V&R Stories: Reflection and Reunion – a Tale of Reseda

The date has been announced – the 30th Reunion is on!

It is a long time until August 11. It seems there is enough time to research airfares, accommodations, and transportation options and scrounge enough money for admission into the reunion, food, petrol, accomodations and entertainment. It also means that finding a "semi-formal" ensemble for the event.

Before I get back to the San Fernando Valley, there is one story that needs to be told: What we drove to Reseda High.

On the reunion's Facebook page, a series of memories came about thanks to the original piece of this series. It turns out that we, as a senior class, were cooler than most of our contemporaries across the Valley.

This may be an opinion rooted in some form of automotive upbringing. Had we been a Rolls-Royce or Mercedes-Benz family, my perspective on what we drove would be different. Let alone, my brother and I would have attended another high school. Instead, my brother and I grew up around General Motors and Chrysler vehicles. Our history is rooted in those two companies.

Why would I consider the Reseda High School Class of 1982 cooler than most high schools in terms of what we drove? For one, I recall a line from our Assistant Principal Donna Smith during our Orientation stating how "cosmopolitan" we were. This is true. We may have grown up in the middle of the Valley's flatlands, but we also drew from the nearby hills and from afar thanks to the Los Angeles Unified School District's "Permit with Transport" program. The latter was a voluntary bussing program that gave students from other parts of the district to attend schools that seemed better education-wise.

The other reason was the cars themselves. Think about the era for the moment: If you lived in a middle class community during the early 1980s, most likely you did not get into deep debt on an auto loan. New cars existed, but not as prevalent as today. Yet, a lot of us came from hard-working families who kept the house note paid, food on the table and a level of entertainment and activity going in and around the home.

It did not come as a surprise that the average automobile driven by a Reseda High School Student at the onset of the 1980s was some form of muscle car. If you went on the Reunion's Facebook page, you probably got the flavor of what some of us were driving in 1982 – Chevrolet El Caminos, Chevelles, older Novas, Camaros, Ford Mustangs and some of Mopar's most famous iron.

Amongst the cars listed above, we drove to school a variety of assorted vehicles, ranging from Volkswagen Beetles and older Cadillac Eldorados to brand-new Chevrolet Camaros and Mazda GLCs. This included my infamous 1972 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Luxury Sedan.

My Olds was far from a muscle car than most of my contemporaries. Sure, it had a 7.5litre V8 with a four-barrel carburetor and a three-speed Turbo-Hydramatic, but the Nixon Administration felt compelled to enable the Society of Automobile Engineers to recalculate horsepower ratings while manufacturers pulled the teeth out of these beasts through emissions standards and other complications to engine performance.

When I drove to school, I would park in the stadium lot. In the same row would be this 1973 Cadillac Eldorado – another car choked with smog controls and missing a few teeth from its 8.2litre V8. When I parked next to this fellow student – I simply did not feel alone in having a toothless luxury car to tool around in.

In fact, I was glad to have my land yacht! Like today's GMC Acadia, I could seat seven in the big Olds. It also had plenty of room for empty beer bottles underneath the power bench seat – cupholders did not exist as standard equipment, mind you. The Ninety-Eight also served as a two-bed camper – without all the amenities. The trunk could hold five fully laden backpacks, a full-sized spare and a bully club. What vehicle today has a full-sized spare installed in the trunk anymore? Thanks to my brother and I's involvement in the Boy Scouts, mom had the Ninety-Eight's suspension raised to manage gravel and dirt roads for campsite access. In essence, I drove a rear-wheel-drive crossover – in the guise of a huge luxo boat.

Looking back, no one would have imagined what has since transpired in the automobile marketplace. Muscle cars from the 1960s and 1970s are still prized amongst collectors and command values equal to the price of a single-family home in Reseda during our senior year. Today's muscle cars reached even higher levels of performance imaginable compared to the cars we drove thirty years ago.

Imagine if any of us kept the car we drove during high school. I heard that a few of us did. I hope he or she made a killing off of its sale.

Rather, I would think of what we all drive today. From what I saw in 2008 when I visited the Valley for a picnic of some of my classmates, I saw, for the most part, pickup trucks, SUVs and other assorted luxury vehicles. As being the out-of-towner, I quickly figured that my rented Pontiac Grand Prix was already outmoded by what my other classmates brought to Lake Balboa a few years ago.

My classmates have mostly become byproducts of the American Dream – home ownership, matrimony and parenthood. Their vehicles reflect where they are in their late 40s. Some of us may have deviated from this prescribe path, opting for a bit more flexibility in our life's choices, either by circumstance or by choice – another version of the American Dream.

Reseda High School's Class of 1982 is sort of like a family, just like some of your high school senior classes. We are distant relatives who sometimes meet to hang out, let our children hang out and do various activities when the opportunity presents itself. We prefer causal, informal engagements than formalized ones. Yet, we love to dine, laugh, and swap war stories, photos of kids and so forth. We celebrate our advancements in the world, argue about our politics and always find time to catch up on our lives at the oft chance.

Even our senior class has its own extended family. Reseda High's family stretches over a few classes – including my brother's, the Class of 1979. Part of the Reseda family is my own – Matthew, his wife Elizabeth, my niece Stephanie and nephew Benjamin. Just like my friend's kids, our next generation are the keepers of the flame that grew from the middle of the San Fernando Valley. A legacy that began well before most of us settled into the epicenter of the 1994 "Northridge" Earthquake – a span of a century, as of this year.

However, I am over 1,500 miles removed from them. It is a four-hour flight away from reconnection. My timepieces would have to adjusted two hours behind my normal one whenever I hit my hometown. My Upper Midwest inflexion, absorbed over the past decade, is calmed by the lilt of a Californian’s tongue.

I live my version of the American Dream. It is one balanced by advancement and struggle – both of which come to play in this work and art I do in context of the automobile. I am often reminded by Michael Tolliver's letter to his mother as written in Armistead Maupin's Further Tales of the City – which is punctuated by the following paragraph:

Being gay has taught me tolerance, compassion and humility. It has shown me the limitless possibilities of living. It has given me people whose passion and kindness and sensitivity have provided a constant source of strength. It has brought me into the family of man, Mama, and I like it here. I like it.

This paragraph also solidifies my responsibility to my readership to ensure that we come together as consumers, enthusiasts, colleagues, contacts, friends and family regardless of who we are and what we think about the "other" – in both personal and professional contexts.

What about August 11th? Will I be there to further this story?

Regrettably, I have to decline. The past few years have been a mix of personal advancement and struggle, with the struggle sometimes winning out more than I like. I was indeed looking forward to this, but commitments at home and nearby prevent me from making the journey to reconnect with my Reseda family. It is not easy to throw everything into a journey some 1,500 or so miles away and not having everything lined up as I once had years before.

To my Reseda family, please accept my apologies for not being a part of a celebration of our class. Understand there will be another time when I will be back home or where some of you are congregated outside the old familiar stomping grounds. I also welcome you to the place I call home – the Twin Cities – if you should find your way here.

However, I wish everyone that attends the reunion in August the best time of your lives. Have a drink on me – alcoholic or otherwise. I'll be there in spirit.

All photos by Randy Stern

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