Segarini: Stockton, Daring-Do, and Cruisin’ the Miracle Mile – Part Two: School Days Daring Do.

bob-at-14 Stocktin CaliforniaWith or without the Rose Coloured Glasses of Nostalgia, growing up in Stockton, California in the ‘50s and ‘60s was a perfect storm of time and place. Sure, there was the Korean and Cold wars, the fear of nuclear annihilation, and Ethel Merman, but when your world revolves around your family, your friends, and your neighborhood, none of it penetrated through the warm, self-absorbed, cocoon of youth.

When you’re at a single-digit age, there are things that you take for granted that are so wonderful and natural, you are unaware of them until they suddenly, and without warning, take their leave, never to be yours again. When I was a boy, no matter how hot it got, (and Stockton gets plenty hot, we actually fried an  egg on the sidewalk once), no matter how hard I played, I don’t recall ever having sweat. Driving to Long Barn or Pinecrest and Dodge Ridge during the winter with my folks and spending hours playing in the snow, I never got cold. I could practically see in the dark, and I could hear my 464 E.Ellismom call me to dinner from a block away. One afternoon, I remember (to this day) sitting on the porch at 464 E. Ellis (I was 6) and becoming aware of the almost overwhelming scent of the peonies, pansies, and posies my mother planted along the walkway up to the porch and in the flowerbeds that lined the front of the little house. From that day forward, I could always smell them, like a switch had been turned on.

Did I think I had superpowers? I must have. When I was 7, I tied a tea towel around my neck, put a pair of underwear on over my pants, tucked my pants into my galoshes, and dove off the garage roof with a hearty, “Up, UP, And AWAY!!!” If I hadn’t have dragged the mattress from my bed out into the yard and put it next to the garage, I would be typing this by using a stylus clenched in my teeth. God looks after children and fools.

I was both.

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Stockton

I grew up in Stockton when it was a Norman Rockwell painting. For a small farm town in the middle of a vast agricultural area known as the San Joaquin Valley, we were California’s Bread Basket, not to mention fruit and vegetable basket. Far from being a white bread homestead, (the kind envisioned by Republicans who believe that America should be less than what it is), Stockton was as ethnically diverse when I was a boy as Toronto is today. The Al the Wop'sfirst Sikh Temple in North America was built there in 1912, The Asian population came from former railroad workers who settled in the area in the late 19th century (you HAVE to visit Al the Wop’s in Locke, California, a small community built by Chinese immigrants on the side of a Levee just Northwest of Stockton), Japanese immigrants who, even after the sadly misguided internment camps at Stockton’s fairgrounds from 1941 until 1942, decided to stay and build a life here. African Americans who migrated from the San Francisco Bay area and Mexican Americans who first came as migrant workers, and settled in Stockton for the weather, the work, and the acceptance they received from the Portuguese and Italian farmers in the Valley. Growing up, there were no prejudicial or racial issues either felt or experienced. If there were any, they did not reach me or my friends…or our parents.

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Woodrow Wilson Elementary School

normanrockwell1Why aren’t Kick ball, Dodge ball, and Foursquare, Olympic events? Seriously. Why?

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I remember the names of every one of my teachers here. The reason I do, is because I learned something from all of them. No one was doing their time and coasting along. They had a calling. They cared. They taught us much more than what was in the books.

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The smell of warm milk in kindergarten class.

Yes. We ate paste.

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My first earthquake. I was walking down the long wide hall in the main building. I was on the left side of the hallway one minute, and under a table on the right side a second later. Just like that.

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In the 5th grade, a bunch of us discovered a strip mall just 3 blocks from the school. With permission slips from our parents, we were allowed to go there for lunch every day. The little place we ate at was called Wilson’s, and after Mr. Wilson passed away, Betty and Jerry’s, the elderly women who had worked for him and had inherited the little diner. I still make my Dotscheeseburgers and fried ham sandwiches the way they made them there. After we ate, we went next door and bought penny candy. Wax Lips, Lik-M-Aid, AbbaZabbas, Charleston Chews, Walnettos, Necco Wafers, Dots, Milk Duds, and a personal favourite, Jawbreakers.

A friend of mine and I got busted eating candy in class one afternoon. Our punishment? Armed with a yardstick and a lined paper notebook and a pencil, we had to measure the entire circumference of the block the school occupied. It took the rest of the day…but we had plenty of candy to get us through the ordeal.

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Not happy to just play dodge ball in a circle, we devised a dodge ball game that at least offered the opportunity for a serious injury. Up against the stucco’d wall of the back of the main building. God help you if you stood too close to the wall and took a ball to the face. Oh…right…you had to stand next to the wall. No one ever went to the hospital…that we are aware of.

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My 2nd Earthquake. I had gone home for lunch. This was usually either a Genoa salami sandwich on white with mayo and lettuce, and a bowl of Lipton’s chicken noodle soup, or a tunafish sandwich on white with mayo Hiresand lettuce, and a bowl of Campbell’s tomato soup. Coca Cola with the salami, Hires Root Beer with the Tunafish. On this particular day, I was going to have the Tunafish, and settled down on the floor in front of the 27 inch Zenith in the living room to watch Chris Crafts. I had left my glass of root beer on top of the TV and was about to get up to retrieve it when the room bounced about a foot into the air. The glass of root beer launched itself off of the television and landed in my soup. I finished lunch under my bed.

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Stockton Jr. High

Robert_Field_StocktonIt had started out as Stockton High School, but by the time I got there it was Commodore Robert Field Stockton Jr. High School. You can read more about Bob here. Named after a Naval man from Princeton, New Jersey, the only commonality he had with my hometown was his last name. The school would have been better suited to a name like Benjamin Holt Jr. High, Asparagus Jr. High, or Peat Dirt Jr. High, but it was not to be. It was (and is, if it’s still standing) a gothic looking edifice more suited to a shuttered insane asylum, or an episode of the Addam’s Family. That said, it was an ethnically diverse, richly quirky, hot bed of education and misbehavior. This is where I went from straight A’s to Cs and worse. The Stockton Jr. High Main Buildingreason? I felt I was being taught exactly the same stuff I learned in elementary school, only with bigger words. My mind wandered…and I had discovered rock and roll and a best friend named Lon Dudley.

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Lonnie was the product of a broken home and an upbringing with the most liberal father a boy could want. Lon’s dad was the short order cook at the Eldorado Bowl, and worked long and hard hours. So busy was he, that by the time Lonnie was in the 8th grade, his dad had bought him a car so Lonnie could get to school and anywhere else he needed to be without his dad missing work. Lonnie was 14. There would be three cars in total by the time he moved on to high school; A 1954 Packard Clipper, a 1957 Dodge, and a 1955 Chevrolet convertible. In all the time we drove around, we were never stopped once or questioned concerning our being 2 kids far too young to jaguar-00004drive. It was a different time. When I was 12, my Uncle Swede let me drive his beautiful 1955 Jaguar roadster around the foothills of San Jose and Morgan Hill…until I came within inches of driving it through a guard rail and off a bridge. Parents thought nothing of teaching their boys to drive as early as 8 or 9 years old in those days. Speaking of which, when I was 9, I would occasionally spend the night Lucky Strikesat my Grandmother’s when my parents needed a little ‘alone’ time. Our evening ritual before going to bed? A cup of tea, cinnamon toast, and a couple of Lucky Strikes…until she read that cigarettes may be harmful and switched to Salem’s. Me and Grandma, sittin’ in the kitchen blowing smoke rings and playing gin rummy. Sometimes I got to smoke one with her before I walked to school in the morning, and a couple of times, I found a book of matches and a couple of smokes in my lunchbox. Thanks, Grandma!

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1953-1956-packard-clipper

Daring-Do

Once, Lonnie and I were out tooling around and decided to see if the Packard was as solidly built as we thought. It was a huge tank of a car and we often tested its steel and cast-iron mettle by running into things. One night we decided to take a shortcut through the little park in the centre of the Tuxedo Avenue traffic circle. Lonnie drove over the protective concrete blocks surrounding the little round park and halfway across, he spotted a small tree in our path. Like Batman and Robin, we nodded at each other and he pushed down on the accelerator. The tree didn’t stand a chance. We couldn’t find a dent on the Packard, but there were leaves and a few branches stuck in the rear bumper which we left there for a week or so as a reminder of our victory over botany.

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The day before school started and we entered the 9th grade, our last year before high school, we were working at my dad’s store on Eldorado Street and talked about the upcoming school year. We agreed that we didn’t want to go back just yet. A plan was hatched.

1957_Dodge_Custom_Royal_1After work, in the dead of night, we snuck over to the school in Lonnie’s latest illegal vehicle, a 1957 Dodge. Armed with a flashlight and a tube of epoxy, we filled every outside keyhole in the school. We didn’t go back to school until the day after we were supposed to. We were never caught. Please don’t tell anyone it was us.

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Eldorado BowlLate nights, when we didn’t have any money for hash browns and gravy at Henry’s Rolling Pin, we would climb up to the roof of the Eldorado Bowl and enter via a skylight that Lonnie always left unlocked when he helped his dad. We would go in, letting ourselves down onto the counter of the little coffee shop, Lon would fire up the grill, and we’d have cheeseburgers and milkshakes, sneaking back out before the cleaning crew got there in the morning. One early morning we left and heard over the car’s radio that a fire had destroyed one of the fine Otto'seateries in Stockton back then called Otto’s 5 Mile House. Otto’s was located in the North end of the town where Pacific Avenue split in two and became Thornton Road if you veered right. The restaurant was right in the middle of the fork in the road and had been there since the ’30s. When we got there, all that was left was a smoldering, charred, shell of what had been one of the great local feed and watering holes. Who could forget the prime rib or chateaubriand for two with a salad of crisp iceberg lettuce, raw red onions, and an olive oil and vinegar vinaigrette with crumbled real Roquefort cheese? Anyway, we parked and ventured inside. We laughed in the face of danger…well…not really, we just didn’t think about the possibility of the whole thing collapsing on us.

The place was truly gutted. Sad wisps of steam and smoke rose from the charred remains as we made our way through the kitchen into the dining room and finally the bar.

The Bar

There were dozens of bottles of liquor that hadn’t exploded, tucked away in the heavy mahogany cupboards beneath the bar itself. We exchanged the Batman and Robin glance and nod, and minutes later, the trunk of the Dodge was full of pilfered booze.

It was time to go to school…no…wait…it was time for a road trip. Lon pointed the prodigious bow of the Dodge toward the foothills of the Sierra Nevada’s and off we went.

About 40 minutes later, Lonnie pulled the Dodge over to the side of the road. It was around 7:00 in the morning.

“Why are we stopped” I asked, looking over my shoulder to see if there was a CHP behind us.

“Look at the Odometer” he replied, nodding toward the Dodge’s dashboard.

foothillsI looked. “000,000.0” read the Odometer.

“Wow! What happened?”.

“We have rolled it over”.

“What does this mean?”

“Trunk!”

A 7:00 am drink that led to a 3 day road trip and a lot of ‘splainin’.

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Lon’s next car was a 1955 Chevy convertible. We never put the top up.

Ever.

1955-chevrolet-convertibleOne night, Lon decided that it could outrun a train. Befitting my station as an idiot in those days, I agreed. Now to test the theory. We drove to the outskirts of town and drove around until we found a stretch of country road that ran parallel to the tracks and then crossed them. We waited. We didn’t have to wait long. The Chevy rolled into motion as the train approached our position. Lonnie began to speed up to match the train’s speed and then gunned the Chevy into 283 life. We began to pass the train as the crossing approached…but not by SuperChief 2much. When we flew over the tracks, I looked up to my right. The bobbing and weaving cyclop light on the front of the train was less than 6 feet away from where I sat. We just, barely, cleared the tracks before the train hurtled by.

We didn’t do that again.

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There were other feats of daring-do.

Climbing the massive 250 ft. Ad Art Billboard on Highway 99 and drinking a mickey of rye.

Pushing a 6ft around weather balloon full of water out in front of a car on Eldorado Street and almost causing a 3 car collision when it was hit and exploded throwing water over everything.

A bunch of us making a dummy out of straw and some old clothes and, pretending to have a fight on the corner of Mariposa and Eldorado (the same corner as the giant water balloon) tossed it into the street in front of an oncoming car, almost causing the poor driver to lose control.

JackassI am not proud of any of these things. I am thankful I survived them, and no one was hurt. I was a jackass before being a jackass could make you a celebrity.

Ahead of my time.

And Lonnie, God bless him, survived our childhood too. Sadly he was taken down by cancer in his 40s, working at the Fox television outlet in Sacramento, far too soon, but with a full and interesting life under his belt.

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This Sunday: Part Three of Segarini: Stockton, Daring-Do, and Cruisin’ the Miracle Mile. See you then.

In the meantime, here’s a musical preview. The Stockton Ballroom; home of legendary high school bar brawls, and some of the greatest R&B music you never heard.

Merced Blue Notes: Whole Lotta Nothing

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Segarini’s regular column appears here every Monday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonBob “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.

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22 Responses to “Segarini: Stockton, Daring-Do, and Cruisin’ the Miracle Mile – Part Two: School Days Daring Do.”

  1. Glenn Gallup Says:

    Since nobody died I’m thinking you are OK as far as law enforcement is concerned. Statute of Limitations and all that.

    Last year we went to a Christmas party at the Ballroom. The place has been remodled with a new bar and some fresh paint but it still has those benches down the sides and the stage is in the same place. When we left we wound up just outside the door on the exact spot where I kissed Marilyn the first time she kissed me back.

    Stockton was truly a special place to grow up. I was in the Stockton High class of 1957 and it was the only HS in Stockton so it was integrated by definition, and I was lucky because when I went to work my company hired from the local labor pool and promoted from within so all those groups you mentioned were represented not just among the grunts but in supervision and managenent. I got a 40 year extension on being with people who checked their personal stuff at the door and got busy getting the job done. Luckiest guy on the planet.

  2. Bonnie Cannon Phelps Says:

    I am so hooked on your read. Can’t wait for the next one!!!

  3. Pat Campbell Says:

    Hey Bob, part 2 was as great as part 1. The Blue Notes cut was especially great & I yes Heny’s Rollin Pin. Would love see you sometime. Thanks. Pat Campbell

  4. Ernie Williams Says:

    Thanks Bob, you make me homesick for a place that no longer exists

  5. Joyce Adams Sievers Says:

    What a ‘blast from the past!’ Those were great days when kids like us were safe from almost everything but our own curiosity and bravado! I recall listening to you and Ray Robinson casually playing your guitars at a party where there was no apparent alcohol (that’s not counting what might have been in someones car trunk)and there was actually a few games of spin the bottle. You have put me in a nostalgic mood… think I’ll go look at some yearbooks.

  6. Once again a great blog and a prize at the bottom of the box. Thanks for the “Blue Notes” – We rented a house at 432 E Hampton from your dad next to the store. I had so much fun going through the trash behind the store as a kid and finding all the old tubes from the TV repair place was like finding buried treasure. Amazing what kids could do to amuse themselves with trash. And dodge ball at Woodrow Wilson – against the back wall or inside that room with the sinks in the winter time or just running up and down the ramps (no running! I can remember the teachers yelling at us to this day). We moved to Lincoln Village in 60 (I was 10 then) but it was never as much fun as our little hood in the center of town was. – Thx again M

  7. John Fedi Says:

    Bob Segarini, I too have fond memories of the El Dorado Bowl. My Uncle Joe Fedi opened up a Pro Shop and Trophy business in the mezzaine of the bowl in 1956. Spent years as a Bowl Rat and started working at the Pro Shop and ended up taking it over. I moved the business and rented from your family for years next to the Harding way store.
    I also have fond memories of Otto’s which my Grandfather Steve Fedi owned and operated for several years. The property is still in the family.
    Thanks for the great post.
    John Fedi

  8. Bonnie Cannon Phelps Says:

    My dad was the day time bartender at Ottos when it was owned by Reno and Emma—can’t recall their last names.

    • John Fedi Says:

      Reno and Emma Santini were my Grandfathers niece and nephew. My grandparents Steve and Elisa Fedi were partners at that time. Reno Santini’s mother and my Grandmother were sisters.

  9. You make me fill like I had the lamest childhood ever, drinking juice boxes and never leaving our little crescent on my bicycle. Though I’m thankful to my mom I made it to adulthood without a scratch, you always remind me I’ve got some living to do! Thanks Bob

  10. Chip Kniss Says:

    Well Bob part two really hit home .. I also went to Woodrow Wilson and Stockton jr High ( The old Blue and White .. Go Tarzans !!! ) I lived in West Weberstown were i would ride my bike to school .. I also used to get that permission slip and give it to Dr Clark to go eat lunch … The best Burger, Fries and Shake in town for $1.25 .. I also would make the candy run .. But I would buy for who ever would pay me the money up front and I would pocket half the money … At that time I knew I would be a car salesman … LMAO ….

  11. Dave Farley Says:

    Bob a link to your blog showed up on the FB AA Stagg class of 66 page. Awesome read. i’m thinking that adventure with the train could have happened near our old stables on Mcallen Road. or out on Mariposa,

  12. Brandolino Says:

    I remember the Family Tree, that pic looks like the main building
    the crumbly one. Stockton was truly a “mayberry esque” rockwellian
    utopia. And the sanity all came to an end by 1975.

  13. Bill Camuso Says:

    Bill Camuso, checking in from beautiful Sequim Washington. Stagg class of 61.
    Walt Givens still keeps the flame lit for the West side Bunch.
    I miss Stockton very much, can’t help it. It’s painful to see whats happened to our little town.
    Hugs and stuff.

  14. Mickey Holmes Says:

    I remember it well, living on E. Barrymore st .going to Stagg high when it was at Delta and the first day at Stagg on brookside, cruising the avenue with friend Kenny Martin in his 49 Buick super and the Blue Note dances ( I still have one of the guards “billy club” that some one put in my hand while running out the door during one of the many fight nights there ) the old Stockton Judo club in skid-row and joining the 36 Club in 1958 only to be disbanded a few years later as the last of the California high school fraternities. My cousin ended up married to “Wow” Mc Cardy ( RIP) as we went to Eldorado and Stockton high and Stagg together for years, and Yes, Stockton was a great place to live and grow up in those days…I miss the memories of the old Stockton and my youth..
    Mickey Holmes…..Jackson, Ca.

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