Tuesday, July 26, 2011

H-ROCK! Part 1

In a prominent mid-century modern hall planted squarely at the peak of Pasadena’s own sinful strip, Colorado Boulevard, there’s a church called H-ROCK. Everything about H-ROCK is carefully designed to be, quite simply, the shit. 
Bright orange banners (we’re talking like 50 feet tall) are installed to fit into the building’s own vertically linear facade. I appreciate that this contemporary addition was designed around the original design, at least. From about a mile away, you can make out the bold font on these loud banners. H-ROCK. Because this church is along my daily drive, I thought the banners were for a new, zealous youth group. I thought it was put together by a college, perhaps nearby Fuller Seminary (no way), or maybe even a more westerly off-shoot of Azusa Pacific University. Surely this firey youth program cannot monopolize this entire building. The building is large and stunning. I don’t know for what purpose it was built, but I would assume it was some sort of meeting or event hall for one of the local museums, colleges, or big corporations. It was obviously built in a time of prosperity during what has become my absolute favorite era of commercial architecture. Think MadMen West. If it was originally built to be a church, it must have been a strong and progressive one. 
H-ROCK was not this church's God-given name. It used to be called “Harvest Rock”. I don’t know when they launched the tangerine-tone campaign, but at some point it was decided H-ROCK was an appropriate improvement. I have a particularly tough time with the revised title, being a more literal reader. I fully understand how you're supposed to say it. H. Rock. I get it, but I always say it in my head as “huhrock”. I end up mouthing it repeatedly to get rid of the hyphen, and you know saying anything over and over makes it sound bizarre and foreign. At that point it just degrades in my head. “Huhrock. harock. crock. crotch.” I can’t help it. Saying “aitch-rock” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. It turns into Russian. Hyello komrades! Plees jyoin me ayt aitch-Яock!
My wife and I made our decided morning voyage to H-ROCK, and were anything but alone. A-frame signs were put out on all the surrounding streets. You couldn’t miss them. They were brand-new and bright white. They were all exactly perpendicular to the street, as if placed by God’s very own parking patrol. The graphic design was startlingly well done. These were the expected yet surprising miniature versions of the towering orange banners looking down onto the San Gabriel Valley. I was unsure if these little signs were set up to actually broadcast the parking instructions, or just to inform the droves of passing cars headed to the nearby Rose Bowl flea market that there was something very big, very orange, very rad going on here. I noticed the “H-ROCK” text was much bigger than the traffic-guiding arrows. 
With all this parking forewarning, we decided it would be best to park in the first space, in the first lot we found. I mean, if the signs are a half-mile away, there’s gotta be a huge jam when we get close by. 

We parked in a near-empty lot, the first we found. The H-ROCK branded sign sat proudly at the entry, greeting us with its stylishly weathered fonts. This was the parking lot belonging to the old Pasadena Moose Lodge.

I feel it went like this: A sleepy pair of H-ROCK youth volunteers brainlessly placed that sign at the lot’s entryway, early in the morning, as instructed. The sign indicated “You’re in H-ROCK’s hood, y’all”. The H-ROCKers were confident that at some point in recent years, H-ROCK’s big cheeses made a handshake deal with the elderly cheeses of Moose Lodge for use of their smoothly-paved and highly-underutilized parking. They had to. There’s just too much H-ROCKing going on across the street. An H-ROCK cannot survive on an H-ROCK lot alone. Looking at the dusty relic that was the grand, colonial Moose Lodge, and seeing the sparse Lincoln Continentals and Buick LeSabre’s parked in the spaces closest to the Moose entry, it just felt disrespectful. This plot of land once supported the hooves and wooden wheels of horses and carriages ridden by Pasadena dignitaries. Though forgotten by present-day passers-by, the Moose lot is meticulously maintained just the same. Now it pragmatically accepts vehicle overflow of a few confused stragglers drawn to an unpronounceable neighbor. 

We entered the stream. We walked the block and a half in the same direction as the scattered, young families and Asian college students. We had no idea where the front door was, but it would be impossible to end up anywhere other than the gates of H-ROCK. As we turned the corner to the front of the building, it became apparent there was in fact no parking shortage, nor was there any traffic jam. This was indicated by a steady and spread-out flow of cars into a huge garage. The kind of flow you'd expect to see in the background of a car commercial with a mod parking garage as the backdrop. H-ROCK’s Public Signage Outreach Program had psyched us out. Oh well. 

We get to the funnel of folks at the building's entry. I do well at this part. I have a marginally cool haircut, two pretty bold tattoos on my forearms, and a cute wife. All this paired with a decent shirt usually gets me through most church crowds with the absolute minimum of obligatory interaction. Tattoos mean: “Oh my, maybe he’s looking for some spiritual guidance”. Being well-dressed with a pretty girl means: “Eh, he’s probably got it figured out, and he’s not gay. I’m gonna get some coffee”. 

H-ROCK does have more truly attentive greeters per square foyer foot than any other church I’ve attended, without a doubt. No matter which type of congregation, be it a church, a bar, a hotel, or a DMV, it’s just awkward guarding a door, any door.  I don’t feel one way or the other about this part of the churchgoing experience. 

It is perfectly fine to trade a name and a nicety as a cover charge at church. It is a small price to pay for entry to a place you didn’t help build, and that you have no commitment to. So I gladly say hello and consider that my rent. And with this, we got through the name-tagged turnstile of anxious H-ROCK greeters. 

Next up: ENTER THE H. 

1 comment:

  1. Loop,

    I'm really feel like I relate to you here. Especially your first intro paragraph hits home for me.

    I haven't visited h-rock, but this writup reminds me so much of many churches I've visited. I'm curious now what some people who go there would think.

    Thanks for your great post here!