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You can learn a lot about a town by its favorite vices. Santa Claritans seem to favor restaurants with long wine lists over honest-to-goodness bars. There are no medical marijuana dispensaries, but plenty of shops sell the accoutrements. No strip clubs beckon, but there are several massage joints that might be offering more than back rubs. We like to keep our indulgences politely out of the public eye, it seems. Still, our lesser moments have a way of not staying hidden for long. Vice is here and here to stay.
Santa Clarita is a confusing place. Our roads teem with BMWs and Mercedes while our strip malls brim with Walmarts and Dollar Trees. The same fridge might contain groceries from Whole Foods, Ralph's and Target. We splurge here and skimp there, hoping it all works out. Unfortunately, there's very little logic when it comes to what we're willing to spend a little extra money on. The question of whether Claritans will pay more to get more is weighing heavily on the minds of many, and the answer will shape our valley for years to come.
Santa Clarita in August is a uniquely miserable experience. It's not just the heat - it gets hot plenty of places. It's the fact that you have to live the exact same 102-degree day and 70-degree night 31 times in a row. Finding distraction becomes essential in the face of such repetitive discomfort. So, dear reader, here are some tales of distraction with which you might distract yourself. Just don't lose too much focus, OK?
Billions of human beings have lived and died before us, but you'd be hard pressed to recall more than a few hundred by name. Our minds simply don't have room for all of them. Being forgotten bothers some people, and that's what legacies are for. We want to know that a little piece of ourselves will live on in the world we leave behind. It's a little vain, but then so too are most Claritans. Perhaps that's why talk of legacies is making the local news.
Laws are pretty good at regulating our behavior, but sometimes shame does an even better job. Take the brown-is-the-new-green trend we're seeing with lawns. It's still perfectly legal to water your grass, just not enough for it to look good. You'll start getting glares from the neighbors when yours is pristine green and theirs is full of brown patches. They're the same kind of glares you receive when you don't pitch in enough to cover your share of a restaurant bill or when you cut in line for the freeway onramp. It's a law of human nature, at least in Santa Clarita: If we suffer, everybody else should, too.
A church fish fry recently made the front page of The Signal. Yes, Lenten dinner was one of the top stories in a valley of a quarter-million people. It's all too easy to assume that the rest of our local news is just as quaint, but this is certainly not the case. In addition to battered cod, 2015 has seen murder, school scandals and unprecedented citizen-driven movements in the SCV. These stories are few and far between, but they happen. And that's the problem with the news in Santa Clarita: it's boring until it's not. The only solution is to suck it up, scan all the news sites and repeat daily. That plan might not be entirely realistic, but it's clear that the current state of news consumption leaves much to be desired.
Visit the City of Santa Clarita's website, and you'll find a very prominent banner proclaiming "Santa Clarita Named Number Three Safest City in America." In this case, the ranking was bestowed by Parenting magazine, but the source doesn't matter much - Santa Clarita is happy to take an accolade from anyone.
Santa Clarita is the great compromise of Southern California living. You can enjoy the beach, but it's an hour's drive away, not a flip-flopped stroll. You can lay out in the summer sun, but it'll be 105 degrees, not 79. Santa Clarita, in sum, really excels at almost giving people what they want.
Every year, The Signal comes out with its guide to the SCV's biggest and brightest holiday light displays. North of Newhall Ranch Road, there are spots where whole streets shine in spectacular excess. Christmas lights stretch rooftop to rooftop and themed decorations adorn all the lawns. One neighbor dresses as Santa, another DJs Christmas music, still others pass out candy canes to bundled up kids. I've never lived in one of these communities, and for this, I am truly grateful.
Why isn't local politics followed as closely as football? Scratch that: why isn't local politics followed more closely than football? LA has no NFL team to get invested in, but Santa Clarita has a homegrown government made up of people you actually know. If your team wins or loses, you're amped or bummed - that's it. But depending on which politicians get elected, laws and taxes and things that actually affect your life are at stake. The most important difference, though, is that unless you're a coach or an owner, you can't do a whole lot to impact professional football. But this November, whether you're a teacher or a CEO or just some random bro who likes to fill in bubbles on official ballots, you'll have a direct say in our local political future.
Santa Clarita is home to Fox's "Utopia." It's a year-long, $50-million-plus reality series about 15 strangers creating a new society. The show takes place on a five-acre ranch in the SCV complete with a lake, cows, chickens and 100 cameras streaming the Utopians' every move. It's lovely that Fox recognized Santa Clarita as the closest thing to a utopian paradise we have on earth, but I wonder if our fair valley deserves the reputation in light of certain recent events. Is there more danger than we'd expect in paradise?
These days, more Santa Claritans are employed, there's a better real estate market and the excuse "in this economy" seems to be losing some of its punch. Most families still aren't rolling in tons of extra cash, but there's enough to see that the basics are covered. You needn't survive on home-brewed lattes or deny yourself annual phone upgrades any longer. Austerity is out. Still, the recession packed a wallop, and we're all searching for reassuring signs that the local and global economies really are getting back on their feet. If you look around the SCV, I think there's reason to be optimistic.
Santa Clarita is big enough that most SoCalers have heard of it. But I wonder what image, exactly, jumps into their mind at mention of the name (barring the obvious choice of Six Flags). Say Santa Monica and you picture the pier, say Westwood and you envision the drive down Wilshire Boulevard. What about Santa Clarita? There's a mall that looks like most other malls, homes that look like most other homes and schools that look like most other schools. As we continue to grow, it's hard to tell whether Santa Clarita is coming into its own or just looking more and more like everyplace else. I hope it's the former, because we're not very good at trying to be something we're not.
Taking up important causes is smart - the bigger, the better. It's smart because no one actually expects you to fix everything. It's enough to fundraise, start dialogues, shine light on the issue, or work doing any of those other semi-productive cliches. Expectations may be minimal, but that's not to say championing a cause is easy work. The successful cause promoter requires lots of friends -preferably with lots of money - and she must endure lots of their events so they'll come to hers. It can be exhausting. But sometimes, amidst all the modest expectations and relentless networking, the cause crowd gets things done. Here in the SCV, we're never at a loss for causes nor the people working to resolve them.
Bob Kellar seems comfortable in the mayor's seat. His recent appointment wasn't much of a surprise - a letter from Mayor Kellar appeared on the city's website days before the vote to actually make him mayor (It was taken down once an SCV Facebook group noted the premature timing.).
If you're reading this installment in January of 2013, I extend my condolences. Your readership means the Maya-predicted apocalypse was a bust. The peak in the sun's activity cycle has not unleashed radiation to destroy our infrastructure and we've avoided a complete financial meltdown. All of this is unfortunate, for when the world doesn't end, there is no escape from the drudgery of day-to-day living. And if you're like one of those people on Doomsday Preppers, you now have 800 pounds of dehydrated food lying around. Most crucially, instead of starting from scratch, we're left to start this new year from the status quo.
Thank goodness the 16th of December is a Sunday, because you'll need it to sleep off all the partying you've done on the 15th.
December 15, of course, is every Claritan's favorite holiday: the Anniversary of Cityhood. And this year, it's not just any anniversary but
our 25th! That's right, 25 years ago, Santa Clarita went from being that blob of houses between the freeways to an official city.
To celebrate, you should plan to drink a lot, eat way too much, pass out, and wake up wondering what happened. This course of
action works whether you want to celebrate the SCV or are utterly depressed about living here, but hopefully, it's the former.
Children are brimming with potential. The child scribbling with crayons is a potential Picasso; the one pulling wings off flies, a potential serial killer. Potential simply abounds in youth. Slowly, however, our possibilities become fewer. First to go are opportunities to be an athlete. Then go college options, then career options, then romantic options, then retirement options, and then, eventually, the only options left are what to have for dinner and which kid inherits the antique clock. But while your personal possibilities are diminishing, this month brims with potential and decisions that will shape the Santa Clarita of 2013 and beyond. Your future path may be locked in, but Santa Clarita's isn't.
It's a red flag when someone claims Halloween as their favorite holiday - well, anyone over trick-or-treating age. There just isn't a lot of substance to it. The build-up to Halloween consists of putting together a costume, the ornate butchery of large orange squash and buying candy. When the night arrives, you either take children on a long walk or go to a party. Unless I've been doing it wrong all these years, that's about it. If I had to guess, though, the air of unpredictability is what Halloween lovers crave. The costumes, haunted houses and nighttime spectacle are open to twists and possibilities both thrilling and terrifying. It's the unknown we eagerly embrace on Halloween, a notable exception to how we feel about it the rest of the year.
If only everything were as easy as physics. There's something appealing about being able to describe events with its cold, clinical, knowing precision. A star weighing "x" exerts a gravitational force of "y"... if "x" gets bigger, so too does "y;" if "x" gets smaller, then "y" shrinks in kind. It's all rather tidy. While orderly equations may suffice for physics, though, they're woefully inadequate when it comes to describing the course of human events. Cause and effect just aren't always proportional. We think a little, trivial mistake like leaving the toaster oven on should have a little, trivial consequence - but instead the house burns down. Small causes can have big effects and vice versa, which is to say: We're largely clueless when it comes to predicting the consequences of our actions. The cause-effect mismatch is a perennial source of frustration, as seen around town.
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