The Los Angeles Unified School District Strike of 1989

You know how the mind wanders at night? I was thinking about how I need to finish up reading the January 1941 issue of Astounding so that I could write up Episode 19 of my Vacation in the Golden Age. That got me thinking about Golden Ages in general, and then my golden ages, specifically. And one particular time period came to mind: a two week stretch during the spring of 1989 when the teachers of the Los Angeles Unified School District went on strike. Interestingly, I don’t think I’ve written about the Strike in detail before. I did a quick search of the site and found only short references to it here and there. The funny thing about it is that today, it really does feel like a Golden Age. In part that may be because it’s some 22 years in the past…

“There’s a freeway runnin’ through the yard”

I went to Cleveland High School in Reseda, California. Or more specifically, the Humanities Magnet program at Cleveland High School. In the spring of 1989 I was getting read to finish up 11th grade. My memory is a bit quirky. I seem to recall around this time that Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” was getting a lot of airplay. But the album on which it appeared, Full Moon Fever, wasn’t released until late October. In any case, “Free Fallin'” became kind of theme song of our school and that era for me, primarily because of the line “It’s a long day, living in Reseda, there’s a freeway, running through the yard.”

Welcome to the Jungle

The strike took place in May of 1989, a few months after a new radio station took to the air, 100.3, Pirate Radio. That station just happened to play the kind of music that me and my friends liked to listen to. They played a lot of Guns ‘n Roses, including “Welcome to the Jungle” and a lot of the music they played became markers for this period of time in my life.

The strike itself began, for me, rather downbeat. I went to school that day to find all of the teachers out front picketing. Of course, the students were in full support of the strike. Some of us may have wanted them to get the raises they deserved, but honestly, in 11th grade, I was looking for an excuse not to have to go to school. But on that first day, I did report to school. We were sent to the library where we basically just sat around all day. There was nothing else to do.

The next day, my parents provided me with a note saying that I didn’t have to be at school while the strike was going on. I took the bus to school anyway and met up with my friends and that is where the real fun began.

Action, Not Words

It’s hard to say how many of us there were in our little group back then. Certainly myself, Eric, Andy, Norm, and Lisa. Pat used to hang out with us sometimes. It was through him that we all met another friend, A.J., who went to Taft High School. There were others as well. It seems to me that for the first few days we would meet at school and then gather at a friend’s house who lived just across the street from the school to plan our day. We may have met at other places, but that is what I remember most clearly.

What we did during those two weeks was as close to an 11th grader’s ideal as one could get. We hung out with friends all day long without worrying about school. We went to the beach (I can remember riding to the beach one time in Eric’s red Jeep Cherokee, with Def Leppard’s “Action, Not Words” blasting on the radio. We went bowling. We went to the movies. There was an old second-run theater in the Valley, the Peppertree, and went to a see a hilarious John Ritter film, Skin Deep. Actually, we split up. The guys went to see Skin Deep and the girls went to see Beaches.  I seem to recall that Norm went with the girls to see Beaches. Another time we met at another theater and went to see Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which came out just 4 days into the Strike.

Some days we’d go over to Andy’s house and watch music videos (back when they were still aired with regularity). I recall two things about that: first were the videos: Warrant’s “Cherry Pie” video; R.E.M.’s “Stand” video; and Elvis Costello’s “Veronica” video. And then, of course, there was Norm, chasing around Andy’s cat for reasons none of us could fathom.

Glory Days

When I think of personal Golden Ages, the Strike (as me and my friends call it) is what I think about. From time-to-time, we talk about those day, much to the annoyance of our spouses, none of whom were there to experiences those days for themselves. I consider myself lucky to have happened to be in that particular school, at that particular time, with those particular people. And it turned out to be a win-win, since the teachers ended up getting what they were looking for, too.


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