‘Meet Me at the Midway’

A couple weeks back I saved this snippet from a “Hal Linker” note — since there’ve been about 97 since then, I can’t remember which one — because it’s about a place that comes up frequently: The Midway.

Celebrated in Kem Nunn’s novel “Pomona Queen,” the Midway was a bar on Foothill Boulevard between Claremont and Upland in the 1960s and 1970s. Various readers have told me about it over the years, calling the place a dive, but in a fond way. Here’s what “Hal” had to say:

“It was somewhere between Central and Monte Vista on the south side of the road. It was at the approximate location of some current tattoo, piercing and massage businesses.

“The Midway was a rock structure building with at least one, maybe two, fireplace(s), sawdust on the floor, a couple of pool tables, pinball machine and a damn fine jukebox selection. The parking lot was dirt and large rocks — as nature intended.

“It was a college / biker hangout when I was around. They served minors without much fear since they were outside of any city’s limits. After a new owner took over, there was a fire sometime in the late 1970s and the place went kaput.

“They used to have bumper stickers which read ‘Meet Me at the Midway.’ Anybody got one?”

And anybody want to share Midway memories?

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  • “Hal Linker”

    One of the many times I went to the Midway, I arrived with a mixed party of five toward the end of the bar’s lifespan. I was with a girl named Katie, who used to clean my house and occasionally, dance provocatively atop my coffee table to old Mitch Ryder hits in various states of undress.

    Also along were a Central California transplanted friend of mine named Blake (named changed to protect the guilty), who was the son of the District Attorney in one of those cities out in, I think, Stanislaus County, and his newly found waify blonde girlfriend from Upland, named Rhonda (using the same name policy).

    She was one of those chicks who was absorbed in the fantasy of Middle Earth and Lord of the Rings, Greek mythology, and lots of other whimsical fantasies. She was very quiet, but when she spoke, she had very many interesting things to say. She was into Dan Fogelberg and she adored Blake (her boyfriend and also the poet). In addition, Rhonda’s strawberry blonde, slightly freckled, Barbie-cute friend Caryn tagged along.

    I often wondered if Blake and the two of them were sex partners. From their vibe, it seemed likely. Caryn and Rhonda certainly seemed more than just friendly. But it could just have been my filthy mind at work.

    We probably rolled into the Midway about 10:30PM or so. We shot a few games of pool, blasted the jukebox and Blake and Rhonda played a bit of pinball.

    After the pair finished their game of Old Chicago, Blake pulled a snow seal out of his shirt pocket and dumped some coke on the glass of the pinball machine. He cut himself and Caryn each a line and they tooted it up.

    I observed this from the table at which we were sitting. When Blake returned to his seat, I told him I that didn’t think that snorting coke in this bar was a very smart thing to do (save that for later at Sambos ha ha). He shrugged it off.

    Later, Blake and I walked to the bar to get another pitcher of beer. A long haired biker-looking dude sitting on one of the nearby barstools asked Blake if he knew where he could score some coke.

    Blake started to answer like the impulsive fool he was and I promptly kicked his leg to get him to shut up. He started to babble on again, so I verbally told him to shut the F up.

    The biker guy forcefully asked me if I had a problem or something. I said no.

    The next thing I knew, I was surrounded by seven of these mean-looking bikers. The main guy told me to step outside and the eight of us walked out the back door.

    Naturally, the cowardly Blake and the girls didn’t see fit to come to my aid. They all acted incredibly nervous as I walked out with the biker gang.

    Once outside in the dark, dirt and rock back parking lot, the seven bikers circled around me. They demanded to know who the coke connection was. One particularly gung-ho biker got in the center of the circle with me. He kept dramatically pounding his fist into his other hand directly in front of my face while saying “Let me at him! Let me at him!”

    I stand 6’2″ and 180, but by all rights I should have been terrified. I was completely outnumbered and these guys were big and ugly and vicious. Shoot!, Im a lover, not a fighter. But, for some crazy reason I was calm as a lake on a breezeless day.

    I feigned ignorance. I didn’t know anything about any coke or coke dealers. Seriously! I kept asking them why they were getting so bent out of shape to which the guy in the middle repeated “Let me at him! Let me at him!”

    Then in a very bizarre twist the main guy asked me for my ID. I couldn’t believe it! I calmly refused to give them my ID. To which the center man said “Let me F him up! He’s a goddamned punk!”

    I refused to give them my ID a third time and calmly asked whether they were bikers or narcs. I mean, what kind of bikers would be asking for my ID? It all seemed really weird. And still I remained impossibly calm.

    Then the main guy started laughing at me and joked that they were just trying to scare the sh*t out of me. He put his arm around me and said I was OK. I think “You got balls, hippie” was what he said.

    We all walked back inside and the main guy bought the five of us beers. We drank them quickly and left.

    To this day I wonder whether they were bikers or narcs.

    There are eight million stories in The Midway city. This has been one of them.

    For another story partially about the Midway, check out “Hal Linker Reminsces Part 10” comment # googillion!

  • Bob House

    The Midway was a coming of age ritual for Claremont High Schoolers in the 60s (as long as the age wasn’t 21). I was back once in the 70s and it was like a CHS reunion.

    Also liberal in interpreting the law for beverage sales was Sagehen Liquors, a little to the east of the Midway. The city of Claremont was still “dry” back then. Last time I checked, the old Sagehen was a Chinese restaurant, but they still had the nice paint and neon sagehen logo on the building.

    In the 60s, CA drivers licenses were simple paper affairs, just a negative copy of a portion of the application. I discovered that the typeface used on the drivers license birthdate was the same as the page numbers in Sports Illustrated. So, by using the Sports Illustrated numerals and the copier at the library, which could produce negative copies, I had a nice little high school business making “I’m 21” licenses.

    [Good thing the statute of limitations has passed. To elaborate on one of Bob’s points, the former Sagehen is now New China, in business since 1977, I believe. — DA]

  • Gene Harvey

    Ah, the Midway…I remember it well. I wasn’t there often, but it was a place you didn’t forget. It was kinda exciting, but kinda cozy, kinda dangerous, but kinda comfortable. Always a variety of people there, from bikers to Claremont college professors, from youngsters barely old enough (maybe) to old timers just hangin’ out.

    One night about 11:00 p.m., the rain was really pouring down (it was a dark and stormy night…) and I was driving past the Midway on Foothill Boulevard when a man suddenly stepped out nearly in front of my car, motioning for me to stop.

    I was quite surprised by his action and did come to a stop. He very quickly opened the door to the back seat of my car (opposite from the driver’s side) and was mumbling and moaning. I quickly saw that he was bleeding here and there, and the blood mixed with the rain made him quite a mess as he climbed into my car. He said something about a fight inside the bar, and that he needed help.

    He managed to close the car door and lean across my back seat, and I started the car moving, figuring I’d better get him to a hospital. Then he suddenly screamed “Stop the car!”

    I did indeed stop, and all of this had happened so fast, I was somewhat confused and bewildered, to say the least. He flung open the car door, got out, managed to stay on his two feet, and as he walked away, he yelled that I had better not tell anyone I had seen him, and promptly disappeared into the darkness and rain.

    I got out, walked around the car, closed the door he had left open, got back in the car (now soaked from the heavy rain myself) and drove slowly home. It all seemed pretty surreal as I drove along and later as I was crawling into bed.

    The next morning, I couldn’t wait to run out to check my car, and sure enough, there was blood, mud, water and debris all over the back seat. I tried to clean it, but had to get professional help, especially for the blood stains.

    I never went too near the Midway after that.

    [Understandably! This is like a film noir. Thanks, Gene. — DA]

  • “Hal Linker”

    Bob House brings up some excellent points!

    I think I discovered the Midway around 1970 or 1971 when still in high school. I was tipped about it by my older sister who had been sipping suds there since she was a Junior in high school. The underage thing was a huge attraction for many customers. Obviously the unincorporated area contributed to this.

    I seem to recall meeting more than a few very naughty girls from Pomona Catholic at the Midway too! Just hearing their confessions must have demanded another confession! My my my. Those catholic girls.

    I can relate to the Sagehen Liquor story as I’m sure any kid can relate to stores friendly to minor sales of alcohol. (The Sage Hen restaurant was excellent!)

    In the Chino area, one of the most egregious offenders was Page’s Liquor. This old guy and his hippie son sold to anyone above the age of 10. The store was in front of a house they lived in. They didn’t give a crap! Occasionally they would be prevented from selling booze for a month or so by authorities. But they would always return to their bread and butter when the temporary problems were over. I think the building still stands but is a used car lot now.

    Many of the drive-thru dairy cash and carry operations were easy beer scores as well. They usually employed kids who were sympathetic to underage drinkers. A couple of the Scott Brothers Dairy drive thru’s were easy marks. Also on Euclid just south of Philadelphia on the west side of the road was the Driftwood Dairy drive thru who were also kind to youthful drinkers.

    The San Antonio Winery on S. Milliken north of Riverside Drive and south of the Pomona Freeway had a liquor store in conjunction with their wine tasting facility which was so far out in the boonies at that time that they would sell to anyone. As I recall, kids were working the register.

    Foss Brothers had a drive-thru dairy on the south side of Riverside Drive between San Antonio and Euclid. With Mike on duty, minors could score. Foss Brothers is still there and you can still get milk in the bottle for a reasonable price.

    The Country Store, on the corner of Los Serranos Road and old Pomona Rincon in unincorporated Chino (now Chino Hills), would sell to you if they knew you as a regular customer. Same with Descanso Market on Descanso Street in the upper Los Serranos area. (Both of these stores still exist although under different ownerships.)

    Chino also had the Arvidson Dairy drive-thru on the east side of Central just past Schaeffer, which was a pretty easy score. Somewhat more selective was the Arvidson’s daughter, Stacy, who was absolutely amazing circa the early 1970’s! She used to hang out with the Fire Chief’s daughter, Jeannie Murisett (excuse if last name misspelled), who was equally inspiring! Hats off to you two ladies if you’re still out there!

    I was in the back of pickup trucks with them on a few occasions. Remember when it was OK to fill up your dad’s pickup bed with all of your friends and cruise around?

    Ever have fire extinguisher fights from vehicles’ windows or pickup beds? Ah, the memories of those gals’ wet blouses and the wonderment that filled them!

  • Desdave

    This one almost reaches “Hal” proportions… while completely ignoring “The Midway.”

    There was a small liquor store on Euclid just north of Mission that we used to go to in high school that would sell to us. It didn’t have a name, and was in a heavily Latino area… we called it “Mom’s” since the old lady at the counter was very mother-like. I had ‘dated’ a very cute thing and we were set to spend our first night together. She was going to “spend the night” at her friend’s house and the hitch was this: The friend’s mom has to call and say it’s OK.

    We pretty much think that the night will be ruined since there is no way for this ‘friend’s’ mom to make the call. Well, as we are standing there at “Mom’s”, I got the idea that maybe “Mom” could call my girlfriend’s mom. Now mind you, “Mom” didn’t speak a lick of English. We put her on and she… well, she speaks enough Dnglish to pull it off. So, not only did she sell us a bunch of Boon’s, but she assisted in helping me… umm, get better acquainted with my lady friend!

    The liquor store was eventually busted, like a dozen times, and had to change their ways. It went from strolling in and out with a bunch of booze to having them carry our booze to the car for us (with, might I add, a tip expected!), to not having a source for our illicit pick-ups at all. The store is now a cell phone shop or something like that. Like many of Hal’s old haunts, it appears much of “Mom’s” business was underage.

    Foss Brothers is indeed still on Riverside, but it is NOT owned by the family that owned it for years. It also isn’t a drive-thru. The new owners make you get out of the car.

    [A heartwarming tale. — DA]

  • Davie Null

    Sometimes alumni from the 5 Colleges ask what happened to the Midway when they return for reunion.

    Contrary to what the narrator says in Pomona Queen:

    “They had by now come to a point midway between the towns of Claremont and Upland, a peculiar stretch of no-man’s-land where everything had been imaginatively named the midway something….”

    I believe the name Midway refers to the half-way point between San Bernardino and Los Angeles. It’s about 30 miles each way. Back in the day there wasn’t much on Foothill Blvd between these cities except orange groves.

  • SaltyDog

    I lived on Central back in the day, crawling distance from the Midway, In n Out and Sagehen Liquors. Used to have a beer now and again with Bob Wilson, Lindley Mixon, et al. I was asked recently “when exactly was the fire” at the Midway and I hadda laugh, “when exactly” being a contradiction in terms when it comes to such things. Any closer idea than “late 70’s?” Youth wants ta know.

  • barbara f

    I well remember Lindley Mixon and was amazed to find his name mentioned here … Of course he’d be sharing a pint with lively fellow artists … I also remember there was a small neon bird on the Sagehen sign (or am I coloring my memory, Saltydog?) … I was too young for those drink and crawl places, so those stories belong to others to share …

    [I think there’s still a small neon bird on the sign now that it’s New China. — DA]

  • Chris Tina

    I used to run around there as a kid while my parents drank with their friends…it was the early 70’s. Wish I could go back.