Saturday, January 14, 2006

Memories of the Valley #1
The Munch Box

Devonshire Blvd. is "The Strip" of Chatsworth. Instead of flashy hotels and casinos, there are floral shops, mini-malls and the type of restaurant that closes every few years. Then the restaurant would reopen a few months later with a new name serving the native food of whatever immigrants were buying houses in the area.

I grew up north of Devonshire off Canoga Ave., the street where Charles Manson and his family walked down daily for a while to fish in Hughes Market’s huge trash dumpsters. Devonshire Blvd. was the city. And, like any city, it had its own mystical sights. There was the Candy Cat, a topless bar. There was the Library, which had every Mad Magazine ever and books on things like hypnosis. And there was The Munch Box.

The great thing about The Munch Box is that it is shaped exactly like a munch box. Perfect branding. What made it better was that there's nothing in the world really called a munch box. But if a much box did exist, it would definitely be shaped just like The Munch Box. And it would definitely be located right where the north-south train tracks cross Devonshire. Just across the tracks from the Post Office. Super mustard yellow and brighter than the sun on the hottest day of the year.

When I was twelve, I was on a diet all summer.

Every day, I skipped breakfast. My neighbor and I would bike down to The Munch Box around eleven. After we ate, we spent the rest of the day either inside the baseball card shop or doing something baseball card related until some parent came home. Then we could swim.

Part of my diet was that I only ate one hot dog with chili and cheese. No fries. No chili-cheese fries. I also swore off McDonalds, Taco Bell, Wendy’s and every other perfect fast food restaurant on Devonshire. I wasn’t being anti-corporate at all. There was something in me that just knew if I wanted to lose weight I’d have to make a plan and stick to it.

Why The Munch Box?

It was a treat. My parents never took me there since it didn’t have a drive-thru or a video games section. I’d only discovered it and patronized it as I began to have my own freedom and my own money.

And what it made it so great?

Besides everything, it was the chili. Perfectly ketchupy, greasy and not beany. Similar to the taste of the delicious bean dip that Los Toros, another Chatsworthian demi-mystical site, serves free with their chips.

As we sat on the benches, we’d lick the chili off our fingers and forks. We'd watch the cars and an occasional horse pass. Or if the benches were full, we’d sit on the stools at the counter and study The Munch Box employees— a man, a teen boy and teen girl. They’d work, laugh and talk to the grown up men who ate there everyday. I remember thinking that they were like a big, loose family except they didn’t yell at each other.

By the end of the summer, I got so thin that my one hot dog made me full. So full that my neighbor and I had to walk our bikes down Devonshire Blvd. talking baseball cards. The whole time wondering who might see me as they drove by. And who would have to wait until school started to see that I wasn’t as fat anymore.

The painting in this post is one of the fine images of the Valley landscape you can check out at


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