It's no fun having an unattractive name. Even if you don't fit your name's stereotype, people feel obligated to relate that fact in an insulting way. For example: "You're so skinny for a Bertha!" or "It's too bad your parents named you after your Uncle Herbert." But it's not just our personal names that matter. Think of how liberally local real estate agents and businesses define the boundaries of "Valencia," that name with such cachet. Names matter because they're more than just labels. Names are meaningful, evocative parts of what something or someone is. For clarity in the local news, think names.
Santa Clarita has a website for everything. Among them are votesantaclarita.com, worksantaclarita.com, greensantaclarita.com and even filmsantaclarita.com. Stopitalreadysantaclarita.com is not too far off, I hope. One of the more pleasing additions to the list, however, is hikesantaclarita.com, which maps our extensive trail networks and directs people to trailheads that can be tricky to find. The site includes photos taken by motion-triggered trail cameras of gray foxes, bobcats and other wildlife cavorting through the hills. Before summer heat takes hold, you may want to get in a little cavorting through nature yourself. It's May, and we're all thinking about the great outdoors.
We're distrustful of anything that comes too easily, the stuff people are giving away for free. This is especially true of information. Take online dating. The information you offer is fine, but the hidden details, the inside scoop - why are you 40 and single? how recent is that photo? - are so much more valuable. It's the same with the news. Leaked memos are going to tell more than carefully-constructed press releases. We want to know exactly what you don't want us to know, that's all. It could be said that we have a lust for knowledge, but I think it's more a fear of ignorance. Nobody likes to be caught off guard.
Santa Clarita hosts plenty of big names. This is particularly true in the vampire arena. Bits of Clarita were filmed for scenes in the "Twilight" saga and HBO's "True Blood"... "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (the TV series) if you want to go way back. Taylor Lautner of "Twilight," Michael Trevino of "The Vampire Diaries" and Kristy Swanson of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (the movie) have lived or now live in the SCV. We're a veritable bloodbath of vampirism. We have other celebrities, too. The Performing Arts Center is featuring Dionne Warwick and Anthony Bourdain in 2012, and we'll doubtless have Olympians this summer along with plenty of professional athletes to cheer for.
My friend works at a local high school and has seen it all - drugs, fights, salacious rumors, clueless parents... She's gotten used to that. But the thing she still finds shocking is how freely kids offer up the most personal and private details of their lives. There's a widespread devaluation of discretion.
I'm all in favor of New Year's Resolutions. For example, I think a lot of you could stand to improve yourselves. I'm not talking about losing weight. The world isn't much better or worse if you weigh 120 pounds or 520 pounds. No, a resolution to make things better for those of us who have to deal with you is what's in order. If everyone in Santa Clarita thought, for just one moment, "Hmm, how can I make myself less annoying to my fellow Claritans?" then Awesometown would grow awesomer yet.
You might start by becoming a better driver. (Slow down.) You could become a better restaurant-goer (Get a sitter - and leave a nice tip!) To goad you into self-improvement, let's now turn our attention towards the SCV news that makes us think about what we can do better.
Assuming you're old enough, do you remember your 24th birthday? No? Then there's precious little chance that you'll be remembering Santa Clarita's 24th b-day this December 15, either. It's a day that will come and go with a polite note in The Signal and perhaps a mass e-mail if you happen to work at city hall. We'll get to the much more impressive Quadranscentennial in 2012. (I consulted Wikipedia on the suspicion that a word for so auspicious an anniversary should exist: it does.).
But let's not be too hasty in looking ahead. Here is a glimpse around town this holiday season and a look back at the year that was.
The unusual thing about Thanksgiving is that it's unusual. Sitting down with respectably-dressed family members at a well-furnished table and expressing gratitude for our blessings might just be a once- or twice-a-year event these days. I don't think the problem is that we've grown apart as families but that we've grown too close. Everyone's so comfortable and chummy around each other that our expectations are pretty minimal. We could eat together all the time, but we know what everyone else is doing anyways. We could dress for dinner like we would if we were heading out to dine with friends, but sweatpants are so much easier. It's not until extended family comes around at Thanksgiving that we bother putting out much effort.
When Apple opened a store at The Patios this July, it was greeted by literally hundreds of adoring fans and customers. People were eager to browse iPhones; the big iPhones, called iPads; or the iPhones that do everything but make calls, called iPods. But mostly, they were just there to geek out with fellow Apple devotees. And it's not just a morning spent waiting in line and hard-earned cash that people are willing to give up to Apple. In the Wall Street Journal's menacingly titled "What They Know" series, journalists describe how frequently and precisely location data is collected by companies like Microsoft, Google, and yes, even Apple.
National media exposure for Santa Clarita is rare. Most recently, it came with Jamie Oliver's "Food Revolution." Oliver wanted to improve local school lunches as part of his reality-TV program. He discussed possibilities with SCV School Food Services Agency CAO, Pavel Matustik. Things didn't go so well for Oliver, who wasn't afforded access to Claritan schools. "My Board of Directors got scared of you... People are running scared, they worry about negative publicity," explained Matustik. And things didn't go so well for Matustik, either, whose appearance was later ridiculed on "The Soup."
The City of Santa Clarita is in the business of pleasing people. Pleased people make better residents - they're neighborly, don't commit crimes and choose to re-elect incumbents at local elections. When things are going well, when we're pleased with our lives, we don't rock the boat.
At some point we have to give up on the idea of a fresh start, understand we must make do when we can't have a do-over. It's not always a pleasant realization.
I have been searching out books to read for the I Heart SCV Book Club (total membership: one). I went after the low-hanging fruit first: John Boston's long-out-of-print novel, Naked Came the Sasquatch; John Boessenecker's Bandido, the biography of semi-legendary outlaw Tiburcio Vasquez; and Newhall, Maggi Perkins' contribution to the Images of America series. For some reason, there just aren't as many books written about Santa Clarita as, say, New York or Rome.
This is shaping up to be the year of four seasons. With actual snow in January (and almost-snow in late February!) to mark winter, spring seems all the springier. We look at the world with new eyes.
I stumbled across a photo from the late '80s. It's a sign proclaiming "Future Site of Canyon Country Park: The First Park Built in the City of Santa Clarita." Since then, it's as if Canyon Country has been punished, the park being pretty much the only "first" the area ever received. It was second to get a library, second to get a COC campus, even second to get a Target and a Wal-Mart. Canyon Country residents are an admirable lot, getting by on so little with their famous stoicism.
February, according to my sister, is the worst of all possible months. We spend the entire fall sedated by Halloween candy, Thanksgiving smorgasbord, leftovers, holiday cocktails, Christmas cookies and New Year's champagne. Work beckons less urgently than other times of the year. Family and friends not only surround us but shower us with gifts and warmth. Then, quite suddenly, we awaken on January second fat, alone and miserable. This desperation triggers New Year's resolutions, which last a few weeks but invariably amount to naught. Finally, we arrive at February and awaken not only fat, alone and miserable, but also depressed by the realization that we are utterly incapable of changing any of those realities.
Whenever I flew during college, my ticket was always flagged. I would try to do the self check-in and was invariably directed to the ticket counter, where people would have to type in codes or call supervisors. Being neither a drug runner, terrorist, felon - nor any combination thereof - I found this perplexing. I'm a pro-SCV extremist, but since when is that a crime?
Those of us who live in the 'burbs are rarely shown in our best light. Suburbanites on TV dramas or real-housewife-esque reality shows are usually portrayed as conformity-loving, materialistic, petty and superficial - as if the rest of humanity wasn't. But it's the conformity that people fixate on. Neighborhoods are a collection of the same houses filled with the same sorts of people who have the same interests and run in the same crowds.
We all have ideas about the way the world should work. But others have ideas, too, and they're different than ours, and thus, we have the world as we know it. For many, this is simply unacceptable. Political types especially are always pushing to make places, laws and society align more closely with their ideas of perfection. Witness the race for California senator or governor - any political race, for that matter. Each candidate is selling a vision for a brighter future; each wants a chance to make their ideals our reality. Though we don't have any major local races this Election Day, Santa Clarita's leaders are showing the same ambition and idealism found on the campaign trail. The trouble is that different, at times opposing, ideas for a more perfect SCV are now colliding.
"Trick or treat?" makes for a rather nasty greeting. It's an ultimatum. Either treats will be given by the homeowner or the snubbed children will get their revenge with trickery. But growing up, I was more worried about tricks that might be played on me. It probably had a lot to do with my mom's insistence on checking every piece of Halloween candy.