Without getting killed or caught
Last updated 7/5/2022 at Noon
I’ve been waxing nostalgic about Los Angeles lately. I know. Weird.
I was born and raised in the northern suburbs of Los Angeles — a town called La Crescenta to be specific. My wife, Marilyn, and I left Southern California for Oregon in 1993 — 29 years ago. So I’ve spent more of my life in Oregon than I did in LA. Yet part of me still thinks of LA as “home,” which is probably the way most of us think of the place where we grew up.
Folks are sometimes taken aback when they hear that I come from LA. They see the hat and the boots and my frontier history and country music obsessions, and it doesn’t jibe with their mental image of LA — which I guess is the stereotypical la-la land of freeways and Hollywood, where everybody is working on a screenplay.
I did bump up against that stereotypical Los Angeles a bit, but my LA was mostly… not that.
I grew up right up against the foothills of the Angeles National Forest. My folks had a cabin in a little mountain town at the end of the Angeles Crest Highway called Wrightwood, so I grew up running around in the woods. My friends and I frequently strung together epic 20-mile hikes in the rugged San Gabriel Mountains, capped by a night of revelry at The Yodeler. Sometimes we’d bomb up to the Sierras to climb Mt. Whitney or spend a few days backpacking in the high peaks and meadows.
Back then, there were plenty of places to go shooting out in the mountains and desert. Marilyn rode horses through Arroyo Seco. I haunted the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum (now the Autry Museum of the American West) in Griffith Park, which was a wonderful place to explore the frontier of history and the mythic imagination. The Palomino Club in North Hollywood and the Crazy Horse Saloon in Santa Ana were two of the best country music venues in America; I saw Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers at the Crazy Horse maybe 15 feet from the stage.
There was a lot to love about that life in Southern California, and I likely would have never left — except that it just got too crowded and too constrained. The open shooting areas got closed down, and the feds imposed a permit system to climb Mt. Whitney. The Palomino Club and the Crazy Horse aren’t even there anymore.
The Rodney King Riots in 1992 were an ugly thing that made Marilyn and I think long and hard about raising a family in the city — or even on the edges of it. We took the Oregon Trail north, and as I hit Ventura I pushed in a cassette of Guy Clark singing “if I can just get off of this LA freeway without getting killed or caught...”
Sometimes it feels like LA is catching up with us. There’s a lot more traffic these days, and wildfire smoke is filling the role of smog. We need a permit for some iconic hikes. Water is becoming an issue. Some folks would like to see my favorite shooting areas shut down.
Oregon land use laws mean that the kind of ravenous, relentless paving of paradise that consumed LA can’t happen here.
But we’re going to continue to feel the impacts of growth here, regardless.
The City of Sisters is right in the middle of work that is going to determine how we manage that growth over the next 20 years.
Densification or expansion, water conservation, traffic management — all raise significant questions with no simple solutions.
The new destination management model for operating as a tourist town holds out the promise of navigating the challenges of maintaining and promoting economic vitality and preserving quality of life and experience for locals and visitors alike.
Hats off to everyone working these problems.
It ain’t easy.
Turns out that when you go looking for some dirt-road backstreet, you have to work pretty hard to keep ahead of all that concrete.