Sep 6, 2011

Happy Birthday Burbank!

With Chloe at the oldest "Bob's" in America
Have you ever heard of Burbank, California?  Well, it's just 12 miles from  downtown Los Angeles and only a few miles from Hollywood.  It's also celebrating its 100th birthday this year, and is looking good for her age. Burbank also happens to be where I was born. A former boss of mine in Detroit once remarked, "I can't believe you grew up in Hollywood!!"  Despite the proximity to such glitzy neighbors, Burbank was pretty 'small-town.' Pollyanna even;  sheltered.  As high school kids, we often plotted our escape, but now that I'm older (wiser?) Burbank's BIG small town appeal has me craving a Bob's Big Boy hamburger and a Martino's Bakery Tea Cake, and thinking---it wasn't so bad.
Burbank was practically put on the map by Laugh In, and the immortal and beloved Johnny Carson, the late host of NBC’s The Tonight Show, made “Beautiful Downtown Burbank” a target of many midnight jabs. For anyone who grew up there (like me), references to "Mayberry" and “Podunk” were the norm.  An image perpetuated by the the retro Pickwick Drive-In movie theater that was still thriving during my high school days,  and the white picket fences as common place as ice cream trucks and Saturday morning soccer games.  

As a teen, where to 'hang out' was the real challenge. There were no coffee houses (quelle horreur); no clubs; and certainly no shopping centers --- unless you count a tired six-block stretch of dime stores and barbershops dubbed “The Golden Mall” by an optimistic city planner. Bob's Big Boy was there, and  luckily still is, and was our soda shop hangout after Friday night football games. Burbank earned the moniker “Borebank” by many of us kids, and I knew several factions that often plotted their Saturday night escape "over the hill" to Hollywood, LA, or the beaches. But despite it all, Burbank was a great place to grow up.  I recall summers of innocent fun, roller skating, scavenger hunts, lemonade stands, and typical adolescent escapades like TPing houses (sorry about that), sliding ice blocks down the DeBell Golf Course greens (sorry about that too), and a few other angst spawned teenage missives I'll leave buried in my footlocker.  In the spirit of celebration, I will admit, for the first time in 25 years, that I was once Miss Burbank (don't judge). I was proud to represent the city.         

Miss Burbank 1986 (moi)
Like most places do, Burbank changed. Some might say for the better, others not, but that's change for ya.  Many of the Burbank landmarks I recall from my youth are now gone. The Drive-In was torn down in 1989.  Papoo's Hot Dog Show, Chadney's, and The Copper Penny, a diner as famous for its breakfasts as its crusty waitresses, have all closed. 

Today Burbank is heavily caffeinated like the rest of the world, there are a few movie theaters, loads of restaurants, shops, and more nail salons than finger and toe nails on my body.  But despite the 100-year-old age,  and the generic though convenient modernizations, Burbank still exudes that small town feel I once mocked. I return to Burbank often to see my family, and frequent old haunts, like Tin Horn Flats, Tallyrand, and Ribs USA, where I worked all through college. I see friends, some of whom never left and whose kids now walk the hallowed hormonal school halls we once strolled.  The Buena Vista Library, though no longer in the charming edifice near my house, is still a place kids love to go word sleuthing. The Starlight Bowl, with its dreamy name, still holds summer concerts under the milky way, and who doesn't love a parade? Residents still line the streets and flag wave every year for the town's own Burbank on Parade!  Now that I have a family of my own, I see the appeal and appreciate the city Burbank was and has become.  Modern, effervescent, adaptable, but still wearing the banner proudly of " a big small town." With new mature eyes I can truthfully say,  "Maybe Mayberry wasn't so bad after all."   Happy Birthday Burbank!  

There are tons of celebrations going on in the city this year, including several events sponsored by Todd Jensen, friend, fellow author, and John Burroughs High School graduate.  His book, On Gratitude, is the feature of this month's Burbank READS.  His message is Gratitude, simple as that. Check in and see how you can celebrate Burbank and help out this giving author.

With Todd Jensen at a centennial event in Burbank, 2011

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