My parents moved to "The Valley" in 1950, where I was born in 1955. The place was pretty rural back then with plenty of wide open spaces. The Valley (San Fernando Valley) was at that time was what you would now call a 'Bedroom community'. It was so rural (at least for L.A.) that when my mom was pregnant with me and she had to visit the Obstetrician, she took the Red Car and a bus from Reseda to Burbank to St. Joseph Medical Center because that was the only hospital around at the time.
I grew up a 'regular' kid in middle-class suburbia. My mom was "mom".... "Housewife" I guess you'd say, which is probably one of the hardest jobs on the face of the earth. Although at the time I never realized that. Having my own kids now, I know how tough it is to raise kids. The right way, anyway. My dad was an engineer at Rockwell (Now Boeing) and helped develop the Saturn V engine that put men on the moon (As well as my late Father-in-Law). I am, to this day, very proud of both. And of course I had the dreaded older sister. Who now days claims to be an "artist". Of course that is an acronym for someone who has never had a real job in the real world. There is nothing more pathetic than being a grey-haired, wanna-be, middle-class hippie who never contributed anything real to the world. Besides, being an "artist" puts you in the "Worthless" catagory anyway. These days, my folks think being a 'rebel' is not putting up with shit from the teenager working at the mall and my sister by painting her van goofy to piss the neighbors off. Boy Howdy, WATCH OUT!!!!... But those are whole different stories....
Back when I was a wee little nipper, I remember the wide open spaces around our house. The housing tract that we lived in (And "tracts" back then consisted of maybe 1-2 dozen houses) was surrounded by groves of Walnut, Orange, and Lemon trees. The street out front (Woodley Ave.) was dirt and the closest neighbor to our little neighborhood was a big and sprawling (at least it seemed like it at the time) "ranch" called the "Palm Tree Ranch". It was one of the many homes owned by Mae West. It was nothin' but a bunch of nothin' all around ... and when your a kid ... that, my friend, is paradise.
Now, in my mid-late 40's I hate to think of myself a "geezer", but this place has changed SO much, and for the worse in the last 20 years that I just can't help feeling that way. It seems like just yesterday that the memories of childhood were reality. For those who grew up around here, you know exactly what I'm talking about ... for those those who are what the media calls "Generation Xer's" this is an unfathomable concept of what life used to be like... for those who didn't grow up around here, yeah, you can probably relate to some things ... but for the most part it's like a foreign country to you.
Anyway, these are things the way they USED to be, and will NEVER .... be again.
One of my earliest childhood memories (and I don't know why) was the Helms Bakery Trucks. There was a huge Helms Bakery down in L.A., but they used to have a smaller bakery on Woodley and Roscoe Blvd not far from my house. I can still remember waking up in the morning and if the wind was just right the whole neighborhood smelled like fresh-baked bread. Of course when the Helms man came through the neighborhood in his truck, blowing his whistle, ALL the mom's went out to buy different things .... I still can see the cinnamon rolls in their wrappers that were still hot, with the condensation on the inside of the wrapper.Oh, man, when mom bought those there was nothing better!
We used to have a Milkman. For those of you who don't know what that is, it was a guy who used to deliver milk or other assorted dairy products right to your front door. Back then, the milk came in glass bottles with a little wax/cardboard stopper on top. When you needed more milk, all you did was leave the empty bottles on the front porch along with a note of what you wanted, and in the morning the milkman left your order. What a concept, eh?
We had a 'real' ice cream man. This was the Good Humor guy. He drove around a 'real' ice cream truck ... not these vans with the side cut out of them, with some Iranian guy who can barely speak English, or some illegal alien pushing some cart around like we have now. The Good Humor man actually wore white pants and shirt, with a white cap. And he had to get out of his truck to go around around back and get you what you wanted.
Down on the corner was a 'real' ice cream parlor. It was called Curry's ... maybe you remember them. It was pink and white inside, had a jukebox, and those 'wire' chairs like the old malt shops had. There was a real honest-to-God soda-jerk who wore those white paper cunt-caps and a little black bow tie. You used to be able to get a "mile-high cone". This was an ice cream cone where the scoop of ice cream was bullet-shaped on a sugar-cone. I think they were about a dime.
Across the street was a diner that was an old coach-type train car that had been converted into a counter-type eatery. It was pretty cool ...
There used to be "Drive-in's" ... not "Drive-thru's". There was a really great place called "Bob's Big Boy" where you pulled into a parking place, and a girl on roller skates would come out and place a tray on the door of your car, take your order, and then bring you the food. You could get a GOOD burger, fries, salad, and drink for a buck and a half. At the same time, you could also go to McDonalds. Of course back then the menu was pretty limited. Burger... Cheeseburger ... fries .... shake or a soda. That was it. No Ronald McDonald, it was "Speedy" ... a little round-headed guy dressed in kilts, who was winking at you. Burgers were 15 cents.
In the morning, I used to watch 'Chuck-o the Birthday Clown' ... in the afternoon, I had lunch with Sheriff John. He had some great cartoons like 'Clutch Cargo' or 'Scott McCloud and the Space Angels' .... later in the afternoon it was 'Engineer Bill'. Later on it was 'Jerry Mahoney' or 'Soupy Sales'. Ahhhhh..... it was a great time for T.V. and kids.
My grandparents lived in Reseda, and later on after my grandfather died, my grandmother lived in Van Nuys. Grandmothers are a very special breed indeed. They just love to spoil you rotten, and for some reason, nobody can cook like a grandma. Sometimes my parents would go to Vegas for the weekend and I'd get to stay at grandma's house. Those were great times. Grandmas let you get away with stuff that your parents never would. I got to sleep in this huge bed that my hands couldn't even touch the sides of the mattress. 40 years later, I still have that bed, but it seems pretty small these days. But I'll never get rid of it ... because every night when I go to bed, I think of grandma and all the great times we had.
There weren't any malls or shopping centers back then. There weren't any corner mini-malls. If you wanted to go to any place where there was a concentration of shops, you went to Van Nuys Blvd. ... or you went to the Sears or May Co. in North Hollywood.
Want to go to a movie? No multiplexes with 15 theaters .... one movie theater, showing 2 (TWO!) feature films, and a couple of cartoons. I can remember going to the movies on a Saturday afternoon and paying 35 cents to get in, and a box of candy, a bag of popcorn and a soda costing another 75 cents. And sometimes on a Saturday afternoon when the theater was full of nothing but kids, they would have drawings between movies and give away prizes.
We also went to Drive-in Theaters. I know there are still a few of them around, but not like there used to be. when we went, they used to charge by the carload ... not per person. The whole family could go see two movies for 75 cents.
We wore Levi "peg-leg" 501's ... at $6.00 a pair. The only kind of tennis shoes back then were Ked's, or Red Ball Jets. We used "greasy kid stuff" in our hair. "Dickies" were cool (the turtle neck thing without wearing the whole sweater) ... and later on dress shirts that had a 'rip cord' on the back. Later on in Jr. High, it was dress shirts, Levis (those never seem to go out of style, thank God) and 'wing-tip' dress shoes. Still even later in high school, it was any kind of tee shirt that had a reference to surfing or dope on it, Levi bell bottom 'cords' and Wallabies (those suede shoes with the gummy eraser soles). Oh, and if you were a 'surfer' you had to have your 'choker'... a necklace made from a leather cord with wooden beads and sea shells on it.
Back in high school you were lucky if you even had a car. There wasn't any of this brand-new BMW stuff that you got for your 16th birthday, like you see now days. If you had anything, it was usually some piece of crap that you bought from saving up the $2.35 an hour you made working at McDonalds part time after school, or some huge totally non-cool hunk of Detroit steel that you got from grandma.
Of course there were a few kids lucky enough to have a "muscle car" in high school, and for the rest of us ... later on when we had "real" (or so we thought) jobs and saved enough cash to get a nice car ... there was only ONE thing to do on Wednesday night. And that ... was to cruise the infamous Van Nuys Blvd.
Sure .... there are still "cruise nights" and drag racing going on at various spots ... but they aint' NOTHIN' compared to what Van Nuys Blvd was. That was THE granddaddy of them all. It was the best there ever was, and best there will ever be. You would go and see the most outrageous street-rods, muscle cars, and women Los Angeles, So. Cal., and parts unknown had to offer. If you had a cherry street-rod, there was no end to the girls that wanted to ride with you. Cruising Van Nuys Blvd was more fun than most things you would have planned for the weekend, and literally 1,000's of people would show up. There were people lined up SOLID, both sides of the block for 2-3 miles on the sidewalk. The Blvd was often one long continuos wall of people stretching from the Jack in the Box on the North end, to Chandler Blvd on the South. You would often see a LOT of out of state plates, sometimes from 3 or 4 states away ..... all there to cruise "The Blvd." Hell they even made a movie about it.... it sucked, but still they made a movie.
But as with all things good ... it finally got screwed up by a bunch of assholes. In the late 70's the gangs started to come, and after a couple of shootings there, the cops came down hard, and for a loooong time the Blvd was completely shut down on Wednesday nights and then after a while everyone just seemed to forget about it. They tried having "cruise night" on Reseda Blvd for a while ... but it just wasn't the same. And thus ... did "cruise night" die.
I suppose there are a thosand and one things I could write about here ... so many golden memories from the past. But to log it all down would really take a book and besides ... how much do you want to read about a geezer's past anyway? After all, its mine not yours, so what do you care? But I think I proved my point though ....
Somewhere between then and now something happened. All the wild and crazy things we used to do got less and less frequent. All the things we used to do that would have gotten us either killed or arrested, slowly came to a grinding halt. School got deadly serious. Relationships got serious. My friends started getting freekin' married and having kids for chrissakes. They bought houses. Next thing ya know and before I knew it, the same thing happened to me. Now ... I'm not saying this is a bad thing ... it just seems like it all happened so damn fast, and before ya know it ...
Can 40 years go by that damn fast? Can things change so quickly ... and for the worse? And by that, I don't mean the getting married and having kids part... I mean by having the place you grew up in change SO fast. Where did it all go? Is this a better place? Is it a safer place? Is this where I want to raise MY kids? Why does nothing look the same? Why does it look like it's all turned into a big piece of shit? Why don't I recognize anything anymore? I just don't know... I do know one thing though .....
Pandora's box has been opened, and you can't put the genie back in the bottle ...