Saturday was a skip day. As in I skipped the show. I often do, particularly since Saturday is the worst day to just walk around. If I'm at a table, sure, I'm all TCB and will be there before the floor opens. But this was a more casual show for me, so it was wake with the sun and then drive from Costa Mesa to my literal hometown. Okay, not where I was born, because I don't remember that, or anything until my family got out to Laguna Niguel.
Being from Orange County and thinking of it as "home" when someone says the word is a real weird feeling. While not the origin of the planned community as a tool of white flight and edge-city building, Orange County as a whole, particularly the south, feels like a climax predator version of it. Sure, there were outposts before the sixties, but it grew up overnight then, with pains stretching into the seventies, eighties and beyond. But the bones were laid down in the meltdown of Los Angeles as a place to raise your kids. And yeah, we had weirdos and miscreants like the Brotherhood of Eternal Love and biker gangs servicing the troops at El Toro and reaching down to Oceanside/Pendleton. But for the most part, it was a planned suburban paradise. It's still that way, just more overbuilt. But goddamn if I can't feel those hills and the splaying stretch of Crown Valley Parkway (Raceway) in my bones every time I drive over them. Sad, right? It's a whitewashed and bled-out lifeless town, good only for quiet Republicanism and tourists going to Salt Creek or Los Alisos or Main Beach in Laguna Beach itself.
Still, it's home. A hometown that I couldn't afford to live in now. And yeah, it's changed, but I can see all the stuff that hasn't still, or yet. The Harbor House is one of those things. It's just a common, garden-variety cafe. But I can't count the times I ate there after hours with friends through high school or even into college. And while the interior has changed, the food really hasn't. So I made the drive, half in the shadows of the overpasses and the colossal interchange of the 5/405, which still makes me think of mammoth dinosaurs frozen in time. Just look at the silhouettes and you'll see it too. I made the drive back to Dana Point. The food itself was nothing spectacular, even with the added seasoning of, well, nostalgia. They still don't quite have pancakes right, probably never will.
Since I wasn't due in the Valley for several hours yet, I took my time and rolled through San Juan Capistrano, right nearby. Stopped in front of a historic streamline moderne building on the main boulevard, just half a block from the mission itself, which dates to 1776. I'll spare you the history lesson where the Franciscans forcibly converted the Juaneño indians and more or less enslaved them etc etc. Oops. But hey, swallows! Architecture! Yeah, my hometown is built on other people's bones. Welcome to America. If you want to read more about that, check out ETERNITY STREET by John Mack Faragher, though it's more particular to the founding of Los Angeles through the language of violence. Still, an eye-opener. Walked around the walls of the mission in the bright, hard sunlight. It was going to be hot and was already warm and it wasn't yet even 9am. The prickly pears on the walls were heavy, laden with fruit that was still green but would swell to a bruised purple and ripeness in time. Busloads of tourists were already arriving, milling around the entrance of the Mission, selfie sticks at the ready. Hey, I don't begrudge anyone taking pictures, just that I'm not big on pictures of myself. Narcissist self-deprecation, you understand. Can't be helped.
History becomes strange here. Eras collide and are slapped up with a new coat of paint, fresh and unmarred. But that's Southern California all over. The place eats youth but reveres age, at least in architecture (so long as it's not in the way of building new apartments) and cars. Vintage moves units. Vintage brings in tourists. And I oughta know, because that stuff is in my veins and it is restless and hungry all the time.
Drove the 405 for almost its entire length, punching out just shy of the 118 and driving around that end of the Valley for a while. It's weird to see fingers of LA proper like Sepulveda Boulevard stretching all the way over here, poking into industrial yards and scrap metal operations butted right up against bargain shoes and families with kids, dad hauling the scooter because the boy tired of it but wouldn't leave it home like he was told. Hell of a place, LA. And yeah, I joke about nuking the Valley, but I'd miss it if the Big One swallowed the place whole.
After driving aimlessly and putting a frightening amount of gas into the tank (it only showed half-empty and yikes) I settled over at the Sepulveda Dam and flood control basin. You'd have thought that the place would still be under water. I mean, the hills all around Chavez Ravine were as green and lush as I'd ever seen them. The LA River was swollen and full, according to friends. Hell, there were probably frogs over in Frogtown. But water in Southern California doesn't lay still long. Like lava from a volcano popping up from the Miracle Mile, it rushes right out to sea. Though I saw a lot of greenery amidst the detritus at the bottom of the basin, I didn't see a lot of water. The sun was high and hot, beating hard for March and let me remind you that the Valley can bake as well as any place this side of Tucson once summer decides to haul out the big guns.
Walked the base of the dam and the top, at least as much as the iron fences would allow me. It's not the most spectacular dam, but it does the job, distinctive vaulting butted right up against an aggregate of white rock and glittering shards of beer bottles. Graffiti there is always fresh over a layer of primer gray. That's not a battle that can be won, but people keep fighting it, on both sides. Maybe the temporary mark really does mean something even if only you see it. Or maybe that's just youth talking, and we all know this town loves to eat youth, eat it raw and whole. But it hasn't eaten the wetlands in the basin, not just yet. Birds singing aggressively, just out of sight; a giant vulture soaring on thermals radiating off the wall of the dam; constant rustle of squirrels and lizards and rats in the scraggly shrubs when you stop and stand for just a moment. And that River still trickling through the heart of the city, whether it's in a gravel and sand bed or concrete mainline of flood control channels.
Drove along Burbank Boulevard, admiring the golf courses and recreation areas cheek and jowl with ramshackle and tenacious homeless encampments. Yeah, THEY LIVE remains documentary. I said that already, right? It's real, just the yuppies aren't aliens and they're out in plain sight.
Finally found the Valley Relics Museum, where I was meeting friends and taking in the sights of things that are adjacent to my youth, but not really of it. I mean, my grandpa owned a Dairy Queen in Riverside, but not one out in the Valley. I saw commercials for Love's BBQ pit and remember there was one right off El Toro Road that my family drove past on the regular, but never went inside. I remember the Pup 'n Taco and Pioneer Chicken (click that link for a remembrance by Kaleb Horton, who perhaps not coincidentally was one of the friends I was meeting along with his wife Marie, and the other being the other half of The Roswell Incident) but I never lived them. Though I do recall shopping at both Fedco and Gemco (which did Costco before Costco, but not in the industrial quantities). This was stuff I saw on TV and was close by, part of the collective memory of the Southland. Okay, so I ate at Jack in the Box a bunch, so the spectre of plastic Jack was enough to bring me to a halt.
The museum itself was filled with oddities that together formed an assemblage of a remembered past, just that nobody was necessarily going to remember it the same way as anyone else, like any fiction. Roddy McDowall's facial applications for PLANET OF THE APES alongside the custom Nudiemobile and Mannix' suit coat, the desk from UNSOLVED MYSTERIES (which to some was a cultural touchstone like IN SEARCH OF is to me), a handful of arcade cabinets and pinball tables lit with neon signs from businesses that died thirty years ago, all warming in the March sun in a hangar that would become an oven before two in the afternoon. It's a hell of a place and maybe doesn't make a lot of sense, but does allow for the tugging on various ribbons of memory and lost experience.
Spent the drive back to North Hollywood and the Idle Hour tapping fingers to whatever the iPod served up (since it was working again). Joe South's "Hush" came on and god damn that's a perfect song with perfect sound. Just right for ordering around a V-8 while crossing the Valley in constant construction, teardown and renewal. I almost played it a second time, it was so good.
Coming back to North Hollywood was another dagger to the brain. I used to work there, and lived there for a short time, at the end of the last century and beginning of this one. And I mean that literally. I was out of there a year before 9/11 happened and it may as well have been a different world. But back then, the Idle Hour was locked and shuttered, apparently home to the son of the original owner, who had no interest in running an actual bar there. But it's been sold and remodeled (though the original facade and interiors largely remain). They make a nice old fashioned, though paying that much for a well drink rubs me a bit the wrong way. Still, a good time can be had there if you're with the right people. But god, can we please put an end to the 1977-1985 rock playlists? Okay, keep the ELO, but make it more deep cuts. Honestly, that's the wrong nostalgia, my dudes. I'd DJ there for drinks and parking and a hamburger. Get in touch. Talk ranged from film to dead bodies in rental houses to the best live album ever (hint: Jerry Lee Lewis). A good time. One that I don't get much of cause I live in the goddamn sticks.
Said my goodbyes and went to walk up and down Lankershim to make sure I was of clear mind before I got back behind the wheel. You're right I'm a lightweight. Besides, the good light was just hitting. Felt a sting as I looked over the yellow stucco of the former Odyssey Video shop exterior. I rented a ton of movies there when I lived just up the road and worked just down the road and had a DVD player in 2000 and felt like I was finally in touch. Shot a lot of pictures. Chakra adjustments, an abandoned empty of Jameson's, a surprisingly grass-filled vacant lot encased in chain-link, strange facades and a neighborhood in turnover. I recognized very few of the shops and restaurants. The building where I used to work at Netter Digital and maybe I'll even write about joining the circus one day, but the cubicles and SGI Indigo workstations are gone now. Apartments going up. Lots of them. People want to live in that NoHo Arts district. Hey, we got a neon clown just down the street. It's lit.
Stopped in to Blastoff Comics and hand sold some QUEEN OF NO TOMORROWS because they sell book books as well as comics and hopefully something comes of that. Sun was just about down now and shot some photos in an aesthetic I'm gonna call Smogwave/Hedorahgroove and look for it. It's all over Tumblr if you squint. Finally saw a couple restaurants I remembered right on Magnolia (you can see them in the opening of ERIN BROCKOVICH if you're quick), but everything else was gone. The Quizno's where I ate shame lunches, the DQ where we'd go get our 4 o'clock break Blizzards, the Chinese place down the road which always had a C cleanliness rating but I ate there all the time anyways, the bank where I had an account and once ran to on a Friday while the place I worked was in the process of bleeding out so that my hand-cut check would actually clear because I worked hard for that money and did not want to get told that nope, no money. All that gone. Maybe I'm the only one who remembers or cares.
Drove at dusk down the 101 to the 405 to Sepulveda and to the Westside. Ate really excellent ramen with one of my longest-time friends, walked around Sawtelle, shot a lot of pictures. Slept like the dead on their couch even though there was a gap between cushions and bare frame that would have tested the hardest-boiled private detective. Shoulda opted for the sake at dinner and just blotted out. Sorry, man. I'll just roll up a towel next time.