There are few Christmas-time traditions more worthy of keeping than watching Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Sure, it’s a bit corny – critics at the time of its debut mocked the movie as “Capra-corn” – but it’s not as sappy as it may appear. And certainly there is the enduring lesson that one person can really make a difference in the life of many.
For me, the most powerful part of the film was the scene in Bedford Falls – look out, spoiler alert! – where we see what would have happened to the community if George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) had never been born. The result, as many of you know, is that the town turns into the rum-soaked municipal hell known as Pottersville, after the community’s richest and meanest man.
It becomes a Dante’s Inferno of prostitution, seedy bars, poverty and intolerance. Even worse, there’s a sign saying, “No dogs allowed.” How much further into the seven circles of Hell can a place get?
My point (points?) here is/are that:
- a) if you want to live in a great community, be a great community member and
- b) maybe you don’t appreciate what a great town you live in.
If you monitor social media much, you’re bound to see a lot of people griping about things. We cover Garden Grove, Huntington Beach and Westminster, and so I look at Facebook posts on those cities. If you pay attention to the most grumpy of those messages, you’d think that our cities are the West Coast version of Aleppo. According to those Grinches, traffic is out of control, crime is through the roof and things are much worse than they used to be. But, as you might guess, these tend to also be the people least likely to pitch in and be part of the solution.
Trash in the parks? Pick it up. Neighbors parking refrigerators on the lawn? Call code enforcement. People of different skin color moving in? Have your conscience lubricated.
The second part of living in Bedford Falls and not Pottersville is recognizing what you’ve got. George Bailey sometimes referred to his home as “this crummy little town,” but came to recognize it as “wonderful.” Let’s take a look at what makes our towns pretty terrific.
- Garden Grove. Big town (about 180,000 people, not counting tourists) with a small-town feel. Great local school system. Lots of diversity and very little ethnic friction. Revived uptown (Chapman and Brookhurst) shopping district, booming entertainment/hospitality area along Harbor Boulevard. Sleepy downtown about to grow by leaps and bounds. Grown-ups on the city council. Strawberry Festival. Christ Cathedral.
- Huntington Beach. All that beachfront! Lively downtown still on the grow. A college. Lots of beautiful new housing. Bella Terra. Surfing. Very much interested in preserving the environment and a sustainable life. Diversified economy including aerospace, entertainment, retail and more. Lots of civic groups doing lots of good. Central Park. Bolsa Chica wetlands. Rodgers Senior Citizen Center. The library in Central Park.
- Westminster. Citizens smart enough to step up and save the city from financial disaster. Westminster Mall (soon to be on the mend). Little Saigon. The Rose Center Theater. The Sunken Gardens at the Civic Center. Exciting plans on the drawing board to create a new downtown.
I don’t mean to suggest that we are without problems. Homelessness remains a tough, complicated issue, and how many more cars can we stuff onto our roads and freeways? But the way I see it, we’re living in one of the prime spots on the planet, living a life that 90 percent of the people on this dustball we call Earth would be glad to take part in.
So, to get corny these fading days of 2016, let’s just say this. Merry Christmas, and it’s a wonderful life if you make it that way, and it’s a wonderful town, too.
Jim Tortolano’s Retorts column appears weekly.