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.

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