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Trad climber
Bishop, Ca
Topic Author's Original Post - Apr 30, 2018 - 03:07pm PT

Reviewing jails has never been high on my list of things to do. It's never even risen to the status of casual hobby. But, for better or worse, a lifetime of nonconformity combined with the twin ailments of doing what I think is right and saying what I really think have afforded me the opportunity to speak with a modest amount of authority on the subject.

My trip to the Yosemite jail began on the east side. I was bivied in the bristle cones gazing at the myriad stars. My girlfriends blue-black hair was fanned across my chest. "Wow Nori, I said. "Just think. When this tree was a sapling our ancestors were living in caves and gnawing in half baked leg of mastodon."

She turned her head, her skin shown copper under the sliver of moon, "Speak for yourself bub. Mine were building a dynasty and developing an alphabet."

That was Nori, lovely, smart and culturally elite. God I miss that.

The following morning we picked up some bubba trash, spent shell casings, blasted beer cans, etc. you know the type. They were soon to prove my undoing. And then it was time for Nori to quit playing doctor with me and resume her residency playing doctor with real doctors and real patients.


After pulling into the lodge parking lot I did a quick inventory of my finances. Ten, twenty, thirty. I recounted with no better results. I weighed my options. Stealing was one, as was starvation. And then there was being a grownup and going back to my job. All seemed bleak. In the end I chose option three and went to the bank of pay phones in the back of the lodge. Yes, there really was a time before cell phones and computers ruled our lives. It was primitive back then but in many ways we were all much better for it.

My job back then was doing rigging and stage lighting for musical acts and assorted theatrical misadventures. Its really much less glamorous than I'm making it sound.

Maynard answered on the second ring. "Let me guess, you're in Yosemite, broke and desperately need work. And you want me to advance you money. Does that sum it up?"

He had gotten caller 'ID the year before and was still quite proud of it.

"You're incredibly astute Maynard." We've been through this dance many times before. A little background on Maynard here. He looks a lot like Satan. If Satan were fat and had bad teeth. On the flipside he is competent (mostly), honest (sort of) and conniving (unfailingly).

"Elvis is going on tour."

"Maynard, Elvis is dead. Has been for years. I hate to break it to you."

"NO!" he was also a huge Elvis fan. "No really its Elvis's band playing in front of a giant video screen of The King."

"That sounds just awful. What else.?"

"Pat Robinson, Return to Faith Tour."

"The televangelist! Forget it. Dig deeper man. Disney on Ice? a puppet show maybe?"

"Hang on"

Years ago, while drunkenly stumbling through the streets of the East Village Maynard tearfully confessed to me that I was the best rigger he'd ever seen. I have never let him forget it. "Come on Maynard, I'm your best guy."

"Oh, wait. Fax coming..." he does an utterly unconvincing imitation of a fax machine, making clacking and beeping noises with his mouth. "Ok, The Stones start rehearsals for their North American tour in Miami a week from Sunday. Will that work for you princess?"

"See Maynard, it really wasn't that hard was it. Wire me some money and a plane ticket..."

Back in the parking lot, peering through the open windows of my unlocked truck, was a neckless troglodyte known to Valley locals, without any irony or affection, I might add, as Officer Lubeless. Officer Lubeless was one of those sad, angry men who, after four promising years on his high school football team, and a few concussions, couldn't quite cut it on the collegiate gridiron. A few more concussions and falling grades and some mastermind at the NPS decided it would be a good idea to give him a badge and a gun. He went on to make a career of using the Fourth Amendment as his own personal toilet paper.

Unable or unwilling to distinguish between public service (the spent shell casings and blasted beer cans etc.) and probable cause he decided I must be packing and tore through my worthless crap. Spreading it over an impressively large area while screaming about guns in the park.

Frustrated by my obvious compliance with the law he stomped off to his car (patrol unit) and screeched off. As I collected my crap I warily eyed the thunderheads building over Half Dome. A large storm was forecast, which, for me, translated into a large headache as the cave I was living in then was worthless in anything more than I light drizzle.

As the storm grew Officer Lubeless screeched back into the lot, lights flashing, which I thought odd since he and I were the only ones around. "Hands up!" he roared, leveling his gun.

"Um, ok." Apparently I had gotten a ticket some years prior for failing to stop and promptly blown it off. I have no recollection of such events but it does sound like something I'd do so I won't deny it.

"You can pay a $75 cash bond NOW or GO STRAIGHT TO JAIL!"

The storm was raging now, the wind tore at my wet shirt, "Ok"

"Ok what?".

"Ok, lets go to the jail."


Day-Glo orange has never been my best color. Something about all that vibrancy just leaves me feeling washed out. On the bright side it was clean. I'd been given a shower, hot. Which I sorely needed. A toothbrush, free. Cool. And I had been deloused. Nori, being a physician, I'm sure would have told me had such treatment been necessary but whatever, also free. So far this place seemed pretty swank.

"Do you want Mexican or Chinese?" the bored jailer, who I will refrain from naming for reasons which will become obvious, asked. A warm breeze wafted from a wall duct. this place had heat! I wondered if I had stumbled through the looking glass and thought further clarification might be in order.

"Do you mean women or food? No wait, either way can I have both?"

Anonymous Jailer chuckled, "Sorry, just food. But sure you can have both."

Wow! Total score!

Only one other inmate crowded the cell as I awaited my feast. I'd seen him around but we'd never really talked. Tim, that was it, he was Tim.

"Yo Roadie."

"Yo Tim. What did you do?"

Readers of my past reports may recall that I usually try to include some bit of knowledge or insight I have gained over the years. We have now arrived at that juncture. If ever you find yourself in a real jail, under normal circumstance this is NOT considered an appropriate ice breaker or conversation starter. In fact it will likely get you beat up. Or shived. This being the Yosemite jail, however, and given the fact that I knew this guy, sort of...

"I got off El Cap and fell asleep in the parking lot."

Further interrogation revealed that Tim had 'fallen asleep' surrounded by a dozen empty beer cans and a half drained bottle of Jack. I pointed out that 'some' may call this 'passing out' but Tim saw no point of such fine distinctions. Anyhow, the guy was obviously still pretty hung over and my feast had arrived so I let it rest.

We awoke late the next morning to the smell of coffee, garnished with eggs, hash browns, bacon and English muffins. Life just kept getting better.

Outside the storm continued. Tim and I would take turns looking out our window and occasionally glimpse one of our poor, sodden, forlorn dirtbag friends who'd lacked the forethought or planning to get himself arrested and think 'suckers!'

By mid afternoon we'd enticed Anonymous Jailer into a friendly game of cards. He was, it turned out, not only a chain smoker but a chronic gambler. Cigarettes being the traditional medium of jailhouse exchange, we played for cigarettes.

We cheated shamelessly. At some point lightning hit a sub station and power to Yosemite Village went out. Things went dark and the reassuring waft of heat stopped. "Ah Christ!" our jailer said. "I'll be right back after I turn the generator on. Don't mess with my cards!"

"Do we look like the kinda guys who would cheat!" Tim barked back. The orange jumpsuits and yellow bars didn't do a lot to bolster his argument but he did sound sincere. Hurt even. We used the opportunity to fish the aces out of the deck.

An hour later Tim and I owned all the cigarettes in the building. "Hey guys, can I bum a smoke?" the jailer asked. And so the scales of power tipped and the real game began.

"What do you have to trade? I asked.

"Let us go and you can have half," Tim added.

"Are you nuts!" I shot back looking outside. "I'm not leaving till the sun comes out."

"Awe, come on guys, I'll give you double dinners again."

"We want pizza," I said. "from the Pizza Deck. Not some skanky jail pizza."

"And a twelve pack," Tim said. "Of Guinness."

"You can't have beer in jail. Besides I can't just leave you, even it they do have power over there..."

It was Sunday, which meant my buddy Special Ed was working at the Pizza Deck. "give me a phone." I said.

"So Special, when'r'ya off? ok I need a large supreme, and a twelve pack, hang on. You want anything?" I asked the jailer.

"I want my cigarettes." He snarled.

"Tim, give him one. Ok Ed, yes, the jail. We'll pay you when you get here. Yes I promise..."

Special Ed arrived an hour later with our pizza and beer. He looked around appreciatively, "Wow, nice digs. This is way cozier than my tent cabin. Mind if I hang for a while..."

And so it went, the four of us ridding out the storm, eating pizza and tipping back beers in the splendor of the John Muir Hilton. We helped the jailer haul a tv out of the office and we all watched the Tigers trounce the Yankees.

The following morning, with a tentative sun peeking from behind wisps of cloud we went before the judge. Tim got to go first. He was held over on $100 bond. I was up. "You spent two nights in jail over a moving violation!" the judge said, incredulous.

I shrugged, as if to say 'only in America.'

"Case dismissed, you're free to go."

A short time later I went to the Western Union to pick up my ticket and the $500 Maynard had advanced me. But before returning to the jail to bail out Tim I made a quick stop at the gift shop to buy a thank you card for my friend and benefactor, Officer Lubeless.


And where are they now?

Nori is still in LA where she lives and works in the hood, running a free clinic she helped found in 2002, caring mostly for the children our nation has so foolishly turned its back on.

Maynard retired not long after these events took place. He worked tirelessly in the gay rights movement and sadly died of a heart attack shortly before the Supreme Court handed down its DOMA decision. I still miss his sharp wit and banter.

Officer Lubeless was eventually charged with excessive force after tackling a drunk tourist trying to escape. In a wheelchair. He was relieved of his gun and placed behind a desk where he slowly lost his mind.

Special Ed left the Valley and fell into a crevasse. On Wall Street. He worked as a day trader until the better angles of his nature hauled him out, as I knew they would. He now owns and operates an organic farm in Pennsylvania.

Tim and I met up in Moab the following spring and did some surprisingly good first ascents. I never did see my $100 but consider it money well spent.

And me? I'm still limping along. I gave up rigging and theatre not many years later. I did some writing and some guiding. Still later I started a tree service and ran it for fifteen years. I'm retired now (mostly) and only work at jobs I find interesting or rewarding.

My continuing nonconformity and habits of saying what I think and doing what I think is right occasionally rise the ire of the powers that be. Twice since then I have been given the opportunity to inspect other jails. Both times were for reasons I considered honorable, both times I was proud to be there.

And speaking of pride. While breathing new life into these old relationships it occurs to me that we had something then. Something that our young minds couldn't quite grasp. While broke, dirty and often hungry we shared a wealth and nobility that was beyond the ability of any trite, state backed currency to touch. The medium of exchange I'm referring to can only be expressed in terms of toil, courage, mutual aid and friendship. Things that have always terrified The Man. I think most of the lives I've touched upon in this story still carry a piece of that wealth and nobility within them. I am proud to call them my friends. I hope, as you make your way through this labyrinthine world, that you will be as fortunate.

Thank You. Steve Seats

Trad climber
portland, or
Apr 30, 2018 - 03:25pm PT
Great story! Good writing, and unbelievable, if true!

Trad climber
Apr 30, 2018 - 03:31pm PT

Social climber
Apr 30, 2018 - 04:00pm PT
That was aces! Liked the last paragraph also.

Mountain climber
Timbers of Fennario
Apr 30, 2018 - 04:38pm PT
"Back in the parking lot, peering through the open windows of my unlocked truck, was a neckless troglodyte known to Valley locals, without any irony or affection, I might add, as Officer Lubeless. Officer Lubeless was one of those sad, angry men who, after four promising years on his high school football team, and a few concussions, couldn't quite cut it on the collegiate gridiron. A few more concussions and falling grades and some mastermind at the NPS decided it would be a good idea to give him a badge and a gun. He went on to make a career of using the Fourth Amendment as his own personal toile paper"

One of the funniest paragraphs I have read.
Gunks Guy

Trad climber
New Paltz, NY
Apr 30, 2018 - 04:59pm PT
A story well told. I enjoyed it to the very end. And it's not just because of the fond memories of my own night spent in Yosemite neon orange.

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
Apr 30, 2018 - 05:11pm PT
This deserved to be published somewhere for real..

Castlegar BC
Apr 30, 2018 - 05:20pm PT
A most stoic tale, to say the least.

Thanks Steve

A place with cats...lots and lots of cats
Apr 30, 2018 - 05:21pm PT
Very enjoyable story, Roadie!

Trad climber
Polebridge, Montana
Apr 30, 2018 - 05:24pm PT
Unbelievable! Where do you come up with some of those lines?


Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
Apr 30, 2018 - 06:05pm PT
That is a truly great story.

Trad climber
Apr 30, 2018 - 06:27pm PT
It should appear in many publications (not just climbing ones)
Now we expect regular contributions as that is a great story
Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
Apr 30, 2018 - 07:14pm PT
I can only hope Steve our paths cross, thanks for this piece on my last day of being paid for my time.

Ice climber
Apr 30, 2018 - 07:33pm PT
"After Grandma’s funeral me and Papa and Uncle Running-and-Jumping Wolf dug her up. Mama wouldn’t go with us; she never heard of such a thing. Hanging a corpse in a tree! It’s enough to make a person sick.

Uncle R & J Wolf and Papa spent twenty days in the drunk tank at The Dalles jail, playing rummy, for Violation of the Dead.

But she’s our goddanged mother!

It doesn’t make the slightest difference, boys. You shoulda left her buried. I don’t know when you blamed Indians will learn. Now, where is she? you’d better tell.

Ah go fuuck yourself, paleface, Uncle R & J said, rolling himself a cigarette. I’ll never tell."

High high high in the hills, high in a pine tree bed, she’s tracing the wind with that old hand, counting the clouds with that old chant: . . . three geese in a flock . . ."

-Groucho Marx

Apr 30, 2018 - 07:38pm PT

Very enjoyable read! If nothing else, it gets you into the John Long writing symposium as an instructor. Nice!

Mountain climber
Marooned, 855 miles from Tuolumne Meadows
Apr 30, 2018 - 10:01pm PT
Sounds half fiction, half truth. Good read. Mid 1970's to mid 1980's era. Pitts was subjected to a lot, like the time someone got accused of pissing on the vegetables at the village store! I had a day in that courtroom, with both amusement and a $25 OB camping fine, following a visit from the US Marshals at my parent's front door in Fresno one day with a Federal summons. I wonder if I still have a "local" file?
Flip Flop

Earth Planet, Universe
Apr 30, 2018 - 10:22pm PT
Mic Dropped

Apr 30, 2018 - 10:27pm PT
fUck yeah... :)

thanks muchly...

and when the spirit moves?

i hope you keep em coming.

So Oregon
Apr 30, 2018 - 10:33pm PT
Wow, that's good.
Thank you.

May 1, 2018 - 01:02am PT
Man, the food you described in jail. If only the dirtbags knew!
Messages 1 - 20 of total 71 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
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