By MIKE MORRIS
It's just after 6 a.m. at a downtown Angels Camp cafe, and Paul Raggio joins his friends to talk about the good ol' days which, for them, means the 1940s.
They reminisce about the once-thriving town, which had seven bars, all with gambling and dancing. At such haunts as the Pioneer Club, Sierra Club or Mel's Corner, patrons could get a beer for a quarter and a shot of whiskey for a dime.
And who could forget the "banana ranch"?
The old "ranch," next to what is now Glory Hole Sports on Highway 49, was a house of ill-repute.
"As a politician, I don't know anything about those places," Raggio, a longtime Angels Camp City Council member, says with a grin. "That's where they raised bananas, but the weather got bad so they had to close it up."
While Raggio insists he never paid the cathouse a call, his friend Henry Petithomme jokes that Raggio "used to pass out towels there."
But Raggio does confess to sneaking into some of the city's bars when he was underage.
"All of the bartenders knew me, so I got to get in," says Raggio, 72. "The economy was booming. Everyone was gambling, drinking, dancing, having a good time.
"Life was good. Like I say, with all sincerity, 'I've seen the best of it.'"
Guns and fishing
While Raggio and his twin brother, Peter, might have been named after saints, they were no angels.
The two were born in Angels Camp to Italian immigrants, Raggio's mother was a teacher and his father was a miner.
Because Paul and Peter became "too much of a handful" in their youth, Paul was transferred to a San Andreas elementary school in order to separate the twins.
"We were pretty frisky kids," he said. "We always had a gun or a fishing pole in our hands."
Peter agreed: "We'd get up, grab our guns, and (our mother) wouldn't see us until night ... They were the good ol' days."
The pair shot pellet guns in town and fished for trout in Angels Creek.