6,935 Days In The Valley

I spent 19 some-odd years living around the San Fernando Valley: Sherman Oaks, Van Nuys, Burbank, Glendale, Van Nuys again, Sherman Oaks again, Encino, then back to Sherman Oaks one more time before coming to Silver Lake in 2002.

The valley is what it is and I’m not inclined to bag on the place other than to say I’m much happier to be in a section of the city that is without a doubt more vibrant. Part of my trouble is that looking back over the generation I spent there, the years of my life just run together, broken up only by a handful of various incidents and mental snapshsots. As the relatively textureless canvas that stretch of my life was painted upon there’s just not a whole bunch of people or places that stand out high on the recollective.

But then from a link via LAObserved (who found it on Tabloid Baby) there comes the reminder that my valley was not entirely blandness and forgetability. Unfortunately it’s delivered via a touching remembrance from Jon at his Hollywood Thoughts blog for the recently deceased Sherman Oaks newsstand guy — at least that’s all I knew him as. Jon new him better:

I never knew Greg’s last name, but I considered him a friend. He passed-away very unexpectedly last Sunday night after working his shift at the Sherman Oaks Newsstand (the corner of Van Nuys and Ventura boulevards). You’ve probably seen him a million times as you passed the intersection: he was in his late fifties… always wore a ballcap… and, of course, sported his trademark ZZ Top beard.”

Jon is spot-on about having seen Greg a million times. With my mom’s house up the street from that intersection, I’m pretty sure I saw him a million-and-three times over the years, and certainly had occasions to buy various newspapers and magazines from him. But I never had the opportunity nor inclination to strike up a conversation or get to know him better.

The one time I had any contact with him other than transacting for a publication came in 1993 on my way to visit my mother one afternoon. Eastbound traffic was backed up a bit on Ventura because the southbound cross traffic at Van Nuys Boulevard traffic was blocking the intersection. On my motorcycle I was able to cut through the gridlock and when I turned the corner I found the source of the standstill was a stalled out Porsche 911 directly in front of the newsstand and inside it the frustrated driver was unable to get its engine to turn over. On several occasions during that period of my life I’d made like a good sammy and offered assistance to stranded motorists and this was just another opportunity to do so.

Dismounting my bike I approached the driver and asked him if he’d like a push to try to popstart it or at least get it out of traffic. He did, so I got behind the car, signaled for the driver to put it in neutral and get off the brake and I leaned in hard to get it rolling. About 40 feet later the driver threw it into first gear, let out the clutch and the Porsche spluttered and coughed but somehow managed to stay lit. Gunning the engine for a few seconds I gave the driver a thumbs-up and he waved his thanks and high-tailed it out of there, thus restoring order to that corner of the world.

Walking back to my bike, I caught newsstand guy — Greg — out of the corner of my eye. He was sitting on his barstool next to the register with his ever-present cap and wiry beard, watching me. He had a bemused smile on his face and when I turned my head to look at him directly he commenced a polite ovation in recognition of my good deed. I gave him a little bow and salute before climbing back in the saddle and moving on.

Rest in peace, Greg.

UPDATE (04/01): Dana Bartholomew of the L.A. Daily News interviewed me yesterday and today I found his nice piece on Greg at Dailynews.com.