"Cannery Row, Again"
by Michael K. Hemp
Yee's Model AIn the early 1980's, the railroad tracks hadn't yet been pulled up the length of Cannery Row to make the concrete walking and bike path that now bisects it and curves on into Pacific Grove toward Lovers Point. As the tracks passed behind the Sea Pride cannery warehouse, the Wing Chong and Kalisa's, two cars dominated the dirt strip just wide enough for one car to negotiate all or part of the route from the rail crossing at David Avenue, above the Hovden, to the unpaved parking lot for Joe Rombi's Old Row Cafe and other tenants of the Atlantic Fisheries warehouse. One was Kalisa's old orange and white Cadillac ambulance, which she had, until forced by a blown head gasket and other assorted mechanical problems, relegated to what was to be a temporary parking spot behind Kalisa's La Ida Cafe. Her ambulance, with lettering painted on its tail gate boldly proclaiming "Entertainment is dining out at Kalisa's" never moved again and proceeded to literally rust apart in place.
The other car of note in this backsides view of this block of oddly constructed old relics of the sardine trade was the green 1955 Ford Fairlane that belonged to Alicia Harby de Noon, reigning empress of the Wing Chong. It frequently could not be moved for lack of air in its tires or other maladies which could not be promptly cured. It did, however, stand-in honorably for the ghosts of the Model T's and Model A Fords that passed through the hands of Won Yee over the years, often received in payment for debts run up at the Wing Chong.
When the City put in parking meters on the Row, Alicia fumed and ranted in their faces when they refused to provide her a resident's parking permit. It seems that since the meters were installed, she couldn't park on the street after nine in the morning; nor could she park any longer behind the Wing Chong, according to the city parking officials, since that passageway had been summarily designated a fire lane. And there was a waiting list for the few spaces in the city's small lot, which was actually the unfinished extension of Irving Avenue, below the tracks.
There was an affectionate satisfaction that came with the realization that Alicia's old green Fairlane had become the honorary stand-in for the odd fleet of automotive evolution that had graced the back of the Wing Chong over the years. No ghost yet, it stood proudly on a chronically flat tire to carry on the tradition of Fords that had called the back of the Wing Chong home. So much more the irony that it could not remain parked at Alicia's back door, nor could it be parked on the street. Alicia's rages were already renowned, but this one had city officials avoiding Cannery Row completely, afraid of becoming the target of her fury. I think it took the mayor's intervention and the surreptitious issuance of a previously non-available city parking permit to keep blood from flowing over it.
It was in this same location behind the Wing Chong sometime in early 1936 that 816 was witness to the sale of Won Yee's Model A, kept behind the Wing Chong, to Charlie Nonella. Charlie reported that it was actually in pretty good shape: new tires and a new radiator. He never paid for it, but figured that Yee got it back in dried seaweed and abalone he hauled in it for him from Big Sur. On one such trip the fabric top got blown off at Hurricane Point on the Carmel-San Simeon Highway, as Coast Highway 1 was then called. It didn't matter much, the back seat had been removed and filled with enormous peanut sacks full of seaweed and, under that, abalone.
In the off-season, the canneries of the Row were empty and silent, a strange contrast to the roar and activity of the canning months. This annual portent of the Row's ultimate demise came and went every year, failing to be recognized at the time, since everybody knew, or wanted to, that there really was no end to the sardines and this eerie annual respite was always just temporary.
It was during these off-season breaks that Charlie Nonella, Harold Otis "Gabe" Bicknell, and Chet Bushnell would work at odd jobs until the sardine season and work in the canneries returned in the fall. In the meantime some caddied at the old Del Monte course, or the lucky ones would get on at Cypress Point, depending on the favor of the caddymaster. Working at abalone and seaweed collecting for Yee at Big Sur, or a day in the sand dunes over at Seaside to collect rattlesnakes for Ed Ricketts, was all in a highly unstructured summer existence for the band.
This spring, the acquisition of Yee's old Model A made it possible for Charlie and his entourage to accept a collection request from Ed Ricketts that made men of such vast experience rise up in themselves with the importance of a truly challenging mission worthy of their skills. They were going frogging. No, not some sissy frog pond antics with nets and gunny sacks. This was going to be an expedition. In a Ford from behind the Wing Chong.