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Driving California Byways To A Reunion

Loving parts of my past I jumped at the opportunity to return to the San Diego area for my 56th high school reunion in July. But not wanting to possibly endanger my health mixing with crowds in an airport or on a crowded plane I chose to rent a car and drive alone.

It was nice to be out on the road again after the lockdown. I cannot remember the last time I drove Highway 101 all the way south through the state. It’s the little inconsequential things you see out the window that entertains you.

I marvel at birds sitting on the telephone wire so evenly spaced along the line. I counted at least 10 giant wind turbines spinning in the Salinas River valley where they were absent before. A small grass fire was burning up a hillside from the edge of the road. I bet the homeowners at the top of the hill were nervous but I could hear fire engine sirens approaching. I understand why the Salinas valley is called the “Salad Bowl of America” after driving past miles of salad greens.

And speaking of greens,—driving into downtown LA’s Koreatown there were green leafy plants piled three feet high at curbside fruit and veggie stands and I have no idea what it was, other than popular.On Highway 101 at the Cuesta grade was a “Bear Crossing” sign with a mom and 3 cubs on it.

Silly road sign still entertain me, like Rocks Road (though I didn’t find a Pebble Lane) or Echo Valley. Flocks of flying pelicans are fun to observe and condors are the bird of choice to put flying overhead if someone is making a mural. On I-5 at City of Commerce outside LA the old Samson Tire Factory has been saved. Built to look like Assyrian temples in the 1920’s when commercial factories were architecturally noteworthy, the buildings were saved and became the Citadel Shopping Center.

Now talking about reunions—as an author I get involved in different writing projects and my current one is a biography of Charles Surendorf (1906-1979) an artist who has family in Comptche. The man was a talented block print artist and painter who left a wealth of material for a biographer to draw upon, including a rough draft autobiography. “A harbinger of old age” is what he referred to when an invitation for a 50th reunion came from his high school in Indiana.

 Surendorf mused “Everyone is astonishingly old—they talk old and they act old and worst of all, look very old.” The artist later said “My fondness for the ludicrous won out, “ and he went back east. Staying sober before the reunion he wanted to be able to recognize faces and read name tags. Looking at classmates he then decided “After a half century nature’s make-up amp has made a total job of alteration and these people could have been total strangers. The event went on with violent hand pumping, loud laughter and routine complimentary salutations that served to take the curse off the truth—we’re OLD.”

There were 261 Coronado High School graduates in 1966. We were a legion of military brats, over-achievers, and six boys won military academy placements. We had surfers, jocks, a poet, and we were off to do great things. We reunited at 10, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 and 50 years but lost out on a 55th reunion due to Covid, hence the 56th.

I bless my classmates who have been the glue holding our class together. While many classmates have passed away, the fates and locations of only 10 classmates are missing. Websites like Ancestry aid sleuthing. The folks who gathered had become military officers, lawyers, teachers, librarians, landlords, spouses and grandparents.

Forty of us met outdoors foe a meal and memories. We realized our graduating class may have been the last unaffected by the arrival of marijuana and the student body changed rapidly after that. We were innocent. We shared stories of three generation families living together through the pandemic. We’ve all had triumphs and failures. We now realize we lived under a social “caste” system back then, when many social clubs and activities were for the children of military officers. (God forbid, my dad was only an enlisted man Chief Petty Officer, which put me in the “peasant” class and I was excluded).

No one wanted the evening to end we were so wrapped up in memory and sentiment and we are already planning our 60th reunion. Life has treated us well and been kind to us. After all, we’re still here. Old friends are the best friends. Coronado Islanders class of 1966 still rocks!

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