Biggest Change In Fast Food Isn’t What’s Served, It’s Who’s Serving

I was amused reading about fast food workers wanting to go on strike for higher wages. Not amused by the plight of a group of people who work hard for very little, but because it took me back to my days in the fast food industry, when it was still in its infancy.

Back then, if I had gone to my boss and asked to have my wages doubled, he would have said something like, “Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.” Not to get too political, but the fast food industry has always relied on an unskilled workforce willing to work part time for minimum wage. The difference is that when I was young, the workers were mostly teen-age kids in high school who weren’t depending on those jobs to make a living.

Like so many others, my start in the “business” world was as a News-Pilot paperboy. My first “real” job came at the McDonald’s in Lomita on Western and Pacific Coast Highway, which is still there, albeit in a newer, bigger version (they introduced the newfangled Big Mac while I was there, and with every order we had to say, “Would you like a hot apple turnover with that?”). It was my senior year in high school, October 1968, when I started at the then-minimum wage of $1.25 an hour (and the Big Mac was 49 cents). I worked 26.5 hours those first two weeks, after school and weekends, and brought home $27.29. I’d never had so much money. I was rich!

I didn’t have a car, however, so I jumped at the opportunity when San Pedro got a brand-new Jack in the Box on Western Ave., the one that’s still there, in January 1969. It also meant a huge raise to $1.40 an hour. I now had a car and had graduated so I could work longer hours. The cash was pouring in.

My fast food experience ended just a few months later, when I began my journalism career as a sports stringer for the News-Pilot (30 cents a column inch could add up real fast), but I’ll never forget flipping burgers during the lunch or dinner rush and cleaning the grill and mopping floors at cleanup.

My colleagues at that time were fellow teens. At McDonald’s, I worked alongside my friend John Hiigel, who was San Pedro High’s student body president. He went on to become a pastor and then a professor at a Midwest college.

I was the “old man” at Jack’s. Most of my co-workers were juniors or sophomores. One was friend Ted Petrich, now a retired teacher living in Hemet. Another was Chris Traughber, a champion swimmer at SPHS and today Dr. Chris Traughber of the Palos Verdes Family and Immediate Medical Care Center. In a recent conversation with Chris, we agreed that we learned a great deal about life during our fast food days, but what we learned most was that it wasn’t what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives. Even at $8 an hour.

Of course, as I write this, the Big Mac is $3.89, and California is planning to increase the minimum wage to $10 an hour. Maybe I should rethink this and start practicing: “Would you like to make that a combo?”

Let’s Go Surfing

There are a couple of entertaining videos on YouTube that should interest San Pedrans. Linda (Barnes) Krammes (San Pedro High Winter `62) alerted me to the first (http://youtu.be/paLt3HLS3YQ) called San Pedro Memories.

Posted by Van Barbre (Winter `64), Memories is a series of snapshots, many of which appear to have come right from his family album, mingled with postcards of San Pedro and Long Beach in the `50s and `60s. I particularly liked the shots of the Pike, the Fishermen’s Fiesta in the heyday of the fishing industry, hundreds of white-uniformed cannery workers, the old Gaffey Street Pool, Marineland and San Pedro High in the early `60s.

For an entirely different look at San Pedro High, check out “Pirate Pride” (http://youtu.be/P21OZ7X55CQ). Judy Kiesel sent me the link to this video, which has been out since last fall. The brainchild of Joanne Cherry Booth, the dance teacher at San Pedro High, it’s a “Gangnam Style” parody that takes you on a tour of both campuses, and by the time it’s over has shown hundreds of choreographed students and a good part of the faculty and staff. All in good fun, it’s well-done, and if you don’t know what “Gangnam Style” is, well, you’ll just have to look to find out.

Kudos to Booth, a Venice, Calif., native who’s been at Pedro for 30 years, and camerman Victor Prudeux, an SPHS grad. Prudeux was on the stage crew as a student and, according to Booth, comes back and assists with performing arts events and technical needs.

I can’t help but wonder, however, what the Pirates’ API score would have been had they shown the same enthusiasm in the classroom. Just sayin’. spt

San Pedro Native Has Treasure Trove Of Stories

Jean Taves is far too modest to ever consider herself a living treasure, but it didn’t take me long to add her to my own short list of San Pedro treasures after she sent me an email and we sat down and talked.

She knew how to get my attention; attached to that initial email was a copy of a letter written by her older sister, Barb, to her fiancé in October 1945 that describes a scene that many San Pedrans might still remember, the return of the Pacific Fleet to its former home port. The fiancé, Ben, was serving on the heavy cruiser USS Helena, then in New York. Barb wrote on Oct. 25:

I surely wish it could have been the Helena coming up the channel this morning instead of the cruiser Los Angeles. I paid particular attention to her as I know your ship is the same type. The new cruisers are really beautiful, aren’t they? So long and sleek and powerful looking. I’m glad you did get your big ship if it had to be a ship again. The troop ships have been returning every day as well as the battleships Texas and Nevada; cruisers Astoria, Baltimore, Tucson and L.A.; carriers Shangri-La and Hancock, several CVEs; mine destroyers; and several others. We have a marvelous view of them from the balcony of the building which is upstairs over the Cabrillo Theatre on Seventh and Beacon streets. There is a tiny fishing boat which is painted white and decorated with flags which meets each ship as the tugs bring her in to berth, and their favorite record seems to be ‘California, Here I Come.’ There is to be quite a program in the Coliseum at USC following a street program in L.A. Saturday (parade), and a sky parade of 300 Navy and Marine planes. There will be four submarines among the ships open for inspections Saturday. I’ve been aboard the larger-type ships years ago, but would like to see the inside of a sub.

Jean had just graduated from San Pedro High that June. Barb, a 1941 grad, was employed by the Navy in its public relations office, which was adjacent to the Fox Cabrillo Theatre below the Elks Club. Barb, who died in 2010, and Ben had a long life together.

Like most of her generation, Jean, now 85, has vivid memories of the long-ago past. In 1927, her parents’ house was the last one on west Santa Cruz, just below Walker and the original McCowan’s market. The boys she grew up with almost all ended up serving in the war.

In another email, she wrote: I still grieve over several friends who never returned whose names you referred to in your poignant article several years ago. In my mind’s eye I see the gold star in Robert Stambook’s mother’s front window in her tiny house off 9th Street. He was in the 5th Marine Division, wounded in the invasion of Iwo Jima, and sent back into the battle and was killed.

I have a copy of a March 1945 clipping from the News-Pilot with a picture of Stambook, a Summer 1943 San Pedro High grad, that says his “helmet saved his life on Iwo Jima, and permitted him to return to the fighting there after treatment at a first-aid ship offshore for shrapnel wounds in the head received the day his marine regiment invaded the island, according to word received by his mother, Mrs. Hazel Nelson of 1045 S. Alma.” Just 19-years-old and engaged to a high school friend of Jean’s, he was killed in action on March 14; he’s buried in Rosecran’s National Cemetery in San Diego.

Jean also recalls her stepfather, Arthur W. “Bill” Christensen, who survived a ship torpedoing in WWI while in the merchant marine, being recruited by the Army in WWII. Christensen was a longshoreman working for Crescent Warehouse when the Army came calling, seeking the services of stevedores to help get bomb-damaged ports in France back in operation following D-day. When he returned to San Pedro, he finished his career as a supervisor at Crescent.

As usually happens when two San Pedrans who’d never met before get together, we discovered common bonds. Years ago, she was a neighbor of my old San Pedro High math teacher, the late Glen Gallaher, who used to email me regularly. Now she lives just a few doors down the street from me, in the same house she’s owned since the early `60s. She mentioned a family that once lived next door, the Karmeliches, and the boys her son, Brian, played with. It turns out one of those boys, Chris, stands right in front of me when we line up at the casual hall.

Brian attended Crestwood Elementary and Dodson Junior High, but Jean sensed her son was destined for something special and enrolled him at Narbonne High because of its highly regarded public speaking program. He graduated in 1977 and went on to earn his Ph.D. from USC. Jean herself graduated from UCLA in 1953 but cut short a teaching career to care for her mother.

She was right about her son, but his story is going to have to wait for another day. Stay tuned. spt

New Councilman Faces First Test With An Old Problem

When it comes to Ponte Vista, a relieved Janice Hahn must be sitting in her D.C. congressional office thinking, “Well, Joe, the ball’s in your court now.” For our new councilman, the honeymoon is over. Joe Buscaino‘s had it pretty easy so far, with nothing but one great photo op after another (USS Iowa, Crafted, waterfront development, downtown bistro lights, pulling out parking meters) – all positives and no controversies. Then, after a two-year break in the action, along comes the new Ponte Vista plan. Hahn did what she could to stop the Bisno disaster, then kicked that can down the road for her successor to deal with. And as we all know, it’s a can of worms that sharply divided the community previously and will probably continue to do so under the iStar banner. Janice can tell him that no matter what he does, he’s going to make a lot of people unhappy.

Unlike Bisno, the new developers at least have the decency to start with a fairly reasonable number of units, 1,135, but my concern, as it always has been, isn’t the number of units per se, but the density. That’s why I’ve always stood firm that the property should remain zoned R1 for single-family habitats. Since we all know the real issue is traffic, the main concern about Ponte Vista remains the number of cars it will add to the still overburdened Western Avenue corridor.

Do we really need more apartments in San Pedro? We’re already way overbuilt as it is. Business owners always want more customers, but our infrastructure can’t handle the current density. We’ve just crammed too many people into an area that wasn’t designed to handle them.

I actually agree with Louie Dominguez about the one key component missing from the iStar proposal. If city planners agree to rezoning, they should at least make iStar put senior housing back in the plan. Senior housing means lots of widows and no kids. That translates into fewer cars. And while senior housing may cut into iStar’s bottom line, it’s a boon for local real estate. Seniors will sell the single-family homes they no longer want or need, putting them on the market for families that actually could use the space.

So now Joe’s in the hot seat. Dealing with Ponte Vista may make him wish he was back on the beat.

A Childhood Trifecta

Almost every time I go shopping, I run into someone I know. It’s a San Pedro thing. Still, since I haven’t been to a class reunion since 1974, there are a lot of childhood friends I haven’t seen in a long time, which made recent events strike me as more than a little unusual. It started with the Harbor College Silent Auction fundraiser, where Lefty Olguin had invited his cousin to play some background music. It turns out this cousin is Mike Guerrero. I’d heard that Mike played gigs around town, notably Godmother’s, but I hadn’t seen him since we’d graduated together from San Pedro High in Winter 1969. It was fun catching up with someone I had known since our days together at Leland Street Elementary and being in the same Cub Scout den.

Then, just a few weeks later, I was at the reunion for Phil Scott’s San Pedro YMCA swim teams, where I ran into a number of “old faces” from San Pedro High days. And one of the faces I instantly recognized (which isn’t always easy after 43 years) was Joey Dragicevich, who only recently moved back to California after decades on the East Coast. Joey wasn’t just another Winter `69 classmate; he also was one of my Leland Street and Cub Scout buddies, along with Guerrero.

It took a tragedy to complete this story, but one of the first calls I received after Van Barbieri’s passing was from his brother Anthony. While Van and I got to know each other later in life, it was Anthony I graduated with and, yes, knew from Leland Street and that same Cub Scout pack that included Mike and Joey. Anthony has spent most of the intervening years in San Diego.

The odds that within a few weeks I would run into any two of these people I hadn’t seen in more than 40 years has to be extraordinary. The odds of running into all three have to be astronomical. Seeing all three childhood playmates once more as we near our dotage was just plain heartwarming.

Van Fare-well

Even though he may have lived most of his adult life on the Hill, everyone knows Van Barbieri’s heart was always in San Pedro. It was said in many different ways, but Van was a Real San Pedran. In his 72 years, he managed to have three successful careers, first in journalism with the News-Pilot (where many remember his “Van Fare” column), then as the longtime publicist for Olympic boxing that earned him hall of fame recognition, and finally in real estate. What with all of his other civic activities, including the Sportswalk and DB Club, it’s no surprise Mary Star was nearly filled for his funeral. If we are judged by the number of friends we have, Van truly was a champion. spt

San Pedro Bay Historical Society’s First Sunday Series

“First Sunday Series” will host Bob Beck, Steve Marconi and Donna Littlejohn who will speak on “The News-Pilot Remembered”. The three journalists, whose talk begins at 1:30 PM, will share their memories of five decades at the beloved “Fish Wrapper.” A special exhibit of News-Pilot memorabilia will be on display throughout the month of October. Admission free, donations welcome.