HomePublicationBurbankChris Erskine: Why We Live Where We Live

Chris Erskine: Why We Live Where We Live

We reside in one of those surrealist L.A. suburbs that hugs the hillsides, the sidewalks always a little damp in spring. It’s considered a desirable place to live if you’re a squirrel or a crow, or one of those frisky white labs that everyone loves.
Reminds me of a story. New family moves into the ’hood. Knock on the front door. It’s a mom from next door with a plate of cookies. She introduces herself, then tells the new residents: “It’s a great little town — if you’re a kid.” Next day, knock-knock: It’s a neighbor kid from across the street, holding a nice cake. “It’s a great town,” the kid explains, “if you’re an adult.”
Point is, we’re not sure exactly who loves it here; the kids think it’s the adults, the adults think it’s the kids.
Yet, it’s Our Town — every day a georgic poem.
At least once a year, we have a very nice parade. At Christmas, we hang big halos of lights, like semaphores to God.
“Dear Lord. Please watch over us, our children, our friends. Please be there for them in those moments when we’re on the phone.”
So, sometimes our little town is Heaven, sometimes it’s not. Really depends on the mood you’re in. And the quality of the Pinot.
As I said, we have lots of squirrels; they prune the oak trees and provide cautionary tales about thankless work ethics.
In fact, if you’re ever wondering about a place: “Do I like it here, does it feel like home?” look around. If you see lots of squirrels — in a pocket park in Prague, or in an oaky glen in Glendale — you’ve probably landed in a pretty fine spot.
Another thing to look for: On Saturdays, do old dudes in vintage cars parade along the boulevard? Do they slip out of warm beds before sunrise, kick on their favorite old jeans and go stand around in the cold with their hands in their pockets, talking about restoring their Mustangs?
Then you live in a pretty cool place.
Here’s another sign: Do the teachers stick around a while, for decades sometimes? Do the schools have a bit of grass on the playgrounds? Does the annual talent show always sell out?
Then you’re in a pretty fine place.
Is there a decent choice of churches, and a little spot to grab coffee?
Is there a place to watch the sunsets, take long walks — an ocean, a vista, a leafy horse trail.
At night, is it “clad in the beauty of a thousand stars”? as per Marlowe.
Do the neighbors look out for each other, do they share, do they speak? Or do they merely post Neighborhood Watch signs and hide inside, peering through the curtains for strange, slow-moving vans?
Back in the day, did some of the older folks attend the local high school? Always a good sign … that people have made a life there, take pride in their past, remember your mom, tell funny stories about your Uncle Bob.
Do they rake their own yards? Do they putter with the tomatoes? When the storm drains clog, does someone grab a shovel?
And where are the secret little happy places: A book shop? A Mexican joint? The coldest martini? The hottest Thai?
Do you have at least one little diner where the waitress calls you “hon”?
“Hiya hon. Your usual? Hey, I like your haircut.”
As I noted the other day, most high-priced L.A. restaurants have no boogie-woogie. They have no inner being. They have no “hons.”
You know, it’s almost a miracle that L.A. is this livable. Chaos once reigned here, and towns went up too fast. It was a fire drill back in the ‘50s: Who can pack in the most cul-de-sacs, the densest subdivisions, the kitchens almost touching.
So, L.A. does not offer Haussmann’s grand vision and wide boulevards, the way Paris does. Or the ethos of L’Enfant, who laid out Washington, D.C.’s glorious grid.
Instead, we had ranchers selling off avocado orchards to slick developers. Somehow, from that skeezy backwoods arrangement, Los Angeles became a shining city surrounded by hilly enclaves. Instead of a grand plan, we ended up with a city of tidy little pockets: Montrose. Monrovia. Larchmont Village.
Thank gawd.
Last thing before my coffee buzz wears off:
There’s something about the sunshine here — some proton, some extract, some ambient solar sequin that colors the kids’ cheeks and lifts the dads’ spirits. The sunlight waxes the trees. It juices the oranges. On weekends, it glistens the kids’ high fly balls.
Super-high flies … like Friedrich’s moons.

Is there a place to grab an icy martini Are there places to play

To read past columns, please go to ChrisErskineLA.com.

First published February 29-March 2 in Outlook Newspapers.


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