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Life Arts    H4'ed 2/11/11

Family Values in 1972, in Concord, California

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Message GLloyd Rowsey
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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.


Suburbs at Flickr Commons (2009),
Suburbs at Flickr Commons (2009),
(Image by Andy Callahan)
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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 got dropped.


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I have a law degree (Stanford, 66') but have never practiced. Instead, from 1967 through 1977, I tried to contribute to the revolution in America. As unsuccessful as everyone else over that decade, in 1978 I went to work for the U.S. Forest (more...)
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