For being an “awesome” town in an “awesome” valley, we sure don’t meet the “awesome” mark with our love of chains. No, not tire chains, anchor chains, logging chains or those physical types of chains. I’m talking about our love of chain restaurants, movie theaters, auto parts stores, grocery stores and whatever else.
At one time we had nothing here in the SCV that was really a “chain” except for the gas stations. Remember that many of those were owned by oil companies, like the Standard station at the intersection Highway 126 and 99, right across from Tip’s restaurant.
Sure, we had the A&W Root Beer places, but for the most part, our restaurants were local. (The A&Ws were owned locally by the father of my Hart High classmate, Loren Elmore).
Clear up in Gorman there was the Caravan, and Castaic had Benny’s Beanery. There were three Tip’s once, and The Rib near Saugus Café. The Halfway House up Highway 6 – er, Sierra Highway; the Bamboo Inn, Snack Shack and Newhall Bowl, to name a few. And we mustn’t forget the part-time places such as the Circle J. Can you think of some more? I just thought of one – the Big Oaks Lodge.
We longed and prayed for the day when we could get a couple of the chains here in our valley. (It wasn’t called “Santa Clarita Valley” yet.) We just knew that when we got a Denny’s or even a Woolworth lunch counter, and maybe a McDonalds, we would have made it out of our Hicksville status. We would be recognized as someplace. We could be somebody and something, at last.
We also wanted a better movie theater. We got the Plaza on Lyons in 1965 but we wanted more. I mean, the American was no longer cutting it. And don’t even think about multiplex theaters. Those were years away. In another galaxy, far, far away.
Sometimes you’ve got to watch what you pray for, because the Creator might just give you what you asked for – and then some more.
I don’t have any real problem with the existing chain restaurants and entertainment venues. At times there can even be something comforting about the sameness neatly packaged in various locations.
The Denny’s in Newhall has the same menu (or nearly so) as the Denny’s in Vallejo or Waikiki. I know that 24 hours a day, I can go in those places and get exactly what I want from a menu so familiar. Well, in Hawaii there are some local variations with rice and a Loco Moco breakfast, along with much increased prices. (The Loco Moco is a large bowl of rice with fried Spam or Ham or hamburger patty on top, covered in nondescript brown gravy and topped with two fried eggs. I hope you weren’t eating when you read that. Sorry, if you were.
All f that sameness and comfort comes at a price. The price we paid was the loss of places like Tip’s and most other places I’ve already listed. We also lost our drive-in theaters, and even the Plaza is devoid of movies. The American Theater has become what it really always was, the home of Post 507 of the American Legion.
We do have some great new local places. Egg Plantation and Newhall Refinery, along with El Trocadero. One can even get Thai food not far from the Way Station in downtown Newhall. I almost forgot the little Railroad Café across from the Newhall Metrolink station.
Now tell me about the great locally owned non-chain places in Valencia … or Canyon Country. (Oops – not counting the Backwoods Inn or Route 66 Classic Grill). Castaic might have a couple; I just don’t know.
I’m not going to mention the names of the chains. They get all kinds of publicity anyway. But there is a “chain” that is thinking about opening a new theater here. The Laemmle family might one day open a theater in Newhall. That would be wonderful – something that shows good movies instead of things like “Rambo 27” or “Miley does Europe.” (Well, I’ll bet even Laemmle would show a movie with Miley like that.)
And then I read on the local Facebook pages about how it might not be a good thing. They may show movies of doubtful moral value that wouldn’t be for families.
Hey, I’m a single guy who actually enjoys good films and doesn’t want kids and families crawling all over the seats and making all kinds of noise. Yes, a place that shows those films we hear about getting Oscars but we never see. Feature films with subtitles and great dialogue, visual effects without computers, and having a great story line, too. Those movies. Real Art. I just hope that once in a while they will screen “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
But we hear from folks who like our chains and the multitude of movies they show on the multiplex screens, charging multi-high prices for mini-snacks. (Since when does that little amount of popcorn cost $8?).
Yep, we got the chains. And we got the title, “Awesometown.” I’ve only one word for that. Starts with a “B.”
You got it – “balderdash.” Just what were you thinking, right? Obviously you were thinking of a word from “Blazing Saddles.”
Darryl Manzer grew up in the Pico Canyon oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s and attended Hart High School. After a career in the U.S. Navy he returned to live in the Santa Clarita Valley. He can be reached at email@example.com and his commentaries, published on Tuesdays and Sundays, are archived at DManzer.com. Watch his walking tour of Mentryville [here].