Community Commentary -- E. Arthur Booth

A few years ago, I was driving down Olive Avenue past George Izay Park

and spied an unusual scene -- scores of people sitting in lawn chairs,

pitching tents, all queued along the sidewalk leading toward the Olive

Recreation Center. Curious, I stopped and asked a bystander, "What are

you guys in line for?" The somber reply: "Summer camp."

Ah, summer camp. For kids, it begins the week after school ends in

June. For parents, sign-up began at 7 a.m. May 4, when the choice spots

in the summer camp programs at McCambridge, Verdugo and Robert Gross

parks are ripe for the taking. Unfortunately, the enrollment spaces are

few, so the demand for them is great. Hence, registration officially

began around 11 a.m. the day before, when the first group of squatters

carried their couch and television up the sidewalk and parked their

posterior on a comfy cushion, initiating the time-honored vigil of


My wife was the one responsible for adding "day camp" to my son's

vocabulary. Three years ago, she met a friend around 5 a.m. on

registration morning, hoping to enroll him in the majority of sessions,

but was shut out of three weeks of camp (enrollment is 60 children per

session). Two years ago, she came an hour earlier (yeah, right) thinking

she'd jump the gun, and still didn't get all the weeks she wanted.

Thenl, last year, she breathed deeply, grabbed her down jacket and

showed up at 2 a.m. (again, what's she thinking?) and missed the

ever-popular Disneyland venue. That, along with the fact my son had to

endure a week at Robert Gross Park ("But they don't have a pool!"),

brought her to the realization that the only way to beat the odds and

procure those precious weeks was to beat the other campers at their own


Thus came those immortal words, "Honey, this year we're camping out."

Words to live by when living in Burbank.

The game plan was simple: She'd grab a book, a folding chair and

meander over to the park around 6 p.m to get an early spot. Wrong. I got

a panic call from her cell phone at 3 p.m. "You would not believe the

size of that line. It's down the street."

Frantic, she beelined down to Izay Park, where she took her place on

the sidewalk in a spot not more than a few feet away from the spot she

took last year at 2 a.m. Timing is everything. Unless, that is, you're

the guys with that couch and TV who had the bright idea of upping the

jeopardy level and arriving before the dawn of time.

I arrived with the tent at 8 p.m. A fellow in a pickup ranted and

raved about the injustice of it all, about how silly it is, then grabbed

a sleeping bag and headed for the back of the line. Come on, what's silly

about summer camp, aside from the names -- Hocus Pocus, Time Warp, Joe

Cool Daze. Camp is about Zuma Beach, the log ride at Knott's, and the

latest G-force plunge at Magic Mountain.

The evening winds seemed to be blowing a part-carnival,

part-resentment atmosphere, with a touch of tailgate mentality without

the tailgate. People were crammed into geodesic tents, bundled up like

mummies, playing their battery-powered laptops, DVD players or board

games -- a mood resigned to the fact that this one event is the be-all,

end-all in the constant fight for kid care.

Yet we made it through the chilly night and waited our turn at the

door to hear the results -- congratulations, all the sessions you signed

up for are open. Woo hoo! The things we do for love.

We packed the tent, wiped the one hour of sleep from our eyes and felt

relieved. Then, from the street, came the yell from a motorist: "Hey,

what are you guys in line for?" I smiled, gave the thumbs-up, and yelled:

"Summer camp."

He looked at me like I was nuts.

I think I am.



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