Great Memories

Your first big league ball game: To the best of my recollection, I was in the second grade, which would put me at about 7 or 8 yrs old. The LA Dodgers had just built a new ball park called ‘Chavez Ravine’. My dad was a huge fan, so we got tickets, and drove the sixty miles from our home in Rialto, California, into Los Angeles. Dodger Stadium is a multi-tiered facility, with the unique feature of having a parking lot that is banked all the way around. No matter what level your tickets were for, park in the corresponding area, and you walked straight in without having to climb any stairs. Nice feature. We were up high, but I didn’t know it at the time. We walked straight in, found the correct tunnel, and headed for our seats. As we got to the end of the tunnel, and I got my first glimpse of the field, I stood there stunned. Two things hit me: 1) The grass was the greenest I had ever seen, and 2) I thought they had built the field in a hole. My dad finally put his hand on my shoulder, and pulled me along. The rest of the day was spent emulating my dad yelling at the umpires, cheering for the home team, and eating peanuts and hotdogs. The most vivid memory of all, was the smell of a cigar. To this day, even though you can’t smoke anywhere, if I’m at a game, I swear I can smell a cigar.

Driving a car alone for the first time: Back in 1964, I was living in the mountain resort community of Lake Arrowhead, California. When a person turned 15 1/2 yrs old, they took drivers training and got a learners permit. For the next six months, you were required to have a licensed adult in the car with you that was at least 18. That meant my mom. I found any excuse to drive her around and would make multiple trips if possible. Things like; “Gee mom, we forgot to get olives at the store. We better go back”. My mom was a pretty good sport, so I got lots of practice. The big day arrived for me to go ‘down the hill’ and get my license. My dad drove me in his new Mercedes-Benz, which I had never driven. It was a four speed on the column, and I had been driving a VW Bug with a floor shifter. This should be interesting. When the DMV driving test was over, the examiner turned to me with a few questions. “Have you ever driven this car before?”, “NO”. “You live in the mountains right? Have you ever driven in the city before?”, “NO”. He goes on to inform me, that in reality, I had failed the test, but because of the circumstances, he would pass me anyway. Wahoo! I now had the single most important piece of paper a young man could have. A driver’s license.

Arriving back ‘up the hill’, I went straight up to my mom, and held my hand out. She placed her set of keys to the ‘Bug’ in my palm, and I was off to cruise the Village, all by myself. Yeah…, now that was a nice feeling.

The first girlfriend: I need to clarify the term ‘first girlfriend’. I’m not talking about grade school, and kissing Mary Lou in the back of the bus or holding hands on the playground. I’m talking about the first time a boy meets a girl, and gets that ‘warm fuzzy feeling’. There is probably a proper term for it, but you know what I mean. I am admittedly a late bloomer, so it didn’t happen to me until I was out of high school. I had been on dates since the seventh grade, but it wasn’t until I met a friends older sister, that I got the feeling.

After my first year at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, the dean decided I would be better off at a Junior College until my grades improved ( Ok!, I flunked out ). Since my dad split, my mom had room, and I moved back in to the old homestead. I met newcomer Nick, who lived just down the street and was a year younger. His father owned a Royal Enfield, 750cc, English motorcycle. It was a monster. I was riding a Honda 250 at the time, so we became riding pals. He was small in stature, on a huge bike, and I was just the opposite. Without telling his dad, we would trade once in a while. One day, while working on the bikes in his driveway, his older sister pulls up on a visit from college. She was…, I mean…, really quite Ah…, she looked my way, and…, I just stood there like a dope. She went inside, and Nick looked at me saying; “You haven’t got a chance man, trust me on this one”. Not having a chance didn’t matter one bit at that moment. I had the feeling, and I had it bad.

Over the years I’ve come to understand that, some women like handsome, others go for a nice build, some for the money, but to my good fortune, Nancy liked quirky. I’m sure that she got a lot of attention from smooth college types, and to meet a tongue-tied teenager was unique for her. Whatever the reason, it worked, and I was in. When I wasn’t with her, I thought about her. Most of the time we spent together, we simply rode our bicycles around the neighborhood, and hung out in the orange groves. We would sit up in the trees eating oranges and talk for hours. We never actually went on an official date, other than to pop down to the local taco palace for a nickel coke and a tortilla shell ( best meal around for under a quarter ). I was so mesmerized with her, that I didn’t actually notice that summer was coming to an end.

Nancy went back to college, and I got drafted into the Army. My mom moved away, and I never returned to the old neighborhood. Sure, Nancy was older, and a smart college student that I didn’t have a chance with, but that summer was the kind they make movies about. It was magical.

Catching that first big wave: Over the years, I have surfed most of California, Hawaii, and a little Pacific Coast side of Costa Rica. I alternate between board surfing, bodysurfing and lately some ‘boogie boarding’. My first board in 1966, was a 10ft-2in, Dewey/Weber, nose-rider. It was wide, long and heavy. I practically had to hire a second person to help me carry it down to the water. I would still be on the beach waxing up, when my buddies were already catching waves. We lived about 90 miles from Bolsa Chica, near Huntington Beach, California. By the time we decided to skip high school for the day, and arrived at the beach, it was past the prime surfing hour. Bolsa Chica was one of the few state beaches that allowed surfing all day. Because we arrived late, the surf would be mushy, and a little blown out. Who cares? Besides, it wasn’t crowded, and we were happy riding the ‘soup’, or whatever came along. 

On one trip we show up in my ’55 Ford pick-up, and it was cranking. Not all that big by the standards of what you see on TV, but big enough. The waves were regular, and had a perfect curl to the right. Not used to actual nice waves, the three of us stood there for a moment just watching. We strategized how to get outside without getting beaten up by the incoming surf. A few minutes of hard paddling, and there we were, lined up and ready to go. My buddies take off on the first wave, while I bide my time. They paddle back out with that ‘special grin’ a surfer gets after a nice ride. Of course, they urged me to take off on the next set, but I was still waiting for ‘my’ wave. They looked at each other, and knew without saying, that this was the biggest surf I had been out in. I needed a little more time.

The moment to stop waiting arrived. I spun my board around, and took off paddling hard, to catch the biggest wave I had ever tried. My buddies were already inside, retrieving their boards in the soup, when here I come, right at them. I came down the face of the wave, flipped my board to the right, and made a perfect ‘bottom turn’. Back up the face a little, and I was ‘locked in’. Man-o-Man-o-Man! Paddling back out to the line-up, my friends knew what I was feeling and we all shared that ‘secret’ smile.

I have had several different boards over the years. They were shorter, wider, had tri-fins, and one even had wood inlay stringers with a topless girl on the nose. Very nice! But the one I remember the most, was big, heavy, and about as easy to paddle as a tree trunk. My Dewey/Weber and I made history at Bolsa Chica that day. The ride home with my surfing friends, listening to the Dick Dale & The Del-Tones on the am radio, was the best ever.

Drinking Coffee: In July, 1969, I was fully trained by the US Army, and on my way to Vietnam. My two-week leave before shipping out was over, and so the family gathered at the airport to say their good-byes. This was a bit of a tearful scene, as most of my relatives knew there was a good chance they would never see me again. Everybody came up in turn for a quick word and a final hug. My father, stood in the background, waiting until just before I boarded the plane to approach me. I knew what he was going to say, would be epic.

“Son”, he says, putting his arm around me, “I have two things to tell you”. “Number one, try to blend in. Don’t be first, don’t be last, just blend in”. Now it should be noted that at the time, I weighed 225 pounds and stood 6ft 5in tall. Blending in, might not be an option available to me. I nodded that I understood what he was saying, assuming his intent for me was not to get shot. I brace myself for his final words. “And number two”, he goes on, “You better damn well learn how to drink coffee!” On this one, I simply nodded, shook his hand, ( we never hugged ), and boarded the plane.

Over the years, I have revisited his number two comment, trying to figure out what he meant. Was it simply that he didn’t want me to fall asleep on guard duty, and get shot. If I drank coffee, would I become a man and be better prepared to take care of myself, and not get shot. Whatever he really meant to tell me, I’ll never know for sure. I was in the infantry, and on my way to Vietnam. It didn’t matter what anybody said to me at the time. All I really heard was, try not to get shot.

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