Sunday, August 28, 2011



Gone Fishin' until Monday, September 5th.
But keep those cards and letters coming. And those comments, too! I will post and reply to comments upon my return to Phoenix, Airheadzona.

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

MUH-MUH-MUH- MY RAMONA: A Hot, Spicy Little Hispanic Dish

There once was a man from Nantucket
Who placed lots of corn in a bucket
But the farmer said, “Before you can truck it,
You’ll have to shuck it”.
So the man told the farmer to . . . show him how it’s done ‘cause he ain’t never shucked no corn before.

Now, what my limerick has to do with the rest of this blog bit I’m sure I don’t know.

When I was collecting photos & videos for my recent multi-intallment blog bit, "MY HOMEMEGALOPOLIS" - about my former life in Los Angeles - there were two things in particular that I earnestly sought and failed to find pictures of on the Internet.

One was a two-story bar/restaurant called YESTERDAY'S that once existed in the heart of Westwood Village. The place had an almost Bourbon Street-like charm to it and was my favorite drinking establishment in The Village.

The other object I hoped to find a photo of was Ramona's "Chile Relleno" Burritos. Ramona's was a brand of cheap burritos that one could find in just about every 7-Eleven and other small, neighborhood convenience stores in the Los Angeles metropolitan region.

Ramona's produced at least 6 or 7 different varieties of microwaveable burritos, but the two I pretty much lived on were the "Hot Green Chile" burrito with potato and cheese, and my very favorite, "Chile Relleno" egg-battered with cheese. My brother Nappy always loved 'em too!

Ramona's burritos were small and slightly oily when heated in a microwave. Not so oily that they were yucky, but just oily enough that they were yummy.

Posting my 'Los Angeles & Me' blog bit without mention of Ramona's made me feel like I was committing a felonious misdemeanor. Sure I mentioned the food at 'Antonio's Mexican Restaurant' and the margaritas at 'El Coyote', and the Garcia Lorca omelette at Venice Beach's 'Sidewalk Cafe', but those establishments were special treats for me, while Ramona's burritos were weekly staples.

Well, the omission of Ramona's was weighing so heavily upon me this last week that the other day I actually placed a long-distance phone call to Ramona's Mexican Food Products at 13633 S. Western Ave. in Gardena, California, [310-323-1950] and I demanded (well, pleaded in an intense manner) to know where I might be able to find Ramona's burritos in the Phoenix area. (I have been checking the convenience markets since moving here in 1995 and without luck and - damn-it! - I was beginning to get pretty hungry.)

I was told that the Smart & Final stores carried them. I had never been in a Smart & Final store before, but that very day I drove to the one nearest me and WHOOP!-WHOOP! ...they had 'em!  So I bought two cases of the "Chile Relleno" burritos, and the following day I went back and bought a case of the "Hot Green Chile" burritos. Every bite takes me home!

Now understand, I'm not saying these cheap little microwaveable burritos are on a par with what you would get by ordering the beef burrito at 'Campos' on Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica, across the street from the Stop 'N' Stab market; nor are they as good as the Chile Relleno burrito you would have gotten at 'Pancho's', on the corner of Ocean Park Blvd. and Lincoln, or even the offerings at L.A.'s 'Burrito King'.

Heck, they can't even measure up to the burritos you'd get here in Phoenix at a Filiberto's, a Hiliberto's, a Humberto's, or any of the other --erto's in this awful city. But in the 'Cheap, Gas-Up, Microwave, Gobble-Down 'N' Drive-On' category, Brother Nappy and I always believed that Ramona's took the Blue Ribbon.

And now, after 16 years of being Ramona-less, I have found my baby again and I am happy as a dog with a bowl of menudo!

[Nappy & Stephen's recommended diet
for bachelors young & old.]
~ Stephen T. McCarthy
YE OLDE COMMENT POLICY: All comments, pro and con, are welcome. However, ad hominem attacks and disrespectful epithets will not be tolerated (read: "posted"). After all, this isn’t, so I don’t have to put up with that kind of bovine excrement.

Monday, August 8, 2011



This is the city: Los Angeles . . .

And this is the blogger: Stephen T. McCarthy (circa 1979) . . .

[Photo by Kelly "Andy" Anderson, taken in the alley behind Star Liquors Store, Ocean Way & Bay Street, Santa Monica, California.]

When my dear friend the Flying Aardvark mentioned to me a filmmaker's strange combination of autobiography/documentary called "MY WINNIPEG" - a movie about the history of his birthplace and stories of his life growing up in that Canadian city - it provided me with the inspiration to develop the same idea on my Stuffs blog.

So, my thanks first to Flyin' Aard for the idea. Great thanks also to everyone who has posted photos and videos of Los Angeles landmarks all over the Internet - without y'all, this 6-part blog bit travelogue would have been impossible to create. I was absolutely amazed to find how many of the obscure structures I was hoping to find photographs of on the Internet actually did exist on the Internet. So, I sincerely thank each and every one of you whom I borrowed photos and videos from. God bless you, every one!

This series is dedicated to my three good Los Angeles friends who passed away far, far too young. TY HEATH, who committed suicide in 1976; MARTIN BRUMER, who was killed by a car thief in 1989; and especially to KELLY "Andy" ANDERSON, who took his own life in 1986 (but not before taking a number of the photos of me which you'll find displayed in the blog bits to follow).

Having been born in Los Angeles, California, and being raised in that metropolitan area (including my earliest years in Orange County, which for all intents & purposes might as well also be referred to as L.A.), I couldn't exactly title this series "My Hometown". Ever been to L.A.? It seems to stretch in three directions forever (cut short to the West by the Pacific Ocean). The term "My Homemegalopolis" was a better fit.

Also, bear in mind that this is a tribute to Los Angeles as I knew Her; a reminiscing of the megalopolis I lived in until moving to Arizona in 1992 (and again in 1995). At some points in the ensuing 6 parts, you will find photos of buildings and structures that no longer exist. Whereas New York City is like a rock - never changing - Los Angeles is like the ocean - always in a state of flux, always breaking and reforming like the surf. This was MY Homemegalopolis from a distant past, and not necessarily the city as She stands today.

Come along with me and let's go back to when I had a future . . .


“The West is the best. The West is the best.
Get here and we’ll do the rest.”
~ Jim Morrison
(from the song “The End”)

If you fly into Los Angeles Airport (LAX), in the center of the airport complex, you will see the futuristic looking restaurant below. It's been there for as long as I can remember. Somehow the future never seems to look like this:

I would recommend that you drive to L.A. instead. You'll get to see more of the country and you'll avoid The Sexual Abuse - the uninvited groping - from the government agents who wish only "to keep you safe".

Welcome to Los Angeles! 
There is a notable amount of diversity to be found in L.A. - from the fantasy factories of Hollywood's film industry and the Never-Never Land escapist aspects of L.A.'s amusement parks, to the low-down grit and grunge of Downtown and the ghetto areas of East L.A. and South Central, and pretty much everything imaginable in between those two points.

Unlike Phoenix - the city I'm currently trapped in - Los Angeles has no inferiority complex about itself. It's not trying to be Chicago, New York, or New Orleans. Los Angeles is L.A. - with it's Good, its Bad, and its Ugly . . . and also its beautiful blonde beach babes (although I always preferred brunettes). The city's Movie and Rock stars in Beverly Hills and Bel Air are only a 15-minute freeway ride from its homeless winos on Skid Row (unless it's "Rush Hour", and nowadays it's always "Rush Hour", ironically named seeing as how there ain't nobody gettin' nowhere in anything resembling a "rush").


I guess it makes sense to start our tour of Los Angeles in the same place where it started for me. On August 8th, 1959, I came out into "this world" kicking, screaming and crying, at the UCLA Medical Center, located on the UCLA campus in the Westwood Village area of L.A. Here's the hospital as it probably looked about the time I made my big exit & entrance:

Westwood Village, being a college area, was known for its nightlife and funky shops. I remember once reading that the Village had the greatest concentration of movie theatres than any other comparably-sized place in the world. Here's the famous Westwood Village Fox Theatre:

The Fox is known for its tall spire that can be seen at night from a fair distance:

The red brick building in the foreground of this late 1980s photo is the UCLA Medical Center, where this bun left its oven. At the upper right corner can be seen the white spire of Westwood's Fox Theatre:

Westwood's Art Deco-styled Bruin Theatre:

Below is the heart of Westwood Village. Many weekend nights during my high school years, my buddy Eric and I would get some Boone's Farm Wine or Southern Comfort and Cola, drink it in the parking lot of the Federal Building and then stumble into the heart of Westwood Village, hoping to pick up girls. (We never failed to fail in our quest for girls, but the buzz was always good.)

The original Rhino Records. It started out as just a small record store on Westwood Blvd. south of The Village. Rhino later developed into a major Record/CD/DVD label. But years before its worldwide success, while I was a teenager, I acquired a large portion of my LP record collection from this little store. They always carried a lot of hard-to-find releases. It was at Rhino where I bought my first Howlin' Wolf album - the one with the "Rocking Chair" cover:


If you're going to get around in the Los Angeles area, you're going to need to become familiar with the city's freeway system. The video below is a good start:


I'd often go to Downtown L.A. and make a day of it, because the atmosphere and the rhythm of life was so different there than in the beach communities of Santa Monica and Venice where I spent more time. On some occasions, I would invite my good friend and acting buddy Marty to accompany me and we'd go on Photographic Expeditions all over the city. On a few of those Day Trips, Marty went exploring Downtown with me.

During my personal "Great Depression of '86", after work, I regularly visited a little bar that can be seen in the photo below. If you were sitting here beside me, I could point it out to you. Basically, however, it was located at the very, very bottom edge of the photo and dead center:

Take this video aerial trip around Downtown L.A. - it's pretty, and it's pretty cool, and it belies all the unspeakable things that are actually occurring down on the streets:

From Downtown you could walk to Olvera Street, the site of L.A.'s humble Hispanic origin:

The Olvera Street bandstand:

Below is a Mexican restaurant on Olvera Street, where I have eaten more than once:

And from Olvera Street you could walk to L.A.'s Chinatown (as I often did). As I said, there's a great deal of diversity in Los Angeles, and sometimes you'll find it clustered together:

Below is what was once the "Hong Kong" Restaurant. The front of it could be seen in the opening credits montage of the great 1980's television detective show "Moonlighting":

The opening credits of "Moonlighting":

Oddly enough, in the 1970s, Chinatown was a hot spot for the L.A. Punk Rock scene, primarily driven by Madame Wong's Nightclub (and later, Madame Wong's West, a club on the Westside of town, that I sometimes attended). Below is a Chinatown restaurant at night.

Below is the "Bonaventure Hotel"; you've seen it in countless movies, TV shows and commercials. In the pilot episode of the TV show "Moonlighting", some brilliant screenwriter came up with the idea of having an "elevator chase" scene. It was filmed at the Bonaventure:

Perhaps the only thing that looks cooler than the exterior of the Bonaventure Hotel is the interior of the Bonaventure Hotel:

Have you seen the movie "Blade Runner"? Then you should remember having seen Downtown L.A.'s "Bradbury Building":

For me, no trip to Downtown L.A. was complete without visiting the Grand Central Market. The Grand Central Market is this massive, one-square block-sized marketplace that has just about every imaginable ethnic product for sale. Are you looking for a goat's head for your goathead soup? This is the place to shop. I rarely bought anything at the Grand Central Market, but I loved to look at the stuffs for sale - 95% of which I couldn't even pronounce. [I recently rewatched the movie "Midnight Run" and recognized the Grand Central Market in one scene that included Robert DeNiro.]:

Over two decades before I learned about the true meaning of the life of Jesus Christ, I knew and loved the "Jesus Saves" sign, located on the roof of a Downtown L.A. building just off of the appropriately named "Hope Street". Here's one of the many photos I took of that sign over the years:

The "Jesus Saves" sign [remember that, you'll need it later - specifically in Part 5] is gone now, but here's a photo that my great friend Pooh took of me standing near it, circa 1982 or '83:

On one of my many early 1980's photographic expeditions Downtown, I took this photo of a priest and his "Lucky Monkey" ministering to a couple of women. Downtown was a real trip, because you just never knew what strange thing you might see there. In some ways, it was even stranger than Venice Beach. . . . Uhm . . . well . . . never mind. Forget I said that. Nothing's stranger than Venice Beach. :

I'll never forget the day my friend Cranium joined me on a trip Downtown; we went into a few of the seediest, most dangerous looking bars imaginable. Being White guys with short hair, in a couple of the bars we were suspected of being detectives looking for a suspect. All eyes remained on us, and one bartender in particular just flat-out refused to believe that we weren't cops.

A down 'n' out dog crosses the street in L.A.'s Skid Row district:

L.A.'s Skid Row is the very bottom of the bottom of the barrel. I walked amongst those people with no fear, because I considered them to be my peeps. The only thing separating me from the denizens of Skid Row was an unbroken heart and a semi-functioning liver:

In 1976, Tom Waits, one of the more famous L.A. songwriters, released a song titled “Tom Traubert’s Blues”. The following borrowed text pertains to it:

The song's chorus incorporates "Waltzing Matilda," the classic Australian ballad of aimless travel. ("Matilda" is Aussie slang for "backpack," and "waltzing matilda" means being on the road or hitchhiking.)

Bones Howe distinctly remembers when Waits wrote "Tom Traubert's Blues." Howe's phone rang in the middle of the night. It was Tom. … "He said the most wonderful thing about writing that song," Bones recalls. "He went down and hung around on skid row in L.A. because he wanted to get stimulated for writing this material.

“He called me up and said, 'I went down to skid row ... I bought a pint of rye. In a brown paper bag.' I said, 'Oh really?’” Waits replied to Howe, "Yeah - hunkered down, drank the pint of rye, went home, threw up, and wrote 'Tom Traubert's Blues’.”

Howe was even more struck by what Waits said to him next: "Every guy down there ... everyone I spoke to, a woman put him there."

So according to Bones Howe, "Tom Traubert's Blues" was inspired by Los Angeles’ skid row.

Howe-ever, Waits also recorded a song about L.A.’s Skid Row titled “On The Nickel”, and since I like it better than I do “Tom Traubert’s Blues”, that’s what you’re getting below. Because Skid Row runs along 5th Street in Downtown L.A., it has often been referred to as “The Nickel”.

Here's a little known fact: Most folks are aware of the worldwide "Hard Rock Cafe", a chain of Rock 'N' Roll-themed eating and drinking establishments. L.A.'s first in that chain opened at The Beverly Center Mall in the West Hollywood area [see Part 4].
But in truth, the ORIGINAL "Hard Rock Cafe" was a small, grungy dive on Downtown L.A.'s Skid Row. When the entrepreneurs went to open their first Los Angeles establishment, they were required to buy the rights to the name from the Skid Row dive. The real "Hard Rock Cafe" - the original bar using that name - is pictured on the back cover of The Doors' "Morrison Hotel" album. [Incidentally, the photo on the front cover of that same album was also taken in Downtown L.A.]:

Here's Jim Morrison and his bandmates drinking bad American beer inside the first, the real, "Hard Rock Cafe":

Skid Row at night... "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Disneyland anymore." :

It could be said that I literally grew up in two different places in the Greater Los Angeles area. One being in the shadow of Lifeguard Station #26 on Santa Monica Beach [we'll be going there in Part 3 of this tour] and the other being at Dodger Stadium. When I was a toddler, my Mom worked for the Dodger organization, and my Grandfather had Dodger season tickets for at least four decades. Dodger Stadium was almost like a second home to us. As the photo below illustrates, I wasn't joking when I used to say, "In Dodger Stadium, if a batter hits a pitch 'Downtown', he's merely hit a foul ball for a strike" :

I've spent a significant chunk of my life in Dodger Stadium. In fact, I was in Dodger Stadium, standing and watching, that October night in 1988, when one of baseball's all-time most memorable home runs was hit. Total strangers were hugging each other, and I never witnessed a louder or longer standing ovation for any kind of performer before or since. It was indeed UNBELIEVABLE! :

Transport yourself to Part 2 by clicking here: The DeLorean With A Flux Capacitor

~ Stephen T. McCarthy

YE OLDE COMMENT POLICY: All comments, pro and con, are welcome. However, ad hominem attacks and disrespectful epithets will not be tolerated (read: "posted"). After all, this isn’t, so I don’t have to put up with that kind of bovine excrement.



OK, right about now you're probably wondering: "Just who is this dude, anyway?" Fair enough question.

In 1965, in Santa Ana, California, one of the all-time most famous UFO pictures was snapped:

Now it's true, I was in Orange County in 1965, and it's also true that I am a bit weird. But the family photograph below, taken in Santa Ana before my Sister's birth - that is, prior to 1965 - disproves the rumor that I came to Earth aboard that UFO in Santa Ana. [That's me in the little bow tie below.] :

Below is a photo of my maternal Grandfather - a major, major character. He was a former wrestler and police reserve officer and you just DID NOT mess with his family if you knew what was good for you; he was one very strong dude! [My brother Napoleon and I both believe that he looked a lot like the cartoon character Rock Bottom from Felix The Cat] :

I told you in the previous installment that I essentially grew up at Dodger Stadium. Below is a photo of Brother Nappy and me with arguably the greatest left-handed pitcher of all-time and Baseball Hall of Fame member Sandy Koufax. [How come Nappy got to have that legendary left hand wrapped around him? That's not fair!] :

My 5th grade school picture. [I definitely got my Pa's chin.] :

(Eat yer heart out, Greg Brady!) I'm lookin' groovy in 6th grade. Dig them crazy threads! :

Although I spent most of my time thinking about girls, I did manage to graduate from Santa Monica High School (better known as SAMOHI). A number of students who later became famous also went to SAMOHI, but me, I'm still waiting for my 15 minutes.

Below is a picture of the steps leading up to the History building in the center of campus:

It wasn't until years after I graduated that I learned SAMOHI played the part of Dawson High School in the classic 1950s movie "Rebel Without A Cause".

In the video below, watch from the 4:40 minute mark through 7:00 and you will see my high school. [Incidentally, even while I was attending SAMOHI from 1974-1977, just like it was shown in "Rebel", there was an unwritten rule that one was not supposed to step on the school seal on the steps leading up to the History building, although few students actually paid much attention to the rule.] :

And now a picture of me circa 1978. Hokey-Smoke! Look at all that hair. Damn hippie! [Photo by Kelly "Andy" Anderson, taken at Marine Park, two blocks from my south Santa Monica home.] :

[This one's for "Mr. Philly" - my friend DiscConnected!]
What was once the Ice Capades Chalet (with the white roof) at 500 Broadway in Santa Monica is now a Fred Segal store. You know it best as the ice skating rink where Rocky Balboa took Adrian on their first date. In actuality, it was a long way from Philadelphia. I used to go there trying to pick up girls. What I wound up doing instead, however, was picking up myself... from off the ice:

Below is a publicity picture I used during my ill-fated attempt to develop an acting career. [Photo by Kelly "Andy" Anderson, taken - if I recall correctly - in the alley behind Kelly's house, circa 1981.] I'm wearing my red "James Dean" jacket, and slightly visible is the gold hangman's noose charm I used to wear around my neck. In October of 1982, my friend Terrill wrote to me:

"The noose around your neck - do you still wear it? That was one of the first things I saw on you. It bothered me at first 'til I found out it had to [do with] James Dean ... and Mark tried to explain briefly what you thought of James Dean." :

Below is a picture of-- Hey, wait a second! What's that doing in here?! That's a picture I took in the Okefenokee Swamp in 1983. Well, tell ya what, let's call it a photograph of "my wild, muddy mental state" and just move on. :

Here's the Nuart theatre. Is it in Santa Monica or West Los Angeles? I always forget, but seriously, what's the difference? Cross one street and you move from one city to the other. The Nuart marquee also shows up in the opening credits montage of the TV show "Moonlighting". I spent more than a few hours in this theatre watching James Dean movies before they became available on video tapes:


Hooray! Here comes the food and beverage section of the tour.

At the intersection of Gower and Melrose stands Astroburger. To be honest, it's just one of countless burger joints in Los Angeles. HOWEVER... one menu item in particular made the place stand out and turned it into a "must visit" place everytime I was in that Hollywood neighborhood: Onion Rings!

I'm not ordinarily an Onion Rings Fanatic, but Astroburger's onion rings were outta-this-world! They were so freakin' big and thick that just 6 rings probably amounted to an entire onion! Here's a picture of Astroburger, looking West down Melrose:

And here's Astroburger looking East down Melrose (the block-long tan-colored building on the left is the Paramount Movie Studio) . . .

North Woods Inn is a chain of rustic, Alaskan-themed restaurants. It's home to the official NFL football-sized baked potatoes. It was The Countess who turned me on to this place, and I remember it fondly:

Inn-side a North Woods Inn:

Tail O' The Pup, near The Beverly Center's 'Hard Rock Cafe'. The food is irrelevant, because you simply must dig a joint that looks like a hot dog, right?

Just off the 405 freeway in the Inglewood area is Randy's Donuts. Back in 1984 I worked for an Inglewood sign manufacturing company, and Randy's was located at my freeway offramp. I stopped there once in awhile for a morning cup of coffee:

Below is Johnnie's Pastrami Restaurant, a popular food joint in Culver City. In '84, I drew the full-sized pattern from which their big yellow sign was created:

Mexican food is my very favorite, and my very favorite Mexican restaurant is Antonio's on Melrose Ave. in the West Hollywood area. I first visited the place in, probably, 1978, and I rarely make a trip to L.A. without having a meal there. Anytime I'm in town, Antonio is one of the first to know:

I know Antonio's as well as I know my own house:

Warren Zevon sang: "All the salty margaritas in Los Angeles, I'm gonna drink 'em up". For food, it's Antonio's, but for margaritas, it's El Coyote. Best margaritas anywhere - ever! Even a lush like me can't drink more than three without getting falling-down liquored-up:


Miceli's Italian Restaurant - one of only a few really cool things in "The Valley" :

Below is the interior of Miceli's. Live piano playing and singing waiters and waitresses. (The food's pretty good, too.) Three minutes after I saw the movie "Goodfellas" for the first time, I was in the car and headed for Miceli's:

Jolly Jack's - a neighborhood booze joint, and home-away-from-home for "The League Of Soul Crusaders". Sadly, it's now a fruity coffee house for a pack of tattooed and body-pierced "nonconformists" [Cough!-Cough!]

But back "in the day", if you called the Bay Street house and we League members weren't home, your next best effort to reach us was a call to Jolly Jack's.  JJ's was known for its good, extra spicy, bloody mary's - not that any of us boys ever needed such a thing. ;o)

Rae's diner on Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica was one of the regular Breakfast Club meeting places for 'The League Of Soul Crusaders' [more about them in the 6th and final installment] :

Rae's was also featured in the (goofy) MTV video for Eddie Money's 1982 song "Shakin'."

Another one of my very favorite L.A. restaurants is The Sidewalk Cafe, located right on the Venice Beach boardwalk [see the red and white striped awning in the background of the photo below]. As I once said to my dear friend Pooh:

I’ve always been kind of partial to The Sidewalk Café in Venice because of the carnival freak entertainment that comes free with every meal.

I recommend the Garcia Lorca omelette: Green Chiles and Jack Cheese.

And The Sidewalk Cafe brings us, naturally enough, to The Beach Scene. We'll hit the beaches in Part 3 of our tour.

Transport yourself to Part 3 by clicking here: The Waybac Machine

~ Stephen T. McCarthy

YE OLDE COMMENT POLICY: All comments, pro and con, are welcome. However, ad hominem attacks and disrespectful epithets will not be tolerated (read: "posted"). After all, this isn’t, so I don’t have to put up with that kind of bovine excrement.