It’s said that once you reach a certain age your sleeping habits tend to rearrange themselves. That’s certainly true with me. I wake up in the wee hours tossing and turning, ready to face a day which is still hours from arriving. Fortunately, I have this blog to kill a few hours and spin a few stories when the phone isn’t ringing or some other daytime chore demands my attention.
This morning I’ve been thinking about my first summer living in Nevada City. (I was a Grass Valley boy until I was old enough to fall out of the nest.) In those days, there were many small grocery stores in the downtown area. In addition to the Bonanza Market there was the Plaza at the bottom of Broad Street, Dilley’s where the Blue Moon is today on York, and the City Market which is now occupied by the Indian Springs Vineyards wine tasting room on Broad Street.
My first job on this side of the hill was at City Market, working for Ralph and Gladys Buchanan. As you might imagine, there was some competition for business with so many food outlets in such a small town. City’s advantage was a delivery service. Every day, folks would call in their order and it was my job to collect the items, box them up, and then make my rounds in the afternoon.
Nevada City has always been an eccentric little town, with an odd mix of unlikely neighbors. In 1970, the town was experiencing the same sort of recession we see today. Commercial Street was mostly empty storefronts, until the coming of the Rainbow Mountain Inn and Grimblefingers book store. There were old miners who spent their days passed out on barstools in Duffy’s Success, the Bank Club and Pete’s Place, redneck loggers, bohemian artists, and a small but openly gay contingent led by Osborne and Wood and the Jacks. Somehow, they all managed to get along.
Some of my customers made me a little nervous. In particular, an old lawyer and his wife. As the story goes, and my memory is a little hazy on the details, (Steve Cottrell, where are you when I need you) the wife had committed a murder and the lawyer had successfully defended her, marrying her afterward. She had the look of a crazy person, long stringy hair, wild eyes, and a malevolent smile. She would always invite me in when I made my delivery, but I was always careful to make sure she was in front of me so she couldn’t stab me in the back with a kitchen knife.
Another delivery I always dreaded was over on Adams Street. The house belonged to an elderly couple, but was overrun by cats. The odor was toxic, to put it mildly. I remember one instance when I knocked on the door and the old lady asked me to come in while she got the money for the bill. They had been eating dinner, that canned day-glo orange spaghetti. There were cats all over the table, and every time the old man looked up at me, the felines would swarm over his plate, devouring as much food as they could before he waved them away like flies. He would then look up at me again with a silly smile on his face, and the cats would return to their momentary feast.
One of my other duties was to make a daily dump run. This was when Nevada City still had an open dump, run by the Kellys over off American Hill Road. Since I was still underage, I would sometimes sneak a six pack of beer into the trash and stash it in the bushes, to be retrieved after I got off work. I think the Buchanans caught on, because they let me go after I’d been there a few months.
The only other vivid memory I have of my time at City Market was the day of the first draft lottery. Like many others of my generation, I was opposed to the war in Vietnam. I had already seen what the experience had done to some of my friends. Many returned haunted by their memories. Some became violent, while others turned to drugs to dull their senses. The Buchanans were staunch Republicans, and Ralph was the sitting district one supervisor. They had an 8″x10″ photo of Richard Nixon next to the cash register. I was very nervous that day, worrying that I might have to be shuttled off to that forsaken jungle to fight people that had never done anything to me or my country. When the Union arrived in the afternoon, I nervously fumbled through the pages until I found my number. It was 336, way below the government estimation of needed recruits. I let out a shriek of relief, which startled Gladys. That probably helped them decide that I wasn’t a fit employee for their establishment.
I didn’t care. I was free to take my life in a different direction.