Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Second Farewell Tour

Last Friday afternoon, with Mom and Dad still in Vegas, having a full day of looking at other apartments and mobile home parks just in case (they found where we're going to live, but just wanted to look at possible backups that we hopefully don't have to use. I'll elaborate some other time), the extensive changes I saw at College of the Canyons didn't surprise me as much as total ignorance of history yet again, which I know is to be expected from the Santa Clarita Valley, but this time, it was truly breathtaking.

During the First Farewell Tour, I decided on that Wednesday that we should have a Second Farewell Tour, to our old apartment in Valencia, and to College of the Canyons to see what has changed since Meridith and I went there as students, my time there further back than hers. Then a walk around the mall, not so much a Farewell Tour since we've been there many times already, but rather as a reminder of the better life to come in Las Vegas with better malls, not just a repository for Hot Topic and Forever 21.

The apartment, situated behind a shopping center that includes Pavilions supermarket and Peet's Coffee and Tea, was the same as the last time we went, a few months prior. It's a revolving-door apartment. No one stays for very long. It's either a starter, or just temporary digs until fully deciding what to do. For us, unfortunately, it was a starter. If we had stayed there for all these nearly eight years, I still wouldn't have liked Santa Clarita, but it wouldn't have been as bad to me as it is. It was peaceful, the one place in Valencia where you could truly clear your head of all the noise and make your own oasis, filling it with whatever you wanted. You want only music and books? You can have it. You want to spend all your free hours at the pool behind, but connected to, the clubhouse? It's yours.

I remember a second-floor neighbor who had his fish tank balanced on the ledge of his patio, plugged into the socket out there. I don't know how he maintained that balance, but he must have had some serious confidence. Very little probably worried him.

In that apartment complex, you always meet people very briefly, but the few impressions you get are nothing of the shallowness that pervades the rest of the valley. People are just trying to make their way through the day, hoping to live it how they want. The clubhouse staff, those in the rental office mainly, were really the only shallow-looking ones. Nothing much to them. But that was it. You could go to Stevenson Ranch, you could go to other parts of Valencia, you could go to whatever parts of L.A. you wanted, see the mindlessness, come back and know that your apartment would not be bombarded by all of that. It was truly home for a time. Not a home I could have seen myself in for the rest of my life, but suitable for when we were there. We should have stayed there longer and not moved into pretty much total isolation in Saugus.

After stopping at Jamba Juice, and then the post office to drop off my check to the IRS, Meridith and I walked to College of the Canyons. No bus needed like the one we took from Saugus to that Pavilions shopping center. I wanted to show Meridith the route I sometimes walked, though it was from the bus transfer station to COC, yet we walked through that transfer station on our way. Meridith always waited for the bus because she was loaded down with textbooks, binders, and her knife kit for her cooking classes. She'd never seen that rising and falling set of sidewalks like the ones we walked, like the ones I walked all those years ago.

Getting to the campus, I saw the sober-gray parking lot signs that hadn't been there when I was there. Comparing my time there to Meridith's time, my COC was bare bones. My cafeteria at the back of the Student Center had long tables tucked into corners, my favorite being one in the way back of the cafeteria, on the far right, if you're standing at the entrance. Instead of doing my math homework, I'd read many books, but mostly Subways are for Sleeping by Edmund G. Love whenever I got a copy from either the Hawthorne or Norwalk branch of the County of Los Angeles library system through my Valencia branch.

Those tables are gone, replaced by one small circular table with bluish armchairs around it, and one at the other end of the same arrangement. I think there were long tables on the main cafeteria floor as well, or maybe not, but now there's a lot more circular tables with black chairs around it. The kitchen areas were closed, including the Subway stand (that's closed until the start of the fall semester since they don't make significant money during the summer, being that those areas are only open until noon or 1 p.m. during the summer), but I noticed that the Subway stand was moved from the start of the area to the end, facing the cafeteria, and where it previously had been now has beverage refrigerators lining that wall. I don't know how COC manages to do it, but that wall looked solid, just like many other walls I saw.

After the cafeteria, Meridith took me over to Hasley Hall, where she had attended one or two classes, and which had never been there when I was there. Not completely there. It was just beginning construction when I was there. But now, this washed-out gray building with automatic glass doors that slide apart when you approach them, a burbling small waterfall on the ground floor, and the film department now having its own theater there, I first wondered where in the hell the school had gotten all the money for this building, and then was impressed with what they had done. They have turned education there into even more of a sanctuary. People can study whatever COC offers in complete peace. The classrooms are most impressive, wide and without the usual stigma of costly education. I'll bet this is exactly why fees have gone up and up time and again, which makes me glad I graduated long ago. Plus, the former journalism department has a cluster of rooms there too, although the in-print Canyon Call was disbanded and now COC has Cougar News Online, which to me is vastly disappointing because newbie journalists should have the pleasure of seeing their name and their words in print. I know that the industry is veering from that, but on a community college campus, journalism students need that. I have all five weeks of my time as interim editor of The Signal's weekend Escape section in print. It wouldn't be the same to me online. I can flip through those pages, know why I put in what I put in, what I was also doing when I wrote my own articles for the section, and what I was already thinking about for the next week. These are my memories in print.

Knowing that here was the journalism department on the second floor of Hasley Hall, and there was the film department on the first floor, what happened to the building formerly known as the M building, now known as Mentry Hall? (That's another thing: They gave actual names to these buildings, no doubt based on how much money those names donated, but it was simpler to just have letters. The buildings don't change much on the outside just because they're given names.)

We went to the second floor of the building because that's where the screening room was for the film department. It's still there, but the door was locked, so I couldn't see if anything had changed, though I doubt it. No reason for it to change.

My biggest shock was on the first floor of Mentry Hall, where the former newsroom of the Canyon Call was. The door was open, and right in front of me, a white wall. The glass case displaying old cameras was nice to see, and obviously a clue into what this part of the building now was. When we walked in, two darkrooms were to our left. To our right, what used to be the offices for journalism advisors Jim Ruebsamen and Lila Littlejohn (who has worked as the editor-in-chief at The Signal and now the City Editor, I think), are now either still faculty offices or conference rooms. But next to those rooms were just solid wall. They had torn out that newsroom and now there's only walls. How did they do it so fast? Is there anything still within those walls or is it truly solid wall?

Oh, but that's not all. We went up to the second floor of Towsley Hall, and where I used to take that door across from one of the elevators into a hallway to go to my English class, there's only two classrooms in that now-small section of space, one across from the other. That's it. Where did the other classrooms go? And again, how fast did they tear them down? Because that being solid wall, nothing behind it can remain.

I'm not against that kind of widespread change. The College of the Canyons I knew is not the College of the Canyons my sister knew, and that's not the College of the Canyons current students know. I can live with that, just like how Walt Disney World today is not the Walt Disney World I knew. But at least in that case, there are fans and Disney historians who know what came before, who have memorabilia related to those times, who know what the parks looked like before various changes in different years. I know that I can't expect the same because this is Santa Clarita after all, but COC could use a historian in much the same way. Did someone at least take photos of those hallways now gone? Does the library keep such records? I don't know and I don't think I ever will know, nor do I want to because it's not my place. I hope there are, though, because I remember, and I'm sure not staying here.

Across from the extensively grassy Honor Grove area, where students laze about and where graduation ceremonies are held at the end of terms, and under Towsley Hall, Meridith and I stood at an automat-type vending machine in which you press either the left or right arrow buttons and the racks spin, revealing sandwiches, Red Bulls, ramen cups, burritos, plastic spoons and forks. You find what you want, line the plastic door up to where you want it, put in your money, slide that door open and take out what you want. I asked Meridith to take a photo of it:

I don't remember if this vending machine was around when I was at COC, but it looks old enough to have been there during my time. I never went into that area much, so I wouldn't have noticed anyway. But it seems like the only constant you can find at COC now are the vending machines. Sure they took out the candy vending machine with M&Ms and Snickers and Reese's, and so much other good candy in California's Quest for Better Health (not a name of any program, but that's the attitude of it), but that's just one machine. The others I knew are still there.

The library is all I'm really grateful for at COC because it sustained me in the weeks after we moved to Santa Clarita, when I was trying to figure out what all this was and where I could fit into it if we had to live there. I found a bit of that fitting in at The Signal, but not enough to really feel like I was part of something good. Granted, I gained necessary experience that I could use for what I want to pursue next as a writer, but that wasn't quite enough. At the library, I had all those books, all those novelists to pull down and read, and it was different from going to the Valencia library because it wasn't as public. It was just me and those books. Mine to figure out what I wanted. I could sit on the floor with one long bookcase looming in front of me and one behind me and never have to get up for anyone passing by.

Alas, the library was closed by the time we got to COC (It closes at noon during the summer and we got there after 1 p.m.), but that was ok. It's not my library anymore; it belongs to others. This campus hasn't been mine in so long, but I can still see those ghosts, knowing that that wall used to be the Canyon Call newsroom, knowing that those two classrooms used to be a hallway to English department classrooms.

It's different at the mall. On our walk to COC, we passed by construction of a pool behind the Gold's Gym building, which used to be Borders. I couldn't imagine where there would be room for a pool, but a no-longer-used loading dock is a good place to have it. A Gold's Gym across from Wolf Creek Restaurant & Brewing Co., and near the Edwards Valencia 12 movie theater is still odd to me, but these changes don't really matter. Businesses will take up space wherever they can find it. Thank god for Chipotle, though. That was the best quesadilla I have had in a very long time, much less greasy than Chronic Tacos makes them.

Facing Las Vegas, I won't miss anything in Santa Clarita. But if I was to miss anything about this valley, COC doesn't rank very highly, not even for sentimental reasons with the library. An education haven, sure. A quiet campus at which to study. And at the now-COC Performing Arts Center (it had a few other names over the years), I saw Frank Ferrante as Groucho Marx in a one-man show, and Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain in a one-man show. I sure won't forget those. But there is nothing at that campus that I will pine for, because the UNLV campus has it beat. It's huge, and even if you just drive around, you can still get lost if you don't have a general idea of where you're going. You have to pay attention to those signs around the campus. I still haven't seen the library, though I want to, I want to tap into any historical archives they have there, I want to play at the arcade there, I want to look around in that bookstore again, and I know I'm going to have a lot of fun there, even though I'm not a student. They welcome everyone, no matter why you're there.