Nationwide, today is Small Business Saturday, a chance for Americans to support their local economy by spending this annual shopping weekend buying gifts at the Mom & Pop shops in their neighborhood.
Yesterday was Black Friday, the reason why I personally hate the winter holiday season. People are lining up, pushing & shoving, trampling over others and for what? To save money on things their loved ones really don’t need? People are rude, there are car accidents galore, and this all comes after a day when we are supposed to be thankful for what we do have. It is pure insanity.
Instead, I like the idea of Small Business Saturday. Not only are you getting gifts for your loved ones but you are also helping your neighbors out by supporting their businesses. And you can actually get better gifts, gifts that have meaning. For example, if I wanted to get my Mom something that could only come from California, from Pasadena or the Altadena area, I would shop for her at Webster’s Fine Stationers on Lake or Vroman’s Bookstore on Colorado (or Foothill).
But one of the great things about living in Los Angeles is all of the thriving small businesses. I have plenty of shopping options up and down Colorado in Old Town Pasadena. There are also great shopping areas in downtown Montrose and Sierra Madre. Or I could head over to the Eagle Rock Block Party happening today in honor of Small Business Saturday (or more details, check out an article in LA Magazine). Or for some gifts with cultural flavor, I could take the Metro to Union Station, cross the street and check out all of the shops on Olvera Street.
So this is my new adventure today. I am going to finish up my holiday shopping by supporting the local businesses in my area. If you would like to do the same, you can click on this link to find out what local businesses in your area are participating in Small Business Saturday.
My friend recently decided to try Stand-up comedy. She discovered that Redwood Bar & Grill offers a Stand-Up Comedy Open Mic night on Wednesday nights. So this Wednesday, I decided I would take the Metro over to the Civic Center and watch her routine at the Redwood Bar & Grill.
If anyone is interested in taking a chance at Stand-up Comedy Open Mic nights, I found this website called the Comedy Bureau that lists every going on in Los Angeles in the world of Comedy. Check out the site.
On Saturday, I took the Metro down to Union Station and headed over to the Dia De Los Muertos celebration on Olvera Street. I have always been told by Los Angeles natives that Olvera is the place to be on The Day of the Dead and they were absolutely correct. The elaborate tributes, the costumes, the make-up, the dancing, the music, the shopping and the food–it was phenomenal.
I am going to let the pictures that I took speak for me, explaining what it was like celebrating Dia De Los Muertos on Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles.
With the weather finally cooling down (yay!), I decided I would venture into the South Lake area of Pasadena to find something warm to enjoy.
I arrived at the parking area located along Shopper’s Lane (where I met a nice homeless woman who agreed to wash my car windows for a $1). I pulled out my smartphone and started using my trusty Yelp app–a very important tool for my personal challenge mission. I saw some the restaurants that attended the Art of Food portion at the South Lake Farmer’s Market two weeks ago. I eventually decided on soup and a sandwich at Corner Bakery Cafe.
I had seen several different Corner Bakery Cafes but I had never actually stopped to eat at one. It reminded me a lot of Panera Bread. I ordered the special (from the poster–advertising works on me)–the Chicken Pomodori on Sourdough Panini and the Tomato Basil soup.
Again, Corner Bakery Cafe reminds me of Panera Bread, even the taste of the food. The tomato basil soup was excellent, exactly what I was looking for and combining it with a grilled cheese sandwich would have brought back memories of my childhood lunches with my Mom. The Chicken Pomodori Panini was good but I have had better. The Corner Bakery Chips were really good. I wasn’t expecting that to come with my combo. Overall, the food was good but in my opinion, over priced for the quality. But I feel the same way about Panera Bread.
It has become a challenge in itself trying to find something new to do every day. People keep asking me if I am exhausted from going to all these different places. My answer, I am exhausted from my day-to-day “doing the exact same thing several times a day” work routine but my personal challenge energizes me. You get a rush from trying something new. You feel alive. The hard part is the first few moments after you leave work and you just want to take a nap. I know if I go home, that is exactly what will happen. So instead, I go somewhere else to figure out what to do next. That someplace else is usually Vroman’s bookstore on Colorado in Pasadena.
After work, I will go to the Zeli coffeehouse, located in the front section of Vroman’s. You can get a large coffee for under $2 (and it is better than Starbucks). I find a table–or couch–and start searching through my list, books, different websites, Pasadena & LA Weekly, and the flyers/posters in the coffeehouse.
Sometimes, if nothing catches my eye, I will stroll down Colorado to see if anything catches my eye. On this day, I decided to walk over to Halloween City by Paseo Colorado. I needed some accessories for my Zombie costume. On my way from Vroman’s to Halloween City, I passed a pizza place that looked interesting, Blaze Pizza. I decided I would make that my food adventure for the day.
When you first walk in, Blaze looks almost like a high class sandwich shop with the long counter of ingredients. The have so many different options for pizzas. They do have signature pizzas for $6.85 but they also have build your own, customizable pizzas. So if you are Vegan, Vegetarian, have an allergy to Gluten or an allergy to dairy or soy, this would be an idea pizza place for you. They have options to meet everyone’s needs.
I decided to go for a personal signature pizza–the art lover. The art lover is topped with artichokes, mozzarella, ricotta, chopped garlic, and red sauce. I am not usually a fan of a thin crusted pizza but this was one tasty pizza. And I still can’t believe how quickly it was prepared. You place your order, it hits the ingredient assembly line and then it is fired in the oven. I was definitely impressed and I love that is located so close to Vroman’s. I don’t think I will ever go back to Domino’s after trying Blaze.
This weekend felt like my own personal birthday gift from the heavens–they gave me rain! It finally cooled down and felt like October. It would have been better to see the leaves change color but I will take what I can get.
For my birthday, I decided to hang out with my friend Ida in Old Town Pasadena. I had a craving for my staple comfort food–mashed potatoes and gravy. So I searched Yelp for a diner in Old Town Pasadena. The search mentioned Russell’s on Fair Oaks. The reviews described it as being a diner type establishment that was always crowded. So I was imagining a 50’s style diner or even something like Denny’s but Russel’s was neither. Russel’s felt like a very fancy restaurant, a perfect place for a first date. Yes, there were booths but they were more elegant than a typical diner. There were lamps instead of cheesy light fixtures. There were classic paintings by Masters like Picasso and Van Gogh covering the walls; it almost felt like an art gallery. There was classic music playing and a fancy looking menu. However the food was similar to a diner menu, but again a more upscale diner.
We both ordered a Bellini, even though it didn’t really seem to go with my meatloaf and mashed potatoes dinner but I liked it nonetheless. Ida ordered the Chicken Breast dinner. We were both pleased with our meals and I do have to say, the mashed potatoes were amazing. But we both agreed that the Yelp reviews did not do this place justice. It wasn’t what we expected . . . it was better.
After dinner, we decided to check out the Old Town Haunt on Raymond and Colorado. I have done the Knott’s Scary Farms and the Universal Halloween Horror Nights. I am the kind of person who laughs through a Haunted House. I am usually laughing at the girly girls who are screaming. It takes a lot to scare me. But I read a lot of good reviews for the Old Town Haunt and the actual Haunted History of the building where the haunt occurs.
When we first arrived and got into line, we were excited about possibly being scared. Unfortunately, my excitement turned sour when the group of inconsiderate 20-something a**holes started smoking in line, breaking a whole bunch of city ordinances. They didn’t even care when I was vocal about my allergy to smoke and started coughing. In fact, they all decided to light up so I had to excuse myself from the line. Being the good friend that she is, Ida braved standing near the IAs.
Personally, I will never understand the selfishness of smokers. There are so many people in a small area waiting to go into the haunt, many were children. If you want to smoke and kill yourself, that is your prerogative but why force the rest of us to choke on your second-hand smoke just because you have a sad, pathetic addiction that will lead you to an early grave. I like my life and I have seen too many people die from lung cancer–some never smoked a day in their lives but their family members did. OK, that is my rant for the day.
Thankfully, Ida and I were put with a group far away from the smoking IAs. And from the minute we took our first step down the staircase into the basement of the Old Town Haunt, all our grievances were forgotten. The decor was amazing. Our experience started with a tour guide (who is also the organizer of the event). We asked him if we could work for him and he said all we had to do was talk to the ticket taker on our way out. From that moment on, our excitement grew and our adventure began.
We did spend most of our time laughing at the people in our group–even the guys were screaming and freaking out. I got three hugs from the different characters throughout the maze. The decor was so authentic. The costumes were freakishly good and we were even startled a few times. The area where it was pitch black and we had to feel our way through–then crawl our way through–was pretty awesome. This was by far the best haunted maze I have ever been through. Universal and Knott’s have nothing on the Old Town Haunt. And the best part, starting on Thursday, Ida and I will get the chance to haunt the maze and cue up a little scares of our own.
After the Haunt, our adrenaline was pumping so we decided to try yet another place in Old Town Pasadena. We headed over to Lucky Baldwins for drinks. The 21st was the last day of their Oktoberfest specials so I decided I would partake in the festivities with the t-shirt, glass and German beer special. Finally, good German Oktoberfest beer to redeem the disappointment from the Montrose Oktoberfest.
All and all, it was a great birthday (spent with a great friend). It’s funny how sometimes everything just seems to fall into place. Originally I had wanted to go to a play but we opted for the Old Town Haunt instead. That slight change in plans led to an opportunity I wouldn’t have had if we hadn’t decided to go to the Old Town Haunt and ask if we could volunteer. Now I have my plans set for Thursday where I will get the chance to do something I have always wanted to do, work in a haunted house. I can’t wait for Thursday!!
Finally, it feels like October here in California. I now have all my Halloween decor and I am ready to decorate. I spent the day organizing my decor and then I had to make a trip up to Lowes for supplies (batteries, extension cords, ground stakes, etc.).
On my way home from Lowes, as the hunger set in, I decided to look for a place to eat a late lunch. Through Yelp, I found a place called Bean Sprouts in Arcadia. It said it was a Chinese restaurant and that sounded incredibly good at the moment. So I made my way into the quaint little downtown area of Arcadia that has a bunch of little shops and restaurants. I found Bean Sprouts but it was closed for a private event.
As I walked back to my car, I noticed this store called Pok A Dots, a costume shop near Bean Sprouts. Being a Halloween fan, I decided to stop in and check it out.
Pok A Dots, in a small, crowded little shop filled floor to ceiling with costumes and accessories. They even have costume rentals. The costumes range from the ones you would find at Party City/Halloween City to the costumes that would be used in a play or movie production. It reminded me of a very small version of Hollywood Toys and Costumes in Hollywood (minus all the Halloween decor). There were so many people packed into this small store (including a couple making out in the costumes in the back) that it was a bit difficult to really check things out. But I noticed the staff was helping each individual person with their costume choices. This is definitely a store I want to go back to, but not on a weekend in October.
In the meantime, the search for food continued. Once again, I pulled out my phone and searched Yelp. There was a Japanese place, Bento Ya, located down First Avenue in Arcadia, a half a mile from my current location.
Bento Ya looks like a 50’s style Drive-In restaurant. There is even oldies music playing. But there is no diner food here, it is Japanese food and drinks. I decided to order the Chicken Teriyaki meal with a California Sushi Roll as a side. I also ordered the Japanese Green Tea. The meal also came with Miso soup and steamed rice.
Overall, the food was pretty good. It wasn’t the best Japanese food I had ever had but it was OK–a three star rating. But maybe my rating is also based on the surreal atmosphere at Bento Ya. It was very strange to hear Stevie Wonder music playing in a restaurant where everyone speaks Japanese. It made me wonder if this is what restaurants were like in Japan in the 1950s.