I have said it before and I will no doubt say it again: my fellow human beings either run to me or from me. No one is neutral. Case in point, I got into a couple of fist fights outside the Soda Creek Store on Elk Mountain Road. Nick Uran’s place was for many summers a big part of my little world. There wasn’t much else to do in summer except get into brawls. The winner was the person with the most teeth come autumn. I once beat up a perfect model of a Proud Boy. He lost a front tooth to my right toe.
Then there was the big redneck/tweaker who took up two parking spaces in front of the store. I was driving to the back of the store for some minor repairs to my truck and spun my tires. “Hey you sprayed gravel on my truck,” one of the redneck slash tweakers in the truck said. I told him, “Your truck is a piece of shit.” He said “Your arse is grass" and I said, “Bring it.” I took on the little guy and my wife, Ako, and Joleen, Nick’s daughter, took on the big guy. I had to call both of them off. Then I apologized for spraying shit. Joleen told them, “Get off the property.”
I didn’t win all the fights I fought. In fact, I lost to Sergio. I brought him up to Lake County from the Mission District in the city and he repaid me by giving me a fucked-up lip. It’s still fucked up. I never fought with Baba Findley who would spend half a year in China where he ran a school and also operated a bunch of smoothie places.
Baba Findley did good without my prompting, and so did Nick who once helped a couple of teenagers who crashed into a tree and totaled their pickup truck. Nick gave them coffee, put them to work splitting wood and let them use his phone to call one of their dads who drove up and rescued them.
I never saw anyone get into a brawl about the two dams, the Scott and the Cape Horn, also known as the Van Arsdale, on the Eel River. The community up there has been divided about decommissioning the dams, but the majority of folks want them to stay. The vineyard people and the winery people, who have a lot of clout, have used the water for decades and so have the pot growers. The Friends of the Eel, who think of themselves as environmentalists, want the dam out.
During summers in Lake County, I did more damage to myself than anyone else did to me. Once, I went up Elk Mountain Road on my cycle, gave it too much throttle and fell off hard. I rode back to Soda Creek Store and told Nick, “I don’t feel so good.” He told a guy who was hanging around and has some medical training: “Joe needs to be checked out.” The guy examined me and said, “Yeah, you’re fucked up, probably have a concussion. You better lie down and take it easy.” I did that. Soda Creek Store was as good a place for R and R as it was for fist-a-cuffs.
I haven’t grown in the Mendocino National Forest for many years, but I still go to the store and jabber with Nick. Recently, I introduced my daughter, Millie, to him. She was impressed. Millie helps keep me honest. When I tell a story and stray, she will remind me, “That’s not exactly the way it happened.” There’s something to be said for the facts, ma’am, and a lot also to be said for embellishments.
(Jonah Raskin co-authored with Oaky Joe himself, Oaky Joe Adventures and Misadventures.)