A Lovely Sunday Picnic at Palisades
by Stuart Muller
We were all looking forward to a nice day last Sunday, having planned for a year to gather at the Palisades Recreation Center for a picnic. We are "The Islanders," a group of over 300 people, many of whom have known each other since we attended Palisades elementary schools here together in the early 1950ís. We are called "The Islanders" because we all graduated from University High School in West L.A in the summer of 1961 and that was our class name. There was no Pali High back then.
"Islanders" still refer to the Palisades Recreation Center as the "Palisades Park," because thatís what weíve been calling it since the day it opened in 1954. We were 10 to 11 years old at the time, and it was a big thing for us to get the first park in the Palisades. Many of us originally met at "The Park," playing sports or just hanging out. Activities at The Park broke down the school and church barriers that had kept us isolated from each other. When we attended Paul Revere, (we were the first class to go through all grades there) many of us joined teen clubs sponsored by the park directors. It really was the wonderful 50ís, with club jackets and hotrodís and sock hop balls in the gym. We formed life-long friendships, and now are connected through the internet. We met for a picnic at the park last year, and had so much fun that we scheduled another for this year. We obtained the permit from the park director in early January.
When we arrived at 10 a.m. we found things really messed up. There were notices on all the restroom doors saying that the bathrooms at the park were closed because "One of the pipes inside the building ruptured Saturday nightÖ" Fortunately, there was a port-a-potty availableÖ at the far end of the "Field of Dreams."
About 11:30 we were informed that our picnic spot had also been booked to a group from the Methodist Church, who took out their permit last month. There was no record of our permit. When we pulled out our receipt for our permit, park staff begrudgingly agreed that there might have been some error. No problem, they said. And no apology.
We had a great time, even though it was cold, windy and foggy. We talked and laughed nonstop from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. People had flown and driven in from many places: Florida, Oregon, Mexico, Hawaii, etc. Most of us donít live here any more, but we fondly remember the park and its' connections with our youth. Palisades Park stirred up many memories in us and we shared wonderful stories about our free lives in the Palisades and West L.A in the 40ís, 50ís and early 60ís.
We kind of accepted the reality of the toilet situation, even though it was terrible. Walking back and forth to the "shrine of smell" on the "Field of Dreams" became more and more of a nightmare as the afternoon progressed. The Methodist group, the Islanders, the children on the playgrounds, the joggers, the dog walkers, and tennis players Ö everyone was greatly and negatively affected. All of us had to use the "single-seater." Those of us who lived nearby ferried people to our homes to use our bathrooms. Other people just left the event. It was a nightmare. It wasnít funny at all. We now have new memories of The Park: strong visual, emotional and olfactory memories.
"Things happen." "Weíre on it" and "We have done all we can do" was the response of the three staff members that sat relaxing on chairs out by the new skateboard park, watching a single skateboarder slowly move about. They seemed bored. "AN EMERGENCY JOB ORDER WAS CALLED IN SATURDAY EVENING AT 9:30 PM." read the signs in capital letters on the bathroom doors.
On Monday morning I went to The Park to investigate. I met the city plumber, Paul, as he was leaving. "A pin hole leak in the attic of the old Gym. It took 15 minutes to fix." I asked about the emergency work order. "No work order was ever placed," he said. "There was a plumber available at 6:30 Sunday morning, but he had no work to do. They love to work on Sunday mornings. They get time and a half. It could have been fixed before 9 a.m. Sunday morning if someone had called in a work order" Bingo! At least the management of the Rec. Center is consistent in their high level of screw-ups.
I found out later that the work order was not placed until 8:30 Monday morning, by Walt, a local maintenance worker who took it upon himself to call the plumbing department and ask why no plumber had ever showed up.
Whatís the problem? Things break and leak. (Look at the new gym. Itís been closed because of "problems" for more time than itís been open and nobody is getting all excited about it. Itís supposed to reopen in October, after they have replaced the entire floor because of flooding.) The over-riding problem, as I see it after 12 years of monitoring events at Palisades Park, lies with local park staff and the series of directors assigned there. (Weíve had 8 directors in the last 12 years!) The staff seems to care less about serving the community than about maintaining their own comfort and tranquility. We are such a bother to them when we come and ask stupid questions or make suggestions that might cause them to have to get off their butts and some do extra work. A gruff "What do you want?" is the usual greeting you get when you enter the park office, if they acknowledge you at all. They are very busy. And bored.
What I simply want to know is: Why didnít staff member in charge, Mike Dickerson, investigate as to why a plumber didnít show up early Sunday morning? I would have done that by 9 a.m. Sunday if I was in charge. Mike has worked at the Rec. Center for more than a decade, but maybe he didnít know what to do in this circumstance. If he didn't, why didnít he call his boss, our new park director David Gadelha, to find out? That is what bosses are for, right? The ability to manage our park effectively is why we taxpayers pay park directors lots of bucks and give them great retirement plans, right? What would David have told Mike to do? Call the plumbing department and find out what going on with the emergency work order? The answer seems obvious.
Iím coming to seriously doubt that things will ever improve at the Palisades Recreation Center. It has been messed up for years, and strange things happen every day. Itís built into the system. This written piece probably wonít change a thing. Itís more probable that I have just wasted another day of my life on Rec. Center foolishness. Maybe Iím a fool to care. (Hey. that sounds like an old 50ís song!) Gone are the days when we had park directors like Mr. McDougle at Palisades Park, or Wayne Graves at Rustic: dedicated professionals who stayed with their parks for what seems like decades, improving them and being accountable for their successes and failures. Now, park directors are like Sav-On managers; they come and they go every two years or so. Now, no one is ever really in charge at The Palisades Recreation Center. And the community and our guests are left with the constant messes. The Rec. Center staff canít even call a plumber correctly. They probably couldnít even if they really cared.