Friday, September 14, 2007

Half-way There

Many years back, when I lived in the same neighborhood as Michael Connolly's fictional cop, Harry Bosch, there was a group of San Francisco friends who would telephone from time to time with irresistable offers that had me setting forth on 101, heading north as quickly as an old Hudson would take me. Either that or, finances permitting, a quick run over Barham Bouleard to the Burbank Airport and a--are you ready for this?--$29 ticked on Pacific Southwest Airlines.

Though fast, comfortable, and convenient, the PSA flights were merely a prelude to advetures in San Francisco and across the Bay in Sausalito, which we always referred to by its translated name, The Little willow Thicket. The rides in the Hudson were the real adventures, the Plimsol Line of which was a place more or less midway between Salinas and San Luis Obispo. As you drive on 101, King City is about the half-way point, a place to stretch, get coffee, gas, and if terribly hungry and unable to wait for the more sophisticated pleasures of Salinas, an undistinguished hamburger, mitigated by some decent pico de gallo salsa.

King Cty is the place where things wet wrong and you had to wait until they were set right by someone, anyone,who had the means, motive, and opportunity to set things right. King City is where Michael Hurley's Plymouth gave up its radiator, where Jim Silverman's intransegent Dodge decided to play dead, where Jerry Williams's VW Bug lost its fan belt, an event that ultimately led him to enroll in law school, where Lee Cake's Chevy ran afoul of a timing belt, and where I had electric problems with the Hudson.

Altough these events took place seemingly at whim and in various times of the year, our combined impressions of King City was of a throbbing, unrelenting heat, even into the late evening hours. While we waited out the automotive Fates, we discovered where better coffee--not good but better--could be had, where there were creditable pies to be had, and even motels that seemed more or a=less attuned to out status as stranded travelers, lost in limbo, half-way to Los Angeles if we were returning, half-way to San Francisco, if we were going .

We accepted King City as though it were some kind of karmic bargaining chip, a chakra on the spine that connected our lives with one another and with various destinies we foresaw for ourselves or hoped to see for ourselves in San Francisco. Some of us actualy moved there, lived there, died there. From time to time a umber of our san Francisco friends came southward to visit us ad pursue various destinies in Los Angeles. After selling his partnership in The Old Spaghetti House Cafe on Green Street, Jim Silverman was a frequent visitor to my Barbara Court digs in Holywood, Don and Joan Cunningham came through, as did Bobbie Bledsoe. Significantly, they had their down times in King City.

Sometimes now, when I mention King City to Karen Delabarca, who often leaves comments here as Anonymous, she will ask with a brow turned to incredulous, Why would you ever go to such a place? She speaks with the passion of having been raised in nearby Salinas.

Busses in King City seem always to be headed to Salinas; busses in Salinas have minds of their own, opting for Monterey, Pacific Grove, even Carmel.

I write these vagrant sentiments and memories from Keefer's Motel in, you guessed it, King City. It is still half-way there. It is a Friday night and King City is meeting Salinas in a high school football game. The city is alive with the sounds and smells of it, marching bands, biased public address announcers, and a city in transitin from being what it was when it started, a gatway to mountains and fishing and a place of agriculture and a place of speculation. King City, California. Half-way there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My Dear Shelly, I'm chagrined to have been cruising Central Ave in Albuquerque when you published this entry. Even so, honored to have been mentioned.
Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that King City was indeed an important half-way stop back in the days when Santa Barbara seemed a glorious bookend to Central Cal. (Now, SB seems to me to be faced squarely southward, blinded by $$.) The railway line ended at King City back then and the riders then boarded some sort of a coach and were driven on to San Luis (pronounced San Luey by old timers). King City was visited by many, including Micky Rooney upon the opening of the Reel Joy Theater.
Traveling salesmen were frequent. Therefore, so too were those ladies who would provide them with certain services. Recognizing the part these ladies played was realistic of my grandmother, Aina Keskinen, who owned and ran the King City Hotel (later Benotti's bar). When the women of a local brothel came down with a serious form of the flu, she had them supplied with food from the hotel kitchen (the cook a man from China who would chase my father with a meat cleaver, no doubt for good reason). Later, in thanks, the women of the night sewed a wardrobe of clothes for my aunt's German doll. My aunt died at nine of diptheria (with the next patient, a boy who lived to old age, the doctor knew to cut open the throat), and I have her doll and its clothes to this day.
Those are real Caifornia stories, soon to be lost: the King City baker from Germany who was accused of sifting ground glass into his bread; gangs of kids traveling from King City to Salinas with pickup-loads of rotten tomatoes; more boot-legging stories than you could tell in an evening (the Del Monte Hotel in Monterey, in particular, needed a steady supply). My grandfather figures in many of our family's stories; as an escapee from Kaiser's army, he saw no problem in subduing a drunk by having him wrapped in barb wire. King City was everything you mention, Shelly - certainly a place of speculation; I do believe I still own shares in mines up in the hills, New Iridia, but I can't recall what they proposed and failed to hack out of the ground.
California is always half-way there, always slipping over the horizon, nearly gained, and lost.
-K. Dellabarca