By this time last year, I believe the local authorities and medical professionals had already pulled the plug on any real Halloween festivities. I remember feeling disappointed for the kids who wouldn’t have the chance to trick or treat around the neighborhood and engage in that age-old tradition of knocking on random doors and accepting candy from strangers. I remember thinking back when our boys were toddlers and how odd that we would have to drill into them not to talk to people they don’t know, let alone accept any food from them. Except, of course, on just one day of the year when that rule goes right out the window (along with the packets of raisins and candy corn.) Our boys have always loved the holiday and it was certainly a disappointment last year when they couldn’t partake in the trick or treating part of the night. I might have been the saddest about it, though, because when it comes to upholding family traditions, I’m the stickler. I’ve noticed that the rest of the team is slightly more flexible when an obstacle gets in the way of doing something we’ve done year after year. Halloween 2020 slightly resembled that of Halloweens past. We still shared our spaghetti and meatball dinner with our close friends and former neighbors from back when we lived near Ocean Park/West L.A. Since we started celebrating together, the crowd has grown extensively over the years and up until Covid, you never would know who’d knock on the door looking for a meatball or extra piece of garlic bread en route to other houses around town. But Halloween 2020 didn’t look too kindly on a big crowd, so it was just us and this one other family and none of the kids ventured out. I am not even sure Covid was the reason. At a certain point, kids just age out of the activity and aren’t as consumed with the sheer joy of collecting that huge pillowcase full of decadent sweets that are so tightly monitored and somewhat forbidden the other 364 days of the year. I think by the time they’re old enough to walk down to Rite Aid and buy their own candy bars, the tradition has lost a bit of its luster. Remember how clever some homeowners got last year in designing exotic contraptions to get candy from their front doors to kids on the sidewalk for contact-free deliveries? Or others who meticulously created individual candy bags they’d leave out on their doorsteps to avoid any human interaction? We did none of that. Eliminating the social aspect of the holiday defeats one of my favorite components of the night. If I can’t open the door to see the kids’ cool costumes (does anyone else remember the girl from several years ago who dressed up as “inner thoughts?” it was the weirdest yet most awesome costume ever) or run into friends canvassing the neighborhood, then I rather just enjoy an extra meatball and stay home.
But as of this writing, we haven’t gotten much guidance yet as to how the holiday will go this year. Will homeowners still be somewhat hesitant to open their doors to throngs of people? Will families pause before sending their kids out to be face to face with those they don’t know? Los Angeles’ numbers are low and vaccination rates are high, but will that make a difference to the population at large? Our youngest may be considered too old to trick or treat but he also may be very anxious to make up for that lost year of staying in before he was truly ready to give up the activity. I think if homes are open for business this year, it would be nice to overlook and ignore the ages of the kids asking for candy. You may have wrinkles, walk with a cane and not bother with a costume but if you want candy, I’ll pass some out to you, no questions asked.
Well, technically speaking, I probably won’t be the one passing out candy this year even if it is all systems a go. The giveth and taketh away of various traditions during the pandemic has allowed me the freedom to be a little less rigid when it comes to clinging to how we’ve always done things in the past. It’s made me realize that the whole world can shift with barely a moment’s notice so what is the point of holding fast to something that can go away so easily? When I had the chance to see a concert this year that happened to be held on October 31, I asked the family if they’d be too distraught if I skipped our usual festivities and instead went to the Grateful Dead show (Dead and Company) at the Hollywood Bowl. Part of me was hoping they’d pitch a fit and beg me to stick around. My wife asked, “What about the meatballs?” My eldest said (I’m paraphrasing), “I’m 17. Do you think I’m staying home?” The 15-year-old had heard good things about that Halloween Horror nights (or whatever it’s called) at Universal Studios and the 12-year-old was only concerned about still getting to eat all the candy in sight. In other words, they were OK with starting new traditions this year: namely, doing what we want vs. what we’ve done. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved what we’ve done in the past, but I’ve also learned that embracing change is good, too.
So, however Halloween 2021 unfolds for you, whether you’re passing out candy or singing along with me at the Dead show, I hope you have a bootiful evening full of fright and fun.
Like many entrepreneurial projects, Michael Harris’s series of books about the Westside of Los Angeles arose from the creation of a clever name. Just as a bar in Pittsburgh is named “Olive or Twist” and a wine store in London is called “Planet of the Grapes,” so the Harris books on the Westside Stories series began as a fun variation of the title of the musical, West Side Story. Author, attorney and my brother Michael Harris took great pride in his involvement in the production of the original film version of the Leonard Bernstein show. As he thought about growing up in West Los Angeles in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, he had the idea of putting together a series of vignettes for the Ben Lee Properties newsletter that he could bring together under the title, West Side Stories (plural). The problem was that New York’s “West Side” is a recognized geographical part of Manhattan, always referred to in two separate words. The Westside of Los Angeles, by contrast, is always one word and long-ago set in stone by the Los Angeles Times as the name of a long-running recurring section of the paper.
When Westside Stories — the book — was born, it was so well received that a second volume, called Westside Stories Too (another deliberate play on words), inevitably followed. But Harris was decidedly not done. He asked me to help him explore more of the background and development of this unique part of Los Angeles.
It turns out to be a fascinating story of why multiple movie studios concentrated their facilities on the Westside, how the game of golf came to play an important role in the area’s development, why some neighborhoods became separate cities and others decided to join Los Angeles, how deep racial and ethnic prejudices were overcome with the guile of some and the guts of others, why world class institutions — from the Getty Museum to Cedars Sinai Medical Center and from UCLA to LAX — all came to the Westside rather than go elsewhere in the Los Angeles basin. Equally fascinating is what the future portends for the area in terms of new transportation innovations, burgeoning business trends and significant lifestyle changes. All of these topics — and a lot more — are explored in a third volume, More Westside Stories.
More Westside Stories, expected in the late Fall, is available at a pre-publication discount price of $23 at the publisher’s website, www.americasgroup.com. Westside Stories and Westside Stories Too are available for purchase now at the Americas Group website or on Amazon.com.
Harper Goff is probably a name unfamiliar to many on the Westside. He is, however, not unfamiliar to me because in the late 1940’s one of the neighborhood boys who went to school with us was a guy named John Heffernan. John at that time was interested in customizing car engines and learning to play the banjo. If you lived anywhere in the Cheivot Hills neighborhood and John wasn’t working on cars, he was practicing his banjo. John told me at the time that the banjo hero he kept trying to approximate in skill was Harper Goff. He would write Harper Goff’s name in wet cement in the neighborhood. Harper, credited with developing camouflage during WWII, was the banjo player for a Dixieland music group called the Firehouse Five Plus Two. The group disbanded although John never let us forget that Harper was the outstanding banjo player for the seven-person act. While many years went by, John, who’s father was an entomologist, moved to Hanford, California.
However, it turns out that Harper had left his banjo playing career, joined the Walt Disney Company and rose to a significant and important leadership position in the Imagineers that developed much of the rides and atmosphere of the Disney theme parks. Harper died in 1993, but as far as I’m concerned, he should not be forgotten because he left a big impression on the Westside, first as a banjo player and later as a creative member of the Disney organization.
Hello and happy September. It was so nice to hear from those who reached out after last month’s issue to tell me that they liked hearing about the trips I’ve been lucky enough to take lately. One in particular (George) commented that he doesn’t particularly like traveling but reading about our adventures may inspire him to think about visiting foreign lands once again. George, while I applaud that goal, my latest trip probably shouldn’t serve as your first foray back in. Two of my oldest friends and I decided to go down to Mexico for a boys’ surf trip. This was when the Delta variant wasn’t quite so prominent, yet Covid precautions were in full force. Not sure we had much to worry about on that front, though, as our accommodations were rather, hmm, remote. Imagine a hut on the beach about an hour outside any nearby town.
After the first two days we had run out of fresh food so we sustained ourselves the rest of the week on a few dry sandwiches a day. WiFi vacillated between spot ty and nonexistent. There was running water but no a/c. Mosquitoes and humidity were abundant. Even for an ardent traveler such as myself, staying here was tough. If it wasn’t for the exceptional surfing conditions and companionship of two of my oldest, closest friends as co-adventure-seekers, I probably would’ve cut the week short. But focusing on the positive has always been one of my strengths and in doing so managed to appreciate what a gift it is to be able to head out to the middle of nowhere and surf every day with guys I’ve known since ages 11 and 13, respectively. Regardless of the minimal comforts our ‘hotel’ offered or how the only locals we encountered were enormous cows that happened to wander down the beach one day, we had an undeniably fabulous time.
The positive outlook I try to maintain also helps when I recognize that September is upon us and that means I’m turning another year older. Birthdays for me are often weird. They usually bring about feelings of panic at advancing age, questions about what I’ve done with my life and where I am going. They make me a little sad, missing people in my life who are no longer here, most notably my mom. However, I’m really trying to embrace my birthday this year because after living through a pandemic, it’s nice to pause and appreciate having another birthday to celebrate. I also feel extremely happy that my three boys are back to in-person school again. Yes, there are obstacles and hassles to endure: Covid testing each week, masks, daily symptom checks, assigned seating for potential contact tracing. But the benefits so far outweigh the negatives, we are all willing to ignore the annoyances for the greater good. You can’t compare learning from a computer at home to being in the same classroom as a real life teacher; not to mention how much better it is being with kids their own age again instead of hanging out with their parents every day. I hope as we move into fall, everyone stays healthy so they are able to stay on their respective campuses. Who would’ve thought a few years ago I’d be hoping for something so elementary (no pun intended)?
So with September comes the end of our relatively care-free summer months of camps, barbeques and swim parties, getaway adventures and spontaneous beach days with the boys. It’s back to the grind a bit but that’s OK. If it were not for working hard, how else could we appreciate the recreation that comes from taking much needed breaks? And luckily, living in this beautiful city with its great weather, our good times don’t have to end just because school is back in session and it’ll start getting a bit darker earlier. I’m grateful that our wi- fi is much stronger than it was in Mexico. The cell service here is superior, too (although there are pockets of Cheviot that could use a little help). All that to say: as long as I can faithfully and successfully attend to all my clients’ needs, I can also make time for the occasional midday surfing session , too. And on those special days, summer doesn’t have to end.
Angel’s Flight in downtown Los Angeles was built in 1901 to connect the upper Bunker Hill residences to the shops and retail below. In its original location from 1901 to 1962 it connected Olive St with Hill Street below. It is a narrow gauge railroad with cables pulling the cars. In its original location it had a perfect safety record except for a sailor during WW II who walked on the tracks and was killed. In 1962 the original location was redeveloped and the railroad was moved just South to its present location in 1996. Unfortunately, in 2001 because of a systems failure a rider suffered a fatal accident and the line was closed for safety upgrades. It is promised that the Los Angeles funicular with the iconic railcars will soon be returned to public service. The movie industry has long had a love affair with this picturesque location. The stars ride it in La La Land; the Muppets rode it; a low budget 1965 film noir about a Bunker Hill serial killer was even titled, Angel’s Flight; and other shots of it appear in The Glenn Miller Story; Kiss Me Deadly; The Turning Point with William Holden and Alexis Smith taking a ride on it to follow a lead; and many more. Angel’s Flight has once again reopened and at the unbeatable price tag of only one dollar, it is worth a ride to connect to our common civic history.