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Many happy returns to Claremont

by John Pixley

“There’s no need to leave Claremont. Why would you want to?” I found myself thinking later that Saturday evening last month of what Randy Lopez said. I had just told my friend that, more and more these days I am happy to be able to go home to Claremont.

We were in Hollywood, having seen a wonderful play (Niagara Falls at the Theater of NOTE). Once again, I was marveling at the riches of live theater in the Los Angeles area, especially in small theater, despite the old saw about LA not being a theater town.  As always, I felt privileged, lucky, to be able to see good theater, often with the actors just feet away, that is not too far away.

But there was that parking lot. My van was packed into it, like a pair of skinny jeans, and maneuvering out of it was quite the trick. Like that jumble tower game. These super-tight parking lots, like those jeans, are all over the Hollywood area. At least the flat rate was just $5, not $25, as it was in the lot behind the Pantages Theater when I saw The Book of Mormon last year (well, at least we had snagged some tickets at an insane discount, which was why we went).

After he managed to extract the van out of the lot, my friend said that the rate had probably gone higher, with all the clubs opening for the night. Probably.  Somebody is making bucks, big-time.

This was about the time, as we were heading down Hollywood Boulevard, that I said I’m happy to go home to Claremont. Sure, the big-city streets and lights are exciting. For a few hours. Or, sometimes, for a few minutes.

I find those big-city streets and lights, especially in places like Hollywood—where those skinny jeans and who is in them and where they allow them to go is so very important—to be less exciting. (Then again, I never got why all those tourists from Peoria want to see Hollywood Boulevard, even as it has been spiffed up, but perhaps that’s because I don’t live in Peoria.)

I’m not really interested in all those lines on the sidewalk and all the trying and not trying to get into those lines and would rather pass them by and go home to Claremont where the sidewalks are a bit less crowded.

Then there was the freeway. Where there was traffic. At 10:30 on a Saturday night. Again. And where I once again missed the long-gone, quaint days of “the 5-o-clock traffic.”

That was when I thought about Randy Lopez’  words said earlier that day. The ones about a lot going on in Claremont and about there being no reason to go somewhere else.

Mr. Lopez said this while he was emceeing the pie-eating contest at the Depot during the annual Claremont Pie Festival. He was actually vamping, filling time and no doubt trying to soothe a crowd of impatient spectators and pie-eaters as the pies were late in coming.

He pointed out that the Pie Festival, now in its third or fourth year and a popular event judging from how busy the Village was that day, is far from the only event that happens in the Village, much less Claremont. For one thing, there’s also the Village Venture in late October, which consistently draws thousands. There is also live music going on on Friday evenings in two or three Village locations during the warm months, as well as the Art Walks on the first Friday of each month and also special annual events like the Wine Walk and the Beer and Blues Festival. (See, the sidewalks in the Village are just a bit less crowded than the sidewalks in Hollywood.)  

With the pies being tardier and tardier, the summer concerts and films in Memorial Park, as well as the Fourth of July celebration, were mentioned. He also could have mentioned such events as the beloved Pilgrim Place Festival every November and also the monthly Saturday morning tours of the Village area put on by Claremont Heritage. Mr.  Lopez did put in a plug for the newly established Shakespeare Festival in July at the shamefully underused Greek Theater on the Pomona College campus. The festival was inaugurated by Ophelia’s Jump Productions, an exciting new theater company in the Claremont area, with which Mr. Lopez is associated.

The Shakespeare Festival obviously isn’t the only thing that happens on the Pomona College campus and the other college campuses here in Claremont, as Mr.  Lopez didn’t mention. (Maybe the pies arrived too soon.) The festival just takes place there when school isn’t in session.

When the students are here, there is a terrific variety of presentations and events going on. And with graduation coming up in about a month (really? Already?) there is a flurry of activity as students wrap up their projects for the year.

 This means that there will not only be the usual impressive presentations, like the almost nightly talks at the Athenaeum at Claremont McKenna College, in the next few weeks or so.

There will be special annual events like the International Festival on the CMC campus and the Kahoutec Festival at Pitzer College, in addition to end-of-the-year dance concerts at Pomona College and Scripps College (not to mention the 5-college ballroom dance company), plays put on by the theater department and the student-run Bottom Line Theater company at Pomona College and a slew of concerts by solo students and the orchestras and choral groups at Pomona and the other colleges.

Indeed, this is the time to check out the Claremont Colleges calendar, which comes with the COURIER at the start of the month or which can be found at www.collegescalendar.org.

And indeed, with all this and more going on, is there a reason to leave Claremont? Not that I won’t go to LA to catch a play or exhibit now and then, but Claremont sure is a nice place—it is, yes, more than a nice place—to come home to. 

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