Cruising Beach Street, Santa Cruz 1960
Santa Cruz, the spring of 1960, and the four of us girls were cruising Beach Street as we had every Friday night since Marcie Bell had been unwisely granted a license to drive in the State of California. Easter week, and school was out. We were off the leash, untethered and looking for trouble. Marcie was the only one who had a car, a brilliant birthday present from her dad that made us all so envious we were on the verge of orgasms every time we slid into the back seat.
The entire street was jammed, bumper to bumper, west to east. Every one between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five had the same idea in mind – cheap, salacious entertainment.
We were hanging our arms out of the blue and white ‘55 Chevy Bel Air convertible, shamelessly waving and shouting remarks at the boys that we wanted to meet. They revved up their motors as they passed by - a sign of virility, a manliness akin to gorillas thumping their chests. We girls loved it. We were only seventeen, juniors in high school and didn’t care about how loud or how stupid we were. There was a kind of joy in making an ass of one’s self at that age on a warm spring night at the beach in Santa Cruz.
We passed the Municipal wharf, V-8 engine purring like an alley cat on the prowl. Boys were shouting lewd remarks from a ‘53 two-tone Buick with portholes in the front fenders. They wolf-whistled at us from a low-riding ‘54 Mercury with sexy chrome-plated Lake’s plugs. They cat-called from a ‘47 Ford coupe with pin-striped flames around the wheel-wells and headlights. We shouted right back and loudly sang along with the Coasters’ Charlie Brown on the car radio. “He walks in the classroom, cool and slow, who calls the English teacher Daddy-O? Charlie Brown!”
We cruised slowly past Carniglia Bros. Fish Restaurant, past the Coconut Grove and Penny Arcade, past Marini’s saltwater taffy and the Sno-Cones stand. The air smelled like Coppertone and cotton candy. Palm fronds rattled like maracas in the on-shore breeze high above our heads.
On the balconies of beachfront motels, college students were drinking suicidal glasses of *spolie and watching the vehicular mating rituals below. Rolling over the railroad tracks, we passed the Merry-Go-Round, the Tilt-A-Whirl, the Giant Dipper, the Bumper Cars. Down at the end of the long street we made a U-turn and cruised slowly all the way back. Then we’d do it again. This parade of blatant youthful libido went on for a couple of hours.
We found the ones we wanted, and Marcie yelled, “Steamer Lane.” The boys met us up on West Cliff Drive overlooking the ocean. We all got out of the cars and walked around, circling each other, bantering back and forth, flirting, getting back into the cars, drinking a little beer and making out in the back seat. (Not me, of course — the other girls.) Sitting in cars with boys on West Cliff at night was called ‘watching the submarine races’ in the local teenage vernacular.
We learned that they were second-year San Jose State boys, Sigma Chi boys – too old for us, making our liaison even more inappropriate and thus, more desirable. We teased and joked for a while, but they could see they wouldn’t be getting any serious action from the likes of us. Oh, we were all cute and fresh and funny, but they had driven thirty-five miles across the hill to find easy girls. Santa Cruz had a lot of them, but we weren’t of that tribe, so they headed back down to Beach Street to continue the hunt.
We made our way across town in the Bel Air, giggling like hyenas, no seat-belts, no air bags, and Marcie, our incompetent driver, had a buzz on. The parking lot of the 5-Spot Drive-In Restaurant was jammed, cars stacked up double deep, all the radios tuned to KDON at volume. Young men were walking around from car to car, leaning into windows, engaging in a bit of reconnaissance. Car hops attached trays to the driver’s side window ledge and took our orders for flavored fountain-cokes and french fries.
We always had a great time together, the four of us. We were all four equal on the stupidity scale, well-matched on the immaturity meter. Oh, we liked to pretend we were bad girls, but we knew how far we could go without compromising what was reverently called our “reputation”. So we weren’t really bad. Okay, maybe a little bad, but I won’t be telling you anything about that.
*If you’ve never heard of “spolie”, it was a cheap alcoholic drink favored by California college students in the early 60s — a deadly mix of Hawai’ian Punch, cheap vodka and Red Mountain burgundy. Made by the gallon, it caused the worst head-cracking, swearing off hangovers ever … apparently. Don’t try it!
Thank you to Scott Ocamb, who writes SCOTT’S STORIES on Substack, and whose nostalgic latest memoire, “Brian and Billy” inspired this little Santa Cruz memory. Check it out.
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