Reading at the Crossroads

Reading at the Crossroads is an archive for columns and letters which appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star. I also blog here when my patience is exhausted by what I feel is irritating, irrational and/or ironic in life. --gary daily

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Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, United States

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Feb. 6, 2002 -- Letter from Manhattan Beach


And now for something completely different, or maybe not.

As I am spending some time away from the Crossroads of America, enjoying the pleasures of Manhattan Beach (MB) , California, for a few weeks, I thought some impressions of the place and the people would be in order.

Manhattan Beach is just down the road from the sprawl that is Los Angeles. In a column in the Los Angeles Times today a local writer, her tongue planted only half-way in her cheek, called L.A. the center of the universe. She had the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena in mind, but went on to add encomiums in regard to L. A’s cultural contributions and style leadership.

For those of us who believe in evolution and other forms of science, an expanding universe is a given. L. A. may not be central in this vast scheme of things, but no would dispute that it continues to relentlessly expand. Up ravines and mountains, across deserts and dunes, and leaning out over the waves of the Pacific, it has been a battle for decades to match L. A.’s physical size to the size of the “Dream” it represents in the minds of locals and in imaginations around the world.

And in the United States, and especially in southern California, growth is considered the realization of all dreams, the answer to all problems, even non-existent ones.

Manhattan Beach fits this pattern. Even without the aid of deep historical research, its easy to surmise that Manhattan Beach was once a sleepy beach town, at once an escape and a reach. For those in the L. A. area who could afford it, purchasing a beach house in MB, insubstantial frame cottages not unlike those remembered from childhood, was two steps in exactly the right direction. A step forward to be sure, but also a step back in time, back to cabin-like cottages that nestled by lakes in the woods of Wisconsin, back to fall line retreats in the Appalachians, or, even closer in kind, back to weathered clapboard summer homes on the sandy shores of the southern end of Lake Michigan.

Most of the modesty and “roughing it” qualities of these not so distant get-away summer and weekend abodes disappeared long ago. Many have become “Properties.” They have ballooned into McMansion size homes sited on estates listed as “Available” in the back pages of the New York Times Magazine section every Sunday. Unless your name is Vanderbilt or Rockefeller or Kennedy, no one today buys one of these behemoths because they are on a nostalgia trip.

Find a vintage post card of MB c. 1950, which is vintage to the max when you’re thinking of southern California today, and you will see a MB that could be found just about anywhere in Vacationland U. S. A.. From what I’ve seen, there’s not much of that left around here. But what is left is very interesting.

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