Vaya Con Dios

Page 3 of 8

I had hit a home run, and the Dayton Daily News, a dismal daily controlled by a shortsighted union, gave me a $15-a-week raise. I could not have cared less. Once again, the West pulled at us.

We bolted for Half Moon Bay, California, to join my old friend and former Gazette assistant city editor Jeremy Voas, where I would learn the art of putting out a weekly community newspaper — the toughest job in American journalism.

We reached Phantom Ranch to find the boys sitting underneath a tree a bit stunned and very, very hungry. It also was obvious they were suffering from the heat, and we went inside a small store/cafe to get out of the sun.

We were so hot that the ice water was too cold to drink. Joey, who was dressed in citified skateboard garb complete with sagging blue jeans, looked weak and keeled over on one of the tables. He just wanted to be left alone.

A woman entered the cafe and exclaimed how great it felt to sit in the creek and cool off. Jeff and I bolted for the door and encouraged the boys to follow us. But there was no budging them from the relative comfort of the indoors.

The rest allowed the lactic acid to build up in our legs, and now we were getting very stiff. Jeff and I hobbled down the quarter-mile to the campground that was next to the creek. We dropped our packs to the ground and jumped into the water.

It was a midlife baptismal.

We were revitalized within minutes as the cool water soothed our internal organs and weary legs. The boys soon joined us at creekside, but they were hesitant about getting in the water. Finally, Jed got in, but Joey just sat on the picnic bench swirling deep into his thoughts.

The more I prodded at him about what was wrong, the more he resisted. So I finally just shut the hell up. Joey eventually got in the water, kind of, by dipping his legs and butt in the fast-moving stream. But it was a start.

We cooked up a round of freeze-dried food and waited anxiously for the store — which had closed to serve dinner to resort guests only — to reopen at 8 p.m. Jeff and I wanted a beer. We were the first ones in line for a cold one.

Back at the camp, we were all disappointed to find that nightfall had done nothing to diminish the heat. A camp ranger earlier had mentioned that sometimes she would wrap herself in a wet sheet to go to sleep. Jeff and I wasted no time with that idea and drenched our sleeping sheets in the creek.

Jed, meanwhile, had somehow fallen asleep on top of a picnic table. But Joey was still seething.

A few hours later, I was awakened by an angry Joey, who was missing city life.

"This is the most miserable I have ever been," he said, as he threw his head lamp to the ground.

Jeremy and I kicked some ass at the Half Moon Bay Review. Those Pumpkin Festival-loving folks were used to a rah-rah newspaper, and that's not what we were about.

We tore the place up, uncovering one harebrained scandal after another in this farm-driven economy hell-bent on development. This was a place were the biggest story was whether the sewer plant would continue a moratorium on new connections.

The matriarch of the town had a license plate that read "The Godmother," and that she was. She ruled over the hugely popular annual Pumpkin Festival with an iron fist, walking off with bags filled with cash for unknown destinations. We popped her bubble, and, before long, her Realtor buddies were rebelling and starting a rival newspaper.

There were long hours, many intense stares from angry power brokers, and praise from the locals who wanted to keep their beautiful beaches and priceless flower-laden valleys from getting turned into housing developments.

Barbara, the kids and I lived much of the time in an old motor home in a clearing of eucalyptus trees perched above the Pacific Ocean. We called our encampment Gum Nut Grove. We had no water or power. I slapped up a solar panel to keep the battery charged. It rained 21 inches that March. We hauled water up the hill to fill the storage tanks.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty