Dreaming of a light Christmas

Touring neighborhoods to see Christmas lights isn’t my idea of entertainment, although I know a lot of people like that sort of thing. I’m not a Christmas-lights kind of guy, whether my own or anybody else’s. I don’t even put up a tree.

But an opportunity presented itself to see Thoroughbred Lane in Rancho Cucamonga the other night, courtesy of a Christmas party a couple of blocks from the street, and it was high time I checked out perhaps the valley’s most decorated street.

A bunch of us walked Thoroughbred on foot, which I highly recommend, for pollution as well as exercise and aesthetic reasons. You’re smart starting at the west, by the way, as traffic from the east, on Sapphire, is ridiculous.

So how were the lights?

Well, once past the letdown that only years of hype can engender, I had to admit the street’s decorations were pretty impressive. A tropical-themed front yard, which included a sign reading “Happy Hula Days,” was my favorite. Plenty of people went to a lot of effort and, fossil-fuel consumption aside, the effect is quite nice.

Although I was also impressed by the rare houses that did nothing, or nothing beyond a banner by the front door or a bow on a tree. In that neighborhood, that takes nerve.

Around the same time, Phil Godwin of Chino Hills e-mailed with another tip:

“If you want to see the coolest decorated house, go to Chino. South of Philadelphia on Monte Vista, the third house from the corner on the east side of the street. Park where you can see the whole front of the house. Tune your radio to 90.3 FM. The house must have 6 bazillion lights; they all blink in time to the music on the radio. There are three or four songs, all different. The owner went to a lot of trouble for this one. Really a neat visual.”

I’ll try to check it out, and you lights-fanciers can too.

Comment with any other must-see stops below.

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Chief Romero, Part 1

From Pomona Police Chief Joe Romero’s op-ed piece the other day:

“What is heard and seen in the Council Chambers establishes the public face of Pomona. Bashing, backbiting and loutish behavior should not be our reputation. If this type of behavior is accepted openly, rest assured that it has been allowed to creep into the everyday dealings that occur behind closed doors and in the hallways of City Hall.”

Sounds like I need to expand my City Council coverage to include offices and hallways.

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Chief Romero, Part 2

I checked my voice mail after lunch the other day and found a message from none other than Xavier Alvarez. My favorite fibber said he’d like to comment on the spat between Pomona Mayor Norma Torres and Police Chief Joe Romero.

Obviously I wasted little time in calling back. When you see gold lying in the streets, you don’t question it, you just grab a shovel.

Alvarez said the chief is doing “an excellent job” and has his full support. As for the mayor?

“I’ve got to call her Norma Torres, not ‘the mayor,’ ” Alvarez explained. “I can’t give anyone a title when they don’t deserve the title.”

Yes, water board director-turned-defendant Xavier Alvarez was getting on his high horse about an elected official who doesn’t deserve their job. This was getting better and better.

Alvarez continued criticizing Torres, who recently withdrew her own endorsement of him. He added charitably: “We don’t really blame her because she’s got an IQ lower than gravity.”

So there you have it: a ringing endorsement of Joe Romero by Xavier Alvarez. I hope the chief forgives me.

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A bald pitch

Most of the press release stuff e-mailed to me I delete without even reading, since it’s not relevant to me or what I do (whatever that is). But this subject line the other day caught my eye: “How Come We Haven’t Elected A Bald President Since Ike?”

The e-mail begins:

“We seem to readily accept baldness among actors, musicians and sports figures, but havent elected a bald President for more than 50 years (Dwight Eisenhower). Now it remains to be seen if the most prominently balding of the current candidates Rudy Guillani [sic] makes the cut.

“How about a story lighthearted or serious looking at the connection between leadership and balding, whether in the White House or in just about any other public environment?”

From there the pitch was to interview a hair transplant surgeon on the Westside about patients’ psychological motivation for hair replacement. Um, I’ll pass. Great beginning, though. Darnit, why not a bald president?

But I’m still not voting for Giuliani.

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Portrait of a city

Back in October, a photographer set up a portable photo booth outside the Claremont Library and took photos of anyone willing to step inside.

The result is 214 photos, blown up and displayed in an unlikely place: outside a parking garage.

The 72-foot long installation faces a plaza leading into the Claremont Packinghouse. The B&W images show people against a white backdrop. Every person who stepped into the booth is represented.

Some smile, some look serious. Some clown. One covers his face with his hands. There are individuals, couples, whole families. One woman holds a bakery bag. A man, apparently a parking enforcement officer, clutches a ticket book.

I happened upon the exhibit as it was being installed and returned Monday for a look at the whole thing.

One element that struck me is how diverse the people are. Diverse in ages, from infants to seniors, and diverse in ethnicity, moreso than one might expect in Claremont.

Spend a few minutes taking in the photos and you cant help but be fascinated, and moved, by the humanity on display. I’m not sure I can explain why, but I get misty-eyed when I saw the portraits, and whenever I think of them too. There’s just a vulnerability, a playfulness, a serenity to the people in these candid photos, and seeing so many of them in one place has a powerful, humbling impact.

I think the photos are worthwhile even if you don’t live in Claremont, but living there does add a new element. These are our friends and neighbors, and youre bound to see someone you know represented, even if its just someone youve seen around the Village but cant place.

One familiar face is the white-bearded Ray Collins, a founding member of the Mothers of Invention, who can often be seen wandering the Village. (Collins has declined my interview requests, by the way, but weve had many friendly chats on various streetcorners.)

The photographer was Christopher Irion and his installation was commissioned by the Claremont Museum of Art, which is inside the Packinghouse.

We want to bring the museum out of these four walls. We want to put art where the people are, William Moreno, the executive director, told me.

The display will be up at least until Jan. 1. Highly recommended.

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Restaurant of the Week: So Fresh Salads and More


This week’s restaurant: So Fresh Salads and More, 1 N. Indian Hill Blvd., Suite 103 (at 1st), Claremont.

So Fresh looks like a franchise, as does the Pita Pit next door, but both are homegrown Claremont operations. (Update: I’m told Pita Pit really is a franchise. So Fresh is local, though.)

Pita Pit seems like a popular lunch spot, especially with the college crowd. I had a gyro there a while back and have to say it didn’t meet my expectations of a gyro. The sandwich maker — it’s like Subway or Quizno’s, where someone asks if you want each individual condiment — was ready to put all sorts of questionable items on my gyro. But that’s not really their fault. It’s not a Greek restaurant, it’s a place that sells wraps, albeit ones in pita bread rather than tortillas.

So Fresh, to pardon my own interruption, has salads, wraps and panini sandwiches. It was moderately busy at lunchtime Monday. You order at the counter and in a bit they call your name to pick up your food. I got the Garden Salad (spring mix, tomatoes, mushrooms, cucumbers, carrots, green peppers and goat cheese) with balsamic dressing, plus an iced tea, for $7.77.

There were some problems. A customer who came in after me got his salad before I did. And when my salad came, it was in a to-go container, not the for-here bowl.

The bigger problem was the amount of dressing. My salad was coated. There was probably twice as much dressing as I would have liked. I ate most of the salad but the dressing was so overpowering that I couldn’t finish. By mid-afternoon, I was not only $7.77 poorer, I was hungry again.

Maybe this experience was an anomaly, but if I go back, it will be for a panini, or I’ll ask for dressing on the side. Anyone else try this place, or the Pita Pit? I’m happy to see locally owned businesses in the Expansion and certainly wish both restaurants the best. They weren’t to my taste, though.

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Shanty Devlin’s

Today’s print column closes with a mentiion of Shanty Devlin’s.

As described to me, Shanty Devlin’s was a bar on the northeast corner of Archibald and Foothill in Cucamonga in the early 1960s. The owner was a San Bernardino man, Dick Devlin.

Perhaps the bar’s best-known feature was a piano player known as Elegant Ethel. She may have been in her 80s. She was blind. And she knew her stuff. She played the old songs, like “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey?” As Wayne Leavitt told me admiringly: “She would really bang on that piano.”

On whatever the local radio station was in those days, Elegant Ethel would come on daily at noon to play a number. Her appearances were sponsored by First Trust Bank.

We’re missing characters like Elegant Ethel these days. Or if we’re not, and characters like her still exist, we don’t know about them.

Anyone oldtimers want to add or correct details about Shanty Devlin’s or Elegant Ethel?

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A parade of comments

Rather than take up column space with this, let me round up some of the reader reaction to my grand marshalship of Pomona’s Christmas Parade:

Christopher Lee: “You were an excellent pick.”

John Curtis: “I am disappointed that you went in costume. I think you should have looked like the guy in the paper, sans the balloon maybe. That is how your public knows you!!! I mean this in a nice way. Be David Allen and be proud of it. Your friend George Putnam certainly wasn’t shy. When you ride in the Claremont parade some day, just use a little sun block, but please be yourself. Your audience loves you I think.” [I was becoming swept up in this, until John’s last two words. — DA]

Tami Schumacher: “You are in the wrong parade. Need to start ‘kissing up’ to someone in Rancho for next year’s Founder’s Day Parade. Parade goes thru Victoria Gardens and you would probably get a good peek in the Victoria’s Secret window while riding in a convertible. Also, Starbucks is nearby.” [You know how to sell it, Tami. — DA]

Derek Deason: “Well it’s good to know you liked the Pomona Jaycees Christmas parade. I liked your ‘reporter’s oufit’ too.”

Mike Cicchese: “I only wish I could have been there to see you fulfilling your grand marshal duties. I love how you found out how far back the parade really went. Love it even more that they originally billed it the 56th, you found out it was really the 60th, and then when I click on the photo gallery from your blog, the caption says 54th.” [Stay tuned for the 51st parade next year. — DA]

Beth Brooks: “Did you hear about Santa’s plight? Halfway through the parade the fire engine got a call and had to leave Santa on the curb! The kids in the area loved it! According to Santa, the police rescued him.”

Joanne Dallas: “Anyone willing to pay $45 for a fedora in this day of baseball caps deserves the title of Grand Marshal. Good for you to get right into the role of tough reporter. We certainly need more investigative journalism today….and more men in real hats.”

Mayor Norma Torres: “Enough about him!”

‘Nuff said. Thanks for the comments, everyone. Add yours below, if you like.

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Off the hook

As cell phones proliferate, public pay phones are dwindling. AT&T is getting out of the pay phone business, announcing it plans to sell its 65,000 pay phones around the country, including 21,000 in California, by the end of 2008. Verizon will be the last major company still in the business. (There are an estimated 1 million pay phones in the U.S., down from 2.1 million in 1999.)

While the Inland Valley still has plenty of pay phones, I’m always on the lookout for old-fashioned enclosed phone booths, the kind Superman liked to use.

They’re an endangered species. I can think of two, one at the Chino Airport, outside of Flo’s Cafe, and one in Ontario, next to Juanita’s. They’re the worse for wear, but they’re there. When I visited Flo’s a few months back, I checked the phone for a dial tone and was reassured to find one.

Know of any others?

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A ‘Giant’ performance

Not really apropos of anything 909, but over the weekend I watched “Giant,” the enormously long 1956 movie that’s one of only three with James Dean. He plays a Texas ranch hand who ends up a rich oilman and, by contrast to his “you’re tearing me apart” angst in “Rebel Without a Cause,” gives what I would call a comic performance.

He wears a cowboy hat tilted forward at a 90-degree angle, walks funny, mumbles, plays with a length of rope, drops a waterbag for no particular reason while hanging it on a nail and crosses his legs with deliberation. Making tea for Elizabeth Taylor, he puts down her saucer, then his, then her cup, then his, then adjusts the placement of her cup, pauses, almost adjusts it again, then withdraws.

It’s a mannered, attention-getting performance, but it’s hysterical. Dean reminded me of Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow, who steals every scene he’s in. Depp’s mannerisms defied you not to watch his every move, and so did Dean’s in “Giant.”

“Giant” could have used Jim Backus in an apron, though.

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