Famous Potatoes

In a previous column I mentioned that I had “fled” California. Yes, it’s true. Am I a pansy, or do I have too much self respect?

The house I lived in was on a busy one-way street with a German Shepard on the other side that liked to start barking about bedtime; my bedtime anyway.

It was sided with shingles and from an era that was fading away. Parking would have been a problem, but not for me. I rode my bike everywhere around Oakland and hitched when it was not practical. My bike was quicker than any car in the city.

Building skylights was fun and scary. I was not ready to be my own boss, ordering myself to continue climbing on high rooftops above picket fences. I did like food and beer so I got a regular job at a restaurant in Sausalito, about 30 miles away. It was not a practical commute by thumb or bike so I slept on the dining room floor five nights a week. I could have any food or drink for free except steak. I maintained the grounds and tidied up what the cook and bartender overlooked.

While I was away from the house, roommates moved out and were replaced by people with lower standards. My four roommates and I were an odd family but had a bond of respect for each other. These new people were leeches. Any excess possessions that might make me less mobile were conveniently sold to fuel the bad habits of the new occupants. They set me free, those thieves.

It was not a good life. I felt similar to productive corporations in California, ready to move to Texas, or Idaho.

I went to Sumitomo Bank to withdraw my rent money for the month. As I looked at my passbook, I noticed that it was $130 over what I thought should be the balance. Hmm.

Meanwhile, back at the restaurant I was picking up trash and pulling weeds out of the pea gravel. I pulled a dandelion and noticed something under the spreading leaves. A hundred dollar bill was neatly folded twice and put there just for me. I told the cook about it and he said, “Keep it.”

The cook was a cool guy. Whenever he did a particularly good do on a dish he would step back, fold his arms, and say, “Just like New York.” I thought, yuck, but oh well. We talked about my transitional situation. Even though we were a good team, he being kind and generous, supported my plan to escape.

I bought his ’59 Bug for $200, rebuilt the brakes and fixed the lights. Despite my folks encouraging me to pursue the worthless college prep curriculum in high school, I had John Muir’s “How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive.” I’ve used many of the principles I learned from that book for 40 years of farming.

After my two week notice I had a car, a paycheck, and the bank error as a grubstake. My friend Cary and I headed to the land of Famous Potatoes following unpaved roads whenever possible. What a life.

(By the way, the bank was paid back, with interest.)

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