Lives & Times of Valley Folks: Mike Reeves
by Steve Sparks, September 29, 2010
I met with Mike at his home on Lambert Lane in Boonville last week and we each enjoyed a strong cup of good coffee as we sat down to chat.
Mike was born in 1950 in the Children’s Hospital in San Francisco to parents who were both native San Franciscans – Ed Reeves and Irene Johansen. On the Reeves’ side of the family, Mike’s grandfather had arrived at Ellis Island in 1921from Berlin, where he had moved to from the town of Szatmar in Transylvania in what is now the Hungarian/Romanian region of Eastern Europe. Their original name was Revesz. Grandfather Ludwig Reeves caught the train to S.F. where his Uncle Lucien had a furrier shop on Mission Street. Mike’s paternal grandmother, Blanca Wallerstein was from Aranyos also in Transylvania. On his mother’s side, Grandfather Rangval Johansen’s family were of Norwegian descent and they had been in the States since the early twenties, also settling in S.F., where Rangval met Mike’s maternal grandmother, Pauline Malinowski, whose family had arrived in the country in 1907 from Tahiti where Mike still has many relatives to this day. “Grandfather Johansen was a longshoreman on the bay and he was involved in the famous strike there in 1938. Apparently he was quite a character.”
Mike is the oldest of four children and he has three younger sisters – Debbie, Donna, and Laura. “I was a bit of a terror with them sometimes, chasing them with jars of bees, especially Debbie, the oldest. We grew up in San Mateo, south of San Francisco, and I attended St. Matthews Catholic Elementary School – where Merv Griffin went! I was an outdoors kid and from the age of seven would fish on the Bay at Coyote Point that was near to a huge open space that is now Foster City. I would also shoot rats with my .22 rifle. At school I was often in trouble with the nuns. I had a very hard time with them and received lots of physical abuse and corporal punishment. I later went to Serra High School where the priests were just as bad if not worse, and ten years after I left there was an abuse scandal there that made the news. I was often involved in minor mischief and pranks such as food fights etc, but I wasn’t a bad kid – that kind of mischievous stuff helped me deal with the unbelievable drudgery that school seemed to offer me most of the time.”
Although he was raised Catholic and the family would attend mass on Sundays, Mike was not religious and by his sophomore year in high school he had stopped going. “My family really only went for the ‘8th Sacrament.’ ‘Bingo at the church on Friday evenings’! I was pretty outgoing as a teenager and had always played lots of sport – Pee Wee football and little league baseball, and later wrestling. Then, when I was about fifteen, I not only stopped going to the church but I also quit sports. I was at this all-boys school and I now discovered girls. I gave up on the smelly locker rooms and started dating girls. I still got my studying at school done though and was on the honor roll for my final three years at high school. I enjoyed history and the sciences and maintained a B average before graduating in 1968, although they only let me graduate when I had cut my hair, shaved my sideburns and moustache, and went one more time to confession!”
In the summer of 1966 Mike and John Loomis, a best friend from school since 1959, had hitchhiked all over the western United States, working on farms to supplement their trip, sleeping in barns and garages, and earning the minimum wage at the time, $1.25 hr. “The people we worked for fed us like kings though, especially the Mormons in Idaho. We were only sixteen or so but my parents were not strict on things like that and didn’t mind us going. Besides, times were different then and it was not regarded as too dangerous like it would be now. The following summer I worked at an A&W store and saved enough money to buy myself a motorbike. I had always worked various jobs during the school holidays – stocking shelves in a liquor store, a busboy and dishwasher at a restaurant, where I got to join the Culinary Workers Union, and then in the summer after graduating I started for the City of San Mateo in the civil engineering department as a pipe survey worker. I had always been encouraged to support myself by my parents and they encouraged any kind of independence shown by me. However, when I refused to cut my hair at the age of seventeen, they threw me out of the house!”
Mike lived in a house in San Mateo with friends and for the next two years attended the College of San Mateo before transferring to UC Berkeley in the fall of 1970 where his major was Agricultural Science but he only stayed there for one quarter. “I had met Arlene Botham in my chemistry class at CSM and we were married in 1970, despite the fact that her parents thought I was a bad ‘catch’. I got a job for a time working on the oil slick that was out on Stinson beach in Marin and had $3000 saved up. We decided we wanted to travel while we could, before raising a family and careers took over. So in 1971 we went to Europe on our ‘honeymoon,’ backpacking for nine months on what turned out to be a mind-blowing experience. We hitched everywhere and paid $2 a night for hotels. I am still in contact with some of the friends I made back then. However, Arlene got pregnant and we came back to the Bay Area. We couldn’t find anything affordable to rent so we bought a Dodge pick-up for $400 and headed north.”
Back in 1969 Mike had camped for a couple of weeks at the 4.85 mile marker of Highway 128 on the Navarro River north of Anderson Valley and, so having experienced the rural regions of western Europe, he and Arlene now thought they wanted to be part of the back-to-the-land movement of the late 60s and early 70s. “We drove through the Valley on October 8th, 1971 and spent the night out on the coast in Albion. The next day we drove back through and stopped at the T.J. Nelson Realty office. I still had money left from our European trip as we had only spent about $1000 of my savings from the oil spill over there because I’d worked in Germany in construction for a time. We found a rental on Lambert Lane and moved in for $135 a month with Steve Tylicki and his wife Clarissa as our neighbors. Another neighbor was Alvin Ingram who was always giving us good advice. That first Christmas was really hard. I had no job, little food, and it rained really heavily – we got between sixty and seventy inches that winter. I scrounged firewood on the river but our house was very cold still. It was miserable. One bright thing was that we received an anonymous Xmas card with $100 inside it – a lot of money back then. We never did find out who that was from but it told us a lot about the new community we had joined here in the Valley.”
As for the continuing war in Vietnam, Mike had received a 2S deferment but by 1972 he was now assigned 1A. “I just hoped they didn’t call me up. I would not have gone anyway and probably would have gone to Canada. By that time they were getting a 50 % refusal rate and I was strongly against the war... Unless you did logging or worked at the Clearwater Ranch School for disturbed kids, there was not much work around here but I gradually found some jobs. My first job was for Willis Tucker splitting wood, and then I earned $2 hr for hard labor in the apple orchards for Lucille Hotel, and I also became a handyman for various elderly folks such as Iva Richmond, Stella Croft, and Grace Whiting... I had lot to learn about country life and I remember trying to plant a garden in October with old-timer Phoecian McGimpsey watching me and chuckling to himself. The only people I got to know in the early days who were similar to me in being ‘new-age types’ were Mike Shapiro and Doug Johnson.
However, I was generally welcomed by the locals, particularly Berna Walker, who worked at the Post Office in Boonville was always very nice to me. Our son Sean was born in April 1972 in Ukiah and at that point my mother-in-law and I patched up our differences to some degree. She never did like me though – I was olive-skinned, had no money, had long hair; not at all like the doctor or lawyer she was hoping her daughter would marry. I was just a hippy with no prospects.”
As an unskilled laborer, Mike began working for John Burroughs Construction at $3 hr. “I wanted to work. I enjoyed working. I had been floating around looking for a career and by default I found myself in construction but during one winter, when there was no construction work, I did tree planting for Masonite. I did odd jobs for Bob Mathias, including moving his azaleas on to his property, and was a general handyman helping whoever needed it, and in later years I would go mushrooming with Bob ‘Chipmunk’ Glover. I also started to get politically active and with the likes of Brad Wiley and Steve Tylicki, I was on the protests to stop P.G.& E from putting in a nuclear power plant in Point Arena. The AVA publisher and editor, Homer Mannix, was away at the time and we put a story about the damage such a place would cause on the front page of his newspaper. He did not like that and it caused some controversy but in the end the fact that it was on an earthquake fault line put a stop to it anyway... It was during those days that I also became fanatical about my fishing and would often go out for abalone with Harold Hulbert.”
Having rented for five years, by 1976 Mike had saved enough money to buy the property on Lambert Lane and purchased the 1½ acres with two houses on it for $24,000. This gave him some rental income and he was able to pay it off in four years, with Kay Clow generously waiving the pre-payment penalty... He began his organic garden around then – one of the first of its kind at the time, initially working with Steve Tylicki and using fertilizer they got from Ernie Waggoner and Bill West who were fairground employees... With his five years of experience he was able to join the Carpenters’ Union in 1978 as a journeyman and began to earn $13.67 hr plus benefits, up from $5.50 hr as he worked at the Elementary School, on bridges, at hospitals but Mike was never year-round and had no retirement benefits other than an annuity on the house.
He continued his political activism into the early eighties and in 1981 joined the Abalone Alliance, forming the Anderson Valley branch specifically to stop the nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon. “I was at the protest and was arrested and put in jail for three days for ‘failing to disperse’. That was o.k. – Jackson Browne was also arrested on the third day and played for us with a guitar that the guards had brought in for him. I was also at the big protest at Livermore in 1983 where they were developing weapons of mass destruction. I was a real idealist at the time and was in jail for ten days on that occasion, initially going on a five-day hunger strike. That was a big protest and people such as Daniel Ellsberg and Wavey Gravy showed up and we were all kept in a big circus tent and had lectures and talent contests. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court and then they did not hear our case. I was busted for trespassing – just for singing songs and sitting in the street.”
Throughout the 80s Mike continued to work in construction, primarily for John Burroughs. He bought more property in 1981 and then again in 1987, putting rental houses on both. In his leisure time fishing completely dominated his time as he fished on a boat called ‘The Miss Demeanor’ out of Albion that was owned by Ken Oswald, with friend Wally Hopkins also on board. “We’d catch salmon, tuna, rockfish and there were few rules and regulations like there are now. By 1997, we had another boat, a former commercial fishing trawler out of Ft. Bragg – ‘The Jeanine’ and we’d go after crab as well as fish. Those days were very special, an unrepeatable, once-in-a-lifetime experience and fishing had become an all-encompassing hobby for me.”
That fishing obsession played a big part in the break-up of his marriage to Arlene. “We parted ways after 27 years in 1997, getting divorced in 1999. My fishing was certainly to blame to some degree – I was obsessed and it took up all of my time when not working. Arlene was a very dedicated teacher at the elementary school; a very serious teacher and she would often be stressed out. Our relationship was just not working anymore. She threw Sean out of the house when he was seventeen and he had to move to Ukiah and go to the high school there for his last two years. He had attended the high school here and had some great friends – Ben Anderson, Jason Paige, Guy Gephardt. They were known as The Tunnel Rats as they used to follow the culvert at Robinson Creek that ran from the school into Boonville, scaring people from the storm drains beneath the street. This was a great place to raise a kid. Sean went on to U.C. Santa Cruz, then got his MBA at Pepperdine in southern California, and now works for Charles Schwab in Santa Ana down there.”
The recession slowed things down in the construction business but Mike continued to get about 75% of his work with John Burroughs’s construction company, mainly building house in the Valley, although he has often found himself working beyond, including jobs at Outlook Creek Bridge in Willits and in Ukiah at the Adventist Hospital, the cafeteria at Mendocino College, and J.C. Penny’s department store. “They were all union jobs and I have always been well-paid by John, and when not working in construction my garden has also kept me busy for years and years.”
Mike is not into joining organizations, although he is a member of The Grange, and has not directly been involved in many community fund-raising events, preferring to help people on a more personal, one-to-one basis, such as Mike Langley in recent times. “I have been very fortunate to have had a full-life so far and being here in Anderson Valley has greatly helped in achieving that. I read Maurice Tindall’s book, ‘Down to Earth’ which captured the essence of this Valley’s history and that has inspired me over the years. In 1979 I had briefly met Sheila Morgan at a funeral for the boyfriend of a friend of mine, Linda Newton. She had gone to Hillsdale High down in San Mateo and was a friend of Linda’s. Linda then moved to the Valley and Sheila had visited her here many times over the years but we had never really met. However, in 2002 we formally met for the first time and hit it off right away. She was living in Markleeville in Alpine County, California’s least populated county, about 250 miles away, so we dated long distance for about a year before she retired from her librarian job there and moved here in June of 2003... Speaking of friends that moved here who we’d known down in San Mateo, I must mention Wayne Ahrens and his sister Patty. I think they both went to Hillsdale too, and it was Wayne who had taught me how to surf.”
“I love the relative peace and quiet of the Valley, and watching the seasons change. Being close to the ocean has meant that living here has been the source of real adventure for me. I still go out on the ocean and have seen many wonderful things there – the dolphins’ migration, the albatross swooping, literally thousands of tune jumping, and that’s no bull either... I’ve caught some pretty good ones – a 48-pound salmon and a 42-pound tuna, are the biggest. It’s all been great – even dealing with my nemesis – Bull Rock in Albion – now that has given me some scary times.”
“What I don’t like is that the amount of trash here is getting worse. Plus, people do not have as much respect for others that they used to have, although that is a problem everywhere. It’s also a lot noisier these days, and there are far more bad drivers – too many of them on the phone. The amount of racism here is getting less though, thankfully. I remember it was still legal in Ukiah as late as 1971 to have segregation in the movie house where the upstairs was for the Indians – they could not sit downstairs. I got into a confrontation about that with the manager over there.”
I asked Mike for his opinions on a few Valley issues.
The wineries and their impact? “Well they are better than sub-divisions and have provided a lot of work for me personally. Overall I think they have been beneficial to the Valley and it was not until this last few years that the fishing was really affected. A lot of damage had already been done by then, by road building, logging, and the resulting silting of the spawning grounds. I have been told that there were so many salmon in Con Creek in the fifties that you could walk across the water and I can tell you that I caught a nine-pound steelhead on Lambert Lane creek in the seventies.”
The AVA? “I like the leftist perspective but it does get a little gossipy at times. I used to subscribe,”
KZYX radio? “I don’t listen to it. There is too much talking by self-anointed experts.”
The school system? “I think it is somewhere between good and excellent. There are lots of people working really hard there and we should not be too critical of teachers. They deserve their summers off in order to maintain their sanity. The school is one of the best things about the Valley in my opinion.”.
Drugs in the Valley? “Well obviously I hate meth, and cocaine too, which rarely gets talked about here but is around a lot, I think. As for marijuana, it should be legal and I am all for Proposition 19 in the upcoming vote. We should not have prohibition on alcohol or weed.”
Changes in the Valley? “Overall I think they have been positive. There was nothing here when I arrived, it was very depressed and the renaissance in recent times has been for the better.”
I posed a few questions from a questionnaire featured on television’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? “Sitting under the stars at night in my hot tub... Or being out on blue water a couple of times a month, although in eight trips this year on the ocean we have caught just four salmon.”
What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Right wing politicians and evangelical religious fanatics being pushed on me really bums me out. I can’t stand Fox News or those phony preachers on television.”
What sound or noise do you love? “A quail talking; birds singing and calling in general.”
What sound or noise do you hate? “Boom boxes playing on the street so loud that the house shakes inside.”
What is your favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? “Crab Louie that I have caught at 10-mile with Harold Hulbert, John Burroughs, and Jed Adams.”
If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? “President Kennedy – a man I always admired. His brother Robert, too – it was certainly a low point in this country’s history when he died. A lot of us were hoping he’d stop the war. I couldn’t even vote and they could send me to war! It’s always struck me as strange that there hasn’t been any interview with his assassin, Sirhan Sirhan?”
If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, but with unlimited provisions, what three possessions would you like to have with you? “My fishing pole, a couple of family photo albums, and my guitar.”
Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? “Well I have always admired the film ‘2001- Space Odyssey’ – a new style of film when it came out... As for a song, how about ‘Stairway to Heaven’ by Led Zeppelin? And a book would certainly be the one I mentioned earlier by Maurice Tindall.”
What is a smell you really like? “The salt air.”
What is your favorite hobby? “Fishing and panning or prospecting for gold and minerals.”
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? Your fantasy job, perhaps? “An oceanographer.”
What profession would you not like to do? “Working in an office under lights, wearing a suit – utter torture.”
What was the happiest day or event in your life? “When my son was born – 6am, April 23rd, 1972.”
What was the saddest day or period of your life? “When my Mom passed away at the age of 62 in January 1987.”
What is your favorite thing about yourself, physically, mentally, spiritually? “That I am very tenacious and will stick with whatever needs to be done. I don’t give up easily and will pursue my goal through hardship or whatever.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “Well if he were to say’ Welcome Mike – there is sex here in heaven even though those nuns said there wasn’t!’ that would do me. A buddy of mine always said he wanted to go to hell because that’s where all the loose women were.” ¥¥
(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 beThe Valley’s 2nd oldest resident, Harold Perry.)