Trip to California is more than walk down memory lane

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 15, 2000

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column on some of the "good ol’ cowboys," one of whom was Hopalong Cassidy.

Tuesday, February 15, 2000

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column on some of the "good ol’ cowboys," one of whom was Hopalong Cassidy. In the column I mentioned my old friend Dugger, who we referred to as "The Cowboy." Maybe he got his name from his relationship with Hoppy when he rented from him way back when.

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Well, as luck would have it, I was granted some time off from work and from my wife and family to attend a weeklong writing seminar in Riverside at the university, the same place I earned my BA in sociology in 1975. I called Riverside home off and on from 1966 to 1976 with some time off for Vietnam and convalescence

I first met The Cowboy playing golf on one of Riverside’s least expensive golf courses. Years later, we ended up living as neighbors on Larchwood, a sometimes quiet residential street in Riverside.

The six rental units about half-way down the block became known to us as "the ghetto."

It was in front of the ghetto that Billy Dugger and I took up Frisbee throwing in earnest.

The best ticket rate flew me from Minneapolis to San Diego. Dugger now lives in a condo near there. He met me at the airport. Of course, I brought along the column to share with him.

"Oh, wow, Frank," he said. Frank was the name I went by then.

He interrupted his reading of it to let me know "It’s Topper, not Tipper" for Hoppy’s horse. He added that the rental space was in Palm Springs. He asked that I make a correction in another column, so here it is.

My first day back at work there was an e-mail message on my desk from my cousin, Dick Winkles, who wrote "Gene Autry’s horse was not a pinto. He was brown with a white diamond on his head. And his name was Champion."

The writing workshop was an opportunity to hear writers share their writing mostly with students from the university who were required to be there. The writers were from all over. Each brought his own way to the paper.

This also was an opportunity to connect with old friends, some who were once children and now are young adults and the young adults I knew then are not as young anymore. Life is like that. And when young adults become older adults they seem to reminisce more. Reminisce we did.

The week included two birthday parties, one with kids who had become young adults and the other with Lynnie, a very special friend who maintained she would be 49 forever. She lived "up around the corner" from Larchwood with her daughter, Shawn. Later Shawn came from Los Angeles to remind me how we persuaded Woof, their dog, from their house to the ghetto. We talked stories, recollecting old times, both good and bad.

I also hung around the Mission Inn, my favorite place west of the Mississippi. I chatted with my second cousin there for quite some time in the open garden setting in front of the Mission Inn where Frank Miller created this oasis in the desert.

Bill "the Big Kahuna" Grey, my friend who has seen every movie in the world, insisted we see "Fight Club," insisting it was the best movie of the year. I might want to dispute that.

The friend who harbored me also writes and is trying to break into television commercials and bit parts. We watched her on one of the weekly television shows doing her best to make her presence known and succeeding, screaming: "There I am. There I am." I think it was the "Friends" show or something like that.

On the return ride to San Diego, she talked about a writers’ workshop she had attended in Santa Barbara.

There she listened to Robert Fulghum who wrote: "All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten." He was paid $3,000 in advance on his first book and $3 million for his third.

He still lives on a riverboat with his family and drives his old pickup truck, according to her.

Charles Schulz also was there and autographed a copy of one his books for Janet that included a quick sketch of Snoopy. He told her he didn’t draw the characters anymore but oversaw the project. Our conversation was Sunday morning, and unbeknownst to us he had passed away just hours before. It was also the last day "Peanuts" was in print.

Of all the writers and poets I heard that week, none spoke with more clarity than the characters of "Peanuts." We all identified with them in some way shape or form.

On the flight out, the sky was clear and I searched the desert floor for Spike, Snoopy’s brother, from my window seat, to no avail. On the Sunday flight back, as we all mourned his passing, it was overcast. Fitting.

Bob Vilt’s column appears Tuesdays