Optimize the Commute

Commuting is a bitch. Last month, I spent 29.3 hours in my car driving to and from work. That’s a full day out of my month lost to driving. There are so many things I could do with that extra day. Worse, there were times in Los Angeles where I spent as much as 4 hours in my car going to and from work for a 24-mile round trip (that’s 6mph in traffic on the 10 freeway!). I dare not do the cumulative math on that one.

As a society, we lose so much time getting to work every day. To put things into perspective: if Denver’s average commute time is 23 minutes one way and working population is roughly 600,000, the city as a whole loses 52.5 man years per day to the streets. From another angle, that’s 57,500 eight-hour work days vaporized per day. Can you imagine what businesses, communities, and our government could accomplish with that much time?

When it comes to personal productivity, public transportation can work for people who find ways to use that time effectively. But when it comes to driving you’re own car, there’s not much you can do except sit there. I tune into NPR and make phone calls to catch up with people, but I wish I could get more done. Siri and other dictation applications are a step in the right direction, but they still have a long way to go.

A world without commuting is a utopian fantasy. Without question, people should live where they want to live or where they can afford to live. Working from home is a pleasant solution, but difficult for collaborative work. And while it was nice for me to walk to work every morning in Hollywood, there were also downsides to living so close to the office (like 2am phone calls from people who forgot their keys). Regardless, it’s worth extra money for me to live close so that I can help save that full day per month. I will hopefully make that change again soon. I just have to decide how much a day of my life is worth.

If you are forced to commute, do what you can to make that time worthwhile. For my fellow commuters out there, what do you do to make that time worthwhile? I need ideas.

Bringing People Together

I left Los Angeles because it was too difficult to get around and randomly run into people. When your world is not colliding with the worlds of others, it’s exceedingly difficult to coordinate, collaborate, and compete. If you want to accomplish a lot in this lifetime, it makes a big difference living in an environment where you can always find someone to share ideas with. If you are not in that environment, then you need to consider leaving or find a way to build that environment where you’re at. Many groups in San Francisco and New York have taken the coffee shop to the next level by organizing co-working spaces where like-minded thinkers gather at their own pace and immerse themselves in the productivity of mutual togetherness. Surround yourself with people. It makes a huge difference – not only for your productivity, but also for your social and spiritual life.

At every opportunity, sound the horn and bring people together. Throw a party, call a conference, organize a lunch – whatever it takes. Host an event, get people in the door, and thrive.

6 Outsider Misconceptions About Denver

While living in Los Angeles for five years, I was asked many (really dumb) questions about my hometown. Below are the most common misconceptions outsiders shared with me about Denver, Colorado (and yes, these are all real and recurring assumptions):

1. Denver is perpetually buried in several feet of snow.
Hardly. We have over 300 sunny days annually (just short of Miami and more than San Diego). The average annual snowfall in the metro area is 57.5 inches, it lands sporadically six months out of the year, and only 40-50% of it sticks. With the average winter temperature above freezing (between 34 and 51 degrees, depending on the month), the snow that sticks melts in a few days.

2. Most people in Denver are cowboys and dress accordingly.
I can think of five people who wear cowboy boots and zero people who wear cowboy hats casually. Yes, Colorado maintains a lot of agriculture and has rich cow-town history. But the large majority of people do not dress or act the part.

3. Everyone skis.
I don’t. I know many people who never have. It’s really expensive.

4. Columbine High School is the main high school in Littleton.
Jefferson County, Columbine’s home district, has 22 high schools, serves nearly 85,000 students, and blankets a 700 square-mile area with half of a million people. Columbine isn’t even in the Littleton Public School District. Just because the school was televised 12 years ago doesn’t make it the masthead for an entire town.

5. Denver is a violent city.
Two high school students and a few scruffy wildlife hunters do not make an entire city “violent.” The funny part? These assumptions were made by people living in South Central Los Angeles. Denver had 33 murders last year. Los Angeles? 291.

6. Denver is in the mountains.
Seriously? Look at a map. Denver is easily 20 miles away from the nearest hill, let alone the depths of the Rocky Mountains. Do Southern Californians take geography?

On the Road Again

I’ve packed for 12 hours today and will leave at midnight to make the 1,033 mile journey back to Denver for the last time (at least for a while, if not forever). A nasty snow storm awaits my return; it will be an interesting journey.

The next time you move, I encourage you to do as I have done: lighten the load. Sifting through the things I accumulated over the years was a nostalgic experience, but it was equally relieving to leave a lot behind. It’s time for me to move on, optimize, and focus. Donating, recycling, and gifting the unnecessaries will help you move forward.

Wish me a safe trip. With any luck, the next post will declare my arrival.

10 Favorite Restaurants in Los Angeles

Before departing Los Angeles, I am visiting as many friends and favorite local spots as possible. When people ask what I will miss about Los Angeles, I tell them three things: friends, movie screenings, and food. I take comfort in knowing that other cities have great food, but I will definitely miss the following ten local spots the most and recommend them all. This is not a food critic’s ranking by any means; these places carry for me unforgettable experiential or cultural value beyond the plate. They may not all be the best in town, but I promise you: they are damn good and will show up in my dreams.

1. Twenty Five Degrees (Hollywood, American) [website] [menu] [yelp] [map]
As far as I’m concerned, the best-valued burger in town (the most food and highest quality for the price). Located inside the Roosevelt Hotel on the Hollywood strip. Open 24 hours, $15-$30 per person. Killer cheese plate, beat salad, Guinness milkshake, sweet potato fries, and garlic parmesan sauce.

2. The Bazaar by José Andrés (Beverly Hills, Tapas) [website] [menu] [yelp] [map]
José Andrés takes Spanish Tapas and small plate dining to a whole new level by experimenting with molecular gastronomy and other modern culinary methods to create some of the most inventive tastes and textures I’ve ever put into my mouth. Expensive and swanky as hell, but a fantasy nonetheless. $50-$200 per person. Last I checked, $16 valet. Located inside the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills.

3. Kogi BBQ @ The Alibi Room (Culver, Mexican/Korean) [website] [menu] [yelp] [map]
First popularized by their food truck armada, Kogi BBQ also serves an expanded menu from the back kitchen of the Alibi Room bar. Like most bars, you must fight for a seat and order at the bar – but it’s totally worth the hassle. The Korean short rib tacos or breakfast burritos are always good; I strongly recommend the Pacman Burger, tofu & citrus salad, and Vegan Sesame Leaf Tacos. Decent cocktails, too. Stay current with any weekly specials that sound delicious. $12-$25 per person.

4. Palms Thai Restaurant (Hollywood, Thai) [website] [yelp] [map]
I crave their Panang Curry and Chicken Pineapple Fried Rice all the time. Some of the best Pad Thai I’ve ever had. Big menu, haven’t really ever been disappointed. Far less traditional (and probably less healthy), but so very delicious. Very fast service, quite the operation. Karaoke Thai Elvis is always a treat. $9-$18 per person. Cheap valet lot or unmetered street parking.

5. Elite Chinese Restaurant (Monterey Park, Dim Sum) [website] [menu] [yelp] [map]
The best valued dim sum we could find. Large menu that you can order fresh from (no carts). Astoundingly affordable and always filling – the most glorious food comas I’ve ever had. Recommend you get there as they open in the morning to beat the rush (dim sum is traditionally a breakfast food). $8-$14 per person.

6. Crown of India (Hollywood, Indian) [website] [menu] [yelp] [map]
The best Indian food I could find for a very reasonable price. Solid lunch specials with vegetables, rice, and naan. The dinner Thali special is plenty enough to split with another person and comes with two vegetables, rice, salad, and naan. Chicken Coconut Curry is revolutionary. Hole in the wall, decent service. $9-$16 per person.

7. Legend Noodle (Rampart Village, Vietnamese) [website] [menu] [yelp] [map]
Best Pho I’ve ever had and insanely cheap. Enough said. $7-$14

8. Grub (Hollywood, Breakfast) [website] [menu] [yelp] [map]
I am too cheap to eat breakfast out, so it’s a big deal that this place made this list. Their “sweet & sassy” thick cut bacon cannot be beat. And the Ooh La La Egg Sandwich cannot be described with words. The blueberry lemonade or homemade ginger ale will refresh you in ways you’ve never been refreshed. Everything is good here, including their alcohol and lunch menu (an unrivaled list of BLT sandwiches). $10-$20 per person.

9. Western Doma Noodles (Koreatown, Korean) [yelp] [map]
Run by a sweet little Korean lady, this place feels like Korean home cooking. Amazing side dishes, uncanny dol sot bibimbap, delicious ox tail soup, and amazing galbi stews. Know your Korean food or bring a Korean; otherwise, this may intimidate you. Bonus points and dishes abound if you try to speak Korean with the owner. $9-$20 per person.

10. Daikokuya (Little Tokyo, Japanese) [website] [menu] [yelp] [map]
The best ramen I’ve ever had. According to Japanese friends, this competes with the real thing. Cash only, long waits, and meter parking – but worth the fight. $11-$16 per person.

Goodbye, Los Angeles

Dear friends, I am taking a long break from Los Angeles. By the end of this week, I will no longer live in this city. My drive to help shape the web has inspired me to relocate to a city with greater density in the technology sector. With my passion for the Internet and ambition to smooth it into the future of the entertainment industry, It finally makes professional sense for me to move on. Moreover, I have resolved on a personal level to pursue a complete change of pace. I am young, have little to lose, and eager to explore the world outside Hollywood. I need to mix life up a little to challenge myself and grow.

After leaving Alloy Entertainment, my time filled with personal projects, rest, interviews, the exploration of Los Angeles, and time with friends. Last night, we threw a little going away party and had a blast. I have made so many great friends here over the last five years and desperately love you all. Please embrace the marvels of modern technology to stay in touch!

Dangerous City, Lost Angels

In what kind of place does a man wake to sirens and screams, gaze upon his neighbors’ house engulfed in flames, close the glass slider to cut the sound, and return to bed having done nothing? Within minutes of waking, I fell back to sleep in spite of the bright flicker on my wall and common urban murmur outside. A mere annoyance, nothing more.

The morning after, I reflected on my apathy. It made me sick to think of all the similar experiences I have had in Los Angeles. I realized how cold I had become.

I have resided here for five years and seen things I hope you never see. A car on fire riddled with bullet holes in South Central; a woman mugged across the street in Venice Beach; a bank evacuated on bomb threat by USC; a motorcyclist flipped and crushed at 65 mph on the 5 Interstate; the corpse of a homeless woman lifted from a gutter downtown; a tanker truck explosion on the 105-110 overpass; prostitutes fighting over a fare in Hollywood; a SWAT-grade drug bust in Koreatown; and far too much more. My heart froze over long ago to endure such things. I am not proud of the man this city numbed me to be.

It takes a thick skin to survive in Los Angeles.

Gluttony

Jeonju bibimbap

The only redeeming quality of Los Angeles for me is the food. To commemorate great friend & culinary buddy Allison Walsh’s escape from Los Angeles, we embarked on a dining campaign this weekend to hit as many local favorites as possible before she moves to Washington DC. In 36 hours, we experienced swanky fusion street food, pub-style dessert, home-style Korean, Middle Eastern ice cream, and a Chinese Dim Sum breakfast. Below is a list of our samplings:
 
Alibi Room (Kogi BBQ)


Stout (Hollywood Burgers and Beer)


Western Doma Noodle (Korean)


Mashti Malone (Exotic Ice Cream)


Elite Chinese Restaurant

Real People, Real Conversations

The two most common icebreaker questions in Los Angeles are “where are you from” and “what do you do (for a living)?” Understandable, because few people actually grew up here and most relocated for their industry. A quick, cordial method to find common ground (if any) or extract details enough to build a full conversation.

The problem? These questions assume that work or geographical heritage define a person’s individuality. While some levels of personality and culture can be inferred, there is so much more to a person than his or her job or hometown. Furthermore, with jobs being the core topic (because jobs are more current and relevant than where you grew up), conversations tend to become networking events. Work sneaks out of the office and slips into your Saturday night cocktail.

I cannot argue the value of building professional relationships, but oftentimes adults forget that it is important to have other types of relationships as well. I find it extremely difficult to meet new people in Los Angeles. Worse, I find it impossible to develop relationships with people outside the film industry. I blame a lot of it on these icebreaker questions. “Oh, we’re not in the same industry? We cannot work together, so, I guess … have a good night!? Nevermind that there are so many other levels we can connect on!”

My best friends here can carry on conversations about things other than work and the movies. Makes a big difference when you’ve been on film sets all day and need a mental break. And it makes a big difference when you need to feel like a human being, rather than a workaholic robot. Science, discovery, politics, love, perspective, health, the world, philosophy … the list is endless.

Every conversation does not need to be a networking event. Try to steer your meet and greets away from conventional topics. Pay close attention to people who bring more to the table than their resume.

The Official Craig Ormiston Update

This entry marks my 100th blog post on www.craigormiston.com. Three months, 22,845 words, 10,295 readers, all 50 states, 116 countries, and 164 hours of writing later (according to Google Docs), I am well on my way to posting every day until the end of the year. But, as good friend David Fox pointed out in an email, I have penciled very little on the topic to which my blog is actually named: myself. Craig Ormiston.

On the whole, web analytics have suggested that the majority of my audience cares less about personal posts than posts with general interest or advice. Therefore, I have written little about me and instead use my life only for appropriate context and examples. That said, I forget sometimes that many of you are close friends and family. And I also forget that some of you know next to nothing about me. So here it is. To celebrate this milestone for my blog, here is an update on my life:

Enter Craig Ormiston:

First, my background. My name is Craig Ormiston, and I grew up in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. I was born and raised in the same house where I lived until I left for college. With a fierce determination to direct and produce motion pictures, I pursued the film industry in Hollywood by first attending the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. I milked my education for all it was worth: I attended inspiring classes, produced a dozen films, built long-lasting friendships, networked with countless professionals, and helped engineer the future of the movie business. While it was extremely expensive, I am thankful for my days at USC. I learned a lot and met great people. To save money and get a head start, I graduated one semester early in the Fall of 2009.

I never wanted a normal day job. I spent six months after graduation trying to package feature films, engineer products, start businesses, and avoid employment. I’ve always wanted to do my own thing and change the world. But after six months with little progress, I resolved to meet with a few people and expand my options. One of my USC directing teachers, Tripp Reed, tabled for me an opportunity I could not refuse: helping him launch the New Media division of Alloy Entertainment (producers of Gossip Girl, Vampire Diaries, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and more in the teenage girl niche). Charged with producing television-quality pilots for the web, we have successfully launched four original shows and are well on our way to making several more. It has been one year this week since I started working with Tripp for Alloy. I have learned a lot about producing, the Internet, leadership, and about myself. While it may be the day job I promised myself I would never have, I count my blessings for the opportunity and experience. I have interviewed for and been offered a handful of jobs since, and none of them could rival the freedom, responsibility, respect, and pay I have been awarded here. I share a spacious apartment with two USC friends three blocks away from my office in Hollywood on Sunset & Highland and walk to work almost everyday (unheard of in Southern California). As much as I despise the Los Angeles urban space, I enjoy the pedestrian nature of the Hollywood area and walk almost everywhere I need to go.

What little free time I have after a hard day’s work is spent doing four key things. First (and most important), I eat. For those of you who know me, I am obsessed with food. Cooking, dining out, experimenting, sampling, you name it. I spend far too much money on nice restaurants, fancy cocktails, and crazy dishes. Eating out with friends is my favorite pastime. Fortunately, I do not yet have the pounds to show for it. The best part of Los Angeles for me is the range of authentic cuisines. With Thai Town, Koreatown, and Little Tokyo less than 10 minutes away, I am never far from the best. And as crazy as it can be, living blocks away from downtown Hollywood helps keep me young with swanky tasty spots open until wee hours of the night. My gluttony knows no bounds here.

Beyond eating, I have rediscovered two very important things: reading and sleep. I never read growing up (probably because I had to for class and hated it). Now, I can’t go a day without scraping the news, catching every blog post, and putting big dents in books on my Kindle. I read between 90 and 180 minutes per day and cannot stop. Mostly nonfiction. I am constantly studying the Internet, technology, marketing, business, politics, and science. In the past year, I feel like I have thoroughly covered the first chapters of an MBA and Computer Science degree alone. I continue to learn crazy new things every single day and cannot stop. I’m obsessed. The third pastime (and perhaps my healthiest) is sleep. I was notorious in high school and college for not sleeping at all. I’ve gone four days without a single wink of sleep before. Not healthy at all. And I pay for it to this day, suffering noticeable signs of memory retention loss. Without question, I get my eight hours per night now and even track it to make improvements.

My final pastime is much more broad and complex. Readers of this blog know I am not happy with the current state of the movie industry. As Sunday’s post alludes to, I am becoming impatient with movie studios recycling old crap and idling by as consumers rip the whole charade apart the way of the music business. My sights have realigned toward technology and the web. Therein lie companies that need to stay one step ahead to compete and that cannot survive by recycling ideas. I am in awe by daily news from the tech sector and am very interested in making a career shift that direction. I spend a great deal of free time designing and collaborating on web-based projects with hopes to launch them as legitimate businesses. With little background in computer science, it has been extremely difficult to land interviews with these companies. It seems I will need to build my way in from scratch. A challenge? Yes please!

I have no intention of living in Los Angeles much longer. Be it to Denver, the Bay Area, or New York, I need to make a big change sometime soon. I have been saving up to buy myself the time to build things and aim to be gainfully unemployed in no more than two years’ time. Feasible goal? We’ll see. Here’s to the future!