By June 3, 2013 Read More →

InterView-Keeping the American Graffiti Torch Burning

InterView Steve and Linda Pedego – Keeping the American Graffiti Torch burning since ‘62

Where were you in ’62? So asked the movie poster for George Lucas’ film American Graffiti. If you lived in Modesto during the 50s and the early 60s, you knew exactly where you were in ’62. The Downey High class of ’62 is one of the most famous graduating classes ever and the people of Modesto knew all about this before there was a film that showcased the days of cruising, teen romance, car club pranks and college exodus in Modesto. They were the people that lived the lives that Lucas characterized in the film. This is one of those amazing love stories that began in high school and still goes strong today.

Steve and Linda Pedego have a very special ModestoView. Steve, 1961 graduate of Modesto High School, is married to Linda Elliot, Downey High Songleader class of 1962 and classmate of George’s since grade school. Through all of these years, Steve and Linda have kept the torch of the ages of Graffiti alive, even before the movie, through thick and thin and now have a great wealth of information about this time, all captured in their memorabilia, photos, movies and the active role in keeping the Graffiti Spirit alive. Today, Linda is a cancer survivor and Steve, not only kept the Modesto High reunions going, also made sure that the Downey reunions happened, including the major milestones that included return visits from George Lucas. Let’s meet these amazing “Champions of American Graffiti”

Steve works for California Mortgage and enjoys his other full time job of keeping the American Graffiti torch burning bright here in Modesto USA and Linda is active in many local organizations including the Modesto Garden Club. Let’s meet Steve and Linda.

ModestoView: Was growing up in Modesto during the 50s as good as you remember it? Steve and Linda: Yes, it was safe and carefree. We knew all of our neighbors, never locked our doors, or closed our windows in the summer. Downtown at Christmas was like a Norman Rockwell Painting.

MV: It has been said that growing up in the late 50s was the greatest time ever in the USA. What do you think? S&L: No doubt. In Modesto there were no major problems – we were unaware of the problems in the south. It was a very small town. Families only had radios until the mid 50’s. We went to the neighbors or family members homes to watch television until we had our own.

MV: Steve, since Modesto High was the original Modesto High School, what was it like when there was just one high school in town as a rival. SP: Total community support. No division of schools. I had a older sister and so I knew many of the MHS students. At 8 years old they would take me to 10th St. and Burge’s at night. No local rivalry. Great deal of support for MHS.

MV: Turlock High used to be the Modesto rival, what made the Downey rivalry different? S&L: Local bragging rights. Athletic events filled the stands, two schools in the same town, friends on both side. Eventually the rivalry between the two schools faded and local rivalry developed, good clean fun among friends.

MV: It is said that the drive in for Modesto High was Burge’s and the Drive In for Downey was Al’s; where these places really divided up like that? S&L: Not at all. Both schools used those drive ins. Al’s was the turn around for the drag. There was also Felix’s Drive In, Warren’s Drive In. Mamie’s was a lunch place at Downey and Mabel’s (Sweet Shop at Modesto High). No place was forbidden, although Downey people went to Al’s most of the time.

MV: What were some of the challenges teens in high school faced in the late 50s and early 60s? SP: No real challenges – boys looking for dates, gas for dragging 10th. Being together at someone’s house for a party. Guys finding someone to buy beer for them. Being with a group of friends.

MV: What were the differences between the car clubs and the fraternities? S&L: Fraternities were more predominant and there were more of them. At MHS there were the Dukes, Regs, Road Rebels – later came the Little Okies and the Chancellors. At Downey the clubs were the 36’s, Triangles, Pao’s, Phi-Tau’s, and 11th St. were the Uptown Boys. There were also the girl’s sororities. At MHS were the Okiciyapi’s and at Downey were the Patricians, Nigans, and Phi-Gammas. Some were mixed between the two schools.

<> MV: Linda, how do you think that being a cheerleader in highschool was different when you went to school than it is today. LP: There were 4 Cheerleaders and 4 Songleaders. To try out each person had to go out on their own before the whole student body and do a routine. Then the entire student body voted and the top 4 were elected. The top vote getter in each was the head. Now the students go before a panel who selects them and there must be at least 20 Cheerleaders. There are no longer song leaders. The Songleader’s outfits were made by a Seamstress and the Yell Leader’s usually ordered their outfits at Valley Sporting Goods. The songleaders made their own pom-poms and they all made up their own cheers/songs. Now they go to camp and they are all the same. (Note: Linda was a Songleader both her Junior and Senior Year (head Songleader her Senior Year.)

MV: Your class reunions are very well attended and your network of friends from high school is still strong, how has this helped you as you became adults and grown up. S&L: We have ties with all of our childhood friends. The town was much smaller and we have common ties with one another. A lot of us came back to Modesto or never left. Now it seems there is not that feeling. We all came from the same Neighborhood. Now students come from all different areas.

MV: What was your most memorable event during high school. Steve – mine was dating Linda the last half of her Senior Year – in 1962. At MHS it was all the special friendships I formed and remain to this day. Linda – it was a time of innocence and good friendships. Too many good memories to even begin to talk about.

MV: Linda, as a Downey girl what was it like dating a boy from Modesto High LP: I didn’t start dating Steve until the last half of my Senior Year. The Downey and Modesto people all knew each other. It was such a small town. We had exchange Rallies and only found out after we married that in my Junior Year that Steve and his friends were the one’s who hit us with eggs at Modesto High during one of these rallies.

MV: Why do you think our celebration of the Graffiti years is so important and what does it say about our community. S&L: It is a time that is loved by those who lived in Modesto during that time. Our music is timeless, and we all long to have those times. Unless you grew up here during that time you can’t imagine how special it was.

MV: Linda, as you have battled the challenges of cancer and recovery, how have your long-time friends and community rallied around you. LP: My first battle with Cancer was 19 years ago and all my good friends rallied behind me, sending food, cards and all the phone calls of encouragement – many I hadn’t heard from for years. I have had a few more bouts and my friends in the community are always there. I feel so fortunate to have such special friends.

MV: You have one of the largest collections of 50s and 60s Modesto memorabilia, what made you want to preserve this history and be so involved? SP: It was our childhood, everything in the collection reminds me of an event which is cherished by both of us. The era was so special to both of us and we want to preserve it – only wish our children and grandchildren could have lived as special of a time – they are interested in the stories we share with them. There are hundreds of stories, but no time to share all of them.

<> MV: It is said that the characters Steve and Laurie in the movie were you and Linda, do you think this is true? SP: Steve is definitely not me. George didn’t know me. George went all through grade school and high school with Linda. In fact Linda’s mother was one of his grade school teachers. Linda feels that he had many of the people that went to high school with him in mind when developing the characters. Laurie was probably a composite of many of the cheerleaders from Downey High School.

MV: What about our history and the Graffiti age makes Modesto special today. S&L: We were really a Norman Rockwell town. It was a simpler time that all of us who lived it long for. We were lucky enough that George Lucas put us on the map with American Graffiti which probably depicted many small towns during that time.

MV: What do you think Modesto needs to do to better celebrate our history? S&L: There should be a sign somewhere as you enter Modesto saying Home of George Lucas and American Graffiti. We would like to see the Statue at 5 Points moved to the downtown plaza. It would be nice to have signs or markers of some kind where Burge’s, Al’s, Felix’s and Warren’s Drive were. It is too bad they couldn’t have something on the building across from Downey that still stands that is the original Mamie’s.

MV: Your memorabilia collection is truly amazing, do you think that there should be a museum celebrating the cruise years and dedicated to the cars and the people of that era. S&L: It would be wonderful to have a museum celebrating the great years of American Grafitti. When we are gone we would love to have many of our memorabilia donated to a museum of this time.

MV: Describe your perfect Modesto day. S&L: We love antiquing – we both are always looking for items ( pictures of our time growing up.) We buy old MHS and Downey Year Books (many times we give them to other people who have lost theirs.) Playing Bunko with my special group of friends, being with our old high school friends, reading, and most of all spending time with our family and especially our five grandchildren. Being with each other and our friends – reminiscing and enjoying the wonderful weather we are so fortunate to have

MV: We will mix our traditional question up this month and ask you, Elvis or Beatles? S&L: Elvis in the 50’s. Beatles in the 60’s.

MV: Any final thoughts? S&L: We both would like to thank George Lucas for making our town and that time immortal in his movie, American Graffitti and to you Chris Murphy for being interested enough in carrying it on. It was truly a special time. We are glad we were a part of it!



Posted in: featured, Graffiti

About the Author:

Chris Murphy is the President and CEO of Sierra Pacific Warehouse Group and Publisher and Founder of ModestoView Inc. Chris worked globally in the cycling industry returning to Modesto in 1996. He is also the founder of the Modesto Historic Graffiti Cruise Route, Legends of the Cruise Walk of Fame, Modesto Rockin’ Holiday, the Modesto Music History Organization and co-founder of the Modesto Area Music Association. Chris is married to his artist wife Rebecca since 1985 and has two daughters Madison and Abigail, both graduating from Modesto High and UC Berkeley. He is lead singer and guitarist for his band, Third Party that donates their performances to non-profits.