Secret Stairs of LA Walk #27 – Silver Lake

Secret Stairs of LA Walk #27 – Silver Lake

The simple act of walking can have the ability to spark an echo from the past…

I didn’t decide one day that I would pick up the Secret Stairs of Los Angeles book, by Charles Fleming. An ex told me all about it and took me on a walk once upon a time ago. After we broke up I ended up purchasing the book from Vroman’s Bookstore, in Pasadena (which I recommend you visit if you haven’t). 

Sometimes things just leave you raw and that’s how I felt after that relationship ended. As I was looking for that first staircase off of Effie St., behind Lamill Coffee I realized that somewhere along the way I healed. Time has a way of doing things you least expect while never letting you in on the secret. I’m grateful for those things that I took from those moments in my life.

Silver Lake is a neighborhood in Northeast Los Angeles. If you don’t live here then it’s easy to talk shit and say something clever about the neighborhood. I don’t live here and I’m not qualified to offer a treatise on the place. I can say with certainty that it’s an expensive grimy bitch of a neighborhood that has a lot of neat little cafes and shops — oh, and lots of stairs! 

It should also come as no surprise that they don’t truly have a lake (it’s man-made) and there are no traces of silver, it’s not even silver-like. It’s actually a reservoir and it was named for Herman Silver, one of LA’s early water commissioners.

No matter if you’re a dog, if you’re homeless, or a one-percenter, the one thing in common is that no one, even our furry friends, cares to sleep in their own squalor. That’s what I think about as I see the streets lined with endless trash bins. Trash day is tomorrow, a local resident tells me. I’m a fucking genius.

While walking up the stairs on this route, I spotted some really neat homes. Since I’m not a design snob and know little about architecture, the best thing I can come up with to describe some of the homes is that they’re very Bohemian. That is, many of the homes I found along the way were designed for form moreover function, I felt. 

A number of the homes seemed inspired by the many Case Study Homes of the 40s and 50s that a number of architects and designers were commisioned to build. Two of the most prominent, and well known, among them was the design duo of Ray and Charles Eames. You’ve probably seen the Eames Chair at some point, whether you knew it or not. While I’m on the subject, if you live in or around LA definitely consider visiting the Eames house in Malibu. Save some money and do the interior tour! It’s worth it. I promise!

Anyway, the thing about Silver Lake that I like is that there are lots of opportunities to get lost here. There are a lot of hills and winding back-street roads that run over them.  When I walk through some parts of a neighborhood, I feel like I’ve uncovered a secret — it’s like hearing that sound from The Legend of Zelda when link finds a secret. 

The Four Stooges

It was a patchy-cloud kind of day, the heat finally broke, which made the walk pleasant for a change. 

As I walk through these enclaves, I’m reminded of how much I enjoyed my trip to Singapore. It was magic. There’s a pull to explore other parts of the world, I’m impatient to do it. Few people I encounter here say hello let alone make eye contact. Perhaps, I should stop doing these walks all commando.

Seeing the homes along the way, I’m reminded of how little I have to my name, in terms of equity. I guess that shouldn’t matter but I would like own a place some day.  I often ask myself who are these people? What do they do? How can they afford these homes? I think about that like there’s some big cheat code for the Game of Life that no one is sharing with me. Is that weird? Maybe a bit.  I don’t pretend to know.

If there’s one thing that these walks have taught me is that change comes whether you’re ready for it or not. Silver Lake was allegedly affordable once upon a time. It’s home to movers and shakers in TV and Film and who knows what else. As the prices of housing continue to rise, they push out the old tenants and make way for those who can afford to pay more, leaving people to scramble to nearby neighborhoods for housing that isn’t any cheaper and offering less than what they were used to. Like many neighborhoods in LA, this place is gentrified as fuck. I heard a couple discussing the topic of gentrification when one person said, Look, shut the fuck up. You know we’re the biggest part of the problem, right? Maybe they’re not the largest part of the problem but they certainly have benefitted or pushed less privileged folks out of their homes, even if they didn’t realize it.

More than anything, the message I take with me, the one I always forget to remember: Life is more than what your fingers can’t grasp. I think it’s a verse from Mos Def and Talib Kweli aka Black Star. 

I have a bad habit of comparing, of looking elsewhere rather than looking right in front of me. What I have is enough and I can be happy with that. What I have isn’t much but what I do have I have in great abundance!

Maybe it’s time to let go of the past, of uncertainty I grasp at, and of this tireless evaluation of the unknown. 

About Reviews

About Reviews

I’m writing this from Ojai, Ca tonight. I’m in Ojai on vacation, a no-work vacation or distraction-free if you like.

After getting settled at my hotel, The Emerald Iguana Inn, I needed to get out and about, find something to eat and drink. I didn’t hesitate to pull out my phone and start searching up local establishments. I find myself searching Google Maps first, just to get a quick read of what’s close and walkable. I scan the reviews and they’re mostly positive, helpful, and I can make a choice.

I’m talking about reviews because my friend, Rebecca, asked me what I thought about this video where Bourdain shares what he thinks about Yelp and Elite Yelpers (spoiler alert: It’s not a very positive opinion). I looked at the video and it hit me in a couple of ways, you see.

Review systems are common, we all use them, often, without thinking about them. I always feel myself bristle while reading reviews and I couldn’t figure out why. I’ve used reviews countless times to inform my purchase and eating decisions. I can tell a helpful review from a troll-ish one, too.

The thing is, reviews are the first layer of information that people go for when looking up what to do and where to go. And that’s their sole bit of information they rely on before they pull the trigger.

I think that’s sad. I know, I know; this is all just an opinion, my opinion. Why does my opinion matter? It doesn’t. I’m not college-educated, I don’t have an intense love for a specific type of food or drink. About the only thing that I do like is a good story.

Small Businesses and Reviews

One thing I do is that I volunteer with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) once per week. I love small businesses. I really do. I’m the pretentious turd of a person who will take a few steps out of my way to support a local shop, or at least one that is involved in their community. It matters to me.

As a volunteer at the SBDC, I help business owners with pretty much all things digital marketing and strategy. Most business owners are addled by the online review. Whether it’s Yelp or Google My Business, small biz owners have strong opinions about them. I always ask the business owners I speak to: What do you think of online reviews? Many folks shrug, some have a visibly irritated and frustrated reaction. They complain that, in the case of Yelp, many positive reviews are set to Not Recommended. Yelp says that some reviews are placed there due to the reviewer being less established or potentially having bias etc. It’s at their discretion completely as to what reviews go there and when or if they are ever moved up with the rest of the non-flagged reviews.

While Yelp states that they have a good reason for why they flag certain reviews, I have seen how they use those reviews as a stick to get businesses to signup for their ad programs. Twice in 2017 I’ve seen fed-up biz owners signup for ads and within months find those previously flagged reviews suddenly show up with the rest of their reviews. It’s sketchy as fuck!!

I think Yelp can go to extra hell, to be honest.

Google My Business doesn’t outwardly appear to engage in this practice but I think that their reviews can be harmful, too. I say this as a Level 8 Local Guide. I know, I’m a big fucking deal around here.

Let’s be real, none of us really knows how reviews affect a website’s search engine rankings. Review platforms tend to claim many top spots for a variety of popular searches for things you might be interested in that are locally based. I often see my results littered with Yelp discussions on lists of things to eat or drink — or I’ll scope out reviews from Trip Advisor or other similarly annoying services that have reviews as part of their platform.

I’m seriously done with reviews and feedback platforms—I’m mostly annoyed at how review platforms litter search results, pushing down relevant opinion-centered content.  I’ve just grown tired of them. I know that these review sites are the byproduct of an ever-increasing global movement to share information but man, I’m exhausted. I really don’t give a shit about what many people say about one place. I really only care what a couple of people, or even just what one person says about a place.

Bespoke Opinions Still Matters

In our world, the review serves as a barometer of quality that we can quickly use to make a decision right away; these reviews are cobbled together so we can get a range of opinions on a given product or service. Reviews are great but they’re not perfect. Many times, people jump in, leave a review or a rant or a love letter and get the fuck out. I want more than that.

We have Pandora, Spotify, and Google Play Music dispensing their algorithm based recommendations for our listening pleasure, which is fine. I mention this because I still want the opinions of people who know more than me on given subjects. Some of my favorite music is discovered when sharing artists with friends or strangers, hence why I’ve gravitated more to 8-Tracks recently

I just want a simplified suggestion and experience from someone who has done their homework, someone who cares about a thing more than I do and who can give me feedback that really means something.

I think reviews are a way for someone to provide quick and honest feedback about their limited experience with something. Someone who is a “curator” doesn’t necessarily have that on their LinkedIn as a job title. Someone who curates their experiences is someone, in my opinion, who cares about the stories, about the why, and they want to learn. They want to add something to their consciousness that didn’t previously exist. Perhaps that’s my definition because that’s what I want to do myself.

It’s my opinion that reviews really do leave out many lesser known, less-well-marketed businesses. How? Again, I’m not sure. But with over 90% of people looking at reviews before making a decision, the devil lies in those statistics somewhere. People are more likely to pass on the family owned hole in the wall because it has a three and a half star rating rather than a four or five.

I don’t have a clear solution on how to solve for this but I have an idea. I believe that humans are the best barometer. Humans who care about stories, about experiences, and who seek these things out with aplomb and have no expectations and leave their biases at home as best they can.

Support your local bloggers; support your local news and event writers; support the art of conversation; and support the art of being childishly curious and ask people what they care about.

Maybe your questions lead you to your next adventure.

Secret Stairs of LA Walk #9 – Circles of El Sereno

Today’s walk is brought to you by the number pink and the color threeve. Also, you may have noticed that these walks are not in order. You get no prizes for making this discovery. Now move along!!

In my continuing conquest of kicking asphalt and mastering so many stairs across LA’s vast metropolis, I’ll tell you all about the “Circles of El Sereno.” I should note that I’m writing this from Dry River Brewing near the LA River in Downtown LA. If you like sour beers then you absolutely must go to there!

Much of El Sereno is a working-class town with a large Hispanic population, speckled with shops and tiny eateries so it’s usually bustling pretty well most times during the day.

The walk has you starting at Gambier St. and Eastern, where El Sereno Middle School sits. Fleming writes in his book that this is one of the “doggiest walks” he completed during the course of putting his routes together. I didn’t notice an overbearing volume of barking dogs, which I was worried could mar my walk so that was a good thing.

The Circles of El Sereno are interesting and the walk itself is pretty easy. The first incline is a bit of a doozy, on par with the steps over in Mt. Washington. As you cross Eastern and jaunt over to Lynnfield you catch the white noise of the neighborhood with cars constantly hurdling down the street, muddled with the chatter of children at play and other folks yelling hello to one another from opposite sides of the street. This neighborhood reminds me of where my Great Grandmother lived in Upland, where I spent many Summers as a child—it seemed like the neighborhood was close-knit, people knew one another well. Phelps reveals your first set of stairs as you turn onto Lynnfield, which slice into the side of a large hill and through two sets of circular streets for which this walk is named. The first set of stairs are split in two, divided by Chadwick Cir. When you get to the top, on a sunny day, you’re able to catch sweeping panoramas of the San Gabriel Mountains, Downtown LA, with a lot of peoples’ backyards and abandoned cars.

The stairs are described, in the Secret Stairs of Los Angeles, as painted green. Most of the color has faded from sight leaving only the concrete beneath the paint, which lends to the staircase’s imposing stature.

Making a half-circle around Chadwick will lead you to your next set of steps which descend to Ballard. The streets are fairly tight, so make sure you’re paying attention to oncoming traffic and especially cars coming from behind (I’m looking at you people who listen to music while out and about).

Take Ballard to the left, then left on Chester, and finally another left back to Lynnfield. You’ll end up back at Phelps where you’re on your way to your last set of steps. Turn right on Templeton and left at Castalia, which is a dead-end street. Where the street ends is where you’ll find your final set of steps, which are pretty insignificant honestly but, hey, if you’re reading this then you’re a completionist asshole just like me—so you do your fucking stairs and you like it.

Route on Gmap Pedometer

Photos from the walk

Secret Stairs of LA Walk #3 – Glassell Park

The world is burning, folks, but hey, I did another of these walks and it was fucking decent!

Alrighty, I did my third secret stairs of LA walk this past week. Walk number three put me over in Glassell Park, which is where one of my favorite breakfast spots is located as well as one of my favorite coffee shops! If you’re curious, it’s the Lemon Poppy Kitchen and Habitat. If you’ve been out with me you’ll note that I’m a big fan of “hipster” type places, which both those eateries are.

There’s a shopping center at the intersection of Avenue 40 and Eagle Rock Blvd where you can park your car. Also, there’s an awesome fish market, too!

This walk just gets right to it, with an uphill strut on Avenue 40. At the intersection with Sandia Way, you’ll see your first set of steps—they lead up to Verdugo View (fun fact, Scandia was a shitty mini-golf place in the Inland Empire where you could get high af and have unprotected sex with people your parents told you to avoid!).

The next set of steps isn’t for a while, so just look around and enjoy the views and quirky homes. You can catch majestic views of the 134 and Occidental College (they’re not really that majestic, I hope you caught the sarcasm!).

You’ll end up winding around on Palmero for a bit, turning left on Nordica and then Olancha. Eventually, you’ll hit this hairpin turn and take these stairs down that are covered by a canopy of trees, probably trash, and poor life decisions. It’s pretty interesting, really; the fences on either side of the path leading down to these stairs are in various states of disrepair, much like your cousin’s shitty party-too-hard-let’s-do-one-more-line-of-coke body.

You’ll get down to Oneanta Dr whether you like it or not because, let’s face it, you can’t fly. You’ll take Oneanta and you’ll like it and for a while, too, until you get to one of the city’s few five-way intersections. City planners really failed the good people of LA with this fuck-sore.

You could go visit Jessica’s Triangle, but why?

So turn your ass sharply left down Nob Hill where you can see a fine collection of garages. Eventually, you’ll get to Frieda—it’s there where you’ll find your next and final set of steps. These steps are really neat as they have a bunch of murals painted on them all the way down. Love. It!

The stairs deposit you next to Cleland Bicentennial Ave. Park and a good reason to become a skateboarder. It’s a pyramid type staircase for some reason, with stairs on the left and right of the main steps. I have a feeling the same team who worked on that five-way shit show had something to do with this set of stairs, too.

Gmaps Route

Help Scout Desk. The Support Ticketing Tool WordPress is Missing

There I was writing up a post about a then soon-to-be-released plugin called Sprout Invoice, by a cool fella named Daniel Cameron (I call him Tito, although he doesn’t like that, too much). I got to check out the beta version, but it does some critical things very simply. Handling payments and deposits for estimates and proposals like a boss. My write-up for Sprout Invoice wrote itself. It’s that good.

Well, I figured I’d keep an eye on that product and check-in here and again. I’ve already got a solid process in place I’m not in a hurry to change.

When I went to check out Danny Tito’s Twitter feed I saw this:

The words “Help Scout Desk” caught my attention because that’s what I use to manage support tickets over at my agency, DigiSavvy! So I had to check it out. Reason being is that while Help Scout is awesome (read: not shitty ZenDesk) it’s limited in that it’s all email based, so zeroing in on threads, for the client, can be difficult.

I have a couple retainer and maintenance agreements out there who track the time I bill for and the tickets I issue for the tasks I’m given. Everything goes into Help Scout. But, they often ask me, hey, what was the deal with ticket #555? Then I have to login, check it out and review the support history. It’s just easier to do it that way. Which is okay, but I wanted it to be better and figured, hey, there’s gotta be a plugin for that.

This is where things turn into a review

So I headed over and purchased a single-site license for Help Scout Desk, after clearing up a couple of questions with the developer. I dug in and got to work.

What is Help Scout Desk and why did I think it was a keen idea to buy?

Help Scout Desk is a WordPress plugin. It requires that you have an active Help Scout account (the free Help Scout account won’t cut it, you’ll need to upgrade) to make any use of either service together. Further more, Help Scout Desk allows you to post your support ticket threads/history on your WordPress site. This means if your clients login to your site with their email they use to write to you via Help Scout they can see their ticket history! AND they can also create new support tickets.

How is that better for me?

Help Scout Desk helps a bit for my workflow in a couple of ways. One, it provides a central ticket archive, on MY site, for my clients to login and review and, if they want to, they can create a new ticket. This helps me cut some back and forth with clients in tracking down tickets and what folks are paying for.

The beauty of Help Scout is also one of the things that can make it cumbersome to use. It’s email based, as far as the support interactions go.

Customers send an email to your Help Scout Address and a ticket is issued and assigned. My friend Nathan, I think, uses his own address for support tickets to track biz dev conversations. For me, I solely use it for Support ticketing.

Who is this for?
People who love and use Help Scout!

Will this plugin replace Help Scout?
No! Help Scout Desk simply provides an alternate client-facing view, hosted on your website, for your clients to review their tickets

How does it look?

It can look however you want! Fortunately theming Help Scout Desk is an easy process. It’s accomplished by copying the folders and files inside of the help-scout-desk/views folder into a folder in your template called hsd_templates. And then you go in and style it up however you want!

That said, the basic styling should be enough for most. If not, a basic gist for your css can be found here.

Here’s what I have so far.

Screenshot 2014-10-14 00.11.23

Screenshot 2014-10-14 00.10.01


That took me about 30 minutes to get down. Not too shabby. =)

How is this better than ZenDesk or something similar?

I’ve only used a few tools for support. One was WHMCS, ZenDesk and now Help Scout Desk for the last two years. Simplicity is the biggest reason I use Help Scout. It’s easier to set up and to manage and to integrate with as well. ZenDesk is a beast, like it or not. It just is and WHMCS’s offering was good for a time for me, but I’d always get complaints from clients about tickets not getting processed. No good! Help Scout things like that aren’t an issue. Everything is via email and it’s simple. Clients typically don’t know they’re even in a support thread exchange.

I love tools that allow me to make complex things simple. Support is simple with Help Scout and now, with Help Scout Desk, I have an actual portal that customers can go to review their ticket history and current tickets and it doesn’t break my workflow up at all.

Definitely give Help Scout Desk a try to let me know what you think, if you do.