It seems that the older I get, the more difficult it becomes to remember the event, much less the details of what actually happened. But some things hang in the vault forever, as if from a meat hook. You routinely brush past them with myriad other thoughts, but they always seem to stay right where you left them dangling.
One that persists occurred immediately after I was hired at Car Craft in the fall of 1969. My credentials were scant and rude. I had nothing beyond the year I'd just done at Super Stock & Drag Illustrated and a burning yen to get paid for doing something that I adored. I interviewed with Editor Terry Cook at the '69 Nationals in Indiana. He told me in flat terms that everyone he'd screened had much better technical credentials than I, but I was the only one with any practical magazine experience, so I got the job. I was hired as a tech editor, but I didn't know any tech. Maybe it was that Terry saw a kernel or two of truth or originality in what I'd written in my former life.
It was Terry's modus to keep you on edge all the time, always keep you thinking and just a little bit fearful. He took crap from no one. He didn't dress like the rest of us; no jeans, no hippy affectations, and he trod in sensible lace-up shoes. He liked to shock people. He wore crazy pinstripe suits and outlandish ties, often with two-tone brogans to match.
His ideas were out of the ordinary and certainly quite unlike those of the publisher, the lanky John Raffa. Johnny B, as we called him, was a recovering alcoholic, whose life philosophy was the 180-degree opposite of the square-jawed Cook's, who looked every bit the straight cat with clean-shaven face and close-cropped hair. Conversely, Raffa had a mane that travelled past his shoulders, and he sported a Fu Manchu that he was constantly smoothing down.
Within days of arriving at 8490 Sunset, Raffa motioned me into his office. With an uncharacteristically stern face, he told me to take a seat, that he had something very important to discuss. He gazed intently and asked, "Do you smoke marijuana?" My brain seized for moment, not certain how to reply but then answered that I had. "I'm really glad to hear that, man," he cackled. "Otherwise you wouldn't be allowed to work here!" Concurrently, Raffa hosted Friday night smoke-outs at his Hollywood Hills house, one of those cantilevered stilt jobs that always looked like it was itching to flop catastrophic and take out the coops below it. Attendees were from the CC staff and the drag racing world at large, but for all of his wackiness, Terry Cook never appeared at those lung-ravaging raves. He didn't smoke cigarettes or do any drugs; he simply liked his lager.
While you might shake your head and silently condemn, realize that it simply illustrated the mores of the time and that marijuana was immensely popular everywhere, not just among drag racers and drag racing environs. We didn't live in the Bible Belt, for heaven's sake; this was über-liberal California, the bellwether for radical admissions such as weed.
As I write this, I can't imagine an arrival interview like the one Raffa gave me happening at a major business like Petersen Publishing Company or anywhere else in 1969. The implication was that we were all part of an extended family, with our brothers and sisters. John Raffa taught me one critical thing: "Readers are notorious for wanting their money's worth." He lived well into his sixties and died as the consequence of organs irreparably sullied by years of chronic drinking.
Terry Cook taught me that there are no boundaries in creativity. One of my favorite renditions was his photo sequence on the editorial page that spanned five consecutive issues: full-face, left-hand profile, back of head, right-hand profile, and finally full-face. Though CC was primarily a drag racing book, we entertained anything that had four wheels on it. Lowriders, like the ones in the image on this page, were fair game, too. This scene below was part of feature shot by the late Fred Enke at a defunct winery out Cucamonga way. We put the car owners (the Ruelas brothers, chief among them) in the black monk's robes for a witchy, polarizing effect against the monumental background of white—the graffiti was already on the walls when we arrived. Stuff like this came about because Cook was ready to try anything he thought would amuse the readers—or more likely himself—or place him a step or two away from, or above, the rest. The magazine was doing phenomenally well and had become a serious threat to a tired old Hot Rod, so whatever Terry did was fine by Pete and the unheralded COO, Fred Waingrow. It was Car Craft's finest hour.