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. 7, 2006 - Letter from Manhattan Beach


It's about a 20 minute walk to the commercial center of MB from where I
am staying. “Commercial center” stands for the usual array of shops and

businesses found in most upscale communities today--real estate offices, pricey restaurants with catchy names, even pricier apparel and jewelry shops with even catchier names, and an array of coffee and bakery shops.

My walks to breakfast the first three days in MB led to a place called The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. I take it this store is part of a chain. But it tries hard to be a chain with a difference. Windows and awnings outside and every cup and napkin inside proclaims in heavy block letters, "Founded in 1963."

Perhaps this bit of branding is intended to keep the youthful upstart just down the street at bay. It's not working. Starbucks has taken over a prime corner location and when I walk past it each morning around 8:30 a.m. I see crowds at the door and people already sitting, lattes in hand, on the low window sills that surround this jolly green giant of the java world.
There’s no indication as to when any of this first came into existence.

This is not to say that "Founded in 1963" is without its regulars and supporters. But somewhat at odds with its emphasis on its early establishment, "Founded in 1963" appears to attract mainly young mothers maneuvering Humvee style baby carriages up to the counter.

Most of these women were born during the Reagan years. Their mothers were probably infants during the founding times of "Founded in 1963." I would estimate that these now proud
grandmothers were then being rolled about in what has now been designated dangerous, roll over prone baby strollers. As you may recall, these were all painted in bright blue and cream colors and rolled about on hard wheels not more than three inches in diameter. There is no record as to just how many toddlers suffered breaks to their rubbery limbs due to tragic tip overs.

Today it would be insulting to call these machines "strollers." They are jet black and gun metal gray in color; they are high tech monsters, but like the SUVs that fill the narrow streets of MB, they're your monster. Fitted out with a minimum of six wheels, they are la
rge enough to skip over a freeway divider without jarring the precious cargo perched like a Roman Senator on a fringed litter one bit. The lines and formations created by these rolling mastadons hint at scenes of warfare rather than leisurely walks with the bambino. They probably cost as much as what I paid for my first car. I hope they create and deliver on the the sense of safety and security they are designed to impart. When they run into your shins they cause permanent damage.

Every one of these young mothers in "Founded in 1963" that I manage to check out without appearing to be a dirty old man is trim and fit. It appears that in MB you are required to be in shape. I’m certain this requirement is written into some local ordinance. When you take your car in for its emission test, they probably weigh and give the driver a strength and flexibility test. The
nation is obese, but thanks to the svelt muscled weight of the locals here in MB the average weight in the nation must be at least a half pound lighter.

Three blocks from where I sit drinking coffee is the sandy shore of MB.

I don't plan to go into the water during my stay in MB. I saw a vintage photo of this beach on the wall in a mall last night that pictured this strand of sand. Emblazoned across the top of the photo was this bit of reassuring information: "Manhattan Beach--Safest Beach in the United States." Makes you wonder, doesn't it? Safe from what? Killer sharks and dangerous undertows? Nothing posted in the way of warnings today; nothing about "Safest Beach" either.


What you see when you step out onto the iconic architectural landmark of MB, a long pier poking a finger into the mighty Pacific Ocean that culminates in a small refreshment stand and museum, and look north toward Los Angeles are the waves rolling in and surfers skittering about on the surface of the sea. The same sight meets your gaze when you look south, toward Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach and Long Beach.

Look away from the surging waters (which is hard to do when you're from a landlocked city in the heart of the midwest), onto the long stretch of sand that gives a name to MB, and you will see an endless procession of beach volley ball courts. Muscular men and tall, wirey women can be seen just about any time of the day leaping above the nets to spike balls or "dig" saves off of the sandy floor of these courts.

And there always seems to be a woman standing just off to the side of the court, nervously bouncing a child in a menacing looking space age vehicle. You can almost feel her longing to get back into the action.


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