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Thursday, September 9, 2021

Happy Birthday Marty

Happy Birthday Marty

Some of the best times of my (much) younger days were spent traveling with my friend Marty. He and I met at catechism at about seven or eight years old. We were more acquaintances for the first few years, but we both had a dislike for attending the afore-mentioned religious training (Our Lady of Perpetual Guilt, I believe the church was called?) and commonly would “cut” catechism and walk up and over what was then called Alemany Boulevard, to Thornton Beach. Alemany ultimately was renamed John Daly Boulevard, after the founder of Daly City, and Thornton Beach is now a dim memory in the minds of those of us who used to hang out there when we were kids. I believe it had one too many bouts with erosion and the San Andreas Fault, and they simply closed it down and made a parking lot out of the top of the hill that used to lead down to the beach. Curiously, the Mar Vista Riding Stables that have always been right next to this parking lot, are still in operation. They were boarding and renting horses to ride along the trails on the cliffs when I was a kid, and they’re still in business. This used to be five bucks an hour … I wonder what inflation has done to the cost of renting a horse on the coast, just south of San Francisco. But Marty and I spent plenty of time there in our youth, and no offense to Sister Timothy and Father Powers, but we had way more fun than we would have had at catechism.


Our friendship really took off when we discovered a few common passions … surfing, music, cars, and of course girls. There were several occasions over the years when our girlfriends were best friends themselves. Made things much simpler and seemed to be a repetitive pattern for a few years. We played in a band together for most of our high school years, and both of us caught the surfing bug in about 8th grade. We were relegated to bumming rides from older friends, parents, or hitchhiking to the beach until we could drive ourselves, but we somehow managed to get to Pedro Point in Pacifica a couple times a week, and Santa Cruz every couple weeks. Both his grandparents and mine lived in or near Santa Cruz, so overnight visits were commonplace.


After getting our driver’s licenses, we probably averaged 3-4 trips to Santa Cruz per week. For those of you unfamiliar with this surfing mecca that lies about 65 miles south of San Francisco, they’ve raged an ongoing battle with Huntington Beach for the official “Surf City” moniker, for many decades. Within the span of about 15 miles, there are literally dozens of known and secret surfing spots. Our favorite place was always Pleasure Point, which is where the legendary Jack O’Neill (of wetsuit fame) has a house overlooking the waves. “Outside” Pleasure Point could usually be counted on for bigger waves (as well as the worst wipeout of my life), but also more crowded conditions. “Inside” Pleasure was an easier climb down the cliff, and a much easier paddle out. High tide was best, low tide provided a lot of boulder dodging, but either way, we loved surfing there. 


As a chef, looking back at the he food we ate in those days makes me cringe. A common day would include a trip to A&W Root Beer on our way out of town, probably for a Papa Burger or a huge Sub sandwich, fries, and a huge root beer or float. If we’d spent the night, we’d probably hit up both our grandmothers for breakfast, playing the starving student card frequently. They enjoyed feeding us, we took advantage of their hospitality often. We’d surf for a few hours, then it was lunch time. Several tacos from Taco Tio on Ocean were the norm, but if the waves were good, we’d simply pick up “sandwich kits” from the little Pleasure Point store. They’d package a sourdough roll, lunch meat, cheese, mustard, and mayo, and sell them by the billions to the surfers. Then it was back in the water for a few more hours before heading back up the coast. Dinner at my parents’ first, then his house for another meal. 


We took many trips to Southern California, beginning when we were both 16, and able to drive ourselves. The first trip was in his parents’ Ford Country Squire wagon, which was smooth and comfortable, although the big V-8 probably guzzled plenty of gas (which was a quarter a gallon then). First food stop on the way south was at a restaurant in Pismo Beach. I remember Marty’s meal like it was yesterday … he ordered the chicken dinner and asked the waitress how much food was involved … after she described it as a pretty good size meal, he retorted with “then you’d better bring me a burger and fries while I’m waiting.”  Classic Cloonan. 


The first waves of the trip were in Huntington Beach. I’d just gotten my first “short” board, which was an 8’6″ Gordon and Smith Midget Farrelly Model. Beautiful blue V-Bottom that replaced my 10′ Hansen Superlight. Both ran about $175 apiece, and they’d fetch about five grand today. They don’t make ’em like the used to!  I managed to get some waves at the Huntington Pier, but the last one managed to nail me and I had to swim in for my board which washed up on the beach. There were no surfboard “leashes” in these days. In the span of the next ten minutes, we encountered all the bad karma we needed for the rest of the trip … First, I was stung by a jellyfish. Then as we stood on the beach watching a rescue team diving into the water to save a swimmer, I managed to jam the skeg of my new board into my foot while standing it up in the sand. We returned to the parking lot to discover that Marty had left the wax on the hood of the car in the 90-degree sun, and it now covered the hood. And finally, pulling out of the lot, he ran into a metal post, putting the only dent that car had ever seen in the right front quarter. Memories of Huntington Beach.


But the rest of the trip provided some amazing surfing in places like Redondo Beach, Hermosa, Tourmaline, and the famous Windansea off the La Jolla coast. We also surfed the Tijuana Sloughs, which was a long stretch of crummy surf in front of where his brother was living, just north of the border. Two memorable nights here that will forever remain in the memory of these two impressionable 16-year-olds. We went to see the Beach Boys and Gary Puckett & The Union Gap at the Coliseum in San Diego one night, and Marty’s brother Wayne was driving the car. Apparently, he did a rolling (California style) stop through an intersection, and a bike cop pulled him over. Without missing a beat, as the cop walked up to the window Wayne says, “I’ll have a Super Burger, a bag of fries, and a Jack Cola please.”  The cop laughed and proceeded to write him out a ticket. 


The other “fun” night was the first of dozens of trips I’d eventually take to Tijuana. If you’re old enough to reach the bar and order a beer in “T.J.,” they’ll serve it to you. I think we both drank about a dozen Superior Mexican beers that night. Tijuana’s a trip … ’nuff said on that subject. We were 16. 

Another memorable trip that once again ended up in Santa Cruz, was one night that we had a band gig in Pacifica. We were opening for another band that was managed by our manager, the Western Civilization, who were from Santa Fe. I’d been semi-dating a girl named Kathy at the time, but she was spending the week at her parents’ place in Clear Lake, thereby clearing the way for me to invite a friend of Marty’s girlfriend Cathy, named Janet, who was visiting from Seattle. So, Marty and Cathy and Janet and I loaded all of our band equipment into my ’51 Chevy Woodie and headed to the gig. Upon arriving there, the bass player from the other band told me that his stewardess girlfriend was at the gig, and she had lined me up with a friend of hers for my date for the night. The evening was getting complicated very quickly. Sometime during my drum setup, I hear a little “Hi” from behind me, as “my” Kathy walked in. She decided to come back early from Clear Lake to see us play. I was cordial, and made nice with the “setup” stewardess (who was gorgeous as I recall), but there’s no place like backstage when this kind of thing happens. We played our first set, hung around backstage, played the second set, and promptly piled everything into the Woodie and headed for Santa Cruz while the other band was finishing the show. Most nights I’d be very lucky to have
 one girlfriend at a show … three was unheard-of, and way too complicated.


The last trip I’ll attempt to entertain you with was one we took to the Lake Almanor area. Once again, it was in Marty’s Country Squire (which he’d bought from his parents when he was 18), and once again it involved his girlfriend Cathy and by sheer coincidence, another friend of hers. Cathy had gone on vacation with her family to the booming metropolis of Graeagle, California, a tiny resort town near Portola, in the vicinity of Lake Almanor and Mt. Lassen. Unfortunately, Marty’s parents were away for the weekend, and his 100-pound boxer “Duke” was his responsibility. But Cathy’s parents invited us up, and she mentioned that she had a girlfriend up there who she wanted me to meet, so we piled ourselves and Duke in the wagon, and headed north. We were pleasantly shocked to find that Cathy’s parents were kind (or stupid) enough to get us a room in the resort, so we wouldn’t have to sleep in the car. Fine, so far. 


We left Duke in the room, had some dinner, and went for a swim in the resort’s pool with the girls. We’d been gone for maybe an hour when one of the resort people came and got us, saying something like “you need to vacate the room … your dog ATE the door.”  Yes, he used the word “ate,” I didn’t make this up. He didn’t of course, but he mangled it badly, and we were once again relegated to sleeping in the back of the Country Squire. Duke got the front seat to himself. 


Marty has a big birthday today … one of those “left digit” birthdays that we all hate coming along every decade. I skipped second grade so he’s older than I am, meaning my “turn” at this birthday is still a year off. But it’s a momentous one for him, and he’s been a great friend for such a long time. He’s the kind of friend that you can go without seeing for a couple years, and when you get together it’s like you saw each other yesterday. It’s a friendship that hasn’t missed a beat since we met during Sister Timothy’s catechism classes (which we cut so many times). It’s endured through his time in the Army, my time at San Diego State, and moving to St. Thomas and Chico, and now Bend. He’s raised great kids, and now has a few grandkids to spoil. His lovely wife Donna is his best friend, and their homelife is the classic American dream. 


So, on this birthday, which is meaningful in more ways than I went into here … I’d like to wish my friend Marty a happy one, and many more to follow!  Alla Ka Zip!


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