Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Olympic Spirit

It was the summer of 1984. The Olympics were in town. Everywhere you looked there were advertisements for the games plastered on bus benches, newspaper boxes and billboards. Almost all the commercials on TV had something to do with the games. By the time the torch bearer lit the flame at the Coliseum, the city was rabid with Olympic fever. My brothers and I were just as excited as anybody else. But we didnt care about the sporting events. We were psyched about the  McDonald’s promotional game called, “If The US Wins, You Win.”

The concept was simple. The cashiers handed out game cards, no purchase necessary. All you had to do was ask. On the front of the cards was a round foil medal that you scratched off to reveal an Olympic event. If the US team won the gold medal in that event, you got a Big Mac. For the silver medal, you got fries. Bronze, a Coke. 

Of course, we didn’t know shit about politics at the time, but the Soviet bloc had boycotted the games that year. So the US team, with very little competition, was kicking some serious ass. This meant lots of free McDonald’s food for us.

We ate at McDonald’s two or three times a day. Each morning we walked the five and a half blocks to the McDonald’s on Garvey to redeem our winning game cards and get new ones. In the lobby, they’d set up a board with the results of all the events. If we were lucky we got a card for an event that had already been played. Otherwise, we’d add the game card to our collection and wait.

It was the greatest summer of our young lives. 

the güeros

Even though it wasn’t exactly a barrio, in the Seventies, before the Asians moved in, the part of Rosemead where we lived was predominantly Chicano. Our street belonged to Lomas. The other side of the freeway was Sangra territory. Although the gangs weren’t very active anymore—everybody was in jail, too old or shot up to fight like the good ole days—the signs of old rivalries were omnipresent. Almost any available wall, fence, post, and curb displayed the remnants of their bitter feud in chicken scratch graffiti. We knew the chips in the stucco on the front of our house were from stray Sangra bullets aimed at our neighbor Joker, who used to hide in our crawlspace when the cops came looking for him. Joker had always been cool to us. We were proud to have been born on Lomas turf, but the kids our age, the burgeoning cholos, they never let us forget that we were different. They called us the güeros. There were some old white folks around and the occasional half-breed, but on our street, we were the only white family. And we weren’t just white. We were tow-headed, blue-eyed, lilywhite Mormons. From the first day of school, we weren’t just bullied, we were brutalized. With my baby face and big mouth, I was an easy target of abuse. I had to start running fifteen seconds before the final bell just to avoid a farewell knuckle sandwich. It got so bad, the folks sent us to the YMCA to learn karate. Self defense wasn’t my thing though. So I learned to run faster, but I kept talking shit like there was no tomorrow. Eventually, mom finagled a way to send us all to a school in Alhambra, but the upper middle class kids there knew we didn’t belong. We had the stink of poverty and ridicule on us. They called us white trash. 

I learned at a young age that there was no way to win. 

the freeway wall

I was born on the San Bernardino Freeway. Eastbound side. A twelve-foot concrete wall separated our backyard from the fury of one of the busiest freeways in LA: six lanes going west, six lanes going east, and down the center, the Union Pacific. Behind the wall, traffic was a constant roar. During rush hour, the cars crept by, with faulty mufflers sputtering, transmissions grinding, brakes squealing and stereos blasting. Motorcycles mainlined while sedans idled. Eighteen-wheelers struggled in low gear. The occasional voices, franticly shouting into the callbox… At night, the cars came in waves, a few seconds of silence followed by a steady current of traffic. In the ebb and flow of late night transit, I discovered infinity, like a strip of gauze stretched taut.

the wash

When we weren’t embroiled in an epic game of Ditch ‘Em, we’d ride our BMX bikes to San Gabriel High and climb the roofs. In the empty dirt lots around town, we’d carve out off-road courses with abandoned shopping carts and practice jumps. We’d scale the fence that barricaded the Wash and ride through the concrete channels to Marrano Beach, where we’d play Rambo in the scum-laden, swampy water. And since there usually weren’t enough BB guns to go around, one of us would have to be the human prey while the rest took pot shots from the trees along the bank. -- from The Baudrey Boys