My first taste was at age twenty-one when I was a driver for an old salesman of agriculture-industrial belts in the inland valleys of California between the coast and the Great Central Valley.
Mr. Brett couldn’t see or hear too well, but he loved his life-long job. He hired me as his eyes and ears and for my driving capabilities (I was good, having learned at age fifteen).
I was between the US Navy and San Francisco City College, needing something remunerative to do before classes started.
Mr. Brett paid me $1.50 per hour, plus lodging and food along the way. At the end of each day, we would register at a hotel in Salinas, or San Luis Obispo, or a smaller town, and go to the hotel bar for a gin and tonic.
As Ernest Hemingway would undoubtedly have said under the same circumstance, “it was good.”
As a native San Franciscan and a city boy (the family lived five years in Brooklyn before repatriating), I was fascinated by the atmosphere of rural California, where all its real wealth then was, perhaps still is.
The rhythms were slower, but more purposeful; perhaps the purpose was clearer, and certainly more fundamental. We’re talking about food here: garlic and onions in Gilroy, broccoli in Greenfield, salad vegetables in Gonzales (now grapes), more towns and crops than I can remember, now fifty-six years ago.
I’m currently sipping on my second G&T, and these memories are flooding back.
I was twenty-one, I had served as well as this geek could in the US Navy as an electronics tech, and I was now entrusted with the safety of this kind and loquacious man who lived in Marin County, near San Rafael. His family accepted me graciously; I realize now they wanted to assess my ability to care for their paterfamilias.
Ah, sweet memories. Ah, gin and tonic.