There has never been any shrimp as good as “Shrimpy Joe’s,” a little pierside shack that sat on the edge of Magnolia Pier in Long Beach back in the ‘50s. People walked up to the counter, placed their order and watched the shrimp being butterflied, battered and deep fried. It was presented on a paper plate sizzling hot, slightly salted and unbelievably succulent. Catsup was available, but who needed to add anything to that shrimp? Not us.
My best friend Dokey and I spent two summers during our high school years walking back and forth from our houses to the beach. She lived about a mile from me, and she’d set out for my house about 9:30 and we’d head down Cherry Avenue for the beach, a walk of about 2 miles. Both of Dokey’s parents worked, and my mother was busy caring for my baby brother and walking was our mode of transportation in those days.
We were never in a hurry, because the haze didn’t burn off until close to eleven o’clock, so we leisurely strolled south. Cherry Avenue was a street with lots of little shops on it. We often stopped at Horgan’s pharmacy and bought a comic-book sized magazine that had the words to all the popular songs of the day in it. It came out every couple of weeks, and we always had the latest one. At another drugstore down the road, one that had a bigger candy selection in it, we’d pick up a couple of non-chocolate candy bars to tuck in our pockets, and sometimes pick up a soda to drink on the way down.
Usually we would pick up a snack mid-afternoon from one of the little eateries along the beach, but food wasn’t a priority in our lives at that time. On occasion we would decide to forego some of the hours of sunbathing and make a run for Shrimpy Joe’s. Magnolia Pier was another mile and a half west of Cherry beach and we found it quickest to walk along the surfline; walking in the dry sand took far more effort than we wanted to expend!
I don’t recall how it was that we always had enough money for Shrimpy Joe’s food; neither of us had jobs yet and I have no recollection of whether Dokey and I operated on an allowance from our folks or whether we just asked for what we anticipated needing, but I do recall that in that day, shrimp was not an expensive item and it was simply distance, not lack of money, that caused us not to spend more time there!
The one thing that we could always count on was running into someone we knew – it might be some kid from school or it might be a neighbor or even a family friend. Shrimpy Joe’s wasn’t very well known in the greater Long Beach area, and those who had discovered it didn’t want to let their secret out. Dokey and I never told anyone about our “find.”
Making a run over there meant that we had to alter our going-home plans too. It meant leaving for home earlier and walking diagonally through the downtown area of Long Beach. Going home that way was about a three mile trek. Once through the town, zig-zagging block by block, Dokey would turn north to head to her home on Orange Avenue and I would continue diagonally to end up near Pacific Coast Highway and Cherry Avenue, at my home. We always aimed for a 5 p.m arrival, which gave us time to shower and get presentable before our dinner times.
We thought nothing of walking. We had plenty to talk about. We didn’t worry about being kidnapped, or shot at. We didn’t have cell phones and our parents neither saw us nor heard from us over that seven hour period that we were traipsing around Long Beach. There occasionally was a need to go home earlier so we would take a bus. In those days buses ran every 10 minutes so we never had very long to wait.
The summer before our senior year was the last of our “beach” summers. In the intervening years I went away to college, Dokey went to work, the Long Beach shoreline was altered and Shrimpy Joe’s disappeared. Teenagers begin owning cars, it began being a bit scary to walk through certain parts of town, we married and moved to the suburbs; songs and their words exist now on my iPod and and the idyllic Long Beach of my childhood ceased to exist except in my memories and on my blog.
What a good life I’ve had.