In November 1935 one of my relatives, Joseph Shoemaker, was murdered by the KKK in Tampa for union organizing. He was seized without warrant by the Tampa police and then "released" so that he could be kidnapped by klan members outside the police station. He was tarred and feathered, his genitals were mutilated, and he was beaten until partially paralyzed. He died a week later.

Seven police officers were arrested and tried. Two were given a directed verdict of acquittal by the judge, and the judge reduced the charges against the remaining five. After a jury found them guilty, the Florida Supreme Court overturned the verdicts in July 1937.

In the retrial of the Tampa police officers, the trial judge, Robert T. Dewell, severely limited the admissible evidence--including how Shoemaker had arrived at the police station in the first place. During the progress of the trial, Dewell also held multiple private conferences with counsel for the defendants. The state prosecutor tried to get Dewell disqualified, but the effort failed.

As Time Magazine reported: "Still more bewildering was Judge Dewell's refusal to admit testimony that one of the defendant cops struck Shoemaker on the head with the butt of his pistol. The indictment, he pointed out, mentioned only injuries to "body and limbs." The defense did not bother to present a case. Granting a motion by the defense, Judge Dewell last week directed the completely bewildered six-man jury to return an acquittal on the ground that the State had failed to establish the "actual or constructive presence" of any defendants at the scene of the murder."

This was the first time the klan had been put on trial in Florida, and the acquittals encouraged further use of vigilantism in Tampa and the state as a whole. No one in my family ever talked about this, and it is only with the widespread availability of scanned historic newspapers and journals that I know the story.


It is a sunny Saturday afternoon in the fall of 1988. I am heading back to college from Thanksgiving vacation with my two best friends, Mark & Chip. I have known Mark since high school, and Chip even longer. They are good company for a drive.

We are moving down the highway in Chip’s new baby: a 1980 Volvo station wagon with a metallic, mint-green paint job. Chip's dubbed it, "The Mullet." It is a glorious vehicle. Chip has even been kind enough to let me drive it. I am honored. Although it’s almost December, the day is still hot. Chip has the stereo up loud, so we can hear it over the wind rushing in through the windows.

We were heading back from vacation a day early to see the annual FSU – UF football game. At that time in our lives, there seemed nothing finer and more natural in the world than descending into the frenzied, beery, carnival atmosphere of the contest. And we would arrive in style—Mark’s roommate had waited in line that week, and had three tickets waiting for us at his apartment when we returned. It was good to be alive.

A little bit west of Jacksonville, on a lonesome stretch of I-10 hard by the side of Osceola National Forest, The Mullet suddenly lost power. Not electrical power, mind you, but engine power—torque, oomph, thrust, guts-- whatever you want to call it. Even with the accelerator mashed down onto the floorboard, our speed dropped from 70, to 40, to 10. The Mullet was gasping for air.

Fortunately, we were just short of the exit for Sanderson, Florida, and managed to limp onto the off ramp just as the engine croaked. I steered the car over onto the shoulder and turned off the ignition. Then we looked around.

Those of you who have driven Florida’s highways in the modern era may find this hard to believe, but we found ourselves at what must surely be one of the few exits in the state not ringed by gas stations, fast-food joints and the like. Instead, all we had was a two-lane road lined by scraggly pines and fire ant mounds poking out of the sand..

We got out of the car and popped the hood to inspect the corpse. Lets just put it this way: we were not exactly a mechanically inclined bunch. The entire sum of our knowledge regarding the internal combustion engine was exhausted by checking the radiator hose for leaks, and making sure the spark plug wires were still connected. Once we were done pretending we had the slightest idea what we were doing. there was nothing left to do but lock up The Mullet and start walking for town.

We came to the "town" of Sanderson about a mile up the road. There was little more than a few trailers up on concrete blocks, and an all-purpose general store that looked like it might have a phone and running water. We headed for the store.

The inside was heavy with hunting gear and knives, and it was almost exclusively decorated with Polaroid pictures of hunters standing proudly next to dead black bears sprawled on the hood of their pickup trucks, or lying in the back of their pickups, or posed behind the wheel of their pickups wearing "Diesel Cat" baseball caps. They let us borrow the phone to call a tow-truck, which met us at the store about 20 minutes later and gave us a ride back to The Mullet.

Now, "Cooter" and "Clem," as I am want to call the tow truck operators, were nice enough fellows. But I am willing to bet they weren’t really used to a Volvo-driving clientele. I say this because once the hood was popped, they, too, stared down at the engine with the innocent look of a newborn baby. It was as if they had just seen an engine for the first time, and though they hadn’t the slightest idea how it worked, they knew it was something beautiful and powerful—yet completely alien. Then they checked the spark plug wires to see if they were loose and …

We soon learned the nearest shops that could work on a Volvo were either back in Jacksonville, or in Lake City up the road. This being Thanksgiving weekend AND the night of the FSU – Florida game, we were not exactly confident about the prospects of finding a willing auto mechanic at 6 pm—let alone a sober one. So we asked the obvious question: "How much to tow us all the way?"

Cooter turned to Clem and smiled. "You wanna go to Tallahassee tonight?"

After agreeing on a price for the tow, they hooked the Mullet up to some cables and dragged it up onto the rear flatbed of their tow truck. We were almost ready to go when a problem arose: how to fit 5 adults in the bench seat of a tow truck. Cooter suggested that perhaps we could just ride in the Volvo, if we were inclined to do such a thing. We were. There was a cooler of beer in The Mullet.

And so, as the sun finally set after a long afternoon, we found ourselves doing the unexpected. We were seated high, high above the road, in the back seat of a driver-less Volvo, drinking beer and rocketing down the Interstate, strapped to the back of a flatbed truck driven by men we didn’t know.

It was actually a nice view, sitting way up there. And with nightfall, the air had cooled to a pleasant chill. We turned on the radio and tuned in the game just in time for kickoff. The miles flew by.

We finally pulled into Tallahassee about 8:30 pm. As we drove down West Tennessee Street, the road was nearly deserted. Everyone in town was either at the game, or hunkered down in front of their television sets. Unfortunately, though, the site of a tow truck ferrying a green Volvo with three people seated in it did not escape the notice of the local police, who pulled us over by the Popeye’s just east of campus.

After checking the license on the tow truck, they decided to let us off on one condition: we could not get back in The Mullet. So we made a quick decision. Chip would ride in the tow truck to the auto shop where he planned to leave the Volvo. Mark and I would run the mile or so back to his apartment and hopefully find the game tickets waiting for us. After all, it wasn’t even halftime yet.

Mark’s apartment was only a few blocks away from the stadium, so we started heading in that direction. Even from a half-mile away, through the thick limbs of live oak and pine, you could see the stadium lighting up the night sky. The faraway boom and rumble of the marching band drums echoed across the deserted campus like thunder. And every so often, a great cheer would erupt from the crowd, like the sound of a giant wave breaking in the distance.

As we neared the stadium, we could see the crowd gathered on the Pensacola Street bridge. In a certain place, the bridge was elevated just high enough so you could peer in through the corner of the stadium and see a wedge-shaped slice of the field. It wasn’t a great view, but it was a view. And for people who didn’t have tickets—or couldn’t afford them—it was a time-honored spot to stand and watch the game.

We got to the bridge and were able to watch the last few moments before halftime. This was still back in the day when you could leave the stadium at the half to go back to your car, or apartment, or wherever it was that you had stashed your liquor. It was an enlightened policy. We figured if we were quick, we’d still have time to run back to the apartment, pick up our tickets, and be back in time for the start of the 3rd quarter.

Unfortunately, though, the tickets were not waiting for us at the apartment. We searched high and low before deciding that his roommate had probably decided to sell them. Mark decided to watch the rest of the game on TV, but I wanted to go back to the stadium and soak up the excitement. FSU was winning the game, and I wanted to be there for the end.

As I walked up to the stadium, I saw that someone had dropped a ticket stub on the ground. I walked up to the gate, and they let me right in--as if I was returning from halftime.

As I made my way out of the bowels of Old Doak into the stadium lights, I found myself swept into a sea of 75,000 joyously inebriated primates celebrating one of the most lopsided wins in the history of the series. Final score 52-17.


We have an old shed in the backyard. The exterior is made of the same brick as the house, and its covered with a metal roof. It originally served as a shop and well house, and the old well pump is still in there, as well as the original 350 gallon galvanized steel tank (which I plan on using to store rainwater, or beer, in the future).

For its age, the shed is overall in decent shape. The termites chewed up some of the framing over the years, and two window panes are cracked. It also has about 300 miles of spiderweb up in the rafters, but that doesn't bother me much. (The far scarier thought is what the world would be like WITHOUT spiders).

In any event, I've been hoping to spruce it up a little bit and so called over my good friend Pat, a handyman extraordinaire. As we were going over some of the work yesterday, we discussed putting in a new light fixture. I told Pat that I'd had an electrician out to look at it, who'd said the wiring setup in the shed was clearly a vintage job, but basically sound.

Not three minutes later, Pat was poking around the upper portion of one of the walls where the termites had done their worst damage. Right next to that area were some rounded holes that clearly had been chewed out by squirrels. Pat pulled away a board to get a better look at the damage, and we saw that the insulation for the primary electrical wiring running out of the breaker panel (which was hidden from site ONLY in the area behind the board) had been chewed on by a squirrel down to the bare wire. In fact, it's pretty clear that chewing that wire was that squirrel's last earthly act. The positive and neutral wires were completely exposed for four inches, surrounded by sawdust and squirrel nest detritus--nature's finest kindling.

"That might have been interesting," I said, "waking up in the middle of the night and wondering what that crackling sound in the backyard was."

"And all that flickering light," said Pat.

Then we turned off the circuit breaker.


It rained. If finally rained again.

All summer long the thunderstorms arrived on schedule in the afternoon. It was a world of green and dripping moss and buzzing insects. You could hear the grapevine and greenbrier snaking through the camelia beds.

And then Hurricane Matthew rolled up the east coast and snatched it all away. A switch had been flipped. Every day was perfect blue skies and hints of autumn. It was pleasant to be out at night.

Two weeks.
Three weeks.

The grass grew crunchy and pale yellow.

Four weeks and we were pulling long watering hoses across the front lawn.

Five weeks and the newspaper ran an article. Longest dry spell in two decades they said. There are no more tree frogs on the kitchen window.

Six weeks. Wildfires across southern Appalachia. Leaves are drooping. 60 year old azaleas wilt and beg for a drink. The sweet gums turn orange and the sumac turns crimson.

Seven weeks. A sprinkle in the morning and then nothing. You hope. You fear. The air is warm and moist and you can feel it being sucked north from the Gulf of Mexico. It practically smells like fish.

And then tonight it rains. A good rain that leaves puddles. Slick tires hissing on pavement. Water dripping off the eaves. This is always when Tallahassee is at its best. At night after a rain.


A huge difference I notice between living in California and Florida is my environmental outrage. But not for the reasons you might think. Certainly, California deserves its reputation as a leader in many areas of environmental stewardship. But what makes it so seductive is that the really horrible damage in California was done more than 100 years ago. Nobody living there today watched salmon runs disappearing from San Francisco Bay (or the creeks of Oakland for that matter). Nobody living today saw hydraulic mining operations washing away mountainsides, or watched as 95% of the Bay's wetlands were filled dredged, or diked. Hell, San Francisco's water supply was made possible by drowning a valley in Yosemite National Park.

But here, some of the Truffula Trees are still standing, and land rape is still up close and personal.


California is famed for its freeways, and in the San Francisco Bay Area the mother road is Interstate 80. Actually, there are no fewer than seven flavors of I-80: the 280, from San Francisco southward; the 580, 880, and 980 in Oakland; the 680 and 780 out to the northwest by the Carquinez Straits; and the 380 connector by the S. F. airport.

The place where I get on the freeway is a stretch of 580 about two minutes away from what is known affectionately as “The Maze,” a collection of flyovers and ramps all converging on, or splitting away from, the Bay Bridge. Merging into traffic here is not for the faint of heart. For one thing, perhaps one in twenty Californians uses their blinkers to signal a lane change. So even if you’re using your blinkers correctly, nobody believes you’re actually signaling your intentions. Rather, they figure you hit the blinkers by accident while reaching for your cannabis vaping pen. In fact, it may be that more California drivers use cannabis vaping pens than use their blinkers.

But I digress.

Last week I was driving on 580, just at the point where it merges with Highway 24. This stretch of the highway is elevated, so you are rocketing along between the rooftops of houses and commercial buildings. Off to my right I see a cherry red, late-1960s muscle car heading toward my lane. I can’t help but crack a smile. In a land full of late-model hybrid vehicles, there is something pure and elemental about a big, bad gas-guzzling whale on its home turf. It is bouncing on its shocks and has a nasty scrape along the left front quarter panel.

I catch a glance of the driver, who appears to be a 19-year-old girl with heavy mascara and a punk rock aesthetic from circa 1985. It is a pretty bad ass combination, the girl and this muscle car. In another time and place, it would have been a Bikini Kill album cover.

I merge over to the far left lane and in another 20 seconds am steering through the beginning of the S-curve that will drop me down into the approach to the Bay Bridge.


I hit the brakes hard and come to a stop about six feet short of the truck. Three feet away in the adjacent lane, traffic is moving at 65 mph. I realize instantly that there is a good chance that I’m about to be slammed from behind and look in my rear view mirror. It is then that I see my angel of death. And it is a 19-year-old girl looking through the steering wheel of a big red muscle car bouncing on its shocks. It all makes sense. This is how I am going to die.


I wrote a lot about the San Francisco housing bubble back in the day. Compared to prices now, though, the absolute top of the last bubble would have been a great buying opportunity. Prices are now $350/square foot more!

And that is why I have purchased a house in Florida, in the town where I used to live. For less than half the price of my current rent (in OAKLAND, mind you, not even SF), I get a beautiful place on three acres, lakefront, with good schools. So long California. Fun while it lasted.



just learned today that Joseph Shoemaker, my great-great-grandfather's brother, was murdered by the KKK outside of Tampa in 1935. His crime was being a socialist and trying to organize an independent political party, the Modern Democrats, to take on Tampa's corrupt political machine. He and two others were kidnapped after being held by police, who were working in concert with the Klan. The kidnappers drove him outside of town. His right leg was held over fire. They tarred him, and beat him until he was partially paralyzed. He died nine days later. It was national news.

The Tampa chief of police was subsequently indicted as an accessory after the fact for covering up the department's involvement. Amazingly, several of the policemen were convicted, leading the American Civil Liberties Union to declare that it was "a victory for civil rights in Florida and the beginning of a new drive against the Ku Klux Klan." But the verdict was overturned by the Florida Supreme Court, which ordered a new trial. During the retrial, the judge's actions were so suspect that the prosecutor requested that he be removed. The policemen were subsequently found not guilty.

This book chapter covers the story in some detail.

(no subject)

I have become Ahab. Hollow on the inside save for hate and a clear sense of the inevitable. Rushed on by an unseen agency that has enslaved me to the race. This whole act is immutably decreed. Twas rehearsed a billion years before this ocean rolled. Fool! I am the Fates' lieutenant; I act under orders.