My Pomona

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Barry Gibbs Hobo Jesus lives two blocks north of me, in a tiny shack behind someone’s already tiny house. He clunks around town on his beat up bicycle wearing no shoes and no shirt. His skin is leathery and tan from years of direct sun, but a healthy coating of black soot seems to dust the tan, giving him a charcoal hue. Sometimes, when it’s cold, he wears a poncho and his dark bony legs poke out from underneath it. Barry Gibbs Hobo Jesus – as we’ve deemed him due to his resemblance to, well, all three of his namesakes – is a scavenger. I always see him ride by with old bike tires, pieces of plywood, and plastic bags containing unknown trinkets and treasures. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit to learn that behind his little shack, he’s building a time machine or a one man band. I often think about stopping him to find out his story, but he seems to be a man of few words – stoic and shy – not apt to smile. I don’t really know what I’d say to him anyway. “I like your long hair and your poncho?” “Can I be your first time machine passenger?” Everything I’ve thought of thus far seems awkward. Nonetheless, he is a fixture in the city and the neighborhood that have become my hometown of Pomona, California.

On Towne Avenue, regardless of the time of day or night, middle-aged Hispanic men and women drive along in their Nissans and Toyota pick-ups at abominably, comically slow speeds. Latinos are truly living at an entirely different pace of life than the rest of the world. Although I pass by them on my hurried commute to work, I always glance into their cars and smile, as they meander south at 28 miles per hour with the windows down at 7am. Collectively, they are the wise old guru who speaks volumes without ever opening his mouth. Their rattling mufflers seem to spit smog and fortune cookie phrases at me as I pass, “Those who travel only to reach their destination miss the entire journey.”

The roads in Pomona are the junkiest roads probably in all of LA County. Drives through Pomona are best accompanied by the Indiana Jones theme song, with the level of mountaineering it feels one’s car does on the pot-hole laden pavement. When I’ve fallen asleep in the car as Eric drives us home from dinner or drinks in another city, my hometown always gives me a wake-up call as we come into her city limits. A jolt her and a lurch there, and I’m surely awake ready to put myself to bed.

This morning, while stopped at a stoplight near Alcott Elementary school, two boys were crossing in the crosswalk being followed by a stray dog looking for some fun. They kept turning around and laughing as this over-eager pooch trotted along behind, hoping for a pal or a snack. I wonder if the dog followed all the way up until they walked inside their first period classroom.

People are real neighbors in Pomona. They go outside their houses, doing actual, real outside things and hanging out. They drink Bud Light in their driveways and sit on their porch swings as the old houses retain the afternoon heat long after the sun has gone down. The only screens in the vicinity are those which keep the moths flocking the porch light out of fevered living rooms. These neighbors walk up to you while you hoe your yard and engage you in conversation, and they don’t worry that you might have something else going on, because they assume you’ll excuse yourself when you need to. You wave to each other when coming and going, and exchange cookies and tamales during the holidays because it just seems right to share the tastes and smells coming from your own kitchen.

Helicopters fly overhead every single day and night. I spent the first several months I lived here thinking someone was always, perpetually on the run from the cops and our neighborhood was in the middle of all the drama. Later, I learned that the elementary school a block from our house has a heli-pad, and it is the closest one to the Pomona Valley Medical Center, so people get air lifted to the hospital from here daily. It’s amazing what a city’s reputation will do to one’s imagination when you move to a place. But when perception meets reality, you can go on vacation and realize you accidentally left your back door unlocked and unattended for five days, come home to find everything intact, and you realize your city isn’t what so many people have made it out to be.

One distinct bonus to my home town is the abundance of authentic Mexican food surrounding me at all times. There are so many different formats of tacos, one could eat a different type for a year and never come close to trying every taco available in this city. It is a beautiful, beautiful thing. There are three different ice cream trucks that cruise the neighborhoods every afternoon. Every couple of weeks I relive the childhood thrill of dashing for change, then outside fast enough to stop him before he passes the house. I buy Lucas Mexican candy and chili-covered watermelon suckers. The ice cream man always speaks to me in English, and I answer in Spanish. I say “Dios Le Bendiga” and start toward the street, and he always stops me to give me a free handful of my favorite tamarind fresa candies.

My neighborhood, Lincoln Park, just started a garden society. Flower enthusiasts of all ages gathered together in the side room of the Spanish style Presbyterian Church located inside the neighborhood to discuss planting native plants and how best to create a drought-tolerant yard and garden. Everyone united through an app called Next Door that allows neighbors to be in touch regarding neighborhood happenings, clubs, meet ups, safety concerns and neighborhood watch.

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The Stater Bros. within walking distance of my house is the hub supermarket for the myriad of neighborhoods surrounding it. What results is a melting pot of apartment-dwelling young moms shopping alongside retired white couples living in fully restored mission-style bungalows. There are homeless, disabled, and regular people all just living their lives side by side and it is the most normal and comfortable thing. I can scarcely remember back to a year ago to the Albertson’s we frequented in Yorba Linda, which was mostly a homogeneous, white-washed shopping experience. I always preferred the Persian market back then anyway, in which the hijab-covered heads outnumbered the uncovered ones, and one could purchase an entirely intact Halal lamb straight from their colorful and varied frozen meat section (not that I ever worked up the courage to do so). Here, the lines are a little longer when some moms thumb through their WIC booklets in line, making sure all their selected items are “WIC Approved”. I still smile, though, as I stand behind them, thinking of the toddler who will squeal with delight when mom walks through the door with Goldfish crackers and a brand new gallon of Mott’s apple juice.

On a recent trip to buy ingredients for my most Pomona indulgence yet –  Micheladas, I found myself behind a tiny Hispanic girl and her father. She was holding a flowery “Get Well” balloon and as we caught eyes she says, “Hi, what’s your name?” When I told her, we struck up a conversation about her balloon, which she explained was for her sister who was sick at home with mommy, and she would surely be cheered up when she sees it, because she loves balloons and she loves flowers. When I mentioned what a good big sister she is, she responded by telling me that in addition to the two heart-shaped bracelets she was wearing she had three more in her purse, which she then reached in, took out and showed me. Dad beamed on as we “oohed and aaahed” over her jewelry and talked girl talk.

Supermarket line conversations have proven themselves to be some of my favorite moments in my ten months as a Pomona resident. One particularly memorable chat occurred in line at the 99 cent store, when I found myself waiting in line in front of a baggy pant wearing, shaved head, big-muscled Hispanic man wearing a Raiders jersey and covered in tattoos. I noticed his presence and maintained a friendly, confident yet cautious air; that is until he decided to speak directly to me. “Cookies?” he asked. “I’m sorry, what?” I responded. He referenced toward the several holiday tins I’d placed on the conveyor belt and said, “Are you baking Christmas cookies?” I almost laughed. “Oh, no, these are actually going to hold some holiday caramel corn.” “Awww man, I LOVE caramel corn.” He responded enthusiastically. “So do I. Hopefully my neighbors do, too.” “You’ve got some lucky neighbors then.” I smiled back at him. The checker rang up my tins and we said our goodbyes.

Between Brian, Kim, Monica, Fati, Poora, Jenn, Hayley and Maddie, Fullerton and Yorba Linda brought us some pretty excellent neighbors. But in my town, Pomona, life is sweet. Community is real. Love abounds in our little house, and it flows out into the cracked streets, over the homes of our neighbors as we trade pleasantries and yard tools, across the Presbyterian Church where they hold the garden society, over the shack belonging to Barry Gibbs Hobo Jesus, through the hundreds of tiny taco shops, and all over this weird, historic, flawed, beautiful city. It hasn’t yet been a year, but I’m oh so very home.

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Photos taken in Lincoln Park, Pomona, by Julia Tavis

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Shelley Stone-Schmidt
    Oct 14, 2015 @ 08:23:27

    Thanks for the Garden club mention. I most certainly hope that we have enough people join our group so as to facilitate high quality speakers. Hope to see you there.

    Reply

  2. Emily
    Oct 28, 2015 @ 07:52:37

    It makes me so happy that you get to live the sweetness of community day in and day out 🙂

    Reply

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