Throughout our lives we have become accustomed to hearing those phrases uttered by our parents, grandparents and anyone else who has lived long enough to recall a time when things — for better or worse — were different. Today, those phrases are as prevalent as ever, though they are now uttered by young people as often as they are by those who have more days behind them than in front of them. Just last year at this time, teenagers were going to school and participating in all of the traditional extracurricular activities. That came to a sudden halt this past March, when schools shuttered their campuses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “By the time the pandemic hit we had completed our big shows, and as we got to the end of the year we weren’t really sure what would be happening when the new school year began,” said Brendan Jennings, who heads up the music program at John Burroughs High School. “So when school began this year, realizing things would be very different, we had to figure out how we would move forward. We had to especially figure out how we would handle our live performances, which the students love, have been extremely popular with audiences and have served as a vital method of fundraising for our program.”
People of all ages dressing as ghouls, goblins, witches or popular-culture characters for Halloween. That’s a normal late October occurrence. Teachers personally interacting with their students. That’s a normal school-day occurrence. Children losing themselves within the stories and pictures of a new book. That’s a normal childhood occurrence. Sadly, these are not normal times. “We’re living in a time when normalcy is in short supply,” said Albert Hernandez of the Burbank Noon Rotary Club. “Because of that, we wanted to do something to bring about a sense of normalcy — to give kids the chance to dress up for Halloween, get to see their teachers or, in some cases, to actually meet them for the first time, and be given an age-appropriate book they can enjoy.”
Although a soup line is traditionally for those in need, this past Sunday the tables were turned as those who lined up in their cars for a bowl of soup at Burbank’s UMe Credit Union were those fulfilling a need. The soup-securing succession was staged in lieu of Family Promise of the Verdugo’s annual Empty Bowl event in which supporters of the nonprofit agency select a hand-crafted artisan ceramic bowl and local restaurants team-up to provide a signature soup for a sit-down luncheon. Close to 200 supporters of the organization, which provides assistance, safe shelter and meals to homeless children and their families, pulled into UMe’s parking lot to receive a take-away container of Guy Fieri’s Kitchen and Bar Express’ chili or tortilla soup. This arrangement was made possible by Steve Mora, president of Metropolitan Culinary Services, who serves as the prime food and beverage provider at Hollywood Burbank Airport.
In the east wing of Burbank City Hall, just off the rotunda, you’ll find a portrait gallery. The gallery isn’t exactly a big draw for tourists visiting Southern California. In fact, it’s probably fair to assume that most Burbankers don’t even know it exists. If you are ever in City Hall, you may want to check out the gallery, which will give you a gander at the official portraits of the 62 men and women who have served as the city’s mayor.
It would typically not be a good sign if Burbank City Manager Justin Hess’ secretary Joyce Thompson interrupted his midday business to say he was immediately needed in front of City Hall. It would cause even further concern if, instead of being led through the most direct path via the front doors, he was taken around the corner to approach the front of the building from the side. That scenario is exactly what took place this past Monday morning. If Hess’ anxiety level was a bit high as he turned from Third Street onto Olive Avenue, it dropped precipitously when he saw Congressman Adam Schiff, the full complement of the City Council, members of the city’s executive staff and representatives of the Family Service Agency of Burbank welcoming him with applause.
This past week, for the 99th time, members and supporters of the Kiwanis Club of Burbank gathered to swear in the organization’s new president and board of directors. While the event included all of the traditional components of a Kiwanian reorganization, it was also very different from the previous 98 ceremonies. Instead of a gathering at a local restaurant or event facility, the service club’s 2020-21 reorganization was physically attended only by the group’s board members, who wore masks and maintained a social distance while convening at the Magnolia Park home of incoming President Kelly Peña. As preparations were finalized by the evening’s hostess, Charissa Wheeler, to “go live” via Zoom and bring in a screen-ful of fellow Kiwanians and local dignitaries, Peña shared some insight on what the organization will look like under her leadership. “My theme will be ‘Creating the Leaders of Today and Tomorrow,’ and we will be making that happen by what I am calling the ‘Three M’s’ — membership, marketing and mentoring,” Peña revealed.
With the presidential race overshadowing just about anything going on in “down-ballotville,” it is important for Burbankers to be aware that as Election Day draws nigh, our city is about to embark on a historic one. In 2018 voters passed Measure V, which eliminated the city’s primary election and moved the general election from April to November to coincide with statewide and national elections. That means this fall will be the first time in the city’s history that Burbankers will elect their municipal representatives on Nov. 3. As the Burbank City Council race heats up, I have been reflecting on the many people I have known who have served as the mayor of our city over the years. As I thought about them, one thing became painfully clear: I am old!
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.