Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The 'Hood

Monday I took a drive out to the Westside, specifically to my old 'hood, the Crenshaw area, to pick up my dad for his move to his new home at the care facility.

Traffic was parking lot style on the Santa Monica Freeway and I was still a little early so I exited at Western and drove south, down to my original 'hood, the one we lived in before moving to the Crenshaw area back in 1969.

The Golden State Mutual building was still standing at the northeast corner of Adams and Western, no longer modern, majestic and business-like but instead showing the wear accumulated over the years. Back in elementary school days, white people actually worked in the neighborhood!

Heading south on Western, I passed the intersection at Jefferson and thought about Flash records, the place where my sister used to buy her 45 rpm records, a place where they would let you listen to the record before you bought it. That's where I purchased Ferrante and Teicher's melodramatic rendition of "Exodus" and got a funny stare from the clerk. A little kid buying Exodus?? Flash and that tradition of listen before buying had departed long ago.

I guess I had weird musical tastes. David Rose's The Stripper had also appealed to me; I talked my parents into buying it for me from the record store in J-Town when I was around five years old. I had no idea what a stripper was; the clerk laughed at my choice but I was innocent (at least then).

Back to Western Avenue, I kept an eye out for the old familiar Watanabe Nursery on the left, but alas, that was gone as well. That's where Edwin, my neighbor across the street, and I used to frequent in our quest for insects. "The Lot," where my old math teacher Mr. Mitchell and his son Luther lived, was also replaced by structures.

I almost passed 36th Street; I didn't recognize it at all. Making a left turn, I headed slowly down the block searching for the old house. The whole neighborhood was unrecognizable; it seriously felt like I was in a third-world country. The houses were a hodgepodge, hiding behind all types of makeshift, inconsistent fences, with windows and doors safeguarded behind bars. The old house at 1640 was totally different. This was one scared, sad neighborhood. I would have liked to have stopped for a closer look but feared someone would mistake me for a gang banger casing the block and fire on me, so I kept moving.

Denker Avenue was the street east. I turned right, then made another right on 36th Place and headed back to Western. There was no Speedy's on the corner of 36th Street and Western, no El Taco further north of there, and what used to be Gene's Market on the other corner was still a market but now someone else's. No more dry cleaners, and no more factory. I say factory because I have no idea what they made there but we always just called it "the factory." Stocky white guys carrying lunch pails used to park their cars down our block.

Heading south on Western, Ho Sai Kai appeared to my right. Oh my, it looked like a fort, sitting there protected behind a steel fence all around except for the very doorway of the place. What I had once thought was a contemporary, fancy building was just another run down piece of stucco. My alma mater Foshay Jr. High was on the left side, full of kids clad in white t-shirts and blue shorts having their P.E. time on the yard and looking way too young. Back in my day it was red shorts, not blue. Did their gang affiliation change since then?

So much for Western Avenue. I turned right and headed west on Exposition. The railroad tracks weren't there anymore; in their place was an excavation down the middle of the street, which I assume is in preparation for Metro Rail or some other form of mass transit.

One other detour I decided to make - I turned on Westside Avenue and drove past Amy's old house. Again, I had trouble recognizing it - I remembered the address but the house didn't match the memory. The color was totally different and it looked like the subsequent owner(s) had altered the front, as well. At least the neighborhood looked clean, with open lawns and a wide street. No third-world on that side of Arlington!

So much for nostalgia. I kept going down to 39th Street, turned right and headed west again. I passed Grayburn and thought of Shelby Minamide. I used to like her for a while in high school but again, that shyness of mine prevented anything from happening. Silly me used to think of her as "Grayburn Girl," as in the CSN&Y song "Country Girl" from their Deja Vu album.

Past Grayburn was Norton Avenue, where the Nakai twins, Suzanne and Joanne, lived. That block was supposedly a bit more expensive because of the newer houses, but I always thought it was sterile. It still looks that way - even now there's a lack of greenery there. Then I passed the post office, turned right on Crenshaw to go a block north to Coliseum, and saw how Crenshaw Square had changed. A lot of it still bore a resemblance to what I remembered; the big sign is still up and Tag's Liquor is still there, but most everything else is different.

Holiday Bowl gave up the ghost long ago, as did Rudy's Restaurant. Was Der Wienerschnitzel still there? I didn't see it but then, I didn't have time to look left and right. I turned on Coliseum and went to pick up my dad. Argh, he was in the garage standing on a box trying to reach a light fixture when I drove up. I told him to let me do it.

We packed everything in the car, and then he said he wanted to lock up the house one last time. He got in the car, and we headed to his new home. On Crenshaw we passed what used to be the Kokusai Theatre, long ago. And the Arco that used to be Al's Arco where Rob used to work, dispensing full serve gas at 28.9 cents per gallon. My parents had a happy reunion; they'd been apart for four days but you would think it was four years or four decades the way they acted.

And that was my Monday.

Many years ago, 31 to be exact, I strolled down that same Western Avenue in a fit of nostalgia while a mechanic tuned up my car. I had started out at Foshay, going to the office in hopes of perhaps saying hello to former teachers and was met with suspicion by the staff. I thought, man, things have really changed in those few years since I had graduated, with the much tighter security. I can just imagine what it's like now. All I could do was to mention specific names of teachers and get a 'yes' or 'no' as to whether or not they were still there. Most weren't.

The old house still looked like the old house back then, white with a red porch. Nothing was hidden behind fences. What used to be the Signal gas station was still on the corner of 36th and Western but Jimmy Toji was no longer the owner (you may know his son, Randy). Watanabe Nursery was still in business, next door to the Shell station where my car was being serviced. It was just a lazy day and I was taking it all in, enjoying myself, all of five years after graduating from high school and eight from junior high, thinking it had been such a long time.

I still dream about the old neighborhood once in a while. I don't dream about living at the house in the Crenshaw area, nor any other residence since then, including the current one. Just that first one on 36th Street, along with going up and down the street and turning the corner onto Western Avenue, things looking like they used to look way back when.

Am I ever going back? I don't see why. There's nothing familiar about the 'hood any more.


donna said...

And you never made it to Golden Bird on Marlton, either....

Rickie Miyake said...

Actually I passed by it on Sunday! Didn't stop, though. Everything looks so different around the area, but at least Golden Bird still stands!