Back home in the redwoods full time, with no race car and trying to forget racing, I was looking to fill a void, plus I needed to replenish my bank account from the erstwhile expensive endeavor. So I responded to an ad for a part-time reporter position at a local weekly. That sounded good, I should have no problem with that.

                                      Redwood Record, published from 1935-1995

Julia “Butterfly” Hill tree sitting in Humboldt County, Calif. (North Coast Journal)

The editor of the  Redwood Record was anxious to move on to something new but didn’t want the publisher to be left in a bind. With that in mind, she hired me for the reporter position and soon began training me to be her replacement.

One member of our staff, a good writer who had been with the Record for a while, unsurprising thought the job should go to him. She recommend me. I went for an out-of-town interview with the publisher who owned a couple of other newspapers.

He offered me the job for $10 an hour, about $20 in 2023 money. Four or five hundred a week, sounded OK for the small community of 5,000 in Garberville-Redway and it came with a company car. Besides, the newspaper business was on the decline. 

The Record was distributed to about 8,000 in Southern Humboldt and Northern Mendocino Counties. How hard could it be for an overqualified person like me? I accepted.

The first problem I encountered as editor was explaining to the locals how a newspaper works (a private enterprise) and why we rarely accept unsolicited submissions.

Although I was patient, it became more difficult than I had imagined. I explained that the best way to get your subject or opinion heard was in “Letters to the Editor.” Yet, we’re not going to print every letter, and there’s a policy that we accept no more than one submission per month from the same person. But that didn’t appease those who thought the newspaper was a kind of a community organ that really belonged to them and the Redwood Record should print their submissions, they reasoned.

Above the fold, all me, pics too. This was not typical. (Swan archives)
Women protest tree cutting in Humboldt County. (North Coast Journal)

So far, I’ve led you to believe Humboldt County is best known for its pot production, but there were other events unique to our area, like Tree Sitters (to prevent from cur down) making significant news. Their tactic was an offshoot of  Earth First!, which had a reputation for violence. (The exclamation point is part of their name.)

I had just one full-time reporter who thought he should be the editor, not me. I had three part-time correspondents to assign specific stories. One incidentally had a Ph.D. from Berkley, yes, UC Berkley. Nothing related to journalism, but one with a doctorate should be able to write news stories, and she could and was good. I also had a stringer who did local HS sports reporting. She was always asking for an advance on the small amount of money she was paid for the stories.

It may have been a good time for a young reporter trying to make a name for herself to become an editor, but not for me. For our small coverage area, there was a surfeit of hand news; plane crashes, missing persons, (the aforementioned) Tree Sitting civil disobedience, and a Coast Guard helicopter in Shelter Cove, killing all aboard. Stories about budget shortages, no money to fix roads or provide police protection in outlying areas, and so forth were plentiful. The annual Redwood Run (mostly Harleys), the popular Reggae on the River, drew people from several states and countries.

Complaints of low-flying aircraft by law enforcement searching for pot were common. However, all stories about marijuana weren’t about the peace-loving, laid-back stoned ones, but about greed, paranoia, and crimes involved in the growing cannabis, up to and including homicide, as featured in the engaging Murder Mountain cable TV series.

With so much to report, I was writing many articles.

I submitted my resignation after editing for less than a year. I stayed on long enough for the new editor to get acclimated to the job. Ten months after I left the Redwood Record, it folded (pun intended).

With no job and no racing, I had no immediate commitments. So, when a former sponsor of my racecar, who had not fulfilled his contract, invited me on an all-expense-paid expedition to Mexico, the timing was perfect. During the ten-day getaway, I parasailed, caught tuna and sailfish from the Gulf of Mexico, and toured Mayan pyramids. 

A few years later, in an effort to support my good tastes (read: spending too much), I was an enumerator with Census 2000 for three months, which qualified as the second worst job ever. 

The Interloper

We live on Otter Lane, a three-quarter-mile meandering, curved scenic road, each end with a cul-de-sac. Douglas fir, pinyon and Bishop pine, bay leaf, tan oak, fern, irises, beach strawberry, and other wildflowers cover both sides of the sloping terrain. Our house sits on the western edge of Otter, 100 yards from the southern cul-de-sac. Two majestic redwoods grow on either side of our home, and we are the only residence on Otter Lane, and we want to keep it that way.

People purchase mediocre lots, look at our house (built in the early 1970s) situated on a 15-degree slope, and assume they could do the same. No building would be approved today on such an incline without a substantial foundation over tons of fill dirt.

An interloper descended upon us around 2008 who bought a cheap and steep lot near our house. It appeared unbuildable because of its slope, might not perk, inadequate off-street parking, and other requirements needed to obtain a permit from Humboldt County.

But this fellow was a wanna’ be land speculator, telling me he had made a profit of a few thousand dollars flipping a lot elsewhere in Shelter Cove recently. On the lot he had just purchased near me, he was going to score some more easy money on this one as well.

He declared that if he could not make the expected profit, he’d just built on it himself. Whoa, whoa, whoa, no! The “man” was a grocery clerk in a nearby town who had bad-mouthed the U.S.A. to me and thought veterans were stupid for having served.

Did I mention Mr. Speculator visited his lot five or six times a week on our Otter Lane, where (outside of deliveries, meter reader, etc.) one car passing every two weeks was average? We liked it that way.

I told him of my experience with people who had attempted to build on lots, such as his, over the years.  He seemed more obnoxious after that. Maybe angry, even.

Angry because a few months later, a large sheriff’s deputy visited me, sporting a Glock 19 with an expanded magazine.

He said someone had filed a complaint against me for shooting at him. Guess who? My recent acquaintance, the land speculator.  That’s right; he said he couldn’t sell his lot because he was afraid to visit it, fearing that I’d shoot him. (I’m not making this up, I wish I were.) Fortunately, the officer was suspicious of the report and had not made a special trip to the Cove just to see me.  (For the record, the accusations were false.)

The deputy left my residence, doubting any such event had happened. Nevertheless, Mr. Land Speculator contacted the deputy again, this time telling the officer I had shot at him with an automatic assault rifle, and he filed charges. He wanted the deputy to arrest me.

Typically, when someone is shot at, thinking someone is trying to kill them, with an automatic rifle, they will:

A) Soil themselves, drop to the ground flat and find a way to call 9-1-1.

B) Flee to the authorities by the fastest conveyance available, and ask for protective custody.

C) Possibly move to a distant state.

You won’t mind if I cut to the chase, will you?

The next time I saw Mr. Land speculator at his lot, his souce was with him (did I misspell spouse? Sorry). I told him it was illegal to file a false police report, especially one of such a serious nature and informed him there would be consequences.

I swiftly began exacting the penalty — as the missus yelped, screeched, and screamed — on the (younger than me) bald 55-year-old medium-build miscreant:

>With lightning speed, I grabbed and clenched his throat with my left hand, clutched both carotid arteries and the trachea with my thumb and middle finger (wedge thrust) . . .  (2.5 sec.)  

>Delivered a swift and vigorous knee kick to his groin and simultaneously, with the heel of my right palm, executed a splattering blow just under his nose . . . (.4 sec.) 

>Instantaneously, with the heel of my left palm, I executed a quick and violent strike under his chin, slamming the back of his head hard onto the roof of his car. . . (.3 sec.)  

>On the pavement in a fetal position groaning . . . (.3 sec)

Total elapsed time: 3.5 seconds

A quick spin around to execute a hard and fast kick with the heel of my foot just under his sternum was unnecessary.

It was over in less than 4 sec. He never had a chance. I rolled him back into his car. 

The screaming missus peeled away in their white Dodge® Stratus, spinning and pelting pebbles and dialing 9-1-1.

Readers: Do not try this unless you know what you’re doing; a properly administered wedge thrust can do irreparable harm, including death. 

Good thing I was 62 with diminished strength but in good condition (think: cutting firewood) and that the roof of his car absorbed most of the shock to his neck — possibly keeping it from snapping. I couldn’t drop a man like that now, at age 75. But I have a backup plan, which requires just an index finger.

Before you think I’m boasting or glorifying “violence” to solve a problem, It didn’t exactly end up going smoothly for me post-incident.  Cheri was visiting family in Palm Springs at the time of my vindictive deed, 709.3  miles away. So she was in no position to be too pissed, but she was none too happy either.

The miscreant’s missus told the deputy and the judge I beat her up too. Should not have done this in her presence, two witnesses. It seems I played right into their hands; they wanted me to do something like that, so they could (and did press charges for assault & battery and sued me for pain and suffering).

A small consolation. This was a guy who deserved an ass-whupping,’ and it felt good for me, a social security recipient, to impose some street justice.

I got off easy — if you don’t take into account two lawyers and $10,000 in legal fees to make it go away — without any jail time. Is there a silver lining? I haven’t seen them since court, at the lot, or anywhere else. The lot he would sell for a huge profit or live on is in foreclosure, with delinquent taxes. Update: it has been foreclosed. Ha, Ha. 

Pictures I wanted to include, but didn’t know where to put them:

IMG_0051Pacific Ocean Northwest of Shelter Cove, with King Range in background. (D. Swan)

Lighthouse at Shelter Cove, looking NW. (D. Swan)
Aerial view of Big Black Sands Beach in Shelter Cove. (King Range National Park) 
Robert Swan, a badass BMXer? (D. Swan)
Father and son in Alaska. (Swan archives)
Ever thought you had a low numbered license plate? (D. Swan)
Ever thought you lived in a small town? (Photographed in Calif. by D. Swan)



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