My experience of Triathlon Lab is a testament to the power of blogs and Web 2.0. I just completed my first season of triathlon, racing 5 events including Boise 70.3 and Santa Barbara Long Course. I started blogging at the beginning of the year, discussing my immersion in the field including training, product comparison, and my own personal growth. The triathlon community in Southern California is large for such an iconoclastic sport, but it’s still a tight-knit community of intelligent, opinionated people. Which is why it felt out of place that I had several bad experiences my first several times shopping at Triathlon Lab. I felt brushed off, ignored, and not taken seriously. Eventually I took it personally and blogged about my negative experiences. It came as quite a surprise that one of the owners personally reached out to me via Facebook (linked from my blog page), apologized for the way I was treated, and asked more details about my experience so she could address it as a customer service opportunity with her staff. I sent her a detailed report of my visits and spending experience, contrasted this to my positive experiences at Triathlete Zombies in Santa Monica, and thanked her for reaching out. That began a dialogue that has resulted in my purchase of a new 2008 Cervelo P3C triathlon bike. For those who don’t know, when you buy a bike you’re buying the shop as much as the bike itself. A good shop will do a proper fit, and then a follow-up fit to make sure the bike is right. Also, there is maintenance, tune-ups, and the never ending list of STUFF that gets added to the bike over time. The way the owner reached out, accepted responsibility, and then made up for the initial negative experience was enough to encourage me to forge this new relationship. The store is well stocked with a wide variety of gear, clothing, and staff. They have a considerably large bike shop and a solid spread of brands from entry-level and road all the way to pro level. I suggest talking to different staff members and finding someone you get along with and then coming back to them. Going in alone and browsing might not yield immediate gregariousness, but asking questions and getting to know the staff will make your experience better.

Nate Loyal is a professional bike fitter. If you ride professionally, recreationally, or for any serious length of time you should have your bike fit to you. Most importantly it prevents injury, but it can also increase performance, correct your form, and overall improve your ride. Nate is outstanding. A session with him takes about an hour to an hour and a half to get fully dialed-in. He works out of Helen’s Cycles in Santa Monica, but does not work for them. That means if you need to add parts to your ride you can go downstairs and get hooked up without having to run out to another bike shop. Helen’s is a great shop, by the way, and have good prices on quality gear. Nate races and trains professionally. You can absolutely trust him to fit you properly and give you expert advice on how to get the most out of your bike experience. At time of writing his cost is $165 for the head to toe fit, and best of all he takes Paypal.

(310) 927-6283, 2501 Broadway, Santa Monica (above Helen’s Cycles)

I found Jim by way of a referral and have had such great experiences with him I try to tell everyone about him. Jim is everything you want in a mechanic: honest, up front, affordable, and extremely competent. His shop is in a sketchy (but still safe) area because he likes having multiple bays and many mechanics working at once and rent is freakin’ expensive everywhere else. I’ve brought four cars to Jim over the years and he’s taken exceptional care of each one. When you bring a car to Jim with a problem he fixes the problem, and perhaps the only strange part is that he doesn’t upsell any other services – or go looking for other issues if you don’t tell him. I got in the habit of asking him to do a full inspection each time I brought in my cars – just in case there was something going on I missed. This is something that can be seen up or down, since some people want a proactive mechanic who will run down a list of all the things that need to be done. Personally, I appreciate Jim’s approach. “What’s wrong? OK. That’s fixed now.” And then he charges you a fraction of what you expected.

(323) 939-2171, 4320 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles

A two part review here. Here is the blurb I sent to Green Clean when they requested a quote from me, a loyal customer: I’ve been using Green Clean every two weeks for over a year. My decision to use them was primarily because of their commitment to using non-toxic cleansers. The Green Clean staff is consistently friendly, capable, and efficient. They work well around my dogs and have never damaged any of my possessions. To be frank, hiring a cleaning service or person in Los Angeles brings a giant set of unknowns. With Green Clean I feel secure in knowing my residence is cleaned safely and professionally without any doubts as to its environmental impact. I look forward to their lovely notes and a clean house left behind after a job well done. Now, let me qualify a few things. I use a non-toxic cleaning service because I have a high maintenance dog with severe allergies and a wife who makes me a better person by using environmentally friendly products. Truthfully, I really just don’t care any more. I went to a severely liberal arts school, I spent years being holier-than-thou and to be perfectly honest I don’t give a shit if someone uses fresh orphan blood to clean something as long as it works. But these are the compromises one makes in a marriage and as long as stuff feels clean I can support the hippie attitude. I’m sorry that others had negative experiences with Green Clean. The staff has always been very nice and done a solid job 95% of the time. With non-toxic cleaners you have to use a lot more elbow grease to get stuff clean and these folks have never skimped on my watch. I am here the entire time they do the cleaning and try and stay out of their way. Perhaps that’s why I’ve gotten such a good experience. Or I’m not creating as much filth as I could and not challenging them. Truth be told, their fancy Miele vacuum doesn’t get all the dog hair off my hipster Flor and I’ve got to do my own Hoovering later in the week. But it’s clean. I acknowledge I pay more for the experience. With a $20 tip, a two person crew takes two hours and costs $115. I tip $20 ($10 each) because I like them. Could I pay less? Probably. Do I speak Spanish? No. Am I paying more to satisfy my inner hippie? Probably. Have I done any due diligence to find out if I’m paying more because they offer health benefits, union options, or other progressive “Green” values? No. This red is only concerned about his own green.

(866) 476-4736, Los Angeles

We owned a 1995 850 Turbo wagon. It has a flip down child seat in the rear. It has a fold-down bench seat in the very back that seats three kids. All it’s missing is a uterus monitor built into the dash to completely freak us out. It was my wife’s commuter car, the right size to take both dogs to the park, kennel, or on a long trip, and it’s got 130,000 miles on it. The car’s very sporty and overall has been a great car. But when something goes wrong… ka-CHING! I’ve taken the car twice to Culver City Volvo for service and before I get into the cons, let me say that they did, in fact, fix what was wrong and it did not need to go back for any corrections. When you go the dealer for repairs, the implicit agreement is to be anally violated in fees so that the job is done right. I’m willing to pay more if the level if service is high. It just isn’t so at CC Volvo. Mind you, the service techs are very nice. But they don’t call to tell you there’s going to be a delay in the original estimate of repair time. They don’t offer alternatives to complete and total replacement, and they don’t take American Express. (The last point is only sticking in my craw after walking several miles to pick up my car and not having my Mastercard on me. Somehow I can run a marathon, but walking to the dealership twice is just aggravating.) Service reps won’t even look at another rep’s ticket, so if your guy isn’t there when you call or come in, forget about getting any answers at all. The last time I brought in the car, my rep seemed to take a lot of lunches, or his phone was always going to voicemail. Since he was lax in following up with the delays this made things very frustrating. Also, labor charges seem to vary based on the kind of diagnostic or repair they are performing. Check your bill and don’t hesitate to ask questions. If you bring your Volvo to them it will be fixed, eventually. It will also cost significantly more than you expect and take much, much longer. I’d take my car to Jim Matson, but Volvos require specific tools and repair machinery that few mechanics want to deal with. Jim’s smart enough to wave my car off and send me to the dealer. I’ll go back to Bjorn at the Swedish Auto Clinic in Venice again for the other repairs I need. Bjorn and his boys do decent, affordable work, but my last experience there was spotty and required multiple visits to get right. I suppose I just have to accept my yuppie lifestyle and embrace the Volvo, expenses and all. I dread the day when the baby light comes on the dashboard.

(877) 253-7968, 11201 Washington Blvd, Culver City

With 7,000 square feet of open play space, pickup and delivery of your dog, overnight, small dog, and grooming facilities, Cagefree K-9 Camp is a great place to take your dog. The staff all have a genuine love for the dogs, and mine have always been treated well. When my pitbull/basenji mix dove into a fight that had broken out around feeding time, she got the brunt of the injuries with a puncture on her ass and a bite on her back. Jill, the owner of Cagefree, took my dog to the City Of Angels 24 hour emergency room, sat with her and kept her calm, and made sure she was taken care of completely. While it would be nice to think that taking your dog to an open play space will always be risk free, they are still dogs and accidents happen. I can say that in the case of this emergency, the owner took a vested interest in making sure everything was taken care of, and gave a full and immediate briefing over the phone. I was shaken, but everything turned out well. I would recommend Cagefree for dogs that have been socialized and can hold their own in groups of dogs. You will need to do a test run with them and make sure your dog has full vaccinations before day care or boarding.

(310) 202-6900, 3385 Robertson Place, Los Angeles

Years ago I wanted a pair of arm bands on each of my forearms. These were simple bands, but complicated in that I wanted them straight and symmetrical. A number of friends had recommended I check out Black Wave tattoo since they specialized in tribal tattoo work. I went with a skeptical eye, since tribal to me is overblown on every frat boy and dumb jock’s upper arm. In fact, you know something is past its prime when Microsoft uses it on their box cover. Black Wave Tattoo is owned and operated by Su’a Sulu’ape Freewind. His bio can be found on Black Wave’s web site, so I won’t go into those details. At the time, the shop had three artists working full time. Pai Tama had apprenticed under Suluape and was in charge of the walk-ins like myself and we scheduled an appointment. What he thought would take two hours turned into eight hours for each arm. As the low man in the shop he also had to answer the phone and talk to walk-ins, so that added to the time. But he also had to smoke a bowl every half hour, and the pieces I wanted were way more challenging than he expected. Six hours to draw, two hours to ink – each arm. 16 hours over two days. The cost was reasonable, given that he underestimated completely. My total cost was $300, and I love the work. While I was at the shop – for hours – I got to watch Suluape work. The piece he was doing at the time was a landscape of Yosemite on a man’s back. Suluape had taped a 4×6 color photo to the guy’s shoulder and was freehanding the entire thing, just painting the image on the guy’s back. It was clear that Suluape was beyond just a talented tattoo artist, he was an amazing artist period. We got to talking about the work in his book, especially the tatao – the traditional form of tattoo done with two sticks and sharpened combs, bone, and stone instead of needles. Suluape had devoted himself to the study and art of tatao, learning Maori, Samoan, and Indonesian techniques. It put the seed in my head that I would like a body stripe one day, a plum line of design running from ankle to armpit. The body stripe is beautiful (when done properly), and it directly appealed to my personal theme of imposing straight lines on forms that resist structure. My photo collage work is joined by the straight lines of the subject while fighting the innate curvature of the camera lens. And personally, I rely heavily upon reason and linear thinking to solve hard emotional problems. I decided that I wanted a body stripe, that Su’a Freewind was the only one who could do it properly, and I would wait several years to make sure I was confident in my decision. In March of 2006 I approached Su’a Freewind to do my tattoo. What followed was approximately 9 months of phone calls gently reminding the shop I was still interested. Su’a is both in high demand and also lives life on island time. Due to injury, demand and, his, well, being an artist, I got my consultation in January of 2007. In May I got the call to come in for my first session. Suluape did the lower part of my leg with a machine in order to lay down the basic geometry of the stripe. Subsequent work was done in tatao, the traditional method of tattoo. Instead of scratching the skin into a pulp, which agitates the skin in order to absorb the ink pigment, tatao is a razor sharp comb, needle, or spike at the end of a stick which is guided and struck by the artist using a petrified rod. The teeth of the comb puncture and impregnate the skin with ink. There are a wide variety of these combs, all made by hand, that Suluape can use depending on the kind of line and pattern he wants to achieve. The result, for me anyway, was a much more pleasant feeling. Like being pricked over and over by a rose bush. I will take tatao over machine work any day. The line quality is very different from the machine to the tatao. Not only is it thicker, but some of the hairpin-turn detail is lost. On a mechanical level, the invention of the tattoo gun replaced the need for stretchers – one hand inks while the other hand stretches. But the removal of people from the process also removed the social aspect of the ritual. If getting inked requires several people to lay hands on the person for hours, there is the creation of a community, however brief, focused on a single task. You just can’t be as impulsive with tatao. Tattoo shops are always full of people hanging out and spitballing. In a sense, the social aspect of a modern tattoo parlor remains an echo of the community that builds around a tatao where everyone is involved in the creation of the art. We’re still not done, and that is perhaps my only issue with Black Wave. The shop is run on Island Time. You must be completely flexible with your time and availability. The end result will be a work of art created by a master of his craft – on you for life. You can also read more here.

(323) 932-1900, 118 S La Brea Ave, Los Angeles

(888) 426-4435
We’ve had the unfortunate luck to have had to call the ASPCA Poison Control Center several times for our pitbull/Basenji mix. A short list of the things she’s eaten include an old bag of Hall’s sugar-free cough drops, Halloween candy, an entire bottle (90 pills) of colon cleanse tablets, and a full baby diaper (thanks, brother-in-law for not telling us you tossed your spawn’s waste into the trash) which we did not realize until the next day when she pooped out yellow “flavor crystals” that had sucked the moisture out of her body. Each time we’ve called the hotline we’ve been connected to an actual veterinarian quickly, who calmly and methodically had us check our dog for dangerous indications and then researched their expansive database of products for active and inactive ingredients. The times when we’ve had to induce vomiting we were coaxed through the process by the vet and then called back to verify our dog’s health. Their requested donation of around $30 has mutated into a forced contribution of $55 per incident. It’s still significantly less than an unnecessary emergency room visit. But, if it should happen that you need to go to the ER, you’ve done a certain amount of triage that can assist the new vet. I hope you don’t need it, but to crib Steven Pressfield’s description of a Spartan soldier, a dog is little but a mouth, an ass, and an appetite in between.