LABJ's LA Stories

The Sheep of Mars

Like the little lamb that Mary had, the Sheep has gone everywhere with Spirit, NASA's Mars rover.

Except to Mars, of course. But the mascot, a stuffed animal under two feet tall, sat in Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory control room, wearing a headset and looking very much in charge as the rover landed around the red planet.

"If you'd walk by, you'd swear it was talking," said Art Thompson, tactical uplink lead.

The sheep accompanied the rover from the beginning of testing through assembly on the launch pad, then followed the craft's voyage from the control room.

Visitors are struck with an irresistible urge to pet it.

"It's been petted by all sorts of people," Thompson said. "Members of Congress, NASA officials, dignitaries, all sorts of kids and it doesn't get mad. It's never bitten anyone except me. But that's another story."

Steve Silkin



Cyclists Wanted

The Hollywood Entertainment District is looking for the next Lance Armstrong. Well, not really. They're just looking for folks to ride and fund-raise in the 585-mile San Francisco-L.A. trek called AIDS LifeCycle, the major revenue-bearer for the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center.

HED, a business improvement district grouping merchants and property owners on Hollywood Boulevard, is hoping property owners will recruit either an individual or a team to ride down the coast representing the district. They also hope that HED members will pitch in on fund-raising and publicity for the ride, June 6-14.

Kathy Ketchum, director of administration at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, noted that anyone in the state is welcome to participate in the ride. But as part of the Hollywood Entertainment District, Ketchum said, she said it's normal to start recruiting locally.

"We feel local businesses are always in supporting organizations within their community," she said. "So we felt that it would be a good place for us to reach out. We're part of the business community."

Steve Silkin



Far From Fittest

Men's Fitness magazine has ranked America's fittest and fattest cities, and when their people looked at Los Angeles, they did not really like what they saw. L.A. was ranked No. 22 on the fittest list.

The mag grants the city only a few bragging rights: There are half as many doughnut shops as Long Beach, which managed to rank No. 20 in spite of that. Statewide tobacco regulations benefit both cities, though.

L.A. takes its hits for several reasons: The horrendous rush hour traffic. Few gyms. Poor air quality.

Men's Fitness gave cities around the nation grades on non-smoking (L.A. got an A); drinking (A-); climate (A); parks (D); gyms (F) and other factors. The gym grade comes because of lack of quantity rather than quality. Miami, it is noted, has about 10 times as many gyms per capita.

As a result, Los Angeles isn't competitive with the fittest cities: Honolulu (No. 1), Seattle (No. 2), and San Francisco (No. 3.) It could be worse, though: It could be on the list of fattest cities, along with Houston (No. 1), Chicago (No. 2) and Detroit (No. 3).

Steve Silkin



Do It Yourself

Larry Flax and Rick Rosenfield may have only recently retaken the reins at California Pizza Kitchen Inc., but the two company founders wasted no time getting back to basics.

In a new TLC show called "Now Who's Boss?" Flax and Rosenfield are among six chief executives who agreed to be filmed relearning bottom rung jobs at their companies.

In their segment, Flax and Rosenfield return to CPK kitchens in Hollywood and Manhattan Beach to flip pizzas during a busy lunch-hour rush, wait on customers, wash dishes and even clean the restrooms.

Flax said the experience was really hard work. "Knowing I could leave at the end of the day was great," he said. "We have a newfound respect for all our employees."

Andy Fixmer

The Roving Eye

Where's the Beef?

It's no longer at Gardens on Glendon in Westwood. Nor is it at Kate Mantilini's two locations in Beverly Hills and Woodland Hills. And some of it won't ever be back.

Within 48 hours of the news that mad cow disease had been found in the national food supply, Marilyn Lewis said her family's three restaurants pulled all beef and veal items off the menus.

Lewis' decision appears to be rare in the dining out scene, but she's not acting as a typical restaurant owner.

"I keep abreast of all food problems, being a mother," Lewis said. "I don't think of myself as a restaurateur, I think of myself as a mother and a grandmother."

As a result, off the menu came the beef short ribs. Off came the meat loaf. Off came the burgers.

"The country, the government, the cattlers, the entire industry knew so little, but they knew there was a problem," Lewis said. "I don't believe you can be cavalier with food ideas today."

Each restaurant has about 70 items on the menu, she said, so diners still have a wide choice. While one or two customers have complained, nobody left.

"We were in good shape between our salads and our other offerings," Lewis said. "We serve fabulous pork chops. We have baby back ribs. We have a lot of life-healthy dishes that our customers adore. We have chicken, fresh fish, we even have sardines."

As news from the food chain gets better, Gardens and Kate will bring back the beef. But not T-bone or ribeye cuts, because they're both too close to the cow's spine for Lewis' comfort.

Steve Silkin

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