It was the summer of 1965. I had just turned 12 years old.
My good friend and next-door neighbor, Eric Oddi, and I spent our days doing what boys our age typically did - going to the beach or Seaside Lagoon, riding our bikes, Flexible Fliers and homemade skateboards (shopping cart wheels screwed into a discarded piece of Formica), having a game of catch, or shooting hoops on the outdoor courts at Redondo Union High.
Then one day, with one simple sentence, our entire focus changed. As we were walking home from the basketball courts, one of the older boys in the neighborhood came up to us and excitedly said, "Did you guys know that you can see half-naked ladies in Palos Verdes?"
What? Are you sure? "Yep," he said. "I've seen them."
Well, that was all the validation we needed. Our priorities changed immediately. Forget about skateboarding. Forget about baseball and basketball. We were on a mission. We had to see this incredible opportunity for ourselves.
We soon learned, of course, that he was talking about the King Neptune statue and fountain in the Malaga Cove Plaza, a replica of the original King Neptune Fountain in Italy. Even so, we didn't care that the women were made of stone. And we didn't care about King Neptune, cherubs or dolphins. Getting a glimpse at topless mermaids was our singular, driving goal.
So we hatched a plan.
We (correctly) determined that we stood a better chance of being granted permission if our stated objective was viewing a local shipwreck, and not to simply satisfy our adolescent curiosity.
With hesitant approval from our folks (our bike rides up to that point had been limited to our neighborhood or to the beach), we packed our lunch, jumped on our Sting Rays and headed north. Prospect Avenue to Pacific Coast Highway, then the long incline up Palos Verdes Boulevard to Palos Verdes Drive West.
Finally, as we neared the plaza, we were winded and our legs were aching. But our anticipation for what we about to see erased all of our physical complaints. As tired as we were, never once did either of us suggest that we abandon our plans and turn around.
Arrival at last. There they were. Bare-breasted mermaids as an integral part of an amazing water display. It was everything we had imagined. We tried (in vain) to be somewhat discreet, but instead we just stood transfixed, admiring this great "work of art."
When it was time to leave, we realized we didn't have enough time to continue on to the Dominator. Time was running short, as I needed to be home in time for my afternoon Daily Breeze delivery route.
We would have to save the shipwreck for another day, which we did later that summer. And it just so happened that we had to pass by the statue again on our travels. An added bonus!
It was a boyhood adventure to remember. And the best eight-mile bike ride I ever took.
Steve Gray grew up in Redondo Beach and was a staff writer for the Daily Breeze from 1976 to 1979. He now lives in Old Torrance.
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