John Greenleaf Whittier 9 p.m., Nov. 22
- Community Blog
Superior, and the Magic Triangle
More out of habit than anything else, I set out each year a few days after Christmas for a week or so's travel in Arizona. There are rental properties in Yuma and Prescott to check up on, but it's so cold at the latter that I generally just make sure there's nothing needing immediate attention, then clear some brush and pull some weeds while freezing at night in the storage shed on the upper lot. Then I make a list of things to do for my next visit in the early summer, and head for warmer climes.
This year-end it was kind of backwards, as I headed east and south after Yuma and ended up in Tucson, which I hadn't seen in almost 30 years. The Miracle Mile ain't what it used to be when our family vacationed there during Spring Vacation 1970, but it isn't too bad and apparently is a lot better than it was when it started going downhill. I lay in bed one night in my cheap motel room and had a look at the road atlas, pausing to contemplate how the Miracle Mile becomes a highway north of town and could take me eventually to the mining country around Globe.
Superior is a pud-in-the-mud town west of Globe, with a mine that's no longer open and a main street with a lot of boarded up businesses. The only thing of interest about it is a factoid remembered from one of my last conversations with the mother of my best childhood friend. She was born in Sunnyvale but spent most of her childhood in Tucson, and her husband was born in Superior.
I spent some time, but not too much, walking around that town. The high school is old, but probably the most elegant building in the town, dating back to a time when public buildings were supposed to possess a kind of grandeur. The cemetery was nearby it, and I found the gravesite of my old best buddy's grandfather. It wasn't hard to research, as he had the same name as both my buddy and his dad. The grandfather had been a mining foreman in Superior early in the 20th century, and the dad had been an engineer at Convair for a long time. He himself had been a Coast Guard officer and later a marine engineer with a PhD in computer science. Getting practical things done was in the blood.
Our families met sometime shortly after I was born in the mid-1950s. College Avenue, above University to the north, was a busy noisy street and something of a hazardous environment for wee little kids. It didn't even have sidewalks then. They lived across the street from us, in a tiny duplex whose total area--both units--couldn't have been more than 1,000 square feet. The moms were out wheeling their baby carriages around one day and struck up a conversation. I was about a half year younger than my buddy, but we got along great and for a long time after I considered him my best friend.
I remember him as "Billy," though he changed his name to "Trey" as an adult, meaning third in the family line with the same name. His mom and I were probably the only people in the world who could never break the habit of calling him Billy.
Stepping out into College Avenue was absolutely taboo; I knew that. Nonetheless I remember us looking at each other one day across the busy street. Billy yelled out my name and started running across the yard to cross the street and join me. His mom caught him by the shirt collar and whapped him good.
He was a strong, athletic kid, but curiously accident-prone. One day when we weren't more than four years old, he was in our back yard with our moms and me. I decided to climb around on the fence over the rose bushes, as I often did. He joined in, and his mom told him to get down before he fell and hurt himself on the thorns. He wasn't as familiar with the footholds as I was and didn't listen, so of course he fell and had a painful learning experience.
The family moved to Allied Gardens in the early 1960s, then a few years later to San Carlos. We remained friends, and were forever asking our moms to let us get together and play. He had a small boat at the Mission Bay Yacht Club, and for several years--most of the LBJ administration--we'd go sailing every month there. Sometimes we'd go on long bike rides. I remember him cutting across the street by Peterson Gym one time and nearly getting hit by a car, which skidded to a halt and threw the two small kids in the front seat against the dashboard, to the great irritation of their parents. This was back in that quaint time when cars didn't necessarily have seat belts. They called his dad, and Billy was grounded for awhile.
Eventually Billy went to the Coast Guard Academy, and we didn't see each other much as adults. Just the same, we seemed to have a strange tendency to end up in the same places at different times. Like myself, he was stationed in the DC area during military service and came to like the place enough to make it home when he left the Coast Guard. He had a condo in the Southwest section, near Fort McNair. A few years before, I'd been stationed in Southwest DC and lived in my motorhome on a boat marina next to Coast Guard Headquarters.
When he died in May 2005, from complications of a concussion he got in another of his bicycle accidents, he was interred at Arlington Cemetery. I saw the video of the service awhile later, and could identify Fort Myer's Building 403 in the background of his final resting place. I'd lived there before moving to the boat marina next to Coast Guard Headquarters.
There was another kid on a cul-de-sac, down at the bottom of the drainage ditch that ends near University, by the Taco Bell. I met him around the time Billy's family moved away from that tiny duplex on College Avenue. He only met Billy a time or two, but resented him deeply because I could never bring myself to declare him rather than Billy my best friend, even though we were inseparable for most of the 1960s. His folks kept a trailer near Ocotillo Wells and they often spent winter weekends there, yet he never stopped complaining about the one weekend a month that Billy would have me over to the yacht club for a sail around Mission Bay.
Though not much of a scholar, this kid knew what he wanted very early in life. We built a surfboard out of wood one summer in the mid-1960s, with a little help from his dad in rounding the ends, and he talked obsessively about becoming a surfer. He did, and later started his own line of boards. As with the yacht club business, there were many things we found to antagonize each other over, but somehow we stayed in contact and never stopped regarding each other as friends... sometimes to the great surprise of our mutual friends.
In the mid 1980s, I came home from a job in Japan and brought him a maneki-nekko, a white clay cat with upraised paw that Japanese businesses use as a good luck talisman. The guy has little sense of aesthetics in his work environment, not a picture or decoration in his office... except for that damned cat. It's still there, sitting on his beat-up metal desk.
He's moved out of the neighborhood but doesn't live that far away. I don't see him often, yet I know... if I were really truly in a jam and there were no one else to turn to, he'd be there for me... griping and bitching about the inconvenience, but he'd be there.
You could draw a line from our old house on College, pass it through Billy's family's old duplex, and come across one of the eastern-most apartments in that long complex that runs along the north side of University Avenue almost to College. During high school, the gal that I suppose must be the love of my life lived there. We lost contact several times, but always tracked each other down eventually. Almost forty years after high school, we decided to give things a try again when her unhappy marriage broke up. It isn't easy, because she lives on the other side of the country and half a lifetime has gone by. We don't even get along that great, but just can't seem to get out of each others' heads.
I still live in the college area, with a place of my own not far down University Avenue to the east. On Christmas Eve, I parked in front of the old house on College. Moodily, I walked across to Billy's old duplex, then down to that apartment where my gal once lived. It took all of five minutes to cover the distance. I didn't go to my other buddy's cul-de-sac, but knew it was there. The location of these places forms a triangle, and if you look at it on an aerial map it's a rather small one.
It makes me wonder if there is something magical to that rather ordinary looking section of San Diego, or if people just find a way to form bonds with whoever is nearby and handy. Almost like family, the important people I met in this triangle seem to feel an obligation to love me as much as I feel obliged to love them. Billy though, is gone, and I think I miss him most of all.