VERY LA: Inside the Melrose Trading Post

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Courtesy of @MTPfairfax

On the corner of Melrose and Fairfax an eclectic group of Los Angelinos set up shop in the parking lot of the local high school. To them, it’s just a regular Sunday of selling handmade graphics of Star Wars’ C-3PO meshed with Barack Obama and bartering for The Plays of Shakespeare, book-turned-clock.   

The pop up flea market that has inhabited the blacktop of Fairfax High School is the urban Melrose Trading Post. The post, which is a center for vintage fashion, handcrafted goods, and other unique items, has been making its name on the list of things to-do while in the city.  At the Melrose Trading post, a keen eye could find the missing piece to a collection of crystalline rocks or the decorative picture frame for a studio.

The Melrose Trading Post can be recognized for its lively yet mellow crowd. A colorful audience of different cultures reflects the unique, special valuables of the vendors. Around the corner a trio of women have a conversation in Japanese and within just a few steps a British pair contemplates buying leather shoes. The attendees were young enough to walk through the market on their own and old enough to reminisce on fashion styles of the 70’s.  The absence of police officers showed the tranquility of the post.

Established in 1997, the Melrose Trading Post has grown into a financial support system for Fairfax High School. The post has awarded the home of the Lions with funds for new sporting equipment and other projects benefiting the schools programs.

“We are a non-profit organization,” said Pierson Blaetz, Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the Melrose Trading Post.

Blaetz is part of the Greenway Arts Alliance program that unites communities through art, education, and enterprise. This specific role aids the theater program at the high school and supports their future productions.

A $5 admission fee is the backbone to the financial aid the school receives but still offers free parking. Along with the grants, the market provides student employment opportunities.

Albert Zarzau, 16, is a part of the student staff and was working with graduates to direct the staff what tasks needed to be done that day. He said that student staffers are required to clean tables, assist in parking, and help move items from one place to another. Their red crew work shirts distinguished these students from guests.

“I like it here because it takes effort in this job to get things accomplished,” said Zarzau. “[Everything] looks great today.”

Alongside the staffers are vendors who contribute to the bohemian ambiance of the post. At the Los Angeles Tea Company booth, where organic tea and fresh herbs are blended, Erin Wieczorek, 22 and co-owner, sold $5 bottles of green tea.

“It’s awesome meeting new people here but the best thing about [the Melrose Trading Post] is to people watch,” said Wieczorek. “It’s interesting to see what people are wearing in L.A.”

In between a tent featuring baby blue table furniture and another tent with prints of Milhouse Van Houten was Matt Warren’s booth. Warren, 33, owner of The Exiled Elite, a custom design and illustration company, took his passion for art from the United Kingdom to California. His products include hand drawn alternative-movie posters that were sold as prints or t-shirts.

He said about the trading post, “when no one turns up on hot days like these or there is an event, that’s kind of frustrating. But even if you don’t get many sales, it’s still good for exposure.”

Warren uses the slow days to his advantage.

“I still get to see what kind of people buy my stuff and age group- which kind of designs are the most popular, so they are the ones I can get.”

So far his top sellers have been prints of the films Amelie, Point Break, and Pulp Fiction. Tees of these prints cost $25 while copies of the print $18.

“We do not have a lot of competition, ” said Blaetz. “[But] we are an outdoor market so weather does affect us.”

Hot or rainy days attract fewer customers but when it’s overcast, more customers visit the post, according to Blaetz. His only solution would be setting up a tent that stretches over the market but because of space and monetary restrictions the staff opted out.

Just up a set of stairs across from Warren’s booth and past a flock of food trucks was the main stage for musical performances. Laid out carpets and small lunch tables invited attendees to watch punk band, Girl Fry’s first performance at the post.   

Alex Si, 25-year-old bass player, and band mate Jessy Espino, 25-year-old vocalist of Girl Fry, shared similar opinions of their first experience at the trading post.

“I wish they hadn’t kept telling us to turn certain things up and put certain things down. It made it difficult to play consistently,” said Espino. “But I kinda like the outdoor thing.”

“Yeah, it was the first time we played outside,” said Si.  

The female fronted band simultaneously agreed on returning again to perform- except this time with a sound guy.

Milli Dawson, 29, born and raised in Los Angeles, has been attending the Melrose Trading Post for the past 10 years. His style manifests the modernity of the city and showcases his sense of individualism.

“It’s a place to inspire, a place to find things you won’t find normally,” said Dawson. “It’s part of L.A.”

**This article was written in the past for a previous assignment, some start up organizations or brands may no longer be up to date

Winters is Coming

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Los Angeles Lakers Point Guard Lonzo Ball and Serena Winters/ Source: @serena_winters

The morning the Los Angeles Lakers were to return to Staples Center for one of the last preseason games, sports reporter Serena Winters sat in front of her Starbucks attired in gym clothes with a Robeks smoothie at hand.

“I’ll get [to Staples Center] at 4 p.m.,” said Winters. “When I get to the arena usually I’m around the court talking to people, watching what’s going on, seeing D’Angelo Russell shoot… We then do a pregame media availability for [Head Coach] Byron Scott [then] the game starts at 7 p.m.”

Winters, 27, is the lead field reporter for the sports writing blog, LakersNation.com. Her 24/7 schedule revolves around the team of purple and gold as she also contributes to Time Warner Cable’s SportsNet: Access Lakers and radio shows like The Beast 980 AM.

“Once the game ends around 10 something there is then head coach post game availability,” said Winters. “Once we finish that up, it’s past 11 p.m., we go back to the interview room, my camera guy and I, and get a post game story. We post videos around 12:30 a.m. Send video links to [our editor-in-chief]. Maybe we get lucky it’s around 1 a.m. but usually around 2 a.m. is when I get home. Then the next day I wake up and its practice at 11 a.m. so I drive to El Segundo to get more stories from players.”

At 5-foot-5 and 115-pounds, her petite toned frame can be contrasted against the 6-foot-6 athletes weighing well over 215 pounds; but her confidence in the sport equates to theirs. Winters, a Huntington Beach local, grew up in the world of sports where her niches were basketball, golf, and track. She also excelled in academics throughout high school and college, earing a 4.8 GPA at Huntington Beach High School and graduating Magna Cum Laude at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Winters was raised an only child. She was kept very active throughout her youth. Her parents put her in theatre classes when she was younger and her father would have her read to him aloud to discover new words. Alongside being a tri-varsity athlete in high school, Winters was also part of the Model United Nations where she and her club members would take on the role as economic leaders of a specific country and debate against other mock leaders of different clubs.

Chris Evans, Winters’s mother, said one facet in raising her was that she wanted her daughter to act appropriate for her age.

“A lot of things kids do in today’s world, I think that all needs to be very well watched,” said Evans.

Winters’s father passed away when she was 12 but both she and her mother credit him for her involvement in sports.

“When I was kid I think most of my pressure came from myself,” Winters said. “I felt pressure to get straight A’s and be the best athlete but my parents were really supportive. My dad always wanted me to be smart so everything was more to please my parents.”

Her piercing blue eyes and contagious smile broke into a laugh however when she spoke about her competitiveness, but her freckled skin and owl shaped glasses aren’t too threatening.

“The first thing that comes to mind about Serena is that she is always very hardworking,” said Jeff Payetta, 26, her boyfriend of four years and childhood friend. “She was always very good in school, which I can’t say the same for myself.”

Winters created an extensive portfolio during and after her college career. Her list of internships range from working at ESPN with the Jim Rome Is Burning show to working in the social media department on Fuel TV, to reporting color commentary for the men’s basketball team at UCSB, and eventually interning with the Lakers.

While she was commuting from Huntington Beach to Santa Barbara, Winters’s income came from valeting at the Hyatt in Newport Beach.

Always looking for her next move, she applied to Lakers Nation and was again, taken on as an unpaid intern. Her previous connection with the Lakers allowed for one-on-one interviews with the players while she attended practices. Winters eventually earned her spot as a full time reporter for Lakers Nation in October of 2012. She proved her worth over the next year to Lakers Public Relations and was given season credentials. This move gave the sports blogging website a major push into the media industry.

The website currently claims a following of 2.5 million on Facebook and a community of nearly 350,000 followers on Twitter.

However, there is a backlash for new media reporters from old media reporters. Winters says that coming from an online world there is still a divide in people who are stuck on traditional media.

“Even though they are friends of mine, like newspapers [reporters] … I feel like they are talking behind my back,” said Winters. “[I’m] still at the forefront with online media because a lot of people still ask me advice for video or YouTube. Whether or not you like it, media is clearly changing.”

Winters cracks a smile over the negative connotation of online media because it’s something she hears on a daily basis. But she says that despite the criticism, no one works harder than her.

Because of her role as a reporter, she does not consider herself a PR representative for the Lakers. She has yet to write something specifically the team has asked her to do but she chooses to avoid family issues. She reports on facts, gameplay and quotes said by the team to provide context for Lakers Nation.

In one post-game availability conference Winters took heat for asking a decisive question.

“I had a PR pull me aside and threaten to take my credential away … I was told that it wasn’t my place to ask that that question,” said Winters.

The question was when she asked Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant what he thought of his ESPN ranking of 40 out of top 500 players in the NBA last year. The five time NBA champion replied with “they’re a bunch of idiots”

The response generated a heavy news flow for sports media outlets and commentators. Winters held her ground for asking a fair question that produced a good answer. She writes what she knows based on certain things; commenting and critiquing players’ performances rather than coaching decisions.

Winters and her videographer Andrew Martinez, easily work over 40 hours in a five or six day work week to provide nonstop information for one of the country’s largest fan base. The two spend more time with each other than their own friends and family. Martinez has been working with Winters for the past two years and says he learned much from her.

“I’ve never been in sports media,” said Martinez, 28. “Serena is like a mentor to me… She helps me understand the journalism part of it all.”

Winters says being a woman in the sports industry faces its own obstacles in itself.

“As a female I feel like it takes so much more to build respect, especially in a male dominated industry,” said Winters. “A male in this industry can make one mistake and it’ll blow over. As a female you can work five to 10 years, but you make one mistake and your reputation is over.” Winters dresses, speaks, and works in a specific style to make herself professionally presentable.

In her experience in the sports industry she says one of the most difficult parts is managing other personalities. Winters labels herself as a perfectionist and when it comes to getting her job done correctly, it is her utmost priority. If someone else is not reciprocating the effort, characters begin to clash .

“In a male dominated industry it becomes more challenging to ask why does this get done improperly. There are no open conversations, they get defensive,” said Winters. “It’s personal. Men just want power… I’m not sure if that’s what it is, but men want power.”

Her stern belief is that she does not want others to out work her and while some may view this as unappealing, many respect her for it.

“There is this intimidation factor working with her because she knows what she is talking about,” said Martinez. “But once you start talking to her she’s laid back and funny and the intimidation factor goes away.

“What I like best about Serena is that she is very talkative… she makes it a point to make a person feel special,” said Payetta. “She also has an excellent choice in food.”

A medium rare steak filet or yellowtail sushi tops the list of Winters’s favorite food.

When Winters is not practicing Muy Thai or competing against her boyfriend in golf, she likes to relax with her English Bull Terrior, Bruno.


***This story was written in 2015 as a feature profile assignment for a college course. I worked briefly with Serena as a previous intern for LakersNation. She was kind enough to take time out of her schedule to give me a lengthy two-hour interview for my assignment.

The Plastics: Four Women and their Stories of Cosmetic Surgery

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Source: @huldaguzman

I woke up to a bright white light squeezing into the slits of my eyelids. Strapped down by each carpal and tarsal, I was crucified on a surgical table in downtown Santa Monica. I awoke with an inability to breathe, gasping for air from what felt like two cement bags pushing on my lungs. The nurse asked, “Do you need more morphine?” and with a quick reply of “yes,” I was sedated again.

Continue reading “The Plastics: Four Women and their Stories of Cosmetic Surgery”