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Sharon Sekhon: A 'Misspent' Youth at the Pak Mann Arcade

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KCET Departures asks, "What's your or your family's Los Angeles arrival story?"

Today, we hear from Founder & Executive Director, the Studio for Southern California History**, Sharon Sekhon:

"I arrived formally in Los Angeles to go to graduate school in 1996. I moved here to pursue a Ph.D in History at USC after living in Orange County.

"I grew up in Fullerton, Yorba Linda, San Jose, and the Pasadena area where I attended high school, and misspent much of my youth playing video games at the legendary Pak Mann Arcade on Colorado (now a strip mall).

"My visits to Los Angeles were frequent and the boundaries between places blurred in my movements across the region. Landmarks, like the Pak Mann Arcade, serve as locations for special memories that spring from my mind as soon as I think about them.

"My family arrived in Southern California in 1963 from Arizona. Another landmark is the University of Arizona in Tucson. My dad met my mom there at a party for foreign students -- my dad is from India and my mother grew up in Arizona.

"He was studying for his Master's in Engineering and she was studying Art. In retrospect, it must have been a shared work ethic and corny sense of humor that connected them, in addition to amazing good looks.

"My father got a job as a tire engineer at the Firestone Tire Company (now the Citadel Shopping Mall next to the 5 FWY). They lived in Lynwood where my oldest brother Dave was born.

"I was born in Anaheim. My father continued his education after moving here and became an aerospace engineer. He worked at Hughes Aircraft (now a Target shopping mall) in Fullerton until his retirement.

"Throughout my life, trips back and forth through the Southwest shaped my outlook. Whether it was in my mom's rust Ford sedan slowly following the speed limit, or in my own Toyota revving to the music of my CDs, the deserts have marked my understanding of place through their subtle colors, wildlife, blistering weather, isolation and loaded landmarks.

"I remember staring out the window as a young girl as we drove, imagining the people who attempted to traverse across these places by foot or by horse. I named the mountains after my grandmothers and claimed them for me only. We actually were never taught the names of Southern California mountains in school, so naming them seemed right.

"I spotted roadrunners and cacti that looked as though they were designed for the boring black and white Westerns that were always playing on Channel 5.

"At Cabazon, I felt I owned the dinosaur models (that are now hidden by a fastfood restaurant) and was so thrilled later when Pee Wee Herman used them in Pee Wee's Big Adventure and OMD used them in a music video. The dinosaurs are a landmark in my life.

"My mom made it a habit to stop at Hobo Joe's for pancakes at the half-way point to Phoenix where she taught me the delicious experience of eating breakfast at night. When this restaurant disappeared, along with tons of other mid century Americana, I was saddened to see another landmark lost.

"But fast forward twenty years, and I found a Hobo Joe statue in Buckeye, Arizona. It appears someone else loved this place as much as I did, to the extent they saved its unique, and now offensive, mascot.

"I chose to study Southern California and Southwestern history as a way to understand where I live, and ultimately my own history.

"Los Angeles is a place like no other in terms of diversity, beauty, colors, music, people, foods and with all of its terrible faults, it's my place and as I know its curves and hidden landmarks, the place knows all of my secrets and history."

-- Sharon Sekhon
(as emailed to Jeremy Rosenberg)

**Jeremy Rosenberg has written for the Studio

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