Old Mack’s Tales

February 2, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 12:57 am
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Hayward, California: one of my favorite places.
By Ron McKinney © February 1, 2011

Dating from November, 1963, on the specific day they laid JFK to rest, I’ve loved Hayward.

All three of the jobs I was working in order to pay rent in San Bruno across the bay shut down for the day—my first day off in months.  Millie, my wife at that time, had to work her shift and that of a friend at Safeway that day, so I had charge of our three daughters.

The girls all clamored for a picnic, a car ride, anything to get out of our noisy apartment building—the cops parked their squad cars in the garage adjacent to our living room and blasted their radios so they could hear calls while they visited the brothel in the apartment on the opposite side of the garage; no kidding, they were invading my few hours of sleep and driving me crazy.  So we gathered quilts for party blankets and to keep them warm during the drive across the San Mateo Bridge.

We felt free as birds and sang all the way with the thumping of tires on the bridge joints keeping time for us.  Pelicans and seagulls soared beside us during the crossing.  A tug tooted its horn as it crossed under the bridge, causing the girls to hold their noses, point to each other and giggle.

Nearing the east end of the bridge a Schweizer sailplane swooped across the bridge just ahead of our car, banked left and lined up for a landing on the grass strip at Freemont’s Sky-Sailing airport.

I passed that exit, got off the freeway and somehow found my way back to a “drag-strip” turnoff.  I wasn’t sure, but figured the Sky-Sailing strip must be close.  It was.

I left the kids in their fenced playground under the supervision of a young woman whose job it was to entertain children of potential paying pilots.  I rented a Schweizer 126 glider, bought a tow behind their Super Cub to an altitude of three thousand feet and cut loose from the tow.

Directly below my glider was the General Motors Assembly Plant with its hundred acre paved parking lot and thousands of cars.  Seagulls were circling over the hot macadam and rising on the thermals.  I swooped in and joined them.  I caught a thermal which lifted me at the rate of a thousand feet per minute and soon my canopy was sweeping the bottoms of fluffy cumulous clouds at an altitude of eight thousand feet, more or less.  The sea breeze was swiftly moving my column of rising air to the east.  Below me were the older homes of Hayward, mostly two story houses widely separated and several had barns behind them which indicated that they predated the industrial development and the construction of warehouses, when the town lay sprawled between the salt pans on the edge of the bay to the East Bay Hills—Mary’s peak was the most noticeable in that line of dun dry hills and I made it my destination.  I soared with a golden eagle that day, followed that bird all the way to Cupertino and back to Freemont.  As I lined up my approach to the grass strip I felt a sudden pang of guilt; I’d completely forgotten the kids, the tragedy of that day.  The sun was already touching the rim of the South San Francisco hills and the glider strip was in the shade.  The wind was chilly and that made me feel even worse.  I quickly parked and tied down the Schweizer and jogged into the office

There were the girls, Lisa in the middle, flanked by Colleen and three-year-old Kathleen, sitting on a picnic table in the pilot’s lounge, draped with their quilts and “blanky” playing patty cake with their sitter.  I was greeted by less than happy smiles and a chorus of “Let’s go home” and “I’m hungry daddy.  Can we get a McDonald’s?”

It took only minutes to pay for the flight and have my logbook endorsed.  It took longer to find our way to a bag of hamburgers and French fries.  Once fed the girls slept all the way home to San Bruno and were in their beds by the time Millie got home from work.

Fast forward eighteen years; now Millie and I are divorced, I’m remarried and Christine and I  have a first grader who needs to be in school.  Christine and I had just been hired by a fellow in Richmond to build a custom motor-sailing ketch and we needed a place to park our old green house truck, but were hoping to find a house we could afford to rent.

We were, at the moment of decision, close to the San Mateo Bridge and that old truck, of its own volition, mounted the on-ramp for the bridge.  Crossing the Bay I was daydreaming about that long ago fine day of soaring, and was probably describing it to Christine, when she said: “There’s a three bedroom, two bath house for rent in Hayward, Mack.  Let’s take a look at it.”  She had the map and classifieds folded neatly in her lap and was on the jump seat beside the door giving me directions: “Turn right here. .  take a left.. . “  We were on a road passing the GM Assembly plant, and I felt like we were in the right place.  We drove past an old but well kept farm house surrounded by sturdy old oaks.  In the vacant half acre between it and the next house was a garden with harvested corn, and stakes for the tomatoes and beans.  Chris was smiling.  “This is the right road, for a change,” she declared.

The next two or three story house had a fenced dirt yard with several girls of Allison’s age playing on swings and a slide.  Allison. was standing between Chris and I. She spotted the school on the south side of the road and a cluster of newly built suburban ranch style houses with lawns, curbed streets and sidewalks.  “There’s a school!” she shouted.  Ahead on the left stood a recently painted blue and white two-story house with a gleaming new roof and a “For Sale” sign in its driveway.  A moving van was parked in front of the house.  I parked a quarter block west of the van and surveyed the property.

A vacant lot lay between the house with the girls in their yard and the house for sale.  I got out of the truck and walked back through the grass to the old barn which was set back an hundred feet or more from the sidewalk—something back there beside the barn had caught my eye and my imagination.  It was the hull of a full keel boat lying on its side and half mired in mud.  At first glance it appeared to be the hull of a Folk Boat, but on closer inspection it had the sweet lines of a Norwegian Knarr–both types were then popular imported wooden boats in the Bay Area.   The lead keel from the boat lay in the grass and mud ten feet from its hull. Suddenly I could picture that beautiful boat standing upright and gleaming with varnished mahogany planking.  Chris and A.J. stood on the sidewalk, scanning both the school across the road and the gaggle of young Chicano girls at the house with the swing.  They were exercising their legs after a long ride, and dancing around in the shade of the truck.

A young man in bib overalls and hair in a ponytail down past his shoulder blades approached us from the house for sale.  I hurried back to the truck and arrived in time to see him staring at the bag containing my hang glider in its rack on the roof of the truck.

“Howdy. What’s in the bag?”

“It’s a UPS DRAGONFLY,’ I said.

“No kidding?  I learned to fly in a Dragonfly.  Want to sell it?”

I pretended reluctance, asked if the house for sale could be rented or leased.  He nodded, not taking his eyes off the kite’s bag.

“My wife’s in the house, supervising the packing and loading of our stuff.  Y’all can go in and take a look.  The owner wants to sell, but he may be up for a lease.”

Chris and Allison ran to the house and disappeared at the kitchen door on the back of it.  I asked the man if I might look at the barn.  He introduced himself as Delbert and led the way.

We ambled past his pickup truck and together rolled the barn doors open.  The barn had been used as a detached garage for years, he explained.  The oil-stained concrete floor, the chain hoist cabled to the roof beam, and filthy workbenches lining one wall gave me the impression that it had once been used to rebuild or customize cars..  It was a timber-framed building with open posts, perlins and girts and rafters with weathered vertical pine boards and battens enclosing the walls.  The door header was an eight by twelve laminated beam, apparently a recent addition and from it the twelve-foot doors were hung on rails and rollers.  At first glance I could picture that hull in the mud outside standing on its lead keel cradled inside that old barn; the thought made me giddy; I’d been building boats in campgrounds on picnic tables down in the Florida Keys the previous winter sheltered only by a stretched hang-glider sail.  I tried to disguise my feelings, turned and walked back to my truck as if thoroughly disappointed by what I’d just seen.

Delbert asked if he might take a look at my kite.  I took it down, un-bagged it and set it up on the sidewalk.  His eyes lit up as I slid the battens into their pockets.  I pulled down a duffel bag and displayed my prone harness and old APH-5 military flight helmet.  The kid was salivating, wiping his mouth on the sleeve of his flannel shirt.  He turned the day-glow orange glider into the wind, picked it up by its nose and felt the tug as the wind swept over its wings.  “I want it!”

“Does that old hull in the mud back there belong to you?” I asked as nonchalantly as possible.

”Yeah.  The keel bolts are missing.  I bought it off a guy who ran it aground.  It needs a few frames and floors, but otherwise it’s all there. . .except for the mast and standing rigging.  He trashed them.  I had her standing up, but didn’t brace her good and the wind capsized her.  I guess I lost my ambition when they laid me off at the GM Plant.”

Chris and Allison ran back from the house to our truck, where we were disassembling the Dragonfly.

“Come see it.  It’s perfect,” Chris said, referring to the house..

The interior had been recently redecorated and furnished with the necessities.  Delbert’s wife was busy telling the movers which pieces to take and which to leave.  There was a master bedroom on the main floor and a finished attic upstairs, with the upstairs bath located directly above the one adjacent to the bedroom.  All of the cast-iron waste lines were attached to the exterior walls, so we assumed that the original builder/owners had used an outhouse.  The kitchen, which faced the back yard was bright and modern, with a built-in table and booth next to the wall nearest the driveway.  The girls were ecstatic. “You should see all the hiding places upstairs, Daddy.” Allison chirped, “In my room,” she added.  There was so much over-the-eaves storage that I could have emptied our truck’s contents into them and had space left over.  But to Allison those spaces had already become her territory, her playground.

Delbert came in and sat at the table with me, while Chris and Allison explored the fenced rear yard.  They were picking out the trees from which swings would hang and plots of grass that could be turned for a garden.

“I leased this place,” Delbert said.  “I’ve still got a month’s rent coming and the deposits.  We could work something out with the owner, when he gets here. . .my wife already called him, but he has to drive down from Berkeley, maybe he’ll be here in an hour or so.”

“How much is your rent and utilities?”

“Utilities are included in the rent.  Gas, water and electric.  I have to pay for trash collection, but rent’s only Three Seventy-five a month.  I’ll bet the owner and his dad would let you move in on my remaining rent. . .maybe they’ll want a deposit, but I doubt it, seeing you could move right in.  It’s not a good time to sell.  Interest rates on mortgages are double digits.”

His wife poured us cups of coffee and we sat and smoked a joint.  After a brief pause he said: “What would it take to get your Dragonfly?”

“I’d swap straight across for that old hull in the mud.”

“Wow!  No shit?  You gotta deal!”

“If you go put the kite and the gear in the moving van, I’ll write up contract of sale.  Okay?”

“Honey!” he hollered at his wife in the living room.  “I just swapped that old boat for a hang glider.  Okay?”

“It’s your boat and your ass.  Do what you like with them.” She walked into the kitchen and saw the smile on her husband’s face.  “Don’t Bogart that joint,” she said extending her hand in his direction.

His wife and Chris passed the joint back and forth, while Chris queried her about the school and the neighbors.  The homes on our side of the street were all owned and occupied my Chicanos who worked at the GM plant.  There had been rumors of a merger between GM and Toyota and some of the younger employees had already been laid off or transferred to other plants in Oklahoma and in other states.  But our neighbors all had seniority in the UAW, so their jobs were secure for at least another year.

When the owner and his father arrived they happily negotiated a year’s lease on the house, credited us with the unused last month’s rent and deposit the kids had coming and we began moving in as quickly as the kids moved out.  It was a chore, but it was also fun.  Within the hour our neighbors with the girl children were in the house getting acquainted, inviting us to an abalone fry, and the girls were all upstairs crawling through the storage spaces and showing off their dolls.

For the first few days the drive up the Nimitz to Oakland and thence through a maze of interchanges onto Interstate 80 in our old truck were harrowing.  Driving through the poorest section of Richmond to the plant where we’d be building the yacht was downright scary.  But within a few days I managed to swap my ten-foot dinghy with its half-a-hang-glider-wing for a sail for a Volkswagen Fastback and we could leave our truck parked in the vacant lot next to our driveway.  We would enroll Allison. in school and Lisa, the mother of the girls next door, would pick her and her daughters up in the evening and they’d play together until we got home from Richmond.

Chris and I enjoyed working together, but she had to learn to read my mind.  There was only the outline and sail plan for the yacht, so all of its details resided only in my imagination.  Today, when we have a joint project to do, she can still read my mind and I’m just as inarticulate when it comes to telling her what comes next.

Of all the homes we lived in, when not on the road, Hayward, California was our favorite.  We often marvel at the serendipitous events which brought us there and those which moved us out a few years later.  But that’s a whole other tale with a less happy ending.

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