I spent an hour - maybe hours, who's counting? - on YouTube trying to find the most unambiguously pleasant, earnest, likable videos in existence. I found three strong contenders: the Indianapolis Children's Choir singing "Let There Be Peace on Earth," one of a baby horse taking its first wobbly steps, and inspirational highlights from the Special Olympics. While all received an overwhelming number of thumbs-up, none managed to avoid some thumbs-down as well. Indeed, more than one person watched an angelic children's choir sing for peace, then thought "Eh, not really my thing. Thumbs-down." While you probably think the people who do this are immature kids or miserable old internet trolls, I appreciate their spirit. It's reassuring, in a way, to know that there's always someone pushing back, playing devil's advocate and challenging prevailing opinion... even in Santa Clarita.
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.
Traditionally, there have been two paths to immortality: religion or getting your name in Guinness World Records. Santa Claritans have banded together for two attempts at the latter this year. First, the world's biggest drum circle assembled at College of the Canyons. Mostly students, the goal of their drumming was to draw attention to arts, education and under-appreciated percussive instruments. The other record was tackled at Academy Swim Club, where three dozen kids participated in an international attempt to hold the largest, simultaneous swim lesson. Both records brought people together to make something that lasts... at least through one edition of the record book. It's a good lesson on the balance between cooperation and competition for those Claritans trying to build their own lasting legacies.
Dr. Tali Sharot, a psychologist who studies optimism, has said that our favorite three days of the week are Saturday, Friday and Sunday - in that order. Even though most of us work Fridays and have Sundays off, she explained that anticipation is the reason we prefer Friday. You get to enjoy thoughts of the weekend while, on Sunday, you have to brace yourself to answer the question "How was your weekend?" for people who don't care, and then return the question out of politeness, even though you don't really care either. Future dread spoils Sundays.
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.