Hanging Out in Rockford: California dreaming: The past

Ron Mackey and I were at crossroads in our lives. We decided to go to California on our motorcycles. I, for one, had developed a frustrating nervous tic in my eye. I was extremely unhappy in my job; I felt as if I were going nowhere. At one point, another supervisor at the Royal Crown plant and I calculated our hours for the week on a Wednesday only to discover we had already put in 40 hours. I badly wanted to be in business for myself, but other forces kept it at bay.

After a couple of days on the road, my nervous tic disappeared, never to return. It’s amazing how stress affects your body, and it’s amazing how your body can recover when you give it a vacation. Not that the vacation itself wasn’t a little stressful. It rained the entire trip out. In the mountains before Reno, the back wheel spokes on my 750 Honda loosened, and we tried to tighten them with a pair of pliers, the only tool we had that would grip them.

In Reno, a young man tightened and trued my rear wheel. Then, we set out again. When we crossed the mountains and started down the other side into California, the weather magically changed. The sun came out, and, suddenly, we were boiling. We had covered our entire bodies with plastic garbage bags (in addition to our rain suits, which were letting in too much weather). We had taped ourselves around the wrists and ankles. We looked pretty much like two walking bags of trash. In the bathroom of a Chevron station on the 80 bypass, we stood and pulled the plastic from each other’s bodies, laughing unrestrainedly.

That evening, we entered San Francisco in wall-to-wall traffic. At one point, I looked over at Ron, and a semi-trailer truck was barely 3 feet off his bumper at speeds exceeding 80 miles an hour. Welcome to California. After wandering around San Francisco trying to find Lynn’s address, we finally called her on the phone for directions. We were in San Francisco. We had ridden across the whole United States. We were easy rider in our minds.

Lynn took us to Chinatown and the Ruby Palace, where we had Dim Sum for the first time. She took us to Fisherman’s Wharf, which, in those days, was much more of an open street fair. I think they should have kept it that way. We saw the human jukebox. We rode the trolley. We went out to dinner. Lynn’s Japanese boss went to a lot of the places with us. He always bought. It was a mark of pride for a Japanese businessman to pay.

After a few days, we went up to Garberville, where Lynn’s sister, Julie, lived. Julie’s girlfriend’s father was the fellow who invented the little compressor that you could plug into your lighter to inflate your car tires. He had provided the girls with start-up money to buy some land in the mountains. They were doing the ’60s escape from San Francisco thing, living off the land. We rode up on 101, and then took logging roads past signs that warned us not to intrude.

The cabin itself was beautiful. The bathroom was covered in sheet plastic, and the sun flowed in. The shower was outside. A pump provided water from the other side of the mountain that warmed in the sun in a cistern at the top of the hill. Showers were taken in the open. Even in the mountains, the weather was pretty mild. The only toilet was at the bottom of the hill, and it was covered with a plywood board; pretty rustic, but very beautiful.

The girls were selling off some mountain so they could buy some other land they were interested in. A number of people were coming up that weekend to look at the land they had for sale. There were interesting people from all parts of the state. Naturally, a party occurred. We drank E.J. Gallo Hearty Burgundy and smoked wicked grass. I tried to pick up a woman from Eureka who was 10 or 20 years my senior.

That night, we wandered down the hill and climbed into our sleeping bags, having left our minds behind. We slept solidly in the California mountain air. In the morning, we were awakened by Julie thumping down the hill in her engineer boots to kick the cover off the latrine. When we arose, it was in a field of marijuana as far as the eye could see.

More next week.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are available on his Web site, IrishRoseRockford.com. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

From the May 10-16, 2006, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!