This trip took a l-o-n-g time on a Saturday; I really want to thank my wife for being supportive and letting me go out there and do my thing, which was to take the 33 Venice downtown and change to the 76, which winds its way from DTLA all the way out to Alhambra and beyond. Alhambra is east of downtown; it’s even east of East LA, so it’s way out there from my westside point of view although of course for the more than 80,000 people who live in Alhambra it is in the middle of smack dab in the middle.
One of the many things my journeying around LA has shown me is that the mountains are real. I feel kinda stoopid even saying that but when you’re just going about your business here on the westside you look out and see the mountains and they’re like, shadows. They’re there but they don’t make a big impression. Whereas, you get to these places like Valencia and Alta Dena and Alhambra where I’ve been hanging out lately and it’s like, whoa, LAS MONTAÑAS SON REALES.
Yesterday was good practice for barging in on other people’s regular weekend tennis game and making them deal with you. I tried to be low-key congenial, for example not waving my arms around nor chest-thumping, not that a sane person would do that. I will say I notice a certain keyed-up enthusiasm in my own personal attitude towards, well, everything around me, as I make the rounds. It feels like the first time I visited Europe, when I would see cobblestones and think COBBLESTONES!!! Yeah, everything in capital letters with multi-exclamation points. Riding on the bus for hours and seeing all of East LA roll past you through water-stained windows, that is very exciting, but you also have to keep it low-key because you are far from home and cannot have people receiving you as some sort of maniac.
So yeah, I just sat myself down and semi-nodded when folks made good shots, not a big emphatic nod, but rather the traveler’s friend, the barely perceptible acknowledgment, which is composed of 50 percent neutral expression plus one percent upbeat. Maybe two percent. You don’t want much more than that because then you can come across as a grinning idiot.
At the same time as you are being inconspicuous as the stranger in town can be, you also have to stand up for basic human rights, such as inquiring who’s got next. This I did super-gently, mainly by moving my stuff over the bench next to the open court. My gentility was rewarded by this person appearing in round sunglasses and an updo, saying, “Ahhhh, I was gonna give a lesson on this court?”
To which I said, “Oh, that’s fine, I’m just looking to get into a game, I don’t know anybody here so I’m not gonna be all like, ‘This is my court.'”
Which to her credit, this person treated as rational communication. We told each other our names and conversation quickly got around to how she has a lead role in King Ubu by the Actor’s Gang, which led me to say I liked the trees around that theater, which surprised her because Culver City is way far west from where we were having this discussion. Anyway she introduced me to everybody and soon enough I was on a court, warming up, and this one guy noticed I was switching hands, as in, switching my racquet to the other hand sometimes.
“Yeah, I do that,” I admitted.
He said, “So you have two forehands?”
“Well, I have the forehand and then I have this other thing,” I said, and he laughed, and I figured we were good. We started playing a set but after we won the first game this guy bowed out — so some other guy could play? We started over. I don’t know. Things happen when you’re the new guy. You have to roll with stuff when you just show up out of nowhere. I played just the one set and went on my way.
I really liked this park, though. I do want to say that. There were a couple of Little League baseball games going on, which made me happy. A couple of soccer games but also baseball games, with kids who could barely hold a bat getting walk-up music, pretty great. I heard “We are the Champions” being played on multiple fields, so that’s a lot of champions. I also saw a statue of Ralph Kiner, the fearsome slugger for the Pirates in the 50’s and the Mets color commentator when I was a little Mets fan. Sure enough: raised in Alhambra.
The crowd on Valley Boulevard in Alhambra was all outside Savoy Kitchen. I ordered smoked duck sausage pasta, even though I’d been expecting, y’know, dumplings. They had my order ready in a jiff and I toted it over to the bus stop, where I woofed it down on a bench outside iconic pastrami outlet The Hat. It was mostly Clippers fans getting their protein on, plus me and also this woebegone-looking guy in a wheelchair, who looked like he was out for whatever tidbits of pastrami might come his way.
It wasn’t so much that he was eyeing me as that I was eyeing myself as I powered down on pasta and smoked duck, yummy and piping hot. It just wasn’t going down that easily due to the imbalance of me being so footloose and fancy-free while this guy ten feet away from me looked down and out. So to make the duck go down easier I gave him a fiver and DANG ME if a) he did not actually utter the phrase “Órale” with what sure sounded like delight and then b) ARISE FROM HIS WHEELCHAIR and order a Coke.
Yessir! There’s a good deed rewarded. How often do you get to see a guy arise from his wheelchair? Pretty great. And then he got on my same bus and he let me go first so I wouldn’t have to wait.
Kiner’s Korner in Alhambra.
Like the Sojourner Truth statue in Northampton, you never know where legendary figures may arise.