I’ll be in Havana day after tomorrow, with the family, and can’t wait. And I owe it all to art, and my Catholic high school in Albuquerque.

I never wanted to be there, at St. Pius X. My Catholic mother insisted. I wanted to go to Highland High, where the girls didn’t wear dorky uniforms and the sports teams kicked ass. At Pius there were four Cuban kids, who somehow wound up in the high desert, but they were glad to be anywhere far removed from the evil influence of Fidel.

A few years after Castro threw the corrupt dictator Fulgencio Batista out and began his glorious revolution, our refugee classmates made their way from Florida to New Mexico. They didn’t know much English but wound up kicking academic ass by the time they graduated. I always thought Lourdes Monserrat was one of the smartest people I ever met, but the years have shown that Ruben Rumbaut was the true star. I don’t have the space to list his accomplishments, but, take my word.


Ruben now lives in Irvine, where he is a Distinguished Professor of Sociology at UCI. We got closer the last few years through class reunions and such. So when he found out a couple years ago that there was going to be a premier exhibit in Santa Monica of Cuban artists (still living in Cuba, an important distinction), that included his cousin Adrian, he let me know and we made arrangements to go see it


To cut to the chase, I fell in love with the art I saw, wrote a glowing review in my column, and got to know the woman who was responsible for it, Sandra Levinson. Sandy is one amazing lady. In her 70s, she has more energy than most teenagers. She co-founded the Center for Cuban Studies in New York in 1972, survived a bombing meant to destroy it, and has since led more than 200 tours of Cuba. Sandy knows Cuba.

We’re joining her tour March 3 – 10. We will benefit from her vast knowledge and understanding of this fascinating nation, off limits to Americans for so long, and her contacts there. We will go to museums and synagogues and to artists’ homes, watch them work and join them for lunch and conversation.

You couldn’t find a better tour of Cuba. They offer several varieties at the CCS, laid out at the web site. I will write more about this before I go, and report on it when I return. Alaska Air just started offering direct flights to Havana from LAX, for an amazing $325 RT. Cuba Libre!!



Without much thought I pulled into the same gas station I always go to, for years, corner of Lincoln and Ocean Park. Very convenient, best prices, free air pump.

Absent-mindedly I note, wait a minute — “debit card only”? I push my credit card in anyway and sure enough, no go (strike one), and I get a message to go inside (big strike two), see cashier. Then the credit card machine on the counter wants my pin number. I never need my pin number for my credit card because I never use

ATMs. Not sure I know it. After three tries (grrr, strike 2.5!), I get it right.

Then the nice young attendant asks me, how much? I’m going to fill it, I say. No, I need a dollar amount. Are you serious, I say? What if I guess too high, do I have to come in again for an adjustment? Too low and I wind up getting gas way too often in dribs and drabs? (Strike three!) I assure her I know none of this is her doing but would she please inform management that a long-time customer here will not, not, not be back.

Finally, it dawns on me: this is an Arco now. All Arcos are like this. “How long?” About three weeks, she answers. With a Prius and never getting out of Santa Monica because I can’t (gridlock), I don’t get gas often. I never use a debit card because I keep track of all expenses by using only one credit card, and because of that I’ve got enough points now to buy that Arco. I’m considering it.



Actually, twice in the last few weeks, a parking ticket cop did. Once, I lost track of

time as I sat in my car, reading some material, ready to take off before the no parking time period began. I did not think it was past 1:00 so when I looked in my rearview mirror and saw the dreaded scooter parked behind me I thought, well, that’s predatory, he’s just waiting for it to be 1:01 so he can write a ticket. Then I saw him motion to me and I looked at the time, shocked, and gratefully waved thank you as I drove off. I love our City staff!



Really hard to figure those folks out. Posting my latest column, which was mostly

about my not-so-fun experiences with that neighborhood-oriented social network,

got me a notice within two hours that I had been reported. Again. Eight out of the

last nine times, I think. But it wasn’t taken down. Until Monday night.

Strong reaction from my neighbors. More than 20 replies under the post, and more people contacted me privately, all of them with discouraging words about Nextdoor. I don’t mind being reported — I know there are loonies, and Trump supporters (am I being redundant?), in my lovely corner of the People’s Republic of Santa Monica. But being censored through vague guidelines, without due process, because of an anonymous accuser, is just a little too Orwellian for my tastes.


QUESTION OF THE WEEK: If very, very high salaries and pensions to a very,

very large City staff are a fiscal problem, even more so with Santa Monica facing

possible budget shortfalls, and if all the union contracts are up for negotiation this year, will each City Council member pledge to cut those exorbitant benefits for future hires — even though the various unions poured buckets of money and endorsements into the campaigns of those City Council members? (Holding my breath…)


QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I want to get out of this city alive, and make like an apeman.” — Ray Davies (“Apeman”)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 31 years and wouldn’t live

anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at