Thursday, January 07, 2021

What a Way to Start a New Year



                                                     Stoner Park, the Japanese Garden

You know people love to tell the same story, even if they know everybody heard it before, and they’ve been telling it all their lives? Well, the first time my cousin told me this story was back around 1969, a couple of years after it happened. It wasn’t really a story then, more of an incident, a situation, another dumb thing one of the family had done. He was still telling it to me in 2016, a few years before he died.  Each time he told it, he added something new. The thing was I never got tired of hearing it because it was like one of those movies you see over and over, and each time you see it, you see something you didn’t see the time before. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version. After, the events in Washington, I hoped this might bring a quick smile, a reminder that there's more to life than politics.

                                                                          Pasadena or Bust

     From the back seat, one of them, the youngest, Johnny answered, “Let’s go to the Rose Parade.” 

     He was responding to one of his cousins saying something about "nothing else to do but to go home." The streets were dead.

     Home was the last place any of them wanted to go, not after all the New Year’s Eve parties, the drinking and getting high, the girls, friends, and music. When Johnny suggested the Rose Parade, nobody put up an argument. They didn’t want to call it a night.

     Eddie, the oldest, mid-twenties, the driver, with no license and an eighth-grade education (and not a very good one) said, “Where’s that?” The two cousins in the back seat started laughing, more of a smothered cackle.

     “Come on, Primo, you never heard of the Rose Parade?”

     Eddie, alone in the front seat, said, “Yeah, I heard of it, but where’s it at?”

     “Pasadena,” came the answer from the back seat. “My dad took us there when we were kids,” said Johnny.

     Eddie said, nervously, “That’s far. I never drove that far. How do you get there?”

     Leo, a few years older than Johnny, but not as old as Eddie, said, “Just get on the freeway and drive towards downtown L.A. Then follow the signs to Pasadena.”

     It was Johnny’s car, a ’64 Impala, black, cool. He’d bought it with money he’d saved working summers with his dad.

     “I never drove the freeway,” said Eddie.

     “You hardly ever drove any place,” said Leo, chuckling. “You always ride shotgun.”

     They were parked on a dark street, to avoid the cops snooping around. After the parties, they'd gotten tired of  cruising through the L.A.'s westside towns and now were back to their own neighborhood, laying in the car, tripping. They lived with their their parents or, in Eddie's case, whatever relatives might put him up for a while, and, definitely, a long way from Pasadena.

     The freeway from Santa Monica to Los Angeles was but a year-old back then. From Los Angeles, it veered off to a tangle of other freeways and highways leading to Sacramento, Needles, and San Diego. Drivers were still getting the hang of it. One wrong turn and you could end up in Tijuana.

     Johnny, the most experienced driver, but in no condition to sit behind the steering wheel, gave Eddie the directions. “Primo, just follow the sign to Pasadena and park somewhere on Colorado boulevard.” With no traffic at 3:00 A.M., Eddie should have no problems.

     Some time later, Johnny heard Eddie say, “There’s a lot of signs, Johnny, Fairfax, La Cienega, La Brea, Normandy.”

     Johnny repeated, “Pasadena, man. When you get close to downtown L.A., you can’t get lost. Take the Arroyo Grande connection. Pasadena's the only sign.”

     More time passed. “Hey, Johnny, how do you spell Pasadena?” Eddie sounded rattled.

     Johnny eased out of his slumber, and not a good speller himself, tried to remember Sister Immaculata’s phonics lessons, “Ah, Pasadena, P-a-s…, no wait, P-o-s-i….” He grew frustrated, “I don’t know, Eddie. Just follow the damn sign that starts with a P, like out towards Highland Park, Glendale, East.”

     “All right, solid, a P-sign, East,” said Eddie, as Leo snored. "I had to go out to Highland Park one time to score." The rest of the ride was pretty quiet, the eight-track playing oldies, low and slow. 

     Johnny didn’t realize he’d slept hard until he saw the sun peeking through the windows. They were parked on a large boulevard. For a second, he forgot where he was. Then he remembered, Pasadena and the Rose Parade.

     He wiped the moisture from the window with the sleeve of his Pendleton, and his heart leaped when he saw the mountains looming close in the distance. A few people were on the street but not the crowds he expected. He woke up his cousins and told them they needed to find some spots along the parade route before they were all taken. “Come on, you guys! Or we won’t get a place to sit.”

     Leo shivered, hugging his trench coat. Eddie slept like a baby behind the wheel.

     “It’s getting late,” Johnny coaxed them, as he opened the door and stepped to the sidewalk. He figured they’d probably have to walk a little way, what with parking being hard to find and all, but, after surveying his surrounding for a minute or so, he thought there should be more people than the few on the sidewalk.

     “Eddie!” Johnny called. “Didn’t you park on Colorado boulevard?”

     “You just said Pasadena, primo. I didn't hear nothing about Colorado. That’s what I followed, the P- sign.”

     Johnny ran his fingers through his long hair, pulled his shirt close to him, the thick wool offering some warmth. He saw an old man walking towards him.  “Hey, sir,” Johnny asked. “You know which way to the Rose Parade?”

     The man looked at him. “Yeah, that way.” His wrinkled finger pointed north.

     “How far,” Johnny asked, his cousins now at his side. The man smiled, “Oh, about thirty miles.”

     “Thirty miles!” Johnny turned to Eddie.  Then he turned back to the older man, “Ain’t this Pasadena?”

     “Hell, no, son. This here’s Pomona.”

     Johnny took the keys from Eddie. All he said was, “I’m driving home.”


msedano said...

Read! Raza; I always say reading pays. There was a really good taco stand in Pomona across from the high school that burned down around 1969.

Unknown said...

I'm a second-generation Xicano with little ability to speak my father's language, but thoroughly enjoyed this trip. Reminds me of my trips to Douglas AZ - a stone's throw from Agua Prieta across the line. As soon as I could drive, I would make the trip from Florida every summer. I would visit my primos and take them to Bisbee, the Chiricahua mountains and enjoy the richness of my heritage - one summer at a time. Thanks for the memories!