My Very Pasadena Column From Pasadena Magazine’s Power Issue
Where the Not-So-Elite Meet
It’s easy to assume that all the power in Pasadena gathers behind the closed doors of select private clubs, socializing with Scotch and doubling down on the value of perpetuity. You know, the ones with the green awnings, chintz couches in the ladies’ room and tasteful California Plein Air paintings on the wall, where the membership eschews informal footwear and the use of cash. Pasadena is dotted with clubs as old as the city itself, basking in tradition and the promise of a beautiful reception venue for your daughter’s wedding, where belonging means having a place to go to dinner every Saturday night for the rest for your life. At some clubs, golf rules. At others, tennis is the game. Still others lean toward bridge and conversation. I’ve been a guest a several of these clubs in Pasadena and they’re lovely—the people, the staff, the chicken salad. All lovely.
But I think a new day is dawning in the Crown City, a day when the power is with the people, not the Membership Committee. And for the good people of the Chicken Enthusiasts Club, that day dawns very, very early. While only a few glide through the front doors of elite private clubs, the doors are wide open at hundreds of other clubs in the area that are designed for the not-so-elite. Like the Ukulele Strummers of Pasadena, who promise a “casual group” to enjoy music– as opposed to the usual tightly-wound Ukers, I guess. Or the Pasadena Witch & Pagan Network, over 800 strong, connecting shamans, Wiccans or anyone in search of a local coven. Or how about the Bunny Bunch, rabbit rescuers who meet-up for Hoppy Hour? (Don’t underestimate the drawing power of bunny pun.)
It speaks to the egalitarian nature of power in Pasadena. Sure, the old money crowd has a head start on the rest of us in terms of acquiring access, influence and cheap real estate. But if you’re looking for a sense of belonging to the city, anyone can participate in the power of the collective. No chintz couches necessary, only a cohort of people who like to gather and do their thing together. There are clubs for hikers and bikers and people who do Tai Chi. If you’re into nighttime photography, classic rock or urban futsal, there are others out there like you. If you have an interest in something called Ubuntu, you’ll find your fellow Ubuntu Enthusiasts at Peet’s once a week. No equity buy-in required.
Like to read? Pasadena has book clubs for Millennials, Lesbians, Jane Austen Lovers, African Americans and Wine Drinkers. (Wait, I thought all book clubs were for wine drinkers.) Wanna dance? You can salsa, hip hop, lindy hop, ballroom and flash-mob with your people. Or how about the Historical Tea & Dance Society, focused on the joy and romance of Victorian and Regency Era dancing. This club promises members that are “friendly and kind” and nothing’s more powerful than kind. It shouldn’t be surprising that about half the members use a painting of Jane Austen as their profile pics. I’m guessing there’s quite a bit of crossover with the Jane Austen Book Club.
A quick survey of meetup.com tells me that the way to get into most of these clubs is not the multiple letters of recommendation and sponsor cocktail parties route that private clubs employ. The key to clubby is to own a dog. That’s right, dogs rule and their people like to get together with other dog people and walk or run or train for athletic events, play group fetch or, wait for it, start a book club. Now I know those folks over there at the Athenaeum like to tell you about the time Einstein ate there—but I think a dog-themed book club is pretty great.
If owning a dog is too high a bar for entry, how about eating and drinking? Do you eat? Do you drink? That’s enough to earn membership status in Mr. Pasadena’s Drinking & Dining Club, a squad of restaurant and bar explorers, led by Michael Calderon whose made his mark on social media as Mr. Pasadena. Why form a club, I asked Calderon. “I felt that social media was not really social. If I was going to be squawking about bringing together people around food and drink then I better put something together. Little did I know that people would actually come and join me.” Once every month or two, up to a 100 drinkers and diners, ages 25 to 65, join Mr. Pasadena at a local haunt. Calderon says, “I love connecting people and I love connecting people to places to eat and drink.”
And isn’t that the point of clubs, really? As much as I love a top-notch chicken salad, particularly if it features grapes and the right amount of tarragon, nothing crows “I belong” like feeling that sense of connection to others with a shared sensibility. That being said, I hope the 800 plus witches and pagans in Pasadena use their powers for good, and not evil, and do something about the traffic on Del Mar.