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San Clemente Journal

Memories at the Bus Station - Transportation in the ‘60s

Aug 30, 2021 12:13PM ● By Mike Chamberlin
by Mike Chamberlin, Photo by San Clemente Historical Society 

In 1965 the busy intersection of El Camino Real and Presidio looked quite different than it does today. A lot different. On the east side of the street is a strip mall that now houses a pizza place, a phone store, a donut shop and other various shops. In 1965 that entire block was the home of a car dealership. In the 1960s, Joe MacPherson Chevrolet took up an entire block. I mean … it was a full-service car dealership complete with a showroom, car lot and service department. It was a big deal for little San Clemente. I remember it well, as my parents bought a Chevrolet station wagon from MacPherson’s. To this day I still recall the smell of the fresh carpet and leather seats.
Opposite MacPherson’s car dealership, where Starbucks and the Bank of America now sit, was the transportation hub of the city, the bus depot. Officially it was known as the San Clemente Bus Terminal. Keep in mind, San Clemente is the halfway point between Los Angeles and San Diego, so the depot served as a main source of transportation via Greyhound and other bus companies up and down the coast. Why do I know all this? Because my very first job in life, was a fry cook at the old bus depot. I remember the flurry as a flood of hungry travelers converged on the small food section of the facility when one bus or two or five pulled in. You couldn’t cook hamburgers fast enough because they only had a few minutes before boarding the bus again for its final destination. San Clemente was rarely their final destination.


But more than the commercial traffic in and out of the depot, I remember the Marines. It was also the arrival point for them as their buses dropped them off by the hundreds to begin a few days of leave from Camp Pendleton. They were an interesting group, mostly polite, calling me, a 16-year-old, “sir.” Now, I can’t account for the meals they were served on base, but they longed for burgers and fries as if it were home cooking. I will never forget the day a young recruit, who was probably about 18, but looked 14, ordered a hamburger. In his Southern accent he said, “I want a burger and fries, and did you know I could kill you six different ways with a piece of string?” In a brilliant reply I retorted, “Did you know I could kill you with one hamburger?” At the time I didn’t appreciate all these young men were doing for our country and I wonder how many of those marines I served hamburgers to, never returned home from war.

Ray Campbell was the owner of the bus depot. He’s the guy who hired me for my first job. He was all business, and to be honest, I don’t think I ever saw him smile. In an ironic way, he was the drill sergeant, and we were the recruits. He would drop in unannounced from time to time just to see how his operation was running and he was quick to criticize and rare to compliment. In fairness, he gave you an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. Now I understand that he placed his business in the hands of teenagers, so he had no choice but to look in on us. I’m just glad he never stopped in during a slow time when we would have actual food fights, tossing sandwiches like hand grenades. Ray passed away in April of 1996. I wonder if he ever knew how many San Clemente teenagers he introduced to the work force. 

I was one of them. Thanks, Ray.  

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