Tales From the End of the Bus Line is a long-distance collaboration between daughter/father Megan and Bill Broughton to collect the many adventures of Bill’s young adulthood in Van Nuys, California. Installments (and photos that should or shouldn’t see the light of day, if we’re lucky) will be penned by the two of them.
Delta Lithograph Company was founded by Walt Wilkinson and Dale McCullough in 1954 in North Hollywood, but by the time I joined the company it was 1978 and Dale was long gone. They had moved to Califa Street in Van Nuys, expanded to about 100 people, and had become a full fledged commercial printer. It was a good place to learn the trade, and while they may not have paid the best, in an industry notorious for sending its people home if there is no work, you got your forty hours a week, even if you were helping out in another department or just painting a wall. Les Spencer was running the company at this time, and his attitude was that the main reason Delta existed was to be a place of steady employment so people could provide for their families. In that spirit of sharing, we had a well defined bonus plan that only paid out if everyone reached their goals, a yearly picnic, and a Bunch-for-Lunch quality control process that took two people from each department (chosen at random so everyone got a chance to go) out to lunch every month to discuss any problems in an informal setting directly with Walt and Les. Some great problem solving ideas came out of those lunches. I have never heard of any other company using the technique. It was a good place to work, and in later years its success attracted a large printing conglomerate who was to buy it and run it into the ground, (so sad) but that is a story for another time. It went through a few reincarnations after that, including relocating to Valencia and finally to Palmdale, but now is called something else and Delta is gone forever, R.I.P.
In February of 1984, the company had been in business for 30 years and a special anniversary party was planned one Saturday night on the Princess Louise at Ports of Call in San Pedro. Because these were printers, someone brought up the difficulty of everyone driving the forty miles or so to get there, but it was understood that what they really meant was the challenge of getting home with a night’s worth of free booze inside them. It was decided to charter a bus for the evening; picking everyone up at the plant and bringing them back afterwards. About half of us, admittedly the younger bullet-proof set, decided to forego this and try it on our own. From what I heard later, the party really started on the bus, so we missed out.
The Princess Louise was a cruise liner that sailed the Northwest Passage route back in the day, but someone had bought it, anchored it to the wayside in San Pedro, and turned it into a floating restaurant. Concrete gangplanks led from the pier to the ship, and the inside had been pretty much redesigned. Where there had been staterooms there were now booths, seating small parties for dinner. We had the whole stern of the boat, which had a dance floor (I stayed away from this, honest), a full bar, and a small group of some really talented musicians. So that folks wouldn’t get too wasted, there was bar voucher system of sorts. All the department heads were given a roll of raffle tickets. If you wanted a drink, you went to your supervisor and, if he thought you were still relatively sober, he handed you a ticket to give to the bartender. His judgment went on a sliding scale as the night progressed. In theory it seemed like a good idea. In reality this was akin to throwing a couple of stalks of bananas into the monkey cage at the zoo and expecting one of them to survive handling distribution for the rest. Especially so when you find out that Bob was, at this time, the pressroom supervisor. The bar tab alone from that party must have been amazing, but all the next week we never heard anything but “Great party, wasn’t it?” from Les. By the end of the night Bob, Lois, (one of the planners from the office), and I were tossing around the idea of cutting the moorings, starting the engines, and sailing off for Catalina. Some killjoy pointed out the engines no longer worked and the tide was against us, so we scotched the plan (in this case, that was not a metaphor).
The bus left about midnight or so, with some very happy people on it. I rode behind it until the Sepulveda Pass, then left it behind to head home, looking forward to my weekly Sunday afternoon ride to the Rock Store the next day.
It has been more than thirty-one years since that night, and so many of the people who were there are no longer with us except in our memories. But in my memory, admittedly poor as it has always been, they remain. Joe Lara, who ran the Bindery and taught me to have self-confidence, and Fast Eddie Lipinski, who showed me how to figure things out on a folder by letting me make my own mistakes. Marv Velotta, the Camera man, whose career lasted from the time they stopped using cold type to the time digital files started being used, which was incredible timing on his part if you ask me. He exemplified for me that you need to be able to laugh, or you’ll spend all your time miserable, and what kind of an existence is that? Eric Kupfer, the small quiet meticulous comptroller that had lost most of his family to the Germans during World War II. Les Spencer, who worked hard all his life, not just for his own gain but so others could benefit, and whose beloved wife Flo passed away just a few months after he retired.
He’d bought a house in Tehachapi, and started seeing someone again after a few years went by, but it wasn’t long after that he had a heart attack while out on a walk alone around a reservoir. It was a beautiful place, one of his favorite walks, and we all have to go; I think if he had his choice, it was what he would have wanted.
We are not the only ones here that have to go. A few years after that dinner the Princess Louise Restaurant went bankrupt, and they towed the ship across the channel and tethered it there. A year or so later, the sole guard aboard came flying across the gangplank to the shore; the ship was making creaking noises and had started to break up, turning turtle in the channel. There was a protracted legal battle between the owners and their insurance company, but in the end I think the County wound up with the ship. They towed her out about ten miles past the breakwater, sinking her to make an artificial reef. For nearly seventy years she made her home upon the sea. Now, finally, the sea had called her to her long rest to make a home for others.
Dad sent me this story shortly after a professor at my alma mater, CalArts, passed away. She was the latest in a weighty group of passings that made me reflect at length on the affect people have on one another. As I read Dad’s eulogies to friends and the ship, the thought of friendships and mentorships cut short by death or disagreement was readily on my mind.
The past year has served as the bookend to several influential individuals – some I should have told more often that I valued, others that pierced my life in the briefest of moments, and, perhaps most deeply felt, those who shaped the character and happiness of many a friend. There’s an acute pain caused by the loss of someone who has shaped those around you. You feel and witness the loss on all sides, though it may technically be “at a distance.”
I’ve been struggling with how to articulate these losses, an aspect of which I think Dad successfully touches upon: that we, if we allow ourselves to be touched, never lose. We gain and continue those before us, which is a gift we experience both within and without ourselves. After a memorial of another CalArts professor a couple years ago, I was struck with the realization that maybe one day, I would be at a similar event in the same hall for a peer: a dear friend, an acquaintance, someone I had grown up with at CalArts, or maybe even someone whose importance I’d never been able to acknowledge in my youth.
Initially, I began equating life to a conveyer belt. I think we can agree this is a fairly nihilistic comparison.
Eventually, this bitter idea developed into a somewhat more gracious view of life and relationships being represented as a waterwheel. We – individually, or with our peers – are represented by one bucket in the wheel gradually approaching the apex carrying water that came before and will continue after. The waterwheel is static, but the water passes through and flows onward.