Sunday, November 23, 2008

Katella Avenue, Cypress California

Don’s Turf Motel stands alongside a row of sad buildings whose demeanor can only be described as 1950s architecture, the word architecture applied loosely. The structure has an exterior of plain brown warped wood, aging cracked paint, and light brown stucco walls chipped and worn showing dirty white stucco beneath.
The requisite vacancy/no vacancy sign only “neons” the NO. And we wonder. Does that mean there are REALLY no vacancies? Does it mean people LIKE staying there? Do these people know there’s a Marriott Residence Inn less than a mile down the street? Or that Disneyland is eight miles away? More importantly, are the people that stay here the kind that would care? It is said that people check into this motel with no more luggage than several fifths of Jack Daniels, drink themselves through two or three or four days and nights, hiding safely from family and friends, for who would think to look for them there?
Are ALL the rooms filled with people like these -- the empty bottles metaphors for the chasm of addiction that alcohol creates and fills for some, sex for others, food for still another group? Perhaps there are jockeys that stay there. It is, after all, across the street from the Los Alamitos Race Track, and may be, like in the story of Seabiscuit, a place for the featherweight men and boys to hang their jockey pants, affordable for two three, or four in a room. Do we know?
On some weekends, bikers by the dozen crowd the parking lot adjacent to this seedy throwback strip of history. Hells Angels congregate here, attracted to the older architecture, perhaps being reminded of easy riders of days gone by. Or would the Marriott parking lot down the street snub the Harleys and run them out as a deterrent to higher class customers – businessmen who stay near the companies down the street – Yamaha, Mitsubishi, and more – to sell or work or avoid a commute from Bakersfield where they can afford to live?
Along the same road a few blocks down, the Finish Line Foodstore completes the ensemble of late fifties/horse racing ambiance. The flashing sign appeared one summer evening as twilight eased onto the avenue. A small crowd had gathered to watch the store’s new sign depicting horses mating at a representational Finish Line. As the crowd grew, police were called in to break up the throng that had spilled onto Katella, slowing traffic to a canter, then to a halt. In fact, the automobile cops had to call for motorcycle backup. Stalled, the motorcycle police summoned the horse-mounted officers.
It took the equine staff a while to fit out their steeds, mount and arrive at the scene. In fact, by the time they came to the Finish Line Foodstore, the storeowners had produced guns. The crowd had lobbed strawberry boxes at the sign, purchased from the nearby strawberry stand, and the humping horses had sticky strawberry pulp dripping off the sexy sign making a sloppy mess of what was an education in animal husbandry for city folk who had never seen it done in real life.
Mounted Officer Sergeant Ron Flood, an imposing figure on his horse, Flash, announced through a loudspeaker, “EVERYONE NEEDS TO LEAVE. NOW!” No one moved. Few people heard.
Suddenly from above, a pair of helicopters arrived. One was a news helicopter. A spotlight bathed the darkened crowd in daylight. Sergeant Flood waved them away because behind them was the police helicopter he had requested. He repeated one more time, “EVERYONE MUST LEAVE NOW. YOU ARE IN VIOLATION OF THE LAW. IF YOU DON’T LEAVE, WE WILL ARREST YOU ALL.”
The warning was ignored. Although some folks nearby heard the blast, they were actually more interested in the fight that had started near the front of the crowd. Within minutes, the fight spread. The heat of the day, the stench of recession; the outrage at the display all spilled over into a frenzy of pent-up physicality. Women and children were invisible to the men whose self-control had passed the tipping point. Teeth and hair, blood and spit flew into the air.
As a last resort, Sergeant Flood shot his gun into the sky, grazed the helicopter, and the sound of the ricochet finally woke up the heli-cops waiting to engage. Six men dropped by tether into the roiling mêlée. Billy clubs trumped fists; riot gear paddled street clothes; and finally tear gas stunned the manly to meek, hammering the testosterone-thick air and returning defiant fighters to submissive.
Names were taken, handcuffs snapped, ambulances wailed in the background as Sergeant Flood borrowed a billy club, and astride his faithful steed, destroyed the offending sign whilst a wily lawyer in the crowd clicked pictures.
Although the First Amendment was invoked at the hearing three months later, the judge threw out the case. “No one in our community needs neon humping horses at the Finish Line Foodstore at twilight or any other time.”
The gavel came down. BANG. Case closed.