Drinks With ...

Kellie Konapelsky

The (Would-Be) Traffic-Jam Slayer of Los Angeles


Mignon Wine and Cheese Bar
128 East 6th Street
Los Angeles, C.A.


The Tab

(1) Blanche de Bruxelles, Belgian beer
(1) Valli Vnite, "Bianchino" '09
$20.31 + tip
Konapelsky's Tip for the Road: It's just how you roll with it.

Kellie Konapelsky and I meet at Mignon, a wine bar in the pulsating downtown vicinity of where the 110, 10, and 101 so rudely intersect. Kellie is the young co-director of Rethink LA: Perspectives on a Future City, an intriguing effort to imagine what our city would be if it weren’t defined by the two- and three-digit shorthand relied upon above. You know, the one-oh-one. The ten. The four-oh-five.

Kellie and I are impressed by each other from the get-go; as we’re both, improbably, on time, having come in from Miracle Mile and Malibu. Then we engage in the Angeleno ritual of talking for 15 minutes about our traffic patterns and habits. The thing is, when you are not late someplace, you spend enough time marveling at the novelty of being on time that you essentially could have been 15 minutes late.

But enough about how things are. Rethink LA is about changing all that, about envisioning a better future for the city that was once deemed “the city of the future.” The brainchild of Kellie and co-director Jonathan Louie, the first major project of Rethink LA was a recent innovational month-long exhibit at the A+D Museum focused on promoting sustainable lifestyles in L.A.

Few Angelenos recall when it wasn’t an ordeal to get from Point A to Point B. For one of the first times since 1955, when our hopes for a true rapid transit system were scrapped on Terminal Island, Kellie invites us to think about-gasp-a planned future. She bids us to imagine what it would be like to enjoy more of our social lives beyond the bounds of traffic, where car culture loses some of its hold over our imagination, not to mention our daily lives.

Kellie, by nature and by trade, is a graphic designer. She reveals to me that the original Rethink project was brainstormed as a book. She loves designing books. Clean is the name of her game. She can’t stress enough how dedicated she is to clean and clear design that captures its audience within the first 30 seconds, “or they’re going to walk away from it.”

For those of us still hustling to find this lucidity in our own career paths, I press her to see if younger Kellie would have recognized this earnest designer in an effortlessly packaged shell. “It took me a really long time to do anything creative when I was growing up-I never really did any art or anything else,”she throws out matter-of-factly. “It only started when I started college. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I started taking art classes just because it was something I had never done.”

This is a disconnect often discernible in the practically artistic. As a designer, Kellie appreciates more than most of us that life fits nicely inside a box. As an individual, she can’t help but think outside of it. After graduating from UCLA’s Design and Media Arts program in 2006, she resolved that she was “sick of being in L.A.” and traded traffic for the canals of Amsterdam. “I think it’s really good to immerse yourself into a city where you don’t really know anything or know anybody, because you’re much more open to meeting friends and doing all these things that we’re kind of closed off to in L.A. a lot of the time. I blame that on being in the car all the time, that we’re closed off to these things.”

Kellie had planned on staying in Europe for only three months and ended up landing a five-year work visa. She stayed for a year and a half, taking pleasure in whatever freelance design work she could find. Be it band t-shirts or business cards, she worked until the euro could no longer offer its stingy solace.

Back in L.A., Kellie missed the simple pleasures of meeting friends on bikes, on trains, and on time. “I think when you live in different cities like that and you see that there is the possibility for all these things, then why are we not doing it here? I mean Los Angeles is set up differently than most cities, but it’s all possible.”

Rethink LA started as just this, a conversation between two people … probably over drinks. From there, Kellie sees the redefinition of the city as an ever-expanding, inclusive conversation. People need to weigh in. “Why don’t we ask people what they want, why is it that we don’t do that?” she asks with evident annoyance. “We wanted to not just have creative people give their ideas of the city. We wanted to have it come full circle.”

Within a mere six months of intense labor and quite a bit of stress, Kellie and Jonathan, both under 30, had curated their first successful exhibition and opened up a dialogue with the city. “There were so many people who came out, and all I could keep seeing was the swinging of the collages, and I’m like, Oh God, please don’t knock that over.

Kellie is appreciative of the fact that she owns a certain skill, and that she’s being able to use that certain skill for a purpose. She relishes life’s serendipity. “It’s just how you roll with it,” she says. “I don’t care about money as long as I can eat every day and pay my rent at this point. I’m content as long as I get to, at the end of the day, be satisfied with what I’m doing.”

We walk out of the tiny joint after about an hour, and I can’t decide whether to hug or shake-the rules are vague on this. I politely shake. She asks where I’ve parked, which is the natural sequel to the arrival conversation about traffic. At least for now, in our pre-redesigned, contemporary L.A.

Catherine Mangan is a recent graduate of UCLA’s anthropology department and a freelance writer living in downtown Los Angeles.

*Photo by Catherine Mangan.