Places I’ve Lived #11 – Bellingham, Washington

Bellingham, WashingtonThinking of Bellingham, Washington always makes me happy. I’m not going to lie and tell you that my life there was always happy, but for me, Bellingham was a magical place. I rolled in during the worst blizzard in decades. I wasn’t worried, I had a huge 4×4 and had first learned to drive on mountain roads in blizzard conditions up in Big Bear Lake.

I’ll never forget those moments on January 2nd, 1996, of driving up I-5 and seeing frozen waterfalls on the side of the highway as I blasted Rusted Root and the Grateful Dead on my far too expensive car stereo system. My dog was next to me, everything I owned was in the back of the truck, and the world was good. I’d left my terrible childhood memories, my troubled times in the Marine Corps, and all the drama with the girl in Raleigh behind. I’d been the one pushing for Bellingham when we were talking about moving together. She’d wanted either Boulder or Las Cruces – this was my town.

My dark blue 1988 full size Ford Bronco with big ass tires had brought me through the Rockies and across the continent. I’d passed through and by Redding, Canyonville, Myrtle Creek, and Tacoma without stopping. I had no idea where I would live, what work I would do, or what would happen – but Bellingham would be home for the next five years except a couple of small breaks in Juneau, Alaska and London, England in 1998.

Bellingham, WashingtonI got a coffee at a hippie coffee house on High Street and began looking for work and a place to live using The Echo – a free classified newspaper – it was like Craigslist but in newspaper form. I quickly fell in love with KISM 92.9 FM Independent Rock – the most amazing radio station I’d ever listened to. Great DJs, amazing announcers, absolutely amazing music programming, and superb fun shows. The morning show DJ, Dave Walker, would end every show with his tagline “You live in the coolest place in the world, go out and enjoy it.”

He wasn’t lying. Bellingham has everything. The San Juan Islands, Mt. Baker, the Northern Cascades, the Alaska Ferry system, great music and art scenes, Western Washington University, amazing literary talent, beautiful gardens and forests, spectacular beaches, and four glorious seasons.

Those first months in Bellingham weren’t easy. No one wanted a new roommate with a dog but finally, I found a house full of heroin addicts who rented me a room. I got a job at a saw mill in Ferndale, Washington. The junkies were too much for me – it was a constant threat situation and it came down to either living with the junkies and having my dog or finding my dog a new home so that I could find a new home. Using The Echo, I found a cool guy with a cool family who loved my dog. It was heartbreaking, but it was my only option. After that, I found a very cool roommate situation in the hippie burg of Fairhaven on the south side of Bellingham. The guy who adopted my dog helped me to find a job with the company he painted for. I escaped from the mill and the heroin house. It was a tough decision, but it was the right one.

Bellingham, WashingtonAs a painter I made a bunch of new friends. I also made new friends through my new roommate, Alyssa. Every day, I listened to 92.9 FM while I was working. One day, I told my co-worker – I’m going to get a job at that radio station. At a blues festival hosted by the station, I saw my chance. I met the programming director, a guy named Ken Richards who was also one of the DJs – I cornered him in the beer tent and told him “I want to work for 92.9 FM, I don’t care what it takes – I’ll clean toilets if I have to.” He gave me his card and told me to call him the next week. I did. He offered me a job as an producer/intern on ‘The Morning Deal’ – I would have to quit my painting job and it was a serious pay cut, but I took it.

Over the next year, I managed to take every job that came available. I took the late night DJ slots, became the full time producer of The Morning Deal, did part time work for the station’s engineer cleaning the garage, cutting brush, wiring new equipment in – anything – then I took a job as a commercial copy writer. Radio didn’t pay great, but I loved it. That guy who I’d heard when I first rolled into town “You live in the coolest place in the world, so go out and enjoy it” – he became one of my best friends. I started writing a weekly column for The Echo called Rambling Man. Between the radio and The Echo, I was suddenly kind of famous. I had also enrolled at Whatcom Community College. My life was full and beautiful. I met a great girl and we began seeing each other.

Bellingham, WashingtonThe girl was great but she had two children from previous relationships and I wasn’t ready to be anyone’s dad. Then, one day, I met a girl I fell head over heels for – she was all I could think about for years. I pursued her with a single minded determination that utterly failed. All she ever wanted from me was my friendship, but I wanted more. That desire (the root of all suffering) destroyed me, destroyed my ego, and left me disjointed and dis-satisfied. It left me completely unsettled despite my very cool life, great friends, minor fame, and decent income. I wanted her and since I couldn’t have her, I wanted more from every other aspect of my life.

In 1998, I bought a 1976 VW bus, left my job at the station and moved out of my apartment. I decided to go to Alaska and see if I could shake the sickness that had enveloped my soul. It didn’t work. I sold the bus and went to London, England to pursue something else – but it didn’t work. My desire for her was like a fungus that had grown inside me and wouldn’t let me do anything else. In both places (and in Bellingham) opportunities were presented to me like golden apples – but I could see nothing but her. I kept coming back, trying to impress her, trying to win her. It didn’t work.

Bellingham, WashingtonBack in Bellingham, I started a magazine and co-founded an early internet startup. Once again, there were plentiful opportunities presented to me in work, in life, and in love – but she was all I saw or wanted. It was a sickness, this love and obsession – and whenever I would find myself healing from it – then she would appear – at a party, a call out of the blue, in the street, at a coffee shop, or showing up at my door. She wanted me in her life and yet, the one thing she didn’t want was a romantic relationship with me. It was all I wanted. Finally, I realized, I just had to get away from her. She wasn’t doing it on purpose, but she had eaten my soul.

I took a tech job at a start-up in Seattle. The first months involved a four-hour commute each day from Bellingham but eventually, I rented a house in Green Lake with new co-workers. The girl would show up still or she would call me – but I was healing – I was recognizing that I needed to end the friendship and put some emotional distance between us. It still amazes me that she never wanted me – and I still wonder what the world might have been like if she had. She’s the one part of Bellingham that doesn’t make me happy when I remember that place.

In any event, that’s what led to me leaving Bellingham, abandoning my startup, and changing my life – again.

Bellingham, Washington

Bellingham, WashingtonBellingham is a treasure. It sits 20 miles south of the Canadian Border and 90 miles north of Seattle. It is sandwiched between the San Juan Islands and the North Cascade Range of mountains. There are about 92,000 people who live in Bellingham and it is the northernmost city in the USA with a population of more than 50,000. There are numerous lakes, streams, waterfalls, and great hiking, mountain biking, and outdoor recreation of all kinds in the area. Summers don’t get hotter than about 90 Fahrenheit and winters can get incredibly cold – well below zero if caught in a Nor’easter. The population of Bellingham has nearly doubled since the time I arrived there – I’ve heard that Fairhaven is now more of a retirement community than a hippie burg – which is too bad. As a side note – I’ve just looked at the cost of buying or renting a family home in Bellingham due in no small part to nostalgia in writing this – it turns out that the increase in population has led to a housing shortage – good old B’ham, which used to be cheap – is now way out of range for nearly everyone with rents nearly as high as in Honolulu and Seattle…All I have to say is it’s a damn shame…

Places I’ve Lived #10 – Raleigh, North Carolina

Raleigh, North CarolinaRaleigh, North Carolina was the first place in my life that I ever chose to live. Everywhere before had been chosen by my parents or chosen by the Marine Corps. When I ended my active duty in 1994, I looked around the USA for where I wanted to live. It was scary. I thought about moving back to California, but frankly, my experience with Redding, Big Bear Lake, and the bases in San Diego had soured me on my home state. I look back and realize that’s a bit of a shame as 1994 was a great time be in California.

Instead, I looked to the only real city I had ever spent considerable time in. My brother and his wife had moved to Raleigh while I was still on active duty. I loved taking leave and visiting with them. At this point in my life, Raleigh seems like a small city or a big town – but at that point – it was amazing! There were bagel shops and Middle Eastern markets! There were bars and coffee shops and business districts. There were hotels that were more than two stories high and there were universities…and there were girls. Oh, goodness yes, there were so many girls. One of the worst things about being stationed in Jacksonville, North Carolina was that there were 50,000 male Marines all prowling around for the same 3,000 girls. I’m not even close to six foot but most of those guys were – and during my entire time stationed at New River Air Station, I only went on a dozen dates – and only three or four followups. So, Raleigh? It looked like heaven to me. There were educated people, entrepreneurs, a variety of religions and religious experiences – it was nothing short of awesome.

Raleigh, North CarolinaI moved in with my brother and his wife while I waited for one of my good buddies from the USMC to complete his enlistment. I got a job at the tallest hotel in Raleigh working on the top floor at the bar where all the State Senators and Representatives hung out when the legislature was in session. My brother and his wife had opened a furniture store and were renting a big Victorian house – the landlady was a real piece of work and one day when I got home from work my brother told me “Pack up, we’re moving.”  We moved into the warehouse they had rented for their furniture. For the next month or so there was only a thin sheet of plywood between where I slept and the tire warehouse next door.

Finally, my buddy got out and we rented a townhouse. He got a job in the same restaurant and we lived it up! I enrolled at North Carolina State, I joined the Rugby club, bought an old motorcycle, and life was really good. My brother and his wife bought a house and my friend Mike and I went to raves, clubbed, met girl after girl after girl, worked in the ‘Top of the Tower’ and brought home good money as bartenders. It was a golden year…and then a girl came along. I met her, she sat at my bar and I fell into her eyes – she said she would wait for me to finish work and we would go out. Mike came in, he was already off work – he suggested they go somewhere else and meet me later – and that was it. They were a thing and I was resentful as hell.

Raleigh, North CarolinaWhen they broke up, I didn’t waste any time, I swooped in and scooped her up. She was still sleeping in the same house but in a different room and honestly, no friendship can survive that shit. Mike moved out and the whole thing became sort of ugly – she and I started planning a move to the West Coast – somewhere. We poured over maps and books and guides – we narrowed it down to three places: Boulder, Colorado or Las Cruces, New Mexico or Bellingham, Washington.  I was sort of like “Fuck it, I lost my best friend but I have this awesome girl I’m in love with” except – part of the reason she wanted to move to Boulder, it turned out, was because she was involved with another guy who had moved there and as things got more complicated with us, she pined for him. Suddenly, I was completely fucking lost.

I started spending more than I was earning, maxxed out my credit cards, bought the huge 4×4 truck of my dreams, and packed everything I owned (including my dog, Scooby Doo) and moved out of my apartment, dropped out of school, sold my motorcycle and set off for Bellingham, Washington.

Raleigh, North Carolina

Raleigh, North CarolinaRaleigh is the capital of the state of North Carolina. It has about half a million people in it and is the home of North Carolina State University and the Research Triangle Park (which also includes nearby Durham and Chapel Hill – the combined area has about 2 million people). Raleigh is an amazing place. There are a lot of very smart people living there and as such there are great book stores, art galleries, shows, exhibitions, museums and other interesting things to see and do. Raleigh is a beautiful city with a rich history and a vibrant cultural heritage.

Places I’ve Lived #9 – Jacksonville, North Carolina

jacksonville North CarolinaI joined the Marines to see the world and escape Redding, California – unfortunately, they only showed me bootcamp in San Diego, California – Marine Combat Training in San Onofre, Californi – Air Traffic Control School in Millington Tennessee – and then they shuffled me to Jacksonville, North Carolina. The good news is I never had to go to war but the bad news was that the places they showed me were worse than the places I was trying to get away from. I was in Jacksonville for a nearly three and a half years. I was posted at the New River Air Station as an Air Traffic Controller. I achieved the rank of Sergeant, the positions of Supervisor, Trainer, and Crew Chief, and while I was stuck in the anus of North Carolina – I had the opportunity to explore what is otherwise, a pretty beautiful state. North Carolina has the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Outer Banks, Asheville, Boone, Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Wilmington, and much more – but Jacksonville had nothing but shitty strip bars, too many Marines, and the people who relied on them for an economy. I can recommend nothing about Jacksonville, North Carolina except not going there. Since I was nineteen but allowed to drink on the base, I didn’t have a life off the base, and there was virtually nothing to do on the base – I developed a fairly severe drinking problem. The reason nineteen year olds aren’t allowed to drink in society is because they aren’t old enough to do it responsibly – so thank you, Uncle Sam,  for giving me a way to waste all my money, destroy my health, and not deal with life while I was stuck in a shithole.

Jacksonville, North Carolina

Jacksonville has a population of approximately 70,000 – the average age is 22.8 years which is because of the tens of thousands of Marines based at Camp Geiger, Camp Lejeune, New River Air Station, and nearby Cherry Point.

Places I’ve Lived #8 – Millington, Tennessee

Millington Naval Air Station MemphisI would love to say that I had lived in San Diego, but Marine Corps Boot Camp and Marine Corps Combat Training don’t really classify as living – and that was all the experience I had in San Diego and San Onofre.  I’d left Redding by joining the Marines (which again, for the record, was a stupid decision – if I would have had good guidance from the adults around me – I would have gone to college at Stanford or Berkley). The Marines had been impressed by my test scores and promised me a career in aviation. I’d always dreamed of being an astronaut and becoming a pilot seemed like a good step in that direction.

Unfortunately, I’d been misled. You needed to be an officer to become a pilot and after bootcamp, my choices were to either become an enlisted navigator or an air traffic controller. During the flight swim qualification, the beefy monster I was trying to demonstrate rescue technique on decided he should really ham it up as a drowning victim and dragged us both under. That left air traffic control (ATC). ATC school was in Millington, Tennessee – near Memphis. I’d been told that because of my scores, I would be assigned to one of the bases I’d chosen on my ‘dream sheet’ but that was a lie. Instead of being sent to Okinawa, Japan or Kaneohe, Hawaii or even San Onofre, California – the USMC sent me to Millington,Tennessee and Jacksonville, North Carolina. These were the only places I saw during my time in the service and frankly, both of them were cesspools.

I liked Memphis. I loved the blues bars, Beale Street, and the whole black southern vibe of the place. Millington, on the other hand, was a typical military pit filled with strip bars, tattoo shops, pawn shops, and other businesses that appeal to 18-20 year old men who are away from home for the first time – as well as the predators that prey on them. Millington was filled with hustlers, scamsters, sharks, and criminal elements preying on the military. I got my first fake ID in Millington, I was 19 and about 5’7″ – pretty obviously male. The ID said I was 24, female, and 6’3″ – but it worked everywhere I went.

I did what you might expect in Millington. I was robbed once in Millington and I got jumped and beaten by a group of angry guys on a corner in Memphis once. My crime was being an obvious military guy, by himself waiting for friends to show up. Memphis gave me a lifelong love of the blues and a taste for soul food and Southern barbecue. I lived there for a bit over four months.

Millington, Tennessee

Millington Naval Air Station MemphisI can’t really say very much about Millington. The base closure and realignment act of 1993 changed the base and I’m sure the town is different now as well. If I would have enlisted a few years later, my ‘A School’ would have been in Pensacola, Florida – which is a much more desirable location.  It was in Millington that I first learned the term ‘Hobo Jungle’ – it was one of the places forbidden for us military personnel to go – the bushes where the hoboes drank. Millington was a transient camp in the 1930s during the great depression and apparently the hobo jungles never went away.

Places I’ve Lived #7 – Redding, California

Redding, CaliforniaI didn’t go straight from Myrtle Creek, Oregon to Redding, California. Instead, I went back to Big Bear Lake where I lived with my father for a little less than two years – he wasn’t a suitable parent for anyone – let alone a kid who had suffered through the hell that I’d been through in Oregon – so it didn’t really work out. He was still living and loving his rock star lifestyle. He was in bands, had girlfriends, bought a boat, had a nice house on the lake, bought a corvette, disappeared for days at a time (and once came back from Vegas with a new wife – which lasted a couple of weeks). He didn’t have the attention span nor the patience to be the father I needed and as a result I was allowed to fall into company that led me astray. By the time he noticed that I was running around with criminal youth, it was too late for him to do anything about it – we fought and I ran away from home several times. I bounced around from place to place – eventually moving in with one of the girlfriends he’d dumped along the way. She was sweet and while she had her own problems, she was the first adult I’d known in years who acted like a parent.

Eventually, my mom escaped from her monstrous husband and came back to Big Bear. She quickly found a new younger husband. He was a solid and good guy who had no idea what he was getting into – but he stuck with it and somehow made it all work. My sister lived with our grandmother at this point and my brother had gone his own way. After they had been married for more than a year, I moved in with my mom and her new husband. At about this point, they decided to move to Redding, California. All the way on the other end of the state.

There are many people who love Redding. I’m not one of them. It was hot, the town was filled with tweekers, and I was an angry 16, 17, and 18 year old when I lived there. I graduated from Shasta High School and on the advice of my step-father joined the Marines and got out of Redding as quickly as I could. I’d gotten in some trouble with alcohol at the homecoming game. My overworked public defender suggested that the judge would go easier if I was enlisted in the military. I took her advice and joined the branch my step-father had been in. It was a stupid thing to do – I should have enrolled in Stanford and moved to the Bay Area – I was smart enough, but not smart enough, if you get my drift.

Redding, CaliforniaLooking back, a lot of my anger came from other places and the truth is – Redding was pretty good to me. I was dating cheerleaders and had some great quality friends, if anything, my issues were that I chose to spend time with other people who were serious losers – I was surrounded by drugs, guns, and violence. On weekends, we would all drive around downtown Redding to meet up, find parties, and find trouble. It was called ‘The Cruise’ and it was outlawed sometime later in the 1990s.

Redding was the first place I saw a person killed – I was at a party and a local gang called ‘The Winds’ showed up looking for a guy ( I didn’t know him – he was a drifter wandering through). They found him at the party and beat him to death with bottles (I presume he died because I can’t imagine anyone surviving that), they then put his body in a blanket and threw it in the back of a truck and drove off. I saw all of this while hiding in a slatted door closet with the girl who lived in the house. I never saw a news story about it – so maybe he didn’t die, but at the time, I was certain I had just witnessed a murder. We all had – there were at least ten people who saw it – but when the police showed up, none of us wanted to be the one to point their finger at the gang members – we’d just seen what would happen if we did.

I left Redding shortly after that and I never looked back though I have visited my mom from time to time over the past thirty years.

Redding, California

Redding, CaliforniaRedding is a city surrounded by the wonders of nature. Drive in almost any direction and you are sure to find  something mind blowing. Mt. Shasta , Mt. Lassen, Shasta Lake, the Sacramento River, Whiskeytown Lake, the Trinity Alps, Burney Falls, Shasta Caverns and much more. Like many of the towns I lived in growing up, Redding sits on Interstate 5 (I-5). It has a population of about 90,000 and was originally called Poverty Flats. Redding has a rich mining and timber harvesting history and as such – fell into hard times in the 80s and 90s when those industries declined. It has never really recovered, though it has tried. There are a number of prisons that surround Redding and this contributes to the economy – also, many of the prisoners stay in the area when they are released of furloughed and sometimes their families move to Redding while they are incarcerated.

Temperatures in Redding often push the 120 degrees Fahrenheit mark and locals are smart to spend time in the Sacramento River or the area’s many lakes.

Places I’ve Lived #6 – Myrtle Creek, Oregon

Myrtle Creek I have fonder memories of Myrtle Creek than my siblings do. I think it’s because I’ve blocked out much of the horror and mayhem. They refer to the place we lived as ‘The Death Farm’ and honestly, that’s pretty much what it was. My mother’s new master didn’t find the ranch of his dreams in Canyonville, but not far away in beautiful Myrtle Creek, Oregon he found a place that when I remember it – really was a slice of heaven (if only you could have removed the adults from it). It was an 18 acre ranch with a beautiful 10 acre pasture in the front that sat next to gorgeous Bilger Creek – a small stream that flowed year round. It had a sweet well and as many as five springs that flowed sweetly from the old growth timbered mountain behind – which made up most of the other eight acres. There was a small barn, a wood-shop, a garden, outhouses, a wood shed, and – a decent (when we moved in) double wide trailer with a covered porch that looked out over the pasture and stream. There were wild deer, quail, rabbits, trout, pheasants, and chucker. To pay for it, he more or less made mom trade all the property she’d gotten out of the marriage with my dad and also rented our childhood house to his scumbag friends so they could take over the mortgage – they didn’t pay the mortgage and she lost the house, he and mom didn’t pay the new mortgage and they lost the farm too. Plus she lost lots in Big Bear, 10 acres in Ennis, Montana, and all the savings she had. It was a costly marriage for all of our lives.

Myrtle CreekThe problem with the farm was that the drug addict/alchoholic/violent tempered cowboy who was in charge of our lives wanted to have wolf dogs and farm animals. So, we had chickens, goats, cows, geese, a horse – and we had the wolf dogs which broke their chains and killed all of our farm animals – and then got shot by the neighbors. Everything died on that farm except for us. I learned to shoot, to survive in the wilds, to forage, and to hunt on that farm – it was a necessity. Our so called parents were in the town bars more than they were in the home – so we mostly fended for ourselves. I remember nice church people bringing us food and even Christmas presents one year after the asshole smashed the Christmas tree and presents because we little kids cried because we wanted to open presents on Christmas Eve (which had been our family tradition) instead of waiting for Christmas Day (his family tradition). So, not all of my memories are fond of that place but I spent a lot of time learning the outdoors and growing to appreciate nature, and learning how to be alone – skills that all served me well in life. I finally abandoned my younger sister and went to live with my long lost father after finding the asshole cowboy standing above my mother after he had broken her back – I had just come in from hunting pheasants so I used the gun to make him leave her alone. My mother begged me not to shoot him, so I didn’t – but probably should have. In any event, I couldn’t stay there any longer. My dad had come back into our lives that year after a near 5-year absence with a big shopping trip to a warehouse store where he bought me my dream machine, a Commodore 64 computer but he balked at actually spending the money to buy me the floppy drive and monitor I needed to go with it so I had to learn how to code my own games in BASIC and used an old black and white TV as my monitor.  So, off to my father’s I went (back in Big Bear Lake)– I felt guilty leaving my sister, but she didn’t want to leave our mother – even though I begged her to. I missed the nature of Myrtle Creek. I’d had a little gold mining setup in the creek, a tree-fort filled with books on the back lot, and a dozen hide outs that were all my own.

On the positive note, I had a great art teacher and a great English teacher at the middle school there, Coffenberry Jr. High. On the down side, the math teacher beat me and several other kids so severely with paddles that I was withdrawn from his class and was compelled to testify against him in court. I had liked math up until that point – but the beatings ended that particular love affair for years. On another positive note – my mother eventually escaped from the monster. He went on to marry another monster and the two of them abused and stole from senior citizens until they were caught – several seniors (including his own grandparents and great grandparents) had died under their care and had been compelled to bequest the two of them all of their property and money. When he was caught – he ended his own life with a shotgun – so, he got at least part of what he deserved.

Myrtle Creek, Oregon

With a little over 3500 people, Myrtle Creek has twice the population and half the charm of nearby Canyonville. The South Umpqua River flows on one side of the town which disconnects it from nearby I-5, which has done the town no good. There is virtually no reason why anyone should ever want to go to Myrtle Creek in my opinion – but in the past few years there have been several little farm businesses, an innovative hamburger shop and a few other positive improvements in the place. And, it’s a very pretty place if you can get past the poverty, addiction, and domestic violence.

Places I’ve Lived #5 – Canyonville, Oregon

CanyonvilleAfter a super ugly divorce in Big Bear Lake, California – my mom was ready to go as far away from my Dad as she could – my dad seemed happy to be a single guy without kids encumbering his rock star lifestyle – so no one stood in the way of mom marrying a super tall alcoholic doucehebag wanna-be cowboy who was barely out of his teens. We left our last happy childhood home for the last time. This time there would be no return. He decided that the best thing to do with his wealthy new bride was to move her and her three kids as far away from where her family could interfere with his fucked up, violent, and drug fueled life choices. He moved us to Canyonville, Oregon – which, to be fair, is a pretty nice little Oregon town – but which for all of us became the gateway to hell. While he looked for the ranch of his dreams, we were all crammed into a tiny little house with a half dozen dogs – the house had been a drug dealers before we moved into it and it wasn’t uncommon for bikers and other shit-bags to come waltzing in the door looking for ‘Jim’ at all hours of the night. Guns were a regular part of our lives at this point. The shithole biker bar next door “The Snake Pit” was where mom and her new boss (because she just did whatever he told her to or he would beat the shit out of her) spent the majority of their time. We met a whole new class of bikers – not the friendly Hells Angels of Big Bear but the drug fueled and violent Gypsy Jokers.

CanyonvilleOn the positive side – we had a cherry tree and Canyon Creek ran behind the house. We would go down and catch crawdads by the bucketfull and cook them up with butter and garlic. I used to get old fashioned milkshakes from a place with a cow on the roof. Canyonville itself is set in a beautiful part of Southern Oregon and when we weren’t witnesses or victims of domestic violence and substance abuse – we swam in country swimming holes, hiked through beautiful pine forests, and spent time on the ranch of a family who saw the hell we were in, but werent willing to involve themselves further than letting us spend time with them. We were there for a bit less than a year (4th grade) …and then we moved to nearby Myrtle Creek – which I will write about next. Here is a bit about Canyonville, Oregon that is outside of my experience.

Canyonville, Oregon

CanyonvilleCanyonville has a population of about 1800 people (honestly, I thought it was larger) and sits in an area known as the ‘Banana Belt’ in Southern Oregon. It is classified as having a ‘Mediterranean Climate’ though, I’ve lived in the Mediterranean and Canyonville both and would beg to differ. Winters are cold, wet, grey, and rainy. Canyonville is the third oldest city in Oregon and was a stopping point of the Applegate Trail (part of the Oregon Trail migration) It is where the North Umpqua and South Umpqua Rivers meet and is a great spot for fishing, hunting, and outdoor recreation. Canyonville sits alongside Interstate-5 which runs from Canada to Mexico and is the main north/south interstate on the West Coast of the United States. Canyonville is most famous for President Rutherford B. Hayes once having lunch there. Today the 7-Feathers Casino is the big draw in Canyonville, but it was not there when I was a kid. When I was a kid, the biggest part of the economy was logging and mining at the nearby Hannah Nickel Mine in Riddle, Oregon. Ranching, farming, and resource extraction were the lifeblood of Canyonville  in those days. These days, I’ve heard that it is the casino and meth production.

Places I’ve Lived #4 – Mendocino, California

Mendocino, CaliforniaWhen I write about my childhood – it sounds bizarre, even to me.  Shortly after I started first grade, my father once again decided it was time to go someplace new…but once again, it didn’t last long. The dynamics of my parent’s relationship were already terrible – so who knows if this had something to do with it – cause or effect, at this point it doesn’t really matter. In any event, my father had built a fairly successful painting business in Big Bear Lake but when he’d met my mother he had been a musician in several mildly successful bands…at some point in the 1970’s he started playing music again, hanging out in nudist camps and then he started taking tai-chi lessons from a nomadic puppeteer named Rio.

A strange friendship was born. Rio was building a live in gypsy wagon on the back of a RIO truck and he and his love, Nancy – were going to move to Mendocino. While the truck was being built, we started receiving huge numbers of packages from outdoor catalogs because it turned out that Nancy had been married when she and Rio met and now she was sticking it to her husband by maxxing out his credit cards and having all the stuff sent to our house (since they lived in a tent while the truck was being built). Nancy had two lovely little girls (Spirit and Isis) and a cool little boy (Gabe) and we all became great hippie friends. Rio was this amazing young Gandolph figure – he was a puppeteer, a carpenter and tai-chi master – his truck was being built as a traveling stage for his puppet shows.

Once the truck was built and all the dried foods, survival gear, etc was loaded – it was time to go and Dad once again decided he would rent out our house as an income property and leave all of our possessions locked in the garage/storeroom he had built. Off we went…I think my dad was planning on starting a new band or something, but we ended up in Mendocino. We rented a creepy white house that was high on a bluff above the ocean. I’m pretty sure it was haunted or that some Manson murder shit had gone down there. My brother and I were enrolled in school in nearby Fort Bragg and all went well that winter – except in terms of my parent’s marriage. Dad and Rio would disappear for weeks at a time. Eventually, mom had enough and we packed it all up and went back to our house in Big Bear where once again, short term renters had trashed our house, broken into the storeroom, and stolen anything of value.

That’s my personal story of Mendocino – but here is a bit about the town itself:

Mendocino, California

Mendocino, CaliforniaMendocino, just north of San Francisco was founded in 1850 as a lumber town because of the proximity to the mighty and beautiful redwoods. In the 1940s it became a sort of artist colony and has been known as such ever since. The town sits on huge bluffs above the Pacific Ocean and is home to one of the oldest Chinese temples in the USA, dating back to 1854.  The temple of Kwan Yin is dedicated to the goddess of medicine and peace.

Mendocino has appeared in a lot of Hollywood productions, most prominent was the TV Series “Murder She Wrote” in which the town was fronted as being a village in Maine. It’s a beautiful and cool place. Here’s a few bizarre facts –

  • The nearby town of Booneville had it’s own language called Boontling.
  • The Manson family actually did rent a house (well before we lived there) in Mendocino and I’d bet money it’s the same creepy one we lived in
  • It rains a lot in Mendocino
  • Mendocino has less than 1000 people and a lot of Bed and Breakfasts

 

Places I’ve Lived #3, Mazatlan, Mexico

Mazatlan, Mexico I’m happy I had the chance to live outside of the USA as a child – I’m also glad that I got to experience Mexico first hand before the racist bigots who surrounded me growing up had a chance to completely distort my view of this beautiful country and the warm, generous, and hard working Mexican people.

It was common among white people in California during the 60s, 70s, and 80s to denigrate, belittle, and trash talk about Mexican people – sadly, this was especially true in hillbilly places like Big Bear Lake which tended to be filled with bikers, outlaws, and descendants of dustbowl migrants from the 1930s. As a white person, I’m ashamed of that truth – but a truth it is.

As I mentioned though, I was heavily innoculated against it by my father making a terrible decision. “Let’s rent out our house for the winter and drive to Mexico” Never mind that our car was a barely running piece of shit Ford Pinto station wagon. Off we went.

Mazatlan, MexicoThe car broke down and my father was either unable or unwilling to fix it for several months so we rented a house in Mazatlan, made friends with a bunch of Mexican people, and even attempted to go to school without knowing even a little bit of Spanish. I made some friends, played football (soccer), and played on the beach a lot. My friend Manuel and I found a dead whale on the beach once…

Eventually, mom forced dad to fix the car and back we went to Big Bear Lake where renters had trashed our house and stolen most of our possessions.  That’s my story – but here’s a bit about Mazatlan.

Mazatlan, Mexico

Mazatlan, MexicoMazatlan is in the state of Sinaloa – roughly parallel with the southern tip of Baja, California. This is weird given the Octoberfest connection to Big Bear Lake. Mazatlan was founded in 1531 by Spaniards and Indigenous people but it was settled largely by a group of Bavarian immigrants in the 1800s. Bring on the Polka Tots!

Mazatlan is most famous for the miles and miles of beautiful beaches, the old lighthouse and famous cliff jumpers, and the longest boardwalk promenade in the world. It was the first town in the world to suffer an aerial bombardment and for decades had the only English language newspaper in Mexico.  Mazatlan is home to the largest carnival and the largest aquarium in Mexico.

I need to go back…I wonder what ever happened to Manuel?

Mazatlan, Mexico

Places I’ve Lived #2 – Big Bear Lake, California

Big Bear Lake Ski ResortThere’s no place I’ve lived (with the possible exception of Hawaii) that has had such a huge effect on who I am as Big Bear Lake, California. My parents moved there around 1972-73 from Tacoma, Washington – most of my mom’s family followed us. I lived in Big Bear for two distinct periods – my normal, privileged and happy childhood from 1973-1981 and then an incredibly dysfunctional early-teen period from 1985-1988. Like many kids, my life changed dramatically after my parents went through an ugly and violent divorce. Most of my happy childhood memories come from the 73-81 period. At the time, our family was prosperous – we were surrounded by uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, and friends. Here are some of the amazing things I remember from Big Bear Lake.

Massive Snowstorms

Big Bear LakeI’m not talking about little snowstorms or a foot on the ground. I’m talking about full on blizzards where our house got buried. We had to jump out the second floor window to get out! 8-10 feet of snow. Big Bear is in the mountains above Los Angeles but it sits at an elevation of nearly 7000′ feet. One great thing about all that snow was snow days, snow forts, and playing in the snow all winter long. There were two ski resorts in Big Bear in those days Snow Summit and Goldmine (now Bear Mountain). We had annual season passes at Snow Summit and ski lessons were an essential part of being a kid in Big Bear. Our winter jacket’s were festooned with colored B’s to denote our level. If memory serves – the Red B was the expert skiier.

Big Bear Lake, Jenks Lake, Baldwin Lake

There were a number of snow fed lakes in the area, so summer was a time of swimming and water skiing. We would also wander the shallows searching for giant orange carp in the lake or fish for blu gill, bass, and trout. Jenk’s Lake was a tiny lake where school trips would go to learn about nature and do camp activities. In the winter, the lakes would completely freeze over and it was common for ‘dumb flatlanders’ (our term for weekend visitors from L.A.) to fall through the ice.

Fawnskin and Fawnskin Caverns

On one side of the lake is the tiny village of Fawnskin (which is strange because my sister is named Fawn) – as a teen, I wandered and drank all through this area. During all of the time I was living there, it was a fun pasttime to hike and climb in Fawnskin. There was a huge complex of boulder made caverns which were most fun to climb in (and most dangerous) during the winter months when they were filled with ice and snow.

Old Miner’s Days and Hell’s Angels

Every summer there was a festival celebrating the rough and ready miner’s who had flooded the valley in 49′. This weeks long festival included a multi-day burro race around the valley, burro baseball, a parade, a Miss Clementine and Mr. Kadiddlehopper Pageant, and much more. The Hell’s Angels were always around during this time – in fact they loved Big Bear and were frequent visitors – they sponsored school picnics and some of the teachers were even members of the famous biker gang.

Big Dick Rock

Big Bear has huge boulder piles everywhere. I’m not sure what geology created that – but every kid in Big Bear knew about ‘Big Dick Rock’

Big Bear Dam (old and new)

Big Bear has an old dam which is usually under water and a new dam that traffic crosses. The ‘New Dam’ was built in the 1930s.

China Island

There’s a tiny island in an area called Boulder Bay – that has a bunch of Chinese houses built on it. My aunt and uncle lived there for a year. It’s scenic and pretty strange….I’ve heard the owner lives on Maui.

The Rifle Range

There’s a rifle range in Big Bear and as kids we used to go there and collect lead bullets. Sometimes when people were shooting. We got chased away many times – it was incredibly stupid.

Old Mines and Cabins

Big Bear has lots of National Forest land and if you dig around in it (as we did a lot of) you will find mines, old caverns, old cabins, and in the 1970s – things like boxes of dynamite. We did incredibly stupid things with all of that stuff and somehow never killed ourselves.

‘Down the Hill’

When you live in Big Bear – every other place is ‘down the hill’ and people from other parts of California are called ‘flatlanders’. Going ‘down the hill’ meant going to Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Diego, or other places.

The Old Juniper Tree fort in Whispering Forest

Generations of kids have built tree forts in the old Juniper tree that sits across from my childhood home. Despite the itchy bark, the big drops, and the territoriality of kids like me – this tree has been the dreaming and hanging out space for many growing kids.

Holcomb Valley

Holcomb Valley Big Bear LakeHolcomb Valley with it’s decrepit town of Belleville, the abandoned shacks, hidden gold mines, rifle and shotgun casings, herds of mules and packs of coyotes, hidden springs, and deep desolate and lonely hidden places – there should be songs written about this place.

The Crow’s Nest, The Poop Deck, Chad’s, and The Bear’s Den

I don’t know how many of these bars remain – but Big Bear Lake had the most colorful drinking establishment names of anywhere I’ve ever lived. Sure, maybe Chad’s doesn’t sound that exciting until you see three hundred Harley’s parked in the streets in front of it. As kids, we spent a lot of time at the Big Bear Arcade across the street and would all pile out to watch bikers beat the hell out of each other in the streets during the middle of the day.

The Bear Statues and Octoberfest

Big Bear used to have these beautiful standing bear statues that would welcome you into town. Visitors and residents would dress the bears which stood on top of rock pillars. Sometimes in snow jackets, goggles, hats, or winter gear – other times in bikinis. They were the childhood mascots to the town.

Each October there would be a week long drinking festival – I don’t think there were a lot of Germans in Big Bear but there were certainly a lot of drinkers so it was a big deal. Our parents put us in a children’s dance troop called the Polka Tots and we would train in Bavarian dance and travel to events throughout Southern California to dance in leiderhosen for the boys and frilly  dresses and braids for the girls. It was a very strange thing to do.

Pan Hot Springs

Pan Hot SpringsI learned to swim in beautiful thermal pools that smelled slightly of sulfur. I was never a particularly good swimmer but I will always appreciate the fact that I learned to swim in pools created by mountain hot springs.

Rattlesnakes, Scorpions, Coyotes, Raccoons, Burros, Mountain Lions, and Bears

There’s a lot more to remember about Big Bear – it was an amazing place to be a child – but probably the most striking memory is the proximity of nature to us. We used to encounter rattlesnakes on a regular basis – we would flip stones and catch snakes and scorpions with old glass jars. The yip yip of coyotes was a part of the lullaby that would put us to sleep and the braying of the wild burro herds would startle us awake – at which point we would watch them be chased from yards and gardens in the neighborhood. We didn’t see a lot of bears in those days – but they and the mountain lions were about – we’d catch sign of them on the trails – pawprints, piles of poo, the acrid musky odor of a mountain lion or lynx.

This was my childhood. It sounds like a time long ago – and I guess as I write this it was generally four decades ago – but when I look at pictures or think about how different the world was then – it seems like it was much much longer. I love the memories of my childhood in Big Bear Lake, California.

Places I’ve Lived #1 – Tacoma, Washington, USA

Tacoma, WashingtonThis is going to be a series of twenty-five (and maybe more later) articles about the cities and towns around the world where I have lived. First of all, some definition is required. In the childhood period, I define a place where I lived as somewhere where my parents had jobs and worked and I lived with them. In adulthood, I define a place where I lived as anywhere that I had a space of my own and worked. So for example – hotels don’t count unless I was living in them for extended periods and had a job in the same town (so conferences don’t count). At the moment in mid-2019, I’ve listed twenty-five places – there are a few places that I’ve left and gone back to which I don’t count more than once – and since I’ve written pretty extensively about Hawaii – I’ve combined my first stint in Hawaii (2001-2008) into one place even though it included Oahu and Kauai – and made my current stay in Honolulu(2017-present) into another. This isn’t a formal study or anything – but I wanted to explain my methodology. Why am I doing this? Not for any particular reason except there are interesting tidbits about each of these places – and I want to share.

Tacoma, WashingtonSo, to start – I was born in Tacoma, Washington. My father’s family has been in Washington since early pioneer times. Our family is listed in the state archives as some of the first European descent settlers in the region.  Mostly our family lived in the Aberdeen, Tacoma, Puyallup, and Seattle areas. My mom is a native Californian but my dad managed to get her to live in Washington for a couple of years around the time of my birth.

Tacoma is named for the Native-American name of Mt. Raineer. It is a port city and was once the terminus for the Northern Pacific Railroad. The region was mostly known for lumber and paper mills and during the 1960s and 1970s it was a pretty rough place to be. The paper mills created a fart smell that was known as ‘the Tacoma Aroma’. In the early 1900s, Tacoma was a hotbed of radical union organizing and was the site of a massive wobbly (Industrial Workers of the World IWW) strike. In the 1920s, Tacoma was a formidable rival to Hollywood to become the center of the movie industry. California‘s better climate proved to be an insurmountable advantage. Tacoma declined in the 20th century to become one of the least livable cities in the USA with high crime, high unemployment, and many abandoned buildings. In the 1990s, the city began turning itself around – today, it is known as one of the most livable cities in the USA! Pretty amazing!

Tacoma, WashingtonThere are really two things I love about Tacoma – as a child when we would visit my grandfather – we would always take a trip to the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium  in Point Defiance Park which itself is more than 700 acres. The zoo and aquarium are world class and made it hard for me to appreciate lessor facilities later in my life. Tacoma is also well known as a center for glass art – world renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly comes from Tacoma and his beautiful large scale glassworks are seen throughout the city.

Like many cities – there is much more to Tacoma than just this – but you will have to go there to experience it.

Tacoma, Washington

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