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.

My First Game With Vin

I remember my first game at Dodgers Stadium. I was six years old in 1970. They played the Giants. I don’t remember the final score or who was pitching, playing or who might’ve hit a homerun or who won.

But I remember where I sat. The seats were level with the field, a few rows back halfway between home plate and the outfield wall down the first base side.

I remember my awe at the size of the place. I’d never been to anything so big.

I remember my amazement at the size of the crowd. I’d never seen so many people in one place. And I remember its deafening roars of approval and its thunderous boos of angry disappointment. It was kind of frightening at first and took a little getting used to.

I remember the baseball mitt I brought hoping to catch a foul ball. It was my Pee Wee League mitt for the team I played on in the park across the street from where I lived with my mom and a stray cat we took in named Puddy. The mitt was black and signed by Claude Osteen, who I didn’t know was a pitcher for the Dodgers at the time.

The only Dodger pitcher I knew was Sandy Koufax and I remember hoping he was pitching, and being very disappointed when told not only that he wasn’t pitching that night, but that he’d retired from the game a couple years earlier. Sandy Koufax was my idol not because I’d followed baseball — hell, at that young age I could barely follow the leader — but because he was left-handed like me, which I learned after my mom invoked his name to my team’s coach when confronting him for trying to convert me to right-handed.

She wondered to him if Sandy Koufax’s first coach had tried to change his throwing arm, to which the coach snorted and asked her if she thought I was the next Sandy Koufax. She said the point wasn’t who I might become, but that I was who I was and that included being left-handed and that if he did anything to change that she would make sure that who he would quickly become is my ex-coach.

After I then learned more about Koufax’s legendary pitching, a hero was born. And other than my mom, there were no other southpaws in my world so for a while I fully believed Sandy and I were related.

But most of all at the game, I remember the voice. It seemed to come from everywhere once the game started and the crowd settled in. It was on my left, my right, behind me, and in front. I didn’t know who it belonged to or where it came from. All I knew is it was a soothing, friendly voice that was describing whatever was happening on the field — almost as it happened; pitches, strikes, balls, hits, runs, fouls, ground outs, fly balls, catches.

I remember whipping around in my seat trying to figure out how this magic was hapening until my mom pointed out a transistor radio a couple rows in front of us, then one a few seats behind, and another a few seats to the left. Then I saw another. And another. It seemed as if more people had radios than didn’t.

“Who is he?” I asked.

She told me the voice belonged to Vin Scully, the game announcer.

And another Dodgers hero was born. One who remained a beloved and irreplaceable constant throughout my life and all of its subsequent Dodgers’ baseball until his retirement at the end of the 2016 season.

“Where is he?” I asked my mom and she pointed upwards over her shoulder towards the center of the stadium.

“Heaven?”

She targeted a span of brightly lighted booths about mid-way to the top.

“Not quite. The press boxes.”

My Own Personal D-Day

Glad I checked the archives: Today — June 6, 2022, is the 10-year anniversary of my very first day as a cadet in Rio Hondo College Police Academy Class 2012-1

Back then I was but a lad of (cough) 48 years, daring to put what became a frustrating journalism career behind me and undertake a very much younger man’s endeavor in entering into the field of law enforcement.

In the months after leading up to June 6, 2012, I’d done my best to prepare mentally and physically. I dropped to 220 pounds (10 pounds lost of which was my hair that I hadn’t mowed in more than two years).

I studied codes both radio and penal, ethics, history, grappling and a wide range of law-enforcement scenarios. My new Glock and I got well-acquainted at a local range. I could run a mile in less than seven minutes, three miles in 25, crank out 30 damn good push-ups and 60 solid sit-ups, and a whole mess of (band-assisted) pull-ups.

But all that work wasn’t enough during that slow drive to Whittier for Day 1 to prevent me from questioning my resolve on what coincidentally was the anniversary of D-Day in which in my own small way I was advancing nervously into foreign territory not all that confident I could survive the ordeal.

I don’t think I passed a single offramp the length of the eastbound 60 Freeway from the 101 to the 605 that the doubting devil in me didn’t say was an opportunity to save me from making myself a fool. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t listen, give in and get off at Garfield Avenue.

But I fought the fear and instead of turning tail back west I got going east with my impromptu battle cry as I got back on the freeway being something like “Man the fuck up and let us go see what happens!” And the devil and I did.

Fast-forward 13 months, and having successfully avoided/overcome the innumerable hurdles that DQ’d more than half of my fellow cadets, I stood on stage with the other Class 2012-1 graduates, one of the proudest achievements in my life. But that’ll be an anniversary I recall next year.

P.S. I was not kidding about my hair:

Barnaby Jones: Forty-Four Years Later

It wasn’t long in 1977 after my mom and I moved to 514 N. Wilton Place (she liked to call the neighborhood Hancock Park-adjacent, to me it was still Hollywood) that notifications were posted announcing filming of scenes for an episode of “Barnaby Jones” would be taking place in the alley behind the duplex property that we shared with the landlord next door — a youngish fellow named David Bruns who seemed nice in the beginning but turned out to be a more than partially unhinged Vietnam War veteran we had to call the police on a time or two.

I was 13 at the time and while aware of the detective show it aired too late on a school night for me to watch. I certainly was aware of its star Buddy Ebsen who I long knew and loved as the patriarch of “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Perhaps even more acutely was I aware of Ebsen’s costar Lee Meriwether, who was a major boyhood crush of mine going back to her time as Catwoman on “Batman.”

It struck me at the time as bit of a big random deal that of all the alleys in all of greater Los Angeles, a popular TV show was going to be setting up shop for a day in the one that dead-ended behind our modest residence. But as bad timing would have it the day of filming was a school day so I didn’t get to see a second of it. To add to my disappointment, Bruns, who was home that day, told me that the scene, which was shot right outside our back fence, involved Meriwether. I was bummed not to have been able to see Catwoman in person!

I don’t remember making too big a deal trying to catch the episode. As I mentioned above, it aired too late during the week for me. And bear in mind, this was still B.V. — Before VCR — when, barring lucking into catching a rerun during the summer, you either saw a show when it aired or you just didn’t.

So ultimately I didn’t, but for whatever reason that’s occasionally irked me throughout my life — especially within the last decade or so with the entrenchment of on-demand streaming that has allowed so many old television shows to be rediscovered by old fans or gain fresh life with new generations of viewers. Apparently “Barnaby Jones” is not among them. Sure, DVD boxed sets existed of the series, which ran for eight seasons from 1973-’80, but I don’t buy DVDs anymore and even if I did I was too cheap to want to invest anything more than my time digging a proverbial episode needle out of a haystack of several seasons. So instead I would occasionally check a variety of streaming platforms to see if the show was available, and most recently found it only available on something called MeTV airing Tuesdays through Saturdays at the ungodly hour of 3AM. No thanks.

Fast-forward to this past weekend and an author named Paul Haddad who I follow on Twitter (his handle is L.A. Dork; @la_dorkout) posted about how the Beverly Crest street his family lived on, Betty Lane, was the location where the gruesome milkman scene from “It’s Alive” was filmed (small world-coincidental to Betty Lane, at that same time in the mid-1970s, my godparents were his neighbors living one street up from the Haddads on Stuart Lane). Paul ended his tweet asking his followers who’s had a movie or TV show filmed at or near their house?

I commented about “Barnaby Jones,” which then led me to another round through Netflix et al to see if my streaming dreams had been answered. They had not. That got me to look up the show’s Wiki page and from a detailed episode listing figured the show in question had to have aired sometime during its last three seasons. I found one in the seventh season that was based in Hollywood, and a subsequent Google search for that episode titled “The Picture Pirates” led me to find the full episode on YouTube through a channel called MovieWorld. Scrolling through its timeline did not reveal a location appearing to be an alley, but it did lead me to discover that pretty much every episode of the series has been posted to the MovieWorld Channel.

So with that resource suddenly available it was time to get to work and with nothing particularly pressing to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I started with the last one of Season 8 and worked backward with a methodical scroll-through of the timelines of each episode looking for any exterior scene that might be an alley. While overall it sa bit tedious, it only took a couple minutes to roll through each episode and the process ultimately led me to finding my alley in Season 6 Episode 20 titled “Uninvited Peril” (link to full episode: https://youtu.be/escGrfETaFk) that aired more than 44 years ago on February 2, 1978.

For context/set-up, Lee Meriwether has just fled from a loyal husband and his batshit crazy wife who were holding her and a doctor hostage at his private practice. The clip below opens after Meriwether has run out with the husband (actor Michael Strong) trying to find her.

The large boxes that Meriwether is found hiding behind were props. I remember those being delivered a day or two before the shoot and being gone immediately thereafter. When the husband comes to a stop by the utility post before turning back toward the boxes, the land yacht briefly visible behind him and the fence is our crazy landlord’s car. I was bummed that none of the duplex and only that bit of the backyard is all that ended up in the episode, but I am pleased that the huge avocado tree towering over the garage in the neighboring backyard got some background screen time. The homeowner, a friendly Hispanic woman, would pay me in avocados for climbing up the tree when they were in season and harvesting as many as I could reach/bring down. She would take what she wanted and from my payment I would leave a few in the kitchen for my mom and then take the rest over to Lucy’s El Adobe nearby on Melrose Avenue across from Paramount Studios and make a couple bucks selling them there for a dime a piece.

And that’s it: the alley I biked up and down countless times, where at the dead end I set up my old Pitchback net and threw countless balls and strikes while entertaining daydreams of pitching in the World Series for the Dodgers — all immortalized in a minute of television. Their’s something pretty poignant about seeing this hidden and personal place after all these years, exactly as it was. Exactly as I remember it being.

I have MovieWorld and YouTube to thank for being a surprise “Barnaby Jones” repository, and I have Haddad to thank for his Twitter post setting things in motion that finally allowed me to cross this off my bucket list.

Assistance Is Futile

Late last spring I came to the aid of three eggs that survived a jay attack of the nest the bushtits had built in our backyard Victorian box tree.

It’s the same story almost every year. The gregarious communal bushies work hard together to construct their pendulous nest, eggs are laid, and ultimately either jays or crows find and destroy it and any eggs.

Rarely are the bushies successful in getting a chick to fledge, but in the most amazing exhibition of persistence and perseverance, they never stop trying.

I knew it was futile, but I constructed a wire surround with some old raingutter cover and zip ties that would not win any design awards, but might-could possibly protect against any further corvid attacks. I carefully put what was left of the nest with the eggs inside it and hung it back up in the tree, hoping to draw the parents back.

I pulled it down today. If it had been revisited by any of the group, there was no evidence to support that. The three eggs were still inside, one was broken, perhaps by an opportunistic rodent, and two intact — so small that they fit on a quarter with room to spare. Here they are photographed under my 8x lupe.

Modeling myself on the bushies ability to bounce back, if I had to do it all over again, I would.

Unintentional Bullies

When I was eight or nine years old I had a friend named Martin who, because of our size difference, would get a great kick out of surprising me from behind by jumping up on my back, putting one arm around my neck and with his other hand playfully slapping my head, all the while laughing because it was so much fun. For him.

He did it at school. He did it at his house. He did it at mine. He continued to do it no matter how many times I told him to stop — even after the one time his arm around my neck almost made me pass out and we tumbled to the floor, him laughing and me struggling to breath and stay conscious.

I never returned the favor or reacted in anger more than verbally toward Martin because my mom had made it clear to me since I was bigger than the other kids my age, I had to be very careful how I handled myself, otherwise I might be considered a bully.

I finally told my mom what was going on and she was very upset because she had inadvertently made me so worried about bullying that I was being bullied — however unintentionally — as a result. Then she did the coolest thing. Instead of going to the school or to Martin’s parents, she showed me what to do the next time it happened, guanteeing that it would be the last time. We practiced the maneuver over and over until I had it down. I was both nervous and excited to finally be able to get some payback.

When that day finally came, Martin had come over to visit one weekend. We had finished playing with my Hot Wheels cars in my room and decided to go to the park down the street. I had barely cleared my doorway ahead of Martin to tell my mom in the kitchen when he executed his signature move and started cuffing me about the head, giggling.

I did as my mom instructed: “Stop it!” I yelled. He didn’t. My mom heard me and came out of the kitchen into the living room. I guess I must’ve had a resigned look on my face standing there in the hallway with this kid two-thirds my size hanging off me, because I saw her stifle a smile and replace it with dead seriousness.

“Do you remember what we practiced?” she asked.

“Yes.” I answered.

“Well then go ahead.”

“Now?”

She nodded.

And with Martin giggling and me looking straight at her, my right hand shot back and got good hold of a fistful of Martin’s hair. Leaning forward and pulling him with me, his laughter abruptly turned into a surprised “Hey!?” after which I wasted no time driving my left elbow as hard as I could into his stomach. Martin let out an “Ooof!” and his arm was no longer around my neck and he was off me. In a heap on the carpet looking up trying to find his breath he stammered “Whadya. Do. That. For?”

“I told you over and over to stop jumping on me and you never listen.” I held out a hand and helped him to his feet. “Now you know what’s going to happen if you ever do it again, OK?”

His answer was to rub his stomach and frown in an awkward silence my mom finally broke with a wink at me, asking “Where you guys off to now?” A smile replacing her serious look.

“The park,” I said. “You still wanna go, Martin?”

He stood there undecided, a little sore, and a little sullen at the realization that he’d suddenly lost something he’d enjoyed.

“No hard feelings?”

“Sure,” he said and off we went.

What A Difference A Change Makes

I’m about seven weeks or so into my latest and most favorite evar bike route to and from work that runs roughly 8.5 miles between my home in Silver Lake and my office in Jefferson Park.

It is almost exclusively through quiet (or quieter) residential streets, with the exception of a section on Adams Boulevard which blessedly having recently been dramatically reconfigured between Crenshaw and Fairfax now sports ultra-wide buffered bike lanes.

The route is not without its faults — none across Los Angeles is — but its biggest has been the transition to its third act in the mornings, which begins with a run south on 6th Avenue from Pico Boulevard. Almost exclusively I’ve been getting there in the mornings and coming back evenings through the intersection of Norton Avenue at Pico, which is awkward if I’m being kind and a shitshow if I’m being honest. Thanks to a giant landmarked old church building on the south side of Pico Norton north of that boulevard and Norton south of it are not aligned, and especially in the mornings Pico is always gridlocked with traffic heading west. Couple that to traffic signal timers that heavily favor Pico, when and if I finally get the greenlight to proceed (it’s acutally a pretty big if as I’m forced to roll over and punch the pedestrian beg button if there are no other vehicles waiting with me), I have to often thread somewhat precariously through blocking vehicles whose drivers are far more concerned with getting past the jam than waiting for some old white dude on a bike to get across it safely. Once through that I hang a tight right to access 6th Avenue, which while a two-way street, at that point is ridiculously little more than an alley entrance with parking allowed on its east curb. And because of that narrowness I have to be very mindful of any oncoming vehicles, most of the drivers of which are far more preoccupied with getting onto Pico than with sharing the road.

Here’s a route map that shows what I’m talking about. That blue squiggle (blue means slooooooow travel speed) is a GPS representation of me arriving at Pico on Norton, having to roll onto the sidewalk to press the beg button and then return to await an eternity for a green:

There’s a reason Norton has a No in it.

Norton Avenue from Pico north to Country Club Drive is in and of itself an aggravation, relatively heavily trafficked and often pocked with double-parked vehicles that need to be navigated around.

But habits tend to cement pretty speedily and that’s been the way I’ve come and gone — until yesterday morning. For whatever reason as I was westbound on Country Club Drive approaching 4th Avenue, I thought “what the hell” and hung a left onto it. To my satisfaction I found it substantially less crowded as well as less impacted by double parkers (who I hold in a disdain second only to those who park in bike lanes).

To add joy to my satisfaction, once I crossed Pico (by the way: much quicker and smoother than when crossing at Norton), a very nice buffered bike lane begins that I rode only one block to 15th Street, where I hung a right, traveled two blocks west and then hung a left onto 6th Avenue headed south. Grinning all the way.

Here’s a route map of that (note the lack of blue squiggles:

4th Avenue, I love you!

Is this a little thing? In the grand scheme, of course. But from my perspective looking over a set of handlebars as I thread a bike through a big city, I can’t overestimate the importance and value of such a discovery.