How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Re Catchy’s serial killer link, I thought I’d mention my own experience.


Recently, my wife and I flew to San Francisco, driving up to Oregon in order to say our last farewells to one of her sisters, who has a terminal illness. It was the first time I’d ever set foot in California. After a week in Oregon, we decided to drive back via the coast and spend a few nights on the ocean.
Because I’d never been to Northern California before, and the trip was undertaken in a hurry, neither of us had any idea of the topography we would encounter or what our hotel, a place in “Shelter Cove” overlooking the Pacific would be like. If pressed, I guess we’d have said the North Carolina Outer Banks or something. The usual East Coast touristy beach towns. As most of you already know, the joke was on me; we drove back through mountains and Redwood National Park before ending up in one of the most isolated spots on the West Coast.


Shelter Cove, which is south of Eureka in Humboldt County, is a wealthy little second-home enclave of 700 for Angelenos and San Franciscans with its own landing strip/golf-course, which functions as a sort of halfway-house for the Afterlife. The beaches are black, the skies dark, the cliffs sheer and serenaded by seals. They have about two deaths a week there in summer, mostly tourists caught by the undertow or dashed to pieces on the rocks. In the fall, they tow away all the abandoned vehicles left by people who drive in, hike north to the wilderness area, which is nearly the size of Rhode Island, and are never heard from again. The economy of Humboldt runs entirely on marijuana growing and welfare administration, though meth labs are a growth industry.


When we left town, it was about 55 degrees and so foggy we could barely see the road as we ascended the first mountain that cuts the town off from the world. Midway through the winding 26 mile drive-- about 60 miles of switchback road, single-lane in some places, with sheer drop-offs, every idiot light in the RAV 4 was on. The brakes had burned on the way there ( we had alas, incredibly, witnessed a very young biker kill himself on a blind curve after passing us; he’d hit an oncoming truck); in order to minimize this I switched to 4x4 and downshifted a lot, which caused the transmission to jam and burn. Then, about halfway, we had a flat tire in a sunny, tree-lined stretch with no cell-phone coverage.



We took out the donut-- no tool-kit.



I flagged down a kid in a truck, who promised to call the cops for me me when he got cell coverage. Nothing happened for a while. Then a guy in a small white Tacoma stopped to help us. He said his name was Mike. He was frantically nervous and obviously stoned; red-eyed. Mike was in his forties, clean-shaven, red-haired and tanned, a funny, affable man who talked too much and too fast. I could tell almost at once that he was a veteran of the usual rural rehab/anger management progression; his rage, like his joking, lay close to the surface. I could also tell-- as I can about any other man I’ve ever met-- that he'd done some hard time. He had the jailhouse manner; the shifty eyes, the mad stare. Despite this, we got on well; I look and sound and dress like the aging redneck I am. But I was careful to always shield him from my wife.



He had all the wrong tools; somehow he and I got the thing changed anyway. He told me he was a "horticulturalist", with his own 60-acre ranch deep in the woods. In other words, a marijuana grower. He said he'd been having a "really rough time" lately; when we said goodbye, I gave him $50, and he almost cried. I'd have given him a hundred if I'd had it on me, but I didn't want my wife going through her purse in front of him. By now, me and Mike were pals, but...
Anyhow, the point of this was that we had a “moment”. He’d treated us like we were his parents; in return, I put a hand on his shoulder and told him to look out for himself. I had the distinct sense that some terrible grief or rage was trapped inside him. Things would get better, I told him.



He very sweetly followed us for a mile after he drove off to make sure we were on the road again safely, then turned off, and that was the last we ever saw of him. We took it slow, taking nearly 40 minutes to get to the nearest tiny town, Redway. Let me say that Redway, in spite of being hideous, a single ugly old commercial strip was, after the Mercedes-Benzes, sullenness, and supercilious stares of Shelter Cove, like Brigadoon. Its main visible industry is-- you guessed it--tire repair. Out of 12 shops, three are tire stores. While George at the Majestic Tire Center replaced our rental's blown tire with a temporary retread for $37, we ate at the Great American Hamburger Joint next door.



I know what you're thinking. The greasy spoon from "Deliverance". That's what what I was thinking, anyway, as I went inside. But you'd be wrong, as I was. The place was one of the nicest restaurants I've ever been in. Great food-- Idaho french fries with the peel on, delicious home-made chocolate cakes and apple pies-

- and it doubled as a bar at night, with a huge selection of imported spirits and organic local beers. And it had clean restrooms. And a local newspaper.



And right there on the front page of the local newspaper was a color photo of Mike. His real name was Shane, and he was wanted for the murders of his ex-wife and two small daughters in Shasta. He was believed to be hiding in the mountains behind us, where he had grown up and was "familiar with the country", meaning he knew every trail and. There had been a huge manhunt and roadblocks all month; these had been lifted the day before. The photo was of a bearded, red-headed man about 10 pounds heavier than Mike with shorter hair, but he had the same mad stare. But could we have sworn it was the same man in a court of law?



This question occupied us all the way back to San Francisco. Was he or wasn’t he? Could it have been a brother or a cousin? Once in our hotel room, we Googled the case, and there was no longer any doubt—he was Shane, a well-known Shasta grower who’d done time in San Quentin and was a gun dealer on the side with a huge arsenal of weapons. So we called it in. Way too late, of course.



But no amount of prison time can cure any man of the hell Mike/Shane was in.

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Bird Dog's picture

That's much more exciting than our trip through the area last summer. But we did see a couple of bears.

It's amazing that, even though it's not that far from the heavily populated Bay Area, how isolated and unpopulated it is north of Ukiah and into southern Oregon. Beautiful country.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

K., if you don't mind...

Bernard Guerrero's picture

....I'm going to pop a link to this on my FB. I'm interested to see the reactions.


Edit: Where is the "catchy serial killer" link you speak of?  I'm assuming it's a link posted by catchy, rather than about catchy having some bad brain chemistry reactions to kimchi and snapping.

If I get served another plate of kimchi I might snap


Man, do Koreans like their kimchi. Luckily I'm returning to the States tomorrow and can take more control of my food environment. I won't be eating kimchi for the next two months, that's for sure.

Something else we have in common

HankP's picture

I too have spent time with a multiple murderer. I saw signs of stress, but nothing like what you described. It was shocking to walk down the street and see his picture on the front page of a newspaper.


I blame it all on the Internet

You Do Know How To Write


A pleasure to read.

This was clear enough to Larkin, whose patriotism rested on the notion that England was the worst place on earth with the possible exception of everywhere else.

Awesome story. I've spent time in some of the more ominous


hinterlands of central & west Texas, central Louisiana, Birmingham, S. Carolina, upstate NY (Oneonta... shudder), Pennsylvania, in addition to random backwoods towns and wide places on the lost highways connecting NYC, Houston and LA/San Fran. At the same time, I've spent time in some rough big city neighborhoods in Houston, New Orleans, San Francisco, LA, DC, Baltimore and I currently live smack in the middle of the largest Dominican slum outside Santo Domingo itself.  


In my experience, there's no crazy like rural crazy. Big city ghettos are plenty dangerous, but they aren't dangerous in a dead-end drug addled shooting drunk wife beating climb a clock tower crazy-ass way like DeQuincey, Louisiana or San Saba, Texas. Like the guy who took my brother, brother's girlfriend, my wife & I out in his boat, took us cliff jumping, got drunk, proceeded to wake-slam all the octogenarian bass fishermen he could find, got pissed when we asked him to take us home, flashed a pistol at us, spun out his pickup and high-centered it in a cane brake. Or the aptly named Crazy Kenneth, who worked on our crew in the LA oilfields, who "didn't like Mexicans" in reference to my dad's long term employee, and drove his Pontiac into a bar in town to get at some dude who beat him at pool. Texas roadhouses at F&M crossroads really are an awful lot like the Patrick Swayze movie: sheriff's deputies line the exits every night at 2 am closing to roust the inevitable angry, violent drunks (and the occasional gleefully violent drunk) looking to pick a fight. 


Things are relatively sane in the ghetto. You know if you do X, you're in trouble (where X can be hitting on some heavyweight's girlfriend, stepping in on a drug crew's turf by setting up your own delivery service, walking down a deserted street at night looking like someone with cash to lose, etc.), but if you don't do X, you're probably ok.  


And country people are by and large ok. My family are decent, generous, considerate people, even if their politics veer wingnut, and their friends and people I know are ok. But when you're in a public place meeting strangers... like your backwoods mountain roads... that's when you get into some serious crazy. My theory is that the lone whackos are that much lonelier in the boonies, and so they tend to glom onto strangers more so than in the city.

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

That's pretty much your fault, Jordan


along about the time cliff jumping in a boat seemed in the offing I'd have backed out.  "Ugh! I think it's my appendix, I gotta go."


The crazy I've noticed is different.  In the country the crazy is paranoia or delusion.  In the city it's angry crazy.  Stabbings over a loss at dominoes kind of crazy.  I'll take the country crazy, you can basically see them coming, there's a wild-eyedness you can't miss.  City crazy gets you cut because you're driving the same make and model car of some jilted romeo's ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend.

In the medical community, death is known as Chuck Norris Syndrome. 

You need to visit Cleveland



Excellent story

mmghosh's picture

but I was left not quite sure (just as after reading your fiction) whether you are in favour of the marijuana/meth industry, or not. 

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

Meth is a death sentence


I've never known a meth user who wasn't a serious addict, in the sense of spending nearly every waking moment wanting to go back, no matter how many years clean. And the side-effects are rapid and appalling. Half the people I saw in the rural Northwest had missing teeth, like hockey players.


Marijuana's effects are slower and mixed with genuinely medicinal properties; however, its role in promoting schizophrenia in adolescent boys is documented and backed up by my own experience. I also know at least a dozen longtime marijuana "addicts", almost all with Med use cards, and their behavior can only be described as manic-depressive. But chicken, egg.


My opinion is that all drugs should be legalized for those over 21. If people want to kill themselves, that's their business. I'm a libertarian. And the drive for inebriation seems to be intrinsic to the animal kingdom, particularly among males. On the other hand, I view the uselessness of modern life and the waste of two generations, manifesting itself in economic idleness and drug use, as appalling and to a vast degree encouraged by the modern welfare state, which prefers to see armies of young men committing slow-motion seppuku than out on the streets and marching by torchlight. 

Not in my experience

HankP's picture

"Crystal meth" was quite popular when I was in high school/college. In HS mostly to get high, in college mostly to pull all-nighters. Lots of people I knew took it, and very few developed problems with it - certainly far fewer than had problems with alcohol. I think part of it is that the purity was much higher back then, either synthesized by mob chemists or stolen from pharmaceutical companies. It vertainly wasn't made in a bucket with Drano and match heads. It was quite potent, the usual dose was about half the size of a match head. The only drugs I know that caused serious problems were opiates. The ratio of problems/use was in the 80 - 90% range.


But of course there are other issues involved. The people I knew back then weren't in deep poverty, completely uneducated or looking ahead to no future. I'm sure that makes all substance abuse problems far worse.


I blame it all on the Internet

I've known three meth addicts


who found themselves forced to seek treatment or NA after it started to wreck their lives and health and they couldn't stop. I've only known two narcotic addicts, and I've never seen anyone bottom out and become a scabby, scrawny, twitching wreck of a human being like you see in the movies or in the subway system. But I wonder if something changed in recent years with meth... the formulation, the dosage, the delivery method, the availability, perhaps the purity like you say. I was surprised when I started to hear how addictive it was, because that isn't the kind of reputation it has.  

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

Meth? Try being married to Mrs Cuddly


"...bottom out and become a scabby, scrawny, twitching wreck of a human being..."


Do you know what I call that condition?  A good day.

In the medical community, death is known as Chuck Norris Syndrome. 

Marriage is a common medical condition.


It has no cure, but fortunately there is a palliative for some of the more degrading symptoms. It's difficult, painful, often dangerous, but it does work. It's called "yes, dear."

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

Hell yes.


Opiates for pain relief are very very nice. Easy to see how you could get dependant very quickly.

"armies of young men out on the streets marching by torchlight"

mmghosh's picture

no, thank you.  Especially from the point of view of the inferior races.  We are on the way to seeing this here in the next year. 


If there cannot be an alternative (and I agree with MA that another way should be possible), slow-motion seppuku is probably seen as preferable, especially in a society where a failure to succeed economically is seen as a moral failure (or at least that is my view from what I have seen of the USA).

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

Agree, And Not


I agree with this:


I view the uselessness of modern life and the waste of two generations, manifesting itself in economic idleness and drug use, as appalling...




But this not so much:


and to a vast degree encouraged by the modern welfare state, which prefers to see armies of young men committing slow-motion seppuku than out on the streets and marching by torchlight.


While one clear objective of the welfare state is to keep the social peace, economic idleness itself is a product of other forces. The relentless corporate drive to automate, outsource, and offshore labor, while making working conditions for those who have jobs ever more transient, does not come without a cost. You could argue that the welfare state enables this to happen without armed insurrection, and there is something to that. But the underlying lack of jobs for decently paid humans is now structural problem with no easy solution. If anything, it will likely get worse. The welfare state is the band aid, it's not the knife.

This was clear enough to Larkin, whose patriotism rested on the notion that England was the worst place on earth with the possible exception of everywhere else.

It is a band-aid for women,


And a dagger to the heart of young men.

It wouldn't be were there non-menial jobs available.


As there once were. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration.



"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

I'm not sure that only non-menial jobs are available


Aaaaand, that sentiment might be part of our problem.  There is a lot of contradictory reporting on the shortage of skilled labor from claims that there is no shortage up to claims of 3 million unfilled jobs.  A big indicator that there is a skilled labor SNAFU is the aging up of the skilled labor force.  Anecdotally, a welder, machinist/metal worker, diesel mechanic and other skilled labor, to include guys with CDLs have a fairly easy time finding jobs after the Army, provided they are willing to relocate.


The sentiment.   Not yours, you don't strike me as the kind of guy who looks down your nose at a dude who breaks a sweat for a living, but I do think in a rather unfocused, unintentional way, our society does.   The equivalent investment of an associate degree in order to get various certifications can land jobs with salaries higher than the median US income.  My belief, and due to the contradictory reporting I have to stress 'belief', is that we've conditioned our society to view blue collar work as something other people's kids do. 



In the medical community, death is known as Chuck Norris Syndrome. 

Ok, here's a exampe of non-menial jobs numbers



He's a fun guy to listen to and while not a 'professor' (I'm lookin' at you Catchy) he does have a certain hands on experience in the field that gives him credibility.

In the medical community, death is known as Chuck Norris Syndrome. 

He speaks some Latin though

brutusettu's picture

I'm still kinda curious about the insurance premium cost  side of  the safety first slogans that he and  his crew started to ignore even when they were in new environments all the time "(it's all the safety programs fault, NOT ours)" he says.

 Rowe also seems unable to come up with a less explicit way to find out if a prospective employee is a prick.

Aren't many of the jobs he would hope to fill jobs that aren't 37.5 hour work week jobs, but a lot more unpredictable revenue streams?


I don't think there is a school around me that doesn't have a vocational school option for students to go to, perhaps Rowe's guidance counselor wasn't a huge sample size to extrapolate on? 

"Willing to relocate" is a barrier. "After the Army"


is another barrier: learning a trade costs money for school & certifications (another barrier), money which the Army provides. But after years of war and stop-loss, the Army has some real disadvantages for people whose main reason for signing up would be economic. Essentially in order to find these jobs on your own, you have to leave family behind, take on the risk and cost of certifying in a trade, and the risk and cost of moving to a new place on the off chance you'll find work.  


All of that's on top of the question of whether the jobs exist in quantity, whether the pay and job security are worth the risk & cost, etc.  


In a lot of places the jobs are union-protected, like here in NYC, which is another barrier to entry. On the other hand in places without unions, the jobs often pay less with fewer benefits and less job security.

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

There's a lot of truth in that I think.


Most of my Anglo friends look down on the Swiss system of apprenticeships for most young people, mostly I suspect because they look down on the sorts of jobs you get after an apprenticeship. I can't help but think it  superior to throwing the prime of the youth in college to come out the other end with a degree in Ancient greek and Social Studies and a ton of debt.


Where I'm doubtful is on the claims of the need for millions of skilled workers. My sense, and I've heard those sorts of claims before, is that the employers are in fact crying out for skilled workers at low wages. The workers are available, they're just more expensive than the companies want to pay.



The Silicon Valley companies want to import more H1B's because experienced, good quality technical people cost about 120k to 140k in the Bay Area, not because there aren't any available.


What is missing from the economy are manufacturing jobs and back office jobs. They have been off-shored and automated away. Maintenance work is good but the numbers aren't there to hire massive numbers of people. Construction is a good source of skilled labor demand, but artificial construction booms will bust, as happened with the recent housing bubble. Civil construction would be a good substitute, but Republicans are systematically blocking infrastructure spending at the federal and state levels.

This was clear enough to Larkin, whose patriotism rested on the notion that England was the worst place on earth with the possible exception of everywhere else.

Here's an interesting example


Tory immigration minister tells Domino's Pizza boss to pay his staff more. Dominos are currently moaning that they can't hire enough workers so should be allowed to import them from outside the EU.


When the Tories are telling bosses to pay their workers more there's either an election around the corner or the planets have aligned.

Drunks at the least aren't some new phenomenon

brutusettu's picture

so how sure are we that meth heads wouldn't be the drunks of another era?

For a simple reason


Meth addiction metes out your life in dozens of months. Maintenance alcoholics, rather than binge alcoholics, actually live as long as anybody else as long as they don't smoke.

I'm Too Boring


I'm too boring to have tried anything. I have never even smoked a complete cigarette in my life.


But I do find, of all the drugs I've ever read about, LSD to be most intriguing. And particularly LSD microdosing. However, my curiosity is far from recreational. Recreation is a drug use motivation that I've never had.


It's about problem solving. My mind is occasionally open and fluid, but most days it's not. This is frustrating as heck and it means my best work is like the weather. I never quite know when it's going to happen.

This was clear enough to Larkin, whose patriotism rested on the notion that England was the worst place on earth with the possible exception of everywhere else.

My personal experiences with meth and alcohol


I've been slightly and continually sloshed all day long for several days in a row and can imagine extending that.


But I don't know how anyone can do that with meth, it just takes so much out of you. The few meth binges I tried when I was younger took me a week or more to feel normal after.


And all the people I've known who used it regularly had such obvious and major adverse mental effects in addition to of course being physically emaciated.


It doesn't seem very sustainable to me, especially if you have regular commitments you need to keep in order to survive. If you were wealthy and had zero life responsibilities, you could probably last quite a bit longer though.

My cardiologists disagree. (nt)

Zelig's picture


Me: We! -- Ali

About the meth or the alcohol? nt

HankP's picture


I blame it all on the Internet

or the methylated alcohol.