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Photograph by Eric Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

Trouble in Weed

By Eric A. Carlson

"Every time you look at it, it's a different mountain."

--Grizzled Weedite describing Mount Shasta

IT IS AGAINST the law to pump your own gas in Oregon. I found this out during a drive from San Jose to Silverdale, Wash. The idea is to provide jobs for young people or those in dire need of work. I thought I was being mugged when I reached for the pump handle, but I was reassured by the young man's demand: "What octane, sir?" As he gassed my gleaming gold GPS-equipped Acura and washed my windshield, I contemplated my navel and mused that our ancestors must have lived like this--back in the 1950s. I later met a man who claimed the "gas attendant" law was enacted after a California man somehow blew himself up while trying to gas his car.

Highway rest stops in Oregon provide free coffee--manned and womanned by volunteers. And the Oregon scenery is relentlessly picturesque, as if Thomas Kincade had thrown up over the whole state. Anyone who says Oregon ain't God's country hasn't been there. California approaches Oregon's natural splendor in Yosemite Park and the former deep-water port of Alviso, but nothing surpasses the roly-poly green hills of Oregon, IMHO.

On the way home, I spent the night in Weed, Calif., primarily so I could tell my friends I spent the night in Weed, Calif. The town hunkers down in the chilly green shadows of Mount Shasta--a rough-hewn Fujiyama of a mountain impossible to ignore. I stayed at a clean Motel 6 managed by Cheryl Johnson and dined at the Hi-Lo Cafe, Motel & R.V. Park, where I learned of the dark goings-on in Weed from my server, Heidi.

It seems that San Jose isn't the only town with statue angst (Quetzalcoatl and Capt. Fallon please stand up and take a bow). Weed received a full measure of statue trauma earlier this year on what was supposed to be the glorious centenary celebration of the founding of the town by Abner Weed. A tin-plated gold statue of Abner was planned to grace the entrance of City Hall, all to the glory of a rough-and-tumble town with its very own mountain.

Two days before the grand unveiling, disaster struck. An unbalanced woman set fire to the Mount Shasta Herald building, the Mount Shasta Hair Salon, a woodpile and, tragically, the unveiled statue of Abner Weed. Abner had been poised for unveiling, covered only with a tarp. The inferno not only burned off the tarp but also removed the statue's gold-leaf paint as well, displaying a silver Abner Weed. Heidi said that when she saw Abner the next day, she assumed he was supposed to be silver, as did everyone else in town. I can't help but think that if the deranged woman had been given a Tickle Me Elmo this whole episode might have been prevented.

The story of Weed's trauma unfolds to a happy conclusion. The sculptor repainted Abner in golden hues, and he now stands as a fine and arty accouterment to Weed City Hall. I drove by to take a look, and I can vouch that it is a splendid piece. Abner probably cost a fraction of what San Jose's Quetzalcoatl or Cap'n Fallon cost, but it looks better than either. It is a full-figure piece with a quasi-Tin Woodman construction that is almost cartoonish but works. It is approachable, looks like Abner and is art by anyone's definition--except perhaps the San Jose Museum of Art's.

On the subject of statues, San Jose might want to find out who is in charge of keeping statues clean. The Quetzalcoatl snake is in a filthy condition of dust, grime and gum wrappers--prominently displayed in the plaza for all to see.

Final Note: Black Pearl, the superlative lounge act that fell victim to Mayor Gonzales and his minions when they banned dancing at the Bay 101 club for reasons fathomable only to themselves (as the only consequence was to discomfit 300 or 400 septuagenarian ballroom dancers), are now appearing at the San Jose DanceSport Center from time to time (www.sjdancesport.com). This is a great place to learn ballroom or Latin dancing. Go for it. It might save your marriage.

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From the April 18-24, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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