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Mission City Voices: River of No Return

Somehow Robert Mitchum’s movie in 1954, River of No Return, with the beautiful Marlyn Monroe about their adventure down a raging river left an everlasting image in my mind. In 1960 and across the street from my home on Benton Street was Calabazas Creek. I was 11 years old and during rainy season the “Crick,” as kids sometimes called it, could look just like that raging river in the movie. As water poured into the creek from rain storms and runoff, the creek’s water level in some years could rise over the top. Most years the creek would only get half full with a fairly swift running current but sometimes the current became dangerously fast. We would sometimes make small makeshift boats from sticks found from a pear orchard and toss these miniature crafts into the waters to see how far they would go until they disappeared in the distance. From where we were, the Crick ran nearly a mile before it flowed beneath a major street,

El Camino Real, and before that the water flowed into a little tunnel that disappeared under Pomeroy Avenue. Sometimes that tunnel could be filled to the brim as the water pushed through to the other side of the tunnel. It was hard to imagine anything could survive that current. Now why would a little boy want to try the impossible and think about riding down the Crick of No Return? He’s been watching too many movies.

The current was swift that day but I had a foolish adventure in mind. With help from friends I, of course, had to try. I was planning on how to survive riding down the raging current of water on an inner tube. I knew I might need help before the dreaded tunnel that went beneath Pomeroy Avenue. Our plan was to hang a rope in front of the tunnel opening to stop me from going through the tunnel and perhaps a certain death, if somehow I couldn’t climb the cemented side of the creek. I was giving myself seconds to reach for the rope and it was going to be now or never moment. Like the hero in the movie, I needed to survive, so…

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In my cut off jeans, I sat on the inner tube and slowly slid down the side of the embankment. I stayed seated upright in the rubber tube as I sped down the current in the narrow waterway, going faster and faster. My friends tried to run beside me, above the creek while at the edge of the pear orchard. They persisted and continued to yell their support while I swiftly left them behind. I knew the tunnel was getting closer and I needed to figure out how to climb up the side to safety. I could see the tunnel closing in on me and it was now or never. Suddenly I saw a small drainage hole on the side and quickly reached out. I took a firm hold and pulled myself off the tube and up the side to safety. Luckily I didn’t need my safety rope but I saved it so my partners in crime could tie me up if I ever tried anything so foolish again. My next thought was, “So now what is an eleven-year-old going to do next when he stars in his next adventure movie.”

It has been over 60 years since that little escapade of a boy on the threshold of becoming a man. I’ve crossed that tunnel of water beneath me at Pomeroy Avenue many times since. Sometimes I’ll pull the car over and look down the long winding creek, and just smile. I can’t seem to help it, just as I can’t help watching reruns of my favorite movie.

Mission City Voices

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1 Comment
  1. david bethel 2 months ago
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    I grew up in Santa Clara, a neighbor of Larry Flora. He was my hero, and it is a thrill for me to read his reminiscences. I love reading his stories because he tells them so well. He really evokes a sense of time and place. His stories are personal and convey an emotional component – I feel as if I am right there with him, experiencing what he experienced.
    But the thing that makes Larry’s work a cut above that of others is his distinctive “voice” – the telling mark of a good author.
    Thank you, Larry, for sharing of yourself and thereby making the world a slightly better place.

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