Thursday, May 11, 2017

An Occasional Memory of Some of CIYC’s Characters

An Occasional Memory of Some of CIYC’s Characters

Geno owned a bar in a pretty rough part of San Jose.  This fact pretty much sets up his story and why he is perhaps one of CIYC’s most memorable characters. When it comes to his story, where do you start…

Geno and his wife Shirley joined the club in the 1990's. Shortly after joining they, like so many others before, sold their human-scale boat of 30’ or so and bought a relative monster.  At the time it was one of the largest boats in our fleet.  Having a very large boat in the club made Geno, whose ego was likely formed in a bar of his making in a not great part of town, feel pretty good.  He would talk it up, show it off and generally burnish his image as a big boat guy. Did I mention that he smoked huge cigars?  Is the picture becoming clear?

Geno would also occasionally show off the downside to owning a big boat.  One time, heading downstream through the Antioch Bridge he found himself just outside the channel with that thing.  He was in the lead, I was following as was the rest of our fleet and we all saw his boat jerk upward a good 5 feet as he hit the edge of the dredged channel and power on up and nearly over, only to realize his predicament and manage to slide the beast back into the channel with a big splash.  I don’t know if there was any damage done but when we got to our destination, Geno wasn’t talking anything up.  Instead, there was complete silence, something not common among men who tended bar for a lifetime.

Another time a bunch of us were rafted up on the back side of Decker Island, with Hwy 160 in easy view just behind us. At some point in the night the tide went out, affecting only Geno’s deeper draft  boat.  He arose to witness his boat listing big time to starboard and aft.  He was way up on the bank.  This wouldn’t be a problem, he told us all, because when the tide came back in the boat would be back in the water where it belonged—no harm, no foul. 

About this time someone said they smelled diesel fuel.  Sure enough, Geno’s boat was leaking fuel all over the place.  It turned out that he had recently filled his tanks, apparently to the tippy top.  Fuel was pouring out of the two starboard tank vents. Geno didn’t say much to the group of us hanging around.  Instead, he just went over and stuffed a rag in the lowest vent like nothing happened; making for what we all thought would be a really good fuse.  Of course, our anchorage smelled bad like a refinery but nobody said anything because Geno owned a rough bar, if you get the drift.

Back to the cigar bit--Geno was one the only person in the club who liked really stinky cigars—in his case, chain smoked. His cigars were so stinky that his best friend, Vince,  who he regularly visited aboard, installed a custom, homemade metal cigar holder just outside his boat's boarding door.  It is not remembered whether Geno ever used it.  He may have just got himself a new best friend. 

Sometime in the late 90's the club’s Board decided to make our clubhouse a smoke-free environment.  Our female Commodore at the time, a thoughtful nurse recognizing that it is not easy for people to simply quit smoking, told the assembled General Meeting that a tent-like contraption would be set up on the clubhouse side deck and smokers could go out there and do their thing.  Well, Geno’s bar was decidedly not a smoke-free establishment as the law at the time required. He wasn’t the type to let a mere law change his lifestyle. Well, when this matter of smokers having to go outside and into a crappy tent in the rain came up, Geno got into a big argument with the nurse’s husband, a Past Commodore.  they yelled at each other about smoking, in general, about laws in bars, about what constitutes good health—you name it, it was a fully developed argument right in front of the entire membership. He may also have told this guy where he could stick the nurse’s smoker’s tent. They were sitting next to each other and soon Geno jumped into this guy’s face. Others of us got things under control pretty quickly and no punches were thrown, but it was pretty clear that we would never find Geno huddled under that tarp smoking his fancy cigars. He stewed about this predicament for years until he and Shirley moved into retirement to Arizona—fouling that air.

As far as anybody remembers, Geno’s bar never became a “smoke free” zone.  But it did become known for another feature, a huge Super Bowl betting gig each year.  It wasn’t as though he hadn’t tried the betting thing out.  Earlier he had tried to form a pool among bar patrons, offering his smaller, human-scale boat as a “drawing prize.”  At one point his Super Bowl pool was endowed to the tune of a $50,000 pot.  This, of course, was large enough to draw the attention of the authorities who shut him down for some gambling infringement.  The whole thing made the papers but Geno never said much.  He just kept smoking those cigars and talking up his big boat. 

Still, and to put all of this in a better light it, would be correct to say that Geno loved Caliente Island Yacht Club.  Once when the Treasury got a little low just before a big bill was due, maybe for insurance, and at the General Membership meeting when the matter came up, Geno pulled a wad of Franklins out of his pocket and put that the money up to pay the bill, without a word.  In the end, that was the real Geno, a stand up guy and a true Caliente Character.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

More Recollections of Certain Caliente Characters

Random Recollections of Certain Caliente Characters

Earlier I wrote about Sam Martini and his brother Red as being the visionaries (Sam) and muscle (Sam and Red) that built Caliente Harbor.  I also mentioned the role of Sam’s son, Frank.  As teenagers, Frank and his buddies spent many weekends on the island doing what they could with their limited skills to build out the clubhouse.  Frank was a hard worker, spent a lot of time on the island and was much liked by the older members. He was a skilled boater and at the urging of his father, became CIYC Commodore in 1974.

Now, Frank might have been more than a little spoiled.  Except for the time that he was in the Army during the earliest part of the Vietnam War, Frank’s history was mostly as an employee in Sam’s garage in East Oakland.  You could assume that Sam lavished cars and boats on Frank even while he was Club Commodore, at age 33, Frank had cool, fast boats and cars. At that time he was married and had two young kids (but soon divorced.)  Frank was living a good, and presumably pretty clean life like the rest of us in his age group.

It was during this time that he was having lots of fun that there were signs of him being a bit different than most club members.  One memorable time was during our 4th of July anchor out where he and his best friend in the club, Fred Wiggins, started to set off fireworks directly from the fiberglass deck of Fred's runabout which was anchored just behind the club raft up. This went on for seemingly hours, the two of them silent for long periods, then fireworks, then uncontrolled giggling then more fireworks. They seemed impervious to the obvious damage being done to the boat.  Maybe the picture is becoming clear?

Frank was gaining skills and learning more of the business ropes at the garage when Sam contracted cancer and died in 1991, leaving his son the place in his will.  It was a bad time in East Oakland, a time when serious drugs were rampant and who knows but Frank might have been affected in some way by this environment.  We don't know but he couldn’t make the garage successful and it was closed not so long after Sam died.

Sam had left Caliente Island in his will, including the clubhouse and 100 some odd berths, to his wife with help from his sister to manage it all.  Of course, Frank was a part of this family ownership team, becoming the maintainer of the physical plant. Some of us could see his hours--10-12, 3-4 pm.  He lived on a big houseboat in the marina owned by his mother, often with his son, known affectionately as Little Frankie, who was probably just out of high school at this time.

Also during this time, both Franks became bikers--Harley guys.  Since it was safer to ride their bikes across the footbridge rather than leave them out on the levee to the will of bad guys, a few times every day both bikes roared back and forth across the pedestrian-only footbridge, where they eventually left them parked on the club patio overnight. They always parked in the same place, as made clear by the huge oil stains on the concrete.

Well, a few years later big Frank’s life was tragically cut short by a hit and run offender in a motorcycle accident early one morning in East Oakland.  At his funeral, bikers of all kinds including members of Frank’s club who called themselves the Sadistics—part of their outlaw biker regalia was a fancy knife carried just outside the boot-- stood to remember Frankie, all commenting that he was good brother—“we rode together,” they remarked admirably.  One of the mourners’, a huge guy wearing Hells Angels colors got up to speak, not about biker stuff but of his bringing Frank’s mom a plant (in his homemade planter, he said) after he learned of his buddy’s death. One woman came dressed in fancy leathers and somewhat jarringly told the sizeable biker group attending that she knew Frank back from two very different lives for both of them—Frank as Commodore of Caliente Isle Yacht Club and the other as a member of the Sadistics Motorcycle Club. You can assume that few of the bikers knew the “yacht club Commodore side” of the story. Her nickname was Bebo and she was Fred’s girlfriend—and was another Caliente Character, but for a later story.

Frank’s funeral was one of those that you used to see sometimes on TV news back in the '80s. It was a biker’s ball. Seemingly hundreds of motorcycles lined up at the funeral home, their riders in full leathers, club colors proudly showing on the back of their jackets.  Little Frankie rode his dad's Harley solemnly alone at the front of this parade, directly behind the hearse carrying the remains of his father. This show--all bikes paired off—roared off to the cemetery in Hayward in a pouring rain. Yours truly with Jo Anne were at this funeral owing to our close friendship with the Martini family.  

Because this iconic outlaw biker event was going to be the highlight of the day for me, I got our car out of the lot early and into the forming up of the funeral parade, right behind the last pair of motorcycles.  Off we went in a literal roar of smoke. As the hearse and its parade came up to each red light two bikers would peel off, go ahead and then park blocking all cross traffic, this being all the cars that legally had the green light.  These bikers would then fall back to the end of the lineup, right ahead of us and another pair in the front would rocket ahead to do their duty. This dance--peel off, stop all traffic because they could, drop to the back--went on for maybe 15 miles down busy East 14th street with all of its traffic lights, through San Leandro and then eventually onto Hayward’s Mission Boulevard and eventually into the cemetery. Noting that there were no cops involved in all this--many hundreds of cars stopped by roaring bikers--I think I eventually assumed that those particular riders were probably cops themselves who had exchanged for this show their badges and red lights for their biker colors. 

All of this is told because it is background to something that wasn’t well known among club members at the time. There was a rumor going around Bethel Island as Big and Little Frank were roaring around town and back and forth to our old clubhouse. Even today, there are no doubt some old timers who still live on Bethel Island and think that “the Hells Angels own Caliente Harbor.”  Well, CIYC was a fully upright and widely respected yacht club, then as now, yet you can see how one might have believed the rumor owing to this particular Caliente Character.


Friday, March 24, 2017

Continuing the Celebration of CIYC’s 50th Anniversary:

50th Anniversary:

Random Recollections of Caliente Characters

Caliente has had more than a few memorable characters whose job was “Island Caretaker,” a term in use before “Harbormaster.”  This was back when the club had a clubhouse on Caliente Isle in the middle of Taylor Slough with a very cool (and shaky) footbridge linking it to Bethel Island (see the pictures and story in the back of the 2017 Directory.)  Caliente had many Caretakers who, because they weren’t Harbormasters as such, didn’t really have many skills.  Sam was always eager to get Caretakers because they worked for room (upstairs)  and probably not board. And because they were often drifters of one sort or another, they didn’t last long. Among the numerous office holders was one Caretaker who was maybe 18 years old who lived in the apartment over the clubhouse with his pregnant girlfriend. That was in the late 1970s.  Some of us have seen this guy, Cliff something or other, around the Delta since and looking about like what you might expect of one whose start in life was a bit rough and whose first job was Caretaker of Caliente.  Another guy was apparently recently out of prison. Another probably should have been in prison. You get the idea. Founder Sam Martini knew how to run the place on a shoestring.

         The specific Caretaker who has come to mind here was a retired Navy lifer. His last name has been lost to history but we knew him as Chuck and we knew he had been a Navy Bosunmate for something like 30 years. He was huge, his tattoos were pure Navy and his nose  was quite red, suggesting a lifetime of bad booze. Now, if you were in the Navy or knew someone who was in the Navy, you’ve heard about Bosunmates.  As opposed to say Quartermasters, who help run the ship, Bosunmates are responsible for keeping the ship shipshape which has a lot to do with chipping rust and painting.  You could say they were in a less than highly skilled position aboard ship. In fact, back in the day, the Bosunmate's toughest job was often just rounding up the crewmen who were said by an officer to be need of an “attitude adjustment” and put them to work making the ship shape, polishing endless items of brass, cleaning the bilge, working on overflowing heads, you get the idea.  

Instructions to these attitude adjustees were, of course, given in English but unless you were in the Navy you wouldn’t necessarily understand a Bosunmate’s speech -- mostly because every third word started with F.  And this particular Bosunmate had three decades of experience with that word and others of that ilk before he came to Caliente. You could say that his speech was colorful.  Well, Chuck comes to Caliente Isle directly from Navy retirement—30 years of that life. You’ve got the picture.  

Chuck’s job is Caretaker and his duties were basically to keep the clubhouse, docks and other places nice, you could say “shipshape.” But this guy has arrived before there was a footbridge to the island. So his job -- his primary job -- is to ferry people from Bethel Island to Caliente Isle across Taylor Slough. Some of you know how the system worked. Those arriving on the BI side took their gear in old, rusty shopping carts down the ramp to the little ferry dock on the levee side to ring a loud bell. When the caretaker heard the bell, he would come from where ever he was on the island making things shipshape to fire up the ferry boat (calling it a ferry would be to give the vessel a bit too much glamour; it was actually an outboard-powered platform.)  The ferry would make its way across the slough, often taking on drenching spray, to load up the folks wanting to make their way back across to the clubhouse and its docks. 

          When coming to the island, most people were giddy and eager to get across and start their weekend of fun.  When leaving the island, they were grumpy and not eager to get back into their routine.  Now, these two emotions—giddy and grumpy-- are not well-suited for a former Bosunmate.  And this particular Bosunmate wasn’t shy about letting people know what he thought of their giddiness and grumpiness. But there was one thing that would make the guy’s salty language even saltier-- dog crossings “on demand.” For these occasions, the F word would be connected to all kinds of other words not found in your Funk and Wagnels -- strings of words known to most sailors but not necessarily to classy yacht club types.
          Yours truly and his wife kept a small sailboat on the Caliente dock one summer, well before the footbridge was built. Said dock was at the ferry slip on the clubhouse side so we got the full show on more than one occasion.  We could actually tell if Chuck’s oaths were longer or more strident by the nature of the interruption of the bell ringing on the other side.  A truly unique string of cusses came when the guy was sitting on the head in the upstairs bathroom when the bell clanged. The longest and most interesting blast was when the bell rang requiring him to come down, fire up the often balky outboard and plow the platform across the drenching slough not to pick up club members but to pick up their dog to be delivered to the other side for some reason.   

          When he saw what was in store -- a dog run on demand -- he was beside himself, red and blue and spewing.  I talked to him a bit and remember one thing he said -- “I think that g** d***f****** bell is wired up to my toilet seat!  I’m pretty sure it was the last time we saw him at CIYC. If I remember right the guy that followed him was a preacher of some sort -- a welcome relief.  But there wasn’t a one of these Caretakers that wasn’t a Caliente Character.