Friday, September 26, 2014

Los Angeles: Highly Qualified Study Spots

Not a bad view while reading papers.

September was an interesting month.  The written qualifying exam period is now over (hooray!), but it necessitated that a large part of my time this past month be spent reading and synthesizing the assigned papers.  I'm grateful that my PI totally understood my compulsiveness and let me take a temporary step back from experiments and data.  For a little while I alternated between my lab desk and home desk for my reading/highlighting/note-taking, but this became mind-numbing after a week or so.  I'm not usually a work-in-cafes type of person because most of my work is content production instead of consumption, and I don't like carrying my computer around if I can avoid it.  But quals, with the emphasis on reading, afforded a rare opportunity in this regard, and I've heard that fresh air and tasty food are advisable during periods of potential stress.

And so within the space of a week, I became far more of an Angeleno than I ever imagined, because for two weekends in a row my Saturday or Sunday morning schedule consisted of waking up early, driving to Main Street in Santa Monica, getting a green tea latte and a scone at Urth Caffe, studying there for an hour or two, then strolling two blocks to the beach and walking there for a while before finding a bench and reading some more.  Terribly arduous, I know.  Urth Caffe doesn't seem to be a popular study spot, probably because they don't offer WiFi, and the outside chairs aren't particularly comfortable.  But before 9:00am I didn't have any trouble finding a table, and I thought the din of the espresso maker and breakfast conversations to be a nice background noise.  Also, Urth Caffe serves a variety of tea lattes that are not excessively sweet, which is hard to find in cafes.  I tried both the Japanese green tea latte and the Moroccan mint tea latte and really like both.  Their scones (I had the citrus ginger) are also excellent, and all of their baked goods are made in-house.

Bricks and Scones (looking down from the second floor)

I mixed it up with a trip to Bricks and Scones on North Larchmont, which is relatively far from Westwood by driving-in-LA standards, but on a Sunday morning at 8:00am I got there in 20 minutes.  In fact that day and hour is my favorite time to be out and about in LA, since the traffic is actually quiet and street parking is plentiful (and free!).  Bricks and Scones might be the best study spot I've encountered, whether in LA or elsewhere.  It is a large cafe inside what used to be a house, with a shaded patio in front and two levels on the inside, with dark wood paneling and a large chandelier.  The seating area on the first floor has some individual desks and some communal tables, but the second floor is dedicated to individual desks with reading lamps and is the unofficial quiet work area.  Soon after the cafe opened at 8:00, a couple people arrived and quickly staked out their preferred spots, and by 10:00am the entire second floor was full.  The WiFi is free and seemed reasonably fast considering the number of people using it.

The menu includes both breakfast and lunch, with a $10 "afternoon tea" set served all day: one pot of tea - with free hot water refill(s) - and two generously sized scones, which the server warmed up and arranged on a little tray with the teapot and a real teacup.  I had a breakfast black tea, one mixed berry scone and one chocolate almond scone, both perfectly crusty on the outside and tender on the inside, though the chocolate seemed slightly dry.  I overheard later that they used to make the scones in house, but now get them from another baker; no complaints from me.  Another bonus of working there on Sunday mornings is that there is a Farmer's Market just a couple blocks south on Larchmont, so after a few hours of work, I was able to pick up some produce and eggs and then head home.

Anyhow, autumn is my favorite season, and now that quals are over I am quite happy to get back to my project, work on grant applications, and also spend some time with family.