When I was in college, I took a geology class (to meet a minimum requirement) that happened to have a field trip to a large, local park that had a very demonstrable landslide area. We traipsed around the area seeing what had once been a neighborhood road that was now buckled and jumbled, completely impassable without scrambling up and down the rocks. Our professor explained that there had actually been several homes along this street when he started the field trips, but over the years, the houses slowly slipped over the horizon and into the gullies below.
I returned home and told my Dad about this and asked if he had heard about it. My Dad worked for thirty years for the City. Not San Francisco, mind you, but for a nearby city with slogans like, “Small Town Heart. Big City Soul,” and “We are growing up.” If anyone recognizes either of these slogans, let me know if you remember any more. I’ll update this blog entry. Our city has had a gaggle of ridiculous slogans and mottos. Tax money well spent.
Back to the landslide area. My Dad said, “Oh, of course. That had all been county land and a big developer kept trying to get permits to build homes there, but it was deemed a landslide area and unsafe to build homes. So the developer was able to arrange for the City to annex the land, contract for a geologist to report that the area ‘wasn’t that bad’ and sign off that homes could be built, and approved the permits.” Tah-dah! At that point, I knew the story that homeowners almost immediately noticed problems with the homes. “Within a few years, the developer had disappeared and couldn’t be held accountable, so the homeowners sued the City, who was forced to purchase all the homes back and add the land to the existing park that had been situated below the homes.” Millions, nay dozens of millions of dollars, back in the 70s, when that amount of money meant something.
That was when I realized that my Dad had some serious, scandalous stories. I began to listen. Some were very simple stories, like the ones about his time in the Navy; how he chose the Navy because as he was concerned about being drafted into the Korean War, a local veteran told him that the Navy provided a lot more comfort than the other branches. My Dad told me that he joined the Navy, ultimately, because he could get real butter there. And during basic training, he remembered after the day’s training, doing laundry and hanging it out to dry near the river. All while at the Marine base on the other side of the river, Marines were marching, chest deep in the river, holding their rifles over their heads. My Dad said that he and his shipmates held their beers high so that the Marines could see that they were drinking in their honor. There was also the time his ship was docked in Okinawa and he and his shipmates had to cross through the Air Force base to go to town. He said that when they returned to the base, all drunk and unruly, they called the Air Police officers at the gate, “bus drivers” due to their plain uniforms and hats. They would then be beaten with police batons and thrown into the back of a pickup truck and dumped out in front of their ship. It was very nice of those Air Force guys to give them a ride like that. Or when the ship he was on would perform big gun target practice on a banner attached to a seaplane as it flew by. The seaplane would drop the target when they were done and the sailors would use a grappling hook to pull it out of the water. The only holes in it were from the grappling hook. Thank God they never actually went to Korea. But sometimes the stories were more sad, like when he spent his last six months in the Navy at Treasure Island, processing out sailors who were being discharged for being gay.
After the Navy, he was hired by the City and worked in what would now be the IT department, back then, it was Data Processing. And the City had scandals. Like the time an accountant assured the Finance department that a particular broker was the way to go with city investments. Unfortunately, it seems like the brokerage should have been named Fast Buck Financial with the slogan “We’ll Invest Your Money til It’s Gone.” The City lost a significant amount of money. And then there was the guy responsible for managing all the money from the parking meters; he had the collectors drop off the money in his office, where he had a safe and he would reconcile the money and deposit it into the bank. His mistake was taking a vacation. When he was gone, the parking meter collections were three times higher than they were when he was working. His next vacation was likely county jail or just the unemployment line if he was lucky. And the guy that worked for the police department property unit. He was supposed to be auctioning off bicycles, but he was pocketing the money instead.
There were also the small corruptions that must have been commonplace during that time period. When my Dad went to his boss, explaining that one of his best employees was going to the City of Santa Cruz, because they paid better, the boss told my Dad to add 10 hours of overtime to the employee’s timesheet each week. Not assign him overtime, just write it on his timesheet. Or the obsolete discriminations, like when he worked with a data processing employee from the police department. My Dad complimented him to his boss and asked why this particular employee wasn’t a supervisor? The police department manager simply said, “He’s not tall enough to be a supervisor.” My Dad didn’t know what to do with that information so he ended his questioning. It wasn’t until later that someone explained to him that all supervisors at the police department were police officers, themselves. And there was a height requirement back then.
But one of my favorite stories had to do with when he started dating my mother. My Dad said that when he met my Mom, she was also dating a young, City, police motorcycle officer. The officer, Bill Danforth, had broken his leg and so every time my Dad saw him, Dad called him “Gimpy.” Ultimately, my Mom stopped dating Danforth and started dating my Dad. I had heard this story at some point into my 20s, probably early on in my own law enforcement career in the University police, a separate agency from the City police.
But about ten to twelve years later, I was riding a bicycle on patrol when I heard that there was a house on fire about three blocks off campus. Since the call had just gone out, I rode over there to see if I could help. I saw an older City police lieutenant giving instructions to officers and coordinating with the fire department. I rode up to him and told him I was the Watch Commander at the University and if they needed assistance, I could direct some of my staff their way. The lieutenant said that they were good but thanked me for stopping by. As I started to leave, I glanced down at his name tag. W Danforth.
And you know what happened. I didn’t mean to do it. Not out loud at least, but out loud it came.
He looked at me, then at my name tag. He smiled a little, just the tips of the corners of his mouth rising as he lifted his eyes to make contact with mine.
“Tell your Dad, he’s an asshole.” And then the smile was full. I smiled back and we went our separate ways.
Anyway, Happy Father’s Day, Dad.