Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Camping in Los Angeles

Going off to camp for the summer when I was a kid was a real East Coast thing. Growing up in LA, and living in the city, when I was nine my parents sent me to something called “Day Camp”. The “camp” was essentially a bus.

Every morning it picked me up and the first camp activity was driving around the Fairfax district for an hour picking up other campers.

Once we assembled with the other buses at the Big Town Market parking lot on Pico we set off for our daily adventures, which varied depending on the day and traffic.

Sometimes the bus would drop us off at a swimming school sandwiched between a beauty parlor and real estate office. We’d swim for a couple of hours and get back on the bus. We’d stop at a park and have lunch. Afternoon activities might include going to Griffith Park to go horseback riding, the Lido Theater on Pico Blvd. to see a movie, the La Brea Tar Pits (hours of fun there), a museum, and once a week – the beach. But the best was when we talked the counselors into stopping at the Rexall Owl Drug Store on Beverly and La Cienaga where we bought comic books and baseball cards.

These were all fun activities but half the day or more was spent commuting to these venues. At first the counselors (teenagers all) tried to get us all to sing rousing camp songs. That lasted three minutes. We were not a Kumbaya crowd. The resourceful counselors had a Plan B. They turned on the radio to KFWB, the big Top 40 station at the time. We could sing along to the hits of the day. Except we were eight and nine and few of us listened to rock n’ roll radio. None of these songs were familiar to us. The only music we recognized was commercials. So there we were – your typical campers – barreling down the 405 Freeway singing the Winston cigarette jingle.

We didn’t have a chance to write “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” sob story letters to our parents. We went home every night. I guess if they still have Day Camps, disgruntled campers could send “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” texts.

Still, Day Camp was preferable to just hanging around the neighborhood and doing nothing. And I accidentally grabbed one of the coed counselor’s breasts in the pool one day. At the time it meant nothing but a few years later I realized the magnitude of that event and was aroused for weeks.

My older cousin, Jeff went to sleep-away camp that summer and I went with my aunt to pick him up at session's end. The camp was in nearby Malibu canyon. We drove in, I got my first look at the facilities and HOLY SHIT!! There was a swimming pool so large it had a little island in the center. There was a baseball field and an arts & crafts cabin. At night they roasted marshmallows around a giant on-site campfire. There were rocks to climb, a handball court, and a dining hall. WHAT THE FUCK?! This was camp!

Over at Earl Pomerantz’s fine blog he’s been regaling us lately with his remembrances of going off to summer camp in Canada. Poignant, funny, and wistful tales of cookouts and activities at the lake and parent visiting days. Helping the counselors change a flat tire on the bus or getting lost on the way to Lion Country Safari and winding up in Newhall doesn’t exactly stack up.

But that Rexall Owl Drugs is still there (under a different name) and a few months ago I had occasion to stop in. They still sold comic books. And suddenly I was that nine-year-old boy again, excited and completely care free. God, it felt so good to once again commune with nature.


YEKIMI said...

Back in the late 60s, I had the honor of going to Boy Scout camp in Florida for THREE weeks. One week was with my scout troop, the other two with an amalgamation of "loner" scouts and were a "reward" because of selling the most fertilizer in the whole county as a "fund-raiser" to support my troop. [Girl Scouts get to sell cookies and Boy Scouts fertilizer.....someone should have shot the Boy Scouts marketing guru who came up with THAT idea!] I think my parents were overjoyed that they wouldn't have to watch me for three weeks as they didn't even show up on parents visitation day. I spent most of my time being bored and hung out in the Nature Hut were they kept all the cool snakes and other animals...and the only place in camp that had a radio were I could listen to the Top 40 sounds of WLCY. Decided to hang out elsewhere after a rattlesnake that was kept in a terrarium struck the glass and shattered it. Actually, everyone decided to vacate the premises when that happened. At the lake after swimming, they did a head count of scouts to make sure no one was missing. If one was, they rang a bell and all staff members had to drop what they were doing and head for the lake at top speed to start a water search. It only happened once and one of the staff members was taking a shower and took off for the lake buck naked. Too bad it was visitor day and several parents, brothers & sisters got an eyeful. The powers that be commended him on his rapid response but asked that next time at least put on some underwear before running outside. Looking back, I would have much rather spent it on a bus driving around the city.

Anonymous said...

Alas, I had to stay home during the summer and babysit my younger, by 10 years, sister. Got paid a whopping $2/week over my sporadic allowance of $1/week. She fell one day and ran two bottom teeth through her lip and we had to sit with ice waiting for my dad to get home to take her for stitches. Good times, lol.

I did get to go to Girl Scout camp when I was 13. Had a great time, met some nice girls, have some great blackmail pictures if I ever see them again. :-)

Pam aka SisterZip

Anonymous said...

Ah, the memories...Camp Ahwahnee in the San Bernadino mountains between Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear. We had the pool, the crafts, a rifle range to qualify for our Marksmanship merit badge. But the best fun was looking for rattlesnakes. Then you'd get the rifle range instructor to shoot it. The one who found it got to keep the skin.

bettyd said...

Day camps are HUGE in my area of MA. Most parents I know are two parents working out of the house full time, so child care for the 5-12YO crowd is a big business here. Expensive day care for 0-5 crowds, as well.

Not that they are much more thrilling than when you drove around in a bus, but there are a lot of options.

Naz said...

Went to overnight camp in Franklin, Mass. for 2 weeks. First week I was homesick, the second week I had a boyfriend and wasn't in a hurry to go home. Alas, I never saw "Danny" again since he was from New York.

D. McEwan said...

When you were going to your Day Camp, I was living south of you in Palos Verdes Estates, and was also going to Day Camp. Since I am not fan of camping. (Why would I want to sleep in a tent when I have a home? I HATED when my parents took me camping ov vacation trips. "Can't we stay in a motel tonight?"), I was fine with going home again every night.

The day at Disneyland was fun, so was the day at Knott's Berry Farm, and the one at Pacific Ocean Park. On the bus taking us through Universal Studios (This was before the days of the now-famous studio tour. It was our bus going through) I did get excited recognizing sets from The Abbott & Costello TV show.

The second (last) weekend, we had a two-night sleepover in a real camp, with a campfire, and 16mm movies. Doing "Crafts" ALWAYS bored me, and neither am I an outdoorsy sports kind of guy, though swimming in the lake was nice. The first night the movie was a piece of dreck called The Giant Claw. The ighlight of it was recognizing the star as "Paul Drake" from Perry Mason. (William Hopper) But the second night was A NIGHT AT THE OPERA. It was the first time I saw the Marx Brothers. That was the best thing about Day Camp: being introduced to the movies of The Marx Brothers.

Six months later I was at a carnival, and there was one of the sleazy barkers manning a Guess Your Weight booth. It was the same guy who'd run the Day Camp. Ew.

Abe Froman said...

SURE, it was an accident [wink] [wink].

AlaskaRay said...

Do you mean the Big Town at Pico and La Cienega? I grew up (until about 10) only 2 blocks from there. Did you guys ever go to that cheesy little amusement park on La Cienga and (I think) Wilshire? I don't even remember the name, but I used to walk the 3-4 miles up La Cienega during the boring summer days to ride the rides.


AlaskaRay said...

Actually after re-reading your posting again I realize that the amusement park was at Beverly (across the street from the drug store) and was called (of all things) Beverly Park. I haven't even thought about for 5 decades. Where did the time go?


Paul Duca said...

Ken, wonderful story...but I don't get your comment about KFWB. I thought every good little Angelino boy and girl of that era pledged their allegiance to a Top 40 station by around nine.

And the summer I was 11, I was enrolled in a YMCA day trip program. But we went to someplace more interesting than a drug store...the regional Anheuser-Busch brewery.

Rebounding said...

Sleep away camp was awesome. Every time I went I got laid. Well, not exactly laid so much as dry humping myself raw.

There is something freeing about being away from home around people you don't know. You can be anyone you want. Just don't get pegged as the dude who plays pocket pool on the first day and you'll do fine.

FYI, "camp syndrome" continued to work for me on work convention trips, vacations, etc. All the way until I met my wife. No, I didn't meet her at camp or a convention, I met her at a gay party.

Single guys, here is a fool proof way to get laid -- get gay friends (no, don't sleep with them.) Go to their parties. Gay guys always have female friends, and those female friends are VERY confused. They keep hanging out with gay guys even though nothing will ever happen!

You'll be the only straight guy there, and you will have your pick of the chicks.

Worked for me!

Pat Reeder said...

Having grown up dirt poor so far out in the sticks of central Texas that I had to ride a bus 18 miles just to get to the nearest town with a school, all these stories of summer camp are as alien to me as the Martian Chronicles. I spent summers entertaining myself until I was about 12, when my dad finally heeded my pleas and let me start working on his construction sites, cleaning up nails and carrying roll roofing up ladders in 100-degree Texas heat (up on the black roofs, 300-degree heat. You think I'm joking, but you had to walk quickly to keep the soles of your sneakers from melting).

Still, in my earlier Wonder Years, there were lots of creative ways that I found to commune with nature and live the clean, outdoor boy's life. For instance, we had these giant ant hills; piles of gravel about three or four feet across, built by ants that were about a third of an inch long. Oh, the happy times we had, stuffing Black Cat firecrackers down their holes and waiting for them to swarm all over them before lighting the fuse and running gleefully away (you didn't want any flying ants landing on you. They were not in a jovial mood at that point, let me tell you!)

Other favorite pastimes included lighting Black Cats under empty tuna cans to see how high we could blow them (I liked to think of it as junior rocketry), and unrolling the duds to make piles of gunpowder that we would flash into fire using a magnifying glass and the Texas sun. This was my introduction to lab science. My childhood summers would certainly have been bereft of magic without the good folks at the Black Cat corporation.

We also enjoyed riding our bicycles (sans sissy helmets and padding, of course) on the gravel roads scattered with razor-sharp rocks. Many's the magical time we'd spot a coal black tarantula sunning itself on the pure white dust and ride 'round and 'round it in circles, admiring it from as close a vantage point as we could. This was not recommended when spotting rattlesnakes similarly occupied.

And on special days, we might walk down to the shore of Lake Whitney for a little fishing with burred metal hooks, always heeding my mom's loving cautions to "watch out for the water moccasins."

I think any organized camp would pale beside my happy childhood adventures in what I like to think of as "Camp Darwin." And you can imagine what I think when I see teeter-totters being removed from playgrounds because they're too dangerous for today's precious little snowflakes.

P.S. - Yes, I'm a comedy writer. But every word above is 100% true.

Sgt. Pepper said...

1st sleep-over camp: boot.
2nd sleep-over camp: POW school.
3rd sleep-over camp: Vietnam, POW. I'll ride your friggin bus all day and all night, Skippy! Hell, I'll drive it for you!

Joe Knucks-all said...

Ok, coach, it's the bottom of the 17th, Pirates-Braves. Chip Caray keeps telling 'us' what time it is in Atlanta. Think he's tired of this game? Then he says, if you've just tuned in, this is not a re-broadcast of last night's game...this IS last night's game. What's the longest game you've gotten to call, thus far? (And we go to the 18th!) I love it, keep it going. First time I've seen the Bucs in, well, many years! The first place Bucs.

Kevin Ess said...

Ken, this is totally off-topic, but you defiunitely need to see what my buddy Paul came up with. What if Hitler ran the Mariners? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v​=QkfEEmHhDtc&feature=share

Janet T said...

My favorite stories about camp come from my husband- a Valley boy, born and raised- his parents would send him off on YMCA camping trips every year, the last one being a trip (not a ymca trip) it which they recruited camp counselors by picking them up as hitchhikers on the side of the road- you know the druggie, the pedophile oh and the guy who stole the car of one of the legit counselors. He actually remembers most of these trips quite fondly. I, like Ken, caught a bus every morning during my summers off- but my bus went to the berry fields every day- I started working at age 9.

Karp said...


Re: No. 5. Who are the "five-tool writers?" I'm putting together a Fantasy League team.

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