Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Beach-Bus Mornings

Just before we were all driving, various buddies of mine and I would take the bus to the beach from the San Fernando Valley in the summertime.  I first learned that I could get myself from the Valley to the beach via public transit at age 14 when a slightly older kid, across the street, Ritchie, asked me to tag along with him to “San Mo”(Santa Monica).  This meant utter independence to any pre-driving kid who lived in the valley.  The ocean was about twenty miles away, and in an epiphany, we could all be at the beach of our own accord in about an hour and a half.

I remember these mornings well.  School was out, my dad was usually getting ready for his late drive to work, and mom was doing whatever.  My friends and I would often have slept over at one of our family’s houses.  We’d wake up at 6:00am, get our towels, our suntan lotion, a small carrying bag or backpack of some sort, and most importantly, our Boogie Boards.

Boogie Boards were allowed on RTD busses back then. They just had to be somewhat clean of sand, and you had to be able to stow them in the tight space between your knees and the seat in front of you.  So we’d all hike down the street to the nearest bus stop in the dry warmth of the morning under either a piercing blue sky, or other times, under a heavy gray overcast marine layer depending on if June Gloom had set in.  The Gloom only lasted a month and generally burned off by midday, so we were usually in for a great beach day.

We would wait at the bus stop for maybe 15 minutes, talking too loud and completely oblivious to sleeping residents in our anticipating the excitement of the day.  One time, my friends David, Tim and I had an LAPD officer drive up to us and write down our names for disturbing the peace at 6:30am.  Just minutes before, we had been hanging from a street sign and kicking our feet every which way and yelling like cannibals.  So our run-in with the authorities was probably well deserved.

The bus ride was done in three sections.  One bus, the 81 or the 35, moved us West across the floor of the San Fernando Valley towards the Sepulveda Pass.  We got off at Van Nuys Blvd.  After another 15 or 20 minutes, we hopped on the 183, which took us South over the Sepulveda Pass and let us out in Westwood on Wilshire Blvd.  Our last leg was to take the 34 along Wilshire Blvd to the Pacific Ocean to the aptly named, Pacific Ocean Park bluffs, which overlooked the Pacific Coast Highway and the endless blue.

The rides and the layovers were always interesting.  There generally were a handful of maids on these buses going to clean houses, and there was always a colorful derelict or two along the way who would curse us youngsters after some of us had done some provoking to pass the time.  But most fondly, there was the music. 

In those days, ghetto blasters had just started to come out.  Not the really huge kind that these would evolve into just a few years later, but essentially, they were foot-long stereo tape players.  And each ride to the beach had the stoner group way in the back of the bus with their tape-player turning out some Zeppelin, some Who, or some Rush.  There was one very pretty girl from my high-school named Kristina, who tended to be among this crowd; I always looked forward to running into her.

The stoners would do whatever they wanted back then.  They’d sing with the music, they’d ridicule others on the bus, they’d harass the bus-driver, and they often would be kicked off of the bus.  Our bus was once stopped in Westwood by the LAPD officers.  Two cops got onto the bus, passed me where I usually sat in the middle rows, and went back to see who was smoking pot.  The officers were chewing bubble gum; I supposed to make them even more sensitive to the smell of pot through the contrast of the sweet-smelling gum.  They took two or three kids off of the bus and arrested them.  I was glad I was more of a momma’s boy than these kids and I would get to my destination as planned.

Upon arrival at Pacific Ocean Park, we would proceed to walk among the roots of big trees towards the bluffs.  To this day, when I think of stepping over these roots and coming upon the vast Pacific blue, I still hear the phrase of the song, “Stairway to Heaven” by Zeppelin.  It goes:

There’s a Feeling I Get When I Look to the West
And My Spirit is crying for Leaving.

This moment of arriving at the beach was always very special for me.  The water and the air cleansed my soul.

We would walk cross cement pedestrian bridge, which crossed Pacific Coast Highway, and then proceed to set up camp at one of two spots.  The location of groups of people on the beach were designated by the baby-blue colored L.A. County Lifeguard towers.  They were set apart by about an eighth of a mile from one-another. We would either walk to towers eight and nine, or to tower four.  Tower four was a bit more of a walk North and became popular later because of its exclusivity on the beach.  

Our summer boogie-boarding beach routine was pretty predictable from there.  My friends and I would tip toe into the water and try to acclimate to the horrifyingly freezing temperature of 69 degrees.  We would all go back up and get our boogie boards, and then head into the water.   Of all of my friends, I was the most squeamish about the cold water.  I always SCREAMED my head off as I entered into the waves.  My friend Tim, who would be out surfing an instant after entering the ocean, never failed to laugh hysterically at my shrieks muffled by the crashing waves.

Then, depending on who I was with that day, after a longer-than-healthy time in the water, when our lips were blue, and we were exhausted, we would either munch on some snacks we had brought, or we would get stoned and then munch on the snacks.

This was followed by an hour and half of baking in the sun to a point that couldn’t have been healthy for our young skin.  We poured coconut baby oil on and flopped from our fronts to our backs like pancakes on a griddle in order to ensure a deep tan for our return to our respective schools in September. 

To cool off, I would sometimes swim way out a good 100 years from the shore like Roger Daltry crossing the river in the end of "Tommy," and then I'd head back to shore.  This was followed by another two or three hours of boogie boarding, scoping the pretty girls from Beverly High and then finally, it was lunchtime.  At the edge of the sand near PCH, there were snack stands where one could get burgers, chips and sodas.  We did this every lunchtime.  We’d get in line, wait and chat with one-another, feeling good about our physiques and then head back to the sand with our food to enjoy our summertime bliss.

After a very short post-meal rest, we would head back into the water to risk stomach cramps and become waterlogged again.  Many of us had perfected Boogie Boarding to an art.  This included getting tubed in the waves, getting on our knees on the board, and even something we called, “drop knee.” (one knee down on the board with the other foot planted flat on the surface).  Our boards were equipped with leashes and skegs, which helped keep us stuck to the wave, and we wore fins and fin-socks to propel us forward and keep our feet from getting cut up respectively.

And there were wipe-outs.  Every once in a while, a rogue set of waves would come into shore, and as we tried mastering these beasts, we’d become heavily involved in their turbulent and completely disorientating whitewash.  One of the hardest laughs I’ve ever had in my life was when my friend Nick took a spill on a huge wave, emerged from the ocean foam solid as a rock on his feet, and then he threw-up...as in "puked," from the impact of the wipe-out he had just had.  He was then immediately okay, and it was back to boogie boarding for him again.  We were insatiable.

But eventually the shadows would lengthen, the wind would pick up, wisps of fog would start move in, and the sun would turn a deep orange on the horizon; we knew we had to pack up and start heading back for our hour and a half-long RTD ride back home.  We would re-experience all of the bus adventures again in the opposite direction, though this time with a bit more fatigue and less patience, until we’d arrive back in our respective homes, where our parents were ending their day from work.  We’d then call each other on the phone to make plans for the next day and do it all over again.