Tales from Hollywood High: Chauffeured by Humphrey Bogart
In the days before Roger Rabbit got framed, an electric streetcar ran down Hollywood Boulevard. For thirty cents it could carry me from Bronson to Highland where I could jump off and walk two blocks down Highland to Hollywood High. In those Halcyon Days, however, kids could hitchhike everywhere. And someone would always pick them up to deposit them as close to their desired destination as possible. Safely! Perhaps a holdover from the courtesies that were extended during the Great Depression, the Wars.
Back then, Hollywood High was no gated community, either. Anyone could come in off the street and walk through the campus. No window grills either. Were we angels back then? Hardly. But to toss a rock through a window? Unthinkable. This openness greatly facilitated ditching… or slipping into the classroom before the teacher noticed you were LATE. Like many of my classmates, my mission directive on graduating was “Escape from L.A.” I finally returned many decades later to find the school surrounded by a cyclone fence topped with razor wire. Perhaps another decade later, I came by again to find this time a faux wrought iron fence surrounded the school, the upgrade perhaps a token to Hollywood’s more memorable past. The entrance sported a metal detector. Hell of a nostalgia trip.
I digress. What I want to point out was that there was no need in those Good Old Days to ride the Pacific Electric streetcar to Hollywood High unless you wanted to sit near that little box which held the signal caps so you could surreptitiously grab a handful. Then when you got off with the crowd, you’d slyly slide one onto the tracks, make for the corner to look from behind it and watch people jump really, really high when the trolley ran over that signal cap: they made quite a thunderous bang! A vicious lot, teenage boys.
I never did this myself, though. I just hitchhiked and spent the thirty cents instead for a malt at the little soda fountain across the street from the auditorium, on Hawthorne and Highland (maybe the one where Lana Turner was discovered… while ditching class). I have no idea if it’s still there. I never let on to the supplier of my street car fare… my father… that I possessed the genius to work this out.
Hitchhiking also got you to school a hell of a lot faster than the streetcar would. Non-stop! This allowed one to wallow about for maybe an extra half hour in the lethargies induced by puberty while it was ratcheting up… then split for the corner of Bronson and Hollywood about two blocks away to catch my last minute ride. I lived just on the flats, another block North would have put me in the foothills of the Hollywood Hills where the big “Hollywood” sign was hung. There was one problem with my scheme: some days you could call it a bit close. Then bite your nails all the way down the Boulevard, cursing under your breath every red light that needed to flip you the bird. Still, I always seemed to manage.
One morning I had really pushed the envelope and of course, no rides were showing up. None at all. At the height of my anxiety, a Jaguar pulled up, stopping for the light. The driver looked… well… from the Dark Side of the Force. Personality wise anyway. A gangster for sure. I’m not riding with that hoodlum. I dropped my thumb but not before he slowly and deliberately motioned me over. He’d give me a ride. Panic. I don’t want to ride with him. God knows what could happen if I happened into that Jag. Murder?! Maybe much worse?! I could always leap out, though. Maybe. But then… if I refused the ride, and he took umbrage, and came by the next day… and it was getting later and later… Get in!
I sat down. Damned comfortable, Jags… even in those days. Looking way down the Boulevard, I sessed out the places that would be best to jump out. I was plotting escape maneuvers. The driver addressed me. A rough, gravely voice.