November 6, I hadn't planned it. The plan last Saturday was to go up to Perris for some practice before the 100-ways next weekend. Around noon I saw Anne Heliwell, who told me about Jan's memorial at Elsinore that night. So I headed over the hill.
I got there in time to get on the memorial jump. Tom Sanders and some friends would be going out of an otter, and 100 other people would be jumping at the same time from two other otters and two DC-3's. It sounded like a bad idea (we track and open ... where?) but it was what Tom wanted, and that counted for a lot. We did a messy 20-way speed star out of the 3 and watched the sun set over the mountains. Somewhere in another part of the sky, we knew, Tom was releasing Jan's ashes. I was glad I had made it in time to be part of it.
That night there was a party for Jan, with good food and good beer. Tom spoke for a while about Jan's life. I had only met her once, years ago, and after hearing Tom talk about her, I was sorry I hadn't known her better. She was a remarkable woman. Robin Heid talked for a little while about a rally in Yosemite on Monday, and mentioned there would be a DC-3 flying up on Sunday. People stayed till pretty late, talking, walking through a trailer covered with pictures of Jan's adventures. One especially touching display was a children's book about "Stuntwoman Jan Davis." It talked about death,
something most children's books shy away from.
Sunday I was back up at Elsinore, jumping again. I wasn't planning to go up to Yosemite, but as the day wore on, I started thinking about it. Avery, Mick and Joe were being arraigned, and the rally was partly to support them. They were willing to risk jail for the cause. Dennis _is_ in jail for the cause. And Jan was willing to die for it. The least I could do was get on the plane and go up.
Sunset rolled around, and the pilot hemmed and hawed about the fifteen of us, then the twelve of us. "That's a lot of money to fly that plane up there with twelve people on board," he kept saying. Finally he decided to bag
it. I got back in my van, depressed. As i drove away I figured it was all for the better. I was going to get shit for missing work on Friday anyway - the last
thing I needed was to miss Monday too. I also didn't really want to drive eight
hours. Plus which, no one even quite knew where the rally was, other than
"somewhere in Yosemite" (which is about as clear as "I'll meet you in Manhattan.") probably just as well that the plane didn't go.
Still, when I got to the 15 I turned north instead of south. The ride was pretty boring, passing through LA then the central valley. I stopped in Delano to get food. I tried to send some email through a cellphone and acoustic coupler to warn the boss that I'd be missing work Monday, but no luck. Just then a local youth stopped by the table.
"Hey, what's that secret agent stuff you got going there? you from the FBI or somethin?"
"Nope, just driving up to Yosemite. I'm trying to send email, but it's not working."
"Wow, you're going to Yosemite? You gonna jump off the cliff like that woman?"
I guess i looked surprised, because he said to his friend "hey, dude here's
gonna jump off some mountain! You really one of those mountain jumpers?"
"Well, yeah, see there's a rally ..."
"Whoa, mountain jumpin secret agent guy! What the hell you doin in Delano?"
It started to rain around Bakersfield. An hour later it was pouring, so I decided to stop for the night. I pulled into a gas station, got gas, then started crawling around the back, putting up the shades and clearing a space on the bed. My usual scheme is to do this, then drive a few miles to a parking lot and sleep. That way the parking lot cops don't see me crawling around the back looking suspicious.
I looked out the window once to see the owner peering in at me. He took a
step back and ran back into the gas station. What was he upset about? When I got back up front I saw him on the phone, looking out the window at me. Damn. As I pulled out of the gas station i saw the sheriff on the way down the street. I have a strange feeling the owner saw my rig and figured he'd be a good citizen and report the scofflaw BASE jumper before he got into the park.
Well, parking lots were out. I drove away from Yosemite for a few miles and got a hotel room. near Yosemite they're all expensive, but at least i had the gas money i was going to give the DC-3 pilot.
The sky was clearing the next morning as i headed into the park. It was
beautiful - El Capitan just visible through the clouds in the valley, half dome
covered with snow, the roads still wet from the rain. I drove around randomly
for half an hour before I finally found the courthouse. There was no one there.
great. I parked nearby. Just as I was getting out, Janet Kelly and Robin Drove
by. (Sorry, Janet Lundquist. I always forget.)
"Hey! Get in the car! I'm doing the shuttle service," Janet told me. She took robin and me to the "assembly area," a roped-off area by the courthouse. We got out and assembled. Just two of us, standing there. Pretty poor showing. It was 8:30, and the hearing was supposed to start at 9. We stood and shivered, watching the dozen or so rangers keep an eye on us. It started to rain. Great.
People finally started to collect. Avery, Joe and Mick showed up, and Robin was running around handing out flyers and organizing people. The Gravity Girls showed up in uniform. Tom Sanders arrived and people congregated around him to talk and lend support. I talked to a few reporters, but then started to avoid them. Robin was doing enough talking for all of us.
The cameras arrived in force. At one point I counted about fifteen cameras and about forty press people, nearly outnumbering the BASE jumpers. They clustered around Tom, asking dumb questions and trying for the perfect teary-eyed shot. Then there was activity by the courthouse and the cameras dispersed. Tom started telling Janet about how he was dealing with Jan's death, about a bike ride he took as she was being cremated. It was hard to listen to, because beneath it all you could hear how much he still loved her, and there was nothing any of us could do to help other than be there.
A camera showed up then, poking its snout at Tom, hoping to get some inside
exclusive. That was the one time I saw him get mad. "Geez, just give me a
minute here, ok? I'll do some more interviews in a minute." I turned around, hoping to help him find his way back to the other cameras if he didn't get the hint. But he left.
The three "criminals" got out of court then, and they went over to Tom to talk to the cameras for a little while. Robin was wearing a suit (bizarre) while running around talking to reporters. He had sheets full of "talking points" he was handing out, and everyone was using pretty much the same approach - Jan wasn't trying to prove it was safe, she was trying to protest its illegality, she was willing to risk her life to further that goal. It even seemed to be working.
We all headed to the meadow then, where we milled around talking and taking
pictures of El Cap. The sky was slowly clearing, and the sun would occasionally light up the meadow. Then we headed up to the base of the cliff. Tom brought some flowers and pictures of Jan and spread them on a rock. Robin got up to give a speech, and talked about Jan and the BASE access issue for about ten minutes.
The whole "cause" thing was really starting to get to me. This whole thing at the bottom of El Cap was for Tom - or should have been, anyway. When I
looked down at the scene, though, I saw twenty cameras clustered around Robin, who was being very eloquent, but damn it, this wasn't the place to be making political points. Behind the cameras were the rest of us, in little groups, talking. Tom was in the circle of cameras, but was being ignored. He looked very alone just then.
Finally Robin said something along the lines of "is there anyone else who wants to say something?" Well, yeah, I think Tom might like to. Tom talked for a little while, but his words were a little more polished and fit for press
consumption than what he had said by the courthouse. Then he finished and
moved off down the trail.
I don't think any of us was sure what to do then. Some people were clustered around Jan's tiny memorial - we hadn't seen it yet, with all the cameras. some people were following Tom, behind all the cameras. Then Tom turned around, looked past all the press, and said "You know, I could use some friends around me now." In a few seconds there was a crowd around him, walking back to the road. Just then I was glad I had decided to go north on 15 instead of south.
We stood around in the meadow some more. Robin kept calling different people over to be interviewed, and Joe Weber showed the head of the NPS in Yosemite how BASE gear worked. He was a good guy, and I think a lot of good happened in that impromptu meeting. He has some phone numbers now, and he knows who to call with questions about BASE jumping. Opening the doors of communication seems like a good first step.
Finally Bonnie, Matthias and I drove off to the lodge to get lunch. We picked up some postcards to send to Dennis, then sat down and talked about BASE jumping in general. Donna Reid joined us for a while. Robin and Joe showed up, but I had had enough of Robin-speeches for a little while, so we just clustered in our corner. Bonnie talked about maybe doing a powerline tower in SF, but then seemed to change her mind and started talking about just hanging out in the bay area for a while. (little did I know ...)
I left for San Diego after lunch. I had 500 miles to cover, and then I had to
make up some good excuses for work the next day. ("political protest" worked pretty well actually.) I really wanted to talk to someone, so I spent twenty minutes fiddling with the satellite antenna (the rain had gotten into it) and called Amy. We talked for a few hours about losing friends. I've lost people close to me, but I still can't imagine what tom is going through - and having to be in the spotlight the whole time to boot. I don't know him very well, but I was still glad I had the chance to be there, even if I was just one out of forty people standing with him.