The Redondo Beach Pier is atypical. Instead of jutting out picturesquely, simply, as does its counterpart in Manhattan Beach, it makes a ragged, jagged, seemingly improvised trip back to land, forming a Waterworldesque U referred to by its Web site, curiously, as a “horseshoe.”
But this is a classic southern California place spun with surreality, contradiction and peculiarity, among them that I don’t remember visiting this place, some 10 minutes from my home, during the two decades I lived there.
The wondrous oddness settles in piece by piece, starting with it being one of the few small places on earth likely to have two toe ring shops, one even called T’s Toe Rings & Gifts (which also sells “Real Seashells” and assures you that “Yes, They’re Real!” and even “Real, Real, Real!”). The competitor, Slightly Different Collectibles & Gifts, urges people to come in for its sterling silver toe rings and ankle bracelets — no bare feet allowed.
On a warm California weekend, the pier is swarming with people buying, selling, even singing. The musicians include two young men playing Sublime tunes, one unsubtly wearing a Sublime T-shirt, and a somewhat desperate aging surfer playing the Beatles’ charmingly unsettling “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” Fresh seafood is available, and rides on paddle boats, “submarines” or speedboats, which the young pitchmen pervert thoughtlessly by calling out to passers-by that it’s a “great day for a sea-boat ride.”
Families are everywhere, women stand gossiping (“If she was 18 or younger than 18 I could understand it, but at 21!”), mariachis slouch in surly fashion on fences and young Latinas wander past, lovingly hand in hand, one in a bright green T-shirt proclaiming her a “BOY MAGNET.” Two even younger Latinas in shorts and bikini tops stop to weigh themselves on the giant, old-fashioned scale gleaming in the Sunday sun. They pay 25 cents each to cover the results, giggle, blush and run off. A middle-aged father follows their example, with less giggling. Just like a roller coaster, isn’t it?
That throwback form of fun is just a hint of what crowds the nearby arcade, the Redondo Fun Factory, as loud, jangly and spangled as walking through a pinball game. It’s filled with signs, political paraphernalia and, of course, entertainments from over the decades, so “Wave Runner” games and first-person shooters are next to sideshow mirrors and a horse race game, powered by boys throwing balls below, called in classically unintelligible fashion by a man who seems to love his job. In one corner is that most bizarre of contests: Fill a balloon by spraying water into a clown’s mouth. In another corner sit two tables of Hercules, so two people can “Play the World’s LARGEST Pinball Game” side by side.
Here’s the Love Tester, so you can “Measure Your Sex Appeal on this Love Meter.” In ascending order you can be blah, clammy, harmless, mild, wild, sexy, burning, passionate, hot stuff or uncontrollable, but the pictures illustrating these are a touch recondite. Whatever’s going on when you’re uncontrollable is hidden discreetly behind an umbrella, but the woman’s legs are not on the ground; hot stuff, though, one step down, merely shows a man and woman hugging, and the image of passion is a man and woman holding hands. Sexy, interestingly enough, is a man and woman holding hands while another man watches.
Then, throwbacks from an even stranger era: Ms. Pac-Man, Pac-Man, Exciting New Pac-Man Plus and, in a plain yellow case with two lonely looking knobs, Pong. By the Crane-Vacs, where people can pay 50 cents for a chance at a jawbreaker (the “mega” jawbreakers are oddly smaller than the “giant” jawbreakers), is a case with prizes. Giant white bears holding extravagant red hearts, hanging from the ceiling, seem to peer placidly inside: It’s 80 points for hand-held mixers or can openers, 100 for an iron. For these prizes, surely, people need not pay attention to the carnival sign urging them to “Play ’Til You Win!”
The charm of the arcade, pier and its live seafood make a meal obligatory, and we are just easing into line at “Live” Quality Seafood Inc., scanning the big menu board behind the deli cases, when I turn to my parents and tell them we can’t eat here.
My mom suspects I’ve seen a rat, but really I’ve just spotted a bit of ridiculousness lurking in plain sight: The menu lists “Freedom fries” among its side dishes.
We leave in agreement: Enough of the pier’s curiosities.