It was a good day. I had busted ass. The pool sparkled. The Tennis court was swept and the proscribed factory sealed tennis balls were set out ready for use. The 1/2 acre of lawn was groomed and ready for championship croquet, badminton, cartwheeling, general bare-footing or whatever the $3000.00 a night guests wanted. The house was swept for bugs and spiderwebs. The beds were made and the towels were all in place; High Rock Ranch was ready for renters and I was set for a worry free weekend for beer fest. Loretta had dialed the same in at the fairgrounds. Of course hers was an all weekend affair answering questions, coordinating the camping, keeping the ATM stocked with cash and generally being there to keep a major valley event and fund raiser on the rails.
The Anderson Valley Beer fest is the big kick off for our summer. Five or six thousand folks show up to enjoy the start of Spring in the Anderson Valley by camping out and drinking a tanker load of beer. These folks camp out at the Mendocino County fairgrounds in SoBo and various spots in the valley. SoBo is the South end of Boonville, approximately 1/2 a mile from the Northern-most end of NoBo. Loretta kept the crowds, volunteers, staff and all others on the same page at the fairgrounds. Out South East of town in the suburbs, a mile from all the hub bub is the green room. On the 30 acres of creek side oak woodlands of the Anderson Valley Brewing Company the rock stars make their semi-exclusive camp. They start trickling in on Thursday night. Brewers from far and wide come. At a regular beer festival the brewers come in piecemeal and stay in hotel rooms. Sometimes they will coordinate with each other and book a group of rooms much to the detriment of those booked around them. But generally they are cabbing it from fest to party to home room at great expense. The Anderson Valley Beer Festival is a whole different animal. All the breweries, 60 plus at last count, camp out on the the a fore mentioned bucolic 30 acres. And they do set up with a vengeance. A thousand plus brewers and brewery employees kick off their rubber boots and gloves, lay out their tents and grills and relax for a weekend.
Driving is prohibited soon after dark and the gate is locked. Beer Burning Man commences. Camps are pimped out with fully stocked kitchens, laser shows, fifth wheel multi-whole pig bbq's, bonfires, marching bands, lawn games and of course beer taps. The selection of beers at the public beer fest on Saturday is wholly contingent on how much is consumed by the brewery crews on Friday night. I have said too much already as I am a fervent advocate of the "what happens on the AVBC grounds stays there." (The time the jack ass owner of Stump Town Brewing head butted me completely out of the blue and blacked my eyes? Completely forgotten but do feel free to mention it to Peterif you happen into his vicinity.
Loretta and I have been members of this bacchanal since 2001. We stake out our camp real estate at the furthest reaches from the entrance, and hence away from the meandering hordes, down by the creek in the early days of the festival. Our friends know where to find us every year. Depending on what is headed for the dump that year we outfit our camp with carpets, sofas, coffee tables, the old blue corner booth from Glads' cafe, a deep frier (fried pot stuffed twinkies anyone?) and a pink leather lazy boy recliner that was an extra in several gay porn videos among other accouterments. No matter the decor there is always a big pot of my wild pig chili on the fire and Loretta's potato salad and deviled eggs for all comers in need of food. Later she brings out her oatmeal cookies and brownies for the kids and their parents that show up on Friday. Sporadically we wander off with our cups in hand, a merry band visiting other camps to taste what they are pouring and to invite them back to our camp. Later in the evening we stoke our fire high with the half cord of madrone and oak I save up for this weekend. Often we end up sitting with fifteen or twenty of us laughing and howling, sometimes well past sun up. If you have ever showed up at the Anderson Valley Beer fest on Saturday and found your favorite breweries' booth there but no one pouring beer it may have been partially Loretta and my fault.
That is what we were looking foreword to that Thursday evening April 30th when we met up at the A.V.B.C. tasting room. Loretta was there with a beer when I arrived. Thursday night was my radio night, I had a show to do. We were headed to Lorrens' for dinner after the brewery. Lo would go home and make the potato salad, oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies. She would listen to my show and pack up all the food in the coolers and have the camping gear ready to go when I got home at 10:20. I would do my "Substance abuse show" in honor of the beer fest. 2 hours of drug, alcohol and such related humor. But first we would hang with friends, decompress and watch the beer fest crowd start to trickle in.
We headed out from the tasting room an hour after we got there. I said I was going down to our campsite to drop off the rocks for our fire ring. I had collected ten or so cantaloupe sized rocks in the back of my truck. Loretta said she would go with me and I went to the passenger side to clear out the propane tank and weed burner there for getting the fire going. She said, "Ah, don't bother, I'll ride on the tailgate." as she dropped it down and hopped on. Fal Allen, the head brewer at AV Brewing Company and our oldest and best friend, hopped on along side her. I drove out to the dirt road down to our camp and Fal hopped off to get the company truck. He pulled up behind us a hundred yards later and saw what happened.
I have no idea. All I know is I was driving. Initially I thought that I must have accelerated. Many hours after it all happened as I was coming to grips with the situation I thought I must have accelerated hard, jerking Loretta back and causing her to crush the back of her skull on those rocks that had been lined up against the tailgate. Fal told me different and I believe him because he was watching. The truck hit a dip in the dirt road and Loretta bounced up and off. My wife caught the back of her head on the edge of the tailgate on her way down. I slammed on the breaks as soon as I saw Loretta had fallen off. Fal did too and we got to Loretta at the same time. She was laying peacefully on her back with both arms on the ground at her side in the middle of the dirt road beside Brewery pond #1. Later we would both say we thought she was fucking with us, that she would open her eyes and say, "You assholes, you owe me!" But she didn't open her eyes, not for a very long minute or two. When she finally did open her eyes she had a slow trickle of blood creeping from her left nostril. She told Fal her name, where she was and the year. He is an EMT and knew to ask these questions. If he had not been there I would have let my wife sit up, I probably would have walked her to my truck (clearing out that fucking damned to hell propane tank), and given her some water while I continued to set up our fire ring. Our friend Fal Allen saved Loretta's life.
It was 5:45 and her brain had begun to swell. There was massive inner cranial bleeding. Blood clots had begun to form. 911 was called and by 5:55 an ambulance and a fire truck were on sight. By 6:00 p.m. she had on a neck brace and was on a back board. I was answering questions from my friend Thom or Clay or Antoinette or someone; all of the emergency responders seemed to be good friends of mine. Suddenly another highly competent friend came and told me Loretta wanted to talk to me. I stumbled over to my wife, she was laid out dusty and trussed up with a dog lampshade around her neck and strapped to a backboard. She looked up at me and reached up like she was adjusting a necktie and pleaded "Get this off of me, I have to pee!" Had I been out there alone when this happened those might have been among the last words my wife ever spoke. As it was I hopped into an ambulance with her for a mile long ride to the Boonville airport where a Life Flight helicopter was waiting. At 6:30 Loretta was airborne and on her way to Santa Rosa Memorial hospital.
As the prop wash and noise faded my many friends hugged and reassured me. We were all certain this was a big dry run for a real injury. Loretta was just taking a spectacular ride for a minor concussion. Fal offered me a ride to Santa Rosa. He had slightly more shit to take care of than Loretta did for the next day so I convinced him it was nothing and called my friend David Lindsey. David was there in five minutes. While waiting I called Mary Aigner at the radio station to let her know I would not be doing my radio show that night. Next I called Jim Brown, Loretta's boss at the fairgrounds to let him know she would not be in to work the next day.
David and I left Boonville ten minutes after the helicopter. I had him stop at our place in Yorkville on the way and we picked up the overnight bag that Loretta had packed for the beer fest. There were sweats, toothpaste and tooth brush, deodorant and several changes of clothes in the bag. We walked in to the Emergency room at the Santa Rosa Memorial hospital at 20:30, hospitals are on a 24 hour clock. After waiting for 30 minutes or so with the twenty or so of us in the "Help me now!!!" crew in the waiting room I sent David home to his second home a few miles away. "Go to bed. I am going to have to convince her to stay overnight for observation. I'll sleep here." He left. 40 minutes later a nurse came and got me. As we were walking down the hall I told her "I have an overnight bag for Loretta with her toothbrush and stuff." The nurse stopped, turned to me and said "Oh she is not leaving here any time soon!" This was my first inkling that it was more than a concussion. Ten feet later I rounded a corner and I walked into hell.
Loretta was laid out naked on a stainless steel rolling table much like the ones dead bodies are wheeled in on in movies. There was a horrifying bouquet of tubes sprouting from her mouth and arms. There were people everywhere rushing about. I imagine I started to hyperventilate and sob much like I am right now as I write this. A stern looking woman in scrubs walked up to me and started telling me about brain swelling and hemorrhaging and blood clots and the need for doing something immediately all while several people were rushing around moving weird machines up close to my wife and stacking obviously important packages pell mell atop my wife's legs and chest.
Suddenly the stern looking woman stopped talking and looked at me. There was a shorter woman, lower in rank I sussed somehow, and they both looked at me, the shorter woman held a piece of paper out in her hands. Obviously they wanted something from me but all I was trying to do was stand, my knees started to buckle, I reached out and grabbed the wall. The stern woman, who I came to know as Loretta's brilliant but bedside tone deaf neurosurgeon, squeaked "Get a chair!" I collapsed and a chair was there. Somehow I had the paper in my hands and the two of them were still looking at me expectantly. I knew time was of the essence and also that somehow this stern, very worried looking lady needed me to do something. My mind was stuck trying to jump all the gears between "Honey, I know you want to leave now but we have to stay here over night. We will go to the beer fest tomorrow, no worries" to some strange twilight zone double clutching involving my beautiful best friend having 20 square inches of her skull removed so that the swelling of her brain would not cause a subdural hematoma pressing onto the spinal column causing massive brain damage and death.
The paper was a consent form. Apparently the many many years this woman spent becoming an expert concerning the brain; how to cut into it, how to diagnose the best possible methods for dealing with various problems that may arise: in short all the skills and knowledge necessary for life saving BRAIN SURGERY!!!! — came down to one frantic semi conscious panicked husband in a nearly blacked out state being able to sign his name. I looked at them, bewildered and in shock, and asked for a pen. After an "Oh,.... uh.. yea.... uh" looking about they found one and handed it to me. And as they looked at me holding paper and pen, expectantly waiting for my signature giving them permission to cut into Loretta's brain, I leaned over in the exact posture I would use to puke in a toilet, laid out the consent form on the floor and scrawled my name on the bottom.
I was then hustled out of the way I never wanted to be in and soon after I collapsed into a heaving, sobbing heap. I learned later that Dr. Germain, the brilliant and stolid neurosurgeon, had looked at Loretta's xrays and assumed she had been in some horrific traffic accident. She naturally assumed that I had at least a hint of the terrible damage. The two of us met at the polar opposites of our assumptions.
This story is not done, there is a lot to tell. But I am done for now. I do not like telling this story but i feel like I have to. Many of you ask "How are you?" I tell you "I am o.k." sometimes I add "but just." There are no words for what this is.This fucking sucks. I hate it. But I don't know what else I can do. Loretta is a bit better every time I see her. When I am with her all feels right. She is sassy, snarky, funny and just so Loretta. But she is also radically different. After I said "Well that is normal" about something today she said "What is normal anymore?" It was more a statement than a question but it is still a vertigo inducing wonder. When I am with her all is ok but when I am out here trying to hold it together in the "real world" with out her I do not know what is normal.
As a child I read stories of disembowelment. Horrific tales that kept me up at night about poor souls having their guts opened and their intestines fastened to a tree. The long walk ensued as they were forced to circle the tree until they dropped. That is the only metaphor that seems apt at the moment, please forgive my drama. It just feels like all that trails out of me is fear, sadness, terror, angst, doubt, worry and so may other emotions that should be safely nestled in my gut. God I miss her so much.