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JOSEPH N. BELL

Living's Cheap in Wichita but You Must Live There

August 19, 1989|JOSEPH N. BELL

During my long auto trip across the country this summer, I tormented myself by cutting out listings of houses for sale in the classified advertising sections of various newspapers. For example:

In Wichita, Kan.: "Unique home, beautiful area on 1/2-acre wooded lot, circle drive, 2 1/2 story, 4 br., 2 1/2 ba., fam. rm., covered patio, newly remodeled kitchen, $89,000."

Or in Ft. Wayne, Ind.: "3 bedrooms, 2 baths, large wooded fenced lot, new kitchen, enclosed porch, den, great area, priced to sell at $72,900."

One of the fantasies I allowed myself while I was driving was turning the paper profit on our Orange County house into real money, buying a house outright in some other part of the country and building a new life minus the economic pressures of this area.

I always suspected those dreams were bogus--at least for me--and last Sunday I discovered at least one of the reasons. The revelation came to me as I joined 60,325 other people at Anaheim Stadium--about 1,400 miles from Wichita and 2,200 from Ft. Wayne.

The tone of the day was set in the parking lot before the Angels' critical game with Oakland. (The party line was that this game didn't matter any more than any of the other 46 remaining this year, which was, of course, baloney, spread copiously on the sports pages. It mattered one hell of a lot more.)

We got there later than I like, thereby missing batting practice, and the parking lots were full. I pulled into a dubious parking spot on the fringes of an outer lot, and while I was maneuvering to get in, a van pulled into an adjacent spot behind me. I was struggling and threw a dirty look over my shoulder, and the driver of the van--a young woman--walked over and said: "Did I cause you trouble? I'll be happy to move until you get parked if you'd like me to."

That's the way it went all day.

Everybody in Anaheim Stadium was breathing deep gulps of playoff excitement, and the game itself may have been one of half a dozen of the most dramatic I've ever watched. A hack scriptwriter would have been jeered out of the business had he suggested a three-base error in the ninth inning that forced the Angel pitcher, Brian Harvey--with the tying run on third base--to strike out, first, Jose Canseco, the leading muscle-man of the American League, and then Dave Henderson, who a few years ago knocked the Angels out of a World Series. I saw that game, too, and I was tempted to hide my eyes when Henderson came up to pinch-hit last Sunday.

Of course, what happened on the field was the centerpiece, but what was taking place in the stands kept the juices pumped up, too.

These people were really into the game, and when they stood--almost as one--for the three pitches that struck out Henderson, there was a sense of shared exhilaration that stirred the soul. I saw no rowdyism, and the only discordant notes were provided by the marshmallow heads who knock beach balls around the stands while both players and spectators are concentrating on the game. Occasionally, these beach balls fly onto the field, and I couldn't help speculating over the price that would be paid had Harvey lost his concentration for even an instant in the ninth inning because of a migrant beach ball.

One of the ultimate acts of courage I've seen was performed by a male spectator who caught one of the balls and put it under his seat. When some of his neighbors tried to retrieve it, he held onto it until he could turn it over to an usher. A number of spectators showed their approval by patting him on the back.

But the beach balls were a small cavil in an otherwise dramatic demonstration of why I was glad I wasn't in Ft. Wayne or Wichita. The stands were full of families. In front of me were a mother and father and four fairly small and remarkably well-behaved children. Beside me sat a pair of what looked like 10-year-old brothers, one wearing an Angel cap, the other an Oakland. It was a hot day, and two-thirds of the crowd was sitting in a glaring sun, usually a formula--combined with too much beer--for unrest. But it didn't happen. Even the girls in shorts and halters walking up and down the steps got minimal attention. The game was the thing.

There were plenty of exuberant spirits, but they were under control. Somewhere in the middle of the game, for example, a youngish man sitting behind the Oakland dugout bought up a dozen ice cream sandwiches and threw them high in the air to people sitting behind him. And when the Angels rallied for four runs in the sixth inning, Claudell Washington's bat flew out of his hands on an errant swing and landed in the lap of a young spectator who triumphantly held it aloft. But this was a crisis. The Angels had a runner on third base and two out, and Washington needed his bat. So while 60,000 people cheered, the young man accepted a fungo bat and gave Washington's back. He promptly hit a single that turned out to be the winning run.

People were even good-natured in the parking lot afterward. Twice drivers converging with me stopped and allowed me into a line of traffic and waved in response to my thanks. And while we listened to the post-game radio show on the way home, I was running through my head all the possible connections I had and angles I could work to get playoff and World Series tickets; I have a daughter and son-in-law and two grandsons with whom I may lose face forever if I can't get them into at least one game.

And then I thought about how far Wichita and Ft. Wayne are from Anaheim Stadium; when I got home, I threw away all the real estate sections I had collected. All of a sudden " 1/2-acre wooded lot" segued into center field in Anaheim Stadium, fluttered there a moment, and then disappeared. Maybe forever.

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