By Kevin B. Staff, Rolando News Staff
On a hot summer day in 1960, a young musical group piled into a car for a drive to North County. They called themselves Rosie and the Originals. Their destination was an airplane hangar in San Marcos that doubled as a recording studio. Their saxophonist was missing because he had committed to mowing a lawn, and his mom wouldn’t let him out of it. Another group member knew the rudiments of blowing a simple instrumental break, and the unpolished nature of the recording that resulted is probably part of what makes it so hauntingly appealing, as if emanating from no particular place or time.
By fall, Rosie’s “Angel Baby” had become popular locally. By Christmas, it was an international hit.
In mid-September 1960, as the song was first getting airplay, our next-door neighbor on College Avenue walked me to Henry Clay School for my first day of afternoon kindergarten. My mom had broken a toe while chasing my little brother and me around the coffee table in our living room. The plan was to show me a definite route to follow—from College to Acorn Street to Seminole Drive to Solita—and, after a week of escort, to let me walk it on my own. There were no sidewalks along College Avenue in those days, but I was able to make the walk.
During that first week, a kid kept crying in class, and on one occasion tried to escape. Old Ms. Leber seemed to leap across the room in a single bound as she grabbed him by the collar and dragged him back. Resistance was futile. My best childhood friend, a year younger than I, spent several days with me trying to build an airplane out of bamboo strips and pinwheels that we thought we could use to fly away in, so that I wouldn’t have to go to school.
I came to like kindergarten after a while. I began to walk with a girl who lived in the back unit of a duplex near the corner of College and Acorn. I tried to impress her by breaking glass bottles on the wall of the Campus Drive-In until an old lady came out and made me sweep it up and that was the end of that. One day, I came to the girl’s door just as her father was rushing off to work. The screen door hit me and knocked me into a cactus garden by the side of the house. He actually seemed relieved to be able to call in late. While her mom telephoned my mom to explain what had happened, he took me into the bathroom, had me pull down my pants, removed a number of cactus needles from my bum and rubbed the area with Bactine. It was quite embarrassing.
The rest of my elementary school flew by, in retrospect, although a year seems to take forever when you’re a kid. Kennedy was inaugurated in January 1961, To me, he was President for a long time. It was hard to think of him as young, since all adults seemed old and he was even older than my dad! He was assassinated while I was in third grade. We heard about it just before recess and did talk about it on the playground, but it wasn’t as if the world had stopped. We played ball and ate our lunches; I even bought a bag of Planter’s peanuts for a nickel that day.
We moved to our new house on Seminole Drive on Veterans’ Day 1965. Although it was less than a mile away, I didn’t see as much of old friends and started hanging out with a different set of kids. The area west of Henry Clay had been developing steadily since the early ‘60s. The apartments on the south side of Acorn Street went up around 1963; we used to climb around on the building materials until the workers chased us off. An old-style ranch house with a big front porch was torn down, and four houses, including the one we moved into, went up on the west side of Seminole. The shopping center where the BLVD63 apartments now stand started out as a large dirt lot with just a De Falco’s Food Giant on the east end.
As the rest of the shopping center developed, Thrifty Drug Store and College Theater opened, with a few small retail businesses between them. There was a vacancy between Thrifty and Von’s for several years, until Straw Hat Pizza Palace opened. It showed old Laurel and Hardy films and such, and instantly became a favorite hangout for older kids. The back of Thrifty had a tall flat wall and a good-sized parking lot that quickly became a place for playing handball and racquetball. We got to know most of Thrifty’s employees, who let us go up to the roof to retrieve our ball if we somehow hit it up there. We bought candy bars that over the years went from five cents to ten cents to fifteen cents while becoming smaller and smaller, and could get a scoop of ice cream on a cone for a nickel, with two scoops for a dime.
Sixth grade at Henry Clay ended in June 1967, just before the weekend of the much-remembered Monterey Pop Festival and several weeks after the release of the Beatles’ much- overrated Sergeant Pepper album. In the fall, I moved on to Horace Mann. Because I went to Sunday school in the College Area and had joined the church-sponsored Scout troop, I already had a collection of acquaintances from other elementary schools that I now saw every day. It was quite a change, having to go to different classrooms and listen to bells ringing every hour. Miniskirts were much in fashion, and we guys were beginning to notice.
For those who went through adolescence in the late ‘60s, the era has always been something of an enigma. That time in a kid’s life is chaotic and confusing enough, but we also had to deal with living in one of the most tumultuous eras in modern history. There was a lot of anti-establishment posturing by kids my age—mainly aping older siblings, I suspect. At heart, I think, teenagers are the most reactionary of conformists. If you were going to rebel against society, there was a very definite way to dress and behave. But political posturing aside, kids will be kids. We enjoyed going through what we called the A&W and Uni-mart storm drains, identified by the businesses nearest the tunnel entrances. We had raucous impromptu after-school football, basketball, and soccer games. We took off on long bike rides without bothering to tell our parents where we were going or when we’d be back. We threw water balloons at each other in hot weather.
In fall 1970 I started high school in 10th grade at Crawford. It seemed a much more easygoing place than Horace Mann, with basically no dress code and fewer ringing bells and public announcements. I didn’t take part in many extracurricular activities, having embraced the current drop-out-of-society ethos. That fall I took drivers training, then offered by public schools. Dad occasionally let me borrow the car, but I really wanted a motorcycle. In July, after working a few months at Campus Chuck Wagon, I was able to buy a little Honda CB160. By the middle of my high school years, several of us had small bikes and would take them on weekend camping trips in the backcountry. Although my Honda wasn’t built for off-roading, we did a bit of that too, often in the area that is now Mission Trails Park. There weren’t a lot of restrictions on where you could ride then. Soon enough, the noise and dust got on people’s nerves and laws changed.
I participated irregularly in wrestling and track, but for the most part was uninterested in school-related activities. I did stay active in the Boy Scout troop throughout high school because of its outdoor program. A half-dozen other boys my age felt the same way and we’d all become friends. It was through the troop’s outdoor program that I got to know most of San Diego County, particularly Anza Borrego State Park. We climbed Mount San Jacinto in the San Bernardino mountains each year, in preparation for an annual week-long trek through the Sierras. I’d climbed Mount Whitney twice by the time I was 16!
Watergate was just getting underway when I graduated from high school and American participation in the Vietnam War had ended earlier that year. For us, the feeling was that the ‘60s were definitely over but nothing particularly cool had come along to take its place. There was a lot of soft rock music, and it was considered fashionable to be a “sensitive male.” On the other hand, it was the era of the Guitar Hero–all about making a lot of noise while playing fast. To me, most of the hard rock seemed much less tuneful than ‘60s music.
I left San Diego that fall of 1973 to become an auto mechanic in Arizona. It seemed like a practical thing to do until I realized I intensely disliked the work. After a year, I joined the army. Although I came back to San Diego for short periods, I didn’t live here permanently again until 1997. The Rolando area was basically recognizable as the place where I grew up, until about ten years ago when the shopping center was demolished to be replaced by BLVD63, the Thrifty became Rite Aid and moved to its present location by the Post Office, and Henry Clay got some upgrades.
When I taught at Palomar College in San Marcos, I had the chance to ask Rosie Hamlin, the lead singer of Rosie and the Originals, if she remembered the location of the hangar where they recorded “Angel Baby,” but it was all too long ago and far away from her current life. In March of last year, Ms. Hamlin died.