At the end of my first semester of college, I developed a ritual: to take a brisk walk from 60th St. and Normandie Ave. to Vermont Ave and 60th St., where I would go to Fred’s #2 Burgers, and have a self-celebratory meal. This year was a bit more poignant it seems, after finally finishing my first semester at Cal-State Northridge, my mind went from what to eat to reflect back on all the history still around Fred’s.
Fred’s was a perfect location to end the year on, especially in the growing LA Winter. Too many times I remembered ordering just fries from Fred’s when they were just $1, now they’ve upped it to $2. Everything else still felt the same: the etched tables, the huge wait time, the delicious sloppiness of those charbroiled burgers in Thousand Island dressing. Fred’s kept it consistent after all this time, so kudos to them.
After enjoying some nostalgic grub, I decided to take a quick walk towards Vermont and Slauson, from where was an empty lot for decades, a supermarket, Yoshinoya, Quiznos and Jack in the Box took over. This also including the Taco Bell/Pizza Hut, KFC, Pollo Loco, Hong Kong Bowl, McDonalds and Wingstreet within that intersection. At the very least, if wanderlust hits me again, I have a plethora of junk food at my disposal.
After getting off the bus on Slauson and Normandie, I made an impromptu walk towards a strip of graffiti that I’ve been accustomed to all these years. Every few months new artwork was drawn, making sure that you’d see a new pattern of colors and creativity come out. Thankfully, the artists stuck to that tradition to this day.
I used to live right around 59th Place and Normandie, in an area called Chesterfield Square. not too shabby, but like most others, it has its charms. Hell, I still remember the house that I was in front of when I broke my leg when I was seven. Etched on a street corner is cement and houses that replaced a Korean liquor store during the 1992 riots (I was a one year old then). The fish market was still across the street, as was the Laundromat where I used to play Street Fighter II with my older brother. I wasn’t surprised that gang still try to make their claims in Chesterfield Square, though now their influences has dwindled since I was there.
Right in the middle of 59th, was the house I lived until 2005. It underwent many changes: new paintjob, new interior, new owners. The framework was still intact, but everything else wasn’t. If there is one thing I’m upset about, is that they replaced the gate leading to the back of the house. (I dropped a Sonic toy in one of the hollow bars when I was young, and I never could pull that damn thing out.)
After crossing the street heading towards Vermont and 60th, my mind recounted all the houses that held friends from grade school. I’m certain they, like myself, ended up moving, and others may still be there, holding on to whatever value the neighbourhood has left. What was once familiar now felt like a ghost town, devoid of any sign of life, with many of them now being torn down or for sale.
And as per usual, the first building I saw was Budlong Elementary. Its faded skin now glows beautifully, and makes sure the kids are safe with giant cube cages surrounding the corner of the school. There were many a time I wished to enter, but if time is any indicator, none of my former teachers would be there. No sense in going in, I thought to myself, my gut wanted only one thing: burgers. I continued onwards, looking at the kids in play after school, envious in some way of their innocence.
However, new owners, renovations, and markets opened up since I was last here. Gone was the store adjacent to the laundromat, with a tattoo shop and pupusería rising from its ashes. It was nice to see something new, but at the price of losing with what I was familiar.
Connected to Budlong Elementary was John Muir Middle School, and while Budlong carried wonderful memories of childhood, John Muir was my rite of passage. In such a short time, I felt adolescence hit me hard: crazy things like “crushes” towards girls, and making lifelong friends with whom I enjoyed having endless debates about irrelevant topics. Good times and bad times were had, from talking with teachers about video games to getting suspended because a pen and impulsiveness got the best of you. It was the first time I had to deal with issues like any kid would, but with a little help from my friends, I got through most of ‘em.
With the last memory behind me of John Muir, I finally reached Vermont. I made a quick turnaround to look around to see if the local stores were still around. Some still existed from ten years ago, others just had a change in lease. Undeterred, I crossed the street to Fred’s, the goal finally reached after being distracted by so many landmarks close to one another.
Normally you’d feel comfortable calling a small section like Chesterfield Square home after you plant your feet on the ground. But after being uprooted so many times, it’s hard to find somewhere to belong. But that’s another story for another day. For now, I’ll just do my usual routine and visit South Central every June and December at Fred’s after school for a hamburger special.