Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Burbank High School

Although I loved high school when I was a teenager, it certainly was not the highlight of my life. Nor was my class (1971) apparently all that memorable since it’s barely mentioned in the recently published history of the school. Still, when a former classmate told me that Burbank High School (BHS) was celebrating its centennial this year, I immediately went to the alumni website and got nostalgic for the good ol’ days.

My family moved to Burbank in the early 1960s. With Lockheed still booming and the studios (Warner Bros., Disney and NBC) churning out hundreds of movies and TV shows in those days, living in a town like Burbank was probably every middle-class American’s dream. Though a mere 15 miles away, our new home seemed galaxies apart from the considerably less affluent El Sereno, our former neighborhood in the heart of Los Angeles.

My sister Vicki and I were excellent students who loved school. We never belonged to any social cliques; nonetheless we had lots of friends and happily participated in high school life. We attended most sports events and, like everyone else, hung-out at Bob’s Big Boy restaurant after games and on weekends. We both moved on, though, soon after graduation and rarely go to Burbank anymore since our father and aunt died.

No wonder then that I was totally mystified when I returned, earlier this month, for the BHS centennial parade and celebration. I parked the car and started walking toward the high school, but for the life of me I couldn’t see its rather distinctive 1960s facade. Had they moved the school?

Then suddenly I noticed a much newer building where our school had been. It was covered in bulldog (our old mascot) banners and I realized BHS had been completely rebuilt! Stunned, I sat on the front steps and waited for the parade to start. A group of much older alums (class of 1958) sat next to me and chatted about homecoming dances and drag-racing down Third St., while I kept my eyes peeled for classmates from my generation.

The parade was sweet—lots of former prom queens and the oldest living alumna (100 years old). Anson Williams (class of 1967), perhaps our most famous graduate and star of the TV show “Happy Days,” got a big round of applause. But the single most popular attraction was Bob’s Big Boy, towed behind on old Ford wagon. Everyone ran to the curb and starting taking snapshots of possibly the most important icon of our youth. I can’t even tell you how many Bob’s hamburgers (back in the days when I was still eating beef!) and french fries I devoured while in high school.

After the parade, I rushed over to the main quad to be part of the first tour of campus. We started at the library—the newest part of the building and the final phase of a reconstruction project that’s taken over ten years to complete. The school is now twice the size it was when Vicki and I went there. The number of students has also doubled—2000 compared to roughly 900 kids in our day. The auditorium, now named after my former drama teacher Deane Wolfson, is the only thing that remains of our old school.

Though I never did run into anyone there from the class of 1971, my visit to BHS ended up being very magical. The students all seemed to love the school and the renovated campus was truly amazing. I felt empowered by our school motto, “PRIDE,” all over again.

Hail Burbank High School! Hail! Hail! Hail!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Brian Wilson

Karen had an extra ticket to the Hollywood Bowl Sunday night, so I went with her to see Brian Wilson’s end-of-summer concert.

Wilson, of course, was the main architect of surfer rock ‘n roll as well as the brilliant mastermind behind the Beach Boys. He had a rather infamous nervous breakdown in the late 1960s and pretty much fried his brain on drugs (subscription and otherwise). Still, he’s managed to outlive his brothers and bandmates, Dennis and Carl Wilson, and continues to create beautiful music, even though his voice is fairly shot. Over the past four decades, I’ve seen him perform on stage more than any other musical artist.

We took the early bus to the Bowl, so we had plenty of time to look around and survey the audience. Most of the people were our age: baby-boomers who, like my sister and me, probably spent their teen summers hanging out in Santa Monica, listening to the Beach Boys on their transistor radios.

There wasn’t an opening act. Instead, the L.A. Philharmonic orchestra was scheduled to play a selection from “The Marriage of Figaro,” a Bach concerto and the overture from George Gershwin’s “Girl Crazy,” before Wilson and his band took the stage.

I called Tim while Karen was in the bathroom.

“It’s a good thing you didn’t come with us, because the Phil is playing ‘The Marriage of Figaro,’ Bach and ‘Girl Crazy’ before Brian comes out,” I told him.

“Gershwin is OK. But Bach and ‘The Marriage of Figaro’?!” he nearly yelled. “That was never part of the deal. Quick! Take a cab and come home right now!”

Well, a little opera never hurt anyone, so I stayed. And thank goodness, too, because there actually was a method to this seeming madness. Turns out Mozart, Bach and Gershwin are Wilson’s favorite composers, so the Bowl decided to include them as part of the celebration.

After the “Girl Crazy” medley, Wilson’s band came out, followed by Brian himself, looking a lot more spry than in the past. He greeted his fans and proceeded to immediately launch into “California Girls,” one of the Beach Boys’ most popular songs. Without missing a beat, the woman sitting directly in front of us leapt out of her seat, ripped off her jacket, and started gyrating in a tight-fitting Hawaiian-print dress. Not only was she (quite literally) the only person dancing in the entire Hollywood Bowl, but her movements were extremely provocative. I swear, all that was missing was a pole! Her poor husband was duly mortified.

Though our view was mostly obscured by the pole dancer’s shenanigans, we ended up having a great time and even got up to dance ourselves during “Help Me Rhonda” and “Johnny B. Goode.” I screamed along to “Fun, Fun, Fun”—SEEMS SHE FORGOT ALL ABOUT THE LI-BRARY, LIKE SHE TOLD HER OLD MAN, NOW! After all these years, Brian still knows how to rock.

The show ended with fireworks as Wilson and his band exited stage right. Summer is now officially over.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Eating Our Way Through the Central Coast

For the past few summers, we’ve taken a short but restful vacation on California’s central coast. We usually rent a house in Shell Beach, go antiquing in Cayucos, and generally hang-out in San Luis Obispo (SLO) and Pismo Beach. But mostly we like to just relax and eat. This year Karen came along with us.

We always go up on Thursday so we can partake in SLO’s enormous farmer’s market—the single best farmer’s market we’ve ever seen, primarily because half the vendors sell barbecued food cooked right there on the street. It is a meat-lover’s paradise.

Even though the farmer’s market doesn’t open until 6PM, we always arrive early to survey our food options. Parking in our secret spot behind the Well’s Fargo bank, we started at the southernmost end of Higuera Street and began walking slowly north, lured by the various smells of sizzling meat. At exactly 6PM (vendors aren’t allowed to sell anything until the market officially opens), we ran over to our favorite pie booth and bought two freshly-baked pies—apple and olallieberry—before they sold-out. We all agreed later that the pies were among the best we’d ever eaten (yum!).

Selecting dessert was easy. But the main course? Not so much. After scrutinizing every barbecue stand along the way, Tim and I finally went back to our usual spot, Mother’s Tavern, for chicken and sausage sandwiches, while Karen continued in search of the perfect pork rib. She was so successful that Tim got ribs, too, as soon as he finished his sausage.

We then went to Bel Frites, a hole-in-the-wall joint that sells Belgian fries, which we followed by going over to Giordano’s for an Italian ice chaser (“bomberry” and limon—yum!). Waddling back to the car, we picked up two loaves of bread, two pounds of tomatoes, a jar of olallieberry jam, and, oh yes, an “Obama for President” bumper sticker. After all, one can never be too prepared in case, say, a nuclear explosion precluded us from returning to L.A.!

Believe it or not, I was actually hungry the next morning and so the three of us strolled up to the Seaside Cafe, a small bakery/coffee shop two blocks from our rental. I ate a berry scone (yum!) while they drank coffee. Back at the house, we broke into one of the loaves of bread and devoured leftover pastries that Tim had brought from breakfast the day before. Funny how the sea air opens one’s appetite!

With nothing much else to do, we drove back to SLO to shop and ogle the town’s famous Bubble Gum Alley, an odd bit of local color recommended by one of my students. Located just off Higuera Street, the alley consists of two walls completely and utterly covered in chewing gum. Although thoroughly disgusting, the sight was also strangely compelling . . . well, for a few minutes at least.

To clear our mental palettes, we headed over to Big Sky, a healthy food cafe started by the chef of the now defunct Kokomo’s, our favorite restaurant when we lived in Park Labrea ten years ago. Anticipating a meat-filled evening ahead, we unanimously opted for vegetarian dishes for lunch (fresh gazpacho soup—yum!) and then returned to Giordano’s for dessert. From there, we drove to a Pismo multiplex, where we saw “Bottle Shock,” a quirky little movie about Napa Valley wine, and counted the hours till dinner.

Every time we vacation on the central coast, people always ask us afterward if we ate at McClintock’s, perhaps the best-known restaurant in the area. We never had, so we decided to give it a try this time.

With five locations, McClintock’s is something of a local institution. I can imagine young couples eating there on prom night or families going there to celebrate landmark events, like 50-year wedding anniversaries or 75th birthdays. We, on the other hand, had no idea what to expect. Turns out, the main dining house, across the freeway from Shell Beach, is similar to Buca di Beppo or any number of “family style” restaurants where quantity is favored over quality. Before we even ordered, a young man brought a basket of onion rings to the table—it was downhill from there. The food was prepared and served in massive quantities and all for a massively big price. Needless to say, we were disappointed, but brought home leftover ribs and potatoes anyway!

I returned to the Seaside Cafe the next morning for one last berry scone (yum!) and then suggested we all walk over to see the ocean once more before leaving town. Just when I thought it was safe to move about the neighborhood, the three of us spied what appeared to be a small farmer’s market at a nearby park. Sure enough, more food galore! I resisted all temptation, but Tim and Karen were immediately drawn to The Eatery, yet another barbecue stand.

“How about a sample?” the female proprietor teased.

“We’re still full from dinner,” Tim answered, holding his stomach. “We ate at McClintock’s last night.”

“McClintock’s? Pfft!” she scoffed. “Let me show you what real tri-tip tastes like!”

And with that, she sliced off samples for both Tim and Karen. (I had already fled). Like playground kids tempted by the school junkie, they were quickly hooked and decided to split a tri-tip sandwich before we hit the road. We also purchased corn chips, strawberries and locally-produced olive oil.

How my poor little Honda Fit managed to carry us, plus all our bootie, back to Los Angeles, I’ll never know. But we piled everything into the car and were back home in plenty of time for dinner.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Labor Day Stay-cation

As usual, we decided to stay in L.A. over the Labor Day weekend. Who needs to travel when there’s so much to do here?

On Saturday, we decided to brave the heat and head east to the Huntington Library to see the “This Side of Paradise” photo exhibit, which ends September 15. The exhibit, comprised of hundreds of famous and not-so-famous photos, succeeds at capturing the essence of Los Angeles from its beginnings to current day. Sure, there were the obligatory snapshots of celebrities posing and doing glamorous as well as silly things (e.g., Marilyn Monroe lifting weights); but the best were of everyday people working and living their lives: a man watering his lawn (ca. 1973); another man holding his baby at the beach (1963); a boy selling newspapers (1943); and porn stars taking a break in Woodland Hills (2002). (“Boogie Nights,” anyone?). My favorite was Michael Light’s enormous landscape of downtown L.A., looking west above the 5, 10, 60 and 101 freeways. The city looks like a giant gray squid entangled in a mass of concrete tentacles. Everyone who loves Los Angeles should see this amazing exhibit.

The next morning, we schlepped to Santa Monica beach, where we read the Sunday paper and watched as surfers tried to catch what little waves there were. The water was flat and glassy—so glassy, in fact, that we saw dolphins swimming among the surfers—something neither of us had ever seen in all our years going to the beach. What a thrill!

En route home, we visited Arlington West, a project of the antiwar group Veterans for Peace, who erect over a thousand crosses every Sunday to commemorate the more than 4,000 soldiers who have died in the Iraq war. The weekly memorial is installed on the beach just north of the Santa Monica pier and is extremely powerful. If anyone needs visual evidence of how wasteful and wrong this war has been, certainly this is it.

On Monday, we just putzed around the house and wished we’d taken the entire week off! Despite the heat, our backyard garden has surprisingly flourished this summer, with some plants actually still blooming. I’m looking forward to re-landscaping the front yard this fall, but that’s a story to be continued . . .