"From the Desert to the Sea, to All of Southern California." - Jerry Dunphy

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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Wednesday Night

This past Wednesday night Van Nuys Blvd. entertained two of its old road warriors. Gone were the muscle cars, vans and crowds of kids on the sidewalks. Wednesday night on the boulevard is now like any other night. Gone are the days when the boulevard looked like the 405 at rush hour, only more fun. Those days are a memory. For us Boomers Van Nuys Blvd. is better known now as Memory Lane. So it was that these old friends from the past found themselves cruising Van Nuys Blvd.

I was sitting at my desk working on a song when my cell phone rang. I picked it up to hear the voice of Phone Rat telling me he and our old friend Duane from our Demolay days had just left Coco’s and were taking a brief trip down memory lane. Before long we were remembering the old days, two bodies and one in spirit driving up and down the boulevard once more time.

Places and traditions change and so do people. The faces and facades change with the passage of time but the spirit lives on inside us. I hear that Los Angeles does not honor its history. To a large extent that is true. But the past does live on as a kind of ghost town. For Los Angeles the ghost town is Hollywood. Hollywood is as much legend as reality.

So it is with Van Nuys Blvd. It is still the main artery through the middle of the San Fernando Valley. It has seen better times and it has seen worse. I read and hear criticisms about the condition of the boulevard and Van Nuys in general. I understand them and have made many of the same criticisms. However distance and perspective over the past two years have made me realize it can't stay the same the way I want it or remember it. The memory is alive in the people we experienced it with. We old timers had it for a short time and that era still belongs to us. It has passed on to another generation. That is life in a big, vibrant city. While it is tough to watch your hangouts slowly disappear, in the end we keep it alive in our hearts and minds and that is how it should be.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

My Demolay Story

A welcome flurry of Demolay and Rainbow activity this past week has inspired me to relate a small (clean and censored) bit of my Demolay story in hopes of encouraging others to share their stories and memories. Each of us has individual tales we can all relate to.

To this day my most fond memories are of my Demolay days. These friends, many who are still friends are the group of people I made that rite of passage into adulthood with. Together we made our first trips out into the world on our own, free from parents. We could drive, party, play music, and chase the opposite sex. Much of it was good fun and much of was less innocent, which is probably best left to conversations and personal e-mails.

I joined Van Nuys Demolay at the beginning of 1971. I was aware of Demolay through my Dad who had been in Demolay during the 1940's in Lakewood Ohio. I remember his stories about his Demolay days and in retrospect they echo what I experienced. I still keep his photo's and memorabilia in my office. By the time I had turned 15 my parents began to ask if I would be interested in joining Demolay. I said thanks but no, I am not a joiner. I had school and that seemed enough of a burden without adding to it. They continued to work on me until one day I decided to make them happy and join. Since they never asked much of me in that regard I decided to at least join and see what happened. They told me if I did not like it I did not have to stay in it. That seemed fair.

I was initiated in January of 1971. I learned my ritual and went through the degrees and then let it all slide through the summer of 1971. Then in September of 1971 I received a call from Chuck Fox asking if I would like to be Almoner for him. He told me the person who was slated for the office had dropped out and he needed to fill the position. My initial reaction was thank you but no. Finally Chuck came to visit me and I agreed to take the position. And it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

I began to attend the Wednesday night meetings at Van Nuys Masonic Temple. Slowly I worked into the fabric of the chapter and began to attend official functions and non-official functions. Soon after becoming active I was asked to come to a band practice at Ken Winte's house. In the Winte garage I met Larry Thornhill and Brian Lincoln. Soon after we became the trio know as "The Destinations". We practiced and began playing parties and installations. Soon we had our own little part time clique which consisted of Me, Larry, Ken and Gary Zeiger. Or as my Mom referred to us, Stud, Dud, Mud and Crud. I remember Gary was Stud, but as for the rest I forget who was who. Which is probably a good thing. I know I will catch hell for letting this out.

While Demolay had its fun social side it also was a serious organization which taught us all some valuable lessons and skills. It's true we sometimes had fun with the ritual but it did reinforce core values, and it did teach us how to speak before a group of people, which has served many of us well in our careers. I will admit that even I, the lone wolf did feel the sense of belonging to a special community with other Demolay members whether we were close or not. I believe this because it was something I wanted to be active in and not something I had to belong to.

A few of us followed up Demolay by going into Freemasonry. I never did. My dad went into Van Nuys Zenith Lodge right after I joined Demolay. In later years he served as chapter dad and for a time was also active with Van Nuys Rainbow. He received the Demolay Legion of Honor in a ceremony which included the famous cowboy actor Roy Rogers. My dad's dad was also a Mason as well as a Knights Templar. His ceremonial sword hangs on the wall right beside my desk. So while I have avoided the lure of Freemasonry I am forever grateful for their youth group called Demolay.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Aviation Hill LAX

Concerning the delicate subject of young people necking I submit the location know as Aviation Hill, next to LAX as the best spot in Los Angeles for a necking. That is it used to be back in the 1970’s. Aviation Hill was a small hill between Pershing Drive and Vista Del Mar at the west end of LAX. Ideally you would park at the summit or the downside facing the runway. It was a public spot and out in the open so your activities were usually limited to necking. For those youngsters wondering what necking is I am sure Google can supply an adequate definition.

I discovered Aviation Hill in the early 1970’s after I learned to drive and spent most of my free hours driving all over L.A. The airport was a natural hangout as my Dad worked at Flying Tiger Line on World Way West. I would sometimes go to work with him and walk around the hangars and watch the planes. When I was able to drive on my own I went looking for places to park and watch the airplanes takeoff. It was then I discovered the hill. One night I drove down to the hill and discovered folks parked in cars not taking advantage of the view to watch airplanes takeoff. I thought what a great way to share your love of airplanes with another as the roar of the plane rocks your butt. Back I came the next night with a female companion. What an ideal spot to watch airplanes on one side of the hill and submarine races on the ocean side of the hill.

I will spare you the details and names but I remember stopping at Aviation Hill many times before I took my date home. I might add the other great spot to hang out back in those days was the Queen Mary when you could just walk on board and watch the boats and water.

A little over 2 years ago my good friend Phone Rat and I went out to LAX one more time before I left town. We drove along Pershing and saw Aviation Hill empty and overgrown by weeds held back by a chain link fence. We sat there for a few moments lamenting one of our favorite spots. I closed my eyes and I could almost hear the planes flying over my car as the sound of Bruce Springsteen’s “Prove it All Night” plays on the stereo as I hold my girlfriend in my arms.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


Where were you when the music died in 1980? I was driving home south on Van Nuys Blvd. to our apartment on Chandler Blvd. So many years have passed that I don’t remember where I had been, but I remember hearing Don McLean’s “America Pie” come on the radio and having the words finally sink in. KHJ Boss Radio was going off the air to be replaced by the Urban Cowboy and his posse.

By this time I was like so many others listening to FM radio for the extended playlists and lack of small talk and commercials. Still it was like the guilt you feel after hearing an old friend you hadn’t gone to see in so many years had died. The song and the moment brought back a flood of memories from the summer of 1966 when I was swept away by the Beatles, Rock and Roll and Boss Radio. I also remembered that our band used to play American Pie at every gig. The song had just been released and like so many other bands we had to learn it to survive. I didn't like the song back then. It didn’t have a Rock and Roll beat and I wanted no part of it. It’s only redeeming value being it was a good easy song to play while checking out the girls in the crowd.

As I took the long turn from Van Nuys Blvd. to Chandler Blvd. the song finished and the switch to country music came squawking out of my speakers. I turned it off and coasted the rest of the way home. I probably went upstairs and turned on the stereo as I lay in bed. I remember thinking this was the first time I had really listened to the song and I came to appreciate it over the following years.

Later that year I was sitting at home watching a Monday Night football game when the news came on that John Lennon had been murdered in New York City. I realized at once that this time the music really had died and not just gone away. I got up out of my chair, grabbed my dogs leash and motioned for her to come to me. I could not talk. We went outside for a long walk and some air. I wandered up and down the street but it didn’t help. 1980 took away more things than it gave us.

I greeted the New Year as best I could. But a few months in 1981 took away my real life hero, and the man who made music such an important part of my life, my Dad. It hasn’t been as joyful since. The happy major chords of youth gave way to the mournful minor chords of real life.

This post is dedicated to Pam who also lost her hero that night in December of 1980.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Toy Car Charges Joe Walsh

For a (Thankfully) brief period back in 1989 I worked at the Radio Shack store on Ventura Blvd. in Studio city, just east of Whitsett Blvd. This part of Studio City is a celebrity seekers paradise because quite a few celebrities lived in the area, and because the CBS Radford Studios runs parallel to Ventura one block north. One of the music celebrities who lived in the hills above Ventura was Joe Walsh.

One night during the Christmas season I was standing at the counter when in walked Joe Walsh, as I found out just arrived back in the states from a visit to Japan. Precisely at the moment Joe crossed the threshold and before I could return his smile one of the many radio control cars we had on the floor for display started to move, on its own, toward Joe. He stopped in his tracks and let out a humorous "Whoa!". He asked how I did that since both hands were visible and I was not holding a remote control. I told him I did nothing. Once in awhile the cars just take off from some mysterious signal on the same frequency as the remote control. He was amazed and began to look around at what we had. Our standard policy was to acknowledge a celebrity if we made eye contact but not to engage them unless they approached you with a question. Joe however quickly started asking me questions about a variety of products. We ended up at the glass counter where he asked me about a small portable Tandy word processor we had on display. I took it out and he played with it a bit which was a relief because I knew very little about it at the time. I was not sure if he knew much about it but he decided he wanted one. So I went in back and got him a new one in the box.

At that time Radio Shack pestered customers for their names and addresses for direct mailing purposes. With stars I would always ask for a business address for the record. Most gave it, some didn't which I understood, I never game them my information when I was a customer. Anyway I started to enter the information when Joe asked if we had a bathroom he could use. i pointed the way and finished the transaction. While Joe was in the bathroom his driver came in looking for him. We spoke for a minute or so while we waited and it was then that he told me Joe just got off an airplane from Japan. Joe came back and I handed him his word processor and he thanked me and I thanked him. Being an admirer of his work I was glad he seemed like a happy and nice man.

I ran into Joe once again a few years later at the Ralph's Supermarket on the corner of Ventura and Coldwater Canyon. He was ahead of us in the check out line. I said nothing as I knew he probably did not remember that night. But to this day I remember his face when that remote control car charged at him.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Bygone Bookstore Memories

If I don't step outside my house I can almost imagine I am still in Valley Village by reading local news and blogs on the internet. I have been following the closure of another great independent bookstore, Dutton's in Brentwood. Right before I moved to Lakewood Ohio my local bookstore, Dutton's (Dave Dutton's picture to the left) North Hollywood at Magnolia Blvd. and Laurel Canyon closed. It was closed and I was moving. The sadness did not hit me until I was 2400 miles away without a comparable bookstore in my small town.

Valley Book City, that wonderful used bookstore on Lankershim between Magnolia and Chandler has been gone for many years. The last book I remember buying there was The Cleveland Street Scandal by H. Montgomery Hyde. The book once belonged to Rob Mckeun and it has his tennis shoe bookplate on the inside. Just down the street Paperback Shack is gone, a victim of the chains and redevelopment.

The Scene of the Crime Bookstore, which used to be on Ventura Blvd. near Woodman in Sherman Oaks is long gone as a brick and mortar presence. The last book I bought there was Vincent Starrett's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. It sits beside me in my Dad's old bookcase with a small Dutton's bookmark poking out.

Only The Samuel French Bookstore, to my knowledge remains open for business on Ventura Blvd. in Studio City. The last time I saw it was from inside the McDonald's across the street. I regret that I didn't walk over as a final gesture to nourishing the mind as well as the body.

My last visit to a valley bookstore was to the Bookstar on Ventura Blvd. near Laurel Canyon. This visit also provided my last celebrity sighting in Los Angeles. Angie Dickenson was there with a friend collecting books and being followed by a dutiful Bookstar employee. My Dad, a huge Angie Dickenson fan would have been thrilled.

I don't buy too many books anymore. I was forced to part with much of my collection in order to move across country. Lakewood has a wonderful full library which I find satisfies my need to be surrounded by books. But there is still nothing like picking up one of my old books, opening it and sticking my nose inside to take a whiff of that wonderful musty smell that used to keep me company into the wee hours of the night as a boy in Van Nuys.