Santa Rosa Update

The Environmental Protection Agency announced last week that it had removed household hazardous waste from 5,500 properties in Napa and Sonoma counties, three-quarters of those destroyed or damaged by fire.

Sonoma County has begun process of adjusting tax assessments. The Assessor’s office was not damaged, but was closed for several days because of mandatory evacuation. Fortunately, aerial views simplify assessing properties that have been reduced to ash. Others, in rural areas or suffering partial losses, require on-site inspections and will take longer. The fires occurred the same time tax bills were being prepared. Tax revenue will obviously be lower; the real hit may come next year. The city of Santa Rosa estimates it has lost a third of its tax base.

The California Insurance Commissioner estimated insured losses will exceed $3 billion. Rebuilding costs will be high. Property owners will need to decide to rebuild exactly as what was lost, with required code upgrades, or to make changes. Shortages of contractors, construction labor and basic building materials will drive up costs. Renters, in what was already an extremely tight market, face uncertainty about what their landlords will do. Many will leave the area to find employment and housing, likely to not return.

Who is coming to Santa Rosa? Lawyers, swarms of lawyers, from all around the country. Although the cause of the fire has yet to be determined, law firms, eager to sue Pacific Gas & Electric, are invading Santa Rosa. As a former resident of Santa Rosa once said to journalists sleuthing the Watergate story, “Follow the money.” The giant utility PG&E has deep pockets and of course, is widely disliked. Sparks from power lines downed by high winds are one possible cause of the fires. The attorneys aren’t waiting; they’re advertising on billboards and TV, and setting up town-hall style meeting for prospective clients. And if PG&E lawsuits don’t work out, there’ll be plenty of other generally loathed, big-money targets to sue: insurance companies.

Report from New York Marathon

My daughter Maureen has completed her 17th marathon, this one in New York. Here is her report.

One week ago I completed the New York City Marathon. As you know, I decided to raise money for Team Fox for Parkinson’s Research, in honor of my father. I was amazed and overwhelmed by your generosity – together we raised $3,375! I want to thank you again for contributing, it means so much to me.
For those who are interested, I wanted to let you know how it went on November 5th. The NYC marathon is the largest marathon in the world; this year, 50,766 participants finished the marathon. The course starts on Staten Island and makes its way through all five boroughs, to finish 26.2 miles later in Central Park. Security is very, very tight – even more so after a man drove a rented pick up truck onto a crowded bike path in lower Manhattan on October 31, killing eight people and injuring eleven more. To get to the starting line, runners must take a bus or ferry provided by the marathon organizers. I caught my bus at 6:30 am and it took nearly two hours to get to the start village on Staten Island. I passed through a metal detector with my clear plastic bag holding my supplies – you are only allowed to take bags provided by the marathon organizers. There were police and National Guards everywhere, some holding big rifles. I was in the third wave, so I spent the next couple of hours waiting for my 10:40 am start time.
It was an overcast day, not windy, moderate temperature. We started on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and immediately crossed to Brooklyn. My plan for the run was to keep to a steady, easy pace, with hydration breaks every two miles. I know all about the pitfalls of getting caught up in the moment and starting out too fast, and I did a good job of pacing myself across the bridge. As we crossed the bridge, the only spectators were police and city employees, there for security, but they still cheered the runners as we passed; one police officer was blasting “Eye of the Tiger” from his squad car, the first of three times I would hear that song.
When we reached Brooklyn, we started seeing people lining the course, cheering, waving, holding signs, playing music, and giving high fives. This was my first glimpse of what I had heard so much about – the incredible atmosphere of the NYC Marathon, where nearly the whole city comes out to cheer and celebrate. We continued through Brooklyn into Queens, and I was doing well sticking to my plan. Because of security rules, I could not wear my hydration backpack and instead had to use a belt with a water bottle; I had my electrolyte drink in my bottle, and took water from the stations on the course, which meant I had quick walk breaks every couple of miles – I’m not coordinated enough to drink from a cup or bottle while running. But these little breaks were probably good for me.
To get to Manhattan, we crossed the Queensboro Bridge, on the lower deck. The bridge is about a mile long, with a long, steady incline for much of the way across. There are also lots of metal seams in the bridge, and you really have to watch your step; by now, it had been misting for quite a while and everything was wet. I saw a woman ahead of me slip and fall on the ramp coming off the bridge; she jumped right back up and continued running, so I hope she was all right.
I knew my sister, brother-in-law, and my husband were going to try to see me at the Queensboro Bridge, and I was right on schedule, but the crowds were so huge, I could not see them. Nor did they see me – unlike other marathons, I was always running in a pack, it never really thinned out. From there we turned up First Avenue and the crowds were tremendous. The Queensboro Bridge had taken a lot out of me, and while I felt as though I had recovered, by mile 18, things started to hurt – not that I was injured, but that my legs just started to hurt, perhaps due to lactic acid build up. By the time we reached the Willis Avenue Bridge to cross into the Bronx, I was having to take more frequent walk breaks, and my goal of finishing under 4:30 was starting to look out of reach.
We were only in the Bronx for a couple of miles before crossing the Madison Avenue Bridge back into Manhattan, making our way to Fifth Avenue, and heading towards Central Park. Even though I was now hurting pretty badly, I was still able to enjoy running through Harlem, where a woman on the sidelines, seeing I was struggling, stepped off the curb to blow her whistle and yell encouragement to me; those moments give me a lift that I can’t describe. By now, probably at least five hours after the first wave of elite/professional runners started the marathon, the crowds were still out there, cheering us on, all the way through Central Park, and across the finish line. My official time was 4:44:37 (30,414th place!).

Maureen McGovern approaching finish line

Because of security, I could not meet my family at the finish line; but they got to see me cross the line, thanks to my father getting tickets for the finish-line grandstand. Knowing that my family is waiting for me helps me to push through. I can’t say enough about how much it meant to me to have them there. And, thankfully, I eventually found them – I had to walk another half a mile to exit the park – and we all went out to celebrate.
A couple of additional thoughts:
I was pretty excited to run NYC this year in particular, because several of my running heroes would be there, including Shalane Flanagan, who lives and trains in Portland. When I finally found Kevin after exiting Central Park, one of the first things he told me was that Shalane won! She is the first American woman to win the NYC marathon in 40 years, and it was a commanding win – she finished a minute faster than the second place woman. (If you need a pick-me-up, watch her cross the finish line.)

And I have to give so much credit to the City of New York. To put on such a huge event, to keep everyone safe, to have it run so smoothly – and to do it all with such good cheer, is an amazing accomplishment. Every New Yorker we encountered seemed so proud of the marathon, so supportive, so happy to have us there. I have never experienced anything like it.
========================
Thanks again to everyone who supported me on this journey.
Please visit my personal page.

 

Remembering Santa Rosa

I recently repatriated from northern California back to Portland. I spent the past twenty-plus years in Santa Rosa, the heart of Sonoma Wine Country. Residing there one becomes accustomed to ever-moving ground and resultant cracked walls and stuck and then unstuck doors. Once a diverse agricultural area, while I was there, Gravenstein apples, hops, prunes and other crops were replaced with vineyards. Nearly every bare patch of ground was planted with wine grapes. Santa Rosa was the setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s murder-suspense “Shadow of a Doubt.” The artist Christo brought notoriety to Sonoma County in the sixties with his “Running Fence.” Every spring, the Rose Parade, smaller scale than Portland’s Rose Festival, brings out thousands of spectators.

When I became a full-time resident, the city’s population was about 125,000; it was about 175,000 when I left last year. What the population is today is a guess; three thousand homes have been destroyed by fire, including the affluent

Fountain Grove Inn – before
Fountain Grove Inn – after

Fountain Grove neighborhood and the working class Coffey Park area. The Fountain Grove homeowners have the means to be okay sooner than the residents of Coffey Park, many of them renters. Businesses, Trader Joe’s, the Hilton Hotel, K-Mart and dozens more have been destroyed. Chateau St. Jean and Paradise Ridge Wineries are no more; other wineries suffered significant damage. The home of “Peanuts” creator, Charles Schulz burned to the ground. (His widow Jean had been evacuated.) The Charles M. Schulz Museum and adjacent Snoopy’s Ice Rink areunscathed so far. Celebrity chef Guy Fieri, whose Santa Rosa home still stands, recruited volunteers and suppliers for outdoor grilling near the fairgrounds to feed first responders and those who suddenly became homeless.

This is Santa Rosa’s worst disaster since 1906. The epicenter of the San Francisco Earthquake was a couple miles west of Santa Rosa. With about 7,000 residents at the time, Santa Rosa suffered, per capita, greater damage and loss of life than the big city fifty miles south.

Santa Rosa, in transition from small agricultural town to Wine Country destination during my time there, will survive and rebuild, but the scars and pain will last a long time.

Sonny Boy 1 & Sonny Boy 2… and Randy Newman

Amongst the detritus of my youth is a vinyl LP “Sonny Boy Williamson & the Yardbirds.” The album was released in 1966, to capitalize on the growing fame of the British group. It is a recording of a 1963 concert with the Yardbirds backing U.S. blues artist Sonny Boy Williamson. Eighteen-year-old guitar novice Eric Clapton is in the band. The Yardbirds are remembered as a training program for rock guitar wizards. Jeff Beck replaced Clapton and Jimmy Page replaced Beck. (Page achieved greater fame with Led Zeppelin, the band that set the standard for rock ‘n’ roll debauchery.)

Rice Miller aka Sonny Boy Williamson

Sonny Boy Williamson was born in Mississippi in 1899… or 1909… or maybe 1897. His given name was Aleck… or Alex… or Rice – which might have been a nickname – Miller… or Ford. In the 1930s he was traveling the Delta, performing under the name Little Boy Blue. In the 1940s he became a star on the King Biscuit Time radio show. The sponsor felt they could sell more King Biscuit Flour if their star had a better-known name. Rice Miller took the persona of the late blues singer and harmonica virtuoso Sonny Boy Williamson. There was no Facebook or Twitter to tell radio listeners of the ruse.

John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson

John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson, born in Tennessee in 1914, was younger than his impersonator. He learned his trade in the Delta before moving north to Chicago. His RCA recordings and live performances were hugely influential in the Chicago blues scene and beyond. Muddy Waters and Little Walter were among his acolytes. In 1948, walking home after a performance in Chicago, Williamson was shot to death in a robbery. Rice Miller soon was claiming to be “the original Sonny Boy.”

Which brings us to Randy Newman. Many know Newman as the composer of musical soundtracks for “Toy Story” and other motion pictures. He is also the creator of acerbic and often misinterpreted songs satirizing prejudice (“Sail Away”, “Rednecks”, “Short People”), self-absorbed yuppies (“I Love L.A.”), and nuclear holocaust (“Political Science”) among other topics. He can also convey heart-breaking empathy. (“Louisiana 1927”) Newman’s just-released new album “Dark Matter” includes the song “Sonny Boy,” wherein the original Sonny Boy Williamson – “the only blues man in heaven” – vents his resentment about having his name and career stolen.

My Summer of Love – Part 2

Port Authority Bus Station

After a week at Canada’s centennial celebration, Expo 67, immersed in the sixties’ version of the future, I rode the Greyhound to New York City. My seatmate was a lady who said she was escaping from Montreal after a summer of tourist congestion. She also complained about the fair’s cost to the city.

The Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan was impressive with its several stories of ramps with buses arriving and departing. I found the bus to Staten Island and a couple hours later knocked on the front door of the home of my father’s World War II, fellow B-29 crewmember. His family put me up for the night. He, along with his teenage son, took me on a brief tour of the city, the highlight being Nathan’s Famous at Coney Island. A hot dog was a dime, a beer was a nickel – consumed standing up outside – and the drinking age at that time in New York was eighteen.

I met up with Vince the next day. We rented a room at the Sloane House Y.M.C.A. on 34th street, near Pennsylvania Station. A room with two beds, bath down the hall and towels included, was $5.20 a night.. We visited a saloon, sat at the bar, feeling sophisticated with our drinks and a complimentary bowl of pretzels in front of us. One visit and one drink was our financial limit. Pushcart hot dogs provided our daily sustenance.

My father’s buddy worked as a cameraman for the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He arranged tickets for Vince and me a couple days later. My one regret of that trip has stayed with me. Martha and the Vandellas were headlining at the Apollo Theater. People convinced us that two white boys would not be safe in Harlem after dark. Newark and Detroit had suffered rioting earlier that summer. Harlem had its violence three years before, in 1964. I will never know if we did the right thing; Martha and the Vandellas at the Apollo would have been memorable, though, I am sure.

We spent much of our time in Greenwich Village. Music clubs there admitted all ages, no alcohol served. Admission to a name act was $2.50 plus a one-drink minimum. A soft drink cost $1.50, an inconceivable amount. For the buck-and-a-half one was brought a vat of Coke.

The Bitter End featured a British singer who had recently left a popular band and as a solo performer had a hit record that summer: “Brown Eyed Girl.” Vince and I and maybe two-dozen others were entertained by Van Morrison, accompanying himself with guitar and backed by a bass-guitar player and a drummer. During one number with an extended “psychedelic” instrumental break, several in the audience left.

Another night we visited the Café Au Go Go, where the Blues Project gave what was announced as their final performance. The opening act was a folk duo, the Times Square Two, whose lead singer repeatedly told us he didn’t give a rat’s ass whether we liked them or not. For some reason, they never made it big. During the Blues Project’s set, they announced that a couple of its members were forming a new band, rock ‘n’ roll with horns. Al Kooper and Steve Katz went on to found Blood Sweat & Tears.

We also took the Circle Line boat tour around Manhattan Island. The tour guide addressed the perception that New York in the sixties was not safe. He opined that yes there were places best avoided at certain times, but a good rule to follow is “Stay where the people are.” That principle has served me well in the decades since.

We were given seats, not together, on our flight home with a stop in Chicago. The gate agent reminded us we were flying standby, the flights were full and do not get off the plane in Chicago; we could lose our seats. We didn’t and made it back home in time to resume college life.