Tuesday, July 24, 2018
Jonathan and Huell
When I first moved to LA about 15 years ago, I did what countless others had done and started working my way through the cheap half of Jonathan Gold's recommendations. Though it's starting to lose its standing, LA still perhaps cheap eats capital of the United States. You can still go to a different spot every day of the year and find something unique and wonderful with change fact from your ten, possibly your five.
Gold had a special affinity for these places, taco trucks and hamburger stands and mom-and-pop restaurants tucked into corners of strip malls in the least glamorous parts of town. Though no one could write more skillfully about fine cuisine, Gold 's heart was always clearly with the little guys and small, unheralded places that truly caught the spirit of a culture and/or a neighborhood in a way that the Michelin starred restaurant almost never could.
Gold was a local boy and he knew and loved each and every one of those neighborhoods. Like Pauline Kael, he wrote beautifully about his subject while using it to explore bigger questions. Gold brought a great sense of joy to his writing because he enjoyed not just the food but the individuals and the culture that produced it.
When you follow one of his recommendations, you more than just experienced a great meal, you felt had truly gotten to know a new neighborhood.
This got me thinking about another departed California journalist, one who most definitely was not a hometown boy but who adopted and was adopted by the state like no other. Huell Howser
Howser was another California institution, a transplanted local color reporter whose down-home demeanor was matched by extraordinary skills. He was one of those broadcasters whom you could drop pretty much anywhere with a microphone and a request for 25 minutes of tape and you'd get something ranging from good to wonderful.
Howser had an openly stated disdain for the slick and touristy spots that inexplicably attract so many travel writers (particularly from the New York Times). He preferred to find his stories in out-of-the-way neighborhoods and small desert or mountain towns, much as Jonathan Gold often lavished his highest praise on places like Bakersfield.Howser liked to say that his objective was to get people to look around them and find their own adventures.
One of the things that is most maddening for a resident of Los Angeles is the way that writers from other parts of the country (again particularly New York) go to great lengths to avoid anything interesting or distinctive when they visit, then go back home and write about how Los Angeles is boring and without distinction. Gold and Howser were a welcome corrective.
Both men also shared something else in common' they both saw it as their job to seek out the praiseworthy. This was perhaps the most notable trait of Howser's persona ("That's AMAZING!") but it was just as important to understanding Gold. In a field often marked by viciousness, he actually lived by the rule of if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. LA had a wealth of great food. Why waste everyone's time complaining about the bad.
By all accounts, both men were remarkably like their personas. You can find this in the many remembrances of Gold that just came out. For Howser, I recommend this from Gustavo Arellano.
Posted by Mark at 9:00 AM