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If you're reading this, home for the holidays most likely means staying in Santa Clarita. And with 8 percent mortgage rates for the foreseeable future, it's probably going to remain home for a very long time. Everything is expensive. Inflation has slowed substantially, but prices for everything from a festive peppermint mocha to a festive holiday divorce are up. Perhaps that's why so many headlines relating to all things money have been popping up. Everyone is watching their spending as we welcome the most wonderful, most expensive, time of the year.
I'd venture that Santa Clarita has more Thanksgiving guests coming than going - a net importer, if you will. With nearly perfect November weather, a couple of nearby airports and many homes built for hosting, we've got plenty of things going for us. Unfortunately, hospitality isn't one of them. Your guests will probably be tail-gated, brake-checked, and/or flipped-off while driving to your home. We could all do with a little more civility. Keep a watchful eye on our local news and you'll see that it's full of reminders about hospitality dos and don'ts for the fall.
Santa Clarita doesn't need to wait for Halloween to have horror stories. Since the last column, there was an attempted pitchfork attack at a Home Depot. An arrest followed, and luckily, injuries weren't reported. A Valencia woman was arrested in connection with suspected human trafficking that involved her massage parlor. The very unpleasant smells from Chiquita Canyon Landfill continued long enough to prompt over 1,000 complaints from the public. Plenty of great stuff has happened over the same period - football games, community charity events and the return of pumpkin spice lattes. But there's no denying that beyond our front doors, troubling stories have unfolded.
If we set aside all the business about apparent UFO disclosure in Congress, the rancor of American politics and artificial intelligence poised to change everything, there's really not a whole lot going on in the world. Such is summer. Santa Claritans are busy doing nothing. Even the city council nixes some meetings. It's a good time for us to catch up on the goings-on in the outskirts of the Santa Clarita Valley, those out-of-the-way spots that are a little bit city and a little bit country. Where neighborhoods meet wilderness, it can be hard to tell who's pushing whom.
If you want to know who has ever seen "Midsommar," wear a flower crown for the summer solstice. The people running away are the ones who watched it. I'm not proposing grim pagan rituals for Santa Clarita this summer; far from it. But I think the film was onto something in acknowledging that people get all kinds of weird, primal, frenzied energy in this sunniest season. Even if the chaos can't be contained, at least traditions can help channel it. This is why humanity invented summer camp. As Santa Clarita settles in for a long summer, the familiar rites reappear.
At the SCV's farmers markets, it's easy to look at the mounds of vegetables and think, "Hmm, I could do that." You are wrong, especially at this time of year. Apart from some cherry tomatoes and citrus, Clarita's homeowners rarely succeed in the endeavor of urban farming. The sun annihilates life, or your dog tramples your veggies or the HOA fines you $300 for an unauthorized eggplant. Luckily, we have found other ways to feed ourselves. And with all of the summer barbecues, weddings and long lazy dinners that lie ahead, it's worth thinking about what we'll be putting into our collective stomachs.
What you think of Santa Clarita depends on where you live. Outside of Southern California, Santa Clarita's reputation hinges on knowledge of Magic Mountain or Drew Barrymore's short-lived zombie series. If popular SCV-based Insta accounts are to be believed, Santa Clarita's self-determined reputation is a valley subsisting entirely on fast food chicken chains and Starbucks. Fair enough. Lately, though, some of the SCV's reputations may be coming into question.
I've been impressed with ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence app that lets you ask almost anything. Naturally, I asked Chat GPT what Santa Clarita would be like if it were personified into a 35-year-old woman named Clare. The first answer sounded like something from City spokesperson Carrie Lujan: Clare would be a business woman who loved her family and hiking. After five minutes' further coaching and cajoling, though, ChatGPT revealed that Clare was exhausted and screamed into her pillow when life got tough. Better. Clearly, the app's character-building functions are imperfect, but building technology or anything else is always tough. The lesson is borne out by many of the SCV's recent headlines.
Hear the words "March," "gold" and "luck," and you'll probably think of St. Patrick's Day. But you'd be mistaken. True Claritans will think of their hometown origin story. That's because on March 9 some 181 years ago, in our very own Placerita Canyon, Francisco Lopez had the luck to dig up wild onions with gold clinging to their roots. This started a mini gold rush and spawned who-knows-how-many dreams of striking it rich. Of course, most gold miners didn't share his good fortune. More often than not, a rich reward only comes after a lot of effort and struggle.
Though we've only had a few weeks to try it on for size, 2023 is different than 2022. Keenly observant astronomers note that the moon moves almost two inches farther away from the Earth with each passing year. Keenly observant
demographers estimate that 2023 is the first year to begin with over 8 billion people on Earth. And keenly observant Santa Claritans have noticed that new restaurant down the street that's been open for months now; maybe it's time to try it. We all notice different things. Between the picture that was 2022 and the picture that is 2023, here's what has shifted.
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.
The best part about Election Day is knowing that all the calls, all the requests for money, all the signs, all the mailers, all the self-righteous social media posts, all of it, really, is coming to an end. Unfortunately, the reprieve is short-lived. Mere weeks later comes Thanksgiving, when politics at the dinner table can be even more heated than on Election Day - and more high-stakes, too. Do you still get pumpkin pie if you disagree with Aunt Olivia's opinions about the president? Like it or not, November is inescapably political.
There's a very specific moment on the Claritan calendar between summer and fall. For some, it happens at Green Thumb Nursery in Old Town Newhall. You're buying mulch to reduce the impacts of the newest drought on your landscaping - and then you see the Halloween stuff. For others, it happens at Refined Vintage Boutique. You're buying a giant platter to showcase your corn-tomato-basil "it's all from the farmers' market" salad. And then you see, yes, the Halloween stuff. Whatever the venue, the realization that the year is mostly over hits like a knockout punch. But after reeling from the initial shock, there's a great chance to reflect. What can and needs to get done before 2022 is over?
Scientists say that, if you were approaching a black hole, the immense gravity would make time seem to slow down, stretching on and on. A similar phenomenon can be experienced while driving from Santa Clarita to the beach. It doesn't matter the beach or the day or the time. The quintessential summer drive takes forever, plus or minus an hour, even though we objectively know the great Pacific really isn't that far away. Maybe it's not such a bad thing. At this time of year, as summer is rapidly coming to an end, it's nice to have moments where summer seems to linger on.
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?
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