Red Cars, Magical Forests, and Mom

My Real Memoir

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:

Thanks, Mom!

My Real Memoir is a series. To read the next one, click here.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Humor, Memoir and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Red Cars, Magical Forests, and Mom

  1. I’ve taken the Angel Flight up from Pershing square many times in the 90s. Last I looked it was gone, forever. My spouse and I have stayed at the Biltmore at Christmas time. They were all in their own way magical experiences. Sounds like your mom was as sweet and wonderful as my own. Sometimes it is great looking back.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I love your mom. . .

    Liked by 2 people

  3. What a great memory of special times with your mom! Clifton’s must have been some adventure for a kid!! How was the food?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post and great memories of mom.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jennie says:

    What a wonderful reflection of times with your mom in early LA.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I would gladly pay an entrance fee to Clifton’s Cafeteria! I’m sure it sparked your imagination. These are special memories of spending time with your mom Mitch.

    Liked by 1 person

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