#473 Balboa Tennis Center / Sugar Taco

One thing I am learning about this tennis quest is that if I don’t make it happen, no one will. And then, the world will never know what it is like to try to play tennis on every public court in Los Angeles. It is a big responsibility and I feel like I’m up to it, as this latest episode will demonstrate if I write it right. Here’s hoping!

There it was getting dark early on the first day of Rosh Hashanah and I felt I had not really gotten the High Holy Day spirit. I just listened to my usual rabbi’s usual spiel, on Zoom, not even going to a synagogue, coulda been a spirituality webinar. I wasn’t feeling it and that made me grumpy, which is not fair to my wife. Is it? To inflict my rotten mood about not being sufficiently High Holy Day’d on her?

So I opened up the Rosh Hashanah liturgy, which I have right here at my desk all year round, to keep me company and make me feel Jewish. I opened it up at random and the little piece of wisdom at the bottom of that random page said, “God controls everything except reverence for God.”

Ohhhhhhh, I thought. That’s a good one! It’s what I was still thinking about the next day, the second day of Rosh Hashanah, while walking down Balboa Boulevard in the Valley, with the heat cranking up past 99 degrees. I had my big tennis bag on my back and I was hoofing it to the Balboa Tennis Center, which I had chosen the night before as a destination to help me get out of my bad mood.

It helped! Just give me a destination, that’s what I am finding out on this quest. Give me a tennis court to check off. It’s better if I have someone to play with but I’m okay just hitting a few serves. That makes me feel like yeah, I have a purpose. So that’s where I was headed in the superheated Valley, walking along the roadside, feeling that sun, thankful for my white T-shirt and white dress shirt and gray batting practice shorts and straw Stetson hat — an outfit that helped me stay cool and comfortable even while contemplating the power of the sun.

I mean, talk about a higher power! Because, you can scientifically account for the power of the sun, it’s a star, all that hydrogen constantly blowing up, but wait — where does the Sun get its power from??? To me that started feeling like reverence for God and this made me feel grateful for the second day of Rosh Hashanah, to get into the spirit, like being able to take a make-up test if you flunk the first one.

So yeah there I was tromping on foot down Balboa with a big bag on my back, feeling a kinship in mode of transport and stuff-carrying with the guy who rode up on the bike path toting all kinds of wordly belongings and plastic bags of recycling.

“What time do you know it is?” he asked me, using just that particular locution as if my certainty about the precise o’clock-i-ness made a difference.

“It’s ten past twelve,” I told him, and he gave me a sly smile which to me indicated he was glad I got him.

I was glad about it too and continued cheerfully along, clomp-clomp-clomp, 99 degrees, sure, make it an even 100. I had a little bit more ice-and-Boba at the bottom of a cup to keep myself hydrated or close enough. I mightta been a little delirious but nothing too heat-stroke-y. I’m not gonna let things get that out of hand.

Nope, it was just a half mile to the courts and I sought out shade immediately. While cooling off another unhoused-looking guy — tall, young, wearing a makeshift turban — came up and cheerfully asked, “Can I give you some ice cream? I just got some from McDonald’s.”

I wanted to say yes but declined because, y’know, candy from a stranger. Still, it was kind of him to offer. I went ahead and played my favorite by-myself-at-a-tennis-court game, which is to try and hit a cup near the T with my serve.

This I accomplished on just my third try! I hooted and hollered. Last time I tried this I gave up after 20 minutes. I thought, y’know, it had been an honorable effort and now it was time to move on. And here I was, just a week later, nailing it on my third try.

Progress!


I was not excited to discover the nearest taco place, Sugar Taco on Ventura, was vegan. However, I did not go looking for an alternative as I had been tromping around in the swelter long enough. Also, I recently read in The London Review of Books that switching to plant-based diets is a must to avoid the worst effects of climate change, so I figured, let’s give this a try.

To my immediate delight, they served up ice water in a recycled tequila bottle. Festive! Furthermore, the interior design is so brightly colored it felt like being inside one of those big cones you can put on your head nowadays to cure depression. The tacos themselves, gluten/seitan-based imitation chicken/carne asada, tasted to me like a fresh take on refried beans. Fortunately, I like refried beans and I was hungry so it hit the spot.

Published by MarkGozonsky

Mark Gozonsky is the author of The Gift is to the Giver: Chronicles of a 21st Century Decade (Keppie Usage, 2022). His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Sun, and Lit Hub. Mark’s essay, “Gritty All Day Long,” is anthologized by Norton and featured in Best American Sports Writing. He has been writing since his emergence as a gigantic music nerd in early-1970’s San Antonio, Texas. Stints as a regular commentator on public radio’s Marketplace and Internet 1.0 exec preceded a 20-year run as a public school teacher. Marko’s favorite writing topics include unorthodox pedagogy, well-intended gardening, and the intersection of baseball and urban bicycling. He lives with his wife in Los Angeles, where he is working on a new book about his quest to play tennis on every free public court in LA.

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