Saturday, April 25, 2009

Flashback Friday: Hooray for Hollywood and Highschool Senior Trips

Yet again, Flashback Friday has lagged into Saturday. However, what occurred on Friday became fodder for this week’s flashback.

Yesterday, yes that was Friday, I returned from Long Beach to my home in Morgan Hill. Driving in mid morning Southern California traffic, I was missing my little granddaughters, Gracie and Emily, and thinking of Ashley and Jim and their new life’s path they were about to begin with these sweet little girls.

It was a beautiful spring morning so typical of LA, and I’d decided to take an alternate route out of the Southern California metro area since many of the LA freeways were packed, unless it’s o'dark-thirty in the morning. Therefore, I was driving the 101 through downtown LA rather than risk languishing indefinitely on the over-burdened parking lot also known as the 405 (or San Diego) freeway.

This alternative route, winding through downtown LA and finally to Hollywood, afforded views of the "Hollywood" sign to my right and the Capitol Records building to the left, providing a rare visual opportunity to remember and reflect upon the time that was, for me, a major turning point in my young life.

In June 1965, my best friend, Toni Just, and I had just graduated from Central High School in Pueblo, Colorado and were preparing for our “senior trip” (actually there was no such thing in those days so we just developed one on our own). We’d saved up some money and booked a trip to California. Neither of us had flown before, so this trip was a BIG DEAL. Dressed to the hilt (yes, people actually dressed up to fly in those days), we boarded a small prop jet at the Pueblo airport and off we flew on our connecting flight to Denver.

Toni wanted to be a flight attendant (“stewardess” back in the day) so she was super excited to finally fly. I, on the other hand, was a bit more apprehensive. Upon take-off, future flight attendant Toni had her head in the barf bag while I, Miss Fraidy-Pants, kept yelling, “Look-Look-Look” out the window for approximately the entire trip. Toni got her bearings back in Denver and felt a little better. This was fortuitous because we were about to board a United Airlines flight for Los Angeles.

When we arrived at LAX we were delighted to see “up close and personal” the famous open rounded sculpture that houses the Encounter Restaurant on the airport property. Toni’s cousin Paulette and her new husband, Ray, who lived in a small apartment in Pasadena, met us at the airport. Toni and I were thrilled to be staying with her young (and to us, awesomely hip) cousins.

From Ray and Paulettes, we could walk to all kinds of neat spots – including an Orange Julius stand that became our favorite haunt in the lazy late afternoons while we waited for Ray and Paulette to return from work. The Orange Julius was a true “California drink” to us…this concoction originated in Los Angeles in 1926 – long before we were born, but its creamy yumminess had not yet reached our hometown in Colorado. Orange Julius was the perfect counterbalance to those warm summer afternoons.

But the locales we could not WAIT to visit were the BEACHES. And Southern California is lousy with beaches. Almost on a daily basis, Toni and I grabbed our beach towels, our secret concoction of tanning fluid (baby oil, iodine and vinegar - yes, we smelled like salads AND hospitals) and marveled at the sight as waves rushed in, covering us in a teenage ecstasy of living the good life.

I'd seen palm trees before - but not like these. They grew EVERYWHERE. Right down to the beaches. Yep - this was indeed Utopia and we'd landed square in the middle of it!

While we were in Southern California enjoying our new “grown-up” (in our minds) post-graduation status, we visited wondrous places. We strolled down Hollywood Boulevard and stood at the intersection of Hollywood and Vine. We shopped at the famously naughty Fredericks of Hollywood where we both bought (rather tame) bikinis that we wore on our numerous trips to the beach.
My bikini was a bright neon lime green and had white cotton lace ruffles on it. I thought it was PERFECT with my new California tan. We were a bit surprised that the famous (infamous?) Frederick's of Hollywood seemed a little, well...seedy to us given that we'd ooh'd and aah'd over its sexy photos in our Photoplay magazines. Also, there were some pretty weird sights on Hollywood Boulevard...but we chose to gloss over the randomly unsavory side of the place.

I was fascinated by the lush plant life in Southern California and told everyone I knew about the vines of ivy growing right across the freeway overpasses. (The freeways were graffiti-free in those days and whoever'd heard of a gang?!) In their new Mustang with Ray at the wheel and Paulette nestled up close to his side, we sped by the famous Hollywood sign high up in the hills and the iconic Capital Records building. Everything was surreal on that perfect summer “Senior Trip.”

Later we traveled to San Diego to stay with Toni’s aunt Jean where we burned to a crisp on Pacific Beach. We were so sunburned that we alarmed Toni’s aunt to the point she was about to drag us to the hospital. But with Jean's ever-present ice packs, we recovered and peeled and had a great time tooling around San Diego with Toni’s fun aunt Jean in her new black Ford Thunderbird. For dinner one evening, Jean introduced us to an exotic new food – broiled swordfish. Living so close to the ocean it was natural to serve seafood on a routine basis. Toni and I were raised in an area famous for its rainbow trout, which were WAY less exotic than the succulent swordfish.

It was a perfect summer trip for two best girlfriends at the end of their high school careers.

While we were in California, I learned that my dad’s place of business, the Pueblo Army Depot, was closing and he and my mother had decided to sell our house and move to Arizona.

Thus ended my childhood. With one phone call, I knew things were forever changed. I also knew I wasn’t cut out for Arizona, but this glamorous state Golden State with its beaches and lushly landscaped homes, movie stars and recording artists, warm weather and webs of freeways was already feeling like home.

So traveling through LA yesterday, for a few moments it felt like 1965 again as I raced by the old sign in the hills of Hollywood and the jutting spherical architecture of Capitol Records. I didn’t know it then, back in 1965, but those iconic emblems of California were, truly, calling me home.

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