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Can’t do anything about the weather

December 6, 2012

With all the passionate weather we’ve been having the last few weeks, it has brought to mind other unusually stormy seasons we’ve encountered over the years. My memories keep one year in the 1970s as the king of storm seasons, here in Los Gatos. The mountains seemed to be falling apart that year as saturated slopes gave way to monumental earthslides on a biblical and very scary scale. The slides were tearing up our coastal range from Monterey to up past Marin. For weeks, the skies were gray and usually wringing out lots of water from their innards. I was kind of awed by this, not seeing such a continual downpour since the huge “Hundred Year Flood” in the early 1950s when, if you were around then, you could literally watch portions of Santa Cruz get washed out to sea as the San Lorenzo River overflowed its banks by a million feet. That one was really scary, even if only on the small, black and white TV screens of the day.

With all our many mountain roads and driveways cut into the steep hillsides, Los Gatos had its share of slides, local floods and very accelerated erosion in places where no one ever expected it. Electrical power and local water systems could not be counted on to remain working on an hour by hour basis. I was living in a small cottage near the bottom of Loma Alta Avenue. Though the structure on the property was small and rustic, the front yard was so large that it contained lots of old, large trees. This foliage gave the cottage’s residents the feeling that they were living in a canyon up in the mountains while being only a few blocks from downtown. I loved this place.

As this stormy season dragged on, the power company was having a hell of a time keeping up with the downed power lines and poles and the repair crews were kept busy 24/7. My little house with its big front yard, was in a central location for all the power company comings and goings. Sometimes, when the power crews had to coordinate their schedules on the fly, they would park all around the residential corner in front of my house and pull out maps and paperwork in the rain to redeploy themselves. The hoods of their sweatshirts would be laced tight around the bill of their baseball caps and the feather-down in their great, nylon coats would all be totally soaked. But they worked on.

One dreary afternoon, while I was passing around a hot pot of coffee to the crews gathered out front, a few of the guys pulled me aside and presented me with an unbelievable offer. They told me that in these kinds of situations, they made enormous amounts of money. I can’t think of all the right numbers, but when the crews got put on an endless series of “stand-by” shifts, their hourly pay skyrocketed to like three, four, maybe even five times what they usually got. While the work was tough, even dangerous, and exhausting, the young guys loved the bucks they got.

What they offered me was, to avoiding having to drive to their respective homes to get rest, they would pay me to let them park their trucks in my front yard so they could take cat naps right here in the field of battle. They could get in even more hours on their time cards. They offered me enough money to cover three months rent if they could crash in my front yard. I would have let them do it for nothing, if they had asked, but, what the hell, who could pass this up?

For the next series of rainy days, I gladly made lots of pots of hot coffee for these overworked linemen.

There is one vision that always haunts me about this 1970s weather. I took my VW Bug to the bottom of Loma Alta and headed towards downtown. While the High School area was muddy and littered with tree limbs and wind blown trash, I made the curve where College Avenue hits Main Street and I had to slam on the brakes. Across the Main Street Bridge which carries Main Street over the freeway, Main Street wasn’t a street any longer, it was a river. The hills above Broadway and Glenridge were totally saturated and couldn’t absorb another drop of water. Anything that fell from the sky was nothing but runoff, a lot of runoff.

I backed up and turned around and made it to Santa Cruz Avenue and Main via Saratoga Avenue. No one was on the streets. The parking lot behind the Canada Building was a swirling lake and the grade coming down from where Pennsylvania, Main and Bayview all come together looked like the rapids for someone’s rafting trip. It was an incredible sight. A couple of big trucks were sitting at the back of the Canada Building shielding frantic men who were unloading sand bags to try to keep the lake from flooding into the shops on the ground floor level of the building. There were several cop cars unloading orange cones and saw-horse barriers to divert traffic from this unbelievable spectacle.

But, believe it or not, before the cops could finish barricading the area, it was all gone. The clouds were out of water. The rain stopped, so, there was no more run off. All the drama stopped, all at once. Within a half an hour, the cops had to reload all of their warning equipment, the cones and all. With this, this season of rain came to an end. There were only a few more drizzles over the next couple of days.

But I had the rent payed. What a deal!

On a Sunday morning a few weeks ago, I ran into a friend having breakfast at a local coffee house and as I told of him of these few minutes when Main Street existed as a “rapids” for crazy kayakers, he glanced up to the ceiling, remembering something. He began telling me how, as a child, he used to prowl down three or four creeks that cut through the downtown area, from the Broadway Avenue and Glen Ridge hills, through Almond Grove and down to Los Gatos Creek next to Highway 17. As he described each of their courses, I could remember three, but not four. Over the years, as town developed, the creeks were constrained by culverts, bridges, flues and tunnels, and, yes, he too, had seen such rapids in the streets, like I had seen, however, they never really lasted too long. But, he noted, these drainage ditches should be given more respect and consideration, as town keeps on developing, as they help to keep town flushed out and running free.

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