Wednesday, April 3, 2013

"Bobby's Flying El Camino", by Sam Bertolet and Harry Varnas

Just in from Harry Varnas by way of Sam Bertolet:

From: "Varnas, Harry"
Date: 04/03/2013 2:45 PM (GMT-08:00)
Subject: Bobby Chavez Story

Hi Will,

Sam was telling me a story about Bobby and Santa Monica pier.  Please include it with Bobby's other info.  Sam says ok to publish it.

Harry Varnas

Bobby ‘s Flying El Camino

By Harry Varnas

Sam Bertolet recalls his early days working with Bobby Chavez as a Santa Monica City guard.  Bobby worked as a lifeguard boat operator and deckhand. He was a tinkerer and thinker and could fix many things on the boats.   He also taught the senior lifesaving at Santa Monica College pool which helped us new guards get our training certificates.  He helped coach swimming with the legendary Coach J.J. 

Bobby was a no nonsense fellow.  When he found out I wanted to be a beach lifeguard, he made sure during training that I could not break his holds when we did our drills in the deep diving pool.  He would jump in, sink to the bottom and I’d struggle to get him off my back.   He never let me win the first time.  He was fair but believed you had to earn it.

In the sixties, the old Santa Monica pier was in full operation.  The activity on the pier made it a wild place.  People could drive their cars to the end of the pier.  There was Pete Peterson’s boat launch hoist where he would place your boat in the water.  You could then park your car and walk down a ramp to your boat.  Next to Pete Peterson's, were two big party boats and Pelton's Boat Rentals.  

Lifeguards operated from two rescue boats consisting of the L1 which was the twin engine boat and the L2 which was the single engine.  We would have two deckhands assisting the boat skippers during the summer months. Rescue calls involved rental boats getting swept through the rocks along with strong rip current rescues at the T14 point.  The water’s edge started near the bike path by the old Boat house which is now Bubba Gump's. 

After work some of the guards and patrolmen would hang out at the local watering holes.  If a guard was needed for an after-hours response, it would not be hard to contact one at places like Mobys, Simbad's or Chez Jay's. After getting someone out of Sinbad's once or twice, however, you never did it again.

Hence, we could call Bobby as he lived close by.  His car was a blue Chevy Camino and I would wait and watch the top of the pier.  It was fun to watch him arrive.  His car looked like it was flying off Colorado Boulevard then down the incline and up the pier.  But that, of course, was because Bobby was being chased by a cop or two with the red lights and sirens.  He would screech to a halt and tell the cop that it was a lifeguard emergency which would frustrate the cops to no end.  Sometimes they would ask me if he really was a lifeguard. 

Bobby Chavez was a great swimmer and competitor. He was honest and straight forward.  He would stand his ground if he thought he was right. I remember that if I made a mistake, we didn’t go any further until he was sure I wouldn’t make that mistake again.  Of course, there are many more stories.    

 Rest in Peace Bobby


Many Thanks to Sam and Harry for sharing this great story with all of us.



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