My Back Pages …This Mornings Journey to the Center of Your Mind
…by Steve Johnson


Society’s Child…we counted the years by the summers!

Why I chose to go to the beach earlier than normal on that particular day still leaves me a bit awed; as I’m a creature of habit. My summer ritual was that I would rise around 7:00 AM…mix a protein drink…head to the gym…then to the beach; but this morning was different. It was as though I were being summoned by some type of subliminal and uncontrollable force that was commanding me, with all respect; to break the bounds as well as the bonds of my everyday wall of safety.


In no way was this force even close to what we used to see on the sci fi shows where the person awakes in some kind of a sleep walking trance; sits up in bed; then with arms outstretched; and still in their pajamas begins slowly walking toward an alien space ship that is already cranked and running; awaiting their arrival to rapidly whisk them off to an unknown part of the universe! Wait a minute! … I just said this unknown force was not like that! How wrong could I have been …as the force that was drawing me to the beach on that particular morning would soon prove stronger than the fastest space ship anywhere; not taking me long to realize its power was unbreakable and would be a force that would remain with me for the rest of the summer; excuse me…for the rest of my life. It was also; and in no way clichéd… the calm before the storm…


Why Santana came to Myrtle Beach could push the deepest limits of our minds but the notes from my journal from the summer of 1970 are as follows. The Vietnam War; or the Vietnam Skirmish as it was first called (a slap in our face) was in full bloom; as were the riots going on in Berkeley to stop it. Rioting accomplishes nothing and by its actions; our convictions are no more justified than the president that; with the single stroke of his pen; signed the bill into law; beginning Americas involvement in an unjustified; as well as useless war…a war which also demanded that our American youth be sent to that slaughter house by the thousands.


The rioting had totally gotten out of control as police cars were overturned and buildings were set ablaze…and somehow caught up in the middle of it all was Santana.


In most situations like this; no one starts out to be destructive; but peaceful demonstrating; if poked too many times has a way of progressing. The bottom line…and after it was all over is multiple charges had been addressed against Santana; as well as the rest of the co-conspirator’s of that supposedly peaceful sit-in. After further investigation; all charges against her were dropped with the exception of inciting a riot, which she was found guilty and sentenced to one year’s probation and since she was still only seventeen was remanded to the custody of her parents or any adult relative of which they approved.


Santana’s dad was stationed in California where he was an accomplished and decorated test pilot but had a sister that lived in Myrtle Beach. Thinking she should be as far away from all of this as possible; her mom and dad ”invited” her to serve out her probation with her Aunt Molly on the east coast.


This catches us up to now.

Time waits for no one and the early morning sun was quickly erasing any leftover shadows as I arrived at the beach. The small parking lot at the entrance to the public walkway only contained one vehicle. It was a jeep with two stickers adorning its back bumper; one had the peace sign…the other said “Stop the War!” It wasn’t a shiny new vehicle at all but just the opposite… an older jeep that could have easily been purchased at an auction of surplus military equipment; as it was still painted army green.


The driver’s door was missing and the passenger’s door was hinged only by two coat hangers. Further evidence of what this vehicle had possibly been through was the piece of duct tape holding the one remaining door handle on. The faded outline of a big army star was still barely evident on the hood but written over it with a quick can of spray paint was the word “Peace!” A closer look would also reveal the word “Nelly Belle” brush painted in much smaller letters on one of the fenders.


My entrance to the beach seemed to be applauded by no one…so I knew an encore would not be necessary. My only bow was to a few sea gulls; then sat down on an old wooden stairway to contemplate why I was even there. The beach was deserted with the exception of one remaining shadow that had just caught my eye. It was the shadow of a girl standing on the beach holding her surfboard.


As I sat there gazing at the surf; I noticed she was doing the same but much more calculating than me; as I was simply passing time by occasionally watching the waves roll in but her eyes never left the surf; as she was not only watching the waves roll in but also watching them roll back out. She also appeared to be timing the distance between the actual roll of each wave and how far off shore it began to break; also calculating where to stop as she paddled out to await her next ride back toward the shore. It didn’t take me but a New York minute to realize that this girl was methodical and could have easily supplied the entire trigonometry necessary to put the first person on the moon.


There’s not near enough time or room for the complete story of mine and Santana’s introduction or how we came to be; but again; simply recapping notes from that prolific summer:


Santana’s personality was different and no matter how life was quickly unfolding for us; it was evident in anything…as well as everything … that she was completely in charge…verbally commanding; never asking!


My living quarters were simple and consisted only of a small room located in a beach front motel; owned by a lady that was a longtime friend of my mom and dads. Nothing was free as I paid for my room by working around the motel. Each morning at seven o’clock sharp I would hear the sounds of Santana’s approaching jeep; as the engine was not only loud but was also only hitting on about three cylinders; making it about as shot as the vehicle itself. My part in this whole thing was that I had been commanded to have breakfast already cooked and ready for us as she arrived….three eggs well done; a piece of link sausage; two pieces of wheat toast; slightly-browned and buttered on both sides; and a tall glass of ice cold milk.


Our first stop was a two mile drive up King’s Highway to the gym. Nothing fancy by far; but a former roadside concrete block honky-tonk that now housed a small handful of fitness machines and several sets of partially rusted barbells. The door had to be left open to help disguise the odor created from left over stale beer spilled each night when this place was in its prime.


It’s only light was an uncovered bulb on a single wire dangling from the ceiling. The outside sign, still half-attached; only read of its former heritage, The Nite-Owl’s Club. No one with the exception of the locals even knew it was now a gym and that’s the way its new owner wanted it to stay. The building was inherited by its present owner, Coy Barnes…who was an absentee owner. The door was always unlocked and the cash register consisted only of an old empty jar of pickled pig’s feet with a sign that read;


“Gym membership is $4.00 a month. Just drop your money in the jar. If you need some…take some but put it back when you can and be sure and jiggle the toilet handle and turn off the light on your way out! Thanks; Coy.” No one ever took any money back out because of how bad that jar smelled; but Coy already knew that.

I guess I’ve set the stage for you as to the condition of this place but somehow it still remained hallowed and would become a stable component in our lives for that entire summer. Each day we trained long and hard; able to improvise most of the equipment into whatever muscle group we needed to work. The smell of stale beer now radiating over our entire body also made the afternoon surfing that much more inviting.


There’s much more to this story but as in life…I’m already out of space. I know this entire story sounds like an episode from one of those romantic novels but it was all true and inspired me to continue my fitness journey until this day.

As the summer came to a close; Santana slipped out of my life as quickly as she had come into it. She served out her probation and headed back to California and we completely lost touch. The lady that owned that little motel passed on but some years later I got a call from her son. He told me he had received a letter addressed to me; also saying it had no return address but was postmarked Berkeley CA. He mailed it to me; but even before opening it; I knew of its origin. It read:




“I sometimes think back through life and wonder why I made the decisions that I did. Not second guessing; just rearranging my thoughts of how things could have turned out differently. I probably shouldn’t have split without a formal goodbye but I think you probably figured out it just wasn’t my style. I’m still fighting for the causes and a group of us recently demonstrated against animal cruelty; but this time everything managed to remain peaceful.


I’m still driving Nelly Belle. The engine still skips and her body, like mine, is just a little more rusty but somehow we’re both still going! I’m hoping that life unfolded for you as planned and that your fitness dreams all came true! Be sure and keep your toast buttered on both sides, and please don’t forget me.” … Santana


I wouldn’t trade my family and my life today for anything; but sometimes a quick glance into our rear view mirror is what keeps us on the road ahead. No matter what your convictions may be; whether its life’s earlier promises or your own present day fitness journey…stay true to your cause and hold your present course; also remembering:



…may peace and fitness remain with you always…sj


PS: Because of a strange happen-stance; Santana and I reconnected some years later by telephone. It was a great and lengthy conversation. She never married and ended up pursuing a career with a large Fortune 500 company where her engineering skills were heavily applied.


By the way; in the morning when you get up and pour your coffee from that pot that was freshly brewed five minutes before opening your eyes…thank Santana! She invented the coffee pot with a timer!


Not all who wander are lost!


Article Copyright Only © 2016-2019 . Steve Johnson