After hitting an unavoidable 2 ft. deep pothole I heard, “POP, POP, POW! Whoosh!” Up came the flames from beneath the hood as I scrambled to gather my laptop, purse and pile of paperwork -jarred by another bumpy ride. Luckily I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt, for the purpose of swiftly escaping to safety. As I waited for the flames to dye and smoke to clear from the tin-can loaner truck I found myself in that day. I thought, while the fire is a twist, this was the fourth time I found myself on the side of Salmon Creek Rd. in 5 attempts, in 3 different vehicles. The obvious cause- there are endless potholes, some so deep they display homemade signs appropriately navigating people to China through them, for you literally cannot see the bottom.
(Signs from Costa Rica etc. show this is not a new idea)
Breaking down in Southern Humboldt for many, is a death sentence. Beyond the obvious inconveniences, So Hum is a special sort of dysfunctional, especially for those without roots in the area. There are no consistent tow companies (that work with AAA) who venture very deep down private roads. All while there are constant threats of “Car-BQS” if you leave any vehicle anywhere overnight. Im not even going to mention the vigilantees.
It is a minimum 3-week wait to see any mechanic within a 60-mile radius, many requiring 50% cash upfront. Beyond 60 miles- the other two mechanics shops I also use-both burnt to the ground within in a year- I couldn’t make this shit up (McGees and Redwood Auto). The public transportation is laughable, taking you nowhere typical workers need to go. The few walkways between the sister towns of Redway and Garberville CA are scenes mirroring those only stunt-doubles might dare cross, while grow-dozers swerve by drunkenly going over 55 mph. These pedestrian pathways, some less than a foot wide, overlook sharp 200 ft. cliffs; so dangerous people get hit, pushed, thrown over, and fall to their death regularly. We are up to number 3 just this year at the cliff, in addition to 2 pedestrians hit and killed earlier in the year only about 200 yards down the road, in addition to one bicyclist hit who survived on redwood drive in early October. These figures would be startling in downtown LA for Hotel Cecil even, but this has happened in a very small town and approximately 1 mile radius. That is without even mentioning the MANY more pedestrians hit and killed In Eureka and Northern Humboldt, where just a few days ago a horse and rider were struck and killed near Hoopa. Or the bodies found in the rivers seemingly every week.
Welcome to So Hum; if your pockets are deep, you may be able to stay a while! Most items from food to toiletries to hotels and restaurants include a hefty grower tax of 200% more than average cost for typically cisco/monsanto quality. Be aware if you happen to stay – with the property values and cost of living, the economy demands you move into cannabiz just to survive, but do not fool yourselves the days of making a livable wage have been in decline for 5 years and were officially over for most last year.
My clutch had to be replaced for the second time this year, I got the truck back late August, and it broke again 2 days later. I had to wait 6 weeks for the mechanic to start the work, after pre-paying $1k for a $2000 head gasket etc. That’s a grand total of 2 days use of my truck in the past over 80 days. My boss called to tell them I was about to loose my job over the truck and they didn’t budge and inch. How do we continue to accept these road conditions juxtaposed by our government’s inability to take responsibility for them and the devastation they cause people? Isn’t that their job?
This story I share is not rare, it is the norm; the wholly inadequate roads from Sprawl to Alder, Salmon Creek, Mattole-Honeydew and beyond regularly cripple workers. Some longtime community members have the luxury of second cars, however many elderly, newcomers, internationals, and the poor do not have this option. Often they are but one breakdown away from a life crippling domino effect. This occurrence is also not new era-wise, ask around and you’ll find many members of Southern Humboldt began living here because they broke down and it took so long to leave, they just fell in love with the place while waiting.
While the cost to me is unquantifiable, applied to a large group the loss to our local economy is catastrophic. I alone no longer buy coffee at the cafes ($4), and either breakfast ($30), lunch ($40), or dinner ($50+) almost every other day. I carpool to shop at the friendly coop in Northern Humboldt and at Shop Smart if I must once every couple weeks ($80), instead of whenever I can afford to get the munchies ($100 2-3xs weekly). Without a way to work, I naturally have less to contribute monetarily, and my non-profit volunteer roles have diminished as well. At least I am minimizing my contribution to gas companies, climate change and Measure Z funds used to fuel the criminalization in justice institution, there with a ticket every time our headlights jiggles loose from all these pot holes.
Registration fees are supposed to be my contribution to keeping approximately 1200 miles of public roads safe. NOT in a state of total emergency as we see today per Gov. Jerry Brown. This declared emergency has been in effect in Humboldt starting January 3, 2017 and is estimated to cost $20 million to the state alone. The private roads, approximately 5xs more miles than we have public, are much worse and have cost the community enormous amounts.
The salt in wound is that many of the private roads we use, were made by logging companies, of which our elders stood up against to protect these very forests from. The same roads they were staunchly against, their predecessors are being asked to repair with fleeting pound prices, diminished budgets, legalization costs and added road expenses, and taxes on top? All while county budget is entirely bloated post prop 64 and in total denial of this misappropriation of funds? Yes the irony is steep. But what did we expect doing business with undoubtedly the worst middleman in the history of middlemen – “the man”?
A black chopper whips over my head, as I walk back to the cabin from likely volunteer-watering all day TBD. I consider my over $3000 debt to the Mechanic over 80 days of being immobile, a fix-it ticket and registration due, on top of my boss entertaining the idea of my somehow squeezing out $8k of his tax bill for the year, questioning the point of paying taxes if I have to pay so much for the roads already? And I wonder what people do on in my position who work minimum-wage jobs? What about those who have families to support and children to get to school?
On my way back from work, the road workers finally started repairs to my road, thanks Humboldt County, as usual way too little and far too late. I guess there is always another summer next year. The government will work for us only when we demand it, and until we stand up together we will individually get screwed as the man siphons off everything we value and represent. I came here because I heard this community cultivated; unity, inclusiveness, love, peace, anti-establishment/war sentiments and pro- living sustainably. I say its time we revisit our roots.
If you have significant damage in car repairs from the past year and want justice, and/or are unsettled that the county is tasking you with thousands or even millions in private logging road repairs to continue on the “legalization” path you now possibly feel duped into, or perhaps you spent money and time fixing your road on your own contact firstname.lastname@example.org to explore participating in an empowering community action.