Monday, December 31, 2018

Year in Review 2018

This year was a huge year for me. In March, I ended my 30 year career at the United States Attorney's Office for the Central District of California. I made it...I'm retired! And nothing has diminished the joy of that word - retired - since that happy day.

Of course, not having to go to work every day, face the Los Angeles commute, get up early, etc., means there are big changes in life. Not having to work in L.A. anymore means we really don't have to live here anymore, either, so we're gearing up for our own Escape From L.A.

That means travel will be light for awhile while we accomplish this relocation. Our only travel for the next few months will be house hunting and moving trips up to the northern half of our state.

Still, we did do some traveling this year so lets recap some of the highs and lows...

Best Pizza - Tim and I are pizza fanatics and love a good pie. We've had some great deep dish pizzas at Chicago Fire in the Sacramento area and Rance's in Long Beach, California. Our local favorites Joey's Red Devil and Casa Bianca continue to produce top-notch pizzas but the best we had this year was the star pizza at Mister01 Pizza in the Brickell neighborhood of Miami.

A splendid, thin crust pie with pointed handles of crust filled with ricotta making it a tasty and easy way to pick up the pizza.

As for hotels, there were none that were truly spectacular this year but the Homewood Suites we stayed at in St. Petersburg, Florida was a solid hotel. In fact, the Homewood Suites brand (part of Hilton) has been pretty reliable for us in general. The Doubletree Suites we stayed at in Rancho Cordova...just east of another solid hotel where we scored a two story loft on one stay and a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom, sprawling suite on another.

Air travel was light this year, with only two airlines flown. Those were Southwest and American Airlines. While Southwest continues to provide superior service, American is still slowly descending from its once lofty place on our list. I can still see glimpses of the old airline in there somewhere but it's a shame. It used to be our favorite way to fly.

Tim took his first cruise this year, a four day Royal Caribbean cruise to the Bahamas from Miami. was really kind of miserable. Another shame, we were really looking forward to that.

This was also the year that we completed our greatest travel see every stadium in Major League Baseball. We wrapped it up with visits to the Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Rays, and the Miami Marlins. Funny that we had no great expectations of the Rays stadium in St. Petersburg but that was an outstanding place to watch a game. Atlanta and Miami? Among the worst baseball experiences we've ever had.

Fall took us to three California destinations. Catalina Island, Santa Barbara, and another trip to the state's Motherlode region.

It's well known that we like the Gold Country enough to move there.

Santa Barbara had some the Boz Scaggs concert and dinner at Presto Pasta...and lows like a blocked wheelchair ramp at a restaurant we were looking forward to going to.

Catalina...where I proposed to my wife over 35 years ago and have not been to relatively unchanged. It's a lot more expensive than it used to be but is still a quaint little slice of old-time California beach town.

And that's pretty much been our kind of light travel year. We'll pick this up again next year after we've moved. Thank you for your support of The World on Wheels.

Happy New Year!

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Ethnic Foods of the San Gabriel Valley: The 800 Pound Gorilla

Cuisines covered in previous posts: Mexican, Cajun, NepaleseLebanese, Thai, BasqueArgentinian, Cuban, VietnameseEnglish, Belgian, Spanish, JewishGreek, Greek Diner, Hawaiian, SalvadoranIranian, Armenian, AfghaniIndonesian, Korean, Cambodian, American, California Cuisine, Soul FoodJapanese, Filipino, BarbecueFrench, Italian, Polish, HungarianPizzaMongolian Barcbecue, Pakistani, Indian, Peruvian, Malaysian, Burmese

We've covered 40 different ethnic cuisines, depending on how you slice it. The San Gabriel Valley has proven itself an food diversity powerhouse will all these different cuisines...

...yet we've been holding off on one til the very end.

While most visitors rarely venture east of downtown, and only to Pasadena on New Year's Day...if that...the valley is world renown for one type of cuisine. Yes, it's finally time to talk about the 800 pound gorilla in the room.

You would be hard-pressed to find a larger population of Chinese people anywhere in the world outside of the San Gabriel Valley unless you're talking about China or Taiwan. It stands to reason that the biggest slice of the ethnic food pie in the SGV is covered by the various varieties of Chinese Food.

While most of America has Chinese restaurants in their towns, it's mostly of the Americanized "with six you get eggroll" kind of food. We have a few of those here, notably Wang's Palace in Monrovia which is a very nice representation of that old-school type of restaurant, but it's quickly being supplanted by something more original, authentic, daring, and...most of all...very tasty.

Not to knock the sweet 'n sour pork and chop suey of the older establishments but they just don't compare with what we can get now.

The variety is staggering. You have your Hong Kong style coffee shops; Taiwanese dumpling houses; the steamy Szechuan dinner houses...even Islamic Halal Chinese food and vegetarian places. Starting in Monterey Park through Alhambra, San Gabriel, Rosemead...reaching up into Arcadia with tendrils running along the Puente Hills to Rowland Heights and Diamond Bar, there are hundreds of places to get great (and not so great) Chinese food.

As much as we've tried, we still have a long, long way to go before we get to it all.

A good place to start is the famous Taiwan dumpling chain, Din Tai Fung. The location on Baldwin Avenue in Arcadia is America's first outpost of this Taipei-based chain.  With an extensive menu that is mostly ignored for the star of the show. You come here to get Xao Long Bao...steamed pork soup dumplings.

Very delicate, hot, juicy and tasty. Just how they get all that pork and broth goodness into those soft balls of thin dough is a mystery. Eating them is not.  I like to mix a little rice vinegar in a bowl with a good dose of chili oil...both of which sit on each table.  Poke a hole in the shell of the dumpling, put it into my mixture, roll it around for a few minutes so that the surface and the interior are throughouly mixed with the vinegar and oil.

Pop it into my mouth, whole, for an explosion of juicy, spicy, and incredible flavor.  A serving of 10 dumplings...just enough for around eight dollars.  Come early to avoid the crowd.

Arcadia is also the home of Andy Cherng, who opened a small chain called Panda Inn starting in Pasadena.  You might know of the take out version of the Panda Inn he also started that now has nation-wide outlets bringing their signature orange chicken to the masses, Panda Express.

For a more traditional feast, we'll head to the Golden Dragon...also in get their incredible, crunchy Mandarin orange beef. It's flash cooked in a wok full of hot chilis and orange peels.  It is similar to orange chicken but much crunchier and with a deeper, savory taste.

One of our best Chinese delights is hot and sour soup.  This tasty broth with both a sour vinegar component mixed with hot chili is what we crave when we have a cold or sore throat. Nothing gets our sinuses clearer or soothes our throats faster. While many passable to very good renditions exist in the valley, it's the fiery broth of Happy Noodle in El Monte that fits the bill for us.

Some of the best Chinese cuisine exists with ingredients your mom told you to avoid. Intestines, feet, rotten eggs, stinky tofu...all can be great in the hands of a good cook.

These are the kinds of foods we make the trek over to Rowland Heights to eat at Remy's Noodle Palace, next to the Home Depot just south of the 60 freeway.

While I've tried a lot of those offal offerings, the best is the gelatinous bits of cow tendon floating in hot broth with soft noodles. Similar to the taste of ossu buco marrow, you will not think there's enough in the giant bowl they serve you.

My wife and I also like to get the half-foot long pot stickers they serve here on the side. Like most really good versions you have had only much, much bigger.

So there you have it. A celebration of diversity with over forty different ethnic cuisines in one, small valley. Next time you're in Southern California, you owe it to yourself to jump just a bit east of downtown L.A. (take the Gold Line if you don't want to drive) and try one of these deliciously different foods.


Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Thursday, December 13, 2018

D-DAY - Living with Type 2: 2018 Update, New Meds, New Results

An ongoing look a life as a type II diabetic...

Last year at this time, I was in the 8 range for my A1C readings and pushing 160-190 on my glucose readings. My weight wasn't going anywhere, either, so in June, I sat down with my doctor and discusses my options.

I had been taking a combination of Metformin and pioglitazone to control my glucose, plus supplementing those with broccoli sprout extract. 

I hate the pioglitazone because it doesn't do a lot for my readings...a very temporary drop of 10 points or so...and has the troubling side effect of weight gain. It also increases your risk for bladder cancer.

My personal research showed that SGLT2 Inhibitors also lower your numbers and have a common side effect of weight loss.  This class is where you find the likes of Trulicity, Farxiga, and Jardiance.

The bad side effects of this type of drug, where it triggers your kidneys to flush out excess blood sugar through urination, is dehydration which can lead to a urinary tract infection. 

Still, it sounded like something that would work for me...I'd just have to make sure to stay hydrated.

Before my June appointment, I check with my insurer to see how much these meds...which currently have no generic equivalent...would cost. Jardiance, for example, without insurance would be well above $500 for a 1 month supply. With my insurance, Trulicity would be $100 a month and Jardiance $35.

My doctor preferred the once-a-week injection of Trulicity but I preferred paying the lower amount for the pill form of Jardiance. He said he'd consider it after he reviewed the results of this visit's tests.

Low and behold, the lab got the instructions wrong and didn't do a A1C test...the main test to check on a diabetic's progress. The doctor told me to come back in for another blood test. After being stuck 5 times for the last test, I wasn't thrilled with that prospect. 

Metformin, twice a day, and one Jardiance in the morning

I told him I'd wait until the next 3 month checkup and would appreciate it if he'd make the call to the pharmacy for the Jardiance.  He was agreeable to this so I started the new Jardiance regimen (at 10mg a day, the lowest dose).

I haven't gotten any UTIs yet but I do get very thirsty and dehydrated at times. I now have a liter sized sports bottle that I bought in Calgary last year. This gets filled once in the morning, drank from during the day, then filled again at dinner so I drink two liters of water a day.

As you can imagine, I need to know where the nearest restroom is at all times but, otherwise, it's a small price to pay.

In addition, I had my first hypoglycemic incident when I took my midday metformin at a local diner after ordering. The food didn't come out for 45 minutes and I got real woozy until the manager gave me a glass of orange juice.  I'll never take metformin again with having some food handy.

Fast forward to October, it's time for my next checkup.  A1C has dropped to 7.4. Still too high but headed in the right direction. My weight has finally started to drop again, another 5 pounds came off bringing my total weight loss from diagnosis (three years ago) to 30 pounds. My blood sugar numbers have dropped back to the 120-140 range, with occasional forays down below 100 and up to 180.

For now, it's not a perfect score but it's headed in the right direction. The doctor agrees, too, so we'll keep this regimen in place and keep monitoring every few months. Since this is a progressive disease, there will come a time when we'll need to adjust again but I'll enjoy this level for awhile.

(DISCLAIMER: This series about Type II is not meant to apply to everyone. This is what works for me, you need to consult with your own medical professionals to find out what will work for you.  My goal here is to simply give you hope that once you're diagnosed, life as you know it does not have to can still enjoy life and the treats it offers.)

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Secret Gardens of Downtown Los Angeles

I'm not going to try to lie to you or sugar coat in, downtown L.A. is pretty much a dirty, depressing concrete jungle filled with all kinds of different characters.  At night, it pretty much becomes a ghost town.  Still, it's a big destination for tourists.

I've spent years here, exploring the area, and every now and then I come across some hidden little gem.  Here are some of them, little pocket gardens and parks that you wouldn't know were there without looking.

Let's start off at Union Station because this is where you should begin.  It's where the light rail, subway, commuter rail, and many bus lines converge.  Chances are you'll arrive in downtown here.

Union Station has two beautifully landscaped garden areas on each side of it's massive lobby.  The south garden is heavily tracked and most people see that.  Head out the north side, however, and you come across this quiet, walled garden with a tiled waterfall built into the wall.  A great place to relax, meditate, and get control of your day.


We'll start with this garden that's gone unnoticed while I spied the larger gardens nearby. In addition to the main plaza and garden at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, if you wander way around the back, over to where the large tower is, you'll find another quieter and smaller garden complete with a fountain offering a solitary place of meditation.

On top of Bunker Hill, behind the Wells Fargo Center and next to the ARCO building, sits this quiet park. It's also home to one of the weekly farmer's markets here in downtown and features a large, dramatic, and sunken waterfeature with 4 waterfalls streaming into it.

Down on Hope Street, between 6th and 7th, the Chrisian Science Reading Room opens this garden to the public during their open hours.

A little farther south, just beyond 9th Street and stretching from Grand Avenue to Hope Street is Grand Hope Park, a rather large piece of land with many shady nooks, fountains, meadows, and flowers to meditate among.

Going back north, just before 1st street on Hope, this very well hidden but kind of dull space occupies the land between three condo towers.

Between Union Station and the county jail, at the southeast corner of Ceasar Chavez and Vignes Street, this large lawn is inviting but also attracts it's share of homeless and recently released cons from the jail across the street.


The Deparment of Water and Power Building sits like a fortress across from the Music Center and at the top of the long ribbon of green know as Grand Park. You might expect them to have some tips on water-saving plants, and they do.  You can check it out at their drought-tolerant, sunken garden in front of the building.

Over on Spring Street...well, actually between Spring and Broadway...Biddy Mason Park celebrates an historic L.A. figure at the back porch of the historic Bradbury Building.


Welcome to Downtown's newest park, Spring Street Park, on it's namesake street between 4th and 5th Streets. It's a little less than an acre and already the pro-dog and anti-dog forces are at each others throats, mostly because a good number of dog owners let their pets run off leach and don't pick up after them.

Still, it's a lovely little park with lots of nice, shady nooks to sit in and a cool fountain to meditate by.

Here's the very well padded playground for the little ones.

Over at Olvera Street, next to the old Catholic church, workers found bones, lots of them, hundreds of them, and then it was realized they'd found an old, forgotten cemetery.  The remains were re-interred and now we have this new, memorial garden in it's place on Main Street, across from Olvera Street next to the church.

ADDED 8-24-2012

Not really a secret garden but upgraded from one of our "forbidden" places below, phase 1 of Grand Park is now open. The entire park will stretch from the Music Center on Grand Avenue to the City Hall, three blocks west. Phases 2 and 3 will open in the fall, in the meantime, you can grab a drink and snack from the onsite Starbucks and splash in L.A.'s grandest fountain.

North of Chinatown, stretching to the Los Angeles River is the Los Angeles State Historic Park...more commonly known as the cornfield for an art installation of corn planted there when the park first opened. Formerly the city's freight rail yard, the subway scenes from "Moneytrain" were filmed here on a giant set.  Now, it's several acres of open space to get lost in that still needs to have its landscaping fill in. Above, the park is in the near distance as seen from the adjacent Chinatown Gold Line train station.

Down on 11th Street, not too far from Staples Center is the former Occidental Building, which long ago used to be the tallest building in town and have a nice restaurant on top. I think it belongs to AT&T now and the restaurant is long gone. At ground level, though, is this nice, meditative bamboo garden.

ADDED 11-16-2011

A brand new park has just been unveiled in Little Tokyo in the last couple of weeks. The kind of stark and harsh Toriumi Plaza sits where a portion of Parker Center's parking lot used to be on the corner of 1st Street and San Pedro.

Designed to not be homeless friendly, nevertheless, there are little gems hidden around the bamboo and ginko landscaped park such as these shadow boxes embedded in the sidewalk.

Here's another Union Station secret garden, one I didn't know existed until I extended my walk a little further than I ever had before. In the extreme back end (east side) of the station, around and behind the MTA headquarters building, is this little park filled with benches to sit on, pretty gardens, fountains and waterfalls.

Here you can see the nice, stepped waterfall that leads down to Vignes Street.

Between Spring and Broadway Streets, midway between 4th and 5th Streets, is this plaza that marks a walkway connecting Spring and Broadway. With a number of fast food establishments adjacent to it, it makes a nice place to sit and have lunch.

ADDED 6-30-2011

The Little Tokyo Mall, at 3rd and Alameda, is kind of depressing inside, but walk through and you'll get to this converted alley that has dining tables and a couple of small waterfalls.

This is another of the several Zen gardens that are located in Little Tokyo. This particular one is at the Buddhist temple on the corner of 3rd Street and Central Avenue.

Along Spring Street, adjacent to Olvera Street, is another new park. Mostly build to be used as an amphitheater, it is not yet open regularly.

Right next to the above park is this vertical garden, a wall planted with various ornamental and edible plants.

Next to the old cathedral, now just simply called Vibiana, is this garden. Only open for events the old cathedral is rented out for, this used to be the archbishop's personal meditation garden.

This is a new pocket park just north of the corner of 3rd and Main Street behind a new condo project called The Medallion.  A nice grassy area overlooking a food court (that is still waiting for it's first tenant). Kind of a lonely place right now.

ADDED 5-26-2011

This plaza, for which I don't know the name, sits directly behind the Federal Building located at 300 N. Los Angeles Street...about a block south of Union Station. It separates the Federal Building from the Roybal Courthouse and the Metropolitan Detention Center.

There is this nice, shady lawn area and there's a cool fountain on the other side of those columns.  A big sculpture of two guys fighting with a lot of holes in them is at the other end.  The official name of it is "Molecule Man" but most people call it the "Drive By."  The columns are also covered with a bas relief sculpture that a federal judge tried to have removed as obscene...he didn't succeed.

It's a safe place to take a break as it is well guarded on all sides by U.S. Police and marshalls, even if you do hear the taunts of the prisoners in their exercise yard up above.

Note for wheelchair users: you can access the plaza via the veranda surrounding the Federal Building. There are two ramps, one starting at the corner of Aliso and Los Angeles Streets and the other about 50 feet east of the corner of Temple and Los Angeles Streets.

Angel's Knoll is a small park situated between the bottom of the Angel's Flight funicular and the entrance to the Pershing Square station of the Metro subway.  It's pretty, provides a lot of shade on hot days, and is relaxing.  The downside is that it attracts a lot of homeless.  It's at 356 S. Olive on the corner of 4th Street.  A ride to the top of the hill on Angel's Flight is only a quarter.

This is the Lincoln Plaza on the corner of Grand and First, across from the Disney Concert Hall.  Just a small, shady plaza with a bust of our 16th president to sit by.

ADDED 4-29-2011 - These next three I'll call "Forbidden and Forbidding." 

Grand Avenue Park - This will not be so hidden when it's done.  Running from the Music Center to City Hall, this was a very nice pedestrian mall, a great place to take a break from the neighboring office building and home to my favorite fountain in the city.  It's all been ripped out now, with a new park being built in it's place and Los Angeles' largest fountain will be restored when it's done.  For now?  Keep out!  It's a contruction zone.

Underground Archive - On 1st Street, across from the Los Angeles Times building is this.  Underneath is a large bunker that used to house the city's historical archives.  When it was closed, drug dealers and the homeless moved in making it something like a George Romero movie.  The riff-raff and down-and-out were swept away, the entrances sealed, and the park above fenced off.  It's very pretty and includes a nice rose garden, it's a shame that the city doesn't at least keep this part above ground open as a park.

Parker Center Plaza - At least this one's open to the public.  This forbidding, concrete plaza between the old Parker Center LAPD building and City Hall South is home to this art installation called "Eye of the Storm."  The posts represent the malevolence of the city while the little shelter in the middle represents the LAPD's protection against it.  Could use a little care and cleaning these days.

ADDED 3-23-2011

This pocket park, with a large lawn dominating it, is on Second Street between Main and Spring Streets.  Great place for frisbee or just laying on the grass looking up at the dominating skyline overhead.

At the new L.A. Police Headquarters, across the street from City Hall, I found this little memorial garden up on the second floor.  Almost invisible from street level, if you didn't know it was there, you'd definitely miss it.  Accessible via a stairway next to the newsstand on Main Street...just south of first...or via a ramp on the west side of the Ronald Deaton Auditorium, adjacent to the LAPD building.  A very quiet, sparse, and pretty place made for some personal reflection.

ADDED 3-3-2011
Fletcher Bowron Square is perched atop the underground L.A. Mall, between Main, Los Angeles, Temple, and Arcadia Streets.  The persistent homeless population means it's not the most pleasant place on this list, but the gardener assigned to it is persistent and does a good job keeping it pretty.  It's a frequent location of celebrations and commemorations.  Loction film shoots use it a lot as an outdoor dining room for their craft services units.

It's also the home of the boondoggle known as the Triforium (on the left side of the picture above), a supposedly musical sculpture installed at a cost of one million dollars in 1975 that's never worked right.  Today, it looks like an old alien craft waiting for the mothership to arrive.
At the corner of Broadway and Temple Street is the central heating and air conditioning plant for the Civic Center.  Around the back is one of the most well hidden of downtown's secret gardens.  I can't find any information for this one but apparently it is a xeroscaped garden...meaning landscaped for minimum water usage...that is well maintained and very pretty.  A chain across the driveway discourages visitors but you can walk around that to enjoy this litte park all by yourself.

This fountain dominates an unpopulated plaza between City Hall East and City Hall South along Main Street.  Wheelchair users, enter on Los Angeles Street where you'll find a stair lift.  There are a lot of benches, trees, arbors, and picnic tables here that are very enticing to just relax on.

Incongruously located in the middle of a large parking lot, just to the north of the Geffen Contemporary Art Museum on Temple Street.  Originally, the entire parking lot was supposed to be turned into a park.  This monument to Japanese Americans that served the U.S. side in World War II is all that made it.

Nearby in Little Tokyo, this Zen garden is very hard to find but it sits behind an office building at the Japanese Plaza, near the corner of San Pedro and 2nd Streets.

Still hidden is this other Zen garden but the directions are easier.  Go into the lobby of the Kyoto Grand Hotel on the corner of 2nd and Los Angeles Streets.  On the south side of the lobby are two elevators, take them to the 3rd floor and you'll exit into this lovely garden that also has a beer garden in the summer.

Getting away from Little Tokyo, the new LAPD headquarters was supposed to be another park here in downtown that was cancelled but the front plaza, combined with the south lawn of City Hall makes for some good, green open space here in downtown.  The only problem is 1st Street running through the middle of it.

The Church provides the next respite, on the corner of Temple and Hill Streets is the new cathedral.  The interior courtyard is full of gardens, fountains, and meditation gardens.  There's also a nice cafe here.
The last one is well hidden.  You have to know it's there or you'll never see it.  Find the Disney Hall on the corner of Grand Avenue and 1st Street.  Walk around to either side.  Find the staircase and climb (there's an elevator for wheelchair users on the 1st Street staircase).  At the top you'll find this jewel of a pocket park complete with private tables, viewing terraces, and that delft fountain that looks like a rose.

That's just a few...I'll update this post as I add pictures to the collection.  Next time you're in downtown L.A. and looking to get away from it all for a few minutes, try one of these secret gardens.

Copyright 2011
All rights reserved.