Orange

Between Pasadena and Glendale sits the east end of the Verdugo mountains, named for Jose Maria Verdugo, holder of the 36,403-acre Rancho San Rafael land grant given him by Spain during the Spanish colonial period of California’s history.  Here you will find several habitable canyons that cut thru this end of the Verdugos which were as much a part of my childhood as training wheels and avoiding cooties, the most notable being Chevy Chase Canyon.

Some friends and I piled into Mike’s mom’s station wagon (a 1974 Caprice Estate complete with faux wood sides) in the wee hours of the morning and began our quest to steal street signs for no other reason than it seemed the thing to do.  I do not recall whose idea it was or if we set out with the goal of vandalizing Ed’s house with our ill-gotten gains; honestly, I think we were just bored.  We were all classmates (and a few siblings) at a private school on the northeast end of the Verdugos that could be accessed via the canyon using Linda Vista Road on the Glendale side which turned into Lida Street once one passed the city limits into Pasadena and found oneself on the north side of the Rose Bowl in the Arroyo Seco, made famous every New Year’s Day by a sporting contest held there on a giant lawn surrounded by seats with college-age men giving each other traumatic brain injuries.

At night, Lida’s serpentine path through the canyon is very poorly lit.  You know that phrase, “so dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face?”  Well, the people who come up with colloquialisms must have been driving through Chevy Chase Canyon when they coined that one!  But it made for great conditions for theft.  Word to the wise though… keep track of what you’re throwing into the back of the station wagon (today I’d imagine it would be a hybrid SUV).

So off we went amassing various and sundry signage.  Arguments ensued over what was truly valuable and worth the danger of getting caught; after we’d scored a Linda Vista and a Lida, a “caution windy road” and a “bike path” sign, we turned our attention to real estate; “for sale” signs are remarkably easier to appropriate without tools (which we’d neglected to bring) than “stop” signs!  At a new development of homes deep in the heart of the canyon, a “models open” sign with an arrow was just driven into a lawn like a stake and was begging to be stolen.

Then I saw it.  You see them all the time — they’re everywhere.  In fact, they are so ubiquitous that I don’t even know what they are called, though they must have a name so a construction foreperson can indicate the need for one without having to say, “hey Steve, we need one of those thingies over here.”

Ah, what was life like before Google?  They are called 'traffic barricades,’ or sometimes ‘combocades’ if they also have a flashing warning light.

But nomenclature was not my concern that night.  Up ahead was the prize, flashing its orange light on and off as if to say like some kind of broken record — “take me” “take me” “take me.”  As I was tossing it on the pile of signs we’d amassed in the back of the station wagon, some headlights were headed straight for us.  No worries… other cars had passed us all night, their passengers saying, “look at those ingenious young robbers stealing signs,” I’d imagine.

As I nonchalantly climbed into the front passenger seat and assumed the traditional “shotgun” position reserved for the ring leader of the gang, the headlights suddenly transformed into blue and red flashing lights.  Oh fuck!  It’s the fuzz!  “Hit it Mike,” I screamed, blissfully ignorant of the fact that a 1974 Chevy station wagon with faux wood sides is not a professional thief’s car of choice for a high-speed getaway.  But speed off into the darkness of the night we did, reaching dizzying velocities of 15, maybe 20 miles-per-hour.  Up ahead, I spotted a side street with no — absolutely none — streetlights, and shouted, breathlessly, “left, left, turn left up there Mike,” orders he dutifully followed out of deference to my role as gang leader.

Up the tiny side street Mike pulled into the first driveway we found and killed the headlights.  It being roughly 2 in the morning, all the lights in the house associated with this driveway were off and there were none on the street.  “Down, down, everybody down… cover your heads with your jackets guys,” I barked with the authority of the criminal mastermind I had become that evening.  I’m gonna guess we sat there motionless, in total silence, our jackets pulled up over our heads so we’d be invisible — of course, surrounded by the pitch black of the canyon, for something like five minutes.

Now as the gang leader, it was my responsibility, and mine alone, to pop my head up risking my invisibility to see if we’d eluded capture through the sheer brilliance and unparalleled courage of our derring-do.  Slowly, I pulled the jacket off my head to have a look around.

Given that the traffic barricade w/light was the last item stolen and had been thrown atop the bountiful amount of signage we’d acquired over the course of the evening, its flashing light had a completely unobstructed perch from which to illuminate the station wagon which had become a sortof beacon itself in the darkness lighting the area around us alternately orange, then dark, then orange in all directions for at least fifty feet.  Given the pitch black of the night and our environs, I am certain the amount of light emanating from the back of the station wagon could be seen from space.  Keeping perfect time with a rhythm reminiscent of a metronome, the station wagon was lighting tree trunks, shrubberies, and parked cars turning the quiet, sleeping neighborhood into a light show rivaling a Pink Floyd concert.  I could only conclude the cops had easily found us, perhaps even got out of their squad car and seen us hiding under our jackets on the floor of the station wagon, decided we were too stupid to warrant the amount of paperwork that might have gone into an arrest, and were at that moment enjoying jelly doughnuts and coffee at the Winchell's Donut House on Central.  My life of crime was over before it had begun.

But we were still sitting on our haul from the night.  And a flashing orange traffic barricade w/light.

Now I mentioned Ed’s house in passing earlier.  We had to get rid of all our swag, and fortunately (for us) and unfortunately (for Ed) his house was nearby, off Lida just north of Pegfair Estates.  It sat on a promontory overlooking the Rose Bowl to the south and our high school to the north, and could not be seen from the street.  I, a self-appointed criminal mastermind flush with the success of a daring escape from the cops, came up with the plan; we (I) hadn’t really thought through what we were going to do with a station wagon full of municipal signage, and I don’t think Ed was the original target.  I could be wrong.

But our proximity to his house and his unique driveway just fell into our laps.  We carefully placed all the signs on trees and bushes lining the driveway, and down at the end where it met the street I pushed the “models open” sign into the ground, positioning its arrow so it would direct traffic up the driveway to the house.  Then, I placed the flashing orange traffic barricade w/light behind the “models open” sign thus drawing the eye of every driver who passed by to it.

Ed reported in homeroom on Monday they had several enthusiastic potential homebuyers show up that morning just after breakfast to tour the models.

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