A Collaboration by Four Friends
Ken Forman • Paul Hobbs • Doug McIntosh • Ron Zieman
|the playground of our youth|
Church affiliations aside, We all became close friends in different pairings throughout our elementary through high school years together. I first met Ron as my family moved next door to his on East Tunnell St. in 1965, and I met Gary sometime after. Our gang actually is a larger group that would eventually merge at some point in high school. I have to mention Jeff McCarthy and Steve Spencer as two more close friends, but please understand, Gary's list of friends is deep and wide.
This week, July 20th would have been Gary's 70th birthday. He died February 21, 2003 as one of two people killed in a single small plane that crashed near Santa Maria in Nipomo, CA. Gary was 51 years old. He loved to fly.
As Ron, Paul, Ken and I have reached our mid-sixties, our retirement from our "day jobs" has taken hold, although Ron can still be found at a job site when you call him. We look forward to meeting together as both Ken and Paul live in Santa Maria, Ron in Santa Monica, and me down in San Diego. We usually get together in Santa Maria to go out to dinner with our wives, but we're now planning a post-pandemic summit at the bachelor pad in Santa Monica, as just the gang of four. I'm hoping this could be a yearly event, we all wish Gary could join us.
That last part of wishing Gary could join us, is the kernel of thought that brings this collaboration of little adventures with Gary together. In actuality, Gary is always with us.
remember him at our Cook St. house standing in the doorway with his Fender Stratocaster strapped on, albums stacked up and playing along with the guitar leads. He was also an Allman Brothers fan and post Duane's unfortunate collision with the peach truck, he became a Dickie Betts fan.
Gary saw the Allman Bros at the Paso Robles Fair one year and due to band infighting and Dickie’s overall bad attitude he was uninvited back out for the second set. Gary was majorly bummed.
Gary was a “sweet hearted” friend who everybody was quite fond of. He was very funny and a pleasure to be around. Although perhaps not being quite as innocent as some people thought. He loved his family and friends as much as anyone could. He would absolutely drop anything he was doing to help almost anybody with anything and give you the shirt off his back!
|"What's hot Peg?"|
With Paul Hobbs and others, we perfected the skills of avoiding some of Sunday School, and of course spending our offering money at Bonners Donut Shop. Nothing like a fresh hot glazed donut, or three.
My friend Jay Spears worked up a great arrangement of the National Anthem and recruited me and a couple of other guys to sing it. We recorded our version and started sending it around to some sports teams. Jay was a big Cubs fan and I like the Giants so we sent a tape to San Francisco to see about booking our act to sing the anthem when the teams played each other. We got the gig! We all lived in LA but were willing to make the trip.
Gary got the idea of flying us there. He made it happen. He and another pilot arranged a plane in Santa Maria. We all drove up in Jay’s car and Gary and his pilot friend delivered us to Candlestick Park (a friend of Jay’s drove us between the airport and ballpark, actually) then, Gary flew us back to Santa Maria where Jay’s car was parked. Jay and one of the other guys got out, then Gary and his friend (wish I remembered his friend’s name), flew Grant and I back to LA as we had prior commitments. We landed at Santa Monica airport, somebody picked us up, Ron maybe, and we went our separate ways. Gary and his friend just loved to fly. They spent their entire day shuttling us around. We contributed to expenses but what a generous plan old Gary hatched to make for such a fun and convenient day.
|The Hill Family Buick Station Wagon - |
If that car could talk...
We took his folks green station wagon out for dozens of adventures, as well as a few close calls! Once, out by Little Falls, we realized to get a good picture of the Buick crossing the creek, Gary needed to drop me off on the far side- then he'd go back and barrel through the stream so the water would splash higher.
After we viewed the Polaroid with satisfaction, I remember telling him how important it was to not let his folks ever see those pictures. Of course Madeline found them! I told her the water was not as deep as it appeared, but we got blamed for a couple repair bills.
I'm going to say this event happened somewhere in time around 1970-71. Gary and I had gone to Pirate's Cove Beach and were heading back on Avila Beach Drive and stopped where it intersects with Shell Beach Road. It's basically the frontage road next to U.S. 101. Gary sees some construction workers talking by their trucks who had been working at the Diablo Nuclear Power Plant just north of Avila Beach (as we both noticed the Diablo Power Plant logo on their trucks).
|Diablo Nuclear Power Plant|
We enter Shell Beach, careen around several blocks, then duck into a gas station. We think we've slipped him, but ohhh no, he finds us, gets out of his truck and starts running full speed at us. Gary does his now familiar peel out and we get back on Shell Beach Rd. heading south toward Pismo Beach. I don't know if the guy chased us further or just gave up, but we were treating this as a Smoky and The Bear situation. I think we then hide out in some back alley in Pismo Beach for awhile, then finally got back on the 101 south and head home. Just another day in the green station wagon with Gary.
For more car adventures featuring Gary driving the family wagon, go to a blog post I wrote March 23, 2020, Déjà Vu • March, 1970.
Ron Zieman– "Crazy Legs Hill"
I was always able to launch Gary with Indian leg wrestling. I always thought I could run as fast too, until we played soccer. He had unreal moves, could turn, stop and start on a dime. Impossible to catch or even keep up with him. Hence- the name!
Ron and Gary lived in the Lincoln house and Gary liked to drive us around in his open air jeep. We'd drive up and down Broadway and Gary especially liked sitting at the red lights, "Exposure" he'd remind us.
Paul and I are in Gary's bedroom at his family home. Paul is trying to teach Gary and me a harmony part. Paul tries and tries but his students are stone cold tone deaf. At some point we all give up.
Gary just seemed to jump into playing electric lead guitar one day. He knew if he wasn't going to sing like Greg Allman, he would strive to play like Greg's brother Duane.
The Uniqueness Of Gary
Gary had an orange 10 speed and he rode that bike all over creation. The hard leather seat was elevated at the front at about 35 degrees, making him the only male who could possibly ride it, He said it was comfortable!
We once rode our bikes to Camp Ocean Pines- over 70 miles with camping equipment. One day to get there and two days to get back, with very sore legs.
|Photo by Gary Hill|
Now as a parent and grandparent, I shutter a bit at some of the risks we took when young and feeling immortal. This particular adventure starts with Ron hearing about the White Elephant Mine in the Los Padres National Forest from Gary's brother Ed Hill. We in fact did a couple of reconnoissance missions, first with Ron, Kim Brickey (Ron's girlfriend), and me. We found the mine shaft hole entrance that was about four feet wide. The question, how far down was the hole before it spidered out with different perpendicular shafts? Ron remembers he tied a rock around a rope line he brought, but it did not touch the bottom.
Back in Santa Maria Ron built a very sturdy 75 ft. wood and nylon rope ladder that would be used in a series of missions to explore the mine shaft tunnels.
On the third trip, Ron and I were joined by always game Gary. We climbed down (one at a time) into the shaft with now a very secured rope ladder tied around a huge rock. We made it down with several feet to spare and explored the mine together with our flashlights. Gary took one of my favorite photos ever of Ron and me sitting on a ledge at the end of one of the network of shaft tunnels.
I look back to our utter trust in each other, our motivation and cooperative spirit that just continued to bond our friendship for one another. And hey, you got to love the mud-caked on our boots, and the red eye effect from the flash of the Kodak Instamatic camera. Or maybe, we were vampire bats...
Jane’s grandfather gifted her his car when he gave up driving. The caveat was that she had to get it out to California from Florida. She was working and unable to make a trip to retrieve it. Getting it delivered somehow would be far too costly. I was working weekends at Butch Cassidy’s so I got someone to sub for me and gave myself a little over a week to drive the car back to California in time for Ken and Vicki’s wedding the following Saturday.
I forgot to mention, the car was a 1961 Dodge Lancer and not the sturdy road warrior one might prefer for such a trip.
When our family moved back to California after 5 years in Tennessee, I stayed behind to pack up the house and drive a truck full of our belongings out west. This time I’m driving an 18 footer and towing a car. It’s about 800 miles closer, at least.
Once again, Gary calls to tell me he’s flying in, at his own expense, not only to help with the drive but to help with transferring all our crap from the house to the truck.
The drive was grueling, we slept in the truck at rest stops, but we made it! Can’t imagine doing it without him.
Gary was always willing to do what he could do to help and he was always involved both personally and physically. He was a great friend.
One time Vicki and I went to Las Vegas and it was so f***ing hot the freeze plugs fell out of the engine block. It was a holiday weekend so there were no repair shops open. A hotel worker recommended a repair shop that we limped over to and left our keys and a note in the mail slot, then we rented a car one-way and drove home.
Two weeks later Gary flew me, my son Ben, and one of Ben's friend back to Vegas to pick up our car. We rented a dive room for the night just off the strip. It was the night JFK Jr's plane went down and we spent the wee hours watching coverage and search efforts. Gary was fascinated. The next day Gary flew home and the three of us drove back in our old beat up Volvo.
Ron Zieman– Early Love of Girls
Even while living with his folks, It was not unusual for Gary to “ Fall in Love” with more than one girl- in the same week.
The early to mid 1970's have precious memories for us, as Gary our eldest graduated from High School in 1969. When Ron returned from his parents move back to Rochester, NY both lived in a series of houses in Santa Maria. The first being, the Victorian house on Chapel St., Then the house on Cook St., and then the house on Lincoln St.
Paul and Ken were also roommates in a house (maybe two) themselves. All these houses include stories that would be inappropriate to share online in a blog. The Chapel St. and Cook St. houses were both only a few blocks from my house where I was still living with my parents, and served as a very convenient get away and a world apart from my conservative Tunnell St. home.
I remember my dentist who was a Deacon and Choir Director at my church come up to me one Sunday, and asks me point blank about "the activities" and "my involvement" at the Chapel St. house. I quickly bluffed and back-peddled away from him- think of Dana Carvey's Church lady character and you know what I was dealing with.
One lasting memory of Chapel Street, Ron, Paul and I would be typically lounging in the living room and Gary bursts in with a new girl like every week. He was like a damn rock star with all his action. One time, as Gary and girl disappear in his bedroom, Ron just looks at us, mouth closed and just shakes his head slowly side to side.
Ron, Gary and I were huge fans of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and saw it half a dozen times together. I found a paperback of the script and we used to run lines from our favorite scenes. We fell into one where we played the same characters each time and actually memorized our parts. It was the scene where Butch comes in as Sundance is being accused of cheating in a card game. I was Butch, Ron, the ne’er do well pulling a gun on Sundance, and Gary, of course, the Robert Redford look alike was the kid.
Ron Zieman– Chapel St. Days
We rented the lower floor of an old house on the corner of Miller and Chapel. One time Gary came up to me with a very concerned look, and told me I was having too much sex. He also added that it was not good for my health! We then had a short, one-sided discussion.
Not long after that talk, Gary bought a waterbed. Whereupon he started making waves on a regular basis!
Another time he wanted to show me something after coming home for work. He came out with a gun he had purchased! I could not believe it! He was a such a peace and love type guy. I thought it was a really bad idea, after awhile I told him either the gun was going, or he was.
We were roommates for a long time! After living there for sometime, I found out Gary was telling his mom about everything I did, which probably took a fair amount of time. I'm going to go out on a limb and say, he probably was not telling her everything he did! It was one of the two things I did not completely forgive him for. The other being years later and giving me a haircut with his unindicted co-conspirator, Jane Antonson. Twas butchered!
I did most of the cooking when we were roommates and Gary decides one day that he is going to stop eating chicken. Gary's not becoming a vegetarian, he has decided to stop eating chicken because well a chicken looks like a chicken and he simply couldn't handle the visual. I even cut the parts into unrecognizable small pieces, but even that didn't work. Eventually, he started eating chicken again.
Gary came by to visit Vicki and me and my folks happened to be at our house. My dad flew as a youngster and he and Gary hit it off talking about airplanes. Gary, always looking for an excuse to fly, offered to take my dad up so off they went.
Two hours later they returned and my dad was elated. My dad is starting to lose his cognitive skills, but he still recalls that day vividly and he loves to tell that story.
|Aerial photo of Neverland|
Gary’s mom and wife Jackie hated the idea of him flying. I was always lukewarm to the concept. But always had a ton of respect for him for the investment of time and money spent doing what he loved, while always taking care of his family.
Once he took his dad flying and entered Vandenberg Air Force Base's restricted air space. They were told to land immediately and got to meet some security people upon doing so. No jail time, and Gary got to keep his plane.
Gary, Jackie and Erica came for Christmas one year in Tennessee. There was a bit of snow on the ground and everything looked pretty but an underlying menace was the ice. Every few winters they would have ice storms that could cause tree limbs to break off, taking down power lines and wreaking all kinds of havoc.
I came home from work one day and Gary wasn’t there. On the way out of our neighborhood you had to go up a very slight incline that was nearly impossible to mount when iced over and I had failed to notice coming in that there was a pickup having a terrible time getting up. Jane and Jackie pointed out the dining room window to Gary spearheading the operation to help these people on their way. He had everyone but the driver, including himself, jump in the back for ballast. We look again Gary’s driving. Everybody got out and pushed. I started out to lend a hand when suddenly, success, the pickup had crested the hill and Gary was trudging back to the house.
Jane reminded me that everywhere he went in TN he introduced himself “ Hi, Gary Hill, Santa Maria, CA”. He was the ultimate Santa Marian goodwill ambassador.
Gary turned 21 in the summer of 72. Gary was the oldest of our group separated by 3 to 4 years with me bringing up the rear. At 21, Gary looked like he was 15-16 years old tops.
|The Candy Man|
|left to right - Danny Walker, Sean Landers &|
Paul Hobbs playing in Santa Barbara
In February, 2002 I had a heart attack. Sometime after, I think it was that summer, Mary Kit and I went up to Santa Maria to see my family and our friends. As friends, we would often meet up at The Jetty seafood restaurant off of South Broadway heading to Orcutt. Gary was there with his wife Jackie and daughter Erica. I will never forget walking out of The Jetty with Gary's arm around me. He was so happy to see me, wanting to know that I was well and basically expressing his friendship of love and our bond together. It meant a lot to me. Then, in what seems like a blink, fast-forward to February, 2003 a year almost to the day of my heart attack, and Gary's passing.
Many people consider Gary to be one of the best friends they ever had- Me for sure. He will always be missed.