Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Quarter Past Nine

As I passed the corner, I glanced back over my was gone. Years later all that stood there was a strip mall. Sad I thought, I remember a time when kids cruised this, the longest drag strip in San Diego. It was an iridescent neon lit El Cajon Boulevard dotted with a Chevy dealer swarming with Corvettes, a Ford dealer with Shelby GT350s out front, and even San Diego Motor Imports with Porsches in formation on the lot. But that wasn't all, it had a Bob's Big Boy, an A&W Root Beer stand and the best Oscars Drive-in you could believe. All there, just waiting for us.

I then caught myself slowly sliding back to the day I had just finished putting the engine back in my 356 coupe and took her there for a check out run.

I let her creep slowly up the parking lot driveway, careful not to leave any of the low hanging engine and stinger on the sidewalk. I idled down the lane, slowly rolling past some of the wildest iron cruising the Boulevard. They were all gathered here, as they did every Friday and Saturday night to see who was the coolest, the bitchiness, and the fastest.

Oscars was packed, it was legendary, bigger than the A&W...but A&W did have those mugs...what a cool souvenir to get away with. Anyway, the Oscars drive-in had a parking area out behind and along side the restaurant where drivers could pull in and 'car hops' would come out to the car and take an order. Often cars lined up and looped around waiting for an open space.

This time I had to circle three times to find an open spot. Once you got into an Oscars drive-in space you stayed until a better prospect lured you away. A better prospect meant...a party, a girl, or a drag race.

This Oscars was located in El Cajon, but looked similar. It's sad with progress not one of the original Oscars exist today. Image via.

Most of the cars that showed up on those nights were cool. A car had to have a look, a sound, a stance, something that announced it as badass. If you were cool, no way did you have to explain your car. Did Van Gogh explain his passion? If you had it, you had it. If you didn't, no amount of explanation would help. That's still how it goes today at club events. However, everyone's rides back then were as diverse as rock'n'roll. They could be street rods, muscle cars, sports cars or drag cars. They just had to be modified from the way they rolled out of the factory and they had to be mean.

Anyway, once I got parked I would place my order then climb out, walking around the cars sizing up the competition, sharing observations with the other guys, but always avoiding to answer questions about the engine in my Porsche. I still don't ask, not cool. By the time I got back my order was sitting on a plastic tray, hooked to the side of my door. A big cheese burger, fries and a chocolate shake, the usual. I gently opened the door so not to upset the shake, and slid down into the drivers seat clicking the door closed behind me.

There was a black Shelby Cobra 427 parked next to me and as I ate, I soaked up every detail. The chrome rollbar had a fire extinguisher strapped to the support bar running diagonally down into the cockpit. A tach I could read from where I was sitting had it's face tilted so 8,000 RPM was at twelve o'clock. Eight grand from a big block...nasty. This was no ordinary Cobra, it was an 'SC'...really nasty!

Something was happinin'. The driver buckled his lap belt, reached to the dash and flipped a switch. The electric fuel pump went to work ticking away. He cracked the butterflies open on the Webers and cranked it once. The beast instantly barked to life, belching raw fuel out the side exhaust pipes.

The deep throaty, resonating howl filled the drive-in like the hammering beat of a Janis Joplin tune. My half-empty shake jittered across the plastic tray and my rear view mirror was just a blur. Every head in the place had swiveled around instantly to see what had come to life.

The driver paid no attention to the onlookers. His eyes were riveted on the gauges. He punched the Webers full open, a deafening concussion reverberated up from the floorboad to my feet, through my butt and danced off my hands onto a vibrating wood steering wheel. My mouth opened and I let out a loud yell at the shock and poetry of the noise, but no sound came from my mouth. In that instant, all other sounds in the world were eliminated.

A second later the noise level dropped to just a ringing sound in everyone's ears. The piercing blast was replaced by a seemly impossible, radical lope of a full-race engine. You could hear the explosions in each cylinder, almost dying between breaths. It was paradise!

The driver goosed it once more, just a little, to clear the snakes throat, and slipped it into reverse. As he looked around to back out, he noticed me staring and lifted his chin slightly in my direction, the universal sign when your cool. I gave him a thumbs up, my seal of approval on his ride. He gave me a grin...yeah, he was cool. As he pulled out of the parking lot, all heads in parked cars were craning for a peek at the taillights of that glossy black demon.

I suddenly realized that I could hear my 8 track again as I dug through my Levis for burger money, and then I heard what could only be the Cobra. A thundering blast of a screaming big block and squealing tires erupting from El Cajon Boulevard as he was burning rubber with a white-hot cloud looming up.

The sweet burning perfume of Goodyear Blue Streaks wafted through Oscars.

Yeah, it was a quarter past nine, just another night at the drive-in. What a wonderful time to grow up.

Leave a comment, here.

The inspiration to write about this came from a story I read some time ago by Jack Dolan. 


  1. Keith Nelson wrote: Cool story, I remember those nights well. BUT that picture is if the El Cajon city Oscars.

    1. COOL !
      As soon as I saw the picture of Oscar's, I knew it was ElCajon.
      I spent way too many Friday & Saturday nights in that very parking lot. It was usually our starting point, then we would cruise El Cajon Blvd and try to hit all but NC (too far....haha). If I recall theres was 7 or 9 Oscar's in San Diego. Those were the days.

      Thanks for the site & memories.

  2. Keith I thought so, but the photo said El Cajon Blvd.. I remember the parking lot looking a little different than the photo.

  3. I think the Corvair pictured is me in my Monza Spyder Bob Gagnon

  4. Ron emailed: "Every Friday night especially during football season the National City and Chula Vista locations. But the rest of the year they were all fair game with the talkie Oscars on El Cajon the best."

  5. I just got this email:Hi John, excellent story, great reflection on a wonderful era that we were fortunate enough to have experienced. Although I lived in Pt.Loma, I hung out at Menlo Oscars, the Oscars at Midway and Rosecrans didn't draw the street racers and hot rodders. Menlo, ElCajon, Claremont were the hot spots for street racing, it was just too much fun, and "yes" it was illegal and dangerous, but I would do it again in an instant.
    I am going to post some more photos today, a few from Ramona, taken from a couple programs I still have. I also have a video that I will try to post (a film converted to video) Take Care and Thanks for "ALONG FOR THE RIDE", it's great. Jon

  6. What’s Happening i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve found It absolutely helpful and it has aided me out loads. I hope to contribute & assist other users like its aided me. Good job.

  7. "Where do they put the cheese on the Oscar's double deck hamburger? Is it on the top of the top patty? or on the bottom of the bottom patty?"

    Great story, brings back memories of double deck hamburgers and heart of lettuce salad.
    Dick Bartlett

  8. Bill Packwood emailed: I enjoyed your article about life at the drive in .Brought back a lot of my own reminesces in Whittier. I was in an Austin Healey and later a home built (Road and Track Dec 1961) I raced it at the old Palm Springs airport course,Pomona and Stardust in Las Vegas. I will be driving my 914 6 at the General Racing event next weekend at Infinion. Looks like a full field. Two other 914 6s '911s Alfas, Lotus Morgans. Best regards from Northern Calif. Bill Packwood

  9. Late to the game but I do recognize that Oscars well as I spent many a night bringing in shopping carts off the lot and it is definitely the El Cajon Oscar's. Rubios now occupies the space shown in the photo. I worked at DeFalcos, a Grocery Store long since torn down. That awning along with the Bank of America sign across the Street confirm it.

  10. John Thanks for the "re-memberies". Oscars was the place to go Friday an' Saturday. Cool guys and cars outside, civilians (families)and others (young gremmies without a license) inside.
    All the carhops were beauty queens (honest) and if you got really lucky you could get the same one enough times, she would recognize you and pause to talk to ya -Wow! So Cool.
    Before the high school games fair to good crowd but after... it was so crowded it was standing room only, and inside was worse.
    This was at "my" Point Loma Oscars. Not as much racing as EC Blvd. and El Cajon city was almost too far to drive- and they were not as cool as "us".
    I know my non politically correct statements are not, Really, true... but it was 1960 and we/I knew everything there was to know.LOL