Tag Archives: Lawndale High School

Promises

I sometimes find myself getting annoyed with my fellow drivers who roll through stop signs as if they were optional. Even after I tell myself not to take it personal it’s hard to let go of the idea that they are putting people’s safety at risk.

When I was seventeen years old two friends and I planned to go camping and target shooting in the wilds north of Victorville. I had graduated from Lawndale High School when I was sixteen but my two friends were still students at Villa Park High School. The night before we were to leave on our Spring Break camping trip a group of us decided to go to the drive-in in Huntington Beach to catch a long forgotten movie in my pickup truck. My friends were all in the bed of the truck while I drove to the drive-in and where I would back into the last row of the theater where all the pickups and vans got parked. The oldest of us was twenty-one and while I was still parking he pulled a six-pack from his duffel bag and opened a beer. Even before I was out of the cab we were descended upon by two undercover Huntington Beach police officers. To make a long story short we were all arrested, placed overnight in a drunk tank, and released the following morning, that is all but the twenty-one year old who had possession of the beer and the only one drinking.

Once I paid the fifty dollars to get my pickup out of the impound my two friends and I were on our way to my favorite camping spot in a secluded canyon north of Victorville. I rolled through a stop sign and onto a lonely country highway and was immediately pursued by a Highway Patrolman who came out of nowhere.

I rolled down the window and expected the worst but instead was greeted by the saddest face on that Officer. He explained to me that what I had done was known as a California Stop. He further told the three of us that earlier that morning, at the very same stop sign, a man had rolled through but had failed to take notice of the oncoming eighteen-wheeler who was unable to stop in time. In the resulting collision the man, his wife, and their three children were all killed. We had already noticed and commented on the debris from what must have been a terrible collision and so of course we believed him without question.

In a completely unexpected turn the Highway Patrolman said that if I were to give him my word of honor that I would never do another California Stop and be vigilant with my traffic checks he would not write me a ticket. I did, and then we shook hands and went our separate ways. Forty-three years later I still keep that promise and I suppose that may have something to do with why I get annoyed.

Drive safely and live long.

Seventeen

My nephew, technically grandnephew, turns seventeen today.  I was up early working on a musical play when I remembered to log onto Facebook and wish him a happy birthday and I thought how ironic it seemed that only a few heartbeats ago I was doing the same thing for his sixteenth birthday.

I’ve been asked a few times in my life that if I had a year to revisit which one would I pick.  The first year that came to mind each time I was asked was my seventeenth – and then I would try to understand why that particular year erupted from my memory banks.

The day I turned seventeen Shamu died.  Less than a month later I would have my heart so badly broken I left the town I was living in and never returned.  Viet Nam still raged and we all feared turning eighteen and the draft.  I graduated a year early from Lawndale High School and worked fulltime in Buena Park, where this Saturday’s child had another Saturday birthday and built bird and animal cages for pet stores and distributors, and oh yes, the many monkey cages for Walter Knott’s defunct Japanese Village and Deer Park.  Seventeen would also see me: angry when the staff of KPPC was fired; head out for Orlando to work at Disney World (we never made it); spend Christmas alone in an airport; suffer another broken heart; break another’s heart; see the Rolling Stones up front and personal; live in my car; get arrested twice (and released without charges); and smoke marijuana for the very last time.

Why seventeen?  It was a year of emotional turnovers, a year of disappointments, and a year of coming of age.  Why then seventeen?  Maybe, perhaps – because it was a year of turnovers and disappointments along with dramatic changes and intense emotions – I knew what it was to be alive.  Once, long ago, I wrote in one of my notebooks: “I cry to know I am alive,” because, after all, when we stop feeling we are already dead.

Seventeen is a year of youthful health and exuberance, a year to taste the adulthood that lurks just around the corner, and hopefully a year to remember, however bittersweet those memories might be.

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Five years after my seventeenth birthday a young man called Johnny Cougar was making a name for himself.  Later as John Cougar he would write: “Hold on to sixteen as long as you can/Changes come around real soon/Make us women and men.”  I would assert the same holds true for seventeen.

And, for my nephew, I wish him the happiest of days, a year of the highest good, and memories to treasure for a lifetime.

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Happy Seventeenth Birthday, Quade.