Saturday, October 24, 2009

This is a Friday Night

Come with me. I want you to see this. It's high up in this part of Canyon Country. Just wait until we turn the corner into the parking lot at La Mesa Junior High, my dad's school. Here, he's the computer and business education teacher. Fine work for him, and with having worked 19 years for Southern Bell, which then became BellSouth and was bought up by AT&T years later, he has real-world experience hopefully invaluable to the students he teaches. The technology changes, business practices change, but I think the basics he puts forth every year, such as writing a resume, a business letter, e-mails, they will always remain important.

Yes, here we are! Let me park in my dad's spot in the third row farthest from this awe-inspiring view. Good. Ok, out we go.

Closer to the fence now. Look at that. All those lights. When we moved here six years ago, I never imagined any part of the Santa Clarita Valley could look this beautiful. I imagined so with parts of L.A., such as the skyline, the inside of Union Station, the area surrounding Staples Center, the Walt Disney Concert Hall. That was all confirmed for me over time. But this view, this constantly delivers. Just imagine all the neighborhoods, all the small stores, all the big-box stores within all that you're seeing. I've never tried to learn exactly what areas we're looking at. Not that it reduces the potential for imagination for me, thinking about what those people under those lights might be doing at this moment, but it never seemed necessary in all the time I've lived in this valley. I'm not sure if one of those clusters might be the shopping center where Big Lots is, as well as the groomer we once took our dogs to. There's also a barbecue restaurant there suitable for a once-in-a-while visit. We don't go to Los Angeles every Friday night to find something to do, not with trying to keep the miles low on our PT Cruiser so we can have those miles when we're driving around Las Vegas and Henderson, exploring further and finding the house we want when it comes time to move there. I like it here for Friday nights anyway. All of the valley feels hushed. It's as if it acknowledges the stresses of the past week for its population and adopts a feeling that adds to the relaxation of the residents, indeed if those residents feel like relaxing. Most do, I'm sure.

Now, to get onto the campus. I'm hoping the custodians are about in various classrooms, cleaning. Here we go, past the Multi-Purpose Room, or MPR, as they call it. There's a stage in there, but hardly used for anything. No plays, no musical performances. It would cost more to have anything here in the evening, and the district doesn't have a whole lot of money.

There are two doors there as we approach this gate to our right. The one directly in front of us leads into the gym. The one to its right is where the custodians hang out, also where all their supplies are. It's locked, so they must be around the school, but look at this! This heavy, black-painted gate is ajar. There's enough room to get in.

In front of us is the courtyard. This is where the kids gather every morning. That door to our immediate right is where they keep an ice cream machine, pretzel storage unit, and I think there's something for nacho cheese. There's also lockers for the campus supervisors, and a desk. To our left are the boys and girls bathrooms. One of the assistant principals has an obsession with graffiti in them and it's a good obsession, but it also involves a camera. Every time she gets wind of graffiti in the bathrooms, out she goes from her office to the bathroom with a camera. She prefers strong photographic evidence. Best for when the artist is caught and brought in.

To our right in a line is the small cubbyhole-like room where they keep the brooms for sweeping after brunch and lunch, all the litter that never found the way to the garbage cans. After that, the side entrance to the MPR and the door to its left is to get into the kitchen. Tight space in that kitchen. There's no proper cafeteria in this school. The kids eat outside during brunch and lunch. When I was in 11th and 12th grade at Hollywood Hills High School, I remember that there was a cafeteria, but never used it. I preferred one of the benches outside, with a book.

Before we go where I want us to be, since the sun is beginning to noticeably set, let's stand right here, in front of these three long steps, leading up to what sometimes serves as an outdoor stage area. Most of the time, kids sit in that area, eating lunch. This wide rectangle of grass in front of us is called the quad. To the left over there is one pathway with classrooms on either side, in the middle are a set of classrooms and to the right are more classrooms. The office, if you face to the right, is that set of double doors right there, right where that golf cart is parked and further down is the library and my dad's classroom.

We'll walk past the middle section of classrooms since it'll get us faster to where we have to be for this. There's science teachers, English teachers, history teachers, and other teachers spread out all over. Don't worry about that open door. That custodian doesn't even see us. I haven't been here in so long as a substitute campus supervisor that I don't think they'd recognize me at first glance.

Yes, right through that small gate. The cars that usually park alongside this sidewalk are long gone. This is where I went to all the time when I was a substitute campus supervisor. I'd bring a book and if the radio was quiet, no calls for students to be escorted to the office, I would sit here and read. This is where I discovered Nero Wolfe in Fer-de-Lance. I'm him in being content with not going out at all. I think there were two or three other books I read during the time of my temporary work, but I don't remember what they were.

Now, to this fence right here. Stand right there. See that? That set of houses pressed against that lonely foothill? Now look to your right. Just a road leading into and out of this one area. That's it. Yes, it was surprising to me too at first. I couldn't imagine anyone living in such isolation, but they do. Not to be bothered by anyone. I bet there's not even a homeowner's association because they probably take care of things by themselves. No need to consort with neighbors on any matter. I've watched cars drive out and drive in during the mornings and sometimes there are plumbing trucks and delivery trucks. The usual assortment of vehicles for a given day, just more noticeable in this microcosm.

In the daytime, there's far less movement. But I'm curious about the movement in the nighttime. By now I'm sure two or three people in this neighborhood have come home. I'm sure the rest are on the way or they've already come home by the time we've come here and have already gone back out with wives and family, if that. For those that are still at home, I wonder if they're going out later, if there's any shopping to do, or a restaurant they've wanted to try, or a movie tonight that warrants breaching those crowds. Two movie theaters here only: Edwards Valencia 12 and Edwards Canyon Country 10.

If you want to sit for a minute back there on that sidewalk, that's fine. Or if you want to see what this view looks like from other vantage points, that's fine too. To me, this is a Friday night. Later, maybe, we'll go down there and see what the school looks like from down there, see if it's easy to spot. I should think it is. When I first saw these houses, I wondered why anyone would want to live below a school. It's similar to when I wondered why anyone would want to live in those houses overlooking one of the parking lots at College of the Canyons. But in the case of these houses, it's quiet, as you see.

I was curious, that's why. I saw these houses during the day, sat there, sometimes ignoring calls from the radio because I wanted to finish a chapter in whatever book I was reading, or I was watching a delivery truck back out from that cul-de-sac. Sometimes a water delivery truck stops by. You see, on various websites devoted to the Santa Clarita Valley, the same names appear. And they all seem to espouse the idea that this valley is a community. It's not. Only they're the community. Besides them, I think there are probably 100 or 200 more like them, but that's it. This valley is 275,000 people. Most don't care about the machinations at City Hall or those trying unsuccessfully to run for a seat on the City Council, or any of the programs City Hall tries to promote. Most, I think, don't want to live in Los Angeles, so they live here. They don't mind commuting every day to L.A. On the weekends, they'll go to certain parts for whatever they want. But they live here because they don't want the pressure of Los Angeles, and that's perfectly understandable. But a community? No. Just a number of people with the same zealous beliefs to spout off about as often as possible. To me, this valley has always been the backwoods of Los Angeles. But this kind of hidden-away neighborhood has always fascinated me. What those rooting and hooting for Santa Clarita have never understood is that there's no overall community, as they'd like to be. There's only sub-communities. Neighborhoods, mutual interests, but nothing with such togetherness for everybody. And that's fine. This seems like the kind of valley to have that. The San Fernando Valley is even more spread out than this and it's hard to imagine even sub-communities existing, outside of the porn industry there.

Ah, there we go. Two cars pulling out. Italian restaurant? A movie? Some supermarket shopping? Maybe the Valencia Town Center Mall, though I could never understand why. That BJ's restaurant, maybe. But that mall has no vitality. Every other store touts clothing, and the bookstore closed long ago. That's my favorite store, which may be why I've never been keen on going to that mall often. There's nothing there to my taste. Compared to the malls in Moreno Valley and elsewhere, our mall is made up of nothing special or worthy of repeat visits.

To me, this is one of the rare spots. If you pass by enough tract housing as you drive by other areas, there's no imagination to it. There's nothing to consider about the people who live there. But there are a few stories remaining for the writers who look for them, such as here. I've always wondered if there's one resident who sits on his driveway in a patio lounge chair, just looking up at the night sky. Living right next to that foothill, there's less lights, so certainly the view has to be better than it is here with these lights on behind us.

Quiet tonight. No other cars pulling out. Guess it's a night in for most of these people. Seems reasonable. They've seen enough road during the week, in the early morning and in the late afternoon, so why would they want even more road? Seems like the only other time they would is on a vacation to somewhere. Tivo catch up, book catch up, seems like better ideas than spending more money than necessary and perhaps regretting it later. Plus there's also the Farmer's Market at College of the Canyons in the morning. Every Saturday. Or Saturday is simply the better day to run necessary errands. You start in the morning, you get home in the late afternoon or the early evening, and the trunk's filled with things from the supermarket, from Target, from Wal-Mart, wherever what one needs can be found and less money can be spent. Sundays...well, it's football season, isn't it? Or nearing football season?

It's peaceful here. That's why I've always liked it. It's away from all the other noise of the world. For me, it was away from the noise of the schoolday. I only really worked at my job when it was brunch and lunchtime later. All the kids are out in force then and supervision is necessary. Otherwise, why overextend yourself? Didn't do much for me when I was here. But as long as I got that spot behind us and a book to spend some of the day reading, I was happy. And unlike when I worked futilely at The Signal, I took no work home with me when I left for the day. I made sure my timecard was filled out and I left. The little left of the afternoon and the coming evening were all mine.

Time to go, I guess. I'm always reluctant to leave this. Oh, I've got other places to go, just not right now. Yet, I know that I probably shouldn't spend the rest of my evening here. You're probably tiring of it too. Nothing else to see. Salads being tossed in kitchens, lasagna being put into the oven, garlic bread being made, steaks sizzling in pans. That's a good idea, actually. Something to eat. I'm tempted to take you over to that barbecue restaurant I mentioned, but I think BJ's feels right for tonight. They have their own beers, if you feel inclined, their own root beer too. Have you ever tried a Pizookie? Nothing to shout about from the top of Samurai Summit at Six Flags Magic Mountain, but it feels like the right kind of dessert for right now. Have whatever you like. A steak, one of their nicely made sandwiches, a salad if you like. I'm buying.