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.