1968 REDUX?

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

The '68 Convention

The ’68 Convention

I had a hard time getting to sleep the night of the Dallas police shootings   I kept thinking about 1968, and how the events of that seminal year affected our society for years to come.  The next morning I heard several news commentators make the same comparison until someone (I forget who – I can remember 1968 but not last week) reminded us how bad 1968 really was.  It was a year that began to show the fissures in our society and a seismic shift in our values.  The Vietnam war was raging – both Mai Lai and the Tet Offensive occurred that year and we lost more men (16,592) in 1968 than any other year of the war.  Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, we saw the demise of Lyndon Johnson and the rise of Richard Nixon, the Zodiac killer terrorized the San Francisco area, North Korea captured the submarine Pueblo and kept the 99 member crew hostage for eleven months.  Finally, violent riots broke out at the Democratic convention in Chicago.  It was a really bad year.

The Graduate

The Graduate

As easy as it is to think about 1968 in rather dark tones, that year was also jam-packed with social, economic and entertainment “firsts”.  We here at From A Bird’s Eye View, in an effort to bring you some lighter memories of that year, bring you the following highlights:

  • The Beatles started Apple records and released their White Album, containing the song Hey Jude.
  • The Boing 747 made its maiden flight and Intel was founded.
  • Dr. Christian Barnard performed the first heart transplant.
  • The first ATM went into a bank in Pennsylvania and  911 became the nation-wide emergency number.
  • The Graduate was the #1 movie, forever inspiring runaway brides.
  • TV programs ran the gamut from Peyton Place to Flipper, but perhaps the most influential new TV show that year was Laugh-In.
  • The average new car sold for $2822 and you could fill the tank for 34 cents a gallon.
  • The median price of a home was  $14,950, which sounds great by today’s standards but then the average annual salary was only $7,850.
  • The Jets/Raiders game was interrupted by a showing of Heidi, cutting off the last minute of play where the Raiders scored twice to win the game.
563 heart-stopping calories

563 heart-stopping calories

  • Perhaps this should be on the “bad” list, but 1968 saw the invention of the Big Mac.
  • 60 Minutes debuted on CBS and is still going strong.
  • Finally, on Christmas Eve 1968, Apollo 8 became the first manned spaceship to orbit the moon.  As one politician noted when the astronauts safely returned to Earth, “You have saved 1968.”

I write this just as the political conventions are about to take place so I don’t know what will happen – hopefully just peaceful protesting.  It’s hard not to be apprehensive; to hope that we don’t see rioting and injury.  I will endeavor to remember that 1968 had problems, but it also had breakthroughs. After all, it was in 1968 that Paul Lynde entertained us on Hollywood Squares.  Who knows, perhaps in 50 years we’ll look back at 2016 and despite the problems, we’ll remember the nuttiness of Pokemon Go.

My Assault on the Old Western White House

by Bob Sparrow

Nixon goodbye     It was hard to avoid the stories on the news these past few weeks about the 40th anniversary of the resignation of Richard Nixon, a seminal moment in presidential history. It was August 9, 1974 and I can still see him on that fateful day, climbing the stairs to the helicopter that was waiting for him on the White House lawn, reaching the door, turning to those standing by and flashing that goofy, sweat-on-the-upper-lip smile, arms out-stretched and hands in his signature ‘victory’ sign. I’m unclear about exactly what victory he thought he was celebrating, but I’m fairly certain once he got into the chopper, Pat Nixon said something like, “Wipe that stupid grin off your face Dick, you just lost your frickin’ job!”


Nixon looking for change

The helicopter took him to Air Force One, which flew him to Camp Pendleton Marine Corp Base, where be boarded another helicopter that whisked him to the Western White House just up the road in San Clemente. I guess officially it was no longer the Western White House, since by the time he got there he was no longer president. It is said that Nixon spent the next several years looking for loose change as he walked along the beach in his suit and tie.

Nixon bought (using a political supporter to finance the deal) 26 acres on the ocean at Cotton’s Point in 1969 for $1.5 million; then sold all but 5.9 acres, which was where the main house was and lived there until 1980. I lived and sold real estate in San Clemente while Nixon was living there, so I was very familiar with the estate at Cotton’s Point, but of course, we ‘commoners’ weren’t allowed anywhere near the property unless we could tell his Secret Service Agents the secret password. I was to learn years later that it was, “I’m not a crook”, said with a goofy smile, flapping jowls and a ‘victory sign’.

In light of this anniversary, I thought it might be interesting to visit this historic place and see if I could now get a peek at what Nixon called, ‘La Casa Pacifica’.  It was not interesting . . . it was humiliating.


My welcome at the Cypress Shores guard house

I first tried the direct approach to getting close to the old Nixon compound by driving up to the first of two gated guard stations at Cypress Shores and begged to be let in. I was summarily turned away. I then drove to the nearest public entrance to the beach and, channeling Nixon, donned a coat and tie and walked about a mile and a half on the beach to get in front of his former house, then searched for a ‘bird’s eye view’ vantage point. While walking along the beach I noticed two things, 1) people look oddly at someone in a suit and tie on the beach, and 2) there are still plenty of teenage girls laying out trying to get a tan, which bodes well for the future employment of skin doctors.


Drone made to look like a seagull

Nixon disguise

Channeling Richard Nixon




A supposed ‘fishing troller’!

In my Nixon disguise I was able to get to the fence line of the property without raising too much suspicion, and there, snap a few pictures, but the ‘trespassers will be prosecuted’ signs and barbwire fence impeded any further progress. I looked around for a breach in the fence line and noticed a fishing troller about 200 yards off shore and then realized that it wasn’t a fishing troller at all, but rather a Secret Service command station keeping a close watch on the shoreline for people just like me. Overhead I noticed what was ostensibly a flock of seagulls, but I quickly detected that the seagull in the middle was humming – no question in my mind it was a spy drone made to look like a seagull.

out of ocean

Not a Navy Seal

Western White House

I’m sooo close!

Undaunted, I retreated back to a staging area where I stripped down and decided a beachfront assault from the ocean was my best opportunity to get a closer look at the former residence. Upon entering the water I realized that there had just been a great white shark citing two days earlier. In my head I heard ‘Jaws’ music and made a quick exit.

Just as I got dressed and was formulating my next plan of attack, a young female security officer came up to me with her Taser gun at the ready and personally escorted me off the beach. I told her I wasn’t a crook, but she said she’d heard that one before.


My escorted exit

As I walked away I realized that my day ended in failure, much like Nixon’s presidency.  The security guard was watching me as I left the beach to make sure I got in my car and left the premises.  Feeling a little sweat on my upper lip, I turned and gave her the ‘Nixon victory sign’;  I thought I saw her smile as she raised the Taser gun and motioned me to get in the car.




The Sparrow Returns to Capistrano

by Bob Sparrow

DSC01097     I lived in San Clemente for several years and made more than a few trips into neighboring San Juan Capistrano or SJC as it’s colloquially known, so this week I thought I would return to Capistrano to see the returning of the swallows.  Unfortunately I was about 8 months late or 4 months early, depending on your perspective; either way I missed their annual spring landing date by a good margin.  They leave Capistrano in October, so I managed to miss them completely.  My unceremonious arrival in SJC was in stark juxtaposition to the celebration the swallows get when they arrive every year exactly on March 19th  – St. Joseph’s Day, the city’s biggest celebration of the year. Actually there are a few ‘scout swallows’ that arrive a few days early, probably to dust off furniture, turn on the utilities and things like that.  The cliff swallows must arrive exhausted as they’ve come from Goya, Argentina, where they’ve spent the winter.  The round trip the swallows make every year is an astonishing 12,000 miles!  I tried to find out how long it takes them, to no avail – I guess it depends of whether their connecting flight goes through Dallas or Mexico City.

     Once the birds arrive, then they just mostly crap on everything, so they lose quite a bit of their charm, however the Mission at San Juan DSC01100Capistrano does not.  It is the oldest building in California with construction starting in 1776, however a major earthquake leveled most of it in 1812.  The grounds are beautiful and its history is fascinating, for which you can be thankful I won’t go into great detail here.  But I will give you the short version: The Spanish claimed the land from the Acjachemen Indians, descendants from Asians who came over from Russia and first called dibs on California about 15,000 years ago – I’m guessing the traffic and smog wasn’t that big a problem back then.  The Spanish moved them out and colonized California, in part with ‘Missions’ which held the paradoxical position of being both religious centers and military outposts.  In all there were 21 missions dotting the coast of California from San Diego to Sonoma, built to be ‘a day’s walk apart’.

Mex-Amer War  Ultimately Spain was too far away to control the territory; so when neighboring Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821 they moved in while Spain wasn’t looking.  America won the ‘pink slip’ to California after the Mexican-American War concluded in 1848 and subsequently the white folks rushed to California looking for gold – statehood followed in 1850.  The mission is filled with details of these stories and many more, along with a good many artifacts.  It was a great learning experience, and while I think California History is a require subject in all California elementary schools, what I mostly learned was that I was NOT smarter than a 5th grader.

     While in SJC I wanted to return to an old haunt, the ‘El Adobe’, a famous Mexican restaurant just down the street from the mission.  This is theDSC01113 restaurant frequented numerous times and made famous by President Richard Nixon, when he was working at the ‘Western White House’ in San Clemente.  There is a picture of Nixon and the chef hanging in the foyer of the restaurant where I imaged the conversation between them went like this:

Chef: “Mr. President, would you like to come back to the kitchen and create your own tamales?”

Nixon: (jowls flapping) “I’m not a cook”


I had one more stop before I left town, ‘The Vintage’, a bar and restaurant, created from real train cars, just across the street from the mission.  It used to be called ‘The Depot’, as it’s where Amtrak makes its SJC stop.  I went into the bar and had a beer and toasted to the time Linda, my best friend, Don and I sang on stage there in 1981, which seems like 12,000 miles ago.

   It was a memorable return to Capistrano.