It must have been 1971 when I found some hippy surfers living in a commune in Rye Beach , New Hampshire who had an old school bus they would be driving out to Laguna Beach , California . They had had enough of the cold New England surf scene , I suppose , and dreamed of California surfing . They were packing up the commune , lock , stock , and barrel — or , maybe , bongs, beads , and tie-die robes , pulling up stakes altogether , leaving town , swapping the Granite State for the Golden State , going west . As I remember , there were twenty-four of them , and they had room for about five more on the bus , so they charged a few bucks bucks for a ride to CA.
I had quit UCLA and drove east to Philly with a friend of mine , Jim , who had been accepted by whatever university is in Philadelphia . I know , I know , there are probably several . I’m not sure which one it was . Jim had dropped out of high school , so it was a bit of a struggle for him to be accepted to a good college , but he was a positive thinker , and he somehow managed . He was a trumpet player and a poet . As soon as we got to the east coast Jim entered a poetry contest at the university because there was a $300 prize and he needed the money .
We were staying in a walk-up apartment for awhile with a friend of his and the guy’s abrasive French girlfriend . The first evening I intended to walk to the mailbox to mail a postcard back to California . The French girl began screeching at me as I reached the apartment door . Her boyfriend explained that the neighborhood was not safe enough to walk the one block to the mailbox . No one goes out after dark , he said .
Jim found a Jazz band almost immediately and began playing gigs with them around town . They played nights , of course , in downtown bars and seedy joints , and he had no concerns about safety .
He got a call from the English Department at the university one day . He had won the poetry contest , except that two seniors in the department had tied with him . The committee had decided to split the prize money evenly three ways . Better that than nothing , Jim thought . He could use the hundred bucks . He was down a hundred bucks , as it happened , due to a recent purchase he had made .
We had driven east in a 1960 Opel Olympia which I had sold to Jim for a hundred bucks a few weeks before he decided to drive it to Pennsylvania . I laughed when he asked me if I wanted to make the cross-country trip with him . We’ll take turns driving , he said , six-hour shifts . One guy sleeps when the other guy drives . Jim was a positive thinker . I laughed at the idea . I told him no way the Opel would make it , but Jim wasn’t concerned .
The English Department poetry contest people called Jim back later in the day because there was some mistake on his application . He had screwed up a date , they thought , on his contest entry . No , he told them , he hadn’t . He wasn’t actually starting classes for a few more months . ” You will still have the honor ” , they said , because , technically , he wasn’t yet a student , ” but you can’t have the money . ” Jim told them what they could do with the honor . He didn’t need the honor . He needed the money .
I left Philadelphia after a few days and hitched further north . I stayed with a friend at Yale for a couple of days and then headed for the Boston area . They could not understand me , up there , when I asked for the nearest on- ramps to freeways . No such things in Massachusetts . [ ” Ah ! You mean da access to da true- way . Jus’ go down past da turnpike and when you see da tollbooth …….” ]
Winter was just around the corner and I had thoughts of getting back to California . I found the commune of surfer hippies in Rye Beach who would soon be heading out to Laguna Beach . They had advertised on a local radio station for riders : 40 bucks to cross the country . Cold weather was coming to New England, I had had enough bumming around , and 40 bucks was o.k. with me .
There were surfboards tied on the top of the old bus . That was quite a sight in western Pennsylvania , Ohio , Missouri , and Oklahoma , etc. , on the snow -covered Interstates .
Eventually the old school bus crossed the California border at Needles . Cops didn’t like hippies in those Love It Or leave It days and there were California cops at the border . A couple of them walked through the bus checking draft cards . They found no draft-dodgers and no deserters . One nineteen year-old guy on the bus , one of the other paying riders , had just returned from Vietnam . He gave the cops a little bit of hell for hassling him about draft cards . He had a purple heart and a little bit of a hard -edged attitude and he must have seemed an anomaly there to the cops among all the long-haired tie-dyed surfer hippies .
The hippies began arguing with one another as we crossed the Mojave Desert , about this and about that . I guess the stress and excitement of pulling up roots and moving cross-country ( and the dope ) was affecting them . They split into two factions and ended up settling in two different California beach towns .
I landed back in Westwood , moved in with friends , and I needed cash . I quickly [ quickly getting a job could be done in those days ] got a job through a temp agency at a place called C and R Clothiers . C and R sold men’s suits . At that time they had one store over on Pico Bl. in West L.A. Westwood wasn’t close , but I used to walk over to the Pico store every day , about six or seven miles away . A healthy young guy can do that in L.A. He won’t have to walk miles through snow . It doesn’t rain much either . Maybe I could have found a way to get to work on buses . Maybe . But , walking’s good .
I used to tie a sweater around my waist , wear it that way at work , just in case I would need it on my way home . One day the C and R manager ordered me to take it off . I refused . It was the cliche exchange : ” If you don’t take it off you’re fired !”
” You can’t fire me .”
” Oh yeah !”
” Yeah . I quit . ”
I quit over a sweater tied around my waist . I was working in a suit warehouse . Ah , I was tired of the job , anyway , tired of the nasty manager . I figured the business would crumble down upon itself any day anyway .
C and R expanded rapidly , though , until they had stores all over , maybe hundreds of them , within a year .
They had fifteen or twenty of us on the payroll in the Pico warehouse behind their first store . Almost all day they needed only about two . There was nothing for all of us to do . When the manager came back to check on us , every once in awhile , we would pick up pricing guns , aim them at clothes , and pretend to be busy . One guy slept all day under a rack of suits . Two guys , at least two , were fitting themselves into coats and then putting the chosen clothes in among the piles of the emptied cardboard cartons stacked out on the lot .
Twice a day a truck would pull up to the loading dock . For about twenty minutes we would all be busy unloading . The suits [ that’s all C and R sold ] were packed about 60 per carton [ I got chewed out by the manager for calling them boxes ]. We unloaded them from the cartons after counting and recording how many suits had arrived in each carton .
” Well , what do you think ? Sixty ? ”
” We wrote sixty last time . Let’s say fifty-nine on this one . ”
” Right-on .”
It was all guess work —- employees too lazy even to make an accurate inventory count . These guys wanted to get back to pitching pennies against a back wall , or to get back to their naps , or to get back to choosing their next to-be-stolen suit . The white double-breasted looks nice . What do you think ?
Mr. C came in with Mr. R just once . I think R was the money man and C was the businessman . That was my impression . These two guys won’t be in business very long , I thought . There was no control over inventory , too much graft , horrible management .
When a factory made too many size 40 long coats , say , of a particular color or style , C and R would buy the over-run at a discount . They could sell them cheap . Some of them were good coats . Many were hideous . Customers would find a great deal on a suit , but they might need a different size . There were no other sizes in that style . That was the catch . There would be only the one size available . The salesmen would then have to try to sell the customer some other completely different suit in his size .
” Do you have size 44 in this one ? ”
” Look at this one over here . Isn’t it a beauty ? It’s size 44 . ”
I was wrong about C and R . , as it turned out . Mr. Corrente dragged Mr. Reisbord along for a prosperous ride . I’m sure that they made a huge fortune quickly . And then they , evidently , got out of the rag trade altogether , or tried again somewhere else .
I got out , too , although having acquired no fortune and , as it happens , no great understanding of business .
I had landed back in Westwood near UCLA and figured , after my few months wandering around the east , and a few months at C and R Clothiers , that I’d better get back into the University . Jim had the right idea , I guess . Jim was a positive thinker .