WINTER TIMES IN A SUMMER PLACE
By Allan Appel
Growing up only four blocks from the beach was a dichotomy of experiences between summer and winter.
The population of the resort community swelled to more than 100,000 during the summer "season," and settled to 25,000 permanent residents during the rest of the year.
Life in the late '50s and early '60s was admittedly simpler when compared to today. But it was especially poignant during the stark winters.
Just a chilly solitude in contrast to the multitudes and crush of the summer.
It's winter in Long Beach --- 11561.
Waiting for the school bus on those mornings in January or February incorporated the body politic. Who did I buddy up to or whom did I "hang out with" on the bus and before the opening homeroom bell? And after school, regardless of the chill in the air, Harry & Max's Luncheonette was the place to be. To look cool handling my chocolate egg cream.
When you're growing up in Long Beach, certain things just mattered more than others. After all, there were impressions to be made.
Saturdays at the Laurel Theater were especially high profile. Particularly if you had the right color ticket to get in for free. It was rare indeed, and everyone was green with envy of the kids that were lucky enough that week to have the right color.
The Laurel is now gone.
Harry & Max's is only a memory. Just a corner grocery store now.
But the chill in the air is the same, as the wind comes whipping around the corner. I can still see Max's intimidating bushy eyebrows as he scans the fountain for "paying" customers. Couldn't nurse an egg cream too long with Max on the prowl. "Come on. Drink up. You can't hang around here all day." And Harry seems to stare into space as Max tells him what to do next.
The boardwalk is also a picture of black-and-white reality in the winter months.
The skeeball concession is rarely open.
Izzy's Knishes waits for a fraction of the heavy summer crowds.
The rides are deserted. Standing still in the brisk air.
In the middle of it all, there's an old hotel. A landmark of days gone by --- the glory days of the '20s and '30s. Other buildings facing the boardwalk were mostly rentals back in the '50s and '60s. They have since been converted to condominiums. Another benchmark of the transition to the '80s and '90s.
Do I really long for an earlier time? Memories tend to put a kinder and gentler face on the past. I extract those things that label it as a happier time. Perhaps more than it really was. Those days made for a more quiescent background to what was otherwise a pivotal time in a boy's life.
My first summer job was working for the city, picking up garbage off the beach at 6:00 a.m. The official title was "beachcomber." I worked until 10:00 am for a dollar an hour and anything I could find. Leaving work I would walk past the Catholic Church, as beach-goers began their daily sun worshipping. Those were the days when basking in the sun was in vogue, before the awareness of SPF factors and UV rays.
In the winter, I had a part-time job as a stock clerk, cashier and bag boy in a local supermarket. The bag boy job was revered because I would carry out the customers' groceries to their cars. For tips, of course. Being "stiffed" or acting snotty would usually result in a crushed bread or squeezed fruit.
These experiences have fine-tuned my perspective on life's passing seasons and its segmented but distinct phases. Pieced together into a meaningful quilt.
Ah yes, if I knew then what I know now. But then adolescence would be much more routine, and frankly less adventurous. Growing up in a resort town during the winter was not the proverbial lonely walks along a deserted beach or scouring empty streets where crowds used to gather. It was an array of singular experiences that have stayed with me. It was a fun place to live and a fun place to be a teen-ager.
The wintry times were quiet and the air was cold. Sometimes blustery and sometimes still.
It was the right place at the right time.
Long Beach --- 11561.