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The Proud Bird ~ Westchester

8:56 AM PDT on July 11, 2007

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Proud Bird Restaurant ~ 11022 Aviation Blvd, Los Angeles, CA, 90045

If your childhood was anything like mine, you might have had one of those crazy best-friend neighbor kids, about which you find yourself wondering from time to time, imagining that their path on life might have led them with equal probability to the nut-house, to jail, or to a job as researcher at Jet Propulsion Labs. This fourth-grade friend of mine, Todd, had thick coke-bottle glasses, loved Bloom County and Monty Python, started fires in dumpsters, participated in Civil War reenactments, and could identify by name most military aircraft going back to World War II. I don't know where Todd is today, but chances are, he would be pretty psyched to hang out at the Proud Bird.

After cruising down Aviation Boulevard and driving past the place a few times, and catching glimpses of the historic aircraft that occupy the grounds, I had a bad urge to check it out. It has several World War II era fighter fighters perched provocatively at the building's entrance, skimming the top of the roof and soaring a few feet over the koi pond.

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I couldn't get into these planes enough to read the lengthy memorial plaques, but these particular planes out in front might be my favorite of the whole lot. They take me back to all the times I successfully lobbied my mom to by me one of the the shitty balsa wood gliders that would hang in the rack next to the checkout line of the grocery store along with all of the other impulse buys. I would take one of these bad boys home, assemble it in about 45 seconds, and enjoy its functional life for the next 45 seconds, as the maiden flight inevitably ended by crashing into the wall, after which its tail fin would come flying off and its wings would snap in two.

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Looking at these single engine prop planes, it makes you realize how these machines have much more in common with the cars we drive everyday then the planes landing at LAX across the street. In some way, they seem almost safer than the commercial airliners we've been in. As the archival footage shows, a crash landing in one of these babies is remarkably more like a present day car crash than the downing of a modern military or commercial jet. Even a crash landing of one of these planes on an aircraft carrier seems like something you could expect to walk away from, as long as you don't overshoot the deck and land up in the water.

There's more planes parked out in the back, just parked on the ground and not positioned so dramatically -- a kind of aeronautic sculpture garden. They had this bi-plane and a replica of the orange Bell X-1 in which Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier for the first time.

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I can't really recommend Proud Bird too much for dinner, so I'm going to file it away under "Landmarks" and "Wateringholes". Principally, while the food was good, it was a bit overpriced, and definitely wouldn't fit in the "cheap eats" category established by our venerable TACO founders. Also, continuing with their old-school vibe, their menu is untouched by "new-fangled sensibilities" like "sustainability," because they apparently haven't gotten the memo from the Seafood Watch Program that Chilean Seabass is currently a big "no-no" because of problems related to overfishing, illegal fishing, and destructive fishing methods.

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That being said, it is hard to get too righteous and angry about it. Yes, they should know better, but The Proud Bird seems to be of a bygone era, an era before Chilean Seabass or anything else was overfished, when people were blissfully ignorant of many nascent ecological problems. When they were at war, ordinary civilians were called upon to make extraordinary sacrifices; nowadays, the insulation of the majority of the populace from the true day-to-day operations and effects of war allows us to ponder other concerns, continuing the commercialism of the status quo, preempting mass dissent and allowing a pointless war and foreign occupation to continue without larger-scale protestation or demonstrations. I pass by the pimped-out "Churchill Room" with it's stately portrait, it taunts me into recognizing how far our country and people are from being at our "finest hour".

After the personal inner anti-war moment passes, my mind turns to thoughts more base and earthly, and I wonder if the Churchill Room would in anyway be a nice setting for a date. It is in some way romantic, and though Churchill isn't the most conventionally handsome historical figure you've ever seen, he was a fairly powerful man. And, like one of the turds that helped start this current war observed, "Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac."

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OK, I don't know for sure if reserving the Churchill Room for dinner will get you laid, but the Proud Bird is in general a cool place to chill for drinks and, though I not an aviation-freak as was Todd, it's hard not to find yourself captivated watching the massive modern planes drift in slow and low every few minutes onto the LAX runway across the street. Like the planes parked out front and in the back, the glory days of the restaurant may be past, but it retains a kind of outdated dignity and continues to be exactly what it claims to be: a proud bird.

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Website: www.theproudbird.com

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