With Bud’s Barber Shop celebrating its 50th anniversary on March 23, I was reminiscing about the East Lake Shopping Center — the shopping center of youth.
Here’s a Register-Pajaronian story from back then, Oct. 21, 1977: “Marciano’s Brother Here. Lou Marciano, the brother of former heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Marciano, will be at the East Lake Shopping Center, Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to talk about his brother’s life and career and to autograph copies of the book, ‘Rocky Marciano: Biography of a First Son.’”
A few years back I stopped at East Lake to fill two plastic gallons at the quarter water machine outside Super Max. As the water poured, my mood became contemplative, and it dawned on me that this was the shopping center of my youth.
I put the gallons in the car and took a stroll. A few steps down I stopped and looked inside Lambert’s (what Super Max used to be) and was amazed at how small the market seemed now. I could almost see myself in the early days following mom as she pushed a cart through the aisles.
Right over there was the scene of “the buy.” This is true: Mom sent me (later, when I was allowed to ride my bike) to get a gallon of red wine for a dinner party — without having any knowledge of alcohol purchasing laws. It must have slipped mom’s mind.
I left the bike outside, without chaining it up, went straight to the wine shelves, cradled the gallon (likely Gallo) and hauled it to the counter. The checker, a 60-something-year-old, eyes the price sticker, plucked at the register, brown bagged the “vino,” and sent me on my way without batting an eyelash. Only years later did it make an appearance in my memory. And in thinking about it, I concluded that the checker had seen mom and I in the store before — and she had bought wine. Something about my demeanor I guess didn’t allow the possibility that I was to drink from the gallon later.
A few more steps is the café, and right next to that used to be Variety. That’s the place where I got my cards (baseball, football, basketball, “Star Trek,” “Six Million Dollar Man,” etc). And now the confession: I swiped some, and even snagged pieces of a puzzle that I hoped to complete and never did; forgive me.
A little further down, in back of the liquor store, used to be the aqua wishing well foundation that had pennies at the bottom, where mom and I (just out of the stroller) are shown in a black and white photo enjoying a sunny day. The fountain is gone now. Every year that goes by I imagine there are fewer who remember that it was even there.
Near the barber shop used to be the travel agency where Erwin and I initiated and booked our 1983 Vegas trip to the Pryor-Arguello fight at Caesars Palace. Down a little more is the now dollar store that used to be the pharmacy, where I would peruse and sometimes buy comics, paperbacks and toys.
A little past that was the former Round Table Pizza, destination of the infamous Friday afternoon cuttings of Mr. Schumacher’s computer class. The pitchers of Coke then tasted way better. We’d play “Fire and Ice” by Pat Benatar — the Randy, Greg, Frances, Matt, pizza, coke and jukebox days of yore.
The hardware store used to be Sprouse-Reitz, and Sprouse-Reitz had toys.
Back to the liquor store, and boxing kicks in — the site of hundreds of pugilistic magazine purchases. Where Erwin and I used to ride bikes just to check if a new issue was in and sit on the table outside drinking Dr. Pepper.
I walked back to my car. So what happened with Rocky Marciano’s brother?
I remember getting there early. I loitered about, walking up and down slowly, from one end of the center to the other. I rode back home to reread the notice in the paper and rode back and did the peering roundabout again. I sat near the fountain. I sat in other places. He never showed.
Charles Birimisa is a Watsonville resident.
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