Saturday, May 11, 2013

Part 72 - Chris Pedigo

Once in town, I strode by the primary motel where most hikers stayed if they were overnighting in town – the Courthouse Motel.  I knew that Shark Bite and Faucet were staying there, and after several inquires, I located their room.  Faucet answered the door, and I asked her if she would be willing to charge my electronic batteries, which I just happen to have with me. She said she would be happy to.

Chris Pedigo – Living Life in a Campground

Back at the campground, while sitting at the picnic table waiting for the appropriate time to hit the sack, the owner of the Ford truck and fifth-wheel trailer came to visit with me.  In his hand, he was carrying two beers.  I declined the beer, but said I would sure enjoy a cold soda if he had one.  He didn’t, so it was his lucky day; he got to drink two beers that evening.

Everyone has a story, and after three hours of visiting, this is the short version of Chris Pedigo’s life.

Chris was sixty-five and worked much of his life as a chef for Xanterra Corporation at resort properties as diverse as Grand Canyon’s South Rim and Furnace Creek Resort in Death Valley.
His father was born in Oklahoma, and during the dust bowl depression-era years, he moved to California and supported himself by working on a horse ranch.  Being energetic and wanting to get ahead in life, he began bagging horse manure and selling it to gardeners and nursery owners in the Los Angeles area.

One day, while throwing bags of manure out of his truck, he hit a young Norwegian girl in the head with a bag of manure.  She became his wife and Chris’s mother.  During the war years of 1941-45, Chris’s parents would come to Owens Valley, to the very campsite he and I were staying in, to camp, fish, and drink beer with their friends.

Chris’s father died one day before he was to retire at age sixty-five, from a heart attack. Chris’s mother liked to gamble, and would often go to the casinos while the menfolk stayed in camp.  She loved to visit old ghost towns and had a valuable collection of old bottles.  She lived to be one hundred, and when she died, strangers, neighbors, whoever, stole the bottle collection before Chris was able to secure them.

When Chris wasn’t working, he called Independence home; he said he always had an affinity for the Owens Valley, acquired from the days his family spent camping and fishing in the area.  While working at the Furnace Creek Resort in Death Valley, a Xanterra Resort Property, he was recruited by a fly-by-night shyster to be the head chef at a new restaurant in Independence called Hooligans. The man had money and almost single-handedly built a very elaborate sports bar and grill with a one-bedroom apartment on the second floor, in which he resided after it was finished.

Chris said that originally, he was given a free rein to design the layout of the kitchen that he felt would be efficient and facilitate fast turnaround for prepared meals.  He also helped with construction of the building.  He said the man always paid him, but the checks were never drawn from the same corporation and never for the amount agreed upon.

As the opening day approached, Chris discovered that the kitchen layout that he had so laboriously worked on had been discarded, and the man had designed it the way he thought it should be.  To add insult to injury, just days before the restaurant was to open, Chris was informed by the owner that his services would no longer be needed, apparently because Chris didn’t have a degree from a prestigious cooking school.  The owner then hired two newly graduated chefs from the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts.  Chris said they both quit within two weeks.

Chris filed for unemployment and that got the authorities looking into the owner’s finances, which turned out to be a tangled web of financial transactions that went round and round between fictitious companies the man claimed to own.

Bottom line, the owner skipped the country and hasn’t been seen since.  Chris said he applied for social security, and now lived in his trailer in public campgrounds around the county. He can stay for up to thirty days before having to move, but he said many of the campground hosts and caretakers let him stay longer because he helps with maintenance at the campgrounds. It was near midnight when we said good-night to each other.

Hooligans Sports Bar, on Main street in Independence. At the moment (2015) it's for sale.

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