transplantgeleno: azusa—everything from a to z in the u.s.a. except l.a.

I am, all evidence considered, merely a transplantgeleno. Never L.A., merely L.A. adjacent. A tourist in the city I’ve orbited my whole life. And like any celestial body, that orbit seems to draw me in and fling me out in equal measure. The scenes out the car windows of my childhood. The places we came for specific purposes but never really to stay.

  • The fuzzy photograph of Great Grandma in front of the retirement facility.
  • My great uncle’s backyard overlooking the Rose Bowl we visited just one time and the massive grand piano he played while my deaf cousin Ron splayed his fingers wide against the cover, head back and “listening” to notes that had reached ears as far away as Europe.
  • Lowry’s Prime Rib House in Beverly Hills for my folk’s 20th anniversary—a dinner I’m fairly sure they saved a year for—yo-yoing between impressed and out of place.
  • The street in Burbank with the first house my father remembers living in.
  • The Pantages Theater for Dick Van Dyke’s version of the Music Man.
  • The L.A. River channels spilling over with swirling eddies of tagging and graffiti I’d later read was the response to East Coast artists trying to lay claim to street art primacy in the form's infancy.
  • The slow drag down Imperial to L.A.X before you could get there on the 105.
  • In-N-Out burgers before they were a thing.
  • Scripps College in the summer of my 13th year for my first college class and the closest I’d ever come to an Ivy experience. In true L.A. fashion, they were filming a movie on campus while I was there.
Actual LA sunset, actually shot by me.

Actual LA sunset, actually shot by me.

The first time I came to L.A. to stay, it was actually Azusa, a place most famous in the literary sense for a sideways reference in Nathanael West’s Day of the Locust as the way out—the yonder—downtown cowboys traveled to for the rodeo. Short version: not L.A. unless you’re talking County.  I went for college on a music scholarship and I can still hear the university admissions pitch my friend Bryan gave at every concert our choir put on to earn part of his scholarship. “…located just a short 30 miles east of downtown…”

I started college just a year after the AQMD began enforcing strict air quality protections, dropping the number of unsafe days for, you know, breathing, in Azusa from the triple digits to the low 20s. The apocryphal equivalency I heard repeatedly from actual Angelenos that first year: “Playing a game of soccer was like smoking a pack of cigarettes, and not in the good way.”

What I remember most is seeing the L.A. skyline from the foothills above campus for the first time, tightly packed and stabbing the orangepinkpurple sunset you can only find in L.A. skies because of that smog. 

Like always, L.A. was still close enough to feel distant.