“It’s more like 30 miles as opposed to this bullsh*t song!” ~ Someone’s outspoken daughter
With summer right around the corner, escorted by seasonal heat and beach crowds (because those darn kids are out of school), weekend getaways and vacations also about to kick in. Which generates new experiences for the young and old alike, as a byproduct. Those of us cursed with the “nostalgia gene”, as she-who-must-be-obeyed has termed it, get to reflect upon whatever past soltice memories still rattling around in the old noggin. And for me, it has a soundtrack.
The above quote came to mind since it was issued last year when my youngest reflected back to the end of her summer — more on that later. That it regarded a particularly vintage hit single, one tied to our characteristic coast life — care of a transplanted Chicagoan — initialized another post in this long (almost) forgotten song series. Every year around this time, 26 Miles1 seems to rear up to remind me of other summers now wistfully fading into the rearview mirror.
Being born in the ’50s carried a bit of burden, and perks, as a baby-boomer2. Heck, author Jonathan Pontell labeled late boomers like myself, “Generation Jones”, for those brought forth from 1954 to 1964. Generally, a group given big expectations while growing up during the ’60s, only to whacked with a different reality compared to those the previous decade. Left to deal with the aftermath and dissolution of Viet Nam and the economic downturn of the ’70s and ’80s.
At least while living through it we’d have some of the best, most revolutionary, music to listen to.
A lot of the above lends itself to what generated the songs in this era, becoming part and parcel for those of us living in the southland. This one in particular, as Geoff Boucher noted in his 2007 L.A. Times piece:
“ONE of the sunniest songs about Southern California began in frosty Chicago where a 10-year-old Cubs fan named Bruce Belland watched the movie reels about his team’s spring practices on distant Santa Catalina Island. “I would sit there in the dark and stare at the players and those palm trees waving in the background and wonder ‘How can it be that warm anywhere in the world when it is so cold here in Chicago?'””
As it happened, when 26 Miles (Santa Catalina) was released in 1957, would only have been a toddler and my parent’s AM radio the vector infecting my consciousness. The breezy chords that open the ditty, ones the newly transplanted 15-year-old Bruce Belland learned while recouping from a broken ankle on a ukulele, of all things, the agent infusing many a beachgoer in the years to come. Scores staring out at the Pacific as they did, catching a glimpse of the rocky island just off shore.
One of the Channel Islands neighboring southern California, Santa Catalina has had an interesting history. Originally settled by the indigenous Pimugnans or Pimuvit tribes, the island later claimed by the Spanish Empire, then transferred to Mexico, and finally to the United States. Sporadically used for smuggling, hunting, and gold-digging, before developed as a tourist destination by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr. beginning in the 1920s. Typical for these parts.
Has remained a tourist destination, as well as its own distinct community, ever since3. In spite of being administered by the Catalina Island Conservancy, it is ironically part of the behemoth it wishes to distance itself from — which is just 22 miles (35 km)4 to its east — the County of Los Angeles. Meaning, those of us who do jury duty, can be shipped (literally) to their Avalon courthouse for a case, and there’s nothing you could do about it except ask for some Dramamine5.
Still, its semi-official song influential6, even though lacking “maritime precision”, and captured Santa Catalina’s joyfully laid back island feel.
Many a summer, I’d indoctrinate my whippersnappers to 26 Miles while in the car care of ‘ye ol’ iPod, to my wife’s chagrin. Regretfully, wouldn’t actually cross our closest channel till well into their parenting. Attending a nephew’s wedding one weekend almost ten years ago on a tiny strip of sand along Avalon Harbor. First time for the kids and I, yet their mother used to come regularly for work when she was at USC, so we had a guide. Then, my daughter blew all that out of the water.
During her time in high school, our “fierce one” would take up outrigger canoe racing. A type of keel-less boat many a Austronesian-speaking people used for sea travel between Pacific islands. From May to September, she’d participate in races along the coastline she’d grown up along side. Culminating after each Labor Day at this island for the annual Catalina Crossing. Perhaps now, you’d understand the sentiment she expressed after completing another passage.
Since she’s graduating high school this weekend, heading to college and away from here (and her parents) for what we hope is relatively brief in the time remaining, am left to wonder, if this shared SoCal number didn’t just whack me, anew.
Twenty-six miles across the sea Santa Catalina is a-waitin' for me Santa Catalina, the island of romance Romance, romance, romance Water all around it everywhere Tropical trees and the salty air But for me the thing that's a-waitin' there, romance It seems so distant, twenty-six miles away Restin' in the water serene I'd work for anyone, even the Navy Who would float me to my island dream Twenty-six miles, so near yet far I'd swim with just some water-wings and my guitar I could leave the wings But I'll need the guitar for romance Romance, romance, romance Twenty-six miles across the sea Santa Catalina is a-waitin' for me Santa Catalina, the island of romance A tropical heaven out in the ocean Covered with trees and girls If I have to swim, I'll do it forever 'Til I'm gazin' on those island pearls Forty kilometers in a leaky old boat Any old thing that'll stay afloat When we arrive we'll all promote romance Romance, romance, romance Twenty-six miles across the sea Santa Catalina is a-waitin' for me Santa Catalina The island of romance Romance, romance, romance Twenty-six miles across the sea Santa Catalina is a-waitin' for me
- “It reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and number six on the Billboard R&B chart in 1958. The song sold over a million copies and the group appeared on several television shows, including The Gisele MacKenzie Show (March 15, 1958) and The Ed Sullivan Show.” ~ Wikipedia ↩
- Baby boomer a term referring to a person who was born between 1946 and 1964. The baby boomer generation makes up a substantial portion of the North American population, representing nearly 20% of the American public. ↩
- And like the fictional characters of JAWS‘ Amity Island, if you weren’t born there, like actor Gregory Harrison, you’re not an islander, no matter how much you’ve stayed there. Unsurprisingly, Santa Catalina steeped in Hollywood lore. ↩
- That distance also depends upon which port you launch from as you can get there from those in Los Angeles and Orange Counties (San Pedro, Long Beach, Newport Beach, and Dana Point). ↩
- The ferries cross the channel fairly quickly (an hour), but sometimes the swell makes the ride challenging for those susceptible to motion sickness; for twice the rate, you can take a helicopter and be there in 15 minutes. ↩
- Those inspired by the song included Brian Wilson and Jimmy Buffett. ↩