Eventually most of us get used to things working out in ways we cannot reliably predict

Journal Entry from Fall of 1972, found as a text file on an old floppy disk. May go all the way back to stuff I typed into the Apple-II

At the end of the '60's we lived in a big green 2-story house at 4253 8th N.E., about 3/4 of a mile from the University of Washington. We got the house when the Seattle 7 got sent to jail for blowing up the federal courthouse after Kent State, and we shared it with about 6 other people, most of the time, and everyone paid about $50 per month for their space. Earthday had just happened and in those days, we didn't need cars, because we rode around town on bicycles. As a result of this convienient and low cost living arrangement, no-one ever needed very much money, which was good, because none of us was getting paid very well for working at the University. Our next-door neighbors were from Taiwan, an Asian-style nuclear family, dominated by the Mother-in-law, who ran the house while the young Mother raised the kids and pampered their Dad, while he, of course, pretended to be in charge. He was a young man, under 30 anyway, but we had very little in common. He was on a career track, becoming a criminologist. He had graduated from college and done several years of graduate work and as a result, spoke pretty good English, and the kids and their Mom were learning it slowly, but at home, everyone spoke Chinese. They had just gotten their first car, a bright red Ford Maverick, with brown and white plaid seat covers. You could tell it was the first car that anyone in the entire history of their family had ever owned, and it was really a big deal. It seemed like they all got together and washed it and then re-waxed with pastewax after every use. The kids slept in it for at least the first week.

They had a very small but intensely cultivated garden-plot in their back yard. Long rows of lawn had been turned under and built-up into raised beds, from which issued enourmous quantities of bok-choy and other cabbage family greens, as well as carrots and peas. The kids were in charge of pest-control in the garden. Each kid had its own enormous spray-can of RAID. Every morning before school and every evening after dinner, they proweled through the garden, systematically turning over every leaf. If they found a bug of any kind, sspffft! they blasted it to kingdom come with their spraycan. They were very friendly people, in spite of the language gulf between us, and often gave us armloads of their beautiful, tainted vegetables which we could not figure out how to politely refuse, but in view of the questionable pest control methods used by their children, we could not face eating it, either.

Sometimes we had a garden in the back yard, too, but there were a lot of squirrels in our yard and they raided our corn, and the soil in that part of the city grew carrots that tasted like acetone, anyway, so mostly we got our food from a small store about 10 blocks north, called Anna Ruth Henry's. Anna Ruth was an amazing woman and a self-proclaimed right-wing extremist. She had been the head of the anti-flouridation movement in Seattle during the early '60's, and had initially built up a business supplying the MInutemen and other extreme political factions with "pure" food and water to stock-pile in their bomb-shelters.

The store was staffed by a tight-knit group of little old ladies who were bound together by the common experience of having been abandoned by western medicine because they were not adequately insured to be worth curing and each had taken matters into their own hands and been miraculously snatched from the cancerous jaws of death by abandoning processed foods and sugar and adhering to strict diets of wheat-grass, or brown-rice and mu tea, or carrot juice. Ann Ruth was a real stickler for details and she made regular visits to all the growers she patronized, and even hauled water from the foothills of the Cascades in glass carboys. The store was more a distribution center than a store in the normal sense: you could not just walk in with a shopping-list and pick out what you wanted. Quite the contrary. You had to order everything a week in advance, and then come pick it up on Wendsday evening. If you got there early, you could help divide up the vegetables, otherwise, all your food would be waiting for you, having been packed in a cardboard box with your name on it by the little old ladies.

The store ran on the honor system, because Anna Ruth belived that people were capable of honorable behavior. Everyone ran the cash register for themselves, which was her way of testing the honor system. She figured that if you were going to figure out your own bill, you might as well make your own change. Why would someone cheat one place and not another? We were among the first "young" people to discover her store, and we felt like we were "home free".

We had run away from the collapse of the Hippie rebellion at the end of the summer of 1967 and after hitchhiking cross-country to New York City, we had gone off to try to live like animals in the rain-forest on the Washington coast. During that winter we were confronted by the fact that our bodies did not know, or at least did not remember how to make energy out of the simple foods other animals were eating: when we ran out of sugar and honey, we stopped running around and when we stopped running around, we got cold. We probably had other options, but we took the easy way out and came back to town and to go back to school. We started reading about human nutrition and eventually discovered a book called "the Politics of Protein" which appears to have been the first major discussion of the problem of utilizing incomplete proteins in grains and legumes, and the benefits of using combinations of foods having complementary deficiencies to achieve higher efficiency. We began experimenting with this idea and making charts of amino acid contents of various foods and taking notes, assuming a book would follow. Eventually it happened, but someone else wrote it: it was called "Diet for a Small Planet". During this period we abandoned sugar and honey entirely, ground our own flour by hand in a Corona Mill and gradually progressed from a diet modeled on Indian curries reformulated to provide balanced proteins, to a generalized form of Macrobiotics, which was a 20th century Japanese pseudo-religion that had come to similar conclusions about balancing foods from a completely different direction, and although we did not fit well in the Johnson family's rigidly dogmatic and obviously hypocritical macrobiotic cult, we had definitely outgrown the spiritual limits of the food selection at the CO-OP.

At this point in the history of the emerging baby boom culture, there were not yet any national distributors for real food and the only people who were serious about white sugar and concerned enough about pesticide residues or hormone tainted beef to actually seek out sources of supply for themselves and their families were religious splinter-groups. We had come to Anna Ruth's because we had been disenfranchised by our own revolution. In the spiritual vacuum created by the collapse of the '60's drug-culture, which had shifted from a utopian vision based on freely distributed psychotomimetics and hallucinogens to a highly profitable business based first on speed and barbiturates, but quickly growing into government sponsored heroin addiction and prostitution, we needed a safer way to distance ourselves from the dominant culture and it was easier and more hedonistic to become vegetarian extemists than to become Bahai's or Hare Krishnas and for the same reason everyone else joins up with cloistered religious sects: it felt like the '60's again, because the sense of being part of a community of like-minded people was wonderful.

We were in our early 20's, so we were still young and strong and were by far the most fit and agile members of this cult of food faddists, so we poured out gallon after gallon of Anna Ruth's artesian spring water for the older people, many of whom were to o feeble to handle the 50# glass carboys and pour the pure water into the gallon jugs they had lugged from home.

We shopped at Anna Ruth's almost exclusively for about 5 years and it became a sort of petri-dish for us. We could watch the culture we had introduced into this world flourish. Soon, the young people outnumbered the old and we came to understand more and more clearly what a unique community it had been and how fragile the honor system is when people without honor come thru the door. Our friends had told their friends and after only a few layers of acquaintance we had people in there who nobody knew and right next to someone who was carefully making change for a $20 bill, was a person nobody knew selling cocaine to someone who should not have been there in the first place. In spite of all this cultural improbability, Anna Ruth's store survived for many years, and once, in about 1973, she asked us to make a trip for her, to pick up a truck-load of fruit from a cantankerous old dry-land farmer she knew, who grew peaches, nectarines and cantalopes almost by magic right out of unirrigated fields of sand in the high desert in eastern Washington, using some sort of variation on the "biodynamic" method and this is where the tale begins.

We borrowed a car for the trip, my Dad's white 1968 Opel, fitted it with a large roof-rack and drove off to Lake Chelan to find her farmenr and her load of fruit, armed only with a map she had drawn on a small piece of paper. He had no telephone, but Anna Ruth assured us that the area was so remote that there were not many options for getting lost. She was right and although the map was crude, it was adequate. We arrived on his high plateau unannounced and apparently unexpected, in the late afternoon, and found the farm abandoned.

The place was a strange sort of oasis in the desert, and obviously very old. There were some broken-down trucks that looked like they hadn't run for 30 years or more, but there appeared to be no farm animals and no farm machinery. Enormous shade trees that looked like locust sheltered a big ramshackle 2 story frame farmhouse, patched in places with pieces of sheetmetal, which was shedding shingles and appeared to harbour several beehives inside its walls. Hundreds of small Melons were growning in shallow ditches nearby. On the perimeter of his developement were the orchards. We wandered around for a while, looking at the fruit and looking for Ross, which was all of his name Anna Ruth had given us, and hoping nothing had happened to him. It took a long time, but eventually we found him. He was standing still as a statue, wild-eyed like a rabbit, just inside the half-open door on his back porch, cradeling an ancient, but obviously well used double-barrelled 12-gauge shotgun. His finger was on the triggers and it was pointed our way, aimed about knee-high. "Who are you?" he grumbled.





We babied the little car back to Seattle and unloaded the fruit at Anna Ruth's store and then drove it back to our place and parked in the driveway between our house and the Chinese family next door. We hadn't refilled the tank after the trip, and so in the morning, I drove off to the gas station to top off the tank, before I took the car back to my dad. On the way to the gas-pump, it quit running abruptly in the middle of a long sweeping corner. The gas-guage read 2/3 full and it had konked out abruptly like an electrical problem, not like out of gas. It took a little cranking to restart it but then it ran fine again for about half an hour and then died again at a stop light. It would die at stopsigns and traffic lights, and it would die on corners, but it ran fine on the freeway, and it still had lots of power. I called my dad and told him I was going to keep the car for a while, until I figured out what was wrong with it. I took apart everything in the electrical system, but nothing was wrong in there. Then I started thinking about the problem. It had to be a fuel supply problem and it was. The next time it died, I pushed it to the side of the road and opened up the carburator, expecting it to be empty. It wasn't.

The float chamber was about 1/4 full of water. Now I knew what was wrong with the engine, at least why it was dieing at low speed: it had water in the fuel tank. Not a lot of water had to be in there either, because if the fuel line entered the tank and from the top, and near one end or the other, and didn't quite reach the bottom of the tank, it explained everything, even the initial occurrance of the problem on a curve, where centrifugal force would swing all the water to one side, making it deep enough to reach the outlet pipe and get sucked into the fuel line and pumped into the float chamber where it would accumulate until it got deep enough to reach the level of the carburator's idle jet, at which point it could kill the engine. I could understand the mechanics of the problem, but not where the problem had come from.

Carbuators are made of cast zinc, with brass jets. If they get water in them, the corrode very quickly, growing milkey white scale around the jets and on the float valve. This carburator was clean inside, not corroded, and this meant that the water in the tank was a brand new situation. I siphoned out the gasoline, and then siphoned out the water. There was nearly a gallon of it in the fueltank and I could not figure how so much water had gotten in the tank in such a short time, because it had not happened even once on the trip. It really seemed like sabotage. That night I parked in the driveway again and watched the car. After dinner, the kids came out to play in their car and then to my horror, began to play gas-station. They dragged the hose from the garden and opened the gas-cap and inserted the hose and proceeded to pump water into my car's fuel-tank again.

A few weeks later, their Mom came to visit me in the early afternoon, all dressed up in a skirt and shiny shoes. Her husband was out of town and while he was away, she had been hoping she could learn how to drive their car, to "surprise him with her initiative" when he got back. As soon as he had gone, she had gotten her learner's permit and arranged for additional coverage from their insurance company. Next, she had gone to Kirchener's Driving School, which was located nearby, and had completed about half of the course. She had learned the meaning of traffic control signs and the rules of the road and most of the basics of operating a car. But then, for some reason which she could not really understand, they had refunded 100% of her money and turned her away, before the time came for her to actually drive the car. She'd been told that a test they had given her had identified a serious personality problem that made it impossible for them to teach her to drive.

Her command of the English language at that point was rudimentary, at best, but she was able to explain to me that they had given her no such test and she was sure that it was simply discrimination because she was an Asian or perhaps an asian female. So, she was wondering, could I perhaps teach her to drive? She would happily pay me for my time, if I was willing to give it a try. So I said yes, that I was sure i could teach her to drive and that I could spend about 2 hours a day with her, and that I figured it would take about a week or maybe ten days before she would be ready to solo, which she thought was almost perfect, because 10 days would be right about the time her husband was due back from San Diego, and she could really "surprise" him if she picked him up at the airport.

So later that afternoon I drove her and her Maverick to the biggest parking lot I knew about, down below Husky stadium on the University campus. In those days there was no Kingdome and this was the biggest lot in town: hundreds of acres of asphalt to play on, and its virtually abandoned after 5:00 pm. She learned to handle the car quickly, although she had some fairly unnerving mannerisms. If she became confused, either by what was expected of her or by the procedure that was required, she would slam on the brakes, hard, and then, after aplogising profusely, start over. I explained that this was not an acceptable driving strategy: you do not have to apologise to anyone, because first: they cannot hear you and second: they do not care, but more importantly, it was dangerous. You cannot suddenly stop the car, for any reason other than small children or stoplights, I warned her, or other people will crash right into you. She claimed to understand this, but it was apparent that her need to stop and apologise was very deep-seated, and as natural to her as breathing, which worried me somewhat.

On the other hand, she was making great progress driving the car. She could do all sorts of complex parking operations, after about 6 hours of practice, she could back-in to tight spaces like a parking lot attendant and parallel park in spaces only a few feet longer than the car. She knew when to shift and how to start and stop, and when we set up "pretend" trafic situations using other cars parked on the lot, it appeared that she understood the rules of right-of-way. On the 4th day of lessons we went to Seward Park, a wooded peninsula jutting into the South end of Lake Washinton. Seward Park has a 2 mile loop of one-way road with a 15 mph speed limit that winds through the woods around the park's perimeter, on which I intended to teach her how to participate in traffic, and a large unpaved parking lot on which to refresh the previous weeks lessons. Seward park used to be the place you took your 409 Chevvy to wax it, and the perimeter road was usually full of guys driving convertibles with paint-jobs and custom wheels in slow circles, checking out each other's cars.

We worked out in the parking lot for a while, and she got good enough at steering that she could do fast figure-eights, real close to the traction limits of the tires in the dirt, in reverse. I felt like we were ready, and so did she. We joined the procession and she learned how to read the brakelights of the car ahead and to use the brakes gently on the steeper down-hill sections and how cars use their turn signals to communicate with one another. After about half an hour, I figured we were ready for 2-way traffic, so I guided her out of the park and onto Lake Washington Boulevard, a nice wide 2-lane road that follows the lakeshore for about 5 miles, from Seward Park to the Arboretum. There was very little traffic, but it frightened her enough that each time she saw a car coming toward us, she swerved toward the sidewalk and stepped on the brake, prepared to take evasive action.

I explained that the other cars almost never actually crossed the centerline, and that even if they did, there would still be lots of room to miss them, but she was beginning to panic, so I decided it was time to get us onto a less popular road, and guided her off Lake washington Boulevard and under the west end of the old Floating Bridge to Atlantic Street. Atlantic Street is gone now, having been obliterated for a new tunnel and a new bridge, but in those days it climbed steeply and lead either to an exciting west-bound on-ramp right at the east portal of the old tunnel, or continued up into a residential area and a maze of roads that wind terrace-like along steep wooded slopes and up and down through a series of small parks.

Because these roads don't really go anywhere, they are almost devoid of traffic. However, at the top of Atlantic Street was an obstacle for which she had not been trained: a stop-sign at the top of a hill. She had to stop the car, signal a left turn, speed up the engine, and then let off the brake. Because the Maverick had an automatic transmission, I had not seen much need to delve into using the parking brake to hold the car while she set up the transfer from the brake to the throttle. She speeded up the engine and let off the brake and the car rolled backwards. She slammed on the brakes with both feet and began to apologise again. The second try was no improvement: she killed the engine.

Things were getting pretty tense, but I figured that this was a perfect place to learn how to start on a steep hill, and Seattle has dozens of stoplights on steep hills in the busiest part of downtown, so this was another driving skill that was certainly required, and although I should have taught it to her before, there are very few steep hills in parking lots and this seemed like a perfect place to learn it. So we tried again. Third time's the charm and all that rot, right? Wrong! This time she really panicked. The car started to roll backward again and I said "give it more gas!" and she stomped her foot on the pedal and pushed on it with all her might, like it was the brake pedal in a panic stop. The rear tires started to spin and screech and the car picked up speed. Suddenly she was at the stop-sign at the top of the hill, and it was a "Tee" intersection. If she kept going straight, there was a steep bank and a concrete wall blocking her path. She still had her foot on the floor as the car crested the hill. It was almost airborn from the speed and the steepnes of the hill, and the back tires were still spinning. She saw the wall coming, and cranked the steering wheel abruptly to the left, and as the suspension bottomed out and rebounded from the landing, the car began to lose traction again, fishtailing and sliding. It didn't roll over, but it looked like she was actually passing out in terror! Her eyes seemed to be rolling back in her head and the gas pedal was still glued to the floor. I lunged for the steering wheel but she fought me for control. She had it in a death grip, with the wheels hard left, so in desparation, I grabbed the ignition switch to kill the engine, which was the WRONG thing to do. It locked up the steering column and sealed our fate.

We were only going about 20 mph now, but the car had turned more than 180 degrees and it was still careening out of control. It was now off the pavement, pointed back down the hill we had just come up. but it was not pointed down the road this time. Her cowboy driving technique had gotten us about 60 feet to the left of the road, and right to the top of a very steep rockery at least 40 feet high. The car didn't even hesitate: it descended the cliff like a mountain goat. It ricocheted off a few boulders on the way down, but actually did almost no damage to the Azaleas and rose bushes planted among the rocks. The damage came later, when they tried to haul it back up the hill.

We landed hard, with a sickening metallic thud, in the middle of a small concrete patio, and on the first bounce, crashed into a large white corintian column, which held up one corner of the portico and although it looked like it was going to be cast concrete, and like it was going to deflect us right into the house. It turned out that was actually made of wood, which was very fortunate, because it collapsed on impact, stopping us very gently, several feet from a vast expanse of very expensive leaded glass windows. We had come to rest in a rich person's formal garden, but because of the seatbelts and the way the chassis had collapsed, we were both alive and undamaged.

The first part of the car that actually hit the ground was the front bumper, and the entire nose of the car, including the attachment poinst for the front suspension had immediately collapsed like squashing a beer-can. The rest of the car followed reluctantly. I had to use both feet to kick the doors open so we could get out, and when I did, the middle of the car collapsed because the roof had buckled and the doorframe had been all that was holding the car together. The hood had sprung open and steam was pouring out of the engine compartment, the driveshaft was virtually touching the concrete, and she was sobbing like a child, having just remembered that not only had she wrecked her new car and done some serious damage to someone's beautiful back yard, she didn't have her learner's permit with her.

Fortunately, no one was home at the scene of the crime, so I left her there apologising to the garden and the car while I went off to find a telephone, hoping someone at our house would be able to communicate with the Mother-in-law and get the learner's permit to us before the cops arrived. After about an hour, the owner of the house pulled in to his drive-way, and walked in through the front door, unaware of the pandemonium content of his back yard. We watched in hushed anticipation while he walked around in his living room and opened his mail. It took quite a while before he noticed us staring in through the window. The longer we waited, the tenser the situation became and we were getting ready to knock on the door, when he took the initiative and came out to greet us.

He was a tall black gentleman, a pharamacist who also dabbled in real estate. He drove a canary yellow Cadillac de Ville and wore a very expensive suit. He was very gracious, surveying the situation in a very relaxed and patient manner. She was still sobbing and apologising "so solly... so solly... so solly... " like a broken record, but he could see that the real problem was going to be getting the car OUT of his back yard. A helicopter was probably the right tool, but insurance companies are not usually very creative in their handling of situations like this and instead, a wrecker was used, which really tore up the rose bushes. The Maverick was obviously totalled, but it went back to the dealer who put it on a frame tractor and replaced the broken glass and repainted the roof and bolted on a new nose. They gave it back declared "fixed" which seemed like a very bad idea to me at the time. I assume her husband was properly surprised and I expect that she eventually learned to drive, but I remain curious about the test they gave her at Kirchener's Driving School that allowed them to predict that this sort of thing would happen.
©Joe Breskin November 2001
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