This Sporting Life

MG 01 Shot

When was the last time you went miniature golfing? I hadn’t played for years. Actually, more like decades. But a while ago I was hanging out with some friends, and when the subject of miniature golf came up, it resonated deep within me. I knew that something had been missing in my life. Now I knew what it was.

Over the weekend I went with my friends Christen and Kasmira to a course in Sherman Oaks. I was surprised at how crowded it was. But on thinking about it, I realized that there are probably thousands of people like me who also feel that void in their lives, and that we were all drawn there to fill that void.

MG 05 Castle

The sun was sinking below the castle parapet as we arrived.

To get to the golf course, we had to make our way through the arcade. That was intense. Honestly, I never play arcade games, but there’s something about the non-stop onslaught of piercing sound and day-glo colors that appeals to me. Though I probably wouldn’t want to spend more than fifteen minutes in that environment.

MG 10 Arcade

A total sensory assault.

MG 14 Win

You mean I can only win 1,000?

MG 12 Stooges

Obviously this is a class joint.

MG 18 Staff

The crowd of golfers was keeping the staff busy.

Before you tee off, make sure you know the rules.

MG 20 Jumping

If you want to play another round, you have to pay for it.

MG 22 Deface

Keep that spray paint in your pocket.

I have to tell you, in the weeks leading up to our miniature golf rendevous I was subjected to a debilitating psychological assault by my “friends”, and it definitely took a toll. Playing the first few holes, I was a mess. I couldn’t focus, my shots were all over the place, and I went way over par. But with intense concentration I managed to balance my chi, and by the fourth hole I had steadied my game.

MG 30 Waiting

Waiting to tee off.

MG 34 Smile

Gloating over a successful shot.

Unfortunately, I never recovered completely. When the totals were added up at the end of the game, Kaz was the winner, and I came in second place. But I’m not discouraged. We’re already talking about a rematch.

MG Chr Kaz

Sometimes the layout was challenging.

In spite of the humiliation of ending up as “the first loser”, I have to say I had a great time. The news is so bad these days, it was great to get away from the real world for a little while. It was a mild April night in the Valley. There were kids running around. We chatted with some of the other folks on the course. It was a great way to unwind.

MG Couple

On this course nobody minds if you pull out your phone.

While we were strolling around I was checking out the scenery, both on the course and beyond. Looking over the fence to the north I saw what looked like a desolate urban wasteland. But when I said something about it to Christen, she told me it was a training academy for the Fire Department. Apparently during the week it’s filled with recruits learning how to fight fires. Not so desolate after all. I stopped to get a shot of the structures beyond the fence. Kaz wondered aloud whether the barbed wire was to keep us out, or to keep us in. Way too heavy a question for a miniature golf course. We moved on to the next hole.

MG 50 Wire

Looking through the barbed wire at the LAFD training grounds.

As the sun went down, colored lights came on. When we first arrived, we were debating whether to play one round or two. I have to admit, after eighteen holes I was exhausted. Obviously, not having played in years, I didn’t have the stamina I had when I was twelve.

MG 60 Lights

Around sunset the colored lights came on.

Finally, we added up the score and turned in our clubs. The game was over. But it was great to forget about the real world, even for a little while.

MG 62 Stroller

How to Find the LA River

A view of the LA River in the late afternoon

A view of the LA River in the late afternoon

When I was a kid growing up in Burbank the LA River was a joke. It wasn’t a river at all. It was a huge concrete aqueduct with a tiny trickle of water running down the middle of it. Occasionally after heavy rains the water level would rise for a day or two. But it was nothing like the majestic waterways that flowed through other cities. It seemed like some kind of weird, synthetic excuse for a river, and it seemed perfectly in keeping with the image many people had of a LA as a weird, synthetic excuse for a city.

The LA River near Warner Bros. studios in Burbank

The LA River near Warner Bros. studios in Burbank

But over the years I’ve been hearing more and more about efforts to rethink the river. I understand now how important the LA River once was to the city, and I’m slowly beginning to realize how important it could be to LA’s future.

Back in the eighteenth century it was the source of water for the small settlement originally called El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Angeles. The river continued to provide most of LA’s water until the twentieth century, when the Owens Valley Aqueduct and the Colorado River Aqueduct were built. In the thirties, after a series of devastating floods, it was decided that the best thing to do with the LA River was encase it in cement. The US Army Corps of Engineers took charge, supervising one of the largest public works projects in US history. When it was done, the river had been transformed into a massive concrete channel.

But over the past twenty years or so, a growing number of people have been looking for ways to reclaim the river, to once again make it a vital part of the life of Los Angeles. It flows from Canoga Park across the Valley to the Glendale Narrows, and then winds through Downtown and continues all the way to Long Beach. In making that trip it is one of the few unifying factors in a city where residents often feel they have no connection to each other. It has the potential to become a vast linear park, winding its way through many of LA’s neighborhoods, providing a space where people could relax, enjoy themselves and connect with nature.

Lush greenery along the river as it runs through Griffith Park

Lush greenery along the river as it runs through Griffith Park

There are many groups involved in the effort to remake the river, but the one that’s been around the longest is Friends of the LA River.

FoLAR

If you’re interested in getting involved, there’s probably a group in your neighborhood that could put you to work.

A while ago I started taking photos of the river. It was an interesting exercise. I found that while the river has been there all my life, and I’ve crossed it at one point or another every day for decades, I’ve never taken the time to look at it. How many times did I drive past Balboa Park without ever realizing that the LA River runs right through it. I lived in Silverlake for a few years, and used the Hyperion Bridge regularly, but I never looked down to see what was below. And I’ve crossed the bridges east of downtown LA a million times, rarely pausing to take more than a glance at the river running underneath.

So if, like me, you haven’t paid much attention to the LA River, maybe you should take a walk down to the banks some time. You might be surprised at what you find.

Trees crowded around the river in Balboa Park

Trees crowded around the river in Balboa Park

Another shot of the park facing toward Balboa Blvd.

Another shot of the park facing toward Balboa Blvd.

Ducks on the river in Sherman Oaks

Ducks on the river in Sherman Oaks

More birds on the river as it flows through Sherman Oaks

More birds on the river as it flows through Sherman Oaks

Another shot of the river on the edge of Griffith Park

Another shot of the river on the edge of Griffith Park

Facing west on the outskirts of Griffith Park

Facing west on the outskirts of Griffith Park

A mural marking a tiny, but cool, park in the Glendale Narrows

A mural marking a tiny, but cool, park in the Glendale Narrows

The Glendale Narrows, just below Atwater

The Glendale Narrows, just below Atwater

The river flowing past the railyards at the edge of Downtown LA

The river flowing past the railyards at the edge of Downtown LA

The river heading out of Downtown LA, on its way to Long Beach

The river heading out of Downtown LA, on its way to Long Beach