Wednesday, August 24, 2016
After my San Diego experience of the past two days, I opted to keep my explorations closer to home this time. I spent the afternoon in downtown Riverside. I began by visiting the Riverside Metropolitan Museum. For free admission, I perused the natural history, Native American and local history exhibits. One historical event I found particularly interesting was the rampaging elephant tragedy of 1908.
On April 16, the Sells-Floto circus had come to town, which of course included a number of elephants. Around 1:30 that afternoon, a storage tank exploded at the nearby Standard Oil Company, the noise causing the elephants to panic and stampede. Most of the pachyderms were corralled before too much damage was done, but one, the largest one as it turned out, would not come quietly.
He charged east into downtown Riverside via Seventh Street (now Mission Inn Avenue), causing property damage and injury before hooking a right at Orange Street and plowing into the Glenwood Hotel (now the Mission Inn) courtyard, pinning, then trampling the unfortunate Ella Gibbs. She would be the lone elephant-related casualty of the rampage, although a second death would later occur due to the tank explosion at the oil plant. The elephant continued on, despite the desperate efforts of his handler, barging his way through the hotel lobby and several other businesses on Main Street before finally being subdued in a stable.
The sad fate of Miss Gibbs tends to give one pause. Death comes to us in many forms; through sickness, accident, homicide, suicide, or old age. In our own ways, we try to prepare ourselves for one of these eventualities. However, how does one adjust to the reality that one day, when you’re going about your business, you may meet your end at the trampling feet of an elephant? Still, I suppose if we took time to imagine all the possible ways we could die, we’d never leave our homes. Carpe diem.
After the museum, I walked around town admiring the architecture of the Mission Inn, the First Congregational Church and the Chinese pavilion.
I decided to have a late al fresco lunch at the Mission Inn Trattoria. As I munched on my panino con polpette (a fancy way of calling a small meatball sandwich) and cupcake-infused ice cream topped with various berries (which was amazing and highly recommended), I watched the world go by. School had apparently gotten out as backpacked-students streamed by the trattoria. It reminded me that classes had also begun back home. For the library that I worked at, the start of school was typically a big deal. Located down the street from a junior high, we were inexplicably the hang out for roughly four dozen latchkey preteens; hungry, hyper, hormonal preteens, recently released from the rigors of the classroom, and now ready to explode. Needless to say, the first couple weeks are harrowing for the library staff as everyone tried to adjust and accommodate.
Yet here I was in southern California, enjoying a leisurely meal on a beautiful late summer day. I felt sorry for my co-workers.
I had really come to enjoy the friendly, laid-back atmosphere of SoCal. I’m sure there were exceptions to this rule, as California natives could testify, but I had been fortunate enough not to encounter them. Even at the crosswalks, which had always been a source of consternation for me, particularly in Chicago. I was one of those weird people who liked to follow traffic laws. This type of mentality didn’t work back home. For example, I’d be at a busy intersection in Chicago, trying to wait for my turn to cross the street, but getting dragged along by crowds of impatient people around me who felt that traffic lights were for other people to follow. Again, I may have experienced the exception during my stay in California, but it was nice to see that some people cared about safety.
I’ll get down off my soapbox now.
I returned to the house not long before Kari returned from work. We returned to the Mission Inn for dinner at Las Campanas where we dined on Mexican cuisine outdoors near the main entrance to the Inn. Entertainment during the meal was provided by a couple of caged macaws that were located over the fence behind us.
At first, they merely squawked at people passing by them, but then came:
At a table not far from us, a little girl was intrigued by the now-talkative birds, and attempted to make conversation with them.
Macaw # 1: “Hello!”
Little Girl: “Hello!”
Macaw #2: “Hi!”
Little Girl: “Hi! What’s your name?”
Macaw #1: (after a pause) “Hello!”
Little Girl: (Insistent) “What’s your name?”
Macaw #2: “Hi!”
Mother: “Please sit down and eat your dinner.”
Little Girl: (frowning and crossing her arms) “You’re mean birds.”
Macaw #1: “Hello!”
This went on for a while. Meanwhile, the girl’s toddler brother, perched on his high chair, kept looking back at me with a grin, as if to say: “Can you believe my nutty sister?”
After dinner, Kari and I took a quick tour of the Inn’s very opulent lobby, restaurant and the architecturally fascinating outdoor café. As I learned, the Mission Inn had been a favorite stopping place for a number of presidents over the years, including William Howard Taft who,
in his honor (and corpulence), someone had made an extra-large chair for him to use while dining at the restaurant adjacent to the lobby. Apparently, he was insulted by this and refused to sit in it.
Speaking of Taft and chairs, there is a historical tale (unconfirmed) that the president was the originator of the seventh inning stretch. During a ball game in 1910, Taft, uncomfortably crammed in his seat, stood to stretch halfway through the seventh inning, and because the president stood up, the rest of the crowd felt obliged to do the same. I doubted if Taft decided to sing “Take Me Out the Ballgame” at that point.
Around dusk, Kari and I decided to hike up Mount Rubidoux, a small mountain on the western edge of town. Apparently, half of Riverside had the same idea as the roundabout trail we followed was packed with walkers, joggers and bikers. The hike proved to be quite the workout for me. Still, I kept my whimpering to a minimum. The sun was setting as we walked along the western edge of the mountain. At this point, our conversation turned to thoughts of my recently-deceased mother. Kari asked me what was my best memory of her. In all honesty, I was stumped for a time. It wasn’t that I hadn’t any fond memories of Mom. It was just that my mind drew a complete blank. Although it wasn’t a happy memory exactly, I shared with Kari the story I told at the funeral. When I was little, my mother and I were at the local grocery store. At the check-out line, I spotted a huge display of rubber balls, and I absolutely had to have one. When my mom refused to buy me a ball, I marched over to the display and declared that I would not move from that spot until I had gotten one.
“All right,” she said, then left the store. She’d come back, I thought. It was then that I saw my mom pulling out of the parking lot. Howling, I ran out of the store. She had called my bluff. I chose to tell that particular story as a testament to her strong will. I was admittedly a stubborn person, but she was more than my match. In a strange way, I was proud of that about her. Though she was only 5’ 2,” she was no simpering housewife. She had a toughness about her and firm belief in God that made her the rock in my family.
We reached the top of the mountain as darkness fell. There were two apexes that we could choose to travel to. At the top of one flew a large American flag, at the other, a large white cross mounted into the rock. We opted for the via de la Cruz. Almost symbolic of life’s journey, the final path to the cross wasn’t an easy one. We had to heave ourselves up onto large steps in the fading light while trying to dodge people struggling to come down the same way. It was worth the effort, however. At the top, the lights of Riverside glowed and twinkled around us.
Many other people were there enjoying the view as well, including a little boy who pointed up at the cross and excitedly exclaimed to his parents: “I see God! I see God!”
In different circumstances, the summit of Mount Rubidoux would have been a peaceful place for quiet reflection and prayer. It was not to be that evening as crowds of people chatted, scrambled over the rocks and blasted loud, serenity-busting music from portable speakers.
We climbed down from the mountain and returned to Kari’s house where we concluded the evening with a cribbage rematch. Much to Kari’s chagrin, I won despite my sloppy play and her frequent usage of the accursed “Muggins” rule.