Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Tuesdays in Limbo

If you ever visit Ventura, arrive on two different days, for contrast.

I recommend mid-Friday afternoon, to start, because as the day goes on, the town gradually unwinds. By the time you get to 6 p.m. on, before the town begins to close down, there's an unhurried vibe that's especially lovely downtown amidst the restaurants, such as Dargan's Irish Pub and Restaurant, as well as the antique shops and the consignment stores, and certainly the bookstores, too, especially the Calico Cat Bookshop, which you should try before it closes at 5. It's nice just walking down Main Street, to California Street, where the Erle Stanley Gardner building stands stately on the corner. This is where Gardner hashed out the first few drafts for his first Perry Mason novel. Stand here at dusk, looking up at the building, and you feel a sense of history that lingers, which seems rare in Southern California. But it's here for you to look at, to think about, and not just by the plaque next to the side door of that giant concrete dignity.

The same feeling is almost as prevalent at the Pacific View Mall, particularly in the food court. It feels muted, almost defeated, but there's a kind of quiet you'd be hard-pressed to find in very many other malls. Macerich, which also owns The Oaks mall in Thousand Oaks, which I consider the best mall in Southern California, seems to leave the Pacific View's second floor to the ravages of time, what with how they don't seem to make an effort to attract new tenants to empty storefronts up there. The Oaks has The Open Book, my favorite bookstore in this region, and for that reason, I was given a $25 gift card to it as one of my recent birthday presents. The Pacific View Mall could use a bookstore, too, because inasmuch as there is the beach in Ventura, and downtown Ventura with various interesting shops (and window displays! I love living in a town whose downtown area has window displays!), and Ventura Harbor with its attached Village, it doesn't take long to cover everything Ventura offers. I like having it that way, without the constant rush and hype of Greater Los Angeles. I lived with the tumult of Las Vegas for five years, and before that, nine years of living 30 minutes north of Los Angeles in Santa Clarita. While there were visits to Anaheim and Pasadena and Buena Park and Van Nuys and Woodland Hills and so on from that, I always flitted between towns. In here and then gone. To IKEA and then gone. To Downtown Disney and then gone. I never knew those towns for themselves, although Buena Park with its heavy ghosts of history continues to fascinate me, and I've recently become interested in Burbank, after going back to my palace temple that is Porto's Cuban Bakery after five years away. Not to live there, or in Buena Park, but just what it is. For example, I had no idea that Warner Bros. Studios is just down the street from Porto's, at least not until this visit. I thought it was further out.

Every night, Ventura gives you space to think, to plan, to possibly even relax. I've never lived in any town before that allows it. But while it's a stringent space of time any other day of the week, Friday nights just gently unravel to whatever you want to do. You could even get the same feeling browsing the magazine racks at the Barnes & Noble on Telephone Road. Even just walking around Ventura Harbor Village before getting ice cream at Coastal Cone has the same effect.

On the flip side, there's Tuesdays in Ventura. Markedly different from Tuesdays with Morrie, in that Morrie was more alive than Ventura is on a Tuesday. This is actually more fascinating to me than Friday nights in Ventura. There is nothing in Ventura on a Friday, and by that I mean that Ventura on a Tuesday is the physical manifestation of being in Limbo. This is where you go if you want a preview of what that might be like, if your religion insists that Limbo is part of the afterlife.

The town is a total blank. There is absolutely no energy you can sense from the cars driving on Telephone, not in Ralphs, not in Walmart, not at the harbor, not at the mall, nowhere! I think of the ghosts that burst through the windows at the ceiling during "Once Upon a December" in the animated Anastasia, but without the dresses or anything else colorful. And this lasts all day! I don't know if this is the town's day for regrouping, but you could go from one end of it to the other and then on to State Route 126 to Santa Clarita without having a sense of what Ventura is.

Maybe it's the town's way of insisting that residents and visitors alike take this one day to add their own spark to the town, to see that spark for themselves, unencumbered by what the town usually offers. You know, do your own thing, find your own bliss, and don't let us bother you. I like that possibility, but it gets disconcerting for those of us who live here. It feels like a possible Twilight Zone episode in which the town disappears beneath your feet.

Ok, so I've gone on and on about that, but Ventura is reliable in that when Wednesday hits, it's back to business as usual. It rises again and covers everything. But I know why this consumes me. Adding to what I mentioned above about flitting in between towns, I've never known one town on its own terms. I've used a town, a city, for the resources it has for what I need, but I've never thought about it on its own. Never any reason to. But here I am, away from the noise of bigger cities, the demands, those expensive experiences that you must have that only benefit those who are selling them. I have my libraries, especially my beloved Ventura College library, and I know where to find my equally beloved Vietnamese iced coffee. That's all I need. And it's new to me to slow down like this, but I think I can get used to it.