Walking Home From School
by Wes Clark
My walks home from Burbank High School when I was a student there (1971-1974) were minor adventures. I started by walking down Burbank Boulevard, past the enormous and impressive Home Savings Bank building. Was there a more impressive financial institution in town? With that noble black and beige marble siding and that artsy sculpture? I think not! So of course when it came time for me to open a bank account somewhere, it was at Home Savings.
I'd also pass the Toyota dealership across the street. I used to look though the showroom window with minimal interest and wonder, "Who would want to buy one of those things?" This was the early Seventies, remember... At the time, Toyotas were off-brand, oddball Japanese constructs. Not really cars in an American sense, but vehicles for non-conformists who were perhaps accepting of Asian culture. If you wanted an economy car, you'd buy a Volkswagen Beetle, of course. I recall that when the Honda CVCC came out, my circle of friends called them, "Crap Versus Cheaper Crap." You can appreciate that it was with a profound sense of dismay and confusion that I lived to see Toyota and Honda become the dominant world car manufacturers they are today. But I digress.
The next point of interest was the Burbank overpass, to look down at the I-5 traffic zipping by underneath and wondering what would happen if one dropped, say, a rock onto a passing car. I never did that, but I will admit that some spit did float down onto the main Southern California North-South freeway from time to time. From there it was an unseemly scramble down the dirt trail alongside the overpass to the railroad tracks below; the area under the bridge which used to be known as the Burbank Junction. The prime attraction of this shady place was throwing rocks up at the pigeons roosting atop a ledge. I was never a good aim and never did possess a good throwing arm, so I don't think I ever hit a pigeon. It was therefore a bit of a surprise to me when a railroad employee accosted me and told me that technically I was trespassing upon railroad property and what did I have against those pigeons, anyway? (A question I couldn't answer satisfactorily.)
Here I had a decision to make: Do I continue westward down the railroad tracks and to the Alibi, where Mom worked, to pick up the car - or walk down Victory Boulevard straight home?
Down Victory - The next stop was across the street to the Dip, a pastrami sandwich shop at Burbank's famous "Five Points," where the traffic would tie up. My menu selection was invariably the same: a vanilla malt. I'd order this from Gail, an attractive gal who worked the counter with her brother Paul. Gail had great legs and moved like a dancer - because she was one. Took ballet, I think. I have since compared notes with others who remember Gail and the agreement was general, she was a doll with a sweet personality. She was married to a Burbank cop - so hands off. Her brother Paul, who had an outgoing personality, was a pal of mine. I remember him fondly because he always treated me with respect, like an adult. He also told me an off-color joke that, perhaps sadly, I have never forgotten.
A great thing about the Dip was the presence of "Pete," a Lockheed worker or retiree (I wasn't sure), who would meet me nearly every day at the picnic table on the side of the building, under a metal awning. A man of infinite world-weariness and disgust, his usual comment was "Ehhh..." uttered with a dismissive wave of the hand. I got a kick out of talking to the guy as I never encountered such a thoroughly negative worldview. As it turned out, he knew my Dad (a Lockheed worker) and my Dad knew him. I did a Pete imitation for Dad one day and he started laughing - "Yeah, that's Pete, all right." And by typing this I hereby grant Pete a form of Internet immortality he would not have had otherwise. (Ehh... he doesn't care.)
Before I leave the Dip I should point out that the title was a double-entendre. As traffic flowed down from the overpass to the Five Points, the site could be considered a dip. Well, I thought so, anyway. But the main reason for the name was the specialty, a pastrami-dipped sandwich. As I frequently suffered from acid reflux, the sight of seeing Paul dip a handful of meat into "juice" (grease) put me off. I stuck with a malt.
Because I was a Burbank "flatlander" I got home by walking a mile westward down Victory to Lincoln Street. I would sometimes enliven my walk (nothing interesting to see down Victory, really) by taking various alleys home. Usually, my musings fell into two categories, girls and real estate. I would ponder the various merits and demerits of the girls at school or consider some day owning a home as nice as the one I happened to be walking by. I distinctly recall one day determining that I would someday own a luxury home worth at least $100,000. That box was checked long ago.
I arrived home and that was that.
Down the railroad tracks - After I turned sixteen Mom would allow me to walk to where she worked, the Alibi Cafe on Empire Avenue, and take the car for the evening. This was great because I then had wheels and therefore credibility. So, from where I was throwing rocks at the pigeons I'd head westward along the railroad tracks for about a half mile, passing a big railroad signaling structure that I had always considered climbing but never did, fearing another scolding from the railroad guy. (The structure was within sight of his little office under the bridge.) The walk down the tracks was a lonely sort of thing which I always liked because I was a solitary kind of kid. Gigantic oliander bushes and a chain link fence separated me from Interstate 5. At the time I listened to classical music a lot, and as I walked along the tracks I reflected upon how nice it would be to have a small, battery-powered cassette deck connected to a small pair of headphones. Being somewhat electronically inclined I knew that headphones didn't require much in the way of amplification, and that a few transistors on a small circuit board would probably be sufficient. I figured the cassette mechanism and associated circuitry could probably be cased up somewhat larger than a transistor radio. This was in 1972, when I was 16. Sony introduced the Walkman to great acclaim in July, 1979 and revolutionized the way people listened to music. If only I had had the investment capital..
I once found a discarded paperback novel along the tracks that was decidedly pornographic in nature. As I could speed read it didn't take me long to digest the exploits of... I forget her name. But, as is sadly the case with porn, some of the literary passages have been etched into my brain. Insidious stuff, porn.
I didn't know it at the time, but I'd take a left at the tracks and head down Empire Avenue near an intersection once known as "Turkey Crossing," so called because of a celebrated accident in 1899 involving a train and a truck full of live turkeys. The area is near a shadowy pedestrian underpass constructed back when Lockheed was churning out aircraft for the war effort. (A 1942 photo of this area is here.) I had seen "A Clockwork Orange" (1971) not too long before, and the pedestrian tunnel always reminded me of a walkway where Alex and his Droogs beat up an old man. Not a wise place to be in the evening, I thought.
I walked by a disused Lockheed gate every day, noting the sign on the gate informing all and sundry of the upcoming closure in 1972. I always sensed that somehow I was witnessing the long, dragged out dying of a company, an industry or an economy - which in fact I was, the Southern California aerospace industry. I just didn't fully appreciate it at the time.
The interestingly-named Saber Room near the Turkey Crossing intersection was the next point of interest, and thereby hangs a tale. The story from Dad was that it was named by the proprietor to honor that fine Lockheed Aircraft Corporation jet fighter, the F-100D Super Sabre (note the difference in spelling from the bar). Why not attract some Lockheed customers proud of their accomplishments? The only problem, as was probably pointed out to the owner numerous times, is that the F-100D Super Sabre was a product of North American, not Lockheed. Whoops. The place had a sign fabricated from that wavy dark green fiberglass material that people used for privacy fencing around pools. The words "The Saber Room" were cut out of plywood and placed in front of the green plastic - very cheesy. What, they couldn't afford neon?
Just before reaching the Alibi I'd note a vacant lot area behind some industrial buildings, where trucks were parked. Judging by their condition and the company logos marked thereupon they looked like they had been sitting there for a decade or so. Perhaps they did.
And that was it. I'd breeze into the Alibi, say "Hi!" to Mom and to some of her customers who knew me, grab a 7-Up and drive home.
It's funny... you sometimes find yourself in one of life's ruts and you think that things (like the walk home from school) will never change. Naturally, they do - and then you find yourself realizing what a truly short chapter in the book of your life that rut represented.