The Disney Hall in Downtown LA is an architectural marvel. Designed by Frank Gehry, the building has become an icon of public architecture. The exterior, with its sweeps of gleaming metal, has its inspiration in Gehry’s love of sailing. The interior is no less dramatic, and the auditorium is an intimate space where the audience surrounds the orchestra. We were there to see a rehearsal compliments of my mother, who is a patron of several arts. Part of her support of the L.A. Philharmonic includes an invitation to attend selected rehearsals of the orchestra. She was unable to attend this one, so we went in her stead.
If you come late for a concert, you have to wait in one of these lounges scattered throughout the hall and wait for a suitable break in the performance before you can be seated. The TV is actually a closed circuit monitor so you can watch the show while you wait. This guy wasn’t waiting for that, he just needed a place to sit to check his laptop.
As you might have gathered by now, we engage in food quests of one form or another. One of the objects of such a quest has been the definitive pastrami, (or corned beef) sandwich. The gold standard, in my opinion, is Katz’s in New York City. In Los Angeles, there are scores nay, hundreds of variations on this deli icon. However, there are only a few that remotely approach my ideal of the perfect sandwich.
Food writers routinely compile lists of the ‘best New York style pastrami’ sandwich and the two that make this list consistently are Langer’s and Brent’s. Not often mentioned is Nate N’ Al’s in Beverly Hills, for years our go-to stop. Factor’s Deli used to be very good but has declined in years. Canter’s on Fairfax also makes these lists with regularity, but they are not my favorite. A new player in the LA pastrami scene is Wexler’s in the Grand Central Market. They cure their own meat and lox, and the sandwich is pretty darn good.
A couple of years ago, on our way out to Desert Hot Springs for a much-needed escape, we stopped at Langer’s for the first time. Fortunately, we arrived after the crowds that normally fill the waiting line outside had dissipated. Its reputation is well deserved. Aside from the smoky goodness of the meat, their speciality is the twice-baked rye bread with a fabulous crunchy crust. The old-school deli ambience only adds to the experience and the french fries are delicious too. We have eaten there several times since and it never disappoints.
The following year, we stopped at Brent’s just because they have been so lauded, and were sorely disappointed. The meat was rubbery and indistinctly flavored, and the bread so soft, the sandwich disintegrated halfway through. It has been suggested we try again, but once was enough. On our food quests, one strike and you’re out.
I was going through the photos and came across this one I had forgotten about. It actually pre-dates the entire Project by almost a year. I had just acquired the Hipstamatic application and was playing around with it while we waited for Jake to have one of the very first evaluations of his back issues. This is with one of the double exposure ‘paks’ the original Hipstamatic offered in addition to the basic kit – the Salvador lens and Dream Canvas film. It was a one-off, in that I didn’t really pursue the idea of “waiting” nor did I start to photograph the spaces in earnest until the following year. Kinda of like asking what was the universe like before the big bang. Well, here is a glimpse. So you could say the seeds for the Project were planted on this day, but would lie dormant for 9 months only to burst into bloom the following spring. Poetic, huh?
One fine June day in 2013, we were downtown on our regular monthly run for dim sum and tea. Empress Pavilion was long gone, we had lunched at Ocean Seafood. They have the best selection of chicken and vegetarian dumplings in town, and since we don’t eat pork, it had become our favorite. Next door to Ocean Seafood is the Wing Hop Fung market. Two floors of Chinese foods, liquor, herbs, housewares, beauty supplies and tea. We go for the tea. Hundreds of varieties in tall cylindrical jars with heavy glass lids. Black tea, green tea, white tea, Oolong, herbal tea of every variety you can imagine, expensive Pu-erh tea in large black cakes, beautiful tea blossoms that bloom in your teapot. We discovered a particular Oolong we favor years ago, Wudong Phoenix Honey Orchid Oolong, and stocked up. It is somewhat expensive, but delicious and you can only get it at WHF. Once back in the car, we were heading south on Hill street when I spied this “procession” of people. Not exactly a procession as they weren’t going anywhere. We couldn’t figure out if there was a leader, couldn’t really get a handle on what was going on. We didn’t know what they were waiting for, not at a bus stop, but they were clearly waiting for something. We pulled over and I shot several pictures and this little triptych seemed to capture the mood on the street.
The rest of the photos from the Union Station day. This is the only time I went to a place specifically to shoot for the project. I could have spent all day there, each photo tells its own story, each person is there waiting for something or someone. The picture of the bride isn’t exactly about waiting, but the image was so compelling I had to include it.
As the project progressed, I developed “rules” for the game. The photos had to be taken with the iPhone. I had to use the Hipstamatic app and the photos had to be in black and white. It had to be a waiting room in which I found myself, and at first, I strove to photograph only empty rooms. We were downtown for lunch one day and decided to break the last two rules by going to Union Station to shoot the beautiful art deco main waiting lounge. Of all the photos I took that day, this one stood out as the best of the lot. The woman and son wait for their train, he dwarfed by the huge overstuffed chairs. She rests warily, her foot on her duffel bag lest someone try to snatch it, leaning as close as she can to her son, still protecting him in her sleep. The activity of the other people swirls around her as she finds a moment of repose in the hectic station. I will post the rest of the select photos in a gallery post to come.
This is where Jake received treatments for his back. The USC Spine Center east of Downtown LA. We were there for his first treatment early in the morning of April 15. There wasn’t a soul in the huge waiting room. It was kinda eerie. While he was getting treated with an injection to his spine, I took these photos and several more. There are dozens of little waiting areas scattered throughout hospital along with larger rooms. When you go to USC, plan to wait for a while, wherever you are. If you look closely at the TV on the wall, notice it is reporting on the Boston Marathon bombing that had happened just hours earlier. Odd how one can capture a bit of history inadvertently. We went back several times for more treatments, but the waiting area was always teeming with people. In these photos, the space waits expectantly for the rush of people that will fill it in just a few moments.
This is the waiting area next to the bar at the Empress Pavilion, what was once our go-to Dim Sum restaurant. We would often go there with Jake on a Sunday for lunch. It is a huge place with a cavernous dining room that was packed with noisy diners nearly every day. On a busy Sunday, you might wait an hour for your table. Red-jacketed ladies pushed steaming carts, laden with towers of gleaming silver steamers filled with translucent dumplings, to and fro between the tables. Har Gow, Chicken with Pine Nuts, Gai Bao, Rice Noodle with Fish, Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf, Chicken Pies, Fun Quor, these were some of our favorites. Many of our best times with Jake revolved around food and eating.
In our family, food is more than just something to eat. It is a creative expression, an act of love. We cooked with Jake from the earliest age, and there are some wonderful stories that involve Jake and the kitchen. He ended up going to culinary school and worked in some of the best restaurants in Venice for a while. Sadly, the Empress closed a couple of years ago due to rising overhead. It has re-opened recently but is only a shadow of its former glory. Its closing propelled us on a quest to find a replacement. We traversed the LA area from Redondo Beach to the San Gabriel Valley, and finally found our new favorite, Ocean Seafood right down the street from the Empress in downtown L.A.