There’s a Place (Angeleno)
John Sausedo 2001
“There’s a place, where I can go, when I feel low, when I feel blue… ” The Beatles
There was nothing particularly noteworthy or wondrous about the 200 block of north Angeleno Ave, nothing to distinguish it from any other residential street in any number of small towns across America. Angeleno was just another stretch of asphalt situated between Second and Third Street, in the small foothill community of Azusa California, nothing more, nothing less.
Like most neighborhood streets Angeleno was lined by average, single story, middle class American homes, inhabited by average, middle class American families. Angeleno produced no presidents, astronauts, writers, professional athletes, or TV personalities nor anyone of notoriety. Actually not many famous people had their beginnings in the Canyon City, only two come to mind, my uncle, major league pitcher Hank Aguirre who in a career that spanned 15 years, pitched for the Indians, Tigers, Dodgers and Cubs, and more recently motivational life coach Tony Robbins.
As a kid I remember hearing many stories about my uncle Hank, the local boy who made good. My favorite was when he was in his rookie year with the Indians in 1956 and faced baseball legend Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox for the first time and struck him out! After the game he asked Williams to autograph the ball. A few weeks later he faced Williams again but this time Williams swung at the first pitch and put it out of the park. While circling the bases, Williams yelled out to my uncle,“Get that ball and I”ll sign it too!”
I only got to see him play once in 1968 when he was traded to the Dodgers. It was a great game. L.A. was holding on to a slim 3-2 lead against the Giants. With two out and two on in the seventh, he was brought in to relieve Don Sutton who was struggling badly. Hank managed to strike out Bobby Bonds and got them out of the inning. The Dodgers went on to win the game 4-2. Uncle Hank had a great year with L.A. allowing only 3 runs in 39-1/3 innings with an ERA of 0.69, but for reasons unknown, at least by me, he was released after only one season.
In those quiet moments when I think about Angeleno I’m transported back in time and my mind is filled with cherished memories like the one above. Angeleno has a way of doing that to me. It will forever remain one of the favorite places of my youth.
Why Angeleno Ave? I can’t give you a definitive answer as to why we enjoyed hanging out on Angeleno like we did, we just did. It was a wide street and very close to Memorial Park and the baseball fields. Besides, three of our school friends lived there. Jeff Smith and his cousins Pete Smith and Paul McCully all lived on the west side of the street within a few houses of one another. They were in my class at St. Frances of Rome from fifth through eighth grade. Funny, I had friends who lived on Orange Ave, San Gabriel Blvd and Nob Hill Drive to name a few, but their streets never had the charm or appeal of Angeleno, we never wanted to just ‘hang out” on those streets. It was always Angeleno. It was the cool place to be. “If you weren’t there, you weren’t anywhere.
After school we would all walk or ride our bikes home together and wind up kickin’ it in front of Pete’s house, admiring Jeff and Pete’s older brothers “cool cars” as they tooled up and down the street. Both came from large families so believe me, there were plenty of cars! Sometimes some of their friends would show up and there would be ten or more hot rods on the street. Once in a while my cousin Charles would cruise down in his 56 Chevy 2 door hardtop. It was hot and had a super loud exhaust system! Way cool!
You can’t imagine how exciting it was for a twelve year old to be in the proximity of the cool guys. An even bigger thrill was to be acknowledged by them. When that happened you knew you’d made the big time. I can still remember the first time it happened to me. I was leaving Pete’s, heading home when his older brother Bob cruised by slowly in his black 39 Ford. I remember him looking over at me and giving me the ‘nod’ which was the cool way of saying hello. I, of course, pulled my head back in a slow, snapping motion and nodded back. It was awesome! And as if that wasn’t cool enough, a few minutes later Jeff’s brother Ron drove by in his primer grey 34 sedan, gave me the nod, then pulled over and offered me a ride home, which I readily accepted. That was one of the best days of my young life.
As we grew older and our interest turned to girls and our own cars (in that order) We began hanging out more and more on Angeleno Street. By then we had befriended several more Angeleno’s who were within a year or two of our age. Among them were Jeff’s younger sister Cathy, two of Pete’s younger brother’s Jerry and Joe, Cheryl Hahn from across the street, Jeff’s neighbor George Harvey, Stoy Hughes and The Robertson girls Paula, Shelly and Debbie who lived a few doors down from Cheryl. The outsiders who hung out on Angeleno on a regular basis included myself, Art Vasquez, Bob Pacheco, Dave Morales, and Mike “Nosey” Narez. Other, “occasionals” included Brian and Mike Muldrow, Ernie Breceda, Ron Nava, Everette Thompson and Larry Carlos. There were other occasionals, but their names escape me.
It wasn’t unusual to find us there most late afternoons or evenings just hanging around shooting the shit. Many an adventure was born on Angeleno, some incredible, others incredibly stupid! Like the night we decided to play car chase, definitely one of our dumber ideas. A group of us had been sitting on the lawn in front of Pete’s house talking. As darkness fell and boredom set in someone got the crazy idea to play chase. I remember jumping into my VW with Art, Dave and Eddie and taking off down the street. Bob and Rabbit right behind in Bob’s Bug. We raced down Angeleno to Second Street, turned right on Second to Orange Ave, right on Orange to Third Street, right on Third, then right again on Angeleno . We were having a blast! Each time we passed Pete’s house we honked our horns and flashed our lights, yelling and flipping off those who were still sitting in Pete’s front yard. It was awesome!
We made two passes without incident and were coming around for the third time. This time however as we approached Pete’s house I decided to slow down and pull over to the curb. Unfortunately, Bob was too busy flipping the guys off through his sunroof and didn’t see my brake lights. A moment later he crashed into the back of my car. I was nearly stopped, he was going about twenty. The impact was intense! It rocked us! Fortunately no one in my car was injured. In Bob’s car, Rabbit, who was in the passenger seat, was thrown forward and whacked his head on the windshield, hard enough to shatter the glass and pop it out. Fortunately he was okay, but it wasn’t to be his last incident with Bob’s windshield. A few years later he would have the misfortune of being with Bob on New Year’s Eve and again make contact with the windshield.
Both cars were damaged but driveable. Before the police arrived we got together and concocted a story about a small black dog running into the street causing me to brake fast in front of Bob. Not the greatest story but it was all we had. When the police unit arrived the two officers began by questioning Bob and I about the accident, they then spoke to our passengers.
Everything seemed to be going well until, as the policeman was recapping our story, little Timmy Smith blurted out that the dog had been a big black dog, caught his error and changed it to a small dog. Well it was pretty obvious that the police were a little suspicious. It didn’t take a genius to know there was more going on there than what they’d been told, but they were cool. They finished up their report and after a little lecture about driving carefully they went on their way.
After they’d left we all razed Timmy for awhile then headed home. Just another night on Angeleno. Unbelievably Bob’s insurance company contacted me the very next morning and by late afternoon I had a check in my hand for the repairs! Yeah, those certainly were the days!
Then there was the time some of the guys came up with the bright idea of making a life like dummy. Man we had a blast with that thing! We had this cool mask that we called “Ralph” that we put on it. The rubber mask was sort of a wild eyed caveman with long black hair. We’d go out to the Foothill Shopping Center and scare the crap out of people by tossing it out of a moving car. It was awesome! We tied him to the back of the Paul’s panel truck and pulled him through the streets, we tossed him off of the bridge up near the Canyon Inn, we laid him on the side of busy streets and waited in hiding for passing motorists to drive up and come to his aid. Yeah, we really put him to good use. We even filmed some of the Angeleno antics with the dummy and a lot more. I came across them a few years back and transferred them to DVD. It was so cool watching us living it up and having a ball on Angeleno! Good times!
One of the greatest times I had on Angeleno was when I actually stayed there at my friend Paul’s house for almost a week. His parents had gone on vacation leaving him home alone. They had said it was okay for me and a couple of other friends to stay over and keep Paul company. It didn’t take long for word to spread and soon there were six of us living there 24/7 and many more who would drop by to visit. We called it the McCully Commune.
It was wild! We spent our time drinking and listening to music, playing guitar, watching TV and drinking! When we got hungry someone would make a food run or we’d all go to the Roadrunner. We had fun, but we all respected Paul’s house and caused no damage. Our undoing was the party Paul had on the final night. He was lamenting the loss of his girlfriend and just wanted to have a big blow out bash. Well needless to say, there were way too many people there, mostly people we knew, but there were several strangers as well. Dave and I spent most of the night keeping an eye on things as Paul in his melancholy condition was no help.
Everything seemed to go okay, and after cleaning up the house, it seemed fine, but the next day when his parents got home, his mom discovered some jewelry missing from her room. Some one had gone in and ripped it off! Later that afternoon Paul called me and told me what had happened and said his mom wanted to speak to me. I really didn’t want to go over, but I did. I’ll never forget the sad look on Mrs. McCully’s face when I arrived. She wasn’t angry, and didn’t mind at all that some of us had stayed there, but she was extremely disappointed in our lack of judgement for having such a large party and allowing strangers in the house. I’ll never forget how let down she sounded. I offered no excuses and simply apologized. I was so ashamed. In time things returned to normal, but I will never forget the look on her face and the disappointment in her voice for as long as I live.
Angeleno was ours! Our meeting place, common ground where we all felt welcomed, our sanctuary. It was the first place I wanted to drive to when I got my license, the place I’d always go to after taking my girlfriend home for the night. We were always there! We couldn’t get enough of the place.
When Nosey began dating Jeff’s sister Cathy he was really there all the time. His Blue 55 Chevy two door appeared to be anchored in front of her house. Later the 55 was replaced by a beautiful, yellow, 64 Malibu Super Sport. Later still, Nosey and Cathy married. Most summer nights our cars lined the street, Nosey’s Malibu, Art’s 57 Chevy wagon, affectionately and forever known as the ‘Burnt Tortilla’, because of its white color with various dark grey primer spots, Bob’s Blue 67 VW, Pete’s 54 Chevy, Paul’s 58 Ford panel, Dave’s old Plymouth, and my 61 root beer brown V Dub. Classic. Angeleno was our “American Graffiti” Azusa style.
The summer of 1969 was probably the last, best summer we spent together on Angeleno. Fresh from high school graduation we were free to hang out together with reckless abandon. We did some crazy shit that summer and had a hell of a time! Parties, concerts, Disneyland, Huntington Beach and countless days and nights on Angeleno! It was almost as though we knew that this was to be our last hurrah before dreaded adulthood finally took control of our lives. We enjoyed that summer like no other, basking in the warmth of friendship and camaraderie, going for it all, staying together until the early AM, night after night, digging our time together. Then, just like that, summer was over.
The summer of 69 was also memorable for another reason. That was the summer that my cousin Dave tried to run me down. If it hadn’t been for the quick action of Art V, I could have been seriously injured or even killed! And what, you might ask, would make my very best friend and relative attack me? A girl of course! Yep, it was classic. Since grade school we both shared the same taste in girls. We were always falling for the same girl.
The previous summer Dave had caught me making out with Cheryl, his “girlfriend” at Memorial Park! They weren’t going steady or anything, it was just kinda of an understood thing. Now, don’t get the wrong idea, I wasn’t scheming on her or anything, it just kind of happened. One minute Cheryl and I were sitting together in my 59 Ford wagon, talking and listening to music, and the next thing you know, we were lip locked! We were so into it that we never saw Dave walking across the park right towards us. Had we been paying attention we would have seen him approaching from over a block away!
Suddenly there was a knock on the passenger window, I opened my eyes and there was Dave looking mad as hell staring in at me. He didn’t say a single word to me, he simply asked Cheryl to come out so they could talk. The moment she was out of the car I started the engine and got the hell out of there. Dave remained pissed for awhile, but he got over it, eventually.
The summer of 69 found Dave falling head over heels for a girl a year older than him. Her name was Janice and she was Art’s girlfriend, Geri’s best friend. Dave was with Art when he met her and it was love at first sight. For days all we heard on Angeleno was Janice this and Janice that, it was sickening. Then on Thursday evening Art and Geri came by my house and dropped a bomb. Apparantly Janice had no interest in Dave, but liked me! They wanted to know if I wanted to go out with her on Friday. God I couldn’t believe it. Janice was a cutie and if it wasn’t for Dave I would have said yes immediately, but I remembered the Cheryl incident and told them no.
The following night a few of us got together for an after hours party at a restaurant in Glendora. There were about nine of us, Art & Geri, Janice, Paul, Bob, myself, and a few others. Dave had to work but was coming by as soon as he got off. Long story short, when Dave walked in I was sitting on a high counter top drinking a beer and talking to Janice. She was standing next to me and had her hand on my knee. Dave glared death daggers at me and stormed out of the restaurant. I couldn’t believe it. They say timing is everything and in this case they were right…
Yes, a perfectly innocent situation had just turned ugly. Hell, I’d made it a point to stay clear of Janice because of Dave and his damn feelings, I hadn’t really spoken to her all evening, but the second time she walked by me I got a whiff of her incredible perfume and had to ask her what it was called. She stopped and we talked for like two minutes about the perfume and maybe buying some for my girlfriend. (although we were broken up at the time) Janice told me it was called Tabu, the forbidden fragrance. She made some off handed comment about relationships and patted my knee. Boom! In walks Dave at just the wrong moment, thinks he sees something going on, shoots glaring death daggers at me, and hauls ass out the door. I went outside to try and explain but he was already driving away I called out to him but he just flipped me off and kept on going.
Later we all ended up back on Angeleno, everyone except Dave. We had no idea where he had split to. We were standing out in front of the Robertson’s house talking to Paula and Shelley when I spotted Dave’s plymouth headed down the street. I immediately walked out into the street to greet him and explain what had happened at the restaurant. As he approached I realized he was headed right for me and wasn’t stopping! That’s when Art made a mad dash towards me and shoved me out of the way. Believe me, it was close. Too close.
When I got up off the lawn I could see that Dave had finally stopped and Art had the drivers door open and was reading Dave the riot act. Dave was shouting and saying crap about wanting to kick the crap out of me and just wouldn’t calm down. Art finally got in the car and drove him home which was only about a block away.
Well if Dave was pissed, I was even more pissed! The asshole had tried to run me down! Over a girl no less! I made up my mind that moment to go after Janice. Screw Dave! Screw his feelings! I have feelings too! It took awhile for this incident to pass, particularly since I was with Janice the rest of the evening and went out with her again the following night. Yeah it was pretty ugly for awhile. Sometimes I would see Dave on Angeleno but we we never got into it, either he would get up and leave when I arrived or we would just ignore each other. I tell you, there was never a dull moment on Angeleno.
Fall and winter passed quickly but quietly. Although most of us continued our Angeleno antics, things were slowly changing. It was becoming harder and harder for all of us to get together like before. We had other obligations, responsibilities, college and work were taking up more and more of our lives. The times they were a changing and like it or not, we were changing with them…
The summer of 70 found us still loosely banded together. Some of us were busy with work and others were dearly devoted to their girlfriends, but several times a week we seemed to make our way back to our favorite stretch of asphalt.
On the afternoon of July 1st the day of the draft lottery several of us came together on Angeleno and solemnly gathered in Paul’s front yard to await our fate together. Some of us had gotten together the previous July to celebrate Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon. It was a great moment in history, but actually more of an excuse to party and party we did! “One small step for man, One giant party for Angeleno! This time was very different. Our future was in the hands of Uncle Sam and we were about to find out which of us might soon be Viet Nam bound. It was definitely a nerve racking afternoon, even the cold Buds we shared did little to ease our anxiety.
In the mid afternoon Selective Service Officials began spinning two large drums, one filled with 365 plastic capsules containing slips of paper imprinted with every birthday of the year and the other filled with capsules containing the numbers 1 – 365. One hour later they began drawing, first a birth date then a number. It was a tediously slow process. I was one of the lucky ones, there was no Viet Nam in my future. My birthday drew number 295, my friend Steve was 294. We were officially out of the draft. Some of the other guys were less fortunate, Art, Nosey, Pete and Ernie all had low numbers and were drafted. Of the four Pete was the only one who went to Nam. Thank God he survived his ordeal.
Once the guys were drafted, things around Angeleno really quieted down, it just wasn’t the same without them. We still hung around now and then and on some occasions it almost felt like it had back in the day, but truth be told, it was never like it used to be and never would be again.
Even after over forty years, I sometimes cruise Angeleno just for old times sake. Funny, both Smith families still live there and the street and houses pretty much looks the same, but Angeleno has changed. You can feel it. The spirit, magic and laughter that made Angeleno our special place for so long is gone and now lives on only in our memories.
When I drive down Angeleno it all comes back to me in a blinding blur and seems as real as life itself! The sights, sounds and adventures that were Angeleno. Bob’s VW tooling down the road with that sweet sounding, tuned, Empi exhaust, we could always tell when Bob was coming. Jerry Smith pulling a wheelie on his bike and riding damn near all the way down the street on one wheel. Paul’s white Ford panel truck parked up on the lawn, every door open, his stereo blaring, a little Hendrix or Quicksilver Messanger Service. All of our cars parked on either side of the street all clean and polished ready to roll! All of us there together, an extended family, our band of brothers.
I thank God that I got to be a part of it all. Angeleno and all that happened there are a vital part of me, a part of who I am. Angeleno was about kinship and relationships, the place where friendship endured.
Whenever I drive down that particular stretch of asphalt I can’t help but remember the good time we had having good times. I will never forget Angeleno, never. She will always be a part of me.
Moments etched upon my soul…