In 1967, on my 17th birthday, my boyfriend took me to the classic California Theater on First Street in San Jose, California to see the movie Camelot.
He showed up at my front door wearing a tie and sports coat which announced my evening was a formal birthday occasion. An elusive premonition overcame me as I changed clothes to more formal attire in my bedroom. Re-dressed, back in the living room, my perplexed conjecture was perhaps the evening included a special birthday present.
Downtown, he splurged and parked in an attended parking lot rather than drive blocks looking for a free space as normal. When the attendant gave him 2 quarters in change for his dollar, I checked to see if they were silver ones which were rapidly disappearing from circulation. Double luck, both were silver. I proffered 2 replacements but he simply gave them to me. Instead of requisitioning them as additions to my silver coin stash, I decided to convert them into a Kennedy silver half dollar for Mom, thinking.
Double luck but why’d he squander 50 cents to park, then give me the quarters? Is he treating me like a queen in the movie? No, he’s afraid for his car. Downtown’s seedy now. Even Heart’s Department store’s closing.
The theater, now restored, was sinking into disrepair. The "old days", of ushers with cone flash lights guiding patrons to their seats a distant memory. Even in its faded glory, however, the theater’s stereo speakers, big screen presentation, opulent art deco décor and opera like balcony provided a presentation not experienced at a drive-in or TV. They lack a grand movie theater’s dark intimate connection with fellow viewers, a mystical connection only vaugely captured in modern multiplex theaters.
There was, however, smoke. Each seat had its little ash tray on an armrest. Many puffed away through a movie. To ask them not to would be met with an incredulous look, of, “What’s your problem?” Looking up, the smoke cloud result was evident as the projector’s light passed through the haze on its way to the screen.
Seated together with popcorn and drinks, my mind wandered as the movie played.
What's the message in the movie? It’s about love, love’s betrayal.
What do the simple folk do?
To me, t’s a Cinderella tale. Guenevere’s an idiot. What more does she want? How can she be unsatisfied? Sir Lancelot’s a liar and a betrayer. I’d be loyal to my king.
After the show, we strolled, hand in hand, among the 1st Street throng the couple blocks to Original Joe's, still a popular Italian restaurant landmark. The movie’s song verses flitted about in my mind as melody residue.
In short, there's simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
Tra la! It's May!
The lusty month of May!
That lovely month when ev'ryone goes
I find humility means to be hurt
It's not the earth the meek inherit,
It's the dirt
That’s my inheritance, dirt. I’d never be Guenevere, a fool for Sir Lancelot. I’d be happily-ever-aftering,Queen of Camelot. Camelot would be my Cinderella story.
Down the street, a WWII era searchlight scanned the sky in front of the War Surplus store, the hum from its diesel generator faintly audible. Its light beam pierced the night sky in a rotating pattern, seeking shopping moths, not the enemy bombers it was built for.
Dad took us on a family searchlight adventure. He drove us packed in the Buick to a searchlight source. He turned and turned to find a momentous event but ended up at a furniture store.
How about me? I yearn for a beam to pierce my night sky. Like Dad, I look for hidden meanings. Does the beam foretell an omen? Is it predicting domestic furniture?
He had a reservation at Original Joe's. With name confirmation, we were led from the crowded entry to a red leather upholstered booth.
Seated we smiled at one another across thebooth table. Relieved when the waiter interupted, we ordered their signature custom made ravioli. Our orders taken, we returned to staring at one another as the waiters with one arm draped with a white towel rushed to and fro serving the crowd. Pasta at Original Joe’s came with a sniff of sophistication. We piled on parmesan cheese and gobbled down seconds of bread which we dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar to ensure we got our money's worth.
Next door was the Sainte Claire Hotel where Mom worked. After conversation skimming over the movie we again sat silent.
Mom works so hard. She saves her Kennedy silver half dollars but never manages to fill her little stash box. How I love her, her and her maids naughty guest tales.
Interrupting my musings of silver and Mom’s maid tales he asked.
“Penny for your thoughts."
“A penny, aren’t they worth a dollar, a silver dollar?”
Silver was stuck in my mind since my double luck, better than the movie or ravioli.
“Worth more than that to me.”
“I can’t believe I’m 17 and I’m going to be a senior next year.”
He kept staring as if trying to say something but stuttered something inane about King Arthur. I was as if something was up. It was. At last I said.
“You want a picture of me?”
He returned his attention to his pasta, dusting it with more parmesan cheese.
Getting dressed up, the paid parking lot, double silver quarters, movie theme, searchlight beam, Original Joe's ravioli and Mom’s Sainte Claire Hotel next door were omens but I didn’t connect them.
After diner, parked in front of my house, he kissed me then kissed me again for re-assurance. He pulled away, looked at me oddly, reached to the glove compartment, fumbled about, opened it and took out a small jewelry box. He handed it to me but said nothing. Opening it I saw a ring. Its little diamond light beam in a silver setting beaconed up.
Without taking it out I turned and asked.
"You want to go steady?"
"No, I want you to marry me."
Closing the box, I looked down in confusion, a tear in my eye, saying nothing.
"Are you saying no?"
A few months earlier I’d never been kissed. Now I was facing a marriage proposal. I sat silent then asked.
"You want to marry a skinny, just 17, Asian, still in high school?"
My question was in truth to me.
"Me, poor, high school girl, just turned 17, Asian, marry a white, a man 5 years older, who's graduating from San Jose State?"
"When I first saw you, I wanted you. We won't marry until you graduate. I’ll have a good job. I know I can’t offer Camelot but give me time. Just nod yes."
I wouldn’t graduate for a year, a forever time to me then. Confused and seeking a diversion I replied.
"You need my parent's permission."
I gave back the ring.
"I'll ask them in the morning,"
He kissed me passionately for the first time as my breasts pushed up against him which he interpreted as consent to marriage. Breaking free I ran in the house. On my bed I tossed in confusion, still a girl, life changing too fast but wanting out of my house. Then I realized, it didn't matter.
My parents will say no.
The next morning, Saturday, he came. Dad was atypically home for the weekend. I stayed by the stove looking down, absentmindedly cooking breakfast with Dad. I pretended not to know the purpose of his visit.
He knew enough to ask Dad first and motioned him away from the stove to the backyard as the house was too small for a private conversation. Dad, glad for an excuse to smoke, got his cigarettes and followed with his cup of tea.
I assumed Dad would say I was too young, still in school and he was not letting his daughter marry a white devil. Instead after Dad's cigarette and tea they returned with Dad nodding to me and smiling, his blessing. Next, he took Mom. It took longer and she returned crying but also nodding acquiescence.
He told them we would not marry until I graduated, he had a good job and he would "honor and protect" me. I suspected Dad's smiling was due to one less in the crowded house and the potential of a son-in-law to borrow from and Mom's tears of my not going to college were offset by my marring someone responsible, unlike Dad.
My brothers were excited at the potential of having their own bedrooms. No one asked if I agreed as they congratulated me while I served breakfast, stunned at the sudden change of my status.
So, it was, the Saturday morning the day after my 17th birthday, my fate was decided. I was engaged, a girl already taken, who in a year would leave home and school to become a man's wife, a man hardly known. It was as simple as that.
Suddenly home and school, my focal points, no longer mattered. They were only temporary lapses until marriage and having kids. I was "promised to another" and expected to be an adult but was still a girl. The parking lot, quarters, movie, searchlight, restaurant were omens. I just didn’t connect them. I mused.
What’s a simple folk girl to do? I’m engaged, a simple girl is getting married, that’s what I got to do.
With our engagement, my fiancé took control of my life. I was to finish school, plan the wedding and be with him. I negotiated one concession, Friday girl's night out with my high school friends.
While poor and from a dysfunctional family like me, he had a future with college graduation. I wanted security from the monthly rent is due crisis and out of my crowded house, not the best reasons for marriage but for me, good enough. Love, I didn't think of romantic love? Despite being ugly and poor I loved suddenly having a secure economic future.
He took me to the senior ball with a dress I made but we were out of place, his being 5 years older and we the only mixed race couple except for a Mexican girl with a white boyfriend.
While not uncommon then for a girl to marry just out of high school it was uncommon for a 17 year old in high school to be engaged to someone 5 years older of a different race. Mom became pleased with our engagement as she knew him better due to his "honoring and protecting me" but lectured more about not getting pregnant. Like the nuns she did not talk specifics, just don't, inferring I was to remain a virgin.
The summer of 1967, just after my engagement, I got a job at The Tropicana Lanes bowling alley, with fibs I was 18 and had quit school.
The pay was much better than baby-sitting, picking strawberries, cutting cots or worst, picking beans. In September, at the start of my senior year, with my summer earnings, I bought a neighbor's two door 1956 Desoto, hard top for $300.
The Desoto was a tank with lots of lights and tail fins. Its old muffler meant rumbled when driven about. Inside it had big front and rear bench seats, power window controls, a dash mounted push button automatic transmission and a miracle radio bar which shifted to the next clear station when tapped. It was an expired status symbol. The driver's door was jammed shut requiring a passenger door entry and exit, reflected in the purchase price.
The Desoto gave me freedom. Like its name sake I explored new worlds in it. Turning the corner from home no one knew where I was going, where I was or had been when I returned. I loved my new independence.
I drove Mom to work, parked at her hotel and walked to school. With the Desoto, I blossomed into school popularity. Engaged to a man and having a driver’s license while status symbols paled before the big one, “wheels”. It meant I was somebody, one who could provide transportation to other girls.
Also pressed into family errands, I drove Mom shopping but stayed in the car and listened to the radio if she went to the grocery to avoid food stamp stigma. My one-year younger brother got his driver’s license learning to drive it with me as instructor. Its automatic shift meant he never learned to drive manual shift. The clunker he bought needed to also be an automatic and I retained a smug driver’s ability over him being able to drive even in San Francisco with manual shift.
Dad made us park on the street so he could park in the garage. Thereafter the front of our house was cluttered with our cars, typically with my brother’s in some state of repair. Neither of us bothered to have car insurance.
With, our engagement, my fiancée took control of my life. Directives were finish high school, plan the wedding, work weekends, save money, avoid boys and be with him, simple enough. I agreed.
As I was "promised" I missed high school boy dates which at a girl's Catholic high school isn’t much to miss. I did enjoy my high school status concession of Friday “girl’s nights out”. The 1956 Desoto meant I was the driver.
My new high school “friends” in exchange invited me to their slumber parties and taught me about makeup. I learned how to look older, hide minor blemishes, make my eyes more oval, paint my nails and style my hair. It was my first experience of looking pretty to be noticed. I loved red lipstick and nail polish.
We tested how much makeup we could get away with at school until forced to go to the lavatory and wash it off.
Shoes concealed our polished our toe nails from the nuns. We painted our finger nails Fridays after school then smudged them clean Monday mornings. I applied lipstick before the rear-view mirror as soon as entering the Desoto after school in Mom’s hotel parking space. The hems of my skirts were raised up to the limit imposed by the nuns and higher after school.
Neither Mom nor my fiancée were in favor of my driving on "girl’s nights out", attending slumber parties or the makeup sessions but I loved them. They were my weekly allotted highlight. Saturdays at a girl’s house we put on makeup, dressed risqué and then I drove them to the drive-in, usually the El Rancho. The movie presentation was unimportant. Sometimes a girl hid in the trunk to avoid paying.
At the drive-in, my girlfriends teased boys as they walked to and from the concession stand among the forest of mounted speakers and herd of cars. If a car was spotted with fogged windows or even better, rocking, they rapped on a window for laughs, including mine.
Afterwards we cruised downtown San Jose, American Graffiti style driving up 1st and down 2nd Streets while they flirted with the windows down.
The rendezvous spots were Mel's or Spivey's Drive-Ins for follow ups and close encounter flirting unless they snared suckers to buy pizza.
Parked at a Drive-in, teenagers exchanged banter, names, phone numbers and made dates. Girls from Notre Dame were reputed to be "easy". I don't know if true but it had its share of pregnancy dropouts. The girls may have been more aggressive with no chance to meet boys at school, maybe they were more naïve, going to an all-girls high school. I suspect, however, a car full of girls simply attracted boys. Cruising or parked they swarmed the old Desoto.
Boxed in among the crowded cars the drive-in we ordered cokes. The car hop mounted her tray on the passenger side window as I kept my window up to keep boys at bay. Sipping cokes, we sat for an hour or so until forced to leave for lack of additional purchase. Until told to leave we listened to radio music, made crude jokes about boys considered losers and the girls flirted with the cool ones who they enticed to stroll to the open passenger side and rear windows.
The girls gave phony names and phone numbers to losers and real ones to winners. If asked why my window was up they explained I was stuck up and an old engaged woman.
Parked at Mel’s Drive –In, 2 months before my graduation and scheduled wedding, my rolled-up window was tapped. He was tall with shoulder length, dark brown hair. He had a mustache, pale blue eyes and wore a multicolored shirt with big lapels, a wide belt and bell bottom pants, a hippy, not my type. He also had a cute smile with a narrow gap in the center of his upper teeth, suggesting mirth.
I pushed the window button and rolled it down. His voice was jovial when introducing himself. His name was Gary, a 20-year-old San Jose State University sophomore. His1965 burgundy colored Pontiac GTO was parked two rows away.
Bantering I learned he graduated from Los Gatos High School, a school in an upscale town of rich people. His only job was attending school which I envied. The other girls tried to get his attention but he stayed by my window. When he asked about me, I told petty lies but gave him my name. When the car hop told me to leave he asked."What's your phone number?"
As I maneuvered out of the packed cars he tagged along next to my window. Turning the steering wheel to squeeze by another car I blurted “Cypress 8-2021”, my real number.
Back then phone numbers were simple to remember. There was no need for an area code and prefix words made the first two digits thee letters of, AXminster, CHerry or CYpress. The first number after the word was limited to 6 for Axminister, either 2 or 8 for Cherry and the 4 even numbers for Cypress. With the prefix word and its associated number, you only had to remember the last four digits. The word and first digit also revealed a phone’s general location. CYpress 8 meant East San Jose, and me a poor girl.
The next day he called. Summoned to the phone by Mom, I rued having given my number when I heard his voice. His clever words, however, kept me on the line even though I had to keep my end of the conversation low and ambiguous with family present.
After chit chat to know a little more of each other he asked a strange question.
"You ever go to Alviso?"
I knew Dad gambled there at a place called Vahl's because once he came home proclaiming he broke the bank at Alviso’s Vahl's and for a while we ate well. Gary wanted me to walk with him on Alviso's train track to see salt ponds, a weird request, something never heard of.
Instead of answering I turned away from Mom and whispered.
“Do you know of a place in Alviso called Vahl’s?”
“Sure, everyone knows Vahl’s. It’s an Italian restaurant, an Alviso landmark. Supposed to have good food but I’ve never ate there.”
"Take me there Monday after school and I'll see your salt ponds."
"Deal! How about 4 o'clock?"
"How do I get there?"
"Take the Alameda to Santa Clara, turn right on Lafayette Street, drive all the way to Alviso and turn left on Taylor Street, you can't miss it."
“good, I’ll see you then.”
As I set the phone back in the receiver I told myself.
It’s not a date. I just want to see where Dad gambles.
I told no one I was going.
While everyone had heard of Alviso, had a vague notion of where it was, most like me, even though born not that far away from it, had never been there. Its reputation put it on the best if skipped list. After class Monday, following his directions with a map and my lucky rabbit foot for backups, I drove to Santa Clara then headed north on Lafayette Street.
Leaving Santa Clara, the scenery shifted from small industrial to spotty agricultural, to the small village of Agnew on the left and the 1930's pink stucco and red tile roof buildings of its vast state mental hospital complex on the right. Agnew was a place the State of California put the "nuts" like in the movie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
Its mature palm tree entrance and oak tree landscape gave it a proper spooky impression of, “Enter at your own risk”. It was for the kooks.
Agnew was another place everyone heard about but avoided. The stale joke of a driver losing lug nuts while fixing a flat tire in front of the hospital was well known. The driver can’t put the tire back on but a “crazy” from the hospital tells him to take a lug nut off the other 3 tires and says.
“I’m nuts but not stupid like you.”
Once heard it becomes a Agnew memory tidbit you can’t rid of.
Relieved to be past Agnew, the road continued past smelly dairies, pear orchards, a city dump, the start of wet lands and finally to the 2-lane hump of Highway 237. Highway 237 was elevated to prevent its flooding and blocked my view of Alviso. As my Desoto crested the highway to the stop sign atop, Alviso revealed itself, poor, rundown and unprotected from flooding.
Lafayette Street in a twist of irony turns into Gold Street entering Alviso. I passed ramshackle, abandoned, low lying buildings and drove to Taylor Street with growing apprehension then went one block left to another misnomer, El Dorado Street.
Fronting it on the left corner was Vahl's. Like Gary said you couldn't miss it.Vahl's appeared much nicer than my apprehension expected, an island of clean respectability among the surrounding decay. It had a 2nd floor, fresh exterior paint and a neon sign proclamed it as Vahl's. I thought of Dad coming here for his El Dorado.
Gary sat parked in front in his GTO. I parked in a secluded rear corner. Dad usually stayed home Mondays after a weekend of carousing b`ut I didn't want to take a chance. Gary came to open my door, dressed for hiking, no longer a hippy. I explained it was jammed and exited the other side. I came unprepared for hiking in my school uniform but had brought a nylon wind breaker.
Entering the restaurant, we passed a large cocktail piano lounge and arrived at a formal dining area. Sturdy wood tables covered by red and white checkered tablecloths suggested Italian fare. All was neat, clean and of 1950's time warp decor.
As we stood there, an elderly, short, stocky woman with dyed red hair hustled out of the kitchen to greet us. As the sole diners before the dinner time rush she fussed over us like a grandmother. When asked if seating was available on the 2nd floor she smiled, winked and said she lived above the restaurant. I requested a booth in the far back in the unlikely event Dad entered.
Seated she handed us a large ornate menu. I suggested Cioppino, introduced to me at Alioto’s in San Francisco after my fiancée taught me to maneuver steep hills in his Chevy stick shift. Gary agreed. She smiled, didn't write down our selection and asked if we wanted a bottle of wine too, even though neither of us were 21 and I wore my high school uniform. She looked askance at our coke requests. It was obvious things were different in Alviso.
As we dipped bread in our bowls and ate the crowd began to show. Soon the lounge filled up and a small group gathered around the piano. They took turns singing in Italian or old Sinatra songs in English. Finished with my Cioppino, I excused myself to the restroom to case out the place. After re-applying lipstick before the restroom mirror I sauntered out and dawdled about. Near the foyer I observed a small staircase. With an ear cocked up before it I heard male voices. Emboldened I looked up and observed a wispy layer of ceiling smoke. After a laugh from above I heard the distinctive sound of cards shuffling. Not all of the 2nd floor was the owner's residence. There was obviously also a card room.
I thought of Dad going up and down the stairs, his shuffling and playing cards, his smoking Lucky Strike cigarettes, ones he often sent me to the store with a note to purchase. I didn’t go up.
I returned to our table and told Gary it was time to see his salt ponds. He arose, took our tab to the front cashier and paid in cash the only payment permitted. I asked the grandmother matron as she rang up our fare on a large old fashion cash register if they only sang Italian and Sinatra songs. She smiled knowingly and told me one gentleman on occasion played the piano and sang in Chinese. Gary left an impressive $5 tip.
Outside, it was a late, warm and sunny afternoon. A a salt tinged breeze from the Bay which overcame the odors of tidal mud, distant dump and sewage treatment plant tussled my hair. I worried Gary was going to trip out on marijuana or another drug like LSD sweeping America as part of the hippy culture.
My fiancé and I avoided drugs. We expected rich hippies to self-destruct and make it easier for us to get ahead. I hated smoke too and had nagged Dad into smoking outside the house. If Gary was going to light a joint or drop acid I wasn’t going to the salt ponds. I’d seen what I came for.
Instead he acted as tour guide, explained the rail line on the other side of El Dorado Street was elevated like Highway 237 due to periodic flooding and it led to the salt ponds. Climbing atop the rail line, we looked down to the Guadalupe River Slough behind. He explained the slough rose and sank with the tide and the tide was out. Its banks were decorated with hulks of decrepit boats stuck in mud plus a few stilt pole boat houses where boats were built on the cheap.
He led forward to the salt ponds. We walked between the iron rails atop the elevated graveled embankment. The rails were supported by large black wooden timbers embedded in the gravel which gave off the strong odor of creosote preservative. They were set apart at a distance unmatched to any gait which required our steps to vary from timber to gravel no matter how we paced.
As we walked, Gary narrated an Alviso history lesson, how it once was a San Francisco Bay bawdy boom town of shipping, bars, sardine canneries, oyster beds, duck hunting clubs and a getaway for less than respectable behavior. He explained it became a rundown semi-ghost town due to being the low spot of Santa Clara Valley, at the end of San Jose's sewage line and its periodic flooding caused by subsidence as the Valley aquifer was tapped for agriculture.
He was enjoying himself as we traversed Alviso. He like to reminisce about its colorful past and explained it all had its own form of desolate beauty as we stumbled between the rails toward the salt ponds. From atop the rail line he stopped and pointed.
"Eleanor, look over there. That's the old Bay Side sardine cannery. It was once the largest cannery in California, 3rd largest in US until the sardines disappeared. A Chinese guy owned it, named, Chew. Next to it was a worker's dormitory, gone now. The workers slept in bunks and ate there too.
I looked up from the timbers on the rail line I carefully observed to avoid tripping and saw an old abandoned brick and stucco building with the Bay Side name still visible. Scanning the rail line timbers again as I walked I wondered if Dad had worked and slept there.
Two blocks north of Vahl's was a street sign printed in old style black on white porcelain proclaiming, Elizabeth Street. It was chipped and rusty from age to match its woebegone surroundings. At Elizabeth Street Gary pointed to the adjacent decrepit Laine's grocery store and an adjoining Victorian mansion, which could serve as the stage set for the movie Psycho.
"See the old building to the left across the street?
That's Laine's Grocery Store. Beyond it are the salt ponds. The mansion next door is where the owner used to live. Laine's has been closed for years but I met him when I was young. I used to stop here, drink a coke and talk to him after duck hunting. He told me a lot of Alviso history.
Before it was a store it was a saloon and before that a Chinese gambling den. That’s why it was originally built. Let's keep going, I want you to see a ghost town. It's called Drawbridge."
As we crossed Eleanor Street and passed Laine's trekking toward the salt ponds I experienced an odd sensation of connection. I wondered if Val's, the shuttered cannery, the Eleanor Street name and Laine's were all parts of Dad's mysterious past, including my name.
As we left Laine’s we entered a surreal world. From the rail road’s secure high rock embankment, we viewed the cord grass and pickle weed estuaries, the sterile gray colored salt ponds, the dry dusty gray dredged levees which formed them and beyond the open Bay. Waterfowl clustered in sloughs.
Gary explained it was a world created by Leslie Salt Company who built levees to create evaporation ponds by dredging. Bay water was shuttled from pond to pond as the salinity increased until the water turned pink red. At the end, they piled up the evaporated salt into a silver crystal mountain before packaging.
On the right, following the rail line, were high wire electric transmission towers with concrete feet anchored in tidal muck. They once were connected by wood elevated cat walks now bleached grey and often rotten or missing a plank. In the distance were dim lines of civilization including the General Motors plant in Fremont in front, the blimp hanger of Moffett Field in Mountain View to the left and next to it the vast complex of Lockheed Missal and Aircraft Company where my fiancé worked. The spring green hills of the Diablo Range rose above the horizon in front of us as we trod east, clearly visible unlike from the much closer view at home viewed through smog's haze.
Eventually we reached Coyote slough and its humble Drawbridge, and its ghost town. It was built when boats connected San Jose with the Bay but was obviously long unused. I wondered when and what was the last boat it opened for. Surrounding it were abandoned building built on stilts which in its heyday was community populated by oyster pirates, market duck hunters, gamblers, a famous Chinese madam and other misfits according to Gary. Again, I felt an odd sense of connection.
Drawbridge was the end goal of our trek. We paused against its railing which crossed the slough to enjoy the beautiful open expanse. In the far eastern distance Gary pointed out the salt mountain, the end result of pond water shuffling.
"What’d you think?"
"It's a beautiful, a hidden but open world. I'm happy I came. I'm having a strange mystical experience."
"I knew you'd like it because you, like me, are different."
"How am I different?"
"You're like here, mysterious, different but beautiful. It's a compliment. I'm not saying it right. What I am saying is like me you see the beauty, most don't and you're beautiful too."
"You're making me smile, comparing me to Alviso, saying I'm beautiful like the salt ponds? A strange compliment, no? I love this place but how am I beautiful like it?"
"What I’m trying to say is you're beautiful, not pretty, beautiful, not that you look like this but your beauty is mysterious like this."
Silent, I let his attempted beautiful compliment become part of the strange connection felt. After a moment in the wind, now brisk and chilling, he said.
"It's time to go back; the best is still to come. Follow me and keep up."
We trekked back, the wind from the Bay now up to buffeting as we stumbled between the rails wooden timbers and gravel. My hair swirled by the wind, flayed against my face as I stared down to avoid tripping. The smell of creosote hastened my step.
He walked ahead, set a fast pace and waited against the wood wall of Laine's for me to catch up one he got there, well ahead of me. We had met no one. It was evening’s dusk. He looked at his watch as I caught up to him.
"It's coming, soon."
"Listen! Lean against the wall next to me. I hurried here so we wouldn't miss it."
Standing on the tracks I soon heard it. I moved next to him out of the wind and leaned against the old wood wall of Laine's. A long, slow freight train soon turned a bend and approached. The engineer seeing us gave a recognition horn greeting as the big diesel engines reached Laine’s.
Leaning against the wall, the embankment's rails just before us groaned under the train's weight. The wood timbers we recently stumbled on thumped up and down in their gravel beds as each rail car wheel passed over. The train car’s steel wheels click clacked to the rail endings. Those needing grease screeched steel complaint.
The sounds and movements echoed against the wall, a wall encasing histories past. Our bodies absorbed the vibrations, noise and echoes. By the time the caboose passed and silence returned we were holding hands. As it rumbled away he leaned over and kissed me.
I broke free, walked quickly in the early evening to my car behind Vahl's, tears in my eyes. He followed saying nothing while I raced through emotions. Vahl's was aglow in neon lights. I was still experiencing the vibrations of the passing train, the echoed sounds, our holding hands, his kiss and the strange connection to Alviso's past as I paced to my isolated car behind the now crowded restaurant, emitting muffled Italian singing.
When I opened the car door and scooted to the driver's side he followed. We sat silent a moment, him next to me. With ardor, he leaned over and kissed me and kissed me again. I couldn’t stop nor say no. As we embraced his deft hand unbuttoned my blouse, slipped behind and unhooked the bra's hooks. He lifted the bra up, kissed my breasts back and forth as I fell behind the steering wheel. His nimble fingers reached under my skirt pulled my panty down and caressed my vulva.
Stroking my magic button, I was wet, my pelvis arching up to his caresses, his tongue darting in and out of my mouth then to an ear and back. My head under the steering wheel, me pressed down on the bench seat, partially undressed I yearned for his kisses and nimble caresses.
Wet with his stroking, his embrace released me. He rose, sat up, loosened his pants and exposed his erect penis. I sat up, freed from under the steering wheel, stunned. He fumbled in his scrunched pants pocket and took out a condom. He was going to take me while my fiancé tarried! My clothes in disarray, Vixen panting yes, facing the muzzle of his throbbing penis, my mind in disbelief, I whimpered not knowing what to do.
Tears streamed down my cheeks. I turned away and stared at the fogged driver’s side window.
I mumbled once the sobs subsided.
"Wow. When's the wedding?"
"June, June 15th. Everything’s ready."
"That's only two months away!"
"I shouldn't be here. I should have told you. I can't. I'm sorry. "
"Maybe you're not ready. You're still in high school."
His voice was calm, persuasive, rational, hopeful, He was thinking I was old enough to seduce if not marry. He leaned closer to kiss again, his penis still at attention, ready if I was or not. I pulled back.
"I'm a virgin. I gave my phone number because of your smile but then wished I hadn't. Then you called. I only agreed to come because you mentioned Alviso. My Dad gambles at Val's. I wanted to see it. That's why I agreed to come. Now I realize, I'm starving."
I was back to sniffling.
"I'll take you back to Val's. Any place you want to eat."
"No, no you don't understand. Not food, I'm starved for beauty. Seeing the beauty, you showed, knowing what I miss overwhelms me. Then the train, your kiss, I'm sorry. I don't know what I want. I'm scared, lonely. I’m crying for myself. I need to think. I'm confused. I need to go home."
Pulling his pants back up over his now deflated member he moved to the door, opened it still clutching the unopened condom and got out, confused too. He walked to the driver's window while I pulled my panty back up, re-hooked the bra and fastened blouse buttons. He waited patiently until I finished and opened the window. With the window down, safe behind the jammed door, I noted the condom was re-pocketed.
"I want to see you again. You're beautiful.'
"It won't work. I'm taken, I’m promised to another. I'm not free to give myself."
"Even if engaged I want to talk to you. We can just be friends. We can see many beautiful things together. Let me follow you to make sure you get home safely."
"No, no, I'm okay. Please, just let me go. I need to think about my life."
I started the car, rumbled the Desoto tank out of the parking lot and drove back to Tropicana Village as I thought how he had unexpectedly filled my gritty world with beauty. Feeling oppressed and sorry for myself while listening to radio music the beautiful musical Love Is Blue came on.
My only beauty is radio and church music!
My gritty life churned in my mind as I drove.
In front of the house I straightened my rumpled blouse. My eyes were red in the mirror, my lipstick smudged. I opened my purse, used its hanky to wipe my lips, dapped my eyes and went inside holding the purse to hide a smear on the blouse. In the living room, behind the little entry, Dad snored on his recliner, an empty bottle of plum wine on the floor. My siblings were splayed about on floor and sofa watching Gilligan's Island on TV. Mom was ironing in the small dining area.
She asked why I was late but not answering I went to the sanctuary of my bedroom to think. Lying on the bed, I stared at the ceiling, clutched my rabbit foot talisman and thought about my life’s fate. The phone rang. Called by Mom, I came out, picked up the phone on its little table and heard Gary's voice. I carried the phone with its long extension cord to the safety of my room and closed the door. Mom looked at me with questions on her face.
Late from school, arriving in disarray, a male stranger calling, and now taking the phone to my room, something was up. It was. She was by now a staunch fiancée defender.
In the safety of the bedroom I was pleased he called. Answering my hello, he asked.
"Yeah, I just need to sort things out."
"I'm glad you walked the tracks with me."
"I'm glad you took me but now I'm confused about a lot of things."
"Well life's confusing, isn't it? Don't worry about it. Can I see you again?'
"I don't know if it is a good idea. I'm committed to someone. Have you ever been committed to someone?"
"I just go day to day but I want to see you again."
"Can you make a commitment if I see you again?"
"I'm only a sophomore in college and want to go to law school so I guess I do have a commitment until then."
That was it, not the answer I sought but an honest one.
"I will always remember our hike on the tracks and the train as it passed while we held hands. I cherish your kiss. You have your commitment, I mine. Please don't call again. Let me be."
I set the phone slowly and reluctantly in its cradle.
Bringing the phone back out to its little hall table my fiancé was standing in the living room. Mom obviously had summoned him from next door. He looked at me uncertainly. Setting the phone down I went and embraced him to the relief of both he and Mom.
I vowed to find my own life's beauty. Gary honored my no contact request removing his temptation. I still think of him now and then and wonder about life's possible alternate universes declined by simple choice or chance.
I have no regrets with my fates world, one determined by its choices and chances. I’ve experienced the beauty desired.
Author Notes: Young poor girl faces life choice about commitments in historic 1968 Santa Clara County setting.