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Around the South Bay

California's grunion have voyeurs running to the beach.

March 24, 1994

SEX IN THE SURF: Forget Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr's famous roll in the sand. Grunions are once again flinging themselves on California beaches to reproduce--to the delight of voyeurs on shore.

This week marked the first run of the grunion season, which lasts roughly from March through July, said Dan Zambrano, a biologist with the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro. For a few days at roughly two-week intervals, the small silvery fish surf onto beaches, mate in the sand and then return to the sea.

The grunion come ashore on virtually any sandy beach. But in San Pedro they seem to be attracting particularly close attention. About 1,000 people turned out on a recent Sunday night for a grunion-watching session organized by the Cabrillo Aquarium, Zambrano said.

Has grunion mating become L.A.'s newest spectator sport? Said Zambrano: "One guy said that this might be sex in the '90s--watching other creatures do it."

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CHEKHOV ON DECK: About 100 travel agents and several reporters gathered at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro recently to get a closer look at the Ukrainian cruise ship Odessa, which was making a brief inaugural visit to the harbor.

The ship, on its way from Hawaii to Ensenada, had most of the features you might expect--lounge chairs on the sun deck, a swimming pool and plenty of shuffleboard courts.

But the Odessa, which is expected to make Los Angeles a yearly stop on its itinerary, also carried its share of creature comforts from Eastern Europe for the 450 tourists on board, most of whom were German-speaking retirees.

In the ship's library, wedged between the American-style romance novels, were several volumes by Chekhov, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. The gift shop carried matroshka nesting dolls next to the Christian Dior perfume. And the five bars on board served 18 types of cocktails made with Russian vodka.

Said Julie Zirbel, a spokeswoman for the cruise organizers: "It's the Ukrainian way to sail."

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BEE SWARM: If you're going to open a new business and you want a unique name, don't call it the Busy Bee.

It seems the catchy name is popular the world over, says Jimmy Lehr, co-owner of the Busy Bee cafe on Catalina Island.

Ever since he took over the cafe (established in 1923) with Victor Kreis nearly eight years ago, the most common comment from tourists has been: "Did you know we've got a Busy Bee in our hometown?"

It turns out there's even a Busy Bee Airlines in Norway. The comments have led to a flurry of souvenir and tall-tale swapping among patrons and owners of Busy Bees from San Pedro and Ventura to Oxford, Miss., and England.

So far none of them involve killer bees.

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PRIMARY PICK: Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-Marina del Rey) has no challengers in the June 7 Democratic primary, but she's trying to boost the fortunes of one in another race.

She's backing Torrance Councilman George Nakano in his bid to unseat state Sen. Ralph Dills (D-Gardena), whose Sacramento career dates back to the 1930s, in the redrawn 28th District.

"George brings a new vision and would be the first Asian American ever in the state Senate," she said. "I thought it was something that I believed in and wanted to help with."

Dills' team, however, calls it a risky move for Harman, who in the fall will have to shore up both Democratic and Republican support in a congressional district that leans GOP.

"It doesn't help her," said Tim Mock, Dills' local campaign manager and coordinator. "This is politics. Obviously she owed George and gave him her support."

Nakano, one of Mock's colleagues when both were on the City Council, is Dills' strongest primary challenge in two decades. He plans to spend more than $200,000 on the race.

But the California Democratic Council already is backing Dills, Mock said. If he wins, "the Democratic activists won't be as enthusiastic in support" of Harman come fall.

Said Harman: "I'm prepared to stand up where I should . . . I have supported people in contested races before. I don't do it all the time, but I will do it when I think I should."

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"I touched a whale! With this hand right here, I touched it! I can die happy now."

--Marydith Piepenbrink, 70, a San Pedro nurse, on her close encounter with a gray whale in San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja California.

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