My favorite stories of 2011

LA in December

Last year on this day I posted my own version of a year-in-review with my 13 favorite stories of the year. (Why 13, everyone wanted to know? Was I superstitious? Unlucky? Honestly, it just worked out that way.) This year, I couldn’t help but do it again, but with a twist: I picked my favorites, but I’m also handing out specific awards in different categories (yes, giving prizes to myself—all in all, it was a pretty boring awards ceremony). So while you’re out this weekend drunk walking or choosing a parking spot or curing a hangover with a prairie oyster, please enjoy some of the best, worst, funniest, weirdest, most popular and least popular stories I wrote in 2011. Happy new year!

Most Fun to Research
Nike’s 23-Year Journey To Make McFly’s Shoes Real, Co.Design
When I got the assignment to cover the release party for Nike’s Air MAG shoes, inspired by the ones from Back to the Future, I think I traveled all the way to the Montalban Theater in a montage set to “Power of Love.” Here’s a franchise that was so beloved to me growing up—I even did a dance to the “Back in Time” song at the neighborhood talent show one year—and I got to attend this detail-perfect themed event to celebrate the films. But talking to Nike’s Tinker Hatfield unfolded another incredible story almost as unbelievable as time travel in a De Lorean, as Nike worked on the concepts for the original film and then spent the next two decades making the shoes a reality. AND—this was the kicker—all to benefit Michael J. Fox’s foundation to battle Parkinson’s disease. Now that’s the power of love. Here are some more photos from the party.

Least Fun to Research
How My iPhone Was Stolen on the Train, Gelatobaby
Um, yeah. But on the bright side, I imagine that I saved dozens of phones from similar “apple picking” incidents this holiday season. You’re welcome.

Best Anniversary Party
My LAX series of 10 stories celebrating 10 years in LA, Gelatobaby
If I had one piece of advice to writers—or any creatives for that fact—it’s to celebrate specific milestones in your own life. When I was on my vacation this summer (ah, my sweet, sweet vacation) I came up with the idea to somehow commemorate my ten years in LA, and by the time I was back home I had started writing the pieces. It was an assignment no one would have given me, and it gave me a fantastic reason to examine the place I lived and how it affected my work. I covered everything from weather to secret staircases but my very favorite piece is on how I gave up my car.

Favorite LA Thing to Write About
It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Why We’re Pro-Carmageddon, GOOD
Besides the fact that I finally learned to spell “armageddon,” I had the absolute best time writing about the apocalyptic closing of the 405 freeway as a positive event for car-bound Angelenos. After I wrote this story I was asked to appear on the WYNC show The Takeaway, and—when people did, indeed stay off the streets for the weekend—I followed up with six more “-ageddons” I’d like to see.

Best Continuing Education
The Insider’s Guide to Art in Los AngelesDetails
The best kinds of stories are when you have to actually learn a whole bunch of stuff that you’ve always wanted to know, just to write the story. When I was assigned one of my first stories for Details on Pacific Standard Time, I was thrilled to jump in and try to make sense of this sprawling art-stravaganza about to descend upon LA. In the process, I got a seriously intense Los Angeles contemporary art education, thanks to some awesome interviews with the Getty’s Andrew Perchuk. This week I was on the KUSC show “Arts Alive” talking about my story and how PST has affected LA.

Best Per-Word Rate
GOOD Design is Growing: Announcing GOOD Ideas for Cities, GOOD
Not for the article itself, of course, but because I was writing about receiving an incredible $85,000 grant from ArtPlace for the GOOD Ideas for Cities program I co-founded three years ago. I can’t wait to take the event series to five cities, including my hometown of St. Louis, in 2012.

Best Stumbled-Upon Story
A Hidden Oasis Grows on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, GOOD
A perfect example of keeping your eyes open and your camera on, even when you’re out for a walk. I discovered this community garden on Hollywood Boulevard several years ago but it was only during a late-night, post-club visit that I realized it was a story just begging to be told. More on how I found it here, including photos I’ve taken of the garden throughout the years (before I even knew what it was). Street Journalism in action!

Best Stumbling
Enduring Spirit, Gelatobaby
Yes, I ran a marathon this year. Yes, I tweeted photos at every mile. Did I mention it rained the ENTIRE TIME? Did I mention that for the most part, I didn’t train AT ALL? Well, I hope you enjoy the story as I RISKED MY LIFE FOR IT.

Most Uplifting Subjects (I Believe the Children Are Our Future Award)
Middle School Students Tell LAUSD: No More Styrofoam!, GOOD
If you are ever feeling sorry for the state of the world, go visit the sixth graders at Thomas Starr King Middle School who not only got their school to stop using styrofoam trays at lunch, they raised money to buy reusable trays for every student who wanted one. After my story, the kids were featured on the local news, made dozens of videos, and worked with 826 LA to write about their experiences. Absolutely amazing.

Most Overwhelming Response
The Top 5 Things That Bother Me About This Headline, GOOD
When I pitched this little essay to GOOD for their Data Issue, it was mostly to vent about my own frustrations when writing “for the internet” compared to writing for print. But in the hands of guest editor Starlee Kine, it became a highly personal examination of my own transformation as a writer in the age of data—someone who, I realized, is almost addicted to page views and retweets. Ironically, the story was a traffic smash, and I’m still getting weekly emails and seeing it pop upon Twitter about it over six months later. Mostly, people thanking me for being honest about how hard it is to do what writers do.

Most Underwhelming Response
How Weeds Became a Marketing High For MIT’s Bike Wheel, Co.Design
After I noticed the Copenhagen Wheel in a recurring cameo role on Weeds, I jumped on this story, interviewing both the Wheel’s design team and the Weeds showrunner. I thought the incredible, slightly racy tale of how Weeds chose to include and work with the creators of this environmentally progressive bike concept would be a sure hit for cyclists and potheads everywhere. The story didn’t do that well, which I guess illustrates that data doesn’t always win. Or that potheads are an unreliable audience.

Most Beautiful Thing I Wrote About
An Almost Life-Sized Version of L.A. Made Entirely from Cardboard, Co.Design
Gosh, maybe one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, period.

Most Delicious Thing I Wrote About
Don’t Call it a Pop-Up: Felix Barron’s KTCHN 105, KCET Food
Best brunch in Los Angeles, with a unique experience that matches the food.

Best Service Journalism
The Best Way to See the Hollywood Sign, Gelatobaby
After a group of Beachwood Canyon residents decided they didn’t want tourists prowling their streets in search of the elusive Hollywood Sign, I wrote this story outlining several alternate routes that actually produce better views than if you’d parked in some snobby asshole’s driveway. A big part of what I hope to do with my writing is to help people navigate and understand LA better, and if I can do that at the expense of wealthy, closed-minded Angelenos, even better.

Proof that You Can Make Money Riding Buses
“Mass Transit”: A Dance Performance Inspired by Riding L.A.’s Buses
, GOOD
What Happens When You Put a Coffee Table at a Bus Stop?, GOOD
Is LA’s Public Transit a Joke? This Comedian Sure Hopes So, GOOD
Take that, cars!

Most Hate Mail
Do You Double Space After Periods?, GOOD
I had no idea that taking a stand (along with many other writers) against double spacing after periods would net me the most emails I’ve ever received for a single story. The emails that I received also happened to contain the poorest grammar and spelling I’ve ever seen. And every email was dutifully double spaced, of course.

Happy new year!

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