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You don't have to leave Santa Clarita to leave Santa Clarita. While watching season two of "Hacks," the shopping center at the corner of Valencia and Bouquet came on screen. The show's characters were on a comedy tour and the tour bus stopped right in front of Dollar Tree. Geographically, this patch of Santa Clarita was portrayed as somewhere on the winding path between Sedona and Oklahoma City. Culturally, it was portrayed as a place where the diners don't have organic cottage cheese, but nearby supermarkets do. All in all, not the city's worst cameo. And seeing how someone else views us is always invaluable. It's almost like looking in a mirror. Who do we see looking back?
My Santa Clarita book club was, perhaps, doomed from the start. Apart from the main issue, namely Santa Clarita's near-total lack of quality literature, was the issue of people presuming it was all a joke. It wasn't. Needless to say, the book club ended thereafter without much fuss. Other endings, however, are not so easy. Where many people are involved, the question of how to stop what we've started is trickier.
Mother's Day may be the most heartwarming of May holidays, but Memorial Day and the unofficial kick-off of summer is the most eagerly awaited. The weather is getting hot. Co-workers can't stop talking about vacations. Wedding ceremonies are filling calendars. 2022 is set to be the busiest season for the wedding industry in nearly four decades - which means lawyers will have their busiest year come 2029!? Everyone is being reminded of precisely how exhausting it is to look presentable, leave the house and do things. That must be why it's so striking to see news stories where the pace of Claritan life isn't speeding up, but slowing down.
Every spring, I watch the latest installment of a recurring series. A pair of wrens - little brown birds about the size of a mouse, with a voice substantially larger - start hopping through the fence line shrubs, looking for a home. One nest was in a tree hole, another in the birdhouse and the most recent in a pile of terra cotta pots, substantially delaying spring gardening. Each year, it takes weeks of scouting before they seem to pick the exact spot they want to call home. They're lucky in that. Not everyone in Santa Clarita can be so choosy. Sometimes, home seems more a question of fate or circumstance than of choice.
Many Claritans are not fans of leaving things to chance. They live at an address that gets their kids into the best schools, or they bluff a good address to game the system. They hear the words "master planned" and feel an involuntary frisson of delight. They might drop their friend if said friend drops in for a visit, unannounced. Yet even the most chance-averse Claritans can't lead lives that are as boring as they'd like; the rest of the world has plans of its own. Chaos is a part of life Santa Clarita, for better or worse.
My gratitude journal has been a bit sparse for most of the 2020s. I haven't appreciated mandatory enrollment in the two-year interactive course, "Evolution of respiratory virus epidemics, 101." Still, one skill that we've all sharpened in these early 2020s is deciding whether something, anything, is worth it or not. There are some hassles we'll put up with and others we won't. There are some risks we'll put up with and others we won't. As 2022 starts rolling, it's worth checking in on how others in Santa Clarita answer that simple, powerful question: Is it worth it?
People who are able to genuinely relax and enjoy the holidays may be oblivious to a cruel truth. The reason they can unwrap thoughtful gifts, mingle casually at parties, marvel at decorated neighborhoods and eat delicious food is because someone else has stressed and suffered to make those experiences possible. "Holiday magic" is just a euphemism for "somebody else did it." And that somebody was often doing their day job in addition to their holiday jobs. As the year draws to a close, there's still a lot of work to be done.
It's November: Time for tradition.
Setting a Halloween horror flick in Santa Clarita would mean plenty of plot options. There are quiet, unsuspecting suburbs. Canyons brim with strange echoes and the ghosts of unlucky miners. And every retail worker knows the terror of a particularly-vicious local monster: the public. But this year, I think the most compelling narrative thread would have to be Claritans versus Mother Nature. Claritans push the limits of the natural world too far - and nature pushes wildly back. Which side will win in the long-run remains to be seen.
High summer is the most chaotic time in Santa Clarita. Already this year, emergency teams have airlifted distressed hikers in Placerita Canyon and Towsley Canyon. Several small fires have surged through the dry brush. The City of Santa Clarita organized a "Medallion Hunt" for a black and gold medallion hidden in an SCV park. Clues written in coarsely metered, rough-hewn poetry ("Again" doesn't really rhyme with "friends.") sent Claritans scrambling in search of the finder's prize, a $100 gift card. Amid all the chaotic rescuing, burning and treasure hunting, though, are reminders that we're soon returning to more disciplined times.
June 20 marks the first day of summer this year. And like any great beginning, it is also an ending. Days are shortening. Sunset on July 1 is 8:10, but it's back to 7:56 by July 31. That subtle shift was probably more noticeable in Santa Clarita circa 1921 than 2021. We don't use sunset as a dinner bell much anymore. But make no mistake: There is a little less summer light each and every day. I don't mean to bore you with a meteorology lesson. The point is, summer should be chased while it can be.
If Memorial Day really is the kick-off to summer, then summer is kicking. And thank goodness for that date on the calendar, because the other signs of summer have already been here for a while. The weather has been hot and sunny, it's been impossible to get any alone time at home and everyone has been antsy to go somewhere fun. Now that over half of adult Santa Claritans have been at least partially vaccinated, we're nearing the time when a stranger's stray cough may be regarded as merely gross rather than a Level-4 biohazard. It truly is time to start thinking about summer plans.
Just east of Santa Clarita proper sits Sweetwater Bar and Grill. The owner of the Agua Dulce watering hole recently got a call from someone claiming to work for the power company. They demanded he pay $800 to keep his lights on. Curiously, they requested that he use a cryptocurrency ATM. He complied and was then told he had to pay $6,000 more. And he did. Believe it or not, the phone calls were actually a scam (!), and now he's out a lot of cash and had to file a police report. You may be shaking your head, but the owner is not alone. In Santa Clarita, we often think we're agreeing to one thing when the reality is quite another.
For while all our lives have been changed - often with inconvenience, sometimes with unforeseen silver linings, and too frequently with tragedy - the grip may be loosening. Getting back to normal is finally underway.
After so much recent turmoil, I was delighted to see many Claritans coming together to demand fairness for all. Regardless of age, gender, race or creed, they spoke with one united voice: Empty our green waste barrels! Yes, alas, it seems a minor inconvenience in trash pick-ups was more successful at bringing Claritans together than any ideology, values or cause.
Santa Clarita can be a confusing place. Do you live in Valencia, Saugus, Santa Clarita or Awesometown? Yes. What's a cowboy festival? No one actually knows; wear some boots and you'll be fine. If Claritans say they're so busy, how come they wait an hour at the In-N-Out drive-thru? That's what they mean when they say they're so busy. What a relief it has been to not have to explain all of this to out-of-town visitors. Yet even for Claritans, life in the SCV can be bewildering. What are current events trying to tell us?
As the winter holidays approach, the virus is still very much on our minds. I expect to be feeling a lot of dread, apprehension and depression. Personally, I will avoid going into stores and crowded malls as much as possible. I won't be throwing any big, festive parties for my friends and family. So all in all, it's shaping up to be a pretty standard holiday season for me. But if this version of the holidays doesn't sit so well with you, rest assured that any extra efforts this year will be more than good enough. One string of lights over the garage? Good enough! Sitting by the fireplace in your Canyon Country home instead of a Tahoe ski lodge? Good enough! As 2020 draws to a close, good enough is great.
In Southern California, the autumn is always a little apocalyptic. Doom is in the air: smoke-reddened skies, Santa Ana winds and plenty of ragweed pollen. The fall of 2020 might be even more apocalyptic than usual since, well, you know. Unfortunately, being in such a mindset can lead to bad decisions. Why not make that pumpkin spice latte a venti when tomorrow is sure to bring some fresh new hell? But we need to snap out of it. This November, thinking long-term is essential, even if it isn't easy.
The basic principles of Africa's Serengeti and of Halloween movies are the same: Stick together and don't get singled out. You don't want to be the one wildebeest the lions separate from the herd, nor do you want to be the one girl at the party that the serial killer targets. Being looked over can be a blessing. Still, there will always come a time when we seem hand-selected to suffer. Recent events have resonated with certain Santa Claritans on an uncomfortably-personal level. Who's being singled out?
With a major election on the horizon, much unresolved social tension and tantalizing news about a possible COVID-19 vaccine, it's natural to fixate on the future. Things are rough, so we look to what lies ahead. Still, there's ample reason to take time to celebrate what we can in the here and now. Birthdays, graduations, marriages, new jobs and anniversaries haven't stopped. All around us are reminders that it's truly worth it to celebrate now - before moving on to what's next.
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