6 Essential L.A. Items for 2020

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Most of these products are cheap, if not free, and all are valuable for Angelenos.

As we get ready to wrap up the year (and decade), it’s good to look back at the things one has bought that actually brought joy. This year I got a thrill from a calendar crafted by a local artist, got my film fix with a special subscription and fully utilized my metro card — to name a few purchases. And though these were my favorite 2019 buys, I promise they’ll also serve you for our new decade to come whether or not fancy toasts continue to be the lunch item du jour, our president gets impeached or L.A. sunsets remain epic. (We bet they’ll remain epic).

Gordon Henderson’s Highland Park Calendar

Gordon Hendersen’s Highland Park calendar. Image courtesy of Gordon Henderson.

I don’t live in Highland Park. I have nothing against Highland Park, but I am rarely there. I do, however, love artist Gordon Henderson’s style and the way he celebrates the mundane and ordinary aspects of the Northeast L.A. neighborhood. It puts me at ease the way he just casually draws his lines and colors them in.

It makes me think, “yes, I too can be an artist.” But no, no I can’t. Not like this. This is deceptively simple. It’s borderline great, in my opinion, which is why I have been purchasing his calendars for the last few years.

Like most calendars this one tells you all the regular holidays, and every now and then a date will have scrawled on it “Rethink your cherished stereotypes” or “Belly Laugh Day” or “Go around in a circle for Money.” Rarely did I follow the advice of those days. Maybe next year I will.

The 2020 Highland Park Calendar goes for $15, or two for $25.

A daily subscription to the Los Angeles Times

Print isn’t dead: the Los Angeles Times in the writer’s home. Photo by Tony Pierce.

Not sure if you’ve noticed but we have a president going through an impeachment; our fair city is home of some of the more exciting sports teams in the nation; there’s no shortage of local drama and pressing issues in city government, homelessness, sprawl, transportation, housing and local businesses; and we still happen to be the entertainment capital of the world.

No matter how cool your friends or all the fascinating people you follow on social media are, there really is no replacement for the largest metropolitan daily newspaper this side of Manhattan to keep you informed with what’s happening in L.A. and around the world.

There was a time when this city had several thriving dailies, weeklies, and even blogs to educate, inform and delight. Those days are gone. We are so fortunate to have a paper like the Los Angeles Times and its relatively new owner, billionaire Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong.

Is Bill Plaschke annoying and often wrong? Yep. Is it too bad that online the Times has pulled the ability to comment on most of its pieces? Oh yeah. And isn’t having dead trees delivered to your doorstep every day a cumbersome and old school way of getting one’s news? You betcha.

But for less than the price of one ticket to Coachella, the Los Angeles Times is the best annual value for smart people who like to know what the hell is going on here and around the globe. The digital subscription is cheaper and might fit your lifestyle better than the print product, but, I for one, find things in the paper that I often never see online. And I don’t like missing things.

Highlights of a print subscription include the newly revamped and beautiful food section, the vivid and daring photography of Marcus Yam, the unique hyper-local stories brought to us by Nita Lelyveld via City Beat, Julia Wick’s Essential California newsletter, the always-delightful Saturday section, as well as special sections like the recently published 101 Best Restaurants of 2019.

Special shout out is due to the light-hearted yet informative Off The Menu video series, the behind-the-scenes glory of the Data Desk (the team behind QuakeBot, MappingLA and many special projects) and the Twitter presence of the oft-entertaining David Lazarus.

At any moment there are scores of diligent local journalists putting together a great newspaper for all of us. Except for Plaschke, they are the furthest thing from the enemy of the people. They deserve a few bucks a week for their toil and talent.  

Los Angeles Times Digital Subscription: First month free, then $16 a month.

Metro Tap Card

You say you hate traffic, but what do you do about it? Occasionally we carpool, that’s nice, but when was the last time you took the bus to go that mile to your friend’s house or to the movies? Are you always that busy that every trip requires a rush rush rush? If so, you probably need to slow your roll more than the next Angeleno. 

Critics claim that the bus doesn’t go anywhere, there aren’t enough of them and they are too slow. While that might be the case in some situations, in many instances the bus heading to your destination is right around the corner and is just as fast (or slow) as the traffic you’re stuck in. You never really know unless you try and see for yourself. It wouldn’t be on this list unless the odds are great that you would be pleasantly surprised.

One of its best features is you can use it on the Flyaway bus in and out of LAX.

You can even buy them online for $2 each.  

Metro ExpressLanes Transponder

There was a time when almost every motorist in L.A. had a Thomas Bros. guide in their car. Nowadays a tool that is just as useful is the Metro ExpressLanes transponder. There are two major benefits of this device: it will allow you as a solo driver to use the carpool lane for a minimal price that varies depending on the traffic. And it will also let you use the carpool lane if you are carpooling. 

Even though the ExpressLanes that utilizes these transponders are only on certain stretches of the 10 and 110 freeways, they are godsends during certain times of days. Also, all vehicles (including carpoolers) using the ExpressLanes are required to have a transponder. Yes, even if you have six people in your car in the HOV lane you will get a ticket mailed to you unless you have one of these in your hooptie.  

The transponders are free and available at AAA, Costco, Albertsons and online

AMC Stubs A-List subscription

Do you fancy yourself a movie buff, a cinephile, a regular filmgoer? If you go to the movies once a month you are in the vast minority. According to a recent study, less than 15% of Americans see a movie at a theater every month.

Here in L.A., the cradle of the film industry, that number is probably higher thanks to a wide selection of excellent movie houses and cineplexes. But when you factor in ticket prices, parking and concessions, a night out can set you back more than a few bucks. Ticket prices alone for a first-run film at a better-than-average theater in L.A. are often $20 each these days. Which is nuts, and perhaps one reason people would rather Netflix and chill.

But then Moviepass appeared and theaters realized that the subscription model, if done right, could get butts in seats and increase attendance. So AMC Theaters rolled out their own subscription plan, the Stubbs A-List. For $24 a month, members can go to any AMC theater in the country and watch movies in any format — including Dolby Cinema, IMAX and RealD 3D. That means if you went to the movies twice a month you’d have gotten more than your money’s worth from the subscription.

AMC even includes discounts for A-List members on parking and concessions. But here’s why Angelenos really benefit: we have AMC theaters everywhere. I live in Hollywood and not only can I get to their flagship cineplex at CityWalk via the Metro Red Line, but if I need to drive there, parking is discounted to just $5.

But I have noticed that if the seat selection at popular movies on opening weekend isn’t great at Universal, I have options at three nearby Burbank theaters. However I have been attending more and more films at the Atlantic Time Square theater in Monterey Park where the parking is free, the Asian food options are fantastic and my girlfriend can hit up her favorite discount store, Daiso.

It’ll be interesting to see if other movie chains like Regal and Arclight roll out a subscription model in 2020.

The AMC Stubs A-List: $24 a month.

“Dear Los Angeles: The City in Diaries and Letters 1542 to 2018” edited by David Kipen

O.K. full disclosure, I did not purchase this book. But it was gifted to me — and it makes a great present for any Angeleno whether you’re new to the city or a native. Edited by David Kipen, the Los Angeles writer, thinker and purveyor of the Boyle Heights bookstore Libros Schimbros, the tome features letters and diary entries from the likes of Joan Rivers, Marilyn Monroe, Cesar Chavez, Albert Einstein, James Dean and other luminaries.

You can read it by dipping into different dates or chronologically — either way, it can make you feel less alone when you find yourself overwhelmed by our city’s sprawling traffic lanes or endless days of sunshine. Some examples:

Richard Burton, 1970:

“I did nothing all day except stare at the ocean and occasionally memorize some Spanish verbs.”

Anais Nin, 1957:

“The geographical constriction of L.A. We all live far away from each other and I do not drive. Taxis are inordinately expensive. It takes an afternoon to get to Hollywood to buy paper and a typewriter ribbon.”

William Faulkner, 1942:

“We’ve got to be warm. We can’t live otherwise.”

“Dear Los Angeles: The City in Diaries and Letters 1542 to 2018,” $28 (hardcover)/ $17 (paperback); available at most local bookstores, including Kipen’s Libros Schmibros.

Los Angeleno