Huh?

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Utah, United States
One night while tucking Abby into bed she sweetly chimed, "good night! Sleep tight! Don't let the bed bites bug you!" I like her thinking. Sometimes life bites. The trick is to not let it bug you.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Places I Love...

Pasadena


Where to begin? How do you sum up what is special about the place you spent your entire childhood? Well, here goes.

I know some people grow up looking forward to the day they can escape their hometown. Though I haven't been an official resident since 1993 (when I got my Utah driver's license), that is not the case with me. Pasadena is a wonderful place, and though it was not my destiny to spend my entire life there, it was a great place to grow up.

The old homestead.
One of my earliest childhood memories is sitting on the front seat of my mom's white '67 Mustang with blue interior, turning on the AM radio and listening to "Windy" while heading east on the 210 freeway. No seat belt, of course. Ah, the good old days! I think one of the most beautiful stretches of freeway in the country is where the 210 turns into the 134, between Orange Grove and the San Rafael/Linda Vista exit. Not just because that is the exit to the Nicol family home, but because it is just crazy picturesque. Lush freeway plantings frame views of the Colorado Bridge, the Rose Bowl, the Arroyo Seco, the San Gabriel mountains and that cool old court building that is in all the old Pasadena paintings.
View under 210 fwy, Colorado bridge in background.

Really, if there is one word to describe Pasadena, it must be lush. Maybe I only think that now that I live in a semi-arid desert. Truly, though, when you think of what Pasadena has represented over the years- roses in winter, for example- it fits.

Pasadena found its place on the map in the early part of the 20th century when big business tycoons and other wealthy east-coasters started building winter homes there (Wrigleys, Gambles, et al). They of course hired famous architects to build their homes (Greene and Greene, Frank Lloyd Wright and their minions). Charming Victorian builds made way for Bungalows and Spanish villa-style homes, and as neighborhoods started to furnish the landscape, smaller versions of the iconic homes popped up. Homes like my  parents', built in the late 1920's, are typical of Pasadena. More building took place in subsequent decades, so the now well-established neighborhoods also have lush, established landscapes.

San Rafael Elementary School
I think most people who grow up in Pasadena- or who move there because they like it- appreciate the historic nature of the city. The public school buildings are beautiful and old. "Old Town" is a trendy business district where people spend their Friday nights milling about, enjoying the refurbished old (and made to look old) shops and restaurants. And do most city dwellers in the world care about what their city hall looks like? Pasadena City Hall is iconic to Pasadenans. I understand it has been equipped to host large weddings in the courtyard now! Not the typical scene for a city hall wedding, for sure. As high schoolers, my friends and I actually went to "hang out" around city hall at night, sometimes just to sit on the ledge of the fountain to chat.
Pasadena City Hall

I'm realizing in relating all this that when thinking about what I loved about Pasadena, the setting is inextricably connected to my memories. It is easy to get all wrapped up in the high-fallootin' charm of the city. Certainly there is more to love about Pasadena, and bearing in mind that my opinions were formed over 20 years ago (and are not necessarily high-fallootin'), here is my list of favorite things:

  • I love the damp, humid chill of Pasadena evenings.
  • I love the yummy smell of the night-blooming jasmine everywhere.
  • I love the thump of bass you hear as you drive by backyard parties.
  • I love the jogging scene around the Rose Bowl.
  • I love seeing familiar Pasadena sights regularly on the big and small screen.
  • I love that when you suggested "taco truck?" everybody knew exactly where you would find said truck.
  • I love the Norton Simon Museum and Gamble House.
  • I love the great restaurants, from Tops to Shogun.
  • I love that my personality was shaped by diverse and interesting friends and teachers, in school environments completely unique to Pasadena.
Some of my familiarity with Pasadena developed on my bike with my friend Leslie. The first day I met her I took her on like a 5 mile ride (we were in the 4th grade) and shocked her into friendship with me. We would cruise the lesser-known roads of our neighborhood, ride across the different bridges that span the Arroyo Seco, venture over to the Orange Grove side of the hood and sometimes ride down into the Arroyo itself. There was a cool casting pond down there where we collected tadpoles. Also, Robert Reed's home was a short bike ride from my house, and we would cruise it hoping one of the Brady boys would come strolling out.

Robert Reed
Another great thing about Pasadena: random obscure celebrity sightings are common. The great legend of Glen Summer Road is that Eddie Van Halen played in Jimmy Cronin's garage band next door. I was too young to appreciate their tunes, and I think my mom actually called over there once or twice to ask them to turn down the volume (snicker!). I finally met (using the word loosely) Robert Reed (rest his soul) while working at Jacob Maarse Florists. Well, I rang up his order. He was nice. I didn't get to participate in the Super Bowl half-time show with Michael Jackson at the Rose Bowl with lots of my friends, but I did see him at Magic Mountain (which is not in Pasadena. I digress.).

I didn't always love everything about school as a student, but one thing is for sure, I would be a very different person had I not attended Pasadena public schools. I dare say my perspective on the world would be different. I know the schools have changed a lot over the years, but when I was there, I had lots of amazing teachers who cared about their students and taught well. Because I was in the very diverse environment that was the PUSD, I learned about living and cooperating with people of different races and cultures. I made friends who are dear to me to this day. I know the unique influences from my growing-up years have made me the person I am today, and I'm very grateful for those influences.

Wes, self portrait at 2010 Rose Parade. Sorry for poor quality.
Finally, one cannot talk about Pasadena without mentioning The Stadium and The Parade. I never did get to go to a game, but went to the parade many times. Camped out once (it was a BLAST, but once was enough). For my friends and me, as far as we were concerned, we had ownership in those events. We were significantly tied to them, whether or not the organizers realized it. We all tried out for the Rose Court, and celebrated together when our good friend Mona became a princess. We thought we were something else for having our high school homecoming games in the Rose Bowl, and it really was thrilling to be a kid on the field with the band and as a cheerleader. I even participated in a couple of church events in the Rose Bowl: first a huge conference with LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball in 1977 or so, then in 1987 for a massive youth dance festival. Both times I truly felt like everyone else was there on my territory.

Ah, Pasadena. So much more to say, but some things just have to be experienced to be understood. My perception of Pasadena is based on my unique experience. Fortunately, my experience was positive enough to leave me with a fondness for my hometown. I suddenly have a late night hankering for tacos.

1 comment:

apple slice said...

excellent work. the biography is a tough form. i loved the new-friend bike ride. yes, to the freeway bend. lush, yes. love, yes.