Chugging On Down the Line With That Calabasas Choo-Choo

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Joe Sperling, 72, thinks that, in spite of the economy, everything's coming up roses.

Easy for him to say, he owns a successful flower and plant nursery.

But even Sperling knows the value of offering something extra.

His something extra chugs its way through time and space.

Flash back to 1945 when Sperling got out of the service and headed for California: the land of opportunity.

For Sperling, the land literally was that.

The Palestine-born son of an American foreign service officer started a gardening business that served the yards of the Beverly Hills rich and famous.

By the 1950s, he had become a successful landscape contractor.

By the early '70s he had opened a nursery in a town called Calabasas.

"It was pretty lonesome out there on Calabasas Road when we opened the place," remembers Sperling. "My daughter-in-law once called me and said she didn't like being stranded way out there all alone."

Now the lushly landscaped, terraced 11-acre Sperling Nursery is often the pit stop of choice for the local flower-growing gentry.

On weekends, it looks like the Green Party's Disneyland.

The attraction isn't discount delphiniums or cut-rate clematis.

The Price Club of posies it's not.

Sperling says what he sells are service and extras.

The extras include a gift shop, handmade outdoor furniture and a greenhouse stuffed with exotics, including orchids.

Sperling says he is most proud of the service. "Everyone who helps customers has passed the California Nursery Assn. certification test or its equivalent. They know what they are talking about," he says.

All this may be very interesting to those into things perennial and deciduous.

Sperling says most men and kids are not.

To think of a way to keep that segment of the population amused while mom is color-coordinating the camellias and fuchsia and ferns and mosses, Sperling and his staff came up with an idea that just took off.

For two years, he and other members of the staff have been building a railroad line that employs German-made miniature trains that travel back in time and through a lot of landscape, through an Indian village, a Western town, open spaces where there are cows and other creatures who may be friendly or not.

There is also a San Francisco trolley and some other vehicles.

For the staff, he says, the project has been a labor of love. It now takes up an area smaller than a football field but way larger than a breadbox.

Big enough, and with enough stuff, says Sperling, to keep the non-flower children and adults enthralled while the buyers nose around the nosegays.

One of his staff sets the trains in motion for most of every Saturday and Sunday.

For those enjoying the show, there is something extra with this something extra.

Sperling gives away free bags of popcorn.

Welcome to the Political World of Gary Washburn

It is said that everyone should have a hobby.

Northridge real estate agent Gary Washburn's is the defiling of Democrats, as California laws do not allow burning them at the stake.

Washburn is a self-confessed political junkie.

He was hooked early and there seems to be no cure for his addictive disease.

The Chatsworth man admits to all manner of political right-of-center doings, everything from working on staff for Assemblywoman Paula L. Boland (R-Granada Hills) to serving as a photographer for Richard Nixon's 1962 California gubernatorial campaign.

Now he is using his contacts in both parties to help him put out a newsletter, although the Republicans seem to be the only ones with party hats.

The newsletter is called Gary Washburn's Inside Politics.

Its home base is Washburn's house.

He has put out this four-page monthly ever since the first issue appeared in about 400 Valley mailboxes in June of 1992. He says he is out of pocket about $5,000 for his efforts, but that about 200 locals have forked over the $11.95 annual subscription fee.

He says he gets his information from folks all over California. Then he writes his copy and sends it--in the form of the newsletter--to friends and fellow political junkies, mostly in the Valley.

The prudent wear asbestos gloves when picking it up.

Much of what is written is hardly the sanitary stuff you see in family newspapers, but the language and taste police haven't arrested him.

Yet.

That doesn't mean that he hasn't gotten an earful about his lapses of taste, even from his staunchest Republican allies.

"Actually, Democrats have a better sense of humor," he says.

A first-page rendition of the recent mayoral installation was an example of what newsletter recipients are reading.

The story presented the opportunity for Washburn to bury the hatchet with the more liberal-leaning former mayoral candidate, Michael Woo.

The hatchet landed right between Woo's shoulder blades.

The installation story said this, in part:

"There was a Black gospel choir, a Korean farmer's dance and a Japanese folk dance. The finale was the Children-of-the-World Choir singing, 'It's a Wonderful World.' They were led, it was alleged, by Mike Woo. He couldn't get tickets any other way. . . ."

Not all the copy is so high-toned or partisan.

There is the occasional nonpartisan zinger, as well.

Like the description of the "two-term limitation" as "one term in office, one term in jail."

That's pretty funny, and unfortunately, too often true.

And Washburn does know how to do a high-concept tickle on a political sob story. He's mad about the Republican governor taking hits and he's not going to take it any more.

"Pete Wilson gave up a safe U. S. Senate seat to be California's governor. He puts together a somewhat fractured party and barely gets elected.

"Wilson is personally blamed for high college tuition; ants that develop immunity to pesticides; cockroaches that go under high-power electric wires, become berserk and attack rabbits.

"Wilson, in short, is to blame for famine, pestilence and Robert Kennedy's suspected poisoning of Marilyn Monroe."

Well, it's a start.

Although some of the rhetoric is just this side of ridiculously rambunctious, Washburn says he has the good of the community at heart.

"Everyone is so stressed out these days, I wanted to give people something to laugh at. What better than politics?" he asks.

Sebastian's Relentless Pursuit of Political Correctness

No one can accuse John Sebastian of political incorrectness.

The president and CEO of the Woodland Hill beauty products company, Sebastian International, has got the thing down.

He will stand for no animal testing on his products, which goes for mucho points with people who want to Save Everything.

He also financially supports efforts to protect the rain forest.

Mucho , mucho points, here again.

He had a replica rain forest built in his company headquarters so schoolchildren could experience it and understand what the area contributes to humankind.

Now he's got the AIDs issue in his sights.

Is this guy good, or what?

With the National Community AIDS Partnership, an organization dedicated to educating, informing and reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS, Sebastian will begin a three-tiered program of AIDS education, a company official says.

This fall, sample packs of Sebastian products will be sold in the Cal State Northridge and other college bookstores throughout the country, with a portion of the proceeds underwriting a project called Heart Strings 101. It is an educational musical revue about AIDS that will begin a national two-year tour of 190 campuses, beginning in August, 1994.

Additionally, the spokesman says, Sebastian has teamed with Follet College Stores to sponsor an HIV/AIDS awareness scholarship program in which winning participants earn $1,000 through an advertising campaign, essay, painting, monologue or song about AIDS.

Overheard

"I think my shrink is the Dr. Jack Kevorkian of the mental-health business."

North Hollywood woman to friend on phone.

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