It was late Sunday afternoon in December, here in Van Nuys.
The air was brisk, the sun was low, a pork butt simmered in the slow cooker.
This is the time of the year when you can see the mountains beyond the orange trees.
Days are brief and what gets done gets done quickly. The Christmas season is sewn in living threads joyous and melancholy, lonely and familial; aching, sad, reverent and intoxicating.
Football, films, electronics envy; shopping, eating, packing presents; drinking orange beer under red lights where the smell of pine, vanilla and chocolate is pervasive, these are some of the elements placed here annually.
I walked yesterday, in waning light, along Kittridge, a neat and well-kept street of homes between Columbus and Van Nuys Boulevard.
West of Kester, Kittridge is a ranch house neighborhood entirely built up after World War Two. Within living memory of some, this area was once entirely agricultural. What lay west of Van Nuys High School was the vast beyond of walnut and orange trees, ranch lands and open spaces. Within 15 frantic years it was developed or destroyed, depending on your viewpoint. And by 1960, it was the Valley we know today, structurally, not demographically, of course.
The homes here are solid, the lawns (mostly) cut. The flat streets and sidewalks recall a Chicago suburb, a place where American flags are flown, and bad news and bad behavior is kept quietly behind drawn drapes.
Two friendly eccentrics were outside yesterday: a man who looked like Fidel Castro with an engraved “RICK” metal belt buckle, and his beer mug holding friend. They stood on the corner of Kittridge and Lemona as workmen re-sodded Rick’s lawn.
I spoke to them briefly, repeating my infernal line. “I write a blog about Van Nuys called Here in Van Nuys.”
“Here in what?” asked the beer mugger.
“Here in Van Nuys,” I said.
“You work for the government?” he asked.
“No. Let me take your photo,” I said.
“No. You got a card?” he asked.
I handed him my printed business card.
“So you write what?” he asked.
“A blog, called Here in Van Nuys,” I said.
The older man with the Fidel Castro beard knew exactly what a blog was. He also complimented my camera and my quilted jacket.
I moved on after that, and crossed to the east side of Kittridge.
On the east side of Kittridge, north of Van Nuys High School, the street is grounded in civic and religious solidity by the presence of St. Elisabeth’s Catholic Church and the enormous VNHS.
Rod Serling might have come here to film an episode of The Twilight Zone, so awash in normalcy and Americanism that one could be dropped here and think that nothing had changed in Van Nuys since the Eisenhower administration.
Notably eccentric and interesting collections of houses line the street, ranging from neat bungalows to sprawling pre-war ranches. They are placed on long, narrow lots, going back far, into deep yards, but they seem to have been immunized from the decline into squalor infecting some older streets in Van Nuys.
I stopped and stood in the parking of St. Elisabeth’s across from a tall white spire bathing in the remaining daylight. People were gathered, under umbrellas, for an event involving food and prayer.
And the second part story of my Sunday walk will continue in another essay….