Four days after the national cataclysm, uneasy inside, tentative, mourning for my nation and its political immolation, I took advantage of a partially overcast Saturday morning and walked on those quiet, well-kept streets north of Valley Presbyterian Hospital.
Tom Cluster’s emails had introduced me to the area, and I wanted to see for myself what it looked like.
On Columbus Avenue, where Tom had grown up, the street was still lined with trees, with neatly kept houses, and well-paved sidewalks. In front of his childhood home at 6944, where he lived from 1955-62, a gravestone next to the driveway read: “Beneath the Stone Lies Squeaky 7/13/61.”
I assumed a pet, but have not asked Tom yet. But I am sure he will fill in the mystery.
If you walked just three streets, Halbrent, Columbus and Burnet, you might be forgiven for believing that virtuous, middle-class, hard-working, Ozzie and Harriet Van Nuys was still the norm.
There is hardly any trash, the curbs are swept, the lawns are cut, and it seems that the hospital itself is as sanitized on the exterior as the interior. There is a calm, a self-assurance, an illusory orderliness conveying control. The buildings, dating back to 1958, drum shaped towers, share the grounds with more recent concrete ones; but unlike Cedars or UCLA, there is no affluence in the architecture, no preening for impressiveness or garish technological materials. This is a plain Protestant place, stripped down and frugal.
At Valley Presbyterian, there is also a long driveway leading from Noble, west, into the main entrance of the medical facility. The edge is lined with raised, planted beds under a 1950s modern, illuminated overhang. Welcoming and efficient, it conveys a public language of progressive health care and community.
The Edsels and the Oldsmobiles and the Pontiacs wait patiently at the entrance as the medical staff bring out wheelchairs. Dad, always calm, lights a cigarette and turns on the radio to hear how Don Drysdale is doing. Mom, in labor, is brought into the hospital by nurses as Dad goes to park the car and walk back into the hospital to wait, in the maternity area, for his wife to give birth to their third child.
Volunteer girls in red lipstick and white uniforms hold trays of apple juice in Dixie cups. They walk the floor and offer refreshments.
Dad took the afternoon off work but will be at the GM plant in the morning. His wife will spend a week in the hospital and they will pay their $560.00 bill in $15.55 monthly installments over the next three years.
For a few blocks, a section of Van Nuys, its homes and hospitals, is still preserved in a formaldehyde of memory and architecture, a Twilight Zone where hospitals were up-to-date and affordable, great schools were within walking distance, jobs were plentiful, work was secure, streets were safe, and houses reasonably priced.
Beyond these streets, the real, harsh, angry, misery of another Van Nuys in another America plays out.
And we Californians, we Angelenos, are caught in a vise of fear, hoping for the best, fearing the worst, and seeing the day of demagoguery descend over Washington and the world.
In preserved pockets, like the one north of Vanowen, some cower and hide from a restless surge of irrationality in search of scapegoats, chasing myths down dark alleys of the mind. The state, if it comes to it, may join the vigilante in enforcing the law. Or the law, if it is just, may return us to a semblance of sanity.
The best and the worst, the past and the future, it is all here in Van Nuys.