Thursday, June 28, 2007

my neighborhood

Ocean Beach is my neighborhood. It's a small enclave surrounded by the expansive megaflop of San Diego. Ocean Beach is a magical place lying between the outside world and the country we left behind.
Those of us that live here call ourselves OBecians and we call this town OB. We are a hodge-podge of folks; surfers, travelers, peaceniks, drunks, college kids, liberals, veterans, old-timers, regulars and everything in-between. Somehow we've figured out how to get along with each other. Tolerance is our collective middle name. We're laid-back and that suits us just fine.
It’s an oasis of free thought where our only enemy seems to be convention.
Some days I think Ocean Beach exists only because we believe it exists. We have a slogan that reads ‘Ocean Beach, an attitude not an address.’ How fitting.

Stroll down our main street, Newport Avenue and you'll still get a sense of true community. On this street alone there is a hardware store with helpful and friendly staff, affordable cafĂ©’s, clothing stores, gift shops, cocktail bars and furniture stores. We even have an authentic headshop that oozes the sixties. You can find just about everything you need without trekking to the malls. This is a walk-to-everywhere neighborhood, reminiscent of years gone by, a reminder of a more idyllic time, of life spent in a simpler world. If you settle here long enough you’ll soon recognize and be recognized by others on the street.
Unlike other areas of San Diego, the marine layer can often cloud our summer days, this is our buffer that cushions us from the rest of the county. OB is a port to hide and shelter from the storm.
We've got tide pools and hidden coves, trails and eucalyptus groves. We’ve got awesome surf breaks. We've got a historical society and local merchants group. We've got annual events where we welcome outsiders by the thousands to come share the love. We've got a beach just for dogs, how sweet is that!
Wednesday evening we boast one of the best street markets in San Diego - The Ocean Beach Farmer's Market. Organic fruit & veg, piping hot kettle corn, strolling musicians and plenty of flavor. We all come out for this event, our way of paying respects to one another.

This small old-time beach community and bastion of counterculture holds on.
Sadly though, there are signs that our charming seaside town is changing. Malevolence is poking its head from around a few corners. We are on the endangered list or have at least moved into the category of vulnerable.
Our local movie theatre has been replaced by an east coast souvenir chain, Java Joe left, his space now filled by Starbuck's.
The Arizona Cafe closed its doors after providing over fifty years of saloon solace. Affordable housing is now an oxymoron and rents are tipping the scales.

The added populace of San Diego is spilling over into our neighborhood. These are a new type of resident, they see funkiness as shabbiness, quaint with 'it needs tearing down', and offbeat with 'off course NOT!'. Seems that they want to clean up our neighborhood, scooping up all the elements that make our community what it is.
I'm hoping that we'll zealously fight to protect that OB savoir-faire. Hope we'll stand up and shout 'je maintiendrai' and ‘j'embrasse mon rival, mais c'est pour l'etouffer' Maybe that’s just the point, we all don’t speak the same language.
It's going to be a battle, but our neighborhood is definitely worth it.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Welcome to the chronicle . . .

Welcome to the OB Chronicle, a self-indulgent catalogue of nostalgic cool.
This project came about after I had recently written a piece on Red Hot Ruthie for the San Diego Reader. I wandered around Ocean Beach in between writing, allowing the confluence of energies to flow and explored the reasons why I love OB.
Began taking photographs and talking with some of our locals.
One evening while sitting in front of the computer making headway through a bottle of two-buck-chuck, I began assembling a few tidbits , creating a novel looking newsletter to send to my friends. Printed out a dozen or so copies and mailed them.

As you can see, I did get a little carried away, added another eighteen pages to the newsletter, went from 12 xerox copies to 10,000 printed pieces . . . the OB Chronicle had formed.
I hope you enjoy this little gallimaufry that embraces and celebrates our wonderful community. I certainly basked in a reverie of sorts as I put it together.
Like to shout out a very big thank you to Tim & Debbie from Tower Two, and Phil Lucas for helping me realize this thing - that's the beauty of OB, why it is such a special place.
This catalogue is for the community, by the community, so please send in your wrings, stories, photography, art, critique, commentaries and what-not.
Cheers, Trevor Watson
send to:

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

California screamin'

The whole concept of Capitalism in its most vile form is exemplified by taking a very close look at the California Department of Corrections, the Board of Prison Terms, and the Prison Guards Union.
The basic fundamentals of a capitalistic Democracy are the exploitation of others while trying to maintain your integrity and sense of fair play.
One must expect larceny, tyranny and greed to rear up its ugly head, this is what Capitalism breeds, and democracy is all we have to keep ourselves in check.
The Board of Prison Terms have created their own laws to keep a strangle hold on Parolees after they have done their time.
For example, you have completed your 2 year prison sentence only to find out that you have to dance to the tune of the Parole Department for the next three years or you’ll be sent back to prison for violating your parole.
You didn’t notify your parole officer quick enough when you moved, you bought a car without notifying your parole officer, there was an un-opened six pack of beer in your car that belonged to your brother, who is also on parole when you were pulled over.
Even though you have never had a DUI, or a drunk in public, you do four months for the beer, and another four months because you were around another parolee when you were pulled over . . .it doesn’t matter even if it's family.
All these petty infractions are traps to get you sent back to prison. It’s job security for the state and county bureaucrats. No real law has been broken, but they yank you from your job and family and destroy what you have built up for the past year or two.
When the States budget gets tight they do a sweep and incarcerate as many people as they can. They have it set up so sweet that there is no statue of limitations on parole, but there is for robbery.
Capitalism is not a bad thing, but we must not lose sight of more important ideals like freedom, dignity, respect and compassion. Let’s not be seduced by power, wealth and greed, let us take the time to re-examine our motives. It is never too late to make a difference, to stand up for your rights and to make amends by having the courage to admit our errors and then take action to correct them.
I have always believed that we are more responsible for our "inactivity" than we are for taking action and making mistakes. As American citizens we were given certain rights to protect ourselves from a corrupt system. It is up to us to be vigilant and to speak up when you or someone you know is being victimized by the state. Although our system is flawed it is the best in the world and any system is only as good as the people who govern it. I am not here to belittle my country that I love and have fought and killed for in the name of freedom. Vietnam has left me a wreck, but as I see children running free through a park laughing and full of joy, I would do it all over again. I am your fellow American and will continue to defend your rights as well as my own. I am a Vet from the San Joaquin Valley, which has always been famous for it's abundance of fruit, nuts and vegetables. My first memories are swimming in irrigation canals, peaches on one side of the country road and apricots on the other. Watermelons, honeydews, almonds, picking cotton in the fog, working and tilling the earth with my healing brown hands, I am an Mexican/American, one of the stewards of the earth, willing to work with a smile in our hearts. Maybe this is why we make such excellent waiters.

The valleys and deserts of California are still being filled with fruits, nuts and vegetables of a different variety. The poor and downtrodden surrounded with razor wire and gun towers. There are more prisons in California than there are in the rest of the country. The trend it seems is to make it a crime to be homeless and destitute or mentally ill. Most of these new type of inmates are being convinced by prison psychologists into taking psyche meds and end up stumbling around, not even concerned about their own release date, they're so out of it. I find it ironic that the state has become the pusherman.
Just because this part of fate has not reached you doesn't make it any less real, it is up to us to put a stop to this so that our grandchildren won't become susceptible to this wicked self serving system that seeks to incarcerate our next generation just to fatten their pockets.
The three-strike law is job security for the state. Yes, lets keep the violent offender off the streets with a sentence that correlates with his crime and prior criminal history. The three-strike law is actually an undercover death penalty; a death sentence and they pass it out all day everyday. The A.C.L.U.rushes to defend the rights of terrorists, but the injustice of the three-strike law doesn't get their attention.
Imagine doing 25 years, your old, and society has left you behind and for what? petty theft, possession of a syringe! It's happening as we speak! I saw a black and white police van with "Homeless Outreach" printed on the side and "Soylent Green” came to mind. Remember the Charlton Heston movie, where the government was scooping up its destitute citizens and making green crackers out of them to feed to the masses.
The van stopped here at the wall in Ocean Beach where the Homeless congregate.

Let the harassment begin! Nazi Germany taking up people off the street, not just the Jews, but also the homeless, the gypsies, anyone who didn’t live up to their Aryan standards.
We must not let this happen to us.
Must we wait for them to invade the privacy of your own home before you do anything about this? We as Californians have many more years of strife and repercussions on all levels thanks to Pete Wilson and his fascist ideology. Immigration, the Prison System and the Homeless should be the main issues. What about the forgotten elderly who peek out their windows, their lawns are over grown, trash piled high in their backyards. They hobble to the store too scared and embarrassed to converse. Something should be done for these old folks. They are someone’s used to be grandparents.
I hang out at the V.F.W. Canteen in Ocean Beach, and it is here that I am able to volunteer my services. Because of this; these Vets have taken me under their wing, they don't judge me, my actions do.

The more you contribute to life, the more you receive whether good or bad, choose one.
I truly believe that our problems arise when we separate ourselves from each other.
Technology, fast food, and the quest for the Yankee dollar has been a major factor in alienating us from each other. Remember when we would all sit together as a family around the kitchen table? Now its ordering your food from your car at Crackdonnels. Everyone with their iPods plugged in their ears, oblivious as their world crumbles about them.

I leave you with this quote. "Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the RIGHT! of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, it is their right, it is their duty! to throw off such government and to provide new guards for their future security” written by Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence.
By Exteban ximenez, Ocean Beach, San Diego Califas.Peace Out!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Harassing me about my smoking could be hazardous to your health
Remembering Red Hot Ruthie

It's a beautiful blustery morning in Ocean Beach; I'm outside what was once my favorite dive, the Arizona Cafe, the last port of call for serious dipsomaniacs, a place Bukowski would have loved. I glance up to the apartment, and for a moment can still see Ruthie's 'lovelies' on the clothing line, old fashioned bras, corsets, drawers and sexy unmentionables dancing wildly -- a burlesque caricature of Frederick's of Hollywood.
These weren't Ruth's actual undies, just props she'd found in thrift stores to complete the gag.

To celebrate her 18th birthday, Ruth left her her home in Hoboken, New Jersey for New York and decided to stay. She landed a job bartending at the famous Jack Dempsey's Cocktail lounge on Broadway, just across from Madison Square Garden. In those days this was New York's de facto Red Light District, tinkers, tailors, soldiers, sailors, peep shows and dive bars.
After four years, Ruth her love affair with the glitter of New York faded. She wanted to see California, especially San Diego. She had heard it was a big navy town. She had a liking for men in the service. Ruth stepped off the bus in Ocean Beach. It was 1960, she was a young woman of 22.

* * *
I turn and walk to Newport Avenue, imagining what this old-fashioned main street was like when Ruth arrived in OB in 1960. A Norman Rockwell painting comes to mind; a sunny little place, friendly merchants greeting locals as they stroll by. Across the street is a 99-cent discount store. This was the Kraft Drug Store and Malt Shop. I wave to old Fred Kraft standing outside in his white apron smoking a cigarette.
On my left is Starbucks, yes; a Starbucks in OB, there's a touch of irony for you. OBecians soon formed a grassroots effort to block this corporate giant after someone got wind that they had rented the property.
I still have a bumper stickers on my car "No Corporate Whores On O.B. Shores." This building used to be the local bank, the type of place that mortgages and loans were given with a handshake and smile. Just a minute, I can hear George Bailey inside . . . Now, hold on, Mr. Potter. You're right when you say my father was no businessman. I know that. Why he ever started this cheap, penny-ante Building and Loan, I'll never know. But neither you nor anyone else can say anything against his character, because his whole life was - why, in the twenty-five years since he and Uncle Billy started this thing, he never once thought

of himself. Isn't that right, Uncle Billy? He didn't save enough money to send Harry to school, let alone me. But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter, and what's wrong with that? Why - here, you're all businessmen here. Doesn't it make them better citizens? Doesn't it make them better customers? You - you said - what'd you say a minute ago? They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait? Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they're so old and broken down that they... Do you know how long it takes a workingman to save five thousand dollars? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you're talking about... they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn't think so. People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they're cattle. Well, in my book he died a much richer man than you'll ever be.
Further up the street, passing what was once a florist, a bakery, a shoe shop, the Cornet dime store. Antique shops have replaced a lot of these places, so much so that Newport Avenue is now often referred to as Antique Alley.
Wings, an east coast souvenir shop occupies the space where the Strand Theater once was. A wonderful old building, many locals probably saw their first movie here, 25 cents to get in and 6 cents for a pack of Milk Duds. The marquee is still there, sadly no longer advertising the upcoming matinees or Midnight specials.

I cross over to the Pacific Shores, a neighborhood bar. The outside of the place is classic 50s kitsch, like an abstract expressionistic piece by Pollock. I love this place, a bar that still embodies the sounds and smells of the 1940s. It's subtly lit, and murals of buxom mermaids that glow under the black light, a venerable bar to enjoy a brief respite from the world. It was here in 1994 that I first met Ruth. I was working at The Newport Bar and Grill just two doors down and I would pop into "Pac" Shores to wind down after my shift. I'd order a cosmopolitan, sit and nurse it while watching Ruth, the consummate barmaid, dispensing drinks and advice to all that entered. She didn't suffer fools or amateurs gladly, the young neophytes would breeze in and try to order 'cement mixers, slippery nipples, chocolate covered grasshoppers or Mexican glow worms. Ruth would roll her eyes . . . "can you believe these assholes?" Picking up a Pall Mall cigarette, she would walk to the exit and say, "I'm on a break."
Ruth reminded me of redheaded Kitty Russell, owner of the Long Branch Saloon in the tv show Gunsmoke; an idiosyncratic dress sense, dark red hair, gravely voice and a wicked laugh. Her tough exterior would belie her heart of gold. Her hazel eyes would penetrate your soul.
She was not afraid of anyone; there was the time that two bikers were sitting in a booth drinking bottles of Budweiser. One of them kept falling asleep on the table. Ruth would holler from behind the bar, "Hey you, this ain't the right place to be sleeping, if you wanna sleep, you can get out right now." The next time his head fell on the table Ruth was over like a shot, snatched the beer bottles, and firmly told them to leave. These guys were huge, but left quickly, without a word. She commanded respect, simple as that.
There are only a hand full of people in the bar at this early hour, couple of tourists and a few old regulars. In memory of Ruth, I put a few tunes on the jukebox. Ruth loved Billy Joel and Johnny Cash. Karin, a young attractive girl is behind the bar; she and Ruth were very good friends. For the next hour Karin shares some of her fond memories.

"I made it a point to go by during Ruthie's shifts and say hello. I worked Sunday's at the restaurant, so I would always stop in for one after my shift. Ruthie got to know me better after a while and I got to know her. I would sit quietly and wait for my drink; she would make her way over to me with a 'Hi. What'll it be?'"

Once I came in and Ruthie walked over with a gift bag for me. I was left speechless and touched. There are so many people in life; but she remembered my birthday. As I sat there holding my treasure, I realized that I had somehow made it into a select circle of Ruthie's friends.
Over the course of the next months I hung out a little longer after my shifts. I Had a few more drinks, got to know the staff a little better and enjoyed getting to know Ruthie. She was always good to give an honest opinion; to tell you about the time she got into a fight; tell you to 'stay away from them assholes' stating, 'they're not worth it.'
Mostly it was her sense of humor. Every time she laughed at something I would start smiling. My last shift with Ruthie was New Year's day 2007. Ruthie went into the hospital the following Sunday. I had a business trip in New York and later that week I called Ruthie from 116th and Broadway, to report on the weather in New York and to see if she was feeling okay and going to work that Sunday. She told me that she was still sick and the doctors were going to be doing some tests later that week. As we talked I walked down Broadway describing the sights and smells in detail. She would hear something and ask me, "What was that." and I would report. I gave her the update on what was going on while she was in the hospital. The next thing I knew I was at 46th Street near Times Square. She could hear all the sounds of the city. I knew that she lived in New York, but didn't find out until she had passed away that I was walking through the neighborhood she grew up in. When she left home that was where her first apartment was, and I can only imagine that she had made that walk many times.
Ruthie was more than a bartender. She was my friend and a piece of history from a time that has been forgotten.

A couple of gin & tonics later, I step back into the sunshine and begin to head down towards the pier, stopping for a moment at The Black, one of the last authentic head shops from the 60s. Can't resist having a little browse, I walk in, the scent of patchouli drifts through the air. THE Place is crammed full of counterculture books, cards, clothing, roach clips, glass pipes, black light posters . . . I love this place.
I Laugh to myself as I read the numerous irreverent bumper stickers on sale. Reminds me of Ruth's old blue pick up truck. She had so many stickers and slogans plastered all over it. My favorite was the one that read "Harassing me about my smoking could be hazardous to your health".
Just as I leave, a vintage poster for The Del Mar Races catches my eye. Ruth loved playing the horses, had her favorite numbers, 2-5-7, and had a knack of being very successful with the Trifecta. She'd always play picking the first two sure shots and follow with a long shot.
When Ruth's old pick-up truck was on its last legs, she wondered how she would replace it. She went to the track and her numbers came in. She won well over two thousand dollars, enough for a down payment on a new truck.
Ruth never let the grass grown beneath her feet, and took many road trips. She'd always take her cat, Panda with her.
She often went up to Idyllwild, a small mountain town just an hour or so north of San Diego overlooking Palm Springs. She loved the peace and serenity of the mountains. Reno was also a place she'd like to visit, much preferring over the hustle and bustle of Vegas.
A favorite story of hers is the one when she left her last of three husbands, Frank Freeman in the desert. They were on their way to Reno and Frank wanted to stop and stay the night at a motel that was along the way. Ruthie was looking forwards to having a flutter, didn't want to waste time. After a night in a motel, she got up early and simply left him there. She says," He had the hotel staff give him a ride to the nearest town and when he got back to town that was the end of him. He was all bent out of shape. Now, how can he say I left him in the desert? I left him in a fully air-conditioned motel room, with his checkbook....but I guess that wasn't good enough for him....HA!" She continued to say "All that mother f---er (he) wanted to do was drink and I was going to I went."

I take a slight detour down Del Monte Street. In 1964 Ruth was living in an apartment on this street and pregnant with her son, Kevin. On Good Friday, March 27 of that year, a great earthquake struck Prince William Sound in Alaska. Policemen were roaming the streets of Ocean Beach with bullhorns announcing the possible threat of a Tsunami, and for everyone to evacuate.
Ruth heard the commotion, threw open her window and yelled, "I'm pregnant, I live on the second floor and I can swim, I'm not going anywhere". It took far more than the threat of a huge wave to unnerve Ruth.
Some good six to eight footers are breaking under the pier sending sea spray everywhere. I love to walk on the pier on days like this. You can feel the power of the ocean as it reverberates through the concrete foundation. The Pier was built in 1966 and is the second-longest pier on the West Coast.

It was around this time that OB was blossoming into a bastion of counterculture. Hippies, Beatniks, Peaceniks, Kooks, and Bikers were gravitating to OB. Rockwell move over, Warhol was moving in.
Not far from home, I wander into The Tilted Stick, a small sports bar on the corner of Voltaire & Bacon. Numerous games are blaring on the TV, the jukebox blasts out a song by Metallica. I order a pint of Yellowtail and a Philly. Ruth got one of her first jobs here back in 1963. It was then called the Brown Bottle, a cozy and dark tavern with a beautiful mahogany bar that curved around the place. The patrons and coworkers loved Ruth and her red hair. It was he that she acquired her moniker, 'Red Hot Ruthie'. The name stuck.
Wander back home to freshen up, there's a memorial for Ruth at the Masonic Temple on Sunset Cliffs tonight at 6pm.
What a great turnout. friends and patrons from the bars she worked are here. The staff from Pacific Shores has set up a bar and are already serving cocktails. A wonderful spread has been provided; sushi, sandwiches, fruit bowls, crackers and cake. Aaron, Heather, Kathy O and numerous others approach the podium and share anecdotes on Ruth and her life. Everyone is laughing.

Ruth's passed away on March 11, 2007, just a few months after the Arizona Cafe had closed its doors for the final time. Ocean Beach lost a local icon as well as a landmark bar. The world is changing dramatically, and unsurprisingly, so is Ocean Beach. This wonderful small town in a big city is an endangered species. As the clichĂ© goes, you don’t know what you’ve got until you’ve lost it. Is this the beginning of the end of OB? Or are we already in Pottersville?
– Trevor Watson

Clarence: Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?
- Trevor Watson