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. . . always seem outnumbered, you don’t dare make a stand

December 11, 2012

I am a nut about music. I’m definitely not a musician, nor a music intellectual, but I love it and I learn all that I can about it. As with most of my artistic passions, I know what I like and I know what I don’t like, and don’t try to persuade or dissuade me, it just makes me more adamant about my personal judgements.

In the realm of rock music, I do have my personal favorites which I pay a lot of attention to. But there are great rock and roll artists who I don’t follow very much at all. However, as I get older, I am expanding my horizons if just by force of repetition. There is one rock and roller who I have come to give a lot of credit to simply because I know so many of his songs by heart because I have just plain heard them so many times and so many are worth paying attention to for their great images, clear messages and great musicality. These are the songs of Bob Seger, a motorcycle guy from Detroit. Though we are from different ends of the country, we are close to the same age and from his songs, I know we have experienced and seen so many of the same things from the same vantage points. The thing is, Bob Seger knows how to write songs about such things. Me, I have to plod along in prose. With some brief stanzas, and some clever guitar work, this guy can hit the nail right on the head and give you a good idea of what he has felt and what he knows and he can, to an extent, share the feelings and knowledge with you.

Bob Seger has one haunting, soulful song that stops me dead in my tracks every time it comes across the air waves, this song is “Turn the page.” Its a song about a musician’s down time, not when he’s the rock star up on stage, but when he’s the pooped out traveler, tossing and turning as he tries to sleep in the back seat of crowded, old cars. Its tough on these musicians to be driving from gig to gig, in far flung towns so many miles apart and, as the song says, “with the echoes of the amplifiers ringing in your head.” You stare at the cold, impassive stars, trying so hard to ignore them and the echoes of the amplifiers for the sake of sleep but it’s a hard task to concentrate on.

Read the following lyrics and taste the angst and bitterness about those sorts of nights:

Well you walk into a restaurant,
strung out from the road
And you feel the eyes upon you
as you’re shakin’ off the cold
You pretend it doesn’t bother you

but you just want to explode
Most times you can’t hear ’em talk,
other times you can
All the same old cliches,
“Is that a woman or a man?”
And you always seem outnumbered,
you don’t dare make a stand

During the summer of 1966, most of the students that went to San Jose State College had gone home for the summer and the small clutch of new, San Jose hippies stuck together in the two or three “head shops” located in the cheap, long vacant store fronts on San Jose’s derelict First Street. The variety and department stores had already moved to Valley Fair and others were starting to populate the newer shopping malls being built all over the Valley. San Jose’s downtown was now becoming a ghost town. The only reason we strayed away from our “off campus” haunts near the college was to buy the cheap, durable clothes at the army surplus stores, or get smoking “paraphernalia” at the head shops or have endless meals at the German deli on Market Street, where, on Tuesday nights, they had an “all you can eat” smorgasbord for a couple of dollars.

One sunshiny day, I spotted a small, handwritten ad on the main head shop’s bulletin board. It was just a roughly torn scrap of paper from the corner of a newspaper page. About all it said is that someone had some land for sale up in northern California, something like $100 per acre. There was a phone number with a central valley area code and a comment “ask for George.” I don’t think I was quite yet 19 when I saw this ad and I was about as naive as a raw egg. This looked like a great deal to me, back to the farm!

I had been taking a class at the new “Mid-Penninsula Free University,” an alternative educational institution organized and operated by liberal Stanford professors and teaching assistants. The T.A. that ran my class was involved with a group who had bought land up in British Columbia and were in the process of setting up a “co-operative” community (as opposed to the more popular communes of the day). Each member of the group would own his own section of their parcel but the large tools (such as tractors and trucks) would be owned by the group. This arrangement was acceptable to me. I didn’t want to be a communist. Some of my friends and I talked about this arrangement and decided to maybe follow the teacher’s lead. These acres on the newsprint scrap might just “fit the bill,” Mr. Naive thinks.

Our college freshmen group talks over the cooperative idea and the ad. Steve and I volunteered to follow up on the ad. I had gone to kindergarten with Steve at Almaden Elementary School and every other year of school since. He was tall and Swedish, I was short and Italian. We had both just started growing out our hair and beards that prior winter. The hair was pretty well along by now.

We called George in the Central Valley and he told us he was representing the land for someone else. He lived in Gridley, California, about 60 miles north of Sacramento. He told us the best thing for us to do was to come to his place in Gridley so he could explain in person about the land and draw us a map of its location. This should have been a tip-off right from the start but we were both as naive as raw eggs. We told him we would come up the day after tomorrow, 60 miles, that was only an hour’s a drive from Sacramento, and Sacramento was only another hour’s drive from us. No prob, we could be up and back in an afternoon.

I went to the school library and looked up Gridley in an atlas. It was in the Central Valley, it was north of Sacramento but the fact that all the roads all around Gridley were train track straight was lost on me back then. Gridley was in the flat lands of what we call “THE BIG VALLEY.” I would very soon learn that those flat lands in the big valley had the same socio-economic perspective as any backwoods county in rural Alabama or Mississippi. I was privy to the fact that straight roads almost always portend flat land. Mountain roads have to curve around the mountains.

Steve and I made sure that my Volkswagen’s spare tire was full of air, a jack and two quarts of oil were in the car’s trunk and I gave it a quick tune-up. Our provisions for the trip consisted of a loaf of french bread, a dry salami, homemade trail mix and a gallon of cheap red wine. We filled the gas tank with $ 0.35 per gallon gas and we were off to Gridley.

As we drove into this very small agricultural town where only a few buildings were more than a single story, and sitting on the flattest, most boring plain we had ever encountered, we started making fun of it because it could have been the set for the early Andy Griffith shows, where Griffith was the sheriff of fictional Mayberry. I drove the VW slowly as we checked the town out. We saw a telephone booth on a street corner and I pulled over and tried calling George to get some clearer directions to get to his place. No one answered. Before I got back in the car, I looked around and noticed a post office at the end of the block. I opened the car door and told Steve to get out. In this small of a community, surely the post office must know everyone by name. They should be able to help us.

As we walked up to the fairly new building, we could see movement inside the tinted glass windows and the blinds around the door were pulled down. Strangely, the blinds for the big, darkly tinted windows were also pulled down. We got to the glass door and Steve pulled out a few coins and tapped on the door which was locked. A federal building locked at 3:45 on a weekday afternoon? I drew my face close to the dark glass and cupped my hands around my eyes. I could make out a small oriental man in a white shirt and tie, and two older ladies huddled together behind a counter, looking at me with frightened eyes.

I straightened up and looked around the neighborhood. Everything was perfectly still, no movement, no people, not even a yapping dog. I looked at Steve and told him to give it up, let’s go. I laughed at the irony and told Steve that they were afraid of us. He tilted his head as he considered my comment. We walked back to the VW and the phone booth. Then it hit me. Let’s go to the heart of it all, Sheriff Andy. In the phone booth, in its phone book, I found the address to Gridley’s sheriff. We looked at the map and found that the Sheriff’s office was only two blocks away. As we drove the tiny, little VW down the main street, there was no one to be seen. We counted up the addresses and stopped at the number that contained the Sheriff’s office. It was in one of the few two story buildings. And, as we entered the dusty, musty old foyer, a small, faded directory told us the Sheriff’s office was on the second floor.

For such a simple and plain building, an older building, the stairway was surprisingly broad. When we reached the last of the stairs, there was the Sheriff’s office, right in front of us, just as plain and simple as the rest of the building. We entered the office, and to our complete surprise, it was simply a collection of desks, no counter, no front or back rooms, just one room and four or five desks. There was only one guy in the room, sitting at the front most desk, his cowboy boots resting cross legged on the desk’s old writing pad. A sharply edged, brown cowboy hat with a big insignia in front was upturned next to the boots. We had to assume this was the Sheriff. Standing behind his left shoulder was a wide eyed eight-year-old boy in a striped t-shirt who had never seen bearded ladies before. Steve and I glanced at each other with the same thought and did everything we knew not to start giggling. Here was Opie. Man, they had it down, here, in this town. We were in Mayberry. But we kept still.

The Sheriff, a tall, slim, clean shaven 40-year-old “real deal” cowboy, greeted us most politely and asked what he could do for us. He mentioned he had heard we were in town, and we, obviously flashed on the Post Office. I told him we were looking for this George guy, who had some land for sale. I showed him the ad. On seeing the ad for the land, the Sheriff scooted himself up in his leaned back chair, and asked how we got this ad. I told him the Mr. Naive truth. He looked us over, up and down, side to side. He tells us that George doesn’t actually live in Gridley, but he has been staying with his sister on her ranch some five miles to the east. He grabs a pen and scribbles a map on a yellow legal pad. He holds the pad up and tells us that this is a very clear map to get us to George, but we have to promise him one thing to get the map. We have to promise that we will never come back to Gridley until we look normal. Steve, who is famous for his smart remarks and nasty insinuations, takes in a breath, and as I dread his response, he tells the Sheriff we have no more desire to come back to Gridley than they want us to be here. The Sheriff tears off his map from the pad of paper and hands it to Steve. As we leave the Sheriff’s office, he has the decency to tell us that this George character is a long time scammer, and is someone to be cautious of. The two of us, who were as naive as raw eggs, took heed and thanked him for the warning, but not knowing what to do with it.

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I always listened to my Dad’s travel times based on him driving his big Plymouth Fury, cruising at 90 or 100 miles an hour. With the 28 horsepower in my little bug, I felt lucky to hit 60 mph. I’d always forget to double my dad’s travel time estimates when traveling in the bug. Though we left San Jose just before noon, and not dallying in the town of Gridley, we got to George’s house at just about sunset. Hearing me turn off the Volkswagen’s engine, a balding man about 50, with thinning, slicked back hair and a can of beer in one hand opened the screen door to the modest but very clean and manicured little cottage. This wasn’t the rich and proper realtor I had envisioned in my mind’s eye. As he sauntered towards my car, all he had on was a t-shirt, pajama bottoms and some much worn slippers. This was George. He started chattering as though we were familiar, long lost friends from the old days. Hell, this was the first of our “new” days. He invited us into the cottage and he sat himself down on a large sofa, almost too big for the room. We sat in some antique rocking chairs fitted with colorful, hand knit seat and back pads.

An older woman, with her gray hair pulled up into a bun was in the adjacent kitchen washing dishes, and she shyly nodded at us as we sat down. She never came into the living room nor said a word to us. In all likelihood, she had knitted the chair pads many years ago.

Mainly, what George told us was that the land was very remote, just outside of a logging camp, on the banks of the Eel River. The last twenty miles of road approaching the place was a logging trail which, often times in the winter, was impassable. To a couple of farm boys, already sick of city living after just a single year at college, the remoteness sounded like heaven and George could tell we were pretty excited. Our excitement just fanned the flames of George’s chatter and we listened to his stories about life in the big valley for over an hour. As he prattled on, I was thinking of our land, ah, I mean our potential land, next to a lazy river in the pristine mountains of northern California. I asked George to draw us a map to the property’s location. He got some paper and a couple of pencils from an antique desk and started scribbling. He remained chattery as he scribbled. We had to wonder if this guy even talked while he was sleeping, it was so non-stop.

We looked at the finished map and made notes on it as George answered some of our questions about the details. My curiosity in full bloom, I asked George how long it would take to get there. He glances out the window, he considering the underpowered VW, and tells us it takes him about an hour and a half to get there. In my car, it might take two hours. Steve and I look at each other. We were more than half way there already. There was a full moon. We could check it out tonight. We still had half the salami and more than half a jug of wine. What the hell? Let’s go for it! We could be back in San Jose just after midnight. Of course, George only encouraged us.

We bid George farewell and started on the first leg of our journey, crossing the big valley to get to the coast road, Highway 1. The second leg would be to head north and the final part would be to turn inland again, on the logging road. “Simple!” say the two raw eggs.

For the youngsters who may be reading this, and have gotten this far, I must clarify something. We used to hear about extreme, right wing, redneck organizations like the infamous “John Birch Society.” While there were other organizations similar to them, some still existing today in one form or the other, the “Birchers” were the ones we always heard about and they were a very scary bunch. And, dig it, they really didn’t like long haired guys.

We finally made it to Highway 1, more than two hours after leaving George’s place, and this was just leg one of the trip. Frankly, we were very tired and very discouraged. We debated about just going back to San Jose right then and there. But the one overpowering argument was that we had already put so many miles behind us in the slow moving VW. Let’s just finish it out. We turned north and just kept going. Little did we know that we were heading deeper and deeper into John Birch Society country. After all, it was the middle of the night. In fact, at that point, we hadn’t even heard of the John Birch Society yet. We were from Almaden, a modest, obscure and mild mannered little community.

I could write a novel about the events that occurred in the next four or five hours and all that George didn’t tell us about loggers; that they were huge people, tough as railroad spikes, and easily stronger than African water buffaloes, and that they were all “dyed in the wool” extreme and pious John Birchers. Suffice it to say that when we were barreling back out of those mountains on those logging ruts I was sure that we had fire breathing dragons and great horned Furies just a few inches behind us, on that endless, dark and dangerous empty pit of a road. The VW just couldn’t go fast enough to get us out of there and I wasn’t going to look back to stare into the face of our early demise. I just kept that tiny little gas pedal to the metal, all the way to Highway 1.

I hung the corner onto the Coast Highway without the least let up. We just flew off the dirt road and onto the pavement, the little car giving us all it had. We weren’t speaking, we were just consumed by one vision, the one thing that would assure us that we were back in safe territory, the colorful Marin County end of the Rainbow Tunnel. Some in-bred California instinct told us that the demons couldn’t traverse the wonderful and ever so safe orange icon of harmony and peace, the great and glorious Golden Gate Bridge. Ah, yes, to be on the Bridge, safe and at home, among our own kind, where we out-numbered them, Whew!

redwood-loggers-580058-sw

As we crested a low, rolling hill somewhere near Fort Bragg perhaps, there was an intersection all lit up down at the bottom of the grade with a truck stop at the cross roads. Steve and I looked at each other but not a word was spoke. I banked my turn way out and smoothly came in for a landing on the cement pad surrounding the gas pumps in the dark and silent gas station, all closed up for the night. Steven and I knew what we were doing as we had done this numerous times before. He got out as I pulled the trunk release. I pulled up close to the first pump and Steve took the nozzle out of its cradle and then he manipulated the hose in a manner so as to drain all the gas left in it into my waiting tank. Since leaving George’s, we hadn’t even thought of gas. We had put on many miles since then. Any gas was better than no gas. We drained all the hoses.

I looked up at the restaurant next door to the gas station. It was open but very quiet and still. I told Steve I could use some coffee to finish out the trip. He grunted in agreement. We were both very worn out. We left the bug parked next to a pump and walked towards the door of the restaurant. There was a big bus parked next to the place. It was dull gray with just a few markings and no logos or advertisements on the sides. We pretty much ignored it.

The blinds were lowered on all the building’s windows but we assumed it to be empty, there were no cars parked anywhere around. As we approached the door, we saw a small, spry woman behind the small cash register counter. She had very sharp features and slim limbs and her face had the traces of weather on it. Considering where we were and the nature of the surrounding country, you could lay odds that this lady was a middle aged “horse girl.” This sort of woman was raised in a horse paddock and grew up tending to the horses and their stables. They were usually curt, brisk, tough and never took lip from anyone, least of all from their men.

As we reached for the door handle, the horse girl looked up and saw us through the glass. She whipped herself from the back of the counter to a position between the door and the dining room. We entered and in a split second a full platoon of marines jumped up from their seats in the dining room and snarled at us, a few bolted from their tables but the horse girl cut them off.

Here again, youngsters may need a little help with this historical void. The time frame here is during the Viet Nam War, and when certain long haired war protesters would taunt returning soldiers with repulsive and degrading labels like “baby killer” and other such slander. Steve and I were not of that ilk, but you couldn’t really blame these guys for some degree of consternation with our entry. They didn’t know we were more like “flower children.”

The two of us were just too fray, too exhausted and too raw to be our really cool selves. The dining room seethed and spit at us and we seethed and spit back just like tossing cold water into a red hot frying pan. We were ready to take on the whole busload. The horse girl was probably more on their side than ours but she told us to put our coats back on and to go back to the door. She would give us a bunch of coffee for free but we had to hightail it out of there, like “on down the road” and right away. We did as she said, as did they as she told them to re-seat themselves.

She put several large paper cups of hot coffee into a big, white paper bag, along with some small creamers and sugar containers. We walked back to the bug and got in. Now we were just totally blown away. Our hearts were racing and we could barely keep our butts in our seats. As we pulled back onto the Highway, Steve rolled down his window and just started screaming, letting as much bad energy pass to the outside as he could. I glanced at the tiny, fogged up rear view mirror and without thinking, I let out an “oh, shit.” Steve turned round to watch a CHP car pull onto the highway behind us, from the intersection. He just said “unbelievable!”

I checked the speedometer and made sure I didn’t go faster or slower than 45 miles an hour. The cops stayed about a hundred yards behind us, their headlights the only artificial light we could see for 360 degrees. Sure enough, after a couple of miles, the cherries went on and headlights behind filled up the rear view. With a roll of my eyes, I pulled over. The two cops made us pull everything out of the car that wasn’t glued or bolted down. Obviously they were looking for some dope, just a roach or two, any trace. One of them got all excited when Steve pulled out the empty wine jug but by now it was all dry and battered up. We were obviously not drunk and, as I am not a doper (never was), they didn’t really have anything legit to hassle us about. Luckily, they were legit cops, and though very frustrated at not being able to bust us two very vulnerable hippies, they got in their car and drove away.

In the dark, I put the floor mats back in my car, then the seats and so on and so forth on the dark highway. There was nothing to do but keep on keepin’ on.

So, when I hear Bob Seger’s “Turn the page” song, and I say I know he’s a kindred spirit, and now you know I really mean it. Read that one passage again:

Well you walk into a restaurant,
strung out from the road
And you feel the eyes upon you
as you’re shakin’ off the cold
You pretend it doesn’t bother you

but you just want to explode
Most times you can’t hear ’em talk,
other times you can
All the same old cliches,
“Is that a woman or a man?”
And you always seem outnumbered,
you don’t dare make a stand

Even better, listen to the song, it truly is not hard to listen to,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=afvFgV3_kuw

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This is what WE do in the big redwood forests

A summer concert at Chateau Liberte

A summer concert at Chateau Liberte

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2 Comments
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