Adventures in the Hinterlands Continue

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September 1, 2012 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground 

By Honey van Blossom

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

Heat, crickets sawing love songs, hawks, turkey vultures, raccoons, poison oak, the side-blotched lizard, enormous oak trees sculpting a sky the Klein blue at the sun’s zenith and that becomes an improbable violet at nine o’clock in August makes up the first level.


The second level was comprised of the Chupcan (Concord) and the Volvan (Clayton).  Both people spoke Bay Miwok.


Fr. Crespi, who created the narrative for the Spanish colonization of Los Angeles in 1769, passed through here in 1771.  The Spanish soldiers called the area Monte de Diablo, which the Concord history website mistranslates as “devil’s thicket,” but which means of course the devil’s mountain.   The Franciscans brought the Chupcan, and I suppose the Volvan, to the San Jose and San Francisco Missions by 1804.


The third level began in 1828. Don Salvio Pacheco petitioned the Mexican government for lands in the valley and received the “Monte del Diablo” land grant in 1834 to pasture 850 head of horned cattle, a flock of sheep and 30 head of horses.   The 17,921-acre grant covered the valley from the Walnut Creek channel east to the hills and generally from the Mt. Diablo foothills north to the Bay.   The Pacheco Adobe, center of his landholdings, is on Adobe Street in downtown Concord


From the 1860s through the turn of the 20th century, the Black Diamond mines, one portal of which is the tiny city of Clayton, produced coal for the Bay area and later sand for the area’s glass windows.   Most of the mining area is part of the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, and must be those hills to the east that are the color yellow inside the Shell gas logo.


In 1868, Don Salvio Pacheco, his son Fernando, and his son-in-law Francisco Galindo created a new town at the center of their Rancho. They called their new town Todos Santos (All Saints).


After the earthquake and flood of 1868, he gave land away to the refugees. In spite of Don Pacheco’s frequent protests, the American settlers renamed the town Concord but retained the central plaza.    Under the Spanish Law of the Indies, all pueblos — including Los Angeles — began with a plaza.  Don Pacheco gave away thousands of acres of land to his children and grandchildren.  He sold land to newly-arrived Americans and let them pay whenever they got the money.    Thus began the fourth level.


The area around Concord in the surrounding Ygnacio and Clayton Valleys was a large agricultural area. Crops included grapes, walnuts, wheat, hay and tomatoes. The area to the east (site of the Concord Naval Weapons Station) was the site of a few enormous wheat ranches over 5,000 acres and was almost a sea of wheat all the way to the marshes bordering Suisun Bay. During Prohibition, many vineyards were removed and replaced with walnut orchards. The town of Cowell  – — now incorporated into Concord — produced cement.


Small town Concord had 1400 residents in 1941.   They built five churches and two cinemas.


The Concord Naval Weapons Station was a military base established in 1942 north of the city of Concord, California at the shore of the Sacramento River where it widens into Suisun Bay. The station functioned as a World War II armament storage depot, supplying ships at Port Chicago. The Concord NWS continued to support war efforts during the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Gulf War, processing and shipping thousands of tons of materiel out across the Pacific Ocean. During World War II it also had a Naval Outlying Field at its southern edge of the base. It ceased being a operating airfield after World War II.   The City of Concord, sitting as the Federally designated Local Reuse Authority, is formulating a Reuse Plan for the Inland Area that includes residential and commercial development while reserving approximately two-thirds for open-space and parks projects. The Reuse Plan is subject to Navy approval.


The munitions on board a Navy cargo ship exploded while being loaded during World War II during what was to be called the Chicago Port disaster.  Munitions transported through the magazine included bombs, shells, naval mines, torpedoes and small arms ammunition. The munitions, destined for the Pacific Theater of Operations, were delivered to the Port Chicago facility by rail then individually loaded by hand, crane and winch onto cargo ships for transport to the war zones. From the beginning, all the enlisted men employed as loaders at Port Chicago were African American; all their commanding officers were European Americans.[7] Each of the enlisted men had been trained for a naval rating during his stay at Naval Station Great Lakes (NSGL) but the men were instead put to work as stevedores. None of the new recruits had been instructed in ammunition loading.


On the evening of July 17, 1944 a massive explosion instantly killed 320 sailors, merchant seamen and civilians working at the pier. The blast was felt 30 miles away. A subsequent refusal by 258 black sailors to load any more ammunition was the beginning of the Navy’s largest-ever mutiny trial in which 50 men were found guilty of treason.


The Navy did not find the white officers guilty of anything.  Thurgood Marshall declared the American government was prejudiced in its handling of the affair.   It is impossible for me to believe that it was not, if only on the ground that the government allowed $5,000 compensation to the families of the dead workers until a Southern Senator realized they were all black.   The United States government then reduced the amount of compensation to $3,000.   I don’t know why the amount was 3/5 but perhaps it reflected the compromise between Southern and Northern states reached during the Philadelphia Convention that counted 3/5 of “other persons” (slaves) for representation in Congress.


For $5.70 one way each, I slide on BART through voluptuous eucalyptus and pine landscapes and through tunnels and under the Bay to San Francisco.  Through the train windows at the West Oakland station, I see musicians in a courtyard surrounded by wood sided 19th century houses covered with big graffiti words I don’t know the meaning of and on the other side of the train see the giant container-loading cranes.


Two elderly blond Russians sat behind me on the train.  They wore earrings, carefully dressed hair, and stylish suits for their day in the City.   This was how older women dressed to go to San Francisco in 1962, when I was a freshman at UC Berkeley, except that women always wore gloves and hats and young women dressed like Jacqueline Kennedy.




All women wore heels in 1962.  My mother came up from Los Angeles to visit me.  It also rained a lot and, on the way back from Le Petit Trianon – where the gentlemen guests stood when a woman came to the table – she fell and never again went to San Francisco.  She said it was a terrible place.   I thought the City was a fairy tale and took the bus there several weekends and had a glass of wine in North Beach at an outdoor table and walked across the Golden Gate Bridge and spat from the bridge into the Golden Gate.


My 83-year- old landlord Janet De Fremery drove me at 20 mph across the Bay Bridge in the right hand lane when I was 17 so that I could take fencing lessons and attend the opera.   She had learned to drive a Model T, which had never gone above 15 mph.   She once introduced me to a 98-year old former biology professor who made the move from the Oakland campus to the Berkeley campus in 1873.  This is how close the past is: I met a Victorian.


When I wrote about the Victorian architecture on the campus for my first – as it was to turn out, my last – English class, having fortunately or unfortunately tested out of the remedial English class most Los Angeles students had to take, my teaching assistant, who was a very white very fat man with a round face and was called Mr. Mooney, I received a D+ because I used the word “indefinite,” which Mr. Mooney said had no meaning.    This grade so upset me I developed adolescent narcolepsy and slept in front of the door to my classroom.


Even those I’ve met who attended the university in the 1960s do not believe in the formality of academic life at Berkeley in 1962, which was years before it became Bezerkly.   Male students wore slacks, white shirts with thin lapels, narrow ties and polished Florsheims.   Female students wore dresses and suits.   I rode a Schwinn girl’s bicycle to the campus from Janet’s redwood shingled house on Panoramic Hill and carried a sewing kit and safety pins because my long skirts caught in the chain.


The only radicals were graduates of Beverly Hills High.  They wore trench coats and berets and they carried green book bags.  They talked about individualism, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Camus.  They spoke French loudly with each other.  I got a B in philosophy but, then, I did not get past Heraclitus much less gain a clue – and I still don’t have a clue – about the meaning of Existentialism. A black dog named Ludwig wore a red kerchief and jumped in and out of a water feature that became “Ludwig’s Fountain.”


These anecdotes may have signaled the beginning of the fifth level.  A bearded man sat on a folding chair in front of a card table.  Behind him stood Sather Gate.   He spread pamphlets on the card table.   He scrawled a sign that read, “Free Cuba.”  I did not read his pamphlets.   He could have meant that Cuba was free, or the sign could have meant we should free Cuba.


I encountered a girl from Marshall High School, and Lorene pulled me imperfectly into her orbit.   I had only been 17 for two months, and I had zero awareness of the fifth level, which was to become the Age of Aquarius – I was not around for it because I left Berkeley for UCLA and then went to Orange County and then to Istanbul and New York.   I wanted to be an academic but figured out women were not then likely to become academics, except, possibly, in science and my science classes up to that point had been one class in biology spent cutting up a frog and cutting up a cow’s eyeball and chemistry.   I did well in chemistry because I got one answer right on the final in a class taught by a man with an opaque German accent and no one else got any of the answers.


Lorene often disappeared.  Whenever she returned, she complained she was failing.   I attended her classes, missing my own, and took notes for her.   I recall, in between heavy rainfall that turned the Berkeley Hills iridescent, sitting in sunlight spilling out carefully typed notes in front of her when she said she encountered one of her professors during one of her disappearances and later explained to him that she had a split personality disorder.    She said she had been on acid during the earlier encounter.  I did not know what it was.   I did not know that the wraith-like figure in a cowl hiding in bushes near Strawberry Creek was a man I was to meet 30 years later in Florida, known to me and to my family as Pyscho Steve, or that the man who was to become my second husband forty years later passed through those same bushes stoned on Romilar cough syrup and the moisture from the cotton in Vick’s Vapo-Rub.


On our return from a night at the opera in 1962, Janet told me the first section of the Embarcadero Freeway, from the Bay Bridge approach (Interstate 80) north to Broadway, opened in 1959. As a consequence of the freeway revolt, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors opposed certain freeways including the remainder of I-480.  200,000 people rallied in Golden Gate Park against any more new freeways. Poet Kenneth Rexroth spoke at the rally and folk singer Malvina Reynolds  “Little Boxes.”


Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.


And they all play on the golf course
And drink their martinis dry,
And they all have pretty children
And the children go to school,
And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university,
Where they are put in boxes
And they come out all the same.



Recently – it may be the last time after his mother found out we bicycled through San Francisco—my grandson and I went to the Wells Fargo Museum at 570 Montgomery.   We sat inside of a stagecoach and images of the still virgin American landscape passed on a screen in the fake window.   A narrator spoke about the bone-shattering 2700-mile journey, which he spent without five minutes sleep.   The desert was terribly hot.  Nine passengers endured the trip together.


We returned on BART and the engineer calls out, “Conquered!  Conquered Station.” We pushed our bikes into the elevator after we disembarked.  The elevator disgorges its occupants outside of the entry devices and Ethan wanted to avoid putting our tickets through the machines because we had gotten on the train without “process.”  I did not agree.   I very much did not agree when I saw the fierce BART lady sitting in her glass cage looking at us with furious interest.


I pushed him towards her.  She emerged with her red hair a flare of outrage around her head.   He is only 13 but he is over six feet tall.  He said, as she pulled up to him, “Jesus.”  She said, “Jesus is a very important part of my faith.”   She said I owed ten cents on my ticket but not on his, which was impossible because we went and came on tickets purchased at the same price, because I did not want to mess with her.

Ugly trucks had spread new asphalt on the streets of Concord.   We sang in whiney hoarse voices,  “When did you leave heaven?  How could they let you go?  How’s everything?  I’d like to know.  Why did you trade heaven for all these ugly things?  Where did you hide your halo?”

His mother met me at the door with a booklet on activities for seniors, which include, inter alia, Bingo and Pinochle.   She wanted to know why we went to San Francisco on bicycles when there are trails all over Concord.  She does not want her son hit by a car.  I did not tell her we walked up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower where we saw the statue of Christopher Columbus staring out to the Golden Gate.















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