Thursday, April 30, 2020

Warm Wet Splashy Summers

This entry could really be about any of the summers I had between 1975 and 1978, that three year period when I was in fifth grade to eighth grade, because they were all somewhat similar.  I’m ultimately picking 1977 because of one event in particular.  That is, the release of the movie, Star Wars.  This film is not the center focus of this entry either. But it is a nice milestone to have in about the sweet spot of this series of summers.

My family and I moved from the Hollywood Hills down to the flats, actually slight inclines of the boundary between Studio City and Sherman Oaks, south of Ventura Blvd.  This change allowed me much more freedom of mobility on my bicycle.  In the Hollywood Hills, my effective radius of bike-riding was about half a mile, because if I went any further, which was always down, I inevitably paid the price by having to walk my bike back up painfully and excruciatingly steep hills. 

This island of elevation also caused my parents long hauls to simply get a half gallon of milk in having to drive down the Santa Monica mountains from the Skyline Drive area to either Hollywood on one side, or Studio City on the other.  The move down made everything so much easier, and also untethered me from my parents with respect to being able to effect a change in my immediate environment without having to bother them for a ride. 

Our new house in Studio City was a sort of combo Cape Cod-Ranch style home.  It had dark brown wooden shingles along all of it’s street visible sides, and yet, it had a very rural ranch wooden fence around its front perimeter with wooden railroad ties enclosing large flower areas. 

For me, it is difficult to describe those first warm summers.  Well, easy to describe them, but difficult to conjure them up first.  The reason being that the street we moved to, Ethel Avenue, just north of it’s connection to Longridge Avenue, is so devastatingly different today.  Gone are the one story ranch and 1940’s style homes on the street, save a very few, replaced by the best definition of mansionizing that i could possibly direct a person to see.  Manhattan Beach’s mansionizing comes in a mere second in this regard. 

When one drives up my old street nowadays, looking left and right will display to you giant boxy multi-level homes.  The street feels crowded with the hillside behind its eastern edge.  I suppose that if anyone but me and a few other kids of that era drives up the street, they will agree that there are large houses there.  But this is where I have to dig into myself to, as I said, “conjure up” what it felt like to move onto the street in 1975, a feeling which permeated my soul for the next four summers or so.

Our house was on relatively flat ground, and yet on a slight incline.  Ethel avenue runs slightly uphill to Longridge from Valley Vista.  But as compared to our old street in the Hollywood Hills, which was Crest View Drive, Ethel Avenue was flat.  This meant that I could ride my bicycle in any direction for miles and miles (except south because after about three-quarters of a mile, Longridge gets very steep).  The house, unlike our previous house, also had wide curb exposure.  Three rooms, plus the garage, faced the street.  This created a feeling in me of a very inviting home when I would ride into the flat driveway from the street. 

Our street was also rural in the way of not having curbs either.  It was just asphalt, then a natural little water drainage groove about where the curb would have started, then asphalt again that inclined slightly to the edge of each home’s property.  This was a feature of the neighborhood that I have to credit my parents for specifically identifying as adding to the rural feeling that it all evoked. 

We also now had a pool for the first time (in my life at least).  A nice sized kidney shaped pool with plants around the far side, and plenty of room for water rafts, blow up boats, later when they came out, Boogie Boards, and all other manner of summer pool toys that one could throw into the big, blue sink. 

The feeling I have within those summer was this wild, almost frenzied summer play with various friends that included jumping in and out of the pool, running down the side cement easement and through to the garage and onto our dirt bikes sopping wet with no shoes on, and then pedaling all over the neighborhood until we exhausted whatever we had intended to do on those bikes.  As I recall, it didn't really matter what exactly we were doing.  It was all about the kinetic feeling of moving fast with the summer wind rushing past our bodies and eventually drying us off as we rode. We would then come back into the house and grab a snack, looking out of our sliding glass doors to the back yard as the summer breeze cross-ventilated the house with tufts of warm, garden filled air, and then head back out to the pool.

These summers also included bike rides, usually with a friend or two, to any of a large assortment of local summer destinations.  One was the Sherman Oaks park on Hazeltine and Riverside Drive.  This is a large park with baseball diamonds and a large pool, that at the time, had several diving boards and different heights, including one of those very tall platforms.  We would climb the various ladders and careen ourselves into the waters below with attempted flips and spins, garnering us belly rashes when our rotational calculations didn’t end up quite correct. 

I still remember one kid getting out of the pool.  He wasn’t anyone I knew, but I just happened to be going into the bathrooms at the same time.  There were also lockers there, where we kids put our belongings while we swam.  Almost no one brought locks for the lockers.  I certainly didn’t.  Why carry such extra weight on our bikes?

So I was behind this kid, and he looks down on the ground, apparently identifying his towel, which had presumably been taken or had fallen out of his locker.  He said, “Who put shit on my towel!?!”  I looked at the towel as he lifted it off of the cold, cement floor, and there was dark brown textured shit smeared over one side of it.  He looked at me as if I should somehow help him, and I just kept on walking to the next section where the toilets were.  I always felt badly for that kid.  Whomever did that to his towel must have thought it was funny.  I also wish I had said something like, “Ah, just throw it in a bag for now, then into the washer at home, and it’ll be good as new.”  But I was too embarrassed for him and didn't want to be associated with a shit smear victim at that moment and so I didn’t say anything. What a schmuck I was to just keep on walking past him.

Other bike rides included going down to the Studio City Mann Theater and seeing whatever was playing that week.  It was one of those single theaters on a big boulevard (Ventura Blvd), and so there wasn’t much choice except for when they might be playing a few movies by staggering their various showing times.  And down in that area were Buddy Browns toys, where I used to buy Dinky and Corky cars to play with, mostly when I was younger, and Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream, and Nathan's Hot Dogs.

Then, in the other direction were a cluster of shoe box theaters about two miles from our house called, General Cinema Theaters.  Friends and I would ride down Valley Vista, then down Woodman Avenue, cross Ventura Blvd, and then head west on Moorpark Street to the area where the theaters were near Van Nuys Blvd.  We saw lots of films at these theaters.  But the one, of course, that blew my mind in 1977, was Star Wars.  The trailer said, "It's about a boy, a girl, and a universe," while a floating black orb with sensors followed someone down a star ship hallway.  I had to see it. The film remained there in first run throughout the entire summer and I biked there with various friends and saw the film nine (9) times.  Still a record for any first run showing for me.  It was just so amazing; all of the layers, the intricate story, and the flying to the Death Star at the end.  I was hooked all the way. 

One other particular location that I recall going to a lot, because of it’s incredible distance, was the Go Cart track, which sat at the south side of the Burbank Airport.  I constantly rode there on my bike with friends to enjoy the feeling of driving.  It was a thrill for me, and I spend a lot of my allowance at that track.  The crazy thing, which I know I mentioned in some other blog on this site long ago, was the distance I rode.  It was around nine miles one way, which meant that every time we went there and back, it was an eighteen mile bike ride.  That fact along still blows my mind today.  The distance, and the idea that my parents, and my friends’ parents allowed us to ride that far.  The traffic in the valley during the middle day portion of summer days was so much less than today.  I don’t recall being that worried about traffic.  But I also routed us down traffic friendly streets there and back.  But still, damn, that was a long way.  No wonder I had such stamina throughout my youth. 

That time, those few years from 1975 to about 1978, were just so special.  The carefree feeling that so many people describe about their summers at home is universal I suppose.  Mine were dips in and out of the pool, warm breezes blowing through our house, sopping wet bike rides, and keeping busy with food, toy shopping and entertainment throughout those summer days.  It was just great.