Pescadero’s Claim to Fame by John Vonderlin
(email John: [email protected])
One of the recurrent themes of my essays has been the greatest claim to fame of the sleepy town of Pescadero.
Your book, “The Coburn Mystery,” detailed its most brilliant moments in the limelight during the 19th Century. Loren Coburn and the citizens of Pescadero’s battle for control of beach access to Pebble Beach, the most attractive rock collecting spot on the West Coast, as well as the mysterious murder of his wife placed it in the minds and on the lips of many in the Bay Area and even the state. But, as the century faded so did its notoriety.
A while ago, while rereading the “The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test” by Tom Wolfe, I came upon a single reference to Pescadero, and wondered if any other book or other medium had produced as many “eyeball” moments for Pescadero, as that one? This extremely popular book was published nearly forty years ago and has been reprinted repeatedly, including a leather-bound three volume edition as recent as 2003 that also includes “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby” and Radical Chic and Mau Mauing the Flak Catcher.”
The reference, which I thought might be Pescadero’s brightest lightning bolt of fame, is on Page 27 at the end of the first paragraph, at least in my paperback copy. This is the end of the graph where Tom Wolfe, is discussing with Ken Kesey, what was going on in his head when he returned to the United States, after hiding out in Mexico, to avoid a drug bust prosecution. Kesey, explaining what had happened there includes:
“-and I went outside and there was an electrical storm, and there was lightning everywhere and I pointed to the sky and lightning flashed and all of a sudden I had a second skin, of lightning, electricity, a suit of electricity, and I knew it was in us to be superheroes and that we could become superheroes or nothing.” He lowers his eyes, ” I couldn’t tell this to the newspapers. How could I? I wouldn’t be put me back in jail, I’d be put in Pescadero.”
When I read this, I laughed and thought, while Kesey may have seemed a little confused, perhaps it was a La Honda resident’s inside joke/neighboring town putdown.
After all, it’s hard to believe the guy that wrote, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” which was set in a mental hospital, would confuse Atascadero State Hospital, with Pescadero. Whatever the cause, I think the old adage, “Say what you want about me, just spell my name right,” should apply.
I wondered if there were any contenders to this odd moment of glory for bucolic Pescadero?
Well, last night while watching the end of a movie I had seen a long time ago, I came upon a contender to the most viewed reference to the town of Pescadero, that completely blows away Kesey’s Freudian(?) slip.
It’a in a film that grossed $519,843,345 worldwide. A film that created a number of phrases that have entered our culture and endured for more then a decade. A sequel film that featured a character in the Top 100 (#48) heroes of film (American Film Institute) that had also been in the Top 100 (#22) villians of film (American Film Institute AFI) in the original, an unprecedented circumstance. A character, played by an actor, who, after an unprecedented recall election, became the governor of California. That actor being Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The film: Terminator 2, Judgment Day.
Oddly, it is once again the mutation of Atascadero State Hospital into Pescadero State Mental Hospital that creates this reference heard round-the-world. Here’s a summary excerpt from Wikipedia, about Terminator 2, Judgment Day, or T2 as it has popularly become known that explains the reference:
“Sarah’s experiences have significantly changed who she is, making her tougher and more vigilant, but also more desperate to warn humanity about the threat of the future human versus machine war — revelations that lead authorities to commit her to a mental institution, Pescadero State Hospital.”
My guess is, thanks to VHS tapes, DVDs, and worldwide distribution, more then half a billion people have heard this reference to the quiet, humble town of Pescadero.
I suspect the recent beginning of a television series entitled, “The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” is probably why the Terminator series is getting so many replays lately. I can just hear Arnie chuckling as he cashes his residuals checks saying so rightly, Hasta la Vista, baby. Enjoy. John Vonderlin