Mike Shapiro – May 20th, 2009

GEDC0079I met with local realtor, Mike Shapiro, last Wednesday afternoon in the garden behind what was the ‘One Horse Espresso’ stand in Boonville and in very peaceful surroundings we chatted about his life and Valley experiences…
Mike was born in Buffalo, New York to Jewish parents of Russian descent and he has a younger sister, Judy. Mother Ceil’s parents had come over from southern Russia whilst his father Irving’s were Russian/Hungarian and from a family of opticians that stretched back many generations. Mike’s paternal grandfather, Abraham, had left the family as a thirteen year old and traveled across Europe before making his way to the United States in 1904.
Abraham then broke the family mold and became a baker in New York where he raised a family in the Bronx, Irving graduated from Columbia University and then returned to the family profession of Ophthalmology, later encouraging Mike to do so too. Irving was ahead of his time in this field, a founder of vision-training, which encouraged eye-exercise and training with the aim of preventing the need for spectacles. “I believe my eyes are good to this day because of the eye-training I did. I wear glasses for reading but otherwise my sight is excellent. My sister didn’t do the training and she’s as blind as a bat!”…
The family lived in a predominantly Jewish/Black neighborhood of Buffalo until Mike was in 5th grade when they moved to the suburban town of Kenmore. Mike attended Kenmore West High School where his favorite subject was science – “I even built an x-ray machine at home” – and he had plans to study to be a vet when he entered the University of Buffalo following his high school graduation in 1960. However, after a year of pre-Vet studies, he found himself drawn strongly to Economics, something not offered at high school. “I soon found myself loving the study of Economics – it explains the whole world.”…It was while at university that Mike became very politically aware and was active in the civil rights movement, wearing a button with ‘=’ on it. “I was involved in all sorts of marches and political events. It was the during the days of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and along with many others, particularly in Buffalo and of course out west in Berkeley, I protested their actions and even chained myself to the courthouse. My parents were horrified and I didn’t help matters when, after graduation, I made the decision to put my education on hold and work for the Peace Corps for two years. My mother was particularly concerned but my father supported me and, with a place secured to attend Syracuse to get a Masters on my return, I joined up just one day after graduating from Buffalo and went off to Turkey in 1964 for two years as part of the World Development Project. It was a very rural area and I was the only non-Turk in a village of thirteen hundred people. I had the task of bringing them into the modern world and improving their economic conditions. It was a marvelous experience and when I returned there a few years ago, after an absence of more than thirty years, it was very special indeed.”
On his return to the States in 1966 Mike resumed his education at Syracuse – “I played handball at college and loved sports, so I chose Syracuse over Kentucky because in those days I was into football more than basketball, although that has since been reversed and now I much prefer to watch basketball. However, after getting my Masters, ironically my first job was working in the four western counties of Kentucky for the Rural Economic Development Agency.”
In the fall of 1968, Mike attended the watershed Democratic Convention in Chicago as a guest of the Kentucky delegation and it was that infamous event that he met and connected with Allard Lowenstein, who had nominated Eugene McCarthy for President and who ran for Congress himself in Nassau County, New York. “It was obvious that Nixon was going to win. Dr. King and Robert Kennedy had been assassinated, the Democrats were in disarray, and therefore I thought the future looked bleak for my efforts in Kentucky. I quit that job and joined Allard’s campaign. I had a great time and Lowenstein won, serving a term in Congress and becoming a significant figure in the civil rights and anti-war movements.”
“Anyway, after the successful campaign I spent Thanksgiving at home before heading out to California with a friend, Bill Price. We wanted to drive across the country and see what all the fuss was about in San Francisco at that time. The day before I left, in early December 1968, I went to my cousin’s house to say goodbye and she had a friend over – Sharon Katz was her name, I’d never seen her before. We hit it off and went out for a drink that evening and then the next day Bill and I set off in my Chevy, taking the warmer southern route – Route 66. Six months later, out of the blue, Sharon turned up in San Francisco and called me. Forty years later we are still together! – I always said she was stalking me.”
Mike had really settled into the S.F. lifestyle. “We had been here just a few days when I called my friends back east and asked them to send me all of my stuff. I loved it out here. There were women, recreational drugs, an incredible scene, unbelievable really – nothing like it anywhere, but I needed a job.” Mike had been involved with an educational television show in Kentucky called ‘Your Future is Now’, which helped kids get a High School equivalency diploma. He pitched this to the local public television channel in San Francisco – KQED. “They didn’t want it but put me in touch with Joan Ganz Clooney who had started the Children’s Television Workshop (CTW), creating Sesame Street and The Electric Company in New York. She hired me to work for them and allowed me to stay in San Francisco with an office at KQED as long as I attended a meeting back east every six weeks. It was a great situation and I worked full-time for them until 1973.”
Ever since his trip to Turkey Mike had known that he had received some sort of rural calling. “My experience in Turkey was a fork in the road for me. I had urban skills but knew I wanted to enjoy the small town rural lifestyle. I had spent time during school vacations in upstate New York as a farm laborer and throughout my San Francisco days I constantly spent time checking out small countryside communities in the region with a view to moving to one at some point…In late 1972 we had explored this area in my ’67 Chevy convertible and visited Sea Ranch before taking Mountain View Road back over to Highway 128. As we arrived in this Valley we felt like we’d discovered Paradise Lost – it was like heaven. There was a big black dog asleep in the middle of the road in Boonville outside the A.V. Market. Traffic was going around it. As we were leaving I commented that it was time to get back to ‘real’ life, but then said, ‘Wait a minute, this is what real life should be, right here’. We knew this was the place for us… In 1973 the chance for promotion came along and I made the decision to pass on it. Instead CTW offered me a part-time position of a hundred days a year at $100 a day plus expenses. I called Sharon – we were living together at this time – and asked her to come with me to build a cabin in Boonville – I didn’t want to do it alone. She agreed and we bought property just south of Boonville where we were to live for the next thirty-four years.”
Sharon got a job at the school and Mike remained as a part-time consultant with CTW for two years. During that time the owner of the Boonville Hotel, Ed Karsay, offered Mike and a friend, Peter Dobbins, the opportunity to open a restaurant there and for two years they ran The Sundown Café and Cabaret with a “spectacular array of music – jazz and classical, belly-dancing, fire-eaters, all sorts. It was packed on Friday and Saturday nights with the acts coming from all over the County. We made little profit but I like to say we did throw a party for two years!”
Following this experience Mike thought he needed a ‘real’ job and for a time thought about teaching at the newly built Junior High school. “The pay was awful – about $5K a year – the lowest-paid teachers in the State at the time, other than Death Valley. The teachers even qualified for commodities such as cheese, peanut butter etc. Arguably the most important job in the country and they were paid awful wages – a terrible shame. I had a Masters degree and other hands-on experiences and just couldn’t do it”…It was during his time in the restaurant/’entertainment’ business that Mike became increasingly inundated with inquiries about property in the area. It was also the time of the Rural Alliance, The Back-to-the-Land Movement, the Simple Living Workshops offering all kinds of information about organic food, solar energy, building country houses, etc. More people were becoming interested in the rural lifestyle and Mike grabbed the opportunity.
“I had been meeting so many people who wanted to move here and real estate had really begun to interest me. I had bought the property south of town and, unbeknownst to me until much later, it was an illegal subdivision and had illegal access. It was the time before disclosures were required and house buying truly was a ‘buyer beware’ situation. People needed good guides to get them through the process. As a result when I got a real estate license my slogan was ‘Surprise Free’ Real Estate… In July 1976 I started as a salesman in Ukiah, where I’ve always had an office, and then in 1977 rented the old gas station next to Rossi’s for my local office, getting my broker’s license in 1979 and opening North Country at that time. Later on I bought the caboose in town for another office but kept the gas station site for a long time…I love my job – being outside in beautiful land helping these ‘Urban refugees’ discover what I had already discovered. I have about two thousand files on homes I have sold, the vast majority in the Valley”…
Sharon and Mike started a family in 1977 when son Ben was born, followed in 1980 by David and then Gabe in 1984. All three are involved in the sports world in one way or another – Ben is Vice President of the Golden State Warriors basketball franchise; Dave works for the Positive Coaching Alliance, an organization that trains coaches; and Gabe is in marketing for sports radio station KNBR in San Francisco. Mike has always loved sports and claims he in his playing days he had the hardest job of all– a benchwarmer!…
Over the years Mike has been involved in many local projects – “living here in a small community many of us get involved with so many good causes.” To mention a few – he helped raise money for a transmitter to be installed which would allow Channel 9 public television station to be seen here in the Valley as well as the other, already available commercial channels; he was heavily involved in the protests against the plans by the Masonite Company to build housing for 3500 people in the heart of the Valley; he was part of the early movement to get the local public radio started, five years before it finally did in 1989; he was on the board of the Mendocino Transportation Authority, where his Masters Thesis entitled, ‘You can’t get there from here’ on rural transportation proved to be very useful; and was on the fundraising group for the Health Center…
With three sport-playing boys in school much of Mike’s leisure time in the Valley was spent watching school sports. “For twenty six years we had kids around the house – I thought it would never end! It was wonderful. There must be an indentation of my backside in the bleachers at the school!…I have backed off a lot although I still go to some basketball and football games, but these days my favorite time is spent at the home we bought on Hwy. 253 in 2003 – it’s in ‘suburban Boonville’ and ironically it’s a spot we looked at back in 1969. I love the Valley and perhaps appreciate it even more now that we live a few miles outside. It is a unique place and every time we travel I feel fortunate to come home here. It is a very sweet piece of fruit that I believe will not be spoiled. Highways 128 and 253 keep it protected from ‘Napafication’ and I believe we’ll be nothing more than ‘Napa in blue jeans’ for the foreseeable future.”
I turned to a few of the hot-button issues that Valley folk seem to talk about and asked Mike for his thoughts and opinions on some of them…The school system? – “I think you could make a list as long as both of your arms of kids who have done spectacularly in life after attending our schools. There is so much that this environment and the school offers to kids that suburban or inner city schools cannot. Living in a small community with small numbers in the school means that the kids get so much more attention with their studies and can also make great friendships that last forever. My kids did very well at the school both academically and in sports – Ben went on to play Division 1 tennis at Sacramento State; Dave was a catcher at U.C. Davis. All three have excellent jobs and many other parents have similar stories, I’m sure. Kids at our school have problems of course but nothing compared to those at city schools. Our schools are excellent and incredible results have been achieved by kids from this rich environment.”…The A.V.A.? – Bruce is no longer a Jekyll and Hyde character and his paper is very good as a result. It will survive as long as he does. The paper still gives jabs at people and that is fine. My only complaint is that the print it too small, but then so are all newspapers to me!”…The wineries? – “Well I know this issue has lots of arguments on both sides but I believe that they provide lots of jobs, improve the quality of life for many, don’t cause much pollution, and export Anderson Valley products at great value – they are thus a big plus…Water is critical and always has been in California – the history of California is the history of water fights/wars, and a more diverse agricultural base would be good, but the wineries are the hub of commercial life in the Valley and the climate is perfect for the Pinot Noir grape.”…KZYX & Z local public radio? – “They do a terrific job. It is very hard to run a business when the staff consists mainly of volunteers, some people doing it for personal gratification to some degree. Conflict will always be there and there is never enough money but it has been a great success for twenty years and people have constantly stepped up and provided a great service.”…Law and Order in the Valley? – “Sheriff Keith Squires is a big asset to the Valley. He knows virtually everybody and is more a member of the community than a cop – he will be very difficult to replace effectively”…
I asked Mike whom he’d vote for Mayor if there were such a position. “We don’t need a mayor. If local government is impacted too much by specific local-interest groups the results may not suit everyone. A little distance might lead to more rational decision-making… As for incorporating, this would not be good. The parcel size is now 40,000m square feet. If you get public sewer and water then this would shrink to 6,000 square feet and we’d end up like Cloverdale and soon have street-lights, etc, and a far greater population. By keeping the Valley folk responsible for their own septic and water, the large parcels will remain and the rural nature of the Valley is maintained. As a broker I suppose I should be advocating the opposite but I never have and still don’t.”…
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Mike, many of which are from a list originally devised by French Interviewer and Culture “Expert”, Bernard Pivot, and featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton”…
What is your favorite word or phrase? – “Let’s do it”…

What is your least favorite word or phrase?  – “Well I am very intolerant of racial slurs of any kind”…

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “I just love basketball – particularly Warriors basketball at the Arena in Oakland. 20,000 people can generate a lot of excitement in such a place. It is pulsating…really exciting.”

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Mean people and gossips.”

What sound or noise do you love? – “The sounds of nature – birds singing, the wind in the trees, frogs and cicadas chirping.”

What sound or noise do you hate? – “Screeching cars – you hear it a lot in Boonville.”

What is your favorite curse word? – “Shit-on-a-stick.”

Is there a film/song/book that has greatly influenced you in some way? – “One song always inspires me – ‘What a Wonderful World’ by Louis Armstrong. It gives me great peace and solace and often runs through my mind.”

What is your favorite hobby? – “Fishing, gardening, and physical work around my property – fence building, road maintenance”…

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – I have always had an interest in the world of radio. I used to have a political show on WBFO on the Buffalo campus and I would also write short, three-minute vignettes for airing. I always had a lot of fun with it and it’s something I would have liked to have done more of.”

What profession would you not like to do? – “Well I have always thought it would be fun to run for political office but then I believe I’d hate actually serving in that office.”

What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “I have been blessed with so many but one day does stand out. My son Ben was dreading going to college and I took him there for his first day to help him move in. We were both very anxious and worried about him hating it. However, once he was there he embraced his new life immediately on arrival, like a duck to water. He was so comfortable and excited and to see him like that was one of the happiest moments of my life.”

What was the saddest? – ‘The deaths of my parents. My mother died in 200 and my father followed four years later. I had never experienced loss before and the fact that both had lived long lives, Mom was 88, Dad 90, did not make it any easier.”

What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically/mentally/spiritually? – “I’m see the silver-lining in everything. I am very positive and optimistic. Not that I have anything to complain about. I feel very blessed in my life – Sharon and the boys, my Real Estate business, Boonville.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Good job, Mike…Now go over there and say hello to your folks who have been waiting for you.”

Published in: on May 27, 2009 at 6:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dick Sand – May 15th, 2009

GEDC0075I met with Dick at his home in the Elder Home complex just south of downtown Boonville. He made me a cup of coffee and then settled in his large comfortable reclining chair in the living room and we began to chat…
Dick was born in Augusta, Maine in 1935 to a Swedish mother and Scottish/English father who was a baker/cook initially before training to become a machinist for Standard Brands, moving quickly up the company to Department Head. This meant he was in great demand and the family moved away from the rural environment which Dick loved so much to the cities of Boston, Mass. and then Hoboken, New Jersey. “The company then brought out these new machines to mechanically fill tea bags, which had always been done by hand previously, and my Dad knew everything there was to know about them so when the company introduced them to their subsidiaries out in California he went too. A year later in 1942, with the country at war, my mother and I took a train to join him in the Bay Area. We lived in Millbrae on the peninsular south of San Francisco.”
A little time later Dick’s mother was in a serious car accident with a drunk driver in which her hips were both crushed. Whilst in hospital she contracted tuberculosis. Dick remembers, “She never walked again and the T.B. killed her two years later when she was still in her thirties. Not long afterwards Dad took up with a woman he worked with – a very pretty Italian woman called Toni. Due to the T.B. scare I was put in a sanitarium and when this was closed for refurbishment he sent me up to Anderson Valley to stay with another woman he had worked with, who’d retired to the Valley with her husband and bought a ranchette home on Anderson Valley Way. It was where Bruce Anderson later had his Fort Despair – the headquarters for the A.V.A. That was 1944 and with Toni not wanting me to be part of their new life I was sent back to the Valley the following summer too. At that point Toni gave an ultimatum to my Dad – if he wanted to marry her he would have to send me away permanently and start a new family with her. My Dad chose to have me legally adopted by the couple in the Valley – Evelyn and Walter Sand. I was ten years old and had always thought the sun rose and set with my father. He took me everywhere with him in the earlier years and he was my hero. I was devastated.”…Dick’s father married Toni and started a new family in the Bay Area although he did visit Dick three or four times a year but Dick couldn’t face him and never called him ‘Dad’ again…Four years later his father and Toni had had a change of heart and wanted Dick to move back with them down in the City. Dick refused – he had found his home.
When he moved permanently to Anderson Valley in the summer of 1945, Dick’s first friend was an Indian guy by the name of Arthur Knight. His godfather was the Chief of the Pomo tribe based in Hopland and they remain friends to this day. He also hung out with the children of Judge Harwood June – Delmer and the elder Jack – who lived nearby, and when not in school he worked for the June’s both in construction and on their ranch. He learned to drive a tractor and was even allowed to drive an old Dodge pick-up home after work. It was the years of great migration to the Valley from the dustbowl states of Oklahoma and Arkansas and the timber industry was booming. There were fifty-four mills in the Valley and Jack June became a surveyor of land and timber. He enlisted Dick’s help on many occasions and Dick has many fond memories of working back in the woods during those times.
At fifteen Dick was working for other ranches and one job saw him driving a truck carrying six tons of pairs from the Valley to the railhead in Hopland from where they would be taken to the Bay Area. He had no driving license and hadn’t even taken a test – “that was the way it often was in those days.”…Dick liked school but mainly for the sports – he was o.k. academically but didn’t like it. “I never did any homework – I had to work after school every day. I was washing dishes at The Boonville Lodge in the evening and each morning I was at Weiss’s Bar in Boonville cleaning up – ‘swabbing up’ we called it. Because of the boom time in the logging industry the bars were all packed every night, customers three or four deep at the bar, even in the middle of the week – there were no bar stools then – there wasn’t any room! It was a crazy scene…I was very fit and strong and one guy, Bud Van Houston, used to get me to stop my dishwashing and come and arm-wrestle the loggers on the shuffleboard that was in The Lodge. With Bud betting on the outcome, I won most of my duels and he would then pay me in cocktails – that was when my liking for alcohol began.”
Dick half-jokingly thinks he may be related to many Valley folk in one-way or another – “there was a lot of fence jumping in those days” he says with a mischievous grin…For a couple of years at A.V. High School, he himself had been dating Lovella Canavera, whose parents had come over to the States from Italy. He had seen her as a freshman and had said to himself, “I’m gonna marry that girl.’ So when he graduated high school on a Friday afternoon, the very next day, June 11th, 1954, he and Lovella were married in the Old Apple Hall in Boonville and they moved into a home in Yorkville. He got a job with Don Ford on a road-building crew with Lovella working in an office in Cloverdale before they had two children – Michelle, born in November 1956 and Michael in December 1957.
Over the next several years Dick had a variety of jobs. He worked for Kay Hiatt in the woods, peeling logs on the landing; he drove a forklift truck in Cloverdale; and he was at Asti Winery in the Alexander Valley. For some time he had wanted to get a job running equipment with The Department of Transportation (later Cal Tran) and this finally happened in June 1965. “The winery had been making cutbacks and I had been laid of on the Friday but I started my new job with Cal Tran on the following Wednesday. At first it was temporary, both in Hopland and then Manchester, before becoming a permanent position up in Orleans, California, near to Eureka. I was away from the family but it was a good job…I was then transferred to Ft. Bragg but they had a rule that you had to live closer than thirty minutes or thirty miles to work if you wanted to go home every day. Living in Yorkville, I was further than that so once again I could only go home at weekends…Finally in 1974 I ended up at The Boonville Yard and was there until retirement, twenty eight years later in 1992.”…
With Lovella quitting her school secretary job at the same time to look after her sick mother, Dick took a part-time job at Caroline Short’s gas station in Boonville. “Her husband Jeff had died and the staff quit. I said I’d help out and it ended up being nine-hour days, seven days a week.”…In 1997Lovella, who was the Chairperson of the Seniors’ Board, told Dick that the bus driving job for the Seniors had become available. With Lovella taking no part in the decision-making process, he interviewed for the job. They said they’d let him know and then called him in for a second interview. At this point Dick told them, “Look – you know me. I am going to be me. If you can live with that then this will work out fine.” They gave him the job and he has being doing it ever since…”It’s strange. I have had all these jobs and Lovella worked too, yet we always spent it as quickly as we earned it. I never really got ahead financially – I guess some people do and some don’t.”
Dick has also earned some extra ‘pocket money’ from his job of making the coffin-shells which go around the coffins when they are placed into the ground. He worked for George Gowan doing this in the Valley and then more recently the Eversole Mortuary, which also covers Hopland, Round Valley, Potter Valley, and Covelo, has also asked Dick for his services. “It pays well but the trouble is everyone is getting cremated these days.”…
Dick has always been involved in the social scene of the Valley and continues to attend as many events as possible. In the fifties and sixties there were regular dances at The Grange and Fairgrounds and for many years he was involved with The Boontown Players who put on a sort of variety show featuring plays, skits, and music. Lovella would sing and Dick was in the band playing drums and harmonica. He also played drums with the Ed Laughton Band all around the county at various dance clubs and many weddings. He has been involved with the Lions Club for many years and would like to continue to help out at their charity events; he coached basketball to the younger kids at the school for a long time; he has raised money for the school on many occasions; and, as mentioned above, still keeps the seniors on their toes in his important role as their reliable and humorous bus driver.
Until the last few years he also did a lot of work for with the Catholic Church in the Valley. “Lovella and I were very much involved with the church events. The Barn Sale, the bbq’s, and I did lots of repair work over the years. I put in the kitchen there and Lovella did the bookkeeping and dealt with all the grant applications when necessary. We were a big part of the scene… Then one day, sometime in 2004 I think, we received a letter from them thanking us for all our work and then adding that they were terminating our service to the church. It came as a big shock. I asked those concerned but nobody would give us a straight answer. To this day I’ve no idea why.”
The death, from cancer, of his beloved Lovella hit Dick very hard indeed. She passed away on November 27th, 2006, having been ill for eight years, dealing with radiation treatment and chemotherapy on a regular basis. “Our life together was on hold during that time and then when she died my life ended. We were together for fifty-two years and I felt I had nothing left to live for. I wanted to go too. I still don’t want to go on at times when the grieving and despondency become overwhelming. However, a lot of people have helped me get through this and I do feel it’s getting better. There has been Wendy Read, Mike Shapiro, Jerry Huey, David Jones and Robin Quirk – a bright light at the end of a very dark tunnel. Being there for everyone on the bus each day was tough for a while but, as I say, I feel better overall and try to keep busy. Having the dog, Noelle, certainly helps – she’s my best friend. I got her from Animal Rescue in Ukiah, just days before she was due to be euthanized. It was December 22nd 2005 and she was a Christmas gift for Lovella. They fell in love and she often said that Noelle was “the best present you ever got me.” I now call the dog Novella – a combination of my best friends’ names”…
“I love this Valley – the whole Valley is my favorite place. Let me tell you a story…We had been married at The Apple Hall, and had our 50th wedding anniversary there, and so when Lovella died it was the place to hold the memorial service. I wrote a eulogy for her – I had woken up the day before and had felt compelled to do so. Willie Roberts was going to do it but I decided I wanted to. When I finished there was a silence and I thanked those in attendance for everything they had done for us, for all their support, and for allowing us to live amongst them so happily. I said I was privileged to live here…A few days later I got a call from Rick Eversole at the funeral home. The bill for the funeral had been $6500 and I had agreed to pay it off in installments. He told me that the bill was now just $150 – people from Anderson Valley had contributed the rest – in all his years he had never seen such an outpouring of love for someone before. Then the guy who made the headstone donated it and his time for the engraving…There is what I call a ‘Code of the Valley.’ If you do something nice for someone here they will do something similar for somebody else, not necessarily back to me. However, I believe that eventually this good turn does work its way back to you in some way and even the new arrivals here over the years have picked up on this…I thank God every day for this Valley and the people in it.”
I next asked Dick for his responses to some of the ‘hot-button’ issue that are frequently discussed in the Valley…The Wineries – “Personally, I don’t have much use for them. Many are owned by out-of-towners and of course there are the water issues. Their presence has changed the Valley and whilst some say they have bought lots of money here I’m not so sure it’s been a good thing.”…KZYX & Z local public radio? – “I like it – it’s an asset to the Valley. I listen to some of the music regularly – ‘Lunch on the Back Porch’ and ‘Humble Pie”. I use the ‘Trading Time’ program to sell my stuff and we always listen to it on the bus.”…The school system? – “I was involved in coaching the junior Panthers basketball for thirty five years – teaching fundamentals to both the boys and girls and I also helped with the booster club to raise money for the school. I am no longer involved there and completely disagreed with the decision a few years ago to change the school colors. We have always been brown and gold and now it’s black and white gold. This was a slap in the face to the alumni and many are not happy about it. It is important, it’s part of the school’s tradition and heritage. It’s good to see Danny Kuny’s Panther Cubs, although not directly involved with the school, wearing brown and gold and I have heard that Ben Anderson has his High School baseball team playing in brown and gold too. Let’s hope the other teams follow suit.”…Law and Order? – “Keith Squires does a good job but he’s not hot on the traffic and driving. Walker and Miller do more of that and that should be enough. We have too many C.H.P. around who seem to upset many locals – this happens from time to time and it will pass, I’m sure.”

To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Dick, many of which are from a list originally devised by French Interviewer and Culture “Expert”, Bernard Pivot, and featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton”…

What is your favorite word or phrase? – “It would be ‘Bahl’ – that’s Boontling, our local dialect, for ‘that’s as good as it gets’. I use it all the time”

What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “Call me old fashioned but I really cannot stand it when people use the ‘f-word’ in front of women.”

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Music – all kinds of music and of course I still like performing with the Jug Band…Being around people also turns me on – my bus-driving job gives me that.”

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “People who I do not trust. I cannot like people I don’t trust.”

What sound or noise do you love? – “The sounds of the countryside – birds, etc…I really like the sound of the ocean waves – I went out to the coast a few weeks ago and recorded it – Lovella used to love that too.”

What sound or noise do you hate? – “The sound of traffic – it is pretty constant here on Hwy 128.”

What is your favorite curse word? – “I have so many, I’m afraid to say. ‘Goddam it’ is probably the one I use the most.”

What is your favorite hobby? – “Restoring wheelbarrows and then giving them away – it’s been my ‘thing’ for over thirty years.”

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “I think I would have liked to have been a lawyer. I like to argue and negotiate. Perhaps a realtor would have been an interesting profession too.”

What profession would you not like to do? – “I can’t think of one but I know I hated part of my own job – setting chokers/chains in the woods.”

What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “That’s tough – there have been so many. In recent times perhaps it’s been meeting Robin Quirk. She has been very good for me – making me feel thirty years younger.”

What was the saddest? – “Lovella’s passing.”

What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically/mentally/spiritually? – “I have never found out what I am good at. Many would say I’m good at bullshitting!…I guess my sense of humor would be the best answer to that question.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Welcome Dick – I have a place for you over here beside your wife Lovella”…I remember Lovella asked me a few times ‘Why me? Why am I dying?’ I would tell her that God needed help with his bookkeeping and she was the best person he could get for that important job…I miss her so much every day.”

Published in: on May 19, 2009 at 4:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Rod Basehore – May 8th, 2009

GEDC0166I drove up to the top of Holmes Ranch Road last Friday morning and turned into the High Shams Ranch home of Rod and Judy Basehore (actually pronounced as it is written but most people say ‘Bayshore’). They have a beautiful home and having admired the virtually 360-degree panoramic views of the Valley, Rod poured a couple of ice teas and we sat down to chat.
He was born in 1935 in Hershey, Pennsylvania of Dutch origins. Ira, his father, was raised in the Amish lifestyle whilst his mother Kathryn was a Mennonite Christian who later turned to the Lutheran religion. “My parents always taught me and my sister that a philosophy of hard work and honesty was the way to live your life…Some, but certainly not all, of the Amish ways have played a part in my way of life and beliefs ever since then.” His father was an entrepreneur who raised horses and growing up on a thoroughbred horse farm meant that Rod’s lifelong love of the animal began at an early age. His father also started a potato chip/popcorn/pretzel factory and sent the products overseas to the troops in Europe fighting in the War. Ira was the oldest brother and so was exempt from military service but two of Rod’s Uncles did serve, one of whom died over there.
In 1947 the family went to Hawaii on vacation and liked it so much they decided they’d like to stay. His father got a job on the railways there and by 1949 he had become the C.E.O. of a company hauling sugar and pineapples. Rod attended Roosevelt High School in Honolulu where he was into the drama program and also found time to play roles in the Honolulu Light Opera Company. “It was the rival school to the one that was later attended by President Obama – he went to the white boys school, I went to the locals’ school.”…During the summers he worked at the racetrack and at one point, being only 5’ 2”, he had wanted to be a jockey. “I fell off my first horse at 5 years old and my mother said, ‘You alright? Good, that’s as bad as it gets, now get back on.’ It was good advice and I never looked back.”
Rod had a hard time at school in the early years as he was an outsider, being the only non-islander, but after many fist fights – “I won some, I lost many” – he was eventually accepted and did judo with all the other kids. He loved to go coin-diving as the cruise ships departed from the island and the passengers threw coins into the ocean. “We dove down and put the nickels, dimes, and quarters in our ears, and the half-dollars in our cheeks – you could collect quite a lot of money and with the movies only costing 15 cents a time we felt quite rich…It was a very good life out there but once I graduated in 1953 it was time for me to move on.”
Rod received his graduation certificate from the ‘Territory of Hawaii’ – it was not yet a State, and entered Pacific Lutheran University near to Tacoma, Washington, with the idea of becoming a preacher. However, in his first semester the hypocrisy of so many people around him, their prejudices because he was tanned and spoke with a strange ‘island’ accent, and the fact that a fellow student stole his beautiful bible, resulted in a change of plan and he began studying education and communication skills in the theater arts program. Whilst at college he fell in love and got married but it didn’t work out. Rod was hit hard by this turn of events. “I took my dog, my guitar, and some hot dogs and went to stay in the desert for a while…On my return my father tried to console me. He pushed out a large roll of butcher paper on the floor and told me to start penciling 1’s on it. After I had gone a few yards down the paper he stopped me and circled the first ‘1’, saying, ‘That’s your life today – the rest of your life has a long way to go – tough this out and you will be fine.’ He was right.”
Rod graduated with a B.A. specializing in Theatre and Speech Education and then went on to San Diego State to get a Masters in Theatre Arts and his California Teaching Credential where he studied under Hunton D. Sellmen – one of the top teachers of the day in this field. He then attended U.C.L.A. where he received a Masters of Fine Arts with an emphasis in acting.
He did not wish to “play the film industry game” and wanted creative control and freedom over whatever he did, both in terms of the facilities and the finances. He started teaching at Indio High School where he was hired to create a speech and drama program. He was to remain there for thirty-four years until retirement in 1994.
In1958, Rod met Judy and “we lived together in sin when it actually was regarded as a sin.” Judy had two daughters from her previous marriage – Melodee and Marilee (both now teachers) and, following their marriage in 1960, their son Scott was born in 1961 – he is micro-biologist in San Diego. They have five grand daughters, one grandson, and one great grandson…
His teaching of drama and speech continued throughout the sixties…“I established the Circle Theatre Acting Company, a self-supporting student group and set up a curriculum to educate them in communicative skills with Theatre Production as the catalyst. It was not just for entertainment, it was an environment for learning.” The teaching of speech was also very successful and during those years Rod received awards as a Speech Coach and became Vice-President of the California Speech Association. As a result of his efforts the Speech teams from Indio High won State Championships in several events, also finishing fourth in the nation two years in a row.
By 1970 Rod’s love of horses finally found an outlet and he began to breed Appaloosas on a forty-acre ranch he bought in the desert. This line of work seemed to do well side-by-side with his teaching. “Raising horses is just like bringing up kids – if you give the right foundation they will turn out solid. As a teacher you give the options and hope to see people grow – that’s why I taught. With horses I have always looked for the trainable mind and I was fortunate to find     a superb two-year old stud – A Musical Tradition was his name – he was Teddy to us. We bought forty acres for $15 K and bred him with thirteen mares and they turned out great. We sold the lot, except Teddy, and then bought four world class mares and greatly improved the breed, placing high at The Appaloosa World Championships year after year.”
In 1972, Rod heard of property for sale in Anderson Valley – on the new Holmes Ranch sub-division between Philo and Navarro, which had opened two weeks earlier. He and Judy came up and looked at it but they were told there was no water on the property. After a restless night spent in Ft. Bragg, they returned the next day to walk around the property. They found a spring – a very healthy one at that – which the survey had missed. He contacted the agent and paid $18K for twenty acres. Shortly after he was offered another twenty alongside. He did not have the money so offered $7K on a piece valued at twice that. Following some bartering he managed to get it for $10K. “We started building barns and putting up fences but it was a slow process as we still had our jobs down south – Judy was an elementary school teacher in the Palm Springs school district – plus we had the southern ranch to run. We came up in the summers for a couple of months and I would work on the construction and weed-eat my ass off and we’d stay in a horse trailer until the first barn was built.”
Meanwhile, by the early seventies, Rod had stopped teaching speech to concentrate on the school’s theatre program. He had written and produced a touring show called ‘the Brass Menagerie’ and had toured seven countries in Europe for six weeks with the students. Then in the mid-seventies he campaigned heavily on behalf of a bond issue that resulted in the building of a facility containing three theatres. “I was permitted to play a large part in the design of the complex and its success resulted in me being hired as consultant for the district’s two other theatres in new high schools. I created a drama curriculum that produced several major shows a year and also a scene design program to create all the sets for the various schools’ programs. I also directed and acted at U.C.L.A., San Diego State, College of the Desert, The Palm Springs Theatre, and The Cathedral City Players. That was my life for many years.”…Rod retired in 1994 having directed over two hundred plays and many of his students have had successful careers in all aspects of theatre as well as many other professions where communicative skills are necessary…
Following the sale of the southern ranch in 1995, Rod quit the horse- breeding business and concentrated on the northern ranch on Holmes Ranch Road. He designed the house and with the help of local carpenter Mark Triplett and his crew, and Judy of course, the new property slowly took shape…They lived off their horse-sale earnings as they had been providing world-class horses for years and were widely known for the quality of their animals. Rod talks with great passion and knowledge about his time in the horse-business. “I couldn’t get by without horses. Our success was all down to Teddy – he had a wonderful set of manners, a real gentleman… I was present at the birth of all the horses – all but two were born on to my lap so we bonded immediately. This made training so much easier – there is a lot of psychology involved with the method we use in the training of horses and connecting with them mentally is vital.”
In 2005 the house and surrounding buildings were complete. Rod had only two horses left and had been out of the theatre world for over ten years. It was time to jump back in and, with the Valley not having a community theatre for both entertainment and educational purposes, Rod founded the Anderson Valley Theatre Guild in 2006.  Their first production was ‘You’re a good man Charlie Brown’ based on the work by Charles Schultz and then Chekhov’s ‘The Good Doctor’ followed in 2007, with another Chekhov short play along with Rod’s own work, ‘Harry Pollack’ produced last year. In a few weeks’ time this year’s production, ‘A Thurber Carnival’ will take place at The Grange here in the Valley.
‘I love living here in this beautiful Valley – I love the openness, the space. I like the honesty of the majority of the people who live here. I like the fact that many people here work so hard and with their hands, not just buying their way through. The hands and mind are a measure of a person, I believe. I am glad to see that there’s an increasing assimilation of the Mexican community into the rest of the Valley – a little more each year…I do miss some of the social interaction we used to have when we lived down south and the fact that there is no dance or gathering on a weekly basis for like-minded people to see each other and talk and share experiences. It’s difficult in rural areas to achieve this regularly but we live in hope. We do have get-togethers here and we don’t invite kids – we want an evening of adult conversation without interruption. Don’t misunderstand, I like kids – but in their place.”
I asked Rod for his responses to various ‘hot-button’ issues that are of concern to many on the Valley…The wineries? – “They do a good job – a class act in terms of their appearances, but I do worry about the Valley having a monoculture and of course the issue of water is an on-going concern. I do like having a farming community of any sort over the alternative of too many people.”…The local public radio station, KZYX & Z? – “I like it and listen quite a bit. We support it and Judy helps out during their pledge drive.”…The A.V.A.? – “I that too – I like Bruce and what he has done in recent years now that he’s not so negative and these days he does a lot to pull the community together”… The School System? – “It’s a good school, I think. We have friends whose kids have attended there and gone on to do well. Like many things, you get out of it what you put in – there should be no excuses.”…I asked Rod if he were Mayor what would he change. “I’d investigate the possibility of a sewage system for the Valley. With people putting in second homes on their land, we have so many wells and septic systems that they will overlap and that’s obviously not good – it’s a problem we will face in the future.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Rod, many of which are from a list originally devised by French Interviewer and Culture “Expert”, Bernard Pivot, and featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton”…
What is your favorite word or phrase? – “Honesty and hard work.”

What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “Look what I bought.”

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “A bubbly personality; sincerity; thinking outside the box…

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “When people say ‘I can’t’…”

What sound or noise do you love? – “I love the sound of silence. At night up here when I sit outside on the deck there is not a sound – perfect…Oh, and I also like the sound of a contented woman!”

What sound or noise do you hate? – “Acid rock music.”

What is your favorite curse word? – “That would probably be ‘shit’. I am not a religious person but I very seldom use God’s name in vain. I’m a spiritual person and my religion is ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ – if you live life that way you won’t go far wrong.”

Is there a film/song/book that has greatly influenced you in some way? – “A song would be ‘God must be a Cowboy’ – ‘cos he needs wide open spaces and horses to be our friends…A book and film that influenced me would be Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ – wonderful.”

What is your favorite hobby? – “Well I have to say horses, although for much of my life it was a job too. We now have just two left – Finbar Magee and Popeye – and Judy and I still love to go for rides on the trails back behind the property.”

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “A stage actor in a professional company”

What profession would you not like to do? – “ A stockbroker”

What was the happiest day or event in your life? – When I met Judy forty-nine years ago. I was getting over my marriage, done with women, and was out in a bar with friends. I heard a laugh across the bar and saw this woman standing by the jukebox. I was certainly taken by her but she left soon after. We went to another bar and there was a woman singing a Japanese song in the bar – it was the same woman. I spoke to her in pigeon Japanese. She laughed – a great laugh. I asked if I could walk her to her car and there was definitely a spark between us. She told me she had two little girls; I told her I was in $45K debt from loans. Neither mattered. We met again the next day and have been together ever since. We are still like newly-weds – we are soul mates.”

What was the saddest? -“I can’t think of one – I accept sadness and loss and move on.”

What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically/mentally/spiritually? – “I suppose it would be that I have been successful at whatever I have set out to do – it’s an attribute I’m very glad to have.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “If he said, ‘Hi, Rod’, that would mean he’d been watching me and think I’d done o.k. I suppose…I do not fear facing him/her, whoever. My Amish upbringing was good for me – it took away the greed, the route to evil. I did not follow all the religious aspects but was around it all growing up. I had three aunts – Faith, Hope, and Charity, who rode around in a buggy. My family would not take medicines – they would pray away illness. Nevertheless, their morals and ethics were a big part of my upbringing and have always played a big part in my life.”

Published in: on May 11, 2009 at 9:32 pm  Comments (6)  

Mitchell Holman – April 30th, 2009

GEDC0163I met with Mitchell a couple of weeks ago at his home just north of Philo on Hwy 128. With the living room full of musical and sound equipment, we sat down to talk at the kitchen table with a delicious glass of fresh grapefruit juice each…

Mitchell was born in 1949 in Denver, Colorado to a family of almost exclusive Irish heritage. It was a case of Mitchell-in-the-middle with two older and two younger siblings. His mother, Thelma, was a homemaker whilst his father, Jack, was in sales, mainly of sporting goods and he was a very knowledgeable hunter and fisherman, even hosting his own radio show on these topics. “I loved my Dad and gained a passion for fishing from him. However, he would die a frustrated man. He was also homophobic and racist. In his words, the worse thing I could have been was a ‘fag’ or a ‘nigger’.“

When Mitchell was eight the family moved to the L.A. suburban sprawl outside Los Angeles, returning to Denver a couple of years later for two years when Mitchell’s grandfather was ill. “Denver was so prejudiced at that time – a very racist community, and so when we returned to the San Fernando Valley near to L.A. again it was great. L.A. was so progressive, it was exploding.” Mitchell attended Monroe High School but didn’t really like it and often cut classes. Over a few years in the early to mid-sixties the graduation rate fell from 98% to 65%, although Mitchell was one of those who did get through. “Everyone was rebelling against the system. They hypocrisy of the teachers, of our parents generation, and of so many of those who had gone before us, blew us away. Were we at school to be educated or was it so that we could be judged by the way we looked? Of course the drug scene had arrived and Mexican marijuana was everywhere but the teachers and cops were not really on to it at that point. It was good, ‘happy’ weed – the biggest consequence of smoking it was the pain in your jaw from laughing.”

Mitchell was an outcast and barely graduated on time in 1967. “I was very quiet and generally a loner but always had a close friend or two. We’d commit minor crimes – burglary of the school, garages, sheds. I learnt to drive whilst stealing cars. My mother had a job for a time at a dry cleaners and I’d get any ‘forgotten’ items. I wore turtleneck sweaters and a paisley tuxedo coat to school. My parents didn’t like it but what could they say? I was the best-dressed kid in the school!…I got into music when I was fourteen or so and played bass. It kept me from getting into any serious trouble and totally saved me as I had been pissed off at everything, particularly the older generation – they knew things were not right with the world but had not dealt with it and kept it stuffed away.”

“I did not attend my graduation ceremony and soon after, with a friend Val Fuentes, a drummer, we hitched to San Francisco where we found what seemed to be about a million other kids who thought like we did. It was the summer of 1967 and something was definitely bubbling as we moved into the Panhandle area. Val and I played music at various coffee houses and a guy called Smitty told us that a band needed a bass player and a drummer. They were Dave and Linda La Flamme, Hal Waggoner, and Pattie Santos and we started playing together in the late summer. John Walker, a friend of Bill Graham, became our manager following our split with Matt Katz and we settled on the name ‘It’s a Beautiful Day’’ (I.B.D.). I guess we were the second wave as Electra had already signed The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, The Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Big Brother and the Holding Company, who were not very good to be honest but then they were fortunate to find Janis… C.B.S. now got involved and signed Santana, The Flock with John McLaughlin, Dr. John, and us. We shared a practice studio with Santana and hung out with those guys, The Youngbloods, Taj Mahal, and Ritchie Havens too – I still get a hug and a kiss from Ritchie when I see him…We went up to Seattle to play a few gigs and lived in a big mansion there before we came back and began to play the bigger S.F. venues such as The Fillmore, The Avalon, and The Matrix and toured the country appearing at festival after festival. It was that time, man.”

It was a time of rapid development on the technical side of the music scene and Mitchell was very interested in this aspect. “The sound systems were very basic at the beginning. Everything was new and the logistics of putting on these festivals were in their infant stage. The cops didn’t know how to police them, the toilet situation was primitive – the whole scene was being born. We played at the Atlanta Pop Festival and 350,000 people were there – many never actually got to the venue. We stayed at the Holiday Inn where the pool’s water was brown with dust from people all jumping in as they passed by and we were flown into the arena by helicopter over the masses of people trying to get in.”

I.B.D. signed a three-album deal with C.B.S. and their first one consisted of seven songs, including their signature tune and big hit, ‘White Bird’, which reached #1 in several States. ‘It was the days of the long jam and we could play three songs that took one-and-a half hours…With FM radio coming in that was cheap to set up, this new music was being heard for the first time all over the country. In S.F. it was on KMPX that also introduced the likes of B.B. King and Miles Davis to people who had never heard of them. It was a ton of new stuff with very few ads. However, it didn’t take long until big business got hip to this whole thing and then it really exploded but more commercialism crept in and soon it was all fucked up.”

By late 1968, Mitchell was living in the Potrero Hill district of S.F. but things were not going well within the band. “Dave, who was the acknowledged leader of the band, was very volatile and he was not good with money. Then it turned out he had stolen some songs. Soon he and Linda had split up and she left the band, being replaced by Fred Webb on keyboards – he was outrageous and very bi – he’d fuck anyone, which in those days was an asset I suppose…We had been a ‘family’ band and had lived together all through those days but when the first album credited all the songs to Dave and Linda, which was not true, tension began to creep in. The Grateful Dead went through similar growing pains and were ready to kill each other. In their case they took a break for a time and came back strong. We tried to stick together but had little guidance from management or the record company and we sort of self-destructed. We were like babes in the woods – I wasn’t even twenty years old. We had signed a good contract – 10% for us – but they managed to rip us off. For example,10.000 promo copies of a record for which we got nothing? – there were only 500 radio stations – stuff like that. We thought about taking them to court but we’d get no empathy there – in the judges’ eyes our sort were ruining their town and getting their daughters pregnant!”

“It had been a beautiful thing for a couple of years. In those times you could put the word out that there was going to be a concert in the Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park and the news would spread like wildfire. Thousands would turn up and there’d be no problems. There were few police and the whole place would be completely cleaned up afterwards so I hope we didn’t mess up the town too much…By 1969 speed, cocaine, and alcohol had begun to come into the scene in a big way and then all these gawkers from L.A. etc started to arrive – just to get laid in most cases. This was not what it was about…The Altamont thing was pretty much the end. Grace Slick on stage screeching like a banshee didn’t help matters and of course having the Hell’s Angels to police the event was not a good plan!…In 1970 we played a concert in Golden Gate Park and it got nasty. There was a big fight; someone stole my bike – a B.S.A 500. It was as if a big shock wave then spread through the community – the realization that it was all over”…

“Basically, the hippy thing, the whole movement, was about ecology; to get society back on track to help the Earth. Free expression had arrived, sex was not a taboo, and the pill was here. It had been a hard change in direction and I personally never felt I had a choice – I was so disappointed in those who had gone before me.”

The band toured in 1971 but the end was near. “The cocaine thing was bad. People were very intense and uptight, destructively playing on stage. I’d come off stage and people would want to fight. In the early days there was none of that. The acid was great, and the mescaline trips and the marijuana of course but now it was very different. Our friends tried to talk us out of it but Hal and I left – it was not beautiful anymore.”

Later Mitchell was to learn that the manager, John Walker, had also ripped him off. “That was too bad. We were pals and to this day we never have sorted that whole thing out. He claimed it was Dave who had ripped everyone off – when you are in a band you don’t think to look there but Dave was losing it. He even claimed that our big hit, ‘White Bird’ was about birds in Aspen trees – it wasn’t. I know it was about a cook who was with us in Seattle who had been in a fire and had burns on her face – all of us wrote it.”

Around this time Mitchell had met and fallen in love with Lydia, the manager’s former girlfriend, and soon after they had a daughter, Eva…By mid-1971, Hal and Mitchell had formed a band with Tim Dawe called The Natural Act Band but it never really found its identity and the record companies were not interested. During these years Mitchell lived off his earnings from his ‘It’s a Beautiful Day’ days and then in 1974 he left the group, although he was to return two years later and produced an album for the band entitled ‘Timothy and Ms Pickens with Natural Act’.

“I have played in band after band since those days but I am not polluted by trying to ‘make it’. I was in a punk band called The Minesweepers in S.F. – I told them I wanted $70 a gig and would play only a bowed bass. They agreed but it didn’t feel good if we made just $64 and they had to pay me the rest out of their pocket…I formed The Mitchell Holman Trio with my bass, a cello, and a sax and then there was Oreo with two black guys in the early eighties; a country band, and Eagles-type rock band, and then in 1985 I just stopped all together and went solo after finding a backer, Mike Weldon, who had previously been a producer of surf movies then soft porn. I did quite well for a time, earning $500 a week for a couple of years.”…

In the late eighties Mitchell met Jennifer Schmitt at Raven Restaurant in Healdsburg. “She was unique, very open, and we fell in love…I moved up to the area and that pretty much killed the deal with the backer, who died soon after anyway. Our son Jack was born in 1992 and soon after we moved to the Valley. Not long after arriving in Mendocino County, I formed Zen Snap with Larry Blackshire and Jennifer got a job as bartender/cook with her cousin Johnny who owned the Boonville Hotel and we lived on the property on the Clow homestead behind where I am now. I had been through the Valley a few times but now I really began to appreciate it. I found some work as a sound engineer for various shows both in the music and business world, such as the Banana Republic fashion show.”

Mitchell became very close to Bub and Eleanor Clow, despite coming from very different backgrounds and lifestyles, and eventually was offered the opportunity to buy the house he now lives in for a great price. “Realtor Mike Shapiro likes to say it was ‘the last good deal in the Valley’ and I’d have to agree with him.”…In 1999, whilst in Alaska, Mitchell met a “beautiful Italian woman” called Carol. They fell in love but it was very volatile relationship. They had a horrible break-up, got back together again,and were then married. It lasted three years. “She claimed she hated it here.”

For the past fifteen years Mitchell has been at the helm of sound engineering for a satellite radio station out of San Francisco, called West Coast Live. It was the first to go on the Internet and for two hours every Saturday it brings an eclectic mixture of entertainment to listeners. “We have a host and a piano player and have various musicians, authors, etc being interviewed and sharing their work. It has over sixty outlets and can be heard locally in Ft. Bragg and Gualala but not on the Valley’s KZYX & Z, for reasons I do not understand. We still go on the road with the show and were in Alaska last year where we managed to get two longtime opposing Indian Chiefs on the show together. They ended up tearfully hugging each other – their tribes had been ‘at war’ for seventy years.”

Mitchell has continued to work as a sound engineer for a variety of functions including The Valley’s Variety Show, The Film Festival, and the now defunct Wild Iris Festival, specializing in sound for outdoor events for perhaps as many as 1200 people. Other than that and the radio show, he always finds his handyman skills are in demand by a group of regular clients. ‘I can pretty much fix anything and I’m an expert electrician – you won’t even have to turn it off!” he adds with a wide grin. The radio show pays his bills and as far as his great passion, music, is concerned, “I feel as if I am coming of age again with my music – things are happening. We’ll see…”

I asked Mitchell about what he liked most about life here in the Valley. “It is the perfect climate and has a small community that always looks after its own. Sure there is a level of gossip but you can certainly be yourself up here…For me personally it is a little far from the City but I’ve made that work. I loved San Francisco but it went crazy. It’s coming back but I can’t see it regaining the soul it had during the hippy years. I love it here but I don’t know that I’ve found my place on Earth. I’m a nomad and don’t feel attached to land at all. Lately, I have being considering moving to Hawaii”…

Knowing Mitchell to be an intelligent man of strong opinions I wanted to ask him about his thoughts on various Valley issues and entities…The School System? – “Jack attended the Mountain Song grade school and learned a lot about life skills. You can knock the A.V.H.S but the biggest problem in my view is the kids not applying themselves. Unlike at the big school I attended, parents can solve or at least address problems by talking to the teacher, who will probably know personally…The school is great for the relationship with the Mexican community here. We can all learn from each other. We should be jealous of their sense of Family and learn from it – our sense of that is an old folks home. Learning each others language is surely a good thing and Jack has real friends in the Mexican community”…The wineries? – “I guess they’re kinda cute but they do not seem to be paying attention to the water situation. That’s very sad and the damage to our fisheries is a great concern. I suppose it’s better than liquor and wine-making has artistic merit but we do not need any more vineyards – too many are owned by assholes who do not live here and just take. They are not part of the community. A neighbor put in a pond last year for their vines and now the creek next to the property has dried up, gone…To answer you question about being Mayor that you sometimes ask, if I was Mayor there would be a local law that states that if you don’t live here for at least six months of the year then local people can move into your house and squat there. Lets’ get that on the ballot – it may not pass but it would be a wake-up call…I’d also introduce a pond tax – if you have a pond, you pay some taxes on it and that would pay for fish hatcheries and we’d have salmon here again. I strongly believe we should incorporate the Valley and have the ability to control the destiny of our unique situation here.”…

The local radio station – KZYX & Z? – “It was formed by inspired people but if it does not ‘grow’ it will die. It needs to embrace the times. Mendocino County is one of the most progressive places on the planet in its thinking and the radio station could be a much more effective part of that…I was the Station Manager for a time and feel very passionate about it. Let’s make it rock – let’s do something with this thing. It’s hard to change things I know and the leadership is set. I like Mary Aigner the program director but she is all-powerful – it’s Mary’s left-white radio station…I like some of the programming, particularly Fred Wooley on Sundays, but do we get to hear much of the new music out there? Radical and new thinkers should have a greater presence on our local public radio – so much could be achieved. In some ways it’s so poor. I don’t want to hear some guy say ‘it’s going to rain soon, certainly tomorrow’ when if he looked outside he would see it’s raining now! That sort of sums it all up, I guess”…

To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Mitchell many of which are from a list originally devised by French Interviewer and Culture “Expert”, Bernard Pivot, and featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton”…

What is your favorite word or phrase? – “I’ll go with ‘Let’ – as in ‘let it occur’.”

What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “Err, let’s say ‘Can’t’ – I don’t like to hear that.”

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Improvisation.”

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Following the word, not the heart…Contrived things”…

What sound or noise do you love? – ‘Harmony”

What sound or noise do you hate? – “Hummm”

What is your favorite curse word? – “Well I use lots but I do like ‘Darn it’ – I was arrested by a cop for nude swimming and he just couldn’t handle it, repeatedly saying ‘darn it’ as I stood there in front of him.”

Is there a film/song/book that has greatly influenced you in some way? – “Well there’s, ‘The Old Man and The Sea’ by Hemmingway; films, ‘Dr Zhivago’ and ‘The Matrix’; and song, ‘What a Wonderful World’ – how’s that?”

What is your favorite hobby? – “Music is my whole life but I suppose I do like Industrial Design – I spend a lot of time in my head re-designing the planet. I’ve never been bored in my whole life – I may be in line but I’m not waiting.”

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “An architect – I came real close at one point.”

What profession would you not like to do? – “Any nine-to-five would not be good…Nor would Radio Station Manager…”

What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “Childbirth – both Eva and Jack’s births saw me just ecstatic.”

What was the saddest? – “Just thinking about that question and I see a dark hole and don’t want to go there……I guess Bush’s victory the second time was pretty bad.”

What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically/mentally/spiritually? – “The same as my least favorite – it seems to be my job to make people laugh about themselves and to acknowledge that personal growth is needed. I laugh at stuff that upsets others. Going through this can be painful for people and they get hurt, but the pain can be relieved. Some thank me; others get very upset. It’s probably why I’ve had so many relationships.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – ‘Welcome home,”

Published in: on May 5, 2009 at 11:49 pm  Comments (2)