There’s a place, where I can go, when I feel low, when I feel blue…
I was in Azusa this past weekend and of course did my obligatory cruise up north Angeleno Street, one of my main stomping grounds back in the day. It really hasn’t changed much in 50 years. It still looks about the same. t brings back so many memories, it’s so rich with history. When I got home I pulled up a copy of a piece I wrote several years ago about the Angeleno St. of my youth, read it and decided it was time to repost it. It’s been nearly four years since it was posted. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed living it and writing about it. Peace…
“There’s a Place: Angeleno Street.” Part One
There was nothing particularly noteworthy or wondrous about the 200 block of north Angeleno Ave, nothing to distinguish it from any other residential street in any number of small towns across America. Angeleno was just another stretch of asphalt situated between Second and Third Street, in the small foothill community of Azusa California, nothing more, nothing less.
Like most neighborhood streets Angeleno was lined by average, single story, middle class American homes, inhabited by average, middle class American families. Angeleno produced no presidents, astronauts, writers, professional athletes, or TV personalities nor anyone of notoriety. Actually not many famous people had their beginnings in the Canyon City, only two come to mind, my uncle, major league pitcher Hank Aguirre who in a career that spanned 15 years, pitched for the Indians, Tigers, Dodgers and Cubs, and more recently motivational life coach Tony Robbins.
As a kid I remember hearing many stories about my uncle Hank, the local boy who made good. My favorite was when he was in his rookie year with the Indians in 1956 and faced baseball legend Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox for the fist time and struck him out! After the game he asked Williams to autograph the ball. A few weeks later he faced Williams again but this time Williams swung at the first pitch and put it out of the park. While circling the bases, Williams yelled out to my uncle,“Get that ball and I”ll sign that one too!”
I only got to see him play once in 1968 when he was traded to the Dodgers. It was a great game. L.A. was holding on to a slim 3‑2 lead against the Giants. With two out and two on in the seventh, he was brought in to relieve Don Sutton who was struggling badly. Hank managed to strike out Bobby Bonds and got them out of the inning. The Dodgers went on to win the game 4‑2. Uncle Hank had a great year with L.A. allowing only 3 runs in 39‑1/3 innings with an ERA of 0.69, but for reasons unknown, at least by me, he was released after only one season.
In those quiet moments when I think about Angeleno I’m transported back in time and my mind is filled with cherished memories like the one above. Angeleno has a way of doing that to me. It will forever remain one of the favorite places of my youth.
Why Angeleno Ave? I can’t give you a definitive answer as to why we enjoyed hanging out on Angeleno like we did, we just did. It was a wide street and very close to Memorial Park and the baseball fields. Besides, three of our school friends lived there. Jeff Smith and his cousins Pete Smith and Paul McCully all lived on the west side of the street within a few houses of one another. They were in my class at St. Frances of Rome from fifth through eighth grade. Funny, I had friends who lived on Orange Ave, San Gabriel Blvd and Nob Hill Drive to name a few, but their streets never had the charm or appeal of Angeleno, we never wanted to just ‘hang out” on those streets. It was always Angeleno. It was the cool place to be. “If you weren’t there, you weren’t anywhere.”
After school we would all walk or ride our bikes home together and wind up kickin’ it in front of Pete or Jeff’s house, checking out their older brother’s ‘cool cars’ cruising up and down the street. Both boys came from large families so believe me, there were plenty of cars! Sometimes some of their friends would show up and there would be ten or more hot rods on the street. Once in a while my cousin Charles would cruise down in his 56 Chevy 2 door hardtop. It was hot and had a super loud exhaust system! Way cool!
You can’t imagine how exciting it was for a twelve year old to be in the proximity of the cool guys. An even bigger thrill was to be acknowledged by them. When that happened you knew you’d made the big time. I can still remember the first time it happened to me. I was leaving Pete’s, heading home when his older brother Bob cruised by slowly in his black 39 Ford. I remember him looking over at me and giving me the ‘nod’ which was the cool way of saying hello. I, of course, pulled my head back in a slow, snapping motion and nodded back. It was awesome! And as if that wasn’t cool enough, a few minutes later Jeff’s brother Ron drove by in his primer grey 34 sedan, gave me the nod, then pulled over and offered me a ride home, which I readily accepted. That was one of the best days of my young life.
As we grew older and our interest turned to girls and our own cars. We began hanging out more and more on Angeleno Street. By then we had befriended several more Angeleno’s who were within a year or two of our age. Among them were Jeff’s younger sister Cathy, two of Pete’s younger brother’s Jerry and Joe, Cheryl Hahn from across the street, Jeff’s neighbor George Harvey, Stoy Hughes and The Robertson girls Paula, Shelly and Debbie who lived a few doors down from Cheryl. The outsiders who hung out on Angeleno on a regular basis included myself, Art Vasquez, Bob Pacheco, Dave Morales, and Mike “Nosey” Narez. Other ‘occasional’ included Brian and Mike Muldrow, Ernie Breceda, Ron Nava, Everette Thompson, Larry Carlos and a few others.
It wasn’t unusual to find us there most late afternoons or evenings just hanging around shooting the shit. Many an adventure was born on Angeleno, some incredible, others incredibly stupid! Like the night we decided to play car chase, definitely one of our dumber ideas. A group of us had been sitting on the lawn in front of Pete’s house talking, as darkness fell and boredom set in someone got the crazy idea to play chase.
I remember jumping into my VW with Art, Dave and Eddie and taking off down the street. Bob and Rabbit right behind in Bob’s Bug. We raced down Angeleno to Second Street, turned right on Second to Orange Ave, right on Orange to Third Street, right on Third, then right again on Angeleno . We were having a blast! Each time we passed Pete’s house we honked our horns and flashed our lights, yelling and flipping off the others who were still sitting in Pete’s front yard. It was awesome!
We made two passes without incident and were coming around for the third time. This time however as we approached Pete’s house I decided to slow down and pull over to the curb. Unfortunately, Bob was too busy flipping the guys off through his sunroof and didn’t see my brake lights. A moment later he crashed into the back of my car. I was nearly stopped, he was going about twenty. The impact was intense! It rocked us! Fortunately no one in my car was injured. In Bob’s car, Rabbit, who was in the passenger seat, was thrown forward and whacked his head on the windshield, hard enough to shatter the glass and pop it out. Fortunately he was okay, but it wasn’t to be his last incident with Bob’s windshield. A few years later he would have the misfortune of being with Bob on New Year’s Eve and again made contact with the windshield.
Both cars were damaged, but were still road worthy. Before the police arrived we got together and concocted a story about a small black dog running into the street causing me to brake fast in front of Bob. Not the greatest story but it was all we had. When the police unit arrived the two officers began by questioning Bob and I about the accident, they then spoke to our passengers.
Everything seemed to be going well until, as the policeman was recapping our story, little Timmy Smith blurted out that the dog had been a big black dog, caught his error and changed it to a small dog. Well it was pretty obvious that the police were a little suspicious. It didn’t take a genius to know there was more going on there than what they’d been told, but they were cool. They finished up their report and after a little lecture about driving carefully they went on their way.
After they’d left we all razed Timmy for a while then headed home. Just another night on Angeleno. Unbelievably Bob’s insurance company contacted me the very next day and by late afternoon I had a check in my hand for the repairs! Yeah, those certainly were the days!
Then there was the time some of the guys came up with the bright idea of making a life like dummy. Man we had a blast with that thing! We had this cool mask that we called “Ralph” that we put on it. The rubber mask was sort of a wild eyed caveman with long black hair. We’d go out to the Foothill Shopping Center and scare the crap out of people by tossing it out of a moving car. It was awesome! We tied him to the back of the Paul’s panel truck and pulled him through the streets, we tossed him off of the bridge up near the Canyon Inn, we laid him on the side of busy streets and waited in hiding for passing motorists to drive up and come to his aid. Yeah, we really put him to good use. We even filmed some of the Angeleno antics with the dummy and a lot more. I came across them a few years back and transferred them to DVD. It was so cool watching us living it up and having a ball on Angeleno! Good times!
To be continued.,,