Stratford-on-La Verne

Wednesday marks William Shakespeare’s 444th birthday — don’t forget to send him an e-card — and the University of La Verne will mark the Bard-day with a three-in-one event.

First, a dinner of Shakespearean-era food — roast beef, pasties (meat pies), etc. — will be served from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in Davenport Dining Hall. Dinner is $6.99, or two-for-one. Bring a friend, or make one in line.

Second, at 6:30, Jeffrey Kahan, an associate professor of English, will give a brief talk on the Shake-man. In case you’re questioning Kahan’s credentials for this lecture, he completed his Ph.D at the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham. The one in England, not the one in Alabama. His talk will be on “Hamlet” parodies.

Third, at 7:30, comes a free dress rehearsal of “Hamlet” in a shortened, two-hour version by the ULV Theatre Department. The university says the play is co-directed by “renowned Croatian director Georgij Paro,” a man who must be keenly aware of Americans’ impatience. Stunt men will perform mock swordfights and offer tips on how they do it.

Says ULV spokesman Charles Bentley: “This is your chance to celebrate the birth of the worlds greatest playwright, get a taste of vintage British fare (‘What foods these morsels be!’), listen to a noted scholars musings and experience possibly the most famous play ever (and in condensed form!).”

How can it miss? Visit the quaint hamlet of La Verne for “Hamlet.”

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When Batman visited Pomona

In writing recently about the Funny Business comic book store relocating to 896 N. Garey Ave. from a few blocks north, the Goddess of Pomona blog got a bit poetic:

“Of course, in a perfect Pomona, Funny Business would be located in a respectable space downtown. But as we all know, Pomona is no Gotham City. Batman doesn’t ever seem to come here to make things right.”

Not so fast, Goddess!

My friend Pat read that blog post and sent me a note, as follows:

“The Caped Crusader DID come to Pomona. Adam West, in full Batman costume, cut the ribbon to open the Indian Hill Mall when it got its roof in ’82.

“God help me for knowing this, but I was there and a young enough dork to find it quite thrilling! And shaking his gloved gauntlet was also a kick.”

Batman hasn’t been seen here lately, but perhaps business has been keeping him in Gotham (and Hollywood). Maybe if Chief Joe Romero got a Bat-Signal for the police HQ’s roof…

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‘Pomona A to Z’: N is for 99-Cent Stores

[So, after a four-week hiatus, “A to Z” returned to the newspaper, rested and refreshed. I had to acknowledge the grungier side of Pomona somehow, and devoting the letter N to the city’s ubiquitous 99-cent stores was the way to go.

I asked Shawn Davis, an Arts Colony acquaintance, if she knew anybody who doted on these stores and she put me in touch with Willie Campos. Willie proved to be a hilarious tour guide, as you’ll see. He remains an Arts Colony fixture and just the other day handed me a flier for the karaoke show he hosts at the Characters sports bar each Sunday night. If I ever bring myself to break my personal karaoke ban, that’s the show I’ll go to.

As for updates, the Indian Hill Discount Store got a new sign a year or so ago identifying itself as the Indian Hill Discount Sore, a misspelling that’s gone from astonishing to kind of sad the longer it remains. Sigh.

This column was originally published Nov. 14, 2004.]

‘A to Z’ blowout: Nothing here more than 99 cents!

Welcome back to “Pomona A to Z,” in which we shine a spotlight on that venerable city’s splendors, one letter at a time.

Today brings us to the letter N. In a nutshell, Pomona has numerous and nonpareil nominees. Numbered among them:

* Neon, still lighting up signs on many mid-century buildings in Pomona, often originated by Pomona’s Williams Sign Co., in existence since 1930.

* NASA/JPL Educator Resource Center, established in the Village at Indian Hill by the two agencies to jet-propel science materials into Pomona schools.

* Newspapers, including the Inland Valley News, the area’s only black-owned paper, and the Butcher Paper, a journal coming soon to the Arts Colony.

* National Hot Rod Association Museum at Fairplex, a nifty place for car nuts.

Not to be narrow-minded, but our N is none of the above. Instead, we’ll recognize Pomona for its niche as the discount capital of the Inland Valley.

N is for 99 cents stores.

True, this isn’t the most glamorous honor, but discount shopping — think Indoor Swap Meet — is part of Pomona’s identity.

Drive any major street here and you’ll see some entrepreneur’s variation on the 99 Cents Only chain’s concept in almost every strip mall.

They have such names as 99 Cents Plus or, for people who want to save a penny, 98 Cents Plus. My personal favorite, Indian Hill Discount Store, bears the Chinese menu-like motto “Nothing Over 99 Cents Except Few.”

My tour guide to this world was Willie Campos, a free spirit known in the Arts Colony for his love of cheap eats and treats.

“Everybody calls me Free Willie because I get everything for free,” Campos told me. “I’m going to write a manual on how to live for free.”

In the meantime, Campos led me around the 99 Cents Only Store on Holt Avenue, conveniently located within walking distance of his house. Visiting the chain store is one of the bright spots of his day.

“I know where every single item in this store is,” Campos bragged.

He took me up and down the aisles, grabbing random items and shouting, “This would be $2.50 at Stater Brothers! Look at this. It’s only 99 cents!”

Campos especially likes the Gourmet Fancy Foods section, where he sometimes picks up canned salmon. “I put this on bread with mayonnaise. It’s better than tuna,” he confided.

A 50-year-old with such disparate jobs as truck driver, mobile disc jockey and environmental engineer, Campos has been shopping at discount stores for a decade.

Although he first thought they were for poor people, he’s come to believe they give consumers what they want: low, low prices. Grocery stores are cutting their own prices to compete, he said. Not that he goes there.

“I do all my shopping here!” Campos exclaimed.

He loaded a basket with two Gary Cooper DVDs in paper sleeves, three rolls of toilet paper, four Ginseng drinks (priced at two for 99 cents), a two-pack of John Morrell smoked sausage, a razor and three containers of shredded Gouda cheese.

Grand total: $10.33.

Outside the store, Campos wiped his forehead with a handkerchief.

“I’m exuberant with my great purchases,” he admitted.

Nearby in the same strip mall is La Barata Discount Mart, a mom-and-pop outlet squeezed into a narrow storefront.

It’s these sort of places that spawned the 99 Cents Only chain, Campos said, adding cultural anthropologist to his resume.

“They’re mostly ethnic stores. They started off like this: Little stores with goofy stuff. You never know what you’re going to find,” he said.

Manager Hugo Munoz said La Barata has morphed into more of a swap meet with items of all prices.

“We have to compete with the big guys. You have to carry stuff they don’t have,” Munoz said.

From there, Campos and I hit a couple of locally owned under-a-buck stores. I drove him to First Bargain 99 Cents on Holt Avenue, which Campos admires for its wide aisles and 98-cent glass picture frames.

On South Garey we found 99 Cost Bargain, where a car outside bore a bumper sticker reading “I have a black belt in shopping.”

Campos recalled that he once bought enough bargain-priced halogen lights at this store for his whole house.

As he had things to do and people to see, I drove him back to his car. (He’d saved money, I realized, by getting me to drive him around.)

“I can’t wait to get home,” Campos told me, thinking back on his morning’s big purchase, “and put some Gouda on a baked potato!”

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, normally.)

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Handwriting (a first draft)

Last Sunday’s column about handwritten letters proved a hard one to write. Yes, even on computer. I churned out a draft Friday morning and, dissatisfied, started over again after lunch.

For the heck of it, below is the first half of my draft. As you’ll see, it has a cute opening but quickly loses steam. The details of who David Grossberg is and what he’s doing are rendered as a chunk of exposition, one that soon becomes either confusing or tedious, or maybe both. (The second half of the draft was closer to the final version so no need for that here.)

In the published version, I began with Andy Rooney, which was a better hook, and the explanation of Grossberg’s research flows (I think) more naturally. Writers may find the comparison of the work product and the published version of interest.

There may be some who prefer the first. There may also be some who’d prefer a third version, but as I wrote the second one right up until deadline at 5 p.m., that was as good as I could do in the time allowed.


HANDWRITTEN LETTERS are fading away, just like telegrams, personal modesty and Hillary Clinton.

Its a shame in some ways. For one, the younger generation will never have to muster the concentration to decipher Aunt Gladys palsied scrawl, the way we had to. Unfair, isnt it?

An Ontario insurance agent is concerned enough about the decline of handwritten letters to be carrying on a correspondence on the subject with people like Hugh Downs, P.J. ORourke and Florence Henderson.
Grossberg as a sideline writes articles for Autograph magazine, for autograph collectors like himself, on such fussy topics as quill pens.

Curious how people feel about the way e-mail has overtaken pen and paper, Grossberg in December began researching his next article. He sent off query letters to various middle-aged and senior celebrities at their homes, the better to ensure a personal response.

The next thing he knew, Morley Safer was calling him hed put his phone number at the end of his letter to say he prefers real letters. Jay Leno did the same.

Then Andy Rooney, the recipient of one of Grossbergs letters, devoted one of his syndicated newspaper columns to the subject.

The first line: Because Im uncertain about whether Ontario, CA is in California or Canada, I dont know where David Grossberg lives but he has written me a good letter about handwriting.

Either he was kidding or he didnt see the ZIP code as a tipoff.

Ever the contrarian, Rooney isnt alarmed about what Grossberg called the disappearance of the thoughtful, handwritten letter. He prefers typed letters or e-mail.

Too many people have unreadable handwriting, Rooney wrote. I get a lot of handwritten letters that are hard to read and most of them arent worth the trouble if I spend the time deciphering them.

Rooney also sent Grossberg a letter (typed) reiterating his points and tossing a barb at Grossbergs office address: 211 West B St. is one of the most characterless addresses I ever wrote and if I lived there Id move.

Ontarios downtown redevelopment project forced Grossberg to move from Euclid Avenue, a name Rooney might have liked better.

As of last week, Grossberg had received some 40 responses, with more coming in. He has them all in a binder.

Turns out I hit a much bigger nerve than I thought, he told me.

He claims to be evenhanded about handwriting versus typing My own opinion is that theres a place for both but his correspondents certainly interpreted his letter as pro-handwriting. Some thanked him for doing his part to save correspondence by highlighting the issue.

Ironically, his letter was typed on a computer because his handwriting is so poor a fact some replies noted.

Pat Buchanan wrote: Handwritten letters are an anachronism regrettably, as your typed or machine-written letter testifies.

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Restaurant of the Week: Viola’s Deli


Viola’s Deli, 17715 Arrow Ave. (at Alder), Fontana

It’s rare that I visit Fontana for anything. We don’t officially cover Fontana anymore, that duty being left to our sister paper The Sun, and downtown Fontana is so far from our Ontario office (15 miles) that it’s impossible to get over there on a lunch hour.

After Pomona’s State of the City luncheon, though, Fairplex CEO Jim Henwood, of all people, was telling me about a little deli in Fontana. A native New Yorker, Henwood said Viola’s Deli made cold subs in Big Apple style: shredded lettuce and olive oil tucked inside a tube of cold cuts and cheese, the whole thing inside a roll laid flat for just moments on a grill. (I think I’m remembering this right.)

So I began looking for an excuse to go to Fontana. Conveniently, the new library, which I’ve been hearing about for two years, is opening and as a library fancier, I intended all along to check it out. Arrangements were made for a tour at 1:30 Wednesday, which allowed me to combine the trip with — yes! — lunch.

Naturally, Viola’s was my choice. I was joined by reader Tom Leak, a Fontana resident and real sandwich maven, who treated, which was awfully nice of him. Good ol’ Fontana hospitality.

Viola’s is at Alder and Arrow, across from the Fontana courthouse and a little east of downtown. It’s been there since 1990 and its owners are former N.Y. deli folks, according to their website. Viola’s shares a small building with a law office. The deli is an unprepossessing place with a counter and a dozen two-chair tables.

I got a capocolla sub and Leak had the oli. (He’s not sure what the oli is but he liked it.) Mine was as Henwood had described it, and very tasty.

Cold or hot subs are $4.29 (small) to $5.35 (large). Viola’s also makes brownies, cakes and cookies; one of the lunch specials gives you a sub, soda and piece of cake. I’m thinking of applying for work at the law office.

Another menu item may be coming. A handwritten sign on the counter polls customers: “Would you prefer a steak, chicken or turkey pot pie?” Based on the hash marks, turkey and chicken are in a dead heat, with steak lagging far behind with three votes. It’s too late for California to decide on Hillary or Barack, but the Viola’s pot pie election is on.

* Update February 2014: Returning to Viola’s six years later for photos, I got a 10-inch NY steak sandwich, chips and soda ($9.60 with tax, below). Wow, what a sandwich! Grilled ribeye, lettuce, onion, tomato and American cheese, inside a warm and crisped roll, which may have been buttered. The menu says the steak is “grilled with our special blend of herbs and spices.” Whatever they did, it was delicious. I can’t be making hour round-trips to lunch, but this was a darned good sandwich. I’ll be back in 2020.



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Rare Moby

My column on Moby-Dick prompted an invitation to the rare book room of Scripps Colleges Denison Library, where librarian Judy Harvey Sahak, who tendered the invite, brought out a special edition of Melvilles classic for me to peruse.

It was my first visit to the rare book room, and the place is impressive, with scads of old and limited edition tomes, including an enormous Medieval choirbook from the early 1500s.

My copy of “Moby-Dick” was purchased at a Starbucks, of all places, where it was sold amidst mugs and bags of coffee. The novel’s first mate is named Starbuck, the apparent connection.

This version, as Harvey Sahak had suspected from comments in my column, is a paperback reprint of the deluxe edition published by Andrew Hoyem, a Pomona College alumnus and much-lauded printer, in 1979. Photographs of each page were taken for the paperback to reproduce the way-cool type and the woodcut illustrations.

Well, Harvey Sahak showed me Hoyems hardcover original.

Only 265 copies were printed. The paper is heavy and bluish-gray, like the sea, and was handmade in England. Consequently, the book is six inches thick. Its dimensions are roughly 18 inches by 30 inches. Original cost: $1,000. It’s a thing of beauty.

We rested the book on a table oof! and I read a few favorite passages. Quite a novel, and quite an edition, and it was very nice of Harvey Sahak to invite me over.

Bang for the buck, though, Im content with my $25 Moby-Dick. Especially since it was discounted to $10, which represents 1 percent of the original hardcover price.

Call me practical, as well as Ishmael.

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Record Store Day

Today’s print column mentions Record Store Day, a promotional event. OK, it’s a gimmick, but one I’m fine with supporting. Record stores, bookstores, comic book shops — these are as much my home as my actual home.

The event is Saturday. You can read about it on the official site, which includes a bunch of quotes from prominent musicians and music lovers (I like the one from writer Nick Hornby) and a list of participating stores, albeit no information at all as to the whys and wherefores. We can imagine why, though: Downloading, Amazon and Best Buy are killing record shops. Thus, they’re trying to promote themselves, and good for them.

Rhino Records in Claremont appears to be the only local store participating, not that there’s a lot of competition, other than Dr. Strange in Rancho Cucamonga, which is punk-only, and Glass House Records and Needles and Pins, two small shops in downtown Pomona.

Anyhow, Rhino’s site gives the details on its plans: live music, exclusive 7-inch and LP-only releases, giveaways and a parking lot sale, plus 10 percent off all merchandise. The store, at 225 Yale Ave., is open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. that day.

It’s billed as the “first annual” Record Store Day and one can only hope record stores exist long enough to have a few sequels.

Feel free to post comments about record stores of the present and past.

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Penny dreadful?

Just read a fun, informative piece in the March 31 New Yorker, “Penny Dreadful,” about small denomination coins and why they persist. It costs 1.5 cents to mint a penny, 10 cents to mint a nickel, “a condition known in the coin world as ‘negative seigniorage,'” David Owen writes.

Efforts in Congress to stop producing pennies have been blocked — in 1990, 2001 and 2006 — by the powerful zinc lobby (seriously), which commissioned research on how much “rounding up” by merchants might cost consumers. In 1990, an average of $2 per American. Gasp!

Owen is skeptical of the impact. He notes that Americans are so anxious to be rid of pennies and other change that they’re willing to pay Coinstar’s fee of 8.9 percent of any amount fed into its supermarket redemption machines. He proposes dumping the nickel and dime while we’re at it.

One fun statistic from his article: “Breaking stride to pick up a penny, if it takes more than 6.15 seconds, pays less than the federal minimum wage.”

I still pick up pennies. My big thrill, though, came three years or so ago at Pomona College, when lying there on the sidewalk was a $20 bill, with no one around. Needless to say, that was worth stooping over for.

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‘Meet Me at the Midway’

A couple weeks back I saved this snippet from a “Hal Linker” note — since there’ve been about 97 since then, I can’t remember which one — because it’s about a place that comes up frequently: The Midway.

Celebrated in Kem Nunn’s novel “Pomona Queen,” the Midway was a bar on Foothill Boulevard between Claremont and Upland in the 1960s and 1970s. Various readers have told me about it over the years, calling the place a dive, but in a fond way. Here’s what “Hal” had to say:

“It was somewhere between Central and Monte Vista on the south side of the road. It was at the approximate location of some current tattoo, piercing and massage businesses.

“The Midway was a rock structure building with at least one, maybe two, fireplace(s), sawdust on the floor, a couple of pool tables, pinball machine and a damn fine jukebox selection. The parking lot was dirt and large rocks — as nature intended.

“It was a college / biker hangout when I was around. They served minors without much fear since they were outside of any city’s limits. After a new owner took over, there was a fire sometime in the late 1970s and the place went kaput.

“They used to have bumper stickers which read ‘Meet Me at the Midway.’ Anybody got one?”

And anybody want to share Midway memories?

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‘Pomona A to Z’: a mid-alphabet break

[I remember that Peter Apanel, who helped suggest this series, figured I’d do all 26 “Pomona A to Z” columns in a row, three times per week, wrapping the whole thing up in nine weeks. Yeah, they’d have loved that in Upland. Even writing one per week was proving difficult, and with the research time, it was impossible to get ahead on them. So, to give myself a breather, I put the series on hiatus a few weeks.

First, though, I put out a call for reader response and devoted the column below to what I got. As you’ll see, it was frustrating to me that something so time-consuming and so labor-intensive was getting so little response. J, K, L and M had passed without a single comment. Did anyone care I was doing this?

I also used the following column to explain my rationale for the series: to shine a light on Pomona but also to try to shake people out of this “glory days” mentality. Time to get over it, folks. My feeling was, let’s live in the present and appreciate Pomona for what it’s got now.

If you’re keeping track, this column was originally published Oct. 17, 2004.]

Pomona needs a boost, so ‘A to Z’ lends a helping hand

For those who came in late, it’s B for Break here for “Pomona A to Z.”

Yes, my series is taking a mid-point hiatus for battery recharging. Have no fear: “A to Z” will resume soon with the letter N — in November, naturally.

Consider today’s column a “DVD extra,” providing exclusive commentary on the series. (As with any DVD bonus, feel free to ignore it.)

Let’s start with a question from reader Phyllis Willis: “Enjoying the series, and just how did you happen to choose this subject?”

Phyllis, it was a PBS documentary, “Pittsburgh A to Z,” that inspired this little series of columns. As for why Pomona, I’m convinced it’s the most fascinating, diverse, urban and downright funky city in the valley.

There’s a second reason. Reputation-wise, Pomona is sort of the local version of Pittsburgh. It’s the underdog, the gritty place everyone jokes about, puts down or avoids.

Now, Pomona’s certainly got its problems, but as they say, perception lags behind reality. Unfortunately, the city’s steady turnaround hasn’t sunk in for a lot of people who remember only too well the bad old days when Pomona hit bottom.

Poignantly enough, those blinders are worn by a lot of Pomonans, too.

Maybe I’m stepping out on a limb here, but let me share an observation. Longtime Pomonans often rhapsodize about how great their city was in the old days and how awful it is today.

Yes, Pomona fell far and hard. But 40 years is long enough to cry over spilled milk. Besides, lost aerospace jobs and a withered downtown are hardly issues particular to Pomona.

So part of my mission with “Pomona A to Z” is to say, hey, let’s appreciate Pomona for what it is, not just for what it was.

To that end, you may have noticed that every single one of my choices and runnerups is still around today.

That’s deliberate. Ditto with focusing some weeks on very modern aspects of Pomona, whether it’s the mix of cultures or the clubs and restaurants favored by a new generation.

Enough from me. Here’s what you had to say:

* Ray Bragg: “I appreciate and read with enthusiasm your ‘A to Z’ choices for Pomona. It is refreshing because you haven’t just fallen back on the easy, ‘old,’ historical alphabetical choices. Instead, you have blended them with ‘new’ choices, because that is what makes a city vibrant — it has the capacity to change over time…”

* Pat Page: “It is good to see something positive for a change.”

* Jaime: “Just wanted to tell you that we look forward every week to your series. Don’t change anything.”

* Ruth Wells: “I have kept them all. … Very interesting are the various items listed but passed by for each letter.”

* Gene Harvey: “When you start looking in detail at one city, you find out all the interesting things about it.”

* Teresa Delgadillo: “(Your series) informs me about the city which I’ve lived in for 12 years. … I actually cut out your articles and go see some of the places you refer to that I don’t know about. Second Street Bistro is probably the best … my boyfriend and I tried it and it was fantastic.”

* Fred Goul: “You are doing a great job with the alphabet soup for Pomona. Suggest you might change the ground rules for the second half of the Pomona alphabet and combine some of the letters. Besides, just
how much material can you find with Q, V or X on Pomona?”

* Monique Ramirez: “I couldn’t believe that nobody has written you since the letter I. Well, I just wanted to say that I love reading the ‘Pomona A to Z’ columns. I’m a third-generation native of Pomona.”

* Bernice Alexander: “Although I live in Upland, I am enjoying your thoughts on Pomona.”

* Danny McColgan: “Just wanted to say that I do like your ‘Pomona A to Z’ articles, being a second-generation Pomonan who started reading and delivering the Prog when I was a youngster in the early

On a personal note, the 10 responses this week were more than I’d received for all 13 “A to Z” columns combined. So I appreciate the support. This series might be the most fun I’ve had in 17 years in journalism.

Coming up: More of the same. I know it’s a bad thing when John Kerry says it about a second Bush Administration, but I hope you’ll enjoy N through Z anyway.

Especially Q, V and X.

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, in that order.)

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