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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.
The sheer number of numbers these days is, well, numbing. Countdown to election. Polling percentage points. COVID-19 cases. Days since shutdown or re-opening. Unemployment rates. Policing statistics. Dow Jones Industrial Average. Magnitudes of all those little California earthquakes that seem to be hinting at something larger on the way. Acres burned in wildfires. New school schedules and hours. Cost of a Zoom subscription. It all begs the questions: Which numbers actually "count?" (Pardon the cuteness.) That's what we've been grappling with as a community, and it's more important than ever that we get the answer right.
There's nothing like a natural disaster to make you realize that only Southern Californians know SoCal geography. Do you remember those earthquakes in July of last year? Concerned calls and texts came pouring in from thoughtful friends who didn't quite grasp how far Ridgecrest was from Santa Clarita. The same thing happens anytime there's a fire in LA or a mudslide on the coast (you're kind of close to the beach, aren't you?). Even Santa Clarita is big enough that, for most every event, there's some particular hotspot where the real news is being made.
The primary effects of COVID-19 are now well known: fever, dry cough, shortness of breath. The secondary effects on us and our world are much more varied. For example, "Bad Boys for Life" might end up being the top film of the year based on global box office receipts. This inexplicable distinction is owed to the movie's release date: It was in theaters when going to the movies was still a thing. It's just one of the surprising consequences of the pandemic, and there are plenty more close to home.
There's really only one story that matters these dark days, and of course, it's who is going to win the Little Miss SCV 2020 Pageant. Oops, wrong timeline. Rather, all we have to talk about these days is the confusing, widespread, deadly COVID-19 coronavirus. Usually, crime and politics are the bread and butter of the local news, but lately, arrests have been down and political campaigns have been muted. Everyone is focused on our rapidly changing world and what it means for them, their loved ones and their livelihood. When you're in a pandemic, that's what you talk about.
We're all a bit like a 16-year-old, blind and deaf, six-and-a-half pound poodle named Porschia. This winter, helpless little Porschia was attacked by a hawk in her Pennsylvania yard. Her owner searched frantically after the bird swooped in and carried the pup off, but to no avail. Miraculously, Porschia was later found alive, dropped some four blocks away. She was reunited with her overjoyed owner after surviving an attacker she neither saw nor heard coming. The moral of the story? We're oblivious to so many threats around us, often just getting by thanks to sheer luck and cosmic grace.
One of the most efficient ways to get to know your fellow Claritans is by noticing what they count. The friend who counts reps and personal records is in a very different place than the friend who counts calories and daily steps. Likewise, the friend who counts each penny and budgets every purchase is a very different person than the friend who pulls out a credit card and hopes for the best. This March, amid counting clover leaves and pints of green beer, you'll find plenty of other reasons to think about counting all the things that really count for us.
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