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The Rhoades Less Traveled:

Same problems, different city

April 28, 2008|By Brady Rhoades

Reading, Pa. and Costa Mesa are not as far apart as those thousands of miles might indicate.

Last week, I traveled east for a few days and missed — by one day — Barack Obama speaking to 35,000 people at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, so I drove west to catch a bit of primary history in Reading.

And failed.

But I did see the pagoda. You couldn’t miss it atop that hill.

“Are there a lot of Buddhists in Reading?” I asked a local.

Nope. Turns out, the 100-year-old pagoda was originally intended as a pagoda-style hotel and restaurant, but the guy with the big idea couldn’t get a liquor license so he bailed on the project.

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Now, the five-story structure is a tourist site. It was on the first floor, while drinking Reading root beer, that I met City Councilwoman Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz, who had seen Obama speak that morning in front of about 2,500 at the high school (for anyone wondering, I did catch Hillary at the University of Pennsylvania the night before the vote; if I have a chance to see McCain come general election time, I’ll do that, as well).

“What’s the big issue in town?” I asked.

There are two: the economy, stupid, and the changing face of the city. On the former: The pagoda, a sort of local landmark lit Christmas-style during the holidays “So Santa can find Reading,” is not having an easy go of it these days. I got the feeling Goodman-Hinnershitz was using the building as a symbol. I guess folks aren’t sightseeing and shopping as vigorously as they once did.

On the latter: Reading, which is about 55% white, is growing more diverse. Latinos are settling there. Some of the townspeople are none too glad.

“They are seeing their city change,” Goodman- Hinnershitz said.

Some, she said, have legitimate concerns about illegal immigrants. Others don’t make a distinction between illegal immigrants and Latino citizens.

The others, I took it, are the problem. In public debate, and this extends to the Internet, emotions elbow out reason. People are shouting (the web equivalent is ALL CAPS), not speaking — or listening.

Sound familiar?

After seeing hundreds of ridiculous postings lead us at the Daily Pilot to implement a registration process on our website, it did to me. I read more than a few spirited-but-civil electronic discourses swerve from disagreement to disagreeable, and worse.

I also saw more than a few moderate and well-reasoned voices on every side of the issue drop out of those conversations

And I thought of the City Council banning soccer at Paularino Park, a not-so-subtle move — errant soccer balls are dangerous, some said — to drive out Latino illegals and Latino citizens, never mind the difference.

Zero tolerance on soccer, you could say.

At any rate, I climbed the stairs to the top tier overlooking Reading and about 30 miles of trees and meditated on that one for a while.


BRADY RHOADES is the Daily Pilot’s managing editor. He may be reached at brady.rhoades@latimes.com or at (714) 966-4607.

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