Most of the girls in our class who worked at the ‘walk had jobs at one of the food concessions; my first job was at Ruth’s Hamburger Stand. My mother also worked there as a waitress. My job was in the French fry stand. Cutting the potatoes with a machine that sliced them into equal pieces was fairly easy. The deep-frying and then filling the bags with those hot fresh fries was fine, too.
The fun part was waiting on the many kinds of people I met at the Boardwalk. This feeling intensified with my next job, which was working at the Fried Pie place close to the Casino. We served all kinds of pies — from meat to fruit — and coffee and drinks of all kinds, but no alcohol. There was preparing, cooking and serving. Anybody who worked there was a jack-of-all trades, but mostly I served.
Summer time meant local boys left their girls because the more available valley girls came to town. I had the luck to meet the lifeguards and became good friends with them. Unfortunately I was too young and unknowing in the ways of the world to have this lead to anything really fun. Or perhaps I was lucky.
Fort Ord, the Army basic-training center near Monterey was in full swing then, and soldiers on weekend passes would walk the Boardwalk in their uniforms. Girls and young women looking for men — or just looking — would walk back and forth. Soon I’d see the soldiers and the girls walking arm-in-arm. Some of the women married the soldiers.
A movie star on the Boardwalk would stir special attention. Rory Calhoun and his wife stopped at my stand. I was proud to serve them meat pies and coffee. Then there was the day tall, lanky Randolph Scott walked up and said, ‘Well, hello there, Miss Darlene.’ Scott knew me because he and my dad frequented the same cockfights in Watsonville. I knew when Elizabeth Taylor was there and I heard of others, but I never met them.
Sometimes I’d miss having the freedom to go to Cowell’s Beach, where the Santa Cruz High kids would hang out. That wasn’t a choice for me and, besides, I was having fun meeting all the interesting Boardwalk characters.
There was Black Bart, the oldest and darkest-suntanned beach bum and a really nice man, who always had a smile and a kind word. He knew all the lifeguards by name. Then there was Tom the Policeman (Tom Leonard), who stood 6-5 and walked the Boardwalk from early dawn to dusk. He had the kindest voice and the gentlest manner. Tom and Black Bart were my friends. One of Tom’s most difficult jobs was to tell two ladies lying on the main beach in front of the Casino to put their tops on. In the l950s, that was a big deal and the beach was abuzz.
During the summer and on weekends, I’d walk from my home on Watson Street along the railroad tracks from Seabright Avenue and across the San Lorenzo River trestle to the Boardwalk. And I’d walk home after work unless it was dark. At night, I’d catch the bus in front of the Casino. Many Saturdays I’d work until midnight and catch the bus without fear. The lights and people and the ending of the full day left me all keyed up. The bus ride to downtown Santa Cruz, where I got off in front of the Del Mar Theater to change buses to Seabright Avenue, gave me a chance to wind down and savor the day’s events — memories of sounds and colors I still cherish 50 years later.