Mono Lake–Part 1

This is the first entry in a three or so-part series about me and my fiance’s recent trip to Mono Lake during her spring break from college.  For those of you unfamiliar with it needing geo-orientation, the lake is located southeast of Tahoe on the eastern edge of California.  Right on the other side of Yosemite National Park.

    The first day started well.  Rebecca showed up at my cabin in Mendocino County on a Tuesday morning, jarring me from my lovely slumber.  I have a tendency to stay up late and sleep for nine or ten hours, getting out of bed at 11 or 12 noon.  It helps to get ample rest given the agonizing daily pain in my back and knees—I’m disabled with severe chronic pain.  Possibly diagnosable as chronic degenerative arthritis, but it’s kind of unclear exactly what it is.  In any case, we were originally planning to go to the Trinity Alps.  They are basically inland from Humboldt and Del Norte Counties, part of the Klamath Mountain Range.  But it was still considered winter; I had no idea how the roads would be way up in the mountains.  On the other hand, I knew my pickup truck would be fine in the high desert climate of Mono Lake and surrounding environs.  Snowy, yes, but not like the mountains!  Mono Lake is one of my favorite places I have ever been.  The decision was an easy one to make.

    I was giddy with excitement as we headed out Highway 20 through Lake County, then east toward Lake Tahoe.  I kept grinning uncontrollably, hugging and kissing my beautiful fiancé, giving her high-fives, vocally expressing my glee.  She got tired of it pretty fast.  But I didn’t give a fuck, because I knew that this could very well be my last road trip and intense nature experience before going to prison in Illinois (see “Disabled Activist” link on the right, or cut out the middleman and head straight to, and I was going to make the absolute most of it.

    Things got even better when we stopped at a truck stop near Sacramento for gas and batteries.  As I was checking out, I saw a James Gang CD (Rides Again) for a totally reasonable 6 bucks.  I’ve been on the lookout for their albums lately.  They are a power trio with Joe Walsh playing the guitar and some piano and singing.  I love his solo material (e.g. But Seriously, Folks, with “Life’s Been Good”—a pretty well-known hit—and deeper album cuts like “Second Hand Store” and the wonderfully bizarre “Theme From Boat Weirdos”), and his guitar, keyboard, and vocal work on my two favorite albums—Hotel California and The Long Run—from The Eagles, who are one of my top-five favorite bands.  So I impulsively but happily snatched up the James Gang’s Rides Again.  I became even happier as I walked out when I realized that I just paid fewer than six dollars for a pack of $5-something batteries and a $6 CD.  The clerk somehow neglected to charge me for the album.  Good rock and roll is awesome.  Good rock and roll that you get for free is even more awesome!

    Soon we passed through a small town along Interstate-5 called Dunnigan.  Rebecca and I love cities with humorous names, or names that can be easily made humorous.  Or street names:  whatever, we’re not picky.  One of my personal favorite names is a street in Ohio called—prepare yourself, I am absolutely NOT making this up—FANGBONER ROAD.  Fucking FANGBONER!  You can’t make up shit this good.  Actually I guess you can.  Seeing as how somebody invented the name of that bad boy.  I bet it was done by the winner of some weird radio contest.  That’s undoubtedly the kind of thing that passes for excitement and contention in rural Ohio.  One of me and Rebecca’s old standbys, a running joke, stems from the town of Bandon, Oregon.  We utilize the thick redneck accent of a distraught 300-pound welfare mama.  “Don’t abandon Brandon in Bandon!” we’ll cry, often out of nowhere.  Now we have a new one to work with:  “Damnit honey, I done dunnit agin in Dunnigan.  First I abandoned Brandon in Bandon,  now I dunnit agin in Dunnigan!”  It’s often the simple things in life that bring the purest joy.

    After passing through the state’s capital and stomping grounds of The Governator, we began driving up into the Sierra Nevada mountain range on Highway 50.  The Sierras are so massive, multifaceted, and magnificent that long-ago eco-freak John Muir declared them “The range of light, the most beautiful of all I have seen.”  Aptly so.  They are about 400 miles in length, and contain many of the highest peaks in the U.S., including Mt. Whitney—at 14,505 feet, the highest in the lower 48 states.

    This took us through the gorgeous El Dorado National Forest.  I’d been through there the year before on my way to the Bay area from southern California to visit Rebecca.  I stopped randomly on the side of the road and hiked up into the woods, having to trek knee-deep through snow (it was January then).  I found giant ponderosa pines, the most beautiful of all trees in my opinion. They have thick rutted plates of yellowish-brown bark that gives them the appearance of cracked desert soil.  I passed gorgeous incense cedars, which at the time I thought were very young sequoias.  Incense cedars have a lovely reddish hue, and electric lime-green moss seems to love growing on them there.  I saw enormous sugar pines wider at chest height than my outstretched arms (I’m just under 6’ tall).  Toward the end of my snowy forest hike, I came across one of the strangest and most magnificent things I’ve ever seen, and it was this I was trying to find again so Rebecca could see it for herself.

    But I had no point of reference.  I only knew that it was relatively near a certain tiny town—but not which side of the town it was on.  It took us a few times of driving back and forth, but I finally found it.  It’s actually quite amazing how I can find places and things that I’ve been to once before.  I have a stunningly persistent visual memory.

    As we made our way through the woods, I kept saying, “A little farther, a little farther, it’s up here, I just know it.”  Rebecca complained about the hike in general, and insisted (wisely, I might add) that I just enjoy the place for what it was, rather than for one specific awesome feature.  It seemed like only our sweetheart American Bulldog Rikki was enjoying it without mitigation.  She thundered up and down hills, chewing and chasing sticks, biting and rolling in patches of snow.  We could learn a lot from her, in fact.

    Then we came across them.  “Aha!” I cried.  “I told you I’d find them!”

    “Holy shit,” Rebecca said, suspending her rebuff at the feet of sheer awe.

    It was two giant Jeffrey pines, each probably six or seven feet in diameter at breast height—but the two trunks had fused together, creating a massive and formidable base that was truly a wall of wood, some ten or more feet across on one side.  Here’s a picture of Rebecca to give scale to just one of the trees, and then me presenting the magnitude of both trees fused together.

    Riding high for some time, we continued our journey.  We poked into Nevada for about twenty miles after Tahoe, then hit the 395.  This would take us down to Mono Lake and run alongside the eastern escarpment of the Sierra for much of its length.  It was dark by the time we pulled into Lee Vining, the little town next to Mono Lake, and we were utterly exhausted after some eight hours of travel.  We pulled into what appeared to be the only motel that was open in town.  Relieved and thankful that we had finally arrived—Rebecca had, in fact, fallen asleep, face pressed precariously against her window.  Just then a cop in a giant SUV pulled up behind me and turned on his flashing red and blue lights, and his blaring incessant white light (Don’t you just love how they make you blinded and terrorized before even walking up to your car, no matter how minor the “offense,” if there even is one—oftentimes it seems they pull you over to harass you more than anything else, as you’re about to see).

    “Oh, for fuck’s sake!” I cried, jolting Rebecca awake.  I buried my forehead in my palm.  “What the fuck now?!  I already mistrusted and despised the filth, and you’d know why if you read my support site.  As I like to say, not all cops are bad people—but all cops are bad.  The power relationship is just too unequal, and when they break the law or even murder unarmed citizens—as they constantly do—there is absolutely no accountability.  If there’s any punishment, it’s a slap on the wrist, usually merely symbolic, to appease the masses, make sure people go back to sleep before they start getting worked up.  Wouldn’t want people standing up for their freedom!  I’ll get deeper into how America is a police state in future posts, but if you want an in-depth analysis that is merciless and laser-like in its precision and brilliance, I highly recommend you check out the recorded talk on CD by Ward Churchill called “In a Pig’s Eye:  Reflections on the Police State, Repression, and Native America.”  It may just revolutionize your outlook on the world.  My favorite line is one of the last ones in the talk:  “You are free.  You are an American, and you’re free—but only in the sense to do exactly what you’re told, and don’t you ever forget it.”  Wow.  It’s published by AK Press, so unless you can get it for free or from Ward himself, get it from them.

    So he approached the driver’s side window and asked for my license and registration.  I asked what the problem was.  “Yeah, your rear license plate lights are out,” he said.  He also asked to see Rebecca’s ID.  This was unusual.  Usually they just need to find out about the driver’s.  Whatever, we gave it to him.  We didn’t want any trouble.  But apparently he wanted to give it to us.  He was a stocky Hispanic guy, Gonzalez.  Somehow he got on the topic of medication, and I informed him that I am disabled and take pain meds, as well as have medical marijuana.  This seemed to perk him up.  “Oh yeah, how much do you have?”

    “Not very much at all,” I said.  “Like less than a gram.”  I pulled out my wallet and handed him my doctor’s recommendation, which according to California’s Prop 215, is all you need to have in order to legally obtain and possess medical cannabis from clubs.

    He began to get rude and obnoxious.  He wagged the paper.  “What is this?  This is just a piece of paper!  You need to have a card from your County Health Department.”  He did a little jig of disbelief.  Only in retrospect was it laughable.

    “Um,” I said.  “No I don’t, actually.  According to Prop 215, a doctor’s recommendation is all I need.  I’ve been using it at cannabis clubs all over the state for three years now without a problem.”

    He resumed his strange gesticulations.  “What are you, a lawyer?  Are you in law school?”

    “You don’t have to be a lawyer to know the law,” Rebecca wisely said.  Sometimes even stating the obvious isn’t enough for these knuckle-dragging bullies.

    “Let me see your pot,” he said to me.

    I stared at him, incredulous.  “Why?”

    “Just give it to him!” Rebecca cried.

    “Let me see it!” Gonzalez insisted.

    I clamped my teeth together hard, swirling pleasurable pressure through my jaw.  I reached into the center console and handed it to him.

    He stared at it.  “Okay.  I’m gonna keep this, and you guys get those lights fixed.”

    “What?” I cried.  “You can’t keep that, it’s my medicine.  You cannot take my medicine.”  I was incensed over the blatant injustice and illegality of it.

    Apparently he’d had a long day, and was jonesing for some nice Mendocino medicine to take the edge off.  “Well, I could keep this and you go on your way, or I could haul you both out, stick you in the back of my car, and search your vehicle.  Is that what you want?”

    I was ready to slam this motherfucker’s head in my door.  “Fine, you keep that and I’ll just sue the county and get it back.  I have a good lawyer.  That’s fine.”

    Suddenly he began to sing a different tune.  He stared at me in silence for several moments.  Probably rudimentarily imagining in his simple mind the kind of shit he would face for causing costly legal proceedings in his small low-income county.  He handed the tiny jar with the tiny amount of medicine in the bottom back to me.  “Alright, go ahead and leave.”

    I regarded him with suspicion.  “You sure ‘bout that?”  I was imagining in my much more complex and paranoid mind me taking it, and then him pulling me over again as soon as we left, somehow using it against me even worse.

    “I’m letting you go.  Get out of here.”

    “Alright, good,” I said.  I started the truck.

    “You wanna come back here and check out the lights?”

    No, actually, I want to get as fucking far away from your dumbass, your club, and your gun as possible.  “That’s okay, I believe you.”  Stupidest thing I said all day.

    Rebecca, Rikki and I got a room.  My fiancé and I spent the last hour of the night trying to decompress, venting our anger at that stupid asshole, and heavily anticipating the next day, when we’d actually be able to see Mono Lake.

2 thoughts on “Mono Lake–Part 1

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