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.
The 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.
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