Sunday, July 05, 2015

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!

The 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.

This is a re-post from four years ago.


Canda said...

Much different experience in Pennsylvania. Summer WAS wandering around the neighborhood, picking up other kids to play ball, hike through small wooded areas, ride your bike, maybe go down to the bowling alley, or whatever else you could find. A couple times a week you might be dropped off at the community pool, but you stayed there all day.

Boy Scout Camp was one week every summer, at a real camp.

Parents never questioned it that you would walk out of the house at 8:00 a.m., and not return until 4:00 or 5:00.

Summer felt like it was a year long. You were always out, exploring, doing something.

Oat Willie said...

At nine you were too young to appreciate "camp". The raunchiest 80s comedies didn't even try to reproduce what went on with pubescent teens and teen counselors, not even in your Jurassic childhood.

Nico said...

Off topic here, but I'm curious what you think if Apple Music and Beats 1 radio.

MikeK.Pa. said...

When I was a little kid, I could barely count to 10, but I always knew the day of the month when the new comics arrived and stacked on the rotary rack at the local drug store. Also remember, think it was 4th or 5th grade, when I realized that Marvel comics like Spiderman, Ironman, and X Men were way cooler than DC Superman, Batman and the Arrow.

My maternal grandparents lived on a farm in the Midwest. Every two years, we'd take a train to spend two weeks during the summer among the acres of amber grain. The one great thing I discovered there - and envied the rest of my early youth was, unlike in the East - where baseball cards were a nickel for five cards and one stick of gum -baseball cards in the Midwest were a penny a pack - one card, one stick of gum. That meant for the same nickel I spent in the East, I got four more sticks of gum in the Midwest. An early lesson in economics.

BTW, I worked at a day camp my last years in high school and rode the bus to and from camp with the kids since I didn't have a car. Fortunately, I was one of the first on the route to be picked up in the a.m., which meant I was one of the first to be dropped off in afternoon.

I say fortunately, because by the time 3 p.m. and buses rolled around, the kids (ages 6-13) were letting out all the pent up emotions they failed to release during the numerous activities I and other "junior" counselors assisted the adult counselors with.

To give you an idea of how regulated a camp it was, I taught advanced swim class - and at the time I couldn't swim. I just picked out the best swimmer in the class and told him/her to demonstrate the backstroke, breaststroke, etc., and would critique the rest of the class on their progress.

The best part of summer camp was the end of it, when the parents said thank you - in cash.

blinky said...

What age did you realize there were parts of LA that were dangerous? Places you would never think of going. When I was pre-teen I would go everywhere in my home town, as a teen, not so much.

Barbara C. said...

The fact that you don't know that day camps still exist goes to show how old your kids are.

There are day camps for EVERYTHING now. Many of the high schools and colleges offer a variety of sports, activity, or academic day camps for kids. The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts offer day camps in addition to away camps. And my parks district (suburb of Chicago) offers endless Day Camps that are basically designed to serve as summer day care for school aged kids. Then there's the classic Vacation Bible School (or Totus Tuus if you're Catholic).

But I never attended a camp in my life. In the late 80's and early 90's a 10-year-old could still be left at home all day during the summer by herself. I stayed up all night reading, slept in until ten or eleven, and then played for hours upon hours with the other latch key kids or those who actually had a stay-at-home mom. Then as soon as my mom got home from work, I was allowed to go swimming in the pool in our backyard.

Cap'n Bob said...

My first camp was Army basic training. As a kid my experience matches Canda's, above. Played ball, rode my bike, explored the crik (this was Virginia), and collected bottles to redeem at the supermarket. Where I lived they had baseball cards in single packs and five packs. I considered getting less gum a benefit.

Ron Rettig said...

My Dad's office was on second floor of the Owl Drug building. I think it was for Leo McCarey"s Rainbow Productions, the main office building of which was in a red brick building kind of catty-corner across the street. But it might have been a year or so later when he was with Dennis Day's company his office was above Owl. As I recall there was a neat little Beverly Park and only Rides also across the street.
His next office was in the similarly rounded designed NBC Radio City West at Sunset & Vine, but it didn't have a kiddie park near it!