Downtown with Delani: Brunch, Pipe Dreams, and UI terminology
I’d never been to the 5 Cent Diner before, but my roommate Les had. He said it was the kind of place you go to get comfort food, and that probably a lot of people go there after partying the night before. Probably to get rid of their hangovers, he said. Les is a personal fitness trainer.
Delani and I walked one block west to Main and two blocks north just past Fifth. There were a dozen people meandering out front and I pointed at them and shrugged, knowing our impending wait.
Delani shrugged back.
We went up to the host and asked about the wait. The dining room was a scene out of a Hollywood film set in the fifties. Great red booths, signs advertising hot dogs for seventeen cents (and five cents extra for chili). Black and white photos. Black and white tile flooring.
I saw the host mouth “fifteen minutes,” to which Delani shrugged again and put in his name.
Outside we meandered with the crowd.
“Want to grab coffee?”
“Sure, but I just put in my name.”
The host walked out and called a name. No takers, only people looking around at each other. He went back inside.
“Well, we could get coffee here, I mean. We could ask them if we could get a cup while we’re waiting. They let us do that when I lived in Portland.”
“Oh yeah, that’s a good idea.”
The host returned and called another name. Still nothing. I looked at Delani.
“Okay, Delani, party of two?” The host was looking at us.
I tried not to make a face as we followed him inside. He sat us two tables from the door, and I sat with my back to it. A bus boy took our coffee order and a waiter straightened our silverware and rattled off three or four specials.
I nodded at him and said thanks.
“Good. My name’s Travis if you need anything.”
“What looks good man?”
“Wait, hold on,” Delani said. I gave a quizzical look and he removed his phone from his pocket. He unlocked it and opened up an app called Pro Recorder. He hit the red button, set his phone on the table, and locked it again.
He was telling me a story from the fire escape right outside the laundry room about a journalist named “Lulu” who worked for NPR. She had apparently followed a couple for three years. At first she caught them on the road while they were touring on bicycles across America. They were to be married shortly after the trip.
“Well, I don’t want to ruin it for you.”
“Okay, well I’m going to have to listen to it.”
“Yeah, it was on Radio Lab. The latest one. You should listen to it.”
“I will look it up tomorrow morning.”
He hesitated, fumbling the contents of his pockets. “Okay, so basically later in her story the guy said he didn’t know if he believed in God, which caused rifts in their relationship. After Lulu caught up with them again, well…”
“Oh come on,”
“Okay, well the girl gave him back his ring. It was like a year or so later when she got this second part of the story.”
“Wow. Bummer for him. Gah, I can’t imagine.”
“Yeah, you should listen to the rest. But the whole reason I brought it up was to mention how much I love how Radio Lab uses real-life sounds, like cars driving by, or cash registers opening, or people talking.”
“Isn’t that great? It adds so much.”
“Yeah, it’s like we’re there. We are watching a story instead of hearing it.”
“It’s always been a dream of mine to record something like that. You know, write a story and splice it with sound-bytes. I wanted to call it Radio Drama, but I think people would get the wrong idea.”
“Dude, we can. We can definitely do it.”
I found myself talking like I knew there was a recorder on my voice. The room was loud. Forks hitting plates, servers shuffling chairs, orders being taken. It was perfect, and it was ordinary. Probably too loud for the recorder, which was perfect.
Delani got the corned beef hash and I got a sausage and peppers scramble. We ordered a helping of pancakes and watched the syrup drip along the butter oozing out the sides and swim around the plate. Travis casually returned several times, asking questions he knew the answers to and topping off our coffee. He made sure our food was just right. He was earning his tip, and I appreciated his effort more than we needed his service. Truth was that he could have visited us four times and our food would have tasted the same. Once to greet, once to take our order, once to deliver food, and once to drop the check.
Three blocks north, just before Second, we stopped off at Groundworks for more coffee and a quiet place to talk about my website. An old church with gargoyles loomed above from across the street. Its cleanliness and carefully tended overgrowth meant that, for downtown Los Angeles, it wasn’t a church anymore. In fact, it had become an events center.
I bought a double espresso and Delani bought another cup of coffee. We moved the umbrella outside above our table and settled in. Distant sounds of voices and car motors boomed across the buildings.
Delani brought out his journal, and when he did I wondered if his phone was still recording. It had been at least thirty minutes. Talking. Bill dropping. Payment.Walking further up Main street. More coffee being ordered. An umbrella moving. Two guys joking. Delani’s journal slapping the metal table in front of us.
We started in and Delani flipped a switch. Suddenly, I was either his client, or his pupil. Mostly, I knew I was his friend. He cared this much to get business-y. He explained user interface terminology to me like “site-map,” “platform” and “intuitive design.” Under his tutelage I nodded, and under the umbrella we drew up elaborate plans.
A “landing page” is where people go when they type in a domain name. Like when you type in “www.google.com” and get a field by which to search the entire world wide web. Imagine that.
“So,” He said. “How would you describe yourself right now?”
“What do you mean?”
“Look at what we’ve drawn here.”
I looked at boxes and words I’d scratched into his journal with his pencil.
“You mean for aaron green stories dot com?”
“Yes, but also, who are you right here and now? What do you want to say?”
“I am a writer living in downtown Los Angeles.”
“That’s all you need. Think more simply. People can navigate wherever they want on your site. But you can’t give it all to them at once. We’re designing a pathway. Give them too little and they won’t know what to do. They’ll just go check their email or type out a text. Give them too much and they won’t come back. They’ll go check their email and won’t remember to go back to your site.”
Building a website, especially for an artist, is a course in human psychology. Or so I learned.
Delani spoke my vision into tangible UI terms and turned my sketches into a palpable, realistic, and attractive website.
I had no idea any of this was necessary, but I knew something had to be done. As I writer, I knew my job was to write. But I also knew my job was to keep an eye out for people who would know how to market my writing. So far, nobody knew I was a writer. Part of me didn’t care if anyone ever did, mostly because I know I write to stay sane. I write to let a voice speak for an hour a day because, if left unheard, it would fester inside my chest like a campfire trying to burn its way out.
But I also wanted to write to communicate with the world. I wanted the stories I tell to be a drop in pond where seven billion people are swimming. I wanted it to ripple out in every direction: to the faithful, the angry, the poor, the lonely, the arrogant, the visionaries, the working stiffs, the bitter grandfathers, the lunatics wrapped in jackets. I wanted people to swim with my stories, and to leap out of the pond so high that when they would splash back into it they make their own ripples and waves.
A catalyst, perhaps, but it was simpler than that.
I wanted to convey a message to people, and I wanted them to care enough about the message to want to convey it out to people they interact with. And so on.
I had no idea that today, with my good friend Delani, would be a trip to the hardware store to purchase into my inventory the nuts and bolts needed to move my dream of sharing stories with people into action.