Just a bit tipsy when I left the Cannery Row bar, the hour was Ten PM, and I knew there were business calls to be made in Monterey the next day just as there was with this day ending. I walked down the lighted street until I came to the alleyway where I earlier parked my car. It was a short alleyway from the main street into a relatively small unlighted parking lot between a cluster of tall brick buildings.
The thought did occur to me that I could be an easy prey in this special part of the California I once knew. Maybe it was more than a thought. Perhaps it was a premonition.
John Steinbeck made this little piece of the world famous with his book, Cannery Row, in 1945, a story set during the Great Depression about the ‘earthy’ people of the author’s memory going back to 1930 of the men and women who lived bawdy lives, drank, and died. 1945 was the year the ‘seiners’ brought in 250,000 tons of sardines, the final year of such heavy yield. The following year was 25,000 tons of sardines. Despite the warnings from marine biologists, the sardine cannery and sardines would be seined out of existence.
Back to my woeful tale, I stepped from the alley into a parking area of pitch-black darkness. My tie was loose around my neck and my white shirt was slipping out of my trousers all rumpled. I looked the part of a drunken sot, but without the weaving and swaying. To some extent, that rumpled image can be taken as true…just a bit too much entertaining the clients seen that day.
So, into the blackness I went. Suddenly, from the darkness came two young men, each grabbing an arm, the one to my right was consistently punching me just above my bicep.
“Give us your wallet, mofo!” one thug whispered with emphasis that begged to be heeded.
Dumbfounded, I complied with the demand and handed over my wallet. The hoodlum on my right was still punching me above my bicep while gripping so tightly I could only feel the jolts.
Just as quickly as the two bad boys grabbed me, it was over. They ran quickly away into the blackness, while I stood momentarily staggered with incipient anger and frustration building. It quickly dawned on me that all my credit cards and some hundred-plus dollars were in my wallet.
I hurried from the parking lot down the short alleyway and called the police. When two officers arrived, I gave them the information that I had which was precious little, gave them my temporary lodging address – the Casa Munras, in Monterey, if memory serves correctly.
It was only when I returned to Casa Munras and began to pull my suit coat off that I noticed my blood-soaked right sleeve. The young punk was not punching me. He was stabbing me with a pocket-knife. The police prior obviously figured I knew about the bloody coat arm.
My wallet was found sometime during the next day in a street near Cannery Row.
Thankfully, my credit cards were all there. The money was gone.
I love John Steinbeck, studied him in college along with Ernest Hemingway and other notable American novelists, but, John, I won’t be visiting Cannery Row again – except through the pages of your classic book.
Incidentally this little scrap of a story is true of a younger me during my educational rep days.
Billy Ray Chitwood – June 1, 2019
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