Tag Archives: alcohol

Remembering Charlie Mitchell: Comin’ atcha!

When I first met Charlie Mitchell, he seemed bigger than life. He was larger than life. He’d look people in the eye, size them up in a wink, extend his hand in friendship, find out how things were going. He drove a big truck with a shit-howdy smile and hat, and everyone in town knew who he was. Charlie, after suffering from a massive stroke several years ago, died at his home in Cayucos, Calif., March 17, 2016. He was born in San Luis Obispo in May 1931 and grew up in Gorda, Cambria, and Cayucos. Dell Franklin and I caught up with him in early 2006, and sat with him at his home to talk about his life. We ran his story as a Rogue of the Month feature in the February 2006 edition of The Rogue Voice. This is what he told us.

—Stacey Warde

A marvelously happy, unspoiled and uncomplicated man

Photo by Phil Klein

Photo by Phil Klein

by Dell Franklin

Charlie Mitchell, septuagenarian, in Western shirt, cowboy boots, and Levis®, has more ants in his pants than a row of teenagers in baggy pants and hooded sweatshirts lollygagging at the seawall in Cayucos. Old School? Not Charlie. Change is inevitable, he says, but he deals with it, like it or not, keeping his attitude, as always, positive, cheerful, exuberant, and youthful.

Charlie Mitchell is a rowdy, unapologetically profane, ass-kicking, barn-dancing, hay-bucking, pigskin-hauling kid in a 74-year-old body that has escaped eight close calls with death (he was nearly electrocuted), undergone a knee replacement, and owns a gizzard that finally, after sixty years of hell-fire social imbibing, has put a stop to his drinking.

“I started out when I was around twelve,” he says. “Haven’t had a drink in a month now. The old pancreas brought me to my knees, and the Doc said, no more. What the hell, if I can’t do it, I ain’t gonna miss it. No use letting it get me down. Nobody had more fun than I did. I can still go out to the bars and jaw with the boys and dance and flirt with the girls. Hell yes, I can!” he shouts, almost lunging at me, slamming me on the shoulder to make his point. “Hell yes!”

Charlie started out in a little shack with his family in Gorda on the Big Sur coastline. At six, they moved to Cambria, in those days no more than a cow town. At Coast Union High School, Charlie starred in all sports, stood out as a phenom in football, and ran a hundred-yard dash in 9.7 seconds. The world record at the time was 9.4.

Charlie Mitchell played football at Coast Union High School in Cambria and went on to bump heads with some future NFL great while in college.

Charlie Mitchell played football at Coast Union High School in Cambria and went on to bump heads with future NFL greats while playing at St. Mary’s College.

Charlie’s athletic prowess landed him at St. Mary’s College in Moraga. At that time, Bay Area colleges like USF, Santa Clara and Cal Berkeley were hotbeds for great football players. Charlie played with NFL legend John Henry Johnson, an All-Pro San Francisco 49er running back and one of the roughest characters on the field, and one of the wildest, most colorful off the field. Both men became fast friends.

“John Henry was a black man from Pittsburg. He liked to party—a fueler and a chaser, always wanted to take me to those black bars in Oakland, rough places. Well, hell, I wanted to go, but if Henry found a woman, which he was bound to do, and left me by myself, a white boy like me, in those days, I was liable to get my throat cut. So I stayed in. John Henry, he was about as mean as they came — you try and tackle him and he’d whack you good with forearm shiver, no straight arm. Helluva ball player.”

Charlie played against future Hall of Famers and NFL legends like Ollie Matson, Bob St. Clair (who ate two-pound steaks raw) and Ed Brown. He was offered pro tryouts, but declined.

“Pro ball wasn’t a big deal in those days. Hell, it wasn’t like now, with TV and all, where they were after you to turn pro. I just played to play. I quit St. Mary’s and played JC ball. I got married to Iona at twenty and went in the Navy and played some service ball before they sent me over to Korea on a destroyer escort.

“No big deal. I was no hero. I was just like a lotta guys. But those escorts, they really got bounced around. The seas got pretty rough and if you didn’t have a strong stomach you were in big trouble. Some of them boys were sick all the time. I didn’t like the service, but it didn’t hurt me, either. I’m glad I served.”

From working odd jobs all over the county, and for his dad, mostly on farms and ranches around Cayucos and Cambria, Charlie earned the reputation as a kick-ass worker. Later, he honed his skills as a heavy equipment operator/engineer, running loaders, scrapers, blades, etc. He worked for Madonna and various companies and helped build most of the county roads. He ran heavy equipment for 40 years.

In between this time, in the hurly-burly days when Morro Bay was a major fishing harbor and a sort of last outpost secluded from civilized society in San Luis Obispo, Charlie bought the notorious Happy Jack’s Saloon, known by fishermen and roughnecks up and down the coast and throughout the Valley as a place to raise holy hell and engage in intense fisticuffs,

Having worked Happy Jack’s myself for eight years, I was interested in comparing notes with Charlie.

“Yeah, I had a few fights. Hell, you had to,” he says, shoulders straightening, eyes suddenly agleam, and he paces like a seasoned panther in his kitchen. “I had to park a few guys who got too fueled up and challenged me. I never looked for fights. But when you own a bar and work it, guys are gonna come after you just for the hell of it. Sooner or later you had to go outside with ‘em. That’s the way we did it—go outside and settle things. Well, this one guy, I think he was from the Valley, he kept pestering me, wanting to fight, and so we went outside, and I parked him pretty good, went back in the bar to wait on trade and have a drink, and he comes back in, not satisfied, so we went back out and this time I really parked him good, and he didn’t come back in, and one of his friends told everybody in the bar that you better not mess with ol’ Charlie. After that they pretty much left me alone. I loved that bar. Had more fun. Now my wife, Iona, she pretty much ran the bar. Did the bookkeepin’. Took care of everything. There wasn’t much she couldn’t do. Run a home. Run a business. Great wife and mother. Clear out a bar…”

“Kind of a pioneer woman, Charlie?”

He lunges at me, pounds my shoulder. “Damn right! Married fifty years to Iona. What a woman!”

“What was the lowest point in your life?”

“Losing Iona four years ago. A tough time. Hell, I miss her yet.”

“What was the highest point in your life?”

“Marryin’ Iona in 1952. She was my high school sweetheart. I think about her every day. But you gotta go on. I got a family and a ranch. I keep busy. We got forty, fifty cattle. I know a lotta people. You gotta keep living, and I aim to do so.”

“You’re known as a guy who likes to spice up his conversation with a little cussing…”

“Goddamn right! Now, when Iona was alive, she didn’t mind my cussing, but there were a couple words she wouldn’t let me say, and I tried not to say ‘em.”

“Local legend is, you could stand next to a bar and, with no run, leap up and land on the bar — a four-feet standing jump.”

“Goddamn right!” he smacks my shoulder. “I made more goddamn money jumping on bars. I made other people money. People from the coast and the Valley, they’d put up money that I couldn’t do it. I did it about ten years ago but I had to cheat a little, grabbing the bar. These days I can’t jump much more than a foot. That’s still a pretty good jump, considering I’ve had a knee replacement.”

He shrugs. “At this stage of the game, I gotta admit I can’t do things like I could. I can’t go parking a guy if he’s outta line. No more fueling. But I can still have a damn good time. I had a good time New Year’s Eve drinking straight soda.”

“Anything you missed out on in life?”

“Hell no!”

Charlie Mitchell roars through town in a shiny big pickup, wearing a cowboy hat, and a big smile. Lots of guys these days do the same, but most of it is show. Charlie’s the real thing, no drugstore cowboy. He is testimony to the kind of man who grew up with very little and made more than a lot out of his life. Though born into the Great Depression, he never considers it a big deal, just something that everybody dealt with. He thinks Cayucos and Cambria are too big these days and can’t stand driving to SLO. He was happiest when fishing and hunting in this area as a kid, when there was nothing, not even a freeway to link Cayucos with civilization. He was grateful for work, worked hard, and the hard work developed his already indestructible constitution and transformed him into a man’s man: a marvelously happy, unspoiled and uncomplicated man, who is possibly cagier than he puts on.

When you run into Charlie around town, he always shakes your hand right off, and if you’re not prepared, he might, without meaning to, break your hand with a grip that indicates inner adrenalin strength few men can match, whether they lift barbells or not.

“You a meat-eater, Charlie?”

“Goddamn right!”

“What if the Doc says no more meat?”

“Bullshit! He can go straight to hell. I eat meat every day. I LOVE meat. I’m goin’ down swingin’.” §

Graveside services were held for Charlie on Monday, March 21, at the Cayucos Cemetery. Dell Franklin continues to write from his home in Cayucos and posts original content at dellfranklin.com. Stacey Warde is publisher of TheRogueVoice.com

Restless Love Syndrome

PITH.RESTLESS LOVE.YOUNGWe were so in love we couldn’t sleep,
so we got up and went walking in the
severe quiet of the pre-dawn cool, warm
morning, as Paul Weller would have it.

Hand in hand or not, we walked until
we had vanquished our new section
of town. It was ours now because we
were living together, by virtue of my

never leaving. We stopped for a 6am drink
at the 6am bar. The self-proclaimed best
omelet maker in town was there, dosing
himself with gin before the breakfast shift,

some others preparing for work, a couple
of drinkers beginning their long day of self-
sedation. We were the only couple in love,
smugly & newly & in need of this incipient

morning’s cocktail to quell the jitters of
ecstasy & moment. We had our drink
and walked slowly home into the triumphal
sunrise. I remember nothing of the day.

—Todd Young



For us frail humans on this complicated planet, drink has always been the salvation, and the curse.

Actually, it’s probably more accurate to say that WE are the curse. Booze—like marijuana and assorted drugs—is just there, either grown from the soil or concocted in distilleries, sold legally or illegally by people, purchased and consumed by people.

So what is it that drives the humans of this world to ingest into their systems just about anything that’s available? Clinical professionals blame lack of self-worth, low self-esteem, and poor self-image, and it’s hard for any of us to deny we’ve felt this way one time or another. But what about jobs? Jobs take up at least a third of our lives. We work hard, are driven, deal with bosses, deadlines, competition—it’s a constant grind. Most jobs, because of intimidation and boot-licking, carve out a bit of our pride and dignity. No jobs are easy. They cause us to have faulty nervous systems, bad stomachs, irregular heartbeats, ongoing headaches.

Is it any wonder we hit the sauce?

What about guys who slave away in the blazing sun on rooftops and ladders, inhaling tar, paint fumes and sawdust, ruining their elbows and backs, wearing themselves into arthritic conditions by 40? You think they need a brew? Try and deny them one when they drop that hammer at five in the afternoon after hacking away on a summer day. My advice? Don’t try it.

So what drives us to drink?

Having been a bartender and a totally joyous, well-adjusted alcoholic most of my life, I’d say pain, boredom, and the opposite sex. You don’t go anywhere in life without experiencing some measure of physical or emotional pain. Anybody who claims not to have felt periods of loneliness, depression, and boredom is either a liar or brain-dead or delusional.

As for the opposite sex? Well, let’s face it, damn near every song ever written concerns some guy or gal who’s been jilted, dealt a broken heart, or is in love with somebody who loves somebody else. The stuff of life. What’s more, when it comes to men and women, the common ground has always been studded like a minefield, and those rocky barriers are usually broken down in local watering holes after a few healthy belts of our evil potions.

Now, I’m well aware that a large percentage of folks out there are going to tell me people should be strong enough to deal with all these problems without resorting to booze, pot, escapism, hedonism, debauchery, and so on. That we should be made of sterner stuff, maybe even embrace religion, find a hobby, join a health club, seek professional counseling. They probably feel my way of thinking is pretty damn disgusting, weak-willed and self-indulgent.

Well, they’re absolutely right on all accounts.

But you see, there is possibly no greater rush than being a disgusting, weak-willed, self-indulgent drunkard, a real swill-hound, a barfly, a person who generally has trouble figuring out whether responsibility is more important than having a good time, or vice versa. What I’ve learned is that many of the most responsible, well-meaning people I’ve ever known are drunks. It’s a way of life. Some of us just can’t get by without the right amount of booze. During certain hours of the day (happy hour!), during certain times of the week, during birthdays, all holidays, and special occasions, it’s next to impossible for many of us without imbibing those spirits that achieve the golden glow.

It’s not any easy thing for a drunk or any kind of serious drinker to pass a local pub and not go in, especially if the pub is lined with people—people who are smoking up a storm, guzzling beers, downing shots, slapping backs, hugging, laughing hugely, dancing to music, or engaging in exultant, emphatic, totally aimless conversations that are instantly forgotten.

A lot of us are very sensitive about being the lushes we are. We don’t want to be told we’re drunks. We don’t like being told we’re impairing our vital organs and destroying brain cells and shortening our lives. We don’t like being told we’re a danger to decent society. And we don’t like being told that our behavior is embarrassing, that we are not especially amusing, that we’re actually boring, repetitious, and sometimes overbearing asses.

We are deeply suspicious of and disturbed with the sentinels of sobriety. We feel that the born-again recovering alcoholics, the Religious Right, lifetime teetotalers, and the various pious zealots of this world carry their self-esteem around like a shroud of accusatory doom, vilifying us as catalysts of our morally decayed and collapsing civilization.

Hell, we just think we’re a lot of fun. So please, leave us alone!

Certainly, as drunks, we go out of our way to leave YOU alone. We respect your desire to be sober, respectable, serious, upright, strong-willed, and constructive members of our grown-up world. We know that you mean well and want a better world. We want a better world, too, you know. The only serious problem is that we find it most ideal while totally snockered. Otherwise, it’s not the great world it’s cracked up to be.

You see, in most cases, we just can’t help ourselves. We love the sauce and almost any substance that’ll scramble or unscramble our brains, deaden our senses, impart a whiff of ecstasy, and more or less give us a reprieve from a rather thorny reality. Most of us aren’t troublemakers, brawlers, dangerous drunken drivers, wife/child abusers, sexual predators, or general nuisances. Most of us find a way to get home safely. We hate to fight, and want to be liked, want to make love, and want to be loved and soothed in return, like most people.

We are just a bunch of drunks. Our kind has been around for centuries—eons—and quite possibly we are good for the morale of any country. In fact, it is my firm belief that if you took away our booze, took away our bars, honky tonks, nightclubs, and pubs, and denied us our escapism, hedonism, and debauchery, it would be an utterly dull, joyless, empty world. It would take only a year or so to destroy it and ourselves. §

Dell Franklin writes, and drinks responsibly, always within walking distance, from his home in Cayucos, Calif.


Fast Times from Cayucos-By-The-Sea: THE CONVERSATION KILLERS

by Dell Franklin

Photo by Stacey Warde

Photo by Stacey Warde

I’m wondering about these three men in pleated shorts, polo shirts and high-end thongs sitting together at the small bar in Schooner’s Wharf. It’s about 4 of a Saturday afternoon. There’s plenty to see of surf and sky and interesting dog and human activity on the beach just off the pier, including surfers riding curlers. Inside, there’s a variety of local characters, including Crozier, the “Pirate,” who holds court on the other side of these three men on a stool with his name on it on a brass plate. I’m talking to a local on my right about baseball, but the three guys to my left, all around 30, haven’t said one word to each other, haven’t looked at anybody, haven’t even gazed at the view beyond the window, but have instead for at least 20 minutes straight poked at little phone contraptions without looking up.

I take it hard when somebody sitting beside me in a bar ignores my nods or subtle signals that I might want to meet him or her, for these venues are not just for visiting regular drinking pals, but meeting new ones, and also fulfilling what my mother always considered the most valuable asset a person could have—observing the human condition and engaging.

“You’ll never be bored checking out people,” she told me.

Finally the guy on my left paused to sip from what had become a stale designer beer (all three drank pints of dark, so they looked like clones) and I said, “What’s so fascinating about that contraption you keep poking? Are you playing some kind of game?”

He was too shocked and confused to answer right off. “What?”

“Are you playing blackjack or something?” His friends kept poking.

“My wife and me are emailing,” he said tightly and turned away.

“Are your friends emailing their wives, too?” I asked.

He was back to poking, but said, “Yes!”

“What are you all emailing about?” I persisted.

His two friends finally peered over. They were not the types to take issue with somebody who looked and acted like me when none of them would go through life looking like they needed a haircut. I felt resentful at their taking up stools that could be occupied by people eager to engage me in drunken palaver, no matter how aimless and stupid it is.

I said, “The other day I saw two people in this bar emailing each other from 10 feet away. What’s that all about?” I pictured him and a gym-trim woman emailing each other from across a room in their townhouse.

He had no answer. He didn’t like me. I wear beach hand-me-downs and haven’t had a haircut in a year and haven’t really combed it in weeks because it doesn’t do any good, but I have money on the bar and just a minute ago bought the pirate and my fellow baseball expert a drink and I’d probably buy this trio a round if they gave me any indication they weren’t robots.

“Don’t you think the art of conversation is being impaired if not out-rightly killed by the kinds of gadgets you and your bar mates are poking?”

He turned completely away from me, like one of the hundreds of bar flies have over the years when my approach went afoul, though I did succeed about some of the time. He whispered to his mates, like a woman scheming to go to the john together for security reasons. Oh, please don’t leave me alone without my contraption! They got up and left, leaving half their stale beers and meager tips, and in a split second 3 very cute Latina girls around 21 took their places.

They were smiling and happy and the tiny one beside me smiled when I nodded at her and I asked her where she was from, and she said Fresno, and that she and her friends were all graduating from Fresno State, and I asked them their majors, and they told me what they were and I asked them what they were going into in their lives, and they told me, and I accused the one beside me of being beautiful, which she was, and she thanked me in a humble but excited way and when I asked her if she was 100 percent Mexican she told me she was half Philippine and I told her one of my tennis partner was a Philippine lady who kicked my ass and I bought her and her friends drinks and she squeezed my hand and looked into my eyes with genuine gratitude and said I was “sweet” and…. §

Dell Franklin is founding publisher of The Rogue Voice, has ceased going to the barber and regularly visits the local watering hole for conversation.