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VETERANS MEMORIAL PARK, MONTEREY

by Paul Gerald -

This is so cool! I am sitting in my sleeping bag in my tent, working on my laptop computer by the light of a hanging Mini-Mag flashlight. The few campsites where anything was happening tonight are quiet now, the last fire has died out, and there's nothing left to do but write, write, write - and wish I had a cellular modem.

I have stumbled into something really wonderful with this park. I found it on the Internet - the Monterey Peninsula Home Page, to be specific - and when I found out it was only $3 a night, I made up my mind I was on to something. It's tough to beat $3 a night on the Monterey Peninsula. And this place is beautiful, clean, and totally undiscovered. You would think that a campground in the middle of Monterey would be jammed, especially during the golf tournament, but tonight I bet there are still fewer than 10 sites occupied.

It's up on top of a hill, out behind the VFW post, and apparently since nobody drives by in on their way anywhere, nobody stays here. And besides, being on top of a hill is one of its biggest assets. From the flagpole at the top of the field where I was throwing a frisbee today, you can see the town of Monterey (and the airport, which is a cool site at night) to the right of the trees and the ocean to the left of them. Once or twice I thought I heard a sea lion barking, as well, and I regularly hear the call-and-response of the training going on at the local military base.

As for the Pebble Beach Pro-Am crowd, they aren't really the camping kind. They lean more towards places like The Inn at Spanish Bay and The Lodge at Pebble Beach - places where rooms go way over $100 an $200 a night. In fact, I got funny reactions when I told people at the course that I was sleeping in a tent- most of them were shocked, even confused, but once I told them it was $3 a night they seemed to gain respect for the idea.

Now some other people are starting to show up at the park, and at least one land yacht full of them are here for the tournament. They were baking potatoes and grilling steaks tonight. Stopping in for a $1 shower today was a guy in a 1967 VW bus with California plates that read PHISH N. For those who aren't familiar, Phish is a band from Vermont that is immensely popular in the same way the Grateful Dead became popular - by word-of-mouth reputation based on live performances. Their music is not much like the Dead's except in attitude, which is best defined as "Let's run out on stage and see what we've got tonight." People follow them around and tape their shows - the whole bit. They used to tour with, and are often compared to, Widespread Panic, in case that helps any. Like Widespread is the southern redneck version of Phish and Phish the northern jazz fusion version of Widespread.

At any rate, I love Phish, having seen them in Memphis last summer on a night when they jammed seamlessly from "2001 - A Space Odyssey" into a bluegrass song, so when I saw this license plate I walked right over and asked the guy if Phish was anywhere in this neighborhood. They aren't, which is too bad, but this fellow was an interesting character.

I never got his name, but he looked to be about 35 years old and somewhere just under five feet tall, with a beard, stocking cap, cutoff jeans and tie-dye showing wherever you'd expect to see arms and legs. As we chatted and chewed on some of the free saltwater toffee I had picked up on a candy store counter today (NOT stolen from it, mind you), he told me that he lives in the Big Sur - lives in his VW bus in the Big Sur, that is. I'm not sure what he does for a living, but I do know that he's got an extremely cool bus, with curtains in the windows and a big stereo and a coffee pot on a hot plate and stickers all over the inside. The only stickers on the outside had to do with saving libraries and using less water. He's the third owner of the thing - he proudly pointed out the original, 1967 ash tray and horn - and when I asked him how many miles it had on it, he shrugged and said, "I'm not sure. There's only so far the odometer can go, ya know."

Today didn't turn out like it was planned, but today it did not matter. I had originally intended to go to the golf tournament, but last night with Chip turned into a late affair, and when I got to his hotel room I wrote seven pages - more than 3,100 words - in about two hours. You could say I was keyed up. When we woke up this morning, then, we were both tired, and we both had lots of laundry to do, and we decided that I would pay him the money I owed him for the room by buying him lunch. So the tournament sort of got squeezed out of the picture.

And I don't regret it at all, primarily because I got to hang around with Chip, an old friend from SMU with whom I attended probably 20 to 25 Dead shows with over the years. It was like old times, me and Chip waking up in a hotel room, starting our laundry and wandering over to a restaurant for lunch, then heading to a campsite for some frisbee and a nap. He even had some bootleg Grateful Dead tapes, which warmed my heart and set my feet to tappin'. Today dawned sunny and clear - my, how life has improved since Tuesday, when I pitched my tent in the rain! - and since I owed him $30 for the room, we had a real nice lunch. (You know you're in an expensive place when something called the Motor Lodge is $60 a night.)

We walked over to Fisherman's Wharf and found a place called Cafe Fina, which we knew would serve a $30 lunch because it had tablecloths and views of the ocean. The Maitre De put us at a table upstairs and in the corner, where we could see sea gulls and even a couple of harbor seals rolling around in the water. We feasted on clam chowder, mussels, and blackened salmon and red snapper, then polished it off with chocolate mousse and coffee. (The seals appeared to have fish, as well.) Chip had no trouble at all getting $30 worth of food out of that place, and I had no trouble at all putting it on my American Express card.

This maitre de, by the way, had some serious fish mounted on the wall. One of them was a king salmon that must have weighed 60 pounds. I asked if he had caught it, and to my surprise he said yes - in Alaska. I asked where in Alaska, and he said on the Naknek River near King Salmon, Alaska. Well, this was a shock to hear, because I once worked for a cannery in the mouth of the Naknek River, I know all three of the restaurants in King Salmon, and I've backpacked in Katmai National Park, where he caught that salmon and the two 20-pounds-plus rainbow trout he also had mounted in the restaurant. I thought this an amazing coincidence, that here were two people who know where King Salmon, Alaska, is, but since he works in a restaurant he is insane and did not care about anything but getting us to a table.

Monterey is a cool place, to say the least. It's surrounded by natural beauty, but it's also a historic old town - the first capital of California, no less. The Spanish settled it sometime in the late 18th century, I believe; there are old buildings and historical markers everywhere, including a customs house by Fisherman's Wharf that's dated 1860. Also here is Cannery Row, made famous by John Steinbeck. Steinbeck used to live in Monterey and also in Salinas, which is a few miles inland and which was essentially the setting for the California portion of "The Grapes of Wrath." Today Cannery Row is clean and proper and well-lit and filled with wealthy people on vacations, so of course it bears no resemblance whatsoever to the place Steinbeck wrote about. Even the fish are mostly gone. (Trivia question: what fish was the basis for Monterey's maritime success? Answer: the sardine.) But it's still worth a visit.

Well, at this point that's all I feel like writing. It's now 11:30 here, and I have gone through most of two batteries tonight while writing another three-pages-plus. By a quick count, I have now written some 48 single-spaced pages since leaving Memphis 23 days ago. At roughly 470 words per page, that means I've inflicted some 22,560 words on you folks. And, for one final number, there are now 31 of you getting these little write-ups. What a gas!