Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I've been published in two travel webzines in three days. Yay!

Carnival of Cities selects travel stories highlighting a city someplace in world. They typically select several stories each about North American, South American, European, and Asian cities. I submitted my "Three Hours in Los Feliz - Part 1" post for inclusion in the July 15, 2009 Carnival of Cities and I got listed. Yay! See for yourself.

Location Independant Blog Carnival selects travel and vagabonding stories, and articles about doing business abroad, technology for traveling, and designing your life around travel. I submitted my article entitled "Road Trip South of Playa Samara - Saturday 4-11-2009" for inclusion in the July 17, 2009 issue and they picked it up. See for yourself.

Four Can't Miss Bars in Echo Park

Echo Park is a neighborhood in Los Angeles, CA just north of downtown, off the 101 freeway. Los Angeles' film industry was centered in Echo Park before World War I, and the neighborhood served as the backdrop for many silent films. The film Mi Vida Loca explored Latina gang life in Echo Park in the 1990s. Several new apartment and condominium buildings were built in the northern portion of Echo Park as spillover from the late 1990s and early 2000s renaissance downtown.

But don't let the new wine bar fool you. Gentrification hasn't sterilized this neighborhood yet. Today, working class Latinos and Millennial generation hipsters (and yes, some plaid clad Gen Xers too) frequent shadowy dive bars serving $3 Pabst, eat at ethnic restaurants in operation for generations, and nod their heads at live music venues tucked away in the shadows, safe from the judgmental eyes of pretentious Westsiders.

The Short Stop
Only a pink neon COCKTAILS sign advertises this former cop bar turned gay bar turned hipster haven. The shadowy back room houses a pool table, a collection of police badges, and dark leather booths for quiet conversation. The narrow bar quenches the thirst of straight twenty-something "actors" and "actresses" financing edgy entertainment industry lives with Mom and Dad's green. Come for Super Soul Sundays from 10pm to 2am to dance on a packed floor to Motown oldies and 80's favorites. Ignore the worn wooden sign declaring "DANCING IZ EVIL." Groups of skinny-jeaned, pirate-mustachioed hipsters get their nicotine fix on the outdoor porch. Come early for a seat at the bar because Sunday nights also feature crowds four deep trying to get a drink.

No cover
Full bar 5pm to 2am
Super Soul Sundays 10pm to 2am
Sunset & Sutherland at 1455 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA. Phone: (213) 482-4942

The Little Joy
The kind of bar I would run if I were a tagger. Enjoy two beers on tap, play on a worn pool table, cut shadowy deals in the few booths hidden in corners, or chat up the pretty blond in the black dress with leggings underneath as you both stand around because furniture is so sparse. Surprisingly well-lit for a dive, but how else could you enjoy all the graffiti, sketches, and street art four walls can handle? Bring cash because they don't take credit cards. Cheap drinks and a DJ spinning funk offer comfort to patrons who didn't want to deal with the line at The Short Stop. More diverse crowd than the hipster-only Short Stop. Makes up with real what it lacks in hip.

No cover
Cash only
Full bar
Sunset & Portia at 1477 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA. Phone: (213) 250-3417

The Gold Room
Well-lit with tiled floors, leather booths, and a largely well-dressed, young, female clientele. Sometimes the entire staff wears tuxedos. Fiber optic lighting at the bar cycles through a rainbow of colors. And was that a neon palm tree? What is this, Miami? Sit at the polished granite bar and get all the free roasted peanuts you can eat, if you don't mind shelling them yourself. Mirrored wall next to the booths and behind the bar make this small spot seem larger. Loud, eclectic jukebox plays mariachi, bachata, classic rock and metal. A good reprieve from the local dive bar routine.

Full bar
1558 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA. Phone: (213) 482-5259

El Prado
Westside class without the arrogance. Long and wide light brown bar with plenty of stools offer ample opportunity to meet locals. Modern art, mellow lighting, and light colored wood paneling lend this wine and beer bar a chill atmosphere. Staff spins LPs from a sizable collection next to the wine bottles. Wine and beer selection hand written in white wax pen on the mirror wall behind the bar instead of in a menu is a nice touch. Enjoy olives, walnuts or pecans for $3, or spring for the cheese plate for $7. Impress a first date by ordering a glass of an obscure New Zealand Pinot Noir she's never heard of for $7. Or commiserate with a friend over a $3 glass of the finest Portuguese boxed wine you've ever cried into.

Wine and beer only
Open 7 days a week, 6pm to 2am
1805 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA. Phone: (213) 483-8609

Special Bonus:
Taco Zone Truck
The only taco truck I've seen on Yelp with a 4.5 star rating and over 150 reviews. Didn't stop them from getting firebombed(!) in mid-2009, though. Jealous competitors? Thankfully, Taco Zone is back as of early July 2009. Enjoy steaming, flavorful, tacos, burritos, and quesadillas. Taco Zone even set up a few chairs, just for you. At 2:30AM, how could you possibly go wrong with three chicken tacos for $1.25 each, and a full salsa bar? Go for the dark orange salsa if you like hot. Tacos served open face on soft tortillas the way they're supposed to be done, and not in crunchy shells like at corporate behemoth Taco Bell. Walk across the parking lot to Vons and wash down your late night taco with a Snickers bar.

Open well past 2AM.
Parked at Alvarado and Montana, on the street next to the Vons supermarket parking lot and near a car wash.

Special thanks to Echo Park resident and my guide, Nima Samadi, who took me on an amazing five hour bar crawl and taco fest one Sunday night and Monday morning.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What Does Financial Freedom Mean to You?

Get Rich Slowly is one of my favorite personal finance blogs. Its writer, J.D., used to be a chronic debtor who worked a job he hated. Several years ago, he committed to getting out of debt. His journey attracted so many readers, and opened his own eyes so much, that he quit his job and now blogs full time. What I like best about his blog is that many of his posts link financial freedom to personal freedom. This post is a perfect example.

J.D.'s post links financial freedom to the freedom to choose your work, the freedom to live where you want, the freedom to do what you want, the freedom to seize opportunities, and freedom from worry. In my "About Me" statement and in a previous post, I link financial freedom to several of these things as well. This is how I link financial freedom and my freedom using J.D.'s criteria:

1) Freedom to choose your work: When I had six-figures worth of student loan debt, I absolutely felt like I had to make a lot of money. In fact, I have read that graduates need to limit their student loan balances to no more than two-thirds of their first year salary. My high pay jobs were so stressful they were hurting my physical and psychological health. I paid off over $50,000 in student loans last autumn and immediately felt like I could downsize my career to something more sustainable. I am now searching for less stressful, less time-intensive employment that focuses more tightly on subject matter I like and responsibilities that I enjoy and are good at handling. This will probably entail a pay cut, but reducing my debt load gives me the financial flexibility to absorb that hit and chase satisfying work.
2) Freedom to live where you want: Ultimately, I want to live in different parts of the world during different parts of the year, but still spend decent time in California. I could achieve this by traveling and then renting housing in whatever locale I decided to stay for a while. That would certainly be cheaper than owning property every place in the world I want to li.
3) Freedom to do what you want: This is huge for me. Financial freedom means doing what I want where I want with whom I want when I want. I traveled through Costa Rica for five weeks without a job and without concern about finding one because my finances are in good order. Though I had an amazing time abroad, I do desire work that plays to my favorite skills, deals with my favorite subject matter, and that focuses on tasks I enjoy performing. I have a decent feel for what all of this entails, so I feel like I am moving towards achieving this goal.
4) Freedom to seize opportunities: My Costa Rica trip was a great opportunity for personal growth, and one that I would have passed on had I been furiously searching for a job because I was drowning in debt, or because my lifestyle was so expensive I needed constant income to support it. A friend recently approached me about investing money in a private business he found. I passed, but the fact that I seriously discussed investing felt empowering.
5) Freedom from worry: I still worry about money, my remaining student loan debt, maintaining cash flow as I age, and similar concerns. However, I don't worry about those things nearly as much as I did before I paid off over $50,000 in student loans last autumn. When my last $33,000 is gone, I know I'll worry even less about money. Also, I don't worry about car payments because my car is paid for. I don't worry about mortgage payments because I don't have a mortgage, nor do I desire to purchase a house in the foreseeable future. I don't worry about monthly, or even emergency expenses because I have ample cash.

What does financial freedom mean to you?