Snapshots

PART 3 – SNAPSHOTS

By Edward G. Brooks

Following is life in the (mainly) ‘60’s in (mainly) Santa Cruz County, with some emphasis on the Cabrillo–Aptos–Rio Del Mar area, as seen in verbal snapshots taken then.

THE WALL AND PIXIE PLAZA

Rio Del Mar around ‘65 was gratefully not a whole lot different than today. But magic things were happening then. Beer, cheese, wine, potato chips, dip, were practically falling from the sky, as unintended largesse from the Pixie Plaza Market and O’Neil. O’Neil was reputedly the unfortunate of his prosperous family who gave him charge of the Pixie Plaza Market to give him something to do. He was a little old for this role, middle-aged. He couldn’t have made much of a profit because he was stolen blind by the locals who spent their time sitting on The Wall. There is some authority that there were CONTESTS to see who could steal the most bottles of wine from him.

Locals would come in and expected to simply walk out with what they wanted–that was how far it had gotten. O’Neil was perhaps an object of compassion until he walked in one day complaining about his declining business–without a clue as to why–and announced in front of a couple of employees that if things didn’t pick up he would fire everybody.

Boys not long out of high school without much to do would sit on The Wall between surfing stints–and party on O’Neill’s unintended largesse.

APTOS CREEK

Comes down through Aptos Village. It cuts dramatically below the businesses on the west side of Soquel Drive but no one knows it unless they stop and peer back behind the parking lots or buildings and look to see the supports holding up the creekward side of the buildings–enough to make the meeker sort think twice about spending time in those places perched on the side of the deep cut creek.

It flows out nicely into the Flats where the concrete walls along the creek show evidence of a long abandoned seasonal dam built by the homeowners on the north side. In the 60’s there was no pedestrian bridge as there is now to get from the Flats side to the Park side. That was all right because you had the fun of taking off your shoes and socks rolling up your pants and wading in water up to your knees in the soft sand bottom across to visit the cement boat.

THE CEMENT BOAT

The Cement Boat marks the passing of time. Long since abandoned as a party boat, it was used as a fishing pier, stripped to the bare concrete sunk in the sand upright and still in one piece accessible to or near the bow. Its history since has been gradual deterioration. The bow has detached from the ship, access was stopped at the west side of the main hold, but gradually moved back until there was a cyclone fence at the east side of the hold. You could still look down and watch the ocean surging in and out of the compartments, spitting up and crashing the way the ocean does. Then the fence moved further east. Finally the ship was off-limits.

APTOS VILLAGE

In the ‘60’s there were a few nice places in Aptos Village. Some remain, like the Bayview Hotel. A bar was there (Lounge I), a second lounge (Lounge II) up the hill across from the supermarket or the drug store, and a couple of service stations, one in Aptos Village, and the other up the hill. Taking some of them in order:

THE BAYVIEW HOTEL

The Bayview Hotel is a genuine antique where you could rent a room for 10 or 15 dollars. You got a water basin and access to the toilet down the hall. The rooms were furnished in original style, Victorian, tall beds some with canopies. I had a first date with my wife there over varietal red wine and stuffed olives in ‘68.

LOUNGE I

Lounge 1 was on the south end of town on the right southbound. It was perched over Aptos Creek. From the seating area to one side of the bar you could turn your head a little and see that you were up in the air somehow looking out over trees coming up from the water below.

The 60’s and 70’s are known as the generation of sexual freedom. I have to attest to that, if only based on slim anecdotal evidence. For one there was a female Cabrillo student about 19 at Lounge I of an evening. The subject of lesbian relationships came up (not too common or accepted at that time). She was aroused, I figured, because her features lit up, she headed straight for the bathroom, and disappeared for the night, if not forever. I never saw her again.

LOUNGE II

Similar to Lounge I except for the sumptuous overstuffed black leather chairs it featured, with a picture window onto the woods behind. You sat down with a friend and large cocktails, and felt you were on the top of the world. How is it you found places then that served double-sized cocktails with double-sized chairs to drink them in, but you can’t find them now?

THE SERVICE STATION

The gas station in Aptos Village, like Lounge I, was also over Aptos Creek. You could keep tires on your car by combing through the discard tire area behind the station. The manager was one of a type of gas station owners then, easy going, not really a business man so much as a mechanic, easy to get a used tire from or the use of the rack for free. He had a ‘57 Plymouth he’d bought new (the one with the HUGE fins) and told how he was doing an experiment to see how long it would run without ever getting an oil change. He was somewhere over 75,000 miles. The kind of small businessman you used to see a lot of, regretfully now absent from the scene.

USED CARS

Used cars from private sellers at the low end cost $50–$75 in the 50’s and $100 to $150 in the 60’s. A ‘39 Chevy coupe with no brakes cost $35, running good. A ‘47 Chevy 4 door was $65 from a lot on Mission Boulevard in Hayward, payable at $15 a month. A ‘49 Chevy fastback (just 7 or 8 years old) was $150. But the steering wheel turned a complete 360 before it moved the front wheels. A ‘50 Chevy bought on East 14th Street in East Oakland with a thrown rod, barely got off the lot, $100, which was $100 more than it was worth. Chevy 6’s had splash lubrication before ‘54, which meant a thrown rods.

One weekend evening on Soquel Drive walking an older guy maybe in his 20’s broke down in a light colored ‘40 Ford Coupe with two flat tires announced to those around “Give me $35 and it’s yours.”

CHANCE FEMALE ENCOUNTERS

Probably the same weekend evening as that of the ‘40 Ford Coupe there was an older 35ish woman in a cotton dress. A kiss and an embrace, a hand under the cotton dress not wearing any underwear. Politely took her leave, walking away barefoot on Soquel drive.

There was a fellow student at Santa Cruz high who had a problem, some minor damage to his car and he brought pressure for money and with an attitude. A nice looking kid who came across as prim and proper. His mother was a single parent, as we say these days. Then she was simply divorced which carried some stigma then. The older woman whose shapely buttocks I had, if only briefly, enjoyed, was of course the kid’s mother.

Though of course tempted, not the heart–or the courage–to reveal the story to the stuck up boy, fear of danger and explosion.

THE SEASIDE COMPANY

If Santa Cruz were a company town it would be owned by the Seaside Company. The Seaside Company has quasi-governmental status in Santa Cruz. Remember the County until lately was almost entirely retirement and touristry. The tourist industry brought in the hard dollars to the Seaside Company and to the motels and other services catering to the tourists most of whom wouldn’t have come if there were no Seaside Company.

One of the jobs on the Boardwalk then was attendant at the Top Gun concession. It was owned by a middle-aged Italian-American. He would view the sailing yachts anchored in front of the Boardwalk south of the main pier at certain times of the season with a long look–he was operating a cheap side show concession but he dreamed of sailing away on one of those yachts.

The idea of Top Gun was to draw a holstered air pistol, aim and fire in a fraction of a second to win a stuffed animal by hitting a gunfighter mannequin in the chest with a cork stopping the clock. The gun was single action. You had to pull the hammer back as you drew it, then aim from the hip and squeeze the trigger. You had the advantage that you were allowed to grip the holstered gun while you waited for the clock to start. If you had hair-trigger reflexes you could beat the clock. Once learned, you could come through later, put down your 50 cents, and take away a stuffed animal.

THE HIP POCKET BOOKSTORE AND TOWN CLOCK BILLIARDS

Before the Hip Pocket came in there were a couple of bookstores in town. One was on the north end of Pacific Avenue, across the street but not far from the later Hip Pocket. And there was Ed Meehan’s magazine section at his pool hall, Town Clock Billiards, also on the north end of Pacific Avenue, on the same side of the street as the Hip Pocket. Ed had been a professional straight pool player and still took the game seriously in his semi-retirement as a pool hall operator. He also built custom pool cues. He put in a dozen or so practice tables toward the back, but the jewels in the crown of his store were the three at the front, a full size nine ball table, a cushion billiards table, and a tournament size pocket billiard table for straight pool. He could steadily run 150 balls at straight pool, tending the counter as necessary between shots.

Persons who wanted to play cushion billiards had to be known to him before he would hand over the three ivory balls in the special wooden container.

The snooker table was long and the felt was clean and green. The pockets were curved. You had to shoot the ball precisely into the pocket to miss the edges or the ball would bounce out. The balls were smaller and the colors were regal, some numbered, many red, supporting balls like pawns in a game of chess.

He had a magazine section near the front. Men would flip through the nudist magazines featuring children. That was legal then.

The San Francisco football team trained at Harvey West Stadium on the north side of town and dropped by Ed’s billiard parlor for R and R. The guys with the larger than life physiques stood out among the teenage boys who were Ed’s regular clientele

The Hip Pocket Bookstore didn’t have too much competition. Other than the small store across the street with some books and other items, there was the Sticky Wicket, a hangout in Aptos with a book section which didn’t amount to a bookstore, although the few books it did have focused on the presumptive interests of the Hip Pocket clientele

A couple of occasions stand out that relate to the Hip Pocket. The bus Further arrived one sunny day pulled up in front of the store. Neal Cassady came bounding out rapping a mile a minute.

There was a party and Kesey was surrounded by a circle like charismatic people are. He was speaking and everyone was listening. The tight circle isolated its focus, captured him for a while, and kept him away from others.

Strangely similar to a visit of a corporate CEO (Jovanovich of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich) to its San Francisco Office, immediately attracted a clutch of sycophants arrayed in a circle around his tall figure. One difference, Kesey wasn’t particularly tall.

Jane Fonda hosted at UC Davis, beaming as she projected, immediately surrounded and isolated by the inner crowd.

Same campus, Prince Charles shows up. Rosy cheeks, surprisingly small, adroitly steering away from a protester (FREE PEOPLE DON’T NEED PRINCES) and homing in on some girls.

THE SANTA CRUZ CINEMA GUILD

Peter Demma ran the Hip Pocket from his usual post by the front door at the register. I did a small venture with him when I started a film series called, rather grandly, The Santa Cruz Cinema Guild. It didn’t amount to more than two 16mm projectors and a stock of printed brochures listing the movies to be shown. It was a mistake to select the films and have the brochures printed, and then send a copy to the film rental source with a request that they send the films at the times shown.

It seems one is supposed to reserve the times in advance, there being only a limited number of copies of each film. Silly me. But most of the films ended up available. Then it was just a matter of locating a place to show them. First a rented hall in Santa Cruz, later at The Barn.

The only movie houses in Santa Cruz then were the Del Mar and the Rio, and one in Soquel. None of them showed foreign films. There must have been a certain appetite for other fare because quite a few persons, some recognizable local personalities, would come to these twice a week screenings–Friday and Saturday– to sit on hard metal chairs with none of the usual amenities to watch these flickering 16mm Bell and Howell showings. There was nowhere else to see them without a trip to the Bay Area. Women walking out weeping after the showing of a heart rending Russian WW II propaganda film.

THE RIO THEATER

It was Friday night and the Rio was ready about 6:30 or 7:00. The manager was an Asian with one arm. Asians like any other minority were pretty rare in the County so he stuck out. He stuck out even more because he had only one arm. The other was a folded sleeve. He had a vague Attitude. He would stand at the entrance and wait for you to hand him the ticket so he could tear it in half. But with only one hand he couldn’t tear it in half. You had to hold tight onto the ticket while he tore half of it off.

You acquired a bottle of fortified wine and took chugs in the dark. When the bottle was empty it went down the inclined floor the rows of chairs were fixed to making loud noises moving row to row. Ushers with special flashlights with red cylinders at the front moved in trying to identify the responsibles without disrupting the show too much.

EMELINE STREET AND IWO JIMA

In the mid-late 50’s WW II was not too far out of sight. Ten+ years. A neighbor near Emeline Street responded to a question, Why were the Marines in the famous photo of the flag raising on Iwo Jima struggling so much, why did it take a half-dozen of them, to raise the thin flag pole? He had the surprised irritated look of a person who doesn’t like a topic, or thinks it’s a smart ass question from a kid, and said, as though it should have been obvious, “It was a water pipe!” He was in the company that raised the flag. He knew the names of the Marines that were in the picture (three of the six were later killed in the battle), and rattled off the unit designation. This was before there had been much to-do about them, before the Ira Hayes story was made into a film and a ballad in the ‘60’s.

CATHEDRAL DRIVE, MONTE TOYON, AND THE BEVIRT-CASSADY PARTY

Cathedral Drive winds up into the woods north-westward from Aptos Village and comes into Monte Toyon Methodist Camp. The Camp buildings sit on both sides of the road in a clearing. Just before the Camp there is a circle of tall Redwoods about big enough for a good sized bonfire party which is what gives the road its name. The Camp was run by a Rev. Hull, who had been sent back from a post in Alaska for R & R, and selected for church camp duty with that in mind.

There was a party at Bevirt’s place. Cassady was declaiming from a window seat in the living room drinking vodka from the bottle via the cap as a shot glass, with female student types sitting on the carpet at his feet taking it all in. His rap seemed sensible but hard to track or digest.

It was time for a beer run, and a collection was taken up. It was best to keep Neal and the money company. Neal was driving an orange ‘58 Chevy 4 door sedan 6 cylinder stick shift. He wasn’t picky what he drove, as long as it was a car that was all that mattered. It was said if you gave him gas money he would drive anywhere, until the gas ran out. It is well known that his MO was car theft in Denver.

It was surprising to see him driving to impress, coming back down the hill from the shopping center south into Aptos Village over the bridge as fast as he could make the curve, blinking his lights at an oncoming car because the Chevy was on the wrong side of the line and jabbing the brakes on the curve to keep control.

The conversation was about a nubile Cabrillo girl from the East. Neal wanted information to help him score with her. Neal Cassady was like the Beats and now the Hippies, always in search of the Peak Experience.

AUTHORS AND ACADEMIA

PETER BEAGLE

Peter Beagle came to town a little after A Fine and Private Place was published (1960):

“The grave’s a fine and private place,

but none I think do there embrace”

an elegant allusion on which to base a title, referencing lines from Andrew Marvell’s 17th Century poem “To His Coy Mistress.” The title also was an apt summary of the device underlying the novel, the impossibility of consummation of a relationship between two lovers who were not so much dead as incorporeal.

Beagle’s arrival more or less coincided with Cabrillo’s first literary magazine Compass to which he was kind enough to submit a piece or two. A member of what was called the editorial board of this fledgling publication took it upon herself alone to reject one of Beagle’s submissions– from the sole professional, published proven author to submit anything at that point–without consulting anyone else, a bit of arrogance, not to mention stupidity, that tended to leave one–speechless.

UCSC AND HOWARD SHONTZ

Howard Shontz was the Registrar and gatekeeper of the newly arrived UCSC who personally interviewed at least some of the applicants. The first class, called the Pioneers, had arrived at Junior status by the time the transfers from Cabrillo in 1967 appeared on his radar screen. I recall the interview. My grades had slid in some subjects, especially Spanish, where I had no appetite for hours spent in the lab with headphones on repeating rote exercises. Shontz looked over my application and grades, noted some high marks followed by these recent signs of decline, and commented, “Ed, when there’s a trend we like to see applicants whose grades are going”–indicating with his hand as though demonstrating an aerobatic maneuver”–up.”

In what was perhaps one of my most important moments for speaking on my feet, I said something about family responsibilities–I was married to my first non-employed wife with two children–and emphasized that I had earned an AA, an actually superfluous degree for somebody transferring into a BA program. But to get the AA you did have to meet certain particular requirements over and above what was required to transfer into UC. That seemed to be the clincher for Shontz and I was in. Two years later I graduated in Literature.

The graduation that I took part in was a very big deal for UCSC since it was the graduation of the first (Pioneer) class, along with some of us transfers. I was one of the older persons who being over 21 could work as a bartender for the party at the Shontz house on campus. This resulted in my meeting him again which initially was immediately after the graduation ceremony. I was still wearing my cap and gown, which drew a comment from the hardheaded former WW II Army Officer, “Are you going to keep wearing that silly thing” or words to that effect.

Of course I soon shed the costume, but not without thinking, I’ve spent five years working toward this day, and I draw that kind of comment?

The people who ran things in the 60’s were often former combat officers, either WW II or Korea, a no-nonsense bunch.

CABRILLO INSTRUCTORS

BARRY KITE

Because Cabrillo was recognized even at the outset as a unique place its administration had no problem getting–and keeping–forever–a cadre of instructors. Once on the payroll, few left. Barry Kite, a British import who taught Cultural Anthropology was one who got a little involved in the undergrad life in the community. For example, he came to The Castle, who some may recall as a residence perched alone on the edge of an ocean cove near Santa Cruz, for a student party.

SAMUEL BLOOM

One of the few Ph.D.’s at Cabrillo at the time, teaching Political Science. Abrasive, elitist. I worked for him as an office assistant for a short time while also taking his (required) class. He noted I got–unexpectedly?–good grades on a test and accused me of cheating, without more than a bare suspicion that I may have had access to office information, without a trace of evidence, and based on no more than his own paranoia. Of course I wasn’t, that wasn’t my style, too much work to cheat. But that naturally brought that little work-study job to an end. No great loss.

DON YOUNG

An English instructor with a degree from Yale and a published paperback novel at the time. Don needed some work done around his house and I was sent out by the school referral service. Eastern academics tend to underrate California students, so it came as a surprise to Don that I was up to speed on Paul Krassner and The Realist, a popular left wing intellectual magazine at the time. Don didn’t realize I was from the Oakland-Berkeley area with an interest in these subjects. I recall his bemused comment that you never knew when you would hire a gardener and find yourself discussing French Symbolism with him.

As they say everyone gets his fifteen minutes of fame. I’ve collected it in pieces vicariously in the reflected fame of famous persons, which in Don’s case was a meeting with Renoir the painter’s grandson, son of Renoir the film maker, at Don’s house in Aptos. The grandson Renoir wore a red bandanna around his neck. He was in the Literature Department at Berkeley at the time.

BERKELEY RIOTS

I was driving a cab in Berkeley in 1968 while attending summer school taking two Literature classes on a summer transfer from UCSC. The riots started for me when I was parked at the cab stand at Shattuck and University with a view down University. I noticed small crowds of student age persons moving in front of a bank building at the corner and noticed a bending or bobbing movement they were making. It was some little distance and at first I couldn’t tell what they were doing. Then I heard sounds like pistol shots, flat loud popping sounds. Then I put it together, they had been bending down to lift half bricks out of the mow strip between the curb and the sidewalk and threw the bricks into the large plate glass bank windows making the sounds like pistol shots.

Black and white Highway Patrol cars had been waiting, showing how alert I was. The whole thing was poised to go off and I was sitting in my cab reading a book. The CHP cars moved in on the crowds as soon as the windows went, four cops to a car. The demonstrators began scattering and running up side streets. I started the cab and followed the action up one of the streets. The whole thing was reduced to a vignette of a boy-girl couple running in front of a CHP officer on foot swinging a club. The cop didn’t seem to want to do more than scare off the students, swinging low at their hips or legs. But then the girl slipped and fell against a fence. The boy stayed near but couldn’t return to her because the cop was standing over her. The cop was in a fix because now he didn’t have any excuse not to club the girl, but didn’t want to. After cowering and holding her arm over her head, the girl saw her opportunity and scuttled out away from the fence to join the boy and run. The cop made a couple of half hearted swings as she got out and away.

After that there were National Guardsmen on the streets for a week or two, enforcing a curfew.

THE FELTON AREA

ZAYANTE

Mt. Hermon Road came down through the Mt. Hermon religious camp from Scotts Valley dividing it in two.

Zayante Road went back toward San Jose from the base of Graham Hill Road, past the Dollar Store opposite the lower campground, then going on up to Lompico and finally if you persisted climbing through a stretch of gravel road met Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35) which connected Highway 17 with San Francisco in a long rather grand route spotted with dramatic lookouts over the entire Bay Area to the east.

About half way to Lompico there was a roadhouse with a swimming pool that sold pool memberships to local families who would bring their kids up in the summer. There was a bar too. This later became a hippie spot about in the early ‘70’s with nude swimming.

LOMPICO

Lompico had a rather elaborate bathing beach behind a dam to Zayante Creek. Above it was a small tavern which later sold beer and wine when Jurgen Struck, a friend of mine from Oakland, had purchased a small interest there.

FELTON

Felton was a small town in ‘56 a year after the big flood. The low stretch across from the bottom of Graham Hill Road past the Covered Bridge to the flagpole in the center of town was a quarter mile or so. In ‘56 there was debris high in the barbed wire fence on the side of the road in this low stretch, marking the high water mark. The San Lorenzo River that cuts through downtown Santa Cruz first cuts through Felton.

SAN LORENZO VALLEY HIGH

San Lorenzo Valley High School was run by a Superintendent Howard R. Wire who also worked after school at Roy’s Market, the only grocery store in town. You could go into the market after school and find him at the register in an apron taking your money for a candy bar.

ABANDONED PLACES

There was a vacant farm house a few hundred yards from the Felton flagpole hidden by trees and separated by the river, with an upright piano, many family papers, and an outside pantry still stocked with preserves. Reading the papers in the house was a link of the imagination to another vacant house in East Oakland full of the life’s possessions and props of a vaudeville actor and ventriloquist.

In Felton a boy could buy a box of .22 shells for 50 or 75 cents from the small hardware next to the gas station opposite the flagpole and spend an afternoon hunting birds at the nearby abandoned farm.

A boy’s fantasies and the indulgence he received when he could take a WW II souvenir Japanese rifle with a 20″ bayonet mounted and carry it around the neighborhood shouldered like the pictures in the magazines, and not attract any concern. A boy and his play then was so tolerated as to be invisible.

Or the same boy walk carrying a loaded .22 rifle slung on his shoulder up 35th Avenue to the Devil’s Punchbowl, spend a few hours shooting on a Saturday, and return unquestioned.

PRESENT PERSPECTIVES

The Wild Sports gun shop in Carmichael today advises that it will not sell a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun to a boy under 18, since that is illegal. It will not sell a BB gun to an adult accompanying a boy if the salesman in his personal opinion believes the boy is the intended recipient of the BB gun. It will not sell an adult air gun of .25 caliber to an adult because the gun is “undefined,” meaning that although such an air gun has not been declared illegal the government hasn’t put this caliber on its official air gun list or in an official category of air guns that are approved.

BRANCIFORTE DRIVE RELIGIOUS

There was a religious community that came from Canada and bought land on Branciforte Drive a few miles from Santa Cruz in the ‘60’s. One said they left Canada because in Canada if something wasn’t declared legal it was illegal, the opposite he explained of the US where if it wasn’t declared illegal it was presumptively legal.

If the Wild Sports gun shop in Carmichael and its officious young salesman are any indication, the US has come around in the interim to the purported Canadian view.

RIO DEL MAR

I’ll be back.

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