Honey walks in Mt. Diablo

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March 1, 2013 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground 


By Honey van Blossom

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

The soundtrack to Conquered is the sound of individual car engines not the roar of multitudes like the LA soundtrack.  All of the engines run well.  The owners maintain their cars.  Everyone knows how to check her oil including for the first time me.   Entire enclaves of mechanics work on side streets off Main in Walnut Creek and someone will always give you a lift home to wait until he returns.   In the shopping malls – not real malls but 1950s stores on parking lots – auto supply stores sell fan belts, wipers, polish, transmission fluid and oil.

Just before dusk, an owl hoots.  At dusk two dogs at opposite ends of blocks bark, probably at each other because they have nothing else to do in Conquered.   If there are intruders, I haven’t seen them but I once saw a homeless man with a shopping cart, and the man who runs an antique store only a mile from me said there are schizophrenics only they don’t come out much.   No one sleeps on the sidewalk.  No one lives on the canal.  It’s fenced and there’s a sign saying the water is public drinking water, which is a horrible thought because the water looks black.  At dusk, the sky turns orange now, pierced by the bare branches and twigs of large trees.

Sears in Pleasant Hill also has an automotive repair and sells tires.  Sears is a one-story long building.  There is only one clerk, and she stands at the cash register.  She is competent.  I ask her if she is going to college and she says no.  I calculate she can’t make more than $2,000 a month if that and rent for a single-bedroom is $1500 a month even down around Monument, Mexican

Conquered.  There are no clothes in Sears that I would want to own.  What is in Walnut Creek a size Large is in Sears a size Small.

So far, the soundtrack is the same one in my aunt’s neighborhood in Alhambra before the city put sidewalks in except then people had chickens and roosters except then there were fewer cars and they were all big except for my aunt’s Nash hardtop Country Club, which was from Nash-Kelvinator, and her Kelvinator refrigerator and her Nash automobile shared a similar silhouette, rather Art Deco.  The smell is the same: trees, grass, juniper, and rosemary, except there is no smell of chicken.

I woke one morning and something was wrong.  Then I realized it was a real morning with sunlight.  Birds joyously chirped and yodeled.  It wasn’t bitterly cold.  That is the morning soundtrack: birds.  Birds woke me in Alhambra, and my aunt took me outside to show me an American Robin, so it must have been winter.  It had an orange-red breast and a little black head and beak.  A poster behind glass that illustrated California birds hung in the kitchen.

When my aunt picked me up from school to take me to her house, she always stopped at a produce market.  Supermarkets replaced produce markets in Los Angeles before I was born but there were some in Alhambra in the 1950s.   There is a produce market on Monument, which is no surprise because of the Mexicans.  There are real Mexican restaurants and these sell meals that have tongue in them, and intestines.  Around my part of Conquered is a Trader Joe’s, just like in Los Angeles only with better parking, and Safeway.    There is a food bank and a crisis center and of course an automobile parts store and a peculiar cemetery behind a chicken wire fence.

Episodically the BART passes through Conquered.  I can’t think of a word to describe how it sounds.  It doesn’t click, and it doesn’t sound like a car.  If you could push a metal tube through a galvanized pipe without touching the sides of the pipe, starting with a small sound, increasing to a large sound — a sound of menacing promise — and then decreasing to the point you can’t hear anything, that’s what BART sounds like.  The BART comes from Oakland and goes to Bay Point, which is almost in the Central Valley it’s so far away.

The County subsidizes landlords with section 8 from the federal government in Pittsburg and in Richmond.  The poor mostly live in Pittsburg and in Richmond but Richmond looks from what I’ve seen a city with an interesting past and Pittsburgh doesn’t look like anything.  There are few jobs in Pittsburg so the poor stay poor.  They tell awful stories in Pittsburg.  Landlords raise the rents so that the federal government can pay an awful lot of money for run-down apartments, and the Housing Authority does nothing about the cockroaches, lack of heat, and lack of locks on the doors.  If the federal government built its own housing, the poor could live decently at a lower cost but that isn’t capitalism.  That would be socialism.  Section 8 is a Republican idea: to drive up the price of crappy housing and to give money to landlords to do this.  If the landlords evict the tenants, they lose their section 8 so tenants don’t gripe, even though it gets really cold in the winter and really hot in the summer, and children develop permanent coughs from the mold.   So the sound track is Mexican Spanish and Mexican laughter and once in a while an explosion from when one of the bad houses is on fire.

I took my younger grandson to a park next to Concord High School, and I didn’t know it was the Dave Brubeck Memorial Park until I Googled Dave Brubeck (December 6, 1920 – December 5, 2012) when he died.  The park sound track was the usual skinny little girl on the monkey bars showing off and all you hear is the squeak of her powerful little hands.

Dave Brubeck’s father Pete came to Concord with his father from Lassen County with horses and cattle.  Where it was is the Concord Pavilion and a golf course on the road between Concord and Pittsburg.

His grandfather ran a livery stable and built a house on Colfax, a couple of blocks from the Todos Los Santos Plaza, which Salvio Pacheco donated.  A church stands where the Ivey-Brubeck house once stood.  Elizabeth Ivey met her husband Pete in that house.  She inherited it in 1911, built a second story and gave piano lessons.

Mrs. Brubeck was born in 1886 on a ranch near Monument but moved with her parents and family to the Colfax house when she was in her early teens. Her mother died in the backyard of the house. At that time a small stream ran near the property and had overflowed and flooded the yard. Johanna went out into the yard to save some baby chicks. She fell, possibly hitting her head, and drowned in a few inches of water. Mrs. Brubeck was a teenage girl at that time, inside the house and reading a book. She regretted to the end of her life that she had not gone out in the storm to help her mother.

I would have liked to live in Conquered when small businesses clustered around the plaza and just a block or two away stood houses.  In 1879, 300 people lived here.  In 1910, there were 600 residents.  In 1940, the population was 1200 and the town had two cinemas, two railroads, and a “full service commercial area” around the plaza.  Large trees canopied the streets.  Around Conquered were orchards and farms and up closer to Mt. Diablo and the pass to Pittsburg cattle grazed the hills and terraced them with their ungulate steps.

In Hitchock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943), a charming albeit psychopathic uncle visits a family living on MacDonald Street in Santa Rosa.  The director merged the downtown with the houses in the film.   The Hitchock version of Santa Rosa must have been like Conquered was: a newspaper stand, a bank (This city’s old bank, which looked like the bank in Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life,is now a Scippolini’s pizza.), a small restaurant, a drugstore where you sat on stools and ordered Coca Cola, which was dispensed as a syrup mixed with soda water, a newspaper stand.

So the Conquered soundtrack is augmented by Brubeck’s unusual time signatures and superimposed contrasting rhythms.

On Sundays, I go to the Bay Leaf Café near the plaza.  I buy the Chronicle from the everything-store next to it.  The waitresses interrupt me every two minutes to pour me more coffee.  It is filled on Sundays.  I eavesdrop.  My house is silent.  Silence is also the soundtrack of Conquered.  I do not yet want to know anyone well.  I may never want to know anyone well.  I like however the sound of voices, and to think about the lovely young woman with the dreadful harsh voice and three strands of pink hair and the young gay man opposite her, and the man says to her, “But you were the one who wanted the sex change operation.”

This Saturday I drove up Clayton past the tiny City of Clayton to Marsh Creek Road, past my youngest grandchild’s day care, through rather more affluent Conquered, or perhaps it’s Clayton, turned right into a street of big modern houses with landscaping, and met up with Rohn and Linda.  A few minutes later, Mella arrived.  This Sierra Club hike was a 1B, which meant it would be slow with mild elevations.

Rohn led Sierra Club hikes for 39 years.  It is possible he is as old as I am. His name is really Ron but he told us he once had an unspeakable VW and bought for it a license plate that read “Rohn,” and sold it to a family named Rohn.   Linda told us everyone recognizes her but they are really thinking of other women who look like her.  Mella had a son.  She worked as a lab tech for 25 years for the health plan for her son.  He died.  She said that she did not have a doppelganger like Linda had but she dated a man who did.  She saw the doppelganger in a red sports coupe driving with a blond.  Her boyfriend had told her he would be working on his car, which is not surprising at all, because this is Conquered.  She charged over to his house and found him working on his car.

We took a path into paradise.  The ground was muddy around a creek we crossed, and Mella toppled into it.  She continued the walk nonetheless caked with mud.

Rohn showed us the remains of an old house that had once been on Marsh Creek.  Only part of the concrete foundation endured.  In front of it was a display of fragrant paper-whites, which Mella told us were daffodil relatives.   I imagined the flowers descended from bulbs planted by a housewife a hundred years ago.

The creek is named after Dr. John Marsh, who arrived from Massachusetts.  He was the first person to practice medicine in California.  In 1838, he moved to the east side of the Mt. Diablo Mountain.  He later began construction of another house in Brentwood.  I can’t locate his first house.  Concrete was a Roman invention, so it is possible that house had been his first house.

We passed through pine forests and woodland forests and saw beautiful undulating hills and the cascade of water over a mineral plank and talked a lot about poison oak.  In winter, poison oak consists of sticks a little red at the end.

We saw what I assumed was a hawk but the others concurred its flight wobbled, so it was a turkey vulture.  Rohn said that when he was a young boy he lay really still in the hope he could attract a turkey vulture but they have an outstanding sense of smell and knew he was a living creature.

The sound track is water running over stones and wind soughing through pines and hikers’ footsteps on dirt and rock.

I returned home.  I washed my clothes in case I had touched poison oak and showered and put my muddy boots outside.

It was still light.  The chill air came through opened windows.  I listened to Shubert wrapped in my ancient down comforter until over come by voluptuous sleep, and there was no sound track at all.




























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