Sometimes in Los Angeles, your eye is caught by something that evokes a past you may not really know - it may have been something you saw in a movie, or read about in a book. Nevertheless, when you see it, you think it was something you really lived.
This neon sign is like that for me. It's located in Culver City, on Sepulveda Boulevard just north of Washington Boulevard.
When I was in second grade, in a small town in Illinois, my family lived in a rented house while we were waiting for a house we were building to be completed. It was 1962, I think. And - though I was too young to understand the details - it seemed that the construction took longer than expected, so we had to find temporary housing after the rental lease had run out.
As I remember it, we spent about a month living in a motel called the Tick-Tock Motel, on the eastern outskirts of St. Charles, Illinois. It was a long, low cinderblock structure on the verge of a rural route. It had a neon sign with a clock-face, with hands that rotated around a smile. We rented a suite with a couple of bedrooms and a kitchenette - large enough to accommodate a family of two parents and four kids. I remember sharing a double bed with Brother Two - we were thrilled because it had a Magic Fingers machine that would vibrate the mattress if you put a quarter in it. If we were good, Mom would turn it on after tucking us in for the night - we'd buzz off into sleep while the trucks thundered past on the highway outside.
Whenever I see a neon sign like this one, I remember our month in the Tick-Tock. We kids thought it a fine adventure, but I remember that my parents were less excited, almost as if it were something shameful to live there.
My father had grown up in poverty, and as I remember him, he was always a penny-pincher. So our time in the low-rent Tick-Tock was likely his thrifty alternative to extending the lease on our rental - rather than financial desperation. But the Tick-Tock's tawdry atmosphere may have evoked an impoverished past he preferred not to remember.
In any case, we kids loved it, and over the years we reminisced about the tacky furnishings, the sprung metal lounge chairs, the tiny kitchenette like a playhouse, the funny little park-like yard around the entry - and the Magic Fingers.
On a recent trip to that part of the country, I drove around where I thought the Tick-Tock once had stood. The two-lane rural routes that the trucks had traveled were now six-lane thoroughfares lined with big-box stores and shopping malls. There was no sign of the old Tick-Tock Motel.
But here in L.A., when I see this sign on Sepulveda, it brings back those memories.