Stevie Drake-Scudder

stevie2Roundman’s Smoke House (motto: “We’ll Smoke Anything”) is the highlight of my weekly shopping routine. The aroma of wood smoke evokes the feel of autumn when fallen tree branches and leaves are raked into piles and reduced to ash before the winter rains. The store is packed with an array of smoked meats, cheeses, all-natural meats, and best of all, their fabulous bacon. (When my son left for college 12 years ago, he claimed the only thing he’d miss about Fort Bragg was Roundman’s bacon.) The employees are friendly, helpful and have great senses of humor. I always enter and leave the shop with a smile.

Roundman’s has been part of Stevie’s life since her father Steve Scudder became co-owner with Steve Rasmussen in 1995. It employed her during high school, college, and in lean times during her film production and massage therapy careers.

stevie4Stevie has lived in Portland, San Francisco, and Vermont. The bonds of family, friends, and the beauty of the Mendocino Coast (along with the family business) have brought her home time and time again.

She was raised on a “commune” in Albion—a collection of her dad and his friends who bought land in the seventies and built houses where they still live nearly forty years later. Throughout her childhood, her parents said, “You can do anything you want, you just gotta do it.”

She worked hard in school and earned a scholarship to Pacific University outside of Portland, Oregon. “It was just far enough away that my parents couldn’t pop in for a weekend visit.” She laughs.

Her dream to become a doctor was squelched when she struggled through organic chemistry and calculus. “In my senior year in high school, I was told I had dyslexia. It’s no wonder I had problems with those courses.” She discovered a love of photography and film. A professor convinced her to major in film production.

With her lovable three-legged dog Sailor.

“After graduation in 2001, I worked as a film editor in Portland for six months before moving to the Bay Area.” She worked for post-production houses in San Francisco before landing a job in the equipment department at the Academy of Arts College. “One of the perks of that job was free use of the film equipment. I worked with others to make short, silly pieces and low budget features. It was a great time, but eventually the combination of the job, film making and the go-go-go of city life stressed me out. I was raised to be more chill. After seven years, I knew it wasn’t for me in the long term, forever way of thinking.

“I did a one-eighty and enrolled in massage therapy school. When I was a kid, I don’t remember going to a doctor very often. Instead, my parents took me to Faith Graham, a gifted, spiritual massage therapist. She was my inspiration.”

Stevie returned to the Mendocino Coast in 2007, worked a bit with Faith and at Roundman’s while building her own massage practice.

stevie6A few years later, she met boyfriend James Todd. “He was born in Mendocino on July 4, 1979. Many people remember the date because it was the only year his parents weren’t at the parade.” When he was two, his family moved to Vermont.

“A friend from high school Josh Tsujimara moved to Vermont and happened to meet James. In 2009, James decided to explore his birthplace (he had not been back since he was a toddler). James wandered into the Tip Top and there was Josh working as a bartender.” A short time later, Josh introduced Stevie to James.

By 2011, James missed his hometown of Middlebury, Vermont, and Stevie agreed to move. “The small town feel is similar to here, but there’s no ocean and the weather can be harsh.” She worked as a massage therapist and an assistant manager at a natural food co-op. “The cost of living was high, but the wages were low. We both had to work two jobs to make ends meet. In August 2014, the family business called us home. After 20 years, Ma was retiring and it was time to come back.

“It was an adjustment. I wondered: What am I doing here? What’s my role? Everyone fully embraced us. I realized how much a part of me this business is—it’s truly my family.”

Her dad still works 12-hour days, James is a butcher, and two friends from Vermont were recently hired. “Roundman’s has an amazing crew, provides a livable wage, and treats everyone like family. We’ve grown from four employees to seventeen. We encourage everyone to create their own flavors—like Jasper’s Famous Bacon Sticks and Jessie’s Famous Corned Beef Bangers—and continue to learn about flavor profiles from our younger employees.”

stevie5What Stevie loves most about her job is working with her dad Steve. “He’s the best man I know. He and Steve Rasmussen found this little gem at the right time in their lives and at the right time for the coast. They’ve created an environment where everyone supports each other and plays on their strengths.”

What she likes least: “Meat is a male dominated business. I sometimes feel a lack of respect from customers who insist on getting their questions answered by one of the guys. I know as much as the guys about most things meat. When I don’t, I ask.”

As the Owner In Training (or OIT as Steve Rasmussen calls her), Stevie carries a lot of responsibility for running the business and has a hard time turning her brain off. A year after her return, she started dabbling in massage again, mostly with friends and family, on a very part-time basis. “I realized how much I missed it. Body work allows me to do something I love while helping people. I feel the same way about bacon.” She laughs.

Stevie imagines a bright future as co-owner of Roundman’s. “The coast has grown and there are a lot of people I don’t know, but nothing compares to waking up to the beauty of our surroundings. I hope the area doesn’t grow too big, that we stay rooted in the small town feel, to honor the way of life that brought a lot of us back.”

Stevie is happy to have returned to the loving arms of family, friends, coworkers, supportive customers, and fellow business owners. She envisions continuing to sign her Roundman’s emails for years to come: “Stevie and the Steves.”

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Tom Butler

Tom tore out of Fort Bragg in 1988, at the age of 17. If anyone had asked if he’d ever move back, he would have said, “Not in a million years!”

I supposed this is an appropriate response from a guy who hated school so much that he spent the first 10 days of his sophomore year at the beach. “I’d ride the bus each morning. The other kids got off and took a right into the school. I veered left and walked away.” When he got caught, he quit Fort Bragg High and enrolled in the alternative school (now known as Noyo High) where he completed the graduation requirements in a little over a year. He wasted no time in heading to Santa Rosa.

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Karl (left) & Tom (right)

Twenty-eight years later, he’s back. He lives with his longtime partner and husband Karl, owns a house, and runs a wildly successful business—Re-Find, which sells high quality used furniture and men’s clothing.

***

After 10 years in Santa Rosa, Tom got disheartened one gloomy January day, went to the internet, and looked up the warmest place in the United States. It was Phoenix. He and Karl spent a week there and liked what they saw—lots of sunshine and a lower cost of living. A year later, they moved.

In Phoenix, Tom held a variety of jobs, mostly in retail. He also sold real estate for a few years and later worked for Wells Fargo as a mortgage underwriter. When he and Karl bought a mid-century ranch house, they decided not to furnish it with their Craftsman-style furniture. They sold everything but a bed and two plastic Adirondack chairs.

The hunt was on to find period pieces to fit their new home. The collection quickly grew larger than they needed, and Tom sold the extras on eBay. He continued to buy and sell, and before long, he and Karl quit their jobs to manage the business fulltime. They enclosed a back patio to hold a growing inventory of sofas, chairs, and tables. They eventually turned their rental house into a warehouse.

By 2004, mid-century furniture became trendy. In 2005, they opened a store—Phoenix Metro Retro. They grew rapidly, moving the store twice and doubling their space each time.

The 2009 recession hit and business slowed dramatically. They relocated to a warehouse and were open only on weekends. “We lowered our prices, and actually made more money because our overhead was less.”

tom3During this time, Tom and Karl had grown weary of the Phoenix heat and discussed their next move. Tom likes big cities, but Karl is partial to small towns, especially Fort Bragg (where they often visited Tom’s family). They both enjoy the ocean and nature. Tom notes that the town has changed since the days of his youth, which helped his decision to move back. “There was a deep divide between us and Mendocino. We were the redneck, working class while Mendocino was the hippy town. That’s not so true anymore. With the influx of new people and businesses, Fort Bragg has a different flavor.”

During a trip to the coast in the summer of 2009, they bought a house on an acre of land (they figured if the economy went bust, they could feed themselves by growing a vegetable garden), sold their Phoenix house and business, and moved.

Looking back, Tom notes the potential folly. “We weren’t sure how we were going to make a living.”  One day, while driving to Mendocino, they stopped at a garage sale at the Prentice Gallery on Highway One. “When I was a kid, this was Hopper’s Market.” They discovered the gallery was leaving that location. They liked the space and thought it would make a great store. “The next day, I called Bud Hopper who said he was planning to convert it to a mini-storage. He rented it to us instead.”

Employee Whitney takes a month off each spring to travel the alpaca shearing circuit.

Employee Whitney takes a month off each spring to travel the alpaca shearing circuit.

Tom designed the logo before he had a name. He liked the idea of the recycling symbol in the shape of a house. His sister Joanie suggested Re-Find.

“We opened with minimal fanfare. I’d missed the deadline for a newspaper ad. As it turned out, we didn’t need one. We sold nearly all our inventory that first weekend.” Two weeks later, Karl quit his job at Suburban Propane to focus on bookkeeping, taxes, payroll, and cleaning furniture as it comes in. They eventually hired three employees.

To keep the store stocked, Tom and Karl make one or two trips a week to the Bay Area. They attend auctions and have a network of contacts who invite them to shop estate sales before they’re open to the public.

“I know what I want in my house, but that’s not necessarily what my customers want. I initially said I’d never put recliners in my store—I think they represent everything that’s wrong with America.” Tom laughs. “After two weeks, the store had recliners. Each year, leading up to the Super Bowl, I stock up, put them out in the parking lot and sell every one.”

tom9Tom loves to shop and loves a deal. This propensity is shared by his loyal customers. Some visit the story daily, many stop by three times a week. On Thursdays—the day new inventory is revealed—people wait outside, clamoring to get in. He takes great delight in offering beautiful items at reasonable prices. “People get joy out of buying something to make their house look nice. They’re proud of their purchases.”

tom4Two years ago, Karl partitioned part of the shop into a men’s used clothing store. “There are few options for men’s clothing on the coast.” Like the furniture business, it’s been a hit.

Tom does what he can to give back to the community. He was on the board of Big Brothers/Big Sisters until the agency left the area. He’d like to join another board, but his busy schedule won’t permit it. He’s generous with fundraisers, donating hundreds of dollars a year in gift certificates.

He describes his return to the coast as awesome. “I was hesitant at first, worried that I’d have to take medication to survive the fog and cold. But my biggest adjustment was having to buy heavy socks to stay warm during that first winter.” Between his business, friends and large extended family, he’s busy and happy.

We’re happy it didn’t take him a million years to come back.

Callie loves to ride in the work truck.

Callie loves to ride in the work truck.

The Day the Earth Stood Still

InternetTwo weeks ago, all internet and a lot of telephone service along the Mendocino Coast was interrupted when an auto accident on Comptche-Ukiah Road resulted in a pole struck and slammed to the ground. Apparently that pole supported a bunch of microwave ovens—or whatever it is that allows us to electronically connect with the greater world.

Twenty miles away on that Sunday evening, the scene in this house was reminiscent of clips from the 1971 movie “The Panic in Needle Park.”

I hate to admit it, but my husband Gary and I feel we have a God-given right to trouble-free internet access. (I was once told you’re only as sick as your secrets—so there you have it.) In fits of rage, we unplugged the modem, plugged it in, cursed the red light, and called friends to ask if they had service. Oddly, everyone’s phone was busy.

A radio broadcast revealed what had happened and sparked some very serious questions: Who was the driver of the car? Was he drunk? He must have been drunk. I’ll bet he was drunk.

Why are the various contraptions that provide internet, cell phone and bundled services (internet/television/cell and landline phones) on one measly pole? I suggest three poles: one for this, one for that, and one for this and that. Doesn’t this make far more sense than having everything attached to something that can be toppled and freak out an entire community of internet addicts?

After I learned that the services that connect us to the outside world are actually provided through a fancy cable, I had more questions: Why can’t the cable be buried like in civilized communities? Why must it hang from a series of polls that subject it to the perils of wind, storms and careless drivers? Why does AT&T hate us?

AT&T's ugly building in Fort Bragg

AT&T’s ugly building in Fort Bragg

Each time I pay my landline phone bill, I grumble at forking out money for something I rarely use. Now I’m grateful. Unlike many who were knocked out of all communication, my landline continued to function. But it was useless for calling my bundled-service friends and it couldn’t access Facebook.

Without use of the internet, my business came to a grinding halt. (Despite the millions I make from writing this blog, it is not enough to support my lavish lifestyle.) On Monday morning, I was unable to follow the financial markets and check on the latest charitable works of the Kardashians. I was forced to file stacks of paperwork, clear off my desk, and vacuum my office. I plucked my eyebrows, waxed my mustache, and painted a spare bedroom.

It was only ten o’clock.

sweetaffairI went downtown to soothe myself with a treat from the fabulous French bakery, A Sweet Affair. Thank goodness her ovens had not been affected. I went to Feet First to buy a pair of running shoes. I’d once read that runners should refresh their shoes every so many miles. I figured I’d finally fallen into the so many miles category. I put them on and ran home to eat my pastries.

By Tuesday, I wished I’d purchased more than one cupcake (okay, I’d bought two) to sustain me through the bleak hours ahead. (A Sweet Affair is closed on Tuesdays.)

I went downtown, stood on the corner of Laurel and Franklin Streets, and hollered that I had a working landline at my house for rent at $50 per call. Before I even closed one deal, I was arrested. The cop let me go after I allowed him to use the phone for free.

cuteThat afternoon, I studied Lucy and wondered what she would look like with eyebrows. Despite my efforts to conceal the eyebrow pencil, she spotted it and ran into my office. I noticed the red light on the modem was gone. After 48 hours it must have burned out.

I turned on my computer and clicked the icon thingy that gets me on the internet and—thank the powers that be—I was one with the world once again. I spent hours checking email, Facebook, and—believe it or not—even Twitter.

And the Kardashians? After each was fitted with a designer wardrobe, they flew to Israel to negotiate a successful peace agreement with Palestine. Afterwards, they were spotted at Fashion Week in Tel Aviv.

A Ballsy Idea

It’s not often that two people get into a fight over a giant bra ball. In fact, my research suggests it’s happened only once in the history of mankind.

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Ron Nicolino

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Emily Duffy

The kerfuffle started in the mid-1990’s when San Francisco Bay Area artist Ron Nicolino began collecting bras for “Bras Across the Grand Canyon,” a performance art piece to condemn sexism. Alas, the feds would not approve the venture, and he was left with tens of thousands of bras that had been donated by women from all over the world.

What to do? What to do?

duffy2jpgHe took his plight to the San Francisco Chronicle, which published his desire to donate the bras to a worthy cause. Emily Duffy, another Bay Area artist, answered the call and offered to take a few hundred. She would use them to make a car bra for her “Vain Van.” But Nicolino wasn’t interested in giving away just a few—he wanted to unload his entire inventory.

I know what you’re thinking—right there should have been a sign that trouble was on the horizon.

Later, Duffy claimed that during their initial phone conversation, it was her idea to create a Giant Bra Ball. Nicolino claimed the idea was his. After all, most of his bras were already wrapped around a giant spool. A spool is a ball-like form, right?

Nicolino apparently didn’t get any warm fuzzies during his conversation with Duffy or from her subsequent letter where she proposed they collaborate on making a ball. He started rolling his bras toot-sweet.

At the time, Duffy had only 10 bras. How could she possibly compete with his collection of 20-60,000? (The estimates vary widely.) I’m thinking—but do not know—that Nicolino grossly misjudged her tenacity. Within weeks, she emailed a bunch of friends and quickly procured 15,000 bras.

The Giant Bra Ball War was on!

They each retained a lawyer. From that moment on, they never referred to each other by name. Duffy called Nicolino “the other artist” and he called her “the individual.” Duffy’s lawyer sent a cease and desist letter. Nicolino’s lawyer fired back a claim that a copyright cannot be held on a concept of sculpture.

nicolino2I don’t know about Emily Duffy, but I do know that Nicolino hauled his Giant Bra Ball to the Mendocino 4th of July Parade in 2001. At the time I was still adjusting—after nine years—to living on the Mendocino Coast and was shocked by the number of women who reached inside their shirts to unhinge their bras and toss them onto the back of the flatbed towed behind his 1963 pink Cadillac. I would later regret not having been brave enough to rip off my bra to donate to the 14,000 or so hooked together to form the five-foot diameter ball.

BraballWhen I happened upon Nicolino after the parade, he gallantly posed for a picture with his creation. (His smile was tempting, but I retained my bra.)

For some years—although I am unable to determine how many—Nicolino towed his Giant Bra Ball in parades and parked it outside the Pier 23 Café in San Francisco.

Nicolino died on July 7, 2009 at the age of 69, three weeks after being diagnosed with cancer. A few years previously, he’d moved to La Conner, Washington, and started a casket-making business. At the time of his death, he was working on his own casket, which featured a clown face. An artist friend finished it for him.

After he died, his mother hoped that some organization would take the 1,600-pound bra ball.

Alas, in all my research and email inquiries to strangers, I am unable to find out what happened to Nicolino’s Giant Bra Ball. Duffy’s ended up in the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

It’s unclear whether Nicolino took his Giant Bra Ball with him to La Conner. Given his mother’s wish that someone take possession of it, I imagine the ball stayed—like my son’s international Starbucks mug collection—in her garage.