With a Little Help
Autobiography of Rick Wagner

Chapter 4: High School

After three years at Washington Junior High School, I started sophomore year at Salinas High School on Main Street, a bit closer to home. Foster's Freeze ice cream and hamburger stand, a popular student hangout, was (and still is) across the street. Teenagers cruised (and still do) up and down the street in the evenings in their cars.

Tenth Grade: Sophomore

I continued reading science fiction. I eventually read nearly everything that Isaac Asimov, Arthur Clarke, and Robert Heinlein wrote. Those are the big three from the classic golden age of science fiction. I began to gravitate toward the harder genre of science fiction. "Hard" science fiction doesn't rely on the supernatural (e.g. psychic pheomena) and describes only technology that doesn't violate any known physics (e.g. faster than light travel or communication). Oh, I could suspend my disbelief all right, but I disliked keeping track of what rules applied in which authors' worlds. I did read Tolkein's The Hobbit and the rest of the ring series when I was at Keesler AFB when I was 20. My friend Michael Sheeren had read the books and urged me to also, and I found them fairly easy to get into.

Hobby Shop

Several neighborhood kids and I hung out at the local hobby shop, in the back of Toys Galore next to Food City, a grocery store on South Main Street in Salinas. Mr. Miller and his wife owned the store and Harvey Kitamura who lived nearby on Pajaro Avenue worked the hobby counter. Harvey was an accomplished modeler. Both Harvey and Mr. Miller were interested in radio controlled (RC) mocel airplanes and they sold the requisite equipment, both single and multi-channel radio gear, and so on. But RC was very expensive and the best I could afford was what we called U-control where the model plane flew in a circle around the pilot and was controlled by a pair of cables operating a bell crank and pushrod to the elevator.

Sometimes Harvey would let me behind the counter to help customers. He taught me how to count back change, a lost art in the days of computer cash registers. For example, suppose the sale is $18.32 and the customer gives you a 20 dollar bill. You count mentally as you pickup the coins and bills: pennies--33, 34, 35; nickels--40; dimes--50; quarters--75, 19 dollars; ones--twenty. You always pick up the minimal pieces for the correct change that way. Then you close the cash drawer (very important not to leave it open) and repeat the count process out loud into the customer's hand. Note that the method of change computation generally used by clerks these days does not necessarily result in the minimal number of pieces of change. Eventually Mr. Miller gave me a job after school, and I helped in selling time on the track and sold slot car kits and parts.

Slot Car Racing

I began to read model car magazines, and learned to rewind DC electric motors. The winding wire is removed from the armature and it's rewound with a heavier wire with fewer turns. The heavier wire allows more current to flow at low speeds and the fewer turns allows more current to flow at high speeds. A fun aspect of building model racing cars is the painting and detailing of the body shells. I learned a lot about color combinations that way, what colors work together and what don't.

I won the second place trophy for the Western Model Association slot car championship held at Toys Galore in Salinas in 1965. I still have the trophy.

The Millers had family in Stockton and decided to move there. Mr. Koch from San Francisco and his wife bought Toys Galore from the Millers. On their recommendation I worked for Mr. Koch after school and on weekends. I helped keep the hobby business running and I was a good employee. Mr. Koch and his wife were from San Francisco and had bought the store as business. He was determined to change operations to make more money. He put in a large supply of cheap novelties such as for New Years celebrations. He focused on the toys that were advertised on television. The hobby section was not a big money maker so he let it atrophy. Soon the stock of model accessories was so poor that customers stopped coming in. After a while I quit working there and started going to Turner's slot car track in Alisal.

I built a "sidewinder" (motor shaft parallel to and driving the wheel axel with spur gears) slot car with a Pittman six volt motor (the track ran on 18 volts) and set a track record and won some trophies at Turner's slot car track in Alisal. The car was the first to use a front wing for downward aerodynamic pressure at speed. I could fly down the long back straightaway and into the corner at a higher speed than un-winged cars. Full sized racing cars started showing up with wings a few years later. I used to go with Turner and several others to compete as a team against other tracks in places like Monterey and Los Gatos.


Dad with Aunt Frieda, likely in San Francisco where she and Walter Braun lived. Circa 1964.

I was beginning to become aware of the hard limits of technology. I had observed that there is no free lunch in physics. If you want more water, you need a bigger pipe. Racing slot cars was helping me realize this. I started to follow real motor racing too. The Laguna Seca Speedway was about 10 miles south of Salinas on the Monterey Highway and was the home of Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) sanctioned races, including the Canadian-American championship races for group 7 cars (two seaters with enclosed wheels and gasoline fueled). Some of the people I got to know from slot cars were real die-hard sports car racing fans.

The conventional (naive) view is that technolgical capability is boundless. I had observed that there is a sigmoidal (s-curve) function that describes technolgical advances: things go slowly at first, then there are rapid advances until the limits of the technology are encountered and then there are diminishing returns. Take for example railroad transportation: in the 19th century, the miles of installed railroad track were growing exponentially. This trend could not continue indefinitely, of course, or the entire planet would be coverd several layers deep in track.

The rate of railroad track increase went to zero after the War. If you graph the installed miles of track versus time you will get a sigmoidal curve. Another example is transportation speed in general. You know the progression: ox cart, railroad, airplane. Transportation speeds leveled off after the Boeing 707 was introduced in the early '60s. If you graph transportation speed as a function of time you get a sigmoidal function.

The same sigmoidal trend is happening right now with computational power: the processing power per unit cost has been growing exponentially for the last 20 years (as of 2002). This process will hit the wall in about 10 to 20 more years, and when graphed at that time will also show a sigmoidal shape. But what about quantum computers? I don't think they'll pan out. There's no free lunch. If they do become reality, it will be the first case of a technology breaking out of physical constraints.

One day I was in Walter's room and the back cover of a magazine had photos of the Indy winning cars and their speeds (race average). That year's winner was a Lotus with a Ford V8 and the winning speed was about 170 MPH. The speeds were exponentially increasing and walter suggested that by the year 2000 the speed would be well over 200 MPH. Knowing about the limits of technology, and particularly how they applied to the Indianapolis motor speedway, I disagreed and we made a bet of $50. I asserted that the average winning speed at the Indianapolis 500 would not reach 200 MPH by the year 2000. Thirty-five years later I was proved correct. Walter claims he doesn't remember the bet, so he hasn't paid up.


My family at a Christmas party at our house, circa 1965. Dad, Christina, Walter, Mom, me, and John.

Geometry

I had Mr. Van Atta for the introduction to geometry (plane Euclidian gemometry) class. It was hard but I liked it and was able to do the proofs on the blackboard when called. I got an A in the class. I mention this because I was never what you would call a "good student." I had some things I did very well but I found most school work boring and I didn't work very hard on it. I liked building model airplanes and model slot cars (electric racing cars in 1/24 scale). I also liked all topics in science. Walter was good at mathematics. I struggled with algebra.

Jazz Dance

I had seen some live musical plays with my parents, and the musical film West Side Story, and I thought I would like to learn jazz dance. My sister's ballet teacher (I have forgotten her name, but she had blond hair worn in a pony tail and spoke with a British accent) had a studio on the second floor of a building on Main Street and also taught jazz dance. So I started taking lessons one night a week. I performed on stage a couple of times with the group, but I was never very good at it. Hartnel College, the local Salinas two year community college, was putting on a production of Romeo and Juliet when I was in my junior year in high school, and I was asked to be an extra in the dance scene at the Capulet household. I had fun talking and interacting with the older actors back stage during the long weeks of rehearsal. The college student actors seemed quite mature to me at the time. The actor who played Count Paris showed me a bit about fencing.

We weren't allowed to watch television on school nights, but on Friday and Saturday nights, Dad would join us kids and watch westerns like Have Gun Will Travel and Gunsmoke. We also liked Sea Hunt with Lloyd Bridges as a SCUBA diving hero. We all knew how to use masks and fins in the pool and were fascinated with the possibilities of SCUBA diving.

SCUBA Diving

Jacques Cousteau had invented the self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA) in the 1940s. It was basically a bottle of compressed air feeding a demand regulator. The demand regular is a mechanical device that attempts to equalize the pressure of the air in a diver's mouth with the pressure of the surrounding water. So as a diver went deeper, the pressure of air demanded by the diver by inhaling (through his mouth) would be nearly equal to the pressure squeezing his lungs, so he could breathe easily at any depth. This invention opened up the shallows of the oceans to sport diving enthusiasts. I say "shallows" because while dives can be made deeper, it's not particularly safe nor convenient to go much deeper than about a hundred feet, dissolved nitrogen in the blood being only one reason of many. In fact, most dives need rarely go deeper that 50 feet. Most trouble divers encounter occurs on deeper dives.

Dad was getting into SCUBA diving and John and I were allowed to attend the YMCA diving course. John was going to be the required age of 16, but I was under age. Dad knew the instructor of the course, Dr. Madison, and John and I were both good swimmers and we passed the screening swimming test, so we were allowed to take the course. It required a lot of study of diving physics as well as lots of water skills training. When we graduated, I was probably the youngest certified SCUBA diver in California (if not the USA). One good trick I learned in the YMCA SCUBA course was how to breathe air from an "empty" tank. The steel tanks we learned with were pressurized to 2,200 pounds per square inch (psi) pressure, and when they were full, the weight of the air in them would make them sink in fresh water, and when "empty" they would float. I say "empty" in quotes because when you were "out of air," (the regulator would stop delivering air to the diver) there were still about 500 psi left in the tank. To get at that air, one could turn off the tank valve, remove the regulator, and by putting one's mouth on the tank valve and opening it manually a little bit, one could breathe air directly from the tank. I got good at this with practice, and could swim lengths of the pool underwater, cradling an "empty" SCUBA tank.

At the time, there was no government requirement for SCUBA certification. Anyone could legally go to a dive shop and buy compressed diving air. Dad had us measured for wetsuits at Duffy's Dive Shop on Lighthouse Avenue in Monterey and a few weeks later we picked up the suits and went ocean diving for the first time. We went on many dives together, often right off cannery row, entering the water right next to the AM radio tower, or off the Monterey breakwater. We also went to Lover's Cove and Point Lobos.

That Christmas John and I both got twin 48 scuba tanks with two stage regulators. A standard single tank was made of steel and held 72 cubic feet of air at 2,200 psi. The twin 48s held 96 cubic feet, and with them I could stay underwater for over an hour. Dad took us on a boat diving trip to the Channel Islands of Southern California through Port Hueneme. We got abalone, lobster, and all kinds of fish.

One time Dad took John and me diving from a boat with some of his diving buddies (perhaps Buck Rogers and Ed Stoffey) at Point Lobos, a very beautiful area, both above and under water. We were in about 50 feet of water with lots of kelp around. We three, Dad, John, and I, jumped off the boat and then submerged heading for the bottom. I had a bit of trouble equalizing my ears so I lagged behind them for a bit and then caught up. It was very beautiful below in the kelp forest. Various fish swam around, with sunlight streaming down, but I got separated again. The first rule of diving is "never dive alone." The thing to do was to surface and go back to the boat. Just then, breathing became more difficult, I had to pull harder on the regulator to get air. The tanks we had were equipped with what was called a J-valve. It was a lever at the top of tank connected by a steel rod to the base of the tank. I could reach behind me, feel for the rod, and pull it to get a temporary surge of air. I did that and discovered that the j-valve had already been pulled, probably having caught on some kelp when I was passing through some earlier. Sudden fear gripped me, but I didn't panic, and remembering my training, I started for the surface. As I ascended, breathing got a little easier, as the pressure of the air that the regulator needed to deliver was lower. When I came up, the surface was blocked by dense kelp, but being low on air, I had no choice but to penetrate it. Fortunately, kelp is slippery and I was able to make my way over the top of it back to the boat.

Eleventh Grade: Junior

Dad wanted to take pictures under water, but underwater cameras were not yet available off the shelf, but do-it-yoursel people were making watertight enclosures for their regular cameras. Dad worked for a couple of years in the garage shop making enclosures from plexiglass with limited success.

Dad also got into building salt water aquaria. He wanted to keep alive various sea animals he captured in Monterey bay where the water is 52 degrees Fahrenheit. He used the refrigeration system salvaged from a Coke machine and was able to keep sea anenones and small fish caught with a slurp gun alive for extended periods. He built the rather large aquaria (over 100 gallons) from sheets of plexiglass and kept them outdoors under the sheltered area to the south of the living room.

Honda 90 Motorcycle

John sold me his Honda 90 motorcycle for a few hundred dollars and I loved riding it all over. John then bought a green Triumph TR3 sports car. Mom had a '66 Buick Riviera which is one of the all-time great cars. I loved driving it every chance I could get. Dad had a big Buick Electra which was OK, but not as much fun as the Riviera. One night driving Dad's car home from a slot car race in Monterey I got into a race with with a TR4 on the Monterey highway. I had it flat out at 110 MPH when the TR4 just tooled on by. The highway was just two lanes, one lane in each direction, so you had to pull into the oncoming lane to pass. I came very close (about 1/8 inch my passenger swore) to wrecking the car (but not a scratch on it). I never raced like that again.

Mom and Dad took a driving trip in Europe, picking up a '66 VW bug in Germany and touring Italy. They flew home, sending the medium blue beetle via ship. When it arrived in San Francisco, Mom drove me up there and I drove it home.

I started working at Don's Douglas gas station. Don (I have forgotten his last name) loved sports cars and had some friends in the Laguna Seca racing scene, among them Colonel Gatske, stationed at Fort Ord, who was also a racing official with the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) and was involved with the Laguna Seca races, which were held on Army land at Fort Ord. Colonel Gatske's son (I have forgotten his first name) was a year or two older than me and built beautiful and fast slot cars for racing at the Toys Galore slot car track upstairs. He was also very knowledgeable about real sports cars.

Fort Ord was subsequently turned over to California during the round of base closures in the 90s when Congress became controlled by the Republicans. They closed mostly bases in blue states such as California as punishment for being Democratic.

John Wallace, a friend I had known since elementary school, had a blue Corvette convertable and he would come by the service station and hang out sometimes. John Wallace was a year older than I, I think, and had also been a friend of my brother John's and they were on a Little League baseball team together. I remember John Wallace as a good athlete when he was younger. I didn't see much of him after that.

Don was working on rebuilding a red Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce. I got to help and watch them overhaul the four cylinder dual overhead cam wet sleeve engine with dual two barrel Weber carburetors. It also had tuned exhaust and a four speed transmission. It didn't run when I started working there, but he overhauled it and was driving it around soon. It was quite fast, but he never let me drive it. He also had a couple of rear engine water cooled four cylinder Renaults that his wife and daughter drove.

I started hanging around with Mark Humphries and his friends Steve Clasmeyer, Richard Gray, and Bobby Katner. Mark was John Humphries' younger brother and he had an MG mini that he wrecked and spent a long time repairing without much luck. He was always kind of down on account of not having wheels. He got it running once and then the engine seized up a few days later. Mark and I used to have long philosophical talks. Mark's mother had died when he was quite young. He once told me to beware of thinking something is true just because you think it. That's good advice.

One evening Mark and I were hanging around against the wall outside Mel's Drive-in, AKA "The Valley in the Sky" because it had an inverted roof. A bunch of bikers, the Losers of Monterey, were hanging out there too. One of them was trying to start his bike, a Harley chopper and it would pop a bit but he couldn't get it started. Mark and I, being mechanically inclined, were speculating as to the cause. Perhaps it was bad points or plugs. Another biker overheard our conversation and went and told the bike's owner that "we were talking bad about his bike." He came over to us and challenged us. I said we meant no harm and didn't want any trouble. I hate to fight, but our backs were against the brick wall and he started swinging at me, landing a few. I wrestled with him and got him into a lethal headlock and held him at about 50% max pressure. If he struggled I increased pressure. After about 30 seconds he realized I could kill him if I wanted to. I read his body language and wanting a good way out of this said "let's call it even." He grunted OK and I let him go. I then stepped up to him and offered him my hand. He turned his back on me. The gang's leader looked at him in disgust and said to him "you asshole." I said "Come on Mark, let's go" and we walked away with dignity.

The Vietnam war was occurring. Young men were being drafted and killed. I would be draft age in two years, but I didn't worry about it because I thought the war would be over by then. After all, how hard could it be to defeat a backward nation like North Vietnam? What I didn't know is that our leaders didn't have the guts to execute the war as it should have been. Why weren't we sinking the Russian ships delivering weapons to the enemy? Because we were afraid of the Russians. Why weren't we declaring war on China which was also supplying our enemy? Because we were afraid of the Chinese. We had no business being in Vietnam if we didn't have the stomach for war. It was an incredibly absurd American folly that resulted in substantial social disruption. Youth were protesting the war and the widespread dissent resulted in a youth counterculture that rejected authority and materialism.

Junior Achievement

I joined a once-a-week evening program called Junior Achievement, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, in which high school students learned to form a small business, and design, fabricate, and sell a product. We met on a weekday evening (not sure but it could have been Wednesdays) in a large building in Alisal, a section of Salinas in the east side of town. I developed a crush on a girl there my age named Joy who lived just outside of town on the Castroville Highway. I heard later that she had developed some sort of illness or had an accident of some kind and I never saw her again.

In the spring time I went to the Laguna Seca races with friends. We went all three days and saw all classes of production sports car racing, formula V, as well as the very fast Group 7 custom sports cars on Sunday.

Twelfth Grade: Senior

I met Camilla Candace (Candi) Herrera on Thursday, November 4, 1966 through a friend, Ron Brooks, who was hanging out on Main street that evening. I was driving my Honda 90 and he called me over because Camilla had asked him if he knew me. We had fought in gym class. He bloodied my nose and after that we came to be on somewhat friendlier terms. When Dad saw the scratches on my nose from the ring Ron was wearing when he hit me, he asked me what happened. I told him I walked into a door. Dad didn't beleive me but I stuck to my story because I was ashamed for losing the fight. I asked Candi if she wanted a ride on my bike (Honda 90) and we drove around for a while, up and down Main Street.

Music at the time included the Mamas and the Papas and the Rolling Stones Between the Buttons.

Candi had left a pair of globular shaped turquoise blue painted earrings in my jacket pocket and I found them the next day, giving me an excuse to call her. She later told me that it was deliberate as she wanted to see me again. That made me feel glad.

I called Candi the next week and we went to visit her friend Christine Honan, who worked in the school library as a student assistant. Christine later died in a traffic accident on Castroville Highway. I would later rent a room on Main Street from her mother, Mrs. Honan, when I got kicked out of the house when I turned 18 that summer of '67.

Saturnalia and Cena Romana

My brother Walter and I both took Latin in high school. Walter was always a good student and did very well in it. As usual, I struggled with Latin because I hated to study and do homework, but I'm glad I took it. Some things stuck. I can tell the puellae from the pueri. Our Latin teacher, Mrs. Logan, put on a Roman dinner, a Cena Romana, every year in December, as a celebration of the Roman holiday Saturnalia, a kind of a toga party in the school gymnasium. This was all part of the Junior Classical League, an organization of Latin scholars, celebration. Saturn was an important Roman god. Saturn the planet was fairly bright and constant, and the slowest moving of the planets, so Saturn represented time, among other things, so the Saturnalia was a fitting celebration around the time of the winter solstice. She also had students out to her house in Corral de Tierra for a Christmas Party. In my senior year I attended and brought Candi as my guest. I borrowed Dad's car to drive out there and we had a good time, with rock and roll music playing and good food.

Hawaii Vacation

That Christmas of '66 my family went to Hawaii for the first time. John took his surfboard, a Weber Performer. We stayed in a small three floor hotel a block or two from the beach. John put the surfboard in the stairwell and it was stolen the first night we were there. Dad reported it to the police but the board was never found. After that we rented boards at the beach. I used to walk through the public right of way by the Reef Hotel (now the Outrigger Reef). We boys had lunch most days at Perry Boy's Smorgy, an all you can eat smorgasbord. There was a free hula (and other Polynesian dance) show at the International Market Place. I loved watching those girls, especially the Tahitian dance. I bought Candi a wooden ring as a souvenir from one of the carts there. The beach boys at the Outrigger Hotel used to let me ride for free. They knew I liked to paddle and surf the canoe, so whenever they had a tourist load a seat short, they calld me over and let me paddle to help out. I was thin and wiry, but strong for my weight. Dad rented a car and let me drive alone one night. I promptly got lost and nearly panicked, but somehow I got onto the Freeway and saw a sign for Waikiki and made it back safely. We three boys had one room and Mom and Dad shared one with Christina. In the evenings in the hotel room, Walter and I would sometimes talk about mathematics. Walter observed, and was able to show, that the shape of the light cast on the room wall by a lamp shade was parabolic because it was formed by the intersection of a cone and plane.


Waikiki in 1967.

I bought a small Hawaiian phrase book and learned pronunciation and a few phrases. This was before the diacritical marks in Hawaiian were common, so I learned how to pronounce from just the letters of the words. I later learned that my pronunciation of Hawaiian was better than that of some locals. For example, my friend Tony from Waimanalo pronounced Makapuu as Makapu rather than the correct Makapu'u.

My parents knew a family who lived on Maunalua bay, east of the Kahala Hotel and West of Aina Haina, and we visited them one day. I don't remember their names, but they had a microwave oven that I saw in use. I had never seen anything like that before. My brothers and I went walking along the shore with their daughter. She was medium size and build and had brown collar length hair. When we had gotten some distance from the house she pulled a joint (cannabis cigarette) out of her pocket and asked us if we would like to smoke. I had never seen cannabis (we called it marijuana) before but I knew it was illegal and was actually a bit shocked at seeing it. I left and went back to the house. I was, at that time, a fairly naive and mostly obedient son.

The family's son was also into model rocketry, and in Hawaii the rocket motors were legal. He and his mother took me with them to launch rockets at Waialaeiki park near their home. That was a lot of fun.

Help from a Stranger

A Kona storm hit Hawaii on Christmas and the next day there was big surf coming into Waikiki. John and I rented surfboards and went out, right in front of the Reef Hotel. The surf was at least 10 feet and breaking about half a mile out. It took a long time to get out to the surf. The surf line wasn't very crowded in general in 1966, and there was nobody out in that big surf. Back in those days, leashes for surfboards weren't in common use, so if you lost your board, it could get carried into shore and you'd have to swim in to get it. I wasn't as adept in the surf as I came to be later on when I lived in Hawaii and I wiped out on the first wave I tried and lost my board. It was a big set and wave after wave washed over me as I tried to swim in. I was choking on seawater and thought I was going to drown. Just then a young local boy paddled by me on his way out to the surf. He was pulling my board behind him with one foot on it, and dropped it off near me, perhaps saving my life. I thanked him and he continued on out without a word. I paddled in, thankful for the miracle.


On the payphone talking to Candi at Don's Douglas, where I worked, in the fall of '66 or winter of '67. Local calls were a dime.

I started working at the 7-11 convenience store on San Miguel avenue. The owner (I have forgotten his name), whom I worked for, gave up the franchise and it was taken over by Monte Carpenter and his wife Connie. They had just had a baby boy Scott. Monte drove a white Datsun pickup and Connie had a new green MGB sports car coupe.

Monte had worked in grocery stores, and had finally saved up enough money to buy the 7-11 franchise. He and Connie put in a lot of hours to make it work. Monte taught me as much of the grocery business as he could in a little store like that. Most profit came from cosmetics and drugs (over the counter only), but that was also the highest risk for pilferage. Bread and milk were the staples people came in for, and we also kept a small fruit and vegetable department that didn't make any profit.

I was mainly an evening clerk at the 7-11 store, but I also kept the slurpy machine filled, stocked the cooler, mopped the floor, and kept an eye out for shoplifters. I never caught anyone shoplifting, but Monte told me that they were having financial difficulty due to that continuing problem.

One evening I was robbed at gunpoint by a short thin man in a stocking (nylon hose) mask holding a 22 caliber revolver. He said "Give me all the money in both registers or I'll blow your funcking head off." The pistol was pointed at my belly at the time. I did as I was told and nobody got hurt. The police never solved the crime. During the robbery the perpetrator ordered everyone in the store to the floor with their hands behind their heads. Then he took their wallets and ordered me to the floor too. He said not to move or he would kill us and then left silently. It was about 20 seconds before we had the nerve to look up and by then there was no sign of him. A similar robbery was committed about an hour later in Santa Cruz.

In the store at the time were my friends Mark Humphries, Steve Clasmeyer, and a top-40 AM radio DJ who went by the radio name of "Mark Sherry." While waiting for the police to come, Mark, Steve, and I got to know him. Mark Sherry lived down the street, San Miguel Avenue, in an apartment building diagonal from Saint Paul's Episcopal Church (my family's church). Once he took me to a "battle of the bands" in Monterey where he was a judge and another time we went to a beach concert near Santa Cruz where we saw the Youngbloods. About half way through their set the Jokers, a motorcycle gang, rode in. Some of them got up on the stage and started harrassing the band members while they were playing. The scene had the potential to turn ugly so Mark and I left. As we walked down the beach toward Mark's car we heard the Youngbloods singing their signature hit song that went "Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now."

Mark Sherry played a Canned Heat single ("On the Road Again") on the Salinas top-40 radio station after Mark Humphries and I played the cut for him off their Boogie with Canned Heat album. Canned Heat later became a very successful music group, and played in Salinas on tour. Their song "Going up Country" was featured in the opening sequence of the music film of the Woodstock festival.

I again participated in Junior Achievement in the winter and Camilla attended with me. We didn't get much work done as we liked to go off alone and talk. However, we made it through the program and learned a thing or two about how hard business is.

As a store clerk and general assistant at the 7-11 store, I got to talk with the various people who came in to keep the store stocked, the milk, beer, and soda deliverymen, etc. I also got first crack at the magazines and paperback books. I read all the James Bond books by Ian Flemming, science fiction, etc. One paperback book that got my attention and that I read was called The Private Sea: LSD and the Search For God by William Braden. That got me interested in the consciousness expansion aspects of the counterculture, and I started reading library books on the subject, including books by Ralph Metzner, e.g., The Ecstatic Adventure, and Timothy Leary, e.g., The Politics of Ecstasy.


A newspaper photographer showed up one night during production and we got our picture in the paper, Winter 1967.

Help from a Friend

Monte Carpenter was a really nice guy who helped me in many ways. I am sorry I have never been able to repay him, but Monte, if you're out there reading this, I've been paying it forward. I wrecked his store's front plate glass window by doing reckless stunts on my Honda on his sidewalk in front of the store. I could have killed myself in that falling glass but I escaped unscathed. Monte got the window replaced on insurance, kept my name out of it, and never told my parents that I did it. Monte taught me the grocery business, at least as much as I could learn at a convenience store.


My Honda 90, bought from my older brother for a hundred dollars, at La Selva Beach, Spring 1967.

Candi and I cut school one day and we rode my motorcycle to Arroyo Seco and spent the day there. Salinas was generally foggy and cold, but Arroyo Seco was reliably sunny and warm. It was not far from Greenfield where Candi spent her childhood, so she knew the place well. My family sometimes spent summer days there at the Garin's summer house. Bill Garin lived with his family on San Juan Drive in Salinas, walking distance from my parents' home. I remember playing with the Garin children when I was younger. The back yard of their house looked out over lettuce fields.

It was after dark by the time we headed back to Salinas up the 101 highway from Arroyo Seco. It was very cold and Candi hugged me tight in the cold, riding on the back of my little motorcycle, running flat out and barely going 60. It seemd to take forever to get home. Naturally we were caught by the school for playing hooky and punished. My mother was very angry and disappointed with me.

I wrecked my bike going about 40 MPH on San Juan Drive. A woman in a red Datsun 4-door crossed an intersection when she had the right of way and then slammed on her brakes when she saw me coming. She stopped right in front of me and I was unable to avoid slamming directly into the side of her car. Luckily I was able to jump over her car, did an aerial summersalt with a half twist, and landed on my butt going backward, rolled and hit my head on the pavement. I sprang to my feet, but the forks of the bike were ruined. I had a headache for several days due to the concussion. I hadn't been wearing a helmet and didn't have one.

I eventually got the bike fixed, but it was never quite the same again. I think I sold it to a friend for almost nothing. I purchased a 1958 green Chevrolet Del Rey for $200. It had a six cylinder engine and three-speed transmission and would go to Monterey and back on a dollar's worth of gas. That was a great old car (but not fast). I had a job pumping gas and changing oil at Don's Douglas service station on South Main Street.

I gave Candi a model Porsche 911. It was a 1/24 scale styrene model kit, probably made by Revell. Having worked in the hobby shop I was pretty knowledgeable about painting and assembling model kits. I took it to her house and built it there for her. I painted it yellow. I promised her that some day I would buy her a real Porsche.

I had flunked the fall semester of my senior year high school English class, but I was able to make it up and graduate with my class by taking a correspondence course in English literature. Again, my mother was very angry with me. I actually enjoyed the correspondence course, worked hard and did all the readings, and learned more in that one course than in all of my high school English classes put together.

I played chess with Connie Carpenter and wrote poetry in iambic pentameter at their apartment. Music at the time included the Beatles Sargent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and the Moody Blues Days of Future Passed.

Candi and I would usually meet at lunch time and eat together on the steps of the clock tower, sitting in the sun and looking out past the front lawn to Main Street. We often bought hamburgers at the place across the street, where I had met her (corner of Willow and Main). I didn't like dill pickels on my hamburger, and she did, so I would always give them to Candi. It seems like a small thing, but it's a detail I remember clearly.

I went to the Laguna Seca sports car races again in the springtime with high school friends. Monte Carpenter drove Mark Humphries and me out there in his Datsun pickup the Wednesday evening before the races began, and we got to walk through the pits and see some cars close up, and actually drove on the track for a bit. I don't think security was ever that lax again.

High School Prom

I took Candi to the Salinas High School Prom in the spring. Dad lent me his car and helped me dress in the tux. I got an orchid, probably from Dad's SCUBA diving buddy Mike Stoffey's flower shop right by the high school, and I picked her up at her house on Lang Street behind the high school. I drove us over the Los Laureles Grade Road to Carmel Valley to a very fancy restaurant for dinner. Then we went to the prom and talked and danced until the band went home. We parked the car somewhere and "made out" in the back seat. My father found my cumberbund there the next day.


I took Camilla (Candi) Herrera to the Salinas High School prom.

Trip to Europe

That summer Mom and Dad took John and me to Europe for the entire month of July. We spent three weeks in Britain and a week seeing the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life.


The coach stopped at Stonehenge on the Salisbury plane. John, Mom, and me. Photo by Dad.

We boarded the motor coach in London and our first sightseeing stop was Stonehenge. I understand that Stonehenge is fenced off now so people can't walk up and touch the stones like we did. We then got back on the bus and spent the first night at a hotel in Bournemouth. We walked along the sea there and it stayed light until 10:00 PM. The beer in the pub at the hotel was served at room temperature (as all pubs do in England). I didn't have any, but Dad had a mug. We got to know the other people on the tour, all English speaking. Some from Canada, some from Australia, a girl and her parents from Argentina, and so on.


Anne Hathaway's cottage in Stratford-On-Avon with John, Lynne, Rick, and Jennifer Reid.

There was a South African girl on the tour, traveling with her parents. She was 20 (three years older than I was), named Jennifer Margaret Northcote Reid from Pinetown, Natal. She was a very pretty blonde and she worked in a record shop in her home town. At the first morning rest stop on the tour she put a shilling in the jukebox and played "Monday, Monday" by the Mamas and Papas. She had never heard of the Jefferson Airplane, a San Francisco group whose second album Surrealistic Pillow was popular in California at the time.

We visited Shakespeare's home, Stratford-on-Avon, saw cheese being made in Cheddar Gorge, and visited Salisbury Cathedral. John liked the Argentinian girl (I have forgotten her name). Jenny and I talked and got to know each other better. In the town of Bath, after dinner, Jenny and I climbed the ancient tower with John and the girl from Argentina. After that Jenny and I went to a pub and drank red vermouth. I felt very grown up going to the bar and returning with the two glasses to Jenny at the table.

We went to Wales and there was a thunder storm that knocked out power for a while in the hotel. I took a candle to Jenny's room and she thanked me for it. I went back to my room with my candle and a while later the power came back on.

We saw a lot of castles. Old ones, newer one, big ones, little ones. In Scotland, the bus driver let me drive the bus for a bit, after all the others were off. It was the first time I had driven on the left hand side of the road. The gear shift was very difficult to operate. We stayed at Loch Lomond, and visited Edinburgh and toured the castle. I thought the Scottish girls were very pretty and I liked their accents. We traveled through the lake country of northern England. Jenny and I went for walks together and talked about all kinds of things, and when we got back to London, we met up there. I wrote to her once after the trip but never heard from her.

We spent a week in London. The first day John and I went walking and got lost. We stopped and asked a Bobby for directions. The Bobby spoke with a Cockney accent. We didn't understand a word he said. We thanked him and somehow found our way back just by luck. We met the two girls from the tour bus for tea, and the next day I met Jenny for a shopping trip to a London department store. I waited while she tried on clothes.

Just by coincidence we met with a Canadian friend of John's who had been going to school in Salinas. John had finished his first year at Hartnel College. I forget the friend's name, but we met him at a pub at Piccadilly Circus, a very nice fellow. We went walking and he showed us around a bit. We walked through Hyde park, and we saw a few orators standing on their soap boxes, addressing small gatherings. We saw the London Whiskey-a-go-go.

Mom and Dad took us to dinner at the Haymarket, where there is a hotel, restaurant and theater. The restaurant's specialty was roast beef, which we enjoyed, and then we saw the farce The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde, which was hilarious. Before the play started, the national anthem was played, God Save the Queen, which sounds exactly like My Country 'Tis of Thee. We stood for the anthem, of course, like everyone. One point addressed in the play is something I had already thought about: in a pistol duel, is it better to stand facing the opponent, or sideways? If sideways, a thin young man presents a narrower target, but if he is hit, the bullet has more to travel through.

One of the things, among many, that I liked about London was the miniskirts the pretty young women wore with brightly colored knickers. I hadn't seen the like before or since. We took an overnight ferry boat to Amsterdam where we stayed in a hotel. We took a boat ride on the canals and saw a protest against the vietnam war. It was a bit puzzling because the Netherlands was not involved in the war. Obviously the protest was targeted at the USA. Then we went by train to the Rhine River in Germany and boarded a steam boat for a tour up the Rhine. We saw lots of castles in the mountains around the Rhine. We went all the way up to Lucerne, Switzerland, where Dad bought watches for us, an Omega for John and a Rolex for me. I eventually gave my Rolex to my son Tim after he was old enough to take care of it.

I missed the English breakfasts. The continental breakfast is meager fare in comparison. We took a train back through Germany, stopping in the spa town of Baden-Baden. We also stopped and saw the Koln (Cologne) Cathedral and then flew home from Germany. Getting back to California, things seemed strange after Europe, and I had a whole new perspective on life in America.


John and I on a steamboat on the Rhine River in Germany. We saw lots of castles and visited Lucerne, Switzerland.

Shortly after we returned from Europe, my mother suddenly announced that she was getting a divorce and leaving my father. I did not see that coming. A few days later, after my 18th birthday, I was evicted without warning from nine San Juan Drive. I took a bed, some pictures, a table, and a couple of chairs. Mark Humphries borrowed his father's pickup truck and helped me move into a room in a house on Main Street across from the High School. I registered for classes at Hartnell College in the fall. I had a job pumping gas and changing oil at Marv's Enco service station on South Main Street in Salinas.



September 17, 2011, College Hill, Manoa, Oahu, Hawaii.

Note to other Rick Wagners about the use of our name: I am Richard J. Wagner, and I know there are lots of us Richard Wagners who go by "Rick." I use our name, "Rick Wagner," in the title of this autobiography because that's the name I go by. I established my personal home page under that name back in 1995, long before many people even knew the Internet (much less the Web) existed. So I consider I have a kind of Web presence precedence, and therefore am entitled to use my nickname in the title of my work. I know and/or hope you will understand.

Email Richard dot J dot Wagner at gmail dot com


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