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[whitespace] Coyote Inn Sign
Photograph by E. Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

Life at Coyote Inn

By Eric A. Carlson

"My spurs are over 60 years old." --Frank Cantwell

TRYING TO FIND COYOTE INN from the listed address of 102 Monterey Road is plug useless. Just try it, you'll see. Better to head south from San Jose and look for Coyote signs. When you get to a neon masterpiece that reads Coyote Stage Stop and is adorned with a neon martini glass and swizzle stick ... you have arrived. Jack Rose, owner and Alpha coyote, has added a second sign: Live Country Music - Karaoke - Real Texas BBQ. (As opposed to Faux Texas BBQ?).

The original structure was built in 1864 and was referred to as 12 Mile House, a stagecoach rest stop for folks and horses. In its prime it was visited by Wyatt Earp--maybe, and bandito Tiburcio Vasquez--perhaps. The roadhouse provided rest for 96 years before succumbing to fire in 1960. Why 12 miles? Well ... 12 dusty miles to downtown San Jose. Today's Coyote Inn was built on the ashes of its predecessor. Old ghosts. New ghosts.

Inside, I took a seat at the loooooooong bar with Jack, Frank, Chuck and Sue, early birds at the Coyote on a bright blue Saturday morning. Jack Rose sat beneath a sign reading, "Smut Corner." Smut Corner is dedicated to the memory of Beverly Allen, who held up her end of the bar for decades. A framed portrait of this formidable character hangs on the wall, next to a stool that was hers alone. Frank leaned over to inform me that Beverly employed a velvet Royal Crown whisky bag for a purse, and was cantankerous but lovable--and bawdy. She often expressed a desire to have her ashes spread over the Buttonwillow truck stop when she died, because she had "taken on many a man there."

Seventy-six-year-old Frank Cantwell wears a cavalry hat. Not because he is affected, or a history nut, but because he was in the Army cavalry in WWII. He was issued a horse to go along with the hat. In 1958, Frank was promoted to Chief of Police in Mendota. In the course of his service to the state of California, Frank delivered more than 12 babies. "I stopped counting after 12," he confided. "I was proud to be listed as attending physician."

Frank lives close to the Coyote Inn in a small apartment once inhabited by Beverly Allen. A lime-green Ford F250 pickup truck with camper top is parked outside. Frank extracted a photo album from the bed of the truck and shared with me an amazing collection of awards, family photos, photos of car wreck victims and gunshot wounds. A photo of a 2-year-old with a lit cigarette dangling from his mouth was quite amusing. "That's when I was teaching my sons to smoke," said Frank. We stood in the warm Coyote sun, next to a lime-green Ford, and marveled at life.

Billy, the daytime bartender, had just arrived for duty. Billy didn't speak much, but when he did, the words were well directed. He bears some resemblance to Fred Mertz (I Love Lucy) in body and disposition. Chuck announced to one and all that "Billy is the best bartender in the world." This concept was roundly supported ... except for Frank, who drawled, "Ohhh ... I don't think so." When Frank asked for a beer a few minutes later, Billy curtly replied, "I will take it into consideration and get back to you." Never piss off the bartender, even if you are a cavalryman.

As I was leaving the Coyote, conversation had turned to horses, as it always does. The best route was being discussed for riding a horse from the East Coast to the West. And comment was made concerning a fellow who actually did it last year. The bloke made it all the way to Burlingame ... where he was arrested for cruelty to animals.

Skedaddle on down to the Coyote Inn. Jack indicated he would be glad to see you. Dancing on Friday and Saturday nights. Bullshitting daily.

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From the November 2-8, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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