Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Saving Mule Days

It’s Wednesday, January 26, 2011. I am anchoring a couch in Bishop California, letting my skin heal from climbing on the granite boulders of the Buttermilks. I am here for the climbing. I am also here for the job.

I wake up on hump day with a list. Statistically speaking, suicides occur most often in the middle of the week. Shots in the head and a planted gun, a suicide note and a push off the building, and the old “accidental overdose” happen on Wednesdays because assassination attempts in the middle of the week often look like suicides. The list of lives to save, of “suicides” to stop, begins and ends with one person: Neal McCoy.

On Wednesdays, I work my part time job as a secret agent. Wednesdays are busy days.

This is what I look like in uniform.

I tussle my hair in the bathroom mirror. Secret agents have a casual clean look. Think James Bond. They also have good oral hygiene so I brush my teeth. My contact wants to meet at Schatz, a busy and buttery local bakery. I do a few pull ups on a bar hanging above the bathroom door to make room for an apple fritter and walk down to meet the CIA spook.

Practicing my shooting at a Bishop firing range.

I pretend to examine the rows of danishes. Really, I am watching the reflection of people walking into the bakery in the glass display. I am also counting the number of apples in the fritters two rows down. Secret agents are good at multi-tasking. My contact doesn’t recognize me. I am disguised as a derelict rock climber. I blend in to the environment of the East Side of the Sierras. That’s why the CIA hired me; I can blend in. I watch the contact pretend to read the news paper. I sit at the table next to him and eat an apple fritter. I should have flossed. The contact looks around the room suspiciously, glances at his watch, then leaves. He doesn’t bring his suitcase.

Secret agents love apple fritters. You should too.

On Memorial Day Weekend in Bishop, more than 700 mules compete in 181 events at the Tri-County fairgrounds for the Mule Days Celebrations. Thursday night, a couple days before the longest ever running non-motorized parade, more than 30,000 people pack into the stands of the fair to see the show’s headliner. This year Neal McCoy, a 52 year old Irish Filipino country musician from Texas, will be starring the show. McCoy’s Billboard hits include “No Doubt About It,” “Wink,” and “Billy’s Got His Beer Goggles On.” He’s a perfect crowd pleaser for the desert town. He’s also a perfect candidate for a highly publicized suicide.

The target: Country crooner Neal McCoy

My contact’s briefcase include McCoy’s itinerary for a day reconnaissance to Bishop for a Mule Day's publicity shoot. It also includes information about the assassination attempt. A crazed member of the Bishop Chamber of Commerce decided that the death of McCoy would bring more tourism to the town than an actual show. Bishop will be the next Graceland, a place thriving on the memorabilia of a dead star. A suicide would look best- at the very least people would go to the Thunderbird Inn to see where McCoy died.

Orange juice is good. Lots of Vitamin C. Lots of antioxidants. Lots of good good stuff. For McCoy the morning orange juice would contain heavy amounts of hydrocodone bitartrate and acetaminophen, or Vicodin, an opiod that in heavy amounts is lethal. Cue pun about pulp in the orange juice.

Drink Milk cause OJ will kill you. That's right. Secret Agents make bad jokes. The difference is if you don't laugh, I'll kill you.

McCoy required that there be good old fashion oj at his hotel room for his 9 am continental breakfast. The Thunderbird Inn imports their Minute Maid from the nearby Vons. From there it hits the kitchen, and then McCoy’s room. Room service would be dropping dissolvable pills in and then housekeeping would be staging the “suicide”. My Wednesday mission was to stop that orange juice.

After finishing my apple fritter, I tussled my hair again. Look good Be good- that’s the motto they taught me at my old alma mater HBSAS (Handsome Boy Secret Agent School). I headed down the street as the innkeeper stepped out of his Dodge Dakota with a gallon of Minute Maid. At the back door, I karate chopped the room service man in the neck as he was taking a cigarette break. After changing into his uniform, I ran inside and grabbed the already poured oj. The innkeeper yelled behind his back, “Smitty, go to room 211 before you hit McCoy at 200. There’s something the Mule Days chairman needs you to deliver down the hall.”

“Room service,” I knocked shave and a haircut-two bits on the door. The chairman brought me in, double checking the hallway. He pulled out a wad of bills. It was a hundred wrapped around a dozen ones. He pulled from the middle of the pile, and stuffed the bills into my pocket. It amounted to $6. Cheap bastard.

“McCoy needs his sleeping pills in his breakfast,” he cracked a dozen Viocidins onto a piece of paper on the nightstand and brought the powder over to my tray.

The Thunderbird: free continental breakfast, lots of bed bugs, and home of an assassination attempt.

“Not on your life Chairman!” I did a flying crane kick, knocking the powder out of his hands and drop kicking him on the head. “I bet you didn’t know that there were bad-ass handsome secret agents around Bishop did you!? Well, the CIA will be having words with you!” I cuffed him to the bed and texted the Spook that the mission was accomplished.

I delivered the oj to McCoy’s room. I didn’t ask for an autograph, though I should have. I saved his life.

I headed home. The dog needed to be walked. It was 10:00. I had a busy day. The couch still needed to be anchored.

Thank God I saved McCoy. He'll be playing Bishop's favorite song at Mule Days

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Gang Related

Lucho loved two types of music. “This shit is gangster,” Lucho claimed. We listened to Tupac Shakur. “This shit is also gangster,” he fiddled the knobs on the iPod. Phil Collins came on. Lucho was a true gangster. We were driving to down canyon Yosemite to climb on the sunny winter cliffs. Black ice coated the road. Phil Collins was signing about the air tonight. Lucho’s Toyota Tacoma hit the ice, skidded across the road to one side. Lucho over corrected and his pick-up hit the snow embank. Phil Collins sang about holding on. The truck flipped and we ended up sideways. Lucho’s shoulder pressed into the yellow line of the road. Glass covered the road from the broken driver’s side window. I hung sideways, supported by the passenger seat belt. Lucho told me to get out quick in case the truck exploded. An hour later, a California Highway Patrol officer flipped the rig onto its wheels with the winch from his suv. The truck ran fine. It didn’t explode- just a lot of dents and broken glass. Too bad about the explosion- that shit would have been gangster.

Lucho painting his house on York St.

Lucho ‘s lived on San Francisco Mission District’s York Street for thirty years. In fifth grade, he joined the Nortenos. They claimed red. Outside of a place they called the Dungeon, the basement in a crack house, a half dozen kids jumped him into the gang. They kicked him, punched him, and beat him for twenty-three seconds. The gang claimed 23rd street. When a group of wetbacks, claiming brown, showed up on 23rd street, the Nortenos grabbed pipes, bats, and chains to reclaim their territory. The smallest kid wearing brown pulled a hand gun out when the Nortenos were across the street. He emptied his pistol on them. Lucho and his gang dashed. A Norteno was shot. Another Norteno pulled a pickup around, Lucho and the others threw the shot kid in the back of the truck, and they dashed to the hospital. They left the shot kid at the emergency room. Lucho was 16. That shit is kind of gangster.

York St in the Mission

Lucho met Cedar Wright in the boulders behind Camp 4. Lucho had some chronic weed. Cedar had a strong desire to smoke it all. They hung out often. Imagine that. They climbed together too. Cedar needed a belayer on his numerous projects. He wanted to freeclimb Wild Apes, an aid route established on Higher Cathedral rock by three local climbers. Cedar convinced Lucho to come with him. Cedar attempted to free the Banana Chute, a difficult thin crack next to a chimney system. The climbing proved too difficult and he tried the next major feature, a huge roof. With Lucho hanging at a bolt next to a crack, Cedar freed the Gravity Ceiling, a 5.13- 30’ crack route. Gangster. Lucho learned a lot. They hiked to Higher Cathedral 8 times. He definitely learned how to hike. The weed supply dimished. Imagine that. Later, the pair headed up to the Turkey Chute on Liberty Cap to attempt another new free route. They climbed high onto the formation, came to some difficult climbing, and retreated. They pulled their ropes and granite blocks came down on their heads. A large baseball fell onto Lucho’s shoulder and broke his clavicle. Cedar and Lucho hiked down the hill together. There was nothing gangster about being hurt.

Zach Romero sat in Coiler’s shop in Chinese Camp. I’m not sure what year it was- sometime before the stripper pole went up and after the three dozen license plates got hung on the wall. A couple cute girls from Tahoe, friends of Coiler tossed back beers for us. They talked about Lucho, who was famous for his suave. “Platinum and I went to the gym the other day,” I told Romero. “Lucho showed up half an hour late. When he walks in, he gets right on our gym project. He’s half way up the route, throwing his limbs all over, screaming like Bruce Lee, and totally going for it. He sets up to throw, and launches himself into the plastic world.” The girls start listening when they hear of Lucho’s heroics in the plastic palace. A thousand pieces of paper exploded out of his pockets as he dynos across the wall. As he’s picking up stuff up, I realize he’s picking up condoms.” Romero cackles, and notices the ladies perking up. “Magnums,” he interjects. “Really!?”, said one of the girls, “Little Lucho?” “Yeah, he’s got a six inch dick- when he folds it in half,” I added. It’s good to make your friends sound like gangsters, even if it’s not necessarily true.

Lucho on Wapama Rock in Hetch Hetchy.

Before the Tacoma exploded outside the park, Lucho and I were driving through Tuoulumne. It was late. The moon was high in the sky. It was cold. As we came into the meadow, Lucho’s headlights hit the body of a fawn laying on the shoulder of the road. He slowed, then stopped. He stepped out of the car, walked to the still warm body, and carried the dead fawn off into the woods. “It’s a better place for it to die,” he said. "I couldn't leave it there." He returned to the truck and we drove off. Lucho was a true gangster.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Price Is Right

The 4th of 10 Kochajkis, Michael “DynoMike” Kochajki spent the first few of his 36 years in Los Angeles, where he somehow picked up a Boston accent. He's always been one to stand out in a crowd. Recently, out of an audience of five hundred, famous television personality Drew Carrey picked DynoMike to be the next contestant on the Price is Right. Though the show has changed a little since the days of Bob Barker, it is essentially the same. Big breasted gown wearing ladies still wave their hands in front of $19 automatic wine bottle openers and contestants still have to guess what the price is. It was very very exciting. Here was another opportunity for DynoMike to judge what was fair.

He appears at 18:58 in the show, which is conveniently online.

For the past thirteen years, Michael Kochajki’s head has protruded through the small window in between the grill and the store. Every summer, the Tuolumne Meadows Postmaster hands out packages to passing hikers, often staying open on weekends, holidays and after hours to deliver resupplies for Pacific Crest Trail hikers (The real deal hikers who “smell like shit and are gracious”)- and the shorter John Muir Trail hikers (The guys who “pack the kitchen sink”).

The Post Office Window

For half of Kochajki’s term as post-master, park visitation was down in the northern section of Yosemite National Park. The economic recession led many people towards stay-cations. Instead of traveling, people stayed at home. A 2010 Ken Burns documentaries on the national parks prompted thousands of people to head to Yosemite. Suddenly, Yosemite was a weekend choice for local Californians and a great place for people looking to save money. “The numbers are way up, there’s a huge impact on Tuolumne,” a long time supporter of the park environment, Kochajki voiced his concerns about a potential problem in the park. “Tuolumne isn’t set up for high level volume. There’s parking problems. They need to put a limit on visitation,” Kochajki said about the “Kens Burns Affect”. “It’s like inviting ants to a picnic.” Overrunning the park with visitors wasn’t fair to the park.

Dyno Mike helping a customer- probably his mom

One of Kochajki’s greatest fears is that the overall quality of park visitors diminishes with quantity. “We don’t want the Meadows turning into Santa Cruz,” Kochajki said about all the dirtbags who have shown up in the Meadows. “People think they’re Vietnam Vets.” Hundreds of climbers pass through the parking lot and the post office during the season. Many of them are the kinds of dirtbags that the postmaster detests. “They need to go to Bank of America and open a SAVE IT account,” said Kochajki.

Mike in the post office with his disco ball

Not all climbers hate Kochajki though. Many have a strong admiration for the guy. “We loved what you did with the shit box,” A pair of old climbers told Kochajki a few years ago.

Earlier that same summer, a ranger rode into the employee housing zone behind the Tuolumne Meadows store while a number of employees were eating breakfast. It was a cereal party. Everyone had different kinds of cereal- Lucky Charms, Granola, Raisin Bran. There was whole milk, almond milk and soy milk. It was a good time.

Then the ranger’s horse stopped right next to where everyone was eating. The horse took a massive shit next to the table. The locals were not happy.

“You’re gonna clean that up right?” Kochajki said to the ranger. The ranger muttered a response about a shovel and next time.

Tuolumne Meadows Store, Post Office and Grill

“Just like the shit, I was fuming,” said Kochajki. The rangers, known as the Green Gestapo for their green uniforms, had callous regard for all park users. They often acted without regard for their environment or the people around them. Kochajki and his fellow employees thought about what to do. They noted that government property should be returned and DynoMike was the guy who delivered packages. Kochajki took a box from the post office, scooped the poop into it and brought it to the ranger station. He knocked on the door, waited and then left when no one answered. As he pulled away, a ranger came out and stepped in the box. They were ankle deep in horse shit. The office ranger identified Kochajki’s car. An officer known locally as ODP “Officer Dumpy Pants” was waiting for him when he returned to the employee area. ODP wrote Kochajki a ticket for terrorist threats against the National Park Service. Kochajki was the Unabomber, a man who left dangerous unmarked packages on government property.

DynoMike the Terrorist

Kochajki brought the matter to the original ranger, the one with the pooping horse. Kochajki told the officer there was no malicious intent in returning the package. It was simply a matter of karma. Additionally, lawyers would be involved and the officer would be held accountable. There were a number of employee witnesses. “Listen,” Kochajki said, “your name will be dragged through the shit.” The incident was expunged from his record.

The old climbers thanked Kochajki profusely. The relationship between climbers and rangers has always been a tense one with climbers often getting the short end of the stick. Since that summer, Kochajki has become a bit of a hero. DynoMike was the guy who shanked the bully.

Dynomike trying to hear his friend's shouting the right price on the Price is Right

On the Price is Right, DynoMike guessed the price of a 3g smart phone with a one year contract as $2000 dollars. The next lady guessed $750. The next guy guessed $1250. A dick headed army private guessed $1251, eliminating the guy before him. The actual retail price was $1930. The rules state that the prize goes to the person who guesses the closest without going over. DynoMike overshot the price by $70 and lost to the army private who was $680 under. I am not sure if that rule is really fair but life isn’t really fair. People get screwed all the time. The Tuolumne employees got screwed by the ranger and his negligent horse care. The park environment is getting screwed by the excess number of visitors. Unfairness is a sad sad thing. Luckily, there is still justice in life. When people give you shit, you can put it in a box and drop it on their doorstep.

Great Success!