Showdown At The Cahuenga Onramp

In the summer of 1976 I was 12 years old and lived with my mother and a cat named Puddy in Hollywood. Our apartment was on Holly Drive, a residential street north of Franklin Avenue and east of Cahuenga Boulevard. Built in the late 1930s, our building, consisting of four staggered connected two-story units, — each one stepped out from behind the other– had moderne architectural details such as round windows and curved railings and balconies that made it resemble a ship. My mom has long told me the builder was named Sam Harwick whose similar apartment buildings could be found all over Los Angeles, but I’ve never found any information about him. Coincidentally, my mother lived there as an aspiring actress in the 1950s, long before I came along. A friend of hers from back then, an elderly man named Jack Demers, still lived in the house nextdoor to the north.

1931-1937 Holly Drive

It was a great place to live. There was a vacant lot on the corner across the street which was great for ball games, and an established neighborhood grocery store called Triangle Market stood down at the corner of Franklin and Cahuenga — with a brand new 7-11 a half block further south. The Hollywood Reservoir, Hollywood Bowl, Hollywood Boulevard and Hollywood Sign were all but a few minutes away by bike or hike, and the neighborhood had a great collection of kids around my age from all walks of life. Two who lived across the street from me were brothers, Casey and Brady. Casey was a couple years older.

At that same time, the 101 Freeway, which passed over Holly Drive a few doors north from us, was being widened in a project that seemed like it would never end — part of which was the addition of a southbound onramp to it from Cahuenga. It was on that unfinished onramp where I recovered Casey’s stolen bicycle from its thief.

As Casey told it, he’d dropped his bike, a red Schwinn, outside of Triangle Market and went in to get a soda — more than likely a lemony Pepsi Light in the new small six-ounce cans that were all the rage. When he came out the bike was gone. He was really upset, as would anybody be.

A few days later, I had ridden to Triangle Market where I saw Casey’s bike parked outside the front door. I waited to see who would claim it, and the kid who came out a few moments later was about my age, but not a member of our group. Dark-skinned with a head of thick messy black hair, I’d seen him around before, most notably because he had a disfiguring split in his upper lip and jaw that always left him looking like he was smiling. He lived further up on Cahuenga with a large family. My mom called them gypsies, whatever that meant. The only gypsies I’d known of were in “Dracula,” by Bram Stoker, a comic book version of which I’d recently read.

The kid got on the bike and rode north from the store on Cahuenga. I followed him. When he realized that he tried to get away, but I was on a 10-speed and gained on him as he got past the Chevron gas station up the street. When he got to the freeway onramp he made the mistake of trying to get away up it, but the roadway at that point was all loose gravel and he didn’t get far before the tires got stuck. He made an attempt to pick up the bike and run with it, but he rightly gave up on that idea . He had nowhere to go, the onramp was all blocked off further up the rise.

“That’s my friend’s bike,” I told him.

As his eyes darted from me to possible escapes and back, he didn’t say anything so I cut to the chase, my heart pounding in my chest.

“I’m not leaving without it.”

Truth is, if the kid had pulled a knife or had made even a half-convincing bluff to fight me for it, I would have left without it. But he didn’t. We just stood there facing each other until he finally shrugged, let go of the bike’s handlebars and let it drop, after which he crunched through the gravel wide around me back down the onramp and up Cahuenga. Once he was out of view, I wasted no time getting me and both bikes back to Holly Drive and a very grateful Casey.