Rodolfo Ibarra – August 16th, 2009

101_0009A couple of Sundays ago I drove in behind Lemons’ Market in Philo to the Ibarra home, one of several back there set amongst some lovely gardens and trees. We sat outside in the shade and talked about Rodolfo’s life and times in Mexico and the U.S.
He was born in October 1958 in the small town (3000 people) of Janambo in the Mexican State of Michoacan. He was the youngest of four kids born to Rafael Ibarra, a farmer, and Maria Dolores Ledesma, who raised the four kids as well as running the town’s post office, which she did for thirty years. Both of Rodolfo’s grandfathers had worked on the U.S. railroads in the forties, “when the U.S was like Mexico is today!” The family farm was a little bit of everything – corn, beans, chickens, goats, cows, and primarily pigs, which were the family’s main source of income. “The crops and livestock on the farm provided all the food we needed,” says Rodolfo. “We had no bills except electricity and my Mother had a very small income from the post office. It was open just two days a week and she did not have a wage but would get 4 cents for each letter and 8 cents for a money order.”
When not at school Rodolfo worked in the fields with his father, as did his older siblings. “I first went to school at seven years old. There were about one hundred kids in the school in Janambo and then when I was twelve I had to walk to a school three miles away in another small town called Manuel de Villalongin. We had to be there at 8am and then had a three-hour lunch from noon to 3pm before going back from 3pm to 5pm before the walk home. I was an o.k. student I guess. There were about two hundred kids at this school and in the long lunch break I enjoyed playing volleyball, basketball, baseball, and futbol (soccer)… I remember the futbol World Cup being played in Mexico in 1970 and we would watch all the matches, even if it meant taking off school. Nobody minded. The country went crazy and the government spent a lot of money on building new hotels and catering for the visiting fans and tourists. Meanwhile in the universities there were not even seats to sit on and the students rioted in the streets.”
At fifteen Rodolfo went to the High School in Pastor Ortiz, a town about the size of Ukiah, but the school buildings were not finished and had no windows or concrete floors, so during his one year there the students had to help build it. “We had to dig the foundation and do the work of laborers to get our school built.” For his final two years of high school he traveled to Puruandiro (a city of 70,000 people). “It was a federal school and the boys wore a green uniform, like soldiers. We had to wear a tie, have shiny shoes, and very short haircuts. The girls wore different colors depending on which grade they were in. Every Monday the whole school assembled in the school square and sang the national anthem in front of the Mexican flag.”
In 1977, after graduating high school, Rodolfo went to Mexico City to attend the Colegio de Bachilleres to study technical drawing. He received a scholarship that covered his housing, books, groceries, and tuition and lived in a house with twenty other guys, all from Pastor Ortiz. By the time he left college the government had stopped many scholarships and although he wanted to go to University he had no money to enroll. He had few prospects of earning much in Mexico despite his training so he applied for a visa to come to the U.S. but having no money or property meant he was turned down. He felt had only one choice. “People see the money they can earn here and want to come across the border. Most people contact a ‘coyote’ or guide who can hopefully get them into the States. In the early eighties they would charge $300. It would take a very long time to raise that money in Mexico so you would have to negotiate credit and if you got across you’d have to get a job and pay him back because they would know where your family lived. I contacted a coyote and in January 1982 I crossed the border. There were about a hundred of us and we were split into groups of about fifteen. You hoped you were not in the first group, as they would probably be caught. It was dark and we all set off. The border patrol was soon all over the hillsides on the other side and their lights were shining either side of our group. We got through.” The coyote arranged transport to Fresno where his brother picked him up and drove him to Healdsburg.
“The immigration of Mexican people to the States is all about earning money to support your family. Most send money back to their families to support them and may be even start a business or buy property one day. My brothers had gone to the United States and had found work in the new wine industry of northern California. Michoacan looks a lot like Anderson Valley and many people from Michoacan now live in the Valley. My brothers worked in Sonoma and vineyards here in the Valley. They would get $30 for a ten hour day but back in Mexico, for the same job, it would be $2 a day. The U.S. has many factories down there but they do not pay well – just enough for food and transport, not enough to save. These days to work for G.M.C. here you might have a job paying $16 an hour; to work for them doing the same job in Mexico it would be $16 a day. In the seventies the houses in Michoacan were very basic but since so many people have come to the States and sent money back, there are nice houses there now.”
He worked in the area for a few months, saved $2000, and returned to Mexico to go to University but was too late to enroll. “There were no opportunities in Mexico; no well-paying jobs compared to the States. Jobs in construction, farming, local government, and the police were all badly paid. The police in Mexico are still poorly paid – that leads to many of the problems of course… I wanted a family and kids and I wanted to be able to support them. I contacted a coyote again and after a few months in Mexico I headed back to the States. There were about two hundred of us this time and we went through a tunnel about half-a-mile long under the border and the freeway near to San Ysidro, on the opposite side to Tijuana. Helicopters were flying around and I was under bush, not daring to look up into the lights. They did not catch me and I got through.” It was December 1982 and Rodolfo was back in the States.
He worked for a year or so in the vineyards in Mendocino and then began working in the timber industry in the woods in the Cloverdale, Ft. Bragg, and Anderson Valley areas. He was in the woods for six years until 1988, during which time, in 1986, he got his green card so he could live and work in the States legally. A year earlier he married Yolanda Sanchez of Guanajuato State at the Catholic Church in Philo with a reception at the Fairgrounds in Boonville afterwards. “I had met her on my first visit and ‘chased’ after her when I returned. We went out for three years before we got married. Our first child, daughter Jessica, was born in 1986 and Rodolfo Jr. followed in 1988. Our third child, Daisy was born in 2000. In the early eighties Anderson Valley did not have many Mexican families and if you spotted one of them in town you’d be very happy to see them. Over the past twenty-five years many, many more people have arrived here from Mexico as well as all those born in the Valley in that time. They say they want to make money and then go back to Mexico but time passes and they have a family that grows here. Most do not return to live there. I go back every year to see my family in Michoacan but will probably never live there.”
In 1988 Rodolfo started work in construction for Steve Andersen and then Dennis Toohey. “I learned a lot from those guys and was with Dennis for many years. I made lots of contacts and so when I started to work for myself in 2003 there was plenty of work for a small crew and me. I am not a contractor but can use most of the tools for small construction jobs, gardening and landscaping, painting, fencing, brush-clearing and burning…Jessica graduated from A.V. Hugh School and then went to St. Mary’s College to study Law and graduated from there too. She wants to be a paralegal and is now at San Francisco State. Rodolfo is at Santa Rosa J.C. and works with me at the weekends; Daisy begins 5th Grade next month at the Elementary School in the Valley… On one of our visits to Mexico we had a car crash and Yolanda broke her back. She has suffered a lot and is still in pain at times. We hope she will make a full recovery. It has been a tough time for money and I had to put off plans to buy a house but we love our place here behind Lemons’ Market. It is in a family community and is quiet and peaceful.”
“I’d like to go back and live in Mexico in some ways but my kids are all here and one day they will have kids too. It would be very hard to leave then. My Mom is 94 now and my Dad is 92. He has visited us here for a few months a couple of times and he has a clear mind but my mother gets confused sometimes. She broke her hip and uses a walker but she still manages to clean the house and maintain the garden – she has beautiful roses and many other flowers. I phone her every couple of weeks and feel guilty about living so far away. She gave me everything – she always encouraged my education and influenced my thinking. I was her ‘baby’. She always told me to be nice to my wife and family. She loves her grandkids. We were very, very close and I had always helped her around the house. My brothers were much older than me and had left home. She energized me and supported me – she would have sold her last chicken to give me money. When I visit it is hard to leave again, to hug her and say goodbye. Sometimes I say to her a few days before I leave that I will be going sometime in the next couple of days and leave quietly. She says she is o.k. but since turning 90 she is not the same and puts pressure on me to stay. It is very hard emotionally but I cannot live there.”
“I feel Boonville is my home now. I like it very much. I love the drive between Boonville and Philo. When I arrive in Boonville and then drive through the Valley, I think I am back home… People always help each other here. The volunteer fire and ambulance – you would not get that in Mexico. People there would help you if you were in need but they would not be volunteers at other times. The Mexican community here is very close but in the old days I knew them all. There are so many new faces in the last ten years… Boonville has changed so much – I guess it’s good. It happens everywhere. People move to places if they see better options there. The people came from Oklahoma and Arkansas in the fifties and stayed, then came the hippies, then us. I don’t think we would have stayed if the U.S. companies in Mexico paid the same money. People would have stayed down there and the others would return. Being a farm worker here means you can earn as much as an engineer in Mexico. You can have a new car here but in rural Mexico you would have to be the boss of a company to do that. Ask any Mexican and they will say, ‘I love Mexico, I want to go back’ but I don’t see them leaving. Michoacan’s population has gone down – California is now Michoacan!”
“Our kids love it here – they are Mexican and American. They may all marry American spouses. Family is everything in the Mexican culture. Most of our social life is around the family and staying close to your kids is very important. Divorce is not accepted easily. We believe in certain ‘rules’ for the family and staying together for the kids is one of them. If you marry the person you really love…I mean really love…then that love will not stop and you stick together through rough times. If you really must break up then you wait until the kids are eighteen or so, when they are old enough to understand. This is very important in our culture. You have made a commitment and you should be responsible for keeping that contract to your spouse and kids. The kids should not pay for your mistake if as parents you cannot get along. May be I am old-fashioned but what is wrong with this thinking? My kids will hopefully follow my thinking.”
“Racism against Mexicans in the Valley was worse in the old days but even then it was not too bad except perhaps in the bars. Many of the local guys were fine with us; it was just a few who had a problem. I boxed during my years in Mexico City and could look after myself. I understand that if Mexicans went into American bars then maybe they thought we were invading their space. Also there were issues because they felt we had their jobs. The younger generations do not seem to have any problems with each other and I personally have many American friends in the Valley. With the older generations I think if we all spoke the same language then it would really help – it seems simple but the language barrier is the biggest issue.”
I asked Rodolfo for his brief responses to some of the issues that Valley people talk often about… The wineries? – “ They are o.k. and have brought many jobs and money to the Valley. Water is a problem but there are many smaller growers and gardeners who use a lot of water too. We all take too much water without thinking enough about it.”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “Yolanda buys it but my English is not very good when it comes to reading. You may be surprised that quite a few in the Mexican community read it.”… The school system? – “It has been great for us. We have two graduates of the high school who went on to college. Some kids do badly but it is not all the school’s fault. The family must take the blame too. Kids need to have respect for their elders, it is not what is used to be like.”

To end the interview I posed a few questions to Rodolfo, many of which are from a list originally devised by 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 love people to say ‘Thank you’ when I have done work for them.”

What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “When people say, ‘I don’t care, whatever.’ it drives me crazy.”

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “When I hear that my kids have done something well…Or in the winter after a hard day’s work in the rain and cold, to come home and sit in front of a fire with a cup of coffee is very good for me.”

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Abuse of women or children…Sometimes if a customer complains about one little thing after we have done so much good work for them then I get upset.”

What sound or noise do you love? – “The quiet natural sounds of the countryside.”

What sound or noise do you hate? – “Loud music on a car radio.”

What is your favorite curse word? – “Mexicans have very bad curse words, very expressive. They are not meant in the same way as they seem when translated. I do say these words sometimes but try not to. It is a macho thing and Mexican women rarely do it. If they do it is felt that their beauty and intelligence has gone – that’s the way it is… And you never, ever swear in front of your mother.”

Is there a film/song/book that has greatly influenced you in some way? – “I like music but mainly the older romantic songs from Mexico. I like the music of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Credence Clearwater Revival but I do not understand many of the words…Films? – I liked ‘Tombstone’ about the gunfight at the O.K. Corral and most westerns. I also like the old Mexican movies of the fifties and sixties that were set in the countryside.”

What is your favorite hobby? – “I like to teach myself things from books… I like doing jobs around my house on days off… I used to play baseball but no more… I watch television soap operas and the Discovery Channel…I like to eat and Yolanda is a great cook!”

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “A civil engineer, designing and building bridges and roads in rural areas – not in the cities…Or maybe a self-employed, successful farmer with crops and livestock, gardens and a pond, and horses which I would love to break in.”

What profession would you not like to do? – “Anything near to Poison Oak!… Putting in insulation would be a bad job too.”

What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “The day that we went to Jessica’s graduation from college. I was very proud and happy… The day we arrived back in the States after Yolanda’s accident and knowing we were home and had insurance and she would get good care was not the happiest day but I felt so relieved.”

What was the saddest? – “The day of the accident in Mexico. It was terrible and shocking to see Yolanda with serious injuries and in so much pain.”

What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically/mentally/spiritually? – “I have the ability to enjoy people and friendships. That I have been a good son and father and hopefully husband too, but you should ask Yolanda…I try very hard to do what I think is right.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “I do not feel strongly about a religion but I do think there is a God somewhere. I would like him to say, “You did a great job, Rodolfo, especially with your family and your Mother.” That would be good enough for me.”

Published in: on August 26, 2009 at 5:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

Kirk Wilder – August 7th, 2009

101_0008On a gloriously sunny afternoon in Boonville, and following a brief tour of his workshop and hangar wherein sat two small airplanes, Kirk Wilder and I sat down to chat on his deck overlooking the airport on Airport Road.
Kirk was born in Buffalo, New York, in April 1947, the second of four children (three boys and a girl) born to John G. Wilder II and Dorothy Chaplin. “My father was from the south land and had a degree from Georgia Tech in engineering, my mother was a farmer’s daughter from upstate New York. They met in Buffalo during the war where my father worked for the Curtis Wright Aircraft Company and Mom was delivering blueprints – both working for the war effort on the home front. They were married in 1943 and lived in an apartment in Buffalo.”
Following the war, Kirk’s father worked for Cornell Laboratories on designing the first supersonic wind tunnels and was able to purchase thirty-five acres south of Buffalo where they built a two-storey home by hand. “It was a very nice home and a great place to live. The community was primarily farming and we’d get to play in the creek, shoot rifles, and have dogs running around. In 1955, when I was eight years old, my father announced that he had been offered a ‘secret’ job in California and that we were moving. He couldn’t tell us what the job was at the time although eventually we found out it was to work on liquid fuel rocket propulsion. At the time the race was on with the Soviets to get inter continental ballistic missiles and Dad was going to be one of the rocket scientist leading the way.”
The family moved to Torrance in southern California and Kirk soon forgot Buffalo – “the Pacific Ocean just hooked me” – and then a year later to the new part of Sherman Oaks where their house had a swimming pool and all the modern conveniences. “Mom raised us kids and Dad worked at his ‘secret’ job but was still around a lot. There was a lot of love in our family and we did lots of stuff as a family – camping, fishing, traveling, etc. Dad was a stern taskmaster however and we learned how to get things done. I learned how to fix things, how to trouble shoot, how things worked. Our education was to be taken seriously and good grades were expected. I could be a little asshole at times and was whacked on a few occasions. It was not harsh, I was wrong and learned from my mistakes.”
In 1959 the family moved to Los Altos in the Bay Area, again for John Wilder’s work in rocket propulsion. “The town was small at that time and I enjoyed the four years we spent there. By the time we left I had made many friends, was enjoying playing on the basketball team, and had a girlfriend – it was a hard move for me but my Dad’s work took precedence – it was all still very secretive. We returned to southern California, to Tarzana, where I became a junior at William Howard Taft High School.”
Kirk graduated from High School in 1965. A short time earlier, his parents had enrolled him in a Presbyterian Church Youth Group and the day following his graduation party he found himself packed off on a church bus to work on volunteer flood damage repairs in northern California. “We stopped for an overnight stay in Marin and when we were fooling around I accidentally threw a Frisbee that hit a very cute girl in the head. I had noticed her earlier and liked her. By the end of the two-week trip we were dating – oh, look, here she is!”
At that moment our chat was interrupted as Cindy Wilder came on to the deck and gave us each a refreshing glass of ice water and lemon – she was that young girl Kirk had hit with the Frisbee almost forty-five years ago!
Kirk attended U.C.L.A. where he studied economics. At the end of his junior year, on June 15th, 1968, he and Cindy were married and soon after the draft lottery for service in the Vietnam War began. “I wanted to be in control of my destiny and over the years a desire to fly had been instilled in me by my father. I tried to enlist in the air force but my vision was not 20/20 and so flying high-speed jets was out of the question. Then once we were married Cindy got pregnant almost immediately and my priorities changed. Our daughter, Tamara, was born in April 1969 and I turned to checking out reserve units. I joined the 132nd Combat Engineers of the California National Guard, signing up for six years. That very weekend my draft number came up – this was binding by postdate and it had been sent the day before I had signed up for the Reserve. It looked like I was going to be joining the army in Vietnam. However, when I told the First Sergeant in the Reserves, he pre-dated my enlistment forms and I avoided the draft. I worked very hard in my job as company clerk for Sergeant Para! Whoever was planning my route through life was doing very well.”
Kirk graduated from U.C.L.A. in September 1969 and found work as a cost accountant at Litton Industries. He did not like it and looked forward to the weekends with his family and spending time building a plane with his father. In October 1970 Kirk went on a six-month training course for the National Guard and although his unit was never activated for war he attended many weekends and two-week summer training periods over the next few years. In the summer of 1971 his training was complete and soon after a second daughter arrived – Tina. Kirk moved to Dunn and Bradstreet in their marketing information services division and became a field representative. “Basically I was ‘knocking on doors’ trying to sell our services to various businesses. I wasn’t real happy with this job.”
Kirk’s father bought him out of their plane venture – “he insisted upon it so I could buy a house but I was reluctant. Dad was very wise – it was a good decision.” With this money and their savings, in early 1972 they were able to buy a house in Agoura, California for $27,500. Across the street the neighbor was Dan Lambach, a motor cop for the L.A.P.D. “I was not happy in my current job and Dan told me the police department was hiring. It was a job I had never considered. I would be getting a pay raise too. I applied, they accepted me and in October 1972 I joined the L.A.P.D. It was the start of my career, the best choice of my life, apart from getting together with Cindy of course.”
With his ‘Policeman’ (not police officer in those days) badge proudly displayed, Kirk began his probationary period (P1) of five months training and seven in the field. He was soon a P2 officer and then a P3, which was a training officer, teaching the P1’s, one of whom was the first female police officer on the force. As a P3 policeman he was transferred to the Metro Division which had no fixed area and covered everything from S.W.A.T. teams, dog teams, plain clothes, undercover, etc. “We were a crime task force and were loaned out to various divisions depending on their requirements. It was exciting and often dangerous but although I drew my gun many times I never had to shoot anyone. I was initially issued with a .38 revolver and later a Beretta 9mm semi-automatic – a much better pistol. I practiced all the time – I wanted to be fully prepared as the average distance in an officer-involved shooting was just seven feet!”
After a very rewarding nine years, Kirk decided he wanted a change and in 1981 joined the motorcycle cops, working in Central L.A. and the Hispanic northeast section of the City, primarily enforcing traffic laws and investigating accidents on the surface streets of Los Angeles. “I had so much fun over the next ten years. I loved it – the freedom, a great new bike every two years, the smart uniform. I feel I did a lot of good and in three years of working a drunk driving task force I had put over 2700 people in jail – I feel good about that, having seen a lot of suffering and death as a result of drunk-driving.”
For the last five years of his time with the motor cops, Kirk was on a Special Enforcement Unit dealing with commercial trucks (“they caused some really ugly accidents”), assisting S.W.A.T. teams, and escorting V.I.P.’s and dignitaries when they visited Los Angeles. “I met, and sometimes got to talk to, all sorts of dignitaries – The Pope, President Reagan – a wonderful guy, Bush Sr., Prime Minister Mulroney of Canada, Dan Quayle, Prince Andrew and Fergie (I have a picture of her on my bike), and many more… It was an exciting job and we worked closely with the secret service and our own S.W.A.T. teams.”…After promotion to Sergeant in 1991 Kirk moved back to patrol division as a field supervisor. “I had a great bunch of young cops working with me on the late night shift and we were solving a lot of crimes and putting a bunch of ‘bad actors’ in jail!”
By the late eighties, Kirk’s older daughter Tamara was living in the Mendocino area with her husband and the younger Tina was about to attend Sonoma State. “Cindy and I were planning for our retirement and I just wanted a house near an airport where I could have a hangar .We started to look in northern Sonoma and Mendocino County but there was little of interest. It was disappointing. Then around Christmas 1989, our realtor called to say a property was for sale next to the Boonville Airport. We had not looked in that area. We came up and looked at the house here on Airport Road. It was a great location and without knowing anything at all about the community or the Valley we bought it on that first visit! I inquired about work as a deputy up here but ultimately it made more sense to stay in L.A. for the time being.”
In 1991 Kirk was told he had to move to Internal Affairs. He initially did not like the decision but had no choice as apparently his superiors felt he was the right man for the job. “It was just after the Rodney King incident and there were numerous issues facing the department and an officer with my experience was required. I had to wear a suit – I didn’t have one, I’d been in uniform for almost twenty years. There were a few bad apples – in a department of 10,000 there are bound to be. We investigated everything from cops being late for work to accusations of excessive force and even rape and robbery. I was the Assistant Department Advocate and I soon found out that this was a very demanding and stressful job. Nevertheless I realized it was important work, not just in prosecuting the bad guys but also in finding many of those accused to be innocent. It taught me a lot and exposed me to many new aspects of police work – our motto was ‘The Truth of the Matter.’ It was a very interesting tour of duty but the politics in the department became very disappointing. The Chief always had the final say in each case and he overturned many good cases. Having said that I never saw any corruption or fraud and I firmly believe that the L.A.P.D. was one of the few major departments that I would have worked for.
In 1994 Kirk’s in-laws had moved to Cloverdale but on New Year’s Day 1995 Cindy’s mother had a stroke. Cindy decided to move up to be close to her mother and help out where she could. As a result they sold their large house in Chatsworth and Kirk moved into a 21’ trailer inside a hangar at Whiteman Airport in the San Fernando Valley. About eight months later he bought his first plane, a ’47 Bellanca, and could get to Anderson Valley in less than four hours. “Cindy never asked me how much it cost – she was just pleased I could get up here that fast.”
After two-and-a-half years in the Advocates Officer, Internal Affairs, Kirk decided to seek out another position for his Sergeant 2 ranking. He moved to the Devonshire Station in Northridge where he was Assistant Watch Commander, dealing with the roll call, supervision of the police officers, and generally running the station. “I was very busy but I enjoyed it and it was very close to where I was living. I made good friends at the Airport and it wasn’t so bad really. I had everything I wanted in many ways, except Cindy, but I managed to work out my schedule so that I could get up to Anderson Valley for about one week every month… I retired from the Police department on July 4th, 1998 with very mixed feelings. I had been planning for that day for years but it was still tough. I never lost a partner or a subordinate, and I believe that I did a lot of good work and hopefully left the communities in which I worked a little better than when I found them.”
Soon after Kirk’s move to the Valley in 1998 the house next door on Airport Drive became available. They bought it and moved in, renting the first house out. In 1992 they had built a hangar on their first property across the street from the airport. Kirk’s dream house and its all-important location had materialized.
Since moving here Kirk has been involved with several local groups including the A.V. Volunteer Ambulance, the Community Services District Board, the American Legion of which he is Treasurer, and now he is the Manager of the Airport earning the princely sum of $1 a year. The pilots in the Valley are a close-knit group who socialize together frequently – the so-called ‘Airport Crowd’ as locals refer to them. “The airport is in great shape and we pass the inspections by Cal Trans and the F.A.A. with flying colors every year. Everyone is a volunteer and just last week at our annual party open to everyone we gave 155 free plane rides up and down the Valley… I’m not sure if people realize how important the airport is to our rural community. The Ambulance helicopter service uses it often to get people over the hill to Ukiah in emergencies and during last year’s wild fires it was a main fire attack base. It would be a vital resource in the event of an earthquake and is an integral part of the County’s Disaster Plan. Because we maintain it so well a C130 Hercules could land on our runway and evacuate 100 people at a time. We are all getting on though and new younger members would be great. Given our location alongside the High School, it’s too bad that the school no longer provides pilot training for its students – several graduates of that program are currently airline pilots.”
“The airport is what brought me here but since moving we have made some of the best friendships of our lives. We love the people here with the variety of different backgrounds and stories. Living in such a small community results in a large percentage being involved in community affairs. The weather is great, the scenery spectacular… I do think the marijuana production is way out of control – there is an absurd amount around. The commercial growers with their armed gangs and those producing methamphetamines appear to thrive as a result of ineffective prosecution of existing laws. I think the arrival of new Deputy Craig Walker is a great move but we may lose him in the budget cuts. I hope not. I would rather see the supervisors take a pay cut before getting rid of a much needed resident deputy.”
As is the norm in these interviews, I asked my guest for his brief opinions on various ‘hot button’ Valley issues…The Wineries? – “Apples and sheep no longer work. The winery economy does. I have no problem with them and believe that change is not always bad.”…The School System? – “I am on the periphery in that I judge senior projects and, with the Legion Board, decide on scholarships for graduates but other than that I’m not involved. I do feel that the ‘white flight’ amongst the student body is not good for the school’s future.”… The A.V.A. Newspaper? – “When I arrived in 1990 I thought it was pretty vile. They wrote about ‘this cop building an industrial complex at the airport’ etc. Hey, I built a hangar. They never even spoke to me. It seemed as if there was a lot of hurtful stuff written about local folks and several residents told me they were disgusted with the paper. Time has passed and things have improved. I interact with the paper’s Mark Scaramella at C.S.D. meetings. David Severn toned the vitriol down and upon his return to the Valley Bruce Anderson has been much more positive. Suffice it to say we now subscribe.”…
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Kirk 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? – “Difficult…How about ‘Clear prop’ – it means I am about to start the engine so get out of the way! Time to go fly!”

What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “ ‘I can’t’ is something I don’t like to hear.”

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Solo flying; twisting an airplane and doing stuff I can’t do with Cindy on board…My woodworking is also very important to me.”

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “People who continually complain about things they perceive as wrong but make no effort to change it.”

What sound or noise do you love? – “The sound of airplane engines – big round engines.”

What sound or noise do you hate? – “Unnecessary harsh noises – boom boxes, loud exhausts, dogs barking late at night.”

What is your favorite curse word? – “I rarely curse. I guess ‘oh, shit’ would be the one I do use.”

Is there a film/song/book that has greatly influenced you in some way? – “A film that stuck with me is called ‘Pay it Forward’ – about doing something for people first, not just a repayment…I love history books and many have been memorable – Truman’s biography, Lindbergh’s biography, ‘1776’ by David McCullough, ‘Crossing the Delaware’ by Louise Peacock…

What is your favorite hobby? – “Well, as flying is a disease, I would say my hobbies are my woodworking and reading – particularly military history.”

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “A commercial pilot or military fighter pilot.”

What profession would you not like to do? – “Elephant cage cleaner… Any pencil pushing job trapped in an office.”

What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “Meeting my wife.”

What was the saddest? – “The passing of my father on November 7th, 2001 at the age of 81. We were close and did so much together over the years, including lots of flying of course. We had many wonderful times – fishing, hunting, camping… My mother is 87 and going strong. I love her dearly and we speak a few times every week. She is in Sedona, Arizona. I can get there in my ’59 Bellanca in 5½ hours.”

What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically/mentally/spiritually? – “That I enjoy meeting people and am comfortable in social situations…I am also good at processing information effectively and hopefully then making the right decision.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “I’d like him to say, ‘Kirk – I forgive you for all your screw-ups because in the end you left the world a little better than when you found it.’ So I guess I hope to have made a positive difference.”

Published in: on August 19, 2009 at 5:42 pm  Comments (1)  

Don Shanley – July 31st, 2009

101_0006I met with Don Shanley – known as ‘Shanley’ to his friends – a couple of Saturdays ago at his house just south of Navarro. After a quick tour of the garden we sat down to talk in his spacious office from where he runs his business, ProSeed, specializing in landscape and erosion control.
Don was born, the youngest of three boys, in 1944 in San Francisco, moving as an infant to what is now the last “fixer-upper” in Ross on Shanley Lane in Marin County. His father was an Irish immigrant from New York City and his mother from a long-time San Francisco family who had settled there in 1844, before the Gold Rush, when it was still called Yerba Buena and there were cows grazing on what is now Haight Street. When he was seven years old Don’s parents split up and a few years later his mother married Bud and the family moved to Chicago. “Bud was really my father in the sense that he was the male influence in my life – and what an influence he was. He was a Yale graduate (1923) and lived in  Chicago where I was to attend junior high and high school. He kicked me in the ass and pushed me to be a better student. It was a big change for me, a much more formal existence – I had to leave my buddies and our B.B. guns and fishing in flip-flops and t-shirts to wearing a tie at dinner and serious study, although he also encouraged my swimming… Bud was excellent influence on us, a very cool guy. He even installed a bullet trap in the basement so I could continue to shoot – that made me cool with the other kids. Bud was very sarcastic and had a well-defined sense of irony. He was an old school gentleman, well educated but not a snob.  His college roommate at Yale lived next to us in Marin and he’d come and visit his buddy and met my mother that way… Looking back if he had not come into my life I would probably have ended up as a surfer with a broken surfboard living under a bridge on Stinson Beach!”
Don attended New Trier High School which he enjoyed overall “thanks to the great teachers who went out of their way to encourage creativity.” He was an average student but a very good swimmer at a school known for its swimming program. He was not very social and when not studying or swimming he preferred to write poetry. This came about after reading Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ which came out in 1956 and caused quite a controversy. He graduated in 1962 and decided he wanted to see if his adequate academic achievements and swimming talents could stand up to the high standards at Stanford in Palo Alto. “I found out quite soon that I was out of my league. The swimming and study regimen that I maintained kept me focused but perhaps, with hindsight, it made college less fun than it might have been.” With a degree in history Don graduated in 1966 at a time when the Vietnam War was heating up. “The country was undergoing a very unsettling time. I had history professors in 1963 who lectured that JFK was on the right track establishing the Special Forces to fight insurgencies.  I was reading Hemmingway and wanted to experience the “social calamity” of my times.  I had a romantic view of war at that time.”
Don entered U.C. Berkeley Graduate School in the fall of 1966 to do his M.B.A. He finished his quarterly exams and soon after, with the draft taking 45,000 soldiers every month, his status went from 2S to 1A and he realized that he’d be signed up as a private in the army in thirty days time if he didn’t enlist to be an officer. He applied for the navy but was told there was a wait so “in the only truly existential act of my life” he crossed the hallway and applied for the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School where they signed him up immediately. “My brothers were both in the service and in my naivety I wanted to ‘see the war.’ After my training in Virginia I came out as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Marines and was given command of a Rifle Platoon.” Soon thereafter Don was on the front lines in Vietnam. It was December 1967, the month before the Tet Offensive of 1968. “What followed was not one of the best years of my life.”…
“I have many inconsistent views and thoughts about the war and don’t want to go into too much detail here. Another time perhaps. I do know that I had really terrific men and we were professionals. We were in the bush for eight months, running patrols and ambushes. We were between Laos and Khe Sanh, on Hill 861 Alpha, during the seventy-five day siege of Khe Sanh – we were on a small promontory surrounded by the 325th Infantry Division of the North Vietnamese Army, rumored to be 20,000 strong. They were very tough professional soldiers – they had walked from Hanoi. We had 42 men, backed up by another 120 or so a little way behind us. We were nowhere near to any villages and you knew that whomever you saw was the enemy. It was never a case of having to work out who were soldiers and who were the villagers. I never did see any Vietcong during my tour. We were overrun on February 5th, 1968 but Khe Sanh held and ultimately the siege was lifted.”
“There was such a difference between being in the bush and the rear. There were fifteen men in the rear for every one in the bush with his rifle, a little ammo, and a few grenades and two canteens. We were poorly supplied – little water, ammo running out, and insufficient medical supplies. When men returned to the rear after a fifteen-day patrol, filthy and stinking, they would steal whatever they thought they would need. If some Army Major said on a Tuesday that there was no milk available until Thursday these guys would tell the major to get out of the way and just take the milk. We were not to be messed with and seeing the guys in the rear, well fed and with cold beers, did not make us happy. I am not whining – it was our job; we would do our very best. I only became pissed off years later”…
“People talk about the drug use amongst the soldiers. I never saw any at all in the bush. We just wanted new boots every three months and spent the time concentrating on covering each other. I lost most of my men, killed, wounded, or transferred in the thirteen months I was there. I am in touch with a few of them but the only reunion I attended was for my class of 2nd Lieutenants – we had suffered the highest casualty rate in the Marines Corps history – my class arrived just before Tet 1968 and was involved in some of the most intense fighting of the war. I was very lucky to only suffer a minor wound…I was not a career military guy and wanted out even though they tried to keep you in. For a time after my thirteen months ‘In-Country’ I had a good gig in the Mediterranean dealing with paper work and payroll but started to upset people with my stance with the Vietnam Vets against the War. This speeded up my eventual departure out of the service in March 1970. When Nixon invaded Cambodia — it was “what the hell are we doing that for?’ It put me over the edge and I started to question it all.”
“I just wanted to get as many of my men home as possible. I was twenty-two with a lot of responsibility. Most of my men were under twenty. When I got out I did not want to be some sort of ‘poster marine’ attacking ‘the system’, but after Khe Sanh I had become disillusioned. We had been trained to go up the hill, down the hill, through the hill. Here we were, being bombarded in rain-filled foxholes all day and under infantry attack at night. We were rarely on the offensive. It was all very mixed-up in my mind.”
“I have seen the Vietnam films and most have some redeeming qualities but ‘Apocalypse Now’ is the best. Although the film is full of hyperbole, the soldiers’ dialogue written by Michael Herr is very realistic; to me as a grunt he captured the vernacular very well indeed. ‘Platoon’ isn’t bad, and some aspects of ‘The Deer Hunter’ are good too…The war doesn’t go away from you but it can be put aside and you have to move on. I am incredibly privileged that I am alive and that my brain functions – even on my worst days it’s good to know no one is shooting at me.”
After leaving the military, Don settled in Stewart’s Point on the west Sonoma County coast where he spent “a very reflective and meditative year, smoking a lot of dope.” He worked for a time in a lumber mill pulling green chain, dove for abalone, grew a garden, and was even a lifeguard for the Sea Ranch clubhouse. He also hitchhiked across the country three times in that year. He found more steady work as the gardener at the Little River Inn where he stayed for five years. “My Mother, who will be 99 in November, said at that time, ‘Donald – four years in college, half a year at Graduate School, three years in the Marines – and you’re still mowing lawns’.“ During this time Don became the County’s first organic certified gardener in 1972 and sold his produce to various restaurants etc. He also worked as a prep cook at the Café Beaujolais in Mendocino…
He and partner Susan Waterfall really got into the back-to-the-land movement and had bought four acres in 1971 on Albion Ridge. “We nearly bought what became the Handley Cellars property in Anderson Valley. I had been in the Valley as a child when my family would stay at Rays Resort in Philo – I actually learned to swim in the Navarro River in 1948! Anyway, Susan was a classical pianist, amongst many other things, and thought she would get more piano students on the coast, so we bought there instead. I worked as a garden designer/landscape contractor for ten years but could never get anyone to do the hydroseeding on my landscape garden jobs. As a result, many years later, in 1983, I eventually founded ProSeed specializing in restoration, erosion control and hydroseeding… Susan and I split up in the mid-seventies and I moved to Westport for four years and also lived on Greenwood Ridge but kept working in the same field. During these years I was writing and giving public poetry readings—my favorite one was at the Club Fort Bragg in 1978 that was critically acclaimed and could be said to be an important part of my local past…  By 1980 I had become caretaker for Kris Kristofferson’s ranch in Elk – I still am. My ‘hermit’ period came to an end.  That was a great place to live. “
Don had thought he’d never get married – ‘I’d spent many years in the seventies in very volatile relationships and traveling a lot. There was lots of drama and risk taking. I’d take risks for fun and that is not really the way to go. I was living quite a reckless life, involved in the film business, and traveling all over the world.” In the mid-eighties, having known Laura Quatrochi for a few years but only by phone in a business context – she is a botanist who grew and sold wildflower seeds for oldest American seed producer in Lompoc in southern California – they finally met and fell in love. They were married in 1991. “We lived on the Kristofferson Ranch before buying this property in the Valley in 1989.  We worked on the roads, the pond, clearing the brush, and planting trees before moving here almost full-time in 1992…. Laura puts up with me. She is brilliant and has enormous energy – we both do. We didn’t have kids – never had the time it seemed. Our two cats died and we never replaced them because we love the birds and lizards around our home – I swear the lizards know me. We’d love to get a dog but travel too much at this point so it would not be fair to the dog.”
Don’s company, ProSeed, continues to be a success. If you see guys working on repairing/restoring the land following any highway, bridge, creek, pond, etc work in these parts (and ten other counties!) then it is very likely Don and his crew. “We bid for work from the State, the Feds, and private land owners and I love the scale of our jobs. It’s exhilarating to see fifty acres recovering from some construction project, covered in native grasses, lupines, willows, poplars. I’d do it until I was ninety if I could and I still learn something virtually every day. My crewmembers are union workers and earn good money. I love the camaraderie we have. I am on every job and we bust our ass and do a good job. The guys get it – we are professionals and that’s very important to me. I suppose I do get a little ‘marine corps’ on them sometimes but they understand me and hopefully my enthusiasm rubs off on them. It has been very satisfying to see all the hard work pay off, for both myself and for Laura in her business too.”(Wildflowers International, Inc./
Don continues to shoot skeet with friends, dive for abalone, and occasionally ‘harvest deer’ – “it’s not really hunting around here… I also love the air here and as a runner that’s important. I love the mix of cultures we have and there is a good community here to be a part if you want that, but if you wish to live a more secluded lifestyle then nobody will bother you either. There is little to dislike here although the traffic has increased greatly and the gossip is a little too much occasionally but it’s sort of funny I must say. I sometimes think there is an attitude held by some people here that it is not ‘right’ or politically correct for businesses to do well – just a thought.”
I asked Shanley (I think I can call him that after being at his home for a few hours!?) for his responses to various hot-button issues that Valley people frequently discuss…The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I have always been a supporter and was very disappointed when Bruce left for that period a few years ago. Sometimes what is written is not necessarily true although I seem to be on Bruce’s side of any topic 99% of the time. He did pick on some people unmercifully but again I agreed with most of what he wrote. The paper is a terrific service to the Valley and I love the Valley People and Turkey Vulture local pages. When I think of what is sometimes written I agree with Walt Whitman who said it was ‘the duty of writers (poets) to cheer up the slaves and horrify the despots.’ “…The wineries? – “Well, I’ve always liked a good Pinot Noir…No, seriously, the big issue is the water – it is not just a cliché, it is a serious issue. I was an avid steelhead fisherman and while it’s not all the wineries’ fault, they have been getting their water from somewhere and the fish have gone. They must pay greater attention to where their vines go. I drink wine and we have some wonderful wines in the Valley. Their being here has driven up the price of housing and their tasting room employees cannot afford to buy homes in the area, not to mention the families who work in the fields. Teachers can’t either. However I’d rather see one more winery than another Holmes Ranch with seventy or whatever parcels of twenty acres each with the all the roads this would require for retired dentists to get around. Sheep and apples are great but are no longer viable. I guess I’m a mixed bag of opinions on this.”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “I really don’t listen; may be once in a while. It is sort of a pesky fly on my ear. Shouldn’t there be some sort of workshop for the presenters to learn how to present a show and work the equipment? It does remind me of the radio club in school.”…
Knowing that he had pretty much traveled the world apart from sub-Sahara Africa, I asked Shanley if he thought he might live somewhere else in the future. “When I’m really old, stumbling around, maybe I’d move to San Francisco. I also love the Mediterranean countries and Buenos Aires in Argentina would be a good place for the final days if I were terminally ill. However, if I was in good health then Anderson Valley would be great.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Shanley, 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? – “That’s tough for someone who likes to play with words. I guess I like the word ‘enthusiasm’ and all that it can mean and lead to.”

What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “Racial expletives do not go real well with me.”

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Absolute silence. I do like a couple of days to myself now and again – some quiet time with no agenda.”

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Passive aggressive people – I’m afraid I don’t have any pithy, crackling replies for some of these questions.”

What sound or noise do you love? – “All water noises, particularly really major, scary storms and the rushing of a river…The sounds of the ocean too.”

What sound or noise do you hate? – “Wounded people dying. It is not crying, it is a stammering, guttural sound before they die. And there is no worse smell on earth than that of rotting human flesh… On a vastly lesser level, more nauseating than hated, it would be boom boxes or a malfunctioning piece of equipment on day one of a big job.”

What is your favorite curse word? – “I have really tried to cut back on this, I used to say the ‘f’ word a lot but it’s probably ‘oh shit’ more these days.”

Is there a film/song/book that has greatly influenced you in some way? – “I love Bach; early Dylan affected me as did the ballads of John Coltrane – they have always been really good for my brain; the lyrics and voice of Leonard Cohen; the country/folk music of John Prine and Kris Kristofferson… ‘Birth of a Nation’ is a film I always remember and Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s ‘Apu Trilogy’ of movies – full of amazing artistic moments; ‘Apocalypse Now’ of course…As for a book, any poetry by William Carlos Williams has stayed with me, as have the writings of poet Gary Snyder”…

What is your favorite hobby? – “I love to run, to shoot, to dive and snorkel, and to read, in no particular order.”

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “An arbitrageur – in economics and finance, it is someone who takes advantage of a price differential between two or more markets: striking a combination of matching deals that capitalize upon this imbalance, and realizing the profit from the difference between the market prices…Or maybe just a fishing guide in Idaho!”

What profession would you not like to do? – “A 2nd Lieutenant in Vietnam!… No, err, any kind of job involving me being in a cubicle – I’d end up in the Federal Penitentiary in weeks, it would be torture to me”…

What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “Well, I was extremely happy when I got on a plane and left Vietnam for good. Actually I did return to Khe Sanh a few years ago with the Peace Trees Movement – clearing out unexploded ordinance and planting trees. I planned to go up Hill 861-Alpha, now a coffee plantation, but something told me not to – the irony of being blown up over thirty years after being in combat there was not lost on me and I decided to observe from the base of the hill. The visit was quite something and I am still processing it…On a daily basis waking up and knowing I am with Laura makes me very happy indeed.”

What was the saddest? – “I have rarely been sad exactly but I have had lengthy periods of depression and melancholy…I was not sad at losing men in the war, rather it was very hurtful. Losing my Grandfather (he was 104) was also hurtful…I would be sad if Laura was not here.”

What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically/mentally/spiritually? – “My enthusiasm.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Shanley – are you kidding?”

Don was in some ways reticent to talk in great detail about his Vietnam experience but since our meeting I discovered this insight. The editor of ‘Red Clay’, the magazine of the Khe Sanh Veterans Association has written, “I was privileged to have fought alongside Don Shanley when our position on Hill 861A was attacked by a large NVA force on 5 Feb 1968. His heroic actions are the sole reason that so many of us were able to return home to our families. For that, and for his work in Vietnam with Peace Trees, I want to say “Thanks.’

Published in: on August 12, 2009 at 5:01 pm  Comments (13)  

Kevin Burke – July 24th, 2009

101_0005I met with Kevin Burke at his home on Ruddock Road, south of Philo. As any self-respecting Englishman might be expected to do, he made a huge pot of tea and we sat down to chat. Kevin’s chuckled as he said, “Actually, you could sum this whole thing up by saying ‘Kevin’s life can be best described as ‘an endless cup of tea’.”

He was born in north London in 1942, the oldest of three boys born to Edmund Burke and Rose Wright. Edmund was an Irish itinerant worker who had come over from County Armagh to Liverpool before World War 2 began, moving down to London in the early forties. Rose was the oldest of nine and when her mother died and her father went ‘off the rails’ she basically raised her siblings.

“My Dad was a handsome guy with the ‘gift of the gab’ and he swept my Mum off her feet. They were married in 1941 and I came along the next year, then brothers Peter and Michael, all three years apart. My Dad was a telephone engineer and was needed on the home front to help with communications and therefore did not go to the battlefields. Once the Germans began to bomb London – The Blitz – most of southern England was evacuated from the cities and we moved to southeast England, to the county of Kent where we bought a house near to an airport where planes were returning day and night from their bombing missions over Europe.”

Following the War, the family moved to Chingford on the outskirts of London. “It was at the end of the urban area and the beginning of the green belt. I loved it even though life in England was not easy after the war with the rationing of many foods and products lasting until 1954. At eleven years old I passed my exams to get into a good grammar school – St. George’s in Walthamstow – and went there for a couple of years before going to a boarding school – Bishop Challenor in Finchley, London. I suppose I did get used to it eventually but I didn’t dig it at all, being away from family for weeks on end. I began to get a little wild at that point. Apart from art class I was not a good student and was hopeless in many ways, and quite unhappy for a time.”

Kevin returned to St. George’s at fifteen but soon thereafter he started to earn a little pocket money by helping a neighborhood friend of his father who was a commercial artist. “He would bring some work home and I helped do some basic things for him. I earned about ten shillings ($2) a week and thought it was great.” It wasn’t long after that the company announced they needed an apprentice so Kevin applied for and got the job. Kevin’s parents, who were having financial difficulties, did not mind – part of the money, out of six pounds ($12) a week, helped with their bills and the rest allowed Kevin to buy things for himself  – sports coats and other “nice threads” were his first purchases.

A couple of years later Kevin realized that commercial art was not the career for him. “I had learnt a lot and hung out with a real bunch of wags with their sports cars and lovely blonde girlfriends but I didn’t really like the work in that field of art so I left. I got various jobs over the next few years and I always had a little money but realized I wanted more and wanted to do real art…I was hanging out with people my parents ‘did not approve of,’ shall we say, and getting into all sorts of mischief. I was the youngest of the group, some of who were ‘teddy boys’ – the gangs of the day. They did a bit of fighting but I hated that. They called me ‘The Professor’ because I had been to a good school and did not work in a gloomy factory like the rest…The fifties were not easy in England. I was always astonished to watch television programs from America showing homes with huge fridges and cars, and lovely gardens and lawns. The U.S. was on the rise as England declined. Nevertheless, I saved my money and soon had two cars and lots of sports coats, but that was definitely not the norm.”

In 1960, at the age of eighteen he went full-time to Walthamstow School of Art to study graphic design and found himself “miles ahead” of the other students because of his earlier experiences. After a time he decided that he wanted to make another change – to life painting where students would draw or paint naked models. “This was real art, much better than designing book jackets!”

Kevin introduction to the London art scene came at a very exciting time. There were many dramatic cultural changes in the ‘swinging sixties’ of London and beyond. Many of the students were on the cutting edge of a whole new movement – the very hip ‘pop art’ scene. “The school was famous for its fashion department and my art tutors were amongst the big name modern artists of the time. We were just young men new on the scene and here we were with naked women to paint and the hippest tutors imaginable. I had found my niche in the art world and I grew up fast. It was all happening together – big changes in film, fashion, music, art, etc – the most dramatic cultural changes in decades. I was ready for it and took it all in.”

Kevin graduated from art school in 1965 and went back to his high school to teach art. Then in 1967 a friend from college, Laurie Lawrence, sent Kevin a postcard from Los Angeles where he was studying for a year at U.C.L.A. It simply said, ‘Kev, You’ve gotta come here – this is cool.’ “It was raining in London and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Eventually I made my mind up and set off. I went to Gibraltar near southern Spain where I caught a boat to New York. On the boat over I smoked a lot of hashish with two Canadians. I had not smoked much pot to that point, students in England were beer drinkers not pot smokers, but these two were fiends for it. We were stoned listening to Miles Davis for the whole trip. It was a very rough crossing – but we didn’t get ill like most other passengers. We ate huge breakfasts and had a great time – proof perhaps that marijuana prevents nausea! As we entered New York harbor many people were throwing their hashish bought in Europe overboard before they got searched – it was a strange sight.”

Kevin stayed in New York for a few days on 5th Street and Avenue C. “The heat and humidity was incredible and my first impressions of Americans was how big they were when I saw a massive guy with a big fat cigar. People in England were thin in those days but Americans were clearly well fed…I stayed around long enough to realize that this city was just as busy at night as during the day and also to get mugged in Washington Square before I signed a drive-away car deal in which I would deliver a car to Los Angeles and get paid some of the gas money for doing so. I was in America – ‘what a trip’ I thought.”

Kevin reached Los Angeles in less than a week and moved in with his friend in Santa Monica. He had a great time just hanging out and then one day another friend called to say his friend, actress Julie Christie, was in town with Gabrielle Crawford (English actor, Michael Crawford’s wife) and they were at a bit of a loose end. “Julie was dating Warren Beatty at the time but he was away filming and so we called and picked them up in our rented Mustang. I was a teacher, artist, and general lay-about; she was an Oscar winning actress (for ‘Darling’ in 1965) and yet we really got on well together. In fact the four of us hit it off – four Brits in L.A. – and had a blast over the next few weeks… I had some income from my job as a projectionist at the Cinemateque 16 Cinema (16 mm movies only) just off Sunset Boulevard, doing just enough to support my leisure time with these two English women on the loose. Warren was fine about it – happy that Julie had found some friends she could relate to as she never really liked the Hollywood scene.”

However, by the end of the summer, even though in many ways Kevin wanted to stay, he felt he had to return to his girlfriend in London, plus he did not wish to outstay his visa limit. He returned to teaching in London and doing a little of his art on the side. He had always been a ‘one girlfriend at a time’ guy and he was glad he came back but it was not the same and they soon split up. “My painting was enjoyable but not moving along very quickly. I have never been an artist who works behind a closed door, eating beans, painting all-day, sleeping, talking to nobody. I was confused about a lot of things and having experienced the L.A. lifestyle I did not know where I wanted to be. I was also smoking far too much dope.”

He decided to stay and over the next few years at the end of the decade and the early seventies, during which time he felt he was too young to be a beatnik and too old to be a hippy, he hung out in London. “I lived what might be called a full life but looking back it was a waste of time in terms of any career advancement I may have pursued. I did date Julie Christie for a year or so, and I did enjoy many aspects of the very hip scene. I did some freelance artwork and with friends set up a company that designed and built clothes’ boutiques – very popular at that time. We called ourselves The Crazy Kats and our motto was ‘Cheap in Quality not in Price’. People loved our work and we did well for a time.”

“I did return to L.A. for a year and managed the Cinemateque 16 Cinema and taught ‘life painting’ at U.S.C. but I returned to London in 1972 when my mother died – the second saddest day of my life. I have a very philosophical view of most aspect of life, thank god, and dealt with this quite well but when I suffered a collapsed lung soon after and nearly died it was a wake-up call. I had no money, had few prospects, and was somewhat despondent. I got a job at the City University as a lab technician in the civil engineering department and ended up being there for nine years! I moved from the labs to the environmental department, to various art projects, to finally the photography department.”

During this time Lauren Elder, whom Kevin had known in Los Angeles, showed up. She was on a book-signing tour after writing an account, ‘I Alone Survived’, of her amazing story of survival following a plane crash that killed the other two passengers in the Sierras. They began dating and eventually she persuaded Kevin to move to her home in Oakland, CA, leaving London for the final time even though he had bought a flat not long before. “She did not like England very much. She did not understand many of the British ways and the weather didn’t help. Then Margaret Thatcher won the election in 1979 and I decided it might be good for me to leave too. I sold my London house, left England, and we were married by a Hindu Guru in Berkeley in 1980.”

Kevin got a job working for C.B.S. News arranging for the shipping of logistical support and supplies to the network news program wherever they may be on location. He was there until 1986 during which time he visited Anderson Valley on a few occasions to visit Lauren’s friends, Steve and Barbara Derwinski. After leaving C.B.S. Kevin helped his wife in her graphic art business but also worked on various committees in trying to get Oakland council to set aside old industrial buildings for art/work space. With a business partner he had picked out a huge space and the money and plans were in place. All that remained to do were the seismic tests. Then in October 1989, when Kevin was visiting Anderson Valley, he heard of the earthquake that caused so much damage in the East Bay. His knew immediately that the project was over. He never returned to see the building.

Not long after this he and Lauren split up. He knew a handful of people on the Valley’s music scene, such as Charlie Hochberg, Bryan Woods, Diane and Ellen Hering, with whom he had played banjo in many enjoyable jam sessions together. He decided to move up here and, after making a financial settlement with Lauren, he bought an acre of land on Ruddock Road where he lives to this day. “I thought it was not so bad here even though I had always been a city person. The locals had accepted me and my banjo, I could not buy much in the Bay Area with what I had left, Lemon’s sold my favorite cigarettes which were not easy to get, the public radio station was in its infancy and I liked that, so I thought I’d give it a go. I moved lock, stock, and barrel up here in my ’75 Buick Station Wagon – ‘the biggest car I have ever seen’ according to Bruce Hering.”

“It was tough for a time but I’ve been here for eighteen years now – longer than I’ve lived anywhere. I have also always done various small construction jobs over the years, including the old A.V.A. compound building on A.V. Way. I believe in doing just enough work to pay for what you need to do – I’m not work-shy but there is so much else to do in life. I had a jazz program on the public radio station and filled in for others at times, and have been involved in the Valley’s music scene to varying degrees over the years – off and on at Lauren’s on Thursday nights, then in The Big Band, and currently I also play out on the coast in the Dixieland Band. The sax is my favorite instrument; the banjo I like too, but the drums has become my instrument for most of my time here. Yes, I’m another underappreciated drummer!”

“I feel very settled here but I would never say I will not move anywhere else. I shall see what happens. The thought of ‘finishing’ here is not good, but then neither is the possibility of moving back to England – that could be a night-mare…I have always thought of myself as being in control of my destiny but in many ways you are just a leaf in the wind… Meanwhile, I love hanging out here at home, drinking tea and reading, a little bit of music, a bit of art, some gardening. Not a lot of socializing these days, and little drinking, although I used to be a real piss-artist – you know, the kind who drives, throws up out of the window, and continues to drive – no more…I’m free to do what I please here. It’s a beautiful place and I feel part of this wonderful community. I do like people but I’ve also always enjoyed my own company and can do that here.”

‘I do miss the wide range of culture that I had in the cities – London, Los Angeles, the Bay Area. I had been a big city person all my life and I miss some of the banter I had with people in those places, talking about all kinds of issues well into the early hours. It’s a choice I have made and conversely I couldn’t have much of what I have here if I lived in a City.”

I asked Kevin for his brief responses to some of the issues confronting Valley dwellers… The wineries? – Things change – they are here, it’s a fact of life. It is important that they chip into the community and if they take too many liberties with the resources here then we have to stop them”… KZYX & Z public radio? – “It’s cool. I want it to survive. I wake up and listen to Democracy Now as I have a cup of tea. We must try to keep it going”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I like it. Bruce writes from the heart it would seem and in the past sometimes perhaps he thought why let the truth get in the way of a good story – at least that has been the knock on the paper. I think the paper is essential for the community to keep in touch with each other – just the act of reading it puts you in the community”… The modernization of the Valley? – “I do not like that some people move here and try to turn it into Marin with their big gates and swimming pools etc. I appreciate that some of the small businesses need the tourists but they have therefore got expensive and I cannot support them. They need to think about that perhaps.”…

To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Kevin, 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? – “Yes”

What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “I don’t like to hear people finish their sentence with ‘and stuff’. What is this ‘stuff’ they talk of?… I also find it equally irritating when people say ‘a whole bunch’ – it’s like they cannot think of what they want to say.”

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Art – there is such a thing. Real art… I also like thinking; being able to ‘think’ stimulates me.”

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – ‘Tedious, boring people who should know better.”

What sound or noise do you love? – “Melody…And the sounds of the outside – rural and urban – crickets, rain, and the sounds of Camden High Street in London – equally as valid.”

What sound or noise do you hate? – “People arguing – I walk away from that…And yet I do like an argument myself, or rather a critical discussion.”

What is your favorite curse word? – “I say the f-word far too often.”

Is there a film/song/book that has greatly influenced you in some way? – “This week? – There are too many of each…Err, how about ’The Teachings of Don Juan’ by Carlos Castaneda – it made a big impression on me.”

What is your favorite hobby? – “I’ve never really had hobbies – my interests have always been paid for so they’re not really hobbies…

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “An architect perhaps, or may be a psychiatrist – I am a good listener.”

What profession would you not like to do? – “It would be something that did not require any creativity.”

What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “Can’t think of one thing, although getting accepted into Art School made me very happy indeed.”

What was the saddest? – “The death of my father in 2006 at 83 years old. We had got close in later years and he had come out here in 2004. We had a real bonding experience and I learnt that he had been a drummer in an Irish folk band, traveling by horse and cart to his gigs – yes, a drummer!… The loss of my second parent was tough – I felt completely adrift for a while; it was a very strange feeling.”

What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically/mentally/spiritually? – “I could not do without my sense of humor. I also like that I am able to get introspective at times.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Well that would be ‘Wait here a minute – I’m going to have to put this to the other guys.’ Yes, I’d like think it was not a foregone conclusion – make him think about it a little.”

Published in: on August 6, 2009 at 5:53 pm  Comments (1)