I took a walk after work the other evening, along the main shopping street in Pasadena. I wanted to swing by the Gap and look at shirts.
The mood in the street reminded me of holiday stories like A Christmas Carol, in which I played Bob Cratchit in junior high school.
The street was full of shoppers. They crossed in the dark night, like a well-dressed herd. Big store bags in hand. All ages. The darkness broken up by the lights from shop windows and restaurants.
As I marveled at the crowd and heard its murmur, I wondered if the disappearance of the great beast, consumer spending, had been overstated.
I bought a couple shirts and, at another store, a couple pairs of jeans. I had heard that stores were slashing prices all over the nation, but found that the end price was about what I usually pay.
Having worked much of my life as a news reporter, covering what ever happened to be interesting in the western United States, I have become skeptical about the height and depth to which some stories are taken.
A rain storm may be bad, but not quite the disaster that it has been portrayed. An earthquake certainly broke some things, but all the TV cameras and the print reporters congregate on the one building that lost a piece of itself.
While other stories, especially those that are either abroad or more complicated, get short shrift.
The economy is complex, and the numbers that show a recession are now pretty clear. Yet months ago, a friend told me that her postman, who she had known for decades, told her he had never delivered so many unemployment checks.
When she told me that story, well before the housing market collapsed and the economic numbers became obvious, I figured it was the kind of information that you need to listen to, that tells you the road ahead.
So, while the economic portents are certainly dire, there is now, a bit like a shop light on a dark street, a glimmer of vitality, a bit of the beast showing itself. Amidst the economic gloom.
As happens pretty regularly this time of year, I think of going back to Denmark, where the nights are frosty, and little, white lights glimmer, and Christmas meals and Christmas beer abound.
But I didn't know quite where to fit it in. And while politics in our nation have certainly gone in a different direction over the past decades than Europe, the cities here have been catching up.
Pasadena, like Los Angeles and San Diego, has pressed forward with city plans that put apartments up around train stations with restaurants and bars and shops that take up the street level spaces. Those areas have become more, to use a simple word, fun.
And although to many it might seem a stretch, Pasadena now reminds me a bit of a small city in Denmark. When I step out of work in the evening, there are plenty of people walking around, going to restaurants, shopping, or simply taking a stroll and getting an ice cream.
A further bit of info that, like my friend's postman, tells you what is happening in the bigger picture is that the city' holiday decorations have changed.
The old shopping street, along Lake Avenue here, would every darn year put out these awful Christmas figures along its median, a beat-up Frosty the Snowman, a sad Rudolph, a tacky sleigh. For as long as I have lived here. God, it was awful!
Now both Lake and Old Town, the old and new shopping districts of town, have simply wrapped their trees in pretty, small purple-white lights that contrast with the black tree trunks and emphasize the beauty held in the natural forms of the trunks and lower branches. It is pretty and puts you in the holiday spirit.
And I think, well, it would be good to get away. But being home during the holidays ain't so bad.