A bulldozer owner maintains his own road. There can be no question that the proliferation of half-assed, poorly maintained roads, often deliberately poorly maintained by big marijuana growers was and is a serious environmental problem in the Land of Shum.
The worse the road, the more likely you are to get stuck, especially during the rainy season. The more people get stuck and moosh around trying to get unstuck, the worse gets the road. On roads not maintained by the county, and that’s most of them, only neighbors working together can break this cycle. They work together to varying degrees and with varying degrees of malice, community-spirit, pragmatism or lawsuits and road-rage has a whole different meaning in Shum than it does in the city. In the good old days, It was considered the ultimate in non-community behavior to pass up someone with a stuck truck and not stop to help. Here, my companion and I came across a family we didn’t know, as we came down the mountain one morning. I think we were there for maybe three hours before we finally got it out.
Afterglow. The truck is out, the participants inspect the hole they got it out of, which may not look like much in a photo. You have to imagine how sucky that mud was, how low the tread on the truck tires and how far into the bank the front bumper had dug itself before I started taking pictures after the truck had been partially extracted. Our vehicle, a small Japanese pickup, was not really up to the task. Adults neither driving nor pregnant had to push along with the pull-truck pulling, that would be me, and by the end I was covered in mud. Mr. Whitepants is a little soggy in the knees, but, since he was driving the pull-truck, he wasn’t in the line of fire from the big truck’s tires. Same for the driver of the stuck truck.
From Star Route, July 27, 1987
Story and Photo by Jentri Anders
Question: If we’re all freethinking and independent anarchists who abhor structure and leadership, how does anything ever get done around here? Or, more simply put, how many hippies does it take to fix a bridge? To these important questions, there are no simple answers, but I got a chance to ponder them a couple of weeks ago when I attended the Umpteenth Intermittent China Creek Bridge- Fixing party.
My thoughts: First, you have to have someone willing to face reality. That person was not me. I drove over the bridge for a long time pretending not notice that real big bump on one end where the runners were rotting away. Hopefully, every watershed/road, like ours, has some practical realist who finally stops, gets out of their car, walks over to the bridge, takes a good look, and says, “Omigod. I’m driving over this every day!”
This person must then possess two key attributes which will begin repair proceedings– balls and literacy. The balls are for taking the initiative (read: flak for closing the bridge) and the literacy is for putting up a sign that says, “Bridge Party, Friday 9:30 a.m.”
What happens then is that almost everyone attempts to get the hell over the bridge before 9:30, so as to be neither blocked nor drafted into working. I didn’t make it. My usual 7:00 a.m. awakening had been cancelled by my sleeping brain, in response to the night before. It was 9:45 when the word “bridge” exploded into my brain and I leaped out of bed, tugging the covers off my protesting husband en route.
We jumped into the truck and commenced racing down the hill. We assured ourselves that we would make it, since 9:30 Humboldt Time is 10:30 Standard Time. Surely, we said, the sign maker is operating on Humboldt Time. No such luck. The first few people to show were right on Standard Time and had already pulled up some of the rotten runners and started inspecting the rotting beams underneath them, rendering the bridge thoroughly unusable.
By that time, however, it was o.k. with us because we had had an uplifting experience that helped us face the day. We had met an obviously urban visitor on the road, infuriated because he couldn’t get out. Flagging us down from behind the wheel of his new sports car, (low bottom, the fool) with only a one-day layer of China Creek Road dust on it, he consulted his digital watch and demanded to know how he was supposed to get out. We suggested he turn around, hotfoot it down to the bridge, grab a tool and help. Then he would know the very instant the bridge opened again.
“Me?” says he. “I’m too busy,” and he disappeared with his silly car in a cloud of choking dust.
“Tell it to Caltrans,” we laughed to each other, a little sally that caused us to arrive at the bridge in high spirits.
Our urban visitor’s negative reaction, of course, was not the only one that day. Actually, though, most people were philosophical, grasping instantly the simple truth that you have to close the bridge to work on it. If you don’t work on it, it might be dangerous. And, if you’re not going to help, you have no right to bitch because it’s closed so other people can work on it.
All day long, people either stopped, turned around and rewrote their plans for the day (just pretend it’s a mudslide or your car broke down) or parked, got out of their cars and started carrying lumber or hammering nails.
It was really only a handful who cursed, glared and burned rubber leaving. You could, of course, bribe your way in or out. An enterprising volunteer firefighter was providing directions on a highly complicated alternative route, in exchange for the purchase of tickets to the Beginnings VFD barbecue the following weekend. I have no data on how many people made this exchange.
My favorite interchange was with a fellow I’ll call “Mr. Cosmic.” I had encountered Mr. Cosmic and friends on several previous occasions, wherein concern was expressed over the state of my consciousness. I have a great aversion to being “guru-ed” and often come out of such interactions even further from a state of grace then when I entered them. Along about high noon, here comes Mr. Cosmic, beads and all. He pulls up, unfolds his long, sinuous body out of the car, strolls casually up to all the activity, surveys the scene (with love in his heart, I know) and inquires, “When will the bridge be open?”
A road neighbor of mine, well-known for a certain whimsical feistiness, one who had been working steadily beside me for hours, grabbed his half-consumed beer and stood up in one smooth motion. Planting his feet firmly under his not especially tall self, he looked up at Mr. Cosmic with his characteristic erascible grin and said, “Well, the more there are working, the faster it goes, you know.”
A look of great suffering shadowed the aristocratic countenance, as if Mr. Cosmic were feeling the great pathos of the human condition. He gazed with infinite compassion upon us poor mortals toiling in the sun, wallowing in the slough of lower consciousness. I held my breath. Did I smell incense? Were those temple gongs in the distance? And these were the words he spoke. “Oh, I don’t feel like working today.” My neighbor and I exchanged an “uh-huh” look, shrugged and returned to work.
By mid-afternoon, there were more than twenty people gathered at the bridge. Some were working hard in the heat. Others, most of whom had arrived early and already put in some hours, stood in the shade, drinking one of the beers, which seemed to keep appearing with each new load of lumber or nails. They were waiting for the grand finale, when the runners would be hammered down to the now-strengthened beams. A concerned citizen approached me where I rested in the shade and suggested that if I write this up I be sure to describe the efficiency of the work crew BEFORE the arrival of the second six-pack. “Sure, Bob,” says I.
Finally, the bridge was done. We surveyed our work with pride, passing a sacrament from hand to hand to dedicate it. We discussed the final decision for the day–who would get to drive over it first. Someone nominated the person who had spotted the damage and fronted the money for the wood. I seconded that motion. Another named the person who had placed the sign. The oldest? The youngest? The prettiest?
Before we could reach consensus, we heard the familiar rattle of truck-on-bridge. It was the truck first in line, followed by a day’s worth of backed up traffic. So much for ceremony, we sighed, feigning resignation.
And you know what was really strange? After working all day long in scorching heat, complaining loudly and acting as if we wished to hell we were home doing something else, it took some of us a half-hour or so to say, “See ya later. . . .”
These pictures I took of a “bridge party” on our road suggest more neighborliness than actually was taking place. Some of these people just came out the road one morning and found that three road neighbors had given up on getting anyone to come to any meetings to discuss how to get the deteriorating bridge fixed, had devised their own plan and come down early to rip up the cross planks so nobody could drive over the bridge. They had placed a sign warning people a day or so before, but many people don’t drive out the road for days or weeks. We had seen the sign and knew what was happening, but had hoped to get across and make a short town trip before working on the bridge. We overslept and didn’t make it, so were there early and worked all day.
As each car got to one side or the other, the occupants were greeted by a neighbor saying “the bridge must be fixed before somebody is killed and today is the day.” Most people parked their vehicle, dug out whatever tools they had, chucked all plans for the day and joined the crew. Agreement was reached on paying for materials already purchased and by the end of the day the bridge was fixed. However, it was only accomplished through benign coercion then and I know it would never happen on this road that way now.
These photos are not in chronological sequence, that’s just too far beyond my blogging skills. Here, rotten runners are being removed, shadows are short, my ex is drinking coffee and traffic has not started backing up, just the trucks of those working, so I’m guessing this is early on.
A road neighbor inspects the really scary crack in the beam. The person who finally stopped and found the crack told me later he felt a “squishiness” at that end of the bridge that “just didn’t feel right.” If that beam had given way under a heavy load (a propane truck, say, or a fire engine) it was about a 10-foot drop to the bottom of the creek bed.Getting the road maintenance problem covered in Shum is about much more than a smooth ride.
Road neighborhoods vary widely in the nature and effectiveness of road maintenance, some roads end up much better maintained than others. This particular road was notoriously a badly kept road and efforts to form an official road association to get ahead of problems had crashed and burned several times over. This was, in part, because the road was so long and, with many branches, covered so large an area. It was just too hard to organize that many people, such a large proportion of whom were completely irresponsible, not only in failing to help maintain the road, but in actually damaging it by driving big trucks too fast.
This bridge is at the front of the road, only a quarter-mile, if that, from the county road. Everyone had to use it, thereby contributing to its deterioration. With so little co-operation from so many people, it took some strong, responsible personalities to get the bridge fixed. Luckily, we had some.
Below, the shadows are growing longer as the day progresses and new wood is now to be seen on the bridge. The line of backed up cars has grown longer and women visit while waiting to cross. This particular road goes back so far into the hills that these women would rather wait by the bridge in the hope it will open today than turn around and drive maybe an hour or two back home to either wait until tomorrow or drive back an hour or two over bad road later on this day in the hope that the bridge is open. Remember, no phones, no way to know when you start out if the bridge is fixed yet. Some people had CBs, but most did not. The women could have joined the work, but by then there were plenty of men, and myself, one of only two or three women who helped, and not much unskilled work left to do. Not to say that women by definition have no bridge fixing skills, just that those who did, did not happen to show up that day.
In the above two photos, I can be seen working on the bridge. The hammer I am using appears foolishly small compared to the hammers the men are using and is definitely not one of the tools provided on site. This is my personal hammer, deliberately small, since I learned at some point in my life in the Land of Shum that I will simply tire out too soon using a full size hammer, but can last as long as the men using a smaller one.
The wrong tool, I learned on my own, is often the reason why women become frustrated trying to keep up with men working hard–and few are the men who will tell you that without sneers, teasing or other forms of patronizing. I learned it on my own, then jealously guarded my tools to prevent the men in my life from using them and failing to return them, which is to say, not honoring how important it is to me to work with tools my size. With this hammer, I can’t nail the largest nails, but I can nail most nails. (I had it with me because our plan was a quick trip to town, then work on the bridge on the way back. We weren’t going to completely shine it on, especially since the two movers and shakers on the bridge effort were our closest neighbors and friends. We would never have lived it down.)
Much of the work this day, however, involved hauling things around and I had no difficulty finding loads my size. The beet-red color of my face is some indication of just exactly how hot it was and how close one might come to sunstroke, if one were not careful. I periodically walked into the creek bed and threw water on my face from the creek, a tiny trickle at that point in the year, but enough to cool me down. Had I not left home in such a hurry, I would have been careful to wear my sunhat.