#65 Ruben Salazar Park, East LA

“I’m 61!” I yelled to my partner, a friendly out-of-towner generous enough to open not one but three cans of balls. He was heading home soon and had extra, having not connected with the LA tennis scene as much as he had hoped. But I was there for him and he was there for me and so we frolicked, playing a point that had me sprinting every which way — sprinting, lunging and grunting too, that last little bit of grunt, just enough to get the ball over one more time.

Such joy to be keeping it going on a court in the least good condition of any of that I’ve played on so far. Frayed net, sagging cord, no strap. Surface pitted, a chunk removed, like a single piece missing from a jigsaw puzzle. Nevertheless: joy.

Ruben Salazar Park has a vivid community vibe, with people playing both outdoor and indoor basketball and middle-to-older age folks working out on the exercise equipment ringing the park along with a crown of palm trees.

I liked that the community buildings looked nothing-to-see-here beige from the back but were exuberantly multi-colored and La Raza mural’d from the front. It all depends on how you look at it.

Which reminds me of the umbrage I took at my otherwise affable partner’s comment when he took a bathroom break near the end of the first set. Bathroom breaks are fine; what he said about the neighborhood struck me as not okay. Something about danger. It does not bear repeating. Suffice it to say that afterward I affably suspended my usual rule about easing up against the weaker opponent.

Then I dug in at Antojitos Vicky with a carne asada plate, mmmm-good with a generous heap of nopalito and green onion, washed down with a tankard of pineapple licuado. Sweet!

I had been on quest-break for a couple of weeks to go experience Winter on the East Coast. I loved being there and I also loved being back in LA, free to wonder and wander along a stretch of Whittier Boulevard tucked in on all sides between cemeteries.

Despite death being everywhere, this neighborhood struck me as life-affirming, what with the many little kids zipping around on scooters and all the banda music blasting out of Chevy Silverado windows and boomboxes toted by musically generous pedestrians. Drawn in by the fantastic mural at Herbs of Mexico, I consulted with a curandera in a black dress and black mask. I gratefully purchased a bottle of digestive pills fragrant even through their gelatin shell of mint and anis.

Sadly, the way home from this exuberant outing was not so Up with People. A passenger up near the front of the 18 bus announced “Three killed four injured in Beverly Glen shooting.”

“What, this Beverly Glen right here?” the bus driver replied. The passenger confirmed yes, the Beverly Glen near Beverly Hills.

The bus driver said in that shock of it-could-have-been-me, “I was just driving that route last night.”

I was about to say almost the same thing. The last time I hunkered down for major post-tennis devouring of local fare was at Kimkee Noodle House on Garvey Avenue in Monterey Park. I have been playing lots of tennis in Monterey Park, so much so that I have a Monterey Park library card attached to my keychain. I checked out a book to learn about how Monterey Park became the country’s first predominantly Asian-American suburb and learned that back in the mid-60s, a white landlord was happy to rent an apartment to a Chinese family looking to upgrade from Chinatown to Monterey Park. One person, making a difference.

I returned the book and got dinner on Christmas Day with my wife and daughter on the same block of Garvey Avenue in Monterey Park as the dance studio. On the same side of the street.

So it felt more-than-usually awful to hear about the shooting.

It still does.

It’s horrible.

It makes me feel like, what’s the use.

But even though I have that feeling, I’m just gonna let it be and keep on playing everywhere with everyone.

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