Monday, July 31, 2006

Newport Beach

When I was a boy, Newport Beach was a forty-five minute drive down a pastoral two laned highway past eucalyptus trees and grazing cows. The house with a rocket sticking out of its roof was in the canyon on the left. Turn right and you were at Disneyland. Drive a little further and you were at the alligator farm across the street from Knott's. Go straight and you went to Newport. First kid to see the water got a quarter!

Now it's an hour and a half drive on an eight lane freeway with toll roads, carpool lanes and 4 "fast track" lanes for rich people. Disneyland is there and the alligator farm isn't. And the pie's not as good at Knott's.

When I was a boy, driving through the canyon was a bit worrisome. If your car broke down you'd be there for awhile. A long while. Now you can call someone on your cell.

So Viv, Princess and I drove to Newport last weekend to hang with the some of the Beechwood contigency. They rented a house on 25th Street, a few blocks from the pier. The house was tiny and hot, but neat in a Newport kinda way. 25th Street is about 10 feet wide. You can shake hands with renters across the street without leaving the kitchen.

The weather was gorgeous and the parking was expensive. $10.00 for a day long space near Blackie's Beer Barrel. I was glad Blackie's was still there. Henry's Market was still there as well. We used to rent rubber rafts there. The old guy with the macaws was there, complete with emphysema and a a fake rubber finger that looks like his parrot bit him. He asked me if I thought he should go to the hospital for stitches and I said 'yes' and he pulled the wounded rubber finger off and got a laugh at my expense. Nyuk.

The Newport Pier looks a little prettier than I remember. I caught my first fish there when I was 6ish. It was a smelt. My cousin Joy immediately accidently stepped on him and his guts came out his mouth. I can still hear my Uncle Roy laughing.

My mom's friends the Farnsworths used to own the restaurant at the end of the pier and a barge out in the Pacific a mile or so. A boat would take people out to the barge to fish. I remember a story about the barge taking on water and sinking when I was little. Sorta scary.

We went to the Farnworth's daughter's wedding at the Lutheran church near 15th Street. It was a big Hawaiin affair, as her new hub was from the islands. That was the night I had poi for the first, and last, time.

When I walked by Charlie's Chili it was jammed with people. I think one of my ex-girlfriends worked there for awhile. I don't think I ever ate there. Nothing personal.

When I was 16, my friends Albie and Gar and I spent a week in Newport. We were very cool then. We walked around smoking Tarreyton cigarettes with cinnamon toothpicks stuck in them for extra flavor. One night we went to a coffee house by the Balboa Pier called the Prison of Socrates. We saw Big Mama Thornton and her blues band, completely outfitted Silvertone amps and ripping the joint up. The place was small and nearly empty except for us. There should have been a million folks there, she was that good. We stood in the parking lot afterwards and talked with Big Mama. She was wearing a bowling shirt and smoking Kools. She had a few gold teeth. She is one of my favorite Newport memories.

There was a "headshop" on the bay side close to the Fun Zone that had beads and posters. I bought a Jimi Hendrix poster there that I still have. It's nearly 46 years old! I just read that the Fun Zone is going to be torn down and replaced by a maritime museum. That'll bring in the tourists.

The Beechwood contigency and us capped the night off with a meal at the Crab Cooker, a restaurant that was once a Bank of America. I sat on a metal folding chair and ate salmon on a paper plate with plastic fork and knife and washed it all down with a soda in a paper cup with no refills.

I may drive down to Charlie's Chili later this week and try their famous chili omelette.


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