The Caldecott Tunnel bores through the hills separating Oakland from Concord, Walnut Creek, and Pleasant Hill, three little boom-towns in 1971 on their way to being the San Francisco Bay Area's fastest-sprouting white-flight suburbs. I worked as a computer programmer in Martinez, another town close by but far less booming, and I shared a rented house with a young family in Concord for several months in 1971 and 1972.
During which time, in October of 1971 to be exact,
a couple of good friends from law school and I -- whose birthdays were on three
consecutive days -- had our thirtieth birthday celebrations together, five
years out. With friends and lovers we whooped it up on a beautiful late Indian
summer afternoon on a San Francisco
pier, with a string quartet, fine wines, champagne, and a tank of helium.
As I left, the party was dissolving into evening. Blissfully and utterly
smashed, I aimed my old Chevy sedan at Concord
through the Caldecott Tunnel.
As I approached the tunnel's Oakland entrance I realized I couldn't resolve its multiple, slowly moving images, but I really didn't care. Then I crashed into a concrete wall at the tunnel's entrance, destroying the car and very nearly myself. But characteristically I was lucky, and subsequently I found myself uninjured and resuming my life in Concord with Mark the landscape contractor, his wife Paula, and their baby boy, John.
Mark and Paula had been sweethearts in high school
and married two or three years after graduating. In 1972 Baby John was a
year old. Papa Mark owned a landscaping business and Paula kept
house. Like everyone in Concord
aged twenty to twenty-five, Mark and Paula partied a lot and smoked
grass. Probably less typically, my housemates practiced Scientology,
popped little white Benzedrine tablets for fun and profit, and dabbled in
wife-swapping. I say "profit" not because Mark was a dealer -- almost
every doper dealt some -- but because speed tabs were Mark's bottom-line
currency for paying his landscaping employees.
I'd stopped programming computers, and I paid my
share of the rent by gardening for Mark. And I'm here to testify that
bennies made it fun to crawl around planting bushes and flowers at
service stations. But as time passed, I
realized that however workable speed-for-wages was in terms of getting the
gardening done, Mark's habit wasn't working for his business as a whole.
What with the construction boom underway in Concord in 1972, Mark could have made good money just contracting one job and completing it, then contracting another and completing it, and so on, mixing in the bread-and-butter maintenance jobs. But no, Mark always had to be juggling at least three balls at once -- estimating, completing, and maintaining enough different jobs so he wouldn't be dead-heading between estimate sites and work sites; so as not to be wasting time between keeping appointments with prospective customers and getting equipment rentals onto work sites and returned, or between personal visits to home and other visits to his dope connections and numerous friends.
Such is speed that frequently a juggled ball or two