Honey on the loose in northern California

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October 31, 2014 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground 





By Honey van Blossom

(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste)

California was once an exotic place for people “in the states.” Those people who called everywhere they had come from as “in the states” had not brought themselves to understand California was “in the states.”

They arrived until 1869 by trekking through the Panama Canal, or going “overland” in covered wagons, and both were hard and dangerous routes. They may have come “around the horn,” and people died in some of those ships as well. They then came by stagecoach, which was miserable rocky unpleasant way to travel.

In 1847, Dr. Robert Semple, the founder of Benicia, established ferry services across the Carquinez Straight. The first boats were small sail and oar-powered scows. From the mid 1850s until the early 1960s, various ferries operated intermittently between the two cities until 1962, when the Martinez-Benicia Bridge was completed.

Harris Newmark, who was to write at the end of his life, Sixty Years in Southern California, 1853-1915, (https://openlibrary.org/books/OL6589719M/Sixty_years_in_Southern_California_1853-1913) arrived in Los Angeles to a cluster of houses around the plaza. “Graded streets and sidewalks were unknown; hence, after heavy winter rains mud was from six inches to two feet deep, while during the summer dust piled up to about the same extent….” No one obeyed any city ordinances. People threw all of their trash, including used clothing, into the streets.

In 1869, passengers got on the train to San Francisco for the first time. On September 5, 1876, the first train from San Francisco arrived in Los Angeles after traveling over the newly completed Tehachapi Loop.

A few weeks ago, I drove up the 680, paid the $5 toll and drove into Sacramento. It takes about an hour and a half. The city of Vacaville, I recall from the trips I used to take to Sacramento in 1980 when I was an intern lobbyist for Consumers Union and hoped to meet Governor Brown in his earlier incarnation as Governor Moonbeam consisted as far as I could see then from the highway a fruit and vegetable stand. It’s now a vast suburban area, with all of the regular businesses you see along highways all over the country.

I had a job interview in a courthouse. I felt I could not bear to make the same boring return trip, so I went out the backend of Sacramento through Lodi.

Lodi is a miserable low-rent ugly place, and I don’t know why anyone lives there. What is astonishing about the Central Valley is that so many places in it can be fairly described as the anus of America. The Central Valley has many anuses of America, and you can tell by the billboards in Spanish and English for personal injury attorneys, storefronts with signs showing the people inside will help with child support, and other signs promising to help with drug addiction.

Lodi is supposed to be the Zinfandel Capital of the World. I didn’t see the vineyards before abruptly turning on a road with a sign warning me to turn my headlights on in the daytime, never a good omen for what will happen, and it wasn’t.

I drive what is called a high profile car. This means that in high winds it veers suddenly to the right and then to the left into oncoming traffic but through by some mechanical instinct of self-preservation the car rights itself and heads over a drawbridge. I saw an ancient airplane, an airplane built before I was born, with a sign for skydiving hung on it. I saw a sign advertising wind-surfing. Wind surfers must go 80 mph in the Delta. I recalled that there is a tiny Chinese town, Locke, laid out by Chinese architects, and a former speakeasy and bordello from the 1920s. In a former incarnation, I visited both places, probably about 1983 during the time when I mistakenly believed that I could only find a true life in rural experience. (Subsequently, I lived in rural areas. Marx may or may not, depending on the adequacy of the translation, have referred to the “idiocy of rural life” in the Communist Manifesto. He may have meant that the abolition of town-country antithesis “will be able to deliver the rural population from the isolation and stupor in which it has vegetated almost unchanged for thousands of years,” but it has been my experience that rural life is hot; it is boring; and there are many tiny vicious mosquitos in it.

I turned when I saw the sign for Antioch and then pulled over because that was a bridge I thought that a high profile car should not cross but then trucks were going over it, so probably I could, and I did.

I got off at the wrong place and drove through suburban areas for an hour until I found my way back to the correct road, the one that goes up the hill into Concord.

Yesterday, I crossed the bridge again and this time drove to Napa, through Napa to St. Helena and then Calistoga. The end of October is perfect in wine country. The vineyards are turning brilliant yellow. The sky is blue. The small coffee houses and restaurants are full of customers. I camped up there sometimes when I was young, although the only thing I clearly remember is when a family of skunks walked imperiously and in their feline way through a campground and I stood on a park bench and waited to the end of the procession.

Then, there are 14 horrific miles of hairpin turns through the forest of buckeyes, oaks and then pines, gloriously beautiful green shade and light, the magnificent valley growing smaller and smaller below. I had to pull over often to allow the line of cars that congregated behind me to pass. I could feel the drivers’ rage but I’m old and have trouble giving a fuck. Nonetheless, the law requires me to pull over if I can count three cars nose to tailgate behind me.

Robert Louis Stevenson and his bride Fanny honeymooned up there in a miner’s cabin, so cars were parked higgledy-piggledy along the narrow road so that people could get into the Robert Louis Stevenson State Park.

The road straightens at Middletown. Middletown is gateway to the Geysers. I stopped at a Laundromat. Towns in places in northern California have many Laundromats. They also have dog-washing palaces. If you don’t have a washing machine, then you are probably fairly poor, so the presence of so many dog-washing parlors suggests that – I don’t know what it suggests. I got directions and went by Lower Lake, at the bottom of Clearlake, and eventually found Lakeport.

I entered the periphery of one of my previous domains at Lakeport. I lived in Ukiah, which some people may remember from a 1973 Dobbie Brothers song, “People rushin’ everywhere/If they’d only slow down once/ They might find something there. Green trees and timber land/People workin’ with their hands for sure a different way to live…”

What I recall is a man’s voice calling out to me that he was going to kill me because I opposed the pollution from a mill, and the fat guy who ran after me like a buffalo on a rampage saying he didn’t want my kind in his neighborhood. I immediately turned and started to run. Then I stopped. I turned to the monster and asked, “what kind is that,” and he got up from all fours like a grizzly and I decided I didn’t care what kind it was that I was and took off.

I was briefly locally well-known in Ukiah when I ran and lost an election for County Supervisor albeit not nearly well-known as Jim Jones from the Peoples Temple in Redwood Valley, just outside Ukiah from 1965-1974, where he raised people from the dead before they accompanied him to a participation in mass suicide.

I was a deputy public defender in Ukiah, and then a temporary deputy County Counsel, and I had a little law office that faced the toilets in a Victorian building on State Street.

I spent a week in a trial in Lakeport that lasted a week, over custody of a little girl. We won. The judge spent the week sitting frog-like at the bench, rolling his eyes. I was to meet him again at the annual Mendocino County Bar Association get-together but he wasn’t friendly, and he was clothed, which most of the attorneys weren’t, and those attorneys – who did not include me – got a lot of tick bites and horrendous attacks of poison oak on the Elk River.
We were not ever supposed to talk about what happened at the annual meetings but the story was – at least – that a former woman District Attorney became pregnant at one of them and sued three different men for child support. Probably this is just a rural myth. I didn’t see any naked judges. One of the attorneys got up a dance group for a production he called “Tortland,” wherein the dancers wore cervical collars.

One February I was so bored I drove from Ukiah to Lakeport, where I learned what boring really means.

Clearlake was gorgeous. I walked around. Came back. Looked at again. There isn’t much else someone like me can do but either swim in it – it is late October, so no – or look at it. Found the park where I played with that little girl, who is probably middle-aged by now. Walked by pleasant houses with cheap lawn crap outside and good looking healthy happy children walking around calling “hey” to me.

The hills are bare, weird, around the lake, and big. The whole landscape is so big I can’t say anything more. I think I’d like to stay there forever and just look at it. I think if I were one of the people the U.S. Army murdered in an act of genocide on Bloody Island, that I would have been happy before the American government killed me as well as everyone I knew. I knew an Indian woman once: she said her great-grandmother put her grandmother in a basket and sailed the baby into the lake like Moses and so she survived when the fuckers came from San Francisco to take revenge for the murder of the men who raped Indian women. That woman told me that, yes, the Indian women murdered the American rapists but she wasn’t born then.

I don’t know what people live on in Lakeport. The Court is so poor it closes every workday at 1 pm. The inspection machine at the entrance didn’t work so the woman who runs the coffee and pastry concession asked me if I had any concealed weapons. I assume that’s because the Court gets no fees because almost everyone files a fee waiver because everyone is indigent.

My old friend Francine drove in from Potter Valley. Francine is the only person I ever heard of who was run over by sheep. She had tried to rescue them and they stampeded. Her brother Paul once ran over her by mistake when Francine tried to rescue some animal from the side of the road. They drove a Volvo, so she got burned up a lot. Fortunately, she has an elaborate hearing aid attached to her head with a magnet and has a device that monitors the level she should speak at because last time I was in Lakeport, Francine couldn’t hear herself and kept yelling and the Mallard Inn owner came out and was quite upset.

I sat through the morning calendar. My case was the last called. The parties who appeared personally were sometimes really stupid or sometimes tried to pull the wool over the judge’s eyes and they were generally on probation after extended prison stays. There was a general aspect to those waiting in the Courthouse except for the lawyers who were all men in black suits of people who had experienced an extended period on methamphetamines.

The judge agreed with me on everything for my case possibly because it was the only normal set of circumstances he’d seen in a long time. The normality of my motion sort of turned him around.

Then I packed up my things at the Mallard Inn and read the order, which was wrong, and drove back down the windy road through the impoverished and cruel and poignant countryside to Calistoga where all the regular people from San Francisco bought wine or croissants or organic coffee.

The radio played Shubert and Grieg piano concerts. I had played those pieces when I was a girl and had then imagined a different life than the one I got but the music ballooned out my heart and I was very happy.


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