Gem Auto Wash removes beloved neon sign

Gem Auto Wash owner Reed Hollingshead poses with the old Gem Auto Wash sign. / Photo by Greg Brown

Gem Auto Wash owner Reed Hollingshead poses with the old Gem Auto Wash sign. / Photo by Greg Brown

Some might say I’m obsessed with signs. It probably started when I was a young boy in the backseat of a blue Buick Skylark.  I’d always look out the window at the cool business signs as we’d drive down the road.
I was driving down the road a couple weeks ago gazing out the window when I noticed Gem Auto Wash had a big crane taking down the cool neon 1960s sign and replacing it with a new large run-of-the-mill sign. I panicked a little.
I made a quick u-turn, parked the car, and immediately started asking questions. I was able to speak to Reed Hollingshead, the owner of Gem Auto Wash,  and he alleviated some of my panicky concerns about the iconic sign, although my hands are still a little clammy about it.
He and his brother Peter have taken over the family business their dad Richard started in 1974. Reed said, “He left a great legacy.” Gem Auto Wash and the neon sign have been operating on Freeport Boulevard  since 1962. In all that time, the sign has never had to be repaired, according to Peter. “The tubes have been taken care of nicely ,” he said.
I was assured by Mr. Hollingshead that they were going to preserve the sign.  The plan is to strip, paint, and repair the old Gem Auto Wash sign and mount it in the middle of the façade above the car wash tunnel. It’s currently in storage at the business.
The removal of the neon sign is part of a “re-branding of the business,” Peter told me. He added, “Besides, nobody uses the term ‘auto’ anymore.” Gem Auto Wash is now Gem Car Wash And Detail Center.
On Facebook, I posted a photo of the vintage sign being taken down and nobody was happy about it.  Comments included, “Oh no,” “Bummer,” and “That’s terrible. Why would they do that? At least the old 50s Raley’s sign is still there.”
One person drastically stated, “So sad, this destroys the character of the city and neighborhood.”
Let’s hope Mr. Hollingshead is a man of his word and the classic neon Gem Auto Wash sign glowingly reappears on Freeport Boulevard.

Fairytale Town Looking to Expand

Fairytale Town wants to expand. Executive Director Kathy Fleming and board member Brian Crilly presented to the Land Park Community Association Board an impressive renovation project idea. Brian, who’s an architect at Lionakis, gave the enthusiastic presentation to the Land Park Community Association as well as those in attendance at the monthly board meeting.
The proposal calls for an expansion to the east near the soccer field and to the south, adding approximately half an acre to the current grounds (of 2 and a half acres). The current cost estimate for expansion and improvements is between $5‐8 million. The funds will all come from private donations. I spoke with Kathy Fleming as she said, “We’re floating ideas out there and getting input from community members. We’ve talked conceptually about it with the Land Park soccer and the city parks department. This is a very long-term project if it goes forward and I think there will be a lot of conversations with the community, and the Land Park community in particular.”
She added, “It’s really embryonic right now.”
Some in attendance at the meeting expressed concerns about more open park space being gobbled up and fenced in diminishing the area available for free and open use. Others pointed out it would diminish views and vistas in William Lnand Park. Another attendee mentioned how the neighborhood resisted the expansion of the Sacramento Zoo’s footprint when it proposed an expansion. It definitely sparked a spirited conversation at the meeting. The Land Park Community Association did not take a stance on the proposed expansion and will address the topic at upcoming board meetings.

Fountainhead Brewing Almost Ready To Brew

Hollywood Park residents who enjoy tipping back a pint of local craft beer were giddy with excitement when they heard a new brewery was replacing an old auto repair shop on 24th Street a few doors down from Panama Pottery.  Fountainhead Brewing Company was movin’ in! That was last year. Local folks recently started asking me, “What’s the latest on Fountainhead?”
Fear not my lager-loving friends. I asked Fountainhead’s  brewer and owner and he told me, “Everything’s all set with ABC and Fed and we’ll be installing glycol next week,” which means they’ll be brewing soon. And for the brewing nerds, glycol, mixed with city water, enables them to operate their chiller systems in the 25-27 F temperature range that breweries require.
They still need to have some work done to the building, but they will have brew available in house and at a couple locations “within the next two months or so,” according to Moffat.
So, stay giddy Hollywood Park. There will be something brewing soon on 24th Street.
Got an item for Over The Fence? Greg@valcomnews.com

On the Curbs

Ah, January 2015. Happy New Year East Sac Curbians! I hope 2014 was a good one for you all, and that 2015 will be even better.

Peter, Wendy, Tinker Bell, the Lost Boys and Captain Hook. Put them together and you have all the ingredients for a magic and fantasy. Even better put them all together at the Grand Hall of the Clunie Community Center on Saturday, Jan. 31 at noon. That’s right, the Sacramento Ballet and the Sacramento Public Library have teamed for a time now with the goal of bringing the beauty and wonder of ballet to life especially for the little ones. And the shows are bringing them in by the droves.

Last November, a similar pared-down performance of the Nutcracker brought out hundreds to this location. Children saw firsthand a 20-minute performance by a small group of the dancers. Best of all, they got to ask questions and learn about the backstage ongoings that make the whole performance come to life. Now, imagine the exact same thing but with Peter Pan, Tinker Bell and a small team of other performers. That is what you and your children will be able to do simply by showing up. See it up close, and in person. What an amazing opportunity. Seeing is believing.

East Sacramento resident Cindy Ann Mendes Ravn of Maverick’s Style House working her magic with the HydraFacial MD treatment.  Don’t underestimate the value of a great esthetician! /  Photo by Michael Saeltzer

East Sacramento resident Cindy Ann Mendes Ravn of Maverick’s Style House working her magic with the HydraFacial MD treatment. Don’t underestimate the value of a great esthetician! / Photo by Michael Saeltzer

And believing is what this skeptical writer came to experience upon his first visit to a local esthetician. For those of us guys out there that is the name of the person who takes care of your skin and your face. You see I was assigned the project of going in and getting my first ever facial. But, as Cindy Ann Mendes Ravn of Maverique Style House explained to me I was about to walk out of the session feeling a whole lot healthier.

See many months ago, before the flurry of the holidays, Cindy was kind enough to invite me into her studio and perform a new cutting edge HydraFacial MD treatment. In simple terms, the treatment safely removes the toxins that build up in your pores and then infuses your skin with hydrating serums. Pretty straight forward, and if you want to know exactly why its different that most other treatments Cindy can explain it as she has a vast amount of experience in the health fields.

The treatment took about 30 minutes, was painless, and easy. I felt great right afterward, but the truth is that over the next two weeks, I felt remarkable. I’d wake up in the morning and expect my puffy eyed self to be staring back at me in the mirror as I prepared to shave. Where was I? I had been replaced by some dude that looked refreshed, alive, rejuvenated. I’m not joking. A good friend of mine saw me about 10 days after the treatment and remarked that I looked better that I ever had, better than I did in college! So, guys, ladies, if you get a chance, try a professional facial done by someone like Cindy. It works, and it really does make you healthier. Might not be a bad way to treat yourself to some pampering right off the bat in 2015!

Janey Way Memories: Starting Over

When I returned home from my 2-year tour of duty in the U.S. Army in 1971, I had to literally start my life all over again. All I possessed was the cloths on my back, but fortunately my parents let me take up residence at their home on Janey Way. I knew I had to get some money fast, so I did what all the returning soldiers did back then: I applied for unemployment compensation.

That was easy. I took the bus down town to the unemployment office and stood in line with the other unemployed people. After a while, my name was called and I went to a desk to meet with a claims representative. He helped me fill out my application, and then told me, “You should receive your first check in about two weeks.”

Sure enough, on Friday, two weeks later, my check arrived. It didn’t seem like very much money. I knew I could not live independently on that paltry amount. However, my mom gave me a good suggestion. She said, “go down and apply for a job with the state, Marty. They always need new employees.”

So early next morning, I went down to the State Personnel Board and put in my application for an entry level position: Clerk I. Soon, I received a notice to come and take a test for that position. The test proved easy and I passed with flying colors. By December, I interviewed for a job with the Department of Justice.

The interview went well. The guy heading up the interview panel was Robert Scott. He told me right off that he knew and liked my parents. I got the job.

I began my career with the state of California on Dec. 26, 1971. Little did I know that it would become my life’s work. My goal had been to become a teacher, but circumstances beyond my control ultimately prevented me from obtaining that goal.

Things went well at the DOJ though. I got promoted to Clerk II a year later. I remember receiving the news from a supervisor named Marlene who ran my unit, the Record Analysis and Coding Unit (RAC). She did not like me much for whatever reason, but she was happy to advise me I placed number one on the list.

I soon left RAC and took a swing-shift job in the Folders Unit. That group filed criminal dispositions in a massive warehouse that held almost 5 million criminal records, encased in folders, stacked on shelves just like you find in the library.

We received a stack of about 700 criminal disposition forms every shift and had to file them by the end of the night. I finished early most nights, and then sat around pretending to look busy until the shift ended.

Working swing shift enabled me to return to Sacramento State College and resume my academic pursuits. A few years later, in June of 1975, I graduated from Sac State with a baccalaureate degree in Social Science, and the rest is history. I took a state job as a Research Analyst at the Department of Rehabilitation, where learned how to use a computer. Ultimately that led me to a career in Information Technology. I retired in 2002 as the Chief of the Bureau of Administration at the Stephen P. Teale State Data Center.

My mom’s suggestion to apply for work with the state in 1971 had led me to a career I had never even imagined back then. What did Forrest Gump say? “Life is like a box of candy, you never know what you are going to get.” Now, my return home from the Army in 1971 is just another surprising Janey Way memory.


Over the Fence

New Replacement For The Irreplaceable Daisy Mah?

Land Park Rock Garden superstar Daisy Mah has been retired from the city of Sacramento for over a year now. She’s probably furiously mulching and tending to her own backyard garden right now. A lot of Land Park residents who enjoy the Land Park Rock Garden were concerned they’d never find a suitable replacement for Daisy. Those are some tough garden gloves to fill. There was an online petition with more than 600 signatures that pleaded with the city of Sacramento to find a qualified replacement for Daisy.

The petition and saber rattling worked because Parks and Recreation was listening.

Parks and Rec spoke to Human Resources and have finished a brand new classification for the position Daisy Mah once occupied. According to Parks and Rec’s Lori Harder, who spoke at the Land Park Community Association meeting last month, “It’s to not just address the Land Park Rock Garden, but also other specialty gardens like community gardens and those that take a lot of input from the community.” This newly created position will be given a grand title, and a salary scale just below Park Supervisor. In other words…more money for more expertise. A Land Park garden superstar!

One Land Park resident stood up at the meeting and expressed concern it wouldn’t work out after speaking to the Parks Director. He mentioned issues on “salary and such” and that the issue isn’t settled, but he hoped it would be. Lori Harder then said, “It’s actually coming together nicely.”

So, it looks like there will be a new replacement for the hard to replace Daisy Mah early next year. Let’s hope Parks and Recreation is under the “salary cap.”

You’ve Been Framed

Terry Spencer poses with one her custom frames inside the shop. / Photo by Greg Brown

Terry Spencer poses with one her custom frames inside the shop. / Photo by Greg Brown

Spencer’s Custom Framing, located in the strip mall at 5101 Freeport Blvd., will soon be celebrating their 30th anniversary in Hollywood Park. It’s a true local treasure. I recently talked to the owner Terry Spencer, who was sipping coffee and working on a couple of framing projects. She said, “I get to start where the artist stops.”

It’s fun to shoot the breeze with Terry and talk about the neighborhood. She’s lived in Hollywood Park with her husband Roger for more than 35 years. “I’ve been walking to work for 30 years,” Terry told me.

Her loyal customers rave about her talent and skill with custom framing. Just ask Yelp, she gets rave reviews! Terry was working on some beautiful antique oval portrait frames and rejuvenating some civil war memorabilia when I was at the shop. If you need anything framed for the holidays, check out Spencer’s and tell Terry, “Happy Anniversary!”

Got an item for Over The Fence? Email greg@valcomnews.com

Janey Way Memories: Returning Home – Part 2

When I separated from the U.S. Army in Germany during 1971, I opted to stay in Europe to travel. So, together with my buddy, Sergeant Jeff Lucas, I bought a car and headed south. Over the next three months, we traveled to Austria, Yugoslavia and Italy. We toured Salzburg, Vienna, Venice, Florence and Rome.

However, in July, Jeff told me that he had to return home to begin interviewing for teaching jobs in the fall. So, we drove back to Germany and sold our car. Then, Jeff headed home and I boarded a train bound for Barcelona, Spain.

There, I met up with three Australian blokes we had encountered in Italy. They were going to Pamplona, Spain for the running of the bulls, and when they offered a ride, I accepted. Off we went to Pamplona, then to San Sebastian, and ultimately to the party capital of Europe, Tormolinos. We stayed there on the south coast of Spain partying with the European summer tourists for weeks. Then, in September, my money began to run out. I had to return to Germany to get my military hop back to the U.S.A. So, I grabbed my backpack and sleeping bag and headed off.

I took a bus and then a train to the French boarder, then hitch-hiked through France to Belgium, where I met my new friend Guy Muzzi. After staying with Guy about a week, I traveled to Rhine-Main Airbase in Frankfurt Germany where I arranged a military flight back to the states.

I ended up at an Airbase in New Jersey, where I signed my final military document, a form releasing me back to civilian life. At last, I was a free man. From there, I took a bus to Allentown, Pennsylvania to visit my good friend and travel partner, Jeff Lucas.

Unfortunately, Jeff was not at home. However, his kind mother allowed me to stay over and wait for him. That worked out, because Jeff returned home a day later. He was surprised and happy to see his travel buddy. We renewed acquaintances for a few days, then I was off again, this time I headed for Detroit, Michigan. Detroit is right across the river from Windsor, Ontario, where my new girlfriend, Judy Caverzan lived.

I hitched a ride with a trucker, and made it in one day. There, I walked across a bridge to Canada and found Judy’s home. No one answered the door, so I waited on the porch. Soon a car pulled up and Judy jumped out. Like Jeff in Allentown, Judy was flabbergasted to see me. But, I visited her for about a week and we had a great time touring Windsor and Detroit and gallivanting through the Canadian country side. Soon though, I had to get going. Judy offered to buy me a plane ticket home, but I refused. I was on a mission!

So she drove me over to the outskirts of Detroit and dropped me at a rest stop. I put a thumb out again and found a trucker headed for Laramie, Wyoming. We got there in one day, arriving at sunset. That proved a nerve racking experience. I had to spend the night under a freeway over-crossing. It was cold and kind of frightening. The people, who saw me, honked and yelled vulgar insults – this, to a military veteran.

Anyway, the next day, I put my thumb out again and got a ride from yet another trucker. This guy was going to Denver, Colorado. We never made it that far. We came to an interchange in Nebraska that went one way to Denver and the other way to Salt Lake City. I wanted Salt Lake, so I got off right on the freeway: not a good plan. Eventually, a Nebraska state trooper stopped and told me to get off the freeway. So, I hopped a fence and began to walk. Ultimately, I came to a bridge over a stream where I set out my back pack with a sign saying, “California or bust.” Then I waved at all the cars going by. A lot of them went by, but soon a car stopped.

The guy driving the car looked a little strange. He wore a black leather jacket and a cowboy hat. He had hair down to his shoulders and dark sun glasses. Surprisingly, he handed me the keys and said, “You drive.” When I got in his mint green, souped up, Plymouth Roadrunner, he lowered his seat and pulled the cowboy hat over his eyes. I started the car and took off like a rocket.

We arrived at Salt Lake in late afternoon and I pulled off at the edge of town. I disembarked there after thanking the guy for the ride, and took a minute to access my situation. I looked south and saw what looked like an industrial district. I looked north and saw stores, restaurants and motels. I went north. Soon, I found a motel I thought I could afford. So, I went in and booked a room for the night for the reasonable price of $13. Then, I grabbed the key and proceeded to my room which was clean and comfortable. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

After showering and changing my clothes I went out to get something to eat. I quickly found a café that looked inviting. After my cool reception in Wyoming and Nebraska, I wondered out loud, if they would refuse to serve me. No problem, the young waitress said, “Come on in partner, and sit down right over here.”

I will never forget how good that felt. I still hold the people of Utah in high esteem. Next day, I went back to where I stood the day before, and held out my sign. A few minutes later, a Volkswagen van pulled in to the gas station on the corner and stopped. The driver went into the garage to get a part, and the passenger ran into the adjacent mini-mart. When they came back out, they waved me over. I was in luck; they were going to Chico, California.

Off, we went, through Utah, then Nevada and into California. By night time we had arrived in Chico. There, the driver said he would be visiting his parents in Sacramento the next day, and invited me to spend the night.

Next morning, we drove the two hours to Sacramento and I had him drop me off at MacFarlane’s Candy on Alhambra Blvd. Hopefully, my mom would be working that day. Thankfully, I saw her waiting on a customer as I entered the door.

She said, “Hold on sir, I will be with you in a minute.” Then she did a double-take and ran around the counter to hug me saying, “I can’t believe you’re back.” Later, she called dad who came to pick me up. When we arrived home, my younger brother John was waiting. It was like an old fashioned reunion.

I have never forgotten that day. I turned a page then, and began a new, adult life: yet another inspirational Janey Way memory.


On the Curbs: Sue Brown reminisces of long-time career, which dates back to the ’80s

Along with former councilmember Steve Cohn, District Director Sue Brown, shown here, leaves city hall after 20 years. Photo courtesy

Along with former councilmember Steve Cohn, District Director Sue Brown, shown here, leaves city hall after 20 years. Photo courtesy

As we say our goodbyes and honor the many achievements of District 3 City Councilman Steve Cohn, the East Sacramento News pauses to also acknowledge the charming Sue Brown, who for years has served as his district director.

Sue is a warm familiar presence in our community, and has been for a very long time. She’s been in Cohn’s office ever since he was elected 20 years ago in 1994. But her career in public service predates even his election.

It was an honor when Sue took the time to have coffee, chat, and provide some reflections regarding her 24-and-a-half years of service, all this in the middle of her holidays, and during a time of great transition in her office.

Sue’s career started back in the 1980s when she moved to Sacramento from the Bay Area with her husband Randy who was attending UC Davis. Randy began working for the late Senator Robert G. Beverly, a Manhattan Beach Republican who represented the South Bay in the state Senate for 20 years.

At the time of Randy’s initial career, the Senator was working with Josh Pane. Pane was elected to Sacramento City Council in 1989 and hired Sue in that year. Pane’s District Director eventually left and Sue was promoted to the position in 1993. Cohn was elected in 1994.

As is often the case during times of transition, the newly elected official will prefer to put people into their staff positions that he or she is already comfortable working with, but Sue Brown’s career trajectory is an exception to this regularity.

Cohn choose to offer Sue a position and eventually Sue became his District Director. She describes her responsibilities as all encompassing. They entailed sitting down and talking policy and vision directly with Cohn, or tending to the day-to-day work with constituents, neighborhood associations, business associations and project management. Cohn put it this way: “There is no way that I could have done my job as City Councilman without Sue Brown running the office.” He added: “While I worked full-time at SMUD, Sue Brown handled the day-to-day district office duties, freeing me up to focus on the land use, transportation, public safety and environmental issues that I cared passionately about and to serve in leadership positions on regional boards dealing with rail and transit, regional planning, the arts, libraries, flood control and other important issues.”

Projects and events that Sue has been largely involved with include Screen on the Green, Pops in the Park, designing the Welcome to East Sacramento signs, the Rebuild McKinley Park Playground efforts, concerts, events, ribbon cuttings, park openings, and lots of writing and putting together newsletters.

As the Councilman’s term comes to an end, Sue says that right now he has the opportunity to take a little step back and figure out what to do next. Transportation has been a huge priority for Steve, and Sue believes that he has a love and passion for that. She states confidently, “I don’t think we have seen the last of Steve. He’ll find something to do to make a difference.”

When asked what she would describe as her biggest passion while serving as Deputy Director for so many years she says, “You know I think my most enjoyable moments have been partnering with neighborhood people to get things done, trying to find that balance between the neighbors and the businesses. For instance, in Midtown we worked really hard with everyone so the homeowners could have the quality of life they valued, and the businesses could continue to thrive.”

Sue is also at a point where she is taking a step back to consider her future. She states, “For so many years my focus was on working and raising my kids so I did not have a lot of time for outside interests. So that’s one thing I need to do too is figure out what things I can do for fun.”

Many know that Sue and her husband are huge San Francisco Giants fans and often go to see the games. Perhaps others do not know that for some time now Sue and Randy have been playing bocce ball at East Portal Park. She laughs while making the point that this is pretty much for socializing more than anything and, “our team would show up for games but never practiced.”

Also, this past year she decided to get a real estate license. Although she is not yet sure what direction she will take with that, she is considering commercial property management. She pauses and says, “I think I am taking that step back to figure it out. And I would like to spend some more time with my parents in San Francisco who still live in the same house I grew up in.”

She and Randy have two grown daughters who attended or are attending college in Chico. Their oldest daughter is 23 years old, and while in school, worked in the financial aid department full time. She just recently decided it may be a time to leave the beautiful town. She lives now in San Rafael, does project management for a large firm, and loves it. Their other daughter graduates in May from Chico and wants to go into nursing. She works two jobs and stays busy with her sorority.

At their home the Brown’s have one pet. Jake is a German Wirehaired Pointer, a pheasant hunting dog, who is 8 and getting a bit slower. He is also described as being “very spoiled” and having separation anxiety. The neighbor kids come over to sleep in the house when they leave, and Jake has his own special bed he sleeps in.

Over Thanksgiving Sue and Randy did the Run to Feed the Hungry and then went to San Ramon to celebrate with her brother and his wife who are both retired San Francisco police officers.

As for final reflections and parting thoughts Sue says, “Its bittersweet. I loved my job for many years. I feel like just having been a small part of all that Steve has been able to accomplish, I’m very proud of that. But I’m excited for the future. I feel like we are leaving on a high note.”

Janey Way Memories #133: You Can’t Go Back

They say you can’t go back, and I believe that is true. My wife Barbara and I recently returned from a 10-day whirlwind trip to Europe.
We spent three days in Budapest, Hungary, and five days in Prague, Czech Republic, We also took a 2-day side trip to Gunzburg, Germany, my U.S. Army duty station more than 40 years ago. Wow, what blast from the past. The side-trip turned into quite an adventure.
We took the train from Prague to Regensburg, Germany, near the Czech border. Unfortunately, our train was late so we missed our connection, causing a one-hour delay. So, we wandered into the station to have a coffee. Unfortunately, we had no euro’s so we asked a waitress where we could find an ATM. She shook her head no. So, we sat out to find a machine. Fortunately, a nice fellow who had been sitting at the counter followed us, and pointed us down stairs. So we went down, acquired some cash, then had coffee. Overall, our experience in the Regensburg train station was not friendly.
Finally our train came, and we headed off to Gunzburg. What a trip. We caught one of those trains that stop frequently. We must have hit 15 stops between Regensburg and Gunzburg. By the time we arrived, night had fallen.
There, we disembarked at the station, and headed into town. Even in the dark, I could see how much Gunzburg had changed. When I lived there in 1969, Gunzburg was a farm town with a train station (Banhof) on one side, farms on the other side and the Markplatz, or central plaza, in the middle. At the end of the Markplatz, stood a hundreds-year-old clock tower with an arch through its middle where cars drove through. The clock tower still stands proudly at the end of the square, but not much else remains, as it was 40 years ago.
The Markplatz has seemingly been re-constructed, turned into an out-door mall, smaller, but not unlike our K Street. Virtually all the businesses that once stood there have been replaced by up-scale shops, even a cell-phone store. None of that existed in 1969. Worse, my old haunt, the Lowenbrau Steube (a sort of bar and grill) has long since disappeared. Even the street it stood on had been replaced by walkways covered with paving stones.
Fortunately, we found our hotel located right on the Markplatz, then walked right up the street to have a wonderful, traditional German dinner with wiener schnitzel, kartofel salad (potato salad), and a hearty German beer.
We left Gunzburg the next day, after taking a picture of me standing in the Markplatz. I doubt that I will ever return there again.
It is true, you can’t go back. Things will never be the same, not even in little Gunzburg, Germany.

ON THE CURBS: River Park resident admits long-ago theft of Fairytale Town’s Humpty Dumpty

Rick and myself at his place where we each verified the authenticity of the other.  The small picture he holds is the shot of him and Humpty shown up close in the other photo.  The large photograph we hold together between us is the one Rick presented me with to test my authenticity.  We both passed each other’s tests.

Rick and myself at his place where we each verified the authenticity of the other. The small picture he holds is the shot of him and Humpty shown up close in the other photo. The large photograph we hold together between us is the one Rick presented me with to test my authenticity. We both passed each other’s tests.

Back in November, the day after the hauntings and undead, at Clubhouse 56 over breakfast, I fall into conversation with River Park resident Rick Winn. Through small talk, we learn we are all multigenerational Sacramentans who happened to collide here and stir it up a bit like only multigenerational Sacramentans can.

Then the story unfolds. It starts because we are talking of pranks we played in Sacramento on Halloween and or other times. We agree that to a large degree it all starts with toilet paper and then moves up from there. Rick tells me he stole Humpty Dumpty off the wall at Fairytale Town one night with his friend many years ago.

He says he and a pal were 17 years old when this happened. It was the early 1950s, a special time here in Sacramento. Like always when you are young and 17 years old hanging out with your buddy, you are down for pretty much anything, which for them, included getting a homeless man to buy them a six pack. They drank it in William Land Park and there sat Humpty looking back at them just sitting there on the wall. They started silly scheming and ultimately decided to kidnap Humpty –- got him down by simply using a wrench in the trunk to undo the four bolts holding him to the wall.

They were creative and well intentioned, but they got in a bit over their heads, as we Sacramentans love to do. Rick explains that they made it look like they had actually kidnapped Humpty. They tied his hands behind his back, placed a sheet around his eyes, and then plopped him in the trunk facing backwards.

Before going home, they cruised K Street, causing more shenanigans. Then, Rick dropped his buddy off, and driving a few houses down to his house, he realizes he still had Humpty in the trunk. He backed up the car, retrieved his friend, and for some reason they placed Humpty on the diving board in Rick’s backyard.

The next morning Rick woke to his mother who was upset by what she saw in the backyard. She recognizes that it’s Humpty from Fairytale Town. Rick’s father is livid.

Rick goes to school that day and returns to begin folding his Sacramento Bee newspapers to deliver them on his paper route. He opens the first bin and sees front page headlines that Humpty has been stolen. Ricks said the exact headline was “All The King’s Horses”. Now his father is really angry. He demands that Rick and his friend submit a type-written statement detailing how they are going to fix the situation.

Rick and his buddy’s idea is that they are going to sneak Humpty behind home plate at the local school’s baseball diamond. Then they were going to call the police from the pay phone up the street at the gas station and anonymously report the location. His father oddly approves the plan with one stipulation. They have to write a formal apology, including to the children who are now missing Humpty, and tape it to the back of Humpty’s head. The deal is sealed, and the plan actually works. According to Rick they even signed the note, “The Three Little Pigs.”

To certify the experience, Rick invited me over to his River Park home. He said he has a photograph he can show me with him and Humpty. I follow him into River Park. I go inside and its a beautiful home, one of a number of properties he owns he explains. He introduces me to Marge who helps us find the picture of him and Humpty. It’s blurry, but authentic.

THE POCKET WATCH: Six-foot elf takes up residence at Greenhaven Plaza

The Christmas tree lot on the corner of Riverside Boulevard and Florin Road is currently operated by new folks this year, Pocket native Gregg Jones (whose father owns Ace Hardware) and his friend Chad. They enjoy the comforts of home inside their trailer. Photo by Monica Stark

The Christmas tree lot on the corner of Riverside Boulevard and Florin Road is currently operated by new folks this year, Pocket native Gregg Jones (whose father owns Ace Hardware) and his friend Chad. They enjoy the comforts of home inside their trailer. Photo by Monica Stark

I always imagine the life of the average Christmas tree lot attendant to be kind of a bitter winter mix of cold and loneliness and backbreaking labor, but if that’s the stereotype, Gregg Jones doesn’t fit the profile. I stand with Gregg in the rain, both of us as upright as a couple of soggy meerkats among all the felled evergreens in his lot, intentionally laid down in an orderly manner to avoid the potential chaos that would ensue if they were left upright for the storms to do the job, and he does not once convey a single note of resentment about the avocation he has adopted for the holiday season.

Much to the contrary, with a wide smile and a bit of an elvish twinkle in his eye, Gregg talks about his venture with his good friend, Chad, who has run a lot in West Sacramento for several years, with an enthusiasm that belied the gloom of this winter’s first big storm. Although Greenhaven Plaza, the shopping center at Riverside and Florin, has rented space to a Christmas tree lot for the past several years, this is Gregg’s and Chad’s first year of operation at this location.

For my part, I want him to skip ahead to the bitter cold and loneliness, the theme I anticipated for this week’s Pocket Watch: “Poor soul sacrifices his own happiness so that others can partake in the joy of the season.” But there is no bitterness to be had. Gregg points to the 30-foot travel trailer in the back of his lot. “Sure, someone has to be here 24/7,” he grins, “but we have all the comforts of home here, heat, television, restroom, a warm bed… It’s really kind of nice.”

“But it must get lonely,” I insist, “being away from your family during the holidays.” Turns out Gregg was born and raised in the Pocket area. “This is home for me!” he beams. In fact, this particular parking lot is actually home for Gregg. His dad owns the Ace Hardware store in the shopping center, where Gregg grew up working. “It’s fun seeing all my old friends and customers when they drop by to pick up a tree.”

As the subject turns to the operation of the lot, it becomes obvious that Gregg has much more than just a financial interest in this particular business. He begins to discuss the initial vision that prompted him to approach his buddy about opening in this particular location. “I wanted to provide a lot where people could come for exceptional trees,” he explains. “I wanted to provide the best service possible. This is my home. These are my friends and neighbors. I wanted to make sure that our customers to have a great experience selecting their trees.”

Soon, I begin to feel like I’m talking shrimp with Bubba in Forest Gump. “Of course, we have Noble Firs, which go up to 11 feet,” he says, “and we have the Silvertips, which people refer to as the “Charlie Brown trees”; we have the smaller Nordmans, which are four- to five-feet tall, and they’re really similar to the Nobles, with just a little heavier needle, kind of a two-tone sheen, with silver underneath, dark green on top…” Gregg points out that the lot will receive multiple shipments regularly to ensure that the outgoing stock is replenished and that the selection is always optimal.

In retrospect, it was probably a tad rude of me to mention this to Gregg, but I tell him that, personally, I own an immense artificial tree that I have Ruben schlep out of the garage rafters every year after Thanksgiving. It’s so convenient, maybe not for Ruben, but it certainly is for me, and I wonder if there’s any kind of perceptible trend in that direction that might affect the live Christmas tree industry. I concede that I do kind of miss the smell of a fresh tree.

“Well, you hit the nail right on the head there,” he replies. “Artificial trees are nice and convenient, but one thing they don’t provide for is the fresh smell of the tree and I think just the spirit of getting a real tree that goes back a long way. You have your folks who like the convenience of pulling their own tree out of the attic every year, but then there are those diehards who—whether it’s cutting one down at Apple Hill or coming down to the lot and having the kids run around the tree lot, picking one out and hauling it home on the roofs of their cars—feel like that’s what it’s all about every year. I don’t think that’s going to go away anytime soon”.
Not as long as there’s a place like Gregg’s and Chad’s to shop, my brother. No way.

The Pocket Watch appears in every issue of the Pocket News. Jeff Dominguez can be reached at jeff.dominguez@yahoo.com

Matias Bombal’s Hollywood

The MPAA has rated this PG-13
Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. bring us “Interstellar,” an epic science fiction event movie that rivals the classic era of showmanship’s great road shows in its IMAX and 70mm film presentations in the United States.

Under the direction of Christopher Nolan, “Interstellar” stars Matthew McConaughey. In the not too distant future, McConaughey, a farmer with two kids, once an engineer, pilot, and astronaut, uses technology to bring down a drone flying over his farm.

The information he finds will lead him to set his course for adventure. This future world is plagued by great climate change devastated by famine and drought. He’s recruited by NASA into action to find hope for mankind’s future in the stars.

Michael Caine, a key NASA scientist, offers the discovery of a rip in the space/time continuum as a chance to look for life on a planet in another solar system.

This is indeed a most handsome production, which even at a lengthy running time of 169 minutes without intermission, offers good performances from Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, Anne Hathaway, John Lithgow, and one of my favorite young actors of today, Casey Affleck. In small scenes, you’ll see Topher Grace and Ellen Burstyn.

The director’s choice for IMAX film shots of incredible size give you the impression of the vastness of space much better than you saw in “Gravity”, and in fact I liked this so much more than that movie for many reasons.

The best part: I felt like I was a kid again with the wonder of adventurous space travel, pushing the limits of science and imagination. The “2001: A Space Odyssey” influence may be felt here, as you get a sense of the unknown and mysterious with a longing to know more. It’s a fun ride.

One of the notable aspects of this film release is the very fact that it is on film, and will be projected that way in IMAX theaters across the nation on IMAX 15 perf/70mm prints.

I found that “Interstellar’s” musical score by Hans Zimmer offers a tip of the hat to the “2001: A Space Odyssey” score while remaining different than the standard action scores of today with that nasty boom crash sound that I find so detestable. This is a great way to spend time at the movies, it made science-fiction fun for me again. (Note for our readers: Matías’ online review for this movie shows the inside of the Esquire IMAX theater and just how the film print is assembled and shown for these special showings on actual IMAX film: http://youtu.be/lbUHfMYyZP4)