#468 El Cariso Park, Sylmar / Tacos El Vampiro

The tennis part of this adventure was great and the bus part was even greater. I am a lucky man to be experiencing this much joy several times a week.

Traveling all the way to Sylmar was my way of sailing to the edge of the world. It’s as far as you can go before you’re not in Los Angeles anymore. I took my home bus, the 33 Venice — the driver waited for me, thank you sir! — all the way to Union Station downtown and then hopped on a Metrolink bound for the Antelope Valley.

That is a rugged ride on the Metrolink beyond Burbank. A lot of RV’s lined up along San Fernando Boulevard, lined up in squalor: ramshackle, litter, collapsed tarps. I felt like, gulp, those are people out there, what a hard way to go, how grim. That’s a thought and a feeling I carry with me as I go on my merry way, toting my big tennis bag, past Mission College and the three women outside huddled around their free Bible study pamphlet rack.

The thought and feeling include acknowledgment that although much is grim, not all is grim. There is the thick and juicy graffiti and view of Dodger Stadium and the email from my friend Jimmy about Bob Dylan’s new book about songs, in which he describes Little Richard as a giant who gave himself a little name just so people would be able to hold him in their minds.

This whole quest to play tennis on every public tennis court in LA is as much “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” as it is Don Quixote with a tennis racquet. What makes me think of that song besides the fact that I am always thinking about it is the lost dog flyer I saw while ambling up Hubbard Street, showing a squat black dog with an improbably long unfurled tongue, titled “God Dog.”

There is just so much to see in the world, especially if you’re open to seeing it.

This was my second time playing tennis with R, who is from Siberia and would still be an officer in the Russian military if he hadn’t asked for and received political asylum at the Mexico border. That’s what he told me last time; this time he didn’t have much to say. When I asked him how he was doing, he gave a complex shrug that I interpreted to mean, let’s give this guy some privacy.

Check out that crisp net tape — best I’ve seen thus far

He did say El Cariso is a nice park with beautiful mountains, and that is certainly true. Also true is I took great joy in simply hitting with him. Forehand, backhand, all the hands. There was grunting and sweating. My personal tennis goal was to follow through at shoulder level and that seemed to be moving the ball a little deeper into the court but not too deep, so I was feeling a glad inner hooray-for-me.

I also felt hooray for R when he caught up to me at 4-4 in our second set. You need the other guy to win sometimes. You don’t want to be pulverizing people. R is a very strong-looking fellow and with a little more practice on his serves, look out! Meanwhile, we are practicing together, both getting better, and the world needs that.

Improvement.

***

I got off the DASH bus that had a hand-scrawled sign saying free/gratis so I could go to Tacos El Vampiro. Yeah, I was a little knobby in the knee after all that scampering with R but I’m glad I persevered because they went 3-for-3 on tacos, with the Vampiro de Tinga being especially luscious. Chili oil and mayo, that was the flavoring I was picking up on in my new effort to pay attention to what stuff tastes like as opposed to just devouring my food like Grendel descending upon a Viking banquet hall. The server at the counter was solicitous, asking “Is everything okay” multiple times and each time it was more than okay, it was great.

Then I got back on the DASH to the Sylmar Metrolink and then it was a wild ride on the 731 Express through Sylmar into San Fernando and Pacoima. It was carwash antojitos carwash mural repeat repeat repeat, everything ignited by glint, those murals taking the hard knock environs and insisting there is a better world running parallel to and also within each moment, if you’re open to seeing it, which I was because I had that good taco juice running inside of me, and also about a liter of ice-cube cold, purple-red jamaica.

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.

2 thoughts on “#468 El Cariso Park, Sylmar / Tacos El Vampiro

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: