Dozer, the bulldog

Dozer, the bulldog
Dozer: He was the best dog on the planet.

Bonding

Bonding
The author of Mark's Work with Ellie Mae

Guess who's coming for dinner

Guess who's coming for dinner
Blue heron, sitting on the dock of our pond

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.
Air-borne bees

BFF's forever

BFF's forever
Margie and Ellie Mae

Tomatoes and peppers are us.

Tomatoes and peppers are us.
Spicy salsa with roasted peppers, here at HappyDay Farms

Much love, John-Bryan

Much love, John-Bryan
Eric at 26 on the left, and John-Bryan in January of 1973.

Halloween fun

Halloween fun
SmallBoy and Dancing Girl

Our house

Our house
The snow season approaches...

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

bellspringsmark@gmail.com

Monday, September 26, 2011

Vacation: Hand-off to Uncle Joe

Vacation
Hand-off to Uncle Joe
We may have been dirt poor, but we went on vacation every summer.  Pa would schedule his time off, well in advance, and Ma would orchestrate the gathering of the supplies and we would go camping as a family.  During the days leading up to our departure, Ma would give me her master camping supplies list, with specific items circled that I was to gather together.  Of course, whether or not she got the list back was a toss-up. 
Though we relied heavily on scavenging once we were on-site, my list was sure to include firewood.  I also gathered the tents, poles, stakes, twine, hammer, and a whole kitchen cupboard of cooking utensils, all stored either in the garage or the shed.  I was uncharacteristically helpful.  Ma would give a different set of items to each of us, depending on our individual strengths.  For instance, she would not have assigned the Coleman Stove and the white gas, to Noel or me;  that would have been responsible Brian, who also made sure that matches and the lantern were included.  In this way we worked together to prepare for this annual event.   
Before I turned eight, we would go to Bolsa Chica, also called Tin Can Beach, and Pa would fashion tents by stringing up rope between two upright poles, and drape a hunk of canvas over the rope to form a tent.  At Tin Can Beach, standing on the water’s edge, there was nothing in sight except water and sand.  JT remembers looking through a small hole in our makeshift tent, and seeing Pa playing the harmonica in the flickering light of the campfire.  I remember being cold from the wind, before we piled the blankets up and burrowed down under, until the sun woke us in the morning.  
We had parked our car on the side of the highway, with no other vehicle in sight, the only man-made objects in view being the incessantly dipping/straightening well-drilling machines that dotted our coastline.  The only thing more consistent than those machines, was my hand dipping into the bread basket.  This night I ate home-prepared turkey pie, and whined to Ma that the wind had blown sand into it; that is my earliest memory of our family camping trips.
Beginning around 1960, we started migrating northward, stopping  first at a campground in the Santa Barbara area, to find that it was full, and eventually making our way to Jalama, a campground which was located up near Lompoc.  We had to travel the last five miles to this campground on a dirt road, through the coastal range of mountains, quite the adventure in and of itself.  
At one point we had stopped to allow an overheated radiator on the old Willys Jeep to cool off, causing several of us to readjust prospects as far as the arrival pool was concerned.  We had begun this pool on our first trip to Jalama, because of the unknown factors.  Each of us had taken a guess, with the closest to the correct time getting a candy bar.  Never did so little create so much excitement.  Now it was part of the program.


 While waiting for things to cool off, Pa pointed out to us the skeleton of a critter that was draped over the barbed wire fence that ran along side the dirt road.  Upon close examination, he had pronounced the bones to be that of a bobcat.  About the most exotic creature I came into contact with in those days would have been a newt or a lizard in the field next door, so a bobcat’s skeleton sounded pretty exciting.  Now if I see a skeleton draped over a fence, it is likely to be that of a coyote.


Finally topping the last ridge, before descending to the beach, we could see the Pacific Ocean, stretching out forever, a brilliant blue expanse of water, beckoning invitingly.  Unfortunately for us, Jalama proved to be a challenging place for small children, and adults as well.  As beautiful as it was, it was also fairly rugged.  It could have been windy or it could have been cold, but both were too much. 
Situated close to the beach, the wind buffeted our tents, seemingly every minute we were there.  It made swimming less inviting, and provided motivation for covering up against the meat bees.  They were everywhere, attracted by the trash cans and anything we were eating or drinking.  One of the little kids sounded the alarm upon finding one of the little varmints in his soda pop can, and the rest of the time I fretted that I would end up with one in my mouth.  It was enough to make me stop drinking soda, though pouring it into one of the little paper cups would have allowed me to see any potential throat-diving nasties.
No discussion about Jalama would be complete without mentioning the train trestle.  Having come down out of the coastal range, we descended rather abruptly to the beach.  The train tracks paralleled the coast, skirting the foothills, and the trestle was an imposing sight.  The whistle of the lead locomotive blasted through the ocean environment like a younger version of a fog horn, signaling the passage of a dozen or so passenger cars, or a freight train carrying anything from oil to lumber.  These trains might include more than a hundred cars; I know, because I used to love counting them.
Having recently put Noel on a train off to Wisconsin, to baby-sit John Gerlach, and carouse with college-age dudes, we waved every time a train went by.  That trestle was a curious connection between us and Noel, but during the time we were at Jalama, it sufficed.
Jalama was the kind of place you went to, when there were no other options available.  But it was our venue for at least two summers, the second one having an odd turn of events.  It involved the unexpected arrival of Old Satchel Butt, er, uh, Mr. Walton.  This was our over-the-back-fence neighbor, with whom we made occasional palaver, about chickens or busting up firewood, or something of that nature.
If he were at our house, it probably had something to do with electricity, because he had helped Pa, with the electrical circuitry for the lower addition.  Mr. Walton’s contribution came partly in the form of a circuit box for the new addition.   I think Pa had been laying it on thick about the qualities of Jalama, and never expected Mr. Walton to take him up on the suggestion that he bring the family up at the same time we went.
We were all just a trifle disconcerted at this unexpected presence.  Mr. Walton and his family camped side by side with us, though, and everything went just fine.  This was the memorable trip where we had coerced Ma into springing for a package of the recently new, and frequently advertised, Jiffy Pop popcorn.  Pa got into the act, determined to make this a successful event.  
Though we had a Coleman stove, Pa chose to attempt to pop the corn on the wood-burning fire, while we excitedly waited, and watched.   And waited, and waited, and got then got bored and went away.  The only thing that got popped, was our enthusiasm.  Later Pa determined that the fire simply wasn’t hot enough, although to kids, that sounded so lame.  How could fire not be hot enough?  What was hotter than fire?


 Our disappointment lasted only as long as it took Ma to whip out the bag of candy bars, and pass it around for everyone to help him or herself.  The tradition of stocking up on Sav-on's deal, of selling nickel candy bars and packaged candy for three for a dime, served us well, and had been incorporated into the annual camping trip.  No matter what kind of personal issue, one of us might have been enduring, we always knew there was a little pick-me-up to enjoy while sitting around the campfire.
On one of the trips to Jalama, we went on a day-long excursion to see La Purisima Mission Historic State Park, located in Lompoc.  Probably because I was so connected to San Gabriel Mission, and had done a sugar-cube mission for Sister Mary Cruz in fourth grade, I liked the visit.  Though I do not remember any other aspect of that day, I brought up images on the net, and immediately recognized certain snapshots, as being scenes that I had previously viewed.
Several of us had brought fishing gear, for trying our luck out in the surf.  We looked pretty good casting our lines, but that has nothing to do with luck, or lack of same.  Rarely did surf fishing produce the desired effect.  One morning Pa gathered us all together on the sand, and we went on an epic trek, taking all of the kids, including one on Pa’s shoulders.  We walked for what seemed like hours.  It was very enjoyable, more for the uniqueness of the event, than for anything particular that occurred.  
Though the wind howled nonstop,  Jalama sufficed for the two years we went there, but when we finally turned our attention southwards, we found that our search for the perfect family vacation spot was over.  The summer of 1963 is the first time that my folks went down to Baja, California.  They went down with Bob and Marge Kinney and spent a weekend at the Granada Cove, at that time a sleepy little camping spot which featured a swimming pool, and a bar with a fountain that poured Margaritas continuously.  This was the weekend excursion which featured the famous “Let us be happy in our work” tape from Pa to all of us.  It marked the first time that the parents left us to our own devices as they fled to Mexico.
This was the summer that Pa took us twice up to the San Gabriel Mountains, where we camped at a place called Shady Oaks.  Having already discussed this summer in an earlier piece, I want to speed up to the summer of 1964, when we began a series of annual summer expeditions to Baja, that ran continuously until Ma and Pa moved up to Bell Springs Road, in 1977. 
Mexico was so different than Jalama, in that it was hot, the air was still and the water was delightful.  That first summer we camped in a spot that was just on the outskirts of Ensenada, the center of most of our south-of-the-border gambits.  Granada Cove was highly interested in cultivating a working relationship with their new found friends to the North.  The Margarita dispenser in the bar, was not there in the interests of cultural authenticity, so much as it was for those free-spending American tourists, who were beginning to stream down to Ensenada, even though there was no highway which conveyed traffic from the border to Ensenada.  It was coming in the immediate future, but our presence down the peninsula, predated the “new” highway.  There was always a highway down to Ensenada, but sometime not long after Ma and Pa went down to La Paz, in 1972, they put in the improved highway.
The camping fees at Granada Cove were minuscule, compared to the rates at Santa Barbara, or any of the California State Parks.  There was even a built-in swimming pool, that was highly interesting to us, who still had access to such summer wonderment all too infrequently.  The water was not crystal clear, and was a tad salty, but it was still a nice bonus.
Unlike Jalama, the ocean water was mostly calm and still, being located on the inland side of the Baja Peninsula.  There were almost no waves, as the cove in which the campground was located, was very protected from the ocean.  A couple of years later, we would bemoan the stillness of the water, because we had taken up surfing, and found the bays and coves of Baja to be far too tame, albeit inviting.  
We could go out swimming at any time of the day, and stay out for two or more hours, without being forced in because of cold, as was the case at Jalama.  More than likely, it would be hunger that would drive us from the water.  Fortunately, whenever we camped in Mexico, food was perpetually available for starving kids, by virtue of the fact that there were always vast, unlimited quantities of freshly baked rolls from la panaderia, the bakery.
These rolls were fresh, and were slightly sweetened, and the combination with margarine, was unbeatable.  We used to warm them on the wood fire, both in the morning and at night, and they were absurdly cheap, something like two or two and a half cents apiece.  We bought the rolls by the dozens, and we could eat all we wanted.
Mexico was so beautiful and the air, once we got out of the city, was fragrant with the scent of heat and sage, and manzanita blossoms.  We used Ensenada as a base, and travelled around the area, taking in the natural beauty and simplicity that make up Baja.  The people were warm and friendly, and welcomed our attempts to speak Spanish.  We got lots of practice. 
We went over to Bradley’s place on the Pacific side of the peninsula, where the ocean was thunderous, and the waves far higher than our heads.  It was windy and very different than the roasting interior.  The most memorable trip to Bradley’s involved our arrival at mid-day, whereupon we found many diverse ways to spend our time.  We clammed, first and foremost, because Pa had an eye on using them for dinner.  We walked as far up and down the beach as we wanted, with no one else around to mind one way or the other.
We played touch football, tossed the frisbee, and worked our way to dinner.  The wind had picked up, from a steady breeze, and as the light waned, it got downright nippy.  We had brought warmer clothes, but it was still not exactly what we had envisioned.  And we were hungry.  Just as mutiny threatened to break out, Pa served dinner.  I have always placed this particular meal high on the culinary list of my favorites.
They say hunger is the best sauce, and that might be true.  This meal came at the perfect time to satisfy both hunger and cold pangs.  The clams were gathered by us, the clam chowder was piping hot, and the rolls were heated and fresh.  We ate in the camper that was mounted in the bed of our green, ’66 Chevy half-ton, that Pa traded in for the Blazer, a decision he would rue for many a long day.
         Hunkered over our bowls of clam chowder, we agreed that the meal was out of this world.  I didn’t even have to wash the dishes.  This was one of the best reasons for loving our camping trips: I did not have to wash any dishes.  It’s not so much that I detested washing them (I did), it was that any time I had to do it, I was washing dishes for eleven people, with all of the pots and pans, and bowls and... yes, it was a lot of work.

Pa did the dishes for the most part, while we were in Mexico.  Probably, more accurately, is that Ma did a lot of them too, but seeing Pa doing them always made a much more pronounced impression.  Whether or not he simply was doing his best to give us a happy time, or whether it had more to do with his sense of self-preservation, he himself would heat up the water on the Coleman stove, and he would wash and rinse the dishes.  
We would use paper plates, and paper cups, but still having to cook for a bunch of folks on a camping trip produced a large mess.  There was also the fact, that as we got older, we were likely to bring friends, neighbors, girl/boy friends, relatives, and hangers on, along with us on our trips to Baja.  For a time in the late sixties/early seventies, when there were a number of contributors to the family income, we also rented a spot down below Ensenada, for a ramshackle old travel trailer, about fourteen feet in length.  
That way, anytime we wanted to coast on down, we had a place to crash, and utensils, cook pans and a stove.  Ma says it cost five bucks a month, to park the trailer full-time, but no one ever disturbed it, and it was such an affluent thing to do for our family.
We visited resort spas that were gorgeous in their simplicity and their landscapes.  There was an Olympic-sized swimming pool at one of these spots, accessible after walking down a long gentle dirt road, through shade trees and exotic flowers, with a host of carved wooden figures for sale, much the way you see redwood carvings available in Northern Cali.
We went down to La Bufadora almost every trip we made. It was another thirty miles south of Ensenada, and we had to pass through a check-point before we were allowed to proceed.  The guys at the shop had told Pa that all he had to do was bring along a Kennedy half-dollar, first minted in 1964, to slip to the guard at the check-point, and we would be on our way.  
That was the case, as we headed down to this attraction known as the blow hole.  As the waves surged into the side of the cliffs, the water would be forced into an orifice down below on the base of the cliff, and the water would thunderously exit via a hole in the top, blasting what seemed like hundreds of feet in the air.  The sensation was palpable, and water sprayed out over everyone who was gathered on the site.
The area remained fairly pristine for the first ten or so years we went down, but eventually progress caught up with us, and one year we found that barriers were set up, and that we could now pay the outrageous fee of fifty cents to view the attraction.  There was also a little snack bar now on site, from which we could buy our Royal Crown soda and our Double Colas.  
Besides the campground at the Grenada Cove, we stayed in one other spot before settling on Alejandro’s Campground.  The second year we went down to Baja, we stayed on the homestead of a family pretty close to La Bufa Dora.  The patriarch of the family, Alizeo, had a small boat, powered by an outboard, and he took Papa and the four older of us boys out for bottom fish, pretty close to shore.
We fished for rock cod and snapper, and everyone caught fish.  As a kid, I used to go fishing any opportunity I had, though it was always at the initiation of Papa.  I wanted to do anything at all that involved going with the big boys.  As much as I remember enjoying the different fishing excursions, I have never been on a fishing expedition that I instigated.  If my sons ended up interested in fishing, it is because they developed that interest on their own.
One memory of this particular camping spot, was that Alizeo had gone abalone diving and had shared with the other guys.  Alizeo's wife had taken the mollusks and beaten them enthusiastically on a rock with a heavy wooden mallet, and It was a very exotic meal for us.  I can’t remember another instance in our family, when abalone graced our dinner table.
This spot was as beautiful as any we encountered in Baja.  We were situated very close to the beach, in an area where jagged cliffs, rock formations, and treacherous water currents prevailed.  There were the most beautiful sea shells to be found, though never fully intact.  The prevalence of the rocks guaranteed that everything would eventually be ground down, but the net result was that it would end up like Glass Beach.   There you can find countless examples of brilliant colored, though worn pieces of glass, that are polished smooth, and resemble glittering jewels in the sunlight.
There was plenty to do that did not include swimming.  We did the most typically American thing one could do, and rented horses/ponies that we rode both on the beach, and in the low surrounding hills, for a ridiculously cheap rate.  It was very much like riding through the desert, once we left the shoreline.  The horses, as we might have expected, were not the most robust creatures, and their pace was decidedly mellow, but horses were one thing we did not have available in the neighborhood, so we were very much into it. 
Alejandro’s campground was a sprawling arrangement with the rows of tents and vehicles clumped closest to the beach.  This left parts of the area away from the beach open for a game of football.  It was never tackle, and everyone was allowed to play, including other kids from the campground.  The games were all about getting everyone involved, and succeeded more because of our efforts to occupy the younger kids, than because of our brilliant athletic prowess.  
During some of those later years, the Ledfords might have been there, along with any of the following: Nancy, Karen Kjasgaard, Susan Lopez, JBD (not a prospective football player), Dave Gordon, Farrel McNutt, Uncle Joe, and other hangers on.  Mrs. Ferrill and Uncle Joe also skipped the game, though Joe would probably have joined in if we bugged him long enough.  He was the nicest guy to me, maybe because he didn’t have any sons of his own.  OK, everybody, handoff to Uncle Joe, and up the left sideline.  On three, let’s GO.
In 1965 while traveling down in Baja, we heard ongoing reports of the race riots in Watts.  Located only a few miles away from Dominguiz, where Noel went to high school, the news was very surreal indeed.  Listening to Bob Dylan sing “Everybody Must Get Stoned,” and trying to make some sense out of the riots, I put the two together in my mind and decided that, if folks were unhappy in Watts, and were following Dylan’s advice, they wouldn't be throwing stones at each other.  It all sounded so logical, but at thirteen, I think I could have done better than that.  Why were those people so unhappy?  
One year, right in this same time period, I was so caught up in the gathering up of camping supplies, that I forgot to include my own suitcase (re: cardboard box), so I ended up in Baja for five or six days, wearing the same set of clothes.  Gosh, things were so much simpler back then.  I was good at going with the flow as a kid; somewhere I lost that ability.
What I originally perceived as an inconvenience, turned out just fine, because it simplified my life a great deal.  Of course, Ma found a tooth brush (darn) and made me still take showers, (double darn) but the rest of my life was simple.  The only thing I really regretted leaving behind, was my assortment of books that I had wanted to read.  As much as we spent much of our time engaged in group activities, reading was still a pleasure that, as far as I remember, everyone enjoyed.  I just borrowed books from JT and the others, and it was all good.  She didn’t have and Zane Grey or Louis L’Lamour, but it didn’t mater-I would read anything in a pinch.
In 1966 I was fresh off of my eighth grade graduation, and Baja was more inviting than ever.  We were allowed to pretty much have the reign of the area, as far as we were able to walk, as long as we let someone know when we would be back.  That meant that we could take walks down the beach, or hang out in the water, as long as there was more than one of us there.  Of course, the rule was that you did not go swimming by yourself.
Because we could go exploring, the first place we headed for was the abandoned hotel, which was located maybe a twenty minute walk down the coastline, heading south along the water toward the concrete structure, visible in the distance from the campground.  Earlier in the sixties, some entrepreneurial endeavor had resulted in the partial construction of a tourist hotel, which had gotten quite far in the process, before the money ran out. 
Abandoned when the workers left town, this concrete maze was an inviting target for us, even though there was absolutely no redeeming value to our visiting it, and we never stayed around very long.  It was just such a bizarre example of a huge difference between Los Estados Unidos and Mexico.  Being raised with blue collar values, it was inconceivable that this hotel had been abandoned, so it fascinated us.  I’m sure that it was dangerous, with unfinished staircases, cement pits, and underground passages, which terrified me, but it was a magnet nonetheless.
This hotel was also the setting for one of the more traumatic events of my young life.  It was one of the last summers we ventured down to Baja, probably 1974, because Noel was driving Molly, his yellow VW bus, and Nancy and Karen K. were along with us.  It was hot, we were swimming, and clothing was optional.
Someone let the cat out of the bag, and four armed Federal soldiers approached us from the sand, and ordered us out of the water.  They had been in charge of guarding the abandoned hotel, a new development in the grand scheme of things, and had apparently noticed (or had it brought to their attention) that there were some gringos out in the ocean, who had the unmitigated gall to be skinny-dipping.
That was apparently a no-no and one of those guards had an M-16.  I was pretty familiar with that particular critter, and we didn’t know what they wanted at first, so we contented ourselves with being petrified.  Believe me, that took very little doing.  Who was skinny-dipping?  Okay, I don’t positively remember the actual swimming, but I do know that there were six of us, and four of us were indulging in what was obviously some reprehensible slimebaggery, or they would never have arrested us.
Noel, Matt, Karen and I were au natural, while Nancy and Sharon had managed to restrain themselves.  We found out what they wanted quickly enough-money.  
One of the four spoke enough English to be able to say,”You have money?  We are needing it.  If no, then you get in the back, and we take you to jail.”
“Money?  How much money?”  Oh good, Noel could handle this.
“”How much you got?”
“How should I know?  Hey, how much money do we have?  Everyone check.”  We took inventory and found we had a little more than thirty-seven dollars, counting change.
“You a have any mare-ree-wahna?”
“They want to know if we have some reefer,” I said.  “Don’t I wish?  Of course, if we did, they’d be ecstatic, because then we’d really be in a world of hurt.”
“No, no marijuana.  And not much money.”
“We go to Ensenada, now.”
“Whoa, not so fast.  We’re looking, we’re looking.
Sharon and Nancie were not detained, so they were allowed to go first to the van, where they located $37.20 in various denominations, much of which jingled merrily as the soldiers accepted it, and then to the campground.
The goal was to get more loot, from whatever means possible, because they had told us that if we could raise “bail” then we could avoid a trip in the back of the paddy wagon to Ensenada, which was a highly desirable goal.  Meanwhile, back at said campground, Alejandro had gotten wind of what was up.  Alejandro was the owner of the camp, and he took his responsibilities seriously.  Robert was an established icon in the campground.  
Robert’s kids were not the ones he looked for when the toilet was blown up with the m-80 firecracker.  His son Roy had caught the eye of JT, or maybe it was the reverse, so that may have been how he got word.  It was surely not our intention, because Sharon and Nancie were supposed to get money, not attention.
In this neck of the world, Alejandro was a force; if you messed with him, he took it personally.  The time the kid blew up the commode, Alejandro knew within minutes who was responsible.  When the father of this miscreant was informed that he owed twenty-five dollars for the replacement model, the man told Alenjadro where he could get off.  
Alenjandro didn’t care for the suggested destination, so he pulled his pistol out of his pants pocket, and suggested an alternative location, one that involved digging a six foot hole in the ground.  The man had given Alejandro the loot and scooted, and the toilet was replaced with alacrity. 
Now, Alejandro sent Roy back with Sharon and Nancie, and the result was immediate relief, though not the return of our $37.20.  Roy explained that he could not do anything about that, he could just prevent any additional extortion.  We thought Roy was the man and went back to face the music.  I mean, I was twenty-two at the time, so the music was not exactly Beethoven’s fifth, but it wasn’t “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” either.  It was more like, “for heaven’s sake people.”  I mean, what was anyone going to say to Karen?  So we learned to keep our skinny-dipping confined to midnight raids on the Claremont Men’s College pool, which had always worked out just fine in the past.   
One year Pa acquired two little dirt bikes, which were pretty fun, if somewhat limiting.  I speak for myself, because I was limited to driving on the sand, and there was only so much fun to be had riding up and down the same hundred yard track.  To this day, that remains my solitary experience with the two wheeled motorized mode of conveyance.  I’m not sure what kind of statement that makes, but in the long run it probably has more to do with my tendency to end up off-task, and that is a decidedly poor strategy for motorcycle-riding. 
Another year we brought our old four-wheel-drive Willys, with its modified cab, and olive-drab exterior.  I put the year at around 1967 or so, because that old truck presented me with my first driving experience.  It was kind of a gnarly one, in that I had had no prior experience, and it was kind of a jolt.  I could work the clutch reasonably well, but what I lacked was actual driving time.  
So as we (older brothers and I) crept carefully across the open field, and that scrawny, but quick bull came lumbering out from the side, I was temporarily in a rut, metaphorically, if not literally.  I punched that pedal with all of my boot, but fortunately, as I was accelerating blindly forward, totally incapable of any other course of action, one of the boys reached past my shoulder, and shut off the ignition key.  Moments later we glided to a stop, as the bull ambled off in pursuit of a trace of greenery, which had materialized along his route.
I decided that I would wait until a less contentious arena presented itself before I would further pursue the art of driving.  There was something about that bull, rambling across that field.  What do you do when pursued by a bull?  
Some of the most interesting things happened while we were on vacation, in Mexico, only they happened in La Puente.  One August, (had to be ’70, because I acquired the Nova in September of that year), we had all gone down to Ensenada, except Noel, who could not get off work.  One evening found Noel and Dave Varisco, in their respective Red Nova and Black Mustang, cruising the streets of West Covina.  
The 1964 Chevy Nova was a gorgeous maroon color which complemented the boxy light vehicle to perfection.  It had oversized tires on the back, and air shocks that could raise the back end so that the top of the trunk was fifty-one inches off of the ground.  I could also open the trunk, and release that air in thirty seconds, in the event that the height was an issue.  At that point, I would probably have been holding my driver’s license, and making polite conversation with the nice West Covina police officer.
No one who knew either Noel or Dave, would ever think that either was capable of breaking the law, especially the rules concerning “exhibition of speed and power.”  That’s a fancy way for saying you made the tires squeal as you drove away from the intersection.  Somehow the two had managed to garner the attention of one of West Covina’s Blue.  
The way I understand it, he pulled them both over at the same time, parking the squad car in front, while he sauntered back to strut his stuff to a captive audience.  However, there was a little distance between the squad car and the other two, specifically Dave’s, so when the cop was zigging, Dave went zagging.  The result was that the cop chased after Dave, leaving Noel no choice but to exit the drag strip, stage left, or whatever got him out of the arena.  When the cop returned to see that Noel had pulled an Elvis, he wanted Noel to do “The Jailhouse Rock.”

Noel drove directly home, parked the Nova in its accustomed spot, and again exited the site.  Later that night, the West Covina Blue were known to have come to the house, and gone through the Nova to establish ownership.  Afterwards, when Noel was approached by representatives of this fine organization, he pleaded ignorance, and it worked as effectively as ever. 
They maintained that Noel had been driving his car at the time of the incident; Noel maintained that his car had been parked in its usual spot, and that one of his buddies had borrowed it.  There was no way that the officers could prove it one way or another.  They told Noel that they were going to watch his car, that bright red Nova, with the slicks on the back of its raised rear end, and every time he so much as sneezed, they were going to pull him over and bust him for not having a Kleenix.
Four weeks later, Noel handed the keys over to me with a flourish, as he went off to school, and I drove almost all of the ten blocks to Bob's in my new-to-me Nova before I got pulled over, so that the nice policeman could get out his tape measure and see if the back end of my car was higher than the requisite amount.  It was not, with at least an inch to spare.  Thanks a lot, Noel.  A legacy all of my own.  I made sure I had plenty of Kleenix on hand.
That same summer, as we had prepared for the trip to Baja, I had had to work departure day, and so did Eric, so everyone left with us following along the next morning.  My friends and I ended up partying that night at Larry Palinkus’ house, and I had been late coming in.  I had also had a beer or two.  We were set to leave for Ensenada with the coming of light and Eric was supposed to wake me up to go.  He did this by dialing the phone number of our radio shack and waiting for me to pick up the phone.  
After twenty-five rings he came out to see if I was even there.  I was, and after twenty-five more rings’ worth of shaking, I woke up.  
Eric had picked up the receiver by that time and dropped it down again.
“Whyn’t you just call me?” I asked, alert as a bowl of oatmeal.
“Never mind.  Just get dressed and let’s get moving.”
“Have you got any soda?  My throat’s all dry.”
“Sure, we have Coca Cola.  Why’s your throat dry?”
“I don’t know.  Why’s the sky blue?”
“I don’t know, but I bet it being blue didn’t have anything to do with how much beer got drunk last night.”  He slammed the radio shack door on his way out.
“Oh yeah?”  I yelled out.  And I would have followed it up with something pithy and original, if my head would have stopped throbbing long enough for me to think of something pithy and original.  I contented myself with not only looking for and finding my shoes, but even getting them on my feet, in the proper order.  Ah, progress. 
As I walked through the kitchen door, Eric had coffee ready, and some sweet rolls.  
“You look like something the cat dragged in.  What happened?”  I felt so comforted by his sympathy.
“Nothing happened.  Except that someone came along last night and poured sand down my throat, and super-glued my lips shut.  And that same person kept ringing this bell.”
“Ma Bell, you mean.  Never mind.  The ringing will go away by the time we hit the border, and your headache won’t last more than twenty-four hours.”
“Only twenty-four?  How nice for me.”
“Next time, you might think about that in advance.”
“Oh, I do, I do.  And then I think about it after the fact.  My head sure hurts.  Got any Tequila?  I’m kidding.  I said I was joking.  A fellow can’t even make a little funny without getting in trouble.”
“Go ahead.  Laugh, Clown, laugh.”
“Where is everybody?”
After giving me the eye for thirty seconds, Eric said, “They left yesterday. You and I are following them down.  Earth to Mark.  Are you sure you’re ready for this?”
“I’m not sure about anything except for that stupid jackhammer doing double-time in my head.  It’s all Doug’s fault; he’s the one with the fake ID.”
“And Doug forced open your mouth and poured beer down your throat?” 
“Hey, if you were there and saw it, then why do you have to ask the questions?”
Finally.  He stopped.  I stopped.  My headache pounded on, immune to the trend.  
“Get in the car.”
“OK.  Does this mean I don’t get any Coca Cola?”
“Get in the car.  Take the Coke with you.  Clown.”
That was the last thing he said to me for five full minutes.  Then he asked, “How did you get home last night?”
“I have no idea-just kidding again.  John drove me home.”
“Was he drinking too?”
“Heck no.  He’s not that kind of guy.  I’m not either, but circumstances forced me to do it.”
“What circumstances?”
“The fact that Doug had a fake ID.  What was I supposed to do?  Be rude, and refuse to drink my share?  What kind of friend would that be?”
“One who didn’t have a headache right now.”
“Well that only developed because someone poured sand down my throat and kept ringing that bell.”
Eric sighed.
By the time we got to the campground, I had gone through a six-pack of Coca Cola and made the resolution that the the next time Larry Palinkas threw a party, I would skip the beer, a resolution I have kept until this day, never having set eyes on Larry again, once he departed for the University of Chicago a month later.  Say good-bye Larry. 
At least no one accused us of making furtive movements in the back of my car.  That had happened the following summer, the night we went to Nancy Mclevena’s party, the five of us, by now an inseparable band of brothers.  There were John, Glen, Eddie, Bill and I.  Bill and Nancy had been seeing one another, since at least as long as that famous Big Sur incident, she and he being the only two who had a thang going besides me and Debbie.
Now we had heard the the cops were on the way, and it was time to see our buddy Bob, and get a little snack of a double cheese burger, a BLTA, fries, salad, milkshake and coke, before we contemplated the dessert menu.
I was barefoot and driving; actually everybody was except Eddie.  Barefoot, that is, not driving.  I had also taken off my shirt upon coming out of the party, not wanting to frighten any of the babes with my physique while still on the premises.  As I pulled away from the curb, in my brightly polished Nova, a light far brighter than the one emitted by the brilliant Nova, lit up the surrounding neighborhood, spinning crazily in a cascading carrousel of blue and red shafts of light.
“What’s happening?” I asked in confusion.
“You’re being pulled over,” said Eddie, who had come from work, and was wearing a yellow dress shirt with slacks, a tie, and dress shoes.
“What should I do?”  I asked, somewhat inanely.
“Why don’t you pull over?” suggested Eddie.  “That would be best.”
“Where?”
“To the curb.”
Our enlightening conversation was interrupted by the cop ordering us out of the car. 
“You four,” indicating everyone but me, “Stand over along the sidewalk.  You,” he said, pointing to me, “come with me.”
I could see the other cop talking with my friends and checking ID’s before I had my hands too full to notice anything but the cop in front of me.  He was an old acquaintance who had not yet given up trying to pin something on me, for the whole business with the Nova last summer.
I was occupied because I kept thinking about that little baggie of Mexico’s finest, residing just inside the cover of that Chilton’s Manual on the front seat of the Nova, between Glen and me.  Glen could roll the best doobster, so he was riding shotgun.  I was making the most money at Sunrize Market, so I had bought the reefer.  Now the cop had my full attention.
“What were you trying to do?” he asked.
“Trying to do?  Nothing.”
“Where were you going?”
“Bob’s.”
“Where are your shoes?”
“I don’t know.  They left before me.”  I deserved anything I got.  I think my logic was that I would put on a punk attitude, and that might distract the cops from that little plastic baggie.
“No problem, Smart Mouth. My partner is going to search your...”
I cut him off.  “HEY.  You can’t search my car without...” I began.
His turn.  “And don’t give me any crap about search warrants.  I can do anything I want.  I warned you...”
I thought back to Mrs. Phelps, our senior civics teacher, and how she  had hammered home how police needed a warrant to search a vehicle.  What were you supposed to do when the cop told you it was a bunch of crap?  I guess the evidence would be thrown out.  The cop looked beyond me and nodded.
“Do you know why I pulled you over?”
“I sneezed?”  He stared at me.  “My rear end is too high?”  I craned my neck to see the back of my car.  “You don’t like me?”   He sneered.
“That man,” he said, pointing at Eddie, “was making furtive movements in the back seat.”
I stared at him for a second.
“What?”
“That man is dirty.”
“EDDIE.  What the heck were you doing?”  I had no idea where this conversation was going.
The cop continued.  “You’re already on my radar.  You keep giving rides to that kind of passenger, you’re looking for trouble.”  The other cop was finished looking through my car, and he wasn’t clutching my dirt grass in his sweaty palm, so I figured he either hadn’t found it, or he hadn’t wanted to deal with it.  More likely the first than the second, but I didn’t care.  I was going to be able to walk away from this mess without making a phone call from the county jail.  Dirty Eddie, the only clean-cut one among us.  We went to Bob’s and celebrated our victory.
Vacation, on top of summer vacation, was as good as it got.  We seemed to set personal differences aside, more effectively while camping, than we ever did at home.  It made for harmonious times.  We did any chores that needed to be done, quickly and with enthusiasm.  Pa would chop the onions and the garlic, and enjoy a shot now and then, while cooking dinner.
“Strictly for medicinal purposes, Mark,” he’d say, with as genuine a twinkle in his eye, as I have ever seen.  Never were there truer words spoken.
 
 
   

1 comment:

  1. How in the heck do you remember all this stuff? and how did you know about the margarita machine at The Grenada Cove? And you remember that the water in the pool there was salty? I had forgotten all about the pool! I remember well that clam chowder dinner at Bradley's too - for a kid who hated fish, it was tasty! Why did that evening make such an impression on us?
    As far as the Watts riots, I too remember driving back up north and hearing those accounts and juxtaposing Dylan's lyrics - that whole thing was very scary to me.
    And, I still use Robert's line about medicinal purposes....

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