Tag Archives: Grand Central Market

Chasing Agriculture

I arrived in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco at the tail end of the “Summer of Love.” It was either late August or very early September. Things were already starting to fall apart before I got up there, but it took weeks before I was able to recognize what was happening.

Where It All Happened

I had traveled from Los Angeles by thumb, where I had just given up a lucrative business my father had purchased for me at the very end of 1966. Fearing my life was going nowhere (which it kinda was) he took the opportunity to buy a small snack shop from a friend who was going into another business. The place was called DEBS, which was an acronym of the previous owners family’s names. We kept it . . . the name that is.

Situated directly across the street from the May Company, between 8th and 9th Streets on S. Hill Street, I was making big bucks for a snot-nosed teenager. I didn’t realize just how lucky I was at the time which, I suppose, is the very definition of privilege. I just did a time/value calculation and discovered I was making the equivalent of close to a quarter of a million dollars a year back then. Yikes! That doesn’t seem possible or even reasonable, but I’m pretty sure it’s true.

Unfortunately, I was only 19 years old at the time, fresh out of High School the previous year and recently honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy after a total of one month and twenty-three days of service. I’m surely one of a few people in the country who has served, received the National Defense Service Medal, and also a medical discharge while I was still in boot camp. Since I was in for such a short time, I am not eligible for veteran’s benefits, nor have I ever sought to receive them . . . but that’s another story I’ll get to later.

This is a screenshot from Google Maps’ Street View. According to Yelp, they’re still in business, though I know it’s not the same people

DEBS Snack Shop was open six days a week, twelve hours a day on weekdays, and ten hours on Saturday. I had to be there for every one of those hours and, since I lived in the North end of the San Fernando Valley, the commute took at least an hour and a half, round-trip, every weekday. Saturdays were a little quicker. So I was putting in about 70 hours per week, not including time getting ready to head out the door.

Not only were the hours long, I had to deal with my father coming by every day and pointing out everything I had done “wrong,” i.e. not how he would do it. Not that I didn’t screw up; 19-year-old boys aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer, no matter how high their IQ. But my old man was not the kind to hand out compliments or praise. Nope. He was a genius at pointing out shortcoming, though.

I remember one weekend I finally had a date with a young woman I had met somewhere. Much of the detail is lost in the mists of time, including who she was and where we met, and the relationship didn’t last long at all. We went out to dinner and were going to go to a movie afterward. Unfortunately, if memory serves, I actually fell asleep at dinner, I was so tired. I don’t think we made it to the movie, and I’m not sure I ever saw her again.

That particular debacle was one of many compelling reasons I asked my father to sell the place after only seven months. I was young and restless, and I had no social life. I had also started smoking pot the previous year and was beginning to experiment with acid (LSD.) I needed to spread my wings and I didn’t see that ever happening as long as I was tied to a demanding business and an overbearing father. But I digress.

What I was thinking of when I decided to write this post was the agricultural workers here in my native County of Ventura. Some of the laborers post videos to a local Facebook group and seeing them brings me back to my two encounters with working in the fields, one of which took place while I was living up in the Haight.

Not the video I was referring to, but quite similar

When I was working in the snack shop, I frequently had to go and purchase produce, generally a few blocks away at the Grand Central Market. One of the items I had to buy was tomatoes. I would get them by the “lug,” each of which weighed approximately 30 pounds.

On many a day in the Haight, people would just sit around in front of the stores on Haight Street, sometimes standing to perform for the tourist buses that would pass by. They expected no less from a bunch of “Hippies,” and we were often content to give it to them. One day, a man came by and asked if anyone was interested in picking tomatoes. He said it paid a certain amount (I have no idea what it was) per “lug.” I accepted.

The following day, early in the morning, I boarded a bus with a group of fellow “hippies” and we were taken to a field right next to a mental hospital. We were set loose in the fields to pick tomatoes and it was then I discovered their definition of a “lug” was considerably larger than what I had grown used to purchasing for the snack shop’s use. At least twice as big! I had just turned 20 in June, a couple months prior to selling the business. I was in good shape, yet picking tomatoes, which requires bending over continuously, was physically demanding and, based on how many tomatoes had to be gathered to complete a “lug,” I soon came to the conclusion this was NOT how I wished to make money in the future.

I don’t think I spent more than a couple of hours in the field, but I’ve never forgotten how difficult and back-breaking the work was. It has given me a sense of deep respect for the people who spend their lives working in the fields. It is extraordinarily difficult (and sometimes dangerous) work, for which I’m sure they are not paid enough.

I did mention, above, there were two times I had worked in the field. The second one was in 1973, when I spent two months in Cuba as a member of the 6th contingent of the Venceremos Brigade. During that time I worked primarily in construction, making concrete slabs and pillars used to construct small, single-family dwellings. However, on one occasion we spent a day in the fields cutting sugar cane. In addition to the work being back-breaking, the fields were torched prior to our work in order to burn off some of the vegetation on the canes. It meant we were covered in burnt sugar cane juice by the end of the day.

Cutting Sugar Cane is a messy and exacting task

I had purchased a pair of brown Red Wing boots for the trip. After one day in the fields, they were mostly black from that burnt juice. It never came off.

Those two, admittedly short stints in the field gave me an appreciation for anyone who works in agriculture – especially those who bend over and pick and pack our food for distribution. I’ve done a lot of other things in my life that were difficult, some equally so, but none more difficult than picking tomatoes or cutting sugar cane. I have nothing but respect for someone who makes their living doing such work. It’s why I have long supported the United Farm Workers and all who struggle to be treated with dignity and respect.


A Bit of My History in Hair

For the third time in my life I’ve let my hair grow. It was always something I wanted to do, but back in the 60s it was very much frowned upon. In my very late teens I was the lead singer in a rock and roll band called “The Night Owls”, but I also had to still answer to my family, so I purchased a wig and wore it when I performed. I wasn’t terribly happy with it, but there wasn’t much I felt I could do at the time. I was rebellious, but not that much . . . not back then.

I don’t remember exactly when I stopped performing with them, but it was probably around the time my father stumbled onto an opportunity and, since I seemed to be heading in a direction no self-respecting, good Jewish boy was supposed to go, he took advantage of a chance to purchase a small snack shop in downtown L.A. He had spoken to me and expressed his wish that I take on the responsibility of running it. I was midway to my twentieth birthday when we took it over; the last week of 1966.

Somewhere in this house – quite possibly in a box hidden deep in the garage – is a picture of me in my teenage splendor, wearing the wig underneath a short-brimmed, felt hat, hanging from a walk/don’t walk sign that controlled pedestrian traffic to and from Deb’s Snack Shop and the May Company across the street.

Shortly after that picture was taken (with film, and it was developed on paper!) I told the old man I didn’t want to continue with the business. I knew I was letting him down, but I had grown weary of getting up at 4:30 am and getting home at 7:30 pm, Monday through Friday. On Saturday, I was usually home by 4:30, but it was still a long day. I remember going out on a date after I had been working at the business for a few months. It was a Saturday night and I fell asleep at dinner. Part of me was worried I was watching my life slip ignominiously away. I feared one day I would awake to find myself with a nice house, a car, who knows what else, and nobody to share it with and no time to enjoy it. Remember, this was at the height of the Summer of Love. 1967. The Haight was calling me to a field study.

Also, I was really sick of getting blasted by my father every day. My old man was one of those who was very good at pointing out one’s shortcomings, but highly averse to handing out praise or acknowledgement. When he was finished with his deliveries nearby at the Grand Central Market, where he sold distressed lunch meat and cheeses to a half dozen or so of the numerous stalls to be found there still, he would stop by to see what I had fucked up how I was doing.

Invariably, my youth, inexperience, naivete, cluelessness, or stupidity had grabbed me by one of my still wet behind ears and slammed me against a well-known business tenet or a shop-worn rule-of-thumb. Although I couldn’t win for losing, back then the cliches did not come so easily to me. So each and every day, with the exception of Saturday, he would be in my face.

But I digress, which (in case you haven’t noticed) I’m pretty darn good at.

So he sold the business. He lost $5K and was pretty pissed at me. It wasn’t until years later I decided to use a time value of money calculation to see what the present day value of his loss would be. I won’t say it was staggering, but it was a chunk of change I wouldn’t particularly want to part with. As of this writing, it’s value would be $36K. That knowledge would be somewhat disconcerting had my father and I not reconciled our issues a couple of years before his untimely death. It still bothers me to know I was such a jerk but, thankfully, guilt is not a component.

Oops! I’m digressing still.

Hair. I really want to talk about hair. Not because it’s all that important to me, but because I can . . . and I had one of those flashbacks today, when I thought about something I hadn’t thought of in many years.

Rick's Hebro

I Called This My Hebro. It Does Look a Bit Like a Brillo Pad, I Suppose.

As I said, I’ve grown my hair long three times in my life. One of the reasons I’ve done it this time is that my hair is no longer as curly as it used to be. When I was a young man, and up into my late sixties – I think – I had really thick, really curly dark brown hair. It was somewhere between kinky and wavy. I still have a lot, but it’s not quite as thick, and most of it is gray. And the gray ones, which first started coming in with these weird, almost right angle bends in them, now are pretty straight.

Now to that flashback. Long ago, in Junior High School, I had a “friend” who gave me two very distinct nicknames. I’ll leave it to you to suss their significance. He called me “Brillo” and “KinkyJew”.

I hadn’t thought of these nicknames for many years until yesterday. The memory was interesting and caused me to think of how my hair has changed over the years. Since the last time I grew it out, I had pretty much decided not to grow it again; it was a giant pain in the ass to take care of. However, with it being so much straighter, it’s much easier to handle. It’s still not really straight straight, but you can see the difference pretty clearly in the two photos I’m including here.

I also find it interesting to recall I never took much offense to those nicknames. I suppose they were better than “kike” and “hebe” and I’d had to put up with a lot of that shit in my

An Old Fart

Livin’ large, I’m enjoying the home stretch.

youth. In fact, the younger brother of the “friend” (he was a close neighbor) had once called me a kike and he and I had had a couple of fights over the years. Nevertheless, I considered these names mostly sorry distractions from what was really important; having fun and cutting school, which my “friend” and I did quite frequently.

I’m somewhat thankful I still have a lot of hair. Mine’s getting a bit thin in front on top, but I don’t see it going away anytime soon. If it does, I’m quite willing to shave my head. I’ve always wanted to discover if I have a curly scalp. It kind of feels like it, but it’s hard to be certain with all the hair what, exactly, is causing me to feel like my skull would look like a University of Michigan Wolverine’s football helmet.

It would be fitting. When I competed in swimming, I shaved my head, my arms, and my legs. That was about 53 years ago. I can’t quite recall what my head looked like. I was only interested in competing as best I could. Time is now threatening to leave me hairless, but I’m hanging in there. Either way, as long as I’ve got another decade or so I’ll be a happy camper. I want to see my daughters to adulthood; get to know them a bit before I check out forever.


Thirty Years Gone – My Old Man

Eddie Ladd with his bestie, Fred DiBiase

Eddie Ladd with his bestie, Fred DiBiase

Thirty years ago today my father suffered his fourth, and final, heart attack. It happened while he was undergoing the insertion of a Swan-Ganz catheter to monitor the functioning of his heart subsequent to his third heart attack. He did not survive the procedure. While I don’t have a truly eidetic memory, I am cursed with a reasonably healthy ability to picture things in my head. My memory of that night haunts me to this day.

The last time I saw him, he was being wheeled out of his hospital room toward the catheterization laboratory at the Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Panorama City, CA. The man who had brought me into the world, who had carried me in his arms into my bed when I’d fallen asleep in the car,  who protected me, and who had — despite his disappointment and distress over many a choice I made in my crazy-ass life — stood beside me and sacrificed much for me, was scared. I didn’t like seeing it then and I don’t like remembering him that way now.

My old man was old school. Born in 1924, he would have been ninety on November 7th of this year.  He was the fourth child in his family; the first born in the United States after his mother and three older siblings were finally able to flee from the Ukraine and join my zeyda (grandfather in Yiddish), who had emigrated eight years earlier and finally saved enough money to bring them to Chicago. His name at birth was Isadore Edward Wladovsky and he was raised on the South side of Chicago, where he attended Washington High School.

He did not graduate, choosing instead to join the U.S. Navy when he was in his senior year. He had turned seventeen on November 7, 1941, one month before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He completed boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. I don’t know a lot about his service, other than he was on at least one Murmansk run; a very dangerous voyage through the North Atlantic bringing supplies to the Russians via the port of Murmansk. He also wrote and drew cartoons for the ship’s news bulletin. I used to have faded, crumbling copies of some of them, but they have either disappeared or are in a box somewhere in my garage. The highest rank he achieved was Radioman 3rd Class. I remember a short vacation in San Diego when I was in my early teens and we went down to the docks to view one of the ships where they were providing tours. We were standing alongside the ship and he was able to use his knowledge of Morse Code to read what one of the Naval vessels was signaling to another.

Arctic Circle Crossing Certificate

This certificate was given to each man aboard the William H. Webb upon crossing the Arctic Circle

Every father has a chance to be a superhero for a while and mine was no exception. When he carried me in his arms as a toddler, I was invincible, and when he tucked me into bed I was safe and secure. He was the strongest man alive as far as I was concerned and he could do just about anything. Once he even convinced me, after demonstrating the fine art of blowing smoke rings (he was a Pall Mall man at the time), that he could create a smoke piano. To this day I swear I saw all 88 keys on that grand piano!

Unfortunately, time burnishes off the luster of perfection and, more likely than not, children realize their parents are — much to their horror and consternation — merely human beings; flawed, imperfect, and capable of making mistakes.

Such was my experience. I’m not sure when it happened, and I’m reasonably certain it had as much to do with my rebelliousness as anything else, but the day inevitably came when I suddenly realized how “stupid” he had grown. After that, we didn’t get along all that well for a long time. Part of the problem, no doubt, was my father’s very conservative upbringing and his propensity to criticize and seldom praise. I was expected to excel and when I didn’t, there was hell to pay.

He had a quick temper and, in today’s world, I’m reasonably certain he would be, at best, a candidate for anger management. He was quick to strike and, when he did, it was frequently with the back of his hand. If I fell to the ground to avoid the blows he wouldn’t actually kick me, but he’d push me around on the floor in frustration. To be fair, it didn’t happen often and I never suffered more than bright red hand marks on my back or – sometimes – my face. My mother often came to my rescue, screaming at him to leave me alone. He once took a swing at by brother, who ducked, and ended up hitting the youngest son of a neighbor of ours. That didn’t go over too well and I think he was so mortified he decided it was time to stop with the corporal punishment.

I also think he was haunted by the many fitful nights he spent aboard ship in the North Atlantic, knowing they were being shadowed by a German Wolf Pack and could be torpedoed and sunk at any time, a fact made evident by the ships around his that suffered such a fate. Survival in those waters was very unlikely and I can’t imagine it was easy to get any real deep sleep. On those occasions my mother would ask me to wake him, I learned very quickly not to be within striking distance, as he came out of his sleep as though General Quarters was sounding.

Despite our troubled, angry, and frustrating relationship we loved each other and, thankfully, in the two or three years prior to his death we were enjoying a growing closeness — even a budding friendship. We had worked together in the business he started, which transformed from Ladd Meats to Edward Ladd & Sons, my brother having joined it years earlier.

He took up golf late in life and became a scratch golfer. He wanted me to golf as well, but the grief he gave me over being left-handed (I tried to learn right-handed, but just couldn’t get comfortable with it) and the proximity of the ocean, where I had learned to surf, doomed that venture to failure. I didn’t come back to golf until I was 46, nearly a decade after his death. I have few regrets in my life, but one of them is never having played a round of golf with the old man. I drove him around in a golf cart many times, but never played back then. Shortly after I started playing, I went to Porter Valley Country Club, where he had been President of the Men’s Club one year, and had played there a couple times a week for many years. They still had his picture on the wall and gave me a cart to drive around the course, which I did, trying to imagine him playing each hole.

We buried him in his favorite golf clothes, clutching his favorite putter, which we believe he would have liked. I’ve been told the groundskeeper at Porter Valley lowered the flag at the Club to half staff when he learned my father  had died. I think it choked me up more than any reaction I heard about.

Eddie Ladd

The Old Man at About 50

After he died, I can’t recall how many times something good would happen to me and I wanted to let him know, sure he would be proud or excited for me. Anyone who has smoked and quit knows the feeling of absentmindedly reaching in one’s pocket for a pack of cigarettes, only to discover there’s nothing there; then remembering you’d stopped smoking. That’s how it felt – only worse – when I wanted to share something with my dad, and the realization he was gone would hit me. The hole in my heart dropped down to my stomach and it took a few minutes to shake off the hollow feeling it brought.

About two or three years after his death, I dreamed I ran into him on a cliff overlooking a beach. I don’t know where the beach was, but in the dream we spent the entire day together, exploring caves, sharing a meal, and talking. We talked about my life and he assured me he was fine and happy to see I was doing well. I don’t believe in an afterlife, so I don’t believe I was really talking to my father. However, I do believe I was putting a few “ghosts” to rest by dealing with some of the unfinished business from my perspective; some of the things we never got to do together. It was the best dream I’ve ever had and I remember it to this day. Not in great detail, but definitely in terms of how it made me feel.

He left little of material value, save a moderate life insurance payment that went to sustain the family business, which provided for our mother and our sister who was, I believe, just entering her last year of High School or who had just graduated and was still living at home. I got a piece of jewelry and some clothing, some of which I kept for many years afterward. I still have the pendant, which was custom made for him by an old friend of mine. One of the non-material things he left me was an ability to recognize absurdity and the willingness to comment on or satirize it. He also had lots of silly sayings the family still refers to as “Eddieisms”.

He was a hard worker who was able to move from behind the counter of a small deli in the Grand Central Market, to owning a small truck with which he would purchase and transport distressed merchandise to some of the poorer markets and butcher shops in and around L.A. He was a peddler, once the “broken hot dog king” of the City. He had a wonderful singing voice and many times, during the shows our temple, Valley Beth Israel, would put on for the congregation, people swore he was lip-syncing to Sinatra. He wasn’t. Most everybody he knew loved him and, true to the stormy nature of our relationship, I many times referred to hm as a “lovable asshole”.

To say I miss him would be both an exaggeration and an understatement. I don’t think about him every day. It serves no good purpose and I have a life, a wife, and two young children who still depend on me being with them every day in many ways. Nevertheless, he will always be a part of my life and there are numerous times when I think of him. I would give anything to be able to tell him how much I love him and how much he remains a big part of my life and who I’ve become.


Channeling the Grand Central Market in Los Angeles

The Grand Central Market

Stalls at the Grand Central Market in L.A.

Perhaps this may seem strange, especially to those who’ve not experienced it, but I just love being out in places where there’s a lot of foot traffic and commerce is humming along. Although I fairly recently left a large corporation, where I worked in a windowless environment for a mostly faceless organization, I spent my formative years in very small businesses. My father was – after he took the money I got for my Bar Mitzvah to  purchase a truck – a food peddler, selling mostly meat and cheese to places like the Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles.

I used to love going to that market and walking through it to get to a hand truck or a small four-wheeled cart I could bring back to our truck to schlep boxes of product to some of the stalls we sold to or, better yet, to one of the walk-ins where the vendors kept their produce, etc. they would then put in their cases to sell to the public. There was one place that sold a lot of chiles and spices. I think the dominant smell in that cooler was Cumin, or Cominos. I loved going into their walk-in and would usually loiter there after I had unloaded the cart with the boxes of product they had purchased from us. I was also introduced to things like lamb French Dip sandwiches and Orange Julius at the Grand Central. I can still hear my father pushing a cart loaded with meat and cheese, yelling “Wash (sic) your feet!” to warn shoppers of our presence.

Angel's Flight Funicular

The Angel's Flight Funicular

Across the street was one of the iconic places in the City of the Angels, a funicular called Angel’s Flight. It was an amazing ride to nowhere for me. Up the hill (Bunker Hill) and back down. No place to go, but I was in heaven on that little trolley.

I’ve been back a few times since my father’s death just over twenty-five years ago and it never fails to give me the chills and warm my heart at the same time. Now when I go out to talk with prospects for my business, I find I’m getting the same old feeling. There’s a connection I can’t fully explain, though I’m trying to here. I hope it never goes away. It’s part of what makes everything I do worthwhile.

Angel’s Flight Pic Courtesy of NIEHS


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