On a clear August day we rolled into a Canadian McDonald's in search of a fast lunch. This was before drive-in windows and my dad pulled into a spot in the parking lot. The lot was designed so a sidewalk ran down the middle with parking spaces that faced each other on either side.
The serendipity of what happened next is so weird that the rest of the day has forever had a surreal dreamlike quality in my mind.
For one, as we pulled into the parking space, within a few seconds a matching VW pop top camper van pulled in straight across from us. Same color. Same year. Same everything.
"Hey, will you look at that, and look at their plates," my mom volunteered. "They are from California too."
She was looking at the plates, but what she failed to see were the people in the van.
My little sis, ever the quick and clever one, pointed it out first.
"Isn't that the Schnitzler's?"
Little "O's" formed on all our mouths as we peered straight across from us and began to make eye contact with the folks on the other side of the Volkswagen mirror.
Then the Schnitzler's realized who was staring at them and their mouths formed little circles of surprise to match our own.
What to do. What to do.
The Schnitzler's had been our next door neighbors in the San Fernando Valley. We had moved about a year and a half before.
I'm sure for most people seeing your neighbors of ten years would be a celebratory event. But our family tended to wax on the dysfunctional side and by the time we had moved I'm fairly sure our two families were not speaking to each other.
The Schnitzler's had three boys and we were a family of three girls. There had been the normal kid antics. Mud clod slinging over the wall. Practical jokes of varying degrees. Rivalries. But I think what kicked it up a notch was that both our dads were opinionated, stubborn, and a bit too frank.
Like one time, Mr. Schnitzler made the mistake of saying something to my dad about "too bad you don't have even one son to carry on the family name." Then followed the remark with a barely veiled brag fest about siring three boys. My dad upped him by making a rude remark about the blessing of girls when compared to the perfectly predictable hoodlumism he could see emerging in the Shnitzler pack.
There was also the fact that Mr. Schnitzler was a high school principal and my dad had a chip on his shoulder about not going to college himself. Dad made more than one caustic remark to Mr. Schnitzler about book smart people having no common sense.
The fact that the Schnitzler boys stole our outdoor Christmas lights every year for the joy of smashing them on the sidewalk for little explosive fun used to piss off my dad to no end. But he couldn't say much when Mr. Schnitzler complained about my sis and I cleaning up the dog poop by pitching it over the wall at the boys...
At any rate, after moving to the Surf and Sand, we hadn't given our old neighbors much thought.
Here they were. Over 1,000 miles away from the old neighborhood. In another country. And they just happen to pull in across from us at a McDonald's in a matching van (neither family had a VW van last we saw them).
My dad had no problem with a perfunctory greeting and ambling straight into Micky Dee's.
My little sister and I waited curiously to say hello. We wanted to see how the boys were turning out in adolescence. The two older boys were little sis and my ages. Growing up together, even if it's mostly through feuds and rivalries, makes for a type of bond.
My mom went for the nervous over talker mode of dealing. She chatted hysterically. Poor Mrs. Schnitzler looked thankful that all she had to do was nod at my mom's nonstop talking about god knows what.
I'm not sure if the newsstand was in front of the McDonald's or we came upon the headlines stopping at a convenience store on our way back to the highway (you can never have enough Oreos on the road).
But blasted all over the front page was the news of the Sharon Tate murders. It would be awhile before anyone heard of Charlie Manson, but the gruesomeness of the murders was enough to change the mood for the day. My entire family felt touched by the horror.
The house where Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate lived, the scene of the murders, was only a mile or so away from my grandmother and uncle's house. My dad was a film editor. The Tate's were in the film business. We were miles from California and home, but for some reason we all felt a strange connection to the horrible events.
Years later while attending community college in The Valley, a friend and I would drive up to the Tate house on Benedict Canyon after we visited my grandmother for lunch one day.
Even later, after moving to Hawaii and enrolling at UH, my college roommate and I would both read Helter Skelter and then never want to home alone for weeks afterwards.
But as we rolled out of that Canadian town and back on the highway that August afternoon in 1969, my older sister reading the newspaper headlines, these two events - running into the Schnitzlers in a mirror image of ourselves and finding out about the murders - would somehow become linked in my young mind.
If you like synchronicity stories, Movie posted a cool one today.
We had 4 boys lived next door to us, all their names started with P. Bloody idiots....
I read Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi (sp?) when I was in my early twenties...man, that was such a heavy thing that happened...no one ever saw anything like that before, did they? Wild....
That was a groovy story Pseudo! Wow... Heavy Man :) Brings me back!
Great, great, story.
Although I don't quite remember hearing about the Tate murders in real time, I DO remember being terrified when reading that book.
Great story, pseudo!
It's amazing how we remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard about certain events.
Running into old neighbors after 10 years, over 1000 miles from home, and driving up in the same van?
As you know, my kind of story.
Isn't it funny what our mind links together?
My mom definitely had rivalries-through-kids with a couple of her friends, but it never touched us at the kid level. We were all buds. Also, I'm pretty sure me and one guy in particular were "supposed" to get married, according to his parents. :P
Jay-zus, that was freaky! The Hatfields/McCoys meet in Canada, with a liberal dose of late 60's anarchy thrown in.
Great story, P. And now I'm skeered.
That's just WEIRD!
What a great story Pseudo! It's amazing the details our minds remember and connect to certain things. Happy sunday!
What a story about seeing those old neighbors and then reading about the horror that occurred on familiar streets. Your post brought back memories to me. I went to private school near where the murders happened although several years later. At the end of 10th grade my friend and I read Helter Skelter and realized how close the Tate house was. During lunch hour once we snuck off campus to find the house and also the house where the murderers used a water hose. And btw around this time Sharon Tate's former husband would cruise around our school trying to meet young girls. True story. And now here I am across the country. And my friend is a high school teacher in Cali and we still talk about the Mansons. I love your writing and am glad I recently started reading your blog.
I just loved reading your story. You are a wonderful writer. Thanks for a wonderful read. Happy Sunday.
I read Helter Skelter as a teen and know what you mean. Isn't it funny how completely unrelated events forge together in our mind because of where we were and what we were doing and who we were with at that moment.
That is freaky. I just told my wife this story and she said that we weren't even born yet. I realized we were actually being conceived that very same month. She said we shouldn't mention that fact, so I'm not going to.
Oh that sure brings back memories of such an ugly deed. I remember it well. How strange it must have been to meet your ex neighbours in such a way, and to connect it to such a notorious crime.
I am new to your blog, I am a follower now.
I have CLL and hope to be able to put survivor after those letters.
I remember the Tate LaBianca murders well. Charles Manson is crazy and his followers were crazy too.
Manson was trying to start a race riot by doing these horrible crimes. he still comes up for parole every once in a while.
Interesting post, thank you for it!
You came from the San Fernando Valley? We might have been neighbors too. After the Tate's murders we all locked our doors.
We were also on vacation, in the Lake George NY area, and I remember sitting in the backseat of the car with my sister while my mother read the newspaper story on the Manson murders to my father. I was only 7 and it scared the hell out of me. I was convinced whoever did it was going to come across the country and find us and kill us.
Years later in HS, I tried to read Helter Skelter. I was alone in the house and it freaked me out by the first chapter. I had to stop and hide it under the bed. Still too near and scary. I hid it under the living room couch for the night, got on my bike first thing in the morning and returned it to the library.
The meeting the neighbors alone was enough to be stuck in your memory, but add on the other thing and WHOA!!
One of my early memories was the moon landing!
Wow. Talk about an indelible memory...I'm amazed that your grandmother and aunt--or any of the neighbors--were able to continue to live on that street. The ex-neighbors/nemeses would have been enough for Rod Serling. Wow.
Oh now, that is just creepishly weird!!!!
I don't know what's scarier, living near the site of the Tate-LaBianca murders, meeting your neighbors in such unusual circumstances, or a family road trip. I'm sure I have some great memories of family road trips but they are tucked waaay behind the "this is your side of the car and this is your brother's side of the car" lectures I got when my parents had finally had enough of the bickering and "he hit me!"
we were the only Jewish people on our block and we had moved to the area from Canada. No, we didn't feel too out of place.
bTW - I loved the book Helter Skelter so well written but boy what a tragedy
Wow. That would be a day that would stay with a person forever.
I vaguely remember the media circus resulting around the Manson trials. It's funny what becomes linked together in our minds (do you feel like your former neighbors got the short end of the stick with that odd coincidence?). I first read Helter Skelter when I was 17 - I was spending the week at my grandparent's house and complained to my grandfather there was nothing to read there. He handed me two books - Helter Skelter and Jonathan Livingston Seagull. How's that for completely odd things to be forever linked together?
Wow, what a strange story and a small world. Creepy.
I'm a little creeped out and yet charmed by the way you tell it. :-)
I was one month from making my debut in this world! And yet. . . my cells carry the stories that you are telling.
I remember my mother and dad talking about such things when I was little. I still remember falling asleep between the two of them at night thinking. . .the world only existed of my neighborhood and my yard.
And then I listen to the song and realize. . . no wonder these stories are such a part of me. . . the music takes me back to a place where I should be too young to remember.
I am loving this! Can't wait for the next one!
You're a great storyteller.
Seriously intriguing and creepy! Looking forward to the next chapter! ;)
Ah, the sixties. That was some decade, eh? Yes, I really am fascinated by serendipitous events like yours. Out of all the people in the world to meet up with . . .
And the Manson stuff was really imprinted in our minds from that era, so it's no wonder there was some sort of eerie though connection.
I love the way you told this story. Nicely done, Teach.
nothing is random...great story!
WOW...I thought you were going to tell me that one of the Schnitzler boys ended up in La Familia Manson. Both my girls read Helter Skelter. I'm thinking that her fascination with the case is one reason the eldest is in law school...
Headed over here from UnMom. That's a great story. What are the chances of it all happening so far away? Small world.
Is this the story for the contest? Very good.
What are the chances you would run in to them so far from home and you'd be driving the same vehicle? I imagine reading about the Tate murders is one of those moments you don't forget. I still remember being a little kid and hearing about Adam Walsh in my grandmother's kitchen. Interesting tale.
I read Helter Skelter. Have never forgotten the book. Then, in college, saw the movie. Made it a tad too real.
I can picture your mom chitchatting to fill the space. That would have been me, probably.
wow. talk about a small world. i love when you and movie share these types of stories.
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