Friday, April 20, 2007

(Part Of) LA's America

Note - I cannot, nor will I, attempt to paint an exhaustive picture of what America is or isn't in this post. All I want to do is give a brief synopsis of what my America has been like, mainly for my European readers that have not been to America (and anyone else who gives a rat's derriere). I do it only to help give a better understanding of America, based on some experiences of this American. I may post more experiences from other places I have lived (Hawaii, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Kansas, Alabama, and the former Federal Republic Of Germany, but that doesn't count). But as for this one, two will be enough.

My early years were spent in California, both north and south. I was born in Lancaster, immediately north of the San Gabriel Mountains, in the desert. Living in the LA area as a boy, running across an occasional star or two every now and then, just wasn't much of a big deal. They put their pants on like anyone else.

Angelinos have always been a distant, but yet, very different bunch of personalities with much of it due to it being such a large aggregate of so many diverse groups of people. It is about as far from a homogenous society as you can get. Rich, poor, educated or not, LA has always attracted an adventuresome kind of spirit, chasing some kind of pipe dream. With them came some real kooks too. I remember a lot of crime in some areas and lived there during the Manson days.

I look back at those days with a certain fondness, for those were some of the happiest as a kid. And despite the madness that was there at that time, it was a special place at a special time. What keeps me connected to that time and place is listening to some of the music from that era.

The Beatles were at the Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt. Pepper phase of their phenomenal career. And whenever I hear On The Road Again, Sunshine Of Your Love, and Summertime Blues played on the radio, I can still remember watching Canned Heat, Cream, and Blue Cheer on a Saturday afternoon TV staple, called Boss City. After school, the show Groovy with Michael Blodgett was a favorite as it was for every pre- or peri-pubescent male. Because not only did they have good music, they had a bikini contest.

Now please understand that I didn't see all of the glitter and pomp, every day. I didn't live in Beverly Hills, Bel Air, or Brentwood. I lived in San Bernardino (or San Berdoo as it was called by some of the locals). We lived like many others that worked and ran daily lives, just like anywhere else. Sure there was a lot to see and do, still is. But doing what normal people did, we couldn't live the high life that many believe exists in all sectors. Like many others my age, we played baseball, basketball, and just generally hung out talking about whatever.

One time in SB, I had returned from the store down the street as an assignment from my parents( I rode my bike). I brought in the goods obtained and my parents told me straight off that my younger brother needed to see me immediately. He wouldn't tell them why, just that it had to be me. So, when I found him in his room, he immediately took me outside to show me something that I just "had to see". Needless to say, what was usually a short walk became a long one.

The driveway led to the garage that was at the back corner of the house. Between the garage and the wall that separated us from property next to us, was about 4 feet of space. It was well-lined with unused wire mesh fencing. For whatever earthly reason, I don't know. But it was there for a long time and it led to the back yard. When we got there, we found a drunk passed out in shabby-looking "drunk" clothes. I shook him and asked if he was okay, all he did was moan like there was a hell of a hangover coming on.

Not having any luck, I quickly went to my parents (who called the cops). So they arrested him and took him to jail just like the good policemen of Adam-12 would have done. And later after the fact, we learned that he was a millionaire and he had, get this, a Cadillac parked right around the corner.

One time a few years ago, when I took my children back to see where I was born, lived, and played, I took them on the "back-lot" tour at Universal Studios. I cannot tell you how many times people (mostly younger kids and some young adults) remarked how neat it would be to just be able to work the cameras or build the sets, where movies were made. But I think I ruined the dream for them when I told them that these people you see all around here, still hit the snooze button on their alarm clocks and have to pry themselves out of bed (or be sand-blasted out by another party), just like everyone else.

As an adult with two small children, I lived in an old railroad town on the Wabash River known as Terre Haute, Indiana. For those of you that know some American history, you may remember this name: Eugene V. Debs. You may also remember that he ran on the Socialist Party Of America ticket for President five times. Well, he lived most of his life in TH and his spirit is still alive and well there, to this day. It certainly was, when I was there.

I have never seen a more government dependent population, in such a small area. Drive through many neighborhoods in the morning, and you will see very little activity. But by noon, drive through those same neighborhoods again. You will see the inhabitants getting up and sitting on their front porch, greeting the day, watching for the mailman to bring them their government checks, and maybe selling a little meth. (The checks supplement the meth business.)

TH is in a stretch of corridor that runs north and south along the Wabash River. At one time, this area was saturated with meth labs, the rate was one of the nation's highest. New Indiana law, forcing the sale of pseudoephedrine to be more tightly regulated, has made a significant dent in the manufacture of of the drug. But it's not gone, yet.

Sounds like a depressing place, doesn't it? Were it not for Indiana State University being located there, the town would be dead. They have lost large plants over the years, much of it due to labor disputes. You see, the unions have chased many large factories out of town or shut them down all together. Eugene V. Debs has left a long-lasting mark on this town, to be sure. It's socialist roots have been alive and well. When I first moved there, I saw pickets of a drug store. The union wanted in, they were not allowed in, and the union sent a sandwich board person to picket every single (what was then) Hooks Drug Store.

Today, the area is still populated with union supporters. But the business has left. That is, the manufacturing base that it once was has turned into a service-industry economy, like anywhere else. Since coal is rarely used anymore, the mining jobs are still shrinking. The railroad is used only a fraction of what it once was. CBS Records left years ago, J.I Case lost a major contract to a Libyan firm in the 80s, it's gone. Those were two huge plants right there. But the university has been the anchor through it all and still is the biggest employer of the city.

While it is true that America is a very unique place. Lifestyles, tastes, and attitudes are very different based on what we all grew up with and came to know as we got older. Like wine or beer, each area of America has its own distinctive flavor. Much of it is derived from the history and personality of the area. There is no typical American anymore than there is a typical European. But there are things that unite us and make us countrymen. One of those things is our ability to bounce back from tragedy and adversity.


Greg said...

A slice of my America. My next-door neighbor's boy, Kevin. God bless this family.

Mrs. Sunsett said...

I agree LASunsett! How anyone who has ever been to America, can lump all Americans into the same stereotype...have not interacted with the true character of this country. To see how farmers pull together when one of their own are stricken with illness...or how in disaters such as "Katrinia" see the focus of an entire nation change with the daily news to help out those in the paths of destruction or massacre...that is what people must realize that is the true nature of Americans that brings the widely diverse cultures of this wonderful place together!!!

LASunsett said...

For those of you that saw the second comment under my name originally, rest assured I wasn't talking to myself. Mrs. Sunsett has little blog experience and tried to sneak in leave the comment. I fixed it.

LASunsett said...


That's so sad. Unbelievable, in fact.


ms. miami said...

hi mrs. sunsett!!

las- i come from a part of the country that has also had its problems adapting to changes in the economy.

many (like me) move out and on (although i didn't move for purely economic reasons). others, unfortunately, refuse to change what they're doing or refuse to move elsewhere, hoping that the world just won't change.

there is absolutely no socialist/unionist background in my region. at least amongst those i know, i think that it ultimately comes down to a certain isolationism in the center of the country that, if never questioned, prevents some people from thinking outside the box.

LASunsett said...


//i think that it ultimately comes down to a certain isolationism in the center of the country that, if never questioned, prevents some people from thinking outside the box.//

Perfect analysis of the city of Terre Haute, which is why I moved away years ago.

There are some great people that still live there and I still see them now and then, but they have painted themselves into a corner. Many just won't take risks, many are waiting for everything to fall into their laps. Certainly not everyone there feels that way. But the distinction between those that do and those that don't, often is the difference between those that succeed and those that just get by (barely).