The Redlands of our Youth

It was the summer of 1957. Cruising in my gold, louvered, raked, hot 1949 Ford, I idled at a stop light. The deep-throated roar of his motor announced the arrival of my friend Mike Mealey. He eased to a stop. We exchanged knowing glances, gunned our engines. The challenge was on.

My car, "Cup of Gold" branded on her front fender, got the jump on Mealey. He had been our star high school quarterback at nearby St. Bernardine's High. I had been the star of nothing. But I had Mike for a half block before his hot rod roared past me.

The cop was faster than both of us.  Another ticket. I wasn't the brightest of teenagers.

Our drag race took place on Waterman Avenue in San Bernardino.

On Wednesday, a guy and his wife drove to a building about a mile south of that long ago drag race and went on a shooting rampage. You know the details.

As we watched fascinated and horrified Wednesday evening, we saw the focus move from San Bernardino to nearby Redlands where Roberta and I grew up just two blocks from one another, not far from the home of the killers.

We well know the area. Roberta would often babysit nearby. You could find your way across Brockton Avenue and find a back driveway entrance to the beautiful University of Redlands campus, and you could take your Cup of Gold there to use the free car wash meant for university students who were tolerant of local hot rodders.

Redlands was a quiet town of orange groves,  their smudge pots which would give modern-day environmentalists cardiac arrest, lots of churches,  and the huge, greenbelt Sylvan Park where the prosperous kids from the hill would mingle with those of us from the other side of the tracks when summer swimming season opened.

It was a community that shuttered itself on Friday nights to support the mighty Terriers of Redlands High School, then the only high school in town.

The downtown was picturesque, then and now.

Ours were the carefree days of a cruising, drag racing, rock n' roll lifestyle captured so brilliantly by the 1973 classic "American Graffiti."

Young guys thought about young girls in the way young guys think about young girls. Young girls though about young guys in much the same way, but they tended to picture them in uncomfortable suits standing before a preacher. Most got them there.

It was the culture of the era. In the 1950s, most 18-year-old girls thought they had missed the boat if they hit the ripe old age of 21 without ruling over their own kitchens. American Graffiti guys, the smart ones, broke free of the Friday night culture and went on to college or solid jobs. It took some of us not so smart ones time to wise up.

We all finally got to thinking about the future, but it would have been inconceivable any single one of us could grasp the concept of our beloved Southern California communities being stomach-turning terrified by the human slaughter witnessed on Wednesday.

No matter where we live now, we stare mute and bewildered at the same lame rhetoric spills from the television.

This is not who we are, says the president.

It took days for the evidence to develop, but that didn't deter FOX from declaring this a terrorist act, thus bolstering its political position on Syrian refugees. CNN was just as quick to politicize the tragedy to further its gun control agenda.

All of them, anchors, crime and court experts, politicians in turn transformed into sad, sober faces to recite "our thoughts and prayers" are with them, the victims, the country. It sounds so empty, so trite.

Instead of talking about it, why don't we do it? Here's an idea. Squeeze into to that lineup of experts a man of God who would actually pray. At times like this the nation could certainly benefit from a message of spiritual comfort.

Let us pray. Let us pray that, while we cannot return our communities to the innocence of the 1950s, we can at least walk our streets without fear. That's who we are.

(Ned Cantwell's first newspaper job was as a paperboy for the Redlands Daily Facts.)