A Visit to Old Los Angeles and Environs

29. Catalina (Part 4).


Brent C. Dickerson

Copyright © Brent C. Dickerson

Index to Episodes (click here)

The Inland Tour; Return to the Mainland.

• It was getting on to a quarter to seven as we left Minnie behind with her cards, and approached the foot of the pier. I alas had already missed the moment of Anna's being surprised there by Morrie—who had honored the occasion by putting a hat band on his hat of such brightness that it made my eyes ache. Consultation with young Frederick Johan and the baby led me to the wisdom that now was not the moment to disturb the young couple, and so we walked on. Out in the surf, it appeared that Charley had accumulated yet another admirer to entertain, and was for the moment apparently oblivious to the fact that he had been charged with looking after the rest of us. Mother and Papa had long since left for their appointment—dinner, that is—with the Goetzes. As I stood on the steps going up to the Metropole wondering about how to handle the question of dining that evening, Oscar and his slightly younger brother Adolf came walking by on much the same mission. Well, dear, it was layer upon layer of confluence—supposing that confluences come in layers—as, just then, the old lady with one leg came wheeling out in her wheelchair pushed by a young man with a silent demeanor but remarkable moustachios. The long and short of all this was that, while we left Minnie to her "effective mingling" and Charley to his pursuits, the rest of us—quite a rag-tag group: young Frederick Johan, the baby, the old lady with one leg, her attendant, Oscar, Adolf, and myself—went en masse to a restaurant a few doors down. Our meal was actually quite jolly, lacking as it did the constraints of the middle-aged. I was about to order on behalf of the younger members of the party; but the old lady—her name was—really, it was—Mrs. Middleditch—thought it would be good to give the children "some experience"; and so the waiter turned his attentions to each of them. Young Frederick Johan, after quizzing the waiter on the chemical bases of the sauces and the age and probable opinions of the fish in question, ordered a halibut filet, thanking the waiter nicely. Oscar mumbled something which, after several repetitions, turned out to be a request to have the same as FJ, followed by his own quiet "please" to the waiter. Adolf—a rather pompous child, I must say, reminding me of his father—requested the restaurant's best steak. There was a palpable silence as we waited for him to follow suit with a courteous word to the waiter. Mrs. Middleditch at length prompted him with, "...And what is the magic word?". Adolf took a deep breath, turned to the waiter, and said, "Hurry!" The baby pondered the menu carefully, then decided to share from my plate, trusting my careful palate. My careful palate chose creamed chicken masquerading under some fanciful name. I didn't add "the magic word"—at least, not Adolf's magic word. Mrs. Middleditch allowed as some bouillabaisse would be very agreeable; and her attendant asked for the second-best and the third-best steak. Our talk at the table wandered far and wide. Mrs. Middleditch took a kind interest in you and me, dear, as I explained our "very nearly engaged" status; and she extracted a promise from me to bring my delightful young bride—that would be you, dear—around to visit her here in Avalon one fine summer soon. It was about then that Charley entered the establishment, escorting five young ladies, two of whom were twins, followed not long after by Minnie, whose mingling had been effective enough to snag the same young fisherman who had earlier saved her from drowning in a few inches of water. After dining, we all did what people do in Avalon in the evening: First you stroll Crescent Avenue to its end in one direction; then you stroll Crescent Avenue to its end in the other direction; and then, to give life variety, you sit down on a bench and watch the other people stroll first one way and then another. This perhaps does not come across as very exciting; but, with the waves splashing and a moon shining down on an exotic scene, it is really quite an addictive and beautiful experience!

• The next morning dawned to a cheerful and sunny Fourth of July. We breakfasted somewhat in haste, pausing only to ask Charley why he had two black eyes (before he could answer, Minnie said, "He's lucky he doesn't have five—six, including Mother."), as Papa had arranged for us to go on the Inland Tour of the island that morning, an escapade which commences early. What happens is that you get in a coach in Avalon, and then are driven helter-skelter through the wild interior of the island to see quite of number of points of interest.

• Just at the north edge of town, on a slope hanging fairly well over Sugar Loaf, is a wireless telegraph station.

• Once out of town, the roads were ours alone; and we picked up speed! I could see that Papa wished he were in the driver's seat.

• Young Frederick Johan observed that our switchback-riddled route could be taken as the diametric opposite of "as the crow flies." Minnie sighed profoundly, and said, "This is more as the cow flies." "It reminds me of horseflies!", said Charley, swatting at something. Anna thought for a moment and then said, "I think it's lovely."

• At one point, in order to avoid the dangers of attempting a narrow-angle turn, they cut this feature called the "Farnsworth Loop" to accommodate the coaches. Have I mentioned how California sunlight is different from elsewhere? I've noticed it ever since we got off the train the first time in Los Angeles. There really is a golden quality to it, a sort of diffuse glow that it imparts to everything.

• The trail turns inland, and you'd never think that the ocean was just over the next ridge. Anna had been unusually quiet all morning, and when they stopped to let us stretch our legs, I pulled her to the far side of a cactus patch and asked about her meeting with Morrie. "Truly," said she, "truly, he said he'd be there for me always." "Always?" quoth I. "Always," quoth she, continuing, "He pointed at Sugar Loaf, and said, 'I'll be there for you as long as that rock sits on God's green earth!'." "Gee," said I, "that sounds serious. But I know just how he feels." And we both sighed.

• The island is pinched nearly in half at the Isthmus, alias Twin Harbors or Two Harbors (not everything here has two names; some things have three). If there were the slightest reason to do so, it wouldn't take much to dig a canal across the patch of land separating the opposite harbors. But . . . there is not the slightest reason. It's a delightful little place, with—can you believe it?—a barracks from the Civil War.

• In this view from the north, you can see how little land divides the two harbors.

• On the far side of the Isthmus, Catalina Harbor—"Cat Harbor," as they call it. It was here that I asked Mother and Papa about their dinner with the Goetzes. Mother glanced at Papa; and Papa took a deep breath. "One goes through the world, Ulf, and meets people with everything—wisdom, experience, a good outlook, interest in their fellow creatures, a promising future, and a loving and accomplished family. On the other hand, the Goetzes have money, degrees, certificates, and a prominent position in society. Let us wish them well." To which Mother added, "Certainly, prayers in their direction would be properly bestowed." But no details! In the view, one can see the low breakwater-like line in the harbor of Ballast Point, supposedly a natural formation but very much appearing to be man-made.

• A closer look at Ballast Point, with the Ning-Po at anchor.

• This exotic craft, the Ning-Po, reputedly used for smuggling in the Yellow Sea at one time—one takes many grains of salt with tales from the seven seas—has ended up in Cat Harbor. I understand that the vessel's present condition is such that any smuggling it decides to undertake will have to be conducted solely between one side and the other of Cat Harbor.

• The Ning-Po's decorative stern. Charley made some suggestions enlarging on the subject of decorative sterns; but Mother overheard and informed him that any further remarks he had to make for the rest of the coach trip should be confined to quotations from scripture. Minnie said that she wanted to hear from him about "those things which proceed out of the mouth"; but Mother told her to demonstrate the circumstances under which a fool is counted wise.

• These fine fellows were the crew of the Ning-Po, at least once upon a time. As far as I could tell from the land, the ship looked deserted at this point.

• The coach made another stop above another cove on the far side of Catalina, a pretty bay called Little Harbor. While young Frederick Johan—who, I might tell you, was finding "points of interest" galore on this outing—was looking at shells at a reputed Indian burial ground overlooking the bay, I had a chance to quiz Minnie about her companion at dinner the previous night. "Ernesto," quoth she, "was a perfect gentleman. At the end of the evening," and at this she pointed to her left cheekbone, "I allowed him one kiss there . . . and sent him on his way with the promise of . . . " and at this, she pointed to her other cheekbone, " . . . another kiss there after the ball tonight. One doesn't want to inflame his soul too much, you know." With thoughts of Ernesto's soul aflame, but reasonably so, I strolled over to the edge of the sea-cliff, where Papa was smoking his cigar while the driver pointed out a distant rock which had the appearance of the profile of an Indian looking out to sea. "Papa," said I, taking in the panorama of the island's coast in front of me, and the whole panorama of our California trip within me, "Papa . . . this whole trip . . . " —and all I could do was to shake his hand. Shortly, we all re-boarded the coach to go on to an old lodge in the interior, called "Eagle's Nest" after a prominence which looked down on it.

• Leaving the coast again, we ventured through some rugged and verdant territory until we came to a cozy little shack in a beautiful valley. This was Eagle's Nest Lodge, where we stopped and had a pleasant light picnic lunch to refresh ourselves for the final leg of the journey back to Avalon. That pointy peak in the distance in about the middle of this view is, I think, Eagle's Nest itself, where Bald Eagles indeed build their nest, we're told.

• A small creek which passes through a ranch in the valley has what must be the island's only waterfall—no Niagara, to be sure, but all the more charming for being diminutive.

• Soon we drove back up into the dry slopes and peaks. The ladies were hanging on for dear life, as the driver was obviously entertaining himself with testing the limits of the road, the horses, and the coach. Papa leaned out and shouted up to him, "But can't we go faster?", to which the driver answered, "Mister, I'll try!", and laid on the whip, to good effect. Charley looked at Mother, and said, "Behold, they shall come with speed swiftly." Mother smiled a wry smile as she bounced around in the coach, and said to him, "That's my boy!"

• After a tour in which every turn brought something remarkable, still nothing was so remarkable as when we wheeled around a bend and suddenly there was sweet little Avalon spread out before us, the bay sparkling, the people playing on the beach, the buildings calling out hospitality to us...

• As we returned to the hotel, we found that people were in the street "meeting the steamer." Flags and bunting had gone up everywhere for the holiday.

• We had left the baby in the charge of Morrie, assisted by Mrs. Middleditch, and found the three of them drowsily awaiting us on the veranda of the Metropole. Drowsiness is catching! —And, after the pleasant stresses of the inland tour, we were all ready for some relaxation before the dances and excitement of Independence Day night. I lay down on the window-seat in my room, where all I had to do to see the whole panorama of the bayfront was to open my eyes and look; but, to hear the washing of the waves, the clip-clop of horses as they went past, the laughter and chatter of tourists, even the gay tinkle of the piano playing ragtime music around the corner at the Pilgrim Club, all I had to do was to be there, eyes open or closed; and so I drifted into and out of dreamland the rest of the afternoon, hardly knowing which was the dream and which the reality. Just as the sun was setting, a breeze sprang up and whipped the curtain into my face; and I myself sprang up to prepare for the evening—our last in Avalon, and indeed our last before commencing the first leg of our trip back home.

• My extended napping had put me behind everyone else—they were just leaving the hotel to go their various ways as I started dressing for dinner—but we had become very unstructured in these last days, individually doing what we wanted or going where we wanted as the notion seized us much of the time, and so it didn't make much difference. Mother and Papa, with the baby, looked in on us as they left for an outdoor banquet on the street in front of the Pavilion; young Frederick Johan had already left to collect Oscar Goetz in the tent city "and observe the pyrotechnic preparations at Sugar Loaf, and their aftermath," as he put it; while I was putting on my shirt, Morrie mistakenly knocked on my door looking to escort Anna out, and I soon saw them out on the street going towards the banquet. As I put on my cuff-links, Charley finished waxing his moustache and left, declaring that "going out stag is the only way to go!"; and as he opened the door to go out, Minnie was strutting out on the arm of her Ernesto. This left the three of us—me, myself, and I—not quite going stag, dear, but at least "at large, on my own cognizances." Downing a quick meal from a stand they had set up for the festivities, I decided to go to the city park and take the funicular up to where I'd have a good overview of the town and fireworks. It was now quite dark—at least, up on the hillside away from town. The moon rose over a black sea; and I thought of how it would only be a few more days until we were together again, dear. It has seemed like forever!

• Only a few people were up on the hillside with me—a few people and a dog, I should say, as the dog whom we had seen at the bottom of the funicular the other day was sitting with his master twenty yards away on my left; while, on my right, and nearly around the corner to Lover's Cove, a young couple was perched cozily looking down on the bay. In the amphitheater below, people were gathering; and before long there was a short concert of patriotic tunes by the municipal band. This ended by the band getting up and marching down to the middle of the front street, playing at full blast the whole way, followed by the audience. Shortly after that, the fireworks display began, making Sugar Loaf look quite like a volcano. Suddenly I felt something cold and wet touch me—and I jumped! It was that dog, who I guess had recognized me, and came over to be petted for a moment before going back to his master.

• The fireworks ended, and I went back down to the front street and mingled with the festive crowds. It was a warm evening, so the cloth sides of the Pavilion were rolled up and it was an open-air ball going on inside. I could pick out Mother and Papa—Papa dancing holding the baby on his shoulders, a fine sight—Anna and Morrie, and Minnie and Ernesto whirling away—the colors, the movement, the band, the exotic scenery, the flags—it was just like some grand theatrical production! I could only watch, thinking of you, dear.

• I tore myself away, and walked along the waterfront towards the now-black Sugar Loaf, meeting young Frederick Johan and Oscar running back towards town with some of the remains of the fireworks in their hands. "The smell of these," quoth young FJ as he raced past, "will serve as a pungent reminder." As to Charley, I learned later that he had run across an old college pal, and was half-seas over in a bar up one street. After pacing along the front street back and forth a few more times, I left the scene to the other celebrants, and went to bed. I awoke early after a sound sleep, and went to the window for a last look at an Avalon sunrise. Young Frederick Johan joined me a moment later, saying "Don't expect Charley to get up soon; he just got in about an hour ago."

• I'm having to write in some haste now, dear, as we're coming into port—we just passed the lighthouse on the breakwater—and I want to send this as soon as I step off the ship. It was with much regret that we packed up this morning, as I'm sure all of us felt. We sent the baggage on via the hotel to the ship, and had a light and quick breakfast. Mrs. Middleditch was already on the veranda; and I took a kind leave of her, as she reminded me to hold to my promise. Morrie was to return to the mainland with us, and met us in front of the hotel. The Goetz family, thank goodness, was to remain on the island for another day or two, so I figured we'd have a little elbow room on the ship; but as we left young Frederick Johan told me that he and Oscar were going to correspond with each other. I had expected that Minnie would be distraught over the end of her 24-hour romance; but she was all smiles, "as now," quoth she, "I can now truthfully report having left behind me a trail of broken hearts." Young FJ remonstrated, "'Heart' in the singular, I should think." "A trail of one," said Mother. "Temporarily bruised rather than broken," added Charley, though I wasn't sure if he was referring to Ernesto's heart or his own physical condition after the previous night. Whatever the case, Minnie was not about to allow her bubble to be burst, and smiled through the barrage of comments. As to the baby, the moment we stepped out of the Metropole, he began to cry for the first time on Catalina, and continued until we were a good mile out of port. Papa came along after us, shooing us along onto the ship; "Keep moving, folk," said he, "lovers, friends, and island too will still be there to return to later." The coin-divers amused us again in the waters around the ship.

• The lines were thrown off, and the ship backed up for a few hundred yards out of the bay, turning around then and steaming past Sugar Loaf. How sad it made me to watch Avalon grow smaller behind us—the little funicular cars climbing up and down the hillside, the tent city visible behind front street, the peak of the Pavilion with its little pennant flying for the holiday just passed, flags indeed all along the front crescent and at every window of the elegant Metropole; I could see one of the inland tour coaches just departing from the town along one of the terrace roads above Sugar Loaf; and of course proud Sugar Loaf itself, the first sight to be seen and then the last, the town's wonderful symbol of welcome and farewell.

• The return voyage was uneventful, probably mainly because everyone was sleepy after all of our activities the previous several days. We let the ship rock us to sleep for most of the way. I heard one of the passengers tell another that "no one gets sea-sick on the way back"; and, sure enough, mal-de-mer was at a minimum. As he had done on the way over, Charley sprawled out at the bow of the ship; and Papa sat there next to him, smoking his cigar into the wind. As the ladies and baby relaxed under their parasols, Morrie, young FJ, and I played cards inside out of the wind for much of the way. Really, as perhaps you'll see someday dear, Morrie is not a bad sort, just a little forward at times. The last bit of the way, as the breakwater came into sight, he played sentimental songs on his harmonica. A man with an accordian started playing as well; I must say it was quite something to hear. It must have been too far to see, but I could swear that, as we passed Point Fermin, I could see that odd Dr. Nicholas waving to the ship from the brink of the cliff. I expect I won't be seeing him again! Well, dear, here we are tying up at the terminal, our voyage is at an end. Aunt Sigrid and Arthur will pick us up and take us to her place in Los Angeles, where we'll rest just a bit and then catch the train back home tonight. I should think you'll not receive this before we're all home again with further stories of the incidents of our train-trip back across the desert. Oh, everyone's getting off the ship—I must leave it off now, dear, and seal this up! With all my love, ULF.

• PS: Well, dear, I was about to drop this last packet to you in the mailbox they have on the wharf here in Wilmington—I see Aunt Sigrid and Arthur with his asymmetrical ears waiting for us at the other end—must have had a bad drive here, as they look a bit grim—but young Frederick Johan wouldn't let me send it off without this very delightful picture of a Flying Fish. Yes, indeed—it's a Flying Fish. We'd see them as the ship went along, leaping out of the water and gliding along, a glorious moment in the sun, out of their element, only to return after their golden moment—splash!—into their cold gray home once again.

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