Segarini: The Big Mudslide of 1969

Just firming up the new Friday lineup of writers. Until I do, you’re stuck with me on Fridays, at least this week anyway.

Everybody loves California.

I mean EVERYBODY.

It is perceived as the Promised Land. Beautiful people from all over the world flock to California to make it in show business. People from all over the world dream of living there. Even Americans from all over the US that had the misfortune of being born and raised in Idaho, or Nebraska, or, *shudder*, Oklahoma, cry themselves to sleep at night dreaming of one day breaking free of the shameful yoke of Lincoln or Boise, Bartlesville, or Mudflap, and relocating to the Land of Milk and Honey…California.

Problem is, it is not California that they are dreaming of.

It is Los Angeles, specifically, Hollywood.

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Although I have considered myself a Canarican since 1972, when I moved from the Promised Land to Montreal, (don’t ask…that is a story for another time), I am that rarest of rare birds…a California native. Born in San Francisco and raised 70 or so miles due east of The City in a little farm town called Stockton, a beautiful area with 1000 miles of inland waterways known as the San Joaquin Delta just to the west, and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the east. Once renowned for it’s fruit and vegetables, (Stockton is, after all, the Asparagus Capitol of the World), it is now best known as a leader in foreclosures, gang-related murders, and miles and miles of malls and fast food franchises broken up only by the new and used car lots that separate the Del Taco’s from the Jack in the Box’s, and the Pollo Loco’s from the Der Weinerschnitzel’s. To be fair, I wish we had those franchises here in Canada, if for no other reason than to be able to have a .50 cent deep fried taco, or a corn dog every once in a while without having to go to a carnival.

I do miss California at times, so much so, that I long to go there on a visit and remember why California is so beautiful, and so desirous.

However, Los Angeles does not figure in my California.

My California consists of the Sierra Nevada’s, Yosemite National Park, San Francisco and Marin, the Redwood Forests and the vineyards of Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties. My California includes the 17 Mile Drive, Monterey and Carmel, the fantastic serenity of the Muir Woods, and the Coastal Highways that skirt the grand Pacific Ocean. A state where you can drive from the beach to the snow covered mountains is a matter of hours, and can, if you so choose, mow your lawn on New Year’s Day.

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Los Angeles is separated from all of this by a mountain range south of Bakersfield known as The Grapevine. You enter the mountains on your way south surrounded by fields of produce, and emerge from them in the flatlands of SoCal, where a good Santa Ana wind storm can sandblast the paint off of your car. I’ve seen it happen. If the Angeles National Forest happens to be on fire, which it occasionally is, and the Santa Ana’s are blowing, getting to the Basin can be an E-Ticket thrill ride, ending when the massive Anhauser Busch Brewery lights up Interstate 5 for a mile or so, and you are safely in The Valley, 450 square miles of lights, people, guns, and ammo.

What’s not to love?

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Living in Los Angeles is different from visiting there. Oh sure, you might feel an earthquake or two during a one or two week stay, but living there makes earthquakes part of the fabric of your existence. They come in a variety of sizes ranging from slight tremor, (rarely felt or heard), through mild, (chandelier swaying and sloshing fish tank water), jolt, (Shit! Grandma’s urn fell off the mantle and she’s all over the hardwood flooring), to scary, (say goodbye to the foundation of your house, your car gets a tree or telephone pole makeover, and your cat disappears for weeks), and, someday, The Big One, (you are crushed, drowned, or trapped in debris, or waiting for cholera, dysentery, the Coast Guard, or, if you’re up to it, swimming south to San Diego, (if it’s still there), or north to the new beach resort town of Fresno). In any event, you eventually get used to thinking that when it does happen, (and it will), you will be visiting your hometown in Manitoba and bitching about a little snow. That thought will keep you sane and allow you to sleep at night without a life preserver.

The other unspoken threat to the promised idyllic L.A lifestyle you came to expect from watching countless episodes of Baywatch, Three’s Company, Entourage, and The Hills, is a little force of nature called El Niño and his little sister, La Niňa.

When the Pacific jet stream changes directions every 7-10 years, L.A gets a hell of a lot more rain than the brochures mention.

This meteorological shift brings with it the strangest environmental foolishness imaginable.

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The Mudslide.

Most of them happen on the coast, usually on the Pacific Coast Highway, areas of Malibu, and other small, coastal enclaves, and usually just screw up traffic for a few days, but sometimes…the mudslides are severe, moving mountains, houses, cars, and the occasional teacup poodle.

Every so often, the rains come inland, and we of the Valley’s of Laurel, Coldwater, and Benedict, suffer the consequences.

In 1969, the Year of Woodstock, Manson, and the Moon Landing, we experienced such an event.

I like to call it…

The Shitty Mudslide that almost Pwnd our House…

Another difference between visiting L.A and living there, are the odds that you will see someone famous.

When you visit, you will tend to hang out where TMZ says the Stars hang out, if you can afford it. For rock stars you’ll hit the bars and grills of Sunset, for Movie Stars, you’ll hit the restaurants of Beverly, Sunset, and Wilshire, and wherever else the hipsters say is cool that week.

You used to be able to troll for well-knowns by simply driving through Bel Air and Beverly Hills, but since the ‘70’s you’ll get pulled over by either the police or security, asked where you live or where you’re going, and escorted from the area when you tell them you are driving around aimlessly, hoping to catch a glimpse of George Clooney watering his azaleas in his underwear.

When you live down there, you run into famous people when you shop for groceries, go to the liquor store, or get stuck in traffic on Sunset…and if you live in the hills, chances are good some of your neighbors are the very people the tourists are looking for.

On Horseshoe Canyon Blvd. in Laurel, most of our neighbors were famous folk.

Child actor turned Monkee, Micky Dolenz lived directly across the street from us, Joni Mitchell either lived, or stayed a hell of a lot at the house at the end of our dead end street, and next to Micky, up a drive way to the top of the canyon, lived a guy named Chuck Barris.

Now Chuck was probably the most famous resident on Horseshoe. Maybe not to the general public, but in the world of television, this guy was golden.

After doing time in the music business and being responsible for Freddy Cannon’s Palisades Park, Chuck started working backstage at American Bandstand, became a Standards and Practices drone for ABC, moved to daytime programming there, and, when he discovered his game show concepts were better than the ones the independent producers were bringing to the alphabet network, he quit his job and became a producer himself. It was an excellent decision. Among the game shows and specials he produced and created are The Dating Game, and The Newlywed Game. Two for two.

However, Chuckie Baby, (his fan given nickname), is best known for the only ‘reality’ show I have ever loved. The Gong Show. Just before it went to air, he replaced the hired host himself, because the poor guy he hired didn’t get the joke. Again…a very good decision, and one that made Chuck Barris a celebrity as well as a winning creator and producer of television.

We never saw Chuck very often, even though he lived up the hill across the street. Mostly, we just saw expensive cars with dark tinted windows, and heard loud music from his outdoor sound system on the weekends. His pool parties were notorious, as were the steady lines of beautiful, young blondes, redheads, and brunettes, that would park on the street and walk up the driveway to his house. The parties would sometimes last for days.

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Residents of Los Angeles barely notice the earthquakes that scare the tourists, shrug off the wildfires when they light up the horizon, and don’t seem to give a second thought to the fact that there are very few ways out of the Basin in case of a disaster, but rain…rain scares the granola right out of ‘em.

If it rains for any length of time, people start to pray, pack, or just stay indoors under the bed. A gloomy cloud settles over the populace as dark and as grey as the rain clouds themselves. People act as though they will melt if they get too wet, like the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz.

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We were in the middle of one of the rainy periods L.A gets when the jet stream changes direction, and were used to seeing mudslides covering parts of the Pacific Coast Highway and crews working to clear the roads on TV for a couple of days. Living in Laurel Canyon and being musicians never thinking of going to the beach anyway, we didn’t give it much thought. We even managed to ignore what had become a river eroding a trench down the center of the road, or the fact that you sank ankle deep into the mud when you went outside.

One afternoon, I was standing at the sink, (doing the dishes for some strange reason), when I heard what sounded like a long, low, clap of thunder that went on and on. Instead of stopping and starting, it just kept going, getting louder and louder. Curious, I looked out the window over the sink at our backyard. While I watched, a house from up the street slowly slid through the hedge and oozed it’s way through the yard. It didn’t register at first. It was more of a, “Oh look, a house is sliding through the backyard. Isn’t that interesting?” I kept doing the dishes, watching the big, white house creaking and rumbling as it made it’s way down the slope, looking all the world like it was sneaking down the hill to go have a beer and a smoke. After a few minutes, my brain caught up with the image, and I reacted.

“Guys!” I shouted over my shoulder at the rest of the household, “There’s a house sliding through the backyard!”

No one answered me. I don’t remember if anyone was even home.

I continued to stare out the window. The house continued to move. It was surreal. I wondered to myself if I had dropped acid by accident somehow, or if I was having a flashback. Nope. There is a house moving through the yard, and I’m watching it.

After watching the house clear our yard and head into the next, it occurred to me to go look out the front door. I put down the dish towel and headed for the front porch. Opening the door, I saw Micky’s house just sitting there…unlike the one that just strolled through our yard, and, looking up and down the street, everything looked pretty normal, except for the river pouring down the hill. Still, something looked “off”.

It took a few minutes to figure out what it was.

Oh.

Chuck Barris’s driveway was gone.

The mud had just oozed over it, closing it like someone had stitched the hill together. There was no sign of a driveway having ever been there, the mud having brought bushes and uprooted little trees with it. Everything must be okay, though. Chuck’s outdoor speakers were blasting out music, and there were cars still parked on Horseshoe. The party had been going since the previous night. That meant that everything was all right. Right?

Well, for a few more hours, it was.

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Around 7:00 pm, the music stopped blasting from across the street. I opened the front door and looked up at Chuck’s house. The glow of the outdoor lights in his pool area were on, but it was eerily quiet.

I wondered what had happened.

Then, a voice. “Can anyone hear me?”

Chuck’s poolside P.A system.

“This is Chuck Barris. We are trapped up here” continued the voice, punctuated by squeaks and squawks from the speakers. “We need your help”

Here it comes. Someone has been hurt, or they’ve lost a person to the ooze.

“My phones are not working. The lines must be down further up the hill”

I wait patiently to see what the trouble is, what kind of help they need. I check the phone. There’s a dial tone. I can call for medical help or a fire truck or bulldozer to dig out the driveway. I hold my breath, waiting to hear what is needed to assist the poor, trapped party goers across the street.

Then…Chuck’s voice crackled over the P.A…

“Please. If you can hear me…SEND MORE VODKA!”

And that’s when I realized, I love L.A.

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Segarini’s regular column appears here every Monday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

Bob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, and The Segarini Band and nominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late Great Movies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now 85), and now publishes, edits, and writes for DBAWIS, continues to write music, make music, and record.

2 Responses to “Segarini: The Big Mudslide of 1969”

  1. Mike Bacon Says:

    Bob,

    Missed the mudslide, but I remember the house and the numerous pinochle games. 🙂 Small world note: a couple of months ago I was picking up take out at an Italian place near where we live and Chuck Barris walks in for dinner. He seemed a little worse for the wear, but was happy when I told him that I really had enjoyed his work.

  2. Pizza Man Says:

    He delivers.

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