Friday, February 19, 2016

Paradise Under the Power Lines.

My earliest memory as a child growing up in Covina was when Dad and I picked up Mom and my brother Scott at the hospital after his birth. We were in the good old ’61 Chevy Impala, no seat belts back then. I probably remember this trip because we had to stop at a grade crossing somewhere to let a train pass.

I have spent all but thirteen of my years here in Southern California.  My desire to move out is not due to any one thing, just a conglomeration of lots of little things. I suppose my childhood was idyllic, by most standards at least. With three brothers and my oldest sister Patty (my younger sister Mary was born in the Bay Area) packed into a 900 square foot house in the San Gabriel Valley, I still managed to find plenty of time to myself, riding my bike across the street, hoping for the Pacific Electric San Bernardino Local to come ambling by, wishing the “Wig-Wag” signal at Vincent Avenue would activate (that crossing is now a Metrolink line, with trains whisking by at 79MPH) That was the high point of my day.

Things quieted down at night when I would sit out on the front lawn and wait for the Helms Bakery truck to come by with fresh goodies, and maybe a birthday cake my Mom ordered the week before. Other times I would sit and watch the glow of the wildfires high in the San Gabriel mountain range. Funny thing; the smog was so bad in those days, even though we practically lived at the foot of the mountains, I didn’t know they were there until I was 10 years old. In fact, some days were so bad you couldn’t see the traffic light a block from our house.  At least the air pollution has gotten better, the noise pollution, not so much.

Dad moved us en masse north to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1976, to continue his career with Caltrans on the new Antioch Bridge project. I spent 13 semi-blissful years going to high school, then college, eventually moving myself up to Tuolumne County, where I met my wonderful wife Rita. We were married in 1988 on Presidents Day weekend in bucolic Sonora, CA. Rita’s job with the construction company then took us to Rhode Island, where she was an engineer on the new Jamestown Bridge construction. I thought New England would be akin to a Walt Whitman poem. Unfortunately, the state was pretty much paved from one end to the other. I waited until May for spring to come, being used to the trees getting their leaves by March. I pleaded with my Dad to get Rita a job with Caltrans so I could come back to my beloved California. After twenty minutes on the phone with Sacramento, she had that job, in charge of construction on the east end of the new I-105 freeway in, you guessed it, Los Angeles County!

By happenstance we settled in the far eastern reaches of the County, in Lakewood, in a condo where you could literally walk out your front door, take twenty steps, and be in Orange County. Rita’s office was in Cerritos, a former dairy city that is in LA County but seems to acts like it is in Orange County. Lakewood turned out to be a good choice in the beginning. By 1990 we had purchased one of the cookie-cutter houses using my overtime pay, and moved in. Houses in this part of Lakewood are separated by a scant 15 feet. Privacy is not part of the bargain.  

In Rhode Island I couldn’t land any kind of a real job. After we moved to LA, thanks to some good friends, I was employed in the entertainment industry, where I stayed for the next 15 years. I was planning on living in So Cal for 3-4 years, and, assuming Rita could get a promotion or a transfer, move back up to around the Sacramento area. Fate intervened. Twenty-six years later, here we are, still in Lakewood.

Don’t get me wrong, Lakewood isn’t a bad place, it’s just not where I would choose to live the rest of my life. Conveniences abound, but as we know, conveniences come with a price. Living three minutes from an In-N-Out Burger has certainly had consequences.

In our little house, nestled next to the San Gabriel River (paved) under the buzzing high tension wires, things started out great. Our new neighbors threw a pizza “block party” for us when we moved in, we all quickly got to know each other, and everyone on the cul-de-sac had had started a young family. When new people moved in they came over and introduced themselves. The city hosted Rita’s Girl Scout troop for a decade, and there was a real sense of community here. Now most of the kids have grown up and moved out. There are neighbors that have lived in close proximity to us for upwards of ten years that I have never spoken a word to. New neighbors tend to be inconsiderate; they have loud parties well into the wee hours. New people don’t seem to have a sense of place or a sense of community, but they sure have a sense of entitlement. This place is for the young, and we aren’t that any more.

With two precious, precocious and driven daughters to raise, the best course was to stay put until they were both out of high school. Why move when your kids can attend the best public high school in the state? This required us to endure the changes our formerly quiet little community has gone through.  Used to be you could just hear taps at sunset, on the bugle, soft and mournful when the flag was being lowered down the street at the Long Beach Naval Hospital. That property is now a shopping mega-center, with a 26 theater multi-plex and thousands of cars going in and out daily. Sheriff helicopters are constantly circling the freeway across from us in Hawaiian Gardens, and every other car turning the corner next to our house is blasting its stereo at or near the pain threshold all hours’ day or night. Unsavory looking persons in dark hooded sweatshirts can be seen meandering up and down the cul-de-sac like the boogie man from stories. The freeway roars 24 hours a day. The 605 (yes I will always say “THE” before freeway numbers) used to get quiet at night, now it isn’t even quiet on Christmas morning. Sirens blare at regular intervals like we live in Midtown Manhattan.

All this came to be too much for me, and I told Rita I wanted to move back to the Gold Country in the Sierra Nevada foothills, and she graciously went along with it. Lucky for me. Granted, the grass is always greener on the other side, and every place has its problems, but hope springs eternal that the life we make for ourselves in Amador County will be somehow simpler, and a tad quieter. It damn sure will after I install the double-pane windows in the new house.  So long Lakewood, and thanks, you were good to us.

For the most part I am looking forward to closing the Big Iron Gate at our driveway and retiring. The world going by outside can just get on with it, without any interference from me. Thanks to Rita I now have my very own Pacific Electric Wig-Wag signal I can activate whenever I want. Now if I could just get time-traveling Helms Bakery trucks to stop out front every Thursday evening at dusk. - Chris

Magnetic Flagman Co. Wig Wag signal.


  1. Read your story...I live in the Plaza of Long Beach. My ex-inlaws had a cabin outside of Sutter Creek and then Plymouth...built them both. I lived in Modesto Lake Tahoe and Sacramento. Like you I want a slower quieter lifestyle...Where are you in Amador County, if you do not mind sharing....

  2. i just moved out of lakewood 2 weeks ago, palo verde and south, so I too do not miss the constant roar of police copters in over the 605. It is actually possible to sleep through the night here!