Monday, October 22, 2012

Hey God, You Forgot My Receipt

October 5
The delta breeze blew softly, a welcome relief after the heat of Sacramento.  A cloud of blackbirds swirled in the fields, their tight alignment and rigid discipline fooling me into thinking they merely numbered in the hundreds – until they broke into smaller divisions, revealing thousands of individuals.  They moved as if one mind guided them, the close quarters they kept never leading to a collision.
The levee and adjacent farm land are mainly products of Chinese labor, brought to California to perform cheap and difficult labor no one else would.  Many stayed on after the initial work was complete, opening businesses or toiling at one of the nine asparagus canneries on the delta.  Not all were law-abiding citizens.  The Bing Kong Tong, whose clubhouse has been preserved in Isleton, was a criminal gang much like the Italian mafia.  The Tong’s members were just like other immigrants, except the new opportunities they sought involved extortion, gambling, and prostitution.   I think there is a line in Neil Diamond’s song “Coming to America” about protection schemes.
Bing Kong Tong
I tried to find some traditional cuisine across the street from Bing Kong at the Pineapple.  My search for an authentically spicy Szechuan chicken dish failed even here.  The bland favors were a terrific disappointment until I doused the plate with red chilis.  Do you need to know the secret password to get the real thing?  
I cruised over bridges and past marinas.  The marsh grasses and palm trees gave the delta a coastal feel, even though the ocean is still seventy miles away*.  I finished up at Brannan Island, named after the man who instigated the madness of 1849. 
When Sutter learned of the gold found at his mill, he feared the likely consequences and tried to keep the discovery on the down low.  Sam Brannan, a Mormon elder, was responsible for releasing the proverbial genie from the bottle, selling out not only Sutter, but Brigham Young as well in the process.  Brannan owned a store in New Helvetia, near Sutter’s Fort.  When he noticed how many of his customers were paying in gold, his spidey sense activated and he quietly began hoarding merchandise and buying stocks in mining equipment.  Once well-provisioned, he traveled to San Francisco with a bottle of gold dust, where he yelled, “Gold! Gold! Gold from the American river.”  Then he sat back and watched the money roll on in. 
Brannan had originally come to California as the head of a Mormon mission.  Eventually, the head of the church, Brigham Young, sent a messenger asking for the Lord’s cut of his profits.  Brannan’s supposed reply?  “You go back and tell Brigham that I’ll give up the Lord’s money when he sends me a receipt signed by the Lord.”
Quiet, empty Brannan Island was a poor representation of the man, who has been described as brash, coarse, courageous, and even generous.  Whiskey and a failed marriage led to the downfall of Brannan late in life.  Darkness and fatigue led to my downfall late in the day, at an out of season campsite on the island.  Unlike the dead millionaire, I do plan to get up again, hopefully tomorrow.
16 miles/3993 total miles
*This number is the driving distance.  To discover the actual mileage I still have to cover on the ADT you can multiply by two.  Or trace the curviest hilliest route possible on a topographic map.   

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