What a town, Santa Monica. Simple pleasures, but done very right.
I found out from the essential What’s Up Westside column of our Daily Press that they were having a concert last week on the lawn of my local library in Ocean Park, so I took a stroll down.
It was a delight, listening to an hour’s worth of country and folk songs well-sung and well-fiddled, relaxing in the bright summer sun. No one in the audience seemed to mind being out in it because a cool ocean breeze kept it just right the whole time.
I was pretty sure this little show would be worth the walk. It featured Fur Dixon on guitar and voice, and Brantley Kearns fiddlin’ and sometimes singin’. Fur was one of those respected local musicians who I just kept missing over the years, for no good reason. I thought I might have seen her as part of the early ‘80s Screamin’ Sirens all-girl punkabilly group who played all the Hollywood dives, but she told me she was in that band “for only about five minutes.” (She was also briefly in the Cramps, for one European tour in ’86.)
She had spent 10 years performing with her partner Steve Werner, but they recently split. I read high praise for their harmonies and yodeling, so I was regretting that I just missed out on that. But I fell in love that afternoon with Fur’s expressive voice and authentic delivery, and when I had a chance later to listen to the two CDs she handed me, one just her and one with Steve, I far preferred hearing her alone. So I didn’t miss out, after all.
McCabe and Mr. Kearns
Brantley I knew. Hugely respected by musicians, he’s been a fixture on the L.A. music scene for nearly 40 years. He’s fiddled, sung and played mandolin for legends, but he jokes about the feast or famine swings by calling himself “the king of the $60 gig” at your local VFW. (Or library.) He’s an actor as well, who played the funky fiddle man in “McCabe & Mrs. Miller.” He’s the kind of sagacious player who gets the point across with the fewest notes possible; think Carter Family, not Brad Paisley. And he has a voice to match, that high (or low) lonesome moan that sends you back a hundred years. I’ve gone to shows just on the rumor that Brantley Kearns might play. I was going to warn you that you might need to know a bit about folk, hillbilly and country music to really appreciate his playing, but then I remembered that my young friend William dropped by, on my recommendation, and he totally got it.
Show over, I headed south down Main Street to my bank. I’ve been with Wells Fargo for a long time, and at that branch since it was built. It’s never a chore to have to go there; in fact, I look forward to it. I know I’m not only going to get serious parking assistance in the small lot, if I need it (if I’m driving), from Charles, but also a genuine big friendly greeting, and who knows what else.
Charles might show me his latest postcard acquisition, proudly displayed on his umbrella-shaded podium just next to the bank entrance. They’re all from “my clients,” all with a story attached, if you’d like to hear it. But Charles never forces anything on anyone, and picks up keenly on signals.
I might mention something in the news I think he’d be interested in, or he might do the same for me. And possibly pose some philosophical pondering that came out of it. But whether we just exchange smiles and a hello or chat for a few minutes, he never takes his eyes off his kingdom, and will apologetically, but quickly, excuse himself mid-sentence the moment he thinks he’s needed.
When I go inside I know I’ll get at least two more warm greetings. I will be asked several times if I would like a bottle of water (on a table out front) or a cup of coffee/mocha/espresso or tea from the machine on the back wall. It’s a good thing I usually do want a water and a coffee, because I would hate to disappoint them.
What, you like surly?
The tellers always greet you with a smile, and are a little chatty. Many times they’ll say something personal that shows they remember me, and I don’t go in that often. I like that. It’s obvious some of it is from their official script, but that’s OK. It shows me that Wells Fargo considers that a part of their business model. If every business treated you this way, all the time, don’t you think life would be a little sunnier?
On this particular day, I hit the jackpot. As I headed out I stopped to chat with Charles and for some reason something led me to mention Randy’s Donuts, the iconic L.A. landmark near LAX with their huge doughnut-shaped sign. I told him they have the best chocolate doughnuts in the universe and their apple fritters are a close second, and his eyes opened wide.
“We’ve got some in the back,” Charles told me excitedly. “Randy’s! May I get you one?” No, I declined politely, I don’t want you to swipe a doughnut for me, but thanks.
“No, really, they’re going to be tossed soon,” he insisted. “I already said I was going to rescue them.
“Charles,” said Charles, leaning in a little and lowering his voice, “I’m pretty sure there’s an apple fritter.”
So I headed back home with a water bottle in one back pocket and a couple of cherished CDs in the other, a mocha in one hand and a Randy’s apple fritter in the other, and with echoes of that great live music swimming in my head, breathed in another gorgeous day at the beach. All that just from going to the library and the bank.
And I couldn’t help thinking, is this a great town, or what?
Coming soon: “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” … er, I mean, love “Chain Reaction” (save our art!), and the barbershop you should be going to.
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 email@example.com.