Author Archives: JimArnoldLA

Back in Los Angeles — But I have photos!


Back in Los Angeles since the end of February, technical challenges: My 10-year-old laptop finally gave it up and resuscitation efforts have proved not financially prudent. So, I’m posting this on a new machine, which is awesome, though I’m orders of magnitude poorer.

What to do? It’s a necessity — few things are, but a computer, for me, seems like one of them. Anyway — while I was in Milwaukee I took a bunch of pictures I have yet to post on the blog, though some have made it to Instagram (follow me there @jimbola2).

Up in the Rafters at Milwaukee City Hall


The other day my brother called, mostly out of the blue, with an opportunity I had never considered: he wanted to know if I’d like to tour the Bell and Clock Towers at the historic Milwaukee City Hall. 

Of course I said yes. It was a bright, cold day and much of this experience would be on open-air platforms, so I bundled up and headed downtown. I met my brother Bill Arnold (Public Information Manager for Milwaukee Common Council, City Clerk’s Office) in the echoey lobby of the old building and we made our way up to the top (8th) floor of the offices. From there we had to climb a series of staircases.

From the first level we climbed a staircase to the Bell Tower level, which held, you guessed it, the Bell, (the 22k pound bell was named for Milwaukee founder/first mayor Solomon Juneau) and also rooms which, according to Bill, were the Bell Keeper’s apartment back in the day. He (I assume the Bell Ringer was a man) and his family would live up here, and it would be his job to ring the bell and probably also to take care of the clock maintenance. Of course, this reminded me of the “Hunchback of Notre Dame” and I figured this old building must be haunted.

We were on the Bell level when the hour struck, now mechanized with an electric hammer ringer. But — I was allowed to ring the bell using the rope, which requires some strength and momentum. Alas, no pictures of that. But I was proud of my old small self!

From there we had to climb up another level to the clock. This was the circular staircase in the photos below. Tried to position Bill so you could get a sense of perspective on the size of the 4-sided clock.

This trip did not go up as high as we could, which would have been to the cupola, where there’s a space to stand and where the flag pole is — it was just too cold for me and I’m not that great with heights. (The flag was at half mast that day for the murdered children of the high school in Parkland, FL. )

Here are some other views of the City Hall (styled after the Hamburg Rathaus), built in the 1890s. Enjoy, and thanks Billy!


Homo-centric Readings, January 2018


From lower left, Laura Houlberg, John Boucher, Larry Buhl and Hank Henderson

Great readings last night at Stories in Echo Park.

John read a bittersweet memoir of helping ladies living in a hospice with their hair appointments; Larry read some sexy fan fiction revolving around the gay characters from “Mad Men;” Laura read a number of her poems. Thanks to Hank as always for putting this on and to Stories for the venue. It’s always inspiring AND motivating for me to keep keepin’ on.

Train Trip Diary: Coast Starlight, Portland to Los Angeles


Editor note: Do I wish I was back on the train? Sort of. I like them. Sometimes you just want to escape, know what I mean?

But back to Portland/Camas: After nearly a month, I was ready to go home to Los Angeles. I’d decided I’d ask if there were any upgrades to sleepers for the Coast Starlight and maybe fork over the dough if there were. There weren’t vacancies, unfortunately, but this train does have a business class car which made a huge difference.

Upgrading to business class: Worth the $57 I paid on top of the pass I already had. It included a seat with way more legroom, a dedicated car where there weren’t very many people buying that ticket (in other words, a mostly empty car), free water bottles, a $6 coupon for the lounge or dining car, and WiFi – the train itself did not have WiFi. This car did.

The Coast Starlight left Portland in the afternoon. Around 2:20 or so. It was a bit late, but ultimately got to LA early. I think they build in a lot of “fudge” time on their train timetables – no matter how late or early the trains were in the middles of the journeys, they always seemed to arrive on time or early at the final destination. Go figure!

The afternoon of Sunday, May 21 was a real eye-opener. The route was from Portland south through the interior of Oregon, stops at places like Eugene, Salem, Chemult, Klamath Falls, etc. The route goes through the Cascades, where there was still quite a bit of snow. It was a gorgeous landscape, very wooded, very mountainous, not a lot of buildings or roads. Quite empty, or at least it seemed that way from the train. Prime Bigfoot country, I would imagine. If I believed in such things.

Overnight the train went past Mt. Shasta with California stops like Dunsmuir, and through the northern part of the central valley – or maybe it’s the Sacramento Valley, not sure—and at dawn arrived in my birth city of Sacramento. From there, it lurched southwest to Emeryville and Oakland — even though there were points where you could see across the bay to the glittery buildings of San Francisco, the train does not go there. Oakland is the closest stop.

From there on south – inland to some areas with giant, golden brown hills and huge oaks, like the landscapes of so many of the paintings we sold at Early California Antiques. It was glorious. I don’t think you can see these landscapes from the road, at least no so dramatically. South of San Luis Obispo the train goes along the actual coast for miles into Santa Barbara and beyond. It was a beautiful sunny day and grateful for that. See photos and the videos — truly glorious.

This was the terrain most familiar to me. We turn inland at Ventura/Oxnard, eventually going over the Santa Susanna Pass to Chatsworth, and coming really close to the site of the former Spahn Ranch (Manson Family!). It’s really rather rocky and quite wild there—I’m not sure riding the bike out there the whole way would be doable, as there are some hills. But it might be. (I thought I would ride the Orange Line Bikepath the entire way from my house to where it ends in Chatsworth – from there just a short distance to the site of the old Spahn Ranch. But I digress.)

I got off the train at the Burbank Airport Station. A young girl, who also disembarked there, asked to use my phone. I was uncertain because, you know, I thought she might steal it. Run away. And I’d never be able to catch her! Because – why, I don’t know, she was dressed kind of punkish but maybe not so different from how my niece Emily might look, so I let her.

She did not run away with the phone. She thanked me and left.

I called a Lyft, and in 20 minutes I was at home.

That was 30 days on a rail pass. I’m sure I’ll do it again.


Women’s March 2018 – January 20, Los Angeles


I went to the Los Angeles version of the Women’s March 2018 to support all the women I know and to do a little protesting of my own! It was a gorgeous sunny and cool day in DTLA. Got there early via Metro with my sign and took it back home with me later as advised. So now I have it for another March or protest! As long as this clown stays in D.C., it will be valid.

Here’s some pix of the awesome day:

Train Trip Diary: Empire Builder, Milwaukee-Portland


Monday, May 15 2017, got on the train for Portland, the Empire Builder. My sister Pati dropped me off at the station. (The train goes from Chicago to either Seattle or Portland, your choice, what they do is split the train in Spokane, WA, some of it going to Seattle and some of it going to, you guessed it, Portland OR.)

Everything was “preferential” from the line that was just for sleeping car passengers, to my dining car ticket when I got on the train, to the car attendant (David) introducing himself as soon as we rolled out past Miller Brewery (which I used to stare out at from classes in high school for 4 years a long time ago — the sign on the top rotates, although not smoothly, at least back then, there were multiple long gaps).

The sleeper accommodation had two wide seats which face each other, individual overhead lighting options for reading and also for room illumination. The windows had curtains. There was a very narrow closet where you could hang jackets or shirts or something thin like that. There were a couple of “steps” near the door which could be used as a table or a place to put a suitcase (that’s what I used them for) or as the way to get to the top berth once it was lowered. Since I wasn’t sharing the roomette, the top berth was not used.

David turned down the cushions and made up the bed that night after diiner. I also figured out how to make the seats lie flat during the day, if I wanted to lie down and take a nap or something. Honestly, once you’ve gone roomette you never want to go back to coach. I’m sure I will though, I won’t always be able to get such a deal and the normal retail price of these private rooms is very high.

The train left Milwaukee close to 4 pm so there wasn’t much of anything to see during daylight Monday except for rural Wisconsin, which is, as a matter of fact, very pretty, especially as you go further west and there’s some hill and rock formation type landscape near the Mississippi River. We stopped for a longer period of time in Minneapolis/St. Paul and I got out to walk the platform. I was able to sleep a bit, though not extensively even flat on my back in the sleeper car, but when I awoke we were firmly in North Dakota. I believe I slept through the stop at Fargo, North Dakota (which is right on the Minnesota border, anyway).

Tuesday, May 16. – States were North Dakota and Montana. Both are big states. Montana, interestingly, is almost all flat until we got to the far northwest of that state, which is then the Rockies and Glacier National Park. (We arrived in Glacier around dinnertime, which was AWESOME – see pix and videos.)

So basically the ride through the northern plains was uneventful. I was surprised there were so many ponds and little lakes in North Dakota. Wondered if they are always there, or if that was the result of recent snowmelt.

It’s not nearly as barren as say, Nebraska. Lots more variety in ND as far as trees and other landscapes go. Same thing with plains in Montana. So with North Dakota, I’ve been to my 49th state. Alaska, I’m coming for ya.

I got to Portland on Wednesday (train takes 2 days) via another gorgeous route – this one along the Columbia River from Spokane to Portland. The Empire Builder train splits in Spokane – some of the cars going to Seattle, the other half the train going to points in Southern Washington state before ending in DT Portland and Union Station there.

Mostly the scenery on my side of the train (the right side, or the northern facing side) was of rock formations along the river gorge. It was early morning and breakfast time, a crisp sunny morning, not a cloud in the sky. Really pretty (and you see, I have pictures).

The mundane things: finding the Car Rental place while traversing the blocks of the sketchy and the homeless—sometimes one and the same. Once I got there it was pretty simple, and remembering how to get to John’s place was no big deal (don’t know why I thought it would be).

So here’s the truth about his place out there: It’s not in Portland. It’s in the Portland area, but it’s rural Washington state, the fringes and I mean woodsy fringes of Camas, Washington, which is a little town on the Columbia River. But John lives no where near the town, it’s miles away along a 2 lane blacktop in the woods with no shoulder (where the speed limit is 50 mph).

And no matter what he says, it really does take more like 45 minutes to get to Portland (because of the traffic, not the distance) not 20 like he sometimes says when he talks about it. It’s a beautiful place to visit and I love it, but it’s not in Portland.

The next day (Thursday) we DID go to Portland to sightsee, to the Pittock Mansion, an old place left over from one of Portland’s founding families. A fun tour of a very nice old house, something that I think both John and I enjoyed.

Friday was an aborted day trip to Seattle. Bad planning on my part. I figured I could just get a round trip ticket with my pass with no problem, similar to the Hiawatha and the MKE-CHI route, but the Amtrak Cascades is different. Unfortunately, the return trip was sold out so I just drove back after a little breakfast from the Safeway (!) that was less that stellar. (NOTE to readers – this is the section of Amtrak that was hit with the derailment in December, 2017, near Tacoma WA)

I was a bit disappointed that my little side trip to Seattle didn’t work out so I decided to drive to Mt. St. Helens. That was about a 1.5 hour trip from John’s. I didn’t go to the furthest viewing point as it would have been more driving but it was beautiful and the best part was that it wasn’t crowded. Just a very peaceful day to be by myself. So now basically both times I’ve been to Mt. St. Helens the summit was shrouded in clouds. I guess I’ll have to keep trying.

When I got back John’s his nephews (actually his grand nephews) were there, an 11-year-old and an 8-year-old, names were Bodie and Rylo. Great kids, inquisitive and respectful. Behaved well. John adores them and I could see why, they were absolutely delightful.

We all ate dinner together. John made meatloaf and some corn and probably something else. Don’t remember. There were brownies under one of those pedestal cake plates. I asked if they were regular brownies or if they were “special” brownies. John seemed aghast that I would think he would “poison” me but I had to make sure, I mean really, the last thing I wanted to do was to eat something with pot in it.

Saturday, May 20, was a day in Portland. This was the day I saw old friend George Brown. We met at Pioneer Heritage Square, all of which seems rather sinister (maybe the heritage part) in the wake of the white supremacist murders on the Max train, which happened later in the week that I was there.

Anyway, we had lunch at a place called Jake’s, downtown, it was very nice, kind of cloth napkin nice. We walked all over, saw two different Saturday festivals, like a farmers market and then a craft fair, both were interesting and very popular. Even if Portland is much smaller than SF or LA it still seems like a really big city to me. We spent probably most of the afternoon together and then went our separate ways. It was so great to see George again, someone I originally met in 1983. Again I had no problem finding my way back to John’s in Camas.

Saturday was my last night there at John’s—don’t remember what we did but maybe that was the night we watched the Bernie Madoff movie (with Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfeiffer). The next morning was mainly packing up and leaving —stopping at the Safeway to buy made sandwiches for the Coast Starlight which was a 30 hour journey down the coast. Next: Back home to Los Angeles.

Train Trip Diary: Amtrak Cardinal and Hiawatha


The next day I left Philadelphia at the crack of dawn. My Lyft ride overcharged and I actually complained and got a refund! (First and only time I’ve done that.) It was ridiculous, they had a Sunday morning surge yet there was no traffic, like the streets were empty no traffic. I have to credit Lyft, they were very decent and prompt about addressing it and I got the refund right away.

The overnight train I took that day was the Amtrak Cardinal to Chicago – which goes from New York to Chicago via a southerly route through Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio and Indiana (though I got on the train in Philly).

Mainly took this train because I wanted to see some of West Virginia, which is one of the two states this trip (the other one being North Dakota) that I’d never been to. And it was lovely, what I could see from the train, most of the state through daylight hours. Lots of farms, small towns, small mountains covered in forest, river valleys. Actually, through most of the time in West Virginia, the train route hugs a river (the New River) through the valley it makes. Gorgeous.

Dusk came concurrently with the entry into Ohio, where the train followed the Ohio River to Cincinnati, then turned inland from there up to Indianapolis and had a layover of sorts, including a servicing of the train. It then arrived in Chicago Union Station in the morning and I was able to make the late morning train to Milwaukee, arriving there around noon.

Most of my time in Milwaukee was visiting family, and not on any trains. Although, one of the days I went down to Chicago on the Hiawatha:

The morning train gets you there about 12:30 and I took the last train home, which left Chicago’s Union Station about 8 pm (so gets back to Milwaukee at 9:30).

I went to the Art Institute, which is a pleasant walk down Adams Street toward the Lake and it’s right there, it’s one straight shot, basically. The day was very bright and sunny, a bit crisp, but even that warmed up considerably.

I hadn’t been to the Art Institute in likely a decade, so I did a survey of their collection, from seeing some of the American masters like Whistler and Hopper as well as the fantastic European impressionist collection they have there. I love the Art Institute, it really inspires me. All art museums, really, but the better ones are just amazing.

Like usual, I didn’t plan out exactly what I’d do after, so I did go to a Pret a Manger type place, (actually it wasn’t a type of place, it WAS that place) had a sandwich and charged my phone. Then I walked up Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, stopped to window shop at a Crate and Barrel, then went to Millenium Park to look around (and find a bathroom).

One of the houses our family lived in for a time in the 70s and 80s was being used as a “Breast Cancer Showhouse” this year and we got a little tour – excellent since I hadn’t been in this house since my parents sold in the mid 80s.

It was a place where you could find solitude even while in the midst of your 10-person family. I’m grateful we had that and will always consider myself lucky to have lived there for even the short time it was.

Other things that happened that day: 1) I finally found a low sleeper car fare for the Empire Builder trip to Portland, Oregon. It was $375 on top of what I’d already paid (for the pass). That includes meals, 4 full ones plus a boxed breakfast, plus free water and coffee (not insignificant, because a bottle of water or a cup of coffee on the train costs $2 a pop and I drink a lot of both) So for 2 nights I thought the $375 was a great deal. Next post: Empire Builder and Portland


Misc Virginia from Amtrak Cardinal

Arrive in Charlottesville, VA:

Along border with West Virginia, train climbing

Wilacre Park Back in Business


Yay, my local mountain loop (3 or so miles) is back in business after some improvements over last fall. What did they do? They built permanent bathrooms (no more portapotties!), resurfaced much of the trail and the parking lot, evened out much of the rutted trail, and built a little informative kiosk. Love being able to do a mountain hike close to where I live!