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Arlington, Virginia

In 1956 my dad bought a small house in North Arlington (Virginia) on the northeast corner of N.23rd and N.Columbus streets. We lived there from summer 1956 until February 1959, at which time the family relocated to the Army base at Frankfurt, Germany, with the Arlington house rented to a temporary tenant. We returned and moved back into the house in mid-1961. I left for the University of Virginia in Fall 1962 and then joined the Army in February 1963. This chapter covers the two times I lived in 23rd Street house. I also lived in Arlington with my Mom and Dad in my Grandmother Gus's house, N.23rd Street and Glebe Road, 1945-47, but that's covered in the Gus chapter.
Dad = My father, Francis da Cruz Sr.
Mom = My mother, Vivian.
Gus = Dad's mother and my grandmother Lenore.
Pete =My father's brother.
—Frank da Cruz <fdc@columbia.edu>
Most recent update: 9 August 2022 07:51:36

Arlington Ⅱ 1956-59

Arlington 23rd Street house 1957
4839 N. 23rd Street 1957
We moved from rural Chesterbrook back to suburban Arlington (4839 N.23rd Street, two blocks from my grandmother's house) in 1956. We moved because she left her house and all her stuff to her sons Dad and Pete, who couldn't agree how to divide it up, so they sold it and my dad used his half of the proceeds to put a down payment on a brick house built in 1948, which cost $22k. The house was small with a tiny yard (0.13 acre), a shady screen porch, and eventually a finished (by my dad with me helping, in knotty pine) basement. It had a cherry tree in the front yard; we'd get buckets of yellow cherries every Fall. Most of the families around there were military, but unlike in Chesterbrook they were officers rather than EMs, but they too had attics full of war souvenirs: Japanese battle flags, swords, bayonets, German and Japanese rifles and pistols, Nazi stuff, etc. Most them worked at Fort Myer or Fort Belvior in VA and they often took me to the bases with their kids to go swimming. Just a few blocks away was the house of the founder of the American Nazi Party, George Lincoln Rockwell. Sometimes his people would stuff flyers and leaflets in our mailbox. He was assassinated at an Arlington laundromat in 1967 by a disgruntled ex-party-member.

Renovated house in 2012
Enlarged house 1998
In 2012, according to Google Street View, the house and the entire neighborhood were exactly as I left them 50 years before, except our house had been considerably enlarged in 1998; the original house is intact except for the west wall, where a new wing was added. The white fence my dad and I built was gone and there was virtually no yard left. The house sold for $1,175,182.00 in 2016 and by 2020 it was valued at $1,327,182.00.

Air show 1957
Air show Andrews Air Force Base 1957
During the years before we went to Germany, my dad took us to air shows at Andrews AFB — lots of military planes to climb up into, as well as fly-bys, fly-overs, bombing demonstrations, and simulated dogfights. At first everything was WWII… piston-driven radial-engine propeller planes, fighers like the Thunderbolt, Hellcat, Corsair, Mustang — when those things fly right by right in front of you just above ground level at 500mph they are LOUD! — the PBY Catalina seaplane, and the B-17, B-24, B-25, and B-29 bombers. Living near DC, I would also see these planes flying overhead all the time. The air shows were an opportunity for the USA to intimidate the USSR with our military might, and I always saw a Soviet contingent there.

Ludwig 1959
Felix Ludwig Carrera 1959
My parents were friends with some of the people across Columbus Street, and I was friends with Ludwig Carrera (Felix Ludwig, named after Mendelssohn and Beethoven), who lived on our side of Columbus Street but across 23rd Street, two houses over (south); he and his brother and sisters had a big impact on me, they were kind of like the Glass family in JD Salinger. Ludwig was my best friend in junior high, and then again in senior year when I came back from Germany early, and we also went to UVA together, a disaster for both of us. Later he was in the Army in Vietnam, I saw him a couple times after that but we never talked about it; I have a feeling it wasn't good. We lost touch. I can't find him now. I searched for him in Google many times (how many Felix Ludwig Carreras can there be?) and all I ever found were some old police records. Update: In 2022 Ludwig found me, thanks to this family history; we're back in touch and I'll fill in the blanks later.

The Hall's Hill Segregation Wall

As on outsider, I am absolutely not qualified to write about Hall's Hill; the following is a brief sketch of the schizophrenia of North Arlington when I lived there 1956-59 and 1961-62, and the unease I experienced with a WALL between human beings just across the street from our house, especially in 1961-62 after returning from 2.5 years on an Army base in Germany among people of all races, religions, nationalities, cultures, and economic status and attending an integrated, diverse high school there. Information on Hall's Hill has been hard to find until recently but now we have some excellent sources; see the References section below.
Hall's Hill 1950s
Hall's Hill on Lee Highway near Glebe Road 1950s
Columbus Street 1956
Houses on N. Columbus Street 1956
Behind the houses along the other side of Colum­bus street was a high wall (not visible in the photo from my bedroom window but just behind the houses on the right). It separated the white neighborhood from Hall's Hill, an area settled by former slaves after the Civil War. Virginia was segre­gated from the first arrival of African slaves in 1619 until the mid-1960s. Black and white people had separate neighborhoods and separate schools and many other impediments to normal life. During and after World War II, the increase in government jobs in Washington resulted in new white suburban tracts throughout formerly rural North Arlington. New Black arrivals moved into enclaves like Hall's Hill, which was walled in to prevent any contact between white and black residents. It is the only Black enclave I know of that was completely surrounded by a wall.

Hall's Hill map
Hall's Hill 2020 (Google) - Click to enlarge
Hall's Hill wall segment
Wooden Hall's Hill wall segment
Hall's Hill wall segment
Hall's Hill Masonry wall segment
On the modern Google map at left, I traced the outline of Hall's Hill as best I can, given that I've never seen a proper map of it. Towards the upper center of the map, the circled A marks my grandmother Gus's house on the corner of N.23rd Street and Glebe Road, where I lived 1945-46, and the circled B marks the house on N.23rd Street and Columbus Street where we lived 1956-59 and 1961-62, which just is 200 feet from the Hall's Hill wall.

Hall's Hill wall exhibit
Hall's Hill Segregation Wall historical exhibit
Hall's Hill wall top
Crenellated top of Hall's Hill wall
I know the wall went along the backyards of the houses on Columbus Street from Lee Highway all the way to N.26th Street because I saw it. Other sources [4,5,6,12] confirm that it enclosed all of Hall's Hill. The wall was constructed between 1930 and 1940 by the white occupants of each house on the dividing line[4,5,12]. There were only two openings between Hall's Hill and the outside world: N. Edison Street and N. Dinwiddie Street, which both opened onto (Robert E.) Lee Highway, one of Arlington's main thoroughfares and shopping streets. In the heydey of segregation, the roads within Hall's Hill were all dead ends. Some of them still are, but since gentrification set in starting about 1979, some of the roads have been connected to the surrounding streets, as can be seen on the Google map.

Peoples Drug 1960
Peoples Drug sit-in 9 June 1960
Cherrydale Drug 1960
Cherrydale Drug Fair sit-in with Nazis
Hall's Hill residents had access to the shopping area at the intersection of Lee Highway and Glebe Road, and were welcome at the Safeway supermarket on the corner of Lee Highway and Columbus Street and (as I recall) also the High's Ice cream store next door to it as well as the nearby hardware store. They could shop at Robertson's 5&10 but if black children or teenagers showed up unaccompanied by an adult, the proprietor (Libby) would follow them around to make sure they didn't steal anything[1]. They could also shop at Peoples Drug Store but could not eat at the lunch counter; this sparked some sit-ins in 1960, plus "pushback" from the American Nazi Party and its F├╝hrer, George Lincoln Rockwell, who lived nearby[11]. I was in Germany during this period.

Evans Coffee Shop
Evans Coffee Shop about 1960
Glebe Theater
Glebe theater 1945
Hall's Hill residents were not welcome at the Glebe theater (1945-72), nor Evans Coffee Shop[14,15] (1939-1980, "plantation-style menu") a snooty place decorated with animal heads and historical memorabilia and frequented by DAR and Daughters of the Confederacy families. Nevertheless, Arlington (which until the mid-1930s was home to a thriving KKK chapter[1,5,7,8]) fancied itself more genteel and "tolerant" than the deep south (including non-northern Virginia, e.g. Charlottesville), so we did not have "White" and "Colored" signs all over the place, people could sit anywhere they wanted on the WV&M buses (at least in the early 60s when I was riding them), and Blacks did not have to step off the sidewalk to make way for whites. There were, however, cross burnings over the years including at least one when I was living there in 1958[9].

Langston School 1942
John M. Langston School 1942
Hoffman-Boston High School
Hoffman-Boston High School
Hall's Hill residents were hardworking Arlington county taxpayers. Their local taxes were supposed to go towards the same things white people's taxes did: water and sewer service, paved streets and sidewalks, gutters, street lights, trash collection, police and fire department protection, and so on, plus (from 1954) Supreme-Court mandated separate-but-equal schools. But for decades water came from wells, bathrooms were outhouses, roads were dark and not paved until well after WWII, there were no sidewalks and no drainage, the police never came unless they were looking for somebody and the fire department would not come at all (so Hall's Hill formed its own volunteer fire department). As to education, Hall's Hill had its own Langston Elementary School[13] (at the center of the map where it says Langston-Brown Community Center). It was extremely convenient but, at least until 1953[2], had only four rooms. The closest high school for black teens was Hoffman-Boston: five miles away with no school bus or public transportation. Getting the Arlington County government to meet its responsibilities in all of these areas was a struggle over many decades of which I, who lived practically next door, was completely unaware. And all this is not even to speak of the decades-long struggle for school integration, in which, even after Brown-vs-Board-of-Education, Virginia was a notorious foot-dragger[1,2,5]. When I graduated from nearby Yorktown High School in 1962, it was still all white.

Wall with tourists
Present-day Wall tourists
Historical marker
Marker (click to read)
By the time Hall's Hill finally had paved roads, running water, and all the other services it had fought so long and hard for, white people started to move in and today they are in the large majority. Many of the streets are reconnected and the wall is mostly gone except for some sections that serve as tourist attractions. And now, as a New Yorker since 1966, I watch in stunned disbelief as the same thing happens here to Harlem....   Harlem!!!
Acknowledgments...
...to Cathy Hix, Annette Benbow, and Jessica Kaplan of the Arlington Historical Society (AHS) and to Frank O'Leary, former Arlington County Treasurer and even more former high-school buddy at the Army high school in Frankfurt, Germany, for connecting me with the folks at AHS. And to Wilma Jones for writing the book that so badly needed writing!
References:
  1. Book: Wilma Jones, My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood, self-published (2018).
  2. Article: Sophie B. Vogel, The Integration of Reed Elementary School, Arlington Historical Magazine, Vol.11 No.1, October 1997, pp. 32-41, accessed at the Arlington Historical Society website 15 January 2021. This is a PDF file that starts with a 1963-64 map that, on the mid-to-lower extreme right, shows bits of Hall's Hill where the dead-ending of the streets is clearly visible. It notes that in 1925 the John Langston School at 4864 Lee Highway was established to provide separate but equal education for the children living on either side of Lee Highway. It also says that additions were added in 1953, 59, and 64. It also notes that the process of integration of Arlington schools began on February 2, 1959, when four Afro-American students were enrolled at Stratford Junior High by Court order. Four years later, in 1963-64 [the year after I graduated from nearby all-white Yorktown High School], all secondary schools in the county were integrated. No action was taken to desegregate at the elementary level until 1966 — twelve years after Brown-vs-Board-of-Ed; I came back to Yorktown that year, after the Army, to pick up a transcript and found an integrated school.
  3. PhD Dissertation: Nancy Perry, The Influence of Geography on the Lives of African American Residents of Arlington County, Virginia, During Segregation (PDF), George Mason University (2013).
  4. PhD Dissertation: Lindsey Bestebreurtje, Built by the People Themselves – African American Community Developments in Arlington, Virginia, from the Civil War through Civil Rights (PDF), George Mason University (2017): pp.63-75 (history); 208-209 (about the Wall); 213-214 (street lights); 223-224 (KKK); 289-29 (overcrowding); 319-349, 373-377 (schools and integration); 351-353 (infrastructure improvements); 377-393 (gentrification).
  5. Book: Plat Book of Arlington County, Virginia, Franklin Survey Company, 2006 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia PA (1943).
  6. Article: Hall's Hill Area Due for Renewal, Northern Virginia Sun, 23 February 1965: "...Negro community of 1650 persons, 322 houses, three churches, and a school... The community is cut off from Glebe Road by dead-end streets and from any entry on the south side by four blocks of solid fences and walls running along North 17th Street." (Thanks to Cassandra Ellison of the VCU Center on Society and Health for sending me the article as a PDF.)
  7. Article: Janet Wamsley, The K.K.K. in Arlington in the 1920s, Arlington Historical Society, Arlington Historical Magazine, Vol.10 No.1, October 1993, pp.55-59.
  8. Masters Thesis: James Lamb, The Ku Klux Klan in early twentieth Century Virginia, James Madison University, Summer 2018.
  9. Article: "Fiery Cross Set Up in Arlington", The Washington Post and Times Herald, 23 June 1958, p.B2: "A burning cross was found yesterday in a cemetery adjoining a Negro church in the 5000 block of Lee Highway, Arlington County Police reported ... made with 7- and 5-foot building timbers ... Reported by the Rev. John F. Monroe of the Calloway Methodist Church." Thanks to Jessica Kaplan of AHS for this, who also said "Saundra Green, a long time resident and historian of the area, had one burned on her front lawn during this period as well."
  10. Report: A Guide to the African American Heritage of Arlington County Virginia, Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development Historic Preservation Program, Second Edition (2016). Covers Hall's Hill on pages 12-22 and the Peoples Drug Store lunch counter sit-in on p.57.
  11. Article: Mark Jones, Sit-ins Come to Arlington, Boundary Stones (WETA history site), 22 June 2014. The first photo shows Gwendolyn Greene at the counter of the Peoples Drug at Lee Highway and Old Dominion Drive, which is about 500 feet from Hall's Hill. The Cherrydale Drug Fair was about a mile to the east on Lee Highway.
  12. Article: Lindsey Bestebreurtje, A View from Hall's Hill: African American Community Development in Arlington, Virginia from the Civil War to the Turn of the Century Arlington Historical Magazine, Vol.15 No.3 (2015), pp.19-34: "(the) wall construction was executed on an individual home-owner level, however, it was planned out enough that by the early 1940s the entirety of Hall's Hill was quartered off ... the wall meant that the community could not expand..."
  13. Article: Nellie C. Stewart, History of Langston School (origin unknown, written some time after 1960; Wilma Jones found it among her mother's papers) [audio]
  14. A Guide to the Bayard D. Evans Collection, Fairfax County Public Library.
  15. Obituary: Bayard Evans, Restaurateur, Washington Post, September 8, 1980: "Its furnishings included a much-admired array of historical memorabilia, including weapons, portraits and tools that predated the Revolution, as well as a collection of items that related to Robert E. Lee."
  16. There are examples of segregation walls that do not totally enclose the Black enclave; for example, the wall erected in Detroit when a new white subdivision was constructed on empty land next to an existing Black community, the The Detroit Eight Mile Wall (Wikipedia, accessed 26 January 2021). Another example is the Liberty City wall in Miami.
  17. Book: Arlington Historical Society, Arlington, Images of America series, Arcadia Publishing (2000). Has a few photographs of and words about Hall's Hill.

Junior High School

Our part of Arlington (except for the stores) is one of the only areas were I lived as a kid that is still mostly intact. Another is 19th Street SE in DC, the first place I ever lived (1944-45). But Chesterbrook and all of rural Northern Virginia is gone, and so is Frankfurt, Germany, as I knew it.

Williamsburg JHS
Williamsburg Junior High School
Williamsburg JHS jacket 1957
Williamsburg JHS jacket 1957
Worms
Worms for sale
Anyway, in Arlington I went to Williams­burg Junior HS, very suburban, a big shock for a country boy. I was an 11-year-old hick, and the suburban boys my age were already partying and dancing and dating, some of them even having sex. I was extremely shy. It was not a happy time, but Ludwig and I and some other kids hung out, listened to R&B, played ball, etc. Some of our friends were hoods who wound up in reformatories. One summer I was on a softball team that traveled around northern Virginia on buses; I was good at baseball but I could never get used to softball. The "worms" in the color picture... I made them at home and sold them in school; I must have sold 100 of them. I forget what I charged; something between 10 cents and a dollar. Speaking of school and to show how times have changed, every year we had a shop class (wood, metal, plastic), a music class, and an art class.

Jamestown church
Jamestown church 1957
Williamsburg Governor's Palace
Williamsburg VA 1957
In 7th grade we had a big class trip to Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown, we stayed there several days. Williamsburg is kind of like a theme park but Jamestown was more interesting even though it was just old ruins in the woods by the river; it wasn't all corporate.

By the way, from elementary school through my Masters Degree I did very well in school. Except in Arlington. The culture there was toxic; only sissies got good grades. All my friends had total contempt for school and I went along with them through junior high, and then senior year after Germany, and got pretty bad grades too. But in Frankfurt there was no stigma at all attached to doing well in school, you could be cool and get good grades at the same time, and I did.

And of course Arlington schools were strictly segregated, much more so than rural Chesterbrook, which was kind of loose. The small-minded cliquishness was oppressive. One day after school a classmate invited me to his house. There I saw some books with funny writing on the spines, I said "what's that?", he said "It's Hebrew, we're Jewish... Pleeeease don't tell anybody!"

Anyway, fast forward to 2020. The area is mostly the same except for the businesses along Lee Highway and Glebe Road. Ludwig's house (2243 N. Columbus St) is still there, exactly the same. Ludwig's family was one of the few non-military ones; his dad was an Italian barber who rarely spoke. His mother was Austrian, about a head taller than his father and highly cultured. An Odd Couple, united by their mutual love of classical music. Also odd (it only now occurs to me) because they both came from Fascist countries, fleeing most likely; I never thought to ask them about it. There was a big piano in the living room with busts of Beethoven and Mozart. Ludwig's dad played violin in an orchestra. As traditional in Italian families, Ludwig's dad made a pasta dinner every Wednesday. There was always a huge tin of olive oil on the kitchen floor by the door, probably something like 10 gallons.

Science fiction and space travel were a big part of popular culture when I lived in Arlington, and in 1957 when Sputnik (the first earth satellite) was launched I saw it cross the night sky. By contrast, the nineteen-teens and twenties always seemed quaint and flimsy and long ago to me, even as a child. The 1930s were not that long ago then; it was when my parents were teenagers and young adults. For me, "modern times" begins in 1936; you can see it in the movies — suddenly they are sharp and clear; cars and airplanes are sleek and solid, not rickety old boxlike contraptions; people look and talk normal, and the jazz and swing music is not that tinny cutesy stuff from before.

Up until about the mid-1960s, there was constant fear of nuclear war stoked by the government, school, news, and movies (most horror films were about monsters that were mutations from fallout from A-bomb testing). Every town had an air raid siren. For kids there were constant air-raid and "duck and cover" drills in school. Everybody was expected to believe that the missiles would come at any moment and only a strong military could save us. The greatest threat actually came from the USA, which came close to launching nuclear strikes several times since WWII, e.g. to wipe out the Soviet Union after VJ Day, and in Korea when the war started there in 1950, and even after Eisenhower became President.

Nike missile in northern VA
Nike missile 1957
In the early 50s, anti-aircraft guided missile batteries started popping up all around Washington DC area: the new Nike surface-to-air missiles, you could see them all over the place; the picture at left is by me [video]. Guided missiles were a new thing. The USA was using its German scientists to show us how to make them. There's a 1954 John Wayne movie, High and Mighty (the very first disaster movie, I think) that has a brief scene of American scientists experimenting with guided missiles and the missile they were experimenting with was a Nazi V-1 "buzz bomb" painted bright yellow.

Speaking of rockets, I read a lot of science fiction as kid in the 1950s, books as well as those paperback-book size magazines Fantasy and Science Fiction, Analog, If, and Galaxy (the first "adult" book I read was The Martian Chronicals by Ray Bradbury). But never, not once, not even in their most wild imaginings, did any of these imaginative writers ever foresee that space exploration would be outsourced to private for-profit companies! (Recent headline from corporate media: "2021 could be a huge year for space; what's to come from Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Jeff Bezos!" Hurray for selfish, greedy billionaires!)

Aside from science fiction, I read a lot of adult books as a kid. You could buy paperback books ("pocket books") at the drugstore for 35 cents. I read books by Steinbeck (Grapes of Wrath, Travels with Charlie), Remarque (All Quiet on the Western Front), James Jones (From Here to Eternity), Graham Greene, D.H. Lawrence (Fathers and Sons), Mark Twain (Letters from the Earth), McKinley Kantor (Andersonville), Leslie Charteris ("The Saint" mysteries from the 1920s that Uncle Pete was addicted to), plus now nearly-forgotten 1950s authors like John O'Hara, Leon Uris, Irving Stone, Herman Wouk, Evelyn Waugh, Somerset Maugham, Daphne du Maurier, John Hersey, Nevil Shute, Robert Ruark… either I bought them at random or they were laying around the house.

Arlington III: Back in Virginia 1961-62

Back in Arlington after 2½ years in Germany, our house was not vacated yet. We had to stay with my dad's Aunt Bess and Uncle Bill in Maryland for a week or two while the tenant moved out. The only thing I remember about that is I read the entire works of Poe because they were in the bedroom where I slept, and I figured out how to play "There is a Rose in Spanish Harlem" on the piano in the basement. Then we moved back into our old house on N. 23rd Street. The tenant while we were gone was a Marine sergeant who had painted the entire inside olive drab… Including even the fireplace bricks. My dad scraped it all off and put it back like it was.

Yorktown high school 1962
Yorktown high school 1962
I had my senior year at York­town HS in Arling­ton, anti­septic, sub­urban, con­for­mist, patriotic, segregated. I did not like Yorktown or Arlington or the suburbs one bit and cut class and got drunk all the time, but still managed to do OK on my SATs (despite having a huge hangover) and graduated on time in 1962.

The only good thing about that year was the music: the Shirelles, the Marvelettes, Mary Wells, Jimmy Reed, Ike and Tina Turner, the Isley Brothers… It was kind of a renaissance of Black music after the drought that started in 1957 when 1940s-50s R&B era ended and there was only cheesy pop music for a few years (and jazz, of course, but that's a different story).

1953 Buick
1953 Buick (nicer than Ludwig's)
Almost all the kids at Yorktown had their own cars and drove to school, so I rode around in cars a lot that year. Ludwig was not at Yorktown (he was blacklisted and had to go to another school far away), but he had a 1953 Buick, which was like tank. A guy named Pete Washburn was generally
Pete Washburn
Pete Washburn
acknowledged as the coolest guy at Yorktown and for some reason he thought I was cool too. Graham Chapman was clone of him. He had a 1950 Ford and would pick me up in the morning, we'd stop at a diner and have coffee and hash browns for breakfast which probably made my Mom feel bad because my whole life she always made us a hot breakfast. A couple times Mom made us a special breakfast so we wouldn't go to the diner. Pete pretended to be like a homeless drifter, nobody knew anything about him. He finally showed me where he lived, in a huge mansion on a massive estate.

1939 Ford Coupe hotrod
1939 Ford Coupe hotrod
1950 Ford similar to Pete's
Customized 1950 Ford similar to Pete's
The preferred cars for cool guys were the 1950 Ford and the 1939 Ford coupe, both heavily customized. The Ford had to be painted with grey primer (matte finish) and have its front grille removed, plus had to be either "raised" or "lowered" (big wheels in front, small ones in back, or vice-versa). A special glasspack muffler was required that produced a sort of Harley-Davidson sound. Optionally it could also be "chopped and channeled", "bored and stroked", and/or "rolled and pleated". I never was totally sure what things were; the first two have to do with the engine, the latter with the upholstery. The 1939 Ford was always painted Candyapple Red and had its hood off so the souped-up motor was exposed. Drag races were common, and some guys even raced at real dragstrips like Manassas Speedway, we went there sometimes to watch. At the speedway, the mufflers came totally off and the cars were as loud as 747s. Unlike a lot of my friends, I never learned to be an auto mechanic or a car customizer. Incidentally when my dad finally advertised his beloved 1950 Ford for sale, it was bought by a drag racer.

Ludwig was the bad boy of his family, the other three (Nick, Carole, and Maria) were great successes in whatever they did, but Ludwig always screwed up and got in trouble. We were inseparable during 12th grade, because we both had a compulsion to be drunk all the time. We'd drive to DC, buy a case of beer with false ID, and then drive around Arlington drinking it and throwing cans out the window until we got sick. Even then, Ludwig would keep driving and drinking, door open, puking his guts out on the street while still driving the car. That's how miserable we both were that year. Once Ludwig's mom loaned him her tiny little red Renault, I don't remember why. We bought some big 40-ounce bottles of Country Club Malt Liquor (high-alcohol beer) and were driving around downtown DC after we had already gone through several of the bottles, looking for a parking space. I saw one and pointed it out. The next thing I knew we had crashed into the back of the car in front of us… And it was a Police car! And our car was full of empty beer bottles! Just then a street guy comes up and says "Give me the bottles", and we did, so by the time the cops came to the car we were clean. But the car was totaled. Renaults have their engine in back and their trunk in front, so we pretty much just squashed the whole front of the car under the back of the police car, which didn't even have a scratch. They took us to the station, called Ludwig's mother and he was released into her custody, and was in the doghouse for the rest of his life. But since we weren't caught drinking, there were no criminal charges.

Btw, Maria Carrera was my brother's best friend that year, they were very close. When Dennis was dying, my dad used his special powers to track her down at a commune in the mountains of Colorado so she could call him in the hospital. I don't know what happened to her after that.

Tops Drive-In
Tops Drive-In
Anyway the Arlington car culture was pretty much what you see in movies like American Graffiti and Remember the Titans, all the males "cruising" around all the time looking for girls or parties or whatever, and also pulling into Tops Drive-In on Lee Highway, one of those places where you park your car and order stuff through a microphone mounted next to the space, and girls (on roller skates?) bring your order to you on a tray that clips to the car window, to the tunes of Sam Cooke, Gary US Bonds, Ike and Tina Turner, Gene Chandler, Little Eva, the Contours...

Incidentally, the last fight I was involved in was in 12th grade in Arlington, when my band (but not me personally) got in trouble with John Glenn, the astronaut and future senator, who had just returned from America's first space mission. It was in all the papers, you can still find it in Google (it was February or March, 1962). I guess Peter will want the whole story so…

Our band had a gig at a junior-high-school girl's birthday party in her house in suburbs. Our singer (don't recall his name but he was just like Sean Penn) was quite a handful, and this time he brought a fifth of whisky and was taking big slugs out of it in front of everybody; I guess the parents were too terrorized to say anything. But the rest of us were drinking beer at a pretty good clip too, but more discretely; we had stored it outside in the snow to hide it from the parents. About 9:00pm John Glenn shows up, he's picking up his daughter who is at the party; he sees what is going on — first the beer cans littering the front yard, then our singer chugging down whisky between verses — and throws us out. We didn't even get paid!

Early 1960s Chevrolet Impala convertible
Early 1960s Chevrolet Impala convertible
John Glenn 1962
Who John Glenn is
Our piano player had the use of his parents' car, a 21-foot long bright red Chevrolet Impala convertible. So we were cruising around looking for something else to do and we found another junior-high-school party in the parking lot of a church so we pulled in and started playing music. A strange thing I remember is that on the far side of the parking lot, on top of a hill, a house was burning down, and we improvised some kind of creepy apocalyptic accompaniment. What can I say, we were teenage boys. We were still drinking and throwing beer cans around and who should pull into the parking lot but John Glenn! To pick up his other child.

Our singer who was blind drunk by this time and pissed off about not being paid, when Glenn approached us, the singer tried to punch him in face, but Glenn deflected the punch and spun the guy around and laid him out over the car hood, like a cop would do. I don't recall exactly what happened after that; we weren't arrested or anything, I think we just left. But the next morning it was on the news, and in the papers, and it was in the next issue of Time Magazine. Drunken Teenage Punks Attack America's Greatest Hero. And we were in Big Trouble for the rest of the year. Sometimes I even thought we were being followed, but who knows; it's not inconceivable that my dad put a tail on us.

Bob Engs
Bob Engs 1962
Williamsburg windmill
Williamsburg windmill
Bob Engs had been my friend in Frankfurt in 1959-60. His dad had been a Captain but was "RIF'd" down to Sergeant, a very humiliating thing to happen but he stuck it out so he could retire. Bob came back a year before me; his dad was stationed in Fort Eustis VA, near Jamestown and Williamsburg and Newport News and they lived on base. I went there in summer of 1961 before school started and spent a couple weeks with them. Bob had a summer job at Colonial Williamsburg in the windmill, I'd go with him and spent the days grinding dry hominy into grits for the tourists, even though I didn't have a colonial costume like Bob did; I was like Bob's apprentice from the future. Each morning we'd turn the mill around to face the wind (it was on a pivot) and then unfurl the sails so the huge "propeller" (sweeps) could turn in the wind and drive the massive millstone, but we used smaller muscle-powered wheels (hundreds of years old and not exactly lightweight) to do the actual grinding.

Later that year, Mom and I played a trick on my dad, we invited Bob and his family to our house for dinner, which was a truly surreal experience, when my dad saw them he almost had a heart attack but he behaved himself while they were there. But afterwards, you can imagine. Later Bob went to Princeton (I saw him there after I got out of Army) and went on to become a fairly well-known professor of Black History; you can look him up in Google (Robert F. Engs) and in the Books section of Amazon. I went to his wedding, and later Mommie and I went to visit him in NJ and it was a very strange experience, he was mean and vicious to both Mommy and to his own wife (a Black woman). I never saw him again, but he got in touch with me by email in 2008 to apologize and we exchanged a few cordial emails, and then he died.

High-school graduation night Ludwig and I and a couple other guys went to Ocean City MD in Ludwig's 1953 Buick for a week. In those days Ocean City was just a strip of seedy white wooden boarding houses alongside a 2-lane road, with the beach on the other side of the road. Every house had a porch on both the first floor and the second floor, like houses in the French Quarter of New Orleans; we had the upper floor porch, where we'd sit and drink beer for breakfast before going to the beach to drink more beer. Each day we'd drink until we passed out, wherever we happened to be. One morning I woke up on the beach half buried in sand with a bad sunburn on one side of my body but not the other. So that was high school.

Elaine Neam 1962
Elaine Neam
Having written all of the above, I looked at my Yorktown yearbook for the first time in 50-some years and found some surprisingly affectionate inscriptions from several girls I knew including one — Elaine Neam — who I had known since 7th grade and who I always liked a lot, but aside from seeing Chloris Kranich* occasionally that year, and a few other random encounters, I was way too busy drinking (i.e. too much of a jerk) to have a real girlfriend. Anyway I was just about the only one in school who didn't have a car, or even access to one, so not exactly a great catch in the suburban car culture. But if somehow I had married Elaine instead of Mommy, Uncle Pete's children would not be the only ones in the family who were half Lebanese!
* Chloris was one of Pam's fellow-cheerleaders at Frankfurt High School in Germany who, like me (but unlike Pam), had rotated back to northern Virginia "... to live in Fairfax in 1961. Graduating from J.E.B Stuart High School, miss Kranich was ... a member of the civil rights committee and ... organizer of the movement to send ... books to Negroes in Prince Georges County"** [which had shut down its public schools rather than integrate them]. Neither one of us could drive so we got together when we could thanks to friends who drove us. Only when the Internet came along 20-30 years later and old FHSers were getting back in touch did I learn that she had killed herself in 1965, at home on summer break after her Junior year at Antioch College in Ohio. I never knew why. This was three years after we had seen each other and while I was in the Army in Stuttgart, Germany. Chloris Kranich death notice
** Northern Virginia Sun, August 10, 1965, p.2: Obituaries.

Most recent update: 9 August 2022 07:51:37