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Claremont's David Allen gets started chronicling his career

He’s been at it nearly 20 years, but Inland Valley Daily Bulletin columnist David Allen is just getting started.

The Claremont writer’s first chronological collection of columns was released earlier this week through local imprint Pelekinesis. It features dozens of articles penned for the Bulletin from 1997 through 2000 and is available locally at Rhino Records and Barbara Cheatley’s.

The book, Getting Started, is rife with humor of every ilk, from anecdotal to satiric and from deadpan to gallows. Take a column written during a September 2000 heat wave that had brow-mopping grumps complaining it was “hotter than Hades.”

Wondering how people can, in all good conscience, bandy that phrase about when they had no clue what the actual temperature of hell is, he goes straight to the source, traveling via hand-basket.

As they chat, a stone’s throw from the Lake of Fire, the devil marvels that Mr. Allen hasn’t even broken a sweat. Any denizen of the region can appreciate Mr. Allen’s response on a pore-deep level.

“Well, I live and work in the Inland Valley. I don’t have air conditioning at home or in my car. And I’ve spent the last few days baking under the sun at the LA County Fair in Pomona.”

It’s one of Mr. Allen’s greatest gifts: blending wit with regional reportage.

In an April 1999 column, he reported on one of Pomona’s best-kept secrets. The long-shuttered Fox Theater had begun showcasing lucha libre matches. “The effect is a little sad, a little comical,” Mr. Allen writes of seeing Mexican freestyle wrestling in a once-glittering movie palace. “But at least the Fox is open again.

He then describes the exploits of actor-athletes like “Amenaza Blanca” (White Threat) who—naked except for white shorts, boots, kneepads and the requisite headwear—looked like “he rolled out of bed in his underwear, put on his mask and came down for action.”

The Fox has since been renovated by the Tessier family, and now welcomes world-class music acts. Much else has changed since Mr. Allen’s salad days at the Bulletin, when Clinton was in his second term and the word twitter conjured bird chatter rather than a social media site where he boasts 1600 followers.

Still, Getting Started holds up well.

There’s a puckish piece, published on April 19, 2000, called “Going for Broke, Upland Spares No Expense on Its Way to the Poorhouse.”

While the City of Gracious Living is getting its bearings, it has experienced years of financial travail since the column’s publication. Notably, the former city manager and mayor were arrested for financial malfeasance in 2012.

Back then, however, Upland was just beginning to edge toward bankruptcy through overspending. Mr. Allen responded to the crisis by personifying the town as a shopaholic, charting its movements through a blotter. In the first entry, he reports the city was seen coming home with four new pairs of shoes. 

“Rather than come through the front door as usual, the city approached stealthily through the back door on tiptoes, Nordstrom shopping bags tucked under its arm,” Mr. Allen quips. When confronted by taxpayers, the city explained, “it had had a bad day and shopping gives it ‘a lift.’”

The City of Trees also plays its part in Getting Started. There’s a column about comedian Mort Sahl performing at the Athenaeum, and a less flattering piece about an outbreak of foodborne illness at Pomona College’s Frary Dining Hall.

Another column documents an embarrassing photo shoot, undertaken to accompany a piece on the workplace of the future, involving Mr. Allen on the Claremont Metrolink platform, holding a briefcase and wearing a space suit.

Mr. Allen is a great fit for Pelekinesis, according to the Claremont-based publishing company’s founder Mark Givens.

“David’s observational humor is interesting because it’s not always laugh-out-loud funny, it’s much more subtle,” he said. “He’s a newspaperman in a very archetypal way, observing and documenting. When you talk to him, you can tell he’s listening. That’s interesting to me.”

In 2014 Mr. Givens published David Allen’s literary debut Pomona A-Z, a collection of columns providing an alphabetical guide to Claremont’s easterly city. The book sold 800 copies, brisk business for a local release.

Though he’s shyer in person than behind the keyboard, the Claremont writer found it gratifying to do book-signings.

“Most readers of newspapers you never meet, so to have people actually seek me out—come to an event and hand me a $20 bill—is a very tangible way of letting me know they appreciate what I do,” Mr. Allen said. 

With Mr. Givens receptive to a second book, the columnist dug out his early clips and reread them. “Some I remembered fairly well, others I had forgotten. Some were difficult to make direct eye contact with,” Mr. Allen said.

About one of every four made him laugh—“The guy who wrote these has a very similar sense of humor to me,” Mr. Allen joked—and those ended up in the book.

 

Getting a start

Like many humorists, Mr. Allen has a penchant for self-deprecation, from his self-professed lack of game with the fairer sex to a musculature indicative of a sedentary profession. 

In a column about helping a friend move, he talks about how wrecked he was after a day of heavy lifting: “I’m a journalist, which means my main form of physical activity is arching an eyebrow.”

Don’t let the grown-up Charlie Brown persona fool you, though. In many ways, he’s living the dream.

Mr. Allen has a dedicated following, both throughout the region and in Claremont, where he’s lived since 1999. “People feel comfortable coming up to me at Starbucks, at restaurants, in the street. They feel like they know me,” he said. 

He’s also attained his lifelong goal of being a writer.

By third grade, young David was writing and illustrating little mystery novels. He was on his high school newspaper and wrote a humor column for The Daily Illini while at the University of Illinois.

Mr. Allen put in time at  newspapers in northern California, then landed a gig at the Victor Valley Daily Press. He moved south in 1997 when he got a job at the Bulletin, with Fontana as his initial beat. He began filing an occasional guest column and, by summer of 1998, his column was appearing twice a week.

“This split-personality life ended in 2001 when I became a full-time columnist, and the more universal approach to humor gradually faded as my columns became more about local journalism than whimsy,” he writes in the forward of Getting Started.

Mr. Allen plans to release a new chronological collection of his Bulletin columns every year.

“I kind of wish it happened 10 years ago,” Mr. Allen said of his book-publishing career. “There’s lots of catching up to do.”

Along with Rhino and Barbara Cheatley’s, Getting Started is available at the Ebell Museum of History in Pomona as well as at Pelekinesis.com and Amazon.com.

A launch party will be held Saturday, February 4, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Sonja Stump Photography, coinciding with the First Saturday Art Walk. Mr. Allen will also hold a talk and book-signing at Rhino Records in Claremont on February 19 from 1 to 2:30 p.m.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com