Fifty years in the same house and they put a name tag around your neck in case you venture beyond the end of the driveway and into the great and terrible beyond.
There’s a moat, two major boulevards and a railroad line separating the high density apartment buildings of Panorama City and their attendant chaos from neighboring communities. There is also a little-known pedestrian land bridge across the Southern Pacific tracks providing egress for the studious of mind to slip into Van Nuys and attend Fulton College Prep.
1964. Jan and Dean. Tab Hunter. Shelley Fabares. Air-conditioned comfort. Acres of free parking! For an extra quarter you could purchase the right to smoke in one of the extra-comfy chairs in the loge section.
1970. Expansion into multi-plex. The Godfather. Jaws. Star Wars. Animal House…you wouldn’t know from the exterior, but a great decade of cinema was about to unspool here. Sadly and inevitably, the neighborhood declined in the 1980’s, and the Americana became a grindhouse, serving up drive-in fare like Piranha and Humanoids from the Deep.
2013. Now a profit making cosmetology school with a tuition rate of $16,63o a year. Tuition at UCLA: $11,220. Veterans are urged to cash in their benefits here. For the indecisive, there’s a helpful toll-free number plastered to the side of the building. That’s $33K for a two-year program…for the right to compete with other WBI alumnus for the right to hang a shingle over a chair at Fantastic Sam’s for whatever shifts they have available that haven’t been taken by graduates of the Academy of Barbering Arts three blocks down Van Nuys Blvd. Or the Newberry School of Beauty on Devonshire. Or the Marinello Beauty School on Sherman Way. Or….
Would I be a bad sport to mention student loan debt is not dischargable in bankruptcy court? Tell me how this movie ends. Maybe we should bring back smoking.
Most weekdays, the contractors have come and gone by 8am. Afterwards, the pickings are slim. You can hang out by the entrance all morning, try to flag work with hopeful eye contact, but there are too many of you. So you wait til lunch, when some of the trucks come back to re-supply. During the boom you could work the lot, scare up the odd gig helping a housewife load garden supplies into her SUV. Now the security guards chase you off for harassing the clientele. You retreat to the shade trees at the edge of the landscaping and hang out in clusters of two and three, making conversation. By 3 pm you stop casing the cars. Even the gringo home remodelers are too broke-ass to pay you. But you don’t go home. Everyone else is waiting for you to go home. It’s a war of attrition. You’re not going to let the last man standing on the lot take your job. You’re here to put in a full day. Until then, you tell each other stories.