I first drove a car back in the '50's. La Crescenta, California
was just a dusty settlement on the slopes of the San Gabriel
Mountains back then. Mom took me down near Verdugo Park. Honolulu
Avenue, now a paved and curbed thoroughfare, was then an unused
single lane dirt trek. There was an old oak tree in the center of
the road. I was ten years old and proud as hell to be behind the
wheel. A boy thing, I guess.
In 1985, Michael and Kevin were 8 and 6 respectively. We were
living in a hut at Las Cuevitas, a couple of miles beyond the
north end of Bahia de Los Angeles. It was 12 miles to the village
from our hut. The road clung to the shoreline then, passed only a
few simple homes built right up next to the beach. Its surface
was hardpacked earth mixed with the sand, blown from the shore by
the common easterlies found during the mid-afternoons of summer.
The road was just a simple ribbon carved from the surrounding
desert scrub brush and cacti. It was smooth and winding and
varied in elevation only a few feet at the most. Very few cars or
trucks traveled that road; it went only out toward our hut and
stopped there. We could see the dust of another vehicle coming
The boys always looked forward to the drive into the village. The
road itself was a fun ride in their eyes, with all the bouncing
and twisting and the dust trailing across the horizon behind us
in the old Land Cruiser. Eventually they asked if they could
drive. I'd already been waiting, begging for this time with my
eyes in reverse, gears into the past, reverse if you will.
Their legs weren't long enough to reach the throttle and brake
and still see out the windshield. So I put Michael on my lap,
used my own legs for the foot controls, and let him do the
steering. That was what they meant by driving, just the steering.
I guess that makes sense as steering is the most visible activity
to a young boy in the back seat.
It was great. Over the first few attempts, the boys were all over
the road and off more than on it. But there was nothing more than
open desert alongside and we were moving at a mile or two an
hour. Michael and Kevin named the track "Old Rocking Horse Road."
As experience improved their techniques I accelerated a little
faster. This went on across summers for many years. Soon they
were driving on their own and, later, trusted to venture into the
village on an errand alone or just the two of them.
That road no longer exists. When folks settled along the beaches
north of town the road was deemed private. It wound through their
yards and what they considered their personal beaches. They
closed it and built another, straighter and wider version,
further inland and not nearly as fun to drive.
"That's progress." Someone said.
Recent folks to the area call the new route the La Gringa Road.
Our boys know otherwise.