Last week I noted the arrest of two credentialed news photographers and a professor at Santa Monica College the day of the killing spree. No one else is paying attention to this in the wake of the more spectacular events, but if it turns out to be an infringement on the freedom of the press, it is very significant.

The media do not score well in public opinion polls (for some good reasons), and few citizens today seem to really understand how vital this Constitutional freedom is. But it was thought important enough by the discerning founding fathers to be enshrined in the very First Amendment.

(The first thing they proclaimed in that First Amendment was, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” something too many zealots and crazies jump past to get to their favorite part, “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” which simply does not happen in 21st century America except in paranoid minds. But the “establishment of religion” part is an ongoing battle, from 10 Commandments tablets on courthouse lawns to mandatory prayers in schools to nativity scenes in city parks. But that’s a different story. Or column.)

A trial date has been set for the three arrested that fateful Friday, and I believe all have retained attorneys, but the police reports have not yet been filed. I am working with the SMPD to be able to see those reports as soon as they are available. This could be dismissed by the City Attorney’s Office before proceeding to trial, but of course that depends on the information filed.

It’s always a problematic and thought-provoking struggle: freedom of the press versus the need of the police to be able to do their job. Both sides have been known to overstep the bounds. We’ll see how this one plays out.

 

First-class passenger on a sinking ship

I’m becoming a bit of a celebrity at Norms.

Or shall we say, a known party. It hit home when I was introduced the other night by an employee I knew to another, who was taking a dinner break at the counter across from me.

“Have you met (blank), our star server?” he graciously introduced.

“Hi,” I said with a big smile, “my name’s Charles.”

A slight pause and a look I couldn’t interpret, followed with, “I know.” OK, that could be taken several ways. But the write-ups have been noticed and passed around the venerable diner, and most (when their dinner is not being interrupted) seem happy about it.

I already wrote about the assistant manager Tina who gave me a bit of a cold shoulder after I misreported (going on what several employees told me) that not all workers at the closing Santa Monica location would have jobs at other Norms. I subsequently reported that it is company policy to always make room for every employee within the chain when a location closes (which rarely happens), and she was, I think, just being loyal to her company and their employee-friendly policies, and took it personally. (I apologized, and we’re now on smiling good terms again.) Everyone I’ve spoken to who works there says it’s like a family.

An international family, the likes of which Brangelina can only dream. I haven’t yet met the two women from Ethiopia or the two from Belgium and Lithuania, but I will. I’ve often seen but not interviewed Natalia, the student from Russia who’s working two part-time jobs to get through school. The last time we took my wife’s parents there for breakfast we were served by Tom, a tall dude from Thailand. There is also a woman from Cambodia.

There is, of course, Flora, born in Ghana, who has been there at the Santa Monica location for 33 years straight, except for the two weeks she worked at another location because of a fire 20 years ago. (She also pointed to where there used to be two big fireplaces, on either side.) That makes her a year senior to manager-chef Sam, one of three Sams there (plus six Joses and four Manuels), and not to be confused with Sam Jr., his son, also a cook. Flora is a rookie, however, compared to the cook who retired last year, with 40 years under his spatula.

These numbers seem amazing, but Norms VP Jerry O’Connell told me they regularly have celebrations for employees hitting 30, 35, 40 years with the company. In 2011, four 40-year parties, in 2012, five more. It sounds like the 1950s (actually, the first Norms opened at Sunset and Vine in 1949), when companies valued longtime employees and created a workplace that made people want to stay. Many regular customers I’ve spoken to at the Santa Monica location say it’s the friendly employees that keep them coming back. And these are customers who have been going there a long time.

And then there is the imposing but smiling Muhammad, shiny pate, pencil thin chin ornament (not exactly a beard, more a sculpture), well spoken, born in Bangladesh, the general manager who makes me think of a genie and who indeed seems to use magic to juggle a staff of 60 to 80 and their schedules, made more difficult because he hires students with changing needs. And now he has the added task of finding the best place possible for them all among the other 17 Norms throughout the greater L.A. area. He’s given lots of young people their first jobs, going on instinct where there is no resume. He hired someone new just a month ago, he told me, but already knew where he could shift that person after the July 17 closing.

The last time we spoke he noticed that the back of my business card has a quote from Frank Zappa, and broke into a big grin and proceeded to tell me at length what a huge fan he has always been. Now that’s a manager I could work for. Hey Muhammad, it’s almost Thanksgiving, are we going to serve barking pumpkin pie?

 

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 27 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com

 

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