I covered the Delta.
That’s the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta for our purposes although I occasionally covered the Mississippi Delta for newspapers in Louisiana and Arkansas, which is a whole ‘nother story.
This was the California Delta where I covered Elk Grove south and west through Hood, Locke, Walnut Grove, Isleton along with places like Lodi, Galt and heaven’s know where for the Sacramento Bee. They told me never to cross the Antioch Bridge and keep away from Rio Vista.
Sort of like a Sacramento Moses, I could see the promised land of the San Francisco Bay Area just across the grass — don’t go there, it’s what they called asparagus down on the farm — fields. I could smell the air waft off Mt. Tamalpais, the levee holding out the Sacramento River from Isleton and it’s “twin city” Rio Vista.
Just couldn’t go there.
My time along the Delta was fun and informative. I had a close encounter with Eddie Murphy’s luxurious port-a-potty that was the size of a house, and not a small house. They port-a-potty police ejected me and Bee photographer Andy Alfaro from the set with extreme prejudice.
Seeing what we could find
Working out of the Bee’s boutique-sized Elk Grove-Laguna office, I pretty much spent the day driving around looking for stuff. For some reason, Michael Mercury, who billed himself as the first radio astrologer, always seemed to be on the UC-Davos radio station on my radio.
Locke was an authentic Chinese railroad-worker built town where all the residents were forbidden from owning their own homes. They had to rent them from a business committee. The place even had a Buddhist temple and a restaurant whose pejorative name somehow was grandfathered through time: Al the Wop’s. It’s specialties were steak and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; at the same time.
Iselton was a scandal-and-a-half. It’s police chief, eventually sacked, issued gun permits to anybody who had the fee. No messy background checks required. For good measure, he also deputized people with gun permits so they could carry them concealed as well. A true public servant.
The city was so devoid of anything, it had a main street right out of the 1930s with pigeons roosting and no people. The town had two old, old hotels, surreptitious Chinese card rooms and artists from the Bay Area who discovered the place’s dirt cheap rents and solitude to their liking.
Isleton, pop. 823, also held an annual beer bacchanalia sponsored by Budweiser and other bug companies drawing maybe 100,000 people over one amazing weekend. As someone who has attended a dozens of Mardi Gras celebrations, I can assert “safely” that Mardi Gras had nothing on the annuals Isleton Crawdad Festival.
And oh by the way, for some reason, people from Breaux Bridge, La. popped up in Isleton and the two cities traded delegations for annual crawfish boils. They had crawfish around Isleton in the Delta waters, although they called them crawdads.
Pears to Lou Grant by George
Walnut Grove was pear country. It also had a few historic markets, gas station and all-around pit stop sensibility. The bus stopped there, too. This is where the tale of people behaving badly begins.
Working for daily newspapers, I quickly found a protocol that may come as a surpriser to non-journalists, not even sure if it’s prevalent today since I’ve been editing weeklies and online sources for the last decade. Going on assignment, photographers always drove the reports. And I mean always. Not that I didn’t appreciate it, but one time I tried to drive and was severely reprimanded by a senior editor, so why fight city hall.
Quickly, I also found that each of these photographers were kind of quirky, just think animal on the old “Lou Grant Show,” for those who care to remember. I also found the photographers were on the lookout for reporters they could stand. a lot of reporters, well, you now, they’re kind of pushy.
James Allison adopted me at the Arkansas Democrat. We drove all over the damn place from the Ozarks and Pine Bluff, to wherever stuff happened. So dedicated was he to the news that after we each left the newspaper, he dragged me down to El Salvador during the height of that war.
We filed stories and photos for the then-new USA Today. Not a good vacation concept although watching “Escape from New York” in war-town downtown San Salvador was a real trip. New York in the movie actually looked better.
At the North County Times, I used to drive around with award-winning photographer Waldo Nilo which was a trip, to be sure. Whatever happened to him, anyway? Nobody knows.
Meanwhile, back at the Bee
At the Bee, I kind of mentored my photographer, Mr. Alfaro and he did a great job. We came up with a doozy of a story about the local bus route through the Delta. Since the place was strung out along the Sacramento River, and many people living there were dirt poor, the bus was kind a lifeline between those dusty towns and the land of Oz, Sacramento, a city that rises out of the empty fields and nothingness with a power all its own.
This story never had a chance. Firstly, we happened on a crazy looking couple waiting for the bus out of Walnut Grove. The woman was in her 50s and looked a lot worse for wear. The guy was in his 40s, looked rough.
They were nice enough,,,, but kind of wacky, probably meth users or something. When we finishes, Andy and I looked at each other and said, whoa; weird vibes, we both agreed.
The bus driver had an interesting reputation, which is what started us on the story. He was a retired real estate and ranch owner who had farms in Elk Grove and Kentucky, He bred award-winning Tennessee walking horses and thoroughbreds.
That was no ordinary bus driver either. He had driven Greyhound busses when he was younger before getting into the horse and real estate business. Then, he made a killing in local real estate. elk Grove once was empty land like the rest of the Delta. It’s proximity to Sacramento meant the land was super-valuable. This guy made a killing just by selling his land to developers.
Retired, he said he wanted to give back and started driving the bus. He didn’t stop there. If people couldn’t pay the fare, or even complained about not having money, he would give them money. As he learned more about their lives, since many were regular bus riders, he actually bought them clothes, gifts or items they said they needed.
What a great guy! Oops.
Writing a very nice story with him at the forefront, I moved on to the next story. Not for long. As soon as the story came out, we received a phone call from an anonymous young lady. “What’s wrong with you?” She said. “Don’t you know he’s on Megan’s List as a sex offender?”
Whoa. Sure enough, I went down to the cop shop and there he was listed plain as day. Not only was he a sex offender and not a garden variety one either if there is such a thing, he had been convicted of molesting his own grandchildren among other.
Big gulp, but who thunks to check Megan’s List for any story on the off-chance someone is listed on it?
It hadn’t been a good month at the Elk Grove office anyway. Just previously, we had been talking about the adopt this dog incident. We kept holding dog story due to space. Big deal, right? Guess it was. We ran the story finally and got phone calls on this one, too. The dog had died suddenly the previous week.
Here’s where people behaving badly turned deadly as well. Part of my duties included driving to downtown Sacramento once a week and going over the Sheriff’s Office arrest records. Anybody getting busted in the Delta could expect no quarter to be given. We published a blotter with each incident, including subjects and verbs in the form of prison and bail among other details.
Looking at the reports following the bus driver situation, I got blindsided. Again. The sheriff’s office that weekend had shot and killed an unidentified man in Walnut Grove. The name was right there. He was the weird passenger who looked strung out that we had interviewed for the bus story. Strike three for the Elk Grove office.
People behaving badly, Valley Center edition
While crime is no laughing matter, sometimes criminals act dumb or weird things happen. There’s an entire genre of reality television dedicated to that proposition. I would separate the ridiculous wheat from the usual chaff. Every so often, usually, every 3-4 months I would run a compilation of the greatest hits of the worst of the worst for r=general edification.
So it came to pas for the UPS guy who went ahead and delivered the packages directly to his garage and the would-be cat burglar who decided to linger for lunch and got busted. We had the guy with multiple fake professions including dentist, doctor and attorney. Heaven help his clients. The other cases were suitably weird and distinguished in their ineptitude, but it’s been a few years and I’m doing my best to forget them.
While I wanted to do a “People Behaving Badly” column for the Roadrunner, facts on the ground haven’t cooperated to date. Sheep rustling isn’t that funny this side of “Hee-Haw.”.About half the crimes occur at the area’s four casinos, mainly drugs, alcohol or combination and something called tuolomene, along with car thefts, theft thefts, a few assaults, frauds and even citizen’s arrests.
Around the community, a few crime sprees have occurred, the most notable being the multiple library break-ins still not solved apparently. Vehicle windows were smashed during Valley Center High School graduation. otherwise, DUIs, a fe car chases, thefts, minor assaults and about what one would expect. Nothing for people behaving badly beyond people behaving badly in the usual ways.
This is how we do it
About every few months people complain when their names appear in the sheriff’s blotter.
Sometimes they don’t understand that it’s not the Roadrunner making up this stuff. they were arrested. This is what the Sheriff’s Office says, they just don’t get it or want to get it.
One time, a woman complained saying it wasn’t her relative doing the stuff it was someone impersonating her relative and she wanted us to retract the statement. Unfortunately, she can;t wave a magic wand and wish it away. It might be true. It might not. That’s not my department. It’s up to the Sheriff’s Office to correct, not us.
To further make it clear who this person is, we cite their age. Sacramento authorities also released occupation, city of residence and bond. Unfortunately, San Diego only states ages although occasionally, for whatever reason, the report may list occupation as “drug user” or “thief.”
That’s somewhere between passive-aggressive and funny, lol.
Over the lo-these-many years, only a few times have complaints proved legitimate and even then it’s cause for pause. I can think off-hand of two among thousands of reports.
Long story short, criminals and miscreants out there — you know who you are — let’s jazz it up a little when it comes to behaving badly around Valley Center proper. We need to see the lighter side of crime for a change. Is that too much to ask?
In the meantime, we’ll keep track of the reports at the N Lake Wohlford Road cop shop and report back should anything untoward veer to farce. And for the rest of you: Be careful out there.