Bill Birt’s Stolen Racks

There is the story of BILL BIRT’S STOLEN RACKS, stolen, partially, because his parents’ big ass car with the big ass trunk containing the big ass cardboard box (for Billy’s little friends’ wet gear), with big blue block letters spelling out *“Kotex,” was parked in the gravel parking lot, not visible from the beach or water, set aside for those who didn’t have military, military dependent, or San Onofre Surfing Club status, and how I was selected to ride back to Fallbrook with him, and, for once, I got to ride shotgun; and, because there was really only AM radio in cars, even fancy big ass ones, in those days, we got to listen to a station that kept playing hit **popular songs of the day in a tight rotation, and, of course, I’d sing along. And we had to drive around, down Highway 101 (there also wasn’t an I-5, at least on in the ‘slaughter alley’ section between San Clemente and Oceanside) because we would be borrowing the racks off a vehicle at Phillip Harper’s family’s house, south of town. “Closer that way,” Bill said; We all agreed.

The most particularly galling (to Bill) song contained lyrics including ***“Skip-a-rope, skip-a-rope… Daddy hates your mama, mama hates your dad; last night you should have heard the fight they had… skip-a-rope……”

So, it was about half an hour or so, down to Oceanside, another twenty-five minutes, Bill driving faster than his parents would like, on to Phillip’s house, a brief explanation to Phillip’s brother ****Clintswell about why we were there, gathered some drinks and snacks, and then we retraced our route, radio going the whole time.  So, probably seven or eight opportunities to sing along, window down, Bill not participating at all.Image

Yes, Bill Birt did complain, bitterly, to the other surfers, guarding our boards, when we returned to San Onofre. “That’s what you get for having a radio, Bill,” one of the two other surfers, either Phillip or Ray Hicks said. “He’d sing anyway,” the other one said. “Maybe not that song.” They all nodded, I nodded, Bill opened the big ass trunk, pulled out the replacement racks.

No radio on the way back. It didn’t matter. I was asleep in the big ass back seat.

*The Kotex box wasn’t as big as illustrated, the license plates would have been black. **”Skip-a-Rope” was a hit in 1967 for Henson Cargill. I know; I totally had to look it up. ***People nowadays don’t really believe that we had to (got to) listen to the Beatles and Frank Sinatra on the same station. Yeah, I know some Sinatra lyrics. ****Since I met Maxwell (or Clint) right about the time his mother changed his name to the other, after his father, a fighter pilot, killed in Korea, who may never have seen his second son, I called him Clintswell, and now can’t remember his proper name. I’ll guess Maxwell, since I also called him Smaxwell. He’ll show up again in other non-San Onofre tales



San Onofre is surfing history.

Early surfers parked on the beach, camped out there, built a few palapas, rode the rollers. It seems, to those of us reading the occasional story about this history in “The Surfer’s Journal,” checking the photos, a friendly sort of place frequented by people who saw themselves as rebellious and wild, but, by today’s standards, quaintly so.

Located (I know you know this) near the northwest point of the massive Camp Pendleton…wait. I should explain, just to be clear, that Camp Pendleton is roughly a triangle, with Oceanside at the lower point, San Clemente north, and, twenty miles inland (as the seagull flies) Fallbrook. That’s where I was raised, and, from my house, I always sort of believed, if I stood on the fence on the front edge of the property, and looked west, somewhere just over those coastal hills, that late afternoon glow was a reflection off the unseen water at San Onofre.

At some point the San Onofre Surfing Club made a deal with the Marine Corps allowing club members access past the guard shack, down a winding little road along a river (well, creek) bottom, and then past the railroad trestles (yeah, those Trestles), then near the Officers’ Club, the buildings a last remnant of a time when the entire area was part of a Spanish Land Grant. Nice location, in some trees in a usually sedate (wave-wise) cove right between Church and San Onofre.

Beach access was also granted to Marines, and dependents. In Fallbrook, most of my friends’ dads, or moms, or both, worked on the base or were Marines. Kids of Marines came and went, on some three year cycle. My family was in Fallbrook because, once there, my mom didn’t want to move the increasingly large family elsewhere. Though my father remains a Marine (of the Corps, to the core), he went to work splicing telephone cables all over the base for the rest of his career.

Children of Civil Service workers didn’t have (or weren’t supposed to have) beach parking privileges, and any other surfers granted access on the base had to park in a lot* separated by those whispy trees particular to windy parts of California. I think, of all the times I went to San Onofre, mostly between 1966 and 1969, whoever I was with got to park on the beach.

*On one of the only times I went with someone who didn’t have beach parking privileges, Bill Birt, whose father sold insurance in Fallbrook, Bill’s surf racks were stolen. That story, when this all gets organized, will follow this entry.

Bill Birt and the San Onofre Octopi

Bill Birt and the San Onofre Octopi

Weekly (until I run out of them) Bill Birt Story
Before I posted it here I ran my story, “The Ghost of Bill Birt,” past the only friend from my Fallbrook surfing days I’m still in contact with, Ray Hicks, now living in Carlsbad, and still surfing.
“What a character,” Ray wrote, also mentioning in the e-mail the story he claims he’ll never forget; the one about Bill and the octopi at a minus tide 1967 San Onofre.*
With the rest of some subgroup of Fallbrook Sophomore surfers- Phillip Harper, Ray Hicks, probably Mark Metzger, Billy McLean, me, standing around a beach fire between sessions, standard practice in those days of short john wetsuits, Bill was down with the old beachcombers and the young kids examining the tide pools.
You should bear in mind that most of us were sixteen, Billy fourteen**, and we didn’t get all excited about sea urchins and starfish and the like. That is, we wouldn’t want someone else in our group to see us get excited about the perfect sand dollar. We were, no doubt, talking about whether we’d go out again, comparing rides; some talk, no doubt, about girls- so much more mysterious than waves.
So, here came Bill, glasses on but fogged by salty damp air, trudging up the fairly level beach- maybe more like marching- huge smile on his face, and, when he got close enough, we could see he had an octopus wrapped around one arm, another sort of cradled at stomach level.
There was a moment of…”Wait! What? Hey!”
Bill threw one of the live creatures onto into the fire. It just as well could have been a grenade. We all leapt backwards.
There were, of course, other first verbal reactions, most one syllable; or an extended “Shhhhhhhhhiiiiiiiiii…..” Someone may have shrieked.
No, not me.
And if I did; well; there was an octopus in the fire!
Bill looked at each of us, each of us equally horrified, and said, quite matter-of-factly, lifting the remaining octopus, obviously still alive, to eye level, moving it in a circle for each of us to appreciate. “This one’s smaller; we’ll eat it first.”***
*Because one story leads to another story, or even another group of stories, in writing this I discovered I have to tell more ‘San Onofre Tales.’ I’m working on it.
**Billy McLean is another character from my past. His slightly-crazed personality, his knack for getting otherwise-peaceful friends into trouble, no doubt aligns with some member of at least one subgroup of your own surfing contemporaries. I’m working on a few Billy McLean stories (physically wincing at the thought).
And, of course, I have a few more on Bill Birt.
***The second octopus went back in the tide pools, all of us marching down to make sure; someone apologizing to it for the murder of its friend.
No, not me. And if I did…