Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sutter Creek, California: Cortical rumblings in a 19th Century brothel

The small California gold rush town of Sutter Creek sits in a bubble of historic isolation almost exactly forty miles east/southeast (crow-flyin’ straight line distance) of downtown Sacramento.  Sure, all the usual 20th and 21st Century technological amenities can be found there, and yeah, the town has been forced by economic realities to slightly prostitute itself over the years, evolving into somewhat of a Mecca for yuppie antiquers and the bed’n’breakfast crowd, but scratch that veneer and you can find traces of a simpler and more violent time.  That’s beyond the scope of this report, however.  What follows is just a small one-hour sample of life in Sutter Creek as observed by a guy with a motorcycle, a camera, and several neurological acronyms that follow his name when printed on official letterheads and medical records.

My brother and I got a late start on our ride on that lazy Saturday in January, scrapping the original route that would’ve taken us down to the town of Bodega to poke around where Hitchcock shot “The Birds.”  New plan: Ione – Sutter Creek Rd. A couple of secondary roads to a reservoir with some trout. Pack the five piece break-down and a couple of spinners. Might even stop long enough to fry up whatever fish might cooperate and look for the site of the big gunfight of 1850.  Or not, because I’ll never have the attention span to remember, so why bother trying? Hit me again with yet another serving of ADD-induced pessimism.

Good enough weather once the sun made the low southern sky midpoint. Passed by a good photo opp, south-bound US-99 under the RR crossing just north of the Cosumnes River. I do not recommend stopping there because a car or truck will surely claim you. Dillard Rd., Clay Station, Twin Cities east to the home of Preston Castle, where my grandmother lived for a couple of years as a child while her dad worked in the prison. Ione–Sutter Creek Rd. outta town was a cool meander along the trickling granite-lined stream-bed from which it derives half its name. Watch for a grizzled hill man in an old Ford; he likes both sides of the road. The historic Sutter Creek Palace Hotel and Ex-Brothel on Main Street was our destination, but that guy almost took us both out of the story. Upon arriving, my brother began contemplating revenge as we awaited our grub.

Good hamburgers and other stuff; steak sandwich rumored to be great but I eschew those now because I do not intend to repeat what my last steakwich did to me. Esophageal impactions are no fun, especially when the guy doin’ the endoscopin’ is peeved about being pulled off the back nine. I quote: “What the hell? Don’t you believe in chewing?” On this occasion I had the Reuben, its sauerkraut a token nod to my mostly forgotten German heritage.

The historic Sutter Creek Palace has a glass case of Old West shootin’ irons mounted on the wall of the bar, and the interior in general exhibits vestiges of its former glory (the stairs beckon old, dead cowboys to whatever traces of earthly delights may still be found upstairs, I reckon). The windows in the restaurant section look out onto a mostly ordinary side street, but I was able to observe a cleanly restored yellow Honda Supersport through the wavy hundred year-old silicate until the owner/restorer, Jimmy-Joe, rode off on it.

I had originally intended to take some pictures after lunch along Main Street (where they have a commemorative Old West gun battle every spring during some kind of festival), but the camera didn’t clear leather, because this is where the story takes an ice-water-in-the-face turn. Walking out, initially unobservant due to factors beyond my ability to understand or explain (that happens a lot to me; my docs call it ADD), I then observed a rider from a group that had arrived after us shout something and run outside. My first thought was that maybe someone was jackin’ his bike, but as we got to the sidewalk we saw an elderly man down in the gutter with a head injury–the same nice guy who had been eating at a table close to ours just a few minutes before.

Simple scalp-lac or skull fracture/brain bleed–hard to tell at that point. He fell and smacked the eighteen inch-high edge of the square curb with his right parietal. Three guys already had hold of the victim and were slightly elevating his head. Someone yelled, “911!” and another brought out a bar towel from the Palace to press on the wound. Some guy with a little mustache rolled up in an SUV with several antennae on its roof, stating that he had a radio and would “call it in.” One antenna looked suspiciously like a mag-mount. To my knowledge he did not ID himself to anyone, and there may be some interesting lines to read between in this case, but I lack sufficient data.

Since three guys already had hold of the victim and Radio Dude was an unknown factor, and because I couldn’t tell if the employees were calling it in or not, I used my aging Nokia. Fortunately, CHP actually answered mobile 9-1-1 quickly—on the first ring no less! I had ‘em hand me off to Sutter Creek and then asked if they had the call. They didn’t, so I gave ‘em the info.

Sutter Creek PD has a nice shiny Dodge Charger. I don’t know if they have any other cars (population 2,655), but that particular specimen is cool. It arrived on scene about 82 seconds later. The victim was still conscious and appeared to be about as alert and oriented as he had been inside the restaurant. We got outta the way. This incident is STILL doing some darkly resonant cortical rumbling and I am certain that the impending anniversary of my dad’s death is contributing to it.

Down the street, a passerby stopped and asked my brother about his bike (a massive 2300cc, 3 cylinder British behemoth formally known as a Triumph Rocket III which I call the A-10 Warthog tank-killa), opening with, “Hey, that’s not a Harley!” He proceeded to wonder aloud why so many guys who lived in or passed through the area now rode shiny new Harleys, and then opined that to him it seemed like some kind of fashion statement for many of them, because most of the guys he knew had only started riding a year or two before.  He distinguished between those guys and the ones who’d always been riding Harleys even before the big marketing push. He rides an 80’s Suzuki of some sort and several other bikes, apparently.

Homeward, leaving the disturbing events behind but still wondering (some might say obsessing) about the fate of the old man. Somewhere near the town of Sheldon I noticed that the same group of ten riders I’d seen at the gas station in Ione was following us turn for turn and stopping a football field behind us whenever we paused by the side of the road. They began to close the gap a bit, so we pulled onto the gravel and waited for them to catch up so we could determine their intentions. They turned off toward Wilton. Some might say that my suspicions were close to some kind of edge, but I just call it semi-paranoid conspiracy theorist’s situational awareness (a welcome sign after my momentary semi-fugue state back in Sutter Creek). Never did get a close look at those guys.  In this case, score one for ADD over OCD:  I became distracted by my futile attempts to get a circling turkey vulture to descend within the range of my economy model 200mm lens. The sun set eventually, but I was already home quaffing a Hefeweizen milkshake.


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