Posted by: Mike James | July 12, 2009

The Hair of the Dogma that Bit You

gregI’m proud to be a second generation minister of the Universal Life Church of Modesto, California. For those not familiar with this denomination, the ULC believes that every member has the right to believe what ever he wants, as long as doesn’t infringe on the rights of others to believe what they want. Now that’s some dogma I can get my teeth into. They also believe that everyone has the right to be ordained as minister (or as a pope for that matter).

In 1973,  as a lark, my dad, Bill and my Uncle Rich were ordained as ministers of the ULC. I don’t believe my father ever thought he would ever utilize this position.

That would all change in the early morning hours of April 20, 1974.

Now it’s often said it is never a good idea to have a bachelor party the night before the wedding.  Throwing caution to the wind my brother Greg held his bachelor party just hours before getting married to his beloved Donna Cooperider. The venue was Straw Hat Pizza in Redding, California where Greg was a loyal employee. Much pizza and beer was consumed during the course of this sodden soiree.

Around closing time, after a somewhat inebriated consultation between father and son, Greg announced to well wishers that he would be firing his minister and that his dad would now be officiating his upcoming nuptials.

The next morning my father awoke in a panic, hoping that his offer had just been forgotten. Alas it was to late, Greg had already given his original minister his walking papers.

Sitting around the kitchen table, a nervous and acutely hungover father and son penned the sacred words that would be shared with hundreds of family and friends in just a few hours.

Having survived the war-torn jungles of the South Pacific during World War II, my dad still states that officiating this wedding, while one of his happiest moments, was one of the hardest things he ever had to endure.

Greg and Donna recently celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary. My 85 year old father went on to perform more weddings, but always stayed sober the night before.


More to come. As I tell of the story of my following in my father’s footsteps as the Right Reverend Mike of Ocean Beach, California.

Posted by: Mike James | July 2, 2009

Obcieans Invade Coronado

For the past 15 years or so, Coronado officials have invited a group of Obcieans to partake in their Fourth of July parade. With their unusual attire and freakish behavior, this group of unstable deviants are allowed to march along the quaint streets of the “Crown City.”

These waterlogged ruffians are readily accepted by this fair city. The local military presence may give city officials some comfort, but they know that this rabble could incite mass hysteria among its citizens at anytime. Yet they are invited every year.

Special protocol has been established to lessen any threat. Labeled “00″ by marshals, this unit is not only the first to enter the parade route, they are also allowed to march fifteen minutes before the official start time of the parade. This precaution was taken to eliminate any disruption they may cause the other units.

As the riffraff approaches, crowds are at first alarmed by the loud noise and clothes. Soon they become mesmerized by the dizzying effect of art in motion. The throng who line Orange Avenue are entranced by the sound of the fast-paced guitar music, nostalgic transportation and the precision acrobatic magic.

After many miles, these paraders entrench themselves under a giant tree to quash their thirst. After an hour or so of reminiscing of parades past, and to the relief of the local population, they soon find their way back to home to watch the O.B. fireworks.

The Coronado Fourth of July Parade officially steps-off at 10:00 am on Saturday July 4th, but if you want to see the Ocean Beach Geriatric Surf Club and Precision Marching Drill Team and Gidget Patrol you better be there by 9:45.

Posted by: Mike James | June 26, 2009

The First Ocean Beach Street Fair

As co-chair of the first Street Fair, I must set the record straight. This year’s 30th Annual Street Fair is actually the 28th.

The first street fair which took place July 4th, 1982 and was an expansion of the Fireworks Festival which began in 1980 (hence the 30th annual).

Sponsored by the Ocean Beach Merchants Association and KPRI Radio, the event was held on the 4900 and 5000 blocks of Newport Ave.  With no vendors and a crowd in the hundreds, it seemed somewhat bare compared to the hundreds of vendors and the tens of thousands that show up now days.

The venue included a few rides, a stage for the 4 bands and a 40×80 metal fence encased “Beer Garden”.

Still fun was had by all.

My favorite memory was the mechanical bull which was situated right in front of the Strand Theater. I can still hear the amplified Texas twanged voice of the bull operator as he encouraged the crowd, “Whose gonna ride this here bull in Oceeean Beeeeach Calli-forn-ya.” Urban Cowboy had just been released and Obcieans wanted to give John Travolta a run for his money. So with long hair a flyin, many earned the title of  “O.B. Buckaroo”.

The most popular event that day was the competition for the coveted title of Miss and Mister O.B.  In the late afternoon, bikini clad ladies and muscular men strutted their stuff in front of hundreds of adoring fans. With no Q and A, winners were quickly chosen and the audience and contestants poured back into the bars.

Another highlight was a martial artist breaking a world’s record by breaking something like 5 blocks of ice with his bare hands. I believe the ice was later used for margaritas at Le Chalet.*

Much was learned by the committee that first year.  I recall pushing a broom up and down Newport Avenue at ten o’clock that evening (while cursing my co-chair and brother Ron who was entrenched at Pac Shores) and thinking next year we should hire a cleaning crew.

It’s satisfying to see that this event has become one of San Diego’s premier events.

*the Le Chalet later became Bullfrog’s and is currently Gallagher’s Irish Pub. Also the ice was never really used for human consumption

Posted by: Mike James | March 15, 2009

Hey, Mr. Spaceman

spacehouseDuring the summer of 1977, my brother Pat and I had our first encounter with the Spaceman of Ocean Beach. Artist and musician Clint Cary, The Spaceman, lived in a cottage at the entrance to the Ocean Beach Pier.

The Spaceman claimed to have traveled to to other planets, other dimensions. He was transported there by his otherworldly friends from the planet Rillispore. He first began his journeys in the late 50’s after first meeting the Rillosporians in the desert near Joshua Tree.

Later the Rillosporians would appear in his O.B. bungalow to take him on these mini-vacations from our time and space.

As a painter, Clint was inspired by these journeys and created wonderful “cosmic art” masterpieces.

Pat and I met The Spaceman during a rare sober period in his life. We would sit in his cottage for hours watching the waves roll in as Spaceman regaled us with his stories of his travels, extraterrestrial and otherwise. The sessions we spent with Clint were entertaining and engaging.  The tales told sober were much more compelling than his later drunken ramblings.

He gave us our “Spaceman Cards“, these were our tickets to travel on a giant spaceship. We would then be deposited on the 3rd dimensional planet Lycillus Apum.  The relocation would save us from the cataclysmic destruction of earth when the magnetic poles would shift.

Three months after our first encounter, Clint was back on the Gallo Red Table wine and we stopped visiting.

We felt lucky to have met The Spaceman during a short-lived period of sobriety, when he was at his best as a storyteller.

Now where did I put that damn ticket?

YouTube Videos
City Beat Article

(Years later I e-mailed Roger McGuinn of The Byrds and asked if their hit-song “Hey, Mr. Spaceman” was inspired by Clint.  He kindly replied that while the song wasn’t about Clint, he wished he had met our Spaceman of Ocean Beach.)

Posted by: Mike James | March 15, 2009

The Beacon

The Beacon newspaper was the idea of Planning Board member and James Gang employee, Catherine Wambaugh in the middle 80’s. It was an offshoot of a Planning Board Newsletter she was producing. With the help of other O.B. activist, such as Dorette Jackson, the newpaper was brought to reality.  It’s name in those days was “The O’Beacon.”

Posted by: Mike James | March 11, 2009

The Man Who Died Twice

I doubt the greatest writers in the world could ever create characters as strange and interesting as the ones I’ve met in Ocean Beach.

The Characters category contains snapshots of these people. While the people are real, the following are my recollections, so the stories should not be construed as completely factual.


For a time he was a frequent customer of Cheswick’s West Tavern.  Greg was a metalworker and loved a good game of darts as well as consuming beer.  Greg was fired later for the latter.

He was forced to move back to Chicago to live with his sister.

A few months had passed when the bartender received a call from Greg’s sister stating that he had been murdered.

We hoisted a few in Greg’s honor that night.

A few more months had passed, when who should stroll into Cheswick’s during Happy Hour, Greg.

Yes, he had been mugged and nearly killed while in Chicago, but his sister in a panic had greatly exaggerated his condition.

Greg was now virtually homeless. For a while, a few kind Cheswick’s regulars gave him temporary shelter and a few loaned him money so he get his daily 40 ouncer.

He then started hanging with the hardcore homeless alcoholics on the beach.

One night, not more than a two month since his return, Greg was quaffing a few with his friends on the pier.  He once again laughed into the face of the grim reaper, as he sat himself precariously on the pier railing 30 feet above the sand.  As he drank the last drop of his Olde English, he too took his last drop.

Later that week, sitting safely on our bar stools at Cheswick’s, we once again hoisted a few for Greg.

A few of us wondered if we should call the morgue to confirm his demise.  A few, are still waiting for the day when Greg will once again wander in during Happy Hour.

Posted by: Mike James | March 10, 2009

Fall and Winter of ’76

I began my junior year at SDSU taking only 2 classes. Marketing 101 and Women’s Studies. I dropped Marketing the second week. So two days a week I headed off to SDSU. When I wasn’t in my Women’s Studies class I was in the A.S. Listening Room studying the implications of Blue Oyster Cult on western society. (Don’t Fear the Reaper, dude.)

Back in O.B. I folded t-shirts at the James Gang and got to know O.B. by skateboard. I exclusively wore shorts, a t-shirt and flip-flops. I no longer owned a pair of shoes.

I would frequent John Small’s first O.B. venture A.W. Fully a T-shirt store and arcade next to John Small’s second O.B. venture, the Sunshine Co. Saloon, which I would later frequent. (For the uninitiated John Small owns a good portion of O.B. now and has been in my opinion a good caretaker for Ocean Beach.)

It was a pretty quiet time for me and O.B.

I went up to Redding for Christmas where I had to buy a pair of shoes to keep my feet from freezing. The day before I was to leave, the sole of one of the shoes
separated. I was able to return them to K-Mart and get my money back.

I don’t need no stinkin’ shoes.

Posted by: Mike James | March 9, 2009

Summer of ’76

I had just finished my 2 years at Shasta Junior College in my hometown of Redding, California. My plans were to continue my education at San Diego State. Earlier that year my three older brothers, Ron, Rich and Greg, had started James Gang Custom T-Shirts in Ocean Beach ( a month after I arrived our little brother Pat joined us). So this was to be my home while I went to school.

I had been to Ocean Beach previous summers while visiting my brothers in San Diego.

My first experience in Ocean Beach was going to the KGB Midnight Movies at the Strand Theater. The year was 1974 and Fritz the Cat was the main feature. The smell of sweet Mexican hemp engulfed the theater. The ringing of empty beer bottles as they rolled down the aisles was a constant reminder I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. That was a proper initiation to Ocean Beach.

So in 1976 I moved in with my brother Rich, his girlfriend Melanie and her son Greg. I worked part time, folding shirts at the James Gang while spending the remaining time bodysurfing in front of Tower 2. I sustained myself with greasy Square Pan pizza and a non-nutritional frothy orange-like drink.

Ocean Beach was in transition. Many of the 60’s* activist who were instrumental in making O.B. what it was and what it would become, were leaving.  Some moving on to careers, some disillusioned by the loss of the true meaning of the “movement.”  The dregs of the Age of Aquarius, homelessness, hard drugs and community divisiveness, were a large part of Ocean Beach in the summer of 1976.

“You can get anything you want”  The Sweeps.

Within seconds of stepping onto the boardwalk at the end Newport Ave. you would be openly solicited for all types of drug.  It was also prevalent in front of the Newport Hotel.

It was so blatant I think the police were being ridiculed within city hall by the mostly right-wing establishment. That was when the Police Chief ordered the “Sweeps”.

So at the end of the summer of ’76, police massed enforce to arrest and detain the users and dealers and confiscate their illegal product. Many were arrested and taken to the command post at the O.B. Rec Center where they were booked.

This didn’t sit well with many of the dealers and the users and a few libertarians. So a week after the Sweeps began, the disgruntled masses assembled at the boardwalk. With protest signs attached to brooms, they proceeded up Newport Avenue, loudly demanding the end of this contemptuous folly.

The Sweeps continued.

The action by the police worked in a sense, drug dealers became better citizens. From then on they used less brazen sales techniques, therefore becoming less offensive to the establishment.

Now I don’t want to give the impression Ocean Beach is just about Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll.  It is about looking at thing differently, about questioning authority and to live and let live. Hopefully this will became clearer to the uninitiated as I continue my stories of O.B.

*(For my younger readers “The Sixties” were from 1967 to 1974.)

« Newer Posts