October 28, 2014

Island Home Companion - The News from Fernside Island

ZW: Well it’s been a quiet year in Fernside Island, my home town, out there edge of the San Francisco Bay. As this is our inaugural show, I’ll have to fill you in here with a few details about it. Fernside Island is the third island of Alameda, California. Those of you from the Bay Area know about the main island of Alameda, but few tend to know about Bay Farm Island and even fewer know about Fernside. You see, there was an incident, it happened about 1948 I believe, when the State transportation toll authority commissioned a report on the potential of building a second crossing over the San Francisco Bay. The first option would have been building the exact same bridge right next to itself, to help relieve congestion. But it still meant clogging up the same areas of the city, so the Toll Authority considered clogging up another part of the city.
And that crossing would have would have gone through Alameda. Possibly through Bay Farm and very likely through Fernside. And as we all know, the government is usually kindly there to inconvenience us, to ruffle our feathers and then all of a sudden, before you know it, it does nothing and you’re left in the dark wondering if your house was suddenly going to turn into a bridge pier overnight. When the toll authority stopped contemplating malicious plans to turn our front gardens into a work site, they forgot about Fernside and incidentally, so did Alameda. But in any case, we here in Fernside island are usually left to our own devices. We have an unobstructed view of San Francisco from our homes, the sea grass tends to make up our lawns as opposed to crab grass and we usually do most of our business on bikes.
An engineer by the name of Ralph Mastick living on the northern tip of the island had found one day sometime back in the late 1950s that when he was about to jump into his car and drive over to the car ferry dock that it was nowhere to be found. Instead, in his front drive, there was a depression of sorts. Somewhat car shaped, about six or seven feet deep and at bottom of course, was his brand new Buick. Now most normal people would file an insurance claim against the car but no, most Fernsiders (as we call ourselves) tend to be a blend of genius, eccentric and down-right stupid. You see, what Mastick decided to do instead of what normal people do was dig a ramp down into the depression so that he could drive the car out. At first, he tried a forty five degree angle and this he decided was simply too steep for a seventeen foot car to drive out of so he took it a step further and did the calculations and found he would need a fifteen degree angle. Now, some of you who are clever know that the ramp would be somewhere around ten feet long. Now for an engineer, that would have been sufficient, but Ralph see, decided he’d take it a step further and dig a thirty foot long ramp, effectively making it a nice gentle one and four incline.
So he set to work, his mind completely focused on getting his Buick out forgetting that digging in the middle of the street required permission from his neighbors and of course the city, but being the methodical man that he is figured that he could do it over a weekend before his neighbor, one Marion Little would be back from staying with her sisters in Sacramento. Well, when there seems to be any sort of digging to be done, it seems to attract men to the hole. Sort of like flies to a pie absently minded left out to cool and forgotten until two days later. Well, if we keep going with the metaphor, in two days time, you find that you haven’t got any pie to eat, just a pie tin and what basically are the remnants of hard work with no reward. Well Ralph tried and when he started to dig, he found that suddenly, he was surrounded by the men in town, all watching him, smoking cigarettes and telling dirty jokes. Now Ralph isn’t one to be left out of any sort of male bonding experience and it quickly turned into a barbecue when Ted Ferguson down the street brought over his brand new charcoal grill and the pit became a sort of hideout. Just deep enough to not be visible from a distance so if wives looked down the street from the intersection, they’d see a strange curl of smoke, wisping up, smelling strangely of hot dogs and
hamburgers. Late into the evening, Ted’s wife Lucille looked out the front room window to see where Ted had disappeared to the entire day and could only see that column of smoke coming from the darkness. She couldn’t be bothered to try to figure out what it was, so she figured he must have been down at the Beachcomber bar and hotel.
Most of us tend to find that one day of fun usually turns into two and before you know it, while the ramp was finished in the first few hours and the car driven out and parked at the end of the cul-de-sac, but those boys found that they enjoyed their fortress. As many of us know from our years of childhood, we tend not to continue maturing well into our late twenties. But it seems that these guys here in particular wouldn’t reach their mature vintage sometime until 1973.
Well, Sunday evening rolled around, and by this time, a wind started to pick up and to explain a little about the street that Ralph lived on, he lived at the end, his nearest neighbor was Marion whose house was about thirty feet away and at the end is Ted’s house. On the other side, it abuts the sea wall and the beach below. So they had all gone to bed and what they didn’t know, since Ralph was a mechanical engineer and not a soils engineer was that the sea wall only went down four feet. Well, suddenly, the sea gave way and pushed its way into the seven foot deep pit. Well, an exceptional high tide usually scares most Fernsiders and that was what happened to have occurred so suddenly, this forty five foot hole with a gentle thirty foot ramp became a forty five foot hole with no gentle ramp and about five feet of water. It sort of sucked out the material that made up the ramp. Well, while they dug, they contented themselves to throw the dirt over the sea wall, thinking that they’d just pull it up later and fill in the hole.
On Monday morning, Marion had left Sacramento at seven AM in the highest of spirits after seeing her sisters Edith and Alice who had decided to host a Tupperware party while she was visiting and Marion made the trip in good time driving herself in her little Nash Metropolitan full of Tupperware with the lids on everything. Her car ferry had docked at ten a.m. and Ralph was still asleep, nursing a hangover fueled by greasy burgers and in his dreams, he dreamt about his car, and the subjects of dirty joke concerning a show girl and a nun, were sitting in the back seat. Well, Marion made the short drive to the northern end of the island to go home when she passed by Ralph’s Buick at the entrance of the cul-de-sac and she looked at it. Puzzled as to why it would be sixty feet away from Ralph’s front door when suddenly, she had to stomp on her brakes to avoid driving down into what looked half of an Olympic sized lap pool.
The street was gone, but the sidewalks were still there and so were their houses, but where the road should have been it looked all caved in, full of water and she could barely make out at the far end, what looked like Ted Ferguson’s brand new charcoal barbeque floating, slowly bumping against the sides of this pool. Now, a Nash Metropolitan doesn’t weigh too much, but when loaded with Tupperware all bristling with Edith and Alice’s country style cooking, it starts to add up and Marion, not exactly a sprig herself found that the earth began to shake and she looked to her left and right and caught Ted’s eye who just happened to be looking out his kitchen window with a cup of coffee when all of a sudden, the earth disappeared below her car and it dropped, it dropped into pit and suddenly, the forty five foot hole became a fifty five foot hole.
The look on Ted’s face could say it all, one moment, he watched the Sea Foam green car waiting at the edge of the pit and suddenly, there was nothing save for the white hard top of the car and an audible screech. Quickly bursting through the back door, he ran up to pit thinking there still was a ramp, but there wasn’t one to be seen. The amount of earth that the car had managed to subside, pushed a
considerable amount of water to the far end towards Ralph’s house and the tidal wave hammered against the earth, pulling a lot of it back with it and suddenly, you could feel the anticipation when suddenly, Ralph’s detached garage decided to take up diving and crashed into the water. Now, in turn, the garage not please with being uprooted from its decades of solid footing sent a wave back. By now, Ted was in the hole helping Marion out and the water was rushing towards them. Their screams were eerie when the wave pushed them over and when they came out again, they were caked in mud.
By this time, Ralph was disturbed from his sleep and ran out of his kitchen door to see what was causing all the noise. Ralph’s kitchen door opens straight into his drive way. Bearing in mind, if his garage was gone, pretty much his driveway would be too. When he caught sight of the Grand Canal that had formed itself overnight, he didn’t think to look down where he was walking. Well, very quickly, two people sopping wet turned into three.
They quickly had gotten out, and all three of them were fortunate that whoever built their houses had known that a deep pile footing would be best. So while the road was gone, their houses were fine. Now, something on this scale obviously won’t go unnoticed in town and pretty soon, the children of the islanders enjoyed having this new swimming pool and the word got around until the city realized it had to do something about this.
Now, since the Mayor of Alameda didn’t want to have much to do with the folk on Fernside so naturally, the community came up with a little body of councilors to help resolve issues. Don’t get me wrong, Alameda still throws money at us, they just don’t like having an extra seven hundred people to deal with. But anyhow, the councilors had this huge problem on their hands and their first priority was getting Marion Little’s car out of the hole. Unfortunately, if the weight of one car could barely be handled by the ground, it certainly couldn’t hold up a crane for that matter. So these councilors (one of who was Ralph by the way) came up with the idea to extend the ramp. Just like Ralph had done in the first place.
Well, they got her car out okay, but it was absolutely ruined, luckily all the heavy country foods in their little plastic containers had survived so Marion wasn’t too broken up the day they managed to get the Nash out. Her insurance covered the car so she could afford a Cadillac if she really wanted, but she realized that she might need a speed boat more than a car.
The city councilors had set aside enough money to dig up the ramp to get Marion’s car out, but they somehow had forgotten to put a little more aside to fill up the hole that was left behind. They probably put Ralph in charge of that part, but anyways, the hole kept growing in size until they lost three streets and gained three canals in their place. Very quickly, people got rid of their cars on the island, bought up golf carts or scooters or what have you weighing under a ton. So what we once called the Silver Coast we’ve renamed Little Venice. We don’t mind, so much as long as the people up there do. They’re just like us except they use boats more and the fact that they started building buildings to look more like Venetian buildings helps bring a crowd every so often to put a little bit of tourism money in our pocket.
So that’s the news from Fernside Island where the women are clever, the men not so much and the children are equal opportunity dreamers.