Where’s Watts?

   The summer of 1965 was very hot, then California was still known as sunny Califorinia. The summer was winding up and by August I was ready and excited to go back to school.. It would be my senior year and you know seniors rule. It was mid August and I was still living in Garden Grove.  About the second week of August it hit the news that there was a race riot in Watts, near Los Angeles. I think there was only one channel that was reporting the riot and  I believe it was KTLA out of Los Angeles. This was way before cell phones with cameras, long before the internet, You-tube Twitter, Facebook and we had only the small amount of information that the one channel provided. Curious girl just had to know more. I was told that it was so bad that the National Guard was called and that martial law was declared. That was just unbelievable to my ears. Are you kidding me? in America , martial law, rioting, soldiers. I had to know more.

   My good friend Carmen was up to the challenge. We decided we would go on Saturday night, the riot started on a Wednesday or Thursday, so we figured it would be all calm by the weekend. We just had to get a better understanding. I did not know any black people and could not understand what would cause anyone to riot. So we would investigate ourselves. The plan was simple we would put on our cocktail dresses, that was standard fare for the clubs in those days and just drive to Watts. If anyone was to stop us, we would just say we were lost . We had no fear, no sense of danger, I don’t know if we were naive or just plain crazy. Either way on Saturday evening, we got dressed, filled up the turquoise Mustang, I believe it cost us a whole $5.00 to FILL IT UP,can you imagine, we pay that for a gallon now, but then gas was 25 cents a gallon, cigarettes if you smoked were 25 cents a pack, so you could have a royal weekend on $10.00!!!!! We went to the clubs a lot, we loved to dance and had an in with the doorman at Whisky a Go Go, that was our main spot. We were not old enough to drink, but with the right clothes, make up and our fake Id, we had no problem .

   We really did not know where Watts actually was and we did not have GPS, or map quest, we actually had to get a map and figure out what freeway off ramp was the closest.  We left around 8:00 PM and we got there in no time at all. I can not remember the actual exit we used, but we got off and turned down on the first street available. Suddenly I did not feel sooo good, it got dark real quick. All the street lights were off and it was too quiet. The streets at first looked empty and not a person anywhere and then I saw it..a big gray tank, yes a tank sitting at the end of the street. By the time I realized it was a tank, I saw two armed cars, one on each side of the street. They were dark, gray looking and the windows facing the street were lowered and I saw men with helmets and machine guns pointing at us. Carmen saw them , just about when I did and she slowed the car. “I’m turning around and getting us outta here.” she said. “Good” I thought, I was like ready to wet my pants.   I was a bit afraid now, thinking, “Is this really America?.. are those really machine guns? is that really an army tank in the middle of Los Angeles? are we going to die? and in our cocktail dresses?.Before I could even completely finish these thoughts, there was a huge bright light shining in our face and a soldier with a machine gun and a bull horn in front of us shouting “FREEZE, FREEZE, STOP YOUR VEHICLE NOW!!!!!

  Quickly Carmen looked at me, ‘”Remember, we are on our way to Hollywood, we just got lost”. She lowered her window as the soldier approached, we could see that he was carrying a machine and was very angry. “What the hell are you doing here? You are in extreme danger!!” We played it like Oscar contenders. “Oh , officer, what is going on , we are scared, are we near Hollywood?” as corny as that sounds, when you are young , attractive and in killer cocktail dresses, you can get away with almost anything. And of course the soldier’s whole demeanor changed. He told us to turn around and he would have a car lead us out of the area and to the freeway entrance. He was extremely helpful, but then he was white , the soldiers were white and so were we.

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