Tom Carroll - Journalist

Apartment - Highland Park, Los Angeles

Tom Carroll is a rare breed of artist who is forging his own unique path. Part journalist, part LA historian, part graphic artist, and part web series host, Tom is an enthusiastic chronicler of Los Angeles' gems — past and present. His cadence is a mix of thoughtful and playful as he speaks with his hands either neatly folded in front of him or waved sideways in the air. Tom is kind (but not boring) and intelligent (but not a know-it-all); he describes himself as a "scrappy guy". His Highland Park apartment is peaceful and organized, displaying treasures from his adventures with effortless precision. Two minutes on the streets of Highland Park, and we have already bumped into three of Tom Carroll's local friends... 

What brought you to LA?
Well, I was born in LA county, in Whittier. I'm a fifth generation Southern Californian, so I have been here for awhile. I've really never left the city. I lived in DC for a year, but I've pretty much stayed here. Everyone else just moved here. It kind of worked out.

How do you define yourself career wise?
That's a good question because it's hard to define that. Mostly, I say that I am a journalist because that's what I want to be. So, sort of self-actualizing, I say I am a journalist, which I mean, I've had stuff on NPR. I've done journalism. I don't want to say, "I'm a host. I'm a web-series host." I don't know. That just sounds like a world I don't necessarily want to live in. I don't have a good answer. It's hard.

Have you ever been called a hipster?
Yea, sure. It happens. I'm fine with it. I think a lot of people are adverse to the title. We as humans like to categorize other humans. No one sees them self as a true hipster.

What does being a millennial mean to you?
(Laughs) It means Pogs. It means Pokemon cards and playing Pokemon on a Gameboy. It means Myspace. It means going to Christian punk shows in Orange County. I don't know... I really feel like people in my generation (closer to 1985 when I was born) really straddle the line. I didn't get a cell phone until I was a senior in high school; I grew up, obviously, with a landline. I had AIM in junior high. I really feel lucky to have had my early childhood into my most of my high school career as this sort of unadulterated, technologically unmediated space. I think we kind of got the best of both worlds. And, we got to see a pre-9/11 and post-9/11 world, which is illuminating too.

How do you feel connected to your generation?
I didn't for a long while. I didn't get a smartphone until six months ago. Granted I had a friend's old iPhone that I could use on Wifi, so I could do Instagram and stuff like that. But, for a long while, I felt, like, self-ostracized from most of my peers. 
I'm kind of judgy. I don't like it when people don't know how to get around a city and rely on GPS navigation or they look at their phone for every step of the way. I feel like more of my identity is defined by rejecting my generation's culture than it is taking part in it. Which is total bullshit because I have all social media, and I produce content for Youtube. I mean, it's all of these things that are very generation-defined. I don't want to sound overly critical or bitter. There's a lot of self-actualizing with the internet, which is cool and I appreciate very much, and people creating the world they want to live in, but every generation does that.  

What is your favorite thing about living in Highland Park?
I love the Gold Line. I love its relative density and also the fact that it's not super hustle-bustle. I've been in Highland Park/Eagle Rock since 2004, so it's changed dramatically - in good ways and bad. It's great. I love living here. 

What are your favorite spots in Highland Park?
I love La Cazuelas, El Salvadorian food. I love Via Mar on Fig, south of 52. Wednesdays is their fish taco special, $1.29 tacos. I really like being close to Deb's Park. Where else do I go? I go to Little Cave a lot. It's a fun little bar; they have a good happy hour. I'm kind of cheap, so I don't go out to eat that much… Highland Park is a good neighborhood for skateboarding. If you go and skate in downtown, you get kicked out of a lot of places. But, here, they don't care that much.

How do you get around the city?
Let's see. To break it down percentage wise… 90% of my trips are by bicycle. 8% are by metro/skateboard. 2% are by car.
Very rarely am I in my car. The other night I had to go out to Venice and wake up early the next day, so in that case, I drove. I have a car, and it definitely serves its purpose, but biking around the city is much more exciting. A lot of my knowledge of the city comes from biking and walking and skateboarding. 
Biking is really scary. My friend was killed in Pasadena on his bike. Los Angeles is not a friendly bike town, but if you can do it... it can really pay off. I know I may sound sanctimonious and preachy, but I would not want to live in Los Angeles if I drove everywhere. I can see why people hate this city because if you drive everywhere, you're stuck in traffic. I love traffic. Traffic is the best when you're biking because everyone is stopped. It's super safe; no one is going to pull in front of you. You just rip through everything. It's really fun and exhilarating. And, totally legal.


Do you see yourself staying in LA?
I think about that a lot. I'm looking at grad schools now, and a lot of them aren't in Los Angeles. I haven't left the city up until this point because I've never felt a good enough reason to leave. But, I also know, for me to really know LA, I need to live somewhere else, so I know what really makes it Los Angeles. I only lived in DC for a year, so I don't have a good outsider perspective. My parents are older, and they live 25 minutes away. I don't feel tied down, but I just like having them close by. LA just has so much great stuff happening all of the time, and I don't need to leave. Everyone just moves here, so it works out. I get to cheat a little bit. So for the foreseeable future, it just kind of works for me right now.

What have you been working on recently?
Recently, I have been working on a couple of grants. I'm trying to get funded for this thing about donuts: why at one point 90% of Mom and Pop donut shops in California were run by Cambodians. It's because on Cambodian refugee in 1975 started this whole framework. It's a really fascinating story. It started out as just an episode of Tom Explores LA, but I realized it has much bigger legs. So, I'm trying to get funding to do a full-length doc. And, I'm working on a couple of other Tom Explores LA episodes. One for LA State Historic Park because they are opening soon and then a couple of other random one-off ones. 

What’s your favorite thing in your closet?
Ohh. Umm. God, I'm trying to think of something not contrived as an answer. (Laughs) My camera? That's a dumb answer. What else is in my closet? I have the complete series of The Wire. I've watched it, and it just sits there now. Is that my favorite thing in my closet? (Laughs) 

What’s a typical Sunday like for you?
I like Sundays a lot because it's the first day of my weekend. The way I have my schedule built out is: work my normal job Friday/Saturday, then Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday I try and pursue my freelance stuff, so I try to leave Sunday/Monday open just for fun. 
So… Sundays I'll sleep in. I don't really like sleeping in. I'll get up at 9am and make a lot of coffee and drink a lot of coffee and maybe catch up on The New Yorker or read a book, draw maybe. A lot of times, I'll just go and skate with my roommate, Alex. We'll go down to The Home Depot in Cypress Park. I try to be outside on Sundays and enjoy the weather and the day.

What’s your favorite film?
(Laughs) You can either give an answer that's like, "I know film. I know an obscure thing." Or, you can give an answer that's a guilty pleasure. I hate to say it, but if I had to watch one movie for the rest of my life, it would be The Big Lebowski. Most definitely. I watch a lot of movies, and I like most movies.

What is your favorite record?
Hmmm. I have to think about that. My music consumption is so choppy now. It's all just singles and Youtube videos. I guess… Daft Punk - Homework.

Who is your favorite artist?
Chris Burden.

Who would you invite to dinner living or dead?
Chris Burden

Where do you want to travel to?

What inspires you?
Other people that create things. Other people that work hard. Good artwork, good movies, good music. Things that passionate people have created.

What is your astrological sign and how does astrology play a part in your life?
Sagittarius. I think my moon sign is… I just looked it up. (Sighs) I don't have my phone on me. It was kind of illuminating when I found out my moon sign. 
Sagittarii are kind of milk-toast, not like a Scorpio or something. I consider myself a relatively nice guy and a thoughtful good friend. I'm an only child; I think that affects me more than my star sign. 

What is your Myer-Briggs personality type?

What are your favorite qualities in a human?
Honesty. Confidence. People that are willing to say what they are thinking even if it's going to offend someone. I love people that are real with me. And, people who don't take themselves too seriously but still take pride in what they do; people who create things but aren't too self-serious about it.

What is your idea of happiness?
I am most happy when I am creating things that I am proud of. Artistic output is one way I define happiness. Also: just being present and outdoors with friends on a sunny day, a little drunk. That's happiness.

What’s your favorite color and flower?
Favorite color is sea foam. And, my favorite flower, I know this because-- the company I work for is, I'm not going to say it, but I work for a unique grocery store. I know my flowers now because of having to make flower signs at work, so this is a great question. I love Dahlias. Unpicked Dahlias.

Do you have a motto?
Uhh, yea. It is… (Laughs) What is it...? Maybe just: "Be here now."

Do you want to say anything else? If there's a box to fill out at the end that says "optional" do you say something?
Usually in those cases, I leave them blank or draw something in them, something that doesn't make sense. Like a smiley face, a Yin Yang sign, and a skateboard.

For further Tom Carroll discovery follow him on Instagram & Twitter.
Watch Tom Explores LA episodes here.

This portrait is part of our ongoing collaboration with Millennial Instinct.

Photography: Camille Cotteverte