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Photograph by Eric A. Carlson

Applejacks as Metaphor

By Eric A. Carlson

"Enough to eat and enough to wear,
And a little more than enough to drink ...
For thirst is a dangerous thing."
Jerome K. Jerome--and a tip of the hat to Bill Underwood

TWO GNARLY PIT BULLS appeared out of nowhere as I admired an exceptional statue of a larger-than-life human skeleton brandishing a .50-caliber BAR machine gun. Another machine-gun-wielding skeleton stood 50 feet away, and several smaller, humorous statuettes of farm animals dotted the area in between--all in rough, rust-red iron. This splendor is found at an odd bend of Stage Road, a road that wends from ineffable San Gregorio to even more ineffable Pescadero--a road so ineffable itself that aching tears of joy pour out of one's eyes onto the asphalt, forming pools, when it is experienced for the first time.

The sudden manifestation of dangerous animals has been a constant leitmotif in my chosen profession of urban/suburban/rural explorer and pet photographer. I have been bitten by dogs (including a Malamute in L.A.), swarms of insects and a bitter parrot named William. The two beasts standing close to the machine-gun-bearing skeletons seemed friendly enough--wagging tails and playful barking--but that could have been irony on their part, a prelude to ripping into my entrails. I gingerly took some photographs of the statues and rode on to Norm's Market in Pescadero for a loaf of half-baked artichoke bread (heat at 400 degrees for a few minutes and, presto, ambrosia).

Earlier in the day, I had spent some quality time at Applejacks in La Honda. My friend Mr. Tougas deems it one of the 10 best bars he has ever frequented. He is especially impressed with the diversity of the joint, in that bikers, hippies, hillbillies, locals, yuppies, movie stars and sillycone execs consort in harmonious high spirits. Left-wing conspiracy theorists lie down (metaphorically) with their right-wing counterparts. Music has been known to occur. And the occasional fistfight breaks out to clear the air.

When I opened the door to Applejacks, Paul Labonte was sitting at the bar polishing the painted skull of a steer. The skull painting depicted a horse and cowboy resting at a drinking hole and was painted by Paul. Paul is a musician in addition to being an artist, and he spoke of the emergence of a group called Urban DeVille that will include himself, Chris Corso, John Magee and Kenny Nicholson. Paul stressed that an underlying philosophy of the music will be "class in the face of adversity." He related to me that he is working on a satirical cartoon depicting George W. Bush as an evil flying monkey from Oz. (Not my political stance, but what the hey, humor is humor.)

The building in which Applejacks does business was built in 1879 as a blacksmith shop and retains the original floor. One picks up on this quickly enough upon walking around inside. The floor not only creaks but also sways immodestly--an adventure unto itself. The bartender, Luke Morrissey, told me that an examination of the floor would reveal the original square nails. Dave Shoemaker, whose family has been living in La Honda for several generations, remarked that when his grandmother needed firewood, she would grab a two-man saw and saw down a redwood. Men were men, and grandmothers cut down redwoods. I mentioned to Luke that AJs seemed to attract some admirably odd characters, and Luke replied, "The characters haven't arrived yet." Applejacks reminds me very much of Alviso when the moon shines bright and wolf bane blooms.

The décor of Applejacks is eclectic mountain dive bar with Twin Peaks accents, which would include the floor. A sign behind the bar reads, "Jesus is coming ... look busy." Various hats are stacked in the corners representing a broad spectrum of humanity. Outside, giant redwood trees sway over the bar, casting the tavern in a perpetual shadow lit only by the glow of the AJs neon sign--one of the very few neon signs encountered in the Santa Cruz Mountains--a beauty.

Legend has it that Neil Young, who lives up the road from AJs, drops in from time to time to play guitar. Neil is reputed to be a crazed, brooding man who takes no shit from anybody. Neil, like others who live in these mountains, brings to mind Olaf of the e.e. cummings poem that reads, "There is some shit I will not eat, sang Olaf glad and big, whose warmest heart recoiled at war." Amen to that.

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From the December 19-25, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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