Category Archives: Life Style

When your partner leaves town, you should act like a pirate.

My wife travels a lot for work, jetting off to cover fashion shows for several weeks at a stretch at least twice a year. I react to these extended-length absences the way any well-adjusted Angeleno husband might: I act like a pirate.

To be more precise, I celebrate what I call “pirate season,” a time-honored tradition that’s part bachelor party without the bachelor and part kids themed birthday party without the kids (or the birthday). It’s a tongue-in-cheek coping mechanism designed to buoy my spirits while we’re apart. (As a bonus, I’m pretty sure pirate season has improved our together time too.)

Its origins lie in the early aughts when my not-yet-wife, in her role as The Times’ fashion critic, started attending the twice-yearly, monthlong New York-to-Paris run of fashion weeks. When I mentioned to my co-worker Vince that I was suddenly facing four weeks of single-like solitude without a plan in place, he told me about a buddy of his.

“Whenever my friend Kai’s girlfriend goes out of town,” Vince said, “he hangs a pirate flag on his balcony, and people know they can come over and party.”

I laughed it off as childish bordering on absurdity. However, the seed had been planted, and every time my wife took wing for a business trip, I found myself thinking about Kai and his pirate flag.

Facing a particularly long stretch in separate time zones, I drove over to AAA Flag & Banner‘s (now-closed) outpost in Hollywood and bought a 3-by-5-foot skull and crossbones (a.k.a. Jolly Roger) flag. When I arrived home, I ceremoniously draped it over the Ikea entertainment center in our living room. (I didn’t yet have a viable balcony.)

I instantly felt at ease, as if something had shifted. By raising the flag, I’d taken control of a situation I’d previously had no control over whatsoever. My first-ever pirate season officially sailed into existence on Feb. 5, 2005.

(DEA Picture Library / De Agostini via Getty Images)

The basic premise of pirate season is this: From the time the flag is raised until the moment it’s lowered, no reasonable invitation to socialize off ship (outside the home) may be refused nor may unannounced boarding parties (a.k.a. pop-ins or drop-bys) be turned away. At the same time, every single day is kind of like a break-the-rules Friday. Carbs don’t count, happy hour is extended two (sometimes four) hours in each direction, and weird facial-hair choices are made. Also, there’s no such thing as a staying-in school night.

Now, with more than 30 such voyages over 18 years under my swashbuckling belt, I wanted to share more of my fundamental rules (a.k.a. my pirate code), so others with perennially peripatetic partners might be able to navigate the doldrums, alleviate a little loneliness and gin up a little levity by mounting pirate-season adventures of their own.

Pick yer poison

Or, as a non-pirate might put it, settle on a theme. You’ll get a lot of mileage — and enthusiastic participation from those in your social circle (family, friends, the occasional co-worker) — by picking a theme for your unconstructed free playtime. If pirates aren’t your jam, there are plenty of other options to choose from (the more insular the better).

Down to clown? Perhaps circus season will fit you like a big, floppy shoe. Or maybe you want to feel “the need for speed”? Consider marking “Top Gun” time, complete with flight suits, beach volleyball and call-sign nicknames for all your besties, Maverick. Or maybe the trappings of a faux fraternal or sororal Greek-letter group (Todd Phillips’ 2003 film “Old School” is essentially a pirate-season primer) or mythical-creature hunting camp (griffins, chimeras and manticores are always in season) would be more your style.

The possibilities are really endless. The key is, once you’ve picked your theme, it’s time to get the word out and gather your crew. (Ideally your crew will be the most trustworthy people in your life — the kind of people you’d trust with your ATM PIN or to pick you up at the hospital. Plus you need one or two wild cards, just to keep things interesting.)

Run up the Jolly Roger forthwith

In other words, display that it’s pirate season. Effectively signal “game on!” by unfurling your pirate flag (or other theme-appropriate standard) and publicly making your flag visible on a flagpole, balcony or street-facing window. Or you can go digital and put your peeps on notice by posting to your socials. (I do both, hanging the flag in my living-room window and posting a random pirate flag to social media the moment my bride’s outbound flight goes wheels up from Los Angeles International Airport.)

However you decide to put the word out there, it’s crucial that you do. Otherwise you haven’t sufficiently Bat-Signaled your status to those who might wish to join in the fun. That means buying an actual, honest-to-goodness physical flag (the possibilities out there are as many and as varied as the themes) or, at the very least, downloading or designing a digital version to be displayed wherever your potential co-conspirators lurk.

Let yer pirate code be known to all scalawags

(DEA Picture Library / De Agostini via Getty Images)

This essentially means establishing, sharing and abiding by a list of rules to govern the conduct of all who participate. This is as crucial as the flag when it comes to pulling off a successful voyage because it provides a sense of structure. (Even pirates thrive when they know what they can and can’t do.) It also makes things fun. Your pirate code will be a living document that will be added to over time.

My early versions of pirate season consisted of little more than throwing up the flag and using a naming convention that riffed off the fashion-week schedule — in February and March, I’d mark Pirate Season F/W (for the fall and winter collections being presented at that time), and in September and October, I’d set sail as Pirate Season S/S (for the spring and summer collections). But as my friends and family learned of these twice-yearly voyages and clambered aboard, more detailed rules of engagement began to take shape.

One of my earliest codified rules was that, while I would be completely transparent about pirate season and all that it entails, never once would my wife lay eyes upon the Jolly Roger. One of the more recent additions was the clarification that not every spousal absence is a pirate season. Because it would be extremely bad form (not to mention insensitive) to pillage and plunder if she’s far afield dealing with a family medical emergency, the pirate flag would remain stowed no matter how long she’s taken leave. (Side note: In cases like this, I do fly a flag — the one emblazoned with the command “Don’t Give Up the Ship” made at the request of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry during the War of 1812. Which I guess would technically make it “commodore season.”)

While you may be tempted to keep these rules in your head (as I have for many years), jotting them down on paper makes them easier to refer to — and enforce — if necessary.

Give no quarter

As mentioned above, one of the most important rules of my pirate season — and I encourage you to make it one of yours, should you follow in my footsteps — is that while the flag is flying, anyone can call a pirate council any time of day or night. This usually manifests in one of two ways: either by boarding ship (dropping by the house announced or unannounced) or by extending an invitation to plunder elsewhere. I cannot refuse either entreaty and be a pirate in good conscience.

It’s this rule that makes each pirate season a delicious distraction. Over the years, I’ve been invited out for countless dinners, had all manner of visitors in to drink (take it from me: No good comes from a pistol-shaped bottle of tequila), walked the grounds of the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine and even been squired away to Pirates Dinner Adventure in Buena Park by my sister-in-law (as trusty a pirate as ever there was) and a cadre of co-workers. Remote roguery happens, too, in the form of SpaceTime conversations (FaceTime with a dash of herbal enhancement) and late-night shot calls (the same sort of interaction but involving a shot glass full of the closest-at-hand potent potable).

The right crew will sometimes push you to the edge of your comfort zone in this regard, and that’s all part of the fun. But the most important word in the pirate-season vocabulary will always be “no,” and, as captain of your ship, you should feel free to deploy it as needed.

Plunder the galley for ship’s biscuits and grog

(DEA Picture Library / De Agostini via Getty Images)

In short: Kick your calorie-counting, cheat-meal mentality to the curb for the duration. Pirate season is a time to embark on all manner of gustatory adventure. While the buccaneers of old had to subsist on things like ship’s biscuits (unleavened bread made from flour, water and salt) and grog (rum mixed with water), I take these solo voyages as an opportunity to empty the freezer of leftovers (“martyr meals,” in the parlance of my non-piratey better half), make standwiches (sandwiches wholly made — and consumed — whilst standing over the sink) and indulge in the occasional skewer of street meats bought from a curbside vendor.

Some of the dustier bottles at the back of the bar cart are likewise brought forth to consider sacrificing in pursuit of a pirate punch — Madeiras, Marsalas, off-brand aperitifs and random rums with worn-off labels. Occasionally, if I’m feeling particularly beneficent to future pirate me, I’ll add some peeled slices of whole horseradish root to a cast-off bottle of vodka and bury it in the back of the pantry. When unearthed the next season, the infused libation, painfully pungent and hot enough to draw tears and peel paint, will be at the ready for any of the pirate ilk who deign to heed the call of the black flag and board ship.

Start by getting your galley (your fridge, freezer, pantry, larder and liquor cabinet) to inbox-zero status. Follow this by stocking up on adventurous eats. Repeat as necessary.

Avoid the sirens’ call

According to legend, sirens (essentially evil mermaids) would tempt sailors with their alluring songs, causing them to wreck their ships and die. Likewise, even the most level-headed pirate will from time to time be beckoned to sail near the shallows for any number of reasons. The best inoculation from these temptations of the deep — which take many a varied form — is to recruit only the most trustworthy of crew and give wide berth to the merfolk. Because while a pirate flag can be struck at season’s end and hoisted anew the next, a wrecked galleon is forever a wrecked galleon.

Minus the colorful seafaring mythology, the message is this: Don’t engage in behavior that would violate — or appear to violate — the trust between you and your absent half. Yes, that means keeping your wedding ring (and your pants) on. And to cull your crew of those who would be a bad influence in this regard. The point of a pressure-relief valve like pirate season is to keep your relationship strong and functioning until your significant other returns — not burn it to the ground by acting like an asshat.

Dead men tell no tales

(DEA Picture Library / De Agostini via Getty Images)

That being said, what happens during pirate season stays in pirate season. At voyage‘s end, ceremoniously fold your flag and stow it away before your partner returns. Answer all queries with “Aye, that,” and move along. Should one of your crew wag their tongue (or, worse yet, post to social media), they’ve proven themselves unreliable, so cut them adrift from future pirate seasons.

Pondering piracy?

Is pirate season right for you? That’s between you and your best beloved. What I can say is that all the trappings of my twice-yearly celebration of solitude — the silly rules, the flag, the standwiches and the “yes, and” socializing — have managed to keep me sane, centered and more than mildly entertained at least two times a year for the better part of two decades while the love of my life is off earning the doubloons. (Lest you think I’m casting some kind of “freed from the old ball and chain” shade here, rest assured that she is — and has always been — more fun in the party department than any pirate could ever hope to be.)

If you’re lucky enough to have someone special in your life, then odds are pretty good you’ll find yourselves geographically separated for a stretch at some point. Next time that happens, why not run pirate season up the flagpole? You might be surprised at the crew you’ve got waiting to step up and say, “Ahoy!”

A place for your emotions? Now, you have to pay to get emotional support.


Peppy pop music kicks off the virtual meeting, in which rows of attendees are arranged like “The Brady Bunch.” “I love to see all these beautiful, smiley faces!” exclaims our guide, shouting out names of participants. Everyone looks eager to do what they came here to do: Share their feelings with strangers.

Nearly 20 people have joined this guided group conversation called a “gather,” run by a new startup called Peoplehood. Over the next hour, our guide — her vibe is part yoga instructor, part sleepaway camp director — prompts attendees to get, well, personal.

The “gather” starts as one big group. Members engage in some breathwork exercises, listen to a little John Mayer music and share one thing that “feels true to them.” (One member felt it was true that his hangovers get worse as he ages.) Then everyone is paired off into randomly determined, brief one-on-one sessions with assigned prompts.

Peoplehood keeps “gathers” casual and upbeat, which sets the tone for the topics discussed: indecisiveness when scanning a menu, Doordash reliance guilt, excitement for a future concert.

Every so often, however, a member gets more emotional. One expressed the difficulties of watching a parent battle cancer. Another mentioned wrestling with caring for a family member who was seemingly unhoused — a confession that felt jarringly intimate. But more often than not, the mood is kept light and conversational.

“This is peer-to-peer support,” says Peoplehood co-founder Julie Rice. “It is not therapy.”

Rice and her co-founder, Elizabeth Cutler, are no strangers to group gatherings: The longtime collaborators previously founded SoulCycle, which they sold to Equinox in 2011. Now, they’re applying their expertise in community-building to “social wellness.” Peoplehood is in beta mode but will launch its digital offering and in-person bricks-and-mortar New York location in late February. An L.A. location is expected down the line. Prices will be released upon launch.

Rice describes Peoplehood as “a connection product,” noting, “People don’t have the scaffolding and the structure that they need to be able to practice [social health].”

(Lisa Congdon / For The Times)

Selling social support

Mental health is finally at the forefront of national conversations, but the focus has generally been on therapy, medication and behavioral change. Communal and social support have long been missing — yet crucial — components. Even the wellness industry has largely ignored social support, instead pushing lonely and pricy “self-care” endeavors.

That’s slowly changing. A new generation of for-profit group gatherings hopes to remedy what’s been dubbed the “loneliness epidemic” — or “the friendship recession” — by serving people’s need for real and meaningful social networks.

Rice and Cutler say they spent three years studying religion, fitness and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and speaking with psychologists, spiritual leaders, doctors and professors across a range of disciplines. More than 1,000 people participated in its beta testing, and 100 Los Angeles-based college students took part in a pilot program. When they hire guides for “gathers,” they say they look for empaths who reportedly are put through a “rigorous training program,” but no further details were provided.

AA is the most recognizable system of secular peer support, with an estimated worldwide membership topping 2 million. But not everyone looking for a shoulder to rely on has an addiction or identifies with a disorder.

“It’s so weird to us that there is nothing that’s really sitting between everyday life and crisis,” says Cutler. “This is a training ground for us to be more socially healthy … a missing support system, for lack of a better term.”

The new normal

Nearly 60% of U.S. adults feel lonely, according to a Morning Consult survey commissioned by Cigna. Women are slightly lonelier than men, and young adults are twice as likely as seniors to be lonely. Almost 80% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 report feeling lonely.

The pandemic only further exacerbated loneliness. But even before 2020, a web of complex factors contributed to American loneliness, as Robert D. Putnam detailed in his groundbreaking book “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community” in 2000. “There’s quite a precipitous fall in what we would call social capital in the United States,” says Mike Murphy, a lecturer in applied psychology at University College Cork in Ireland who specializes in psychological well-being and social support.

For some, it isn’t that they don’t have enough friends but rather they aren’t satisfied with the level of social engagement available. Roughly a third of lonely adults report talking to their family or partner about how they feel “quite a bit” or “a lot,” which means that the majority of lonely adults aren’t talking to anyone. The acknowledgment of mutual interdependence — which requires vulnerability — isn’t a well-established part of Western society, says Murphy. “So people, especially men, are more and more reluctant to talk about their feelings.”

In response to this phenomenon, several men’s groups have sprouted in recent years, including Evryman, a men’s social-health platform, support group and retreat series.

Evryman co-founder and CEO Lucas Krump wanted to build an outlet for “everyday guys”: men who struggle with intimacy and lack of community but don’t want anything too spiritual or therapeutic. Krump describes Evryman as a “gym” where men can exercise skills to better engage with themselves and others. Already, the organization has more than 100 U.S. chapters.

Evryman members can join virtual groups or in-person peer-led and facilitated gatherings in which leadership changes each week. Popular topics include relationships, work-life balance and fatherhood, but also purpose and meaning. More than anything, Evryman teaches men how to express themselves and develop “emotional literacy and resilience,” stresses Krump.

“If you ask somebody, ‘How are you feeling,’ they say, ‘OK,’” says Krump. “‘OK’ is not an emotion.”

L.A. resident Ebenezer Bond, who works in marketing, joined Evryman after a difficult breakup at age 40 left him heartbroken and confused. He had one best friend he could talk to, but that was it. “There’s a lack of connection and vulnerability that I found through this,” says Bond.

(Lisa Congdon / For The Times)

Unexpected adopters

Social support is trending in corporate America too. Spoke Circles is a group support hub that not only offers in-person gatherings at its Brooklyn-based space but ventures out into workplace wellness programs. Spoke meets with tech companies, fashion brands and mom-and-pop shops (like a hair salon) to help employees discuss work-life integration, anxiety and navigating difficult conversations.

Spoke Circles launched during the pandemic. At the time, Spoke Circles co-founder and CEO Lia Avellino, a psychotherapist, was inundated with IRL requests.

Sessions quickly sold out on topics such as identifying what’s good enough in relationships and careers — some within the first few hours. “People were craving people,” says Avellino. “They wanted to have experiences where they weren’t separated from one another on a screen.” (Attendees wore masks.)

Sessions range in cost from $30 to $100, with select sessions weaving in additional activities like art, sound healing, floral arranging and collective screaming.

While virtual meetings serve an important and convenient role, experts note that in-person still reigns supreme. A recent Meetup survey found that people are actively looking to get together, and when they do, they want to meet face-to-face: In January, 71% of all Meetup events were in person. “A fair body of research shows that the mere physical presence of another sympathetic, understanding person makes us feel better,” says Murphy.

Even niche sectors have jumped on the in-person support bandwagon. Field Trip is one of the largest providers of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, with nine locations, including two in California, in Santa Monica and San Diego. In November, it launched a new program that pairs psychedelic medicine with virtual and physical group gatherings — called “integration circles” — of up to 10 people for $299 per month. Essentially, it added a community layer to an existing service. Before, Field Trip’s medical and therapeutic guides conducted sessions alone with patients.

Field Trip is staffed by physicians and nurse practitioners who can prescribe ketamine, although external physicians can refer clients. While ketamine treatment is growing in popularity, the scientific community stresses the need for more research into long-term benefits and potential side effects.

Clients include everyone from a woman whose husband was diagnosed with dementia to a recently laid-off tech worker. Some struggle with PTSD or depression, but plenty of others are simply dealing with undiagnosed anxiety, says Field Trip co-founder and CEO Ronan Levy.

Psychedelics reportedly help some people shut down their inhibitory barriers, thereby helping them better connect with strangers. Clients participating in Field Trip’s group gatherings take ketamine while in the integration circles. Alyssa Chow, a UX researcher in Sacramento, sought Field Trip’s new program while struggling to process a family death. The integration circles, by her account, turned off intrusive thoughts; she could explore her consciousness without any judgment, in the comfort of those doing the same. “It definitely makes you feel less alone,” says Chow.

Jonathan N. Stea, a clinical psychologist and adjunct assistant professor at the University of Calgary, says peer-support groups can help people feel validated and connected to others working through similar challenges, but he remains skeptical of psychedelic-based peer support groups. “Depending on a person’s mental health concerns, artificially increasing their disinhibition in a group setting might not necessarily be a good thing.”

Beyond Field Trip, some experts express skepticism about these new programs, which could be viewed as commodifying human relationships. We’re used to social support being free: AA has no dues, and religious institutions are generally better equipped to help those who have financially fallen on hard times. Book clubs, cooking groups and the sort are also free.

By situating themselves outside of health and addiction but still somewhat health-adjacent, companies like Peoplehood can anticipate customer hesitation: People might balk at social support with a price tag. Tying social support to financial ability poses several thorny issues: What happens when a member loses their job? Do they then lose their community?

Evryman offers a “pay-what-you-can” policy for its digital platform. Likewise, Spoke Circles has a sliding fee scale. Avellino notes it’s not uncommon for a youth in foster care to be in the same group as a CEO. That’s one aspect she’s particularly proud of: facilitating connections between different kinds of people who find common ground through shared desires and struggles.

Still, Murphy notes that this sort of social engagement is by nature rather artificial. “This is constructing a version of friendship,” he says.

But if an organic friendship isn’t available, perhaps one of these groups is the next best thing: “It’s an unusual way of doing it,” says Murphy, “and maybe speaks to the fact that the way our society is structured is such that it can be very hard to meet somebody and actually establish a relationship.” These paid programs can be beneficial if they initiate real friendships, and perhaps for some users they will.

Fred Moten will demonstrate what abstraction is intended to provide.

Excerpted from Fred Moten’s poem ‘the red sheaves,’ forthcoming in “perennial fashion presence falling” (Wave Books, May 2023).

Fred Moten works in the departments of performance studies and comparative literature at New York University. He is concerned with social movement, aesthetic experiment and Black study, and has written a number of books of poetry and criticism, the latest of which, written with Stefano Harney, is “All Incomplete” (Minor Compositions/Autonomedia, 2021). In addition to his long-term collaboration with Harney, Moten is engaged in ongoing work with critic Laura Harris, artist Wu Tsang and musicians Gerald Cleaver and Brandon López. Moten is a MacArthur Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His book “perennial fashion presence falling” is forthcoming from Wave Books in 2023.

Body pandemonium. They created uncomfortable art.

Panteha Abareshi, “A BUNDLE OF KINDLING,” 2022, wood, stainless steel, nickel, latex, silicone, assorted medical ephemera, human blood.

(©Ruben Diaz 2022, Hunter Shaw Fine Art)

It’s not often — even while working in the arts, which constantly pose difficult questions to viewers, oftentimes questions that have no answers — that we are confronted with the most existential and, in some ways, the most basic questions of them all: questions around fear, death, mortality and love.

Panteha Abareshi, an artist whose work is rooted in their experience with sickle cell zero beta thalassemia, a genetic blood disorder that causes increasing, debilitating pain and bodily deterioration, is perhaps better equipped than most to guide this discussion. Confronting their own mortality has meant that they have had to deal with both the existential and physical implications of being. What does it mean when our very bodies are strangers to us, estranged from us? Abareshi’s practice abstracts the body, pointing to the failure of representation when embodiment itself fails us. Their refusal to be defined by figuration speaks to the contradiction that our bodies are the only things that we have, yet they are not us.

Our conversation lasted well over three hours, touching on everything from the challenges of representation with identity politics so often at the forefront of an artist’s framing, to unpacking how horror movies (body horror, in particular) embody our societal fears and what they say about the underlying angst and anxiety around our own fragility. But, as the artist reminds us, life’s finitude is precisely what makes it meaningful — making it a little bit easier to acknowledge, and even accept, the precariousness in all of our lives.

Caroline Ellen Liou: What does “offering,” the theme of this issue, mean to you?

Panteha Abareshi: The first time I came across the term “offering” was in a church context, passing the offering plate around. In an offering, even if you acknowledge that there might be a depletion from the person that’s giving, it should always be effortless on the part of the person that’s taking. But we never think about offering as a two-way labor where it’s both difficult to give and difficult to take.

With the artist, there’s an expectation that it’s like a well that never runs dry. It’s like, because you chose this vocation, you chose this practice, you are now obligated to offer and offer and offer. Especially with work that predicates itself on the vulnerability on the artist’s part, on exposing one’s personal experience, there is an inherent expectation from the viewer, from the institution, from all of these consumers that you are constantly going to be generative. You are constantly going to be generous. You are constantly going to be giving an offering. [We need to readjust] how we think about consumption where it’s not easy to give and it’s not easy to take.

Panteha Abareshi, “A POUND OF FLESH,” 2022.

(©Ruben Diaz 2022, Hunter Shaw Fine Art)

I see [this] a lot with work about the Black and brown experience or the immigrant experience, where people want to look at the artwork and still feel good. They want to be engaging with representation but still feel OK being a privileged body. They want to feel like they’ve done the good work by looking at the artwork but still walk away from it and be able to enjoy their day.

We are taught as consumers of art and as consumers in general — just living in the West and being capitalists — that consumption always begets pleasure. That you should always be seeking pleasure as you consume. That it should be comfortable. And that art should be a beautiful, pleasurable thing. The idea of going to look at art is never synonymous with being in distress or being uncomfortable at all. There is sort of an unspoken expectation on the part of the viewer that when you go up to an art piece, that piece should give you everything that you need to have a satisfying exchange with it. That’s why people get so frustrated when something is not just confusing but is refusing to give them what they want, to meet their gaze, to be beheld.

CEL: It seems like an important part of your practice to counter the viewer and push back — there is this element of refusal that is very deliberate.

PA: I’m making work that reminds people of the body that they’re in and the power dynamic that they’re engaging in. It’s uncomfortable for everyone. But discomfort is a really important part of my practice; that is how radical conversation happens. For me, discomfort is not something to shy away from but to lean into, because the disabled body — as a symbol or even as a metaphor — is such a source of universal discomfort.

I push myself to constantly be critical of the relationship that exists between the viewer and the disabled subject and this idea that disability is a never-ending performance. There are so many layers to performance within a disabled art practice, because the disabled individual is constantly having to perform disabled legibility. Even when the disabled body declares itself to be a performer and the performance ends and they step off that proverbial stage, there is a performance that they can never stop doing.

CEL: Can you talk about how refusal manifests in terms of your own body? I’m thinking about how the body is no longer defined by your own embodiment in your 2022 series “THIS IS NOT A BODY.”

PA: In my work, I’m exercising a very specific type of control over my body in the use of it as object and material — “abjectifying” my own body and tearing it away from any sort of corporeal definition, refusing to allow my body to even be identified as a body and taking away the validity of it. In “THIS IS NOT A BODY,” I intentionally excluded my own form and representation. Even though there is a lot of body representation using literal body parts, I was trying to evoke anatomy in so many abstract and sculptural ways, completely disallowing myself even as object, even as material, to appear in the work.

Panteha Abareshi, “A CONFUSED DIAGRAM (i),” 2022.

(©Ruben Diaz 2022, Hunter Shaw Fine Art)

Panteha Abareshi, “AN EXCERCISE IN LOGIC.”

(©the artist)

Again, I’m constantly pushing myself to maintain a level of discomfort in my work and pushing myself to be uncomfortable. There’s a constant relearning of my own body because of my illness and my disability, and so it was important that I didn’t allow myself to sit comfortably with what my body can do or could do or can represent in the work because the artist’s body, it functions really symbolically — especially at intersections between being of color and being disabled and being queer.

CEL: Where you become the representation.

PA: Exactly. It becomes a really easy place to rest on. To pull that out as something that I could use or rely on or even just take a moment to catch my breath on is a way for me to push myself to really articulate what I’m trying to say and to de-privilege my own body.

You know, growing up in an able-bodied society, you’re told that bodily autonomy is 100% yours and that you should always feel in control of your body. And so, feeling very confused about not being in control of my body and feeling like I was being controlled by my illness and by my disability — there was such a fear around acknowledging that there is a lack of control even with the thing that you live in and exist in every day. Even if not now, inevitably with aging, we’re all gonna lose control of this horse-drawn carriage at some point.

CEL: Right — to me, the fear of losing control is the same as the fear of mortality, where if you don’t have control over your life, your identity, yourself, then there’s no definition and it’s all just chaos.

PA: We are just a collection of cells. It’s like this bundle of chaos. I find a great comfort in that, and I think that that’s because I am having to contend with malfunction and inability every day. It’s comforting to me to think about the body as chaotic. But I understand how terrifying that can also be if you’ve been taught to expect a certain amount of control and stability and cohesiveness within your body your whole life. We want to feel like we’re so securely strapped into this roller-coaster ride. But really, we barely have a string tied around our waist — we could fly out at any moment. With me and the body that I’m living in, it seems like my perceived proximity to death is perceived as a lot closer, but we’re all there.

CEL: Can I ask what you think happens when you die?

PA: I think you die and that’s it — once your brain functioning stops, life ends there. Even when I was young, the idea of an afterlife or there not being a full stop to life was always scary to me because I was like, why? You’re telling me I have to live forever? That’s awful. I take a great comfort in knowing that things will end. My life has to be finite in order for me to even fathom how to bring meaning into it.

CEL: That’s interesting given that one of the draws of being an artist is the promise of immortality. Do you think about leaving a trace of yourself in terms of your legacy?

PA: If I could have it my way, my art would just disappear when I die. What is most important to me is contributing to these critical conversations that I am trying to be and am a part of. If you are actually, truly contributing to those conversations, your name and your legacy shouldn’t matter because you’ve done what you could to participate in that critical discussion, for them to be expanded and made more accessible. Once I’m dead, I won’t be able to do those things anymore, so it doesn’t matter really.

CEL: If you’re not afraid of death, what are you afraid of?

PA: I’m constantly dealing with the fear of losing control in the ways my life are most important to me. I’m not afraid of dying, but it’s really difficult for me to contend with real-time loss of physical ability and loss of independence. Now, I can’t be independent and self-sufficient because of how my illness has deteriorated. So I’ve had to acknowledge in myself an inability, in very literal ways. And that is really terrifying. It’s really terrifying to take stock of where I am compared to where I used to be and the ability that I used to have and to also look into the future where I’ll be even more disabled than I am now.

Panteha Abareshi, in-progress performance work, 2023.

(©the artist)

It’s also really scary for me to think about alienating my loved ones because of my illness, or the fact that my suffering is something that I can’t keep as an insular experience. I’ve never wanted my illness to make someone else’s life difficult because it makes my own life so difficult. I don’t feel like anyone else should have to suffer because of this thing. But the truth is that when you love someone who is sick and/or disabled, there is an immense difficulty in just living with that — not in any bad way, but to take care of someone is profoundly difficult in a literal, physical sense.

But it’s so scary to me that I would have no control over the effect that I’m having on the people that I love. I’ve isolated myself for many years because of that. I’ve closed people out of my life with the justification that I’m doing it for their good, even if they don’t acknowledge it that way. The people that I have now in my life are the people who have been like, “I’m not gonna let you make that decision for me.” And that has been also profoundly difficult — loving someone and hurting them, and not being able to have one without the other in my life and having to acknowledge that is really scary.

Panteha Abareshi, “A MISTRANSLATION,” 2022.

(©Ruben Diaz 2022, Hunter Shaw Fine Art)

Panteha Abareshi, “A MISTRANSLATION,” 2022

(©Ruben Diaz 2022, Hunter Shaw Fine Art)

CEL: What strikes me is that all of your fears are not only totally valid but they come from a place of immense caring and empathy. It’s not about your mortality — it’s about how you’re affecting others around you. It sounds like you have some amazing people in your life.

PA: My circumstance, the body that I’ve lived in, has in many ways forced me to be very selective about who I lead into my life, but it’s also allowed me to learn about the type of people that I want to surround myself with. I’m satisfied with all of that. I feel very, very lucky. I’m striving to find people who are willing to see you and know you and to treat relationships as something that require work and constant cultivation. Loving someone doesn’t have to be easy. You should wake up every day and choose to love someone. And you choose to do the work to love that person.

CEL: I think of what we were talking about before, about being able to be human without necessarily being defined by your body. How your body isn’t what makes you human. I think of our relationships as what makes us human. And how, in some ways, we only exist in relation to other people.

PA: That’s a beautiful way of putting it. For a long time, I was really insecure — [dealing] with the need to be desirable — and had a lot of experiences that validated that insecurity. But I’ve also met people that think about their interactions with people and think about love in a way that is not rooted in the corporeal at all. That isn’t something that is reserved for disabled people to experience — everyone deserves to be seen. Being seen is looking at you as a person, not just the shell around the pistachio or whatever.

Panteha Abareshi, self-portrait.

(©the artist)

I feel like we are spoon-fed preexisting definitions of these terms and that we’re doing ourselves a disservice by ascribing to them. If we held ourselves to those definitions of love and relationships — even platonic love [or] queer platonic love — we are still restricting ourselves so heavily. We’re taught to love in such specific ways and that love should give you these very specific things in your life. It is still a taboo to step outside of those definitions and set those demarcations for yourself.

We’re so pushed to feel like we need to define love in these terms that are communicable, reproducible, digestible. It feels unsatisfying or wrong to leave love in its most abstract terms. But that’s where it exists in its most flourished and comfortable states. When it’s completely indefinable, it exists as a cloud. It doesn’t need definition. The emotions that we feel when we feel the most seen or understood or connected, they exist in their most personally valuable, furtive, radical states when they are allowed to expand into the unknowable, into the undefinable, into the abstract where you can acknowledge and understand and feel something while also letting it be completely unreachable and uncontainable.

Caroline Ellen Liou currently works as a curatorial assistant at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (ICA LA). She received her BFA in painting at the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, and her masters in contemporary Chinese art and geopolitics at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London.

Nature-curious? This “cool kids” outdoor club will show you L.A.’s best.

Get out into nature, they said. Los Angeles is two hours from snow, beach, mountains and desert (pending traffic). It’s free, they said. To Michael Washington — founder of USAL Project, a company offering guided nature excursions in Los Angeles — this all sounds great in theory. But for the unfledged, it’s not that easy or welcoming. He hopes he can bridge that gap.

Washington first tried to tap into existing nature programs in the L.A. area. When he attended a foraging convention last year, he felt ostracized. “I walked in and it was all white people over 50. When I tried to ask questions, I got such a cold shoulder. It was so uninviting. I was like, ‘This is the issue,’” he says.

So he began toying with the idea of creating a diverse place for the outdoors-curious. Not an expert himself, he worried about being judged. After months of deliberation, he decided that was why he was the perfect candidate. As a novice, he was the target customer and he knew he could tap experts to help. He could create the group he had failed to find.

Michael Washington, left, who started USAL Project, an outdoor experiences community, and Andrea Jimenez, an herbalist and naturalist. Jimenez led a nature walk, organized by USAL Project, through Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

He was also ready for a big life change, one that embraced nature and invigorated his creativity. At one point, his job as a talent manager in the music industry meant helping artists tell their stories. Then it became a viral race that required shark-like instincts he couldn’t fake. But that wasn’t the dream. He wanted to find his way back to being a storyteller. The outdoors led him there.

“People are always like, ‘Wow what you’re doing now is so different,’ but to me it really isn’t. It’s a lot of the same skill set. It’s producing events, it’s marketing, it’s storytelling. It’s connecting the dots to a wider community, to a landscape, to a location through activity and a shared interest. The vessel then was music, the vessel now is the outdoors,” says Washington.

Working as a talent manager, Washington was pulled away from his love of the outdoors. Raised in San Antonio, Texas, his interest in nature developed while studying at University of Colorado Boulder. After graduating, he moved to Los Angeles, where on the rare weekend off from working with his clients — internationally touring DJs and budding indie rock musicians — he’d pile his gear into a camper van and find a new pocket of the state to unplug in.

These adventures led Washington to Usal Beach in Humboldt County, where he could surf, camp and hike. He’d later follow in Patagonia’s footsteps and name his organization USAL Project after the area that inspired it. But at the time, his interest in the outdoors was just beginning to eclipse the love he once had for the music industry and with it, his Instagram feed morphed from pictures of nights out to ones of idyllic coastlines and smiling selfies on steep mountains. Friends, and strangers, noticed the shift. In a few years, he’d find a way to make the outdoors his full-time job, but in the meantime, he savored every moment at Usal.

A group of participants stands together, listening to Andrea Jimenez, center, before she leads them on the USAL Project’s nature walk.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

“Strangers would reach out to me online with long messages telling me how sharing my nature photos and hikes has helped them. It surprised me, but it made me feel really good and I started trying to figure out how I could do this in a way that felt purposeful,” says Washington.

It was clear Washington wasn’t the only Los Angeles resident craving more time outdoors. Lockdown in the early days of the pandemic forced people out of their comfort zones, exploring nearby trails for socially distanced walks. Outdoors performance gear has even influenced fashion trends and prompted Gucci’s collaboration with North Face. Through USAL, Washington hopes to shift what the average outdoorsman looks like, acknowledging that the wealthy, white, male archetype is a result of systemic racism and classism that have led people of color like him into neighborhoods and socioeconomic situations that make the outdoors less accessible.

“The outdoors are different from other activities because of the safety level. You can’t get started alone. Learning how to do something the right way isn’t just good, it can be the difference between saving your life. Being around teachers that come from the same city as you, from the same generation as you, maybe are similar skin color as you, helps,” he says.

Sainabou Gaye reaches up to touch the leaves of a tree during the USAL Project’s nature walk.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

On Earth Day 2022, USAL Project launched its first event, a foraging workshop. The next month, Washington quit his job in music.

Under the curation of Washington and his newly appointed business partner, DJ and chef Zoe Gitter, USAL Project hosts 20 to 25 events per month in the Los Angeles area. A gardening techniques class is $20, while a guided herb walk or foraging hike is $30. For the thrillseeker, there’s falconry ($100) and oceanic species dives ($120). Less physical activities include breathwork workshops ($35), ceramics ($85), beading ($100) and compost bin making ($55). Weekend-long trips focused on camping, backpacking and spearfishing are hosted in Joshua Tree, Morro Bay and Big Sur ($80-$200). All events include materials and equipment and are guided by field experts.

USAL is not the only brand offering guided nature trips in Los Angeles. “You can get a guided fishing trip anywhere,” says Washington. In many cases, USAL’s pricing is competitive, but the brand hopes to differentiate themselves with a clear mission.

Andrea Jimenez touches the leaf of a plant as she leads the USAL Project’s nature walk.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A group of people participate in one of the USAL Project’s nature walks.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

“A lot of times, nature activities get looped into wellness on one side and fitness on the other. Where we sit is somewhere in the middle of that. Our guides are different because they’re teaching the human connection to the activity and how it helped their lives. The goal is to help people see why these activities are extremely important and not only fun but important for your life routine,” says Washington.

On a brisk Saturday morning, a group of 30 20- and 30-somethings gather in Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena. Washington stands quietly in the back, letting Andrea Jimenez of Herb Walk LA guide the group in identifying over 10 plants from Stinging Nettle to California sagebrush. Attendees ask dozens of questions, some sketching each herb and others foraging a bouquet for medicinal use. The event is one of USAL’s mainstays and sells out every time.

Sainabou Gaye, left, and Lindsey Esch, both participants in the USAL Project’s nature walk, jot down specifics about a plant.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Mario Apuzzo, a business major at USC, invited two classmates to join him on the herb walk. “I found out about USAL over Instagram,” he says. “I was very attracted to the visuals of it. Last week I tried the Forest Therapy class, and it was completely transformative.”

That evening, USAL hosted its first roundtable dinner party at their new first bricks-and-mortar space in Silver Lake. Like nearby boutiques, they’ll sell locally made goods like candles and ceramics alongside USAL’s merchandise — hoodies and sweatpants with trippy, fashion-forward graphics. Washington hopes the store can uplift the local community by selling their goods and that the brand expansion will allow proceeds from USAL merchandise to keep the ticket price of events as low as possible.

Olivia Matthews, a growth manager at a startup, was one of 40 attendees at the dinner. She grabbed a glass of natural wine before starting a conversation with three other women. All four attended the dinner alone, hoping to meet new like-minded people. Despite being new to L.A., Matthews is already a USAL veteran. Since July, she’s taken a woodworking class, gone on the herb walk, experienced forest therapy and participated in the monthly outdoor gear swap.

The USAL Outdoor Research Center, the bricks-and-mortar outpost for the organization.

(Mike Pham)

The interior of the USAL Outdoor Research Center.

(Mike Pham)

“These events allowed me to meet people, learn more about things I can do nearby, connect to nature and pursue new hobbies. They were such a great introduction to L.A. for me, and were so accessible and approachable. As I’ve continued going to USAL events, I’ve started seeing the same people and it’s been really nice to start building that community over time,” she says.

USAL was built to introduce curious L.A. residents to the wonders of the great outdoors, but despite the diversity of attendees, there’s a clear common thread. “The flag we hang in terms of what our Instagram looks like, our images and videos, is attracting a certain type of creative person. We’re coming to the outdoors with a fresh perspective that’s different from other outdoors brands. It’s naturally bringing people that identify with certain tastes together and not the kind of people who are arrogant,” says Washington. It’s not an accident the group looks like something of a cool kids club, but regardless of the stylish sneakers or hats worn at the herb walk or roundtable dinner, the community stays true to its for-everyone roots. Anything less would result in the same barriers Washington faced a year prior.

“Have you noticed none of us have asked what the others do for a living?” Olivia Matthews asked her new friends by the fire pit outside USAL headquarters. “That’s how you know this is different.”

Andrea Jimenez holds a journal of handwritten notes as she leads a group on the USAL Project’s nature walk.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Two participants in the USAL Project’s nature walk stroll hand in hand through Hahamongna Watershed Park.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Spring can’t come fast enough in LA. 12 pop-ups and activities will prepare you.

Bulgari pop-up

Bulgari. March 2023 Drip Index column for Image magazine.

Seventy-five years ago, Bulgari launched Serpenti, its famous line of snake-inspired jewelry: watches with scaly bands, bracelets of diamond snakes winding around wrists. To celebrate the anniversary, Bulgari is hosting its first pop-up exhibition in L.A., featuring jewelry, watches and leather goods, all surrounded by photos and paintings casting the snake as a design icon. Italian artist Davide Quayola was tapped to create a sculpture of serpentine shapes. Open March 1–April 16, 11 a.m.-7 p.m., at 431 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills.

Imprint by Honor the Gift

Russell Westbrook in Honor The Gift’s Imprint Collection

(Honor the Gift)

For the latest collection from Honor the Gift, designer Russell Westbrook took his inspiration from the impact Black Americans have had on workwear throughout history. From emancipated sharecroppers to domestic servants, laundresses, blacksmiths and carpenters, Black laborers used apparel as a creative outlet amid dire conditions and despite limited resources, says the brand. The new collection, dubbed Imprint, is made up of sturdy neutrals for men, women and kids, captured in a campaign featuring the Compton Cowboys. Launches March 2.

Born X Raised + Levi’s at Rolling Loud

If you’re going to Rolling Loud on March 3–5, don’t miss the Born X Raised and Levi’s collab. They’ll have black hoodies celebrating the hip-hop music festival and will be offering custom designs on-site. For those who can’t make it, select pieces will be available on the Born X Raised website.

‘Amir H. Fallah: The Fallacy of Borders’ at the Fowler

Amir H. Fallah, “Silent Sounds,” 2021-22; stained and fused glass, custom LED panel, aluminum frame.

(Amir H. Fallah / Dio Horia Gallery)

In Amir H. Fallah’s first museum exhibition in Los Angeles, expect to get caught up in the artist’s maximalist paintings and stained glass works. Fallah is known for making “alternative” portraits — they don’t fixate on likeness but rather on the objects, textures and moods that one associates with a person, an approach partly informed by the artist’s experiences as an immigrant. The exhibition includes a fascinating archival display of Beautiful/Decay, the art and design magazine that the artist founded and edited between 1996 and 2013. Open Wednesday–Sunday, noon–5 p.m., through May 14, at 308 Charles E. Young Drive North, Los Angeles.


Italian Trade Agency, in collaboration with Confindustria, is debuting its inaugural “roadshow” at L.A. Market Week, the bustling contemporary fashion trade show. It’ll be a special opportunity to see exciting new work by 31 Italian designers, including Fracap, Laboratorio Mariucci and Giovanna Nicolai, who have “a modern perspective on Italian design and craftsmanship.” Find these brands at the Brand Assembly Show as well as the Designers and Agents Show that weekend. March 13-15, various locations.

JSP X Vault by Vans

In their second collaboration, JSP and Vault by Vans release a new collection of nostalgic Vans in kelly green, black and true blue, with a sentimental message on the bottom of the sole: “I Love My JSP Vans.” JSP founder Jimmy Gorecki describes the designs as “both rich and rugged,” made of nylon and soft suede, and credits the classic Venice joint Hoagies as an influence for his L.A.-meets-Philly aesthetic. The first half of the collection dropped in February, and the second half drops in early March. Keep your eyes peeled.

Gucci lands at the Brand

A new Gucci store has opened at Americana at Brand in Glendale. Its stone marble inlay storefront cut with industrial Uranian blue linings and arched entryway faces the dancing fountain in the complex’s atrium. The more than 6,000-square-foot boutique features the house’s extensive collection of men’s and women’s accessories including shoes, handbags, luggage, jewelry, watches and eyewear. Open 11 a.m.–8 p.m. Monday–Saturday, 11 a.m.–7 p.m. Sunday. 702 Americana Way, Suite E-01, Glendale.

James Fuentes opens on Melrose

Didier William, “Dezabiye: a Supple Burning Glare,” 2023; acrylic, wood carving, and ink on panel.

(Constance Mensh)

New York gallerist James Fuentes is opening a location in Los Angeles on March 25. The 3,700-square-foot space will host a solo show of Didier William‘s mesmerizing and mystical prints and paintings of figures submerged in water, caught in forests and lifted by clouds. Through May 25. 5015 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles.

Género Neutral turns 2

Género Neutral.

(Angella Choe / For The Times)

The community’s concept shop is celebrating two years on Saturday, March 18, with DJs Niño Genesis and Dante Sin, plus original merch including a limited-edition tote bag. Come meet Ashley S.P. and Jennifer Zapata, the innovative duo behind the store of stylish, genderless clothes. L.A. Times Image, a co-host of the party, will be there with magazines and more. Just scan the code on the Wild Postings wheat-paste posters around town for more info. 1816 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, 4–9 p.m.

Versace Fall-Winter Show

Versace brings its fall-winter 2023 women’s and men’s collections to Los Angeles on Friday, March 10, just two days ahead of the Oscars. The fits will be inspired by Hollywood and red carpet flare.

The Hammer Museum expands

Mario Ayala’s “Aqueduct Angel” (2020) will be on display in “Together in Time: Selections From the Hammer Contemporary Collection,” running in Westwood March 26-Aug. 20.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s “Ike Ya” (2016) will be on display at the Hammer.

UCLA’s Hammer Museum is expanding with a newly transformed building featuring a large exhibition of contemporary art “through the lens of Los Angeles.” Artists include Mark Bradford, Noah Davis, rafa esparza, Luchita Hurtado and Noah Purifoy. The new galleries open Sunday, March 26, and on Friday, March 25, the museum store is hosting a pop-up with the Native-owned brand Thunder Voice Hat Co., which will be selling its hats made from recycled saddle straps and vintage coins. Each hat comes with a map of the stars printed on the interior “so the wearer can always find their way.” 10899 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, open 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Tuesday–Sunday.

Louis Vuitton x Yayoi Kusama

Louis Vuitton x Kusama collaboration in Beverly Hills.

(Brian Berkowitz)

LV is dropping the second half of its collaboration with artist Yayoi Kusama on Friday, March 31. The designs are dizzying and delightful: polka dot bags, belts, hats and scarves; blue and green pumpkins on necklaces, suitcases and perfumes. There are infinite ways to wear this collection — you’ll never get bored.

Wildflower shaming—too far? Finding the greatest flowers without drama


The Theodore Payne Foundation’s Wild Flower Hotline is set to return March 3, with weekly updates about where to find the best blooms this spring — which promise to be spectacular due to all our rain.

But Evan Meyer, the foundation’s director, says he’s “disappointed by all the negativity” from public officials and conservationists about this highly anticipated event. In recent weeks, the media has been flooded with finger-wagging and warnings about a potential superbloom, because of past damage from thoughtless visitors who were more focused on taking selfies than protecting the flowers.

Certainly, people should be careful not to trample, dig or pick those eye-popping patches of oranges, pinks, purples and golds, and be respectful of the communities where the flowers grow, Meyer said, “but this is something that should be celebrated. We’re getting this gift from nature, an amazing incredible phenomena, and people should be able to see it.”

Meyer believes scolding and turning the public away is bad for conservation efforts in the long run.

“We want to encourage a love for these natural places, so people realize our shared spaces need to be cared for and protected,” he said. “It’s not crowds of people that have really hurt our wildflower stands — it’s the pavement that’s paved over most of the wildflower habitat that’s existed.”

One troubling example, he said, was a press conference on Feb. 7 when the mayor of Lake Elsinore, flanked by the Riverside County Sheriff and California Highway Patrol, announced that Walker Canyon — the site of a spectacular superbloom in 2019 — would be closed to the public this year, and offenders could be arrested, to avoid a repeat of the traffic jams, helter-skelter parking and other irresponsible behavior that overwhelmed the small community.

The extraordinary blooms, visible from the 15 Freeway, led to people parking on the freeway shoulders and blocking city streets to walk into the hills. City officials tried offering shuttle buses and forming lines to the trails to manage the throngs, but some people ignored the trails and just scrambled up the hillsides, wading through the flowers and even dislodging rocks that rolled onto people below, according to news reports.

That behavior was reprehensible, Meyer said, and potentially devastating to the flowers everyone was clamoring to see. Those beautiful wildflowers are producing seeds that spread to create future blooms, and any damage to those flowers potentially means fewer blooms in the future.

But when he was watching the press conference, with a phalanx of law enforcement officers standing behind the mayor, “I suddenly thought of that famous photo of a hippie sticking a flower in a gun during the protests in the 1960s, and what a crazy flip it is, that now we’re protecting wildflowers with guns,” Meyer said.

“I get that it’s really annoying to have people causing traffic jams and flooding port-a-potties just to get a selfie on Instagram, but these are shared places, owned by the state or federal government, who say their goal is to inspire the public and give them access to the thing that’s really great about being a Californian — having natural experiences near where you live. But instead of finding a way to manage it, they’re just throwing up their hands and saying, ‘You can’t come.’”

A better approach, he said, would be to anticipate these regular natural events and create programs to manage public access while protecting the flowers.

“I’m not advocating for a free-for-all; I’m advocating for more resources from the government,” Meyer said. “It’s valid to say certain areas are off-limits, like wilderness areas where you can’t drive vehicles, but I think county, state and federal agencies should be allocating resources to harness the enthusiasm from the public, like with a reservation system. Maybe this is a wake-up call for more funding to create better controls and better access, or having discretionary funds to be spent during years of high botanical interest.”

Meyer said one good thing about the Wild Flower Hotline — (818) 768-1802, ext. 7 — is that it sends people to a variety of locations “so it spreads out the crowds. It doesn’t just send you to the viral spots. It mentions lesser-known places too that may not have the same flowers but are equally beautiful in their own way.”

The Wild Flower Hotline will continue weekly updates through May, which is usually when the blooms are in decline. But with all this recent rain, it’s possible the flowers will last longer than usual his year, into the summer, Meyer said.

Meyer has another hope for all this wildflower fascination — that it might encourage people to advocate for or pursue native plant landscaping.

“This is a way to celebrate what an incredible state we live in, and appreciate the natural world and native plants. If we can build that appreciation, we can encourage people to think about how to protect those plants and bring more of this [superbloom] experience into large spaces in our urban environment.”

Here are some other plant-related things to see and do in March, when you’re not out (respectfully) gawking at gorgeous flowers. If you’d like to include events in our monthly garden calendar, email information by the third week of the preceding month to

March 1-May 15
The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch, 50 acres of blooming ranunculus flowers, open to visitors daily at 5704 Paseo del Norte in Carlsbad. Timed-entry tickets between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. are available online. $23 adults, $21 seniors 60+ and military, $12 for ages 3 to 10 and free for children under 3.

March 3
Volunteers needed for habitat restoration at Debs Park led by Test Plot and Terremoto Landscape Architecture, 8 to 10 a.m. at the Audubon Center at Debs Park, 4700 Griffin Ave., in L.A’s Montecito Heights neighborhood. Participants will help plant native plants and remove invasive plants to build a sustainable habitat for local bird populations. Volunteers must sign a waiver and wear closed-toe shoes. Wear a hat and sunscreen, and bring gardening gloves and a reusable water bottle (there’s a drinking fountain on-site). Participation is free and no RSVP is required. Waivers for adults and children can be completed online.

March 3-26
Tomatomania‘s three-day sales events at various SoCal locations, offer at least 100 varieties of tomato seedlings as well as peppers and other vegetable plants. At Roger’s Gardens in Corona del Mar on March 3-12; Otto & Sons in Fillmore on March 9-11; Fig Earth Supply in Mount Washington on March 10-12; and at Underwood Family Farms’ Moorpark Farm Center in Moorpark and Somis Farm Market in Somis from March 17-19.

March 11-April 9
San Diego Botanic Garden World of Orchids showcase, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 300 Quail Gardens Drive in Encinitas, includes vendors on weekends and classes about orchids on selected days. Free with $18 ticket to the garden ($12 for military, students and seniors 60+, $10 for ages 3-17 and free for members and children under 3).

March 9
Garden to Table from Seed, a talk by Renee Shepherd of Renee’s Garden seed company, about kitchen gardening throughout the seasons, at the Southern California Horticultural Society meeting at Friendship Auditorium, 3201 Riverside Drive, in Griffith Park. Doors open at 7 p.m, the talk starts at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free.

March 10-12
Santa Barbara International Orchid Show, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day at the Earl Warren Showgrounds, 3400 Calle Real in Santa Barbara. Admission is $20 for a day or $30 for a three-day pass. Children 12 and under enter free with a paying adult.

March 11
Abundant Nutrition: A Foraging Walk in Pasadena with “Foraging Southern California” author Douglas Kent, 9 to 11 a.m. The starting address will be emailed to ticket holders three days before the walk, which is a fundraiser for the nonprofit Poly/Ana, dedicated to educating people about ways to protect and respect local ecosystems. Tickets are $25.

Greywater Irrigation Hands-On Workshop by Greywater Corps., an installer of residential greywater systems, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at a private residence in Burbank. Participants will learn how to install a laundry-to-landscape greywater system, “with a minimum of tools and experience.” $200, register online.

Spring and Summer Planting, a free class by master gardener Yvonne Savio, of about the best edibles and ornamentals to plant in Southern California at 2 p.m. at the North Hollywood Amelia Earhart Regional Library, 5211 Tujunga Ave. Savio is teaching a similar class on March 18 at the Platt Branch library, 23600 Victory Blvd., in Woodland Hills.’s-on/events

Growing Works Nursery Spring Fling Retail Sale, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 1736 S. Lewis Road in Camarillo, includes live music, local artisan vendors and food trucks, as well as succulents, native and drought-tolerant plants grown at the wholesale nursery which provides job training, employment and therapy to people with mental health challenges.

March 11-12
Organic Veggie Plant sale and free compost, a Sarah’s House Maternity Homes fundraiser from 10 am. to 2 p.m. both days, 641 Weller Court in Simi Valley. Visitors can get free compost (bring your own 5-gallon container) and purchase $2 veggie starts of herbs, pansies, greens, broccoli, lettuce, arugula, bok choy, beets, kale and snap peas. More plants will be added for sale throughout the spring.

March 17
Community Habitat Restoration for local bird populations, 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Audubon Center at Debs Park, 4700 Griffin Ave., in Montecito Heights. Jobs includes removing invasive plants and watering new native plants. Volunteers must register and sign a waiver prior to participating (available online). Wear closed-toe shoes and expect to get dirty. Bring a reusable water bottle to fill from the drinking fountain on-site. Dogs and other pets are not permitted.

TreePeople annual tree sapling “adoption, 10 a.m. to noon at Coldwater Canyon Park, 12601 Mulholland Drive in Beverly Hills. TreePeople is offering five varieties of native trees saplings for “adoption” — only one per household — including coast live oak, scrub oak, valley oak, toyon and southern black walnut. Saplings should be planted directly into the ground at least 40 feet from any other trees or structures, on private property (not parkways) with no overhead wires above. Saplings must be reserved in advance only by emailing Drop-ins will not be permitted.

March 18
Cal Poly Pomona’s Tomatozania event starts today, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at the Farm Store, 4102 S. University Drive in Pomona, with more than 100 tomato varieties propagated and grown by Cal Poly Pomona plant sciences students. Proceeds benefit the school’s plant sciences program. The nursery is also selling other vegetable plants for spring home gardens, including herbs, zucchini, squash, cucumbers, beans, lettuce, strawberries and dragon fruit.

Southern California Horticultural Society Plant and Yard Sale, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Bakers Acres, 18552 Erwin St., in Tarzana. The sale includes Bakers Acres inventory of bromeliads, tillandsias and gasteria as well as pots, and board members will be selling vegetable starts, succulents, plumeria, pelargoniums and other varieties. Admission is free.

Folia Collective’s Winter Plant & Cuttings Swap, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on the patio at Unincorporated Coffee, 2160 Colorado Blvd., in Eagle Rock. Bring healthy, pest-free cuttings and plants you’ve been rooting to swap with others. Register online, $5. All proceeds will be donated to Folia’s nonprofit partner, Climate Resolve.

March 18 & 25
Landscape Transformation Hands-On Workshops, a free, two-day workshop sponsored by the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power to learn how to remove turf and build healthy soil by sheet mulching, install sustainable landscaping using drought-tolerant and California-native plants, capture rainwater and install drip irrigation, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. both days in Hancock Park. (Exact location to be announced). Register online.
March 24-26
Tomatomania Lollapalooza at Tapia Bros. Farm Stand, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 5251 Hayvenhurst Ave. in Encino, includes 250 varieties of tomatoes and about 100 varieties of pepper seedlings, as well as tomato-growing talks and tips by experts. The nursery will also offer a Tomatomania pop-up store, with a smaller selection, March 21 to April 18, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

March 25
California Native Flower Festival at Tree of Life Nursery, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 33201 Ortega Hwy. in San Juan Capistrano. The event includes a $50 class at 10 a.m. about potting California native plants (the fee includes a terracotta pot and five native plants), a bouquet contest of native garden plants and items sold by local artisans. Register online.

March 25-26
Two Dog Organic Nursery Spring Pop Up, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 914 S. Cloverdale Ave. in Mid-City. The home-based nursery closed last year, but owners Alex and Jo Anne Trigo are back for just a short two-day sale of tomato, pepper, eggplant, cucumber, summer squash, beans, herb, spinach and lettuce seedlings, as well as strawberry and blueberry plants. Info about the sale is provided by email; sign up for more information and growing tips on their website.

How to avoid being a jerk in Sedona

With its towering red rock formations, spiritual vortices and hundreds of miles of hiking trails, Sedona has long beckoned weekend travelers from L.A. And we keep answering the call. Californians make up the highest percentage of Sedona visitors, after Arizona residents. All over social media, you’ll find influencers standing in rock tunnels and gazing out into the vast Southwest desert terrain above captions like, “Pure magic.”

But many Sedona residents believe tourists are loving their town to death.

“Go home tourists!” reads the headline of a forum post by one Sedona resident, who cites bad behavior like littering, driving ATVs on hiking trails and parking illegally to take “stupid family pics” as reasons for the frustration.

Around 3 million tourists visit Sedona each year — that’s 8,219 visitors a day who use the two main roads, State Routes 89A and 179, to traverse the town of more than 9,700 residents. The pandemic unleashed more people into the northern Arizona haven, with 3.7 million visiting in 2021, according to Michelle Conway, president of the Sedona Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau.

The Chapel of the Holy Cross sits atop the red rocks of Sedona.

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

“Sedona was a safe, outdoor-oriented destination during the pandemic, and we got pummeled with the amount of visitation,” she said.

But because it’s a town heavily fueled by tourism, Conway added “there’s no way to pull the drawbridge up.” So with an initiative they’re calling the Sedona Sustainable Tourism Plan, the chamber aims to educate visitors about how to be “sensitive guests.” They’re pointing travelers to the Sedona Cares Pledge (which includes declarations such as “I’ll make my own memories, but not my own trails” and “If I can’t find a parking spot, I will not invent my own”), along with Sedona’s seven principles of Leave No Trace, reminding people to respect wildlife, leave what they find and pack out their trash, among other things.

“We now say goodbye to the idea of our visitor as a mass consumer seeking a few snapshots and experiencing Sedona mostly through a windshield,” the chamber’s website states. It continues: “We also seek a new bond with travelers who share our love and respect for this Most Beautiful Place on Earth.”

In other words, if you’re a day-tripper who’s in it for a few selfies, stay home.

But if you’re looking to immerse yourself in Sedona while respecting its residents and environment, then it’s worth considering a trip to the beloved Red Rocks Country. Just read these dos and don’ts first.

Do go during off-seasons

A cluster of common yarrow flowers along the Adobe Jack Trail in Sedona.

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Plan your Sedona getaway strategically. “In the summer, July and August are quite hot, but they’re less busy,” said Al Comello, a Sedona marketing professional. “Average daily temperatures stay in the 90s, and March to May seem to be perennially the most popular times to visit. In the winter, we do get snow, so summer and winter are also ideal times to visit without crowds.”

At, you can see the traffic in real time and plan your trip based on reality, he said.

“We would all be happier if tourism was more moderate and consistent year-round,” said Rebecca Schemmer, co-owner of wine and craft beer bar Vino Di Sedona.

A hiking trail leading to Cathedral Rock at dawn.

(James Mogensen / Sedona Chamber)

Sure, you’ll probably want to see Sedona’s most recognized landmarks, including the Chapel of the Holy Cross, Devil’s Bridge Trail and the four most recognized spiritual vortexes — Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, Airport Mesa and Boynton Canyon. But let me suggest a couple less crowded activities as well: Test your mountain biking skills at the Sedona Bike Park or watch some birds take off at the Sedona Wetlands Preserve.

Also, with more than 400 miles of trails, most in the Coconino National Forest, there are plenty of opportunities for hiking. Local resident and short-term rental owner Cat Sullivan said the Dawa and Cockscomb trails, on Sedona’s northern edge near Dry Creek, “don’t get overrun with people.” At sustainably farmed Alcantara Vineyard in nearby Camp Verde, server Julie Camponeschi said the West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon is a “beautiful, beautiful hike,” but it’s nearly impossible to get a parking spot on weekends. So go on a weekday.

Check the schedule for the free Sedona Shuttle to spare any parking angst. My friend and I found a spot at the Thunder Mountain trailhead and enjoyed a just-right, easy-to-moderate hike on Chimney Rock Loop Trail, one of Sedona’s lesser-known spots.

Do pick up your trash (and really, any trash)

“People are treating the world, and Sedona, like it’s their garbage can,” said Mark Troska of nearby Cottonwood. Residents report litter being left in parking lots, on trails and in the water.

“It makes it hard for the locals, who rarely utilize anything here anymore,” said Jillian Bradshaw, whose father, John Bradshaw, is an owner of Alcantara Vineyard & Winery, where she works.

The author’s friend, Patricia Nelson, kayaking on the Verde River.

(Stephanie Stephens)

She hasn’t been to the famous Slide Rock State Park in probably two decades because of crowds and some tourists being so disrespectful, like “wild animals, trashing everything.”

A good rule of thumb in Sedona (or anywhere in nature) is to leave it better than you found it. Doing my part, while kayaking with Verde Adventures, I deftly maneuvered my kayak to pull plastic pipe, a green beer bottle and a plastic bottle full of (gag) urine out of the Verde. The ride was perfect, with the gentlest rapids and the only soundtrack coming from the water and birds around me.

Don’t go off-roading recklessly

Observers document reckless driving and unrelenting noise, especially along Forest Road 525 and Boynton Pass Road, about 20 minutes out of town. “If you drive out there, for 250 feet on either side, trees are dead because of dust that falls on them,” said Sedona Mayor Scott Jablow. “Photosynthesis can’t occur, and we don’t get a lot of rain, so they die.”

Environmental advocate DeAnna Bindley lives there and cites off-highway vehicles, Jeep, Hummer, and dirt bike rentals as frequent travelers. One day she said she counted 320 trips on the road.

“Public land is being tortured and destroyed so people can do these things,” Bindley said.

But Brian Carstens, the general manager of Sedona ATV and Buggy Rental, said he “can’t police everybody every day.” So his company now shows vehicle renters a short video from the Arizona Game and Fish Department, and that has reduced bad behavior and damages by 80 percent. A few basic guidelines: Keep your vehicle quiet (don’t tamper with the manufacturer’s exhaust system), always yield the right-of-way to hikers and bike riders and don’t ride in closed areas.

“Rappers, basketball and football players come from Austria, the Netherlands, and Switzerland to go off-roading, mostly 35- to 60-year-old males,” Carstens said. “Lots of people say this is the best part of their vacation.”

Do consider locally owned hotels over Airbnbs

Ambiente, Sedona’s adults-only “landscape hotel,” was designed to blend into its surroundings.

(Kyle RM Johnson)

The number of short-term rental properties in the Sedona area has made it unaffordable for many longtime residents, including local workers. (Last year, the city launched a pilot program that would pay property owners up to $10,000 to pull their listings from Airbnb and VRBO and sign leases with locals instead.)

Hotels are typically a more sustainable option. And there are plenty to choose from. Elegant and modernistic, the adults-only Ambiente “landscape hotel” opened this month and was designed to have minimal impact on the natural environment. While there, gaze at 360-degree red rock views of landmarks such as Ship Rock and Coffee Pot Rock.

“Think ‘Sedona on IMAX,’” said co-owner Jennifer May. “We save every tree and every piece of greenery we possibly can, to leave this natural forest as natural as possible.”

Also in the luxury category, L’Auberge de Sedona on Oak Creek, with cottages, a lodge and super-attentive service, is an exquisite homage to nature with well-cared-for resort cats on site. At the eclectic A Sunset Chateau Boutique B&B, you’ll find lush gardens and outdoor art.

A sculpture at the art-filled bed-and-breakfast A Sunset Chateau.

(Patricia Nelson)

Eight miles out of town, the spectacular Enchantment Resort puts you smack in the middle of a red rocks experience, replete with wildlife, on 70 acres in Boynton Canyon. With an expansive pool, tennis, pickleball, stargazing, a labyrinth and much more, hiking and mountain biking aficionados gravitate to the resort’s architecturally chic Trail House, an “epicenter for outdoor adventures.”

“This is the mecca for mountain biking in the United States,” said biking guide Steve Tedrick, a.k.a., “Shaggy,” who embodies Sedona’s zen-like vibe. “I teach sustainable progression on the mountain bike, and it’s all about the balance and the flow, surfing the geologic wave, if you will.” Surfing that wave down steep hills, over rocks and around sharp corners definitely tests balance and flow — or lack thereof.

According to Brett Briseno, Enchantment Resort and Mii amo destination spa director of sales and marketing, a portion of the tour fee for all hike and bike tours goes directly to the Boynton Canyon Preservation Fund, plus resort employees volunteer twice a year to clean up and maintain the trail system. Mii amo also reopened this month after a $40 million renovation and expansion.

For an intimate, welcoming and pet-friendly boutique property, stay at El Portal Sedona Hotel. It’s next to the Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village, headquarters for gifted local artisans. Or choose the rustic and moderately priced Sky Ranch Lodge, which has rooms 500 feet above the city, spectacular red rock rim views, botanical gardens and tranquil ponds right on site.

Don’t stick to chain restaurants

When you get hungry, Sedona has more than 50 restaurants to choose from. The owner of five of them is acclaimed chef and restaurateur Lisa Dahl — a.k.a. the culinary queen of Sedona — who estimates that her dining brands Mariposa, Cucina Rustica, Dahl and Di Luca Ristorante Italiano, Pisa Lisa and Butterfly Burger collectively feed up to 500,000 people per year.

Mariposa Sedona serves up Latin-inspired dishes and panoramic views.

(Dahl Restaurant Group)

Dahl believes that “without tourism, there will be no sustainable Sedona,” but hopes that out-of-town guests will “honor the sacredness and beauty that many locals and tourists want to preserve for many generations to come in perpetuity.” My dinner at Mariposa included tantalizing appetizers of portobello three-cheese mushroom empanadas, yucca fries and cauliflower curry bisque. Hint: Make a reservation several months ahead during high seasons.

To go more casual and rustic, opt for the historic Up the Creek on Oak Creek, in Cornville. Try the grilled artichoke and Louisiana Gumbo and a wine from a fabulous cellar, accompanied by piano serenades from sommelier, chef and co-owner Jim O’Meally. Another must do: Drive two minutes to Page Springs Vineyard, which is reminiscent of a Napa Valley vineyard. I loved the hearty Vino Barrio Rojo. Or go casual at Vino de Sedona, selling 900 worldly and local Arizona wines.

Do respect the sacred land

Native Americans discovered Sedona at least 3,000 years before the first white person, Jim Thompson, arrived in 1878, according to Mike Haboush, docent at the Sedona Heritage Museum. “The Sinagua — meaning ‘without water’ — were here long before the Hopi, Yavapai, and Apache,” he said.

Visit ruins and cliff dwellings at Montezuma Castle National Monument, Palatki Heritage Site and its sister site, Honanki, or a small hilltop pueblo at Tuzigoot National Monument.

“Don’t confuse vortex sites with sacred lands,” Haboush said. “During the early ‘70s and the New Age movement, vortexes became popular places to meditate and feel concentrated energy from the earth. The Native Americans also believed there were ‘curtains of energy’ in the area.”

He adds: Please don’t sit and meditate in the middle of a hiking trail or build stacked rock cairns to show “you were there.”

“All of the Verde Valley is considered sacred land,” said Irina Achkasova of One Tribe Tours. The company creates custom itineraries for guests who want to get the most benefit from visiting a vortex area, which may include guided meditations or yoga.

The sun sets over Arizona State Route 89A, cutting through Sedona.

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Perhaps the easiest way to take better care of Sedona is to shed the tourist mindset — there are no medals for checking off every spot in your guidebook as quickly as possible.

“Sedona is not about seeing everything,” said Steve Segner, president of the Sedona Lodging Council and co-owner of El Portal Sedona Hotel. “It’s about slowing down a little bit. Walk any trail, take a deep breath and just take nature in.”

In the end, if people respect this magical place, they’ll have the same wonders to look forward to when they return.

Laurel Canyon store honours music legends: “Then I realised it was David Bowie.”

As cars loudly race up Laurel Canyon Boulevard on their way from Hollywood to the Valley, the Canyon Country Store sits quietly in the middle of the street. Walking into the quaint, unassuming grocery store is like stepping into a time capsule, one filled with a legendary musical past.

The store is like a shrine to the neighborhood’s famous residents. Photos taken in the shop of Laurel Canyon rock stars who made it big in the 1960s, including David Crosby, Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell, dot the walls and hang above the cash register. A sign with the Doors’ iconic line “come on baby light my fire,” marks firewood bundles for sale.

Firewood for sale outside the front entrance to the Canyon Country Store. The sign hanging on the side has a lyric from a song written by Jim Morrison of the Doors, who lived in Laurel Canyon in the 1960s.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

The preservationist behind this “Laurel Canyon scene” is Tommy Bina, who has owned the store for roughly four decades. Dressed in a retro white turtleneck and black leather pants, he jokes, “I’m trying to bring back the spirit of Laurel Canyon.”

In the 1960s, musicians like those honored in the store flocked to the Hollywood Hills neighborhood, creating what became known as the folksy “Laurel Canyon sound.” Laurel Canyon was Los Angeles’ counterpart to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury at the time. “Back then,” Bina, who likes to think of himself as ageless, says, “it was all about the music. And the music was so great, I just don’t want people to forget about the magical era in the canyon.” He admires the anti-establishment lifestyle embraced by the canyon’s rock stars, too. He’s decorated the front patio with colorful 1960s flower power paintings by artist and production designer Spike Stewart and a flag that says “The United State of Laurel Canyon.”

Artwork on display in front of the Canyon Country Store.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Tommy Bina with his guitar, outside the store in the afternoon light.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

California Dreamin’

Looking for more opportunities in America in the 1970s, Bina moved to Los Angeles from Tehran when he was 15 “all by myself,” he says. His first stop was Alabama to move in with relatives. “When I first arrived I was a total stranger, and I didn’t know anyone, but I really liked the Southern hospitality,” he says. Family in Tehran sent him money as he studied for a GED. He went on to community college in Alabama and business school in New Orleans. “But I dreamed of California,” he says.

When Bina moved to Los Angeles, he supported himself by working at a Hilton hotel. The hospitality business suited his friendly, fun personality. He saved money, and along with a business partner, bought the building on Laurel Canyon Boulevard (he didn’t want to disclose for how much) and opened the store in 1982. “We first considered buying a liquor store, but at the time, those cost four times more than buying a grocery store. The building has been a grocery store since 1903. I wanted to live the American Dream,” he recalls.

Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler, pictured with Bina on the left, was Bina’s favorite rock star growing up in Iran. When Tyler first shopped at his store, Bina was shocked. Bina has a guitar signed by Tyler, pictured on the right.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

“When I was 14, my biggest idol in Iran was Steven Tyler of Aerosmith,” Bina says excitedly. “And when I just opened the store, like the first week, I saw him walk into the store — and it blew my mind! I told him he was my childhood idol, and he hugged me. We became friends. It was my dream come true.”

Above the cash register is a photo of the Aerosmith singer, with Bina posed next to him like he’s in the band. “It’s definitely my Dad’s favorite store in the world,” Mia Tyler says.

The store has a deli featuring fresh salads and sandwiches. As Bina prepares an egg salad sandwich, a customer says, “These always hit the spot when I have a hangover,” so Bina gives some extra for free. The store carries a large selection of wines, including a Laurel Canyon house wine that people buy for the Canyon Country Store label and $11.99 price tag. The shop also carries homemade cookies and British candy. “I started carrying British candy in 1987 when this English guy kept coming in and asking if I could order it for him. He always dressed in flashy suits, so I thought he was a car salesman. Then I realized it was David Bowie. I still sell a lot of British candy,” Bina says.

Tommy Bina makes his way out of a storage room in the basement. Above the door frame is a drawing of singer Mama Cass, of the Mamas and the Papas, who Bina says lived down there in the 1960s.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Bina delights in giving customers his personal “rock ‘n’ roll tour” of the store. Stepping down into the basement, which is now a storage room, Bina says in the mid-’60s “Mama Cass of the Mamas and [the] Papas lived down here. … Those stairs up there led out to the parking lot so she didn’t have to walk through the store every time she went out.” A poster of Cass adorns the wall, captioned “Mama Cass lived here.” She’d later buy actress Natalie Wood’s house in Laurel Canyon.

Bina walks back up a flight of wooden stairs and points out a poster of singer Jackie DeShannon. She posed on the very same stairs looking groovy with long bangs and bell bottoms to promote her 1968 album “Laurel Canyon.”

Outside, Bina points to a “Love Street” sign next to the store. It’s where Jim Morrison resided with his girlfriend Pamela Courson. “They say that Morrison and his girlfriend would sit on their balcony and watch the hippies go in and out of the store,” says Bina. In the 1968 Doors song of the same name, Jim Morrison sings, “I see you live on Love Street. There’s the store where the creatures meet.”

A miniature red van, reminiscent of those from the 1960s, is tucked between medication and tote bags.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

In the summer, Bina hosts an annual Love Street Festival, with bands playing on the patio. “This summer the festival is going to be bigger than ever,” he promises. “In past years, we had Robby Kreiger come down and jam, as well as Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and [the] Papas. It’s going to be the Summer of Love again in Laurel Canyon.”

Many songs were written in the lush and beautiful canyon, with its park-like setting, sparkly hillside views, and sweet smells of honeysuckle. Graham Nash wrote the song “Our House” about his romance with Joni Mitchell, and Mitchell wrote the song “Ladies of the Canyon.” Back in the 1960s, Laurel Canyon had plenty of cheap rentals. Today a house in the canyon will cost you at least $2 million.

In the store’s parking lot, valet drivers park cars for Pace, an Italian restaurant that rents the space below the store. When asked who was the most famous person they’ve seen in the store, one valet yells “Madonna!” Another shouts “Lady Gaga!” A third says “George Clooney,” and a fourth says “Kim Kardashian!” Bina says that Jennifer Aniston worked at the store — for three days. “But on the fourth day, she told me she had an audition,” he says, “and she never came back.”

Henry Wilson, who’s worked at the canyon store on and off for five years says, “Joaquin Phoenix keeps a pack of cigarettes behind the counter.” Adding, “Harry Styles was always kind when he came into the store, and wrote a song ‘Canyon Moon,’ when he lived here.”

A poster of singer Jackie DeShannon hangs on the wall above the same flight of stairs she was photographed on to promote her 1968 album “Laurel Canyon.”

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

‘Fuhgeddaboudit,’ everything will be OK

Bina, who has dabbled in acting, loves to improv like he’s in “Goodfellas,” to his customer’s amusement. “Hey, how you doin?,” he says to one. “Good, how ‘bout you?” the customer responds, mimicking his mobster accent. Bina then rattles off his classic “Fuhgeddaboudit, I sleep with the fishes.” “I tell everyone who comes into the store ‘Fuhgeddaboudit,’” Bina says. “It’s like telling them not to worry, that everything will be OK.”

Laurel Canyon resident and “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce” actress Alanna Ubach says she loves it when he does that, and reports that he “has taken on this Mafia character, and never breaks character.” She jokes that he is “fully committed.” During the pandemic, she says, “when times were tough, Tommy’s Fuhgeddaboudits were comforting.”

Customer Aaron Gelb, left, laughs at Bina’s joke from across the counter.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

“It’s always a smile with Tommy,” says cardiologist and actor Rico Simonini, a canyon resident who is originally from Brooklyn. “I told Tommy how to pronounce Fuhgeddaboudit to sound more New York. So now he pronounces it more like an authentic Brooklyn mobster, but with a Persian accent.”

The store remains a neighborhood institution, with a morning coffee scene on the patio, and an annual “picture day” where residents gather for a giant neighborhood group photo. “Picture day started out in 1987 as a way for me to give to my animal charity by selling T-shirts,” says Bina of the Pet Adoption Fund, a no-kill rescue in L.A., “but now it’s a way to continue a sense of community and history in the neighborhood.”

The 1987 neighborhood shot includes a 15-year-old Christina Applegate and hangs above the ice-cream freezer. At last year’s picture day, when Applegate was asked where she grew up, she wistfully said, “I grew up here in Laurel Canyon, with all the hippies, in that house right up there, behind the store.”

A neighborhood group shot in front of the Canyon Country store in 1987 on so-called “Picture Day” is displayed inside the store. Among the local residents in that photo is actress Christina Applegate, seen directly above the letter O, who was then 15 years old.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Photographs from the neighborhood’s Picture Day throughout the years, including this one from 2007, hang inside the store.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

At last year’s picture day in November, about 150 neighbors and their dogs gathered for the shot. “Everybody give the peace sign!” the photographer yelled to the crowd, which included “The Flying Morgans,” a family of aerialists who live in the canyon and climb the telephone pole every year for the photo.

The peace sign endures, as a last vestige of a bygone rock ‘n’ roll hippie past, as seen on the front of the store and side of the building. Flashing the peace sign is standard when someone lets you pass to drive up the tight, windy roads of Laurel Canyon.

Outside on the store’s patio, a painting of a giant red heart is a reminder of Laurel Canyon’s “Summer of Love” and a selfie magnet. For Bina, the painting means, “I see you in the mirror. You are in my heart. You are here in Laurel Canyon. A place about peace. And love. And rock ‘n’ roll.”

A customer makes her way out of the store, passing by the colorful murals that adorn the walls.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Dates in L.A. Second date was a different story.


When I found her, I had just started my online dating journey in Los Angeles while she was ending hers.

I was 27 when I left the Bay Area and moved to Glendale for a teaching gig. I had gone on a few online dates with Angelenos and had started learning more about L.A.’s music, art and creative scenes. One of my dates had moved from New York to become an actor; a few others worked in the fast-paced corporate world of downtown L.A. While it was fun exploring L.A. nightlife and culture, each date ended with an agreement that it was a pleasant time, but there was no rush (mostly from her) to pursue a second outing.

Online dating posed a tricky scenario for me. Writing a sleek profile and posting alluring pictures was one challenge, but making a connection on date No. 1 to provoke another get-together was where I faltered each time. I was getting accustomed to polite rejection and couldn’t help thinking that this would be the narrative I would tell my family back in the Bay — that I made a lot of “friends” but just hadn’t had time to meet the right partner yet.

When I saw Staci’s dating profile, I immediately foresaw my written response as being one of thousands sitting in her inbox. It was her reply to my greeting that made me intrigued: “Hey, I’m leaving OKCupid, but you can email me if you still want to chat.”

I was excited and felt like I had reached out to her at the perfect time, but based on my other dates, I didn’t get my hopes up. Over email for a few weeks, Staci and I discussed our film interests, hobbies and similar passions for teaching. (She was also an English teacher.)

Not being a native to Los Angeles made me feel like a bit of an outsider and impostor. The dates I had previously gone on were with women from everywhere but L.A. Staci being born and raised here made me nervous. My fears about going on an initial date with her were rooted in being a transplant to Southern California. Would I be hip enough? Did I glamorize Los Angeles in a way that she would immediately find annoying? I would soon find out.

We decided to meet up for coffee at the old Zephyr Coffee House & Art Gallery in Pasadena, a close location to both of our spots. It also turned out both of our school districts had the same spring break schedule. When I walked up to the courtyard front of the coffeehouse, she was grading papers, casually looking up at me as I walked past the gate.

“I thought that might be you,” she said. That first interaction set the tone for easy conversation about our similarities and differences.

I ordered a latte while she ordered an iced mocha. I paid special attention to the pace she would sip her coffee — slow and measured — all while asking me questions about how I liked living in Southern California after moving from Oakland.

We talked about the differences between Los Angeles driving culture and Bay Area driving culture, our respective teaching experiences and how we both went to the same yoga studio in town. I was surprised by the ease of our exchange and dialogue, which was free of pressure and awkward pauses. There was none of that, and we kept talking long after we finished our drinks. Then we decided to grab some food.

We continued the evening at a sushi bar down the street. On the TV display was a fitting metaphor for the evening, a binary of the respective worlds we came from: a hockey game between the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings.

Our dinner conversation covered the awkwardness of online dating, the forced chit-chat that occurs, and the even more horrendous messages and not-safe-for-work images that guys constantly send to women.

“I’m surprised you sent me your email as you were ending your dating quest,” I said.

“Well, you seemed like a nice enough guy, so I thought why not?” Staci replied.

Was that a compliment? It was hard to tell. I asked Staci what her dating experience was like on OKCupid. “Most guys I’ve met online either want to show you how much money they have or how smart they are by talking the entire night,” she said. “It’s a pretty sad scene, which is why I left, so you found me at the right time, I guess.”

As we closed the sushi bar I suggested another get-together, maybe lunch next time.

“Sure, how about La Grande Orange on Fair Oaks? I love their brunch menu.” And there it was. Her response made me feel something I hadn’t felt on a date before, especially one in Los Angeles: hope.

It was on our second date that I knew Staci was someone I wanted to learn more about. We discussed our families and our perspectives on faith as well as our past relationships. After brunch, we went to a movie, “21 Jump Street,” at the ArcLight on Colorado Boulevard, and we followed that by having coffee across the street at Europane Cafe.

Talking over our iced mochas, I began to see a consistent pattern in our behavior — extended day-into-evening dates and continued plans to meet up again in the near future. We became inseparable throughout the spring and spent the summer exploring Los Angeles together. At the end of August, I moved into her apartment in East Pasadena.

Fast-forward through many iterations of dating apps and trends of swiping left and right, I’m grateful for being online at that specific moment to meet Staci. Today we are happily married with two kids and still laugh about how crazy online dating is and how lucky we were to meet each other. Her first words to me at Zephyr still stick out after all these years: “I thought that might be you.”

The author is a high school teacher in Los Angeles. He lives in Azusa. He’s on Instagram: @_jeminibry_

L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.