Just to make sure California remained as I remembered her years ago, I flew to the Golden State before my  retreat from Wright-Patterson.  It was even better than I recalled with the amazing redwoods, beautiful beaches, deserts, mountains, mild climate, an abundance of cultural and outdoor activities, and, uh, California girls. The Golden stare really had it all*. 

Although savvy people usually retiree to less expensive regions, not me. I moved from one of the most affordable cities — Dayton, which is close to several major metro areas — to one of the most expensive states: California.

After several days of searching, I found a house in the coastal village of Shelter Cove and bought it. I chose this location because it was the last and only place left to live on the Calif. Coast without a multi-million dollar entry fee.  

I had not found this area by happenstance; remember from Chapter 25 when I first saw the mountains meet the Pacific? So, I knew the general location that met those criteria and narrowed it down.

On my 2,504-mile trek, I traversed more than 80% of the continental U.S.A. comfortably in my three-year-old BMW. I listened to cassettes I’d recorded and scanned radio stations during my adventure west, mainly on I-70.

Nothing Compares 2 U–Sinead O’Connor, Blaze Of Glory–Jon Bon Jovi, Indiana.  Justify My Love–Madonna, Unbelievable–EMF, through Illinois and Missouri. I Touched Myself, Cradle Of Love, Nebraska.

Not much to see until Wyoming, from there on, the scenery is pretty spectacular.

The First Time, More Than Words Can Say, through Cheyenne,  Love Takes Time, I’ve Been Thinking About You, Utah.


I stopped to see my friend Tom Kirkham in Provo, where I drove his million-dollar-plus 1965 Cobra 427 S/C (pic in Chapter 41).


Ice Baby Ice rang out in Nevada, Power Of Love as I entered Calif. I inserted a cassette with my favorite recorded 45s as I carefully snaked over Donner Pass, covered by a late spring snow.  I had several energy bars in my sizeable glove box, just in case.

View of the Pacific from steps leading to Swan cottage, redwood on right. (D. Swan)


Not from a postcard, Shelter Cove sunset. (Cheri Swan)

I wasn’t aware of a major but illegal industry in Humboldt County before I bought here. The realtor didn’t mention that about 30,000 residents of the county, more than a fifth, were engaged in growing pot.


Hundreds of pot plants to be chopped down and later burned by the multi-agency law enforcement Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP, circa 1991).  Task force established in 1983 and remained active until 2016, when pot was legalized in Calif. (Emily Brady photo)

If you’ve heard of Humboldt County, Calif., it’s probably because of the prolific pot-growing, which began in earnest with the “back to the landers” in the mid-60s to early 70s. Pot accounted for about one-quarter of the County’s economy. One popular definition of Humboldt: “Weed haven in northern CA with some of the best buds in the world.” (Pot info and statistics from Travel, by Max Daly.)

Despite the County’s repute,  Shelter Cove is an amazing find on the Pacific’s Lost Coast,  surrounded by the Sinkyone National Wilderness area. It is a great place for me to live, read, write, and relax. There’s just one road in and out of Shelter Cove.

To the east, over Paradise Ridge (2,010 feet at Shelter Cove Rd.) and down into the valley at Thorn Junction, the temperature can rise to the mid-90s, with lows near freezing.  About fifteen miles farther inland are good wine-growing areas with hot days and cool nights. There are a couple of good vineyards and a great one, Briceland winery.

After being in PR for many years, I seriously considered becoming a misanthrope; living here, I easily could have.  However, I believe Charles Schultz said it best: “I love mankind; it is people I can’t stand.”

With tall mountains above and the shores of the Pacific below, Shelter Cove has mild Mediterranean-type weather, the coolest and most stable climate — remaining anywhere — with just a ten-degree variance year-round.

Fog is common at the shores and farther inland. With 70 inches of rain annually, sometimes much more, it’s about 30 more than the Continental U.S. average. The downside; there is virtually no precipitation in the summer months.

Wildlife includes bears, elk, deer, skunks, raccoons, porcupines, mountain lions, and bobcats. Lots of fowl, including hummingbirds, Spotted Owls specific to the area, Bald Eagles, and the more common birds. There are fewer pesky insects here than anyplace I lived. The Pacific Ocean, our imposing neighbor to the west, contains sharks, whales, seals, sea lions, and a wide variety of fish.

Besides having a house waiting, I also had a job ready when I moved here in May 1991. I was a lecturer at Humboldt State University (HSU) in Arcata, Calif., 180 miles round trip from my house in Shelter Cove.

Arcata was vying with Eugene, Oregon, and Berkley, Calif., for the most liberal city in the Western United States. The Professor who hired me was going on sabbatical and needed someone to fill in for some teachers who were on admin leave for something or another. So, right off, I was not a welcome sight to most of the faculty. I would teach Public Speaking, which had just become mandatory for graduating.

I also taught communication courses at the College of the Redwoods (CR) in Eureka three days a week, as I did at HSU. However, not until I interacted with a few university administrators, professors, and some students did I realize that academia had become a little too liberal for my tastes. And once it was evident that I wasn’t touting a progressive agenda, I became a suspected conservative on a college faculty; I felt persona non grata very quickly.

The amazing Redwoods near us. (Calif. visitors convention below)




Cabin Tree redwood estimated to be 2,000 years old before falling during a storm in 1987. (Humboldt Redwoods Visitors Convention)

For those reasons and the long distance, I taught just one semester.  What I really wanted was to drive a race car.

That’s why I gave my students an extra-long Thanksgiving weekend while I attended a Porsche® Club driving school at Laguna Seca. Running on slicks, I was faster than many of the Porsches. Slicks allow for much better handling and, thus, a quicker way around the track. It was my first event at the famed raceway near Monterey, Calif., and about an eight-hour drive, one way, from Shelter Cove.

Now for the downside of slicks; when you’re about to lose traction, there is a millisecond to make a correction; if you don’t make a quick and precise move — sometimes an immediate counter steer works — you’re likely out of control, spinning,  and soon off the track or into another driver.

It was Thanksgiving Day and windy. Sand had blown onto the track. I was driving at 9/10ths and clipped the apex in turn 4, slid in the sand, spun, and went backward into the Armco® at about 40 mph, crushing the trunk like it was aluminum. My sweet BMW was drivable, but it was the end of my track day at Laguna Seca.

Shortly after I was removed from the track — the Porsche guys shedding no tears — a beautiful white-almost new 911 Carrera crashed in the same spot, but he took the wall head-on. Even though he had saved his engine, he threw his helmet hard onto the ground.  A corner worker took it, removed the Snell® rating, and disqualified it for future track events. My racing begins in the next Chapter, 40.


King Range (above & below) with a rare mountain snowfall, (King Peak, 4,091 feet, slightly right of center in the distance) looking North from Shelter Cove. (Swan photos)


Rainbow over Culana Cliff (elev. 1,066 feet) looking NW from our deck in Shelter Cove. (Don Swan)


I met him at the candy store (I met her at the Body Shop) Is she really going out with him? You get the picture, now we see.  (Partially from Leader of the Pack by the Shangri-las, 1964).

She was working at her dad’s collision shop, where I took my BMW for repair. She was overweight, had a three-and-a-half-month-old infant without a father in the picture, and was seventeen years my junior.


A joyous day when I met Robert. (Swan archives)

When I met her son a short time later, I wanted Robert to have a Dad, the only Dad he would ever know. He was a great child, loving and considerate, and is a wonderful Son — now a mature and altruistic adult.  A year after meeting Cheri, we were married in South Lake Tahoe, Calif.  Talk about a twofer. What could possibly go wrong?

On the evening of April 25, 1992, as we were preparing for bed, we heard something that sounded like a runaway freight train; immediately, the earth began shaking our house with a crunching noise, rattling dishes, moving chairs, swinging chandeliers and everything around us. It was a 6.5 magnitude earthquake, quickly followed by an aftershock of 6.6. OK, we got it, a medium-high quake. Cheri, a native Californian, said not to worry.


But half an hour later, just after midnight, came another freight-train-sound louder than before, followed by nature’s illimitable ferocity, shaking the earth incessantly for nine long seconds; plenty of time to think of your mortality and your house falling down around you.   Finally, as the shaking began to subside came a scary cracking sound, like huge rocks breaking.  The 7.2  took down our stovepipe, moved tables, broke glasses and picture frames, and moved Robert’s crib by two feet.

We had experienced a trifecta of quakes that would become known as the Cape Mendocino earthquake. We had sustained a 7.2 with minimal damage and no injuries. Thirty nautical miles north of us was a different story; 376 people were injured, and damages were upwards of 75 million dollars.  Uh oh, this is Calif, and I worried that quakes would be frequent and severe.

Then came another type of quake.

A year into our marriage, my wife was found to have been embezzling money from her dad’s body shop and would later buy herself a new car using falsified documents. Then there was the matter of her kiting some checks.

When her misdeeds became patently evident to me, I figuratively kicked her out of the house. She left with Robert, who was eventually kept, for a period, by her mom.

Obtaining a car under false pretenses is stealing. In Calif., there is a low bar for Grand Theft Auto, about $1,000. She was about 30 times over the limit, and the dealership was none too happy when the car was found abandoned in another state a few months later. No payments had been made.

Both her dad and the auto dealership filed charges. I wasn’t in on it, of course, but law enforcement initially thought I was.

All offenses were easily proven, and she was convicted of three felonies, fined $5,000, and sentenced to 4 years at Central California Women’s Facility — prison! But, on the bright side, she was paroled after one year, and she got to see Susan Atkins (think: Charles Manson), who was confined in a different part of the facility.

Sometimes they call prisons rehabilitation centers. At Chowchilla, it was actually true. Women are more likely to take advantage of the professional counseling programs, and recidivism rates drop drastically when faithfully followed.  My wife was in the front row, not wanting to lose her child or even me.

My wife sat in the front row at Chowchilla, determined to make rehabilitation a reality. With my trust and her commitment, we are again a family, Stronger than ever, I believe.

Why am I reliving this unfortunate event in my book?  My wife was not a diamond in the rough; she was just rough, a broken-scared-scarred felon. I took a huge risk taking her back, and now I’m enjoying the fruits of believing in her — giving her a second chance.

How else could I, an unwealthy commoner wearing a colostomy bag, have scored such a beautiful, sexy, nurturing, and intelligent wife 17 years younger who is taking care of me as my health is failing? And in the deal was Robert, a loving son who needed a full-time dad.

She is forgiven now that I have accepted her past and worked through it together. Her thievery is over, but my problems are still here. I’m a pain in the ass to live with (think: Vietnam PTSD and Crohn’s disease).  Yet, we have been happily married for 31 years (seriously).

Now she’s reluctant to take change from our sofa cushions and goes out of her way to ensure samples are really free.

We’ve had great fun together, traveled a lot, and gone on many cruises. The two of us are very respectful of one another, never mean-spirited, and realize that no one else would likely have either of us. Cheri and I know we’re lucky to be together, know it’s a minor miracle that we found each other, and we are loving it every day. 

Someone else believed in my wife with a job shortly after her release.  She has been gainfully employed since as a graphic artist and became a lead artist for a book publisher in just a few years — professions she always wanted.


Don and Cheri

Cheri and Don in 2012 on Princess cruise. (Swan collection)

*The Golden State also has a few not-so-pleasant features: Earthquakes, Wild Fires, Droughts, some of the Highest Taxes, and the Cost of Living in the United States. 

2 thoughts on “Chapter 39: California Dreaming

  1. I believe you when you earlier said that you would be truthful above all. The Pearsons and I text each other as soon as we notice a new chapter and I think we are some of your biggest fans. Looking forward to future chapters. Tell Cheri hello.


  2. Your story gets better and more incredible with each chapter! Whenever I get the email notification that a new chapter is up, I cannot wait to see what you’re going to share with us this time. As always, thanks for sharing it with us.


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