Hot weather this summer brings to mind two or three humid summers here in the 1950’s. Back then long beach days ended swimming after dark, then gathering around bonfires.
Kids ate hot fire roasted corn on the cob smothered in butter, while parents cooked up abalone and fish caught just before sunset. Other nights all the kids would walk downtown to get burgers and shakes on the old boardwalk.
It was no big deal to see Hollywood celebrities in those days. But at maybe 10-year-old I found myself walking on the boardwalk next to nationally beloved movie and television comedienne Jack Benny, taking a stroll before the Pageant.
He was sort of the Jerry Seinfeld of that era. But to me his celebrity stardom was secondary to his ability to make my very reserved grandpa laugh so hard he cried.
Jack Benny’s shtick was being cheap, so I went up to him and tried a few of my grandpa’s oft-told “cheapskate” jokes. I actually got a couple laughs out of him.
But I knew my standup routine was “getting the hook” when he gave me that famous wry smile and asked, “Kid, if I gave you 50 cents what would you do with it?”
I pointed at the open grill next to the lifeguard tower and told him 50 cents would buy me a burger and coke. He took some coins out of is pocket, “Well, gee, I haven’t got two quarters…but take this and be my guest for dinner.”
He flipped a shiny half dollar coin, I said thanks, ate dinner on Jack, and ran home to tell my grandpa, who said, “Boy, if you got 50 cents out of Jack Benny you’re going to do alright!”
Those were the best of times in Laguna. It was a small-town way of life and a lot more families went to the beach together.
We even still liked tourists. There was not a lot of handwringing about “congestion” being a “major problem.”
We told a few tourist jokes, but mostly saw summer crowds and traffic as proof of our town’s success.
We just felt blessed to live somewhere people wanted to come. Wouldn’t trade those days growing up here for anything.
Howard Hills, Laguna Beach