California Dreamin’

(“The car would labor up each grade wheezing and threatening to overheat.”)

Among my favorite dressage acquaintances over the years was one particular character important to CDS, especially to the then often neglected northern part of California. He was Vic Beckett—larger than life, good-hearted, irascible, sometimes acerbic, but dedicated to our sport and never dull. A retired Air Force colonel, he never outgrew his command presence or tired of his ability to gleefully rub those who impeded him the wrong way. Fortunately, he liked me.

Our connection was through Major Lindgren whose work he adored. I had the Major’s stamp of approval, and that got me (and later Susan) invited to his domain to do a string of clinics and even a USDF Instructors Workshop. Our venues included Napa/Sonoma, the top of the Central Valley near Redding, and Sacramento, usually done four days at a time over a two week span.

Driving his going-on-her-fourth-hundred-thousand-miles orange ancestor of The General Lee (not named Rocinante though she should have been) Vic always showed me quite a time, touring me all around HIS California when I wasn’t working. All things with Vic took place intensely, rapidly, and at maximum volume. In the service he had flown P-80s which he described as a sewer pipe stuffed with a jet engine. That had pretty much destroyed his hearing, so he compensated by shouting everything.

Vic took me all over the Bay Area from his old stomping grounds at the Presidio to the abandoned World War II era pillboxes overlooking the entrance to the Golden Gate to his favorite Sausalito hotel where from the breakfast terrace we could see the entire bayscape all the way past Alcatraz and the Bay Bridge to the Berkeley Hills and beyond. His knowledge was encyclopedic. He was also a non-stop storyteller.

My favorite one harked back to his younger days when he and three friends decided to drive from somewhere near Mt. Shasta westward to the coast at Eureka. Back in the day that area was forested wilderness—it’s not that much different now. The “roads” were unpaved, little more than rocky trails, and they were fighting the terrain constantly since all the mountainous ridges ran north-south. Their vehicle was a pre-war touring car, running boards and all. What it lacked were brakes of any substance.

The boys, not to be deterred, had a solution. As they packed for their adventure, they loaded on board several axes and a heavy chain. The car would labor up each grade wheezing and threatening to overheat. Then at each summit they would disembark and hack down a wayside tree. Chaining it to the rear bumper, they would confront the steep slope dragging the log behind them to slow their descent. At the bottom they’d unhook the log, roll it aside, and proceed up the next mountain, repeating the process over and over to the Pacific. The moral–As in good dressage, ingenuity triumphed!

I raise a glass in Vic’s memory.