally, proponents of the fee hike pointed to rising operating costs for the Metro system, but as several leaders opposing the vote made clear, Metro’s board cited rising costs while failing to acknowledge their inability to attract new, wealthier riders over the last few years. In turn, their vote placed the costs of their under-performance on the backs of their already financially-strapped patrons.

As if to catch my drift, apart from the election at the time, the preface of Quartz also delves right into transportation, providing material for readers to place the relevance of Metro’s recent decision within the larger spectrum of L.A.’s transportation crises:

“Right now [in 2006], locals pay a ‘congestion tax’ – ninety-three hours per commuter per year lost in traffic delays – that is the highest in the United States, and twice as high as it was in 1982. In the worst scenario, it can double again in another decade.”

And here, I think readers can see why I’m so excited about the book: in the opening alone, Davis shows concern for the city like a driver exiting the freeway determined to find the origins of the traffic that stifles it. Taking a stand on the pathway overlooking the congestion, Davis is ready for a change. Walking down the street in my journey with L.A., I recognize the author as he stares down at traffic, and join him in observation. Together, Davis’s preface tells me that both the reader and writer can find key roots of the gridlock, and in turn, key roots of the response.

I look forward to sharing more of what these responses look like with City of Quartz soon, and I hope readers look forward to hearing them.

With Love,

On Metro’s Gold Line in Los Angeles

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Downtown skyline from the Gold Line; Chinatown, Los Angeles.

One day I’m sitting on the train on the way to school, and I’m trying to write a poem. Beside me there is an older Mexican woman sitting down, and next to her sits her son, a child of about probably seven or eight years. We ride in relative silence, as is common for the Gold Line’s commute, when from out of nowhere, this big, drunk, cholo steps onto the train.

Now, consider that it’s morning time, and everything around me is sort of just crispy new. This is particularly true on the Gold Line, which commutes from East Los Angeles to Pasadena, and which I catch downtown. Downtown is just the best place to start the commute on because from there the train goes through Chinatown, Lincoln Heights, and on to Pasadena, with hundreds of streets in between that make for the most colorful ride; the boulevards are filled with murals, graffiti, prancing middle schoolers in uniform, and a myriad of more color, radiance, and vigor through the sunlight.

And this morning, I’m thinking about the relation of these things to the universe.

Just moments before the mother, her child, and the cholo consume my periphery, I’m thinking about how every single person I ever share a moment with, whether they’re friends, strangers, acquaintances or enemies, or whether they’re even people for that matter–regardless of who or what it is–everything and everyone around me is just a reflection of the beautiful, star-studded galaxy. In turn, as the Gold Line and every one of its passengers glide through each of L.A.’s different channels of concrete and dirt, we’re just like meteors cutting through time and space on the way to who knows where.

Just what this means, I’m not quite so sure, but in an effort to find out more, I begin to examine the scene. I’m on one of the train’s three-sided seats, which are adjacent to the doors, while the mother and her son are on the two-sided seats facing my right cheek. The cholo, on the other hand, is sitting down on the other three-sided seat just across from me. I begin my exploration with a quick scan of the boy’s face on the right.

Instantly, he returns my glance to me. For a moment, I remember being his age, with my own brother and mother on the bus, and how I often looked around at all the bigger people around us, wondering what on earth they meant to me. I guess that hasn’t changed much, even after all this time.

I then wonder if I’m being a cool role model–as I attempt–to type away the time on my laptop throughout the commute; you know, cool role-model style, the way those hip, older college kids seemed when you were younger? When you kinda wished that somehow they could give you some advice or maybe play your older brother or sister for a little bit?

I’m hoping I look like one of those role models as I sit there with that custom, nonchalant look on my face. The one that says I’m in society right now, and the one that says I’m in control.

But back to the boy: I remember how when I was his age, laptops weren’t the big thing, but how the Gameboy were the gizmos everybody wanted. But when he’s my age, I wonder, what will the next big thing be by then?

I also wonder if when he’s twenty-one there’ll be another transit innovation that he’ll get to ride in, the way I went from taking Metro’s hot and crowded Number 2 bus through the bumpy, dilapidated roads of L.A. in my younger years, to gliding in the spacious and air-conditioned Gold Line on smooth electric rails towards Pasadena in my later ones. Then I kinda wonder if he’ll even care.

And mind you, only about two to three minutes have gone by. The ride has only just begun, and I’m still quite a few stops away from school. At this point, since the little boy’s presence has spiraled me into thought, the face that’s in society starts to wear off, and I start gaining this look of confusion, as if I just caught the first whiff of a fart, or, in this case, the whiff of a bold realization: I think I’m just about to tie this kid’s existence back to the importance of the universe and the way that this means something to me, when from out of nowhere, the big, drunk cholo blurts out:

“HEY IS HE YOUR SON?”

I completely forgot about him. He’s sitting on the three-sided seats opposite of mine.

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The mother looks at the cholo and then back to me, and it’s interesting. The thing is, despite the cholo’s interruption, my mind is still on the whole thing about the universe. But in addition, my mind also considers weeks of powerful historical literature—namely, Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America—and maybe it’s because of Galeano’s book that I decide to get all One With the People about my response to the cholo’s question.

“He’s not my son,” I say, “but he is my brother. Through history, man.”

“Orale! That’s wassup dawg!” he says.

From this, I gather that the cholo is cool people and that there’s no reason to be alarmed. The thing is, most of the time, drunk folks on the train can mean a bit of trouble. They’re kinda loud and unpredictable, and they just may speak to you or insult you or fall over and crush you somehow. However, in the moment I sense that the cholo isn’t going to be one of those cases, I realize the ride is going to be cool, not just for me, but for the mother and her boy too.

And maybe I’m a little full of myself, but my mind warps and tells me that I’m responsible for this smooth ride now, because now the boy in front of me isn’t going to have some disturbing memory about the unruly cholo who was set off by something that one kid said. Now, it’ll have just been another trivial train ride he probably won’t even remember far into the future. Cool.

After our brief exchange, I figure it’s over with and that the cholo will be quiet now, since that’s usually how interactions on the train go: if you speak with people, you do it in a quick and polite manner, and then you let it go. Considering this, I motion to get back to my blank screen to continue failing to write the poem, when again, before I can input another word, I notice the cholo’s hand extended out to me from across the corridor.

He’s giving me props!

And the thing is, anyone who knows anything about L.A. knows you can’t turn down props. In the words of Denzel Washington: “that shit’ll get you killed out here”.

So I accept his props and meet his hand with my own.

Cool.

Aagain I think that’s all there is to it. I try to get back to my screen, when the cholo speaks again:

“You know, man! That’s wassup to think like that, to think we’re all connected!”

Here I smile. And I’m going to be honest, it’s one of those loud, eccentric smiles; one of those smirks that says I knew it! Because in the instance I understand that the big drunk cholo hears exactly what I’m saying, my theory is affirmed.

Picture it this way: I’m in an Abercrombie shirt and some skinny red toddland pants, with converse All-Stars on my feet. I have a backpack laying on the seat next to mine, and the blank page on the screen of my laptop. Across from me, the big drunk cholo, who’s probably in his early thirties, is dressed in a white muscle shirt and checkered shorts, with long socks and roughed up sneakers. He’s also got that cholo’s scruffy beard, and tattoos riddled all over his arms.

Beside us, the young boy is clad in a classic mother’s choice, i.e., in a nameless bright shirt and some generic denim pants. For a moment, it reminds me of all the wacky clothing that my mom got for me and my brother back in the day. Long before Levi’s or Abercrombie or any of those other brands existed in our little minds, when each of us simply wore what Mama could afford, and when for the most part, it was cool; I mean, it’s not like we were gangsters or college students with images to maintain or anything. We were just alive back when she chose our clothes for us, and that was enough.

Next to the boy, the mother’s style is also reminiscent of my own mom’s from back in the day; she’s in a light orange blouse and a falda, or the famous regal Mexican skirt.

Now, why do the clothes matter? Although I don’t consider myself a fashionista, I’ll admit that most days I do like to believe I represent an aspiring young scholar for my community. On the other hand, the big, drunk cholo represents what in another state of mind I would have thought of as the “down brother.”

He reminded me of one of those childhood friends or cousins who had a child of his own sometime during his teens, or one of those handful of friends’ brothers who you probably weren’t too excited about nodding your head to say what’s up to when going back home from school later that day. He’s also, well, drunk at eleven in the morning. My tio would scold him for the last bit.

“It’s because of addictions like that that we stay behind,” he’d say.

I’m not so sure, though, because of the boy.

In many ways I think to myself that the youngster next to the cholo and I cannot be labeled like either of us; at just seven or eight years old–whose mom still picks his clothes for him–everything which got el cholo and I to our present day through our youth still lies ahead for the young dude; as if, he’s still free.

Before I can finish this thought, the cholo goes on: “You know man,” he says, “I gangbang or whatever, and I’ve seen some shit, but I respect people who think like you man.”

After this, he tells me his name is Robert, and that he’s from an East L.A. gang. I thank him for his compliments, and we start talking some more about oneness, about the people.

“It’s a complex history, we all got different roles,” I tell him. “But it’s important, man.”

“Word up!” Robert shoots back. “That’s some real shit right there!”

And well, I guess here I can take a moment to explain a little bit. See, if The Open Veins of Latin America says anything to me, it’s that history’s one of the most difficult treks in the universe for an individual. The train, for example, is comprised of one main group: that is, poor or working class people, and there are reasons for our poverty; there is an entire train ride through centuries of existence which created the circumstances around us, including Robert’s drunkenness at 11 in the morning.

It’s a system of causes, an entire network of them which follow Robert and I, and which follow mom and her mijo too.

Tough things indeed following us, which definitely almost get me down, until Robert surprises me again.

“And I’ll tell you something man: I know I’m drunk–I know I’m fucked up! But I also know I don’t want to see my kids grow up like me, man. I do want something better for them!”

The admission excites him, and makes him roar out with laughter. Other passengers start to look in our direction, their faces wrought with concern. I just smile, thinking it’s just Robert’s turn to rock the microphone is all. Mom knows, and so does the little brother as we all look on ahead to the next stop.

Gold Line

Outside, the sunlight kisses the train, and I can almost touch the radiant beams illuminating from its metal as we glide through the rails approaching Pasadena. When the train approaches the South Pasadena stop it begins to slow down, and I take a glance at the next stop’s flock of passengers, noticing, among them, two sheriffs getting ready to board. I look over to Robert, who catches them too, and he swallows his laughter, replacing it with a mischievous smile.

And it’ll be fine, I tell myself, as I look away from Robert and get back to the screen.