Here Back East [7/22]: Garage Band

By Lenny Ackerman

It was early evening in Kennebunk and the weather finally broke after two straight days of rain. Patti and I headed out of our rental house, eager to take a walk into town. The air was damp and the sidewalks strewn with gravel washed up from the roadway. At the intersection of Western and Beach Road, cars were backed up for several blocks. Seems everyone had the same idea about getting out after being housebound for days. We continued along the narrow sidewalk running west from the shore to the center of town where the bridge traverses the Kennebunk River. We proudly wore our “Maine” sweatshirts– a buy at the Bangor airport from last year’s visit
to camp up north and marking us out as tourists but we didn’t mind, as we were far from the only ones. We held hands, as the sunlight faded, keeping our heads down with eyes on the uneven sidewalk pavement. The large droplets hitting us from the tree branches above finally forced us to use our hoods and it was then I realized I hadn’t put in my hearing aid. Without it my one-way conversations with Patti quickly wear thin.

But, I felt around in my pocket and to my great relief found it. As I pushed the tiny apparatus into my ear a range of
ambient sounds seemed to fill the air including, faintly, something musical, like a wind instrument. I thought of my
old clarinet. The one from my youth that my grandson decided to take apart and then reassemble, minus the mouthpiece. Someday I will find a repair shop for it. There were only a few pieces in my repertoire anyway since I could never remember all of the finger positions. Moon River was my favorite, and I can still play it in my head. As I walked and mulled over the fate of my clarinet, the music grew louder and more distinctive. At last we spied the unlikely source: the Sunoco gas station at Cooper’s Corner.

The garage bay door of the station was wide open and inside, illuminated with bright, fluorescent lighting, was a live band with a half dozen musicians—a group of older fellows—on horns, clarinet, banjo, fiddle, guitar and drums, playing a fabulous jazzy number to the great delight of the crowd gathered outside. The stage back drop was a raised car lift. In front, the musicians were in a semi-circle, some standing, some seated on wooden folding chairs. Somehow the acoustics worked, as the music carried out of the garage to the tarmac with the gas pumps and the appreciative audience—a mix of young and old, tourist and local.

Patti and I worked our way in closer for a better position. A garage band in Kennebunk gives whole new meaning to the term. These were no kids goofing around with some instruments in their parents’ two-car garage, but accomplished musicians who performed together with the ease of having known each other for a long time. They seemed to appear out of nowhere and played for an hour, after which the crowd mingled with the players and

shared bottles of local beer out of an ice-filled washbasin. I found out they go by the name Johnny and the Sunocos and that Johnny, a founding member of the band, was a mechanic there for many years. Now he
and his band give weekly concerts at the garage during the summer.

I reminded Patti that only last weekend Tanglewood had reopened for its first post-Covid concert. This may not be
Tanglewood, but it was a match for it in terms of the effect only live music played well can have on the listener. An
evening concert, in the heavy night air pungent with oil and beer and the ocean nearby, and the warmth and energy of everyone there combined to make its own kind of magic that is Johnny and the Sunocos. I will be back next week for another concert. If the weather’s clear, we’ll bring chairs and a bottle of wine and find our place on the tarmac.

AT&T Finally Removes Cable Lines From the Ground at Fournier Ranch

By Stephen Kulieke

AT&T finally removed its telephone and internet cable lines from the ground last week in the Fournier Ranch area eight miles above Downieville, where the lines lay strewn since a storm brought them down in the winter of 2017-18.

AT&T customers in Sierra City where the lines feed have regularly complained of poor service and phone/internet interruptions. Their complaints reached a crescendo over the busy Memorial Day weekend when extended outages caused havoc for businesses and residents and made making a 911 call impossible.

In coverage on June 3 and July 1, The Mountain Messenger spotlighted the downed lines and ongoing service problems–and the resulting significant risk to public safety and the community’s economy. Sierra County representatives—led by Tim Beals, Director of Public Works, Roads, and Transportation—pressed the telecommunications giant to provide the reliable service and maintenance that Sierra County citizens deserve.

Early in July, Lee Kirby documented the downed AT&T lines on her Fournier Ranch property in photos that
appeared in The Mountain Messenger. Later in the month, she saw multiple AT&T trucks with giant spools of cable in the Fournier Ranch subdivision, and last week she confirmed that the lines on the ground were finally gone.

“I can’t help but believe The Messenger’s media push plus Tim Beals’ demands finally paid off,” said Kirby,
the retired CEO of the Sierra County Superior Court. Beals said that the county “continues to press for
accountability and better communications” from AT&T. Beals has requested that an AT&T representative
attend the upcoming Aug. 3 Sierra County Board of Supervisors meeting to present information and
answer questions. While his request was acknowledged by AT&T, the company has not yet agreed to attend.


Meanwhile, for the many rural Californians without readily available, affordable broadband, help may be on
the way.

As The Mountain Messenger went to press, a new law enacted on July 20—the Broadband Budget Bill, AB 156—promises to increase “equitable, affordable access to high-speed internet service across California.” According to
Governor Gavin Newsom’s office: “Through a $6 billion multi-year investment, more Californians will be able to
access broadband coverage with the construction of a state-owned open access middle mile network and
last mile projects that connect unserved household and businesses with local networks.”

2021 Wildfires Continue to Torch Northern Sierra

The photo, above, showing the smoke plume rising from the Dixie Fire on the afternoon of July 21 was
taken from the top of Mt. Elwell, roughly thirty miles to the east-south-east of the inferno moving in
northeast in the general direction of Lake Almanor.

With the height of an already dangerous season still lying ahead, wildfires continue to torch the beleaguered Northern Sierra region. Of greatest current concern is the active and growing Dixie Fire in the Feather River Canyon region of Butte and Plumas counties—while the Beckwourth Complex Fire moves closer to containment.

Here are updates as of Wednesday morning:

Dixie Fire: As of July 21 at 7 am, the Dixie Fire had burned 85,479 acres with 15%
containment. Two structures have been destroyed with 810 threatened. Mandatory evacuations
were issued Wednesday for everything west to the Butte-Plumas County line, and the
community of Seneca south to Hwy 70. Evacuation warnings were in effect for Chester and
the Lake Almanor Peninsula. The fire was expected to continue to move northeast, with fire
crews using existing control lines from the Bear and Chips fires of 2020 and 2012 respectively.
PG&E filed a report on 7/18 with the California Public Utilities Commission stating that its
equipment—blown fuses on one of its power lines—on July 13 may have ignited the Dixie
Fire. On Wednesday, a Northern District of California judge ordered PG&E to file a statement
under oath regarding the origins of the fire. Also on Wednesday, the utility said it was initiating
a project to bury 10,000 miles of power lines in California’s highest risk fire areas. For the
latest on the Dixie Fire , go to: https://www.facebook.com/CALFIREButteCo

Beckwourth Complex Fire: California’s largest fire to date in 2021 (as reported in the July
8 and 15 issues of The Mountain Messenger) is not expected to move outside of its current
perimeter. The complex is comprised of two fires: the Sugar Fire (as of July 21, 105,076 acres
at 90% containment) and the Dotta Fire (594 acres at 100% containment). For updates, go to:
https://www.facebook.com/USFSPlumas

Tamarack Fire: The fire is burning in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest southeast of
Lake Tahoe. Reports on July 21 said the fire had exceeded 40,000 acres with 0% containment.
For updates, go to: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/7674/
Smoke from the Dixie Fire continues to spread across large portions of northeastern California
and western Nevada. But the fires in California, Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, and other
western U.S. states and Canada are not only degrading air quality in immediately adjacent
regions. Smoke carried by the jet stream is causing pollution on the other side of the North
American continent with harmful air reported in such cities as New York City and Philadelphia.
Both cities reported Air Quality Index (AQI) readings at or above 170/“Unhealthy,” with
western wildfire smoke a significant factor.

After Completing over 1,000 Miles of the Pacific Coast Trail, Arroyo Campbell Returns to Downieville

Arroyo Campbell along the Pacific Crest Trail, south of Sierra City and heading north towards Canada, sporting what is likely to be the largest and heaviest backpack seen this year on the 2,600 mile trail.

On April 18th, in Campo, CA, a little more than a mile from the border between the U.S. and Mexican, Arroyo Campbell began his trek north to Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail. A 2019 graduate of Downieville High School who traveled in Asia for several months in the latter part of 2019 and who spent much of the past year doing archeological digs in Nevada (a good way to get in shape for this journey), Campbell arrived in Sierra City this past week after completing roughly 1,200 miles out of the 2,600 route in the twelve weeks since his adventure began.


Welcomed by family and friends upon his short visit to Downieville, Campbell says the trip has been fantastic (“everyone should do it!”) and having navigated some of the highest sections of the trail he thinks, being in excellent physical shape, he should be able to reach the Canadian border by early September.


Indeed, the fact he made the 40 mile walk from Truckee to Sierra City last week in less than 24 hours tells us his estimate for completing his marathon hike is going to be accurate. Along his way, so far, Campbell has met many other adventurous friends and they have visited several small towns for rest and recreation. None of the other places where they stopped, according to what Arroyo’s newfound friends have told him, were as pleasant as the welcome.

Sierra County’s Unemployment Rate Lower Than 56 of California’s 58 Counties in June 2021

CountyRank by RateLabor ForceEmploymentUnemploymentUnemployment Rate
All Counties19,003,60017,481,0001,522,7008.0%
Sierra21,3601,320704.9%
Lassen79,7509,2005605.7%
Nevada1245,56043,8202,7405.9%
Modoc143,4403,2302106.0%
Butte3192,60085,9006,7007.3%
Tehama3225,70023,7701,9307.5%
Plumas398,1307,5106207.6%
Yuba4530,20027,6002,7008.8%
Total*216,740202,35015,5307.2%
Source: Employment Development Department, Labor Market Information Division
* Sum of figures for Sierra, Lassen, Nevada, Modoc, Butte, Tehama, Plumas, and Yuba counties.

In what is certainly a unique event, according to the economic research analysts within the
Labor Market Information Division of Employment Development Department (EDD), Sierra
County moved from having the fourth lowest unemployment rate within the state’s counties in
May to the second lowest unemployment rate in June.

Yes, Sierra County’s unemployment rate increased slightly between May and June, moving
up from 4.8 percent to 4.9 percent as only 50 of the 60 people who entered the labor force were
gainfully employed.

However, statewide, the unemployment rate jumped from 7.5 percent to 8.0 percent, largely
as a consequence of job losses in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino being combined with
increased labor force participation in these areas.

As for our selected set of counties in north eastern California, all showed increases in their
unemployment rate between May and June. However, the rates for Sierra, Plumas, and Modoc
only went up by one tenth of a percentage point. For other local areas, the Lassen County
rate moved up from 5.3 percent to 5.7 percent, Nevada County rose from 5.4 percent to 5.9
percent, Tehama County went from 6.9 percent to 7.5 percent, Butte County rose from 6.6 to
7.3 percent, and Yuba County, with the only rate to exceed the state’s average went up from 8.3
percent to 8.8 percent.