Link to before/after photos

The Great
California Cedar Project
of 2001


For Thursday, August 23, 2001                                  Drummer Column, Gibbs, 737 words 

"No fortune cookies tonight, fellas!"


     My friend Gino from Philadelphia returned to California this summer. If you recall, his last visit was cut short by an allergic reaction to penicillin that kicked in miles into the Yosemite backcountry swelling him up like a Macy's day balloon. We hiked out early and he spent his remaining days in bed whacked out on Benedril

     This summer he decided to try again. He came out to help me remodel my Tahoe cabin. Gino arrived on July 18. We had three days together before ten more people were due to arrive on July 21. Along with several friends from Benicia, we would simulate an Amish barn raising by nailing cedar siding over our old particle-board cabin.

     Gino arrived at 11:30 p.m. at SFO. I picked him up and began the drive home. As we entered San Francisco, Gino said, "Let's stop in the city. We'll have a drink or something."

     It was midnight, but so what. We exited at Fell and Laguna and drove up Polk, then right up Lombard and down the curvy street. We parked in North Beach next to Capps Family Style Italian Restaurant and walked in for a brew. Just as we entered, Neil, the bartender, had inserted a fresh CD -- Bruce Springsteen singing, "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out."

     We considered it an omen of good times. Back at Penn State in 1975, Bruce's "Freeze Out" was our group house's theme song. We played it nightly and loudly, dropping our pencils and dancing in the halls.

     We laughed an hour away with Neil then moved on to the Cobalt Room and met Antonio, the next bartender. At this late hour it was just the three of us. We drank Fernet Branca.

     At 2:30 a.m. Gino was hungry, so of course we drove to Chinatown and parked outside our favorite restaurant, Sam Wo's, open until 3 a.m.


One enters Wo's through the kitchen and climbs rickety steps to the upper floors. At this late hour Gino and I were the only occidentals in the place. The other tables were filled by young Chinese men in their teens and 20s and two girls.

     The atmosphere was friendly. The other guys spoke a mixture of Chinese and English and everyone flirted with the spry and sassy waitress. The food was excellent. We stuffed ourselves with won ton and seafood. Near the end of our meal, a man looked out the window and said, "Hey, here comes the meter man. If anyone is parked on this side of the street, you'll get a ticket."

     That meant me. I'd parked right outside the door. I ran down and out and begged the meter man to give me a few minutes to pay my bill. He refused. "Move now or get a ticket," he said.

     I called up to the windows. "Hey, can you call my friend to the window?" Gino stuck his head out. I said, "Gino, pay the bill. I have to move my car. I'll drive around the block and pick you up."  I drove around the block and picked him up. He was standing on the street corner. "Did you pay the bill?" I asked.

     "Yes," said Gino, "but you won't believe what happened after you left. A guy came in and began slapping the crap out of the guy sitting behind us, the guy with two girls. That guy stood up and whacked the other guy over the head with his stool. Then two more guys came in. The guy with the girls jumped over the railing and stood on the table next to us, spilling everyone's won ton soup. The table tipped over and he jumped onto the next table, spilling all their food. Then he fell and his shoe flew off. It landed under our table. Then the intruder guy pulled out a knife and tried to stab the other guy in the back. He took off down the stairs with the intruder chasing him stabbing at the air trying to catch him. His two friends followed him and out they went. Then the waitress told everyone to leave and they closed the restaurant."

     I looked as we drove by and saw the lights go out. Two frightened girls stood on the front steps. The meter man was two cars up, writing a ticket. Everyone else was calmly walking away in different directions.

     "Gino, welcome back to California."


For Thursday, August 30, 2001                                    Drummer Column, Gibbs, 752 words


Move over, Amish folk


     I will now tell you stories of great accomplishments made amidst mixed adventures. Read how a run-down Tahoe cabin became the neighborhood gem, and how during its Amish Italian barn-raising transformation, many  tales unfurled. Before we begin, know of the people who made it all happen. 

     Cast of 11 Philadelphia characters: Gino Giambrone, old college buddy, finish carpenter, wild life enthusiast, loving, sarcastic, brutally kind; Jay Prudente, old buddy of college buddy, home builder, high-speed master craftsman, works with the Amish, avoids tequila; Edie Prudente, wife of Jay, artist, cook, tolerant adventurer; Rachel Prudente, brilliant, athletic pre-teen daughter, lover of Japanese Animation; Elaina Prudente, the little sister, lover of hot dogs, McDonalds and other specific foods, attracts animals, asks many questions; Scott Belford, Gino's brother-in-law, big daddy, tool-and-die by trade, apprentice carpenter, all-around good guy, ombudsman; Lisa Belford, works with schizophrenics, wife of Scott, sister of Gino, cook, likes iron skillets in the fire and good conversation; Rachel Belford, teenage daughter, brilliant, athletic, laughs frequently, prefers running at lower altitudes; Justin Belford, eldest teenage son, headed for the Army, carpenter, babe magnet, protector of small children, old beyond his years; Anthony Belford, younger brother, into math and magnetism, weird-people translator, apprentice carpenter, story teller, takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'; Loretta Giambrone, family matriarch, mother of Gino and Lisa, artist, teacher, philosopher, unrelated to Al Capone, warm and affectionate, devout.

     Cast of California characters: Bud Donaldson, teacher, meticulous Finish Man, heck of a dancer; Brian Duquette, former student, provider of all tools, master of demolition, skilled carpenter, indefatigable; Chad Shelton, son-in-law, apprentice carpenter, owner of waffle-headed hammer, story teller, has my green shirt; Ron West, "Hey…" the idea man, skilled carpenter, appreciator of people's best traits, bringer of ham; Jane West, wife to Ron, principal, skilled cedar stainer, frequent cedar stainer, attuned to the human condition, earlier riser, did I mention cedar stainer?; Susan Gibbs, my loving wife, the great organizer, doer of things, maker of plans, skilled cedar stainer, frequent cedar stainer, close with Jane; and me.

     Prequel: Susan's parents have owned a Tahoe cabin for over 20 years:

     Susan and I bought our own place two doors down about seven years ago and currently rent it to three college girls. It was built in 1962 and it looked it. The siding was shabby particle board painted a wincing mint green, the windows were few and single-paned, the chimney was cracked, unbeknownst to us until recently. We called for bids to re-side the house in cedar. The amount: $27,000 Yeow.  That was beyond our wildest budget.   

    So, we made an offer to Gino last year while he was delirious from a bad penicillin reaction. We invited him to put a crew together back in Philadelphia and Susan and I would fly them and their families all round trip, keep them bed and fed in Tahoe at her parents' place, and provide whirlwind Bay Area tours in exchange for help in re-siding our cabin.

     Gino and ten others agreed. We bought 11 round-trips, and this July the adventures began.

     The first adventure was the knife fight in Chinatown that I described last week. The following morning, Thursday, Gino and I loaded my truck with Brian Duquette's tools and drove to South Shore, hitting the El Dorado wineries along the way. That evening Brian joined us with another truckload of tools. The rest of the workers would fly in on Saturday.

     Brian works for a generous contractor. The man allowed Brian to borrow all the equipment we needed. We had compressors, pneumatic nail guns, miter saws, table saws, jig saws, circular saws, sawsalls, sawhorses, sanders, planers, levels, hammers, ladders, and all the rest.

     When we arrived,  Meeks lumber had just dropped off nearly $8,000 in cedar, pine logs, windows, doors, stain, and all the rest. It was stacked in the driveway. We loaded everything into the garage as night fell. 

     Early on Friday we examined the work site. Our immediate attention went to the crack in the chimney that Susan and I had just discovered a week earlier. It was a bad one. Our insurance inspector saw it four days ago and said it wasn't covered as it had happened slowly over the years. Still, he agreed to re-examine it with a brick mason that Friday at 1 p.m. Gino and I took a morning drive to Home Depot in Carson City leaving young Brian alone with the cracked chimney. Careful readers can predict what Brian did in our absence.

For Thursday, September 6, 2001                                Drummer Column, Gibbs, 662 words


The chimney caper



     To pick up from last week, my friend Gino and I were 25 miles from Tahoe at the Carson City Home Depot on Friday morning, July 20, buying building supplies for re-siding my Tahoe cabin. My energetic, restless young friend Brian Duquette was back at the cabin alone supposedly puttering around awaiting our return. 

     We guessed him to be working on an exposed bathroom wall. Gino and I planned to return in time to meet an insurance inspector and stone mason at 1 p.m. to discuss how to best fix a huge crack we'd recently discovered in my chimney. Chimney repair wasn't in my budget. The inspector had said a week before that we were uninsured, but was willing to take a second look with the mason. Depending on the cost and coverage, we figured we'd either plug it or mortar over it with new rock.

     When we got back we found Brian in the backyard, poking at the exterior of the bathroom wall, but not much had been done in the three hours Gino and I had been gone.

     This wasn't like Brian at all. Brian never rests. Brian never stops. Brian works for leisure. It wasn't right that nothing had changed since we left. Curious and befuddled, I asked, "Brian, what have you been doing all morning?"

     "Oh," said Brian, matter-of-factly, "I tore down the chimney."

     "Very funny," I said. "You know the insurance inspector will be here in about a half hour. Really, what have you been doing?"

     "I told you," said Brian. "I tore down the chimney. It was crap. It had to go."

     "Now, really, come on…" I started. Just then Gino stepped around the corner to have a look.

     "Oh, boy. Geez, oh, man. Look at that."

     I went to have a look, and there was my chimney, on the ground, in a thousand pieces, with a gaping hole leading into the living room.


     He stepped up calmly. "I crawled onto the roof," he said, "gave it a push, and it cracked at the house line. Then I had to knock it down. It was a safety hazard."

     "But the insurance man, the mason, they're due any minute. Couldn't you have waited?"

     "Why wait? You already said it wasn't covered."

     "Yes, but he was going to reconsider. Maybe it could have been repaired."

     Brian shook his head in certainty. "You wouldn't want to repair it. It was crap. Bring your truck around and we'll take it to the dump."

     Gino just shrugged and went back to work on the bathroom wall. I took a walk down the street to cool off. I called my wife. She said over the phone, "Brian!!" and other things. Brian, in the meantime, drove his own truck around and began filling it with crumbled brick.

     At 1 p.m. the inspector and mason arrived. They were not at all phased by the fallen chimney. The inspector reiterated that it wasn't insured. The mason said he could have repaired it for $8,000. The mason also said that if we switched to gas we wouldn't need a new chimney and offered to build us a beautiful river-rock fireplace inside for $1,800. Brian offered to get started on the extruding wooden box that would hold the gas stove. I may as well flow with it, I figured, and agreed to it all.

     The inspector and mason left. I turned to Brian and said, "Darn it, Brian, thanks. You just saved me $6,200. Now, let's get this mess to the dump before the Philadelphia people arrive."


     "I told you," said Brian with a grin. "There's no denying that crap is crap.  it. Besides, look at this." Around the fireplace, once concealed by the old cracked chimney, the studs and foundation beams were rotten and spongy. Had we kept the chimney, we'd have never seen this other damage.

     Later I bought three thick ribeye steaks at the Overland Meat Company and Gino whipped up a delicious olive oil marinade using cilantro and jalapenos.


     The chimney was gone. The  rot was gone. A new sliding glass door was installed. We were showered and shiny.  That evening we barbecued in the backyard and opened a bottle of Madrona Cabernet Franc. We ate like kings with fingers and forks and tipped our glasses to the Tahoe sunset, which was obscured by trees, but was out there somewhere, we were sure of it.

     Tomorrow the rest of the work party would arrive.





The Unexpected Addition! Very nice...

Thanks to Brian we now have a nice new gas fireplace set in real river rock.



For September 13, 2001                                              Drummer Column, Gibbs, 743 words


Steamers and screamers


     One thing I like about walking the neighborhoods of Tahoe is that no two houses look alike. There are big ones, fancy ones, small ones, plain ones, quaint ones, and neglected ones. Over the years I've watched many of our neighbors remodel their homes, either by themselves or through a contractor. The self-managed projects usually spanned the summer months, a few boards going up each week. Even when contractors were hired, they only assigned two or three men to a residence project and it took weeks or months to finish.

     Not so with our Amish Italian barn-raising. We had 12 people working every day on re-siding my cabin and were done in six days. On the seventh day we rested.

     However, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me take you back to the day everyone arrived late. It was still Saturday, July 21. Gino, Brian, and I had one more day alone before the stampede. 

     After a shortened day of pounding and sawing we cleaned up and took an early dinner so we could greet the folks from Philly. We called Susan, my wife, on her cell phone. She was at the Sacramento airport with Bud Donaldson and his megavan. The flight board showed the plane on time. We told her we were headed to Steamers Bar and Grill on Lake Tahoe Blvd for a quick, quiet meal of fish and chips, but that we'd be back in time for their arrival.

     The bar was almost deserted with only about a dozen other guys scattered around. The waitress was giving us extra attention in taking our order, flirting with Gino no doubt, when we all heard the whoosh of air brakes and looked outside. A bus had pulled up and people were getting off.

     "Oh, boy," said the waitress, not to us but to the other waitresses and the barkeep. "Here come the Tahoe Tomatoes. Man your battle stations." She deserted us mid-order and ran into the back room.

     The Tahoe Tomatoes? We looked at each other and shrugged. Then the door flew open and in came a seemingly endless stream of whooping, screaming, beautiful women dressed in leopard skin pants and loud blouses, wearing wild hats and feathered glasses. They began ordering sophisticated drinks (not beer) and snapping pictures of themselves in various clusters, sometimes drawing surprised patrons into the photos. "Hello, boys," they said to us. Their favorite gesture was to hold both arms over their heads, wiggle their hips, and yell, "Wahoo!" and then order more drinks. Steamers became a madhouse for about 45-minutes with the intoxicating scents and sounds of giddy women, then the bus came back, out they went, and were gone into the night.

     Our food was delayed but we were allayed. Our waitress explained. The Tahoe Tomatoes is a women's group, some married, some not, who get together about once a month, rent a bus, and go bar-hopping around town. They are encouraged to wear outrageous costumes and let it all hang out. And they do.

     I tell this story because during the chaos my wife was trying to call Steamers from the airport with important information that they were delayed for an extra hour. She asked the bartender to page me. The frazzled bartender refused, saying "It's crazy here right now and I don't have time," then hung up on her. He didn't give any details, and Susan couldn't imagine how "crazy" it could possibly be at this usually quiet grill. She figured this bartender was just being lazy and rude.

     She called back and said, "This is an emergency! I must speak with my husband." The bartender hung up on her again after a brusque excuse and a plea to call back later. She did call back later -- one minute later. "Listen, pal, I need to talk to my husband right now! So page him, #@%* it. [a paraphrase]." Having to respond to three phone calls while dozens of women were ordering exotic cocktails had the bartender in a tight mood. He hung up again.

     We drove home and rested on the deck. We mildly wondered what was taking everyone so long to arrive from Sacramento. We figured they were either sight-seeing or driving slow. When folks did arrive it was a lot of happy hugging and hand-shaking and laughing and bringing in of luggage. As people fanned out looking for their assigned beds, Susan turned to me and said, "I'm going to kill that bartender at Steamers."

     "What?" I said. Then we traded stories.


For Thursday, September 27, 2001                              Drummer Column, Gibbs, 740 words


The build


     My Tahoe story has at least two more parts. I interrupted it last week to comment on theSeptember 11 terrorist attack. I'd like to carry on with it now. The great bulk of the work party has just arrived, and the best is yet to come.

     The next morning at my wife's parents' cabin in South Lake Tahoe, fifteen people sat for breakfast. Ten were from Philadelphia, five were from Benicia. We talked east and west over gallons of Peets coffee, then most of us put on utility belts and walked to the work site, two doors up.

     There stood the Gibbs's wincing green particle board L-shaped cabin with no chimney, holes in the wall, wood rot, termites and dangling wires.

     There was no hesitation. We pulled out the tools and everyone took a project. People fanned out like they'd done this all before, and of course they had. Jay builds homes. Gino remodels interiors. Brian builds shopping centers. Bud teaches wood shop. Ron spent years as a professional carpenter before becoming a teacher. Justin and Anthony, the teenagers, have worked projects with their uncle Gino before. I'm darn good with a broom and a brush and a shopping list, as is my wife. And as I said about Jane West, Jane rhymes with stain, and she's darn good at it.


    We made a busy scene that attracted the eyes of passers-by. We were sawing, hammering, measuring, staining, painting, and drilling, all at the same time. Cars would slow down. Neighbors gave us the thumbs up. Some got out of their cars and walked over to talk. Some walked up from their houses down the street. They were all, no doubt, very thankful that we were fixing up the old lime box after all these years.    



     Each day the house underwent amazing transformations. We replaced all bad wood. We reinsulated.

     We wrapped 16-inch aluminum flashing around the base of the house. We put aluminum flashing over every door and window. We replaced all windows with new dual panes, and put a marble sill in the bathroom.

     We put in a sliding glass door. We created two new windows overlooking the Tahoe forest. We built a bay window in the front. We replaced the porch pillars with pine logs. We nailed up with loving care golden brown eight-inch cedar planks, hand-stained on both sides, over the whole house, and trimmed them in cedar boards painted a dark, forest green. As a closing touch, our new Tahoe friend named Jeff Scott built us a river-rock fireplace with a half-log mantle.

     Each day more and more people stopped by to talk, mostly because they could not believe how fast we were moving. We were doing a whole summer's worth of remodeling in less than a week. We made few bad cuts, all tight fits, and never had to undo or unbuild anything. We moved fast because of everyone's tremendous skills, and because we were eager to go out and party when the job was done.

     My friends had 10 days in California before they had to fly back to Pennsylvania. We spent six on the cabin, and four on the run.

Chuck's Anti-Gravity Machine

     One evening while out for a sunset beer at Dixons, Gino befriended Chuck and Betty, a retired couple from Nebraska who were taking the Tahoe trolley tour. We invited them back to the house for an Italian pasta dinner. While chewing and conversing on the back deck, Chuck informed us that he had built an anti-gravity machine in his garage. It involved two devices making elliptical orbits, one horizontally, one vertically. The passenger sat in the middle in a "triangular liquid" to quote Chuck. All one had to do, to quote Chuck, is "tilt your head to the left or right, and zoom, you're beboppin' around the universe."     

     Skeptical, Gino begged Betty to come clean and admit that her husband was a loon, but Betty held her loyalty. She laughed, shrugged, avoided any definitive answers, and kept pointing the conversation back to Chuck.

     Chuck said he couldn't tell us much more because of the FBI satellites. They were watching him. "They can burn a hole through the top of your head," he warned. "You don't want to know too much."


     Both Chuck and Betty wore matching t-shirts that read

 "Nebraska, the Popcorn Capital
of the World."

After his ninth beer, we drove Chuck and Betty back to their hotel on Ski Run Boulevard.


See the finished product official before and after photos HERE



For Thursday, October 4, 2001                                    Drummer Column, Gibbs, 744 words

The last story: San Francisco


     With three days left in their ten-day stay, my working guests from Philadelphia and I returned from Tahoe to Benicia. My last story describes our trip to San Francisco.

     Susan and I had planned a big finale all-day whirlwind grand walking tour of San Francisco as a final "Thank You!" to everyone who helped us fix up our cabin. We wanted this tour of San Francisco to be one of the best ever, and it almost wasn't, then it was.


     Susan orchestrated all transportation. Her plan: go by ferry, return by Bart. She had vans transported in advance to the Pittsburg Bart station parking lot. She bought 17 ferry tickets and networked several Benicia friends to shuttle the 17 of us to Vallejo at the crack of dawn. We made 7:30 p.m. dinner reservations at Capp's Family Style Italian in North Beach.

     When we reached the San Francisco ferry building, we began a huge city loop. We entered the Hyatt, walked through the Embarcadero Center on the second floor, then up Commercial Street to Chinatown. Everyone wanted to eat at Sam Wo's, the scene of Gino's brawling encounter from episode one. We filled the third floor and ate for a hundred bucks.


     We walked to North Beach. At Fior d'Italia, we met up with Gino's mother, Loretta, and his cousin, Chris Capone. We drank Fernet and cappuccinos, then walked to Fisherman's Wharf. We saw the seals, ate calamari from the outdoor market, hit all the shops, and stopped at the Buena Vista for Irish coffees, directly across from the cable-car turnaround.

     Here we had trouble -- an approach approach conflict. We had reservations at Capp's, just a few blocks away, but everyone wanted to ride the cable cars. The wait for the cable car was two hours and we could only ride it for four blocks. We'd have to jump off at Lombard.

      I excused myself from the table and crossed the street where I met conductor Lance Perry, who had just encouraged two beautiful women to take his picture posing with each of them. As they walked away, he said, "Send me copies."

     I said quietly to him, "Hey, man, I've got a problem. I have a bunch of friends visiting who only want to ride the cable car four blocks. Is there any way to bypass this long line? We have dinner reservations."

     "Four blocks, eh?" said Lance. "How many people you got?"

     "Seventeen," I said.

     He whistled long. He rubbed his hands together and looked around. "All right. We're here to show tourists a good time. I want you all to hide behind those bushes there." He pointed to the low shrubbery along the sidewalk. I'll underload my car. When I get near the bushes, I'll slow down. You all jump on and get behind me and don't say anything." 

     He drifted his car to the next-up position. I ran and got everybody. We scrambled across the street and crouched behind the bushes, grown men, women, and children. Passers-by stared. When Lance slowed at the intersection, we stampeded aboard, filing into the cabin where Lance had left room. A few passengers grumbled, "No fair," but Lance just played with his bell and off we went. We bought our tickets from Lance's partner.

     As we neared Lombard, Lance asked about our reservations. I told him they were for 7:30 p.m. He said, "Man, it's only six-fifteen. You have over an hour. Stay on board across town and enjoy the ride. I'll have you back in time."

     "Are you serious, Lance? We can stay on?"

     "I told you our job was to see that tourists had a good time."

     When I informed everyone to stay onboard, the tips started flying. Several of us handed Lance cash. He cleared about 60 bucks. 

     At the Market and Powell turnaround, Lance made us move to the far side, away from the waiting, staring people. A few called out, "How come they're not getting off?" Lance just played with his bell and pulled out.

     Back through San Francisco we rode. At Lombard, Lance stopped the car long enough for us to take group pictures with three cameras. He asked only to have his picture taken with his arm around my wife. I agreed. Luckily, so did she. He gave us his mailing address. "Send me a copy," he said.


     After dinner, we walked down Columbus to its end, through the business district to Bart, direct to Pittsburg, into the vans, and home.


The End
...for a while