Segarini: Stockton, Daring-Do, and Cruising the Miracle Mile: Part Three – A Little History, Showers Park In, and Here Comes High School

Bob at 13a

Part One can be found here

Part Two can be found here

Cruising was a social activity that primarily consisted of driving a car around in a circle from one end of a designated street to the other, turn around, repeat. It can be thought of as an expression of the freedom of possessing a driver’s license, or as a way to socialize without verbalizing. Your car, and its occupants were your statement. Your goal?…attracting the opposite sex. Cruising took place at night, during which you drove slowly, bumper-to-bumper, down main streets or ‘drags’ in your home town. Stockton had one of the greatest; The Miracle Mile…Pacific Avenue.

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A Little History

whittier2One of the oldest known cruise locations was Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles. Cruising on this strip became a popular pastime with the lowriding community during the 1940s before spreading to surrounding neighborhoods in the 1950s. Perhaps the most famous main drag was McHenry Avenue in Modesto, California. Cruising in Modesto centered around Burge’s Drive In. During the late 40’s the contemporary music was on KTRB and then on KBOX. As rock and roll hit the airwaves, KMOD was the hit station that later became KFIV, still on the air today at AM 1360. This was Modesto’s soundtrack and everyone tuned to the same station.

Bartoni-burges-ModestoInside Burges’ there was a remote radio station and a KFIV DJ was there in action. Not only did he broadcast from inside the drive in, he would work the parking lot taking dedications and talking to the cruisers. Burge’s was the place to be and DJ Dwight Case was there in the middle of it all, spinning the rock and roll hits across the Modesto airwaves. This was truly a legendary time in Modesto.

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Showers Drive-In - CopyStockton had a similar drive-in/radio connection. On Saturday nights, KJOY DJ Denny Kerwin hosted a show from the cleverly named Showers Park-In on Pacific Avenue, wandering around amongst the parked cars taking dedications and talking to kids who regularly cruised Pacific. Shower’s was pretty far north, but a lot of us would traipse up there just to hear our names (and ourselves) on the radio.

I can still remember my first trip to Showers.

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Phid's MercuryIn my cousin Phid’s cherry ’54 Mercury, he and his date (whose name I do not remember) up front on the tuck and rolled naugahyde bench seat, and myself and Joyce Schmidt, a perfectly beautiful catholic schoolgirl (who for some reason had taken an interest in me), sitting side-by-side in the similarly tucked and rolled back seat. We ordered the usual cheeseburgers/fries/cherry cokes and then sat talking amongst ourselves…for a minute.

Suddenly a large microphone was thrust into the rolled down windows of the car followed by a massive, well groomed head smelling of old spice and gin.

“So, who do we have here?” came the mellifluous voice of the intruder.

bobby-mousekateerPhid took a long drag on his cigarette, the two girls giggled. I leaned into the microphone and chirped, “I’m Bob! You’re Denny Kerwin!” I sound like a Mouseketeer.

“Yes I am, young man!” he intoned, sounding like he had a mouth full of honey and was hosting The Miss America Pageant. “What school do you go to?”

“Stockton Jr. High! I’m going to Stagg in the fall! High school! Stagg high school!” Still sounding like a Meeska-Mooseka-Mousekateer, I try and dial it back a bit. I lower my voice as best I can. “Stagg High.” I still sound like a dork.

“Well, what song would you like to hear, Bob, who will be going to the brand new Stagg High in the fall?”

Everly_Brothers“Anything by the Everly Brothers, Denny!” I am still chirping, albeit as low as I can make my voice go. Phid coughs, the girls say nothing, but Joyce is now buried under my arm seemingly trying to burrow into my side, hiding from the microphone lest her dad see her on the radio. In the back seat of a car. With a boy.

“And who would you like to dedicate your request to, Bob?” said the DJ, shoving the microphone close enough to my face that I can smell Sen-Sen on the wind sock.

Facehugger-side“Joyce Schm…” Joyce’s hand comes flying up out of her hiding place and clamps over my mouth like the face hugger in Alien. “mmmff!”

“Joyce Schmmmff! Bob’s request will be coming right up!” He starts to back out of the window and stand upright again. “Head on up to Shower’s Drive In, have some fine food, and be on the radio!” he says to no one in particular as he turned and headed for the next car, his voice trailing off as he went. Phid lit another cigarette and passed one to me. Joyce removed her hand from my mouth and I took a deep breath, having been unable to breathe for the last minute or so. I lit the smoke Phid had tossed me, took a deep drag, and immediately got dizzy. I was 14 years old. It would be another year and a half before I would be able to cruise the Avenue in my own car.

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AmericanGraffiti_04The cruising culture of the late 1950s and early 1960s was accurately depicted in the film, American Graffiti. The film was set in writer/director George Lucas’s home town of Modesto, California, but was actually shot in downtown San Rafael, and Petaluma, 2 small towns north of San Francisco. With American Graffiti, Lucas captured the teenage years of every kid in America who grew up in the car culture of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.

We had fun, fun, fun, ‘till our Daddy’s took the T Birds away….

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George was one of us. His experiences, exactly like ours in Stockton, came from growing up in Modesto, another farm town 30 miles or so South of George Lucas High SchoolStockton, and at the same time.

From Wikipedia; George Lucas was born in Modesto, California, the son of Dorothy Ellinore (née Bomberger) and George Walton Lucas, Sr. (1913–1991), who owned a stationery store.

Lucas grew up in the Central Valley town of Modesto, and his early passion for cars and motor racing would eventually serve as inspiration for his USC student film 1:42:08, as well as his Oscar-nominated low-budget phenomenon, American Graffiti. Long before Lucas became obsessed with film making, he wanted to be a race-car driver, and he spent most of his high school years racing on the underground circuit at fairgrounds and hanging out at garages. On June 12, 1962, while driving his souped-up lucas car crashAutobianchiBianchina, another driver broadsided him, flipping over his car, nearly killing him, causing him to lose interest in racing as a career. He attended Modesto Junior College, where he studied, amongst other subjects, anthropology, sociology and literature. He also began filming with an 8 mm camera, including filming car races.

George had wrapped himself around a tree, nearly dying in the process. The effects of this accident may also explain the Ewoks and Jar-Jar to some extent.

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The Last Year of Junior High

1959-60Junior High was easily navigated. Everything except what we were being taught was new. Everyone had friends from all walks of life, everybody slowly started to develop real personalities and found their places in the societal fabric of school life, not unlike the gradual assimilation of diverse individuals in a correctional institution. We bonded over shared diversions like music, or sports, and formed cliques, which ebbed and flowed from one to another like splitting atoms. We drifted between circles, becoming members here and there, staying on the periphery of some, becoming the focal point of others. Most of the classes were our cells, sitting, trapped, an hour at a time, watching the clock on the wall waiting for the bell that would send us scurrying back out into the Yard, where the real education was, where life was.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASomeone, (to this day, no one knows who) became impatient waiting for the bell to signal the end of one heinous class or another, (probably algebra, a brutal, mind numbing exercise in being taught something 99% of us would never need in real life), found a payphone in one of the halls, and called in a bomb threat. We were evacuated.

We were marched down Vine Street to Eldorado Street, and told to wait in the parking lots there until the all clear. Luckily for us, they were the parking lots of a Chinese food delivery place called The Chop Stick, and Cam’s Drive-in (Home of the Cam Burger, a gooey, 2 patty cheeseburger with a one-of-a-kind sauce that always ran down your arms and dripped off Chop Stickyour elbows onto your clothes) a lunchtime favourite of we 9th Graders. On the march back to the school, my inner class clown got the better of me, and passing a police officer, I looked up at him, Camburger sauce pooling on my khaki’s, and said “So…I see you got my phone call”. I spent the remainder of the day in the Principal’s office being grilled like a cheap steak.

Personally, I thought it was funny.

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marlboro3There were a pack of us (LOL) who belonged to the Young Smokers of America, and we walked to school together regularly sharing Marlboro’s…the cigarette of choice for most of us, and at 25 cents a pack, easily affordable. When Stockton’s famous Tule Fog covered the Junior High’s playing field on the corner of California Street and Harding Way, we would head to the far corner and light up…no one could see 2 feet in front of themselves in that fog, so we were safe from prying eyes. One afternoon, a tall foreboding figure slowly emerged from the fog and into Man in Fogour midst. It was a teacher. Mr. Foster. We froze, little deers in the headlights. Then, he spoke. “Which one of you assholes has a cigarette?” After that, whenever he showed a film in class, he would signal those of us who were his ‘secret smoking buddies’ and we would go into his office and smoke while the rest of the class watched a movie about the importance of good typing skills. Had I been aware of the coming age of computers, I would have stayed in class and watched the damn movie.

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Classes became more difficult to sit through, and near impossible to concentrate on. The two biggest reasons were to be found on the chests of some of the girls who, in nature’s profound unfairness, started to blossom into beautiful, full-fledged women, while most of us boys were waiting for a pubic hair to grow in, and our voices to stop cracking and settle down into a manly growl instead of a Bobby Breen Castrato.

Mary Wheeler, who along with her 2 equally stunning sisters, typified the fantasy girl-next-door, as long as the girl-next-door was a fresh-faced movieTight Skirt and Sweaterstar who looked like the hottest cheerleader to ever shake her pom-poms, and Donna Hall, a Marilyn Monroe lookalike I will always think of in her tight grey skirt and pink angora sweater. I’m sorry, but no math quiz, bit of American History, or spelling lesson will ever match the power of hormones, puberty, or a tight sweater. I have remembered these beautiful girls far longer than X + Y = WTF?

When all is said and done, Junior High was the School of Eroding Innocence, a learning experience not taught by the teachers, but by the other students around you. We learned from each other, and in so doing, became more than what we were. Needless to say, when the final bell rang, and we headed for High School, we were not as equipped to deal with it as we thought. We had to start all over again.

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Amos Alonzo Stagg Senior High School

Stagg HomecomingFrom an ethnically diverse lockdown in a heavily populated area of Stockton to a sprawling single story maze of buildings on a chunk of real estate that had been, up until the school was built in 1959, farmland. We were unprepared for the mostly white, fresh-faced strangers, the upper classmen’s ability to intimidate and terrorize, and one fact that had never Newt's A&W Stockton California 1965been an issue until now. Thanks to Lon Dudley and his fleet of illegal automobiles, I was already used to mobility and the freedom afforded by having a car, but here…in the middle of pretty much nowhere, a car was absolutely essential. The nearest place to get food other than the school’s cafeteria was McDonald'son Pacificmiles away. An A&W Drive-in that would soon become one of the turn-arounds for a night of cruising up and down Pacific Avenue, and a brand new place called McDonald’s. Lonnie and I were no longer as close as we once were, and I’m not even sure he went to Stagg, so it became an obsession; Must. Have. Car. I was 15 years old.

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Stagg was located on a (then) dead end road called Brookside. between a levee and acres and acres of tillable soil, Years later, it would be surrounded stagg-high-schoolby housing developments and retail outlets, but for the time being, it was like going to school on the moon. We would be the first class to graduate that would have spent all 3 years of high school in the new school. The Juniors and Seniors were imported from other schools, and had a bit of a chip on their shoulders about being uprooted from their previous schools and probably torn away from old friends. I lost friends too, those whose home addresses assured them of a different high school than Stagg. For all of us cool 9th graders, it was  incredibly awkward walking into a place where we were no longer cool, no longer the leaders, no longer on top of it.

Once again, I had to start all over again, re-invent myself…only this time, I needed a car to do it…and not just any car….

Comtinued next Sunday: Cruisin’ Pacific Avenue

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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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7 Responses to “Segarini: Stockton, Daring-Do, and Cruising the Miracle Mile: Part Three – A Little History, Showers Park In, and Here Comes High School”

  1. Chip Kniss Says:

    Now I’m ready for you stories about A.A.Stagg …. Thanks Bob for the ride down Memory lane >>>> This is a must read for all Stocktoians … This is why I still live in Stockton to this day .. I have a house right by Stagg .. Of course in the middle of the old corn fields … Who would of ever thought i would have a house in the same place we used to hide to drink beer .. LOL …

  2. Richard Schmidt Stagg"62 Says:

    Great job, Bob. Brought back many fond memories. Especially liked Showers-I loved the burgers-and just remembered the K-joy booth on the roof. We cruised the A from a parking lot behind Sno-White (near Harding) to Sno-White (near 5 mile house)-my Dad was a friend of Manuel Escobar of Sno White-Manny’s fame. Stopped may times at Pepe’s Pizza- where the cheese would slide off so you had to use toothpicks–How was Showers related later to George’s on California St?-same burgers.

  3. Brandolino Says:

    I do remember going to A&W there before mcdonalds existed.
    My family lived off the miracle mile on Bonnie Lane until the
    new subdivisions were built out north. I would trek to newly minted
    Lincoln center to get a snack at the drive in, or ride up on my bike
    after the paper route early sunday mornings to the old gingham gal
    for coffee, I can still remember the faces of every waitress, LOL
    not too many 11 year olds saddled up there at 5 AM.
    That Record route and all it meant!!! A new 10 speed with those hard
    earned dollars. The bakery in Lincoln center had great brownies and the ice cream shop had licorice flavored ice cream I remember it as being called the “Gold Mine” id cruise over to Campbells to climb
    around on the shoe boat, then over to Jakes to pilfer through the
    penny stuff, Carmens and Santiagos were the choices, my fudge
    cicle cravings were handled at the milk bar, sometimes Id save up
    money and spring for the smorgy on the south side of the center.
    7/11 to get my hot dog cinnamon gum, Dok Shoons for my hot dog
    and if you go back far enough, the hobby shop next door for my
    slot car stuff. There was a carnival in the parking lot and I ran a gokart on a track out there for fun, then id cruise over to the Astro
    slide and get the freakin thrill of my life, while old folks dined in
    Tommy lee’s Islander LOL I could hear the Polynesian music.
    The original sizzler was in that spot. I can breath in and recall
    what my first steak house visit experience was like!!!!!! my
    mini bike was flying thru the carson oaks lot before bank of Stockton
    existed. Heck it was all farmland past ben holt!!!!!!! you could play
    on el dorado street in front of Anderson park there was no traffic
    it all stopped right there. What a memory.

  4. I am really glad that I stumbled on this blog. I was looking for an old picture of the A&W Restaurant in my home town of Stockton, California when I found this. And of course I remember the name Segarini….because I think there was a grocery store near our second house in Colonial Heights called Segarini’s (when we first arrived in Stockton we lived in Weberstown), Anyway, Thank you for your history!

    Best,
    Steven Cohen

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