Las Vegas-a city of unlimited memories

The post I started for L included Las Vegas, Laughlin, and Lake Tahoe (plus nearby Reno). These are all cities in Nevada, the Silver State, where I spent a lot of time and/or where momentous life events took place.  After some consideration, I dropped the last three cities and decided to limit myself to my Vegas experiences alone because, although the commercial says “What Happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” let’s face it, for many former L.A. area yuppies, as I was in the late 1970s and early 80s, you might carry some baggage/experiences from this other City That Never Sleeps, especially if you move to any other part of the country later in life.

For any reader who has been raised under a rock, I offer the following, and obvious description of this neon lit oasis that rises out of the desert.  Las Vegas is an internationally renowned major resort city known primarily for gambling, shopping, fine dining and nightlife.  Not surprisingly, then, the city bills itself as The Entertainment Capital of the World.   After working on this post, for this place in my life, for just short of ten months now, it finally dawned on me that the subject is just too large, has too much history, in general and also more personally, over such a long period of time and covering so many social and geopolitical touchstones, that I must create a whole series of posts about what I will also abbreviate as LV.

orig dtlv glitter gulch

The Original Glitter Gulch

Part 1 – Semi-Ancient (early 20th Century)History and Development of the Tourist Mecca

The city was founded by ranchers and railroad workers but quickly found that its greatest asset was not its springs but its casinos and proximity to Los Angeles.  This desert metropolis, in just over a century of existence, has been built on gambling, vice and other forms of entertainment.  Where better to experience the rites of passage into adulthood which, in the US, coincides with twenty one years of existence on this planet?  Although the place is over a hundred years old, I’m going to try to limit myself to just the high points of what happened there before I first hit town, and what happened to the place before it started to be overrun by Gens X-Y and Millenials and whatever other names there may be for those who reached the magic age of 21 around the same time as my daughters in this, the 21st century.

The first noteworthy event that kicked off the development of this city as a city occurred coincidentally at the beginning of the 20th century, with the arrival of the railroad linking Las Vegas to the Rockies and the West Coast. The future downtown was platted and auctioned by railroad company backers, and Las Vegas was incorporated in 1911.  The Plaza Hotel and Casino today stands on the site of the original Union Pacific Railroad depot, which must be why I remember it as the Union Plaza, and for a while it was the only railroad station in the world located inside a hotel-casino.

Nevada outlawed gambling in 1910 but the practice continued in speakeasies and illicit casinos. By the time gambling was legalized again in 1931, organized crime already had roots in the city.  Its related embrace of Old West-style freedoms—gambling and prostitution—provided a perfect home for East Coast organized crime.  Another new draw for “the up and comers of 1931,” seeking their fortunes in the middle of the Nevada desert, was the initiation of construction on the massive Boulder Dam (later renamed the Hoover Dam), which drew thousands of workers to a site just east of the city. Casinos and showgirl venues opened up on the town’s sole paved road, to attract the project’s workers. When the dam was completed in 1936, cheap hydroelectricity powered the flashing signs of Vegas’ “Glitter Gulch.”

In 1941 the El Rancho Vegas resort opened on a section of U.S. 91 just outside the city’s jurisdiction. Other hotel-casinos soon followed, and the section of highway became known as “the Strip” named by Los Angeles police officer Guy McAfee, after his (and my) hometown’s Sunset Strip.

el rancho vegas

El Rancho Vegas – Before LV Grew!

Who will buy…a clock or two? Etsy anyone?

Daily Prompt – Clock

These clocks, and many others, along with candle holders, signs, weather stations, desk sets and now tables, are overrunning all the spaces on the lower level of our split level home.  Spouse  has been creating these works of art at least since I retired two and a half years ago.  Actually he has made more beautiful things and has been making them longer than that.

He made the clock with the San Francisco skyline before we met.  This, along with a beautiful large and heavy clock made from burl wood and a game table made from a large spool which previously had carried electric cables wrapped around it, were part of the decor of his Long Beach bachelor pad.  Making things like this out of wood was a hobby he had developed when he had first struck out on his own, and he’d made a little money off it by selling them at the swap meet.  He had been salivating to get back to it in retirement, and went at it with an enthusiastic vengeance as soon as we were permanently settled in our retirement home.

He still gets a lot of enjoyment out of making this stuff, but that has been unfortunately tempered by our inability to sell any of it.  We didn’t really try to sell them for the first year.  During that time he was having more fun getting wood from our new neighbors, two or three other retired gentlemen, working to return the raw material to them as finished products.  We tried to place them for consignment sale in some local craft shops, but the reception of the owners there was tepid at best.  Finally, at the end of last year, we made a sale at an annual holiday arts show.  We learned from other craftspeople at that show that the place to move this sort of locally produced natural product was in the Great Smoky Mountains town of Gatlinburg, which, like its neighboring cities of Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, is kind of a rustic yet sophisticated, woodsy yet modern, eclectic and airy “mountain resort” in a beautiful natural area that is now, more often than not, crowded with vehicles and amusements  of all types.   This gateway to America’s most popular (probably since entry is free) national park boasts an aquarium, an indoor ice rink and a distillery, as well as a “historic beautiful and peaceful craft crawl” on an 8-mile loop of local roads which has been designated a Tennessee Heritage Arts & Crafts Trail.

It was there, as we walked in and out of half a dozen or so stores that included wood products in their guidebook descriptions, that we were joltingly reminded that nobody uses clocks any more to tell the time; we all do that on our cell phones now.  Still, the clocks that Spouse has made in the past remain beautiful works of art, and I think the tables he is slaving over and investing in now, are even more beautiful and, perhaps now that our eyes have been opened to the facts of modern life, possibly even more functional and salable.  That, at least, is our hope, as we prepare to bring our wares to the local holiday craft show again later this year, and to really and finally join the 21st century sales force, by taking a class together at the local library so we can learn how to etsy, which I think could probably be a verb like google and facebook.

 

 

Sometimes good enough is OK

Or is it sometimes OK is good enough? Either way, that’s the best bit of wisdom I’ve ever received. I even remember approximately when and how this sanity-saving advice came under my purview. I believe it was when I had two small children, a near-absentee husband, a full time job and a large new-to-me house. It came in a rather unique format – a Beetle Bailey comic strip, and it must have been a Sunday one because, although I can’t remember the word order of the situation in which it was offered, I recall noticing the vivid colors when I would occasionally catch a reassuring glimpse of it, pinned to the bulletin board above the kitchen trash cans.

Since I so love to reveal my age, and for those of you who have never been exposed to the Sunday funnies in a printed newspaper, I can tell you that Beetle Bailey is an American comic strip created by cartoonist Mort Walker, who still writes it today, at age 92. Today, after more than six decades, Mort Walker’s creation is still one of the most popular comic strips in the world, and is among the oldest comic strips still being produced by the original creator.

2010_bb_beetle3-192x300The title character started as a college student when he debuted in 1950, before I was born, but was converted to an Army Private, as he supposedly enlisted during the Korean War. Most of the humor in Beetle Bailey revolves around the inept characters stationed at Camp Swampy, a fictional US Army military post. Private Bailey is a lazy insubordinate goof-off and straggler who usually naps and avoids work, and thus is often the subject of verbal and physical chastising from his superivisor and nemesis, Sergeant 1st Class Orville P. Snorkel. The characters never seem to see combat themselves, though Sarge is known to frequently beat up Beetle for any excuse he can think of, leaving Beetle a shapeless pulp (one of the most iconic images in the strip) . Sarge is too lovable to be a villain, however.

beetle baileySarge and Beetle seem to share an uneasy alliance that sometimes borders on genuine (albeit unequal) friendship. In this vein, in an exchange between these two comical characters, that is where I first read these memorable and valuable words, though I can’t remember which one said it. Nevertheless, in one brief shining moment, sometime in the mid-1990’s, I adopted this simple five word phrase as my mantra and guiding principle for all endeavors. What a relief that was! Clearly, while neither Beetle Bailey nor Sergeant Snorkel would have excessively high standards or expectations of themselves or others or certainly of the Army, I was struggling to live up to my own unattainable, if not clearly defined, standards as a mom, wife, career professional and neighbor as well as cook and housekeeper and quintessential California girl, which most of my new neighbors were.

Until then, as the eldest and golden child, the first in my family to have received not just one college degree but two, and the sole producer of grandchildren for my mom and dad, I had generally felt a constant striving for perfection. Then, suddenly, after therapy, yo-yo dieting, uncertain dating results and periods as a self-hating recluse, I was miraculously saved by this thought: Why? Why spend all that time and effort to achieve the perfect result when good enough was in fact enough for nearly everybody else but me. It had only taken forty years for me to accept that most of the people I cared about could and would accept what I did as the best I could do and that, therefore, I didn’t have to beat myself to do more or to accept that fact myself.

In my recent research into this topic, I came across an article titled Why It’s Healthy to Sometimes Settle for What’s Good Enough which hit the nail on the head with this statement. “People who tend to obsess over decisions, big or small, and then fret about their choices just cause themselves a lot of unnecessary grief. People who have trouble making the everyday decisions in their lives cause themselves a lot of extra stress and grief. A study from Florida State University suggests that some of their problem comes from an inability to commit. Even after making a choice, some people are never truly committed to it.” OMG, that was nearly me!

The article did cut me a little slack, though, by noting that there’s a little bit of perfectionist in all of us but some people take it to an extreme when making choices. This is what I used to do all the time, and still catch myself doing occasionally. “People who tend to obsess (or in my case stress) over decisions — big or small — and then fret about their choices afterwards are sometimes called maximizers, while those who make decisions and simply live with them are sometimes called satisficers, a portmanteau combining satisfy with suffice.” Thank God, I can now call myself a semi-satisficer. “Whether these differences are a central and stable part of personality or simply a frame of mind isn’t clear. What is clear is that indecisive people cause themselves a lot of grief that those who are more satisfied with their decisions don’t.” What a revelation!

A study of Florida State undergraduates produced results that were interpreted to show that maximizers still could not commit to their choices, even after were finalized. Their decision didn’t bring them happiness, it brought them doubt and caused them to second-guess themselves. The study also found that maximizers place a high premium on the option of being able to change their mind, even after making a decision. They want to avoid commitment.

“What this all suggests is that maximizers would be happier if they brought a little more perspective into their life and learned to accept minor decisions as final after they’ve been made.” Well, there it is. Sometimes good enough is OK, and sometimes OK is good enough for me these days.

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Huntington Beach and why I’m still hbsuefred

Huntington Beach (locally initialized “HB”) is a seaside city in Orange County in Southern California, known for its long 9.5-mile (15.3 km) stretch of sandy beach, mild climate, excellent surfing, and beach culture.  Our little family, Me+Husband+Two Young Daughters (approx ages 2 and 4) moved to a two story house on the end of an HB cul-de-sac in 1994.  We all reluctantly moved away from that home, on a pie shaped lot with a pool + a yard in the back + less than a mile from the beach, about twelve or thirteen years later.  Our girls gained some degree of maturity + some other “gifts” they took with them when we moved but I, their mother, believe I took many more.  The gifts I received there, that I have carried with me in my heart and in my spirit since we left, fall into two general categories.  (1)People and (2)Fitness.

With our girls approaching school age, we made the obvious decision to move from a small house, the first one that Husband and I had purchased together, in a family-friendly neighborhood which was, unfortunately, located too close for comfort to a high crime, gang-infested area.  At the time, I was working, on a temporary/contract basis, for McDonnell Douglas in HB.  While performing due diligence to locate a place for us to move to that was both geographically desirable and affordable, I came across an article in the L.A. Times touting Huntington Beach as “The Best City for Children.”  Decision made.

The house we bought had one of just 19 addresses on Dragon Circle, in one of several La Cuesta housing tracts built in the late 1960’s to early 1970’s in the very desirable neighborhoods of South Huntington Beach.  When we moved in we were warmly welcomed by our neighbors next door since, besides theirs, ours was the only home on the street then that had young children living in it.  Over the next five or so years, the number of homes where young children lived more than doubled and, since we lived at the closed end of the street, the children congregated on the street in front of our house to play while their parents congregated nearby to watch over them.  I wish I could say that all of these similar families, by income, size and just general characteristics, continued to get along with each other over the years, while all the children went to school, played, joined sports teams and Scout troops together.  Sadly, I cannot, but that is a tale for a different post.  One of those new neighbors who moved in with her family became my best friend and now, even after both of our husbands retired and we are separated by thousands of miles, we still enjoy a weekly scheduled hour long (or more) conversation.  Gina and I both look forward to those events, and have visited each others’ new homes, after we both left HB, her for Southern Oregon and me for first Middle and then East Tennessee.

Construction of any kind on the beach is prohibited without a vote of the people, allowing Huntington Beach to retain its natural connection to the ocean rather than having the view obstructed by residential and commercial developments.  Swells generated predominantly from the North Pacific in winter and from a combination of Southern Hemisphere storms and hurricanes in the summer focus on Huntington Beach, creating consistent surf all year long, hence the nickname “Surf City”. The city includes just a small industrial district in its northwest corner, while the colorful and active downtown district includes an art center, a beach-centric shopping district, and the International Surfing Museum. The HB Pier, domain of fishermen (also women and kids), strollers and people and surfer-watchers, stretches from Main Street into the Pacific Ocean. BJ’s Restaurant & Brewery is based in Huntington Beach.

The HB tourism website, surfcityusa.com, advises visitors and residents alike to “Mark your calendars for all the fun-filled events Huntington Beach has to offer!  Some of the most popular annual events include the Surf City USA Marathon in February, Annual Huntington Beachcruiser Meet in March, National Professional Paintball League’s Surf City USA Open in April, US Open of Surfing in the summer.”  It goes on to say “You might notice that people in Huntington Beach don’t stay indoors for very long.  That’s because this is a fit, active town where residents and visitors not only spend their days at the beach, but also take advantage of Surf City USA’s other outdoor and natural attractions.  We’re home to Orange County’s largest city parks and… (y)ou can bicycle for miles along our coast, go horseback riding, or even try yoga on a paddle board in Huntington Harbour.

Now, contrary to the way the people in HB are described above, I did stay indoors for very long before we moved there.  Over time, though, even I came to enjoy and appreciate the variety of more healthful and physical activities that I could try just by stepping out my front door.  Actually, I found many new outdoor pursuits to attempt by perusing the free local papers I regularly picked up off my driveway.  So, after determining that I needed to do some good and possibly fun things for me and me alone, for both my mental and physical health, I decided to go ahead and try a few.  So in 2002, I believe, I started training for the Long Beach Half Marathon using its Official Training Program called, appropriately for me, A Snail’s Pace.

The group I trained with met on Saturday mornings at HB Central Park.  The program, at least as currently advertised, offered, besides fun group training, 16 Weeks of Expert Coaching/Training, structured pace groups with safe interval training and an evidence based structured training program to maximize efficiency and minimize risk.  All half marathons are 13.1 miles long. I actually completed the Long Beach Half Marathon twice, as well as a couple of Surf City Half Marathons and half of the first Orange County Marathon that ended with me calling home to be picked up out of a pouring rain!  The course time limit for those distance races, both Marathon & Half Marathon events, is usually 7.5 hours.  I did my first Long Beach Half Marathon, mostly walking with a few very slow jogging splits, in about 3 ½ or 4 hours.  I finished those other distance events plus the Music City Half Marathon in Nashville,  as well as a 5K or two, since then, but that was the fastest pace I have ever had in any timed event.

I had so much fun in that first training program that I was inspired to keep moving even after I finished that first race.  I kept training with that group for a year or two after that but veered off into less formal training with a girlfriend who moved into a La Cuesta neighborhood just a five minute walk away from mine around 2005 or so.  Kathy was a friend of a friend and we had only met each other a couple of times before she moved to HB, the first time when we co-hosted a wedding shower for our mutual friend.  She and I hit it off from that beginning, and our bond was strengthened by other shared factors besides our close geographical proximity after her move.  We both, along with our mutual friend, were purchasing agents working in the local aerospace biz.  Kathy also had two daughters who were close in age like mine, though hers were slightly older, as well as a fairly small family of parents and in-laws and a couple of sisters and nieces who lived in Southern California.  Her girls were active in school and other extracurricular activities similar to mine, and her husband worked a lot of hours in a stressful job, like my husband.

Just by a happy happenstance, when I found out that Kathy would soon become a neighbor, I asked, I think, if she would be interested in joining me for walks in the area.  She was and, looking back and totaling up the time that passed while we took our nearly weekly jaunts, I can hardly believe that they only occurred over a few, possibly three or four years.  IDK why, but the time we spent and the distance we covered on those walks, both literally and figuratively, loom monumental in my memory.  I guess, though, the time flew by because we spent it in mutually rewarding and invigorating conversation.  Even before I moved away from HB, I had begun to miss those talks with Kathy more and more, as she got busier on her job, after being promoted a few times and taking on more responsibility, and as her husband was able to back away from the stress of his job and began biking with her.

As I walked around the HB neighborhoods less and less often, I substituted bike rides along the Santa Ana River Trail, a 12-foot wide path following the Santa Ana River, a waterway that is cement-lined through much of Orange County and begins at a junction with the Huntington Beach Bicycle Trail.  The closest access point to this easy-riding trail was about a five minute ride from my backyard.   When we moved to Brentwood, Tennessee, I tried to find a similar trail or path so I could continue to exercise in the great outdoors.  Unfortunately, no part of this state is flat for any great distance, which easily discouraged me from trying to ride my beach cruiser.  On top of that, there are four seasons here, and two of them are either too cold or too hot or too wet, either in the form of snow, frozen puddles or humidity I could cut with a knife, to comfortably continue this exercise on any kind of a regular basis.  Riding the recumbent bike in the basement is just not the same!

Gardena – First entry of my WIP memoir

I have been enrolled off and on in a memoir writing class over the last year or so.  During that time I have written several vignettes, dealing with various subjects, parts and times of my life, working off of whatever popped into my head in the days before the next class assignment was due.

Throughout that stressful process I had been struggling with how I wanted to organize those stories in a way that might make them interesting for my audience, which essentially means my two daughters.  They both know a lot about my immediate family, mainly my mom and my sister, as my girls have spent a lot of time with both of them over the 25 years of their own lives.  They are both acutely acquainted with my own self-image and my cynical sense of humor.  However, as young women of the millenial generation, I don’t think they, like many of their peers, have much appreciation for or understanding of the struggles and challenges faced by their foremothers, especially those like myself of the baby-boomer generation.

In the end, at least for the time being, I’ve decided to organize my stories chronologically as much as possible. Fortunately for me, then, I have already written the first story I wanted to tell about the beginning of my life, which took place in Gardena, which is thus also one of the Places of My Life.  Here it is…

I have a lot of good, but hazy memories, of my childhood in the small town of Gardena, California.  Those memories include a range of the usual neighborhood activities, though my childhood home was situated in an unusual location which was not ideal when compared to current standards and preferences for raising a family in safety.

Gardena is a city located in the South Bay (southwestern) region of Los Angeles County.  Some believe the city was named for its reputation for being the only “green spot” in the dry season between Los Angeles and the sea.  Gardena officially became a city in 1930 when it incorporated itself as protection against a heavy county tax imposed on a planned park project.

Gardena is bordered by two cities, Torrance and Hawthorne, that big beautiful park developed by the county that Gardenans didn’t have to pay for, and two neighborhoods, Athens and Harbor Gateway, that are officially part of the city of Los Angeles.  Athens (and I didn’t know till now that it had a name) is a predominantly black, heavily Hispanic, relatively prosperous unincorporated community.  All the schools in Gardena were part of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest public school district in the nation, with a reputation for extremely crowded schools, large class sizes, low academic performance and incompetent administration.

Harbor Gateway (as it was renamed by the city of LA) is a narrow north-south corridor situated approximately between Vermont Avenue and Figueroa Street north of Interstate 405, and Western and Normandie avenues south of I-405. The territory was acquired by the city of Los Angeles in a shoestring annexation, specifically to connect San Pedro, Wilmington, Harbor City and the Port of Los Angeles with the rest of the city.  Despite being part of the city of Los Angeles, some parts of Harbor Gateway have a “Torrance, CA”, “Gardena, CA” or “Carson, CA” address because they are serviced by those cities’ post offices. This is where I lived from my birth, on Wednesday, April 26, 1955, until we moved (a whole ten miles and ten years later) to Torrance, so my sister and I could complete our early educations in a better school system.

503 w 157 realtorWe lived at 503 W. 157th Street, on the corner of a busy main street, Figueroa. Fig ran along the side of our house  and the street in front of our house was the entrance to the neighborhood.  Fig was on the side of the house you can’t see in this photo, which I can’t believe I was able to find today online, so maybe the house still looks like this, as it did when I lived there! No matter what they’re called today, like subdivisions or some such other high-falutin or modern terms, I will always associate happy memories, wherever I live, as having taken place in a neighborhood.

Kitty-corner from us across Figueroa was the Spanish American Institute.  I guess I really never knew what went on there, I just knew, or at least I think I can recall, that a small herd of cows may have been housed or stabled there.  I had no idea at the time what function the cows may have served at the institute but we could smell them and touch them and I think maybe even ride on them, unless that was just a figment of my childhood imagination that I choose to hold on to, among others.

sai cattle being examined by bob  kathy hedges

There really were cows across the street!

Our neighbors, both close by and farther afield, encompassed a variety of family sizes, arrangements and ethnicities, during the first ten years of my life that my own small and homogeneous family lived in this little house with the carnations (which had a beautiful smell) and geraniums (whose smell made me want to puke) that grew in the ground along the non-busy side and the large fig tree that anchored the far corner of the brick enclosed back yard.

Gardena, like many of the suburban areas of Los Angeles, now probably falls within the category of urban sprawl but, back in that idyllic time, it was one of the new bedroom communities rising out of the rich California farmlands that were initially cultivated by Japanese and Mexican families.  I know that my family, Dad and Mom, added a master bedroom and bath, with a fashionable walk in closet, to our house, probably around the time my sister came along, about 4 ½ years after me.  I also know that two very different families, in almost every possible way, had lived next door to us in that ten year period, on the other side of those flowers and brick wall.

The first family there was the Millwees and oh my god!  They were four typically rambunctious blonde and freckle faced boys.  Mom was Esta, an unrefined woman who spoke with maybe a slight Okie accent and had the dusky dark skin tone and long lanky physique to match.  Dad was Don, Sr., a construction worker or some other outdoor manual laborer of that time and place, like maybe an oil field operator.  I don’t think he was around very much; he had to work a lot to support that large and active family.  I remember the two older boys, Donnie and Brad, and how I would halfheartedly chase them around the grass and the yard and up the fig tree, sometimes even walking dangerously balanced along the brick fence that separated our ordered backyard from their chaotic one.  Most searingly, my most ingrained memory of trying to act like one of the boys is the one where I stepped off the fence into their backyard, in my rubber go-aheads, only to encounter a nail sticking up out of a block of wood there that ended up with its point embedded in my foot.

On the other end of the spectrum was the second neighbor family, a pretty traditional Japanese one.  Theirs, like ours, was composed of a mom and a dad and two little girls.  I don’t remember a lot of details about those people, but image of the beautiful, colorful, large and sort of exotic Japanese dolls, encased in glass, that were prominently displayed in that home, made a long lasting impression on my by then expanding and inquisitive mind.

I think the neighbors across the street were Filipino, with a grandma who nurtured a beautiful rose garden.   I remember proudly bearing a few of those fragrant colorful blooms to a favorite teacher, with the stems wrapped in a wet paper towel to preserve them, surrounded by aluminum foil to preserve my fingers from the thorns.

I don’t think I have ever again lived in such a relatively small geographical area that encompassed a similarly large diversity of neighbors.  This early exposure to the variety of colors and languages of America’s citizens probably, especially in retrospect and in comparison to the places we lived while my kids were growing up, opened my mind and my heart to appreciating all of our wonderful differences!

Disneyland is my happy place

As Walt Disney sat at a bench, at an amusement park, watching his daughters play, he noticed how ragged and filthy the small amusement park was. He also observed people’s reactions to different rides, and noticed how children’s parents had nothing to do. They would be anxious to go home, while their children were still having fun, and playing.  This is where Walt was conjuring, and planning a new type of amusement park; one that would be clean, and would have attractions for parents and children together. This was Walt Disney’s idea, which he brought to fruition with his creation of Disneyland.

Disneyland is the first of two theme parks built at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California.  Opened on July 17, 1955, Disneyland has a larger cumulative attendance than any other theme park in the world, with over 650 million guests since it opened.  These two sentences contain all the basic facts you need to know about how and why this still magical place and “The Happiest Place on Earth” colored my childhood, my youth, my young adulthood, my dating and parenting life, and really my entire outlook on life, today and into the future.  Critical to Disneyland’s lasting impact on me is that the park and I are the same age, with both of us officially beginning to exist on planet Earth in the year 1955.

Years before Disneyland was constructed, Walt was thinking, generating, and creating everything in his mind. He traveled the United States, and visited buildings of America’s most prolific inventors and creators, such as Thomas Edison’s Workshop, the Wright Brothers Bicycle shop, and the home of the Dictionary magnate Noah Webster. While visiting these places, he was formulating and dreaming of a “Mickey Mouse Park” with a western village, Main Street, and more; these ideas would eventually form Disneyland.

The concept for Disneyland began when Walt Disney was visiting Griffith Park in Los Angeles with his daughters Diane and Sharon. While watching them ride the merry-go-round, he came up with the idea of a place where adults and their children could go and have fun together. He hired a consultant from Stanford to gauge the proper area to locate the theme park based on the area’s potential growth.   The recommended location was on 160 acres of orange groves and walnut trees in Anaheim, southeast of Los Angeles in neighboring Orange County.

 

To fully appreciate the facts given as initial background above, one must be able to picture the landscape of Southern California in the 1950s and at the same time jump ahead and compare it to that landscape today.  Los Angeles was spreading out block by block and tract by tract, as more and more housing was built in response to increased demand.  This increased demand was generated over the decade by the booming economy as it changed over from agriculture, oil drills and basic manufacturing to more advanced manufacturing of airplanes and rocket ships and jet engines, from the basic black telephone and party lines and operator assistance to intercoms and automatic telephone exchanges and microelectronics.    This manufacturing change and growth in turn led to the expansion of supporting retail businesses and services until the urban sprawl became suburban sprawl that crept out of the L.A. coastal basin, east over the Santa Monica Mountains (really foothills) into the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys, north to Simi Valley and sleepy coastal communities, and of course South to the now infamous Orange County, “The OC.”  This sprawling and seemingly haphazard growth, along with improvements in the manufacture of automobiles, including some assembled locally, made cars cheaper and more ubiquitous on existing roads and led to the necessity of moving all these new Californians from place to place.  This became LA’s famously crowded freeway system.

 

Griffith Park still serves as an oasis of nature in the heart of the urban jungle that is Los Angeles proper.  It is today, in fact, one of the largest urban parks in North America, referred to as the Central Park of Los Angeles, though LA’s park is much larger, more untamed, and rugged than its New York City counterpart.  Conversely, Orange County is now the third-most populous and the second most densely populated county in California, the sixth-most populous in the United States, and more populous than twenty-one U.S. states.  The completion of Interstate 5, known to Angelenos as the Santa Ana Freeway, in 1954 helped make Orange County a bedroom community for many who moved to Southern California to work in aerospace and manufacturing. Orange County received a further boost in 1955 with the opening of Disneyland.

Uncle Walt, as my irreverent dad would often call him, uttered the following words of wisdom and promise with regard to his new amusement park in the year it was opened.

To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land; dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America, with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world. Disneyland will be uniquely equipped to dramatize these dreams and facts. The idea of Disneyland is a simple one. It will be a place for people to find happiness and knowledge. It will be a place for parents and children to share pleasant times in one another’s company. Here the older generation can recapture the nostalgia of days gone by, and the younger generation can savor the challenge of the future. Here will be the wonders of Nature and Man for all to see.

When Disneyland opened, in the year of my birth and for a long time after, there were still orange groves surrounding the site.  My grandma lived among those groves when I was a kid, before they were pulled out to make room for more Disneyland parking lots, tourist motels, and the newer parts of Anaheim.  One of the joys of every family visit to Disneyland was to sit together in a glass-enclosed booth in Tomorrowland, talking to Grandma on the hands free phone.  I don’t remember if this “attraction” was managed by AT&T or Bell, though I think I remember that you had to reserve the booth ahead of time.  Dad would dial Grandma’s number and we’d all shout “Hello” at once when she picked up the receiver on her end.  I think we talked to Grandma more often from that little booth inside Disneyland than we did face to face, even though she was only a few miles separated her from us when we were there!

We went to Disneyland at least once a year while I was growing up. When my kids were born, my mom couldn’t wait till they reached the age where a daily nap was no longer required so that she and Dad could go with Husband and me to bring  her “jewels” to Disneyland for their very first visits.  Even now that we all, except Mom, have lived in other states, my girls and I make it a point to visit Disneyland, and the newer Disney California Adventure theme park, as often as we can when we’re back in So Cal, and as often as we can find some way to pay a discounted admission price!  When Disneyland and I were both young, and until we both became teenagers, park patrons would buy a book of tickets, along with admission.  These tickets were labeled by category of the rides listed thereon as A, B, C, D and E. A ticket rides were the cheapest, most sedate and old-fashioned; E ticket rides were the best and newest and most exciting, at least from a kid’s perspective. We long time natives still say that when something is a lot of fun, exciting, and/or adrenaline pumping, it’s a real E-ticket experience.  I used to say that about my last job in California, long after E tickets had gone the way of the dinosaurs but shortly after the opening of California Adventure.  When I walked into the office every morning, I’d welcome my colleagues to the ShinMaywa California Adventure, warning them to prepare for an “E” ticket ride. I only had to explain the concept once, even to the Japanese natives I worked with, before I got their hearty concurrence about the nature of our shared daily experiences.

Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.

This is another quote from Uncle Walt that struck a chord with me.  It mirrors how I feel, or at least want to feel, about myself.  I guess, in the end, maybe this is really why I feel such a kinship with my beloved Disneyland.  It’s still where I want to go when I want to feel like a kid again, even now, when we are both senior citizens.

California Dreams

There are so many facets of California, both mythic and real, that created, nurtured, formed and molded me.  My beliefs, my politics, my continuing education, my standards of living with and being among people anywhere and everywhere, are deeply rooted there, in my experiences and more importantly in my memories.

I grew up in Southern California and lived there for the first fifty years of my current sixty-one.  I was born on April 26, 1955, at Daniel Freeman, a Catholic hospital which no longer exists, in the city of Inglewood.  I lived with, my parents and younger sister, in Gardena.  We moved to Torrance in 1965, where I graduated from West (Torrance) High School in 1972.  I completed my BA in International Relations at The University of Southern California in 1976 and my MBA from UCLA in 1980.  I had various jobs in Hawthorne, Los Angeles, Torrance, Seal Beach, Downey, Lakewood,  Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach, Huntington Beach, Cerritos and Los Alamitos.

When I met my husband, who’d come to live with his brother in California in 1972, he owned a home in Long Beach but before that he’d lived in apartments in Fullerton.  He’d had various manufacturing jobs in other local areas and was currently working at the port. Our first home together was in Lakewood.  Both of our daughters were born at Long Beach Memorial Hospital.  Our family moved to Huntington Beach in 1994, and we lived there until we moved in 2006.  My mom moved to California in 1944, traveling by train from New York with her parents and younger brother.  My dad flew to California from Germany by way of England in 1945, with his single mother so that they could join her older sister and her family, who had been lucky enough to find their way to the Golden State of opportunity several years earlier, before their family and home were decimated by World War II and the Holocaust in Europe.

After the famous Gold Rush to the West in 1849, California’s name became indelibly connected with fast success in a new world, the “California Dream.” California was perceived as a place of new beginnings, where great wealth could reward hard work and good luck. The notion inspired the idea of the “American Dream.” For people flooding the fields there, California promised the highest possible standard of life for the middle classes, the skilled blue collar workers and small farm owners. Poverty existed, but was concentrated among the migrant farm workers made famous in The Grapes of Wrath, who were seeking the dream, too. It was not so much the upper class (who preferred to live in New York and Boston). The California Dream meant an improved and more affordable family life: a small but stylish and airy house marked by a fluidity of indoor and outdoor space, such as the ubiquitous California bungalow, and a lush backyard—the stage, that is, for quiet family life in a sunny climate. It meant very good jobs, excellent roads, plentiful facilities for outdoor recreation, and the schools and universities that were the best in the world by the 1940s. Even if, for many if not most migrants to the golden state, “the dream outran the reality, the California Dream (was and) is a love affair with an idea, a marriage to a myth.” Even today, observers report a common stereotyped perception that people are happier in California, a perception anchored in the perceived (though I have experienced it to be real) superiority of the California climate.  Later cultural phenomena – the rise of the Hollywood film industry, Silicon Valley, California’s aerospace industry, the California wine industry and the Dotcom boom – continued to feed into the California Dream during my lifetime.

The Spanish explorers originally thought that California was an island.  After all, the name California comes from a mythical, some might say dreamy, Spanish island ruled by a queen called Califia that was featured in a Spanish romance written in 1510.  California is the most populous state in the United States with the nation’s most populous county and its second largest city.  The state is bordered by the other U.S. states of Oregon to the north, Nevada to the east, and Arizona to the southeast.  Unlike most of the country’s “flyover states,” California shares an international border with the Mexican state of Baja California to the south and of course the vast Pacific Ocean is its entire western frontier.  California’s diverse geography flows from mountains in the east to coastal beaches, islands, bays and cliffs in the west, from the redwood forests of the northwest, to desert areas in the southeast. The center of the state is dominated by the Central Valley, a major agricultural area. California contains both the highest point (Mount Whitney) and the lowest point (Death Valley) in the contiguous United States.

Mount Whitney
Death Valley

Mount Whitney (l), the highest point in the Contiguous U.S., is less than 90 miles(140 km) away from Death Valley (r), the lowest point in North America

The state’s current and modern economy is centered on the “clean” and “shiny” businesses of finance, government, real estate, technology, science and other “professional” services, though its “dirtier”  agriculture industry has the highest output of any U.S. state. If it were a country, California would be the 8th or 9th largest economy in the world, and the 35th most populous.  California is the 3rd largest state in the United States in area, after Alaska and Texas, and itself is often geographically bisected into two regions, Southern California, comprising only 10 large and diverse counties, and Northern California, comprising 48 additional more homogeneous counties.  Its Sierra Nevada mountain range embraces Yosemite Valley, famous for its glacially carved domes, and Sequoia National Park, home to the giant sequoia trees, the largest living organisms on Earth.

As part of the Ring of Fire, California is subject to tsunamis, floods, droughts, Santa Ana winds, wildfires, landslides on steep terrain, and has several volcanoes.  Earthquakes are common because of the state’s location along the Pacific Ring of Fire. About 37,000 earthquakes are recorded each year, but most are too small to be felt.  Although most of the state has a Mediterranean climate, due to the state’s large size, the climate ranges from subarctic to subtropical. The cool California Current offshore often creates summer fog near the coast, especially famous in San Francisco but also a moderating climate factor in the other major coastal cities of San Diego and Los Angeles, though more so in many of the beachside suburbs listed above, where I lived for most of my youth and adulthood.  Just a few miles inland, though, summer temperature extremes are significantly higher, with downtown Los Angeles and other famous and infamous interior suburbs and cities, like Pasadena, San Bernardino and even beautiful downtown Burbank, where Johnny Carson once reigned, being several degrees warmer, and smoggier, than at the coast.

Avalon

Avalon is the only incorporated city on Santa Catalina Island of the California Channel Islands. Close to one million people travel to Catalina Island every year, many of them from Los Angeles which is, in the lyrics of the song, “26 miles across the sea.” The sons of Phineas Banning bought the island in 1891 and established the Santa Catalina Island Company to develop it as a resort, making Avalon a resort community. They built a dance pavilion in the center of town, an aquarium, and created the Pilgrim Club (a gambling club for men only). Just as the Bannings were anticipating the construction of a new hotel, their efforts were set back on November 29, 1915, when a fire burned half of Avalon’s buildings, including six hotels and several clubs.

In February 1919, chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr. bought a controlling interest in Santa Catalina Island and its associated properties from the Banning Brothers. Wrigley devoted himself to preserving and promoting it, investing millions in needed infrastructure and attractions, including the construction of the new Catalina Casino, completed May 29, 1929. In its heyday in the 1930s, due to its proximity to Hollywood, Catalina Island was a favored getaway destination for Hollywood stars such as Clark Gable. The island also served as a filming location for dozens of movies. In order to encourage growth, Wrigley purchased additional steamships to service Avalon and brought attention to the town by having his Chicago Cubs use the island for the team’s spring training from 1921 to 1951, absent the war years of 1942–45.

Avalon town and harbor 2012

Avalon town and harbor 2012

Glass bottom boats tour the reefs and shipwrecks of the area, and scuba diving and snorkeling are popular in the clear water. Lover’s Cove, to the east of town, and Descanso Beach, to the west of the Casino (far right in photo), are popular places to dive. The area is famous for the schools of flying fish and the bright orange Garibaldi which teem in local waters.  In 1958, the song “26 Miles” by the Four Preps hit number 2 on the Billboard charts. The main theme of the song is summed up in the last line in the refrain, stating that Santa Catalina is “the island of romance”, with the word “romance” repeated four times.

Two Harbors is the second, and much smaller, resort village on the island, located at the isthmus of the island, north of Avalon. There is also a place called Camp Emerald Bay on the north end of the island that was a Boy Scout camp until 1991.  The Girl Scouts were also forced to move from their camp at White’s Landing, when its lease with the Catalina Island Conservancy expired that same year. “The Catalina Experience™” now takes you to White’s Landing — gateway to Catalina’s interior and positioned on the island’s most expansive beach.

camp white's landingOn http://www.vintagegirlscout.com/campCA.html, I found this ancient photo of this magical place, described as follows in the camp song that I still remember.

“Camp’s White’s Landing-

We canoe and we row

Lots of places to go.

There are boars and S’mores and a beautiful view!”

I don’t remember how big the place was, how primitive it was, or what its proximity to the Boy Scout camp was when I was a Girl Scout camper there for a summer or two in the late 1960s.  The main thing that sticks out in my mind from my time there was meeting a fellow GS camper who told me she wanted to convert to Judaism after reading Leon Uris’ Exodus.  I guess we were all impressionable young teens then and, even though I myself was heavily into the romance of the Jewish state portrayed in that novel, I thought this girl was crazy for wanting to be Jewish if she wasn’t born into it!

In retrospect, I guess the Girl Scouts had a bigger impact on the formation of my adult ideals than I was aware of at the time.  I was a member of the organization from first grade almost until high school graduation.  The GSUSA timeline on their website describes the 1960’s in the excerpt below and includes a photo of Girl Scout Cadettes on Earth Day, 1970, which was also a cause in the forefront of my still-forming political awareness at the time.

 “During this tumultuous and vibrant decade, Girl Scouts held “Speak Out” conferences around the country to lend their voices to the fight for racial equality, launched the “ACTION 70” project to help overcome prejudice and build better relationships between people, and viewed the Apollo 12 moon landing at Cape Kennedy, Florida, as guests of NASA.”

The Tijuana Inn, Gardena, California, early 1960s

Writing 101: Happy (Insert Special Occasion Here)!

Tell us about your favorite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you. Wow, this prompt opens up so many possibilities for me, since I feel like I have lived my whole life around food, usually not in a very good or happy way.

Fortunately, the prompt gave me leeway to talk about any (or all) aspects of a meal that has deep roots in my memory from the food I ate to a description of the place I was when I ate it.  More importantly, I get to include the people who were there AND a reminder from one of my new-found favorite authors, Anne Lamott, who wrote in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life: “If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

Nostalgia Photo Challenge

Warning – This post does not contain any photos, just copied evocative velvet art!

The Tijuana Inn, Gardena, California, early 1960s

This was my family’s go-to dining-out spot. I don’t remember much about the Mexican food they served, but I gleefully recall the pats of butter that came to the table with the tortillas. I have been told that I refused to eat as a baby. Healthy eating habits were not a concern for elementary school kids in those days, so what I looked forward to the most when my family of four (Mom, Dad and little Sis) sat down at one of the tables was licking the sweet creamy butter off those little soft cardboard squares, one after the other, and bring me some more, please!

Like the food, the restaurant’s décor has not remained clear in memory, either. I’m pretty sure there were many booths, maybe some of them were round. I think the upholstery was orange pleather, the kind that leaves lines on your thighs after you have peeled them from your seat. I googled the Tijuana Inn, which I knew no longer existed, and found that the old place had gone into bankruptcy before it burned down last century. The entry also provided its location, which brought to mind a memory of a bank of plate glass windows across the front, facing dear old Gardena (or was it Redondo Beach?) Boulevard. Like many family dining establishments, they featured painted-on decorations in December, maybe even “Feliz Navidad” or “Feliz Año Nuevo.”

There is, however, one aspect of the décor that I remember made a big impression on me as a child: a couple of large, almost wall size paintings, which I think were actually the kitschy but endearing velvet kind. One featured what I imagined was an Aztec god or warrior, cradling the limp form of a beautiful Latina in a pristine white dress, and I wondered what their location and relationship were. The other one was of a bullfighter in the ring with an angry bull, and I never wondered what their relationship or location was. I didn’t really want to think about it.

The last clear memory I have of eating there, and just about anywhere else we ate as a family while we all lived under the same roof, was how my parents liked to tease my sister by saying that she placed her orders “from the right side of the menu.” This meant that her selection was always the most expensive among us. Maybe that’s why, even now as a fifty-five-year-old twice-divorced single woman, she’s still looking for a “Sugar Daddy?”

tj inn velvet artbullfighter velvet art