Thursday, November 4, 2010

Meet Terry Adams

(I wrote this as an article for the La Honda Voice.  With a few changes, I'm reproducing it here.)

Terry Adams manages the Public Works Department for Cuesta La Honda, where he keeps the roads repaired and the water running.  He bought Ken Kesey's cabin, suffered a tremendous flood that nearly destroyed the place, survived theft of his tools and theft of the cabin's historical artifacts, and rebuilt it into the showpiece that it is today.

In college in the nineteen-sixties, Terry took ROTC and studied Creative Writing, getting an M.A. at Miami University in Ohio.  If you ever wonder what happens to English majors, here’s one story.

After ROTC, Terry was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. He served at the Strategic Air Command Headquarters in Nebraska where they have a bunker that is designed to survive a nuclear hit. His job? He was the Top Secret Control Officer. Terry was the keeper of the targeting instructions for all the nuclear warheads that all the Air Force pilots would need if we launched a nuclear attack.  He was, he says, "Postmaster of the Apocalypse."  He was at the SAC headquarters while four students were shot dead at Kent State. He was there when the Top Secret command to bomb Cambodia came across his desk, and he says, “Everything remained right, normal, and calm in Omaha.” He says his corner of the bunker was a quiet place, buried under 300 psi concrete. Few people wanted to visit the bombing codes - and if they did, they'd better have a darn good reason - so Terry was rarely interrupted. He says it was a good place to play cards. Even today, 38 years later, he won’t talk about what went on in that place because it's still classified information.  Which indicates why Terry was a good man to be in charge of Top Secret bombing plans.

Eventually Terry decided to opt out of the destruction of civilization and left the Air Force as a Conscientious Objector in 1972. Back home in Ohio, Terry says, “My father refused to speak to me and changed the beneficiary on his life insurance from me to the United States Department of Defense.”  Terry decided: “It was time to move to California.” He found work in Palo Alto as a Vocational Counselor. He met and befriended Vic Lovell, to whom Ken Kesey had dedicated One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It was to be a lifelong friendship.

Terry set up a car and motorcycle repair business, then a handyman business, then became a licensed contractor running a couple of crews, then tried fixing up and reselling houses, then became a manager in the Maintenance Department at Stanford University, and eventually wound up right here in La Honda managing the Public Works Department.
When financial and legal circumstances forced Ken Kesey to sell the old cabin in La Honda where Kesey, Neal Cassady, Merry Pranksters, and the Hell’s Angels all hung out, Vic Lovell advised Kesey that Terry Adams would be the perfect keeper of his legacy. After years of neglect, vandalism, misuse and squatters, the cabin was a wreck. And then right after Terry bought it, in February 1998, a flood nearly washed it away. The water, Terry says, ran "two feet deep through the house, knocked two walls out of the back room, pushed the front wall 4 inches off the foundation, and left a foot of silt throughout. It took away the bridge, ripped out the water and gas lines – the 250 gallon propane tank has never been found."

The flood left Terry and his wife, Eva, homeless for 18 months.  What had been planned as a ten-year rehab was, in desperation, completed in two years. Terry says, "By 2000, we restored it to museum quality with a new, raised foundation and a freeway-rated bridge as the driveway. We numbered and reinstalled each piece of the old pine paneling and reinforced the framing to seismic standards." The entire rehab is a story in itself to be told another day. (Also for another day - Limey Kay did some masonry on the Kesey cabin during the Merry Prankster era, a story that involves all the basic food groups: drugs, alcohol, guns, Hells Angels...)
All this time, Terry was a writer. He’s no academic in an ivory tower. His hands are callused; beneath his nails are mud and grease. His poems, meanwhile, are as polished as his cabinets and have been published in many magazines.  Now Terry has a book of poetry called Adam's Ribs, and it's a dandy. He’s accessible; he’s humane; he has that twinkle in the eye. He can write about love and death, dump trucks, and the male scrotum - all with wisdom and grace.

Terry is co-host of Lit Night, and you can hear him read some of his work on the last Wednesday of every month, starting 7 p.m. at Sullivan's.  For more photos and for samples of Terry's poetry, click here and here.

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