Her Way to the Highway
It’s the third Friday of January
1951, a miserably windy, rainy day, not the usual boring
Southern California weather. It had been blowing,
raining for days; a sissy umbrella worthless. She was
seventeen, eighteen in late April. In her senior year at
high school, graduating late February (mid-year
graduations were part of the Los Angeles Unified
District system) tired of walking the long lackluster
distance to school five days of the week for what seemed
a lifetime. And it was just about that… since second
Of course, there
was her outstandingly beautiful Schwinn bike, no way, it
could be stolen again. She had been lucky to get it back
that time. (Another story waiting in the wings)And there
was the bus. She hated the morning Beverly bus, hated
the lines, waiting, pushing crowds, waiting, lines again
to transfer to the Fairfax bus. They were smelly,
jam-packed, noisy, cost a mere ten cents, but still ten
cents out of her traveling to school parental subsidy.
So she walked, leaving home very early, never late to
school. She walked a different route every day, but
there were just so many streets, avenues that went from
her house on South Martel to Fairfax and Melrose. She
knew them all.
of schlepping herself, her books, past single
beautifully landscaped homes in her neighborhood then
apartments. The further she walked west the more
apartments; four unit two story white stucco, red tile
roof buildings, long cement driveways to the back,
fashioned with four single car garages.
Cars lined the streets in this
neighborhood, bumper to tail pipe. If she encountered a
person, it was someone walking a dog, getting into a
car. Certainly no one she knew from school walked, at
least she never noticed if there were, with her head
down, watching her feet moving along the cement
sidewalks with their lines spaced evenly at thirty-six
inches. (She had measured this out of curiosity even
considered counting how many lines there were in total
during the walks. (Counting was her thing.)
The clusters of apartments made it
obvious that the income level dropped seriously; even in
her youth she could see the transformations caused by
She was fed-up. She had been walking to schools nine
years. Her new father had her officially transferred to
the out of district Carthay Center Elementary, a
fundamental school. He was appalled by the progressive
standards at Hancock Park. Learn by doing. (When he
asked her what she did at school, building an Indian
village, making freight cars, was the startling answer
that prompted his action.)
A short walk to the neighborhood
school became a three mile journey. There were only two
routes: East on 5th street, South on Crescent Heights
Boulevard, past the Carthay Circle Movie Theater or west
on 5th to Sweetzer Avenue, South to San Vicente across
the railroad tracks and East on Olympic Boulevard to the
school. Sometime she walked up the tracks just for fun.
The best was when a train came, placing a penny on the
track, waving. These men always waved back.
She was never offered a ride
although she and her step-dad left at the same time each
morning, not even part way; that was his way.
By hook or by crook, some way or
the other, she had to have her own wheels. She wasn’t
into the Moses thing any longer. Just how?
The other morning she read an
article in the newspaper reporting that Jerry Lewis’s
car, (of the famed Martin and Lewis comedy team) a
Studebaker, the one that looked like it was going and
coming at the same time, was stolen from Gilmore Stadium
parking lot; he had left the key in the ignition. As she
trudged along; she fantasized: steal one, look for a car
whose driver left the keys in the ignition, exchange the
license plates stolen from another; she knew how to use
a screw-driver. Plenty of choices in the car-ports at
the La Brea Housing Project, just beyond Third Street.
She walked, thoughts drifted: grand apartment buildings
finished after World War Two. Those buildings stood
there unfinished from 1941 till the end of the war. Only
skeletons of brick stairs and chimneys of what they
would become later. Countless high risers. She had
explored the more than one hundred sixty acres during
her years of adventures walking from John Burroughs
Junior High. (She bought a slice of Angel food cake, a
lifetime favorite, at the bakery at the corner of La
Brea and Third with part of her saved lunch money. She
worked in the cafeteria at noon to get a free lunch not
having to spend her designated money given each morning,
placed by her breakfast cereal bowl.) She loved to save,
watch her bank account grow, hated to spend her precious
Yes, she was
walking then too; the La Brea Project, a great area of
exploration that she and her dog Ginger tromped around
whenever they were free from weekend chores. They caught
an owl in one of the storage areas, sold it to the pet
store at the Town and County Center on Fairfax and
Third. Ignored the F… word painted on the walls. Not
knowing what it meant why it was a bad word.
She laughed at herself. A car
thief. In the old west punishment for horse thieves was
hanging, what would it be for stealing a car? Forget it.
How to solve the problem? So her
independent wants overcame her dependent needs. She
would buy her own car. She had her own money in her own
she ever a saver, stringently taught by her mother; put
a portion of income into the bank. Out of her allowance
of a dollar a week (fifty cents into the bank), bus
money, her jobs at the Farmers Market in the Coral Reef
Bird store, the Little Mexican Mart, Jimmy Gorman’s
Camera Store, all at $.50 an hour she had accumulated a
fortune in six years of $602.82.
She worked every day after school, to the maximum
allowed students. All day on Saturdays (Sometime more
but who checked she was paying social security even
then. Her dad made her quit after she reach $600.00 so
he could still claim her as an income tax dependent.)
Then she worked off of the books, cash only.
So, after school this day she
walked home, it had quit raining, (she knew her mother
was at the beauty salon) got her bank savings book, fast
walked to the Gilmore bank. She didn’t mind this walk at
all. She withdrew $200.00 from her savings account.
The next day, Saturday, chores done
early, the cash, in 20.00s, 10.00s and 5.00s stuffed
into the pocket of her jeans she walked to the bus stop;
believing, this would be the last time she would have to
She had listened to the radio
that blasted ads for car dealers. The section of Los
Angeles along Vermont was the Mecca for dealers,
shoppers. So she walked to the bus stop, waited (the
last time) boarded the hated Beverly bus got off at
Vermont to begin her quest.
When she was four, Vermont Avenue was where she took her
first horseback riding lessons. She never stop thinking
about her mount, a pony was named Jeanie. Her mom
promised her a pony, but marriage to her new father
changed all that. So she promised herself a pony, horse
when she grew-up.
then Aunt Jean served as transportation with her 1937
Ford. Mother spent her travel time in cars of family or
friends, taxies, never buses or trolleys, never did want
to learn to drive.
In 1937 the whole of the Vermont
area from Beverly Boulevard as far as she could see, was
miles of open land, here there was a riding ring, miles
of trails, a stable redesigned from two opposite facing
billboards at the end of the vast open acreage. Then
there was a railed trolley that coursed down the paved
road. The tracks all round Los Angeles were being ripped
up. Buses and auto were taking over as the main means of
What she saw today. Hugh
billboards lining the boulevard. Lights flashing the
names of the dealerships: Cadillac’s, Lincolns, Buicks,
Pontiacs, Fords, Chevrolets, all new. One name she liked
was Felix Chevrolet. Big cartoon cat was the logo.
The further south she strolled
along the boulevard, around the lots, the cheaper the
prices posted in the windshields. Now the signs read
“Good Used Cars”. The prices began to fit her pocket
full of savings. She had walked miles from Beverly to
Venice Boulevard. She couldn’t help but notice the guys
standing around in front of motorcycle shops, tire
repair frontages, smoking, swearing, laughing, ignoring
her, as intent on their business as she was with hers.
Along the route. There were
restaurants, dry cleaners, beauty shops, coffee shops,
tire businesses, auto repairs, gas stations,
(twenty-five cents a gallon, she could do that) She was
focused on one business.
Finally a blue (her favorite color) Nash coupe in a lot
just north of Venice Blvd caught her eye. It was at the
back of the lot. The salesman came over. “That’s a
mechanics car.” His comment. “That’s Ok; if it’s good
enough for a mechanic it’s good enough for me.” “No, no
little girl, I can’t sell you this car, it needs work.
Let’s go look at some others.”
She disliked all the other cars,
left to try her luck on the North side of Beverly;
another long walk that took her to a block south of LA
City College, Pepperdine. (Tempted to take the bus, but
she knew that by the time she waited for the bus she
could have walked to her next shopping area).
Crossing Beverly Boulevard
wondering what was to be bought at the business with the
sign, “Bath House.” She saw a neon flashing “The Café”,
she was hungry. Couldn’t spend her money on food, she
would eat later at home.
The car quest her only focal point. Then into view a
non-descript, partially lit “Cheap Used Cars” winked,
blinked a welcome. Desperation set in. This had to be
the place, for sure. And it was…
Scurrying in she was left alone to
wander around the lot. Probably no one would consider
her as being a customer; only a 4’6” curly headed little
girl. There she stumbled onto a 1937 Dodge Coupe. It was
priced within her pocket full of ready money. It was an
ugly dark green in and out, (her least liked color)
built like a tank. Clean inside, a radio, good tread on
the tires. She hustled back to the apparent sales
office; had to be. It was the only building in the
vicinity. The door was open. The man inside was leaning
back in a swivel chair, booted feet up on the yellow
wooden desk, coffee cup in one hand a cigarette in the
other; grinning, friendly looking. “I was watching you.
Interested, huh in the 37 coupe? Buy it now and I’ll
knock $25.00 off the posted price.
Come on; let’s go for a test
drive.” She drove it around the block with the
salesman/owner by her side. She apologizes for her
stick-shift/clutch difficulties. He didn’t seem to mind.
Nice man. (All men seemed nice to her then.)
She plunked down $175.00 no
questions asked, no validation of driver’s license, (she
only had a learner’s permit) not asked her age, signed
the registration, sales contract. Home she drove in, on
her own wheels.
So proud of her purchase she burst into the house
“everybody come see.”
There was shocked disbelief/belief. There it was her own
car. Mother was laughing, she knew her daughter, her
innate sense of independence, taught, encouraged. The
step-father’s lawyerly inquisition began: Where did you
buy it, how much, is it safe, is it in good running
order (it got me home) where’s the sales contract,
registration, do you have insurance? (What’s that?)
You’re not licensed. Good grief that much of a fuss
about her first major purchase.
Her step-dad (she had wanted him to adopt her
officially, to be part of his family, no, he put in
plain words, your own father must never be free of his
responsibility for you. Not, if truth be told,
understood until later in her life) was on the phone to
his insurance agent, Jerry Fields, the registration,
contract in hand reading off the particulars to put a
binder (what’s that?) on the car. He knew how to take
care of business just like this.
Then a call to the owner of the
car lot. What she heard; the contract was invalid, she
was underage, couldn’t by law legally sign or held
responsible. If the car was faulty it came back with
full refund or a law suit would be filed, (he was a
civil lawyer) A call to the family mechanic to come over
for the inspection.
Then a call to a driver training
school, Dad wasn’t going to contribute any further to
mechanic, Jack Hand, (later she heard he was a drunk,
who kidnapped an aged mechanic he employed, took him up
to the Baldwin Hills, beat him up, charged with the very
serious charge of kidnapping, worse than murder after
the Lindberg baby case, her step-dad’s first of only two
criminal cases, got him off) deemed the old car safe, in
good working order. The insurance papers arrived adding
her to the family policy. (Per their agreement) She gave
her dad the $25.00 for the additional cost.
The car remained parked in front
for weeks, she was still on foot (the key was
confiscated) while she became skilled to really drive by
The very day of her eighteenth
birthday her boyfriend, Buddy, drove her to the
Hollywood DMV where she passed the State tests, got her
California driver’s license. She drove home.
This tank of a vehicle took her to
school, work, beaches, mountains, deserts, shared all
sorts of adventures for the next four years. She put it
up for sale (it was getting tired, needing expensive
repairs.) A fellow that she worked with at Douglas
Aircraft in Santa Monica came over, took it on a test
drive. He never returned.
Months later it was reported to
be in Beaverton, OR, a mechanic’s lien on it for
repairs. She signed the release papers per her
step-father’s counsel. Began saving for another car; her
1948 two tone green Pontiac Sedan.
1937 in 1951 gone but not forgotten.