“Mean old levee, taught me to weep and moan.” - Led Zeppelin
I found it hard to disagree with Mr. Plant after the way today began. South of the California capital I joined the levees protecting the north central part of the state from the temper tantrums of the Sacramento River. Even these twenty foot high barriers have failed to contain floods on occasion, most recently in 1993. They did contain me, however, leaving me trapped atop the levee between the water on one side and private farms on the other. The wine and fruit orchards provided bucolic scenery, but no place to legally put a tent.
The settlement at Clarksburg looked to be the last for many miles. I called Mom to examine possible options. As I’d feared, the next option was beyond Walnut Grove, which would make for at least a thirty mile day. Nothing to do except march onward. The light began to fade and so my spirit, which I admit is a bit of a whiner. A young photography student cheered me briefly, offering me a Tupperware dish full of rice and recording my haggard countenance on film.
Right before Walnut Grove lay her sister town, Locke. As the sun disappeared over the horizon I entered Main Street in search of a hot meal to reenergize me. Locke was originally settled by Chinese immigrants and their influence dominates to this day, a fifth column working to destroy America from the inside or regular people trying to get by in a hard world. Let your prejudices decide. The shops loomed over me in the narrow street, more like an alley. Most of the businesses were closed, only one last vestige of life lingered. The sign read Al the Wops.
You wonder during a long, tiring hike when the suffering will be worth it. You wonder, for what reason do I continue? The answer is to meet people like Rob Torres (and raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project, please don’t forget about them – this interruption has been made possible by the Wounded Warrior Project).
Rob was bartending for the night, a side gig. His main job is as a teacher at a local high school. I hope those kids know how fortunate they are. Rob immediately empathized with my situation, getting me sustenance even though the kitchen was closed, promising me a place to camp, and introducing me to the eclectic assemblage I had stumbled upon.
A couple of the regulars are well worth mentioning. Charles, who had worked at the Shelby Cobra factory, surfed professionally at Newport Beach, and smuggled drugs across the border from Mexico and John O. who supervised a propane company and hunted deer in his spare time. John O. was one of four customers of the same name, enough Johns to please any brothel. His resume may look pedestrian when compared to Charles’, but he had by far the best story. On John’s first assignment as a propane rookie he blew up the house. He was able to rescue the elderly lady inside and still managed a twenty five year and counting career in the business. Poor training by his employers was the cause of the disaster. Not exactly what one would call an auspicious start.
The current crew continues in the tradition of the founder, a character in his own right. The Italian Al Adami chose to open a restaurant in the heart of Chinese dominated Locke. He managed to thrive in spite or perhaps because of his unusual antics: cutting off customers’ ties (which he viewed as too dressy), throwing money on the ceiling, and stirring women’s drinks with his fingers. The Chinese affectionately dubbed him Al the Wop. Wop is an acronym for early 20th century immigrants, mainly Italians and Eastern Europeans, which stands for “without papers.”
Adami carried on the business until 1961, when death cut his career short. Happily, the oddball flavor of his bar has lasted beyond his earthly presence. Hours previously I thought the levee might break me, so tantalizingly close to the finish. It merely led me on to insure I found the place I needed to be.
27 miles/3977 total miles