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Profile picture Manuel Rangel
The Astro Casfe
One of the most vivid memories I have of high school happened on graduation night, after the ceremonies at Occidental College and after the “Grad Night” event at Disneyland. The graduation event at Occidental was not completely happy for me because I sat in the stands of the amphitheater with two other unfortunate friends who, like myself, didn’t qualify to receive a diploma—but I wasn’t too sad because I knew I would be starting junior college in the fall, and watching the ceremony from the stands was an experience not many of my fellow classmates could enjoy.

What I remember about Disneyland is that it was crowded with loud and boisterous graduating seniors from all over Southern California. A funny thing now, but unknown to me then, was that my future wife, who graduated from a high school in West Covina, was there. I didn’t find that out until 40 years later, long after we were already married—but that has nothing to do with this story.

The saving grace of the night for me was ending up at the Astro Coffee Shop around 1 AM in a booth with Bill Plummer, Dennis Hubbard, and Mike Rose. The Astro was in Silverlake, at the bend in the road where Fletcher Drive turns into Glendale Boulevard. The cafe was aptly named because, from the outside, it looked like some sort of space craft, and the parking lot was huge, as if it was the place where the restaurant landed and took off from. I don’t recall if anyone else from the class was at Astro’s that night, or why we decided to go there. Maybe it was the general look and cool vibe of the Astro late at night—probably the overriding factor that it was a 24-hour place to eat. The cafe is still there today, open 24 hours a day, and looking just like it did back then, but instead of being futuristic, it is now considered retro-futuristic (like the gigantic Theme Building at LAX).

Anyway, the Astro was the kind of place you could go to for a respectable early evening dinner with your parents, or late at night with your less than respectable friends for a meal. This was one of those times for a late-night breakfast with dodgy friends. There was nothing that was said that night that I remember distinctly, or at all for that matter, but it was a moment of time tinged with melancholy, at least for myself. I might be overdramatizing it, but I felt like all of us sitting there were at a watershed moment in our lives. I was a good friend of Mike’s then, less so with Dennis, and still less with Bill, but sitting in the Astro at a booth with those guys felt like the end of my childhood. I knew we would all be moving on to different lives, ones where youthful pranks would be frowned upon, and where we would be expected to behave like adults. Some of my best friends had already dropped out of school, some to join the military, and a few just to loaf around Highland Park. Some girls I had heard were already planning their marriages, a few I knew were already married, and a smaller number of friends, like myself, were looking ahead to college.

I don’t remember how the four of us got together after Disneyland. Maybe we met up on the street back in Highland Park and someone suggested going to breakfast. Our meal, and the endless cups of coffee and cigarettes that followed, went on and on, as if nothing in the world was more important than sitting there in the early morning hours talking about Franklin, Highland Park, and the friends there. I don’t think anything was said about the great transition we were all about to make—it wouldn’t have been like any of us at that stage of life to be profound. Was anyone at Franklin, except maybe a teacher or two, ever profound? At some point, I guess around 3 AM, we all drifted off home.

I stayed in touch with Mike Rose until 2002, when he took an early medical retirement from the Post Office and moved to Oregon. We never spoke after that and he passed away in 2016. I saw Dennis Hubbard on and off for many years. Right after leaving Franklin, he began working for the Southern Pacific Railroad, where his father and two older brothers worked. He retired early in the 1990s to pursue hobbies. I attended his memorial service in Victorville in 2017 when he passed away. I have not seen Bill Plummer since that night, but I have exchanged emails with him in recent years. He married Phaeton classmate Susie Milford. They left California for Washington State many years ago and still live there today, on an island off the coast of Puget Sound.

I will always remember that post-Grad Night breakfast with three classmates at the Astro Cafe.