A newspaper columnist drives through
Navy Day Edition, Oct. 25, 1970
Americans speak with many tongues
By JACK SMITH, Los Angeles Times
It occurred to me while driving down to San Diego the other morning that I wasn’t in a hurry.
At San Clemente I turned off the freeway and took the old coast highway, down along the ocean. It has fallen into a benign neglect.
South of San Clemente it ends abruptly with a roadblock. A new road leads inland, past a Marine Corps sentry post. It is the gate to Camp Pendleton.
Why not?” I asked myself. I pulled up to the sentry house. A young Marine came out in starched khakis and white gloves.
“I guess I can’t go through,” I said.
“Yes, sir, you can,” he said. He signed me in and gave me a small yellow map, showing me where I could go. I was not to venture off the marked road.
I drove on. At once the litter of southern California living vanished, the gas stations and cafes and motels and the seas of new houses, flooding every valley and plateau. I was in dry brown hills, colored by the stain of wild mustard.
The road ran through a regimental town with its mess hall and guard house and asphalt parade ground, on which rows of dusty-faced men in green fatigues were falling in with rifles at shoulder arms.
A man in fatigues was standing in a white shack by the road under a “Share The Ride” sign. I stopped. He was very young and raw faced and polite. He was just going down the road a piece.
He was from the Midwest. They always tell you where they’re from, how good it is. He didn’t like California. “Too dry,” he said, looking out at the dry hills.
He didn’t like Los Angeles either. “Too big. All those towns running into each other. There ought to be some country between towns.”
I asked about Cambodia.
“We had to go in there,” he said. “Cambodia’s the rice bowl of Asia. We can’t let that fall to the Communists.”
I wondered where he got his ideas.
“I talked things over with my father, back home,” he said. “Lots of times. We agree.”
“May I smoke, sir?” he asked. He lit a cigarette. “Besides,” he said, I’ve had three buddies come back dead from over there.”
“Buddies from the Marines?”
“No. Buddies from back home.”
I wondered what he thought about the students rioting.
“They ought to take machine guns and shoot ’em down.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“Yes, sir, I do. They’re just wasting the taxpayers’ money. Burning their own books. I’d like to go to college, but it takes money.”
I asked him what he wanted to do when he got out.
“I’m going to get me 15 or 20 acres back home. The big co-ops are buying up the little farms, but there’s thousands of acres left. I want a place with some trees and a stream running through and I’m going to build me a house.”
He told me where to let him out and thanked me for the ride. The road comes back out at Oceanside, from which it is 20 minutes over the freeway to another kind of government reserve, University of California at San Diego, where other young Americans speak a different tongue.