Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Sunday Shorts: An Early Dinner On York

Adapted from a photo by Daniel Ramirez/Flickr Creative Commons 2.0

Adapted from a photo by Daniel Ramirez/Flickr Creative Commons 2.0

By Joanne McCullough

A true story about an early dinner at a York Boulevard restaurant.

Our favorite Mexican place on York is a good place to bring a baby. The people that work there are genuinely friendly or indifferent. But there is no eye rolling. There is no host who scans for the most hidden and undesirable table. No one throws down menus and flashes a Hollywood smile that I translate as “Enjoy your meal! Your cute baby is a pain in the ass!” On this side of town we are not better nor worse than the other customers.

Sunday ShortsThe restaurant is clean, but not sterile. I don’t bristle when Lucy drops something to the ground and cries because it is no longer within her reach. The interior is wood. As a sound mixer, I know what I like about this. It sounds good in here. It is quiet, but loud enough to dilute the sounds of a baby or my baby throwing a tantrum. We no longer go to the concrete, marble and glass restaurants where the sound hails down from every direction. We go out to sit across the table from one another and talk. In between gulps of margarita, I am talking. During, I am listening. Sometimes it takes getting out of the house to do that.

The man across the aisle from my husband and I, sits at a table alone. He is staring ahead at the empty booth seat in front of him. He sits up perfectly straight, arms leaning on the table but elbows off. Two empty Tecate cans sit within his reach and a plate scraped clean of food sits between his arms. He catches my eye as I fit Lucy into her highchair. I smile. He looks at me, then Lucy and then my husband. The questions start. How old is the baby, have we been here before, what do we do? He tells us of his video production work in the Spanish TV world, how he has lived in Highland Park for 30 years, how things have changed so much that he no longer recognizes his own neighborhood. He’s a nice man and doesn’t want to insult us. He doesn’t say white people or hipsters. Are we white? Mostly, yes. Are we hipsters? Is there an age limit on hipsters? We do like live music but we don’t have trust funds. We do like decent coffee. We also do think that four dollars is too much to pay for good coffee. But we do it anyway. Too tired to protest. I am flattering myself to think that he would even consider us to be hipsters. But that’s the term people use to describe the modern day gentrification monster that invalidates and causes to appreciate everything it touches.

The comments start to become awkward. We are the change he is commenting on. It’s us. I am from Wisconsin but am now firmly rooted in Glassell Park. We stumbled into this part town where we can afford to buy a house and still feel safe. It’s our home. We want the coffee shop, the small shops, and the art. We want to spend the money here, in our neighborhood. We are at the point in our lives where we have learned to appreciate what is around us instead of looking for bigger, better and cooler. We are desperate for a community in this overwhelming city.

After some silence, he looks away from us and back to the space in front of him. We settle back into our eating when abruptly he scoots to the edge of his seat and leans in so we can hear him better. His brows rise and eyes widen, as he asks “ So, you where are you guys visiting from?” I look him in the eyes, shrug my shoulders and exhale. “ We live here.”

Joanne McCullough is a Midwestern transplant trying to have a go at life as normal in Los Angeles. Living in Glassell Park.

  • Sunday Shorts features fiction and creative nonfiction stories contributed by Eastsider readers. Got a short story, video, pod cast or graphic novel you want to share? Click here for details.

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  1. I really appreciate how you write of your perspective as the “intruder” in the area. The term “hipster”, which I have been guilty of using, is a reduction of what is truly an interesting cultural shift–people creating neighborhoods again. There are ups and downs to the way it is done, and some people just never like change, but you show me one neighborhood that is immune from change. At least you engaged with the old guard in the restaurant! If no young people moved into Glassell Park then it would eventually die as a neighborhood once the older generation was gone.

    Keep living in your neighborhood like you are doing, like someone who actually does live there, and in forty years you may get to welcome in the new generation, whatever they are called at the time!

  2. Which restaurant?

  3. INSANELY ANNOYING to hear about a good kid-friendly place in our neighbor and not be told the name. Why?

  4. Or one of a dozen other Mexican places on York, ranging from Delia’s on the west end to My Taco just east of Fig.

  5. El Arco Iris, La Fuente, Villa Sombrero, etc. I have never been to a Mexican restaurant in HP that didn’t welcome kids.

    • I prefer la fuente to either iris or sombrero. Both are decent. Just my taste.

    • If you do hear of one, please add its name to these comments so I can have some good Mexican food unspoiled by the shrieks and wails of small children whose parents don’t care about the sensibilities of other diners. And yes, I know this idea is provocative to many people.

  6. I enjoyed the read.

  7. What was the point of that story ?it seemed to offend everyone at once. I work in a restaurant , we have to smile, isn’t that ok? Letters like this seem pointless

  8. how can u be offended by this story? it’s all real and true. only white hipsters. or people not facing reality. or liberals in guilt wouldn’t like this story. how would you feel if your city.. like echo park or boyle heights or silverlake or even santa ana where you grew up your whole life ,around people that you were comfortable with. and around an environment you felt comfortable with. and prices you always knew you could basically afford. a community you were apart of just changed like over night. into this weird artsy,white,hip ,world of young hipsters.. and everything went up in prices cause it could. and it wasn’t the community you always knew it as.. well because no one could really afford it or felt comfortable there any more? it’s called gentrification.of course you wouldn’t understand.. how could you??? to family’s who have lives in some of these varrios for generations, u the white hipster.. u have become an enemy.. and of course you will never ever understand.. how could you???

    • Please, can you tell me what changed? You can still go to your local panaderia, supermercado, 99 cents stores and more. New business came in and? This happens everywhere. There’s still tons of business for the so called natives!

    • Jen,
      I felt like I had to comment…especially because I wanted you so badly to “understand.” ALL of us human beings deserve a home, a community where we can feel comfortable in our own skin and thrive! I myself need affordability-I am an Art teacher-and I moved to Highland Park in 2009-right about when my “neighborhood” of seven years-Echo Park -began to skyrocket in rent. $1800 for 500 square feet? I saw the changes you are talking about firsthand-I saw a neighborhood begin to turn artsy, hip, and feel safer to me. When I bought in Highland Park in 2009, I was a little scared, 40 Years old and it was definitely time for me to buy a house-rent/mortgage pretty comparable at the time- but I could in no way afford Echo Park-the neighborhood I had come to love! (Tiny houses were over 500 K in EP in 2009.) And, though I have taught on the Westside at a gifted magnet public school for 13 years and it’s a nightmare commute…I could in no way afford that area either. So , as an artist and teacher who wanted a home and to stop squandering money on rent, I eventually bought in NELA-a term that wasn’t even conceived of yet when I moved to Echo Park in 2002. Here is a saying I learned as an adolescent struggling with the turmoils of life….” The only thing constant is change. ” It pains me that so many of these discussion boards blame hipsters, white people, or use racist remarks about people of color when speaking of changes in their ‘hood.. How about creating a community of tolerance where everyone can feel at home?

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