Let there be light…

The dark days are gone from the once dimly lit and vaguely foreboding Suisun City waterfront.

The fabled city-by-the-slough now has a lighthouse, an amenity that Suisun City founder Capt. Josiah Wing could only dream about 150 years ago as he helplessly watched lumbering sorghum barges go off course in the darkness and repeatedly slam into waterfront thirst emporiums and mercantile establishments.

(Hence the former nickname of the downtown channel – “Pinball Slough.”)

Today, thanks to a farsighted city council and several soggy citizens who got tired of walking out of Suisun saloons and waking up in San Pablo, a 52-foot beacon now sweeps the treacherous shore.

Think about it, not even San Jose has its own lighthouse. Ditto for Fresno and Barstow …

Ah, how well I remember peering into the darkness from my old Cedar Street apartment as wind and rain whipped the narrow channel and storm-tossed whaling ships were battered to kindling on the rocks before they could safely tie up at the old Sheldon Oil docks.

Every time a marshland maelstrom would roar across the channel in the dark of night, we’d have to put down our drinks, don our slickers and rush to the shore to save a pitifully few survivors, groping frantically in the dark only to find that we’d actually rescued an ill-tempered sturgeon or, perhaps, a wayward city councilman on a waterlogged jet ski.

(Whaddya mean “That’s ridiculous!”? I was there, amigo, and I can tell you it was hell on earth…)

What we would have given for a towering lighthouse when a really big storm – known by old timers as a Soosooon Typhooon – left us at the mercy of the dark and the wind-whipped waters.The lighthouse also is likely to take big bite out of crime along the once notorious waterfront.

I’d venture to say that Suisun City will have considerably fewer pirate problems now that the powerful beam of its new lighthouse is sweeping the channel.

In the old days, when darkness fell on the waterfront like a curtain, all we’d hear of a lightning-like pirate raid would be a few “Arrrr, mateys…” and then the pitiful screams of our women being carried off to San Pablo.

A few wags may opine that the aforementioned womenfolk were actually cheering the pirates on, but in all that darkness, who could tell?

At any rate, you can bet Suisun City Police Chief Ron Forsythe will be spending a lot less of his time knee-deep in the slough holding off waves of blood-thirsty buccaneers with his trusty Walther and rusty cutlass.

Yes, Suisun City’s new lighthouse is what we in the world of municipal boosterism cheerfully refer to as a win-win situation.

Who knows? Maybe even the whaling ships will be docking there again soon, and it just doesn’t get any better than that, amigos…

Originally published July 9, 2006

Neighborliness can be dangerous

The newspaper recently endorsed old-fashioned block parties as a great way to promote neighborhood safety and togetherness.

These informal gatherings, such as the increasingly popular “National Night Out” observance, allow neighbors to get to know each other, share new ideas and strange casserole recipes while presenting a strong, united front against crime, chaos and itinerant religious zealots.

On the surface, this all seems like a genuine example of the much-touted win-win situation – have a good time, make new friends and scare undesirables away with the aforementioned casseroles.

Unfortunately, I can’t quite share my newspaper’s enthusiasm for these neighborhood get-togethers.

For reasons I have yet to fully ascertain, it seems like every block party I’ve ever been foolish enough to attend has evolved into what international peacekeeping forces usually refer to as an “incident.”

(“Incidents,” it should be noted, customarily involve clouds of oily, black smoke, people screaming in Urdu, lots of overturned vehicles and, er, really bad casseroles.)

Whenever somebody mentions throwing a block party, my mind is drawn back to a once quiet street in San Jose where a trio of counterculture commandos known to regional law enforcement agencies as “Those damn King boys!” used to mark the end of each work week with 48 hours of neighborhood trauma.

The three brothers – Larry, Reb and Goose – lived in an old Southern Pacific railroad shack across from the Baptist church on Sunnyside Drive and they believed in sharing the good times whenever they decided to celebrate.

A typical block party weekend would begin about 7 a.m. on Saturday with the brothers’ three German shepherds – Sam, Zeke and Lookey Lou – enthusiastically pursuing a large, unidentified rodent through a half-acre of discarded malt liquor cans left over from Friday night. The barking dogs would eventually awaken the three hungover brothers, who would proceed to wake up the rest of the sleepy suburban neighborhood by repeatedly bellowing “Shaaaaaaddup!” at the frisky canines.

Once the boys were on their feet – about 4 p.m. – a block party liquor store caravan would be organized and, a short time later, the barbecue fires would be lit. The latter activity traditionally involved large quantities of gasoline, a blow torch, lots of cursing and a Hungarian guy named Tibor repeatedly falling out of a tree in the front yard. Sam, Zeke and Lookey Lou would gleefully abscond with whatever had been tossed on the barbecue grill while the King Boys painstakingly orchestrated another liquor store mission.

By 8 p.m., we could count on the beginning of the neighborhood block party argument.

Predictably, the King brothers would return from the liquor store, find the barbecue grill bare and blame Tibor for eating all the food – despite the ribs and drumsticks protruding from the German shepherds’ mouths. Tibor would begin shouting in Hungarian and everyone would wind up throwing punches and rolling around on the steps of the Baptist church.

By midnight, the neighborhood block party would have become the focus of a valuable lesson in community law enforcement from the Police Department and another warm, educational neighborhood get-together would have drawn to a close.

Until, like, Sunday…

Originally published August 26, 2001