Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I REMEMBER-Working in Chico Restaurants & The Music Scene

...working in restaurants while living in Chico [part one]. I had worked in the school cafeteria (Bradley Hall) while a student at Chico State College (1965-1969). I had been "recruited" by the wrestling coach (Doc Peterson) and our 'scholarship' was that he would get us a job, get us all the classes we wanted in advance, without having to stand in line and apply and at least 2 classes we could get an "A" in, to keep our GPA up so we wouldn't be kicked off the team for academic issues.

My job was working in the cafeteria (for about $4.75/hr) and my two gimme classes were sex education that Doc Peterson taught and a communications class where I was actually the DJ on the school radio station ( I now do very well with 60's music trivia contests).

Those classes could be another story, but today it is about working in restaurants in Chico. My first job outside the cafeteria was working for Pizon's Pizza on Nord Ave. where the owner taught us to make intentionally bad coffee, so students wouldn't hang out and take up the tables and lose potential dinner customers. He also watered down the pizza sauce so much, you had to hustle it out to the customer before it separated into red water and tomatoes.

The San Francisco hippie scene was in full swing with the greatest (soon to be classic) rock music and a host of young bands you may have heard of ( Jefferson Airplane - Hot Tuna, King Krimson, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Janis Joplin, Santana, Savoy Brown, The Band, Golden Earring, Delanie-Bonnie & Friends (Eric Clapton), Country Joe & the Fish, Laura Nyro, Sly & the Family Stone, Joy of Cooking, Fleetwood Mac, Guess Who, Seals & Croft, Chicago, Beautiful Day, Albert King, B.B. King, Canned Heat, Cold Blood, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Miles, Dino Valenti, Al Kooper & Friends, Mike Bloomfield, Creedence Clearwater, Moody Blues, Deep Purple, Jeff Beck, Frumious Bandersnatch, Sha-Na-Na, Kinks, Taj Mahal, Greatful Dead, Humble Pie, Chambers Brothers, Grand Funk Railroad, Fat Mattress, Noel Redding) and a host of others. As I purge myself of excess, I continue to run across some very cool rememberances of the past. Just found a handfull of playbills from Bill Graham Presents from the late 60's and early 70's - Winterland, Fillmore West, etc. Tickets to see the greatest bands ever were about $3 and on Tues nights from 9pm to 2am was "Sounds of the City" - Auditions, Jams and Guest Performers - only $1.

Anyway, as I said, this is a story about restaurants in Chico (part one) I was off to the "City" (often referred to as "Frisco") to live the good life during the Summer of Love (1967) on weekends and even grew (gasp) a mustache and hung out in the Fillmore and in the Haight Ashbury. The owner of the bad coffee, watered down spaghetti sauce, Pizon's Pizza, became paranoid that I would bring back "hippie diseases" in my mustache from the city of sin and infect his restaurant, so it was my job or the mustache. The mustache won.

As I was only 20, I went to the only place that would serve me beer to bemoan my unemployment, The Italian Cottage Restaurant. Very cool place, sawdust on the floor, good pizza, good coffee and good pizza sauce.

They had a job open for night manager, and as I was having a beer while filling out the application...I put down that I was 21. As interim manager, my job was to answer the phones when applicants called about the manager's job. Strangely, none of them seemed to be qualified and I got the job. I managed that restaurant for quite a while and had to forgo an eventual 21st birthday celebration at work, as I had to tell everyone I was turning 22. Every night after work, everyone would head to the "Silver Room Bar," in downtown Chico and I couldn't go, so I wouldn't get carded and expose my tender age. Once, the owner, age 35, got carded at the liquor store buying more wine for the restaurant. He didn't have his ID, so he came back to the restaurant, got me, and took me back to the liquor store to buy the wine. I was terrified I would lose my job, until I discovered I was born for sales and never stopped talking until we were out the door with the wine- never got asked for my ID.

Side bar: a kindly pregnant waitress at the Italian Cottage lent out her birth control prescription to a young couple I knew, as they were too young and too intimidated to get their own. The pharmacy was in "White Front", an early forerunner of stores like Sam's Club. It would have worked, except for the couple's reluctance to pick up the prescription when their name was called over the store loud speaker system. As the waitress's name was Vera Dee Balls ( I am not making this up), the prescription was called out with initials and last name: "V D Balls, your birth control pills are ready." They just left the store and never came back.

Now that my fading memory is jogged a bit - coming soon: partying with Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna in Asbury Park, New Jersey and my trip to Woodstock West - the Altamont Free Concert...but not now, as I said before, this about my jobs in restaurants in Chico (part one).

Today's song: Super Jam - Santana, Greatful Dead & Jefferson Airplane

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