SideWalk Ghosts / Interview 126: The Alta Dena Man

I have no idea of what is in the air this week… I’m looking at myself… I think I’m the same as I was last Thursday?

I’ve showered… stayed polite… even dressed presentable… but if we are looking for a banner record for rejection, the last five days has set the bar for getting “Go away 365 guy.”

I’m running on half tank, and thanks to the persistence of my lovely wife and daughter who are accompanying me this night, and striving to keep my moral up. Because of them, I am happy to introduce you to the man of the hour, Kevin of Alta Dena Express fame.

I won’t give you a full rundown of our path to Kevin, just will say it’s been long and has covered a loop of almost thirty miles. Who would have ever thought, that with so much geography covered, we would find ourselves friendless?

And after so much travel, it’s quite interesting that we set port at Alta Dena Express, only one mile from our home. “Who would have thunk! (I know thunk is not a real word, but it’s so fun to say… thunk, thunk, thunk).

If you’re old enough you may remember the days of full service gas stations. I got in just under the wire, starting to drive way back in 76, close to the end of the drive-up service era and on the threshold of self-service.

Oh well, we still have drive-through Starbucks. I know a stretch for authentication.

So to drive into an Alta Dena Express is to visit back to the days of service. And Kevin’s store is a time-tested monument, one that links back to an age of community: A slower time where people looked eye-to-eye and not through the speaker of a fast food joint.

Face-to-face service that listened with a polite, “How can I help you?”

How can I help you?” Basically the core take away from my visit with Kevin.

I walk in to the store and feel of the relaxed atmosphere. It is no 7eleven with rows of Slurpee machines or rolling hurry foods.

Rolling hurry foods? I’m referring to the variety of reinvented hotdogs that 7eleven has seemed to discover. They are evil things, always tempting us on their glistening and slowing turning rollers of silver. Such powerful seducers, with one dastardly goal, to inadequately nourish their victims in filling the void of their growling stomachs.

I shamefully admit, my kid and I love them, but I guess, you’ve got to throw caution to the wind sometimes. Life is for living, and stacking the condiments on an unknown mixture of meats is my kind of thrill seeking. And at two for $2.29, who can pass on the adventure.

Let’s get back to healthier matters… the good life… the slower pace of living at Alta Dena.

I can understand why, with a smile on his face, Kevin tells me, “I’ve been working here two years.” The guy is way chill and is happy to talk with me.

I’ve mentioned community, and with Alta Dena being so close to my neighborhood, and knowing the San Fernando Valley pretty well, I know that every day brings a vast diversity of customers right to Kevin’s door.

He shares a comment with me that is very revealing as to who he is at heart, “It make things better the more people you get to know, and the more you know about other people, the more you know about other cultures.”

Kevin nods with acceptance when I state, “I bet this job has taught you a lot about people and culture.”

In his gesture, the story is told, Kevin quests not status, is not compelled to judge, or driven to own the world. He is just a steadfast dude doing the best he can to live right, and to get to know his neighbor.

Here is a unique combination of wishes for us, both of which are linked together in Kevin’s delivery of them, “Don’t quit” and “Get to know each other.”

Don’t quit, we’ve heard it time and time again, but never linked to get to know each other.

The mixture of the two statements is fascinating. There is only one-way to interpret it; could Kevin be saying this? “Don’t give up on each other.” It’s at least worth pondering.

The store is close to closing time, so after buying my health food for the evening, Snapple, a Twix Bar and Altoids, I ask Kevin our final question, “Where would you like the see the world in the next five, ten, fifteen, or beyond years.”

He answers, “The world less hungry.”

I inquire as to why he feels this way.

“I was watching a documentary on Korea the other night. They showed the hunger there. Kids are dying of starvation all over the world. It really impacted me.”

Don’t quit… Get to know each other… and more dramatically “Kids are dying of starvation.”

I’m driving home, my girl happily sipping our Snapple, and I can’t help but to be sobered by Kevin’s wishes for the future. “Makes me think how fortunate so many of us are, even if money is tight.”

Kevin, we’ll be taking again, I’m sure.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. After the week you had searching for 365 friends, I’m guessing the message, “Don’t Quit” was delivered from God’s lips to your ears, Richard, by your neighbor, Kevin!!!!!!! Keep on, keeping on. I’ve been reading your blog for just over a week now, and I am hooked! It is the highlight of my day. From the descriptions you write about your travels, the people you approach and the words they share that you so aptly put here in the blog…I am constantly awed by what I can learn every day through the 365 folks you meet! Thanks for your efforts and devotion!

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  2. I admire your persistence and am in awe of your photos. I find them warm, personal, inviting. Do you generally just use one camera? Do you cart around reflectors and the like to get good shots or just go with whatever your presented with?

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    1. Hi, I happy you like the photos, and thank you for the comment on persistence. It’s hard sometimes, but the rewards are well worth the effort.

      I do use one camera, a Canon 1Ds most of the time. I carry a back pack with several lenses, flash, a small reflector and a few light modifiers. I keep the shoots very short (usually between 5 and 10 minutes), ay longer sometimes make the people start to get too self conscious and I loose the integrity of who they are. I think in the moment and pose them right where I meet them. That way the shot keep it’s integrity as to where and how we met. I also do my best to blend any additional light into what is available. It’s been an awesome, think on my feet exercise.

      I am thinking of starting a street photography class for a limited amount of students. Are you interested?

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