When I was first contacted several months ago about writing for this publication because of my long affiliation with the former Daily Times-Advocate, I was asked, “What would you like to call it?” I suggested “Escondido Reflections.” That’s what I have tried to do. Today, I want to “reflect” on three different topics that I hope are of some interest.
* * *
We’re all unique in our own way and some of us can be labeled “characters.” I think that aptly described Bob MacDonald. He was a “character.” He wasn’t flamboyant; he wasn’t boisterous; he wasn’t a blow-hard. He was a quiet, likeable personality. But wouldn’t you think that a guy who drove around town in an English cab was a “character?”
Bob was a reporter for the T-A from the mid-1960’s to the early ‘70’s. Bob was 25 to 30 years older than I, editor of the T-A at the time. He was hired to be our City Hall reporter and later wrote a column. He previously had worked for the San Diego Union.
A mutual friend was Ken Reiley, who at the time was night city editor of the Union. They had worked together as reporters for the Union. Ken had suggested I hire Bob if and when we had an opening. I never asked Ken, nor did he offer an explanation, why Bob had left the employ of the Union. Working at the T-A was a “step down” for Bob: smaller newspaper, smaller salary. Maybe it was wanderlust.
I knew that Bob liked to travel. Take that English cab. A few weeks after Bob returned from vacation one year, that cab was delivered to his apartment here in Escondido. He had purchased it while in England and had it shipped by freighter all the way to California! And there was Bob MacDonald, raising eyebrows in wonderment, as he drove the streets of Escondido.
Bob was a plugger at work nothing fancy, but steady. We never had any complaints from city officials about the accuracy of his articles. But, maybe because of his age and being a little stubborn, he was unable to handle an advance in newspaper technology at the time.
Now, remember, this was in the late ‘60’s before the advent of office computers. We were still using typewriters, but had switched to electric typewriters and a “scanning” system. We now were required to type our articles onto a special form, with the typed words inside set parameters, using special symbols to signify a mistake and correction.
The printed words on this form were then “scanned” to provide a usable paper tape for the production department.
Bob was unable to adapt to the new typewriter and form. He would type his articles on an old typewriter, and a secretary then would retype the piece on the new form and electric typewriter.
Bob’s wanderlust really grabbed him one day, when he told me he was resigning – to take a trip around the world! On a freighter! Yes, Bob somehow had wangled a deal to sail as a crew member on a freighter out of San Diego, leaving on a six-month “cruise” around the world.
Maybe it was part of Bob’s “bucket list.” When he returned, that “character” still was seen driving that English cab around town.
* * *
Barney Scardino died the other day. Barney, a long-time Escondido resident, was in his late 80’s. His name may not be recognized by many, but some old- timers will. Barney’s passing invoked an old memory: Laura’s Italian restaurant.
Barney’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Scardino, operated a quaint Italian res4 at the northwest corner of 10th Avenue and Escondido Boulevard. A much younger Barney and his even younger sister were the sole employees of Mom and Pop in this truly family operation. Mom was the hostess; Pop did the cooking; Sis waited tables and Barney was Pop’s helper and dishwasher. Lasagna was one of Mr. Scardino’s specialties.
The restaurant, which fronted the Scardino’s home, had a certain charm. When I first discovered it in the early ‘50’s, it was like walking into a movie set. The feeling was intimate. Seating for only 10 or 12 tables. No booths. Checkered tablecloths. An empty wine bottle with candle and wax drippings on each table. Just sitting at one of those tables in that small, intimate environment was a pleasurable experience.
But the day came when increasing business and clientele caused the Scardino family to raze the smaller restaurant and construct a new and larger building on the same site. The food was just as good, but the restaurant had lost its charm. The intimacy was missing.
When that old Laura’s restaurant was razed, a slice of Americana – and a part of a long-ago Escondido – went missing forever. It was a slower time, a quieter time.
* * *
Sixty-plus years ago, in the 1950’s, the Elks Lodge was headquartered on the second floor of the Arcade building in downtown Escondido, in the 200 block of East Grand Avenue on the north side of the street.
Paul Callan, an avid Elks member, was a frequent visitor to the T-A, spearheading a recruiting drive to attract younger guys to join the Elks. Four of us from the T-A, George Cordry, Bob Romaker, Dave Jackson and I, all in our 20’s, decided to join. We were only two blocks (just around the corner on Ohio Avenue) from the lodge.
To be honest, the incentive for us to join was that we could enjoy a beer or two after work in the privacy of the club. We soon discovered the Elks had a pinball machine in their bar. Only a nickel to play. But, if you beat the machine, the bartender paid you in cash! It wasn’t often you could beat the machine before it “tilted,” but when you did, the winning might at least pay for your beer.
Now, it was illegal to pay off in cash for beating a pinball machine. Just try any of them at a public emporium, you would learn that the only reward for winning was a blinking light around your score. The Elks bosses knew it was illegal, but it was a little incentive for members to maybe linger a little longer and spend a few more bucks. It also was a heck of a lot of fun trying to beat that machine, knowing that the prize was going to be cash!
But the day came when the Elks stopped paying off in cash. Why? Because the rumor was that Escondido police chief Les Lund had joined the Elks!
Ron Kenney was a reporter and editor for the former Daily Times-Advocate from 1952 to 1979 and was a copy editor on the editorial pages of the San Diego Union-Tribune from 1985 to 1997.