Fraternity brothers Robert, Kevin, and Benjamin return to Disneyland for a second summer. Working at Carnation Plaza Gardens, friendships are made with Tammy, a grunion hunter and powder skier from Utah, Dave, a volleyball player and mountain climber from Kansas, and Jed Bob, a rockabilly guitarist and "slap-back" bass player from Texas. Extracurricular activities include beer drinking at the French Quarter in Anaheim, bodysurfing at "The Wedge" in Newport Beach, and side trips to Tijuana, Catalina, and Hollywood.
Most of the kids pack light, but a few make room for heavy baggage, including their own demons of obsession, deception, and manipulation.
Aston, a former First Lady Astronaut Trainee in Albuquerque, is one of the young people with lots of baggage, including a working "hit list" of six names. She along with her best friend Leslie, an Eastern Airlines stewardess and American River whitewater guide, run into Robert, Kevin, and Benjamin at lunch in Big Sur. They meet again at Disneyland, where the girls are taking a break from surfing the pilings at the pier in Huntington Beach.
During their time together, there is no mention of Aston's list or the name at the top of the list----President of the United States John F. Kennedy.
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Read an Excerpt
WEST OF THE EAST COASTA Novel
By thomas carl hotka
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 thomas carl hotka
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAgainst the Current
The grade of F stood out like a grotesque head wound hemorrhaging between the other grades on the paper. The school's English department had given their professor free rein. Bloody prints were all over the document.
She did not deserve the evaluation, and the lecherous dean did not deserve to live. Well, maybe shackled to a post for the rest of his life with syphilitic rats scrapping over his entrails. She hesitated. Hungry rodents were too rosy a future for this piece of academic excrement.
Aston Brava stormed around the furnished duplex, not caring about adverse effects to the property. They were giving up their lease in the fall and had the means to take care of cracks in the wall or marks on the linoleum. Her roommate had been accepted by Eastern Airlines to fly their New York/Rio de Janeiro/Buenos Aires route beginning in October. The looks of Ursula Andress with a ponytail and the ability to speak fluent Portuguese and Spanish opened wide career doors in the Western Hemisphere.
Aston, on the other hand, had been flying forever, but up front in the cockpit. Having lied about her age at the time of her initial instruction, she had burst upon the scene as a full-fledged aviatrix at the age of seventeen. Possessing a commercial pilot's license with single- and multi-engine land ratings, she had flown in several All Women's Transcontinental Air Races, otherwise known as Powder Puff Derbies.
An invitation for this year's International Air Race lay on the coffee table. Then another letter came. The message was short and to the point. Due to her exemplary reputation in the aviation community, she had been selected to participate in a secret project at the Lovelace Foundation for Medical Research in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She could not believe the words she was reading. Her wildest dreams had come true. She had been chosen for astronaut training.
Aston arrived in Albuquerque on a spring day in 1961. Her week of tests commenced at the same clinic, with the same doctors, in the same program that had selected the seven male astronauts. At the end of the week, no thought pattern, no nerve stimulus, no body crevice had not been poked by a doctor or examined by a technician. Dozens of blood tests, hundreds of x-rays, and hours of sensory isolation were administered. In one innocuous experiment to induce a state of vertigo, ten-degree-Fahrenheit water was injected into her inner ear by an otolaryngologist. She regained her balance in record time. Her final test was the Multi-Axis Spin Test Inertia Facility, a three-way gyroscope the size of a house. After being strapped into a compartment similar to the Mercury capsule, she started moving at thirty revolutions a minute on three axes at once. Concentrating on one circular frame at a time, she stopped all three from gyrating without once losing control.
When the Vomit Comet, so named by the Mercury 7, had come to a rest, she asked the technicians if she could saddle up again. Aston rode the monster five times that afternoon, improving her response time on each trip.
Alan Shepard had hit the chicken switch on his first try.
In the summer of 1961, thirteen women-the Mercury 13-were chosen to begin phase two of their testing at the Naval School of Aviation Medicine in Pensacola, Florida. Aston was not on the list. She had passed all the tests except for one. She lacked a four-year college degree.
* * *
Sounds of the American River grabbed her attention half a mile from put-in at Chili Bar's campground. Adrenaline ratcheted. Noise from the first major rapid on a river trip never stopped giving her goose bumps. For the last quarter mile, Leslie Cooper had entertained a couple of kids on shore with a series of "pop-ups." Conditions at this point in the river were perfect for "enders," maneuvers where the bow of her kayak was allowed to dive into the stream. She and the half-submerged craft then became perpendicular to the water. They were showboat moves, but she had held an appreciative audience.
With her river rodeo finished, Leslie watched the currents grow bolder. The forested canyon that surrounded her could not mask the beginning chords of a deafening roar. She had chosen the upper section of the South Fork for the whitewater that lay fifty yards ahead. Most river guides agreed that Meatgrinder, a Class IV on the International Scale of River Difficulty, was the longest, toughest, most exciting ride on the river. When teamed with the insanity of Troublemaker downstream, the South Fork was an exhilarating place to be alone in a kayak.
Yesterday, she had rafted the Middle Fork's rapids-Lettuce Hole, Submarine, Duck Soup, and Cleavage-with the other American River Wild employees, but not all the rapids had been navigable. River flow had been high at over six thousand cubic feet per second. They were forced to portage Tunnel Chute, the eighty-foot canyon that concluded with another ninety feet of claustrophobic cavern. The last thirty yards were placid, but the preceding chasm had swallowed many a raft crew at four thousand cubic feet per second, or less. Toward the end of the trip, while they were portaging Ruck-a-Chucky for the umpteenth time, Leslie made a promise. When she returned from summer vacation, the rapid known as Ruck-a-Chucky would be hers. Yesterday had been wet and wild, as always, but her ultimate experience would be single in a kayak over the Middle Fork's Ruck-a-Chucky Falls, rated a Class VI.
One experience rated higher than Chucky: a gift from her grandfather upon graduation from C. K. McClatchy High School in early 1959. Parlaying his vocation as a professor of world trade with knowledge of world-class rivers, Horace Cooper had invited his granddaughter to northern Patagonia. Two weeks later, they were flying from Los Angeles to Santiago, Chile. The second flight brought them to an overnight in Puerto Montt, and a final hop in a sputtering single-engine deposited them in the charming village of Chaiten. From there, the journey veered eastward. The four-hour bus ride, with a crate of chickens strapped to the roof, completed their three-day expedition.
Her grandfather's thick palm rested on the back of her neck as they departed the bus at the permanent camp.
"Not a hangout for tourists, I'll caution you. 'Course, that's the charm of Futaleufu. That ... and the fly-fishing and the whitewater rafting," he said with a twinkle under his bushy eyebrows and wide-brimmed hat.
Leslie took in the sight of the glacier-capped Andes and azure-turquoise Rio Futaleufu. "This is unbelievable. How do you know about this place?"
"I've been coming here for years. Been coming to the 'Fu'and, up to about twenty years ago, another place up north ... 'bout seventy kilometers as the crow flies."
"Can't be nice as this."
"Doesn't have the scenery, but it sure has the history. Let's sashay over to our cabin, grab a cold drink, and I'll fill you in."
After collecting their gear, washing up, and scrounging a couple of lukewarm colas, they met on the stoop.
The twinkle reappeared. "Ever hear of a couple cowpokes named Robert Parker and Harry Longabaugh?"
She shook her head.
"Maybe you know them as the leaders of the Wild Bunch."
Leslie sat up straight on the stair step. "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, they robbed banks in the United States in the 1890s."
"And down these parts at the turn."
"But they didn't have time to go rafting or fly-fishing. What's the connection?"
"Homesteading. Butch and Sundance ... and Etta Place had a ranch in the Cholita Valley north of here, next door to my pa's spread. He was standing behind them in the land grant line in Buenos Aires in 1901. Back then, they wanted to be known as James Ryan and Mr. and Mrs. Harry Place. Guess they were trying to go straight for awhile. A few years after they built a four-room cabin near the town of Esquel, they up and took off for Chile. Then your great-granddad sold his Cholita property about the time the war was getting started. Argentina was sympathizing with Germany. Best to pick up stakes and high-tail it."
Leslie shook her head. "The things you learn when you run away to South America with your grandpa for some whitewater rafting."
Her grandfather's eyes twinkled. "And fly-fishing," he reminded her with a nod of his shaggy head.
* * *
No purpose was served getting all worked up without a plan. All of Aston's enemies, including Reginald Lord, the bloodthirsty professor at Sacramento State College, would pay for their contraventions. She had a long list of adversaries, starting with her stepfather, who had abused her the moment they were alone at her mom's house in Reno. Next came a science teacher in the Washoe County school district. The head of the biology department introduced her to all forms of explicit sexual material while resting his hand on her thigh. A wise counselor at Reno High School convinced Aston that the unwanted advances were not her fault, but the cruelty did not go away. The abuse went from the corporeal to the cerebral. In Aston's eyes, the violations were no longer physical in nature, but intellectual, and she was the abuser.
She had been aware of six prerequisites for astronaut training. Good health, under thirty-five years of age, commercial rating or better, second class medical, and over two thousand hours of flying were five of them. Not one in the first group of requirements was a problem. The sixth was a degree from a four-year college. Due to a transcript error, she had come up three hours short. Aston asked for a waiver. She could pick up the hours in Pensacola while performing the stunts associated with phase two of the training.
Randy Lovelace, chairman of NASA's Life Sciences Committee, and Air Force Brigadier General Don Flickinger, co-founders of the program, had laughed at her request. She found out later that astronaut John Glenn had come up short in his education too, but received a waiver with a wave of a hand.
The list of her antagonists grew by one. The name of Randy Lovelace appeared below the dispenser of smut in high school and the stepfather from hell. General Flickinger, a career gopher in uniform, was not worth the trouble.
In spite of her problems, Aston held out that once her education requirement was met, she could join the First Lady Astronaut Trainees, or FLATs, the acronym that Dr. Lovelace was so fond of using. She never got the chance. All hope was dashed in the summer of 1961, when NASA cancelled further testing of the women, and without an official request from NASA, the navy in Pensacola would not allow the use of their school. Most of the members of Mercury 13 took the reversal in stride, but not Jerrie Cobb, the first woman to report to the Lovelace Clinic, and Jane Hart, wife of Michigan Senator Phillip Hart. Unable to get the answers they wanted from NASA, they journeyed to Washington. Hearings by a special subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics were organized the following year to review their charges of discrimination.
Aston followed the subcommittee's progress, or lack of it, as best she could. She knew that the two representatives of the Mercury 13 had provided valuable testimony, but in the big scheme of things, they had been beaten back by the gentlemen's club of Washington. But a win by Washington had not been assured until astronauts Scott Carpenter and John Glenn had been paraded through the chamber. Colonel Glenn hammered the final nail when he referred to the organization of social order. Men fought wars and tested airplanes. The fact that women were not included was simply a fact of life.
The name of John Glenn was not on her hit list. Although his testimony had been ambiguous, redundant, and full of total bullshit, his comments had not been mean-spirited. She knew that he was simply a puppet for the circus called NASA.
On the other hand, Vice President of the United States Lyndon Baines Johnson was neither a puppet nor a clown. His reason for the exclusion of women from the space program was the apex of his enlightenment. He had theorized that if the United States allowed women in space, then Negroes, Mexicans, Orientals-all the minorities-would want to go up too. As the head of the Space Council, Johnson killed off all hope of the Mercury 13 staying in the space program with his words in a memorandum: "Let's stop this now."
The vice president's handgun was still smoking when, only a short time later, he jammed his Civil Rights Act into law, making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender. Lyndon Johnson held a prominent spot on her list, but it was the next name that brought her emotions to a boil.
She had admired John F. Kennedy since he had nominated Adlai Stevenson for the presidency at the 1956 Democratic Convention. For a short time that summer, she thought that she was in love with the Senator from Massachusetts and his lofty ideals. Any lingering crush she had on Kennedy was squashed several years later when the president refused to meet with the Mercury 13 representatives.
Aston decided to work backwards on her hit list of six names. Professor Lord would be first. He was the most accessible. She would take him out at the end of May, before she left on a Southern California surfing expedition with her roommate. Kennedy would follow the professor by six or seven months. No one would suspect her involvement. She set the deadline for the president's assassination by the end of 1963.
* * *
Daydreaming about the Rio Futaleufu and her Grandpa Horace did not cut it for Leslie as her kayak slid sideways into the lead-in section of Meatgrinder. She attempted to correct her position, but it was too late. Best thing to do was complete the half-circle and ride the first set of waves backwards. In past river runs, she had made a mental note to practice ass-first assaults. No time like the present, but she should get back into position as soon as an opportunity was presented. The main chute of Meatgrinder Rapid around the corner required all eyes forward. Leslie was not afraid of the river, but she had a healthy regard for the waterway's outlaw tendencies. Big water, steep gradients, submerged rocks, and varying amounts of channel flow were all part of the challenge. She respected that, but the river did not return her deference.
She sensed the steep drop-off before she saw it. A quick look over her right shoulder confirmed that she had three seconds to make her move. The oncoming falls preceded several rocks the size of railroad cars scattered near the south shore. Given a chance, the half-submerged boxcars would pulverize her craft. She needed to maneuver the kayak to her left, returning to the middle of the stream. Using the highest part of the ledge as a fulcrum, she plunged her paddle into the water and, with a series of strokes, spun 180 degrees. Leslie smiled. She had used the river's currents to pull off her own adaptation of the Czech kayaker Milovan Duffek's compound paddle move of brace, draw, turning stroke, followed up with a series of forward strokes.
Her smile vanished a moment later as an inadvertent shiver went up her backside. Her cartwheel over the cataract was at the exact spot where two rafters had lost their lives the previous year. One was tossed out of his raft at the top of the hole. A moment later, the other jumped into the stream to save his friend. The former was not a good swimmer; the latter was not wearing a life vest. A rescue team located the non-swimmer several hours later, submerged in four feet of water. His foot had become entrapped between two rocks near the railroad yard on the south shore. The second rafter was washed downstream to the end of Meatgrinder's technical tail. He had a weak pulse, but after several days in a hospital, died without regaining consciousness.
As a founding guide for American River Wild Rafting, Leslie preached what she practiced. Lectures commenced with a description of inherent risks found in whitewater sports and continued with river guide commands, correct paddling techniques, and life vest requirements.
"And in the event one of you is tossed into the drink, take a deep breath, keep your feet pointed downriver, and most of all, relax."
Sermons ended as they began, with a reminder of the danger when dealing with nature's elements.
"Whitewater rafting on the American River was not designed by imagineers working at Walt Disney's theme park in Anaheim. The first rapid we will encounter is called Meatgrinder, and it is a force of nature. It is not a ride at Disneyland, folks, so be careful out there."
Excerpted from WEST OF THE EAST COAST by thomas carl hotka Copyright © 2010 by thomas carl hotka. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
ContentsChapter 1 Against the Current....................1
Chapter 2 Rain Shadow....................16
Chapter 3 Big Sur....................46
Chapter 4 Satisfaction of a Smile....................63
Chapter 5 Death of Winter....................90
Chapter 6 Corona del Mar....................118
Chapter 7 Rhythm on the Range....................149
Chapter 8 Tijuana, Baja California....................173
Chapter 9 Santa Catalina....................198
Chapter 10 Laguna Beach....................226
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This first time author really hit the mark with this book. It has action, humor and fun till the end. You can't go wrong with this book!