In pre-pandemic Burbank, residents would have to make their way over to Los Angeles’ Griffith Park to visit a zoo. And going to an aquarium would have entailed a trek to Long Beach. Today, things are different. Now, thanks to Wendy and London Ruff, Burbank has its own community zoo and aquarium, located right smack in the middle of the city’s Rancho neighborhood. Gathering inhabitants from the plains of the Serengeti to the world’s great oceans and tropical reefs the Ruffs have rivaled Noah in bringing together a magnificent menagerie of critters — or rather, fanciful images of them. Though the goal of the creature collector of Genesis was to fill an ark, the Ruffs’ has been to fill their front yard with art that represents all manner of animal and aquatic life. “This all started after my daughter London returned home from Washington, D.C.,” said Wendy Ruff. “She had been doing a fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution, and when they closed she came back to Burbank.”
A man who served his country and worked his entire adult life to provide for his family. A single mother whose job in the food service industry gave her the income to afford a small apartment, food, other living expenses and an occasional treat for herself and her two children. A young man, just a year out of college, using his degree to begin what he hopes will be a high-paying career in post-production. Not one of those people — like countless others with similar stories — ever thought they would be in need of the services of the Burbank Temporary Aid Center. Yet today, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the unemployed, financially challenged, hungry and homeless are no longer just those on the fringes of society. They are our friends, former co-workers and neighbors. They are our fellow Burbankers.
There’s nothing that makes an old newspaper columnist like me feel even older than to go into someone’s home and see a column I wrote decades earlier attached to the side of their refrigerator by rusting magnets. That has actually happened to me more than once. Now, don’t get me wrong, it is rather heartwarming to experience such a thing. However, it is also a bit disconcerting to see your younger self faded and sun-wrinkled on what looks like a yellowed parchment you would find at the National Archives. In recent years, along with refrigerator sides, I have also found myself face to face with columns I have written for The Leader that have been tucked away in people’s scrapbooks, file folders and various other repositories. As we plod through this pandemic summer, I, like so many others, have gone through a lot of old stuff in hopes of coming through this period of quarantine being able to say I wisely used my time to do some decluttering.
As we approach the five-month mark of living with a virus that has changed lives in every corner of the globe, people are beginning to adapt to what has been called the “new normal.” Some are handling it better than others and, it seems, those who are handling it best are using this time to discover or rediscover some of the things we lost a bit of focus on back during the “old normal.” In the early afternoon, when the sun is in the west, the tree-lined streets of Burbank’s Rancho District are the embodiment of residential tranquility. With the exception of the periodic whirring sound that indicates a gardener is plying his trade or the occasional clopping of horse hoofs, this time of day in the city’s equestrian neighborhood is so quiet that artist Mina Ho Ferrante can actually hear the sound of her paint brush sweeping across the canvas. “I’ve always loved painting scenes of Burbank, and my goal was to someday do paintings of different areas of the city for a show,” said Ferrante. “Not iconic scenes, just sleepy residential streets and corners. The pandemic has given me the time to start doing this. At 4 p.m., when the sun is perfect, I go out, set up my easel and just paint what I see. The scenes I capture are very peaceful ― a dog sleeping in a driveway, a person walking by with their horse. That is the Burbank I love ― my Burbank ― and I love preserving those moments.”
Going back to school. It’s one of those memories so indelibly instilled in our brains that no matter how many years go by, we can still vividly recall shopping for supplies and clothes, seeing friends we hadn’t seen for more than two months, meeting new teachers and, in some cases, being introduced to a new school and classmates. For students, from preschool to graduate school, this year will mark a blip in creating those memories. It is just one of the myriad things that have been taken from us by the spread of COVID-19, though Leeron Tal Dvir doesn’t see it that way. “I have heard so many parents focusing on what their kids will not be getting and what they will be missing,” said Tal Dvir, who served as executive director of Burbank’s Temple Emanu El and for eight years directed its Early Childhood Center. “Yes, it will be different and there will be change, but I look at it as change that can be a positive experience.” Tal Dvir’s optimistic outlook has much to do with her decision to stare down the pandemic and establish Distance Learning Together Community, a new concept in the world of distance learning that will offer support to parents and give children the opportunity to be physically engaged with kids and adults other than their parents.