Today, I went west to a camera store along Sherman Way.
One passes through a lot of ugliness driving through West Van Nuys, Reseda, and Canoga Park.
There is the double- wide street, grand in intention, but cheap in reality. Lined with billboards, car washes, stucco apartments, Korean and Mexican fast food, discount toys, second-hand tires, used clothing, boarded-up theaters, motorcycle supply stores and ghastly mini-malls. Even its churches are uniquely hideous: without proportion, grace or any redeeming beauty.
Along one stretch of Sherman Way, there is a visually thriving, most likely economically struggling, bunch of antique stores, reminiscent of Burbank’s Magnolia Boulevard. For some reason, perhaps nostalgia, quite a few barber shops, not hair salons, offer discount cuts.
I thought I might eat Indian.
But then I discovered a boisterous and energetic Italian-American grocery: full of cannoli, cookies, pastas, salamis, breads, and a long wall of refrigerated drinks.
I stepped up to the counter and ordered a meatball hero with peppers. I walked around waiting for the sandwich and glanced upon generations of faded photographs showing customers and this neighborhood: what it once looked like and what it is today.
A framed illustration of Christ hung over the meat slicer.
There were American and Italian plastic flags taped to the wall and some of the workers wore POW and MIA caps. Their arms were tattooed with eagles, rifles and crosses.
At the picnic tables outside: groups of guys, on their lunch hour and talking shop. Dressed in jeans, soft guts inside voluminous cotton t-shirts, slouched over sodas and sandwiches, engrossed in computer talk.
At a table in front of me, one man talked to two others about a co-worker who made $65,000 a year and was “failing”. Uncomfortable laughter. Those three got up and left.
A middle-aged white man and a tanned woman with fried blond hair sat down. He told her she was “like a man” and had the aggressive talents to succeed at her job. He said that Carl loved her and thought she was adorable.
I was overhearing snippets of life on a workday in Canoga Park. And like that stretch of the Ventura Freeway between Reseda and DeSoto, it passed by fast, without distinction.
The West Valley is truly nowhere, and much of it is has been settled by escapees from other parts of Los Angeles, who ran to LA, when they left Iowa, Iran, Manila or Memphis. They work in Warner Center, for health insurance companies, or they are computer techs in black glass buildings on Sherman Way.
And on Topanga Canyon near Victory, Westfield is busy creating a “town center” at the mall. And across the street, Anthem Blue Cross is actuarially looking out for our financial and physical well-being.
This is Canoga Park or West Hills or Woodland Hills, subdivided ranch lands, packed to the gills. The folks out here live in a decaying nation that cannot muster the moral strength to provide decent jobs to its people or health care for all. But Nordstrom, Macy’s, Best Buy, Crate and Barrel, Borders and Pier One–all wear great, big smiles of promise and prosperity.
So let us fly the flag high and hope for better days ahead.