Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Virtual Stroll

This is a continuation of a series of writings about my time in the Navy. The first in this series of posts can be found here or go here for the most recent.

A lot of my friends had cars and apartments off base and would be able to escape shipboard life after work if it wasn't their 'duty day'. I didn't feel the need to have to get away, in fact, I found a nice routine living on the ship that worked for me and I was able to save a fair amount of money by not having all the added expenses my friends were taking on. Meals were provided on the boat but occasionally I'd head out into the city on my bike for some fast food. Once each week I'd load my laundry into my duffel bag and sling it over my shoulder for a two-mile bike ride to the laundromat on Highland Ave and 16th street; what is now Italy's Beauty Salon.

I remember being inside there one night in October 1977 doing laundry when I learned of the plane crash that would be the demise of the Lynyrd Skynyrd band. I wasn't a huge fan but I liked their music. It's one of those moments that for whatever reason I have a distinct memory of where I was when I heard the news.

Tucked in behind the laundromat was the bike shop where my interest in bikes began to seriously take hold. The shop was run by a nice, older guy in maybe his 60's. He would give me tips on what components I could swap out on my Peugeot I'd bought a few months earlier at the Navy Exchange for upgraded stuff he'd sell me. He would eventually point me in the direction of a guy a few years older than me from his church named Jerry LeRue.  Jerry raced locally and was in need of some cash for his wedding and parting with a frame was a means to that end. It didn't actually fit me all that well but I was more supple back then and made it work. I put a ton of miles on it.

The frame, an Eisentraut Ltd, is as much a piece of art as it is a bicycle frame and would eventually become an American classic.  I have to wonder if Jerry ever regrets parting with it. I nearly did but I still have it. I placed an ad online maybe ten years ago with some photos of it, looking for a buyer.  I had offers but in the end, I couldn't let it go. Years later I would stumble onto the pictures I'd taken and uploaded on a website called Classic Rendezvous. I was flattered to have photos of my frame on the site.

With my new frame, I developed both an appreciation and an appetite for more expensive bike components than what the shop behind the laundromat typically carried. I had already begun frequenting other higher-end bike shops when he closed his doors before the end of my enlistment. A 'head shop' would open in its place.

Down from the laundromat and beyond a small building that used to be a flower stand was Winchell's Donuts. It's still a donut shop but no longer Winchell's. I'd sometimes make late-night runs there on my bike when I got a craving.

Across 16th Street was McDonald's which according to my journal was boasting 25 billion served as of early 1977.

Of all the intersections in San Diego, I knew Highland Ave and 16th Street best.  Next week will mark 30 years since I left the area after my enlistment but from my short Google Street View tour it appears this small section of shops remains largely unchanged while much of the surrounding area has become unrecognizable to me.

I was semi-content with where I was in life at this point but at times I couldn't help but wonder how much ground I was losing to my friends who were well into their 2nd year of college. I'd be four years behind them when I got out and while I knew I was where I needed to be, I also knew I had a lot of work in front of me once I got out. Some of the writings in my journal reflect an impatient attitude, wishing my enlistment was over so I could really get on with my life. I no longer felt challenged by my position and to me, each day seemed another day further back that I was falling. Still, for as anxious as I was to move on, I was able to enjoy the time I had left knowing that I was living some of the more carefree days I'd ever know; and I was right.

To be continued...

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