“It’s ‘old school,’ Detective Doug Monte said about his town. Banning, California. I’d stopped to get water on my way up the mountain to Idyllwild, behind Palm Springs. Up the street from the convenience store, kids wearing blue and gold t-shirts waved and shouted free car wash. My Jeep needed a scrub.
In an open lot on San Gorgonio Avenue behind an old school, dozens more kids, all ages, boys, girls and adults, pointed to a coned-off area, motioned me to a stop. Something was alive in Banning this Saturday morning. Enthusiasm ruled.
I dropped off ten dollars and talked to a woman who explained the event. Police Athletic League. It’s where the kids hang out. The Chief is around somewhere.
Her husband, Detective Doug Monte was in charge today. T-shirt, I asked? No problem, Doug said.
The old part of downtown Banning has a few blocks, a furniture store, an independent market, an art gallery in an old house, a café or two, schools. I stopped sometimes for gas in Banning back up the freeway on my way to Palm Desert or Joshua Tree. Today I found more. The Police Athletic League kids lined San Gorgonio Avenue waving hand-painted signs.
About thirty thousand people live in Banning, Doug said. Old school, he said again. The gym here, he pointed to the beautiful structure with high windows, beams latticed inside the glass way up top, built in 1929. Yeah, still has games every week. School teams, they play there.
Well maintained, a good coat of paint, the kind of gyms that smell like they’ve been used, survived an overtime game or two, all wood, aged, the sound of the ball on hardwood that echoes on an empty floor with sun streaming in, casting shadows from the high beams. Roaring with cheering and screaming when the winning bucket falls in.
That’s not old school, I thought. That’s Main Street USA.
Spent thirteen years in the sheriff department, Doug said. A hundred and twenty kids play soccer on the field back up there. He pointed to the northwest. In addition to the dozens holding signs and spraying water and lathering my Jeep and the other cars lined up in the shade, more kids were playing soccer on this Saturday.
Doug shouted instructions to kids holding rags and buckets and spray nozzles, smiling, nodding his head. Building trust. The kind of guy a kid could go to in a time of trouble or need, someone who was willing to talk with a complete stranger about his town, talk about 'old school' and a wooden gym and a soccer field with over a hundred kids, blue and gold t-shirts.
He gave me a t-shirt. ‘Banning Police Athletics League; Making a Difference One Kid At A Time’. I believe it. Something’s going on in Banning.
We’re here every Saturday, Doug said.