“Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.”—Will Rogers
That humorous view by one of the country’s wittiest philosophers of the last hundred years is funnier today considering both groups are a joke that can’t be taken seriously. All at a time when what society needs most is a sense of humor.
Apparently, things are not funny out in California at Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area where dune buggies have enjoyed the sand ever since a guy named Miller is said to have invented the first sand buggy in the 1930s. Residents building homes near there in the last 15 years now claim “particulate dust” and excessive noise from the recreational vehicles is deteriorating the sand’s natural crust that permits vegetation to grow on the dunes. The dune buggy crowds disagree, they say it’s a natural occurrence.
Me, I’m just enjoying memories of that same sand when it was called Pismo Beach in the summer of ’67 between college semesters. It was a summer of muscle cars, hot rods, Beach Boys on the radio, bikinis on the beach at Malibu, surfboards, and dune buggy weekends at Pismo— a summer like nothing I had experienced in my 19 years in Texas.
Mom’s younger brother, my Uncle Bill, was one of several San Fernando Valley area Volkswagen body shop managers who built and enjoyed dune buggies—a VW chassis, motor, roll bar and seats with farm implement tires on the rear to dig into the sand. Uncle Bill was also my summer host and my employer.
After the three-hour Saturday trek up Highway 101 north to Pismo, camp was set up on the beach before hours of challenging the sand commenced. Charging up dunes slowing just enough for the front wheels (or sometimes all four) to become airborne before coming back to earth on the other side was a test of man and machine. Not to mention a lot of fun.
Memories were made where fun prevailed and a sense of humor was standard fare. Perhaps the biggest jokester was Ralph, the seasoned veteran painter in Uncle Bill’s shop who taught me how to paint a car. He was a bit crusty, if anything, but a magician with a paint gun who imparted skills to me I parlayed into a job back in Texas to pay for my education.
Ralph’s finest moment had to be the flag incident. Buggies were fitted with “whip antennas” topped with brightly-colored flags designed for visibility from the other side of a dune when two buggies were coming up opposite sides.
Ralph’s new flag that weekend was noticeably … different. “Where’d you get that flag, Ralph,” someone asked. In his gruff tone, he responded with a smile, “Ladies department at the dry goods store—the biggest one they had.” The unique design of Ralph’s “double-barrel” flag combined with the emergency orange paint job he applied to the device emphasized its size so that no one missed it.
The first trip out that weekend, however, Ralph came roaring back into camp where someone pointed out that his flag was missing. Visually confirming the flag’s absence, he lamented that maybe he didn’t fasten it securely enough. Then he started chuckling before finally laughing out loud.
“What’s so funny,” Uncle Bill asked.
“I’m thinking about the poor guy who found it,” Ralph laughed. “He’s probably still out there running the dunes with a big smile, trying to find the woman who lost it.”
With politicians who are jokes, comedians who are too political to be funny, and squabbles over the use of public land, seems to me that more folks with a sense of humor like Ralph’s are sorely needed.
(Photo at top of the page by “Uncle Bill” Johnson at Pismo Beach, California in the summer of 1967. Dune buggy driver is yours truly and the passenger is Ronnie Lilly, my friend and MPHS classmate who made the memorable summer trip to California with me.)
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