Thriving in the Badlands!
POMONA 1976 - How Did I Ever Get Here?
ISSUE 001 - INTRODUCTION - How did I get here?
MARCH 21, 2020 - I hated our move to Pomona, California. I was two months into the 10th grade. I had survived three years of Mexican gang-banger torment at Washington Irving Junior High in NE Los Angeles. Irving is positioned just to the NE of Dodger's Stadium where Highland Park, Glassell Park, Atwater, Glendale, and Eagle Rock collide. I had finally graduated and moved on to the predominantly caucasian Eagle Rock High School, and I had felt like I was set free in loving paradise. Being 1976, there was a huge party atmosphere, but my love for skateboarding, surfing, and "Surfer Girls" seemed to allow me to fit right into the student body.
That interim summer I had already taken driver's ed at Eagle Rock High School, and I had already made lots of new friends. I was shocked to learn, just shortly after my sophomore year had begun, that our family was moving to Pomona, California. N.E. Los Angeles was no paradise, but I had lived there since second grade and I knew every inch of the hilly terrain. I knew every skate spot, bank, reservoir, and cool downhill. Yes, it was a rough area, but I knew that it was a whole lot closer to the beach than Pomona and I did not want to move. Of course, I had little to say in the matter, and as a dutiful son, I complied without any outbursts... Inside I was an emotional mess.
Pomona was known for being the host city for the LA County Fair each year. It borders the extreme east edge of Los Angeles County, and once you cross its border to the east you are officially in the San Bernadino County Inland Empire. For me, it was nowhere that I wanted to be.
Yes, in 1976, all I knew about Southern California was found in Surfer and Skateboarder Magazines, with a whole lot of Circus, Cream, and Rolling Stone magazines mixed in. Nothing in my life ever gave credibility to Pomona or the Inland Empire. Sure, it was only 35 miles away from NE Los Angeles, yet it seemed like a major middle American Pioneer crossing that would never allow me to see my current friends again. Yes, we had landline phones, but when I said my good-byes we all knew that it was seemingly for good. Phone calls would be billed for long-distance and it turned out that only the occasional letter was ever mailed. It was a sad so-long!
JUNIOR HIGH GOODBYES
Just 4 months earlier I had graduated from Washington Irving Junior High School and it was situated geographically in such a way that the student body split into three different directions after graduation. The majority went to John Marshall High School and it took me 35-years and the internet before I was to ever see or communicate with them again. I could have gone to Franklin High School, but it was very Mexican gang influenced, and I was so glad to be leaving that behind at Washington Irving. And then some of us were lucky enough to go to Eagle Rock. I was lucky because I lived on a borderline that allowed me to choose. But once we graduated and left Washington Irving, our social circles were severed as we went to our new schools. Having just gone through that separation, moving east to Pomona was equivalent to going off to Oklahoma... or further.
While others were enjoying their Thanksgiving weekend in 1976 by eating turkey and watching football, the Leavitt clan was painting walls and moving all of their earthly belongings one pickup truck at a time, to Pomona. By then, it was just my younger sister Becky and I, along with Mom and Dad making the move. Amidst all of this work, I was having to make a huge decision... Which high school should I choose?
NEW SCHOOL DECISIONS
We moved to the southwest corner of Pomona to a cozy neighborhood called Westmont. The subdivision was built to house the blue-collar workers of the government contracted General Dynamics compound. When I say blue-collar, I mean men who loved working with their hands and then drank lots of beer in their off-hours. From our house, if you went just one block east, it changed dramatically to predominantly Spanish speaking with lots of gang influences. Northward of General Dynamics were predominantly black neighborhoods that to my surprise were once all caucasian with lots of backyard swimming pools. The whites fled, but their pools remained and that would become a huge blessing to both me and my closest friends. And then just over the hill to the southwest was the newer city of Diamond Bar which was a newly built hillside community predominantly populated with caucasian upper-middle-class families that had no high school of their own to attend. NOTE: They would later build Diamond Bar High School, most well-known for the Utah Utes and NBA basketball star player Keith Van Horn. After I learned the make-up of the surrounding population, my Mom and I drove through Pomona and passed by the high school options.
GAREY HIGH SCHOOL
First, we drove southeast to Garey High School. There was a very Mexican influence and spray paint graffiti was everywhere. All of these were new gangs to me, but 12th Street seemed to be the most noticeable and the paint scars were visible all over the school, the nearby bus stop benches, the poles, the walls, and it made me think I was right back at Washington Irving Junior High. I felt sick to my stomach at the thought of going to school there every day. As we drove away, I knew that is a school I never wanted to attend. And to this day, I have never even walked on the campus.
SIDE NOTE: I just did a Google search for Garey High and the first hit was a KTLA Channel 5 news story stating, "Teen Boy Stabbed Outside High School in Pomona; Suspect Arrested." This news story was from 2019. From the picture, the school has removed the graffiti issue, but the inner struggles between the diverse youth rage on.
GANESHA HIGH SCHOOL
This high school was easily within skateboarding distance to the north of our house. The ride would be basically flat as the school is nestled at the base of the hillside where the 10 Freeway runs east to west. Over the hill was the famous LA County Fairgrounds and LA County raceway featuring the annual funny car Winternationals.
As Mom and I approached the school I saw no graffiti. I was told that the student body was about 40% black, 40% Mexican, and the majority of the Caucasians were bussed in each day from Diamond Bar. My decision was immediate and I chose Ganesha High School.
Of the two options I was afforded, I made the right one. Ganesha was anything but perfect, but I never would have made it through three years of Garey High School. I was so scarred by the gang-bangers of my junior high school years, then I knew could not have handled the final 3-years at Garey High School. What laid in store for me was a whole new set of struggles, challenges, and obstacles as I tried to thrive and survive my high school years. These challenges included the typical teen issues that would include, loneliness, trying to be included, making friends, identity, drugs, alcohol, ditching, skateboarding, rock & roll (Disco Sucks!), girls, and then there was school.
Yes, during the late 1970's era, the big issues and temptations were common to all the youth and I managed to thrive and came through it relatively unscathed. But friends from my past remind me regularly of the foibles and stupid stunts that filled our days and nights. It seems like I did not like to back down from challenges and dares. I refer back to them as memory makers... TO BE CONTINUED
Michael Leavitt - Orem, Utah