where the writers are
Hard times so on the road
Roofers, Mission San Miguel Arcangel

The town Robert Louis Stevenson nearly burned down (wondered if the moss hanging off live oak trees burned, so took a match and . . . ), that Clark Ashton Smith and Steinbeck wrote in. . .Pacific Grove, California . . . could be without a library.

There's a parcel tax on yesterday's ballot to keep the library going. Nancy's on the library board, works hard like others, hours of calls to get the vote out on Measure J. We vote early then leave town, drive south, bypassing Salinas _ which has its own election issues, trying to raise the sales tax to fight gang violence _ down the long valley, toward Mission San Miguel Arcangel and the town of San Miguel.

San Miguel, hard by Fort Hunter Liggett, struggles, but I think of individuals. Mr. Jeeter's gone, just moved on, I hope, not the other thing. Always liked Mr. Jeeter. Ran a junk shop, looked like W.C. Fields to the largish nose, but a kind of melancholy; that's Fields too. Bought some wonderful Indian sketches from Mr. Jetter once, still have a few.

An LA real estate guy a decade ago sees maginficent growth in San Miguel's future but it doesn't happen and he closes his office and disappears overnight. The towners had been suspicious of him anyway; he wore designer shades and sandals and when he walked down the main drag and waved, few waved back. Bad vibes all around. Nobody's fault but it wasn't going to work.

Then there was Bob, also had a junk shop, gauntly handsome, charming, sleepy-eyed, scoffed when people commented on his chain smoking. Then one day he coughs up a chunk of his lung. Stuns and horrifies him as he holds a piece of the organ in the palm of his hands. He grinds his cigarettes into the dusty street in front of his shop and seeks treatment but it's too late and he's gone in weeks but, still, somehow part of that street when the wind blows.

The mission closes after the 2003 San Simeon earthquake but recently reopens, its glorious murals by Esteban Munras to be seen again. Work goes on at the Mission to this moment, roofers replacing the ancient titles where they need replacing, shards and bits tossed into wheelbarrows and from the wheelbarrows into the back of a truck, apace to beat the rainy season.

The roofers are Hispanic, maybe a dozen. One sings like a bird. That's apt. It's high and dangerous work, the tiles slip and crack and the balancing acts are scarey and impressive. Nancy asks about the shards. Take them, says one, do you want a full tile? In an hour there will be a tile we must replace under the old olive tree by that adobe wall. It is for you. Gracias, we say.

We walk into town to pass the hour. Where Mr. Jeeter was years past there is another man, like Mr. Jeeter a dealer in old things. He remembers Mr. Jeeter, bought the business from him.  He is full of energy. Look at these prints. What do you think of this? I came here a few years ago, my wife and I, he beams. It seemed a good place, a quiet life. But then, he pauses, my wife passed away. We like him a lot, worth the trip down.

The hour passes and the tile is, indeed, under the olive tree. The workers wave from the roof, we wave. Worth the trip down, and we drive north, heading toward home, with a stop on the way in a favorite small town, wondering, of course, how the election is going. We go into a general store. Heavy wood plank floors. A worn linoleum counter over which to drink a beer. Marcel, comfortingly, is behind the counter. A poetic man, a retired physician, once said of Marcel  – Marcel's a treasure, when Marcel dies,  (the town) dies.

A fieldworker comes in from the hot sun, pushing through the screen door, chats with Marcel and buys a six pack; he calls Marcel amigo; everyone seems to think of Marcel as an amigo. In a week or so the work in the fields ends for this season and the workers will move on to Arizona or back to Mexico and Marcel's business will lessen still more.

Marcel's place is not what it was because many of his friends and customers have died. In the afternoons the place once brimmed with conversation and laughter. Now, after talking about these people who have gone – Marcel behind the counter, we seated on our stools – Marcel looks down and wonders about the town he  has spent his whole life in and loves so much. The sadness is almost unbrearable.

Show us your grandchildren, Nancy says suddenly, breaking the silence,and Marcel brightens, reaching for photos as he has done many times before. The last is of a grandson, posing with his canine corps dog, fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq, in which Marcel does not seem to want to know. Do you hear from him? Oh, yes, he smiles, he calls twice a week. Something is left unsaid.

A woman enters with a child. Marcel plays with the child. She laughs. Marcel laughs. Worth the trip down. He is just a wonderful human being, Nancy says, as we drive north.

Salinas votes down the tax increase to control the gangs. The cops will make a stand vastly outnumbered, one guesses. Lately it all comes down to money and it isn't there.

Pacific Grove needs a two-thirds affirmative vote to pass Measure J and support the library. It comes just short at 65.23 percent; 2,142 voters say they want to support the library, a thousand less, 1,142 say no. The No's have it. An odd kind of democracy. Are there some uncounted yes absentees out there?

We're got six months of library, then who knows. Librarians worried about job security, residents wondering how a town with such a rich literary history can be without a place to check out a book. Going into the library today would be unbearable. We'll skip.

Well, at least Mission San Miguel Arcangel is open again and Marcel is still in his town. Worth the trip down.