Article from the 1/11/2018 Avalon Bay News

From March 10, 2014-March 16, 2017, when I was "Catalina's Official Greeter", through the Catalina Chamber of Commerce, I answered 64,590 questions from the cruise ships' and cross channel boats' passengers.  That amounts to "greeting" approximately 650,000 cross channel passengers!  Here are some of the inquiries I had to address (additional ones,
"I can't understand why they would put up a red storm flag in May and expect visitors to come over!"
"Wasn't it nice of Mr. Wrigley to put those bath tubs out in the fields for the cowboys to cool off!"  These tubs were placed around the Interior of the Island by the Conservancy to provide water for the bison during our latest drought.
"Wasn't it a coincidence that they were able to build the road to the Summit following the trees that were already planted there?"  Really, the other way around. The road was put built in 1896 and the trees went in 1920.
Concerning preparing the flying fish as bait when fishing for broadbill swordfish and other large fish:  "How can anyone use a fish for bait if it's flying and why would anyone want one that was sewn up?  Is it sewn up so it can't fly?"
"Do people who live here eat in restaurants?"
In a recent column, I stated that I was humbly proud to work with remarkable locals to serve Christmas meals at the Avalon Community Church.  At the time, I didn't know how many, but now do:  414!!!  That means that more than 1 out of 10 Avalon residents were served and shown love by our local Church.  GOOD GOING GANG, especially Pastor Scott!
I erroneously stated in one of my first columns that there were still members of the Tongva Indian tribe, which Catalina is one, but there were no descendants of our local tribe, the Pemungas (Catalina was called "Pemu" originally).  Dr. Wendy Teeter, with the Archeology Department at UCLA, and I am happy to say a GREAT FRIEND, assured me that we still had Pemu descendants.  I would LOVE to interview some of them for my column, if they are interested (
O.  K.,  I'M BAD!
Our present dump above Pebbly Beach was built in 1907 (the road to Pebbly was built in 1906 from Avalon).  Because of our great air quality, we were allowed to burn our garbage/trash there from 1907 until approximately 2002.  Coming over on the boats during that period, visitors would often notice the smoke plumes coming from that area and ask us kids what it was.  I, among many others, with an innocent look, explain "That's Catalina's only active volcano!"  "What's it's name?" they would mistakenly ask.  With such a sweet look we would answer, "'Mt. Garbagio'!"
"Pizza Man", back in the 50's-60's. would advertise on the radio, "If you are within the sound of our voice, we will guarantee to deliver a pizza to you within 45 minutes or it will be FREE!"  I knew the schedule for the "S. S. Catalina" and the seaplanes, so I would wait until after 5pm (in those days, that was the cheapest time to call) and I would call "Pizza Man" and tell them I wanted to have my FREE pizza delivered.  They were confused, "Did you hear the commercial on the radio?"  "Yes!"  "So you have to give us 45 minutes to deliver and if we can't THEN we will give you a FREE pizza!"  "Well, the last boat left at 4:10 and there are no other seaplanes until tomorrow morning, so unless you can swim or row especially FAST, you won't be able to get the pizza to me here on Catalina Island within 45 minutes!"  I never held them to this guarantee, but soon after I no longer heard the commercial on the radio.  AND THEY TALK ABOUT ROTTEN KIDS OF TODAY! 
In pt. 1, I gave a historical perspective to the art of coin diving and in pt. 2, I told how I got involved and ended with me becoming one of the "big kids" and almost breaking my neck! (
At first I started near the bow (front) of the "S. S. Catalina" and then, as I felt more secure, I ventured out toward the stern (back).  The water was much shallower closer to the shore and quickly got deeper as we went out to sea.  "Free diving" (without mask or fins) 40' or more was common (this is one of the reasons you wanted to catch the coin in the air so you didn't have to dive to the ocean floor!). Also, as you dove deeper, THE WATER GOT COLDER!
As a rule of thumb, the deeper the water, the bigger the money thrown.  If you were especially cute, as I was (that was before the train wreck! lol!), passengers would motion to you to get away from the other divers so the money would "hopefully' be thrown to you ONLY.  Of course, all of the divers knew about this little discrimination act and so would keep their eyes on us poor defenseless cutely endowed kids and knew where the coins were going to land!
It wasn't unusual, at the stern of the ship, for passengers to use silver dollars, which they still carried in their pockets in those days, simply as weights to wrap paper denominations around to make it over the side of the ship to the ocean. Sometimes a $5 bill!
The "big money' was generally thrown near the single propeller, which had to be kept rotating, even when the ship was docked, so as to keep the ship stable.  The chance of being "sucked" into the propeller shaft was a real possibility and it has been reported that some divers actually lost their lives this way.  This would generally stop ALL coin diving for a couple of years.  Hopefully we would all have time to rethink our actions before we were allowed to go back to our trade.
There was another concern, which I luckily never saw come to fruition.  When you dove down deep and possibly had to hold your breath for a minute or longer, you would get pretty disoriented by the time you made your way to the surface.  You wanted the coins to be thrown far from the side of the  ship as you never wanted to find yourself coming up UNDER THE HULL/BOTTOM!  Generally, if you looked for the sunlight on the water, you were pretty well assured of never facing this nightmare!
Once retrieved, there were only three places you could keep you money:  1) In your mask.  If you were lucky and got a lot of money, you couldn't see past the coins lining your mask.  Also, it would tend to "fog up" and you would have to keep taking it off and rubbing it with spit or kelp "sap".  This is where I generally kept my money.  Other swimmers would often simply pull your mask off to get access to your money.  2) In your swim trunks.  They generally came with very small pockets and it took too long to cram your loot into them.   Many a diver was "pantsed" by other divers and when this happened to me I had to wait for a "friend" to go to shore to get a blanket so that I could get out of the water without getting arrested!  3) In your mouth.  this was the preferred way of storing your booty, but money tasted bad and mothers often worried about "germs". After a particularly "fruitful" and deep dive, when you held your breath for as long as you could to make the surface, some opponent would put their feet on your shoulders, forcing you back down, which would cause you naturally to spit out all of this money as you were gasping for air!  There was then a major feeding frenzy for all of these coins.  It was an underwater jungle out there.  There was, unfortunately, at least one case where a diver got a quarter stuck in his windpipe and died! 
If you made it through the day (the "Great White Steamer" would arrive at noon and leave at 4:10pm, except on weekends and holidays when it would make an additional later round trip), you were usually in the water around an hour on arriving and departing.  You could easily amass $15 or more a day, which in those days, considering that most of our parents were making less than $1 an hour, was enough for some of the "mainland college kids" to raise enough money to buy three meals a day, stay in one of the "Island Villas" (where the "Tour Plaza" and "Miniature Golf" are now) for the weekend and have enough money left to take their "summer romance" out to dinner and a dance at the Casino Ballroom!
The passenger, after throwing the money, usually waited until we came to the surface and then we would always hold the coin, between our thumb and our first finger, lift it up as far as we could and yell, with a BIG SMILE, "THAAAAAAAK YOOOOU"!  Sometimes I didn't get the coin, but out of guilt I would "pretend" to have a coin and would give the thrower the illusion that I was able to retrieved it.  We did a LOT of  performing/acting as well as some pretty remarkable aquatic gymnastics, if I would say so myself; AND I DO!!!!
A "Twilight Zone" (ask your parents/grandparents if you aren't familiar with this iconic television series) type episode occurred in 2011 when I was with a friend, Mitch Hammond, whom I had first met in 1960, when I was 13 and he was 12 (by the way, he will be returning again this month for about a week as he does every year.  If you see me with some guy who you don't recognize, it is probably Mitch, so yell out his name and see what his response is!).  Between my "water diving", I would often sit near the athletic bars; low and high chin up bars and high and low parallel bars (area across from the "Island Threadz" and "Steamer Trunk", near the corner of Clarissa/Pebbly Beach Road) and watch the "athletic types" show off their prowess on the high chin up bar.  When they would do a certain maneuver, a "Cherry Drop", where they would be upside down, their money and anything else in their pockets would inevitably land in the sand below and immediately disappear.  I would generally wait a minute or two, after the guy would leave, and go "sand diving" for whatever I could find.  Mitch was one of those performers.  After he had left, I proceeded to "dive" into the sand for his loot (turned out to be 36 cents).  Unfortunately, at the same time I had my had in the sand, so did Mitch, as he realized he had lost some money and returned.  We more or less "shook" hands in the sand.  We have been BEST FRIENDS ever since!
We were enjoying our last meal at one of our favorite restaurants, "Armstrong's Seafood Restaurant", (location of the present "Blue Water Avalon", 306 Crescent), out on the balcony, over the water, where the "Steamer Pier" used to be.  We were enjoying our usual wonderful swordfish dinner when all of a sudden we heard "THROW A COIN!"  Mitch and I looked at each other in TOTAL AMAZEMENT.  We hadn't heard those words since the 1960's!  We looked down in the water and saw three young boys, with masks and snorkels (we NEVER used snorkels in the "good ol' days") and they were actually wanting to "dive for coins"!  Mitch and I couldn't believe our eyes/ears.  They weren't trying to get the attention of any of the other tables along the railing...they were concentrating solely on us!  I quickly pulled out all of my silver coins (O. K., no more silver in coins!), dimes, quarters, etc. and started throwing them in!  I urged the other restaurant patrons to do likewise.  I decided to instruct these "wannabe divers" how to yell, "THROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOW A COOOOOOOOOOOOIN" not simply "Throw A Coin"!  We asked our server how often these boys had been doing this.  She had been with the restaurant for years, but this was the first time that she had EVER seen this happen!  I then turned around  with the idea of asking these young divers how they knew that "this" was the spot where we used to dive for coins and how come they were ONLY diving for Mitch and myself!?!  THEY WERE GONE!
Mitch and I sat silently in a daze.  After a few moments, I sorted through my many thoughts and suggested to Mitch that if I had accidentally fallen over the balcony railing, into the ocean, throwing coins to these young divers, when I rose to the surface, I would be10 years old again!  As Mitch would carry baggage from the Steamer to the hotels for the passengers, he wondered if, when we left the restaurant, we would be greeted by a 9 year-old Mitch!  They don't call this the "Magical Isle" for nothing!  (to contact me directly, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).