A Prison Becomes a Home If You Have the Key

For centuries, residents living in the most inaccessible and remote American communities found the services of United States Postal Service essential to their way of life. Delivering the mail in Big Sur was no mean feat. The first motor drawn mail stage wasn’t purchased until 1923. If the coast road was blocked by winter landslides and flooding and the stage couldn’t get through, the mail had to be delivered on horseback. In the days before a local post office, whoever happened to be coming down the coast would bring the mail with them. Often weeks went by without anyone making the trip. Folks living on the southern part of the coast, in Pacific Valley and Gorda, had to go all the way to Jolon to pick up their mail, staying overnight at the Tidball Hotel. In 1890, the first official post office in Gorda, California, was established in Byron Plaskett’s Continue Reading

Categories: California History.

Seeing the Elephant – The Pfeiffers of Big Sur

Sébastien Pfeiffer was born in Dolving, Moselle, Lorraine, France, in 1794. His wife, Catherine Vetzer was born in Haut-Clocher, Moselle, Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine, in 1795. They married in 1819. Around 1830, Sébastien and Catherine and their five children immigrated to southwestern Illinois. Their son, Michael Sebastian Pfeiffer, was born on September 18, 1832, in St. Clair County, Illinois. According to family legend, as young men, the three Pfeiffer brothers, Michael, Joseph, and Alexander, came west with the Gold Rush and worked in the gold fields of Sierra County, in eastern California at the Nevada border. Joseph and Alexander stayed in California, but Michael Pfeiffer returned to Illinois, where he married sixteen-year-old, Barbara Laquet on April 14, 1859. She was born in Givrycourt, France, and had immigrated to southwestern Illinois in the 1840s, with her parents, Christophe Laquet and Marie Bonicho. In 1858, entrepreneur named John Butterfield was awarded the $600,000 a year Continue Reading

Categories: California History.

The Hermit of the Little Sur

Uncle Al Clark, the Hermit of the Little Sur, once killed a grizzly bear with a single shot, fought in the Civil War, and discovered the fabled Silver King Mine of Pico Blanco. Growing up on the Monterey Peninsula, I read these all-too-brief accounts of his fascinating exploits – all of which seemed too fantastic to be true. Al Clark, who died back in 1932, has passed into legend and is mostly forgotten today. However his remarkable story deserves its own chapter in the annals of Big Sur folklore.                                       *                    *                    * Alfred King Clark was born in the county of Middlesex, England, on February 21, 1848, and baptized at the Parish of Old Continue Reading

Categories: California History.

The Old Man of the Sea – Remembering Jud Vandevere

After the First World War, the Big Sur area was as sparsely populated as it had been in the 1870s, before the industrial boom brought hundreds of lumberjacks, millworkers, lime kiln workers, and miners into the Santa Lucia Mountains. Abandoned mine shafts, broken boat landings, rotting lime barrels, and crumbling cabins were now part of the landscape. Bixby Landing was deserted: the three-mile aerial tramway that once transported lime down to the canyon was in ruins. Not far from the crumbling lime kiln were the disintegrating shacks where hundreds of immigrant workers had once made their homes – the Italian village on one side of the creek and the Japanese village on the opposite side ­– the decaying walls of their cabins papered with the yellowed pages of Japanese-language newspapers. At the end of the 19th century, the Ventana Power Company operated a sawmill near John Pfeiffer’s homestead (present-day Pfeiffer Continue Reading

Categories: California History.

Missing the Train – Chapter Twenty-One

I had very few offers for work in 1994. My phone had just stopped ringing. After a decade of steady freelance work, now months went by between jobs. I wondered what I was doing wrong. While I was home waiting for the phone to ring, I got an offer for a five-week job as the first assistant director on a 16mm shoot for a new computer game called, The Last Express, being produced by Smoking Car Productions in San Francisco. I was wholly unfamiliar with computer games. I had never played one. Although the job paid less than half my usual rate, aspects of this project intrigued me. After years spent making thirty-second TV commercials, this was a very different assignment. The Last Express was the brainchild on a fellow named Jordan Mechner. He’d made his name in computer games by filming his brother and rotoscoping the images to produce Continue Reading

Categories: I Am the Light, He is the Shadow.

Icarus – Chapter Twenty

Once upon a time I found myself on a shoot for the southern Californian restaurant chain, the Hamburger Hamlet. The commercial featured four very successful corporate executives, each of whom had two or three sentences that they had to deliver in front of the camera. One of the executives – a man of about fifty in an Italian tailored suit, was a vice-president at the Disney Corporation. He was, no doubt, a successful and accomplished corporate jet-setter – clearly at home in the executive board room. But on the soundstage, he was a fish out of water. He could not, for the life of him, deliver one useable take. The pressure of being before the cameras, under the bright lights, surrounded by bored grips and electricians dressed in t-shirts, Levi’s and work boots, put him out of his comfort zone. He could neither read the teleprompter nor remember his lines. Continue Reading

Categories: I Am the Light, He is the Shadow.

Progress – Chapter Nineteen

It’s hard to walk away from your dreams. I haven’t worked in the film industry for decades. It wasn’t easy leaving it all behind. In an effort to get on with my life, I deleted the names and phone numbers of hundreds of beloved crew members from my rolodex. Ironically, I still remember quite a few of them. Ultimately, I burned the many call sheets I had carefully preserved to document my work experience – saved for the day when I would apply for membership in the Director’s Guild of America. That day never came. Thanks to so-called social media, I’ve reunited with a bunch of beloved former co-workers and crew members, many of whom I haven’t seen in ages. I had the pleasure of working in the industry back when we still served the crew an excellent hot lunch on china plates with cloth napkins. We paid people their union Continue Reading

Categories: I Am the Light, He is the Shadow.