You know your friend is cool when in the middle of eating a buttery syrupy pancake they stop, look at you and say “Look, Africa!”
Frankly, I may not have noticed. The fluffy continent might have ended up in my mouth before my brain recognized its contours.
We were having breakfast at Fox’s, Altadena’s family diner since 1955, on a bright, sunny, gorgeous weekday. Driving down Lake, it was the morning after a cold spell, and you could see clear through to downtown almost, 15 miles through the craziness of the metropolis.
As I’ve gotten into the groove of Altadena, it has become my life saver, my oasis, my comfort blanket, my soul food, my buttery-syrupy-Africa-shaped-pancake. It has become my antidote against the urbanity of Los Angeles, the impersonal traffic aggression, the insane pace, the business. Altadena is a small town. I have my favorite cashier at Ralph’s, I know the name of the people who work at the stationery store, the post office, the dry cleaner’s, the bike shop, the corner store, the hardware store…
Is it weird to say I feel like I am someone in Altadena?
I feel like I have a place. I know my neighborhood, I know the stores, I love the people. I have a real community. The other night, on a whim, I went to the hardware store .
That’s kind of saying a lot for me. Hardware stores are my happy place. They’re sort of like a walking meditation for me. Whenever I need to figure something out in my life I go to a hardware store and pace the aisles, solving small problems, a leaky faucet, a clogged drain, a broken shelf, a grain of sandpaper that I’m missing…and often, either my head gets cleared by the well-organized shelves of nails and bolts and odds and ends, or an answer will come to the other problem I’m trying to solve.
Anyway. The other night I went to find a spray head for my kitchen faucet. Then I went to the next door bike shop, because I want to buy a bike, and I ended up talking to the owner for about an hour. He has a vintage barber’s chair from the 30’s it seems, that leans back and lets your feet prop up on his counter while he fixes the bike you’re about to take for a ride.
I was talking to him, we were jumping around from random topics to randomer ones, circling back to the bike every so often, and he said he was born and raised in Altadena. And in that moment, I thought…I have lived in six countries on four continents. I’ve traveled briefly and not so briefly to over 25 countries. Of all of those places. Of all those cities. Of all those cultures. Altadena, this random, little tiny city in the sprawling monster of Los Angeles county, this place I ended up in by accident, because I could no longer afford to live in Pasadena, that is the only place that I’ve ever not felt like running away from. It kind of hit me, in the middle of that conversation, thinking about Fox’s, reclining in an antique chair. That’s when the clarity came that I had gone to the hardware store to find.
And all these thoughts came out of a piece of pancake.