Thomas Wolfe was absolutely wrong.
This V&R Story explains why the famous author was wrong in "coming home again." It takes place in April and May of 2006 with what I considered an epic voyage in my post-California life.
Being a native Losangelino, I had a love-hate relationship with the place I was born into. I officially left my native state for new pastures on December 1, 1996. I boarded a red-eye American Airlines flight out of Los Angeles International Airport – and never looked back.
In-between 1996 and 2006, I found myself living – or trying to live – in five states and a District. My Losangelino identity was buried, as I tried to plug into the right community and locale. Still, there was a deeper identity that could not be quelled – not just of the Losangelino, but of Reseda.
Reseda (the actual location of where the name of the website came from) is a non-descript neighborhood in the West Central part of the San Fernando Valley. Founded in 1912, Reseda would eventually become part of the large annexation of most of the valley by the City of Los Angeles. A 2010 census reports that about 75,000 residents lived in Reseda.
Our family came to Reseda – my parents and my brother – came to Reseda in 1963, purchasing the home on Amigo Avenue. Upon my birth the next year, this became my sole residence until 1987. Our family sold the house prior to my departure to the San Francisco Bay Area.
My life had been linked to this San Fernando Valley community. I went to school there – through 1982 when I graduated from Reseda High. I dreamed of the automobile and fostered a form of enthusiasm while living in this house. My room had a great view of both Amigo and Gilmore Avenues, where I saw our neighbor's vehicles – and some of my own – within sight. It was a place where dreams were vivid and the imagination ran rampant.
In the 1980s, I grew tired of Reseda and Los Angeles. I wanted to wander, be somewhere else. Flights to San Francisco to see my dad were an escape, but never completely satisfying. Even as I lived in Long Beach briefly in 1996, my feelings about my birth home were mixed. I have to admit to my own fault for having such negative feelings about Reseda and some people associated with it.
Reseda was never far from my mind. As I walked on the Capitol Mall in Washington, DC, along State Street in Madison, Wisconsin and on the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul, my hometown started to become part of my consciousness. During these times, I turned to poetry to express those feelings – directly associated and otherwise. A friend helped publish a small-run chapbook of these writings aptly called "The Boy from Reseda" in 2005.
That chapbook did not close the loop on Reseda. There was an empty feeling that needed to be dealt with. As I walked around the neighborhood I was living in – Cooper in Minneapolis – I began to think about the house on Amigo and Gilmore. I thought about the corner of Victory (and) Reseda and the bus rides I took on the RTD to far flung places – like Long Beach, Pasadena and Orange County.
A question from several friends prompted a thought. They asked "how come I have never been back to Reseda." When these questions started multiplying and repeating, I knew I had to take action. Gainful employment in the Twin Cities helped leverage my first visit to Los Angeles since leaving the state I once called home.
It was also the first time I traveled by airline since before the attacks of September 11, 2001. So many changes took place in the less-than five year span since that date. I admitted being nervous then – fearing that one mistake would prevent me from going back to Los Angeles. I began to query, research and attempt to put myself at ease before taking that first flight segment from MSP to Dallas-Fort Worth on that last Saturday of April in 2006.
My co-workers and roommates were quite helpful towards easing my concerns. One co-worker suggested that I should consolidate my stuff in a carry-on to ensure no one can mishandle my bag. As long as the bag in question was 45 inches in size, based on a formula totaling length, width and height, I can carry it on the plane to avoid having it mishandled by the airline. I can also take a personal item as well. In this case, a laptop bag.
My roommate at the time mentioned that it took longer to get through the TSA security line en route from Minneapolis to her connection in Chicago than she did going through customs at MSP. This was confirmed by an article I read in the Wall Street Journal that gave tips on how to cut some time when going the motions of getting onto your flight. The WSJ said that at MSP, the average wait going through security is about 19 minutes during peak times. The article suggests to use security checkpoints away from the Northwest (now Delta) ticket counters to deal with the TSA. That way, your wait times are shorter than you would if you flew the dominant carrier at MSP.
Upon an occasion of my dropping a rental car off at MSP, I got a chance to talk to an agent at the American Airlines counter, the airline I'm flying for this trip, who gave me another good tip regarding checking in. On Saturday mornings, there is a flight for Miami that leaves the same time as my flight to Dallas and another flight to Chicago-O'Hare. The Saturday morning flight to Miami is usually packed with passengers heading for their Caribbean cruises. He suggested that instead of the usual 60 minutes to check in that I arrive 90 minutes before departure to not get caught in the massive lines at the counter.
So, I was all set. Knowledge, baggage and some ease in stress helped set the stage for this trip back to Los Angeles – actually to Burbank via Dallas-Fort Worth – for that last Saturday of April in 2006…
These days usually yield an early call for a flight somewhere out of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. This trip would be my first taste of things to come in my personal and professional life.
If I were to arrive by 4:45AM at MSP, I had to reserve my SuperShuttle much earlier than I really wanted. I did check MetroTransit to see if I can utilize the light rail for this trip. Though I can catch the train from my nearest station, my connecting bus that ran by my home in the Cooper neighborhood of Minneapolis did not run during that time to make the connection. I could take a cab, but I figured that I was better off taking a SuperShuttle all the way there considering that time of the morning.
Perhaps the best thing I can look forward to en route to Los Angeles would be the use of my laptop. The planes at that time were not equipped with plug-ins to use in flight. I would end up monitoring my battery power wisely to still play all of the TV shows I downloaded from the iTunes Music Store. I figured entertainment would be the way to ease into this trip.
Perhaps, I was being a bit paranoid about all of this. I made it a conscious decision to simply mind my P's and Q's when dealing with the TSA, follow the tips my friends have provided me and just have a good time in Los Angeles! At least I have some comfort in knowing that everything will be just fine.
There used to be a time when waking up at 3:00 in the morning to head to an airport was effortless. That was before I turned 40. Luckily, I was able to rise to the occasion and be ready for my SuperShuttle to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. There would be a catch, though. My experience back when I lived in Northern Virginia prepared me for late SuperShuttles who have problems finding homes in nice, quiet residential areas.
The SuperShuttle showed up late. My nerves were still a bit on edge, yet I was comforted by the fact that I was on my way. Once inside the van, my nervousness after six years of not flying anyway was slowly calming down. As I did not need to check luggage through with a carry-on and my satchel, my next task was to tackle the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint.
The questions began to roll off about what to do as I was summoned through the TSA line. Did I have to take off my shoes? No. Did I have to take off my belt? Unfortunately, yes. But, I forgot to put my cell phone on the conveyor and I got grief about not taking my iBook out of the sleeve. Even with that one snafu, I admit that it wasn't as bad as I thought. Over time, I became much more prepared for the Security screening process.
That first flight was simple. Two-plus hours from MSP to DFW on American Airlines. The seats felt wider and I had a bit more legroom than I remembered. My laptop was humming with episodes of "Top Gear." Nothing like having Jezza shout at Capitan Slow through your headphones at 35,000 feet…
Changing planes at DFW was an experience. This airport is huge – luckily, I had to change there this one time. I found DFW quite a fancy airport, compared to MSP. After going from terminal to terminal, looking for my gate for the flight to Burbank, I was also hoping to find an outlet to charge my laptop. That quest would be for naught. I had to monitor my battery on my leg to Burbank. That would be a stretch of over three hours and change.
The arrival into BUR looked all too familiar. Passengers exited the plane off of a stair onto the tarmac. Since I was in the old PSA terminal – the one on the south side of the terminal complex, I knew that the rental car counters were a short walk away. In my case, I had Hertz #1 Gold service, which meant I skipped the terminal counter, stepped outside for an equally short walk to their kiosk.
For my short walk from the plane, Hertz gave me a huge upgrade to a 2006 Mercury Montego. I wondered if this was the right car for driving around Southern California. At the time, I figured it would be just right for me and this adventure.
From BUR, I hit the ground running. I drove up Interstate 5 to the Ronald Reagan Freeway, also known as California Highway 118. There I wound up in Porter Ranch, formerly a well-to-do hilly community north of Reseda. Now, they have this huge retail area, including a Wal-Mart. Boy has things changed! I had some In-N-Out Burger. It would be the first act of re-acquaintance with my birthplace.
As I driving down Tampa Avenue in Northridge, I went into shock by the gas prices. At a 76 station on Tampa at Rinaldi Street, unleaded was $3.33 a gallon. Down further, a Chevron station near the Northridge Fashion Center had unleaded at $3.27 a gallon. If gas prices weren't the first cultural shock, I couldn't help noticing the huge volume of larger SUVs and prestige cars out on the roadways throughout the Valley…even in Reseda.
I experienced another shock to my system when I approached my old home on Amigo Avenue. This was the second time someone had refurbished the house since I left in 1987. The house used to be green with a chain link fence and ivy growing all over. Now, the current owner came up with a grayish scheme with white trim and a white fence covering the backyard. Needless to say the neighborhood certainly has changed. It was a mixture of current renovations and dilapidation. Some other homes nearby were examples of the latter.
There was a lot of change in Reseda itself. The center part of town is worn for wear. Reseda was becoming a very diverse community – more so than when I lived there. The saddest part was witnessing the condition of the Reseda Theater. Since it closed over ten years prior to this visit, it had been several proposals for its renovation. A website for a community redevelopment program in Reseda promised to work on the theater. They are still trying to get it renovated eleven years later.
Driving through the valley, I was able to see Metro's Orange Line bus rapid transit service for the first time. Decades before, there had been discussion about bringing a high-speed transit line down the heart of the San Fernando Valley as long as I recall. What the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority did was buy the old Southern Pacific railroad right-of-way and turn it into a bus rapid transit roadway along with an accompanying bike and pedestrian path. They did a marvelous job of this and they seem to be getting a lot of business along the line. I noticed that buses throughout the Valley are running loaded with passengers. Thirty-one years after the old Southern California Rapid Transit District implemented the GRID system to improve Valley bus transit, it seems that the bus system has improved tremendously.
My hotel, the Quality Inn, is typical by-the-freeway joint near the Burbank Airport. It's a room, I say – a comfortable, inexpensive room for the next three nights. It's right by the Interstate 5, which will make getting around quite easy.
The location came in handy for the evening as I headed into Old Pasadena to see a comedian friend do a set at an Italian shop called Hey, That's Amore! He was on the bill with other comedians as they work out material for their other endeavors. Just as his website advertised, this comedian rocked! Afterwards, the comedian and I hung out for a bit.
On this first day, I have experienced the most exhilarating 22 hours in my life. I concluded that coming home after ten years away certainly has its rewards. This was only the first day.
After that first night's sleep in Burbank, I was ready to further reacquaint myself with more of Southern California.
A Sunday morning down the freeway was a much-needed fix. I forgot how fast Los Angeles drivers drove. That was yet another culture shock. I made my way to Long Beach, a place I spent a brief time of my life in during late 1996.
It is a time I like to forget, really. I was in flux in my life. I was more into wanting to push further some movement for a generation of men into being a cohesive part of the community. If there was a positive light at the end of my time in California, it would be a funky coffee house on East Broadway called The Library. It was at this place where I found solace and friendship. It is one of the few things I miss about Long Beach.
From there, I went to Buena Park for an unbelievable reunion. We met at Claim Jumpers, a restaurant chain that I have never heard of at the time of this trip. For this lunch reunion, a few of my old classmates from Reseda High showed up. Bill brought his wife, Liz, from Pasadena as Greg brought his wife and kids out from Temecula. To everyone's surprise, Joe showed up with three generations of his family, including his mother! There were plenty of discussions about absent family members, people we knew from Reseda and our own realm, jobs, businesses, real estate…all set to the tone of our own special sense of humor. It was certainly like old times, but as the old adage goes: "the more things change, the more they stay the same."
There was a huge lull before heading down to my brother's place for dinner with his family in Lake Forest. To bide my time, I went back to Long Beach to meet with someone over coffee at another old haunt on East Broadway called Hot Java. I noticed that the place had undergone some changes form the last time I was there in 1996. It was still a nice place to hang out just a few blocks from the ocean. Unfortunately, I was stood up for this coffee date. I cut my losses and figured it was best that I made my way towards the San Diego Freeway towards the southern part of Orange County.
The peak of this trip occurred at my brother Matthew's home in south Orange County. After a gap of 10 years between visits, I joined Matthew, his wife Elizabeth and their children Stephanie and Benjamin as we gathered around for a meal of pizza and salad. There was plenty of conversation to go around. This was the first time I met my nephew and I am amazed on how much Stephanie has grown! She was a teenager then and Benjamin was approaching that age realm. The best part about this visit was the reconnection with my family. They would be a part of some latter visits to Southern California, as I have seen growth with my family today.
My return to Burbank with the final night in the 2006 Mercury Montego met with my first brush with Southern California traffic. I was stunned to see traffic on a Sunday night on Interstate 5 past Buena Park. At least it kept me entertained as I meandered my way home to avoid the backup.
I knew I had two more nights of sleep in Southern California. However, the next day was designed to put a twist on the entire Southern California experience.
That Monday just happened to the first of May of 2006. In other words, it was May Day. Traditionally, this is a huge celebration where folks celebrate spring by dancing around the Maypole. Communists and Socialists celebrate this as a traditional labor day off. Here in Los Angeles, this first day of May was a "Day Without Immigrants." In this largely Latino city, the impact of this day was expected to be immense in terms of the numbers leaving their jobs, refusing to patronize any retailers and joining protests throughout the Southland. So far, somewhere between 250,000-500,000 people marched from downtown Los Angeles and up into the Wilshire Boulevard area.
The Mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, offered his support with some caution. Though he will speak at a rally at Macarthur Park on Wilshire Boulevard, the Mayor advised students to stay in school and not cut to attend the rallies around the city. Unfortunately, the Los Angeles Unified School District reported a 27 precent absentee rate district-wide. He also asked marchers to wave American flags instead of their own home country's colors and sing the National Anthem in English. As I observed the scene downtown, there were a lot of American flags, but you still had plenty of Mexican flags among other nations representing the immigrants.
This would set the stage for an interesting day on my visit back to my hometown. In fact, I made my own protest. I would call this a "Day Without a Car." After paying $3.27 a gallon to fill the 2006 Mercury Montego up, I returned the car back to Hertz at the Burbank Airport. The plan was to jump on the Metrolink commuter rail service at the station – just a short walk from the rental car return center – and headed down to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.
As I was checking out Union Station after my arrival by Metrolink train, I couldn't help from noticing how much the Los Angeles County Transit Authority made a commitment to elevating transit from the dark days of the RTD. They undertook a transformation of public transport by employing newer, brighter, more sustainable buses and integrating other transport methods to get the millions of Southern Californians around this vast metropolitan area safely and securely. Union Station itself has transformed into a multimodal showcase worthy of the people of Los Angeles.
A short ride on the Red Line subway yielded a sense of action around City Hall. The media was swarming the towering centerpiece of Los Angeles government in hopes of capturing news about today's protest against immigration. It felt like Earthquake Weather. Like something is going to happen one way or another.
For the first time in my life, I was able to go to the top of City Hall. You think that for the first 23 years of my life that I would have done so already. It could be crowning moment of reconciliation for my hometown, as I scaled up to the top of City Hall. The most prominent Mayor of my youth, the late Tom Bradley, was memorialized up here. He seemed to be continuously watching down smiling as his vision of an Olympic-class cosmopolitan city unfolded every day across that massive landscape.
Another ride on the Red Line subway brought me to the Financial District. I was able to do a few things here, including checking in for my flights home tomorrow. FedEx Kinko's is a godsend! Again, this city never ceased to amaze me. The US Bank Tower was unbelievable! Being the tallest structure on the Los Angeles skyline, I would never fathom even staring at this amazing skyscraper in the days of my youth.
Terry Bozzio of the 80's band Missing Persons once famously sang "nobody walks in L.A." That day, I did. Though the city was swelling up with the protest march on Broadway headed towards City Hall, I wanted to meander back to the Valley. I made my way back to Union Station for another ride on Metrolink. My last stop was the Burbank rail station. Even the home of Disney, Warner Brothers and NBC had undergone its own transformation into a modern community.
Upon my arrival into Burbank, I found myself on another link to my youthful past. I boarded Metro's 164 Victory Boulevard bus to find a late lunch in "Beautiful Downtown Burbank." The first bus trip I ever took in 1975 was on the 164 line. The flashbacks just kept on coming for this journey.
The final moments of my trip to Southern California were spent catching up on rest at my hotel. I wished there was a pool or anything recreational available at this place. I just ended up taking a soak in the tub. The truth is that you get what you pay for. For this trip, I got a room out of it. This was sufficient for such a trip. The television entertained me. There's nothing in the world like a Dodgers game on TV with Vin Scully calling the game by himself in the booth. I will indeed miss that voice.
Tuesday, May 2, 2006 marked my return home. It seemed like I was traveling all day. Based on my itinerary from American Airlines, my overall travel time would be just over five hours, not including my transfer at DFW. Though I enjoyed American's fleet of MD-80s for three segments of that trip, the DFW-MSP portion was fulfilled by a smaller canister in the air – a Bombardier Canadair Regional Jet operated by American Eagle. If there was a let down from the entire journey – I will admit the smaller jet would have been it.
Thomas Wolfe once wrote a book called "You Can't Go Home Again." From a period from 1996 to 2006, it was in my mental Rolodex. At the time, my mindset was stuck on this so-called fact: Reseda is where I grew up, but it is not home. Eleven years later, I have grown fondly of Reseda and Southern California. My three subsequent returns there firmed up that notion – in 2008 and twice in 2014, including working the Los Angeles Auto Show in 2014.
Perhaps there is another Los Angeles trip in the future. Though a part of me wants to explore other places before I set for another return home. These thoughts are present in my mind because of this "homecoming" back to Southern California in 2006. If I stuck with the old adage of not going home again, this work would have a completely different look and feel altogether.
All photos by Randy Stern