Fremont Street in the opening shot of Highway Dragnet (1954), Roger Corman’s first film, starring Richard Conte. This was shot circa ‘51-52, before “Benny Binion’s” name was placed above the Horseshoe sign.
When I saw this picture, I wrote this post. In my mind. In twenty or thirty neuroseconds. The synapses connected and snap. There it was…
Actually, I wrote it forty years ago. I just didn’t taste the words until I saw the picture.
When I was 8 years old, I remember growing up with the CBS evening news and Walter Cronkite. Not in Gold Hill, but when I stayed in Reno with mom for a while. She had the little black and white, and I remember night after night of eating dinner listening to Walter’s voice describe the action in Vietnam while the screen screamed a distant glimpse and the toll of misery.
The numbers along the bottom of the screen kept score:
Body Count USA:105 VC: 1,697
There was no tv in Gold Hill. There were a few in Virginia City, but we never had one. A couple of stalwarts from Virginia City, tired of living so close to the seductive signals from Reno but not being able to soak them them in, drug a cable to the top of Mount Davidson and sold the connection to the hungry townspeople. The price of entry was too much for us and I grew up without television. Looking back, I am extra thankful, but at the time I was pissed because all the television sets were off limits to me. You see, even though my dad bought our house in the 50’s, he still wasn’t considered a “local” because of his long hair. We were pretty much reviled by the “locals” in Virginia City because we were different and we represented everything that was wrong with the country; unemployed long haired dope fiends. The country was still raw from what Charlie Manson showed us he could do and the locals of Virginia City treated us like we gave Charlie a place to stay once. My dad did little to help the matter, and as I look back it seemed like he got off on being a thorn in the collective ass of Virginia City. This meant that no tv for me because although some of my classmates had the jones, I was never invited into the house of a person who had one. Ever.
I remember one day we were pulled over on C Street in the middle of a Saturday by the one eyed terror UnderSheriff Jim Miller. He proceeded to sit my dad, me and Peter Laufer on the sidewalk while what seemed like the entire town and all the tourists watched as he tore every square inch of the 1965 Cadillac apart. The car was full of the accumulation of several months of debris, so this took some time. After over an hour, he produced a small clump of something that he wanted to be a marijuana seed. Sadly for him it wasn’t, and he wrote my dad a ticket for having his license plate obscured and left us to put the mess back in the car. I still see the looks from the locals that day as the excitement waned, glaring disgustedly at the dirty hippies, disappointed we weren’t headed to jail.
I went to school in Virginia City until one day in the 5th Grade. It was after lunch and one of the Del Carlo boys decided he would show off by picking a fight with me just as lunch ended. As the bell rang we were left in the middle of D Street circling each other. I remember as the tide in the fight turned I fell down. Through the flurry of fists, I looked at the school door to see when the teachers were finally coming to get Goober Del Carlo (um, yes, Goober) off me. Instead, I remember seeing Principal Hugh Gallagher watching from his ringside seat behind his protective pane of glass with the other onlookers in the office. I don’t remember anyone coming out to break up the fight. After Goob got tired of punching a curled up lump, he went back inside to a roar cheers and laughter. I lay in the middle of the street feeling the warmth of the sun and tasting blood and tears for some time, trying to be as pathetic as possible. No one came to see if I was going to live, so eventually I walked home and never went back to school in Virginia City.
When I saw this picture, it was exactly how I would have Justice served to those residents of Virginia City. To me It seemed only fitting they be impaled with stake of the Holy Cross run through their black, ferrous hearts.
They called the communists we fought in Vietnam the Viet Cong or VC for short. I always called Virginia City VC for short.
I remember the shallow minded necks of VC as my personal Viet Cong; every night I lit up C Street with with my twin M-60’s.