Mayberry, L.A.

When people think of Los Angeles, they probably envision endless miles of concrete, infinite strip malls that test the definitions of beige, and a Kardashian snapping a selfie on every corner.

MonroviaBut if you ever get lost on the 210 Freeway, and take an off-ramp with the hopes of finding not only your way, but your direction in life, you just might find yourself driving down the quaint old-fashioned main streets of Monrovia, South Pasadena or Montrose.

Holy crap, these are three of the most adorable, sickeningly cute places the Great Southern California Basin has to offer. These three different cities, just a few miles apart, look like they came straight out of a Central Casting listing for The Most Perfect Small Town circa the 1950’s.

Gaze down each of these main streets and they will appear in sepia tones. All three have the same old-timey, old town-y shopping districts that just make you want to say, “Golly gosh” and “gee whiz.”  Maybe even a “jeepers.”  Single lanes of traffic move at idle speed down the main streets decorated with old-fashioned light fixtures, neat old benches and earthquake unsafe brick facades.

They are Leave It To Beaver cute and, as you stroll along the quaint and darling storefronts, you can almost hear the whistling from the Andy Griffith Show echoing off the brick walls and squeaky-clean sidewalks.

MontroseBowlFilm companies cannot resist shooting in any of these three halcyon landmarks.  Sometimes the production starts off trying to film at the beach or in an Irvine Dave & Busters, but suddenly, like drawn by a cinematic tractor beam, the entire crew ends up gathered out front of the infinitely photogenic Montrose Bowl, with the deco front and all of six adorable lanes inside. It hasn’t been open to the public for years, but boy does it look good in the background of a car commercial.

Downtown Monrovia?  That place is so damned cute it makes me want to grab a brick covered building, pinch the corner of it, and say through extended lips in a baby-talk voice, “You’re so cute!  Yes you are!  Oh, who’s the cutest building in the San Gabriel Valley, hmmmm?  That’s right, you are!”

SoPasAnd South Pasadena?  Puh-leeeze.  Oozing delightful sticky charm.  Ice cream shops, diners, barber shops, newsstands, even an old-fashioned hardware store just cry out for you to roll a pack of cigarettes up in your short-sleeved white t-shirt and grab your best gal and grab a burger before going to the sock hop.

And if that isn’t enough for ‘ya, drive a little farther, closer to the mountains, and discover the precious cuddliness of Altadena, home of a street actually called “Christmas Tree Lane.” Every year the residents string lights on the Deodars in a scene of Americana so sweet it will spontaneously trigger your insulin pump.

Growing up in not-so-cute-at-the-time San Carlos, in Northern California, we were tossed out of the house and told to go run around in gullies and culverts and drain pipes until my Mom blew her police whistle to signal dinner, not in beautiful parks with thousand year old wisteria vines covering the picnic pergolas like kids enjoy in perfect Altadena.

We played in oncoming traffic, dodging giant rumbling Royal Monaco station wagons that belched high-octane rich mixtures, driven by chain-smoking, baby-sitting co-op moms, and most definitely not in the center of angelic Mayberry neighborhoods where all the helicopter parents could see all the kids playing perfectly together on the perfect meticulously manicured lawns.

I have to confess:  these towns make me a little sick-y.  So much perfection.  So little litter.  And to top it off, a couple times a day, like a regularly scheduled Disney Main Street Parade, flocks of allegedly “wild” parrots fly through the neighborhoods, squawking and parroting and drawing all sorts of attention to the Stepford perfection.  So cute my adorable levels redline.

FalconI think that is why I took particular glee, the other day, as I watched one of our local film crews bring a falcon into South Pasadena to chase off the parrots.  That way they could actually record their actors talking.  Sort of nature’s way of inserting the gritty predator-prey food chain reality into the Disney-liked facade of South Pasmont-roviadena.

“Trent, Muffy, Kendall!  Stop giggling and playing badminton perfectly and look at the pretty parrots and their babies — oh sweet mother of God, is that a falcon?  Son of a bitch!  Run!  Run for your lives!”

Now I’m giggling . . .

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14 thoughts on “Mayberry, L.A.”

  1. I’ve been to south Pasadena and it really is adorable in a kind of disgusting way. I’m glad there are parts of L.A. that are still somewhat normal. I feel so inadequate whenever I go there!

    1. Adorable and disgusting. Normal and inadequate. You have captured the Southern California experience.

      But I will tell you this secret – and you mustn’t let any Angelinos know that you know – we all feel inadequate when you come here. So hold your head high, woman!

  2. I grew up in a cute small town like that, which is why I love New York City so much!

  3. Oh, that bowling alley rocks. Too bad it’s not open. The tore down the one near me to build condos. At least the exterior of yours is alive. Luv these places.

    1. It is so much fun inside. But you have to rent it for a private party to be able to bowl a few lines.

      Maybe you should bring your ball to one of the condos some night and barge right in. Spray your shoes, grab a scoresheet and pencil, and watch the homeowners run for safety.

  4. Sounds like my kinda place! Where I grew up on one side of the tracks – the girls were named Buffy, Muffy, Trixie and Poppy. Everything was pink and green and the inbred population spoke with their teeth together alla Thurston Howell III and they (God forbid) never held a job if they didn’t have to. On the other side were the bad boys with the motorcycles, a tattoo (which in those days was majorly foreboden and labeled you totally renegade) and the girls with tons of makeup, mini skirts up to their belly buttons and DYED HAIR!! Slice of mid century American life – sounds like Pasadena might still be living it. Love it or not, ya gotta love that it still exists. That’s America.

  5. Human natural predators for those overcome with the nostalgia of the 1950’s are punks in leather jackets with duck tail haircuts and a few John Birchers attacking the offices of the local ACLU.

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