What a town, Santa Monica. Simple pleasures, but done very right.
I found out from the essential What‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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‚Äô and sometimes singin‚Äô. 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 ‚Äò80s Screamin‚Äô 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 ‚Äô86.)
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‚Äôs 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‚Äôt miss out, after all.
McCabe and Mr. Kearns
Brantley I knew. Hugely respected by musicians, he‚Äôs been a fixture on the L.A. music scene for nearly 40 years. He‚Äôs 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‚Äôs an actor as well, who played the funky fiddle man in “McCabe & Mrs. Miller.” He‚Äôs 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‚Äôve 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‚Äôve been with Wells Fargo for a long time, and at that branch since it was built. It‚Äôs never a chore to have to go there; in fact, I look forward to it. I know I‚Äôm not only going to get serious parking assistance in the small lot, if I need it (if I‚Äôm 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‚Äôre all from “my clients,” all with a story attached, if you‚Äôd 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‚Äôd 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‚Äôs needed.
When I go inside I know I‚Äôll 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôll say something personal that shows they remember me, and I don‚Äôt go in that often. I like that. It‚Äôs obvious some of it is from their official script, but that‚Äôs 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‚Äôt 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôve got some in the back,” Charles told me excitedly. “Randy‚Äôs! May I get you one?” No, I declined politely, I don‚Äôt want you to swipe a doughnut for me, but thanks.
“No, really, they‚Äôre 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‚Äôm pretty sure there‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôt help thinking, is this a great town, or what?
Coming soon: “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” ‚Ä¶ 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‚Äôt live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at email@example.com.