Warm memories of ‘Fire Place’

KRIS BEARD (left) and George Brietigam with the “West Garden Grove” sign (Facebook).

As a kid I was bored by the study of geography. Who care what was the principal product of Brazil? (Kid answer: Brazilians!).

But as I grew up (somewhat), I became interested in the topic, especially as I learned that one could create their own geographic names and places. It’s like being able to make up your own world.

For example, on the Orange (57) Freeway on my way to visit future wife Marilyn in Chino, there was a small rise in the roadway where someone had placed a sign designating it “Alexa’s Bump.” Now and forever, when I pass that way, it will always have that name, even though, alas, it’s been de-bumped.

More recently, on the Antelope Valley (14) Freeway, on our way to visit family in Palmdale, we were once – nearly – trapped on the road, either side of which was raging with wildfire from dry weeds and grass.

We managed to come through untoasted, but that specific spot where we were stuck in a massive traffic jam with flames rising higher and higher on each side of the highway, will permanently be referred to as “The Fire Place.”

On motor road trips, our dogs have always snoozed through the freeway portion of the trip, but awakened and stood up at the offramp, this marking the difference between “The Fast Street” and “The Slow Street.”

Increasingly, cities are seeking to popularize place names to build a sense of community. They post “wayfinding” signs to point out neighborhoods and points of interest. It wasn’t too long ago that West Garden Grove got its own freeway sign, some area cities – including Anaheim, Orange and Santa Ana – have turned to special street signs that designate historically or culturally significant areas. 

This is a great idea and we need more of it. It supports the idea of coming not just from some nameless, unremarkable tract, but from someplace with a tale and a character all it own.

If a community cares about honoring its geography, that’s – here comes the pun – a sign it has grown up.

Jim Tortolano lives in a neighborhood that many years ago was the home of a milk farm. He’s been trying to raise the money for a sign reading “Dear Dairy,” without much success.

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