The Summer of 1991 (an abbreviated account) Part II

Meanwhile, I motored north on U. S. 101 to rendezvous with the Helbigs at the construction site of their mountain house above Santa Cruz. Aside from supervising, I offered my services as a manual laborer, ranging from digging drainage ditches to hanging gutters and laying decking. Oh, and there was also clearing out underbrush and splitting fire wood logs. I also had the pleasure of working with one fine gentleman, Lee Jonas, the construction super (a spittin’ image of the actor, James Whitmore). Those were the grandest days I’ve ever spent on any trip. This very morning I would wake up with a shroud of fog, only to see it dissipate around noon to reveal a cobalt blue sky. It was one of those peculiar microclimates that only occur in California, especially since we were 1500 feet above sea level only three miles from the Pacific Ocean…sort of like a Patagonia sitting on the Andreas Fault.

The paramount ending of each day was listening to the rhetorical voices of Hank Greenwall and Ron Fairly broadcasting the San Francisco Giants ballgames. No television, just a radio…that’s all I needed. It was my little Avalon, parked under a panoply of pines, watching the sun set on Japan. And on alternate evenings, Lynnet and Franz would appear with an argosy of comestibles, most of which would end up on a grill over a flaming cook pit. That was always a special treat. And Franz, always the oenophile, never failed to produce a couple of jugs of California’s finest from the vineyards…my personal sommelier. In retrospect, those fine picnics were a beau geste for my gratuitous labor services…I was even allowed to come into town and use the shower facilities at the rental house once a week. My Promethean project was well under control by mid-July, so I decided it was time to release myself on my own recognizance from Herr Helbig’s concentration camp. No, I didn’t need any wire-cutters. I was released on probation, with the stipulation that I return to the camp within a week.

I contacted our old friend, Cam Cunningham, in Palo Alto, and found out he was entered in the Golden Gate Marathon the upcoming weekend. I hightailed it up to San Fran and found my usual parking space in front of the Safeway at the Marina (I had a front row seat for the race). The next morning, here came Cam, trundling by, and I gave him a “go for it” gesture as he huffed and puffed his way by. He retaliated with a big smile, as if to say, “Thanks for showing up.” That was just the first leg. An hour later, here he comes back from his excruciating pedestrian tour of the Bay Area, and I am there waiting to give him some liquid sustenance. The one and only objective in this crazy marathon was to finish standing up, even if it meant next Tuesday. So Cam didn’t hesitate to stop for a quick refreshment and exchange a few words of adjuration. I really wanted him to finish what he had started. His vascular attitude astounded me, especially since I remembered him as a sedentary individual with the girth and facial hair that made him bear a striking resemblance to Raymond Burr in his inimitable portrayal of Perry Mason (coincidentally, Cam is an attorney). By the way, Cam did eventually finish the race.

With only a week of reprieve from the “camp”, I scurried across the Golden Gate and hooked up with the scenic, coastline-hugging road known as California State Highway 1. I had my sights set on the fabled Sea Ranch, a much ballyhooed development designed in the 1960’s (darn, if I can’t remember the architect). What I found was a collection of weather-eroded cedar boxes, sparsely situated on a grassy, tree-less precipice overlooking the ocean. A harsh wind was whipping in off the water, which only reinforced the feeling of being unprotected… an atmosphere of loneliness. The whole ambience was so unforgiving. It was the exact antithesis of a place where I would feel comfortable. Of course, the chestnut of California real estate is an ocean view…that’s a given.

Just up the road was Gualala, home of one Joe Zizzi. With a name like that, he had to be a member of the Mafia, right? Wrong, seaweed breath. He’s actually an architect and an old friend of my ex-neighbor Howard Gamble, back in the halcyon days on North Fitzhugh in the ’60s and ’70s. Let’s see, it had been about seventeen years since we had seen each other, and son-of-gun, if he didn’t remember me right off the bat. I had to admit that I couldn’t reciprocate, mainly because he beardless. And, of course, there were a bunch of hazy days back then. Anyway, we had a great visit, catching up on each other’s architectural exploits. But we had one other common bond, that is, listening to the Bay Area baseball games. Besides the two afore-mentioned Giant announcers, we both agreed that the Oakland A’s broadcaster, Lon Simmons, was on equal status. Joe took me on a tour of some of his residential work around the area, one of which was sequestered on a tree-rich, hill-side lot. When I told him of my reaction to Sea Ranch, he totally agreed with my impressions.

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