Our Not-So-Small Town
Our son has lived in Montana for the past two years and came home for a long-awaited visit this past week. This is a guy who was born and raised right here in the Crescenta Valley, although he has always felt like a misplaced soul – having a personality and passion for pursuits much better suited for wilderness and woodlands, lakes and rivers, wide open spaces and wild, wooly creatures. God bless him, the boy has found his personal paradise in Western Montana.
That said, however, like most local teens, he learned to drive years ago on our uniquely congested surface streets and nearly-impossible-to-navigate freeways. (I still say Driver’s Ed classes should be reinstated as a vital part of the high school experience, but that’s a topic for another column.)
As a native driver, let’s just say my son was well practiced in the fine art of vehicular survival. He was so comfortable driving here he would often park his small pickup truck and ride a motorcycle through the local labyrinth of near-misses, uninsured motorists, distracted drivers and motorized morons. For two years, in fact, his primary transportation to Pasadena City College was a motorcycle.
Beyond that, the boy was very much at home and comfortable living in “the big city,” even if that city is our so-called “small town” of the Crescenta Valley. So, imagine his mother’s and my surprise when – after being home for a few days – he told us that he couldn’t believe how hectic and hurried it seemed coming back home this time. He told us that the Crescenta Valley, the place he knew for 20-some-odd-years as home, suddenly seemed depressingly crowded and stressful.
I’ve seen this same thing happen to other transplanted CV residents. A good friend and former neighbor of mine (a born and raised Southern Californian who was also on the coaching staff at CV High) moved his family many years ago to the foothills of Southwest Colorado. After a couple of years away, he returned for a visit and was blown away at how seemingly congested our streets were, how aggressive are drivers had become, how crowded with storefronts and signage along Foothill Boulevard seemed and how utterly confusing our freeway system now was to navigate. It seemed hard to imagine that he had ever lived here.
When my oldest son moved his family from Santa Clarita to the island of Oahu over six years ago, his first trip home was a real eye opener, as well. In spite of having thrived in the daily nightmare of traffic that is a hallmark of Saugus/Valencia area, after being away from it for only a year or so, even the once-routine 30 mile drive from LAX to La Crescenta left him in shock and awe at the pace of traffic and the high-caliber angst of the drivers around us.
So, what changed? Did Foothill suddenly get busier since my son moved to Montana? Did local drivers turn into NASCAR knuckleheads as soon as my former neighbor left for the Rockies?
I think it’s primarily a matter of perspective. When you’re immersed in our environment every day, you become used to (or numb to?) streets and parking lots overflowing with cars, trucks and motorcycles, crowded restaurants and the overall busy-ness of living here. But get away from the size and scope of our surroundings for even a little while and it all looks different somehow.
As I took my son back to LAX for a ridiculously early flight back to Montana last Friday, we drove along an eerily empty Foothill Boulevard in the predawn darkness. My son said, “Dad, even the main highway through Missoula isn’t this huge!”
While we may be a “sleepy” or “bedroom community” by Los Angeles suburb standards, in comparison to true small towns a great majority of other places in the U.S., there’s simply no denying that we’re a big city.
I’ll see you ’round (the big) town.