Category Archives: H: Home Again: The Later 60s

Two Weeks in Seattle

By attending Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration school in the spring of the year, I had more than met 1968’s obligation to the two-week ACDUTRA – active duty for training – which the Navy required of all reserves on an annual basis. However, a posting on the Yeoman’s Bulletin Board at the Aurora Armory announcing a two week training cruise aboard a reserve destroyer based in Seattle, Washington caught my attention. I submitted the appropriate request, which was approved, and at the beginning of November 1968, I was off to the great Northwest.

Weather-wise Seattle was pretty much as promised, particularly since it was November. It did rain quite a bit. But also, as promised, when it didn’t rain, and the sky cleared, it was indeed spectacular. The sparkling Puget Sound, the tall, well washed, verdant green pine trees everywhere, and the magnificent, craggy, snowcapped mountains looming above it all made it one of the most beautiful places one might imagine.

Like my now long ago first shipboard experience – two weeks aboard a Chicago based reserve destroyer escort – we didn’t really go anywhere. We left Pier 91 on several occasions to cruise the sound; to Tacoma and back. And once we ventured out through the Straits of Juan de Fuca to somewhat tentatively poke our bow into the cold North Pacific. But we spent a lot of time tied up to Pier 91 performing maintenance (in the guise of training). Since I was now an “expert” on refrigeration systems, this is how I spent much of my time. But if you ignore the cold, grimy conditions of the nearly hidden spaces in which some of the refrigeration equipment was mounted, the work was interesting, instructive, and not too difficult.

I know I enjoyed Seattle in the broad sense, but my somehow my strongest memories are the songs “Both Sides Now” by Judy Collins, a lasting favorite, and “Wichita Lineman”, by Glen Campbell. And the rotating bar at the top of the space needle, where the stunning view was constantly changing; repeating itself every 30 minutes.

Another lasting impression is of a very large, very ornate, old-style theater on Pike Street where I saw Jane Fonda in the movie Barbarella. I will admit that in costume she was visually stimulating, but I didn’t then, nor do I now, forgive her antics during the war. That said, the movie, though more than a bit silly, was entertaining.

A couple of nights before I left Seattle, I was in a cocktail lounge somewhere, grumbling conversationally about the weather. One of the gentlemen – strangers all – with whom I was chatting said to me in all seriousness, “You say that now, but after you leave you’ll want to come back”. And you know, he was right. Although in all these years I never have gone back to Seattle, I have always wanted to. And as I write this I say to myself yet again, maybe this year.

The flight home from Seattle to Chicago was the perfect finale to a great couple of weeks. I was traveling in uniform, and “on standby”. After the paying customers had all boarded, I was not only awarded a seat, but a seat in First Class! This proved to be one of two new experiences that day; the first of course being my upgraded flight status. And since the drinks were free – and because it sounded so cool and sophisticated – I ordered my first, and only ever, scotch and soda. But it really was fun all in all, and ever after, when I’ve traveled in the cattle car of coach, I’ve known what I was missing.
A final thought.  I wrote my first poem while in Seattle for my two-week training cruise. Bad as it probably was, I’m sorry I no longer have a copy.

On my first visit to the Space Needle, on the grounds of what was formerly the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, I was struck by the carousel, and the “wild carnival horses” with their “toothy grins”. The bright colorful paint now, some years later, chipped and faded, as they stood silent and neglected on a damp, foggy, and still November day. And so, inspired by the works of Rod McKuen, I sketched out a short, sad poem titled “After the World’s Fair”.

That it is gone forever is no real loss to anyone. But I do wish I had more than just a vague memory of my first poetic effort.

The ’68 Charger

As much as I liked my ‘61 Tempest, after a year and a couple of months I began to feel the need to upgrade. My father was a “Chevy man” and following the family tradition I was quite fond of the Camaros of the late 60s and disliked all Fords on general principles (although I would go on to own three Mustangs in my life – so far).

But the car which caught my attention in the spring of 1968 was the Dodge Coronet. So after no small amount of thought, some consultation with Mrs. B, who ran the Thor Credit Union, I made my way one afternoon to Aurora Dodge, located on N. Lake St. in North Aurora.

I was extremely disappointed that they did not have a Coronet on site with the right set-up, and which was – importantly –the right color. I had already made up my mind as to what color I wanted. Medium green – what many would call avocado – with the darker avocado green vinyl top. (I had not yet succumbed to the notion that every car I owned must be Ferrari Red). No problem, I was told, I could order just such a car as I wanted. I understood and accepted that reality, but I was still rather put off by the idea that, having now decided to act, I would need to wait an additional several weeks for the car to arrive.

However, they did have, – right there, not 50 feet away – a different model, that I might like, with precisely the right color combination. Willing to at least take a look, we walked to this alternate selection. At first sight I knew this was my car. As much as I liked the Coronet, this 1968 Charger R/T, with a 440 Magnum engine, and Torqueflight automatic transmission, road wheels – and without the notable “Rumble Bee” stripes – was not just significantly better, It was perfection.

This was the car I had to have. I have no doubt that my face gave me away, and even if I had been skilled at negotiating a good deal for myself, it was probably out of the question in this case. This car was more expensive, from the start, than my earlier choice. But I did have the backing of the Thor Credit Union, and make-able payments could stretch as far into the future as necessary. I say again, this was my car.

So couple of days hence, on Friday afternoon, the deal was done and I could pick up my Charger. This event was almost delayed due to a brief, but heated, disagreement with my mother who wanted – for some incomprehensible reason – to wait until Monday to add the new vehicle to the family insurance policy. But I prevailed, and took possession of my new car on my way to what promised to be a very long second shift in the milling machine department at Thor.

Arriving on time, more or less, I parked my new car in a (daytime) supervisor’s slot right outside the window of the area in which I worked. Walking by the window often and gazing out at my new beauty was just too much. When the lunch break came at 7:30, I feigned some malady and headed out on the town to show off.

At about 8:30 the next morning my mother knocked on my door, waking me to tell me how beautiful she thought the car was. So all was again well at home. That weekend, and beyond, I made the rounds. The car was a big hit at the Office, and also when it revisited North Lake Street to cruise the Sears parking lot and Tops Drive-In.


The City By The Bay

I had learned a lot about San Francisco in the past year. On my previous visit I didn’t really know my way around and exploring the city had mostly centered on my temporary home base – the hotdog place on Market Street – where I had hung out with new friends while awaiting my separation from the Navy, and a bit beyond. Since then the words and music of Rod McKuen and Glenn Yarborough (and Tony Bennett) had led me to see San Francisco with yet new eyes and to learn much more about this city with which I had fallen in love. Most of what I had learned however had been from afar.

But now I was here, and with a rental car I was free to roam. I could explore, and see, and experience firsthand all those things about which I had read, or seen in pictures or films, or learned from studying maps. From my hotel room on Van Ness Avenue, I traveled to the Italian neighborhoods and beatnik hangouts of North Beach. To the Sunset District (Pete Seeger’s “little boxes on a hillside”) and the broad sands of Ocean Beach. I drove from the Presidio and the Marina to the Haight, and from the University to Marin County and back, as I tried to pack everything into this all too brief visit.

Recalling lines from Rod McKuen’s poem*, in the evenings I too would ride the bridge from Sausalito home; but unlike the poem, I felt that San Francisco and I would always be friends. And I knew I’d be back.

And as I roamed, the music on the car’s radio would be “Lady Madonna” by the Beatles, “Pictures of Match Stick Men”, by Status Quo, “Love is Blue” by Paul Mariat, and “(Sittin’ On The) Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding – a song which maintained its No 1 status in this city long after its popularity had faded in other parts of the country. A song which will forever remind me of San Francisco – as it was in the spring of 1968.

Not only the glamour of Fisherman’s Wharf and the Top of The Mark, but the then un-restored Victorians of the working class neighborhoods. The bars and clubs on Broadway; Vesuvio, the Condor Club, and The Hungry I. Keezar Stadium, and the double-decker freeways, which survived until the earthquake of ’89. And the old Embarcadero highway, hugging the bay shore past the piers, and warehouses, and the freighters at China Basin – where now the Giants play baseball – and bending the corner and past the bridge to end at the Ferry Building. How I loved it all.

But soon enough this California adventure came to an end as I returned at last to Aurora, and the milling department at Thor, and to a still uncertain future.

* Stanyon Street and Other Sorrows” Rod McKuen 1967

Return to San Francisco – Another Bus Ride

I completed – with surprising success – the 8-week course in Air Conditioning and Refrigeration – during which time I was promoted to Petty Officer 2nd Class – courtesy of the US Naval Reserve and the San Diego NTC. I had thoroughly enjoyed my time in San Diego, and finishing the course meant a return to Aurora and inquiries into what would be required to take advantage of this training. It also meant a, hopefully brief, return to the boring job at Thor Power Tool Company. But before stepping back through the looking glass, I of course took the opportunity to return to San Francisco.

Air fare to and from the west coast was paid for by the Navy, but any travel expense I incurred in the time between was on me. Therefore, to cover the 600 or so miles from San Diego to San Francisco, I chose the most practical (meaning cheapest), if not the most expedited mode. All too familiar to me from my Navy days on the East Coast, I chose the Greyhound bus.

The 100 mile first leg of the journey, from San Diego to a late afternoon layover and bus change in Los Angeles, was a piece of cake. Arriving at Los Angeles, I spent my time tending to personal needs, buying an overpriced bus terminal meal, and acquiring a couple of magazines to supplement my book on the much longer leg north to the city by the bay.

It was getting dark by the time our bus left the downtown LA terminal, so there was not much to see as we rolled north. I read my book for a while before turning out the reading light and closing my eyes. I dozed off and somehow the nighttime hours passed. With the sun finally rising on what was now Northern California I woke to discover that we were stopping in the small town of Gonzalez, California, about 20 miles south of Salinas, and 125 miles short of our destination. Acquiring a quick relief, some much-needed coffee and a snack, I re-boarded and settled in for the remainder of the trip.

A notable thing about Gonzalez, California was that every business I saw from my bus window was named Gonzalez; Realtor, Café, Dry Goods, Attorney at law, Gas Station, and others. I speculated that also, somewhere not too far away, was a large house where the town’s proprietor (perhaps named Gonzalez?) lived.

Back on US 101, and now fully awake, I dug through my bag and pulled out the April 5 edition of Time magazine which I had purchased the previous night in Los Angeles. As I began to read I came across a rather prophetic article anticipating protests scheduled by a number of “radical” groups – in particular Abbie Hoffman’s “Youth International Party”. I read with some interest of the hopes these “Yippies” had of causing some sort of disturbance at the Democratic National Convention, to be held later that summer in Chicago.

The Go Go Bar

“Every town I go in, there’s a street, ha, Name of the street, ha, Funky, Funky Broadway. Down on Broadway, there’s a nightclub. Now, name of the nightclub, baby, Funky, Funky Broadway”        Wilson Pickett 1967

There was a bar located on San Diego’s Broadway, a couple of blocks from the YMCA. It was just one of many, and the name escapes me, but it was the one in which I spent a lot of time when on liberty from the training center. The bar was typical of its time and place. It was narrow and dim, with some tables and chairs on the right as you entered. On the left a bar with stools. Above and slightly behind the bar was a narrow stage on which Go-Go Dancers would gyrate – amidst flashing colored lights – to the songs of the day, played on the bar’s sound system.

Author’s Note to later generations: It must be understood that Go-Go Dancers were NOT strippers, but instead representatives of a popular phenomenon at the time whereby girls, yes, sometimes in a skimpy costume and iconic high white go-go boots would dance on a small stage or platform, in bars or clubs, to entertain the patrons, to enhance the music, and to otherwise contribute to the ‘60s ambiance. Or to do so on TV – such as on ABC’s Shindig, or Goldie Hawn (for you youngsters, that’s Kate Hudson’s mother) on NBC’s Laugh-In.

Just before coming to San Diego – at about the turn of the New Year – my friend Vern and I had chosen Manhattans as a favored drink for reasons I really cannot recall, and in retrospect completely cannot understand. But I must admit to drinking more than a few of them at my favorite Broadway hangout.

Although it was not too long before I abandoned manhattans – and for that matter, any serious drinking altogether. I think that it was at that Broadway bar that I began to get the inkling that drinking too much wasn’t such fun, after all. I was learning – through repetition – that while my friends would continue with their evening, all too soon my world would start to spin – with the inevitable, unpleasant result. So it became moderation for me; a rule which stands to this day.

One of the best things about this establishment however was Linda, one of the dancers, and the person with whom I would occasionally spend an evening in a different venue. Another was the music to which Linda and the other girls danced. That is to say the popular music of early 1968; especially “Second That Emotion”, by Smokey Robinson, which remains in memory, along with “Different Drum” by The Stone Ponies w/Linda Ronstadt, “Chain of Fools” by Aretha Franklin, “Young Girl” by Gary Pucket and the Union Gap, and “Kiss Me Goodbye” by Petula Clark as the “soundtrack” of my altogether great time in San Diego.

The “Little” Chief

There was one incident at AC/R School in which my primitive artistic ability proved useful. Week Three of the course was devoted to the construction and function of the various valves required in a refrigeration system. These valves were rendered graphically on large pull-down screens suspended above the classroom’s chalkboard. One evening in the middle of the week a small group of us returned to the classroom after hours to study the graphics and discuss the topic. After we had studied for a while, and felt satisfied in our understanding of the material, conversation turned to the Chief Petty Officer who was that week’s instructor.

I am convinced that upon promotion to Chief – the Navy’s equivalent to a senior sergeant in the Army or Marines – instructions are provided on how to be a “hard ass”. And this chief had apparently learned his lessons well. Although small in stature, he was quite authoritative, and had the “small man” attitude; with jutting jaw, piercing eyes, his chief’s hat worn at a jaunty angle, and the ever present cigar between clenched teeth. Although he was quite intimidating, he was also an excellent instructor, and we liked him*. At the same time, he was easy to mimic and caricaturize. And this is just what we were doing when I got an idea.

Without a word I stepped to the chalkboard and started to draw a shoulders-up picture of the Chief, with emphasis on the prior mentioned traits. I managed, somehow, to get it just right, and the guys I was with were delighted. The group decision was to leave it, and to pull down one of the graphics, covering the sketch until class was in session the next morning.

We told no one of what was lurking behind the pull-down, so when the chief turned and raised it to access the chalkboard, the class erupted. Even the normally taciturn instructor smiled, and the drawing remained on the board for the rest of the day.

*On the day when we were to gather for the class photo, we were told to select one or two of the instructors to be in the picture. This Chief was our unanimous first choice.

Fun in San Diego

When traveling downtown, singularly or otherwise, to visit our favorite bars, or to take in a movie, or some such entertainment, the Rosecrans Street bus would conveniently take us from Gate 6 of the training center to the Army/Navy YMCA on Broadway, San Diego’s “main drag”. From this central location we could easily walk to the aforementioned bars or theaters, and if we were interested in further travel – one Saturday, for example, we spent a great day at the San Diego Zoo – a bus from Broadway would take us anywhere we wanted to go.

But more than a few evenings were spent with some of our “submariner” classmates, a couple of whom had cars. With them we would carouse the city, and the surrounding area. From a bar which we liked, called “That Place Across The Street From The Sports Arena”, which was located, well, you know, to the many and varied entertainments of Ocean Beach, we – under the guidance of those maniacs from the nuclear subs – managed to walk a fine line between good clean fun, and “somebody call the cops”.

Late evening returns to our barracks were often preceded by stops to a couple of places then found only on the west coast – the “Taco Bell” and “Der Wienershnitzel” restaurants across the street from Gate 6. “Lights out” was the barracks rule after 10 PM, and our two-man rooms were too small for a party, so individuals and groups returning from a night’s liberty, laden with their favorite fast food stuffs, would gather in the only shared space in which the lights were still on – the Head*. We would sit on the floor and share a communal “picnic” of tacos and burritos, sausages and fries, and paper cups full of some pretty good German style baked beans. Great, great fun! Even though we usually had to be up early the next morning for class.

*This being a typical Navy facility, with lots of “idle hands” of junior rank, the Head was always quite clean.