Honey Goes to Pittsburg

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September 1, 2013 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground 

By Honey van Blossom

(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste.)
Here I lay me down to sleep
To wait the coming morrow,
Perhaps success, perhaps defeat,
And everlasting sorrow.
Let come what will, I’ll try it on,
My condition can’t be worse;
And if there’s money in that box
‘Tis munny in my purse.” 

(1878 poem by Black Bart, a Concord elementary school teacher, at the site of one of his stage coach robberies, that one on the road to Oroville)

Historical materialism is a methodological approach to the study of history.   It starts from the fundamental premise for human beings to survive, they must satisfy the material requirements of life.   The consciousness or ideology or worldview of people within a society entirely depends upon the mode of production.   That is, everything material has changed.  As our material world changes, our consciousness changes, and all the things that support consciousness – family relations, clothing, religion, foods eaten, foods not eaten, public space, private space, trees cut down, birds saved – changes.  It just is not true that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks or that a leopard never changes his spots except for my evil brother, and he’s always been the same: evil.  Dick Cheney.  Other than about those two, our ideas evolve as surely as the whale evolved from what it had earlier been, which was a four-legged mammal.  History is a movie; it is not a series of photographs.Marx did not exactly see that historical materialism itself is a historic construct, and will become something else, and that what we call Marxism, is also a historic construct and will become something else.   He saw the end of history in the advent of scientific socialism, which is a mystical gizmo like deus ex machina that will suddenly resolve previously unsolvable problems.

The road from Conquered to Pittsburg (without an aitch at the end) is a window in California’s time machine. Kirker Pass cuts through the coal= bearing hills that include the Black Diamond Mine Regional Preserve and descends into Pittsburg.

Before the beginning of history — 165 million years ago, what is today Conquered and Clayton lay in a shallow coastal sea.  As ice ages affected sea levels, sedimentation continued in shallow coastal seas. About four million years ago, the older, harder volcanic material from the sea floor forced its way up from between the two plates heaving the weaker sedimentary layers up an angle.  By 2 million B.C. the older rocks were exposed as low-lying hills.

About two hundred years ago – after history has already begun for Conquered — the Miwok – the name means “people”– occupied  East and Central Coasta County.  The Saclan tribelet lived in two sites in Concord.  The Volvon lived in villages near Mt. Diablo, the area that is now the City of Clayton and the Clayton Valley.  The Chupcan lived in the area between Concord and Pittsburg; that is, in the hills in and around what were the Black Diamond mines.

The mines (1850-1906) produced lignite, a low quality coal, but it was the coal that fueled the building of the Bay Area.   The towns where the miners lived are gone now.   The hills are mainly used for cattle grazing.  The cows push down the grasses so it looks as you drive by them that they are layered in even bands.

For a bath and a glass or so of whiskey, the miners walked down into Clayton, and one mid-wife rode between the former towns and Clayton

until her horse and buggy fell off a cliff.   The saloon is still there, in the downtown of the little suburban city.  Joel Clayton worked in the mines for awhile and then started farming and built created a vineyard with several different kinds of grape stock on 28 acres.  His widow sold the vineyard to the De Martini Winery, and the winery is now Clayton City Hall.

The local ranchero Salvio Pacheco donated the plaza and offered businessmen cheap land around it.  He had a 17,921-acre land grant and a lot of cows and wanted Americans on it.  He wanted the town to be called Todos Los Santos.  He insisted.  He wrote memoranda.  He wrote letters.  The Americans called it Concord.

Salvio’s oldest son Fernando built an adobe at what is now 3119 Grant Street.  Fernando, rather remarkably for the time, reached a weight well over 400 pounds.  His American carriage maker built a hand-crafted shelf that Fernando could place his stomach on for longer trips.   His wife bore him six children.  I try not to think about that too much but the more I try not to think about it the more I think about it.

In the 1860s, in October, Professor William Brewer was a member of the first California Geological Survey.  He rode his mule to visit the hills eight or ten miles to the north and northeast of their camp at Clayton, which early surveyors had called “Deadfall.”  A “deadfall” is a mass of fallen timber and tangled brush.  The authors of Images of America: Clayton (California Historic Society 2006) posit that there had been a lot of fallen trees.  The site of his campground is just within the Mitchell Canyon entrance to Mt. Diablo state park, about at the parking lot.

Brewer rode through what is now Kirker Pass Road, the extension now of Ygnacio Valley Road from Walnut Creek, off the 680.

He wrote in Up and Down California (about 1860):  “A very lonely ride, first through the Kirker Pass, then among rounded hills, almost bare of grass or herbage, in places entirely so—no trees to cheer the eye, no water in the many canyons and ravines. “

This is the road I take to get from Concord to Pittsburg, and it is in the Pittsburg courthouse that I encountered a woman whose landlady was crazy and wanted to evict her tenant for prostitution.  I contend she is the spokesperson for the ideology of our present time and place, which is the ideology of having no common sense.   Immigrants, I noticed, have common sense.  It is only we who do not, and my theory is that our lives have become too complicated to make sense of, so everything gets stirred about in a concoction of misunderstandings and wrong-headedness.

The tenant I met in the Pittsburg courthouse had a loud voice.  If a person can speak in capitals, she did.  No lower case anything.  She wasn’t deaf, either.  She just talked that way.


The hum of voices in the courthouse library ceased.

“Could you speak up a little?”  I asked her.  “Someone in Detroit missed part of what you just said.”


You could hear a pin drop.  The security guards were frozen in antic postures.


Someone moved his chair a little.  I may have made a face or something because she continued, this time with greater urgency.


One of the clerks stifled a cough.

This discussion was a window into our time; it is expressive of our conscious relationship with materialism whatever that is.


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