THIS IS MY LAST CURIOUS CITY COLUMN

… of the year. OK, that was a cheap shot, to get your attention. I only hope there were a few “Awwwww”s to go along with all the cheering. For those for whom it was at the top of their Ask Santa list — well, there’s always next year. Be nice, starting now.

But having made it through 2020: three people’s slate candidates elected to City Council, incredible! — putting the brakes on runaway overdevelopment in their first full meeting; ridding ourselves of an ineffective (at best) Acting City Manager and a fatally flawed, unimaginative police chief, both resigned; the worst imaginable nightmare in orange about to be dragged from the Oval Office by his worst imaginable hair after four long years of chaos and destruction; to be replaced by a decent man who believes in democracy and has elevated the first woman, the first black American, the first Asian American, to the lofty position of Vice President… No, I’m not about to bail now. I’m just getting started.

I can’t say yet that things are getting good or have even turned around — we still have a lot of pain to go through, and Mitch McConnell and Kevin McKeown — but hope is now more than just alive. It is a foundation to build upon.

HAS THERE EVER BEEN A WORSE YEAR?
In the history of our nation? When you add it all up, especially 20,000,000 Americans infected with a deadly coronavirus and one in every 1,000 Americans dead from it, sparking the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression, with millions out of work and going hungry, schools and businesses closed, there is a case to be made. But it does depend on your perspective.

If you were one of the first Africans kidnapped in 1619 who survived the terrible trans-Atlantic voyage only to face the rest of your life in crushing, dehumanizing slavery in America, knowing that the next eight generations of your progeny would live the same hellish existence, and another five or six generations more still not free, brutalized, killed — that might be the worst year, from where you stand.

A similar despair must be there for the thousands fleeing certain death in Central America, only to be stopped at the U.S.-Mexican border and sent back, refused even the standard, legally required process for seeking asylum. Wouldn‘t that be their worst moment in American history?
And then we have our own homegrown holocaust of the Native Americans, spanning from Jamesrown in 1607 to today’s disproportionate devastation from the virus.

YES, 2020 WAS HORRIFIC
In so many ways. So much death, destruction and divisiveness. Much was lost. Our nation is damaged, bruised and battered, as are we as individuals. But we’re still here, still standing. Few would ask to repeat 2020. Yet, I know a couple of high-minded friends who embrace it as having been a great opportunity for learning and growing.

This end of 2020 is a perfect time for that reflection. Instead of just celebrating Dec. 31 as Good Riddance Day, thank God I made it, maybe take a long walk (you’ve been doing that anyway) and ponder what this 2020 school of very hard knocks taught you.

And then — a determination, a dedication, to change, through action. To doing it differently. We have an unprecedented opportunity to attack our many problems and take the first steps toward solving them, to right the wrongs, especially the ones that have persisted.

BRAND NEW SOLUTIONS
Are what’s needed. Way, way outside the box. Let’s face it, we have been doing a pretty miserable job as a society on a lot of fronts. What bigger risk is there than to do nothing about the desperately declining environmental state of the entire planet? Isn’t 400 years enough time to finally end deadly discrimination in America? How about hunger? Homelessness? Poverty? Lousy education? Lack of affordable or free medical care? — in the wealthiest nation on earth?

We can do it. There are greed-filled gatekeepers of excessive wealth and power who will fight furiously to hold on to the old ways. Time to move them out of the way. It takes only political will. And that never comes from the top, it comes from regular people, speaking out, marching, and demanding what is just. It will be an uphill battle, mired as we now are in so much willful ignorance and misinformation.

REMEMBER THE FIRST DAYS OF THE PANDEMIC?
When people stayed home, didn’t drive all over town, became more cautious about health and our responsibility to each other? We slowed down, and rediscovered so many simple joys and values that had been lost in modern life. We spent more time with family. Saw more of our neighbors. Sought out sunsets, and sunrises. Listened to the birds we never heard before. Despite the need to keep social distance, we may have actually spent more time with friends. Thank you, Zoom.
We walked. Rediscovered our neighborhoods. The skies were so much cleaner, the freeways nearly empty. We were forced to look at how we spent our time. We cleaned out, reorganized, rethought nearly everything. We acquired less.

I fear a return to normalcy will dim these very valuable lessons and insights. We can’t let that happen. We have discovered that happiness is not found in more possessions or a taller, denser city. New buildings or new parks? A new car or more time to walk in your beautiful neighborhood and fill your functioning lungs with fresh seaside air.

We can do this. Now is the time.

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 34 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com