November and December are sentimental, memorable months. Holiday traditions begin during Thanksgiving week when the office phone seldom rings, social obligations line up, and waistbands expand. Of course, our office was decorated for Christmas over zealously well before Halloween. I am the Grinch for not wanting multiple trees enlightened or stockings decking the walls when its still October and nearly 90°.
Thanksgiving last year was less than two weeks after I arrived in Long Beach. I intended on celebrating alone at home and looked forward to my “Turkey for One” take-out order. Instead I gratefully accepted an invitation for traditional Thanksgiving dinner at my boss’s house. I was told to bring a pie. And a smile.
Thursday I tagged along for Friendsgiving in LA and am glad to have met and be comfortable with enough new friends to enjoy a West Coast Gobble Gobble Extravaganza. All of those invited were to bring a dish to pass, so I searched the interwebs and discovered simple recipes I was confident I’d be able to deliver. I left work and bounced all over town from store to store for all of the necessary ingredients. I got home well after dark and was excited to prepare TWO different appropriate sides. (Hashtag OVERACHIEVER.) I rinsed the carrots and got the pot ready on the stove to combine the appropriate fixings…
…But the stove didn’t work. Or the oven. There was a faint smell of gas inside my small apartment. I went the first six months in Long Beach without a functioning oven, a convenient excuse to dine-out nearly every night. I was told it was probably just the pilot light and to flip it on and begin cooking. Of course, it was an issue more serious and a crafty handyman eventually did fix the problem and the ancient appliance worked swimmingly. Until Wednesday when I actually needed it.
Plan B was a crock-pot cranberry recipe that turned out surprisingly well. It was some concoction of cranberries and orange juice and sugar and cinnamon (and maybe some vodka) that paired well with everything else supplied at Friendsgiving. I was totally shocked an impressed at everyone else’s efforts and left with a full stomach and indecision about which dish was my favorite.
I left Thanksgiving Thursday early enough to be ready the next morning for another new California Tradition: Black Friday with the Blackhawks and Ducks in Anaheim. I procured my 400-Level ticket and drove into Orange County. As it was during the playoffs last spring, a sizable Chicago contingent was present. But for much of this game, there was not much to cheer for. A knucklehead Ducks fan behind me chirped and complained and cheered sarcastically. Then Blackhawks stunned the Ducks with two late goals to force overtime and added the winning mark in overtime to silent the obnoxious Anaheimians and kept my personal streak alive of witnessing Ducks losses.
Since I was wearing a smile and my pants didn’t yet burst at the seams, I ventured further to Costa Mesa where I found Beach Pit BBQ. It was recommended by a local expert and the brisket and pork and mac and cheese and BLUEBERRY CORNBREAD did not disappoint. The night ended with a couple doubles of bourbon at my favorite watering hole in Long Beach. I guess I should start investigating one of those juice cleanses.
Traditional Sunday Cuisine includes pizza. Traditional in this case is perhaps better defined as mandatory. If it is Sunday, it is pizza. I may choose somewhere within walking distance. I may visit another Long Beach neighborhood. I may Yelp a spot on the way back from the golf course or sample some pizzeria recently written up on social media.
Or perhaps other plans fall through and I’m instead left wandering the streets of Santa Monica. I caught a peek of the sherbet sky after sunset and walked down Wilshire and up Ocean. I
nodded froze upon crossing paths and making eye contact with Blake Griffin, then entered to see what the hoopla was about at 800 Degrees.
The menu and ordering system is confusing. Those behind the counter were not especially friendly and were incompetent. Other patrons walked mindlessly through the restaurant, checking their phones, or ignoring their children, or wondering what flavor of gelato to order. I made it through the line, building my own pie with sausage, broccolini, basil, and provolone. At least, that’s what I think I ordered. I wanted patiently for #37 to be called and eventually my frustration bubbled over when someone behind the counter said NUMBER FIFTY-ONE was ready. Oh. Thirty-Seven. Um. Oh. It’s right here! Its on top of the oven, in a pizza box. Cooled-off to near-leftover temperature and mostly sans taste. Not the best dining experience on what was already a wasted Sunday. Napping and cleaning are not supposed to be California Sunday Funday highlights.
Apparently, referring to freeways with the definite article (“the”) as though it was a proper name is a thing that’s unique to Southern Californians. To this town of transplants, it must be hilarious to hear, but to those who just learned this is not a national habit, the next question is probably “Why?” Nathan Masters says it all started because SoCal was an early adopter of the freeway, and therefore had a lot already by the time the rest of the country caught on and started using the number naming convention. In SoCal, routes were were given names as they opened, and the names corresponded to where the freeways went or places they passed through, Masters says.
Even though the routes also had numbers, it wasn’t uncommon for freeways in the LA area to have more than one route number attached to them, the way that “The Pasadena Freeway, for example, was Route 6, 66, and 99, all at once.” So it just made sense to use the longer, descriptive name for a freeway—so the freeway to San Bernardino was referred to as the San Bernardino Freeway, and the freeway to Ventura was the Ventura Freeway, instead of a jumble of numbers.
In 1964, the system for numbering the highways was streamlined so that each only had one number, and new freeways (the 605, for instance) also began coming on the scene around the same time, with new names, and so it suddenly became easier to call the freeway by its number. But those destination-focused nicknames had already become a habit, and it was still common to refer to freeways that way for years—LA’s habit of referring to its freeways with “the” is a holdover from the wordy-freeway-name days.
And in that way, the San Bernardino Freeway became the 10, andthe Hollywood Freeway became the 101. The old habit took a while to break—”Numbers only eclipsed names in common usage in the late 1970s,” and the old names could still be read on CALTRANS signs into the ’90s, Masters says—the intractable “the” is just further proof of how sticky those old names still are.