Pack up the kids, the girlfriend, the dog, or nobody – whatever it is you require for a few days of camping. The San Joaquin Valley summertime heat can drive a person mad. Luckily, Manteca is situated just a few hours from some of the best camping/cabin spots in NorCal. From Dillon Beach to Kennedy Meadows, or Clear Lake to Santa Cruz, we are close enough to keep cool when necessary. I met a couple inside our Wal-Mart from Boston last week, stocking up on provisions for a Yosemite trip. They’d just landed at SFO that morning, and had specifically stopped in Manteca.
“An older gentleman on the plane recommended we stop in Manteca, said it was the last big city before Yosemite,” one of the Bostonians noted.
I got a chuckle out of the “big city” statement inclusion. But was quick to remind myself that up until the late 70s, when traveling to Yosemite Park in NorCal, you’d be hard pressed not to find yourself making a stop in Manteca. These were the days before the 120 Bypass, when our main road through town Yosemite Ave. was true to its namesake. If you wanted to reach Yosemite (or any Sierra Foothill/Mountains destination) you had no choice but to stop in Manteca for provisions, or at least a soda pop before the long trip. The final stop for many a Hobbit, as they left The Shire and headed out for a great adventure.
I wonder how many famous people made a stop at The Scoop before heading up the hill. Or grabbed a case of Olympia beer at the old Alpha Beta. My Grandpa Jack Cunningham used to travel from Richmond to Kennedy Meadows to fish after WWII. It was during these trips, that he decided Manteca would be the place he’d relocate to raise a family. And now here I am – or at least half of me.
Dorrington or Bust...This last week me and a few friends headed up the hill to Dorrington — meeting my family at a cabin for a weekend of relaxation. I however have been a part of way too many of these family excursions to not take into account one steadfast fact: At least one person in my family will end the weekend not speaking to me.
The “black sheep” moniker has long hung over my head. And as the oldest child in the family, it’s safe to say it has been well earned. The fact that the friends heading up with me had never spent time with my family, nor seen black sheep in his truest form, guaranteed there would be some eye-opening moments.
From Hero to Zero...We made our way to White Pines Lake in Arnold. A small lake with few people, we were able to secure our own secluded little piece of beachfront property. Black Sheep had recently purchased a tent canopy, and along with the 100 oysters he’d cooked and iced – he was looking like a regular member of the flock. My deaf puppy Banshee had made the trip. This was her first time near a large body of water, but she was a fearless Queensland Heeler. Immediately leaping into the water to fetch her toys. Black sheep and Banshee were destined to show family and friends, that they were on their best behavior this day …
…. and then it happened.
Roughly 50 yards out we watched a canoe paddling along, it tipped, and two teen boys struggled to get it right side up. We didn’t think much of the scene. Certainly a couple teens could right side up a canoe, and be on their way.
That’s when we heard the first “HELP!” It was a low monotone “HELP”, not anything that sounded like panic. The two boys splashed around near the boat in almost a playful manner. It stank of teen boys looking for a little attention by playing a prank called “HELP.”
“Do you guys really need help? Don’t be screwing around!” a woman yelled from an adjacent beachfront.
There was no answer, and it became apparent that our suspicion had been met. We went about our business, until 30 seconds later, another slow monotone “HELP” was heard. I spun to my friend Saul “Did that sound like ...?”
(Let me describe our shared thought with a fine-toothed comb)
From the tone of the voice, several of us made a quick assumption that they may be special needs kids. I’m sure that is strange to read, but I think most of us are attuned to the cadence and sound of someone with special needs. The “HELP” didn’t carry the panic I would normally associate with a teen in the throes of fear. It was much more deliberate, and their inability to respond to us, threw up immediate red flags. (Mind you, this is all taking place within a short period of time, and we could see the boys attempting to upright the canoe – in hindsight, I should’ve just swam out immediately.)
It took one more “HELP”, and I sprang into action. Black Sheep grabbed a large paddle board and headed out. I was 30-yards out when it dawned on me that I had no life vest. This is not a problem, as I’m an accredited Mudturtle from Lincoln Pool 76’. But I was more focused on what I was gonna do when I got to these boys. Part of me in life save mode, part of me ready to give a couple teen boys an ass chewing if I found out it was a prank.
I was about 20-feet out when the mystery of 2 boys refusing to respond, revealed itself. They were two Chinese teens who spoke no English. Except of course for the universal distress call of “HELP!” that Blacksheep had lollygagged and dismissed as a prank. They were both pie-eyed and terrified – and neither had on life vests. You don’t need to share words between humans at times like these. They tried a little Chinese, as I tried a little English – we all stared at each other. Three dummies without life vests, trying to hold up a slowly sinking canoe.
It was then the Keystone Cops episode really kicked into high gear. My sister screams out “No Banshee stop!”
Yep, you guessed it. My little deaf pup had seen enough of her owner paddling out, and felt that she should join in. She was nearly 30 yards off shore by time I spotted her. My sisters “No Banshee’s!” were falling upon small deaf and determined ears. This was much farther than she should be out. I didn’t know whether to leave the boys, and get the paddleboard to her. But I held steadfast, choosing human life over deaf puppy.
She arrived at the scene shortly. Now we were 4 dummies without life vests, clinging to a sinking canoe. I tossed Banshee on the board for a second, and attempted to turn the canoe. This only terrified the boys more – they wanted no part of a puppy now attempting to lick their faces as they drowned. Apparently she’d seen enough of, and headed back into shore. With canoe partially upright, water logged, but afloat – I began towing it into shore. Which was made all that much tougher by the two boys that couldn’t swim, both clinging to the paddle board, as I towed this train of ridiculousness.
As I reached shore, the boy’s host family arrived on scene. Visibly angry and startled that the 2 boys had indeed snuck away with the canoe. Several “Xie Xies” and awkward hugs later, Blacksheep was being told by his family how proud they were. I sat down with Banshee, cracked open an oyster – and all was right with the world.
Five hours, and several margaritas later, I ruin a game of Monopoly. Accuse my 6-year-old nephew of cheating at Old Maid. Spill stinky oyster juice everywhere. And topped the night off by turning a Ping-Pong match between me and my sister into WWIII, as I insisted she admit that her serve hit the net. I was left by friends and family both, alone in the game room to myself.
Black Sheep once again.
Quote of the Week: “If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it.” - Jonathan Winters