Violence on Skid Road [was WHEN THE RED LEAVES FALL]

Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at
Fri Sep 13 05:24:58 MDT 2002


I'm delighted that you like Red Leaves and I much appreciate, as always,
your fine words.  I was surprised at the various levels of emotion that
arose within me as I did the piece and which, in their own way, quickly
carried me far from the Idaho mountains and 2002 -- and  right back into
that fascinating time.  I'm posting this on our two Lists -- Redbadbear and
Marxist and a couple of others as well  --  with regard to a word or two on
violence in the Skid Road district and related matters. [I've been up
unusually early this morning to see an offspring off on a short junket.]

I miss those days when I knew full well that I could save the world by

In a word, the Hank's Place bartender swinging his heavy sap at me -- only
grazing my neck, thanks to my quick reflexes -- was par for the general
Turf -- a natural piece of the local culture.  He was an entity who, I
suspect, was far less ideological than simply instinctive in the most basic
sense and, on Skid Road as a permanent fixture, very much in his Habitat,

 So, experientially and setting-wise, I certainly didn't  find the
bartender's reaction at all unusual.  I was born fighting -- and fought
physically and effectively [ and almost always defensively]  from early
childhood on into my mid-twenties..  In the South, I  adjusted, of course,
to the tactical non-violence that characterized most of us in the Southern
Movement [there were also, of course, some very genuine pacifists.]

I'm slightly -- very slightly -- over six feet and now somewhat more than
the 200 pounds of my youth. This physical construction has been helpful to
me in many ways indeed -- and on a life-long basis. I was learning about
firearms at age seven, have always appreciated good knives for good
purposes, and learned in my Teens the intricacies of dynamite and related
explosives for vocational purposes, But in conventional fighting, I was
strictly a fist man.

 Northern Arizona -- Flagstaff -- was very rough and tough [and racist] and
I grew up  much a product of that setting. The mining camps to the south of
us were, of course, quite turbulent -- and, wherever hard-rock mining still
is -- still are..  But I would have to say that the Seattle Skid Road, and
the smaller comparable stretch at Tacoma [Pacific Avenue], were settings
more pervasively violent than, say, even Jerome or Butte or Bingham Canyon.
The waterfront nature, enduringly frontier-like in many ways -- and a highly
booming, transient population -- played a key role in this ethos [and, to
some extent, certainly still does.]

Seattle and Tacoma even had the raw edge on Portland which, because of its
very early history, I've always seen as having a kind of Midwestern strain
in its overall makeup.  One of the Pacific Northwest's great journalists of
that era was Stewart H. Holbrook of the Portland Oregonian who wrote once
that the culture of the American West is  characterized by a "tendency to
threaten only briefly before acting.."  On the old Seattle Skid Road, and
its traditional Tacoma counterpart, I didn't find that people even
threatened.  Holbrook was not inclined to deep and intricate analyses of
fighting behavior -- nor, frankly, despite my sociological bent, am I.

Of course, much of this -- physical direct action -- is still broadly
present in American culture and much of human culture generally.  Skid road
and mining camp fighting tended to be "fair" in its own bare-knuckled and
sometimes booted fashion.  This was and is, of course, in sharp contrast to
official -- e.g., police et al. -- brutality, and  that of capitalism

Around noon one day, I was walking down a crowded sidewalk in the Skid Road
area when I saw  a man standing about thirty feet ahead of me, staring at
me.  As I drew closer, he suddenly reached down, seized a small portable
sign on the edge of the sidewalk -- metal sign on a short stem with a
relatively heavy base of some sort -- and struck me on the forehead with the
sign's metal edge, cutting me.  I had never seen him before.  Matter of
factly, I swung and knocked him flat down on the sidewalk.  He lay there,
cursing me, as I walked on with  everyone else -- matter-of-factly.

At a large and well known Skid Road recreational establishment -- very
turbulent and colorful -- owned and presided over by a Canadian Scot, the
patrons were virtually all lumber workers, sailors, longshoremen, migratory
agricultural workers, and metal miners passing through Seattle from the
Rockies and Alaska.  Everyone was a strong union member and almost all were
well on the Left. -- various basic varieties.  At that vasty saloon and its
related endeavours [ more attractions than simply alcohol] I never saw a
fight over ideology --   people there were not inclined to quibble about the
fine points of How To Fight The Boss and Capitalism or push conversion-wise
their particular radical perspective  -- but I saw many physical battles,
some very rough, over much else.

In that and comparable settings -- including the metal mining camps and
towns -- most verbalisms were [and are] trenchant, pointed.  Nothing unusual
about the long ago Skid Road leaflet, from which I've recently quoted a
couple of times on a couple of lists, and which thunderingly and pithily
stated that" Fascism Is The  Last Stand Of Finance Capitalism."

And, on that note, Bill, I will indeed heed your good advice about
eventually working closely with a book  editor and his/her paring knife when
that time eventually arrives -- always battling  of course [as do you and
all other very capably creative folk]  for the inclusion everything of mine
I deem precious and indispensable.

Our very best -

Hunter Gray  [Hunterbear] (strawberry socialism)
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´

----- Original Message -----
From: "William Mandel" <wmmmandel at>
To: "Hunter Gray" <hunterbadbear at>
Sent: Thursday, September 12, 2002 11:04 PM
Subject: Re: WHEN THE RED LEAVES FALL [Natives in the radical culture of

> Hunter: "When the Red Leaves Fall" is simply lovely, hard as it is for
> me, old once-CP Red, to accept that bar scene with the sap hurled at
> you. But fine writing is a rare gift. Keep going. And when your book is
> ready to publish, don't resist the publisher's editor's attempts to
> rearrange, condense, smooth, discard. Fight like hell for what you think
> must stay in, and against anything that changes YOUR meaning. But
> remember the old, true, saw, that the greatest of writers needs an
> editor.
> Bill
> Hunter Gray wrote:
> >
> > I saw them just as soon as they came in from the lower door on the far
> > side of  the  vast old Seattle Union Train Station
> >  that Sunday afternoon in late October, down in what was left
> > of the increasingly Urban Renewed and Yuppie-Invaded old Skid Road
> > below the totem poles on Yesler Way.

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