Segarini: Tales from Three Cities

Stockton, California, Montreal, Quebec, and Toronto, Ontario. These are  three of the six most important places in my life, Los Angeles and Eureka, California, and New York city being the other three.

In today’s column we visit a few of these places starting with some observations about Toronto, then off to Stockton and Montreal. Ice Tea or a cold beer will go nicely with the following….

Toronto

Things I Have Learned This Summer…

01. If you want it to rain, have a barbecue, a street festival, or outdoor event featuring music.

02. Money is a tool, and Tools seem to have the most   money.

03. If you listen closely, you can hear Mariah Carey crying.

04. We will never run out of people in their 40s who still want to be rock stars..

05. There is nowhere to park in the city of Toronto unless you ride a bicycle.

06. A haircut, no matter how expensive it is, will always make you look like a dork for at least a week.

07. The only people being exploited in strip bars are the men who go to them.

08. The older you get, the dumber you look when you dance.

09. Bored? Shake up all the pop and beer cans in your friend’s cooler.

10. It only gets cold at night when you don’t have a jacket or a sweater with you.

11. The sun will come out if you forget your sunglasses.

12. If you’re 12, or feel like an outsider, but long to be cool, Quentin Tarantino’s movies are for you.

13. Women look hot wearing form fitting Kevlar armor and carrying guns.

14. I miss John Belushi.

15. People with knapsacks tend to stand in doorways and  in the middle of sidewalks. Directly in front of you. When you’re in a hurry.

16. At least 3 streetcars will pass you while you wait for one going in the opposite direction.

17. The actor that plays Don Draper in Mad Men should be cast as Clark Kent/Superman in a movie set in the ‘50s

18. No one ever has ‘exact change’.

19. There are no conveniently located liquor stores, beer stores, or public restrooms. Why don’t Liquor and Beer stores have drive-thru windows? Why aren’t they open until 2 am? The bars are.

20. Radio and Records are the new Romeo and Juliet.

21. The British are hysterically funny when they’re not trying to be.

22. Summer makes me long for another Jurassic Park movie.

23. Chinese restaurants are always closed on Mondays. Monday is the one day of the week I always want Chinese food.

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Stockton

Buildings….

If you read this column regularly, you’ll remember a piece I run every Father’s Day about my dad. In it, I recount a story about seeing my dad cry for the first time. He was standing on the sidewalk on a hot summer day in Stockton California, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what drove him to tears.

So I asked him.

And he told me…

It was a building, a building that my dad had to tear down in order to create parking spaces for the apartment building next door.

A little clapboard building that had seen better days, and had been relegated to the storage of detritus that had no other place to go. Bits of history to my father and his brothers, but just junk to anyone else, the contents reflected the leftovers and worn reminders of almost 50 years of hard work and memories that had started in this little building, and defined my family’s journey from newly Americanized immigrants to respected members of the community and businessmen that treated their customers like family, and in so doing, became part of the fabric of the neighborhoods they served. They established a lifelong bond that still resonates with the people that used to shop at our stores, even though they have been gone for well over a decade.

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A few years ago a building burned down in Stockton that carried some significance for me, my family, and their friends. It was mourned by us not as the home of its current inhabitants, but as the former home of Segarini’s Supermarket Number 2, a store that had opened in 1955, and had been the last of the 5 markets that my father and his brothers, (and most of their sons), had closed, but where most had worked off and on,  for the better part of 60 years.

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My dad was crying about the little clapboard building all those years ago because of what it represented to him, not the building itself. I hadn’t even joined the family yet when my dad and his brother Ed closed the grocery they started there in order to move to a larger place a few blocks away on a major street, and not on a corner of the residential neighborhood we lived in, a newer and much larger venue to ply their chosen profession in. It was a place large enough to erect a sign on the roof that said, “Supermarket” after the family name. I’ll bet they cried tears of a different kind when that sign went up.

And I’ll bet there were tears too, when that store was torn down and became a Shell station years later, as they opened up new stores and continued to grow, moving into bigger, and physically, better buildings.

But it was never about the buildings.

It was about who was in those buildings, and what went on there.

It was about my dad’s uncle, who financed the first little store, who used to shop there. It was about my Grandmother Sunta, who would call down to my dad and have him run some fresh vegetables or sausage up to her apartment next door. It was about old man Wilson, who would sometimes fall asleep on the stacked sacks of onions out behind the store.

It was about Bud the Butcher, and Steve Moyle, and Mark Rocco, who worked in the store on Eldorado Street and kept the shelves stocked, the floors clean, the deliveries on time, and the customers happy.

It was about the shared close calls when the stores got robbed and no one was hurt. It was about people, then their kids, then their grandkids, becoming customers and friends. It was about having the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile parked out front for the kids. It was about the relationships that grew out of the stores and the people that worked and shopped there.

It was about Christmas, when all the liquor distributors would drop off bottles of fine Scotches, Bourbons, Vodkas, Gins, and Rums, and my dad would set up a bar in the stockroom and invite his steady customers to have a drink when they came to shop, and the Segarini wives would make divinity and biscotti, and fudge, and Bud would slice big piles of Genoa salami, and Monterey jack cheese, served with fine bread from the Genoa Bakery. The party would last through the holidays, never getting crazy or out of control, just a nip and a nibble, all in the backroom while my dad took produce orders over the phone.

A Family.

That’s what all great businesses are.

Not buildings.

But a building is what triggers the memories. A building is a reminder of past experiences and fond recollections. And when you have great memories that spring from a physical location, and that place is shuttered and forgotten, or torn down to make way for a new building that will be a wellspring of different memories for different reasons, for a different group of people, well, you might stand on the sidewalk and have a good cry, too.

The heart and soul of a business are the people involved. The customers, and the people who serve them. When the customer was the focus of the business, and the business’s only wish was to give them the best experience possible, you ended up with a long lasting relationship, and you also sold a hell of a lot of product. Everyone was happy.

When my dad and his brothers put someone else in charge of the stores, well…it just wasn’t the same. Bad decisions were made, deals that served to undermine customer confidence, people laid off and upgrades not made, all in the name of competing with the large chains springing up like Safeway and Lucky’s, and SaveMart, our stores lost their luster long before they closed. It happens to any business that loses sight of its strengths, and its commitment to serve the people. It begins to falter when people no longer get the feeling of community, or belonging, and they drift away in search of that ‘family’ feeling that they can’t wait to share with others, to turn their kids on to and so forth, and so on.

Nobody carries your groceries out to the car for you anymore. It’s hard to find someone in a store to ask a question of, let alone get an answer. We no longer know the names of the people that work there, and it is more likely that a favored product that you always found on the shelves, will be replaced by something a little less interesting, less flavourful, less desirable. There are no greater lies than ‘New!’ and ‘Improved!’

Every week there seems to be new product on the shelves that disappear as quickly as they show up, fad foods that come and go and are quickly forgotten, only to be replaced by something else that will satisfy you briefly, until the next snack comes along.

It is sad to lose a landmark. It is far sadder to lose what made that landmark so wonderful, and enduring, and important in the first place.

We have lost so many things like that over the years, so many fine people, so many fine businesses. Many of the buildings are still there…except now, they are filled with only the echoes and shadows of what made them great. Landmarks lost to time but like our youth, remembered forever.

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The Family Tree: Stockton California 1966

We were just starting to come together as a band. The original bass player, Bill Whittington of Merced, California’s The Brogues, (the same band that produced the drummer and lead singer of the Quicksilver Messenger Service), had left the band because, quite frankly, his wife made the rest of us nuts. She was kind of like St. Hubbins’s girlfriend in Spinal Tap, an intrusive annoyance. The original drummer, Newman Davis, left because he was short…at least that’s why I think he left, but with drummers, it’s hard to tell why they do anything. Mike Olsen, our keyboard player, (who grew up to become Lee Michaels), left because he didn’t want to be a rock star, an ironic decision, considering the fact that he became one and we didn’t, but that’s show biz.

So here were Mike Durr and I, two guitar players, with a name, but no band, looking under every rock in California and beyond, to find our missing members. We were lucky…we found gold.

Vann Slatter, a great drummer with an amazing voice who was with Stockton’s best R&B band, Gary Wagner and the Night Beats, and Bill ‘Kootch’ Trochim, a bass player from Reno Nevada, who had been in a big regional band in Nevada called the Justus 5, and, after a stint in the U’S Navy, became an in-demand player for lounge king Jim Burgett on the Nevada Casino circuit. Vann came on board because I convinced him we would become all famous and rich and everything, and Kootch signed up because he was tired of playing lounges from 9 at night until 6 in the morning. Somehow, we jelled instantly, cemented together through our love of music, our love for all things British Invasion-y, and a desire to be on the cover of 16 Magazine. We actually made the inside of Gloria Stavers’ trend setting teen rag, but never the cover. Of course, Morrison had to sleep with her to get that, but I found her kind of creepy.

We were determined to play our own music, (Mike and I both wrote), plus some classic rock and roll like Little Richard’s Rip It Up, and some British Invasion goodies I would find on imports I would buy at Lewin’s, an awesome record shop on Hollywood Blvd. in L.A that was worth the 350 mile trip, if only to feel the slick, glossy, flimsy LP covers that England favoured over our sturdy, but dull, cardboard equivalent. It was because of Lewin’s, that people in the Central Valley towns we played thought I had written Drive My Car, If I Needed Someone, and Nowhere Man, because those songs weren’t released in the U.S until Yesterday and Today, and we learned them from the imported Rubber Soul, and Revolver LP’s months earlier.

In order to accomplish this dream of playing great original and cutting edge cover tunes, we had to rehearse, and rehearse a lot.

We did just that.

In my mom and dad’s house.

We would set up after dinner and rehearse until 10 pm almost every night. My mother would make dinner for my dad, my aunt Della, herself, and usually the whole band, and then we would set up and play. Vann’s drums were in Della’s bedroom, the guitar and bass amps in the dining room, and the mics, and a little P.A were in the living room.

The first time we did this, we had been playing for about an hour when, at the end of one of the songs, we heard knocking at the front door accompanied by someone constantly ringing the doorbell. My mom came out of the kitchen wiping her hands on her apron and made a beeline to the door. Looking over her shoulder, we saw two policemen standing on the porch.

“Mrs. Segarini?”, said one of the cops, “May we come in?”

“No”, said my mom, sounding stern and a bit annoyed. “What do you want?”

“Well, we’ve had a noise complaint from one of your neighbors”.

Kragen. Mr. Kragen from next door. Mr. Kragen, whom I was sure was an ex-Nazi, hiding in Stockton since the end of WWII. This man had kept every ball that ever accidentally got tossed into his yard. He would come out and turn the hose on you if you hopped the fence to retrieve them. By now, he must have had enough footballs, baseballs, and whiffle balls to start a rec centre. He was, up until this moment, just a cranky old buzzard that hated kids. Now…now he was Satan.

It was around 9 pm when this happened, and my mother pointed out that we could play music until 10 pm if we wanted to. That was the law. The police said they were sorry, but getting a complaint meant we would have to stop playing.

“They aren’t that loud”, said my mother through the screen door. The cops shuffled their feet.

“Well, your neighbor says he can hear them in his house, so…”, The cop began. My mother cut him off.

“I can prove they are not that loud, officer”, she said, unlocking the screen door.

The two cops stepped into the living room, and my mom pointed to the corner.

There, next to the P.A, was my dad in his Barcalounger.

Sound asleep.

We played until 10 that night, and every night thereafter. They never came back.

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The Wackers: Montreal Quebec 1971

Our producer, Gary Usher, had promised us that if our first album, Wackering Heights, (so named after our house in Eureka, California), was a critical, or financial success, we would record the follow up somewhere special. We scored critically, but not financially, but Usher was impressed enough to keep his word.

Off we went to Montreal.

Some of the guys flew in, but a couple of us opted to take the train. I love traveling by rail. It is civilized and luxurious, the food cannot be beaten, the bar car is a mobile party and social eye opener, and you get to see America, (or Canada), through the backyards of small towns, the city centers, and the whole of the vast landscape that makes up North America. Unlike flying, which is a horrid experience most of the time, with interminable waits, cattle-like treatment, food one step below Mickey D’s, and the nagging fear that planes drop like a rock if anything goes wrong, trains offer a respite from the everyday world and a chance to charge your batteries on your way to whatever your destination may be. Where you suffer from jet lag, missing luggage, and that long cab or bus ride from the airport to your hotel, trains deliver you refreshed, rested, and most of the time, walking distance from your destination.

When we arrived in Montreal, Randy and I collected our luggage and walked out into a beautiful sunny day and got in a cab. I told the driver where we were going, and Rand and I both flipped out when he responded in a foreign language.

“Holy shit, he’s speaking French!” we said in unison. Homer and Jethro have arrived.

After checking into the new Holiday Inn on Sherbrooke Street, we found the other guys who had flown in the day before, and got together to go get something to eat and exchange stories of our trips. We settled on a Deli recommended by the Concierge, and piled into another cab and headed to Dunn’s on Saint Catherine.

Later, after we moved to Montreal, Dunn’s would become our after gig preference for a meal, some drinks, and a great place to unwind and party with whoever decided to join us. The food was great, the service impeccable, and, where the downstairs deli was New York familiar and all hustle and bustle, the upstairs dining room was done in early whorehouse faux velvet wallpaper and waiters in suits who looked to have been in their mid 80’s.

The first time we went to Dunn’s we had no idea what we were in for. We had yet to taste Montreal’s glorious take on pastrami, the near impossible to finish portions, pasta with a meat sauce so rich and thick that even though it bore no resemblance whatsoever to any Italian sauce I had ever tasted, quickly became one of my very favourite sauces and impossible to duplicate, the steak, which was huge and served with an equally large half a frankfurter, a strange combination that became an after gig staple, and the beer. Oh my goodness, the beer.

So, we find ourselves sitting in the downstairs deli looking at menus that must have had a hundred different choices in them. Some went with a traditional deli sandwich, somebody ordered the all day breakfast, and I went for the spaghetti and meat sauce. Then, I noticed this deli was licensed.

After ordering every beer I knew of, Coors, Hamms, Rolling Rock, Lucky Lager, Burgermeister, Olympia, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Schlitz, Miller, and Budweiser, I gave up and asked the waiter what the best local beer was.

“Easy”, he says, “Brador. You’ll like it”.

He spoke not in French, but in a New York deli drawl. He turned out not to be a waiter, but Myer Dunn, the owner and founder of Dunn’s Famous Deli.

Brador, eh? Sounds good. I order one and wait for it to arrive.

Later, I found out that Brador, (French for ‘Golden Arm’ I was told), started out in Quebec at 12% alcohol, and later was scaled down to around 7%. Most American beer at the time clocked in around 3 and a half percent. I was not aware of any of this.

The Brador comes. It is ice cold, as is the mug the waiter poured it into. I take a sip, then a drink, then a full hearty, chug. This beer is awesome!

I finish the first and order a second., then a third, and finally, a fourth, just as my meal was put in front of me.

I remember taking a drink of that beer, and how good the aroma of the meat sauce was.

It was the last thing I remembered until the rest of the band’s laughter woke me up. I had passed out, face down, in my spaghetti.

Brador: When you Positively, Absolutely, Need a Nap.

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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.

One Response to “Segarini: Tales from Three Cities”

  1. Love the stories of Stockton and to read about Gary Usher!

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