Needing a dose of the kid I hopped a flight on Southwest from Oakland to Seattle for the weekend. Here’s her new condo on Capitol Hill. Never done but always organized. This is not something she got from her dad.
Last night we ate at Blotto. Lucky for me they had vegan pizza. Joint was the inspiration of Cal and Jordan sour dough obsessed pie makers. Ate outside, crowd was mostly masked. This is a to die for hole in the wall on Capitol Hill. They launched during the pandemic to rave reviews. Life is still possible and pizza you will not soon forget too.
Last weeks return from the Southwest ruins tour hasn’t prepared this dad for the coldest May on record in Seattle. Oh, well, I got a warmhearted kid.
Nomads will be pleased to view this beauty. A rare petite Avion ready for duty. I want one.
And finally this is a cat Lee Ross has been taking care of. This is Sally’s cat but there’ve been some logistical moves and to cool the cat down she’s hanging out at Lee’s place. Lovely little feline.
Sylvia, a Navajo would take us into the canyon. Visitors to Canyon de Chelly (pronounced as canyon dee shay) are required to be escorted by a member of the tribe. The Diné (the people) occupy a vast expanse of land that includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado— it is the Navajo Nation.
Travel into the canyon because of deep sand and creek crossings requires all wheel drive. Decades ago, when Sylvia was a child, her family traveled by horse drawn wagon from their home in the canyon to Chinle for supplies. Today she lives on a nearby plateau overlooking Cottonwood Campground. A neighbor warned me to not go near, that there was a pack of mean dogs up there. This gentleman had a silly smirk on his face, the Diné prefer their privacy and are inclined to be mistrustful of strangers. Let’s just call it for what it was, a harmless fib.
Over the decades since the 1970’s I have traveled and performed across the Navajo Nation working at their schools and libraries. I had not had time being so busy with shows to enter the canyon, to see the cliff dwellings, rock art and petroglyphs.
Sylvia would pull back the curtain, the elder woman wanted to tell the story of the Diné, how in 1864 the United States Calvary had hunted her people, killing members of her tribe, removing them from their land, imprisoning them to make way for the immigrants coming to steal their land and settle here.
Sylvia telling us of this suffering is based upon the stories she was told as child by her great grandmother who had survived the long walk from the canyon to where her people were interned and imprisoned in Bosque Redondo, New Mexico.
Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine came up in our conversation, for the Diné this current madness is all too familiar with the invasion they endured 154 years ago. Humans are dangerous, unpredictable and capable of unimaginable cruelty. This is one of humanity’s sad truth’s, forged by historic fact. Canyon de Chelly would be taken from the Navajo, livestock seized, farmland destroyed, their hogans set fire to— the United States Army was under orders from Washington to destroy everything.
There is every reason to believe that today, that a runaway and lawless United States government could attack again, that there still is a mania running rampant among the minds of too many men.
Sylvia erased any distance I had conceived between the past and the present. Abandoned cliff dwellings set perched upon ledges in the canyon, the occupants who had made this place home had gone missing. Three thousand years before present— Homer was alive and writing in Greece, here in this unknown world one theory estimates that as many as 100 million people lived in prehistoric America unaware there were such powerful civilizations expanding halfway around the world, even the notion of thinking our world to be spherical was yet to be understood.
European settlers needed to tell another story, theirs was a narrative of savages and ignorance, of superstition, the first people according to this wave of European immigrants were unfit to be part of this new country.
In 1864 Kit Carson marched 8000 Diné from Northern Arizona to internment camps in Eastern New Mexico. Two thousand Diné were killed while in the custody of the United States Army. This is the history of Sylvia’s people, stories told by her elders, eyewitnesses, those who had endured the long walk, the internment camps and by 1868 were freed after the signing of the Navajo Peace Treaty.
Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine in 2022 is a haunting echo of a history any right minded person believes should remain in the past, not forgotten but never repeated. The Russian dictator instead has rekindled the brutish conduct of Stalin complete with Ukrainian prisoners being sent to internment camps in Siberia where they will face torture, hard labor, little food and in all too many instances underserved death. Sylvia knows of such evil, her people have felt the sharp sting of such madness.
The ruins of Chaco Canyon tell a different story— here are located the remains of an advanced civilization. Here you can find evidence of a vibrant people who had developed a distinct new way of living. Charting time, speed and distance the ruins of Chaco Canyon suggest this was a place inhabited by many thousands and thousands of people— many thousands and it seems a home to many different tribes.
The oldest existing buildings were first constructed about 1200 years before present, but many thousands of years earlier, long before the first people built these great homes our earliest ancestors lived here in the canyon too. It is likely that earlier attempts to construct rock walls have vanished with time. Artifacts are fragile, time is unkind to what evidence we might find. Wind, rain and ice have destroyed much of what science would expect to find here. The best we can do is guess, posit theories, try to fit what few facts we do know into a plausible explanation of when was Chaco Canyon first occupied, who were these first people, where did they come from, where did they go, why would they leave—
Above the canyon on the plateau vast herds of bison, elk and antelope thrived. Here it is hard to imagine now but the native grasses and bushes were adapted to this climate and soil. Invasive species brought over from the Old World would choke out the native plants, not adapted to the dry climate the new plants starved the native plants of moisture forever altering this habitat. Twelve centuries ago, this region of New Mexico was a more verdant and greener landscape.
Corn, beans and squash were cultivated in Chaco Canyon. Irrigation was by now common to the first people. Farming added resilience to the Chacoan people’s lives. Further east of Chaco Canyon there is evidence of the first people entering this region 23,000 years before present. North in Nevada rock art near Pyramid Lake is dated back to 14,700 years before present. What route the first people traveled to settle this region is unknown. Did they travel down the coast on rafts— perhaps they’d come up the Sea of Cortez and entered the Southwest by working their way north and east hunting and gathering as they opened up new territory.
The first people’s architecture, pictographs and petroglyphs give us a glimpse into their hearts and minds. The kivas tell us of their spirituality, that the Chaco people aligned their structures using the stars, and that they understood the complexity of the Metonic cycle, this is a 19-year chronology in which there are 235 lunations after which the Moon’s phases recur on the same days of the solar year.
The Supernova of 1054 is memorialized on the canyon’s walls of Chaco. Navajo are a matrilineal people, children are born into their mother’s family, whatever is inherited comes from her side. Sylvia has land in Canyon de Chelly that will be passed to her daughters when she dies. In Chaco Canyon were discovered fourteen women buried. Jewelry, pottery and clothing were found with the remains. Likely these were important Chacoan leaders, the members of the tribe with the highest status. Remember hunting bison, mastodon or wild cats was a hazardous endeavor and likely many brave hunters were lost trying to help feed members of this vast complex multi-tribal community.
In World War II members of the Navajo worked with the allies as code talkers, the Nazi’s never were able to crack the Diné’s language— it was the skilled language of the great first people of the America’s that helped to defeat the madness of Germany, Italy and Japan. Anthropologists theorize that it is the advances in language that allow people to organize in larger and larger groups. Smaller groups of hunters and gatherers cannot verbally organize as efficiently, there are no words sufficient for communicating more and more complex tasks. The Chacoan people spoke many different languages, no two alike but all by now were evolved and capable of supporting a larger more complex community.
There was no elder like Sylvia to walk us through Chaco Canyon. Because the 20-mile-long dirt road into the park is so rough many visitors forgo the effort to come see this place. We would not be discouraged— a rough road becomes a smooth road if you are willing to go slow enough. We toured the largest ruins first. After a few hours at Pueblo Bonito, we returned to camp for food and rest. That same late afternoon we struck out on foot and went east along Chaco Wash on Wijiji Trail. We hiked out two miles to see the ruins, they are only centuries old, the Navajo built them, there are no kiva’s, the walls are thinner, other details are also distinct to these ruins. Most of all we walked alone on the trail. The late afternoon was clear and warm, the wind had stopped, there was a welcomed stillness. Our encounter was direct, there were no other people to distract our being with these structures, we had them to ourselves, this is not common in our ever more crowded world.
I could conjure up voices of people from the past. With nothing to interfere with my imagination, no distractions the voice of the ruins was more direct, there was a sense of intimacy, I could sense the ghost like spirit of the Chaco Canyon people.
It is perplexing why this site was abandoned. Scientists theorize that after three centuries of continuous building the Chaco people had exhausted the nearby tree’s they used to build the roofs for their rock walled buildings.
Hauling big logs in from afar may have not been possible. The plateau above the canyon may have had large herds of bison, water may have been scarce, without wheels dragging logs may have not been practical. Perhaps other people from other tribes might have posed a threat, the trees may have belonged to another tribe. Maybe none of this is true, perhaps all of it is fact, there remain questions with no sure answers.
Looking at the world we are born into now with the courage to not look away— this is the world with nuclear weapons, we are a people that have altered our climate by burning fossil fuels. Among our various systems of organization there are miscreants running amok that would prefer to rule by dictate, that believe an authoritarian form of governance would serve their social, political and economic interests best. Our potential for barbarism is no less as potent as a vengeful Genghis Khan.
Our weakness is built in, altering our behavior is far from hopeless but neither is it so far proven to be such an easy task to master. It is in some portion of our nature to behave with aggression— another nation’s sovereignty and their people’s freedom can be viewed as unnecessary and expendable— a desperate rapacious invader can rationalize away their reason for plundering. The Buddhist’s of Tibet errored in trusting that Mao Zedung would not take advantage, the spiritually advanced Buddhist Tibet had no means of defending its own borders— their pacifism betrayed their people and its future. The world is complicated and our evolving circumstances challenge.
Into this moment with Putin invading Ukraine, Republicans actively plotting to topple America’s democracy, an apprehensive citizen dares to go politically naked into the ruins of America’s first people— we bow and welcome the Diné to warn us of a very uncertain tomorrow. Go soon and decide for yourself— there is a story to tell, we are the world’s elders now. We’ve crossed over beyond what we might do to help a fragile world along— we are beyond recycling, saving water, tutoring a grammar school student in learning how to read and write. There is this profound sense of our fragile government coming apart, that a dangerous authoritarian faction is ready to pounce. Humankind needs all of us to resist this well-organized ruthless minority, we are the authors of our own better path, the solutions to our problems will come by our willingness to do the work, get out the vote, bring new solutions to some of our most nettlesome problems. Most of all we must resist the temptation to deny this might well devolve into a fight.
The Diné know all of this and more, they know of the long walk, they tell unvarnished stories to their offspring, they speak of matters all too brutal, all too recent, all too painful. We owe a debt to these great people who have forgiven us even if they remain wary and forewarned. We should listen if our world is to survive the scars of their truth, these stubborn immutable traits of human behavior are set down on rock in an abandoned desert canyon.
This is the story of the extended dialogue. It begins in Echo Park at a poker game in 2002. Robert Nelson drove me over from Venice in his passion red Morris Minor— passion in any color was Robert through and through. Playing that night were a handful of street performers. Sean Laughlin and Lee Ross were at the table. Sean, I knew from working sidewalk shows in Fisherman’s Wharf, Lee from festivals we played in Halifax and Edmonton.
Traveling through Nevada in 2016 I reached out to Sean and stopped over at his century old digs in Silver City. In 2019 on the road for performances in Canada I’d stopped in Ft Collins, Colorado for shows at the street pitch in Old Town. Lee was south near Boulder and came north for a meet up.
I had forgotten about the three of us playing poker in LA, sometimes there just isn’t enough bandwidth to keep all these accidental interactions sorted out in your head.
Each of us have met with much success in show business. Sean had been working cruise ships out of Australia, he’d come up with a double act, the other half of the act was a woman, they were business partners on stage and romantic partners off.
Lee had worked New York City, Paris and other corners of the world. Cirque de Soleil had cast him to play the part of ringmaster in their Australian unit. Lee was tapped for the part based off his improvisational skills and comic madness— Lee goes over the falls, jumps from the highest building and socks you with his humor in the belly. Lee is one funny fucker— if he was one of our nation’s founding documents he’d be categorized as an original.
All three of us have honed improvisational comic skills. All three of us have set routines. We’ve got bits, gags, and time-tested one-liners. We’ve performed our shows 1000’s of times. We have worked all over the world. On any given night any of the three of us could have been the best act on the bill— yes, the three of us can knock a building down with laughter.
After decades in the business, after signing one contract after another, stopping over to play some street pitches for fun, to meetup with our peers, after decades of this work along came the pathogenic crisis and our access to work came to a grinding halt.
Last week traveling east from my place in San Francisco up to Silver City, Nevada and then further east to Salida, Colorado it was on this 1200-mile drive that my memory jelled, and I connected the dots.
In the last years I’ve been writing novels, there are four obscure seldom read but superb works of fiction, none have been acquired by a major publishing house, but that is a marketing challenge and not a creative failure. Locking up and having our output sputter to a halt is another malady altogether.
Lee about the same decade plus was working in Hollywood— he sold a few scripts, produced a few shows, and is in the hunt to do more.
Sean’s father passed (Travis T Hip) and his Berkeley born son inherited the property in Silver City. These are complicated bones some refurbished to perfection while other parts remain unfinished, much still to do, there is a legacy and fortune to honor here.
Where to live is a question— the three of us have no sure answers. How best to use our heart’s is another— passionate physical comedians talking heart power is a rant inside a poem peppered with false hopes, dead ends and Eureka moments a mother would die knowing about.
The question of our going into rehearsals and preparing to go back onstage is part of our conversation. We’re all Broadway Baby’s, the whole lot of us born in a packing trunk— our parents worked at the 5 and 10, just so someday we could be in a great big Broadway show— oh…………….
Down the list of what is next— what to do about scratching up money, how to get more fat hat’s, and where we might get all this spare laughter— what we would do with the involuntary guffaw treasure— yeah we kick the past, present and how we’ll deal with our monthly nut— making the nut is part of the grind— we run our tread thin— to the bone— once you’ve scraped up a living from what you can find on a sidewalk— once you’ve tasted cheap paved thrills there is a confidence that drowns the second guessing and promises you’ve made to your landlord that you of all people to doubt are better than good for the rent.
Sean was none too keen about signing up for another run on a cruise ship. Terms included being under contract for almost four months, and during the run to remain safe from Covid the artist would not be allowed to go ashore. If you worked the gig you remained aboard the entire time— that’s not necessarily music to the ears of a world class performer who is otherwise accustomed to having prior to this moment all manner of adventure, leisure and self discovery. Clipping our wings isn’t something we’d sign up for.
Lee has been ensconced in an entirely different puzzle to sort through. Done with Boulder, no longer able to see any sense in simply holding onto doing more shows on the pitch on the mall he moved up to the mountain town of Salida, Colorado. Where the two of us intersect in the present is our work as writers. Lee has been producing scripts, some written with a partner, then trying to get the projects into the hands of producers who might acquire the rights.
The market for new fiction and screenplays has been undergoing change, turmoil isn’t even the beginning of how to describe what is underway, it is seismic, tidal— today’s marketplace resembles nothing like what a novelist or screenwriter confronted two decades earlier.
Three of us have long been buskers. All of us have told ourselves time and again if we ever got down on our luck, we could pitch the act back up on a sidewalk and scuff up a few bucks. It is a common conceit among sidewalk show-makers. The question is how hard we’d have to hit bottom before we’d return to pound out shows on the pavement— at some point in a life there is located a point of no return, that for many practical reasons remounting the act to work on a sidewalk will meet neither the moment nor the requirements of an evolving showman. Still, it’s this letting go thing that’s hardest of all.
Considering how we’ve all ridden the rough and tumble, up and downs of show business, just when you figure this is it, that’s all she’s wrote, you get a call, you toss your hat into the ring, and once more you yoke your show to a contract and a year later look back at another good run.
Whatever comes next— what we build from scratch— no more hanging on to yesterday— this is the present moment point of departure for this group of three men plotting next chapters. What binds us to this conversation is we know we’ve two other’s who can appreciate the fix we’re all in.
So maybe we do a show maybe we don’t, maybe we stay right where we are maybe we go somewhere else, most of what looks fixed and bolted down turns out to be fungible, going off on a lark is part of what sidewalk showmen do with the rest of their lives.
Like back in the poker playing party days, I forged ahead with love— met my wife— had the sense to marry the woman— I put one piece of my life into order. I’m the older guy here among the poker players and they’ve been lucky at cards and somewhat less lucky at love, not that there has been any shortage of opportunities, but getting in and staying in is something else, something you got to work at, and the work of intimacy— ain’t for sissies— it takes guts kid.
What the three of us do know is that we hold a pretty good set of cards. We’d all like to make good and all three are willing to bet their life on it. Two of the three are considering potentials to form partnerships, it is in their nature to love and be loved— good thing if you can find it, form it and keep it on track.
Two of us have traded in our suitcase and have a steady place to live, not that this has been easy or that we have any knack for being in the same place, but damn it we are giving it a go, we pretend we’re just like everyone else even if we’ve never lived anywhere for long since decades ago when we were still just a couple of wise cracking talk backing boys.
Of the one of us that hasn’t gone all in on a spot— and I’m privy to no inside information here— what I know is my gut tells me there is a move to be made and this last busker is ready to trade in his suitcase for a place he can call his own— these things happen even when you believe that they never will or that you are the one drifter that will just have to keep roaming the wide world until the end of your days.
That’s us in a nutshell, or maybe just the nut with no shell. We do a show or not, we love as we can and finally talk ourselves into sticking around. End times for vagabonds— this is the look and how it is done. I’d bet two weeks from now all of this could change— they both raise me and call— they want to see the cards I’m holding in my hand— sure thing Poncho
“But for the environmental impacts of cultivated meat, according to an independent study from the University of Oxford, cultured meat could be produced with up to 96 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions, 45 percent less energy, 99 percent lower land use, and 96 percent lower water use than conventional meat. Many more independent studies show that cultured meat can help fight the climate crisis. So it’s not a question of if; it’s a question of when.”
Silver City, Nevada is home to 200 citizens maybe a few more, depends on the day. You’ll find her about four miles off Highway 50 while you’re heading east out of Carson City. A friend hangs his hat here, calls it home, for the moment, for the last two decades. Whether he stays or not depends on what America chooses to do, he’s not the time or temperament to suffer through a takeover by enemies of democracy.
His has been a privileged life. Street performer, renaissance fair entertainer, standup comedy showman, cruise ship juggling act and even contract work as a bit part actor in Hollywood. Having seen so much of the world the implications of leaving for some more peaceful corner of creation does not stir up fear.
If you like dogs you’ll love Pino. Rescue dogs usually come from the pound with something wrong, some bad habit nobody can break. Pino might too, but Silver City is so agreeable to this dog’s disposition it is hard to know what quirk lurks beneath his fur. Might be a miracle canine healing power of the place has occurred.
Water for Silver City comes off an alpine lake west in the Sierra Nevada. Kind of hard to explain the intricacies of all of this Silver City water. Long gone mine owner secured the rights by putting down a pile of silver and the rights to this water are ironclad, they’ve the best high mountain fresh water of any community near or far. Tourist trap Virginia City should be so lucky to have such fine water.
Mustang range through town. Up by the community hall the park grass is fenced off to discourage equine grazers. Homes are painted, doors and windows work as they should, a proper roof is always a must. Once you adjust your eyesight to small town Nevada everything comes into focus, the good citizens here are taking care of their property. By my eye many look fully improved turn key operations.
Yes, you can find a snowmobile that has been dissolving into a rusting heap alongside the salvaged metal remains of most of one century then all another hundred years and toss these last two can we have a do-over decades plus in for good measure. There is some pavement. The one highway through town is paved. There are no traffic signals.
Looking south you’ll see sky, clouds kick up, hell of a place for happy hour. Every kind of enterprise, industry and labor is performed in Silver City. Nevada’s state capitol Carson City is not far, Tesla’s Gigafactory is not close but if that’s where you find a a job and a living wage— it can be one of life’s cruel possibility’s. The best life is reserved for repairmen, that’s the ticket here. Fix an RV toilet, install a water heater, bannister refurbishing is popular and needed.
Baker, Nevada is 8 hours and 370 miles east of Silver City. Baker is also a town of near 200 Great Basin souls. Silver City is the minor league’s when you think about emptiness and isolation, Baker plays in the to hell and gone league. You got so much nowhere out here that by the time you drive to somewhere you end up barely having gotten anywhere. Ely’s the next nearest somewhere— she too is a fine place and there’s plenty of it, they’ve got grocery stores, gas stations and saloons.
Whispering Elm’s Campground is where I stopped in Baker. A no-nonsense hard boiled egg of a woman checked me in. Took my money, smoked her cigarette, answered the phone and grouched back at whoever and whatever was on the other line. Her ride was an overridden Ford Explorer. No dents, started when you turned the key and the original paint was protected by a thick coat of Great Basin dust. I made small annoying chit-chat. I was here in March 2020 when the pandemic was breaking out— She had nothing to say— I carried on— he persists— pretty much talking to myself, she’d of preferred to hear from anything other than a two-bit likely two-timing no good for nothing nature loving Californian.
This is what passes for true affection in the remote eastern outpost of Baker, Nevada. I needed more seasoning is what a local likely thinks— a few weeks of wearing down would help before conversation with this invasive species would offer any potential benefit. You want to talk to someone that might listen you head right over across the street to the national park headquarters where they’ve got people that are paid to put up with a just arriving Great Basin hack explorer.
I’ve cracked more than a few hard nuts out here in Baker. They’ll come around eventually or by happy hour. There are hard lessons out here to learn. First is how to put two coins together. Younger more ambitious types with some spunk left get on at one of the ranches, work on road repair crews, maybe you’re cooking for a restaurant before it goes belly up then get hired on to cook for the next proprietor that gives hospitality services a try prior to the next collapse. Ghost town status is preternatural.
I’ve met a few lifer’s along the way, but most are here because they can’t take anywhere out there anymore. Rush hour, gridlock and stinking air pollution has converted more than a few to the virtues of a place like Baker. Most of these kindred spirits have a deep detestation for civilization, all of it, the whole kit and bumper to bumper caboodle. Only exception they are willing to make is for the ornery son of a bitches that they share this corner of the world with. Fair enough, everything has its price, I’m good with Baker folk sticking together and leaving me out.
If you were blindfolded and set down in Baker or Silver City and asked to identify where you are the tone of voice and the quality of joy in the voice of the citizen would give the whole guessing game away. Baker occupies a wee little corner of the Snake Valley. If you go half cocked off in any direction you will find yourself in a place that can kill, maim or make misery on your foolishness in a heartbeat. A breakdown out a dirt road could be your last lousy mistake. The paved roads are safest. Some graded dirt roads aren’t too risky, but then there are these other less seldom used two track trails to nowhere you’ve got to think twice about.
Baker now has a reliable cellphone signal. A few years back all you could do is dial to a number and use your voice to talk to someone, since those days they’ve added data so now you can look at your mail or if you’ve got the stomach for it read the news. This may or may not be progress, jury is out on whether the Pony Express might have been a more reliable service. If you do or don’t come here that’s your choice, you are only missing Great Basin beauty and the ugly truth.
A Nevada art’s organization offers a winter long residency here. If you are a writer they’ll set you up in a shack give you enough money for food and let your stew on whatever it is you have swelling up inside that needs expression. Once full-on winter sets in things go from soft core to hardcore. Instead of maybe a dozen or two dozen vehicles arriving by the day you can expect maybe one or two every couple of days. You build fires in the wood stove, watch the weather reports for snow and ice, and hitch a ride to Ely to resupply when its safe to go.
Last few miles before making it to Baker I surprised a coyote crossing the highway. This animal scattered like buckshot into the sagebrush glancing back once just in case I was going to give chase then the critter kept running for its life trying to reclaim its stealth like presence. I slowed then stopped and studied the animals efforts to get away, there was an economy of effort, fast enough to do the work of fleeing but not so much as to risk running the tank of coyote gas empty before the job was done. Since I’m not often running for my life I mean who am I to judge one coyote or another— fast or slow running for your life is running for your life. Hell we’re all running, out here in the high desert that running is just less complicated or disguised. You either make it or you don’t, no hurry, take your time, once you’ve found cover, taken a sip at the watering hole, had a chance to catch your breath, it’s all good, you’ve made it, you are safe, for the moment, eternity can wait—
Rolling east next week— it’s the road and it’s out there waiting mile after mile to be devoured. Over the years I’ve kept in touch with people, some are friend’s others are business contacts. If I had not been so frequently back to one place or another it might have not been practical to cast my relationship’s net so far.
Out of sight and out of mind, many don’t put in the time to keep in touch. Back before the digital revolution I’d call or send a letter. I traveled with a Smith-Corona manual typewriter, good supply of envelopes, typing paper and stamps. As I mapped out the year, I’d send notes ahead of my traveling through for shows to my support network.
Anticipating a return to a favorite venue, an enticing town, a backwater along a river— there are mental images that wet the appetite.
I get how when we are one place, we might not have the space in our head to remember all the details of the second place. If you tour the list crowding the imagination is long. In Winnipeg there was this after-hour’s joint, the sofa outback under the building’s porch roof, this was where the cast drank beer disguised in paper sacks, fooling nothing and nobody, this was a modern day speakeasy, the cops could be kicking the doors down at any moment, the performers swept up and taken away in paddy wagons.
Comfort zones come from sleeping in the same bed. You want to force yourself to get out, stay with friends, pitch a tent, get a room, stay at a musty hotel. You can become too attached to your dog— our gardens can entrap us— staying home becomes a debilitating habit— it’s a form of adventure surrender. Everything is in play when you unexpectedly drop on by, disrupting comfortable stuck friends is a form of liberation— they should be thankful— a few are, some never will be.
The touring act dropping in for a day or two provides a degree of discomfort, this is healthy, the host will survive and only after you leave will appreciate how fortunate their lives are for having you stop by and scramble their calendar. How long are you going to stay? That is the key question. Two day’s is a brilliant conceit, just long enough.
Knocking about town to town is a skill set of its own kind. Getting comfortable in faraway places, not feeling out of sorts, once your wandering mode is as natural a state of being as your being in one place mode you’ve really made your mark— you’re a wanderer in a kingdom that is all your’s.
The vagabond, gypsy and busker have suitcase efficiencies and spartan shave kits that will spark envy of sedentary types, the itinerate artists are perfecting the high art of traveling with only what is necessary, anything that is not needed gets or donated— travel light move quick.
Then comes the turn, that could be the date on your schedule, sometimes it is measured by the furthest distance from where you are from the place you call home, this is when in your mind’s eye the thought of getting back begins to take hold. If you are in a hurry to get back, this is not the interior state I’m marking. If you are returning with the same sense of ease and expectation as you were when you were leaving, that’s what I’m talking about.
Cooking for yourself is easier in your own kitchen, many meals cooked off a tailgate have little to recommend them other than the terrific view you might enjoy. Doing dishes hunched over a bucket on the ground, little discomforts will keep many harnessed to where they claim to belong.
One such helper is a woman named Becky. Growing up in Nashville she’d become friends with a juggler, he stood out, but he was young and employed as a chemist. Decades later while I was working at 5th and Mill in Tempe, Arizona we met, conversations ensued and an invitation to stay in a room above the garage was offered, “anytime you’re in town, please come on by…” And so, I have. It was only years later I realized this young juggler she met in Tennessee was my colleague— Robert Nelson.
Crawford Bay, British Columbia there is a fine friend I see that lives here when he’s not living in Banderas Bay, Mexico. Another lifelong friend an hour further west in the Slocan is there too. This is a region of the interior known as the Kootenay’s. These are deeper more complex relationships, one extends back to my teens, met Virginia in 1967. The other Angus I worked in Vancouver BC with doing shows in English Bay. Conversations are thick with history.
Returning the favor, a magician friend out of Phoenix in May will be my guest, rarest of all events is catching a gypsy in domestic relapse. I’ll show him the oddest of sedentary proof— he’ll get the chance to sleep in a guest bed and eat vegetables from our garden.
Sunday I’ll be in Silver City, Nevada hosted by a showman. Wednesday arrive in Salida, Colorado again hosted by a showman. World renowned, both in the grip of learning to belong somewhere.
Friday night I’ll pick up my wife at the airport in Albuquerque. Then, Saturday we’ll spend the day in Santa Fe with one of my favorites, she’s an abstract painter and has been for most of half a century. Abstract painters are hilarious, fun loving, like to laugh and live sun up to sundown with a passion all of their own.
What is on my mind are the Pueblo People of the Southwest. We will go to Chaco Canyon, then further west to Canyon de Chelly. This is the Navajo Nation, where the Dine’ people live.
Maybe a hot spring dip here and there, some long hikes and stargazing for sure. Will be home in time to harvest the cabbage and green beans. There is a doctor’s appointment, teeth cleaning and soon after a trip up to Seattle to see the kid, as if turning 30 isn’t insult enough, the kid is a fully realized woman I have thought of as my child. It’s all catch and release, every bit of everything we do, from shows to sleepovers, to growing vegetables or visits with good souls. We come and we go, some of us will never come back while other’s return time and again.
Installation of the heat pump in our backyard studio has been completed, signed off on by the inspector from city hall, all there is left to do is put the flooring in, sheetrock, tape, texture and paint. I did the heat pump install, hired craftsmen will do this other work.
There are heat pumps and then there are heat pumps, the last ten years much research and development has gone into improving this technology. Our Pioneer mini-split performs many functions. It can work as a fan, dehumidifier, heater or air conditioner.
I had some concerns about how much noise the outside fan and compressor would make. Turns out it is whisper quiet. To celebrate we opened the umbrella, the wife sipped from the Rhône a glass of Tavel while I took a nip of the Irish from the whiskey.
While the law of thermodynamics hasn’t changed it is the microchip, software and circuitry that have. More complicated than conventional natural gas fueled heaters and thus more expensive the payback comes over time and turns out to be one of the most effective tools we have for fighting global warming.
Big shout out to the Says Phoebe that landed on my hat while I was distracted with the installation work. The bird playing around with me was a good sign.
In March 2021 I removed the plastic that covered most of the backyard. I’d used the covering to suppress the weeds that were trying to take over. Two years ago, when I first covered this chunk of dirt there was still much on our plate, we were busy with the installation of our front yard. I needed time more time. Out back could wait.
On our list of plants for this section of our garden included grapevines, blueberry bushes, raspberries, strawberries, fig, and pomegranate trees. The brilliant Maurizio plumbed in the drip irrigation, then I installed the weed suppression fabric, then turned to planting. Our squirrel problem was solved when we started mixing coffee grounds into and around the soil of the plants we wanted them to leave alone. Turns out a California tree squirrel doesn’t like coffee. To discourage gophers we use Caster oil mixed with soap and dispense with a garden sprayer. So far all our remedies keep the pests away without adding anything toxic to the yard.
Pair of house finches went house hunting and like the looks of a beam on our front porch. I had fun spying on the two as one or the other hopped about then flitted to another unoccupied section until they’d seen enough and began work on their nest. It’s a little close to our coming and going out the front door, but we want them there and even if a cat tried it is unlikely that they could get at this mated pair.
Last year a crow tried to come eat the young baby finches. I was in time and warned the predatory bird away from the house finch’s nest. Even in this neck of the civilized woods the law of the jungle still prevails.
I’ve a pair of fine lizards in the backyard. The two can seek refuge beneath a wine barrel we use to grow tomatoes. There is also a slab of cement that provides excellent protection from predators. Our neighbors’ cats stalk and hunt anything that moves, the squirrels they can’t catch but lizards have no such evasive skills and are easy prey. In an effort rebalance the lizards’ odds I’m preparing a slingshot, justice will be felt as a stinging blow on their butt. No animal has done more to harm our songbird populations here in North America. I’m diehard Audubon member, cats should be kept inside, if the animals must be let out responsible owners should have a bell put on their collar. If matters spiral out of control, I’ll begin trapping and returning the offenders to the owners front door. That should make for some fun neighbor conversation.
Our backyard studio will have shelves dedicated for our books and record albums. When we moved into the small house, we put our books wherever we could find space, some here and some there, it was never thought through, the books are scattered all over taking up space, collecting dust, and the book I may be trying to find can be in any one of five or six different locations.
There is a futon sofa bed where we like to get horizontal. We’re going to put this piece of furniture into the tiny studio where you may sit, lie down or sleep depending upon the circumstances. We’re adding a window covering and a magnetic screen.
Once upon a time I imagined that I held dominion over various physical pieces of my life, that I had some claim to empire, it was a small place that I ruled. Like many a stubborn man I resisted the true natural order of relationship and have recognized that this dominion guise is not a practical point of view. I maybe control the top of my desk, maybe a drawer, otherwise the space is ours to share, it is within the bounds of these commons that my wife and I live together.
No tradeoffs would have been possible as a younger man— none. Had I bent to my other’s will, I would have been laughed out of the pool hall where I played for sport and small change. It is only in the latter half of a man’s life that he come to terms with not having to win every argument, not having to have it and everything his way. The tyranny of testosterone is loosening its blithering grip, like the sky the mind of a man of a certain age does clear. Some days I miss the conflict, not so much the brawling, more of the cooling off and making up after, those hugs and kisses and thinly disguised promises that you won’t do it again are so much a part of a man’s right of passage from eternal adolescence and marks the first steps on the long march to maturity.
A best friend appraising the odds believes there is barely a chance of my every making it, but then he adds it’s not the destination it’s the journey that makes all the difference. Mentioning this to my wife only produces a blank stare. Thank the gods that the eternal game is never-ending—
Montara manzanita is a native plant that lives along the coastal range mountains south of San Francisco. I took a chance on one and brought it home. My one-year-old relationship with my manzanita is going better than I could have ever imagined it would— first and foremost I know next to nothing about gardening and that plants a gardener grows— I’m not just a novice I am ignorance of all things to do with what we sometimes refer to as yard work. The Montara manzanita is adapted to our climate it thrives on little water and sunlight. The megadrought we are suffering turns out to be the perfect civilization threatening weather for my new companion.
When inventorying my plans for the day, schedule for the week, what I’m going to do next month, next year, there are even plans for the next decade that I have included on an ambitious list I’ve set to complete before I travel on from this planetary outpost. Autopiloting a Tesla wasn’t a must-have experience, but here I am and now I’ve had it. My favorite time to use this function is in bumper to bumper traffic, especially when the going gets tough. This technology works better than I do because it is paying attention and that is a problem because that is not what I am always doing when cornered by gridlock.
Returning from LA Sunday I played with the autopilot function while blasting north on Interstate 5. One of its safety features is that you must tug on the wheel every minute or so to indicate you are still there and not somewhere else. Interrupting my daydreaming makes the function somewhat less than fully automated.
Our Tesla is a standard range plus, this is the smallest battery pack version you can buy, and that’s fine, 90% of the time the vehicle is used to buzz about for local errands or the short hop over to San Francisco and back. The longer road trip meant more stops but that’s fine there were plenty of charging stations and we’d plug in and take a walk, by the time we got home we’d gotten in our 10,000 steps.
For those keeping score at home had I driven the Volvo it would have cost $240 to go round trip to LA and back, the Tesla was like $60. There was an excellent autopilot on the boat I helped deliver to Southern California last week. This is a hydraulic ram style affair that attaches to the steering quadrant below decks to keep the boat on course. The technology is connected to both the wind speed and direction instrument, speedometer and chartplotter (you’ll need a rudder angle sensor to complete this trick of steering the autopilot by wind angle). You can select a point on a map and tell the autopilot to steer to this specific spot. You can go by compass course, or you can press a few buttons and direct the autopilot to steer by wind angle (in this case you’ll need to course correct while underway to your waypoint). Best of all the technology works better than a human being, especially at night when it is harder on a pitch black sea for a sailor to keep a boat on course.
I’m finishing up the installation of our heater/air conditioner unit we’re installing in the small writing space we’ve built in our backyard. I’ve a few wires to connect, then I’ll vacuum pump the 15’ circuit before releasing the refrigerant into the system. I didn’t want to do this job, but I got a $3000 quote from an installer and that settled the matter. I’ve had to buy a pressure gauge, crowfoot wrench set, those two items set me back about $200 but it was still cheaper than the alternatives. Once this whole system goes up, I’ve got a company that will certify my installation for $275. I turn the documentation into the city’s building permit department and I’m done.
The Thompson seedless grapevines I’ve planted need attention. Planted last year the vines require some guidance. This is all new terrain for me. I spent a few hours reading through a PDF file put out by the agriculture department from University of California-Davis. Not sure how any of us did any of this in the days before the internet.
Maurizio is a sage irrigation specialist. He’s helped rebuild our drip system and taught me how to add a circuit as the garden expands. He’s close to retiring and dreams of returning to Mexico to live out his last years in the village where he was born. My work is plodding, slow and my inexperience shows through, I am a rank amateur compared to Maurizio. His English is good, his accent is thick, we spend a lot of time completely in the dark, he doesn’t understand me and I am absolutely convinced I would never understand him even if I was fluent in Spanish. This is a trivial matter since we seem to somehow figure out what each other wants, in this respect our relationship remains on the best of best foundations. Maurizio knows how much I respect him. The old man works in gardens because it is his calling, it is his passion, helping others in their gardens is a matter of great consequence. Gardens help people on their path, gardening among other things brings us closer to the mystery of sunlight, seed, soil and water.
I’ve ordered double braided polyester dock line from Fisheries Supply. I’ll put eye splices on the end of 6 different lengths of line I’ll use to secure our boat to her new berth in San Francisco’s South Beach Harbor. If you haven’t seen how an eye splice is made surf over to YouTube and have a look-see for yourself. I’ve spliced before, but I’m a rank beginner, each splice takes everything I’ve got, most sailors parcel this work out to a rigging shop. Last week I spotted a boat berthed in Marina del Rey, the boat was a beauty, and not one piece of her was slipshod, there was a consciousness to each detail, a lot of effort was put into her dock lines. I’d had something similar in mind and now I no longer have to imagine I took pictures and will copy these boats mooring line system.
I’m juggling in the backyard. I had been away from my juggling equipment during the pandemic. After juggling nonstop since 1973 a sabbatical was in order. I was burnt out, juggling had become a chore, and that is the saddest thing to make what you once loved into a grim dutyBest of all my time off has allowed my appetite to return. I’m feeling voracious again, especially good news for a juggler of a certain vintage, my arms and shoulders appreciate the workout. For those unfamiliar with juggling, it is also a mental workout, the right side of our brain controls the left side of our body and vice versa, in other words juggling also scratches at parts of our intellect that can be difficult to reach without juggling.
As guru’s go there is none better than Tom Varley. First off his guidance pertains to all things to do with sailing, Volvo’s or Jack Russell terriers. One look at the engine room aboard his sailboat Spirit helps the uninitiated to understand why I’ve made this man my go-to advisor. In vain I tried to revive my 23 year old wind speed indicator, I did as told down to each and every detail, but the wind meter has evaded my every effort of allowing me the satisfaction of bringing the old piece of gear back to life. The hours invested, the money spent on parts, none of this matters, it is the fixing that is most important, because you fix something for reasons that transcend the thing being fixed. This is the fix we are all in, fixing is the opportunity to get out of bed and falling flat on your face before you’ve even had time to make your coffee. It is in this corner with the greatest of trepidation that I’ve inched closer to buying a brand spanking new wind speed instrument knowing that there is every chance that if something could go wrong something will go wrong during the installation and that it cannot possibly be as simple, easy or as inexpensive as it appears to be.
I am sure you’ve a garbage disposal on the fritz, a button to mend and a spouse to amuse— there is not a moment to waste unless you want to contemplate how it is some guy with the last name of Shakespeare did what he did like none before or any these many centuries after. You have to wonder if by some quirk of fate Shakespeare showed up in this century and gifted the world with new fresh piercing plotting and dialogue if anyone would even take notice. It must be asked if this great writer would find his writing clicked on, forwarded, or if it would like so much of this digitized era go lost among the riot of information rushing toward us all.
I really don’t have time for this. I’ve discovered the olive tree has leaned away from a towering Italian pine and has pushed up against our mailbox and broken through one corner rendering our mail wet when it rains. I’m going to affix a post to the existing post and move the mailbox over about one foot. Then I’ll restrain all the wood making the project look properly finished and of course we can then enjoy our life knowing the olive tree may now harmlessly continue growing as trees are wont to do.
This is how it is how has always been and will always be. I thought when Sears folded so would much of the rest of all this nonsense, but no that isn’t true at all, nature abhors a vacuum and all the tools required to keep all that open and free time on your calendar fully crammed with otherwise thankless tasks and idiotic fixes to things you would not miss for one single second. If you can prove me wrong you’ve much too much time on your hands and need to get an untrained puppy and begin at the beginning.
Casting my fate to the wind I confronted the last most credible year of my life— I had turned out to be a 29-year-old cornered by a demanding profession, the quest to find success in show business had left all matters large and small, both onstage and off devoured by the rapacious appetite of my most insecure self. Drowning in my own shallowness turned into trying to repurpose my time— I tossed a life preserver to my foundering soul and signed up for sailing lessons. I had no clue if this was even something I would like.
Lessons were taught in a classroom and on an 18’ sloop rigged keelboat. After passing all the tests both on the water and off, I was qualified to charter a boat— I could go sailing on my own. Sailing solo seemed to matter— listening to the wind, feeling the direction of the breeze on my ears, making visceral contact, relearning how to be present without suffocating my feelings with words— to see and sail by my wits with the wind.
Sailing on the Oakland Estuary, this was where the new sailor practiced. There was no plan to do anything more. There was no motor, no running lights, no electronics, no accommodations for eating or sleeping— there was just a boat and water, wind and sail, and this fragile younger newly minted beginner trying to reintroduce himself to the missing person I had become.
Until I’d taken lessons skilled sailors aboard larger sailboats had not attracted my attention— I’d hardly taken notice, my curiosity had gone missing.
In 1980 the Nordic Folkboat was a common sight on the San Francisco Bay. Fashioned of wood, 24 feet in length, the hull was constructed by lapstrake planking, the cockpit was an open design and the sailor sat low to the water— it was an advantaged position from where the helmsman could read firsthand how the boat was working with the wind and water.
Racing had no appeal, what I liked most was knocking about on my own terms without a care, playing with whatever wind and sea state I might encounter. The sage Folkboat helmsmen wore khaki— pants, shirt, and cap— khaki was the rule. In 1980 aviator style sunglasses were fashionable among this group. If a jacket was needed men would wear barn coats fashioned of waxed canvas with chocolate corduroy collars.
Not ready to toss my youth away I resisted the khaki sheik raging fashion of the time. Polyester was only in its infancy, but brighter colors and tighter stretchier fabric was easier to move around on while sailing in a cramped cockpit. All these choices— what to wear, what sunglasses to sport, all was subliminal— I wasn’t going GQ so much as unwilling to toss my youth away and join the khaki craze— it would have been a uniform indicating I’d become a member of the Sears & Roebuck house of worship, — cementing my sobriety and celibacy to a fateful unquenched misery.
The socially in the know sailor is by nature smitten with the fine figured opposites found sipping white wine along the waterfront cafés. Among the vital maneuvers even a beginner sailor can refine is the nonchalant docking of a boat near such a drinking establishment so that you might pause to go fishing for the love and affection that incessantly goes missing in a boatman’s life. There is no such thing as luring a sullen moody above the fray catch while clad in khaki— this is as true now as it was then, it is this invincible khaki clad cotton constructed barrier to a more amorous life that must be avoided lest you toss away all hope of finding what instinct insists you must have in abundance.
Beer drinking on hot days— when one arrives after sailing the helmsman and crew will regal the day’s romp on the water. A thirty-something anoints the end of a sail with beer brewed bravado— these are peak experiences— no other cohort of desperate lads can mount a more well played winding down of the day. Distracted, suffering from a lack of affection and then once sated the landlocked misunderstood mariner returns first to the sea and then the saloon. Heartbreak runs rampant among this kind.
By 2001 my footing straddled both sides of my aging self. I could still finish off the day buying a round in a pub, but the lines controlling both a boat’s sails and a man’s interior tethers were afoot. My sailing skills had advanced— the newcomer to the sport was no more.
Not appreciating the magnitude of the task, with a kind of blithering innocence I undertook the task of fully restoring a derelict wooden sloop. Between 2001-2007 I made seaworthy a 25’ sailboat— the class of boat was named the Golden Gate. Not only had I the pleasure of knowing every fastener, every board, every piece of bronze I had also sparked the unanticipated deeper cultivation of pieces of my most difficult to repair character. From the boatyard where I would labor, I developed my focusing skills, breaking tasks into incremental pieces— fix one thing then the next— doing whatever is required for as long as it takes— getting it right was more of the point than the time it excised from my charade filled exploits as a land-loving sunburnt Romeo of a kind. Fixing a wood boat with tools and by hand had moved both man and his future forward— fixing the boat had indeed also help fix this sailor.
My wooden sloop had been owned by the bass player for Huey Lewis and the News. Even prior to this glancing blow with rock and roll fame several other owners had sailed this boat to best boat of the year and season’s championships. Built in Sausalito in 1959 Maestro had earned much notoriety as one of the swiftest of all the 17 Golden Gate’s ever to sail on the bay. Flush decked this is a sailor’s sailboat— her personality on the water and in the wind marked her as one of sailings most capable craft. With the wind in her sails Maestro again and again said to her helmsman that something was right with the world and this right feeling you knew to your core, this boat spoke to you through the varnished tiller in your hands.
I bought her, fixed her, lived on her, sailed her and sold her. Maestro was shipped off to Moss Landing, her new owner would sail from this fishing harbor in Monterey Bay.
I thought I would hear from Maestro, she was too palpable, so capable, so tangible, my hands were stained with her varnish and paint, blisters on my palms were still healing from the hours of swinging a caulking hammer. After I had dedicated to Maestro my best— just like that she was gone and in her place was fit a new boat— a fresh brand-new uncharted course. This four-decade long boat alliance was far from over, there were still too many lessons to be learned, too many ways I could go lost or be found— a sailboat enables the sailor to remain closer to the interior pieces of his soul, the right boat will share their spirit, you will know your boat and your boat I am convinced will come to know you.
Sailing vessel Gratitude was underway with three crew by fifteen hundred hours on March 25th. In the first hours the Hylas 46 motored westbound with the ebbing tide toward the Golden Gate Bridge. An overcast sky began to open up and beyond on the Pacific Ocean there appeared the telling detail of a faint blue clearing dusk sky.
An hour beyond the Golden Gate the flood tide met and forced the ebb into turbulent surrender. Sailors mark the moment their boat breaks free of the San Francisco Bay’s tidal influence, now 12 miles west of Emeryville we make the turn, now the sailing vessel Gratitude is southbound.
By sunset we were 24 miles from home port off Half Moon Bay. My first watch would begin during the early hours of tomorrow, I was to report by zero-three-hundred, this sailor was off to his bunk.
Each of us would stand our watch alone in the darkness of night on a pitch black ocean to spend these hours keeping our other crew safe from mishap or surprise.
Coffee was waiting, I checked the chartplotter to fix the vessels position, heading and speed. On deck secure in the center cockpit I began my watch in water between 3500 to 6500 feet in depth.
On the Monterey Peninsula Point Pinos Light was visible— every 4 four seconds the oldest continuously operated lighthouse on the west coast flashed through its original Fresnel lens— this crucial mariner’s guide was first placed into operation in 1855— Steinbeck would be proud.
Above were the stars and planets, on the shore Point Lobos was veiled in darkness, a fog bank hung above on the Carmel Highlands and then between was rising a crescent moon that soon vanished into fog.
Our seas mood shifted with the arrival of fog, into this our vessel plunged into an ever colder darkness, the stars vanished, dew dripped from the rigging and canvas, two distinct ocean swells followed us, one from a western edge the other from the shore, together the stern of our boat would swing side to side, then up and down, a kind of corkscrewing without a full turn.
By zero-six-hundred-hours dawn was grudging in its muted arrival, the chill of morning was the worst damp kind of cold, this the kind that cuts through shoes and gloves, nothing could keep out the bite of the ocean air.
The skipper stirred and checked the chartplotter, course is important to confirm, position and speed confirmed Gratitude remained on schedule— speed and distance told us this coastal passage would take 46 hours.
A safe passage for the sailing vessel Gratitude meant our being off the water and in port before a western Pacific cold front whipped its tail and churned up seas and wind into small craft warning chaos.
Our course kept us 20 miles from shore. The continent hidden by fog was more theory than fact, we knew land was there, but the clouds had veiled the steep Santa Lucia Mountains of the Big Sur Coast.
Radar set to 25 miles indicated we were alone on a raucous building sea. A boisterous Point Sur would have its say, it is quite the talker this one— Gratitude and crew followed the rules of self preservation and listened to her every word. Crew do not leave the safety of the cockpit for any reason other than to trim sails, and then we clip on with a tether, every duty attended to was concentrated on keeping the boat speeding south— the self steering system, the sails, no detail went overlooked, first among first’s keep the boat moving at speed, do not tempt the mighty Sur, not here, do not linger for muse, be respectful, bend to this coastal contour and give this untamable lion of the west coast room to roar, we pass southbound through her domain, eternity has left its signpost here, there are no do-overs, you get to be with her then go north or south with eyes wide open.
Best of all the wind was off our stern, blowing us southbound, the worst of it was the sea state was disorganized and unruly, moving about on board took care, there would be no quick recovery, here was this exquisite place to do what you must without error or misjudgment. Motorcyclists know what I mean. These are moments when self-preservation is in play, and that is a good thing for those who can observe fates unbending rules.
Our daylight hours ended as we passed well offshore of Morro Bay. From here the coast veers eastward, the course south was our plot and sailboat’s storyline. Night gripped us again. Winds had subsided, seas began to grow less turbulent, again into the night the vessel Gratitude’s bow cut its way south sending its wake into as inconsequential a wake as a butterfly’s wings upon a garden’s pollen saturated air.
Crew ate supper. Each member took his turn at watch, when off you curled up in your sleeping bag to get warm.
I woke in time to see our vessel approach Pt Arguello. Seas were near flat but a southerly breeze swept up along this piece of coastline from Point Conception. My skipper remained on watch to steady his second mate’s nerves. To our west the oil platforms stood lighted in a dark night. Vessel traffic targets appeared on radar. Gratitude would make quick work here of transiting between these two infamous coastal landmarks.
We made our turn west for Santa Barbara. The gods would not be done with Gratitude quite yet, there was still meddle of nerve and nautical judgment to test. Seas were not sizable but they were to our disadvantage, and in the sailor’s vernacular described as square. Square waves two feet in height and two seconds apart hit us right on the nose, in this instance we would tussle with waves growing to 4 feet, short steep surface chop, the short intervals gave the waves a great advantage over our ability to make our way.
Wind was expected to pickup after sunrise but remained in the high teens with gusts to 26 knots, the gusts were seldom, we placed the fate of our plan in the wind remaining somewhere around 18 knots. Setting our sails on either port or starboard made little difference, on one tack or the other the square waves slowed the boat just when all due speed was hoped for.
Crew and skipper tinkered with various pointing strategies, the boat pounded against the waves, progress was hard to make, crew was uncomfortable and Gratitude was struggling to move with efficiency. Outbound 40 hours now we were not more than six hours to our destination if we could solve this puzzle of sea state and wind.
Decisively we pointed west toward the Channel Islands and for more than an hour tried to make our way west doing our best to not to let the hull pound against the rising sea. We tacked back over to starboard, this time pointing south and west trying by steering to not let the waves beat on the hull, here is where a good helmsman earns his bowl of soup and chest sized tattoos.
By noon of Sunday we were one hour from the 46 hours we would need to complete our 300 miles south to Santa Barbara. Calls were sent to the Santa Barbara Yacht Club. A guest dock was secured, by zero-thirteen-hundred-hours the vessel Gratitude’s crew tied her lines to the dock.
Safe and in port tucked behind the breakwater we took showers then to nearby restaurants where we could eat warm food, taking a nip now and again, awaiting the arrival of Monday’s storm.
Wednesday we sail bringing Gratitude home to the California Yacht Club, this will be her new berth in Marina del Rey. From this harbor Gratitude will be set to sail to Santa Catalina Island, a whole season of warm weather sailing round trip, first to the island then back to the mainland, most sails will be on winds that allow the boat to reach at speed more often than not upon tranquil seas.
Summer nights out on Catalina Island aboard Gratitude, they come earned by passage— then that moment arrives and warm soft island air lights upon your skin— you are the one place you never had counted on missing, like lost love, like the end of your childhood, like the first time you rode your bike with just two wheels, like swallows, by instinct there is this winged return, and return again, it is in this cove on this island where you can’t miss and most want to belong.
Madness has been such the rage of late. In the human species political insanity seems endemic. Homo sapiens are just flat out nutball’s. I’ve traveled to far off lands, even while it hasn’t occurred to me to send my army to take one over, not yet but I’m starting to wonder if I’ve maybe overlooked my tyranny options.
I’d long thought if I was really going to go off the deep end, I’d get a Harley and join the Hell’s Angels. Once while in Dubai a Saudi Arabian motorcycle gang rumbled up to the hotel entrance where I was staying. There were twenty riders on bikes costumed in black leather, a sense of menace graced their presence. Safe from within the lobby of a 5-star hotel thought I’d go on outside and introduce myself to the Saudi Sunni bad boys of the Middle East. I explained I was from Oakland— that I’d had a bike — that I rode hard and knew more than few tough hombres—
Stoic, piercing deadpan stare, the Saudi outlaw rider if I interpreted the moment correctly wanted to gut and fillet me there and then. But you know we’re in front of a class hotel and cleaning a fish can make such a mess.
I continued — So you rode all the way from Riyadh for wild times here in Dubai— there was more silence— more incredulous stares— I liked it— if he had taken me out the Emirati would have had to take him out— one less stinking American wasn’t going to change anything— the gang member was weighing his options.
Used to see a Hell’s Angel at the corner gas station back in my Oakland days. To his neck a biker I saw often wore a leather dog collar with a 2 foot chrome chain that was attached to a raccoon perched on his shoulder— the raccoon rode on his leather clad shoulder right down the highway— this was some kind of post-apocalyptic Mad Max like honed biker persona— I’ll get back to you on the affinity the two animals had for one another— nobody knows for sure why one or the other had not fallen into a foul mood and bitten the others face. The Angel’s clubhouse was further down MacArthur Blvd where the gang would drink and on nights when things got out of hand there would be shootouts on the boulevard in front of the club. If you lived in the neighborhood as I did you steered clear— at all times.
Sizing up the Saudi Arabian Harley rider, there were more of his kind, but I focused on the one that seemed to have the most feelings, he seemed no gruffer than any Angel I had encountered. Gothic motorcycle outlaw vibe continues to be a simple enough human condition replicated across a vast sea of the world’s cultures. First to know should you want to form your own gang is you’ll want a good Harley Davidson— modified— tricked out— should be wicked quick. I like chrome, custom paint graphics and mild chopped front forks. Rider should be properly attired with a blend of leather and denim; I like identifiers so a good graphic on the back of a vest is ideal— Hell’s Angels, Gypsy Jokers, The Pagans, The Sons of Silence—
Proper outlaw attire, you’ll want to have black leather gloves, wrap-around sunglasses, a razor-sharp buck knife, zippo lighter and a petite caliber Barretta tucked into an ankle holster—these accessories should suffice as you and your gang fulfill you biker plundering and illicit drug manufacturing enterprises.
Here in these days of global chaos, where some runt punk tyrant has taken to threatening nuclear conflagration, it seems important to review all our mob, gang and militia options.
Super smart former Defense Secretary Robert Perry has been spitting out most of one lung and part of what is left of his other over the risks nuclear weapons present to a world that cannot afford to launch even as much as one. Perry has studied the problem created by Russia and the United States each pointing some 12000 nuclear weapons at each other. Thinking about violence prone outlaw motorcycle riders is miserable enough, imagine that just one nuclear warhead, meaning your side still have 5999 more to use, just one is powerful enough to end the entire San Francisco Bay Area’s rush hour, high cost of housing and future shootouts in front of the Hell’s Angels clubhouse. In other words, one intercontinental ballistic missile would take most of California off the playing field, reduce Apple, Google and Facebook to rubble and make for a hell of a long line as we all try squeezing through the pearly gates on the same day and hour.
Like a lot of things, the uncontemplated seems to have had a good run but its time is up— the best and most frightened of us are thinking now. There’s a new nuclear sheriff in town and he’s playing the game with a whole new deck of stone cold sober humanity at risk Tarot cards. We really don’t need to look up mankind has it well within their power to obliterate the globe in one hot second.
Some thought it would be our surging population. Forget the Population Bomb that explosion has already gone off— if you hadn’t noticed there are bodies everywhere. For coastal dwellers what that looks like is the parking lot at your favorite beach, the shorelines packed, parking lots full, and you’ll just have to go bumper to bumper at a slow crawl back from where you came.
For those wired up to empty spaces try Burns, Oregon but just know you’ll have Ammon Bundy supporters whining about the cost of ammunition down at the corner sporting goods outlet. Lot of Eastern Oregon’s least informed and most alienated citizens here in these here United States of America have had it with the stinking liberals in Portland and would like nothing better than to throw their lot in with Idaho. Secession is all the rage in these climate changing times. A loose collection of rural types both here in the emptiest parts of Oregon and a slice of Northern California refer to their discontent by describing their region as the State of Jefferson— meaning that they’re secessionists in the Jefferson Davis model of revolt— some prefer Tommy Jefferson but methinks they protest to insincerely— these folk are not entirely for slavery being reinstated but I’m convinced some good old fashion Putin inspired subjugation they’re not against.
Being born in Oakland I take as my birthright and advantage. Appears a fair chunk of the people opposed to what Oakland is and what Oakland will always be— this merry mob of Jefferson’s are not entirely sure how to wrap their minds around what this great American city might promise and mean.
Of all the grifters, all the offended by the diversity you can find hailing a Lyft or riding by horseback, to all Americans feeling in a rotten mood we’ll all want to consider whether we’re going to throw in with the brutish dictator Vladimir Putin or whether we are to wrap our hearts and minds around the thriving freedom loving democracies we are in alliance with. Our moment in history has arrived. If Putin wins in Ukraine, Trump seizing the Oval Office in 2024, if that happens, we’ll leave NATO, and the New American Autocratic Party will align with Russia, North Korea, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and China.
That’s the game right there. Might as well pack your bags, most of us in California will be headed to a Gulag in the Mojave Desert, prison guards will be handpicked by the Hell’s Angels, late night television will be all Alex Jones, Steve Bannon and a breathless Putin loving Tucker Carlson doing high dungeon anti-comedy schtick. Really, folks those of us who still enjoy a good laugh will need to unite. The end of clowning, slapstick and satire must be halted before this cohort of madness overruns the sane among us—