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A Horse, A Boat and Our Own Dr. Manette (re: A Tale of Two Cities)

June 11, 2012

My last posting had a lot of things happening all at once.  I am going to back up and take these several things a lot slower and one by one.  The book is now being published by Lulu, as you can read in previous posts, and now, even better, contact me, and I can take orders and avoid shipping charges if I order the books in quantities of ten or more.  So, if you would like to order a paperback version, contact me.  I will place an order on for your book for $22.00 cash and once I reach another quantity of ten, I will place the order myself with no shipping  charges for you and a faster turn around time than if you order from Lulu on your own.  Do what feels comfortable to you but this method has worked out pretty well so far.

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Also, with the last posting, I had just finished a tale about a pretty prominent business man I came to know.  His watchword was that he was a good business man, it was just that his business was illegal. As he used to put it, no more harmful than alcohol, but deemed illegal by the alcohol funded laws. In Charles Dicken’s “The Tale of Two Cities,” one of the key characters is Doctor Manette, a victim of long term imprisonment in the French Bastille prison during the French Revolution. Even after his release from the Bastille, when overwhelmed by stressful situations, Dr. Manette would revert to the simple occupation he learned while imprisoned in the Bastille, he’d become the simple cobbler, making shoes and being aware of nothing else.  The long stay in the Bastille had crippled him and  his ability to cope, he needed his cobbler alter ego to cope.

Similar things have happened since then.

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So, I am going to present my story in three parts.  Part One starts the tale, below:

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A Horse, A Boat and

Our Own Dr. Manette(re: A Tale of Two Cities)

It has been noted in prior postings that the wait staff at Manuel’s Mexican Restaurant was older than most others along the restaurants and bars lining the beaches in the Santa Cruz area (as in, wait staff = waiters and waitresses). And the staff was predominantly more female than most resort places.

During the summer season, Manny’s was as busy as any other place so near the water but in the off season, Manuel’s was substantially more busy than most of the other places. It was a favorite of the locals, an older, more sedate and well heeled bunch. In fact, the wait staff at Manny’s was almost more of a family than the more usual transient waiters and waitresses in a resort setting. Most of these folks had been working here for more than a dozen years, on and off, and they looked after one another very intensely, almost jealously and it didn’t take me long to realize that I was new, younger brother or cousin in this family and I was very lucky to be so unanimously accepted by all of them. With time I came to learn that this family was larger than I was aware of. Some members were out and about traveling the world, keeping in touch and making arrangements for their return, so that when they got back to Aptos, they would still have their job and a place to live, while a currently working family member was making arrangements for their next exotic trip to where ever.

In the simplest terms, this group was a collective of sorts. None of them had married and none of them were rich but they were all well educated, with high class manners and had very independent, free spirits. Almost all of them owned their modest, mountain homes. Considering their ages, this group was actually a bunch of classy, non-druggy beat-era people, not the hip generation I was tethered to. Curiously, to me, in pairs, or in pairs of pairs, the girls would annually venture up to Tahoe for a few weeks at a time and take a few turns cocktail waitressing and rake in the big bucks to bank for the lean times. They’d done this for years and years within the group, it was old hat to them. These guys had a pretty good gig going and they were damned protective of it.

The odd thing was that not one of these dozen or so people were artists, they were more confident and more ambitious than any artists I had yet come to know. They wanted specific things. One of the best looking of the girls had bought some bare land up in Soquel Canyon. It did have a large stable on the property but no formal buildings with electricity and plumbing. When I finally got up to her famous stable, it indeed had plumbing electricity and it was a very large and very comfortable “formal” structure that had used the stable as its core but it a very handsome, even elegant though somewhat rustic abode. It shocked me. She still wanted to add a lot of decking, a hot tube and one of the first satellite televisions. Her thing was horses, expensive horses. She had several and a whole new stable and paddocks for them.

Manuel’s manager was among the eldest of the bunch. He and a married couple had partnered up and were building the biggest tri-maran the Central California Coast had ever seen. They’d been at it for like seven years when I came on the scene and they planned to launch it within the next year. The manager took me to observe their work one time. We drove through Santa Cruz one Sunday and were halfway to Swanton when he pulled off Highway 1 and drove towards a huge, old, weathered barn in a broad, open field. I figured the huge tri-maran was behind the barn. I was wrong. We entered the barn through a normal door and I almost ran into one of the outrigger hulls that was as big as any sailboat I’d ever seen in the yacht harbor. We walked round it and the main hull filled up the entire floor of this monster barn. There was scaffolding all over the place. It was nothing but awesome. There were drop lights and big spot lights everywhere as the barn had no windows.

The one thing I remember that will provide some indicator as to the size of this thing is that the manager pointed out that the wings that attached the outriggers to the center hull had water tight hatches on both the top and the bottom. This was so that if this huge battleship sized thing should ever be flipped over, anyone inside the main hull could crawl out to these hatches and make an escape, be it right side up or flipped upside down. The wings were large enough to allow a big guy to crawl through them all the way out to the outrigger hulls which were supposed to remain empty to make the best use of their buoyancy.

I looked at all the wall space and found no door large enough to accommodate this huge boat. The manager told me they were simply going to tear the barn down around the boat and hire house-movers to haul it the boat launch in the yacht harbor. I just broke laughing. God almighty, what a vision came into my head. This really was awesome. When they finally did tear the barn away from the boat, I helped as did about 30 others. Of course, that evening there was a great bar-b-que with the barn’s wood, right next to the big boat enjoying its first taste of sunlight.

On the day of the move, there were lots of street light stanchions laying down on the sidewalks in Santa Cruz, they were removed from their upright posture to a safer “on the ground“ position, cleared out of the way for the big “Tris’” one way trip through town. On that day, the rest of the streets were packed with onlookers, this was an event no one wanted to miss. As the Tri traversed the four lane bridge that carried Soquel Avenue over the harbor, the boat looked like an elephant with all four feet on a single roller skate. Everyone held their breath. Obviously every inch of this trek had been measured and remeasured and measured again.

When the hulls dipped into the water and this thing bore its own weight all by itself, a boisterous scream went up that they probably heard on the moon. While the manager and his partners moored up the boat, the whole rest of the town started celebrating and town workers started remounting the street lights.

As the first summer season approached, where I was hanging out with this bunch, I started hearing about one of its members returning to Aptos after an extended sabbatical, his name was Samuel. Finally another male was going to become active with this group of friends. I looked forward to meeting this fellow and the few stories they told me about the guy made him sound like a real character.

One very busy Friday night some very tanned guy, kinda short and very handsome and muscular stepped behind Manuel’s tiny bar and grabbed two handfuls of Mexican beer bottles. I’d never seen this guy before but he grabbed the bottles like he owned the place. I glanced around looking for some guidance (at Manuel’s, the waiters and waitresses were also the bouncers) and with everyone busy with their customers, I started to push my way through the crowd to the little bar but the manager headed me off. With the roar of the crowd too loud to talk, he drew his index finger across his throat saying “Kill it (the panic), it’s cool.” Robert, the manager stepped behind the bar himself and the two men hugged each other and Robert pointed to me saying a few words in the other guy’s ear, the other guy squinting to get me in focus through the hustle and bustle. When the new guy gave me the high sign, I realized that this had to be Samuel. What a way to meet him. It felt comfortable and I was glad the introductions were over. I hate introductions, I always feel like a flopping fish who’s been thrown onto the deck of a boat or a wharf. I just want to get back into the familiar water.

There were only a few tables of customers left and on this Friday night at Manuel’s each of the guys gathered at a big table as they got off their shifts to talk with Samuel, curious about his travels. When I got off, I was invited to join them. I shook Samuel’s hand as he handed me my first beer of the night. The table filled and we talked long into the night, almost til dawn. We all laughed until we were sore in the ribs and our cheeks ached for smiling so much. The table was so full of beer bottles we were putting them on the floor. Samuel’s father was a rich contractor/developer in Honolulu who built sky scrapers and though Samuel was destined to take over the business, he loved slamming nails and told us, in a very mushy, beer addled voice, he’d never, ever go through a day of work without donning his tool belt for at least a couple of hours. There was no better exercise than work, working with wood and steel. I yelled out “Hear, hear!!” and we clinked glasses.

With the glint of false dawn casting through the front windows, the girls started peeling off and heading home. As the last of the ladies grabbed her purse and headed towards the door, Sam got up and pulled his jacket off the back of his chair. He walked to the back bar once more and spread his jacket out on the bar. He opened the insulated box holding a great cache of beer refreshed by the long gone busboy. With both hands he started pulling beer bottles out and arranging them on the interior of his jacket.

“Got any plans tonight?” he says looking at me with one raised eyebrow. We both knew it was already tomorrow, but tonight sounded good, neither of us were ready for tomorrow so we decided to extend tonight.

“Nope.” I answer.

“Come on over to my place” he says, tightening the sleeves of his jacket around the stash of beer.

“I’ll settle up with Manny” referring to the beer with a glance as he inserts a key into the front door to lock up. This Samuel had a lot more clout than I expected, he had the front door key to Manuel’s Mexican Restaurant on his personal key chain. Only Robert the manager had a personal key to the place. Who was this Samuel who was a master carpenter and had the key to Manny’s front door?

I followed Samuel to his house up a narrow canyon road in Aptos called Cathedral Drive.

It was called Cathedral because the canyon was a crack in the Santa Cruz Mountains that opened right to the yawning Monterey Bay. When storms came in from the sea, the funnel that was Cathedral Canyon would catch all the rain, any moisture in fact and hold it on the canyon walls and floor until it was either sucked by the redwood trees root, or the water would evaporate into the Canyon’s own little fog bank. There was always moisture in the canyon. The Redwoods loved this and thrived there, they grew fast and high. The redwoods closing overhead in every direction made you feel like you were in Nature’s own timeless cathedral. It was cool, damp and gorgeous, the green almost blinded you and it crept under your skin and slowed you down real slow, calm and restive.

Problem was, the above ground part of the Redwoods would shoot into the sky but the roots never caught up to this fast growth. Thus, Cathedral Drive was famous for having dozens of trees uprooted and falling over every time there was any sort of a storm. So, along with the groovy cathedral vista, you also had the weak redwood hazard.

Samuel and his long time friend, Clark, and I sat up talking until past noon the next day. Being in Cathedral Canyon, in the dim light and the calming coolness, it wasn’t hard to forget about time. Clark owned a Porsche Super 90, the last “bathtub” Porsche before the 911s came out. Sam and Clark were life long friends but, in their old age (they were both around 40 at this time, I was around 21) they were also business partners. The business they were into was dope, not horses, not tri-marans, not restaurants. They were moguls in what we called the “soft dopes” at that time. Hard dopes were like Heroine, Barbs (Barbiturates which the beats seemed to prefer), Speed and the nasty addictive stuff like that. Sam and Clark and their associates dealt only in marijuana, hash, acid, diet pills, etc. These we called the soft dopes, the stuff the hips and the college kids played around with. Sam would like to say he was a very good business man, it was just that in the 1930s the law made his product illegal, the law bought by the liquor lobbies. Samuel had this rhetoric down pat and it was very convincing.

Sam’s goal was to make umpteen million dollars (I can’t recall the actual number he always used but it was in the hundreds of millions) and go back to Hawaii, compete with his dad’s company and when his dad retired he’d merge his and his father’s businesses. He wanted to show he could do it on his own. However, his seed money would come from the dope wholesaling not investors and silent partners. Sam expected he could raise his goal amount within five more years, retire from dope and start his dream construction company in the Islands. He would sip on his beer as he told me this, let out a sigh and lean back in his huge couch and smile. Clark would chime in,

“Well, you are almost there.”

Sam came back at Clark, “When are you going to stop partying and save up some of this?”

“Aw, leave me alone. I don’t want to get into that again.” said the pretty boy, Clark. It wasn’t a stretch to see that this guy was a lady’s man, all the time. Sam drove around in an old pickup and Clark had a brand new Porsche. Very seldom did I see either of them use any of their own product, they mainly seemed to abuse the booze, if anything, as did I, and in all the years I knew them, they never, ever, offered me their dope. I wasn’t a doper and they always respected that.

These guys dealt with their business in a very business like manner. Part of this was to not be dipping into the profits to feed your own habits, the downfall of so many dope dealers. But these guys weren’t dealers, they were wholesalers to the dealers. Years after first meeting them, there was a big media blitz about these dope importers in the Santa Cruz area who were the main source of marijuana for the all United States west of the Mississippi. I checked into it and these importers were Sam and Clark’s bunch. I remember they used to talk of buying small freighters to bring up their shipments from Mexico and South America.

They never usually spoke about the business directly with me, but things slipped out. Once Sam told me about one of the major players in their group who had come up with a very innovative and ingenious method of shipping hash. One of the major partners had taken up residence in North Africa and he had some local machinists devise a special press. Using some popular plastic sided luggage, they would remove the fabric lining and then they’d place a cookie dough sheet of hash into a clam shell half of the suitcase. A special sheet of plastic (similar to that used in turkey roasting bags) would be place atop the cookie dough. The suitcase half would be put into the press and under tremendous pressure the dough would be squished into a very thin layer, conforming perfectly to the contour of the luggage’s inside surface. They would then trim off the excess material and clean the entire shell half with some sort special solvent and finally replace the fabric liner. Completely undetectable except for the weight. Sam had his girl friend lift weights so she could handle these heavier suitcases in a very natural manner at the airports.

Every few months Sam and his girl friend would fly to Algiers or whatever north African country it was that loaded the lucky luggage, vacation for a few days then fly to France or England with the special suitcases to do some serious business. From there they would fly to Quebec or Toronto and take the train to Vancouver, British Columbia. They would fly to San Jose where one of us Santa Cruz friends would pick them up to complete the last leg of the trip. However, we never picked up the luggage, it came over the hill via Grey Hound bus. It was all very routine and business like. Each of the five or six suitcases, I was told, was worth about $30,000. In the early 1970s, that was not small change.

One other ingenious and essentially fool proof means of contraband transportation that they used was a small fleet of old Volkswagen combi-vans. Volkswagen built one special version of it famous bus that was half bus and half pickup truck. In front of the rear wheel where the bed of the pickup was mated to the back of the bus, there was a sealed compartment on each side of the car that was about three or four cubic feet of dead space. Sam’s people would get a welding torch and cut a hole into these compartments. They would load the compartments up with marijuana or what every they wanted and then weld them closed. Once again, totally undetectable.

Sam and Clark and maybe four or five other guys headed up this operation and they had dozens and dozens of underlings and who knows how many mules (mules were the bottom most workers in a drug operation, the guys most at risk, the guys who actually transported the raw material). I learned that the authorities were quite aware of these guys but these guys were extremely careful. Sam had been busted in Mexico many years before I met him but he was in prison for only a few weeks. One of the partners “took the fall” for the rest of the group so Sam and the others were released quickly, but for a long time, the partners maintained the fall guy’s family in an amply comfortably lifestyle, while they also sent him (the fall guy) enough money to live rather well in the Mexican prison. After that, these guys became VERY careful. None of them got busted again.

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(to be continued )

 

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