Segarini: Stockton, Daring-Do, and Cruisin’ the Miracle Mile: Part Five – The Car, The Cool, The Cruise

Dee Johnny BobPart One can be found here

Part Two can be found here

Part Three can be found here

Part Four can be found here

There are fewer things more important to a 16 year old boy than passing his driving test and getting a car of his own. Sex with a partner instead of the Palm Sisters would be about the only thing that would vie for his attention that could be more distracting. By 16 I had already traded up from the mono-date to much more rewarding experiences thanks to an ‘older woman’ who chased me around the house I was living in until I let her catch me, and some truly adventurous girls closer to my own age. So, at 16, the most important thing on my mind had four wheels and started with a key and not a kiss on the neck….

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The Car

I turned 16 in August of 1961. A couple of days later, my dad reluctantly wrote a cheque for the car that I had been coveting for over a year, and I became a Man…one that still had to beg his dad to let me snap up the car that I had been admiring for so long which suddenly came on the market. It had been featured in a digest-sized magazine called Rod and Custom, and I had fallen in love with it. It looked almost exactly like this, with some minor differences.

'56 ChevyIt was ‘nosed and decked’ 1956 Chevy Bel-Air, had molded Buick taillights, a 1959 Chrysler Imperial grille, reversed rims with baby-moon hubbies, sat on a rake, had scavenger pipes with glas-pak mufflers underneath, and housed a 1958 Corvette engine with a normal 2 carb set-up, and had an interchangeable 6 pack for show and tell or the drag strip. Metallic burgundy paint and burgundy/white tuck and roll upholstery. It was a Chick-magnet that also went like a bat out of hell. My second year of high school had just been vastly improved.

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The car had been built by (or had been built for) a legendary Stockton character with the coolest name ever, Wow McCarty.

Wow was as cool as his name, admired by everyone and a loner just like in the teen movies of the ‘50s. Imagine the Big John character from American Graffiti, and you’d be on target. Come to think of it, that movie pretty much summed up my high school years. I was equal parts Toad, John and Curt. paul_le_matThe nerdlinger bookworm wannabe, Charles Martin Smith’s Toad, who ended up nailing Candy Clark’s ditzy, but hot, Debbie, Paul LeMat’s Big John, the cool but always in trouble bad boy, and Richard Dreyfus’s Curt, the carefully considered smart-guy who gets accepted by the older and wiser guys in the local car club, and who ended up becoming a writer and moving to Canada. When I saw that information at the end of the film, I stood up in the theatre and, pointing at the screen, yelled, “Curt is ME!”

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The Jades 1961-62 Bob in the middle - CopyI had the car of my dreams, was playing in a successful local band (The Jades) and my best friend in high school was a girl named Bonnie Fovinci, a Junior Miss version of Sophia Loren, with a mouth on her like my cousin Diane’s. She could cut down a teenage Lothario in one sentence, delivered with a look that would wither concrete. She was beautiful, smart, and an insane amount of fun. Some typical Bonnie moments:

Guy in Car to Bonnie: “Sure would love to get in your pants.”

Bonnie: “Why? Yours have shit in them?”

Guy in Car to Bonnie as we pass him leaving the Foster Freeze: “Hey! Wanna fuck?”

Bonnie: “No, but my Brother does…bring your Mother over sometime.”

When Nixon ran for Governor of California, I wrote “Nix on Nixon” on both sides of the Chevy with poster paint, and Bonnie and I tooled up and down Pacific Avenue after school for weeks. I’d like to think we did some good.

Bonnie always dated older guys. One night, after she broke up with her current boyfriend after they had decimated a bottle of vodka on a date, the El Dorado Street Bridgeguy drove his brand new Corvette into a light standard on the recently new Eldorado Street Bridge, sheared it off, and left only a 4×4 piece of the fiberglass car intact. He was so drunk, he bounced and rolled all the way over the bridge, and, badly bruised, didn’t even break a bone. Ah, the protective/healing powers of liquor. At least, that’s how I remember it….

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Rod and CustomI only ever spoke to Wow McCarty 3 times. Once, when I flagged him down when I noticed the ‘For Sale’ sign in the back window of the Chevy, 2 days later on the phone, after I convinced my dad (thanks, mom) to let me get the car, and the last time I saw him, when I handed over the cheque and he gave me the keys. When I got in the car for the first time and put the key in the ignition, I looked over to my right. There, Wow had left the copy of Rod and Custom the car had been featured in on the passenger side of the front seat. How cool was Wow McCarty….

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Here’s what was going on in the world in 1961, courtesy of a the embarrassingly named BabyBoomers.com

1961…

Major Events
Dwight_D._Eisenhower

Outgoing President Eisenhower issues warning of a “military industrial complex” developing in America

President Kennedy establishes the Peace Corps

Cuban exiles fail in their bid to invade Cuba through the Bay of Pigs; President Kennedy accepts responsibility

Soviets build wall dividing East and West Berlin

Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann tried in Israel, found guilty

“Freedom Riders” travel throughout the South to test and promote integration measures; many are assaulted and beaten

SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

YURI GAGARIN HEADLINESoviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes first human in space during a single-orbit flight

Commander Alan Shephard Jr. becomes first American in space in a suborbital flight aboard Mercury 3; Virgil Grissom follows in similar fashion two months later

Soviet space probe Venera 1 becomes the first man-made vehicle to reach another planet when it arrives at Venus

First lasers developed

Anthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey discover Homo habilis in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania

SPORTS

World Series: New York Yankees over Cincinnati, 4-1

Ty Cobb dies

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Movies: West Side Story, The Hustler, Judgment at Nuremburg

Songs: Moon River, Where the Boys Are, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, Blue Moon, The Lion Sleeps Tonight

BullwinkleTV Shows: Bullwinkle, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, Hazel, Dick Van Dyke Show, Top Cat

Books: Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein; Catch-22, Joseph Heller; The Carpetbaggers, Harold Robbins; The Making of the President: 1960, Theodore White; The Agony and the Ecstasy, Irving Stone; The Winter of Our Discontent, John Steinbeck

Henry Miller’s 1934 novel Tropic of Cancer published legally in the U.S. for the first time

Ernest Hemmingway dies of a self-inflicted gunshot wound

Gary Cooper dies

barbie_kenEVERYDAY LIFE

Electric toothbrushes introduced

“Frito” corn chips appear

FUN FACTS

Barbie” gets a boyfriend when the “Ken” doll is introduced

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I was no longer riding the hump in the backseat of someone else’s car. I was the King of the World! Of course, it would be a while before older guys stopped scowling at me and asking me where Wow was, or if he knew I had his car, but eventually, it came to an end, and the honks, nods, and waves were directed at me. In 1961, there was no better feeling for a 16 year old boy.

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From my Dear Friend, Glenn Gallup’s Blog

Oh, My God, It’s a Rock and Roll Band

Roddy JacksonAmazon sent me an ad for a CD by an old Merced boy named Roddy Jackson. He was one of the original three Merced Blue Notes. The name of the Album is  Central Valley Fireball and it’s well titled. Went on YouTube, found a couple videos of Roddy tearing the house down at Rockabilly festivals in the UK. That started me thinking about Rock and Roll, my misspent youth and how much fun it was misspending it. My Dad was a frustrated musician and in his travels he acquired on of those console organs with all the gizmos that let you make it sound like everything from a pipe organ to a jet engine. He didn’t play it much after the novelty wore off but one night some of my friends and I put it to good use.

blackboardjungleA little history wouldn’t hurt. If you know about Rock and Roll you can skip this paragraph. Rock and Roll burst onto the scene in 1955 with the release of the movie Blackboard Jungle. Starred Glenn Ford and the scrumptious Anne Francis with a supporting cast like Sidney Poitier and Vic Morrow. The title theme was “Rock Around the Clock” by a longtime country singer name Bill Halley, for some reason he called his band “The Comets” Bill opened the door for a whole bunch of performers like Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis . Hot on their heels came all the folks I call real Rock and Rollers. Most of them were Black, they spent the late 50’s and early 60’s making the best pop music of the time and getting ripped off by everybody from producers and record companies to promoters. Anybody who saw Little Richard or Chuck Berry or Ike and Tina Turner live on stage won’t ever forget. Most important it was real music. You kinda knew there wasn’t some guy with an eye shade and a Friden calculator backstage telling Chuck what to play.

pat_booneFrom about my Sophomore year in High School on the battle between the students and the chaperone’s at the sock hops was about playing real music or some of the revolting covers that the music business tried (not without success) to fob off on us. Or getting the chaperone’s to lose the big band stuff and play “our music”. I mean Pat Boone’s a nice bloke but covering Tutti Frutti? in your dreams Mr. Capitol. Go sing “Love Letters in the Sand” so I can slow dance with Margie what’s her name.

So, Dad bought this amazing organ and I had a friend in a band. Who among other talents played keyboards. I went off to fulfill my military reserve commitment and when I got back found that I was going to have the house to myself for a couple of months, heh, heh.

The statute of limitations has I’m sure run out long ago but no names, O.K? We had parties and parties and it got to the point that when we didn’t have a party people showed up and argued at the front door. “Whatta ya mean no party? There was a party last night. Open the damn door.” You get the idea. One night, I think it was a Wednesday, the band came over to rehearse. Had my friend on keyboards or rhythm guitar and singing lead, a tenor sax, bass, lead guitar and drums. Good band, covered the bluesy side of the top 40, did a few originals. And when they got cooking about 8:30, an army showed up on the lawn. There must have been 100 kids. 5 Teen Girls 1960year olds to teenagers, they were literally dancing in the street. When I looked out all the parents were out as well. They were mostly making sure their teenage daughters didn’t rush the front door, and that the band stayed in the house and didn’t deflower anyone. They were in some cases too late, but that’s another story and it ain’t going on the Internet. Stockton had a curfew then, at 10:30 PM the music and the party sounds had to stop. And a couple of the neighbors already had the knives out for us. So at 10:29 in the midst of really kicking the slats out the band stopped. It was sooo cool.

At exactly 10:30 the Sheriff drove by, rolled the window down and told the kids in the street to go home. Then he drove off, and parked right down the street. Guess he didn’t trust us.

My keyboard playing buddy lives in Toronto now, he’s had a bunch of years in the music business, and what’s really funny is the drummer has a son who is my stockbroker. Small world. But flippin amazing.

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Glenn and MarilynGlenn’s ‘musician friend’ was me. The band was The Jades, the first band I was ever in, and the house (Glenn’s dads) fell to Glenn’s care because his opera loving father had been in a serious car accident and was laid up in the hospital for the foreseeable future. Art Jacobs, as fine a good ‘ol boy as you will ever meet, and I, moved in to the house on Swain Road while Glenn’s dad was out of commission. I arrived here because, in a last ditch effort to finish high school, I had enrolled in Lincoln High, and living here put me in their school district. Well, that was part of the reason. The real reason of course, was the fact that Glenn (pictured here with Marilyn, his soulmate) and Art were older than me, belonged to the coolest car club in Stockton, and knew how to party like it was 1954.

Why, you ask, was I not still at Stagg High?

This are why….

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Goodbye High School, Hello World

Big Lottle BookI mentioned in the last installment of this serial that I was a voracious reader. Comics were my first foray into the printed word (comics and a handful of children’s books, Golden and Big Little Books) and the comics led me onward into the Oz books, The Bobbsey Twins, and beyond. My interest in science fiction stemmed from discovering a children’s book in the Woodrow Wilson library called “The Mushroom Planet”. I checked it out 3 times during the third grade. It led me to Robert Heinlein’s juvenile sci-fi books (Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, Starship Troopers, etc) and I was on my way.

Little_LuluThe comics started coming thanks to my Uncle Swede Bronner, who owned a pharmacy in Morgan Hill, California, a sleepy little village just west of San Jose. From the time I was 5 years old, every time we went to visit the Bronners, he would let me pick out as many comics as I could carry from the rack in the pharmacy and take them home. Uncle Swede’s youngest son, my cousin, became the biggest reason I loved going there to visit. Philip Bronner was three years older than me, and would eventually come to be known as Phid, and move in with us in Stockton when he turned 18.

Weird_Science_Vol_1_15It was here I discovered my love of Marge’s Little Lulu (eventually I would own every single Dell and Gold Key Little Lulu comic book, and an autographed water colour of Little Lulu signed by Marge him (or her) self, and the miracle of DC comics (Batman, Superman, etc) and the soon to be censored, then eliminated EC comics…home of (among other comics) Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Weird Science, and Mad. By the time I was 14, I had collected every EC comic that had ever been issued, including all 6 issues of Psychoanalysis Comics, and the Crime series.

In 1980, the collection was worth almost a million dollars. Unfortunately, my mom threw them all out the summer I turned 15. As much as I love her, I have never been able to forgive her for that.

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As mentioned earlier, I was always reading several books during the same time period, and always on the lookout for something new. I was surprised by where I found my next obsession…

My last class of the day in my 2nd year of high school was English Lit. taught by  one Leonard Fass. Mr. Fass, like myself, was a lover of the printed word, and brought a wide-eyed appreciation of literature to class with him every day. He was a good teacher, but we soon clashed over a ridiculous rule that soured me on a formal education for all time.

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The Canary Kid, Billy Shakespeare, and Me

MrMackeyWe called Mr. Fass the Canary Kid. The reason was obvious if you ever saw him. He was a slip of a man, thin and gangly, with a head larger than his body seemed capable of holding up. If Mr. Tharp was Riverdale High’s Mr. Weatherbee, Mr. Fass was Mr. Mackey from South Park Elementary (Go Cows!)  When he addressed the class, he moved with bird-like precision, flitting from desk to desk, pausing to make a point and to cast an eye on the student’s desks to see their work, or make sure our books were open to the correct page. He was impassioned, and his influence on me was cemented during the second half of the school year.

The last 15 or 20 minutes of class was usually devoted to reading our current assignment out loud, Mr. Fass picking which student would read every few paragraphs, would stalk the room as we read out loud when we were picked.

One Friday, he assigned us Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s play about Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber, a classic love story that does not end well for our two 14 year old lovebirds. Nevertheless, the prose, the imagery, the downright musicality of the language he used to tell his tale, captured my attention. I took the assigned book home and read it before I went to sleep that night.

I went to school early the following Monday. I wheeled the Chevy into the student parking lot so early, that I got to park in the coveted space closest to the gate that was just west of my last class of the day…Mr. Fass’s English Lit. class.

merchant of veniceI went to school early so I could go to the library and check out another Shakespeare play. I chose two. A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, and The Merchant of Venice. Sitting back in my car, chain smoking Marlboros, I started reading Merchant of Venice. It was even better than Romeo and Juliet! I ended up sitting in my car reading through both lunch periods…I was hooked.

By the time I got to Leonard’s class I could hardly wait to open the book and continue reading. A pound of flesh, Shylock, and it is true, if you prick a Jew, he will bleed. Pacino gave the line a great reading in the 2004 film.

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Twenty minutes before the end of Mr. Fass’s class, we were instructed to open our books. He normally picked on the kids who had trouble reading out loud, stumbling over words, and oblivious to Shakespeare’s pentameter and nuanced use of the English language, which in the author’s hands was a thing of beauty. Classical in structure, but peppered with the slang and euphemisms of the day, Shakespeare’s plays were written for the common people, and street slang was a part of Billy’s focus on street people and the lower classes, educating, entertaining, and reflecting their lives, but never talking down to them. He was part Vidal, part Mailer, part Fonzie. The Canary Kid’s penchant for picking less-than-capable readers to mangle Shakespeare’s work had a positive and caringly sweet motivation; he was helping these kids become more confidant by facing their fear of public speaking so they could overcome it and become less insecure about speaking up. He was honestly trying to help…but for an arrogant, spoiled brat, having to sit through someone trying to speak Shakespeare’s prose without swallowing their tongue was tantamount to having two sharp pencils thrust into my eyeballs. I hunkered down, concentrated on the book in my hands, and waited for today’s mangling of the spoken word to begin..

“Bob?”

“Mr. Segarini?”

The guy next to me kicked my chair. I looked up. Fass was staring at me.

“Would you like t read for us, Mr. Segarini. Chapter 3, first paragraph?”

“Uh…I didn’t bring my book, Mr. Fass.”

“Well, what book is that you’re reading, Mr. Segarini?”

Busted.

“Merchant of Venice, Mr. Fass.”

“…and what is the assigned book, Mr. Segarini?”

“Romeo and Juliet, Mr. Fass.”

“So would you like to tell us why you are reading the wrong book?”

Wrong book? Now wait just a minute…

“It’s not the ‘wrong’ book, Mr. Fass…it’s a different  book.”

“And where is the book you are supposed to be reading?”

“I finished it.”

One of his eyebrows went up.

“You…finished it?”

I started to become as annoyed as he was.

“Yes. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it so much I checked out two more of his plays this morning in the library.”

“Then I suppose you have your report all finished too.”

There is a smirk beginning to creep across his face.

“Yes, I do” I said, pulling the one I had written over the weekend out of my binder, getting up, and walking to the front of the class. I slammed it down on his desk. He turned red.

I said, sincerely, though probably sounding sarcastic, or worse…disrespectful, “I thought you were supposed to turn us on to great literature.”

His current shade of red went from wax lips red to crimson.

“You are not reading the assigned work, Mr. Segarini.”

“I finished the assigned work, Mr. Fass. So give me extra credit for taking it upon myself to further explore the works of Shakespeare. Isn’t that your job? To get us interested in literature?” I knew I crossed the line before the last word came out of my mouth.

I waited for his head to explode.

It didn’t.

tweetyIt remained atop his thin little neck and thinner body, bobbing back and forth like a balloon in a mild breeze. Looking at him, I waited for him to say, “I taught I taw a Puddy Tat.”

I shook my head.

The image remained.

He pulled out his chair and sat down and opened the top right hand drawer of his desk. He pulled out a tablet of blue tinted paper and began to write on the top sheet.

He was writing out a Blue Slip.

I was on my way to see the Dean of Boys, George, ‘Mr. Weatherbee’ Tharp.

Fuck.

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stockballroomLong before I gained access to a car, I was always hitching rides to a place called the Stockton Ballroom on Friday and Saturday nights. The Ballroom was a Portuguese community hall on the outskirts of town, that Latinos, Blacks, Italians, and the hipper high school kids would descend upon like a cloud of locusts for the weekly dances. Well, that, and beer, and the opportunity to get to second base, or the blue line, or the goal post or whatever sports euphemism you want to use to describe the degrees of teen sex back in the ‘60s. Mexican American and African American bands like The Imperials, out of the San Francisco Bay Area, The Merced Blue Notes from the Central Valley, who had local hit records and were one of the greatest live R&B bands I ever heard, and groups that traveled the California circuit in those days like Bobby Freeman, Jim Doval and the Gauchos, and Ron Holden.

Bobby Freeman

Jim Doval and the Gauchos

Ron Holden

Kids with custom cars and cheerleader girlfriends, would show up to try out the latest dance moves they learned from American Bandstand. After I got the Chevy, and no longer had to ‘tag along’ with friends, I never missed a Blue Notes dance. It was fun, it was cool, it was slightly, borderline, down and dirty, the girls were all hot and eager to dance (and sometimes more), Tokayand the music…well, the music was out of this world. Then of course, there was the incredibly tense rivalry between Stagg High, and Lodi’s Tokay High School. It was their Reggie and Moose, to our Archie and Jughead. Sometimes emotions ran high, and on more than one occasion, a fight between two rival football players would end up spilling out into the parking lot with 30 or 40 guys just punching the crap out of one another. Everybody else would gather around and watch until the cops got there. Me? At the first sign of trouble I would jump on stage and grab a tambourine…or just stare at the beautiful girl singer, who I believe was Kenny Craig’s sister, who covered all the Mary Wells, Carla Thomas stuff and then some.

Rufus

Rufus Jr.

Here’s some information about The Merced Blue Notes and a great story and interview about their trip to Detroit in 1962.

From the website, Soulful Detroit:

early-blue-notes‘Rufus’ became a jukebox hit in California and beyond. It also precipitated an unusual road trip for the Merced Blue Notes. Thanks to heavy airplay for the single in the region, the group was invited to Detroit in the summer of 1962, for club dates and recording work.

Bobby Hunt: “The Detroit connection came through somebody in one of these record companies, maybe it was HB Barnum, suggesting us to them. It was the first time we’d ever been on the road.”

Carl Mays: “We went all the way to Detroit, and the man said our record wasn’t selling. It was in the top ten in Detroit, but ‘it wasn’t selling’, so we didn’t make any money.”

Kenny Craig: “But when we went to Detroit it kinda dawned on us – that was the first time I felt that we were bigger than we thought we were. We went in a restaurant and they came asking for an autograph – we figured we were just a bunch of country boys. We went on this show hosted by Frantic Ernie, it was a record hop like Bandstand.”

While in town, the Blue Notes recorded three instrumental sides for Tri-Phi, the label belonging to former Moonglow Harvey Fuqua that had hit with the Spinners’ ‘That’s What Girls Are Made For’. ‘Midnite Session’, spread over two sides of a first single, was a groovy piano-heavy blues, as was ‘Fragile’ (originally known as ‘Cogitatin’’), which featured the Chief’s disc debut on harmonica. Both were admittedly in an atypical style for the Motor City at the dawn of the Motown era.

Bobby Hunt: “We played the Twenty Grand Club, the equivalent to the Apollo in New York, it’s of that stature. And then we played in Flint and Pontiac too.”

Kenny Craig: “When we played there, Jimmy Smith was downstairs and we were upstairs, and the Supremes and a bunch of [future] stars were on that show. During that era, in black clubs, Jimmy Smith was the thing, ‘Back At The Chicken Shack’. Bobby used to work that stuff, he had these little routines he would do. We did all that kinda stuff – we were better in person than we were recording, because everything was loose. Recording, you’re uptight.”

While it cannot be considered their loosest recording, the third Tri-Phi side ‘Whole Lotta Nothing’ was a nevertheless infectious and defiantly simple rocker with some humorous, self-effacing asides from each band member. Issued as a topside, upon release the number quickly became a local favourite back home, hitting #1 throughout the Valley in the late spring of 1963. It could have been a bigger hit, but Tri-Phi’s poor credit rating with their pressing plant meant crucial orders for the single went unfulfilled. Still, the Blue Notes coasted on their continued popularity by venturing outside their immediate home.

Kenny Craig: “We played big shows at the Hollywood Palladium, Sacramento Memorial, and we started playing some clubs. They used to say, ‘Well, you don’t make the money off the records, you make it off the personal appearances,’ that’s the way it worked back then. You’d wonder why you weren’t making a bunch of money, but then you saw guys like Marvin Gaye. I was talking to him backstage at the Merced Fairgrounds, and he said he hadn’t seen a quarter, and there we were, thinking he was a big time star. My trouble was I was always worried about improving, and then you don’t know who’s minding the store.”

Tri-Phi folded not long after the Blue Notes’ second release, when Fuqua sold the label to Berry Gordy. Coolures, however, kept a dialogue open with Motown, and pitched new recordings to the company over the course of the ensuing year. Several tracks on this collection such as ‘Skippy’, ‘I Got A Right To Love My Baby’, ‘Jump’ and ‘Greyhound’ date from this period. None appear to have passed the infamous Motown quality control committee; given the label’s basic lack of blues repertoire, this is probably not surprising. For many years there has been a persistent rumour that a the-merced-blue-notesMerced Blue Notes single was issued on the label’s SOUL subsidiary – however, a copy of the record has yet to surface. The titles in question, ‘Rufus Jr’ and ‘Do The Pig’, did constitute the combo’s next release, this time on the San Francisco imprint Mammoth…(The “Chief” referred to above was George Coolures – he was the Fire Chief  in Merced. His brother, Mitch Coolures, was the Fire Chief in Stockton, and my beautiful neighbor Evette’s, dad.

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I took the long walk to Tharp’s office with Mr. Fass’s Blue Slip clenched in my hand and gripped it tighter and tighter as I walked along because I was getting madder and madder. The nerve of that guy, I thought. I have been Wildrootsent to the Dean’s office for reading ahead and actually being inspired by a teacher to expand my mind and knowledge and had been influenced by this man’s passion, to read, and discover, some of the greatest prose ever written, and for that, I have been sent out into the halls of shame to face a pudgy judge and jury in a dark blue suit who smelled of Wildroot Crème Oil Hair Tonic and Old Spice. By the time I reached his office, I was pissed.

By the time I left his office, I was no longer a student at Amos Alonzo Stagg Senior High School.

I was a Man without a Pep Squad.

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No Particular Place to Go

It happened pretty quick, really.

Mr. Weatherbee 2Tharp looked at the Blue Slip, (which said, ‘Disruptive in class, not working on the assigned book, and did not show the proper respect for authority’, (you weren’t supposed to read the Blue Slip you are handed when you are sent into the 9th Circle of Hell, but who didn’t?), leaned back in his chair and peered at me with beady eyes full of bureaucratic detachment and a smidgen of disdain, like I had interrupted something important. He asked me if I was prepared to go back to class, read the assigned book, and apologize to Mr. Fass and not disturb the class any further. I said no, I am not. I had finished the assignment and had turned in my book report. He said I should have done the assignment as told and not questioned Mr. Fass’s authority in the classroom. I said I was grateful Mr. Fass had steered me to the works of Shakespeare, and that I now wanted to read more of the Bard’s Mr. Weatherbee 3handiwork. Mr. Tharp said I was making it difficult for the other students and thought I expected special treatment. I told him he was being unreasonable. He said I was looking at a two day suspension and opened the top right hand drawer of his desk. I repeated an epithet I had learned from my cousin Phid, one that he had learned in the United States Navy. “Why don’t you engage in a bit of aeronautical intercourse with a piece of perforated, rolling pastry.” In other words, as any smart-ass high school kid could have told you in 1962, without using any verboten 4 letter words, I told him to go take a flying fuck at a rolling donut.

I added, “I quit” just before I slammed the door behind me.

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After unsuccessfully trying to be accepted by St. Marys High School, (didn’t have the grades, they were all filled up), I hit upon the idea of moving in with Glenn and Art on Swain Road and taking a shot at Lincoln (the school, not the President). My mother, God Bless her understanding heart was all for it. My dad grunted his approval from his Barcalounger and went back to his newspaper.

I was accepted both by my new roommates, and by the school.

Not only that, I was excited about going to Lincoln for a purely academic reason. Lincoln High was a very progressive school, more like a junior college than a high school, they had a pretty outstanding curriculum, including some classes that weren’t available at the other schools. The one that got me excited was a dream come true for someone like me. Linciln High had a brand new Creative Writing course.

Oh happy day.

…and that’s about how long the euphoria lasted.

A day.

After being told I was accepted into the class, I was told I wasn’t.

The reason?

The football team was shuttled into the class because it was an easy grade to keep them on the team. The grades were not ‘As’ and ‘Fs’…they were ‘pass’ and ‘fail’, and how could you ‘fail’ a creative writing course? I was denied entry into the class. All filled up.

I walked away from school for the last time. It just wasn’t for me.

Or meant to be.

I did get a great education that year, however.

I learned how to build a tower of beer cans in a living room with Glenn and Art, I learned how to change the transmission in a 1956 Chevy, I learned that drinking is an art, I learned that girls liked guys who could play instruments, write songs, and sing, and I learned that music was more than something I loved.

It was my life.

Music…and Pepe’s Pizza, and being a junior member of the coolest car club in Stockton.

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Some thoughts on the period from my Dear Friend, Glenn Gallup….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“The car club was the Slicks. The tower of beer cans was made of those 8 ounce Coors aluminum cans. There were 1700 of them. After the first avalanche the night Art went can surfing I stuck ‘em together with clear lacquer. Don (Simonich) has both generations of plaques, I have mine but no idea where it is.”

“Swain Road. I drive by the house at least once a week.”

pinstriping“We were talking about pinstriping last night. Gary was my shill. We’d park his 40 Merc coupe in the parking lot at Stockton College, I’d whip out the brushes and lay a line or two. Never took more than a few minutes for somebody to show up and ask me to stripe his car. I still have people ask me if I can stripe something for them. Sadly the answer is no. But it was sure fun then. We weren’t bad boys but hotrodding had just enough of that image to make us interesting to the girls who liked bad boys.”

“Not just changing the transmission, but walking from Swain Road to your folks house. We were nuts…I think there is enough burned rubber in the 2200 block of Swain to make a set of tires.”

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Glenn was the hub of his circle of friends, and many of them soon became mine. Glenn, the best dancer, blues, jazz, and R&B archivist and historian, Art, an Army kid who was part James Dean, part Beagle puppy, and always smiling, happy with a beer in hand, to help someone out or punch an asshole Laguna+Secain the face. Art had a fine black Chevy and the three of us hung out constantly. There were road trips to Santa Cruz and Laguna Seca, road trips to Custom Car Shows and National Drag Strip Championships, hours of hanging out at Lincoln Automotive visiting with Gary Cox, the car club’s resident mechanical genius with a calm, professor-like ambiance he carried with him wherever we went. There were Poker RubPoker Runs, a maze laid out with sacks of flour marking where you might turn or continue straight down the back road you were on, with a line of flour across the road 5 times during the drive where you had to get out of the car and search in the bushes and trees for a box full of playing cards inside little envelopes that were stapled together. The cards stayed stapled away until you reached the finish line. There were prizes and trophies for best poker hand, best time, and other benchmarks. Mainly, it was an excuse to drive around on the backroads and levees surrounding Stockton with your best friends, The Deltadrinking beer and sloe gin and scaring the feed out of the local livestock while you sped across the terrain hooting and hollering, sounding your horn, and laughing your ass off. The perfect Delta weather, the camaraderie…there has never been a greater place to spend your youth.

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The best times were all centered around a Pizza parlour in a converted house just off of Pacific Avenue. An inviting cocoon of an establishment that served ice cold pitchers of beer and the tastiest pizza I have ever eaten. There has never been a pizza as good to this day. The car club met there weekly, and when they weren’t meeting there, they were there anyway. Pepe knew everybody’s names, and he should have, we ate and drank there almost daily. PizzaIt was the Algonquin Round Table of Pizza, but none of us ever won a Pulitzer Prize.

Every visit to Pepe’s was preceded and followed by a cruise up and down Pacific Avenue, Something some of us had been doing for years, and something just about everyone who grew up in Stockton in the ‘50s, ‘60’s and early ‘70s did. A rite of passage from childhood to adult, an act of freedom so exhilarating as to be comparable to being able to fly, and aided and abetted by 19 cent a gallon gasoline, pretty girls in daddy’s cars, and the greatest music to ever encourage making out, falling in love, or just getting shit faced with your buds and laughing like the world was perfect and safe, and lay waiting for you with open arms. And in retrospect, the world was, to us, exactly that.

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From Wright Realtors in Stockton, California….

The Making of Miracle Mile (1939)

Pacific Avenue 1945Stockton’s economic growth is best shown through the transformation of Pacific Avenue. The changes began when the College of the Pacific came to Stockton in 1924. Until that year Pacific Avenue was only a dirt road, but by 1939 it had become very commercial. In the area between Castle and Harding Street nearly every form of business had successfully developed. It was so popular that within an eighteen hour period, 17,000 cars would pass through any given point. The idea of the Miracle Mile in Stockton was the goal of developer Joe Plecarpo. He modeled Stockton’s Miracle Mile after the one on Wilshire Street in Los Angeles, which was developed in the early 1920s. He followed the model so closely that he even purchased palm trees from an L.A. nursery, which still line the mile today. Alongside the commercial growth, residential growth also developed, helping the area gain a reputation of growing prominence and prestige.

Click on this and let it play in the background, or pick your favourite years and start there.

Crusin’

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 Time to cruise Pacific Avenue and the Miracle Mile

Miracle Mile Drive In DayThis is the corner of Pacific Avenue and Castle Street. The North end of the Miracle Mile. On the left is the Miracle Drive-In, the turn-around if you were just going to cruise The Mile. The gas station on the corner had a cigarette machine with pull knobs and they didn’t ask you for I.D. Smokes were 25 cents a pack. Gas was around 27 cents a gallon unless you drove out to Hiway 99 and went to Terrible Herbst. Gas was usually 19 cents a gallon there. Henry's Rolling PinAcross Castle was Henry’s Rolling Pin (on the far right). My dad ate breakfast there around 4 am for decades. Us kids would invade the place after cruising most of the night when everything else was closed. Henry’s was open around the clock. Great diner food and a killer breakfast, but the meal of preference when I was 16 years old, was a heaping plate of home made hash browns and gravy. 5o cents and another dime for a coke and you left stuffed.

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  Miracle Drive In at Night

The Miracle Drive-In at night when it came alive. During the day it didn’t look like much, but at night, full of tricked out cars gleaming in the neon lights that circled the place like a halo, it was inviting and a beacon in the night. The parking lot hosted everything from dancing to car radios, to fist fights, to guys pinstripping cars and making plans to go out to Brookside Road and race for pink slips, the ownership papers to your car. It was hard to Newby's 2get a slot in the place on the weekends and you would just circle the place until one became available. It was worth the wait. The cheeseburgers were big, hot and delicious as were the fries. The standout for me was a big glass of fresh limeade, a close second to Newby’s ice-crystal infused orange drink. The Miracle was the lynchpin of the Pacific Avenue drag.

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Miracle Music

Right across the street from Henry’s was Sandy Sanderov’s Miracle Music. I bought everything from an accordian to a cornet, to a Wurlitzer electric Piano to my first electric guitar, and hundreds of 45s and LPs. Sandy would give you credit even if you were a kid. The listening booths were a godsend, and Sandy knew just about every customer by name. On the nights he stayed open until 9:00 pm, I would park and go in and look through the new releases.

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See's Candy exterior

Gaines - Homecoming ParadeSee’s Candy. Recently closed, See’s was in front of a large parking lot it shared with Gaines Market, which was right next door. Another good place to leave your car and ride with others, or catch a Submarine Race (old-timers will know what I’m talking about). This was also the midway  point down Pacific for every homecoming parade Stagg, Delta College, and U.O.P ever had. I don’t remember when the little walk-in candy store opened up, Sees's Candy Pacific Avenue interiorbut I remember many a night pulling in and buying a box of dark chocolate molasses chips and passing them around in the car. Sooo good, and great fuel for the long cruises, and a handy item to have when you wanted to make sure a pretty girl had a good reason to take a ride with you while your friends distracted her girlfriends. You had to be a team player back in the day, or you found yourself eating a whole box of chocolate by yourself.

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The Bookmark2

Bobbsey TwinsThe Bookmark. All those Little Big Books, Oz books, Heinlein, Bobbsey Twins, and most everything else I read came from this little shop on the Miracle Mile. It the-cat-who-walks-through-walls---robert-heinleinwas kid friendly and exciting to visit when I was really young. If you turned off of Pacific here, you could either park behind Costanza’s and have a bite to eat, or leave your car in the lot at the-door-into-summerDoris Place and hop in another friends car and cruise with them for awhile. The parking places there were also good for a quick make-out session away from the prying eyes on the main drag, and occasional beer circle, passing a church key back and forth and downing a cold one before a cop car cruised by. Still, there were times Church Keywhen I would walk back around the corner and look in the window to see if there were any new books that might be interesting.

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Costanza's Pacific Avenue

Looking North on the Ave, 2 blocks south of where we started. The Bookmark can be seen in the middle of the picture, the corner of Pacific and Castle is waaaay down the street on the far right. The cafe on the left, was an amazing family restaurant called Costanza’s. They had the most diverse menu in the city. My dad and I would deliver produce there in the morning, Costanza'sand I would be right back there at night, either parked in the rear at Doris Place, or inside having something to eat, or (constantly) driving by in the Chevy or in a friend’s car dozens of times a night. My two fvourite food items on their menu? A breaded veal cutlet served with spaghetti instead of mashed potatoes, and Costanza’s enchilada’s, unequaled anywhere else on earth. I would sometimes eat 4 or 5 of them in one sitting. They came in a rich, brown gravy and served with a buttered slice of Genoa Bakery’s finest frenchbread. They also had turkey Tamales that were large, wrapped in corn husks, topped with the gravy, and delicious. One of my biggest regrets is not having the foresight to get the recipe for the enchiladas from the the owner, who sold the place in the ’90s to someone who changed the recipes drastically. Dammit.

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Stockton Royal Pacific Avenue

The Stockton Theatre. I had been going to the Stockton for matinees since I was about 6 years old. For 50 cents you got egress, a large box of pocorn, and a soft drink and 6 hours of cartoons, old Republic Serials, and at least a couple of sci-fi and horror B-Movies with names like It Conquered the cigarette loadsWorld and The Giant Claw. By the time I was cruisin’ the Miracle Mile, it was the perfect date night movie house. You were right on the doorstep of where you would spend the rest of the night, driving up and down Pacific Avenue with your date pressed up against you on the roomy front seat of your car. The darker building the car is parked in front of was the Pacific Newstand. One of three places I bought my comics, paperbacks, and novelties. Pepper gum, X-Ray specs, and cigarette loads, anyone?

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Foster Freeze

The Foster Freeze. This isn’t the actual one, but it is a dead ringer for the one that was on Pacific. A turn-around for those who didn’t want to wait at the light on Harding Way, one block away, it also had great fast food and a very unique parking spot. You could park behind the little builind and, if you were in the right place, Wolfman Jack came blasting through your car radio all the way from Mexico on XERB. They said they were located in Chula Vista California, but their tower was across the border down Mexico way. After the Manny'scity made it illegal to turn left off of Harding Way to get back to Pacific Avenue, everyone made the turn-around here…until the city made that illegal too. Manny’s Fresh stands in this spot today, still using some of the building that was Foster Freeze. Best. Sandwiches. Ever…except now I hear they don’t make their famous garlic chicken anymore. Pity.

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Harding Way Newstand and Rathgeb's-Duck Nook2

Harding Way. The Turn-around. That’s the tail end of Pacific Avenue on the far left. You hung a left there and came down Harding Way past the Harding Way News stand, Rathegebs, home of the best potato salad ever, and hung another left at the corner at the right side of the picture, and yet another left at the next street which took you back to the Avenue. Rinse. Repeat. If you turned right on Harding, past El Dorado School on the far corner, you would wind up at Segarini Supermarket number 2 a few blocks down. Of you went past the turn that took you back to Pacific and continued East on Harding Way for another block, you would reach Eddie’s Liquors, where some of the clerks would sell you beer and booze even if your fake I’D said your name was Wing Chang and you were 37 years old.

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At the time, The route mostly ran from the Miracle Drive-In to Harding Way, and back to the Miracle. Some of us ventured further north to the A&W for our turn around, and occasionally went all the way to Pacific and Hammer Lane to enjoy a burger and fries with Super Sauce at the Snow White Drive-In. By the ’80s, the kids had taken to parking in the huge Shopping parking lots bordering Pacific in the northern reaches of Sherwood Manor and Weberstown, but the Miracle Mile was the route of dreams, the slow race Crusin' carstrack of youth, and a place where friendships were forged, hearts were won and lost, and we were all immortal. To quote a line from The 10 Year Lunch, a documentary about the Algonquin Round Table, they were our Laughing Years.

We were lucky to have them.

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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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27 Responses to “Segarini: Stockton, Daring-Do, and Cruisin’ the Miracle Mile: Part Five – The Car, The Cool, The Cruise”

  1. Glenn Gallup Says:

    As it happens Sunday the 3rd was 50 years to the day that I spied that cute brunette in the pic sitting shotgun with a girlfriend at the legendary Kingdon Dragstrip. Wouldn’t change a thing. Not one thing.

  2. Ernie Williams Says:

    To cruise the ave one more time, one more cherry coke at the Miracle

  3. Pat Campbell Says:

    Thanks again Bob for the great memories & looking forward to more!

  4. Pat Campbell Says:

    PS: Crusin’ 1959 was BIG FUN too!

  5. Bonnie Cannon Phelps Says:

    OH Bob, The memories you have brought back!!! I graduated from St. Marys in 1964. We “tooled the ave.” every week. Pepes pizza was around the corner from my Dad’s cocktail lounge on Pacific Ave. (The Office) Pepe would protect us girls from the rowdy boys, as I recall. Rathegibs, Costanzas, so many names I have not heard in years. Thanks for the memories, Bob.!!!!!

    • Bonnie! I underage-drank at The Office! Your dad had a great bar. free hot dogs and chili sometimes for sporting events. Went back and drank legally whenever I passed through town. Remember the 276 Club? GREAT steaks…but may have been gone by the mid ’60s. I think it was in the same strip mall as The Office.

      • Bonnie Cannon Phelps Says:

        Bob, the 276 was there forever, too. It was one block south of The Office. Dad had many guys drink there with really good fake ID’s. He always laughed when they came in on their REAL birthday to get their free drink. You are right–Dad ran a really great and clean bar. Mom was the weekend cocktail waitress and also day time bartender when dad retired. It doesn/t compare to Dads lounge the way it has been overhauled. Really sad what they did to it!! Thanks for remembering, Bob

    • Brandolino Says:

      I remember thinking as a kid, that the Pioneer and Costanzas
      were the exact same food!!! LOL I crave the beans and the
      tamale and the roasted potatos to this day

  6. David Graves Says:

    Great spin down Memory Lane. Lived in Stockton in the mid-60’s. Went to UOP. Spent many hours in Miracle Music and the record section at Payless on Benjamin Holt across the street from my family’s house. Would have liked to have bump into you back then. Maybe I did.

    • Brandolino Says:

      payless in the mid 60’s In Lincoln center. I remember the first
      business there was a hardware lumber place, next to payless.
      at the time we would go to Macs on hammer.

  7. Chris Mazzanti Says:

    Bob, Fantastic job on the way it used to be, brings back a lot of memories. Fass and George were still at Stagg when I attended 73′-75′. Thanks for softening them a little. Had my share of blue slips, but my advantage was that myself and a few buddies rented duck blinds to George and several others on staff. Those were the days !

    • Brandolino Says:

      Blue slips to go to the dean, I got several. most at “camp” Stockton junior high, but at Stagg I was always sent to the counselor instead.

  8. Tom Laughridge Says:

    Just wanted to say I didn’t hit the Ave till about 67 but I damn sure remember a lot to the thing and places you refer to in this article. I damn sure remember that old fucker George Tharp, may he forever burn in hell, hahahahahahahahahahaha.

  9. Richard Schmidt Stagg"62 Says:

    Bob another great 1960’s treatise-Pepe’s serving pizza with toothpicks ’cause the toppings would slip off and then there was Lugo’s a worthy competitor. The anticipation of the first bite -it was almost impossible not to burn the roof of your mouth

    • Brandolino Says:

      I went to the original straw hat pizza and I believe it was on alpine
      next to the news stand, but there was one downtown like harding.
      I get confused because it moved to north town pacific, and at the time I was like 5, so prior locations are a blur, but straw hat
      had the piano and the movies, the frostie root beer and the best
      thin pizza of all times, nothing has ever come close.

  10. Glenn Gallup Says:

    It really was a special time. For a lot of us it ended that day in November 1963. I know exactly where I was. On the freight dock at the old JC Penny store on Main Street. One of the delivery drivers was waiting to back into the dock, he came out of his cab and ran up to the dock shouting that Kennedy had been shot. Within a half hour the streets were deserted except for clusters of people in front of every appliance store that had a TV in the window. When my Dad talked about those days he said stuff like “You know those Kennedy guys had their elbows out from the time they went for the nomination. Spend all your time like that and sooner or later you’ll run into somebody who doesn’t like getting shoved out of the way”

  11. Nancy Kirkpatrick McCarty Says:

    A great reminisce of the Stockton I knew and grew up in. I know you don’t remember me, but I remember you and knew you from afar. I hung with Jim Geiger, Terry Wawro, Mike Thompson and Corky King. You have a fantastic memory and wonderful sense of the written word. Thank you for the trip down memory lane.

  12. Charlotte Konrad Says:

    Hi Bob, this is Charlotte Konrad, one of your early rock band fans circa 1965. I enjoyed your blog.

    • Brandolino Says:

      Konrad’s is one of my fondest childhood memories. The best ice cream ever, never have I encountered a challenger even close.
      I fondly remember mom and dad in there serving me from some
      of my earliest memories, and son & daughter. banana royal fudge or mint chip, butter brickle, I still have dreams about the
      ice cream, swinging side to side in the bar stools, the grilled
      cheese sandwich and the deviled egg!!! the best ham sandwich
      I will never let go of Konrads as Stocktons all time top 5 places
      to go!!!!!!! the crab pot, and the fat city café are still right there
      with Konrad’s, as my personal all time favourites, I got my
      Mexican food at La Palma and I noticed the pic of the Stockton
      theater is looking like its before the la palma opened up. so its
      got to be 1950 something.

  13. Dave Farley Says:

    I heard That Mr Tharp passed away while on a hunting trip to Northern Cali, from Coach Swimley’s son if my memory serves me right.

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    Segarini: Stockton, Daring-Do, and Cruisin’ the Miracle Mile: Part Five – The Car, The Cool, The Cruise | Segarini: Don’t Believe a Word I Say

  15. Michael Stanco Says:

    Very entertaining read, great memories!

  16. Caryl (Ulman) Dunivan Says:

    This brings back such fabulous memories, Bob. Thank you so much. Please continue . Caryl Ulman class of 63 Stagg High

  17. Tracy Johnson Says:

    I enjoyed your story i was born and raised in Stockton my Father graduated from Franklin 1960 I went to Stagg loved the info would love to hear more

  18. Rudi Lindner Says:

    Dear Mr. Segarini,
    My family used to shop at Segarini’s Market. One of your relatives may have been in my class, plus or minus a year. I graduated from Stagg High in 1961 and recall George Tharp and his dark blue suits with, let me put it, mixed pleasure. I write a lot about the Stockton of my younger years and have found your remarks a wonderful impulse to my memory. Thank you . I bear fond memories of Rathgebs on my hips….

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