A Walk Through Burbank In the Time of Plague

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I went on a walk a few weekends ago to my favorite thrift shop during the plague. I know it’s not really a plague. But it feels like it. It was the weekend of my birthday and I was now [cough, cough, hack, barf] years old. No, I didn’t turn 15, although I know I sound like I did. Burbank, California used to be a small town nobody cared about back in the days that Johnny Carson made fun of it. Not so anymore. It’s crowded, trafficky, houses and rents are unaffordable.

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I read somewhere once that Burbank was the headquarters for the KKK back in the day, but now I think they were referring to nearby areas like Glendale where the American Nazi Party set up camp and where a prominent KKK leader lived. Sadly, Glendale, along with Culver City, which once billed itself as “The Heart of Screenland,” both used to be sundown towns.

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By the time my husband and I moved here in 1999, all that was changing but still not quite changed. I vividly recall going into a neighborhood coffee shop called Frank’s (which is now closed but often used as a set for movies). An elderly gentleman at the counter glanced up from his newspaper, did a double take, locked eyes on my husband and would not stop staring at him the entire time we were there. We were amazed that he didn’t keel over. The force of his anger could have powered a small city for a week.

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On my birthday walk through the neighborhood, though, some [cough hack choke] years later, none of that was happening. Of course, being mixed race, I’m not as obvious a “target” as my husband, and anyway, Burbank is a more inclusive environment these days.

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Some familiar sights were ahead. I knew where the section of sidewalk was where the big red ants lived and remembered to lift my skirt up as I walked past.

The house where the man sat meditating on the front lawn was coming up and, yeah, there he was. Except this time his eyes weren’t closed. They were open above his mask and as I passed he raised a hand in hello, which I took as a positive omen. Of what? Who knows. All I know is he was always deep in meditation the other times but this time we actually made eye contact and had non-verbal communication.

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The Presbyterian church that often had interesting messages posted on its billboard outside was ahead. One of the best ones they ever had was: Come With Me If You Want to Live. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with The Terminator, that’s the line Kyle says to Sarah while he’s trying to save her from Arnold Schwarzenegger).

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In the parking lot two men stood next to their cars, at least ten feet apart, and one said to the other, “I would vote for Satan himself instead of Donald Trump, but…”

Unfortunately, I was out of earshot after that. I wish now that I’d stopped walking and pretended to look through my purse while I eavesdropped. ‘Cause I have no idea how that sentence could possibly be completed. That “but” was only a tiny, one-syllable word but seemed to carry the weight of collapsed stars along with its hidden meaning.

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Past the church and across the street into the next neighborhood, the sidewalk abruptly ended, replaced with about 20 feet of plants and shrubbery that evidently belonged to the circular driveway and house behind it.

Nobody else had a circular driveway in this neighborhood. Nobody else’s property line mysteriously extended somehow beyond their yard and through the sidewalk, creating an effective green shield between them and the public while also forcing pedestrians to step into the street. Maybe it’s just me, but it seemed fairly unsurprising that the political sign they’d stuck amidst the flowering weeds and bushes was “Sick of Schiff? Vote for Eric Early.”

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All the while, I was passing both the masked and unmasked. I think it was about 50/50. Many people approaching me would abruptly cross the street and continue walking on the other side, regardless of the fact that we were all wearing masks. I found that to be a tad bit extreme, considering we were outside and at other times when we were all in Ralphs or Target, we continually passed each other in the aisles with barely one foot between us. But better safe than sorry, I guess.

Once I had found a couple treasures at the thrift store and was headed back home, the last several encounters were a nice deviation from thoughts of doom and gloom (politics and race relations and the plague–ahem–pandemic).

As I passed one yard, a figure suddenly burst across a fenced-in lawn toward me. I almost screamed. But it turned out to be a friendly Dalmatian with a wagging tail. The owner called the dog back but I couldn’t quite hear the name: either Dolly or Dotty. I was thinking, oh, please, please, please, let the name be Dotty. Please. Please. Please. Please.

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As I strolled by the high school, a man behind a chain-link fence was talking to a black SUV that had pulled up slowly to a stop sign. I heard a girl’s piping voice then the man saying, “You’re driving now, huh? Well, if I didn’t have this fence between us, I’d probably step back.”

If it was [cough hack hack cough] years ago and I was learning to drive and he’d said that to me, he would have been 100% accurate. I had been terrified of learning to drive and in fact had delayed getting my license until I was 18. Before you feel sorry for my parents or my older brother, just know that unless I had to go VERY far, I walked, roller skated, rode my bike or took the bus everywhere. So I wasn’t that much of a burden on them. But I hated driving and still do to this day. Some things never change.

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One of the nice things that hasn’t changed happened when I was almost home. A little further down Dotty’s (or Dolly’s) street, a huge banner was slung across the front of a house that read: SHE SAID YES!

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During these maybe not unforeseen but not entirely expected days of disease and isolation and financial woes and political and social unrest and uncertainty and worry and fear and loathing, it was the cherry on top of my walk to see that banner and share that excitement and feel that sense of hope and potential joy that’s been so elusive lately and that so many, I’m sure, would like to experience again; a sensation rising like the lightest but most tenacious bubble imaginable, the complete opposite of collapsed stars, the antithesis to whatever brings us down low; a beautiful uproar that almost seems to say: “Come with me if you want to live.”

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36 thoughts on “A Walk Through Burbank In the Time of Plague

    • What a nice thing to say, Sha. Thank you. I know what you mean, too. In my case it’s because I spend way too much time reading/commenting on other blogs when I should be writing. Trying to get better organized where that’s concerned. But you have many passionate followers and they’d probably feel bereft if you stopped, so I’m glad you’re rethinking it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • LOL ! ! ! Thanks, Glen, that’s great. It actually fits in great with the theme anyway, ’cause it’s very positive and life-affirming, the opposite of fear and loathing. Come with me if you want to lift, indeed! Oh, Arnie, lol …

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  1. What a fascinating walk around your neighbourhood. I must admit to being someone who crosses the road to avoid people coming the other way – although I’ve always done it, I just have a good excuse now 😉 I have to ask though: just how big are your big red ants?!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was actually thinking of you, Neil, as I pilfered that shot from the internet. I wasn’t thinking about an essay the day I took the walk. I was just absorbing sights and sounds. So I didn’t think to take any pictures with my phone. Later I was just trying to find a kind of “pandemic-looking” deserted street and this one fit the bill, although I was aware it looked a little “East Coasty” and nothing like what suburbia looks like out here. Sorry about that!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a fun and educational walk and I too,used the RTD to travel all over SoCal when I was growing up. I didn’t learn to drive until I moved to Michigan.I like meeting friendly dogs when I walk as well. I play a game with one dog I meet…he barks when sees me and when I start walking past his house,he’ll dash to the other side and keep barking. What I do when he makes that run,I walk backwards,he then starts BACK to his original position but I’m already moving forward again. I like to think he is entertained.

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  3. Thanks, Michael!
    I think that dog probably loves you to death.
    There’s two little dogs on my street that I visit–I think I wrote about them in your blog once–and they live to get their bellies scratched. So adorable. And they bark at other people who walk past, but not at me. I’m one of the pack!

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  4. Hi, Kev. Thanks!
    I was looking up more stuff later and yeah, of course, Burbank used to be a sundown town too. I guess that’s no surprise! Finding out more and more about “wonderful, free-thinking, liberal” California….being not so…. wonderful or liberal or free-thinking. Saw a program recently about prisons out here where they’ve been sterilizing female inmates without their consent for decades! Beyond belief. You’re 21, you wake up, and your ovaries are gone. An employee there justified it as “saving the state money.”

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    • It’s telling, perhaps, to admit that the sterilisation programme doesn’t shock me. If me and you ran the state, we wouldn’t allow it. But privatisation has crept in everywhere across the Western world, quietly, stealthily, and abrogated powers over our lives that should be contingent upon our votes. What immoral/amoral monster would carry out such a procedure?
      An example of private power in Britain that is brazen and blatant and tyrannical can be seen in the £600,000 worth of shares in vaccine maker GSK that are owned by our government’s chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance. It’s a conflict of interest that would have toppled the government 30 years ago. These days it doesn’t warrant more than a brief mention in the mainstream media.
      Was California’s inception built on gold rushes? The film Chinatown with Jack Nicholson was convincing, for me, of how private interests will not be denied.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yeah, the beganGold Rush brought a lot of people out here. Then the special golden light filmmakers fell in love with.
        I wonder why it’s just bald-faced, unabashed greed and naked hostility now without even trying to hide it. What changed, exactly? I do think we all started going downhill faster with the advent of reality TV around 1999, 2000. But that can’t account for everything, the seismic shift undermining (destroying, actually) all sense of propriety, decorum, intent. Maybe everyone was nudging the boundaries more and more, little by little, the frog slowly boiling in the pot scenario, until we arrived here, unable to shove the vitriol and repellent behavior back into the bottle. In pop culture there used to be shows like All in the Family, but Archie’s working-class anger and xenophobia was balanced by most of those around him; and I think we were laughing AT him, not with him back them. By the time Married With Children came around….all bets were off. People laughed with them, not at them, and there were never any hidden moral equations to consider. They were just dumb and uneducated and self-involved and reprehensible, and that was fine. I can’t figure it out.
        Haven’t seen Chinatown in eons, though. You just gave me a good idea for a movie to watch this weekend!
        🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I do like a good bit of thrift shopping even in plague times. Luckily limbs aren’t falling off in the bric-a-brac aisles. “Clean up in aisle two next to the Mills and Boon stand!” “Take the bucket Mavis! There’s an ear and two toes. I’m sure this plague is getting worse”
    I love browsing for records. Used to find loads of interesting goodies. Now not so much. I enjoy the looking still though.

    Such a great read. Felt like we are walking around the area with you.
    You know what I bet the elderly gentleman in the coffee shop was really in awe. Going through his head in a panic “Oh my, It’s Stacey from Laughter Over Tears!” “Oh man get it together Stan! Oh no she’s seen me staring! You fool Stan!”
    I do wonder if people stare and act weird more for that fact there’s strangers, more interesting people, wandering around regardless of race. I wonder if they are the same to someone say got blue hair, overweight, a group of youths, got tattoo’s, wolf-like? I hope so.

    Whats so special about the red ants that they get the Marilyn Monroe treatment! hehe
    Loved picturing the hippy guru guy.
    That’s so funny on the half heard convo in the car park.
    “I would vote for Satan himself instead of Donald Trump, but…” “…apparently the plonker has covid and now everyone’s gonna feel sorry for him!”

    I wanna shop in a Target one day. Loves a bargain me does.
    Has to be Dotty! Too sweet, too perfect not to be.
    “She said yes!”… “to me painting the shed yellow again and turning it into my games rooms!”

    Oh a big belated happy birthday to you. Sounds like an interesting and eventful way to plod about on your, seeing the light, day.

    All the best
    Mikey

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  6. Hi, Mikey, thanks for your usual wide-ranging set of comments, lol !!
    I think people WERE starting to feel sorry for Donald at first….before the doctors began lying and he made that video saying “I’m fine.” I think the sympathy factor, whatever it was, will start going downhill fast. They can’t even be truthful about this!! Some of his followers are outside the hospital STILL not wearing masks !!!
    As for the coffee shop guy…yeah, who knows? But one DOES pick up a vibe from the very unsmiling, angry expression on someone’s face….and it’s hard for one not to take it personally. We definitely pretty much can tell when anger and hatred are being directed our way–for whatever reason–but in his case I’m sure he delegated it out for blue hair, lesbians, and probably Liberals, lol.
    But in the end, I’m so glad that she said yes….to your future yellow games shed!
    Yes! LOL We all need a yellow games shed ! 🙂 🙂

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    • Yeah I do apologise for as usual crazy on the comments. Some days those naughty fingers just grow little brains of their own and go right off on tangents! Hehe. It’s fun to run wild once in a while.
      HAHA yeah so true on the blue hair lesbian liberals probably blowing old angry mans gasket and his fuse box..
      Think I said before that I understand your predicament. My wife is African and my kids mixed raced. Though we are lucky that we don’t really see any hate like that in our town, even though it was always white. Don’t get me wrong it’s there but people generally keep themselves to themselves. I’m sure if we went to a working man’s club it might be stares but coffee shops, everyday stuff etc, never. It’s very sad that you have to put up with that. Things looked like they were changing for the better a few years ago. Now it’s chaos. It does seem to be going backwards at the moment. But I’m positive brighter days will shine through. 🙂

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  7. Thanks, Mikey. We’re definitely in a very similar situation, my being mixed race and hubby being Dominican whom most people assume is Black–which is fine, he is partly–but his culture is Latino and Spanish was his first language!
    I’m so happy you guys have it good in your town! Just for clarity’s sake, the incident in the coffee shop happened 20 years ago when we first got here and was an illustration about how bad Burbank USED to be. But it’s much better now, very different. Largely due to probably a lot of those old-time, old-school old people kicking the bucket by now, I guess.
    Your positivism is uplifting! I think you’re right. Thanks, Mikey!!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great post Stacey, myself wondering if ever this year, and all the misery we being going through, will be gone soon enough?
    I do not want even to contemplate things may even get worse?

    Hope will not. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Yeah, it feels like that wave is still cresting, doesn’t it? And a little worse might still be ahead….
    but maybe after that…the wave will flatten out little by little…and we’ll approach some peace and calm ahead…..

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  10. I spotted this post and had to read it! You have such a nicely-paced blog. So, fast forward to “now,” April, 2021. We somehow got Biden elected. Adam Schiff survived too. The pandemic is still with us. The Trump crazy train is still alive if not so well. And we’ll continue asking ourselves how did you get here (the extreme sport of being ultra-polarized, disconnected, and distracted beyond human limits). But a nice stroll down Burbank, or anywhere relatively quiet, can always help! I’d really love to live long enough to see things turn around to where we’re playing with more of a common knowledge, much more of a set of things we can all agree on.

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  11. Hi, Henry. Thanks for your kind words. It’s hard to believe it’s a year later already, but now there seems to be some hope. I was SO GLAD to see the Eric Early campaign office that’d been set up in mini mall down the street disappear, slink off into the dark, defeated. Yeah, but how DID we get here, right? That part is still going strong, the disconnection, and a band-aid won’t help it. Oof. Bleh. We shall see……
    Thanks for stopping by!

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