Drama on the Night Watch: The Dreadful Winter of 1974-75 on Skid Row, Seattle

In the Time of COVID. Day 163

August 19, 2020.

Drama On the Night Patrol

The Dreadful Winter of 1974-75 Skid Row, Seattle

An alcohol culture pickled The Skid’s for a little over a mile from Belltown to Pioneer Square. Along First Avenue, it snaked through the warrens of the Pike Market, down Post Alley, oozed down Western and under the Alaska Way Viaduct. The fallen crashed in doorways and overhangs. The cold northwest rains came early , mixed with snow, and persisted for months. A sodden army of the damned clutched bottles of fortified Apple Jack and Loganberry wine and drank themselves into oblivion. They were the lowest rung. The shell-shocked, black or white or asian or off the Rez, lost in personal defeats. Unable to rise to the bell. Their saving grace was the Drunk Tank. They were lifted into police cars, and ambulances, charged with drunk in public, and taken out of the weather for a night or two. But, that all changed in late November, 1974.

The Pike Place Market was the hub of old downtown Seattle. During the day, shoppers came down from the outer neighborhoods for fish and meat, ethnic groceries, baked goods and fruit and vegetables. In the pre-dawn hours truck farmers brought produce to their stalls. Garbage trucks banged the dumpsters, and the market was swamped out and hosed down for another day. The winos were rousted from the doorways and they wandered off into the shadows.

Night at The Pike Market

Pensioners hotels, dozens of bars, burlesque theaters, XXX movie houses, lap dancers, pawn shops, card rooms, cheap eats, news stands, donut shops, pool halls, bookstores, and tattoo parlors fanned out to the north and south. During the day the bus stops were crowded with people making connections. The electric buses snapped as their pantos slid along the overhead electrified wires. The washed mingled with the unwashed. Winos panhandled, picked pockets, snatched bags, and sought their fellows to share bottles. With bag in hand, they slunk into the shadows. That was First Avenue during the day. The doorways, cleansed and businesses opened to the throngs of shoppers. During the day there was an optimism of commerce, jugglers, fire eaters and buskers, mime’s and street hustlers. The aroma of deep fried chicken and raw fish and the faint leavings of human waste that the hoses hadn’t caught. The doorways during the day were alive with possibilities. But at night they were the gatherers of doom, the reapers of the dead.

The Elliot Hotel Now the Green Tortoise Hostel, 105 1/2 Pike Street

I lived, that dreadful season, in the Elliot Hotel, just across First from the entrance to the Pike Market. I walked those streets and alleys by day to my morning bartender job at the Victrola and by night to a chef job I had at a sea food joint down on Pier 70. I often helped close up the Vic at night. I said it was so that the night bartender wouldn’t get robbed, but actually, I did it because I couldn’t stop drinking. I did it because I thought that was what writers do. Then, drunk again, I stumbled up the stairs of the Elliot to my flop in room 34. I was a witness to the drama that unfolded that winter.

Boulton’s Became the Victrola now the Bistro

In 1974 the Washington State Uniform Alcoholism and Intoxication Treatment Act. Wash. St. Revised Code Chapter 70, 96A was passed. It decriminalized Alcoholism. It went into effect January 1, 1975, but the cops got a jump on it in late 74.The law was passed due to demands from the Federal Government to be more humane. Alcoholism was newly categorized as a disease and the emphasis was on treatment and recovery. The drunk tanks were shuttered. Federal funding was predicated on the new standards of treatment. The problem was that while they closed the drunk tanks, they had yet to open the treatment facilities. Drunks passed out in the cold and the Night Watch Cops were given discretion to deny “Taxi Service” to the fallen. Have you ever walked around the dead? Have you ever seen cops ignore winos in destress?

Down For the Count

They looked like lumps of abandoned clothes until you came closer and saw the stretched kerosene sheen of their leathered flesh. Occasionally you might recognize them from their forays among the living during the day.

One night, about 3 AM, I was having a burger at the Silver Dollar Cafe. Sitting on a swivel tool, I swung around to the noise of laughing teenagers outside the glass door. They were poking a lump with their feet and having a big time. A wino had fallen just outside the door. I walked over to take a look, He lips were making shapes like a fish on the bottom of a boat. These kids, kids that sold themselves to adults by the Winchell’s Donut Shop, had found a dying wino to play with. At the curb was a Black Maria , it’s lights flashing, but the cops had come in for coffee, just waiting for the guy to die. The pool tables clacked , Jumping Jack Flash was on the jukebox, rain was falling and the hideous faces of those kids was a moment I have never been able to shake.

You’d of thought I’d stop drinking, that I’d get the hell out of town but alcoholism is a cunning destroyer. I saw myself apart, insulated by my intellect, an observer, but I too was in the throws. Bolt upright at 4 AM picking bugs off my skin in room 34. Delirium tremens. I told no one.

My favorite pensioner was a guy named Chester E. Webb. He was a WW II veteran with shell shock. He roomed at the Pine Street Hotel in the Market. The Victrola Tavern was part of his rounds. He was slight of build and had that yellow tint that foretold cirrhosis. When his Vets check came he was off to the state bottle shop and locked himself away in his room until he drank his pockets dry. Then, out he’d come, panhandle some spare change and drop in for a Loganberry flip. He’d sidle up to the pool table when attention was averted and snake quarters. When he got too loaded the horrors came back. Agitated fear, mumbling, incoherence, again a tail gunner on a B27 crew. Again in the skies over Nazi Germany.

In those days Washington State had Blue Laws. Bars closed at 12AM Saturday night and didn’t open until 10 AM Monday morning. One night Chester passed out in a booth in back and Bill the night bartender didn’t notice. He stacked the chairs, stowed the till, locked up and went home. When Chester woke he must have thought he’d died and gone to heaven. By the time Butler the owner showed at 8AM Monday, there was Chester, passed out on the pool table. He’d messed his pants, stunk up the place, drank everything in reach, an ate the pickled pig knuckles and hard boiled eggs.

A few weeks later an underage kid tried to buy a drink and Bill carded him. The kid gave him shit. Bill gave the kid the bum’s rush. The kid found a stone and crashed the window. Bill ran out and as the kid ran, he stumbled, pulled a 22 and let off two shots. One caught Bill in the left bicep, six inches from his heart. Night time on First Avenue was not for the faint of heart.

The winos kept falling. The winter got colder. The Night Watch was impassive. Social Darwinism.

One night a group of longshoremen left the Union Hall, and chose the Victrola for a drinking hole. All was good, they bought pitcher after pitcher, laughed and kidded each other and plugged the jukebox with coins. They drank like this for a couple of hours. There was also the usual crowd, shooting pool, drinking, I was perched on a stool at the bar.

Without provocation, everything went sideways. Those guys grabbed pool sticks and started swinging at heads. They fast-pitched pool balls at people. It was silent and deliberate. I tried to grab a couple of them off my friends and found myself pinned by two of them each holding one of my arms. They hustled me over to the stairs that dropped down to a brick wall and the emergency fire exit to the alley. They tried to hurl me, head first, down at the wall. I went limp, sagged, gave no resistance, they lost their grip. I rolled under the pool table. They grabbed pool sticks and jabbed at me. One said “Let’s drop the pool table on this motherfucker”.

Someone yelled “The cops”, the longshoremen beat an exit. I can’t remember how I got to Harbor View Emergency. Two stoved in ribs, a fat lip, a soar back from kicks and jabs, and a black eye. The other regulars may have been treated at the scene, I had been knocked out.

My next morning shift at the Victrola, someone passed me a loaded pistol. One of those guns that shows up when you need it and you don’t ask questions. There I was, torn up and paranoid, with a gun. I didn’t even know how to use it.

A day or two later I was walking down 3rd and ran into Larry, a guy I knew from a theater group I’d been in. I called out to him. He looked at me like I was a stranger. He didn’t recognize me. He said “You can’t be Stan”. Larry had permanently fried himself on psychedelics and was a walking ghost. I too was a ghost, an alcoholic that didn’t see that I was. We two went our separate ways.

The winos continued to die in the doorways, the winter came with a vengeance. Within a week, I had cashed my chips. Had a road poke and a backpack. I was 27 and didn’t have clue but for two things I knew. 1. If I stayed in Seattle, I would die. 2. The southbound on ramp to Highway 5 south was walking distance. I have never really been back. Sobriety didn’t come for 4 more years.

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Village Life

In the Time of COVID. Day 123

July 19, 2020.

Village Life

Village of Cambria

I live in a small village, have for 35 years. We are so small …

(How small are you?)

We’re so small we don’t have sidewalks. We’re so small we don’t have a mayor or a town cop. We’re so small we don’t have street lights. Well, to be truthful we do have one street (Main) that has both sidewalks and street lights but those lights only came after many months of angry meetings. Half the village fought like hell to protect the night sky, half the village wanted to light up Main Street like Las Vegas. The pro-light folks said that lights would be an improvement, argued that the sidewalks would be safer at night. The anti-light folks, ever suspicious of the word ‘improvement” asked if the sidewalks had ever been unsafe at night, because they sure hadn’t heard about it. That’s how it is in a village. Even if the streets were dangerous, and they weren’t, there wasn’t a cop to protect that sidewalk anyway. But, people sure got worked up. When the lights finally got installed, they came with bonnets so no light shines up into the sky. To paraphrase the Texas poet, Hondo Crouch, “We got a big sky for such a small village”.

We’ve got our Labor Day parade and a hokey little three day carnival. We’ve got a yearly Follies that lampoons our collective foolishness. We’ve got our month-long Scarecrow Festival that somehow Sunset Magazine caught wind of and now the town is flooded each October with outlanders wandering our one precious sidewalk. And, we’ve got a winter holiday on one evening that we call “Hospitality Night” and we villagers visit the great lighted sidewalk along Main for free hot cocoa and Christmas cookies. Kids run and shriek waving glow sticks, the store fronts are open and bejeweled with Christmas twinkles and everyone is of good cheer. The VFW hands out free hot dogs and, on that one night, it seems like there is absolutely nothing wrong in the world.

We also have a fund raising tradition of take-away spaghetti dinners at the Vet’s Hall. Over our 35 years here, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised for everything from cancer treatment, surgical support, family helping hand, funeral expenses, scholarships and financial aid to young local scholars who travel abroad for a year of foreign exchange. This village can be generous, supportive and welcoming.

But, ya know, I’ve lived here half my life now and there is a dark underbelly to this idyllic village. Why, just the other week, I posted a perfectly good, 32” Flatscreen TV on our online community forum “Free to good home” “ just come by and get it” , “2 HDMI plugs and everything”. The very first response was a woman complaining that that brand was no damn good, FREE was still too much to ask and then she went on with a litany of complaints about her several thousand dollar debacle with that brand. By extension I was in cahoots with those SOB’s. That free TV cost $250 new and truthfully why someone would ever spend Thousands for a TV is just beyond me. But, that’s this village for you. You couldn’t get the majority of the people to agree that the sky is blue.

During our first year here I worked for Bruce B., a local contractor. I asked him how the village functioned without a cop. He said “We try to handle stuff ourselves. One night I was getting gas at the Shell Station and some teenagers in my daughter’s class, came out of the store packing half cases of beer. I took that beer back into the store, drove those boys home, told their parents, and called the owner of the station to report that clerk. The guy was fired and then arrested by the County Sheriff. That’s how we deal with stuff here.”

Several years ago there was a site search for the location of a new grade school campus. Like most communities, even little ones, we have different neighborhoods, some very defined by economic status. The most promising school site was a nearly-flat field, surrounded by a pine forest with gorgeous views out east toward the coastal mountain range and no houses within blocks. The kerfuffle arose because one of the accesses to the school would be through the “rich” neighborhood and they were not having it. They invented excuses to nix the site like “it’s in a grassland pasture and many students may have allergic reaction to the site.” It was really about traffic flow, even though there was a road in and out that avoided the rich folks all together. Then some land speculators wanted to “gift” a site right above the ocean. but it was in the least desirable portion of a large coastal tract upon which they planned to build 65 exclusive homes. The “gift” had tremendous drainage problems and overall access was terrible. Ultimately that site was nixed because the community doesn’t have the water or sewer capacity for a development like that. That ranch did become a community owned nature preserve. Finally, a very hilly slope was chosen that required extensive landslide engineering. It was in an even more grassy and windswept location but the folks that had been concerned about the allergies at the first site were mum to those concerns on that cold and windswept hill. That’s village life for you.

Volunteerism is a must here. We are unincorporated and therefore things like parks and fire and ambulance and senior services , utilities management, and advisory boards require citizens to step up and fill committee slots.

My second year here, I was taking university classes toward a teaching credential and painting houses for an income. I painted Leon and Zel B’s house. Leon had been a long-time board member of the Community Services District (water, sewer, roads, ambulances services). This was Leon’s advise about volunteerism. “ half the people will hate your guts. They will phone you at 3 AM to call you a son of a bitch”.

Over the years I’ve been on a couple committees. One had folks complaining about drainage, fence maintenance , street lights, round about’s and stop signs. It still amazes me how I and fellow members have been accused of having ulterior motives like we were deep state agents because we happened to look skeptically at a petitioner’s claims. Just the other week I was called anti-kid, and anti-skate park and yelled at like I was the devil incarnate , though unknown to that blow-hard I was on the original committee that created that skate park. But, that’s Village life for you.

So I have a humble suggestion. We do so well and are so accommodating during Hospitality Night but I think it’s time to have a Hostility Night in June. Make these nights Ying Yang experiences. On Hostility Night we can line our great lighted Main Street and yell across the street at each other, call each other sons of bitches and accuse each other of the most vial and contemptible acts. We can offer rhubarb pie without sugar and we can all go suck a lemon. And don’t get me started on the De-Sal Plant!

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Pension Natividad, Manila 1999

In the Time of COVID. Day 114

July 10, 2020.

Pension Natividad, Manila 1999

Every world capital has the equivalent of Pension Natividad. It is just under a mile south of the US Embassy and three miles north of The Embassy Compound. We, along with our 16 year old son, traveled to the Philippines in 1999 to visit our daughter who was in her second year as a Peace Corps Volunteer. She met us at the Manila airport and we checked in to the pension.

Pension Natividad is a favorite of foreign national workers and NGO staff as well as Peace Corps volunteers due to it’s proximity to Embassy Row. Expats from many nations with VISA, Passport and Import-Export Issues stay there. At any given time there may be a hundred or more lodgers in rooms and dormitories. The grounds are walled and the hotel approach and car park are gated with security guards on station 24-7. The rent is ridiculously affordable and includes breakfast.

The entrance to Pension Natividad

The Philippine archipelago has over 7000 islands yet most all official international business is conducted in Manila. The pension serves as a reliable general delivery address, meet up, package storage and all around port-in-a-storm for budget minded foreign nationals. While we stayed there, at least two dozen PC volunteers were in residence for staff training, R and R, or health clinic visits.

Lounge at the pension
Part of the pension

We met Judith at breakfast one morning. The dining hall was full but there was an unused chair at our table. She asked if she could join us and at first glance she seemed to be some PC’s visiting grandmother. Her hair was plain and dishwater grey, and she dressed in a fashion-less skirt and blouse, reminiscent of a nun who had set her habit aside for plain clothes in the 1960’s. But Judith wasn’t a nun. She was a retired teacher and Peace Corps volunteer.

That morning, once she discovered we were teachers, she shared her story with us. She’d spent 35 years in the public school trenches in Lexington, Kentucky, mostly as a grade school teacher but she’d advanced to curriculum specialist and staff development trainer. After retirement it hadn’t been long before she was widowed. Her house was quiet, and full of ghostly reminders of happier years. She’d met her husband Norman at Teacher’s College and they had a good life but had no children. They had dreamed of travel but never made the commitment. They dreamed of volunteerism but the demands of their careers kept them rooted to the children of Lexington.

Idleness chewed at her. She decided to enquire about the Peace Corps. Most volunteers are fresh out of college and are starry eyed optimists thirsting for adventure and seeking to serve mankind. But there are older volunteers as well. Judith’s experiences were ideally suited to a program the Peace Corps promotes. At the age of 69 she signed on for a year and was sent to the Philippines. She worked out of the Headquarters in the Manila compound, stayed at the Pension Natividad and traveled out for weeks at a time to remote regions and school districts leading curriculum development and staff training workshops. She’d just signed on for a second year. Judith was fulfilling a dream she and Norman had only fantasized. Meeting Judith was a chance occurrence that gave us hope for our futures.

An air of gaiety usually pervaded the dining hall and bistro tables since most of the lodgers were young and spent isolated months in remote postings. Being in the capital gave them an opportunity to let their hair down. At all hours, drunken, off key singers populated the nearby Karaoke bars. Getting drunk and singing loud Kenny Rodgers, Elvis and John Denver songs was the Philippine pastime. Casual romances were common, some brief, others lasting. Some with other volunteers, some with locals.

Karaoke Manila

We stayed in Manila for a week. Our daughter had business at the PC HQ and supply purchases and shipping arrangements to make. She wanted to explore Manila, home to 10 million people. There are historical reminders of “The Battle of Manila” and the Japanese occupation, and the earlier struggle for independence from US colonization and before that, hundreds of years of Spanish rule. A vast gulf exists between the ultra-rich and the teaming masses living at subsistence level.

Normal Traffic in Manila

I wanted to tour Corregidor but I’m the only one in the family with that much passion for history. We passed the fabled WW II battlement off our starboard bow as we left Manila Bay on the Super Ferry bound for Puerto Princesa and Palawan Island.

Corregidor Ruins

Our week at the pension brought us in contact with Rodney. I’m not sure he was lodging there. All week he swooped down on tables like an insistent Magpie. He discretely finished plates left behind. He attempted to engage people in conversation. He was slender, dark haired, in his late 30’s, a white American dressed in the same t-shirt and pants everyday. Eventually he landed at our table. We wonder, even now, if his story was true or wether it was a hustle. My street radar sensed the latter. He’d come on hard times, he said. He’d married a young Filipina (photo shown of the two of them, but she was never with him). When they approached the embassy for her VISA, it was put on hold, he said. Also, there was an endless line outside the gate. It queued each morning before dawn and thousands of people stood, patiently trying to get those coveted travel papers that allow entrance to the US.

The Queue outside the US Embassy Manila

He’d engaged an attorney, he said. That expense and the wait had eaten up their travel money. He no longer had sufficient funds to buy the two one-way tickets to the states. (At that time two tickets to LA cost at least $1,800). I’ve been hustled a time or two, but what are you going to do? What if his predicament was real? I think we handed over $10. He was obsequious in his thanks. The loss of the ten didn’t effect us one way or the other, and he worked his hustle with a fever. My sense was that he was high and dry in Manila, didn’t have a wife, and this was how he got by. Maybe he couldn’t return to the States. Maybe I was cynical but maybe he was telling the truth. I still wonder how many similar pensions he visited each day. It was a subsistence hustle.

Finally we loaded into a Jeepney for the trip to the ferry terminal. Along the way we passed Smokey Mountain in Tondo, Manila, a combination 2 million metric ton landfill and slum built upon the landfill. It was home to more than 30,000 people who made their living picking through the garbage and who had built dwellings using the refuse. Some years later, I had a student, Kate, in Paso Robles CA who after graduation, went to midwife school in the Philippines and worked and lived at Smokey Mountain for some years. I have seen some slums and barrios in my travels but none the like of Smokey Mountain.

Smokey Mountain
Smokey Mountain
Smokey Mountain
Smokey Mountain

We boarded the ferry, were shown our rooms. Not long after clearing Manila Bay and heading south into The South China Sea, a monsoon blew up and the ferry pitched wildly from side to side all night, but that is another story.

Super Ferry

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The First ‘Expat’ I Ever Met

In the Time of COVID. Day 103

June 29, 2020.

The First ‘Expat’ I Ever Met

In our fourth month of COVID stay-at-homeism we dream of getting out of here. but, the crowded airplanes frighten us and the out-landers who surge into our village Friday through Monday isolate us 4 days a week. Even with mask directives from our governor many visitors disregard the rules and here it is 4th of July week. Still, we dream of travel. Now we hear that the E.U. Will ban travelers from the US when they reopen in July and the people of Mexico blame Americans for bringing the virus to them. The future of international travel is uncertain.

String of Burros

Millions of our fellow countrymen live aboard, and have for years. Our nephew has lived in Mexico for 20 years, our daughter now lives in Vietnam and before that in Indonesia, Tanzania and the Philippines. We lived in Guadalajara for 1 year, and in our travels, over the years, we have met many “Expats”. Expatriates run the gambit from economic opportunists who find meaningful employment abroad to fixed-income retirees who move into expat enclaves the world over. Then there are the exiles. Historically the US has been known to welcome exiles until Trump. Americans have also gone into exile, have left the US, for political, intellectual and philosophical reasons. Expats are a mixed bag.

We subscribe to a magazine called ‘International Living’. It is of, by and for Expats and Expat wannabes. The articles highlight different enclaves the world over. It is a fun dream mag.

The first Expatriate I ever met was in 1973 in Mexico. His name was Howard Leigh. We met in Mitla, Oaxaca, 320 miles south of Mexico City. My pal Billy and I were fleeing a Hippie Dragnet in Ciudad Oaxaca so we took the first bus out of town, on the Pan American Highway, a local bus that had a turn-around 25 miles south in Mitla. We hopped off at the plaza. At that time Mitla was a dusty little village with next to no tourists but it had an archeological Zapotec burial site of renown.

Mitla 1895

50 years ago very few cars ventured south of Oaxaca. Mitla seemed abandoned. Just a few streets of whitewashed adobe houses with mud splatter up the walls. Strings of burros brought firewood and carbon down from the mountains and gathered at the plaza near the vegetable vendors that had gotten off the bus with us. cartwheels of bougainvillea blossoms were made to dance by dust devils in the dirt paths. The 500 year old cathedral of San Pablo, was secure behind massive walls. Above the village “The Place of the Dead” (In Zapotec “Mitla”) one of Mexico’s most famous ruins. Across the plaza an old man sat propped back in a chair on a veranda. The Building had a humble little sign ‘Museo Frissell’.

The Exterior Of Museo Frissell

Howard Leigh wore a rough tailored suit of some thin gray black material with lighter gray stripes. It’s tailoring was rustic. He must of had it made when he weighed more. His shirt was smokers-teeth yellow and the collar was frayed. He had long given up trimming hair from his ears or nose and he had several days of stubble. We hailed him and he invited us to sit.

The Museo was established by an American real estate investor named Edwin Robert Frissell who had purchased the 200 year old dilapidated hacienda in the 1920’s. He did repairs and started a modest Zapotec museum. Frissell was one of many intellectuals who traveled to Mexico after the revolution . Those adventurers included Tina Modotti and Edward Weston, photographers who associated with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in Mexico City, Nelson Rockefeller who collected folk art around Oaxaca and William Spratling an architect and designer who invigorated silversmithing in Taxco. By the mid 1930’s Howard Leigh, an American Painter and printmaker, was lured to Mexico. He fell for and married Margarita Figueroa, the sister of famous Mexican painter Fidel Figueroa of Taxco. By the 1940’s Howard Leigh and his wife dedicated their lives to the study of the Zapotec culture, moved to Mitla and collected items unearthed at the Ruins. After Frissell died the Leigh’s took over the management of Museo Frissell.

When we met Howard Leigh, the Museo had well over 70,000 items of pots, pot shards, obsidian spear heads , hatchets, knives, clay and and jade pre-Columbian figurines and intricately designed Zapotec lintels. There was a room of manuscripts of Zapotec lore and line drawings of Zapotec gods and unique designs all drawn and written by Howard Leigh.

Howard’s wife died some years before I met him and he was a solitary man living out his days surrounded by his life’s passion. As we talked to him we became aware that he possessed absolutely no interest in The United States. He said that America had a blood-lust for war and he’d seen enough of that in World War I to last a life time. He came south in 1934 to make a new start. When we met him he had been in Mexico for 39 years and had not returned to the US once in that time.

We toured ‘The Place of The Dead ‘ with rumored burial labyrinths below the ruins which are the pathway to the Zapotec underworld. It is believed that the entrance to the labyrinth is hidden behind the alter of The cathedral of San Pablo, which was constructed in 1521. The Spaniards attempted to deface and erase all vestiges of Miso-American religion and history. It is very likely the doorway to the underworld was hidden by the friars.

We walked down toward the plaza, bought some tamales and fruit to tuck away in our packs and went back to the Museo to grab our bags. Howard Leigh was sleeping in that chair , shaded by the veranda overhang, a little drool escaping a corner of his mouth. I like to think he was dreaming of his sweetheart Margarita or was talking to her in the underworld. We walked out to the road and caught a bus south to Tehuantepec, several hours down out of the Valley of Oaxaca to the pacific coast.

Post Script:

Much of what I learned about Howard Leigh, I learned later through research. When I met him I was 25 and knew very little about anything. Leigh lived another 8 years and died at 85 in 1981. Frissell’ s Last Will and Testament specified that as a whole the Museo collection was to be gifted to a university in Mexico City. That none of it could be sold, nor could the Museo building be sold. But by 1995 the entire collection disappeared. The university denied receiving the collection. The Governor of Oaxaca tried to sell the hacienda. It was boarder up and remains so.

At the end of World War I , Howard Leigh was commissioned to do drawings and lithos of old French buildings in Paris and Rouen that had been damaged during the war. His efforts are still part of the Louvre Museum in Paris. His art work was critically accepted in New York, London and Paris and he was financially successful as an artist. He was a professor at Earlham College but was drawn to Mexico in 1934.

Howard Leigh and Margarita Figueroa de Leigh are safe together in the labyrinth of the Zapotec Underworld. They deserve their rest

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Victory Gardens and Internment Camps

March 23, 2020

In The Time of COVID Day 5

Victory Gardens and Internment Camps

I don’t know if there is any place in the United States better suited for social distancing , shelter in place and home isolation than Cambria. We are a village of less than 7 thousand people in a rural coastal setting with approximate 25 mile distance to the nearest other town (San Simeon is a hotel strip with some apartments and condos 6 miles north). There are many walking trails and a large dog park and many `pullout parking areas for beach access that dot Highway One from Morro Bay north over a hundred miles through Big Sur Coast to the Monterey Peninsula. Our village has an older population with many retirees. It is this group that remembers the old times.

Our cemetery has a section with an abundance of grave markers dated 1918, the year of the Spanish Flu. We were not spared the ravages of that Pandemic. Now there are rumblings through the retirees about Victory Gardens. Food scarcity brings to mind rationing during WWII. People, at that time, grew private gardens to feed their extended families when food resources were being directed toward the forces defending our country.

Victory Garden

Yesterday we started our COVID-19 Victory Garden. We planted Early Girl tomatoes and we seeded a greens bed and tomorrow we will set out Cilantro and green onions and radishes. The plantings will expand in the coming weeks. We will be here this year to tend our garden and enjoy our labor’s bounty.

Back to World War II….

I was born a few years after the end of that war but there were remnants of it in my hometown. At 14, I had a paper route that started at the old sight of a WW II metal scrap pit. People deposited anything metal there and it was collected sorted and shipped to smelters and refineries to aid the war effort. But, there is a dark side to this tale.

Japanese American Internment

It is no surprise that not all Americans were, or are now, treated equally. During WWII, not all Americans were free to grow their gardens and pass freely in the effort to help the war effort. The citizens of the neighborhood around Fourth and McClellan where my paper bundle was dropped each afternoon, were rounded up in early 1942 and relocated to Hart Mountain and Tulelake and other internment camps because of their Japanese heritage. On the yellow barrier fence of that open pit was painted “Collect the Scrap the Beat the Jap” in 8 inch high black letters. In the Fall of 1945 the internees returned to their neighborhoods to find their houses ransacked and their possessions looted. They stoically began to rebuild their lives. In several windows Gold Stars were displayed. Each signified a son, brother, uncle, or father who had died fighting for this country, all members of the fabled 442nd Infantry Division. Those heroes paid a terrible price. But, The degrading racist signage was not removed at war’s end. It still remained in 1962, seventeen years after the end of the war.

Gold Stars denoting Dead Soldiers
Racist Propaganda Poster

As a kid I wondered why someone hadn’t painted over those slogans. The neighborhood silently endured the racist insult year after year. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that the painting over of that signage was my responsibility. By then, the east-west freeway had leveled the neighborhood.

Yesterday we planted our COVID Victory Garden, we try to do our part to self isolate and to help those in need. If things get worse and fear and paranoia raise their ugly heads we must stand against those forces of evil and strive to stay calm, humane and helpful.

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Night Train to Sapa

In the Time of COVID. Day 94

June 20, 2020.

Night Train to Sapa

14 times zones west of California, we found ourselves bundled into a taxi. Evening was approaching Hanoi and the streets were frenetic with traffic. A mass of scooters with 2, 3, 4, and even 5 riders on each, a flowing logjam bunching and breaking into wild dashes to bunch again. Lines of pedestrians snaked cross the road as the stream of traffic continued unabated, flowing around the walkers like water around boulders in a torrent. Our taxi lurched and halted, sped to fill the available space and halted again. We passed along the darkening lanes and avenues with a destination of Tran Quy Cap. Hanoi Train Station B.

Street life Hanoi
Nights Train to Sapa

April and I were in Vietnam on holiday. Our daughter Christy had started her teaching assignment there, in August. Her school had let out for three weeks of winter break. The three of us decided to travel north into the Tonkin Alps. None of her friends had been up there. We were trail blazing. Up into the northernmost mountains. Up into Hmong villages. Up into the giant bamboo cloud forest by Dragon Mountain. In order to get there we needed to catch the night train to Lao Cai, the border town that hugs the Chinese border, to the north.

The Taxi stopped abruptly at the dimly lit plaza of the train station. All signs were in Vietnamese. Hundreds of people milled about. Along the edges were lantern lit stalls selling mementos and baguettes, candies and cookies, postcards and cigarettes, and homemade whiskey with baby cobras or scorpions embalmed in amber liquid in glass bottles.

We had reserved a sleeper compartment on the blue train. The computer ticketing process was confusing and there seemed to have been four or five trains all of differing colors headed north that night. We were to be met by representatives of our train. We arrived at the plaza 45 minutes before departure but no one came to greet us or direct us to the proper track and train. We were disoriented and looked about for assistance. Fortunately, in Vietnam, people are gracious and students try, at any opportunity, to practice their English. Just such a group approached us and asked if they could help. We were directed to a flickering, fluorescent lit cement block waiting room that crowded with families and a few groups of international backpackers. There was no signage to help us understand the arrivals and departures. A loud, crackling, female voice, made announcements over a microphone, in Vietnamese. We just had to trust all would work out.

A uniformed woman said “You go, you go now” and swept her hand toward a far opening in the wall. We hustled out and a conductor checked our papers and led us to a blue train car. There were other cars of different colors, just one train. We climbed aboard and were escorted to our compartment. We learned years before that when booking sleeping accommodations one should reserve the entire compartment. We had an extra berth on which to sling our bags. The train was narrow gauge. In the hallway my shoulders brushed the wall and windows so I had to walk slightly sideways . The bunks were about 5 and half feet long. There was a little wooden table and a lamp by our window. A conductor checked our tickets and a cart with hot tea , bottled water , steaming towels and sweet rice cookies was rolled along and we were served.

Our Compartment

Eventually with lurching, swaying and squealing, the train began to move and for the next hour we brushed by makeshift housing within 3 feet of our window. In those humble dwellings we saw people squatting to their evening meals or gazing at little tv’s. We crossed over the wide expanse of the Red River and out into farmland to the north. Occasional houses were lit off in the fields as night descended. We settled into our beds for the journey.

Night Train to Sapa

The food cart came by again in the early morning and we were offered hot steaming towels, boiled eggs, tea and a pastry. We watched the hills rise to the west and then, as we came into a small village, the train stopped. Several people got off and a few got on. There was general milling about by the tracks. But, the train did not budge. It was about an hour later that train personnel announced that the south bound train had derailed up ahead and they were not certain when our train would be able to proceed. I got off and talked with some French guys who had unloaded their bikes and were going to peddle on to Lao Cai. Some passengers were hopping on the backs of scooters with their bags and taking off.

Village Life along the train route

Catching scooter rides out to the road was an option. I talked it over with April and Christy and we decided to give it a go. This actually scared the shit out of me because a couple of years before I had shattered my elbow and if I fell it would most likely break again. I didn’t realize it before we left the train but April had my passport and money and day pack. I had a heavy rolling bag in each hand and no way to hold on to the driver. We mounted up behind the drivers and April’s and Christy’s drivers headed out each in a different direction and my guy took yet a different way. Crap, I had to hold the bags away from my body and the driver slithered and swayed along muddy lanes. Up and down through that rural village waving at his friends. Laughing kids ran along the side. We went along fields that had buffalo tethered off by noise rings, munching grass. I couldn’t see April and Christy anywhere. “Just hold on” I told myself. “Don’t loose your balance” I chanted, with gritted teeth and tense body.

Later, off in the distance, I saw the outline of the highway crossing over the gully we were riding in. There was no on ramp. That Village had been bypassed. We went under the road and my scooter driver turned left and gunned it up a dirt embankment and plopped us onto the highway. Across the road, April and Christy stood by their drivers. Everyone was all smiles. All we had to do was wave down a bus headed north.

Vietnam built that highway, probably for the Army. Very few vehicles used it. Out in that countryside it was scooters, ox carts and a few tractors. The scooter drivers waited with us until a large northbound Passenger Van breaked to a halt. It was full, but miraculously they made room for us. Our bags were strapped on the roof and off we went. The other passengers were sharing fruit and they offered us pieces. We had a big bag of cashew nuts and offered them around. Everyone smiled, the driver listened to loud local pop music and about an hour later we rolled into the shuttle bus queue at Lao Cai.

Lao Cai City is situated in a verdant valley. It’s elevation is about 800 feet with a population of 600,000. It is an agricultural and small manufacture City. Just across the border is Kunming, Yunnan Provence, China. The Red River courses through the valley fed by streams dropping down from the Tonkin Alps. Lao Cai has no touristic attraction, that was left to the Sapa highlands. Sapa lay atop a mountain ridge nearly 4 thousand feet above Lao Cai. We searched the offered shuttle buses for one that said Victoria Spa in the window. We showed our reservations, stowed our gear and climbed aboard.

The shuttle climbed out of Lao Cai and we wound along switchbacks up and up into a dense cloud cover. We could not see where we were and it was unnerving that the coachman talked on two cell phones, one hand on the wheel. Fog was so thick the wipers slapped back and forth to no effect. The interior was steamed up by the breath of 30 passengers, the driver constantly toweled his windshield. Buses and delivery trucks attempted to pass and did, grinding gears and accelerating though they were blind to on coming traffic. Downhill traffic came within inches of us and the journey took nearly 90 minutes. When we arrived in Sapa the cloud cover was so low and wet that the town’s structures were ghostly, hinting at form and then disappearing. There were four drop-offs before we climbed up a ridge to Victoria Spa. It was as if we were enveloped in a massive cloud with just the outer form of the lobby visible. When we entered, there were at least 50 Chinese in a tour group checking in. We took seats in the lodge chairs arranged around a massive stone fireplace, a welcoming fire warmed our bones. Large photos of the Hmong and Red Dao ethnic peoples were framed on the walls. Hot tea and steaming towels were offered.

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Mustache

In the Time of COVID. Day 88

June 14, 2020.

Mustache

As a teen I loved Art-House films. Once, I was in the third row, slunk down in my seat. My eyes were fixed on the movie screen. A gentleman fortune-seeker arrived at a remote, storm pounded, ferry terminal. Confused, he entered the waiting room where suspicious eyes glared at him. Women frightfully, men aggressively. No one made room for him. He stood in the middle of the room, sopping wet, a British fancy-dandy. Then, a hand wiped moisture off an outside window, and a disheveled face peered in with bushy mustache. Enter Zorba The Greek, a storm-tossed Greek Demigod. I sat bolt upright.

Zorba Sees Opportunity

Thus began a fifty five year relationship between my face and a mustache. At first it was just a wimpy little thing , just a puppy with hardly enough hairs to compete with a girl’s eyebrow, although, it was enough to get me dragged into the office at school. “Shave that off! What do you think this is?” They didn’t expect an answer. They wanted compliance. That became a chronic confrontation. Then came graduation (strike that) liberation.

Wandering Willy said, “Ya, when I first met you, you had a first-class soup strainer.” I recently watched Zorba the Greek again and I realize I exaggerated his mustache. Zorba’s was more like a hairy old man’s eyebrow. I grew a Clydesdale horseshoe. A five pounder.

The only time I ever shaved it off, in all these years, was after I married April. I decided she needed to know what lurked below that ‘stash’. I went into the bathroom, got out a shave kit and went at it. I soon remembered why I hate to shave around my nose and upper lip. Nicks and cuts sting like hell, all day. Well, out I came, and said “here you go, this is who I am under the stash”. Speechless, she drew back in shock. I wasn’t “her” me. I was “strange” me. For two weeks she slept with her back turned away while I grew it back.

Over the years I’ve had variations of this mustache. One Halloween I went as Salvador Dali. My mustache grew down to my jawline and further down my neck and was at least an inch wide. I formed five rows of waxed handlebars and the largest upper set curled into my nostrils.

I am thoughtful of the guys who do the “Movember” thing. It’s a prostate cancer fundraiser. But I mourn their attempts that get erased at month’s end. I mourn the loss of a new generation of hermanos del bogote. Brother’s of the mustache.

At some point I grew a beard and it has varied in length. As I’ve gotten older, I trim and shape much more. But my mustache has been a constant companion.

For years, in the land of the clean shaven, I felt a nagging apartness. But that ended two years ago when we traveled to India. Every older guy from New Delhi to Agra or Jaipur has a stately mustache. It is a prideful act of Indian identity and is patterned after the Rajas of the 18th and 19th Centuries. I noticed these fine mustaches and smiled at the guys while twisting the corner of mine with a twinkling smile. They returned the acknowledgement with smile and a twist of their own. I started having photos taken with the guys. It was great fun. For days across Rajasthan I continued these encounters in cities and villages. I wasn’t just a pledge, I was a brother in the fraternity.

For the Love of Mustaches
By the Milk Market
Jaipur
Jaipur
Delhi
Village Veterinarian

Some people travel to India to visit an ashram, or bathe in the Mother Ganges at Varanasi, others move to Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh. For $7,000 they are welcomed into the International Society of Krishna Consciousness. The money buys a sleeping pallet in a dorm and rice and vegetables for the rest of one’s life. Millions of others visit the Taj Mahal to get a selfie. I found my sense of belonging among the mustaches of Rajasthan.

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The Wayward Brother

In the Time of COVID. Day 80

June 6, 2020.

The Wayward Brother

He called himself the ‘Cherokee Shoe Doc’. He wasn’t Cherokee, he just wanted to be. If it wasn’t for him being “Born Again” he would have sworn on Burning Sage he was a big chief in a past life. I never asked mom if she was fooling around with a Cherokee when dad was working in Alaska. She would have slapped me. Hard. Dan, the Cherokee Shoe Doc was their first born, their darling child.

Magazine Ad for Lonely Hearts

Dan had a rough go of it as a kid, but those around him had it even worse. This isn’t a story about what a mean bastard he was. That was just a natural fact. For some, he still causes bad dreams even though he’s been dead for 30 years. This is about Dan 2.0 and how he became the Cherokee Shoe Doc.

Was a time judges used to tell juvenile delinquents they had two choices. Go straight to jail or join the service. Dan joined the Coast Guard. Later that year, it was Happy Birthday 18 year old. Wahoo, driving hell bent down a coast road in Oregon with a buddy and a local girl, then everything changed. He woke up nine months later.

Dan lived two lives. His bell was rung. He had a big dent in his head. It took him a year in rehab before he could talk and walk. Half blind, with a lifetime disability pension, confused and angry, he came out of the hospital and moved home. He took pills to hold off seizures. He grasped at the shadows and fragments of memories. He had little impulse control.

Home didn’t work out to well. He moved to pensioner’s quarters. He became a boot-black. Then, he went missing. Missing, a parent’s torment.

He worked his way east, walking a guy’s race horses, slept in the stalls, shined cowboy boots and landed in a cheap hotel in Hialeah, Florida. Lonely as a man can be. My wayward brother, was 23.

True Confessions magazine left in the lobby. Dan grabbed it. “Unfaithful to Her First Love, Could She be Loyal to her Second?” Classified ad: page 45. “Lonely Hearts, let us arrange a romantic correspondence for you. Meet your sweetheart thru the foremost high-class social correspondence club in the world. A club for refined lonely people… particulars free.. Eva Moore, Box 908, Jacksonville, Fla. I have a sweetheart for you”

True Confessions 1961

Dan fired off a letter and then another and then another. Daily he harassed the front desk for his mail. He fired off letters every day.

It came on a Friday. Her name was Omega. she lived in Tyler, Texas. She was a 42 year old widow. She was “born again in the blood of Jesus, and any man in my life would have to walk the true and righteous path to glory.” Dan fired off a letter at once. First fish on the hook, he was all in. “Come out here to Florida darlin’. I’ll send the money. Just say you’ll be mine”.

The next letter took 2 weeks. The whole time waiting, he had the heebie-jeebies. “No, I won’t come out to Florida. I got family right here in Smith County. You want me in your life, you come to Texas.” Dan was on the next Trailways west.

She hadn’t written those letters. Omega couldn’t read or write. Her daughter Faye put her mom’s name on those letters. Omega had been married to a rattlesnake of a sharecropper. Anyone north of Lucifer himself, would be The Lilly of the Valley, The Rose of Sharon. He’d died and left the family adrift. Faye sought help.

They were an unlikely pair for sure. Dan was 23 years old , 6’5 and 320 pounds. Omega was 42 and skinny as a rail, illiterate, not much in the way of teeth and about 5’2. Her daughter was Dan’s age and already had a flock of kids. They lived in a tenement farm shack, east of town. Always had. Nothing fancy, everything they had was other’s leavings. The coming of Dan was Prince Galahad on a white steed.

Within a week, they were married at the Tyler Tabernacle Apostolic Church of the Pentecost. Dan put down the tobacco and he put down the booze and he welcomed Jesus and Omega with open arms.

Secure with a pension, he bought them a little house on Fannin Street. Omega had never had a refrigerator or washer / dryer or a TV or none of that. Dan had plenty of money and those kid’s of Faye’s got new school clothes when they needed and Dan put Faye through Nursing School. He taught Omega to read and write.

He converted the unused garage into a shine parlor . He got a big old plywood board and Painted “The Texas Shoe Doc” and then over time he switched it to “The Cherokee Shoe Doc #1 Spit Shine!” He told anyone who would listen he was from the Indian nations.

When he was 26 my folks got a letter to him through the Red Cross and at least we knew he was alive. His letters were so harsh on my folks, they stopped opening them. But they wrote “Dear Dan and Omega we love you” letters, every month or so.

The Greyhound dropped me at the town square. It was a green, squat town, hot and muggy with dozens of churches. I’d of had a beer or two in a bar but that’s a dry county. I walked up to a cab driver lazing in the shade. I described my brother. The cabbie cocked his head and with a rye smile said “ The Cherokee Shoe Doc your brother? Come on, I’ll take you”.

I walked up the pathway, knocked and there he was. Hadn’t seen him in a dozen years. I stayed the night, man, that was enough. Everything in his past that had gone sideways he laid on our folks. Omega was sheepish and let him rant. I hit the road for Dallas the next day. Adios wayward brother.

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Brownsville, Texas

In the Time of COVID. Day 75

June 1, 2020.

Brownsville, Texas

Covid quarantine is an order that most reluctantly accept, while others quiver and refuse to tolerate limitations on their freedom. How did we get this way?

Quarantine and it’s sibling, house-arrest, hung out in Brownsville when I rolled into that dust strewn, Texas frying pan in 1973.

In the heat of the day the exterior walls of Hotel Casa Blanca seared the eyes. Squat and single storied, it hugged a corner on a dirt-track road, just east of town. It was covered with a low shed roof.

There was one exterior door near the desk so tenants could be accounted for. Ramon, the owner, checked me in. He must have been the fattest guy in a half a mile.

For $4 a night, I had a lock, a door, a narrow bed, a bare bulb with a pull chain hanging from a two by four in a 6’ by 10’ cubical. No window, no ceiling. Above the wall, 3 feet up, corrugated roof. 6 penny nails driven into the wall to hang clothes. There was a large men’s bathroom down the hall. A smaller women’s next to a common kitchen. Rows of cots lined the hall. They went for $2 a night.

Casa Blanca accepted every ethnicity. It had a constant population of about 40. Derelicts and winos mixed with workers off shrimp boats. Being a deck hand on a shrimp boat paid for shit. Just enough for a cheap flop, communal grub and an extended drunk.

I still had my sea legs. My head tossed with the rocking motion of the Gulf. I showered, hand washed a change of clothes and pitched in 50 cents for a plate of red beans and rice. I hit the sack.

A high pitched panting awakened me, in deep night, outside my door, a begging, terrors, then “shut up God Damn you” and kicking. I looked out. Fat Ramon was jabbing a cot with his boot. He shouted “shut up Johnson, God damn you”. Then he dumped water on the cot. The crawling insects stopped digging their way out of Johnson’s skin. Silence. Fat Ramon waddled back to his office dangling an empty plastic pail from a chubby pinkie finger.

In the morning, Johnson came up to me in the kitchen. I’d paid for a plate of grits and gravy. He offered me 3 dollars and asked me to buy him a bottle. Another guy, slowly moved his head from side to side. Johnson couldn’t leave the premises. The Casa Blanca was a cheap drunk tank. A hard-ass detox.

I stowed my gear behind the desk and went looking for the Greyhound Station. A wayward brother lived in Tyler, 550 miles north.

A brief peace came the next day as the bus rolled through lush green horse ranches on the outskirts of Austin, headed for Tyler east of Dallas.

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Aboard the Cuatro Hermanos: Part 2

In the Time of COVID. Day 68

May 25, 2020.

Aboard the Cuatro Hermanos: Part 2

Like many of you, it is hard for me to stay focused day after day with this COVID quarantine. I’ve been adrift, not writing for three days, wondering how to proceed with the story of crossing the Gulf of Mexico on the Cuatro Hermanos, those 47 years ago.

A month ago, my pal Steve C. recommended a must-read book. Steve was raised in Bakersfield and is an aficionado of the unique musical contributions Bakersfield has gifted the world. I purchased the book but it gathered dust on my desk. That is, until yesterday when I started reading (strike that, “devouring”) ‘The Bakersfield Sound’ by Robert E. Price and jeez but I dreamed it last night. It helped expose a memory aboard the Cuatro Hermanos involving the ship radio in the dark of night, out beyond the site of land, out in the rolling, phosphorous sea below the blanket of The Milky Way.

We pulled out of the harbor about four in the afternoon. The sun was bright and I was excited to be at sea for the first time. I stowed my gear on a bunk and oriented myself to the galley. The skipper wanted dinner in an hour. The Cuatro Hermanos was 110 feet long and 20 feet wide. It hauled frozen gulf shrimp from the processing plant in Campeche on the Yucatán Peninsula to the mouth of the Rio Grande River at Port Isabel, in south Texas. There was no shrimp available in the galley. There was frozen meat but it couldn’t thaw in time. Fortunately I had purchased chicken.

I whipped up a white rice and plancha chicken with a big salad. I made an oil and vinegar dressing. When I served the dinner up in the wheel house the skipper was pissed. He was not a salad guy. He wanted meat, rice and beans and more meat and coffee. Keep the coffee coming, damn it. There was a definite hierarchy going on and I was the piss-ant. The other guy, the small guy, Andres, was the mechanic. He and the vessel hailed from Porto Cortes, Honduras on the Caribbean coast. I got both of them fed and learned my place, no doubt about it.

The Diesel engines rumbled beneath the galley deck. As we crested waves the propellers came out of the water and the noise roared until we slid down a trough and so it was for three days and nights. The first day aboard I was fascinated with the newness of my surroundings and standing out on the deck I saw flying fish arcing out of the water as the last hint of Campeche and land fell away. Soon the sun dipped down into the water and the sky turned tropical pink before the sun tucked in for the night.

I spent some time planning breakfast and making sure to top off the skippers coffee mug. Andres opened a hatch in the galley floor and climbed down into the engine compartment. He was diligent about gauge readings and fuel levels and the engines hummed along. He climbed back up, ducked into the water closet, grabbed a plastic bucket with a rope tied to it. He went out on the deck and gathered sea water to scrub off the grease. Then he used engine-heated fresh water to finish his clean up and then he hit the hay. He stood the late night watch in the pilot chair.

The whole bunk, galley, water closet and wheel house was no bigger than a small Winnebago. So there wasn’t a lot of standing around near each other. I sat in the galley booth and looked over the navigation map. Pemex oil platforms were circled and the navigation line was well out of their way. That first night they occasionally lit the horizon before being swallowed by the darkness.

When Andres took the watch, I climbed up into the wheel house and took the second chair. He was a nicer fellow and he explained the dials and headings and then we just sat there watching the radar sweep. This was a commercial lane and other vessels would ping if they came within a few miles. Plenty of time to maneuver away from each other.

Andres and I listened to the radio. The signal throbbed as the Cuatro Hermanos rode down wave troughs and came back strong as we crested waves. That night we spun the dial. For a while we listened to Rockin’ Sidney, a zydeco DJ on KAOK AM, Lake Charles, Louisiana. He played Boozoo Chavez and Clifton Chenier and then switched to Cajun with Joe and Cleoma Falcon and D.L. Menard. I’d never before heard the hypnotic pumping of the Cajun accordion and fiddle with French/Cajun lyrics it was waltz like and wonderful. The zydeco had a big accordion sound and was much wilder, hot dance music and the lyrics were a mix of French and English but in an unusual Afro indian dialect. I loved it.

We lost the KAOK signal and spun the dial, this time KROB AM, Corpus Christi , Texas came in an there was a throbbing hour of Little Joe Hernandez, y Familia. That was a kind of Tex-Mex music I had never heard before. It had a brass section but nothing like the brass music in Mexico. This was jazz influenced, had a little Cuban flavor and little Joe squealed and laughed and sang out what had to be very happy dance hall music. It was clear I was slowly approaching a rich coast line of amazing musical styles.

Over the next two nights I spun the dial several times. Briefly I could hear a Cuban station playing Rumba, and then we picked up a New Orleans R&B station playing Dr. John and Professor Longhair and Etta James . When we lost that signal up came that Border Blaster station XERF, that Mexican station throbbed at 250,000 watts and could drown out a local broadcast in Cleveland. It played Tex-Mex Conjunto and Norteno with intoxicating accordion and corrido balladry.

That spread of the southern border from the Valley of Texas to The Louisiana bayou was absolutely alive with unique music. On the last night we brought in Texas Night Train, a program out of San Antonio, Texas. It was Texas Country and Blues.

I cooked, and steered clear of the skipper, and burned my arm on the steel wall of my bunk. That wall was above the Diesel engines.

I wasn’t warned before I did my business on the toilet. After all, we peed off the back of the boat. I was finishing up, and like I’d always done, I flushed while still sitting there. I guess the flusher just opened a stopper. Sea water rushed up the toilet pipe and up came the swill, coating me head to toe, even in my hair. It took me about an hour to get cleaned up. I had to haul out several plantain bunches and douse them with sea water and mop the galley deck. That is how I learned to close the lid before pulling the chain, a textbook example of ‘learn by doing”.

Finally we rounded the harbor buoy at Port Isabel and a harbor pilot came out and steered the Cuatro Hermanos to the customs dock. Immigration searched me and my bag. The skipper stood there with crossed arms and a menacing glare. When I was cleared to enter the US, he smiled and wished me well. He didn’t want his boat confiscated.

I walked down the dock and a pickup was just leaving. Some shrimpers off a commercial rig were headed for a cheap flop in Brownsville. I hopped in back with three or four guys and next thing I knew we were all let out a funky shrimper’s flop called Hotel Casa Blanca.

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