Tag Archives: UCLA

It was 20 years ago today…

13 Jun

On this day 20 years ago I was sitting on a folding chair on a tennis court wearing a cardboard hat. It was commencement weekend at UCLA and after a hard fought five years I was being released out in to the wild with a newly minted degree in American Literature & Culture. This was a new major that popped up the year before and I jumped on the chance to avoid having to take that final Chaucer class. The ceremony was long, a little boring and they didn’t call out individual graduates just majors. Being a newly introduced category we were skipped over when the different departments were being called out. The woman next to me immediately burst in to tears about it and asked if this means we weren’t graduating. We tried to assure her everything was going to be alright but a few minutes later she broke free from our row and went running to the podium to tell them we had been overlooked. Her actions made me immediately think maybe I hadn’t chosen the right major but it was too late to change that now. What can you do with a degree in American Literature & Culture? Turns out it’s not a highly in demand field of study and it was basically go be a teacher or take your bachelors and find something completely unrelated but still requiring a degree. I wouldn’t necessarily tell someone not to study literature, I had a great time but I would ask them what their end plan was and to set expectations that they are not likely going to need to call on what they’ve learned about post modernism prose in their day to day life.

As I sat on the tennis court with my mortar board shielding out a bit of the late afternoon sunshine I thought about my early days on campus when I found out the tennis center had an elevator that would take you to the top of the stadium and out on to the road by the dorms. UCLA is built on hills and if you lived in the dorms you can genuinely use the phrase “I had to walk to school uphill both ways”. Everyone living in the dorms had impressive leg muscles.

UCLA was never on my horizon for schools, I always thought a kid like me was better suited for UC Berkeley or the Claremont colleges. After a visit to Berkeley I knew it wasn’t the place for me, Claremont seemed like a nice fit but was far too expensive. I had a modest stack of acceptance letters and UCLA was somewhere in the middle of the pack. At some point I just thought it was the easiest option and at least it was a place that had a name that people recognized. My sister went to a small private school in upstate New York the following year and to this day when she tells people where she went to college they ask if its “teller school for Wells Fargo”. ¬†UCLA was geographically close to where I grew up but my only visit prior to Orientation Week was the ill fated Morrissey show at Pauley Pavilion a year before – which was at night and ended up in a riot.

UCLA Hat

I went on to love my time at UCLA and I spent most of my five years working at the Cooperage in the student union and the concession stand at Pauley. The 90s were a spectacular time to be there – the sports teams were on a hot streak, bands would come through campus some times and the Taco Bell on campus offered a 99 cent 7 layer burrito that would sustain you most of the day. At the restaurant I learned how to chop lettuce correctly, use a Hobart machine to make hundreds of pounds of pizza dough, why you should always turn the slicer off when you clean it (it wasn’t my hand that was sliced open, I’m not that misguided), how to change out soda syrup, how to wrap a giant burrito without splitting the tortilla and the fine art of patience in customer service. The Coop was open to anyone and we had our fair share of weirdos coming through the door like the guy who wanted his chicken strips fried again, the customer that came in looking like he was on an ancient trek across a frozen tundra complete with plastic flocked bunny banks hanging off of his walking stick like they were his fresh kill and finally the man that always wanted his change in dimes. If you tried to hand that customer any coin outside of a dime he would toss it back at you rather forcefully. Learning how to deal with these difficult customers was the greatest skill I took away from my time on campus.

So my suggestion to anyone thinking about pursuing a degree in the arts? Go for it but make sure you get a job on campus that will teach you how to handle the world outside of North Campus.

 

 

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Riot Act

29 Apr

This weekend I’ve been watching many of the documentaries about the LA riots in 1992. I remember the riots, we watched everything unfold on the afternoon news programs and in our government class at school the next day. I was a newly minted adult having just turned 18 the month before and the only thing I really had my mind on was deciding which school I was headed off to on the other side of summer.

Geographically we weren’t that far away from where this was all happening. Pico Rivera was just suburban enough to make this all look like something that was happening somewhere else but heading up to the hills around town after school you could see the smoke off in the distance and there was some attempted looting a few days in to the unrest at the Town Center in Montebello. We were aware of the videotaped beating and the trial, discussed this in class but never really did a deep dive on racial tensions. We had entire sections on Civil Rights era action in the 1960’s but weren’t really taught that this was still such a prevalent problem. The focus at the time all seemed to be on the gang wars and the drug epidemic.

My father worked as a Sheriff most of my life, he spent a lot of that time working in South Central. Stationed primarily in Lynwood, Compton, Watts and Willowbrook he left us each morning to try his best to keep peace and make it home to his kids each night. He wouldn’t tell us much about his days on patrol, we were fed tidbits when he would come home with a used car he had spotted while on duty or our dog Lynn a beagle he said he found wandering across Imperial Highway. When the riot happened Dad was the on campus officer for Lynwood High School. We never thought to ask why a high school needed a full time armed Sheriff on site, had we asked we are sure he never would have told us. When we saw what was starting to happen we knew not to expect Dad to be home that night. I don’t remember exactly when he came home, I do remember him calling us to make sure we were ok. My brother was off at UCSB so it was just my sister and I left at the house but we had family just on the other corner and we were quite capable teenagers.

As an adult looking back at this footage it still seems like it was something that didn’t happen in my beloved Los Angeles. But it did happen, months later when we were making our way through the streets to drop me off at the UCLA dorms we passed through areas that had boarded up burnt out buildings, some were never rebuilt and even now driving through Compton (right next door to me now!) there are entire sections of the city that never recovered. Even if the shopping centers didn’t burn they were just frozen in time, the signs look like they’re from the 80’s and there are very few national chains. There are some shiny new developments though, new centers and parks that have sprung up and a train that connects the area to downtown where you can get to the Westside or in to the Valley. There’s still so much more progress to be made though – the same issues that brought about the unrest in 92 are still happening today. With cameras in our pockets able to capture and quickly spread injustices maybe all of these protests are helping to vent this anger so it doesn’t boil over in this city.

In a way I’m glad I was a bit sheltered from what was really going on. It wasn’t bad where my only concern was which Smiths shirt I was going to wear the next day to school or when Middle Earth the long gone record store in Downey was going to get the latest issue of the NME in stock.