All posts by garymessinger

THE CAL CAMPUS I KNEW

 

UC Berkeley campus with bell tower (Campanile)
UC Berkeley campus with bell tower (Campanile)

Growing up in Berkeley, California, meant that I was exposed to higher education even before I entered college in 1961. The experience was in some ways like being a college student, but also had some interesting twists.

The thing for which Berkeley was best known was its status as the home of the flagship campus of the University of California. I don’t recall when I learned the word “campus” or first saw one. My earliest exposure to all the elements of a campus occurred around age 8 – which would have been in the year 1951 — when I was living at my grandparents’ house in the Berkeley Hills. My boyhood friend Walter Alvarez, who was around 11 at the time, asked me if I would like to “see where my dad works.” I said “sure, why not,” got permission from my parents, and rode with Walter and his father, Luis Alvarez, through a park-like area that was, I was told, “the Cal campus.”

Cyclotron at UC Berkeley
Cyclotron at UC Berkeley

Then we made our way up a winding road, through a guard’s gates, to the Radiation Laboratory that sat on the top of the hill behind the U.C. Berkeley campus. We toured several buildings. At the Cyclotron, the atom-smasher that was Walter’s father’s workplace, I watched metal fly across the room, attracted by the Cyclotron’s powerful magnetism. In a long, low, shabby, wooden building nearby, Walter and his father showed me a slender, metal structure that extended the length of the interior. It looked like a lumpy metal snake, or like an automobile crankcase. Walter’s father kicked it. “I built this,” he said matter of factly. I was unimpressed and wondered why Walter’s father wasn’t working on anything more exciting. Years later, I learned that I had been standing next to one of the world’s first prototypes of a linear accelerator, one of the inventions that later earned Walter’s father a Nobel Prize.

UC Berkeley Faculty Glade, 1900 (Credit: Library of Congress)
UC Berkeley Faculty Glade, 1900 (Credit: Library of Congress)

I also had ties to the Cal campus through a friend, Randy Mosher, who was the son of one of the librarians at Cal. I knew Randy from the seventh grade onwards, when we met each other in junior high school homeroom and played on junior high volleyball and basketball teams. Randy was a dutiful student. He also liked mischief. In summer we often went to the Cal employees’ pool together. As the son of a UC staff member, Randy could use his entry card. I used the card for his brother, Al, who was five years old. The lifeguard always snickered and said, “ok, AL, you can go on in.”

The Cal campus was the place where I saw my first college football game, around age seven. Parents of neighboring children gave me a ride to Memorial Stadium in Strawberry Canyon. The guards let us in for free. I learned what a college marching band was. I tried to figure out how the cheering section did their card stunts. After the game, under the stadium seats, midst the web of steel girders, I stood in the crowd as the Cal coach, Pappy Waldorf, came out of the locker room to give the fans his comments on the game and the week’s performance of Cal’s star running back, Johnny Olzewski.

UC Berkeley Memorial Stadium (Credit: Roger 469)
UC Berkeley Memorial Stadium (Credit: Roger 469)

Then, as the sun started to go down, and the fog made its way up from the Bay into the hills, my friends and I did one of the things boys have always done, marching alongside the band as it made its way down the hill, back to its quarters. By the time I was twelve years old, this Saturday routine was a ritual. My friends and I capped off the day with a game of touch football at nearby Live Oak Park. It was our way of making the excitement last as long as possible.In junior high school, I got a job selling souvenir programs at the football games. Each program sold for fifty cents and you got to keep a nickel of that for yourself.

The Cal Marching Band (Credit: Broken Sphere)
The Cal Marching Band (Credit: Broken Sphere)

The second season of my work happened to be the year the Cal football team, with its All-American Joe Kapp at quarterback, won the Pacific Coast Conference championship and was invited to play in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. My friend Steve and I were two of the top sales boys. We were invited by the management to go to Pasadena to sell football programs and receive free tickets to the game. Steve and I took the Southern Pacific train to Los Angeles and stayed with friends of his parents. We rode an old Los Angeles trolley to Pasadena and sold programs outside the stadium. Then, on the steps inside, we watched as Cal struggled unsuccessfully to defeat Wisconsin.

Hearst Greek Theater, graduation ceremony for one of the UC schools (Credit: Audris)
Hearst Greek Theater, graduation ceremony for one of the UC schools (Credit: Audris)

By the time I reached high school, the Cal campus was also an educational force in my life. Our science classes made day trips to the Cyclotron and the newer Bevatron, which had been invented by Edward Teller, a Nobel Prize winning physicist who was the father of my classmate, Paul. For high school Latin class, our teacher assigned us to spend a Saturday roaming the campus identifying at least 50 copies of elements from ancient Greek and Roman architecture. My friend Steve and I catalogued Doric and Ionic columns, pediments, porticoes, keystones of arches, and all manner of Classical construction. On another day trip, led by my English teacher, I walked with my fellow students up the street to the University’s huge research library. Our class was studying Huckleberry Finn at the time. We walked down a long hallway, our footsteps echoing off the marble walls, and entered a room where approximately ten adults were seated around a large wooden table covered with old pieces of paper. These happened to be the original manuscript of Mark Twain’s novel. A bibliographer invited each of us to hold the sheets in our hands.

When we were Seniors at Berkeley High, in 1960, Steve and I got jobs working in the press box at Memorial Stadium during the Cal football season. We had the majestic responsibility of distributing the brown paper bag lunches to the reporters. The jobs paid almost nothing, and we only worked on the Saturdays when Cal played at home. But the money was secondary. We coveted the chance to be at the center of things – to see the game from the highest spot in the stadium, to hear the cheers and the bands, to peek into the booths where the radio and TV announcers described each play in machine-gun voices, and to see the rows of manual typewriters where the sports writers for all the local papers and the wire services composed their stories.

As I stood behind each writer, I peeked at his creation and learned. I was surprised to discover that the lead in a story was usually written last and almost always traded on the same popular images regardless of which reporter I observed. So, for example, at the conclusion of the Cal-Army game, I watched as one reporter wrote “Cal was defeated today, after a tough battle, by Army’s heavy artillery.” At the next typewriter I saw “Army used a howitzer (its quarterback) and a tank (its fullback) today to grind down Cal’s under equipped infantry…” and so on.

Telegraph Avenue (Credit: Urban Commons)
Telegraph Avenue (Credit: Urban Commons)

My friends and I also liked to hang out in the business district near the campus, along Telegraph Avenue and College Avenue. Occasionally we went into the bookstores, but that was mostly to skim the pinup magazines. We were more likely to go to the pool halls, where we could smoke cigarettes and have the illicit thrill of winning fifty cents from a Cal student or one of the local bums. We also browsed in the clothing stores, spending very little money but examining row after row of polished cotton slacks and buttoned-down sport shirts in the latest Ivy League style, so we could learn how college men dressed.

To make myself feel even more a part of things, I liked to get my haircuts at a barbershop near the campus, in an old building on Telegraph Avenue that was less than a block away from Sather Gate, the ceremonial entrance to Cal. One afternoon, when I was in the shop, the barber told me I wouldn’t be able to come back. He could see from the look on my face that I felt hurt, and he explained that the situation had nothing to do with me. All the buildings in the block were going to be torn down, he said, to make way for a new university structure, something called a “student union.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
On display at the Cal Student Union, The Axe, awarded for one year to the winner of the Cal-Stanford football game (Credit: Broken Sphere)

I had never heard the term, and I asked what such a building was. “It’s an idea they got from the Midwest,” the barber explained, “and it’s sort of like a big central hangout. There’ll be a beer place, with a crew shell hanging from the ceiling, and a bookstore and a bowling alley and a room with chandeliers for dances.” I asked who was going to pay for everything. “The people over in Sacramento,” he answered. “The legislature is worried that college students are too apathetic. The Governor says the new building will solve the problem. It will pep up the campus social life and give clubs a place to meet, and just kind of increase activity generally speaking.”

At the time I heard those words, I had no way of knowing how ironically accurate they would become. The student union building was constructed; it was ceremoniously opened; it became a very popular gathering place; it stimulated the traditional kinds of activities, like dancing and club meetings; and then, in the early 1960’s, the patio in front of the structure became one of the favorite stage sets for Mario Savio, the Free Speech Movement, and the student revolution. By then, I was away at college, and the relatively quiet Cal campus of my high school years was a memory.

Mario Savio on the steps of the main administration building at Cal (Credit: Mjlovas/Gabbe)
Mario Savio on the steps of the main administration building at Cal (Credit: Mjlovas/Gabbe)

For a long time I assumed that Cal would be the university I would attend. But somewhere along the line I began to think that I might want to go away to college.

I remember the afternoon, shortly after I began high school, that I mentioned this idea to my grandfather Harry, who had always advised me to be sure to get as much schooling as I could. Harry was a retired Navy man, a gunnery officer who had received decorations for bravery in both world wars. His politics were very conservative. He was sitting in his living room and drinking his two daily shots of gin. He asked me why I was considering anyplace other than UC Berkeley. I told him my high school counselor had said it was a wise idea to get away from your family after age 18. Harry slammed his fist on the coffee table and asked “Who put that communist idea in your head?”

I told him that Franklin Roosevelt had gone away to college. That made him angrier. So I told him Dwight Eisenhower had also gone away to college. That stumped my grandfather. All he could say, after a long silence, was “Well, that’s different. He was a military man.”

My parents left it up to me to decide where I wanted to go.

Bowles Hall, Cal, with pre-game football tailgate party (Credit: Broken Sphere)
Bowles Hall, Cal, with pre-game football tailgate party (Credit: Broken Sphere)

During my senior year of high school, I sent admissions applications to UC Berkeley, UC Riverside and Stanford.  In early Spring I received notification that I had been admitted to Stanford with a large scholarship. I said yes immediately, having never set foot on the campus, and began preparing for Autumn Quarter and a new journey.

I go back to the Cal campus from time to time and think about the wonderful experience I might have had there as an undergraduate. During football season, at the annual Cal-Stanford Big Game, I cheer for Stanford, but probably not as loudly as I would if I had not grown up in Berkeley.

Hearst Gymnasium for Women, University of California,designed in 1929 by Julia Morgan and Bernard Maybeck (Credit: SanFranMan)
Hearst Gymnasium for Women, University of California,designed in 1929 by Julia Morgan and Bernard Maybeck (Credit: SanFranMan)

 

 

 

FIRE

 

SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- The La Brea fire blazes through the hills of the Los Padres National Forest here Aug. 13. Vandenberg firefighters have responded to the fire in support of fire departments from around the state of California. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Andrew Lee)
SANTA MARIA, California, Los Padres National Forest fire 2009

Last summer my wife and I toured several National Parks in the Rocky Mountains. Our companion was a long-time family friend, Janet. She now lives in Oregon but grew up in the small town of San Andreas in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Jan and her sister own the house in San Andreas they inherited from their parents. Jan’s father was a ranger, over a span of forty years, for the department of forests and parks of the state government of California. On many occasions, growing up, Jan and her sister and their mother were by themselves in their big house while their father was away battling forest fires. The experience had some resemblance to being a family in wartime. Jan’s father was away fighting a powerful, mysterious enemy, and there was no certainty that he would return.

How disturbing, then, for Jan to get a particular e-mail while she was traveling with us in the Rocky Mountains. From the caretaker, who was at the old family house in San Andreas, Jan received the news that a large wildfire which had begun in the southern Sierras was making its way north and seemed on path to engulf San Andreas. Jan had to live with that possibility as she received more reports from the caretaker over the next several days, until, finally, the news came that the fire was turning eastward and would miss Jan’s family home by a few miles even while it was destroying many other homes in the area.

Dignitaries work to inspire California firefighters
Dignitaries work to inspire California firefighters

To anyone who grows up in California, fires, like earthquakes, are always waiting just offstage. Sometimes you face them directly. Sometimes you just notice them in the corner of your eye. But they are always in your consciousness.

I am an example of the large category of Californian who has been affected by fires at a distance. My earliest memories of large fires go back to around age six, when I was standing on the front porch of my grandparents’ house in the Berkeley Hills. The views looking west from the Berkeley Hills are amazing and famous. In front of you, far away yet seeming very near, are the flatlands of Oakland, Berkeley, Albany, and El Cerrito. Then, looking further, you see San Francisco Bay and the cities on the far shore, ranging from San Mateo in the south all the way north to San Rafael and Vallejo in the north, with the several bridges that cross the Bay and then the Golden Gate Bridge that beckons you toward the Pacific Ocean beyond. One evening, at sunset, I was taking in this view from my grandparents’ house, as I did often even at a young age, when I noticed, for the first time, that some five large fires were burning down in the flatlands of the East Bay near the water along the shore between Berkeley and Albany. I asked my grandfather why the fires were there and he explained that they were started several nights a week at the city dump to get rid of all the junk tossed there. Several decades later this method of trash disposal was discontinued because of the air pollution it caused. But throughout my childhood the fires appeared often and provided me with a great source of fascination.

B erkeley fire 1923
Berkeley fire 1923

In the years that followed, I learned that the hills of the East Bay Area were themselves potential sources of major fires. Every summer, when the sun parched the brown grass that was everywhere, and the Eucalyptus trees became so dry that they crackled, I overheard numerous discussions about fire danger and read in the newspapers about conflagrations from the past, like the great fire that destroyed many parts of Berkeley in 1923.

Oakland firestorm 1991
Oakland firestorm 1991

Later, by which time I was living outside of California, I watched the television news reports of the huge fire that swept through the hills of Oakland in 1991; and, in the 1970s, on a visit during an especially dry summer, saw that many of the Eucalyptus forests in the hills of the East Bay had been chopped down on the advice of a professor of forestry at UC Berkeley who warned that they were a tinderbox and could destroy parts of several cities if ignited by the sun or a careless cigarette smoker.

The fact that I encountered all of these instances of fire at a distance always left me with a slight feeling of guilt. My house was not burning, and I was not one of the brave combatants who went and encountered the fires directly, even though I sometimes bragged to friends that I knew more about smoke and flame than most people because I had grown up in a place where fires were frequent.

But then one day I learned that I was rather restrained compared to some people. In 1991, during the summer when the great Oakland fire was raging, I was watching an evening broadcast on national television news. The networks, usually biased toward covering stories based in the east, had decided that the Oakland fire was a subject of national interest and were all doing their best to hype its drama. And so, staring at the TV screen, I saw a network news reporter facing the national viewing audience with the hills of Oakland directly behind him. The camera showed the reporter from the waist up. In a deep voice, intentionally suspenseful, the reporter said, in so many words, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the fires of Oakland continue to burn for another harrowing day and night. I am here at the scene and you can see the wind whipping the flames directly behind me.”

The flaw in this presentation would have been apparent to anyone who grew up in the Bay Area. You could tell that the reporter was standing on the docks in San Francisco and the camera was foreshortening the background view of Oakland. There is about five miles of bay water between the docks of San Francisco and the shoreline of Oakland. You would have thought that the TV reporter was about to be swept away by the flames. What a tough guy.

National Park Service fire crew enters the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias to establish defensible space protecting the big trees, 2013.
National Park Service fire crew enters the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias to establish defensible space protecting the big trees, 2013.

In any case, for millions of Californians, fire is very real: not only an aspect of imagination and a part of everyone’s sense of identity, but also a physical fact. As I write this post, large wildfires are burning just north of Los Angeles and in the Big Sur area of Monterey County in Central California. Last summer there were major fires, as in the summers before then.

Given California’s climate and vegetation, fires have always been part of the state’s history, and they are likely to re-occur even more frequently with global warming. Sometimes the fires are urban, as in the state’s most famous fire of all, during the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906, when the flames from exploding gas mains destroyed more buildings than the trembling of the ground itself.

San Francisco Earthquake 1906
San Francisco Earthquake 1906

Usually, though, the great fires are rural. If you live near any forest, you always look out of the corner of your eye, wondering if the haunting, powerful character who waits in the wings will be coming onstage.

Fires burning in San Diego County
Fires burning in San Diego County

HOPPY AND FRIENDS

Hopalong_Cassidy_Returns_FilmPoster
1936 film poster

 

Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, American boys and girls cheered for cowboys much more than they now do for Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and R2D2.

When I was growing up, in the late 1940s and the 1950s, there were heroes roaming around in outer space, including Flash Gordon, Tom Corbett Space Cadet, and Commander Corey and his Space Patrol. But the heroes who usually held our attention were the cowboys and their cowgirl companions, stars such as Roy Rogers and his wife Dale Evans, Gene Autry and the various female characters he rescued, and more lone-operating males like Red Ryder, Wild Bill Elliott and the bullwhip-wielding Lash LaRue.

Lash LaRue comic book, 1949
Lash LaRue comic book, 1949
1945 film poster
1945 film poster

Most of these heroes originally gained their fame in the late 1930s and 1940s through the hundreds of low-budget western films that were screened as parts of double-features in neighborhood movie houses, especially at Saturday morning matinees that were bursting with noisy, raucous crowds of children. The stories might be set in San Antonio, Texas, or Tombstone, Arizona, or Dodge City, Kansas, but most were filmed in the rugged, arid landscapes readily available to Hollywood east and north of Los Angeles.

1935 movie poster
1935 movie poster

The rate of production of western movies for children began to wane in the late 1940s, but all of the Hollywood frontier characters gained new life on television.

General Electric television set, 1948 (Credit: daderat)
General Electric television set, 1948 (Credit: daderat)

In the early period of their takeover of American popular culture, from the end of the Second World War until the late 1950s, television producers did not have large enough budgets to create original programming for all hours of the day and night. They did provide some nationally popular shows, like the Milton Berle and Jackie Gleason comedy hours, and serious dramas like Playhouse 90 and Kraft Television Theatre. But many hours had to be filled with cheaper offerings. For me and other families of my era, watching television meant watching hundreds of hours of wrestling matches, roller derby, and old cowboy movies.

Cowboy boots advertising, 1930-1945 (Credit: Boston Public Library)
Cowboy boots advertising, 1930-1945 (Credit: Boston Public Library)

Thanks to the power of American advertising, children of my age not only watched all the cowboy stars on TV; we also harassed our parents to buy the numerous toys and souvenirs associated with our heroes available at local stores: a Dale Evans cowgirl outfit, the boots that were just like Gene Autry’s, the bow and arrow set similar to the one used by Red Ryder’s boy companion Little Beaver, or the cap gun pistols with holsters that gave us the feeling we were rounding up outlaws by the hundreds.

1905 magazine illustration for the first appearance of Hoppy in Clarence Mulford's short story "The Fight at Buckskin"
1905 magazine illustration for the first appearance of Hoppy in Clarence Mulford’s short story “The Fight at Buckskin”

For me, the movies-on-TV cowboy who stood far above all the others was Hopalong Cassidy. The character first appeared in 1905 in a short story by Clarence Mulford. He was cantankerous and sloppy in dress, and looked like he belonged in a saloon. But then in the 1930s when he became a hero in movies, as played by the handsome leftover from silent films William Boyd, Hoppy became more of a sleekly costumed avenging angel, with silver-colored revolvers, a white horse, an all black outfit, and a deep, raspy voice. A popular movie character, this Hoppy also turned out to be the perfect cowboy hero for television. Visually, especially on the small TV screens we watched in darkened living rooms, Hoppy strongly conveyed struggle between good and evil.

William Boyd in a pre-Hoppy film, 1931
William Boyd in a pre-Hoppy film, 1931

The stories might contain occasional moments of comedy when a bumbling sidekick fell into a water trough or got lost on the wrong trail. And there might be lighter moments when a handsome sidekick played guitar and sang a romantic song. But a Hoppy movie was serious business. Outlaws were unshaven, spat tobacco juice, beat up people in saloons, laughed when others were in pain, stole from widows, and, at all times, deserved the heavy justice that Hoppy meted out.

When I was six years old, my parents bought me my first cowboy toy, a Red Ryder cap gun rifle. I must not have been sending the right signals. What I really wanted was a pair of Hoppy cap gun revolvers with the fancy black leather double holsters. For several years thereafter, no matter what neighborhood we lived in, I always tried to find a kid who owned Hoppy guns and then I cleverly persuaded him that he would like to enjoy my Red Ryder rifle while I borrowed his revolvers.

Fate became kinder when I was eight years old and my parents bought me my first bicycle. They took me to the local Montgomery Ward catalogue store and allowed me to pick out a Hoppy bike, which was delivered to our front door three weeks later by Railway Express. The bike had balloon tires, a battery operated headlight, and a pushbutton horn. The steel frame and fenders were painted black and white, with a small version of Hoppy’s face on one side of the frame.

1952 movie poster (Credit: cinemasterpieces)
1952 movie poster (Credit: cinemasterpieces)

For the next six years, until I was fourteen and asked for a three-speed British bike for my birthday, my Hoppy bicycle and I went everywhere together. Subconsciously, the Hoppy bike probably played the role for me that was played for Hoppy by his loyal horse Topper or by Trigger for Roy Rogers or Champion for Gene Autry. The later, British bike evoked fantasies more in harmony with a teenager’s life, as if I had my own sports car even though I was still too young to drive a car.

By the late 1950s, television networks were making enough money to produce their own western shows: usually half an hour long, often emphasizing indoor settings, with fewer of the panoramic outdoor scenes that were part of the pleasure of the Hoppy movies. Children could, for example, watch the Cisco Kid and his sidekick Pancho, or the TV version of The Lone Ranger and Tonto that grew out of the older radio programs based on the same characters. (For some reason, there had never been any Lone Ranger movies.) I watched those programs now and then.

But even in 1961, when I went off to college, I still carried pleasant memories of watching Hoppy back at age six.  And today I wonder whether there will be a new generation puzzled by a discovery that Han and Luke and Leia are no longer quite so famous.

Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford at San Diego Comic Con, 1915 (Credit: Gage Skidmore)
Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford at San Diego Comic Con, 2015 (Credit: Gage Skidmore)

 

CALIFORNIA IN GERMANY

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany (Credit: Berthold Werner)
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany (Credit: Berthold Werner)
San Jose,California (Credit: David Sawyer)
San Jose,California (Credit: David Sawyer)

Back in the 1960s, when I was in college and then grad school, I spent some time studying in Germany. I haven’t been back since, but I do try to read something in German from time to time to brush up my skills in the language.

Toward that end, I recently bought a copy of one of the more influential German newspapers, WELT AM SONNTAG (The World on Sunday). It is one of the papers published by the vast Axel Springer conglomerate that is best known for its daily DIE WELT (The World). The Springer papers all have a conservative point of view. In their tabloid versions they can be a bit nutty, but both The World and The World on Sunday are usually quite upstanding in their journalism.

A typical German newspaper, The Franfurter    Allgemeine Zeitung (Credit: Manfred Wassmann)
A typical German newspaper, The Franfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Credit: Manfred Wassmann)

In WELT AM SONNTAG, you get mostly feature stories and opinion pieces. From the April 24, 2016, issue I happened to buy, I learned many things: for example, that Germans are hoping to become a world leader in robotics manufacturing, that Vladimir Putin is worrisome to Germans, that Donald Trump is a puzzle, that the idea of free trade is currently a subject of great debate, that there is a thriving market for summer beach homes along the Baltic Sea, and that the Germans are just as obsessed with soccer as they have always been.

Headquarters building for the Hamburg-based paper, the Hamburger Abendblatt (Credit: flamenco)
Headquarters building for the Hamburg-based paper, the Hamburger Abendblatt (Credit: flamenc)

I also quickly learned from WELT AM SONNTAG that Germans are very interested in California (Kalifornien). I don’t mean to exaggerate. The paper said nothing about city council meetings in Vallejo or Barstow, or latest vintages of California wines (the focus was on German whites, and imports from Italy and Austria). Nor did the Travel section in this particular issue have any photos of Disneyland or the Golden Gate Bridge: subjects that, I assume, have probably appeared at other times. But there were enough entries about California in this one issue to make me believe that the Golden State probably exerts a continuing fascination for Germans.

Apple CEO Tim Cook (Credit: Valerie Marchive)
Apple CEO Tim Cook (Credit: Valerie Marchive)

One item of interest concerned Apple’s CEO Tim Cook. The Business section of the paper contained a large photo of him along with speculation as to whether Apple would be able to continue its rapid growth, given that its latest quarterly earnings figures are not as impressive as in the past. In light of Apple’s huge importance in the world economy, the presence of this story was not surprising. But one could sense from the tone of the article that it held special interest for Germans, who must cope with the kind of slow growth that characterizes mature economies.

Jennifer Aniston (Credit: gdecgraphics)
Jennifer Aniston (Credit: gdecgraphics)

California celebrities from the entertainment world grabbed a fair amount of attention. WELT AM SONNTAG ran a photo of Jennifer Aniston and noted that, for the second time, People Magazine selected her as the most beautiful woman in the world. Supplementary stories quoted fulsomely favorable comments by her current husband, Justin Theroux, her former spouse (“der Ex-Mann”), Brad Pitt, and her close friend Julia Roberts, who remarked that she was glad to have never played in the same scene with Aniston, believing she would be overshadowed.

Tom Hanks (Credit: Angelina George)
Tom Hanks (Credit: Angelina George)

Tom Hanks also garnered attention. The paper reported that he is looking to buy residential property in Berlin where he and his wife Rita Wilson can stay comfortably for large parts of the coming years. Tom Hanks likes working in Berlin and plans to produce several films there, using the Babelsberg Studio, which he regards as first-rate. WELT AM SONNTAG also contained a full-page story, with a large color still, on the new Tom Hanks movie “A Hologram for the King,” which the paper’s film critic judges to contain the best performance of Hanks’ career.

WELT AM SONNTAG has a multi-page section on travel. Most of the stories I ran across were about getaways in the Mediterranean, Italy, the Baltic coast area, or the mountain spas in the Czech Republic. Nevertheless, on one page of the paper, tucked between weather maps for Germany and Europe, there was an ad for Lufthansa flights to California, with a color photo of a romantic young couple on a grassy hillside next to a Live Oak tree, and the text, “Honeymoon Suite under the California Sun. The World Very Near: starting in July 2016 fly to San Jose.”

My guess is that the story in WELT AM SONNTAG that fit most closely with German preconceptions about California was the full-page feature about a Los Angeles man named Twain Taylor, who has recently set himself up as the proprietor of a mobile hair salon. The story describes Taylor as part of a long-line of van-based enterprises in Los Angeles, ranging from Taco trucks to Yoga instructors to tanning facilities. The story points out the long American tradition of businesses on wheels, perhaps best symbolized by the ice cream truck; and it reminds readers that street vendors are also an old European tradition, for example in the presence of hundreds of food trucks. WELT AM SONNTAG reports that Taylor and his wife have dreams of someday expanding their business by rolling out mobile hair salons in London and Berlin.

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin (Credit: Heinzi)
Brandenburg Gate, Berlin (Credit: Heinzi)

WELT AM SONNTAG is, to be sure, strongly focused on Germany and Europe. But the presence of stories about California is significant. At least in the edition I read, I didn’t find any mention of Nebraska or Alabama or Indiana or even New York. Those places probably are mentioned in other editions of the paper. All the same, it is clear: Germans pay attention to California.

ON THE BUS

1957 Chevrolet school bus (Credit: John Lloyd)
1957 Chevrolet school bus (Credit: John Lloyd)

In the early 1960s, when I was in college, I took a course on the history of California. This was, in a way, an act of laziness. Growing up in the East Bay area, I already knew a lot about California history from units of study that were parts of the required curriculum in high school and even in elementary school: for example, how the Bay Area developed its water system, and how the Gold Rush transformed the state. I expected that I would breeze through my college course on California and be able to use the time to study for other courses.

That proved to be the case. But every now and then a statement in our California history textbook brought me up short. One such comment was the observation that California is an auto-centered culture. I knew the statement was true and important, but I could not reconcile it with my pre-college experience. That, I suddenly realized, was because I grew up without much travel by automobile.

Classic Greyhound bus from 1950s (Credit: Pimvatend)
Classic Greyhound bus from 1950s (Credit: Pimvatend)

My father was an enlisted man in the Navy and so for most of my pre-college years our family did not have enough money to buy a car. In addition, the college course made me realize, by growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I lived in one of the few areas of my home state that had an outstanding system of public transportation. That system was partly dependent on rails: the light-rail commuter trains that existed in a web in the East Bay and went across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco; the classic cable cars of San Francisco’s hills; and the sleek trolley cars of the San Francisco Muni. But the main form of public transport throughout the Bay Area was the bus system. You could go almost anywhere by bus for a very low fare, and you could transfer from one bus to another at no extra cost, covering very long distances as long as you were familiar with connections and had the patience to poke along for an hour or two. The Bay Area bus system of my era was probably even more efficient, safe and economical than the subway systems of cities like New York and Boston.

San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, c. 1940
San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, c. 1940

My earliest memory of riding the bus goes back to the late 1940s when I was around five years old. With my mother, I made the long bus journey from our apartment in the East Bay city of Alameda across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco, where we made several transfers and finally arrived by bus at Golden Gate Park where we met up with one of my aunts who came up from Daly City. My aunt did not have children and she enjoyed taking care of me in the park while my mother went for a swim in the big pool. Then with the two of them I enjoyed the children’s playground, especially the big, wavy, brass covered slides, and ate a mustardy hot dog before making the long bus journey home.

Bus from early 1900s
Bus from early 1900s

I also have very early memories of going to the dentist by bus with my father. He had to make several long trips to “Pill Hill,” the medical area of Oakland where there were specialists who could do the complex surgery he needed. He said he would appreciate having me as a companion. Because his appointment was in the evening after work, I was already tired when our bus trip began, and I would fall asleep in his lap on the way back.

San Francisco trolley-bus built 1946, at First and Mission (Credit: Drew Jacksich)
San Francisco trolley-bus built 1946, at First and Mission (Credit: Drew Jacksich)

Another early memory of buses goes back to age six. My parents were not churchgoers, but they arranged for me to attend a local Sunday School. Early each Sunday morning, with several other children in the neighborhood, I caught the big rickety bus that stopped a few blocks from my home and took me to church, where I learned about the Bible and sang “Jesus Loves Me.” Even now, many decades later, I recall that experience whenever I see a church bus pass along a highway.

When I was seven years old, we moved to the Mare Island Naval Shipyard near Vallejo, where my father was assigned to be the Hospital Corpsman on board a small transport ship docked at one of the piers. The large Navy base where we lived was guarded and was surrounded by a chain link fence. With the many other children living inside the base, I could roam unattended for miles and be back home safely for dinner. The way to cover the most territory was to hop on and off the shuttle bus that made a regular route around the base. My friends and I could get off to watch a ship being repaired, get back on and go watch the men at the rifle range, stop for an ice cream cone at the big recreation building, and see many other wonders.

London bus, 2010 (Credit: Dietmar Rabich)
London bus, 2010 (Credit: Dietmar Rabich)

From around age eight, when my family lived in Berkeley, Albany and El Cerrito, and I began elementary school, until the time when I finished high school in 1960, the bus was a part of my life twice each day as I rode to and from my schools. The ride might take as long as forty-five minutes each way. When I was in high school I discovered that I could use the time on the bus to plan parts of my schoolwork: for example, solving difficult arithmetic problems in my head or crafting the outline for a writing assignment. The best parts of the bus rides were the occasions when I could sit in the seat at the front door of the bus near the almost-always-friendly drivers, perhaps to talk with them about baseball or the weather, or to eavesdrop as they greeted the enormous variety of passengers who got on and off each day. After a few years of watching the drivers, I also came to appreciate that their hours were very long. The driver who greeted me in the morning was often the same one who greeted me in the evening. That was, I gradually realized, a lot of time in traffic.

Santa Monica- Wilshire Boulevard express bus, present day (Credit: George Lumbrem)
Santa Monica- Wilshire Boulevard express bus, present day (Credit: George Lumbrem)

The extensive Bay Area system of public transportation was probably in its heyday during the years when I was lucky enough to be able to use it. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, there were numerous strikes by drivers and maintenance workers demanding better pay. These interruptions in service got people out of the habit of using public transportation, and the number of car owners in the Bay Area increased. Eventually, the private companies that maintained the bus and light rail systems were no longer able to make a profit. They went bankrupt and were replaced by government lines: in the case of the East Bay by something called AC Transit. The whole experience of “taking the bus” changed for the worse.

California freeways, Ontario, California (Credit: lokate366)
California freeways, Ontario, California (Credit: lokate366)

Thereafter I rode the bus only occasionally: for example, when I took the Greyhound from Palo Alto, when I was studying at Stanford, up to San Francisco and, by connections, to visit my relatives in the East Bay; or when I traveled by Greyhound to inland cities like Sacramento and Chico to see friends who had moved there.

Since the years of my boyhood, my major experiences of taking the bus have been in Europe. There, as millions of American visitors have discovered, the patterns of dense human settlement lead to extensive use of public transportation; and the governments of Europe, less market-driven than the U.S., view transport subsidy as a wise use of taxpayers’ funds.

It may be that riding the bus has become most important as a part of America’s cultural symbolism about itself. We can recall Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert on the bus in the film “It Happened One Night.” We know the profound importance of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. We had Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters riding their psychedelic-colored bus. No one can forget Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voigt riding the bus into and out of New York City in the film “Midnight Cowboy.” There is Harrison Ford escaping frantically from a prison bus in “The Fugitive.” And not too long ago the news media were full of stories about the “Nuns on the Bus” who wanted Cardinals to give better consideration to women.

I think of these and other images during the rare moments in recent years when I have still, because of some odd coincidence, found myself on the bus.

 

 

REDWOODS

HUMBOLDT STATE PARK HIGHWAY (Credit: Adbar)
HUMBOLDT STATE PARK HIGHWAY (Credit: Adbar)

They are among the oldest living things on our planet. Millions of tourists have made special visits to experience them. Almost every Californian has been deeply affected by them.

I recall being at a party in San Francisco, talking with a woman who said her husband, away on business, was an architect. “Where did he get his degree?” I happened to ask. “At Cal Berkeley,” she answered. “But he often says that he really got his degree in the Redwoods. He will tell you that, if you just spend a few hours sitting next to one of the trees, you’ll learn more about architecture than you can in any other way.”

Muir Woods, Marin County (Credit: MUWO)
Muir Woods, Marin County (Credit: MUWO)

My first experience in the Redwoods took place in 1951 when I was around eight years old. My father, my mother, my five-year old sister and I were living in Vallejo at the time, and decided to go camping at Big Basin State Park, in the Santa Cruz Mountains a couple of hours drive south of San Francisco.

We drove for what seemed endless hours, and then I saw Redwood trees for the first time. They resembled huge protectors. Like one’s parents, they were almost frightening and had mysterious powers. But they were fundamentally benign, and infinitely interesting, and they were carriers of a past that you could never directly experience but might come to sense by being close to them. Even their thick, shaggy bark was ancestral, like my mother’s dark auburn hair or the feel of my father’s body whenever he hugged me. The groves in which the trees lived were often fogbound. At such times they were haunting.

Foliage and Cones, Mt Tamalpais (Credit: Ilya Katsnelson)

My mother was not impressed by the things that made the trip enjoyable for the rest of us — the smell of bacon in the morning, the interesting sights along the trail when we hiked, the crackle of the campfire at night, the clear beauty of the stars, the friendly forest ranger who played guitar and led us in a sing-along. My mother dwelt upon other aspects of the trip: the stomach ache she got when we hiked, the clammy feel of the cold dirty water she had to use to do the dishes after our meals, the primitive bathrooms provided for campers. As for the singing ranger, my mother declared, “He thinks he’s Nelson Eddy,” referring to the famous movie star who seemed always to be playing a melodious Mountie.

After the trip to Big Basin, many years passed before I experienced Redwoods camping again. When I was eleven years old, and we were living in Berkeley, a new Congregationalist church was being constructed across the street from our home, and I joined the Sunday School. The two young men who were our two teachers asked the six of us students if we would like to join them on an overnight camping expedition to Mount Tamalpais, the topmost point of the Marin peninsula that extends northward from the Golden Gate Bridge, between the Pacific Ocean and the Bay.

1917 Cecil B. DeMille film
1917 Cecil B. DeMille film

My mother helped me gather together the right clothing and gave me lots of advice about eating properly and avoiding chapped lips and sunburn. My father told me to watch out for small snakes and spiders, reminded me of what to do if I got a cut or a sprain or felt woozy, and lent me one of his Navy duffel bags to carry my stuff. From my closet, I took out the U.S. Marine Corps sleeping bag that he had given me after his return from the Korean War. I had played with it over the years, but had not had an opportunity to use it for real camping.

On the appointed day, our group piled into two old cars and rode across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge to Marin County, then up the winding roads that led to Mt. Tamalpais. We unpacked, one of our teachers said a prayer, then we cooked hot dogs and hamburgers in the stone fireplace, joked around for a while, went on a short walk before sunset along a nearby stream, and finally got out our sleeping bags and unrolled them on the ground for a good night’s rest. Even though the season was summer, the ground on which we all put our sleeping bags was very cold, and, with a wind coming through the trees, I shivered for hours. I had thought that my sleeping bag would keep me warm. After all, it had been used by a Marine in the Korean War in the snow and ice of winter. But now, after so many years of fantasy, I realized that the Marine would have slept in his bag with all his clothes on, not only to keep warm but also to be prepared in case enemy soldiers invaded his camp. Probably he slept with his rifle and bayonet next to him. And, even with his clothes on, he, too, must have shivered in the absence of a cot or pad or air mattress to insulate him from the ground.

Crescent Beach Redwood Overlook (Credit: Adbar)
Crescent Beach Redwood Overlook (Credit: Adbar)

We got up early the next morning, ate and brushed our teeth and went to the bathroom and washed, then put on two pairs of socks each and laced up our shoes in preparation for a long hike to the top of Mt. Tamalpais. The morning air was cold and damp. But as our hike proceeded and the day wore on, the temperature rose, and we felt the summer heat whenever our path took us temporarily out from beneath the protective cover of the trees. We passed beautiful streams and walked occasionally along dry dusty roads. Now and then we encountered privates houses, and a couple of old hotels, that occupied parts of the mountainside for no apparent reason. Near one of the hotels we came upon a cistern under the trees, built to hold rain. I have never, then or since, tasted fresher, more pleasing water. We crossed the tracks of an old, small gauge railroad. A few times, we lost our direction and had to climb up the sides of big rocks or down pebble filled gullies until we relocated the trail. Then eventually, after about three hours, we came to the paved, two lane highway that led on up to the peak of the mountain.

Here again, I had mixed feelings. The hike was a pleasure, I was enjoying my companions, and I was exhilarated when I reached the top of the mountain and took in the panorama of the Bay and the land that ringed it. But I did not like discovering that Mt. Tamalpais was dominated by a large cross rising some fifty feet into the sky. I had no idea who had constructed the cross or when. But the act of putting it there seemed to me to be possessive and unequal to the natural beauty. When we stopped at a picnic table near the cross, and one of our teachers said a prayer of thanks for the bag lunches we had brought with us, I felt intimations of peace and a sense of love for God, but my stronger feelings were resistance to the way God was being jammed down my throat, and guilt in the face of my anger. Over the next five hours we made the trek back to our campsite, where I shivered for one more night before the next morning when we all went home.

Redwood Logging c. 1900
Redwood Logging c. 1900

My next experience with camps came in 1956 when I was thirteen years old, and my family made the first of three trips over successive summers to Yosemite.

After a long drive across California, the road soon opened before us on either side and we drove alongside the deep green water of the Merced River into a huge, flat valley — a vast amphitheater, walled on all sides by gray granite cliffs over two thousand feet high, with groupings of Redwoods here and there on the valley floor, and vast swathes of green Alpine meadows and marshland. This was the center of the National Park, and from here it was only a short drive to the camping areas in the Redwood forest.

Woman on Horseback, Yosemite c. 1900 (Credit: California Historical Society)
Woman on Horseback, Yosemite c. 1900 (Credit: California Historical Society)

The trip to Yosemite gave my father the opportunity to tell my sister and me vital memories about himself and his mother and father and two sisters who had all camped together in Yosemite in the 1930s. One of the stories was about his family’s greatest Monopoly game of all, the game that lasted for almost an entire month, with intermissions for hiking and swimming and other activities as my father and his sisters and their parents spent what seemed to be the happiest of all their seasons at Yosemite. Along with this story, which represented my father’s memories of joy, there was another one, more reverential, that came up one evening when we were taking in the campfire performance in the big outdoor amphitheater at Camp Curry. In accord with tradition, the songs and dramatic performances were followed by lights out, and the two thousand or so of us in the amphitheater stared two thousand feet upwards to the top of the valley’s granite wall, where a giant bonfire was being ignited, and the embers were about to be pushed over the cliff to produce the world-famous “Firefall.” As the spectacle occurred, everyone was silent, except for an occasional member of the audience who let out an “ooh” or “ah.” After the ceremony was done, and everyone was talking again, my father began telling us about the “Firefall” as he had experienced as a boy in the 1930s. At that time the ceremony included music, and whenever he and his family were in Yosemite, his mother was asked to sing. She had a beautiful, powerful, soprano voice. He felt a sense of wonder when his mother sang “Indian Love Call.”

On one of our days in the valley, my sister and I asked my father if he had ever been to the top of any of the granite cliffs. He said yes, he had. He wasn’t going to take us, because the drive there and back would require an entire day, and there were other things he wanted us to see first. But he was willing to tell us a story about one of his high school friends, a young man named Nemo. I don’t remember Nemo’s last name, and, looking back, it seems incredible to me that anyone would have such a symbolic first name – although I do know that my father had several friends in high school who were from Greek families living in Alameda. In any case, this story about Yosemite had to do with the time that Nemo and my father went up to the area where the Firefalls were prepared. Somehow Nemo and my father got a ride up to the ranger station at the top of the Valley wall. Nemo took his small camera with him. After the two boys had admired the view for a while, Nemo handed his camera to my father and walked over to the edge of the cliff. “Get the camera ready,” Nemo said. Not knowing what else to do, my father did as requested. Then Nemo proceeded to do a handstand. “Quick, take my picture,” he said. My father snapped the photo and then yelled at Nemo to get away from the edge. As my father told me this story, there was great drama and animation in his manner and a lot of rolling of the eyes, as if to convey that he understood his friend’s desire for adventure but wondered why anyone would be so unconcerned about the possibility of falling off a cliff. When there was a pause in the story, I asked my father if he was still keeping in touch with Nemo. My father sighed. “No,” he answered in a resigned tone, “when Nemo and I finished high school, the war came, and he died in combat.”

Navarro River Redwoods (Credit: David Eppstein)
Navarro River Redwoods (Credit: David Eppstein)

Our third and final trip to Yosemite occurred in June of 1961. The natural setting was as beautiful as ever. But we noticed that the valley was becoming more crowded – almost urban. The camping areas had big new buildings with modern showers and toilets. A few miles away, a supermarket had been constructed. To conserve trees, the Firefall now occurred only three nights a week. Along the beautiful, previously quiet river that wound through the camping areas, people now coasted along on rafts and air mattresses, shouting as they went. The Yosemite that had been my father’s valley was quickly disappearing. He and my sister and I knew that if any of us ever went there again it would not be the same.

In some of the same summers when I went to Yosemite, I also became involved with a camp for young people that was run by the City of Berkeley and was located in the Redwood forests on a creek near the Russian River north of the Bay Area, near a small logging town called Cazadero. At the camp, you could enjoy hiking, swimming, canoeing, crafts, softball, campfire songs and dramatics. I first went to Cazadero as a camper, when I was fourteen years old. Then later, when I was nearing my seventeenth birthday, I got a job as a member of the staff, working for three successive summers as a kitchen helper, assistant janitor, lifeguard, and, eventually, counselor.

I have hundreds of memories of Cazadero, but the strongest one of all concerns the gigantic, legendary trees that surrounded us and sheltered us. I felt their power most of all during my last summer at Cazadero, when the camp began to include sessions for musicians. The counselors were music majors from local colleges and universities. Music teachers came from public schools in the Bay Area. Prominent members of the San Francisco Symphony were brought in to supplement the regular teaching staff. But almost any music student with passing grades could enroll as a camper. I had no training in music but was able to piece together a job that involved working in the kitchen for all three meals and helping with lifeguard duty. I was willing to accept the arrangement because I loved being in the Redwoods.

I got to know several of the Symphony players who visited camp. The most interesting musician I met was the man who was the lead French Horn player for the San Francisco Symphony. He was not the happiest person at music camp. He and his wife argued frequently and there were rumors of a divorce. He said he had come to Cazadero to search for peace. He told me he had been the lead French Horn player for the Cleveland Symphony, which at that time was thought by many to be the greatest orchestra in the world. I asked him why he left such a prestigious position. He answered that the conductor liked Wagner too much. “Do you have any idea,” he asked me dramatically, “how draining it is, if your instrument is the French Horn, to play that much Wagner night after night? I would have been burned up in another year.”

Big Basin Park (Credit: Allie Caulfield)
Big Basin Park (Credit: Allie Caulfield)

He did not yet seem to me to have attained his sought after calm, however. He drank whiskey late at night by the campfire and picked arguments with other musicians and the staff. One thing did bring him peace, though. Each evening, when the Redwoods grew dark and the campers became quiet and were in their beds and the time came for “lights out,” he walked up the hill and stood in a grove of big trees and played his horn. Sometimes he played a piece by someone like Mozart or even Wagner. Sometimes he just played Taps – a long, embellished, musically sophisticated, incredibly textured version of Taps — the most haunting and sentient interpretation of Taps that anyone could ever hope to hear.

 

 

BACK TO THE COUNTY

 

 

Big Sur coastline - Monterey County
Big Sur coastline – Monterey County (Credit: Robert Schwemmer, NOAA)

In 1975 I was working in Washington DC on the staff of a President’s Advisory Council created to protect historic sites. The Council met several times each year, usually in Washington, DC, but also made site visits around the US.

I suggested we take the Council to California to review Federal management of sites in Monterey County, where I had been part of the preservation movement before relocating to Washington. (See my earlier post, SAVING THE COUNTY.) Our Director and the Council members liked the idea, and I was told to set it all up. For me this was a stroke of good fortune. In my two years of working at the local level, I had helped to save many sites, but a great deal remained to be done, and federal power could make a big difference.

We decided we would visit Monterey County in detail, followed by a stay at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, a tour of the US Mint in San Francisco and a ceremonial meeting of the Council at The Presidio to supplement our main meeting in Monterey County.

Funston_Avenue_Houses
Restored 19th century officers’ houses, Presidio San Francisco

Now I began to learn a lot about governmental potential. We knew that the National Park Service would help. I knew the people in local government who worked with the private sector historical societies in Monterey County and I was confident I would have their cooperation. The Army was more problematic. Under Federal law, we could require any agency of government to assist us with our tour. But, because the Council was a small agency, we knew that the Pentagon might provide only minimal help unless we prepared carefully. Our General Counsel drafted a latter for the signature of Senator Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash), Chairman of one of the powerful committees that dealt with preservation, requesting the Department of Defense to provide all necessary assistance to us, on the grounds that we would be doing fact finding for him. One of the Senator’s staff members, a longtime ally of the Council, secured the necessary signature. Then our Director and the General Counsel sought a similar letter from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, directing all military commands in California to be helpful to us. Soon, as I went forward with arrangements for the trip, my phone calls to the Army were being returned more promptly.

We needed a background report, to give to everyone who would be involved in the tour, on the significance of the historical sites we would be visiting and the policy issues related to preserving them. I already knew a great deal of the information from personal experience. To supplement it, I went out to the Council’s Western Regional Office in Denver, where the files were kept for every case west of the Mississippi River, and put the report together.

Old San Francisco Mint
Old San Francisco Mint (Credit: Library of Congress)

The research in Denver taught me an important lesson about stereotypes. From my experiences while living in Monterey County, I had concluded that the biggest Federal obstacle to protection of the historic sites was the Army. After reading all the correspondence, however, I could see that the major problems had resulted from delays by the National Park Service. To make sure this finding was not overlooked, we circulated my report to more people at the Department of the Interior than originally planned.

Finally the big week arrived. From points all over the U.S., the Council members arrived in Monterey County. My first indication that I was now dealing with a national examination of California’s historic sites was the surprising variety of reactions to the landscape. I took it as an axiom that Monterey County was beautiful. So did some of the people in our tour group; but not everyone. A lot of the visitors grumbled about the morning fog that is common along the Pacific Coast. They found it depressing, even eerie. Several of the visitors who had never been west of the Rockies were upset by the brown vegetation. Summer is the green season in the United States east of the Rockies. But in the far west, the green season is the winter. There were also stereotypes about beauty. A friend of mine on the Council staff, from Maryland, seemed unimpressed by the dramatic coastline around Pacific Grove and Carmel. He complained about the “debris” in the water, by which he meant the kelp, and seemed to want a Miami style coast. I suggested that he compare the coast to Japanese paintings, but the advice didn’t appeal to him. Then there were the restaurants. There were a number of very fine ones in and around Monterey, offering not only excellent food but also the opportunity, by way of the cuisine, to learn more about the place — an experience that is familiar to anyone who has read the works of the California writer, M.F.K. Fisher, on France. But the main consideration of our Council members, when choosing restaurants, was status, not whether they could learn about local culture.

Jolon Stage Coach Stop, Hunter Liggett Military Reservation
Jolon Stage Coach Stop, Hunter Liggett Military Reservation

 

We arranged for some bus tours to put the Council members in direct contact with the sites that were the subject of the meeting. The parts of the landscape that the members felt most comfortable seeing were the ones along the coast: the cute shops and breakfast houses at Carmel — the ones Steinbeck had once said were created by the “Pixie People” who ruined the area — the golf courses and mansions around Pebble Beach, the military compound at the Monterey Presidio, the restaurants and restored factories at Cannery Row, the Spanish colonial buildings in the city of Monterey. These were all, to our Council members, part of a tourist environment they could respond to in well-rehearsed manner, even if they had never been in the area before.

What was more interesting was to watch the way the Council members had their perceptions challenged on the day we devoted to going inland. The bus picked us up early in the morning and headed east along highway 68. The Council members at first stared blankly out the windows of the bus as we passed through beautiful but not especially distinctive hills covered with brown grass and occasional clusters of oak tress. Over the microphone, for the rest of the bus ride. I explained that we had just crossed the Salinas River and that we had been staring at the Spreckels sugar beet factory. Soon, as the bus moved on and we turned onto highway 101 and headed south, I was into a long description of the Salinas River, the rich soil of the Valley, and the towns and people who made their living from it.

Most of the passengers on the bus had never seen a world quite like the one we were riding through — a place stamped by Spanish and Mexican culture, conquered by industrial Americans, engulfed by American business monopolists, made legendary by Steinbeck, made fertile by the largest irrigation projects in the world, and given over to the regimental dictates of international agribusiness. The bus ride smashed all the categories of the Council members. And I loved being the source of the destruction and their first hints as to how they might rebuild.

After we had been on Highway 101 for about an hour, our bus turned west near King City and headed into the mountains that lie between the Valley and the Pacific Coast. Here we snaked along a two-lane road for a while, past creeks and groves of trees and clusters of cattle, until we reached the Hunter-Liggett Military Reservation. Our first stop was the San Antonio Mission. Here it was my turn to be challenged. I think the Mission is one of the most beautiful historic sites in the world. But, until that moment, I had never faced the fact that it is, in a way, a falsehood. One of my colleagues from the staff of the Council asked me if the Mission was on the National Register of Historic Places. I said, come to think of it, no. He said that the site would, in fact, never be eligible, because reconstructions were not eligible. I was enraged. The comment felt like an intentional insult. Then I realized that my colleague was simply being objective. In fact, the Mission was p

ractically gone when, in the 1930s, as part of the romanticism of the Spanish revival in California, Harry Downey and other Catholics rebuilt all the missions.

San Antonio Mission
San Antonio Mission

After touring the Mission, we were met by about twenty Army jeeps. They drove us in a convoy for about ten miles along narrow dirt roads to an isolated area where we would be able to see the most interesting of the Stone Age caves that had been the homes of the Native Americans who once lived in the region. This was the riskiest part of the trip. The temperature was about 95 degrees – like a safari. In view of the age of some of our Council members, we had been warned in advance to carry first aid supplies. Fortunately, the heat was bearable.

I found this part of the trip unpleasant. The convoy seemed imperialistic. I knew that the Native Americans who had lived in the Hunter-Liggett area were not saints, probably not even fastidious stewards of the land. But, as I looked again at their cave paintings, I thought I saw a delicacy, an artistic interaction, a reverence for the fragile landscape. Now, however, jeeps had taken a group of wrinkled white people noisily into the hills, and the boots of the soldiers and of the rest of us were trampling the area. Even worse, our conversation was all about federal rules and regulations and jurisdictions and grants: as if we ever could, really, govern such a mysterious, ineffable place.

By the time the tour was completed, and the bus had returned us to our motel, I realized that the visit to the Hunter-Liggett area, all by itself, had done a great deal to protect the historic resources there. Seeing a bunch of White House appointees crawl all over the property made the Army more attentive. We were confident that, as a result of the visit, the Army would allot some of its men and resources to protect, improve, and maintain the site and structures. And the National Park Service would behave itself. In a way, therefore, the actual meeting of the Council back in Monterey, when we heard the official statements from the Army and others, was almost redundant. It did, however, reveal some interesting aspects of organizational culture, and it served the very important function of allowing local groups to be heard.

The Council meeting began in the morning with the usual welcome by the Chairman, and his statement of the issues before the Council. As always, the Chairman simply read his remarks from the big briefing book the staff had given him, changing not a word. Then the Army and local groups said their pieces. A Colonel who had obviously been to briefing school read his prepared remarks accompanied by maps and photographs on an easel and what seemed to me like thousands of images projected onto the screen behind him. There were graphs, flow charts, outlines and sub-outlines. If ever the terms “bullet points” and “blowups” seemed appropriate to describe a style of presentation, this was the time. In sum, the Army’s message was that they had numerous missions to carry out, numerous laws to obey, and not enough dollars and personnel to do everything. That was what every agency told us, of course, and the briefing officer knew it. But, by the mere fact of putting the Army on the agenda, the Council had accomplished its purpose. The Army would try harder.

The speeches by local governmental representatives were similarly ritualized. A member of the County Board of Supervisors officially welcomed us. City and county planning officers described the ways they were including preservation in their work. The director of the county parks department lectured angrily about the need for greater federal sensitivity to grass roots concerns. ‘We asked the National Park Service and the Army for more help, and they didn’t give it,” he intoned sweepingly. “We may not have your national prestige, but we’re busy people, too,” he added.

In reply to all of this, the Council members offered very few reactions. There were some questions about specific points of fact. The Chairman made some statesmanlike comments about the need to focus on our shared respect for heritage. And there was one egregious comment by a Council member who had grown up in the East. “We need to have compassion for these local groups in the West,” she observed. “They really don’t have very much history. They’re trying hard to cling to the little they possess. This isn’t like Charleston or Savannah or Philadelphia.” The woman seemed to be framing the problem as a debate about who owned the most antiques. And she was, of course, factually in error as to who had the most history. By certain definitions, the West did. The people in the audience, wiser than she realized, simply let her patronizing comments pass.

For me, the most inspiring part of the meeting came during one of the breaks when I had the opportunity to see two old friends from King City, Olive and Rachel Gillette, who owned ranches in the county, and who had helped in the struggle to preserve local history when I had worked there. “You said you wouldn’t forget us, and you kept your promise,” they noted as we greeted each other. “Yes,” I answered, “I guess I did keep my promise. But I didn’t know that luck would be quite so much on our side.”