30th High School Reunion
Will you show up at yours?
Hair Stylist Jill McGillis still cuts Mercedes Shinohara's hair. They've been friends since fifth grade.
Photos by Jock McDonald
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Tightwad. Bolch. Red Meat. Vickers. Witness. One Punch. And then there’s Guinea Pig.
“Don’t call me that,” Liz Fountain Swett says, punching Barry Leslie in the arm, and right away you can see the third grader she used to be, still humiliated by a nickname she never wanted. The way she remembers it, it was because she brought a guinea pig to show-and-tell. But Barry remembers their third grade teacher asking for volunteers, and only one hand going up — Liz’s. Then the class cutup called out, “Oh, a guinea pig!” And 39 years later, that’s how she’s remembered.
They’ve known each other a long time, this group. Many of them were together back in elementary school, and last August about 70 of the 300 in Novato’s San Marin High School graduating class of 1976 gathered at the Doubletree Hotel in Rohnert Park to reminisce, have a few laughs, and size each other up. To attend this 30th reunion, they’ve come from Seattle, Atlanta, even Australia.
“Amazing you could find 70 people who cared enough,” Barry says. “I wouldn’t have missed it for anything,” Liz replies.
To some extent high school in Marin in the 1970s matched the clichés. “It was sex, drugs, and rock and roll,” says Mercedes Shinohara (she was Mary in high school, but renamed herself at 21). Nixon was out of office, the Vietnam War was over, and the first Earth Day had been celebrated. As Richard Delamater says, “Hippie power seemed to be changing the world.” Mickey Hart owned a barn across from school where the Grateful Dead rehearsed. “During school you’d hear this magical music,” Richard recalls. “So we’d cut class to hide in the woods, smoke a doobie, and just listen.”
In the mid-’70s, Novato was a small town. “There wasn’t a lot to do,” Doreen Drake says. “We spent time just driving around.” There were only two gas stations, so during the gas crisis they’d wait in line for an hour to fill up at 35 cents a gallon. They raced their cars up Novato Boulevard or at the quarter mile out by Stafford Lake. They drove dune buggies. Hung out at the drive-in. Fixed up their cars.
“One of our friends had a key that fit another guy’s Chevrolet,” Mike Nash, who flew in from Minneapolis, remembers. “We’d leave right before lunch, drive his car down to Taco Bell, and return it before he got out of class. The poor guy tore the gas tank apart, replaced all the filters—he just about went crazy trying to figure out why he was getting such bad gas mileage.” It was four months before the Chevrolet’s owner came out of class one day to see his own car cruising up the school driveway.
The group swaps other memories. The Kentucky Fried Chicken incident: a bunch of the guys stole a statue of Colonel Sanders, put a beer in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and a bucket on his head, and left it on the roof of the school.
Then there were the Chiclets that turned out to be Ex-Lax. Or the ninth grader who went up to the most developed girl in the class and begged, “Can I touch them?” What was the most embarrassing thing about high school? “Every single moment,” says Valerie May. Doreen adds, “I was a cheerleader, and when I look at pictures of how short my skirt was I want to die.”
The radio back then was playing Paul McCartney’s “Silly Love Songs” and Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing.” Plus another song that seems particularly relevant when the disc jockey spins it on reunion night: David Bowie’s “Golden Years.”