Aboard The Cuatro Hermanos: Part 1

In the Time of COVID. Day 65

May 22, 2020.

Aboard the Cuatro Hermanos: Part 1

Here we are, still at home. Off through the trees, the rising swish of incoming traffic is transforming our community as we enter the four day Memorial holiday. Nearly every local that I’ve talked to, is making like a ground squirrel and burrowing down into his warren. Heads will pop up looking for an all clear but we are not interested in becoming wack-a-mole characters during the onslaught.

Cuatro Hermanos was 110 feet long

I’d like to be out and about myself. Two days ago, we were supposed to check in to a casa we rented in San Miguel de Allende. We were so excited that we were going revisit that colonial jewel to spend a month as the Locos of Colonia San Antonio prepared for their Grand Parade. Due to COVID we had to pull the plug. Thankfully, we got our money refunded and we hadn’t yet booked flights. San Miguel is in the same situation as we are. Hopefully things will change and we can go next year at this time. Viva Los Locos! In the meantime I rely on memories of journeys past. The last few days I’ve been thinking of my time aboard the Cuatro Hermanos.

I’d ventured into the mountainous southern Mexican state of Chiapas in the spring of 1973. I traveled with my sidekick Billy. After some months we were both running low on money and it was time to consider drifting north and working for a few months to raise enough to hit the road again. I used to say “I like work so much I can do it four or five months a year.” That was my headset in my 20’s.

Chiapas is about 3,400 miles from Seattle. We had no car. The closest northbound train was in Oaxaca, 375 miles away. Taking Ferrocarril National de Mexico would take all of 6 days to the US border, at Mexicali.

In San Cristobal de Las Casas, I met a drifter who was on the run from authorities in the US. There are many reasons why people hit the road. Being doggy is one. He was in his late 30’s, with dyed black hair. He was traveling solo, trying to cast as small a shadow as he could, but a shared bottle of mescal loosed his tongue. He mentioned that he had once caught a ride across the Gulf of Mexico from Campeche to Port Isabel, Texas, near Brownsville. He mentioned the name of the vessel. Cuatro Hermanos.

There was still a stretch of Mexico we wanted to see. When we pulled up stakes in San Cristobal we went to Tuxtla Gutierrez where we caught a chicken bus down out of the highlands into the Yucatán jungle. We were skirting the south flank of El Chichon Volcano as torrential rains came and at times the baggage guy had to get out with a flashlight to find the road. 9 years later El Chicon blew with pyroclastic anger and wiped out several villages. But that night it was just slow, dangerous, going. We avoided mudslides and arrived in Pichucalco around midnight. I was cranky, Billy was cranky. Many from the bus, slept on the benches and floor in the bus station, but we wandered off in search of a room. We found one. We slung our hammocks on the hooks and lay in our swaying sacks while pounding rain drummed on the tin roof. Down the way a group of guys were celebrating, singing, and passing a bottle. That got on Billy’s nerves but I can sleep through anything. There was a scene, between Billy, those guys, and the landlady.

In the morning Billy took the fast train for Merida. An hour later, I took the slow train for Campeche. We planned to meet up a few days later in Merida. We needed a time out.

I was riding east through the jungle on the milk train. It stopped at every rail-side village. It stopped at bridges over rivers where canoes met the train from the interior and mail and groceries were dropped off. I vividly remember the wall of jungle greenery on both sides of the train and picking up a discarded Diario de Yucatán newspaper. The headline read “Picasso es Mortal”. I bought a couple of beers and walked to the end of the train. I drank each beer and crashed them on the railroad tracks, toasting Picasso for a life well lived.

Several hours later the train pulled into the station in Campeche. I rented a room for the night in the port. I wandered down to the water’s edge and ordered black beans, rice and fried fish. I chased it with some rum. There was a Cuban fisherman there and we fell in to talking. He was ragging on the Vietnam War and Nixon and Imperialism. I was apologetic, not liking any of those three things but finally the Cuban pissed me off and I said “I haven’t anymore power over what my government or that asshole Nixon do than you have power over your government or that asshole Castro”. We took a few swings at each there and we called it a night.

The next day I wandered down to the docks where the work boats moor. There, on the left side of the dock I read “ Cuatro Hermanos .. Puerto Cortez Honduras” on the stern-plate of a small freighter. It was a remarkable coincidence. I hailed the small dark guy who was coiling rope. The skipper came around the wheelhouse. He was bigger than me and Jamaican. I said my name and that I’d heard I might be able to catch a ride to Texas. I thought he was going to tell me to piss off, but he said. “We sail in two hours. I can’t take you unless the company will put you on the manifest. Can you cook?” “Hell yes”.

Off I dashed, hanging to the side of a bus to the Shrimp Company about a mile down the beach. They were ok with it. I handed over my passport. They logged me in as “Cook”. I hurried back to the boat. Narciso the skipper handed me $20 in pesos and told me to go grab my gear, and stop by the market and buy food. He said “I’ll warn you right now, if you are holding drugs and US customs finds out, don’t worry about them, I’ll kill you”.

An hour later, The Cuatro Hermanos, with me aboard, left the harbor with a north northwest heading bound for Port Isabel, Texas. I didn’t have time to drop Billy a card.

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Human Bonds

In the Time of COVID. Day 63

May 20, 2020.

Human Bonds

Today the sun shone, the sky was cloudless and the temperature was a perfect low 70’s. As we walked our neighborhood loop, neighbors were out in their yards taking in the the day’s perfection. We stopped, often along the way, while keeping our distance. We helloed and chatted and discussed our common concerns. Dogs greeted us, walkers waved, cars drove by slowly and with Cambria friendliness we waved and they waved back.

We Thrive on Human Bonds

Later in the afternoon we got word that our county can open under COVID 19 phase 2 restrictions. Many businesses can open and that is both relieving and worrisome. Friday to Monday is Memorial Weekend. The weather in the interior is heading into the 90’s and we will be inundated by people from Fresno and Bakersfield who love to recreate on the beaches in our county. We and our neighbors are all staying home all four days. Let this craziness pass.

I thought to call my pal Bill in Santa Rosa today. He lives alone and while we email each other and visit on occasion, we seldom call. I rang him up this morning and hearing his voice, and his infectious humor was a tonic too my soul. Not long after I got off the phone, it rang at it was a friend from a 12 step program I attend. We both miss the supportive camaraderie that our group nurtures. This made me think of the pillars that make my life worth living.

I am thankful for my family. In a few months April and I will celebrate our 38th anniversary and as I told Bill this morning, we still aren’t throwing knives at each other. Our kids are all working and healthy. Distance isn’t so painful with phone and text and Skype. Christy is in Hanoi and she won’t be able to come home this summer nor we will meet her in some distant vacation middle ground. We Skype weekly. That will have to do. Myles is busy in San Francisco and text and short messages and occasional phone calls keep us close. April hears from our Reno family via text every week or two. All is good.

Having good neighbors also helps fulfill our lives. We know we can rely on each other and that sense of security makes life on our street all the better for it.

I’ve appreciated good neighbors since I was a little kid. When I was six we moved into the city and our neighborhood had no kids my age, My family had no kids my age. One neighbor was Charley Crane. He was very old and cantankerous. He had emphysema and was constantly hooked to a green oxygen canister. He wheezed as he spoke. Somehow we liked each other. I learned a lot from Charley. He had been a teamster, handling six mules and a wagon at the Anaconda Copper Mines in Butte, Montana in the 1890’s. His tales of the Wild West were fascinating.

Old man Hubbard lived across the street. He was 100 and according to him, he had been a drummer boy in the Union Army in the Civil War. His tales meandered but he was a genuine artifact and he had mementos of that time he loved to show me.

The Eisenhower sisters were also quite old. They lived next to Mr. Hubbard. They had both volunteered as field nurses in World War I. Between these three sets of neighbors I got the human contact I needed. I gave back with youthful attention.

When we moved to Cambria from Spokane, it was a neighbor of April’s folks who advocated for April when a position came open at Cambria Grammar School. Good neighbors are a treasure. That advocacy gave us a firm footing in our new surroundings.

This evening the community turned out for a drive by / pick up Spaghetti dinner. It was a fund raiser for the local organizations that help elevate food insecurity in our unemployed service industry. 800 meals were prepared. In the 35 years we have lived here there have been hundreds of these fund raisers for different reasons and I am grateful that we live in such a caring community.

I’m grateful for the men’s group at the Unitarian Church. We meet twice monthly and recently we have had to use Zoom. We stay in contact and support one another the best we can.

Were I am going with tonight’s entry is I don’t take these people for granted, friends, family, neighbors or community groups. They make my life worth living. They enrich my life.

I recommend that you call the people who are important to you. Write them, text them, Skype them, offer help, accept help. What else is important? Who else can you rely on?

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Drawn Toward 1st Avenue: Seattle 1971-73: Part 1

In the Time of COVID. Day 62

May 19, 2020.

Drawn Toward 1st Avenue: Seattle 1971-73 : Part 1

The Leland One of Many Pensioner’s Hotels on 1st Avenue

This evening while preparing dinner we listened to NPR All Things Considered. The story that struck home was about unemployment and housing insecurity. The person being interviewed has been trying to get through to his state unemployment office to file a claim so that he could gain some financial security. It’s taken him weeks to get a proper case number so that he can go to the next step of filing a claim. Each time he goes to the next step the phone disconnects with the message that the system is overwhelmed, try again later. He is desperate. His landlord is giving him until the end of the month to pay the rent or face eviction. He has a family. Will they have to move into a car?

I remember during the last financial collapse that people were being evicted en masse in Stockton, California and there were eviction squads who dumped people’s possessions on the curb. Tonight I was reminded of two events in Seattle in 1970 and 71 that were the beginning of a homeless crisis that still exists.

My Uncle Earl was a fireman. He was the skipper of the Alki Fireboat at Station Five on Alaska Way, below the Pike Street Market. In the early hours of March 20, 1970 an arson fire broke out at the Ozark Hotel on Westlake Avenue. Earl, along with a hundred other firemen, from several firehouses, came running. Hook and Ladder, hose teams, ambulance, the whole fire army. The Ozark had been constructed around 1900. The fire had been set with propellant in a stairwell and the structure was tinder dry. Before they could be rescued, 21 residents were either burned alive or fell to their deaths. 13 residents were injured. Of the injured firemen, Earl was one. He was near retirement age and hoisting bodies over his shoulder and carrying them down ladders took out his back. That was the last night he suited up for work.

The Seattle City Council and the Fire Chief went into heated closed door meetings and then held public hearings. By the end of it, they adopted what they Called the Ozark Hotel Ordinances. These new fire codes required fireproof stairwells and at least two exits. This caused a flurry of remodeling to meet code. In some of the pensioner’s hotels along 1st Avenue, it caused closure due to financial insolvency.

13 months later another terrible fire broke out at the Milton Apartments, 7 blocks from the Pike Market. In That fire, 12 residents died and 11 were injured. The cause was blamed on a smoker falling asleep. Again the City Fathers met. This time they strengthened the Ozark Codes. Now, unless hotels came up to code at once, they were either shuttered or all floors above the 3rd floor were condemned. This had a massive impact on the financially vulnerable elderly pensioners and a wave of homelessness began. That wave was exacerbated by the push for urban renewal. Seattle has not solved it’s homeless problem to this day.

Uncle Earl fell on hard times. Not long after he retired due to injury, his wife Evelyn died. When that happened, a deep family secret was exposed. During World War II, Evelyn’s sister was a bar fly, she went with all sorts of men. She had two children, a daughter and a son. They lived in one of those 1st Avenue flop houses. Earl and Evelyn got a phone call one night. Her sister was dead. She was beaten to death. Evelyn had never been able to have children. She and Earl adopted Michael, who was an infant. They did not take Michael’s sister.

Michael didn’t know he was adopted. He didn’t know he had a sister. When the truth came out, He drained the family savings and disappeared. He left his father a hateful note. Our family has never heard from him sense then.

Earl was beside himself with grief and remorse. I invited him to my place in the flats. He was a truly decent guy who had made a terrible decision that he could not make right. He needed to cry. He needed to weep and let his sorrow out.

When he showed up at my shack in the Flats he said that the place was a fire trap. That we should move. But, after several glasses of wine and a full belly of BBQ he leaned back and told me the whole story. Then he talked about my mom as a little girl. Much later, he passed out on the couch. In the morning he was embarrassed but took a cup of coffee and gave me a long, strong hug. It was the last time I ever saw him.

A couple of weeks later I moved. Some hippies were thrilled to take the place over. I warned them not to put anything too close to the wood stove. But, the very night they moved in, they stoked the fire and cardboard boxes near the stove ignited and the shack burned down. They got out alive but all their stuff was burned up. More homeless folk driven out by fire.

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You Are What You Eat: Seattle 1971

In the Time of COVID. Day 61

May 18, 2020.

You Are What You Eat: Seattle 1971

You Are What You Eat: Victor H. Lindlahr

It is commonly understood that the most vulnerable population subject to COVID in America are people in economically disadvantaged urban and rural settings, better known as “poor folk”. The affluent really are clueless when it comes to knowledge about “food deserts”. Poor folk live in urban neighborhoods and rural communities where the availability of wholesome food is scarce. It is where Dollar Stores obliterate Mom and Pop groceries and the only available foods are high fat, high sugar, and high salt prepackaged “foods”. Those very same “poor folk” are more subject to diabetes and obesity and hypertension. They tend to be minorities, though there are millions of poor, fat, white folk, as well. These are the most likely victims of COVID. These folk have the highest mortality rates by far. That brings to mind my first experience with a food desert.

It was Apple picking time in the Okanagan Valley, 1971. A van full of us guys from Magnolia Flats headed east for Tonasket for the harvest. I got to sit in the front passenger seat because I had a high fever, like a flu or something. I wrapped myself in a blanket and draped it over the heater under the dash. It was a 50 mile an hour sweat lodge. I needed the money like everyone else. I’d kick that bug or be damned.

We were driving east, over State Route 20, The North Cascade Highway. It is a beautiful wilderness route through rugged mountains with precipitous drop offs. The pass is usually closed for the winter due to excessive snow pack. We came to a pull out by a meadow. People needed to pee. We all piled out. I was still feeling queasy so I didn’t join the group down by the stream. The guys found a growth of Amanita Muscaria. That is a non-lethal mushroom that is red with white flecks on top. It, however, makes the eater hallucinate and vomit. These fools came up from the stream with Cheshire grins, holding those pancake size mushrooms and munching them like cookies.

I had to take over driving while the guys rolled around in back, hooting and laughing and eventually vomiting all over themselves. I had the flu and I was the designated driver. Hippies did some strange shit, back in the day.

We pulled into Tonasket and we followed the signs to ‘pickers wanted’. We turn off at an orchard and were issued picker shacks. The guys were coming down off their high and washed the vomit off themselves with a garden hose. They really didn’t stand out, though. Apple pickers are a motley crew.

The next day we started picking and by night fall as I closed my eyes I could still see dozens of red spots below my eye lids. In the two weeks we picked we made pretty good money, pooled it to equal shares and even pooled money for food.

I remember going into the major store in Tonasket. I was looking for veggies. I couldn’t find any. I asked the checker “Where are the fruits and vegetables?” She said “The last freezer box on the left wall or isle three can goods.” Welcome to “Food Desert”.

We wasted some of the money on wine and beer but everyone had a good fat wallet after picking. We drove back to the Flats. No stopping for mushrooms that time.

In 1971 a revolutionary diet book was published called “You Are What You Eat” by Victor H. Lindlahr. It became a cult favorite of the counter culture. The phrase entered American vernacular and is common even today. The premise of that manifesto was eat well, eat organic, eat vegetarian, lay off the fats, salt, meats and sugars. Others had written of this idea but Lindlahr put it all together. The book was a wild success.

By late Fall 1971, a group of hippies rented a vacant lunch counter at the corner of 20th and Dravis not far from the Flats. They crashed in the apartment above the cafe. They called it “You Are What You Eat.” It served vegetarian soups, breads, casseroles, rices and stir fries. It had a great selection of teas and home made pies.

I walked in and asked for a job waiting tables. The first few attempts they turned me down but as their business picked up they needed help. That time when I asked they said “sure…. but ah, we can’t pay you. We can give you a meal every shift, anything on the menu. You can keep all your tips and sometimes you can take leftovers home.” As I said before, everything seemed to be under the table. I worked the busy nights Thursday through Saturday. I got by.

I know that doesn’t sound like much. I hadn’t come up in the world, but if I hadn’t had that experience, I never would have gotten the job That changed my economic life for the next year and a half.

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How Do You Make A Living When There Aren’t Any Jobs Around? Seattle, 1970

In the Time of COVID. Day 60

May 17, 2020.

How Do you Make a Living When there Aren’t Any Jobs Around?

Seattle 1970

Today millions of folks are out of work and the government assistance went to the bankers and big shots. The House Democrats just passed a 3 trillion dollar aid package to help alleviate this distress but the Republicans in the Senate are balking at even discussing it. Makes you wonder who can rely on the government anymore.

When we rolled into Seattle in the fall of 1970 there were no jobs anywhere, especially for long hairs. There was food stamp assistance and for that I am grateful to this day, but it was minimal. Something had to give. We were running out of our road poke. I’d been doing junk hauling in Berkeley and that led to selling stuff at the Gilman and Alameda Flea Markets. When I hauled stuff to the dump for people some of it went into my garage. Over time that collection grew and I used it to trade for what I needed and to put together a wallet for gas and food. But after a summer on the road that wallet was thin.

Sidewalk Habadasher

One of the Berkeley guys that showed up, in the Flats, was Tommy Carroll. He was a tall, slender white blond, pale skinned hippie who had gumption. He also was a good guitar player. We both had vans and we emptied them out just in case we found some stuff to haul home to start the flea market idea again. The best shot was the dump. It had worked in Berkeley and we hoped it would again.

The Seattle dump was better organized and we couldn’t get at the leavings but we did help a guy unload his garden clippings. He was a commercial gardener and he offered Tommy and me jobs under the table mowing and what not. The whole economy seemed to be under the table in those days. Paid cash at the end of the day or eventually at the end of the week when we could trust the guy hiring us. We lugged power real mowers up steps and down flights of stairs and around houses to get at grass patches. We operated the edgers to trim the grass, we learned to prune and do soil amendment and plant perennials. We made enough to stick some away and that went on for 4 or 5 months then the gardener’s business started to go sideways and we got half pay at the end of the week and pretty soon he was into us for 3 weeks back pay. We confronted him and he said there wasn’t anything he could do about it, his wife needed the money. He still wanted us to work for him under those conditions. He’d put things right, he said.

We quit. We knew that he was going to receive a substantial payment from a landscaping job we had completed at a buisness building by the Space Needle. When he didn’t come forward with any money in the next couple of weeks, we filed a claim with Washington State Department of Labor and Industries and they froze the landscape payment. That dude went ballistic. How could we fuck him over like that? We responded, how could he think he could fuck us over like that? A few weeks later We got checks from from the State. We never talked to the gardener again.

What now? We had been hanging around the Pike Market. We went there to buy groceries and we noticed that along 1st Avenue there were several “Mens Stores” These weren’t for fancy folks, but for the men who lived in the workingmen’s hotels that dotted the neighborhood of 1st and 2nd Avenues from Belltown clear down to Pioneer Square. We went in and poked around. We discovered that these old stores were crammed with back rooms full of clothing dating to the 1930’s and 40’s and we made our first purchase. For 10 cents a pair, we bought about hundred pairs of non-ration World War II tennis shoes. They were still in their boxes. They were gray and several pairs had tissue paper stuck to the soles. They were made before synthetic rubber and were in marginal shape. That store also had bins of old army patches and we bought a bunch of those. The Howling Wolf, the Star, The Star with a lightening Bolt across it, like that. We took all that back to the flats, got out our tools, sewed those patches on the outside ankle balls and there we had it. The Howling Wolf and the Rock n’ Roll Star and the Electric Rock n’ Roll Star.

We rented a table space in the Pike Market in the covered craft alley. We arranged our shoes. Set a stool by the table and we came up with a monger’s cry “We got shoes, we got shoes, we got oh shoes, we got dancing shoes, we got party shoes, we got uu huh shoes!”

Our business was successful enough that we could restock and pretty soon we had racks of silk smoking jackets and mens silk bathrobes. Another gimmick we cooked up was we got our hands on a pair of beautiful lace up women’s leather dress boots circa 1920. They were samples. They were very narrow and at most size 4. We worked up a Cinderella bit. If a woman could fit her feet in those shoes they were FREE. For about a year we were successful sidewalk haberdashers.

We combed the back rooms of those mens stores and found lots of fabulous styles that those guys hadn’t been able to sell for decades. The price was fire-sale cheap. We dreamed of opening a costume store but as is the case with many youthful dreams, things didn’t work out that way.

First problem, we didn’t have the capital. Second problem, I was in a theater on night and I saw a pair of our boots that we had sold for a substantial amount. They were beautiful Australian Kangaroo Railroad Conductor boots. We’d sold them only a few weeks before and I noticed one of the soles was cracked. We had no way of guaranteeing product quality. These were all one-off party shoes not expected to last a long time. Tommy and I talked it over and we folded our tent, so to speak. Our days as sidewalk haberdashers were over.

Tommy, took off for the Ho River on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula. He went to work for Hoppe’s Evergreens doing pre-commercial thinning of new growth trees. He lived in his van up a logging road.

I had to come up with something else.

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North From Berkeley, An Exodus

In the Time of COVID. Day 59

May 16, 2020.

North From Berkeley, An Exodus

Today we received a message from a friend that had to drive to Fresno this morning. She said the valley folk were flowing west toward the coast, driving like maniacs, bumper to bumper. Our hard earned protection from COVID may be for naught with this weekend migration of mask-less visitors. We are staying home. But then, we can dream of times when we hit the road, en masse, ourselves.

The Rock Band, Canned Heat released “Going Up The Country” in 1968 and it became an anthem for a migration of Hippies. They had already arrived en masse in Berkeley and San Francisco, in LA and NYC, drawn by the “Summer of Love”. By the late 60’s and early 70’s every Hippie worth his stash had tricked out an old bread truck or delivery van, stocked it with a copy of The Whole Earth Catalog, multiple copies of Organic Gardening Magazine, The Anarchist Cookbook, and the Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth, before heading out to the great unknown.

My Van was much like this one but in better shape

My van was a 1950 long body 1 ton GMC panel truck. My buddy Chance was handy with tools and had a shorter version of the same rig. We parked them side by side in Berkeley and shared tools while he taught me how to insulate and panel the interior with veneer and built beds and storage. We installed vents and sliding windows taken from wrecked VW’s we found at an auto junk yard. Up went the roof racks and along an exterior wall we placed detachable kitchen counters where the propane stoves and kitchen gear went, when we stopped for awhile. By late spring of 1970 our circle of friends headed out in multiple directions with the vague notion of a rendezvous at Seattle in the fall. Our farewell party was electric with excitement.

Before long we were hugging the coast heading north. We were in no hurry and that van topped out at 50 miles an hour and 11 miles to the gallon. The first night we camped along the beach near Bodega Bay. My clearest remembrance was of a deaf-mute Japanese cyclist stopping by our camp and cooking his rice on our stove. His outfit was absolutely clean, including a towel that was exposed to the elements as he rode along. He had a Japanese flag on the back of his bike and we communicated by note pad. He started in San Diego and his goal was to ride north to Vancouver B.C. Before flying back home to Japan. Over the next few weeks we came across him a few more times. The last time was in Seaside, Oregon. He was heading for the bridge at Astoria and we were heading inland to catch the road from Portland to Pasco.

Before leaving Berkeley we all agreed that we would search out land on our meanders and report back. There was a free monthly catalog of cheap land across the country that was available at truck stops and convenience stores. For the back-to-the-land folks it was a dream book. At the time, it listed 80 acre farms with cabin barn and spring in the Ozark’s for $5,000. There were hundreds of listings from all over the country and we were on the look out for a place big enough to create a commune.

We searched land out of Willows in Mendocino Country and out of Garberville and Leggett and out of Arcata before continuing north. Eventually we pulled up in Spirit Lake, Idaho, east of Spokane about 50 miles.

Spirit Lake was a beautiful place in the summer and colder than hell in the winter. Land prices were about $50 an acre for 20 or 40 acre parcels. Most had failed farmsteads with rickety but fixable cabins and out buildings. We had a good look. We were offered free rent in a former Catholic Church turned second hand store. It was owned by the previous sheriff “Big Jim” who had been voted out of office. He let us stay just to piss off the people of Spirit Lake. The biggest event of the week was Saturday night at the bar. Loggers and hardscrabble folk came in to get piss-drunk and then the whop-ass started. Knocking each other cold was high sport in Spirit Lake.

After about a month they must of gotten tired of trying to kill each other because they turned their ire on us. They got stirred up in a vigilante frenzy and declared they would shoot the hippies out of town. Not all of us had come up from California but that didn’t matter. Some of the hippies were from North Idaho and they had hunting rifles. Hell, everyone but us had hunting rifles. There was a three day stand off. There were shooters in the bell tower and the hippies also laid down in the grass for a defensive cross fire if need be.

We decided to get the hell out of there. We headed west to Seattle.

Spirit Lake wasn’t ready for Utopia. What it was ready for was a migration of survivalists and neo-nazi’s into the area. They bought up the cheap land from Coeur d’Alene to Hayden Lake and up to Metaline Falls near the Canadian Border. The Aryan Nations Church of Jesus Christ Christian and Richard Butler took root at Hayden lake, not far from there, Ruby Ridge was established near Bonner’s Ferry, and near Metaline Falls the Bruder Schweigen (silent brotherhood) aka (The Order) dug in and was run by Robert Mathews. They all prayed for race war. There were unaffiliated “Gun Of The Month Club” nuts sprinkled through the area as well. No, Spirit Lake was in no mind to allow a Hippie Commune.

We had pals Hank and Loni, who had relocated to Seattle in the Fall of 1969. They rented a little house near the railroad tracks by the Inter-Bay Rail Yards. The neighborhood was called Magnolia Flats. It was bordered by Fisherman’s Terminal, The Ballard Locks, and the Great Northern Rail Yards. Within weeks everyone showed up and there were cheap rentable digs to move into. I found an old real estate shack that had been moved from Aurora Boulevard, and dumped in a vacant lot in the flats. It was completely overgrown with berry brambles. I found the owner and he agreed to $15 a month rent. I ran a garden hose from a friend’s outside faucet, and an extension cord and there you have it, water and electricity. I dug an out house and made it look like a tool shed. Welcome to Seattle

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A View of Ahtanum and Crewport Labor Camps: Part 3

In the Time of COVID. Day 57

May 14, 2020.

A View of Ahtanum and Crewport Labor Camps: Part 3

Crewport Camp was build especially for Latino laborers. Unlike Ahtanum where a mix of white, Indian and black workers were allowed to rent, only hispanics were allowed to quarter at Crewport. It was a decision made by the camp manager and the Yakima Housing Authority. As a teenager, I just thought it was a Mexican camp. The farms in southern Yakima county hired Latino crews. Ahtanum had those evening classes to encourage migrants to improve themselves. The only adult classes at Crewport were English as a Second language and maternal health classes. Chronologically I was at Crewport two years after the termination of the Bracero Program and year before The National Farm Workers Association and Cesar Chavez arrived to organize.

Crewport Farm Labor Camp, Granger Washington

Young people don’t have a lot of wisdom. That only comes through experience and reflection. When I stepped out of Morse’s truck at Crewport, I stepped into a different world, a different country. It was only over time that I came to realize that segregation occurred in Washington State as surely as it did in Mississippi.

I was too young to put two and two together. My task was to continue the work I had been doing at Ahtanum. I was given quarters in a row of cabins directly across from the ‘Kids Room’. These cabins were different. They were hooked together with common walls to neighboring units. Every run of 8 or 10 units had a cold water facet and garbage cans at the end. The exterior walls were splintered clapboard. There was a narrow cement walk along each row. The interiors were bleak. One window. One wood stove. Two iron beds with funky mattresses. One pull chain light. One wall plug. Two chairs and one table. No paint. No curtains. No screens on the window or door.

like Ahtanum there was a little commissary store at Crewport that sold canned goods and grains and beans and soap and other necessities. I could get what I absolutely needed, and there was a pay phone and a mail box. Other than that, it was 4 miles on foot or catching a ride down a narrow country road to the farm village of Granger. It was late July coming on August. At night, thousands of flying insects swarmed the lights. The camp manager locked the bathrooms at 9PM. Except on Saturday night, the camp fell silent from exhaustion and need for sleep. The smell of mint and hops and concord grapes was intoxicating.

My contact person at the camp was Lupe Suarez. She was a middle aged woman who managed the LOMA pilot project at the camp. Her daughters worked in the daycare facility and her husband, Carlos, drove the Granger school bus, was a school custodian and was the LOMA gopher. These people were wonderful. They treated me like one of their own.

The Camp Manager was a hard ass local from a long time farming family. He wore his contempt for the migrants on his sleeve. I don’t think he like LOMA being there but couldn’t do anything about it. When Sargent Shriver showed up to inspect the camp and encourage the LOMA staff, that manager was a false-faced toady, stepping in for a photo with Shriver.

The Kids Room was nicer than the one in Ahtanum. I think that was because of Lupe. There was an old couch, a desk, books, a blackboard, a couple of soccer balls, lots of puzzles, art supplies, skip ropes, and several Loteria games. There was an oscillating fan and a nice radio. There were several tables and kid sized chairs. Those were probably discards from the schools that Carlos cleaned. The daily food box was also more interesting. It was the first time I saw tamales and burritos. The south county LOMA kitchen was staffed by latinas and they knew how to feed kids.

My biggest problem was I didn’t speak Spanish. How in the heck was I going to communicate with these kids. I spent the earlier part of the summer learning Ebonics and southern white sharecropper slang and now here came Spanish. When the Crewport kids came in the door, it was a smaller group maybe 10 or 12 kids. Thank goodness a 7 year old named Veronica was fully bi-lingual. Within a day or two she and I worked out a system. She was the teacher and I was the principal, the jefe. We team taught. She translated, she managed the kids. They respected her, she was like a little Mexican mother, herding her kids and keeping their attention.

We scripted little plays and she directed the kids. They went along with it because she was convincing and loving. Veronica made my job at Crewport possible.

I saw things at Crewport I had never seen before. A 10 year old was left in camp one day because he was too sick to work in the fields. He came by the Kids Room and I saw that his ear was swollen and bleeding. He was crying and holding that side of his head. He was in tremendous pain. I had Veronica run and get Lupe. Lupe took and look and said “Oh Dios mio, eso realmente debe dolar, nino.” “Oh my god, that must really hurt kid”.

He was crying and she cried and Veronica cried and that made me cry. Lupe ran to the office and called the emergency LOMA nurse. An ambulance drove up sometime later and the nurse hopped out and examined the sore ear. ‘That is a mastoid hemorrhage. We need to get this kid to the doctor.” She turned to Lupe and me and said “That could have killed him. He will probably never hear out of that ear again.” Off they went.

It wasn’t long after that and an impetigo infection ran through all the kids in the camp and I caught it. It’s a contagious bacterial skin infection that forms oozing pustules and yellow crusty sores. It forms in the moist folds of skin. Near the nose and mouth, the tear ducts and the neither regions. the nurse stopped by again and brought out tubes of anti-bacterial cream. Impetigo is stubborn as hell. It took weeks to knock it down.

A reason the number of kids was so small at my little school was because many of the migrants were illegal and they took their kids into the fields with them in case La Migra raided. If they got deported they would all be together. That was how I learned that ‘my kids’ were citizens. Still they weren’t treated any different than mojados by the larger community outside the camp.

When school started, My Mom came down and helped me enroll at Granger HS. It was unheard of that a kid at that school was on his own. I’d just turned 18.

I convinced several kids at the camp to board the school bus and they were dropped off at the grade school. I found out later that they were placed in a separate room and given gram crackers and milk and coloring books and no attempt was made to teach them anything because they were just going to be leaving anyway. I complained. Things started to get dicey. I complained again and again.

Lupe and Carlos and their kids lived about a block from the high school. At lunch time I walked with the girls to Lupe’s kitchen and she fed me with a smile. I explained the problems at the grade school and she said I was just beating my head against the wall. They wouldn’t change.

By early October the harvests were all in and work was winding down at LOMA for the season. The Principal of the high school offered me the bunk house behind his milk barn for the school year if I’d stay and do a little work on his farm for the rent. His name was Howdy Davidson. He had massive sailor tattoos on both arms. He was a salt of the earth kind of guy. I liked him.

I was getting really lonely for my pals at home. But then Lupe and the girls invited me to a harvest party on a large mint farm. The last cutting would be by spotlight.

We pulled up to a big open sided barn. A ranchero band was playing some Mexican country music with a polka beat. There’s were a bunch of long tables and an array of the most delicious foods in the world. Everyone was happy. Little kids were running in and out of the barn from light to night and back again playing tag. Mothers and grandmothers grabbed me and taught me how to dance a bit. I knew better than to make any moves on Lupe and Carlos’s daughters because I had decided to catch a Greyhound for Spokane and call it quits. But that night I danced my head off, and stuffed my belly with tamales and gorditas and pozole and washed it down with fruit aguas.

Later, I joined the men up on a mint mower. We were standing on a narrow metal platform above the swirling blades as the driver mowed the last cut of peppermint that season. We went down the rows by spotlight, and the full moon dusted the treetops along the edge of the field dropping shadows beneath their limbs. It was beautiful.

A Couple of days later, I was on the bus headed home. But I favor a bowl of pozole to this day.

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A View Of Ahtanum and Crewport Labor Camps: Part 2

In the Time of COVID. Day 56

May 13, 2020.

A View of Ahtanum and Crewport Labor Camps: Part 2

Steve and I returned to our flop in Yakima and grabbed our bedrolls and backpacks and were back at our cabin in Ahtanum before sun down. Our friends migrated into the camp over the next week. Again our digs were crowded with “the fellas”.

The Cabins at Ahtanum

Ahtanum was a Migrant Labor Camp. It was built by the Farm Security Administration of The New Deal. The CCC did the construction. Similar camps were built in California. In all cases the local county governments took control of management responsibilities. The most famous was “Weedpatch” , near Bakersfield, memorialized by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath. The government tried to build more livable accommodations for people following the harvest. Before these camps, people slept in the ditches and brush patches. When the camps reached capacity , people camped rough.

Washington State was a prime destination for migrant laborers. The Grand Coulee Dam Project hired labor gangs and the Columbia River Reclamation Project hired even more. Down the Yakima Valley orchards thrived growing peaches, pears, plums, apricots, cherries and apples. Hops and potatoes, mint fields, hay and alfalfa, and concord Grape vineyards sprung up and the need for manual labor drew the wandering masses. By 1939 Ahtanum was opened. In 1940, Crewport was opened. Each camp had a 600 person capacity.

That first morning, we were awakened in the dark of day by the rumble of trucks, their backs filled with men and women on their way to the fields. We walked to the gang toilets and we showered under cold drizzles of water. There was one knob. No hot. As the day made it’s self plain we wandered the camp having a look. Mostly clapboard row shacks, no shade, high weeds out on the edges. Every 12 cabins there was a cold water facet and three trash cans. None of the cabins had water. Just a bare bulb with pull chain and a single wall plug. Parked around were a ramshackle bunch of jalopies.

About 7 we walked into the activity center. Enid Morse, the project secretary was already at her desk. She was a local gal who’d taken some typing classes and was good at math and was married to the director. She also picked up the food boxes at the project kitchen on her way to work. It was good to know there was an incentive for the kids to come around.

She showed us to the ‘kid’s room’. Told us to bring the food in there every morning and she left us too it. There were some tables and chairs and art supplies and a blackboard and chalk, some sports gear and some balls. We looked at each other and it dawned on us we were going to have to put something together to keep those kids around.

They weren’t long in coming. None of them were younger than 4 and none older than 8. The youngest of the left behinds, had already been taken, for the day, to a sort of daycare away from the camp on a different property.

These kids were dressed in hand-me downs and some were barefoot. There were about 15 or 20 of them any given day. First things first, sit them down and introduce ourselves. They were polite little ragamuffins.

That first day they were mostly white kids, and a group of three black kids who stayed to themselves. Over time those kids joined in the pack and were just as loud and boisterous. Out came the food then, and there was not a peep. Back then there were still those little glass milk bottles. They just chewed and slurped away. We got them to clean up. They did.

We stowed the lunch stuff for later and had a talk with them. What’s your names , were you from, who can write your name, stuff like that. We just sort of fell into a teaching mode. Over the next few weeks, we had a lot of fun. The kids sang songs they knew. They played some hand clap games and we all skipped rope and hop scotch. They were all from the south and they spoke a bunch of words we had never heard so they taught us and we taught them.

it wasn’t many days before those kids were bunching up outside our cabin just after their folks went off to work. Our cabin had a big shade tree and those kids would climb up in it, and throw pebbles on the roof to wake us up. It was a loving thing. It was good natured pranksterism.

Inside the Kids Room the walls got covered with crayon self portraits and we tried to teach every kid to write his or her name. A very fun project was a big map of America we drew. We asked the kids where home was and overtime we made a map. It was their map. It was about them. They described stuff and we wrote it down, put a picture and a word to it.

You might think that would be boring stuff for an 8 year old but these kids hadn’t ever been to school. Their folks followed the crops. That’s what they taught us. They were forever on the move, a few weeks here and month there.

Enid got us some toothbrushes and toothpaste and some combs and we put kids names on that stuff and kept them in the Kids Room. We took her suggestion and got those kids to scrub up a bit, and brush their teeth and comb their hair. We asked her to stop by the library and check out some kids books. She had good taste in kids books and we got a story hour going. Then the kids started telling stories. It was fun. We started to encourage the kids to go to school in the fall.

At night, in another part of the activity center. LOMA (Local Organization For Migrant Affairs) held classes for the adults. There was a room full of typewriters, women were learning to type. There were adult literacy classes. Men and women were trying to learn how to read. The whole purpose of the LOMA program was to encourage migrants to stick, to stay put, to integrate into the Yakima population. There was a simple wood shop class and small engine repair class.

The problem with LOMA was that the locals didn’t want this riffraff to integrate. They wanted the cheap labor and they wanted these folks to hit the road when the crops were in. The War on Poverty had other ideas.

Things were going along pretty good but then, things went sideways.

One evening I was visiting, over at another cabin, listening to a damn good guitar player who was playing bossanova. A friend name John came driving in from Spokane, in his Mom’s Dodge Dart. He and Steve got to drinking and they went out for a drive. Somehow John let Steve drive. Steve didn’t have a license, they were both underage and under the influence and when the cop’s pulled them over, Steve and John were arrested, the car was impounded. And I didn’t hear a word from Steve for about a week when a letter came. Their folks had to come down and haul them back to Spokane. I was lucky I wasn’t in the car.

Enid was helpful, she gave me some suggestions. She opened the first-aid kit and handed me it’s how-to book. I spent some time reading it and pretty soon I was pulling splinters and doctoring cuts. People threw bottles out into the weeds and the kids got cut wandering around, or got snagged on a rusty nail.

I watched the women hand wash clothes, in the evening, and hang them to dry. I actually saw one woman rinsing her clothes in the toilet because it flushed. Those folks were hard-case broke and had been that way for years. Probably most had never lived in a house with a refrigerator or a hot water heater or indoor plumbing for that matter.

I stayed at that camp through the end of July and then Morse, the director, said “grab your gear, Stan, we need you down at Crewport”. It was a nice drive. We stopped at an A+W and I got a burger and a root beer float and we drifted down south to Crewport , riding with the windows down. Once through Union Gap, the land flattened out and pretty soon there was the unmistakable aroma of peppermint. It was so thick in the air you could scrape it off your skin with a fingernail.

Morse, turned to me with a glint in his eye, and a sly smile, “You speak Spanish, Stan?”

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A View of Ahtanum and Crewport Labor Camps: Part 1

In the Time of COVID. Day 55

May 12, 2020.

A View of Ahtanum and Crewport Labor Camps: Part 1

Times are hard for tens of millions of Americans. Food lines cross the country, and unemployment everywhere is through the roof. Desperation is seen in the eyes of people, as if their fears had been captured by the lens of Dorothea Lange, in 1936. Mass homelessness will surely occur as people are evicted for missing rent payments. We like to think that hard times come again no more, that somehow American Exceptionalism protects us because we are uniquely virtuous. However, we are awakening to a deep truth. Scratch just below the surface, just a couple of missing paychecks and we enter a catch-as-catch-can world. That reality brings to mind my time at the Ahtanum and Crewport Migrant Labor Camps in the mid-1960’s.

Between my junior and senior high school years, my buddy Steve and I caught a ride 170 miles southwest to the agricultural fields of Yakima Valley.

We didn’t have back-up money, just enough to rent a room in a Yakima flop house for a week and a meager meal at one of the skid row hash houses. The hotel we stayed in was itinerant’s quarters, with bathroom and shower down the hall. Each small room locked, and each had a window transom above the door, a hand sink and a hot plate. Our room had a window , but we weren’t streetwise enough to insist upon one with a fire escape. The hallways were narrow and at night everyone threw open their doors to the hall. Music from a radio drifted along. Men sat about spinning lies and sucking on 5ths or pints of Old Smiley or Apple Andy, cheap, nasty, 20% fortified wine favored by the winos.

We rolled out at 4 am the next morning. We rounded the corner and ducked into a cafe for coffee and flapjacks. Full, we went out to the corner. We joined a throng of hobos, Indians and winos. Everyone milled about against a wall in the pre-dawn, some smoking roll-your-owns and some sharing a hit from a bottle. Occasionally a stake-bed truck drove up. Some farmers already had crews and those guys piled in the back. The rest of us stood there with our arms raised, looking eager and able. Eventually we got picked and up we hopped.

Just as the sun was coming over the eastern hills, we pulled into an apple orchard. We were each assigned a row and we new guys were shown how to thin the young apples, snapping off a few in each cluster so the others could grow bigger. We were issued 16 foot high orchard ladders, with single balance leg and a sweep of rungs wide at the bottom but growing ever more narrow toward the top. We worked from can’t see to can’t see.

Over in another part of the orchard, the farmer grew Black Republican and Bing cherries. They were coming on ripe so the birds were frantic. Spread through the cherry trees were cannons. All day, at random intervals, the cannons exploded and scared off the flocks of birds. The pickers made piece wages. Fill a lug and get a punch on your card. End of the day get paid by the punches. The Indians were fast and left the other pickers in their dust.

We thinners were hour workers and it was .75 cents an hour. They took a dollar back for a sack lunch so you make $8 for the day for 12 hours.

Ambrose Filner was the crew chief. He was from the south and was pecker-wood skinny and ornery enough to do the job. You worked for the .75 or you walked back to town, plain and simple. Ambrose got the work out of us and by the end of the 6th day we had made $48 each and each had $20 after food and lodging. We were on a roll.

We rented a larger room in a nicer flop house. Just about then some friends showed up and our room became a crash pad. That got problematic real quick. Not all our pals could keep up the pace. One had an appetite for three and couldn’t seem to roll out with the rest of us. He would eat our food though, too damn much of it. How do you tell your pals to hit the road when they are loafing around and you are sweating all day? It didn’t take long to understand why parents get made when their kids are lazy.

It was hard work by day and party by night. We got a guy to buy us beer and we whooped up a good time but I owed a school $300 in Spokane for books and transportation and I had to earn it that summer. My folks couldn’t help. I felt desperate. Well, we did some sorting out and the free-loaders went home.

I’d met a musician in the orchard. He was a trumpet player who couldn’t make ends meet without busting his hump in the fields. We called him Cool C. He had that jazzy little night hawk beard below his bottom lip, wore beat up dress shoes and shiny goodwill slacks. He was thinning apples like the rest of us and making a couple bucks on the side selling us beer. One day he told me he’d heard about some government work out at the Ahtanum Labor Camp, south of town, in Union Gap. He was going to go check it out, did we want to come? “Hell yes, lets go”.

I didn’t know what I was walking into. There were some qualifier questions at first. Get those wrong and off you go.

Ever been arrested? No.

Have you made the majority of your income in the last year as a migrant laborer? Yes. Of course it was just in a few weeks but I answered truthfully.

My buddy and I got hired but Cool C didn’t . He’d had several scrapes with the law over the years. Steve and I became employees of Local Organization for Migrant Affairs, a pilot project of The Office Of Economic Opportunities. That was part of The War on Poverty. Sargent Shriver headed up the OEO. I guess we were federal employees.

Our job was to see to the kids who were left in the camp when their folks rolled out for a day in the fields. We were issued a cabin, rent free, across from an activity center. The pay was $1.15 an hour! Oh man, out of the fields and a 50% raise in pay.

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