It was summer and school was out, so Mom would sometimes take me to “her L.A.” There were three components to these magical mystery tours: the Red Car, vintage Los Angeles, and a wondrous cafeteria called Clifton’s. Oh, and the most important component: Mom.
Did you know that L.A., the City of Freeways, was once home to the world’s largest public transit system? Privately-operated Pacific Electric streetcars, nicknamed “the Red Car,” honeycombed a huge portion of Southern California. So Mom and I were able to climb aboard just blocks from our little suburban bungalow.
But even then, the pasta-tangle of freeways was spreading, and commuting by car was becoming “the future of transportation.” So, contrary to Who Framed Roger Rabbit’s evil toon plot, in the end it was the freeways that killed the Red Car. Shortly before their demise, Mom and I rode a Red Car one final time. I attended a highly prestigious Three Stooges Movie Marathon (nyuk, nyuk) while she shopped. And then, one last time, we visited the legendary…
Clifton’s Cafeteria. Founded during the Great Depression, Clifton’s had a “pay what you wish” policy, regularly serving down-and-outers for free, even after the Depression ended. Just a bare bones eatery, right? Nope! Clifton’s was a magical forest of wonders, with deer and moose dioramas, an elevator inside a giant redwood tree, and tables scattered among verdant stream-fed grottos. All fake, of course. But not to me—it was all real to me…
Including the Little Chapel. For a nickel, this tiny one-person-church featured music, voices reciting Scriptures, and the kindly face of a person who might or might not have been Jesus. I’d had a non-religious upbringing, so I wasn’t sure what any of it meant. Nevertheless, every time we went to Clifton’s, I had to visit the Little Chapel. There was an undefined yearning in me, even then.
After a Mom-led tour of Pershing Square, the Biltmore Hotel, and Angel’s Flight vertical railway, we’d find the perfect table at Clifton’s, and Mom would listen attentively as I rambled on about my dreams. Dad’s goal was for me to be successful. But Mom, more than anything else, wanted me to be me. And no matter what I dreamed up–that was just what she thought I should do. So, if you’ll allow me a brief post-Mother’s Day tribute: