Lives & Times of Valley Folks: Dave Evans Of The Navarro Store
by Steve Sparks, June 17, 2010
After trying to get together with the very busy Dave for many weeks we finally sat down to talk in the small restaurant area of his Navarro Store a couple of Monday’s ago. I grabbed a coffee and, with time once again not on our side, we got right to it.
Dave was born in 1962 in the San Francisco Children’s Hospital, the older of two children born to Art Evans and Margy (Margaret) Fisher. He also has an adopted sister from Korea. His biological sister, one year younger, was to tragically die at sixteen in a horse-riding accident. The Evans clan came to the West coast from the Boston area while the Fishers arrived out here from Pennsylvania, although Dave is not sure of any of the family history prior to that, other than that all four grandparents grew up in the San Francisco area. Dave’s parents lived in Alamo, in the East Bay, and that is where Dave grew up.
“My Dad was the Director of the San Francisco Re-Development Agency and my Mom stayed at home and raised us kids. We lived in a pretty rural area with lots of livestock and farming all around us. The countryside was rolling hills and there were may be a couple of thousand people in our town. It was very quiet and relaxed and I went to the very small Alamo Elementary School. My sister loved her horses and I loved my motorbikes, fishing, and camping with friends and family. I never liked the small school very much, although high school was much better. I enjoyed the basic subjects, played soccer, and was an average student. That was at De La Salle High, known primarily for its football team, one of the country’s best for many, many years.”
“When I was about 15, my father left his job and started up his own development company with just Mom to help. It was a risk but at the time land development was the right move and he did extremely well, building communities for those with low income and the elderly all over the area. My Dad was a very hard worker, he made a lot of money, and until the recent economic crisis he looked like he was set for life. From just him and my Mom at the start, they eventually transitioned into huge offices in Oakland with well over a hundred employees. He retired a few years ago and put a bunch of his savings into my store here in Navarro. However, with the economy going the way it did, his business was in serious jeopardy and he had to come out of retirement at the age of sixty-seven to try and stop any more mistakes been made. Ultimately he filed for bankruptcy, having lost $50 million.”
In 1979, teenager Dave was involved in some horseplay that resulted in him falling out the back of a pick-up going at 40mph. He was in a coma for nine days and his right wrist was badly shattered. “I was never the same for many years after that.” He graduated from high school in 1980 and went to the Feather River Canyon Community College in Quincy, California, between Oroville and Reno, Nevada. “I wanted to work in the Forestry Department in some capacity. With my love of fishing and nature I knew I wanted to spend my future in the forests. However, like others when they first get away from home and go away to college, I spent a year doing very little schooling, riding around in my new four-wheel drive truck, drinking, doing drugs, carousing, and fishing. I met my future wife at the school though — Laverne Hunter, an American Indian woman, and she got pregnant and we were married. Our son David was born in 1982.”
They moved to the Fresno area to be closer to Laverne’s family where he enrolled in the Kings River Community College. “I studied landscape architecture but still had thoughts of working in forestry at some point. I played racquetball with some guys who were into the drug scene and soon I was involved too. I had done drugs at school but this was a whole other level. I became the middleman in a big operation and got in way over my head with these disreputable guys and their operation at the airport. We were caught but the judge found some pity for me as a result of the effects of the coma and gave me a break; plus I was not the guy they really wanted. However, he told me that this was my only chance and that if I so much as jay-walked in Thailand, he’d find about it and I’d be done.”
“I was close to my family and so we moved to Concord in the East Bay not far from them. I found work in construction through some of my Dad’s contacts and attended Diablo Valley College in the evenings. As the son of the owner of the property that was being built, the other workers really used to give me a hard time and I had to work very hard to prove myself. I did some carpentry but was mainly a laborer and I joined both unions. The money was very good and in 1987 we bought a condominium in Walnut Creek. Eventually I quit the laboring and started a painting company of my own. I had lots of contacts through my years in construction but the first job I was offered was to paint all the trim work at the Sheraton Hotel in Dublin in the East Bay. I had no idea what to price to bid so I worked it out based on how much time it would take to paint each piece and went from there — it took me a whole day to come up with an estimate. My bid was accepted and I hired a guy who knew what he was doing and, with his helper, the three of us did the job. They both knew more than I did about painting and we got the it done on time and made about $3K profit in a couple of weeks. I was full of confidence; I had my own painting company — D.J. Evans Painting. I could do this. The business took off from there, we got as much work as we could handle in and around the Bay Area, and for a few years we were very successful.”
Over time Dave had hired quite a few guys who were friends but in the end most of them let him down in one way or another. He turned to hiring Mexican guys whom he found to be great workers and very reliable. However, some of these were heavily into cocaine and Dave found himself involved in that world once again. “I was wrapped up in it and ultimately, by the late 80s, I had lost the business. On top of this, my wife had an alcohol problem although we worked hard at our marriage, staying together for the sake of our son. Over time however it was worse for him to see how we were; I had lost touch with reality and so we separated. I moved in with the Mexican guys and got into lots of trouble over the next few years. Fortunately Laverne pulled herself together, kept the condo, and did a great job with David. Eventually I realized I had to do something. I had lots of remorse about not being there for my son. I had been in 13 rehabs in just a few years; I was either in there or in jail.”
At the age of 31, in 1994, Dave had never even heard of Anderson Valley when a friend of his talked about it after a visit up to the Mendocino coast. Dave felt he no longer needed rehab but more a halfway house situation that would allow him to move forward. He heard of such a place in Albion. “I resisted coming up here in my mind. I had no plans to stay and was looking to get back to the Bay Area as soon as possible as I drove up here. But as I went along Hwy 128 through the Valley on my way to Albion I thought this was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen. It was like an ‘epiphany.’ I vividly remember uttering ‘Yessss!’ from deep inside myself. Then when I drove up E Road, inland behind Albion, to the Primary Purpose House the views of the ocean were wonderful. I knew than that I would not be going back to that other world. I had found a new place where I would not get caught up in all the crap. This was how life was supposed to be. ‘I’m free’, I thought.”
Dave did well at Primary Purpose and really got into AA, studying The Big Book and its Twelve Step program. “It does not work for everyone. Over the first one-and-a half years there I felt that I had the spiritual awakening to do the first eleven steps completely. Then I met a girl, Jody Knight, who lived on Albion Ridge and moved in with her. There were too many methamphetamine addicts around in Albion and the temptation was always there. At the time we thought we had each found each other’s soul mate and so we moved away to Cleone and then to Westport and finally back to Little River on the coast in 1998. I was receiving a small trust from my maternal grandmother as long as I kept going in the right direction, and supplemented this with some painting work and odd jobs. One day we were at the beach and Judy lay down for a nap. A couple of hours later the dog started to bark and she did not wake up. She had suffered an aneurism and was on life support for a week before her family decided that was enough and she died. I was devastated and once again I lost my grip on reality, dipping and dabbling into the drug scene, letting myself go, and getting pretty bad once more.”
Dave moved from the coast and began living in a tent inside what was known as The Compound in ‘downtown’ Navarro. “It was a bunch of people with nowhere to go. Not a good scene and there I was, in my tent in the middle of it all where I stayed for about a year. The meth scene was getting bigger and the hippies who lived in the Valley had no idea about this relatively new drug. I had hung out with the Albion hippy scene and it had been new to them too. The meth scene was bad; the drug is a terrible thing and leads to people doing bad things and turning to petty crime affecting innocent people. I then met Kim who was the caretaker of lifelong Navarro resident, Tommy Hopper, whose parents had both passed and who needed assistance. I moved in to the Hopper house in East Navarro and became involved in Tommy’s care. He has had a very tough life. He calls Kim ‘Mom’ and me ‘Pops,’ even though I am twelve years younger than him.”
By 2001, after all his experiences, Dave knew there had to be a better way. “I needed to get it together but meth is very difficult to quit and to get a grip on cleaning up. I was dabbling in explosive materials — it goes hand-in-hand with the methamphetamines, and I was messing around with detonating pipe bombs. One day I had taken some meth and was therefore not really together when I was messing with some explosives and had them too tight in a vice. It went off and I was blown a few feet away but landed on my feet in a cloud of smoke. I asked the guy next to me if he was OK, and he was. I then looked down and saw that my left hand was gone. It had been blown off and my lower leg had been partially blown away too, leaving a big hole in my leg. I knew to get through this was going to take every ounce of strength and will that I had. They called 911 and I told them we had to start driving to meet the emergency services’ vehicles as every minute would be important given the amount of blood I was losing. We had only gone a mile or so, to the Floodgate Store and post office, and I asked them to pull over, saying ‘I have to get my mail and some groceries.’ It was funny at the time but not to those with me. Not to me either I guess, I thought I was going to die right there and then but made that joke anyway. A helicopter picked me up there soon after and I went to the hospital where they saved my life. Really, I should have had my head blown off and died.”
That was the final wake-up call for Dave. “I simply had to stop or be done forever.” After his recovery, he managed to get a top attorney, David Nelson (now a Judge) who managed to get him a sentence of just eight months in the County Jail from which he moved to the Narconon clinic near to Watsonville.
“It is a very expensive treatment. There are no public meetings, no narcotic anonymous techniques. It is a very interesting program, based on some of the teachings of Ron L. Hubbard, the scientologist. They believe that since childhood we are exposed to all sorts of toxins and chemicals and these, together with the drugs, all have to be removed before recovery can be made. Without this a relapse is always a good possibility. It is a similar philosophy to that of American Indians — you sweat and sweat and sweat. Olive oil and vitamins then replace the fluids. Then the teachings begin and they result in you being totally tuned in with the here and now. Everything seems possible if you can let things go. It is not scientology as such but a specific branch of that philosophy’s teaching. I was there for three months and was cleansed mentally and physically - the pain in my arm was finally released and has never returned. It is an amazing program and although it is very expensive it was the only thing that worked for me and I had tried many options before it. My parents were also very helpful and supportive during that time, as was Kim.”
Dave had no idea what to do next but when he returned to Navarro he found out that his family had bought the Navarro Store and now wanted him to have it and make something of it. The store been closed since 1996 and had deteriorated into decay and virtual collapse. It was condemned and nobody had wanted it. “My folks invested more money into the renovations and my Dad said he wanted Navarro to become a community once again. But that could not happen without a store. I had no idea what I was going to do. I had lost a hand; what job could I do? He told me that he hoped I’d find myself and move forward with my life. The store was all fixed up and we opened in 2002. I clearly owe a lot to my folks, the community, or ‘village’ as my Dad calls it and wanted to see rebuilt here, is slowly coming to fruition.”
Dave had been into putting on parties and events since he was in grade school and now that he had his own venue he decided to go in that direction. He booked a couple of bands to perform in 2007 including the Black Horse Blues Band who played at an event to support the Action Committee to Clean Up Now, an anti-meth group, and now for the last two summers he has had top quality music acts performing live almost every Saturday evening. The second event was a memorial to Arrow Jones, son of David and brother of Stringbean) and they did a bbq along with the music. It was a big hit and the bbq has been a feature of Saturday evenings ever since, along with beer and wine sold through the store. “I always wanted to book bands, I like dealing with that sort of thing. It helps the business although given the acts we get to play here there really should be even bigger crowds. The music has been a success, expensive sure, but we’ve had some great shows here, in the middle of the woods, miles from anywhere!”
The bands used to play in the gravel field alongside the store but before the 2009 season a new grass amphitheatre was put in and a wonderful atmosphere created for some of the bigger acts. In 2010 there will be a few less shows but the quality will be even better.
“Sometimes it felt like one big, long party last year, not what I wanted really. I realized that some people want a smaller crowd and a bbq, which is fine, so I have cut back on the number of gigs this year - mellow evenings work well too. I have a knack for dealing with the bands but I guess I got a little carried away with the community loving it all and did not foresee how much work it would be and how I had created this ‘monster.’ I didn’t take a day off all last year from April 19th until Christmas Day, which I spent with my family, only to return and work the next day. I wanted to make up for the things in my past and decided I would work every day for a year, which I am now well past. It is not good for me but I realize it and will be taking a few days off this summer... The community here is why I am here. I love it and want it to get better. That’s why I do what I do. It’s as simple as that.”
I asked Dave for his brief responses to some of the Valley issues that are often raised.
The Wineries and their impact? “Well they are very important to the Valley’s economy and jobs. There is a lot more money spent here thanks to them. From a small business owner’s perspective, they are certainly a positive thing; we are taxed so much that we’d be closing down if the winery visitors were not here spending money. In terms of water usage then it’s not so good and I don’t think they contribute directly as much to the Valley as they should — to the school etc.”
The AVA? “I love the newspaper and those who are involved in it. A community newspaper is very important and they have really supported us down here in the Deep End.”
The school system? “Well it seems like a wonderful place to go to school. I hope that is appreciated. We need to do a community fund-raiser for the school and get the wineries involved more in that.”
I posed a few questions from a questionnaire on TV’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton” and some I came up with myself.
What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Knowing that I’m now doing the right thing, having not done so for far too long. Doing as much as I can do each day for others and my own self-fulfillment. All this work is not always fun but it often is and it’s what I need, and that’s the way it is.”
What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Taxes. And disrespect of others. There seems to be a lack of consideration for others in the world as a whole these days.”
Sound or noise you love? “People having a good time.”
Sound or noise you hate? “The coffee pot running out early in the morning.”
Favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? “Steak, baked potato, and a salad. I like Chinese food too.”
If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? “Abraham Lincoln.”
If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, with unlimited provisions, what three possessions would you like to have with you? “A family photograph; a radio, and a fishing rod.”
A smell you really like? “Clean air.”
Favorite hobby? ‘Collecting wood. We have some great wood carvings here at the store. Or just learning something new. Or reading a dictionary.”
Profession other than your own you’d like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? Your fantasy job, perhaps? “An astronaut or a fighter pilot.”
Profession you’d not like to do? “Garbage man.”
Happiest day or event in your life? “The day my son was born.”
Saddest? “The days my sister and my grandmother died.”
Favorite thing about yourself, physically, mentally, spiritually? “That I really care about people, animals, and nature in general.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “I have been there twice already, you know. When I flipped over in a pick-up truck and then the bomb explosion. On each occasion I felt I was leaving the Earth; I passed black and blue lights, through stars, and I could look back on life. I could see all those I knew who had passed before me, in spirit form with faces perfectly formed. It was the weirdest and best feeling. I could have gone then but decided to say ‘hi’ and then come back here. I know that they are all there - wherever it is and whatever it was, it is a great place... So to answer you, if he just said ‘Welcome, Dave’, it would mean I am there and it’s all good.”
(To read the stories of other Valley Folk, visit the archives at www.avalleylife.wordpress.com. Next week the guest interviewee from the Valley will be Jim Clow, lifelong Anderson Valley resident.)