Our thirty year journey

Our story starts in 1989, the first post "Meeting Jim" lays out the framework for the events that follow. The subsequent posts will build on that narrative.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Bob Arrives

My brother Stewart had been operating the ranch for many years and had established the winery with my other brother Graham in 1985. However their partnership only survived a year and Graham moved away and Stewart continued to run the winery.  Then in 1988 Stewart moved his wife and children to Washington State and began commuting back and forth from there. So Stewart’s energy was split between trying to keep the vineyard and winery functioning while building a life for his family in another state.

Jim talks up his brother

During Jim's frequent trips to the ranch, he saw a need for someone to be present during Stewart’s absences. Jim suggested that his brother Bob come up from Southern California because he had the practical skills to keep the ranch going while Stewart was in Washington. Also, a difficult situation had arisen at the ranch caused by Stewart's absences and Graham's poor choices.

Although Graham had left the ranch in 1986 when he and Stewart parted ways over business matters, my mother called Graham back in 1989 to help her get the Bed and Breakfast up and running. My mother had applied for the Bed and Breakfast permit in 1987 and had subsequently put a fair amount of time and money into turning the ranch house into a bed and breakfast. But she had her real estate business to run in San Francisco and had no desire to move to the ranch and run the bed and breakfast once all the permits had been approved in 1989. She and Stewart were not getting along because of Stewart’s frequent absences and his lack of interest in the ranch so that is why she turned to Graham. 

Graham actually got the bed and breakfast running with Stewart’s help. Although they didn’t advertise or promote the property, in the summer of 1989 some guests managed to find out about the property and ventured there. But when the fall came, Graham began moving undesirable people on to the ranch. By the time I became aware of this development, a couple named Tim and Judy, who purportedly had a lease but were living rent free were staying in a one bedroom house on the property.  Some guy with a vicious pit bull was living in the basement of another house that Graham had moved into.  We discovered gunshot holes in our stable doors. One of our wine tanks had a bullet dent in it. Graham let Tim and his friends rent the tractor barn to use as a mechanics repair shop and they started piling up cars and motorcycles there.  We surmised that these vehicles were stolen property. Strange scary tattooed men were hanging out on the ranch.  Sometimes at night there would be seven cars parked outside the one bedroom house that Tim and his girlfriend inhabited. We knew that whatever they were doing was probably illegal and we felt unsafe.  My mother and father were also alarmed by the activities on the ranch and set up a family meeting in San Francisco with Graham to demand that he get rid of these people.  At the meeting, Graham got very angry and stormed out. He saw our discomfort with his friends as a personal affront, and didn’t think there was any problem with the situation he had created. Soon afterwards Graham started feeling the heat from the family and chose to move off the ranch to save face with his friends. So we had to take the next step.  With my family’s urging, I filed suit for unlawful detainer. Having just recently passed the bar, I had never done this legal procedure before. I filed the suit against Tim in the name of Stewart, Graham, Susan and Anita as partners of RustRidge. Jim served the complaint to Tim.  Then Jim and I started staying in the house next door to Tim, that Graham had vacated, so we could monitor his activities.

Tim was required to answer the complaint within the statutory 5 days.  He didn’t respond; so, we thought it would be a cinch to get him out.  Then I received a call from the Superior Court Judge of Napa County handling our complaint. He informed me that he had received a letter from Graham stating that I did not have permission to put his name as plaintiff on the complaint.  He said unless I could show that I had some authority for doing so, I had an ethical violation to deal with.  I was completely freaked out. Barely an attorney, now I had already put my license in jeopardy. The judge told me to send him anything I had to prove my authority.  He also told me he could sympathize with my situation. He knew of the people we were trying to evict since he had dealings with them in the court.  He also thought that my brother was “not operating on all fours,” based on the letter he had written, which he forwarded to me.  Stewart and I racked our brains to come up with a basis for putting Graham on the complaint.  I had recently represented Graham in a personal matter up in Chico, did that make me his attorney.  I had represented the ranch on a  delinquent account receivable.  Did that make me the ranch counsel.  Stewart dug up a power of attorney that Graham and he had with each other in their ownership of the winery.  All these documents were put together and presented to the judge.  When the judge responded granting me the authority to list Graham as a named plaintiff, it was based on Stewart’s power of attorney to bind Graham on matters relating to the winery. The BATF required that partners sign powers of attorney over each other and Stewart had the right to sue in his and Graham’s  name in matters concerning the winery. Phew! I had my first big legal lesson. We took Tim's default. But the suit didn’t end there. Tim and Judy continued to live in the house without indicating any signs of moving out.  

Given these circumstances, Stewart was willing to try Bob out.

Bob's arrival

It was in the early days of 1990 when Jim dropped me off at my Dad’s home in Tiburon while he picked up his brother at the airport. When Jim and Bob arrived later in the day to pick me up, the three of us climbed into the cab of Stewart’s blue Chevy truck and headed up to the ranch. As we left my dad’s house we could see San Quentin across the water and I could feel Bob’s energy as he looked towards the prison where he had spent 11 years of his life.
Bob seemed wizened, his deep blue eyes had seen a lot. he wore a tattered coat very close to his body as though he was very cold. Despite his appearance he seemed very pleasant.  When we got to the ranch, we put him up in our guest bedroom.  We did not allow him to smoke in our house; he had to walk out on the deck. Two things we found out right away.  He did not know how to use the spigot to get water from the tub to the shower and he didn’t know how to use a microwave oven. My brother and I wondered if he really was the mechanical genius Jim had told us about.  Also, Bob could barely walk from our house down to the Bed and Breakfast and back again. He was out of breath and appeared weak.  So we let him acclimate and get acquainted with the surroundings.  He liked his beer and was a prolific smoker and soon we moved him down stairs where he had his own living space and could do as he pleased.

Bob’s transformation was gradual but with every day working on the ranch his body changed until one day I saw him move like a cat, as he climbed to the top of the forklift.

We had to go through each step of the eviction process before Tim and Judy finally left. With Bob's presence, we felt more secure during this time. In February 1990, on the day when the sheriff was scheduled to officially remove them from the premises, Tim and Judy hauled away the last of their belongings at 10 am in the morning. The sheriff arrived at 1 pm to find an empty house.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Meeting Jim

It was a biting cold February night in 1989. I had just taken the bar exam for the second time, and I was sitting in front of the fireplace with my mother, some of her friends and my uncle and aunt. We were drinking wine and other alcoholic beverages to warm our bodies as we huddled in front of a huge but inefficient fireplace in a very cold cinder block ranch house, in the middle of vineyards in the eastern hills of Napa Valley. This was the family ranch, named RustRidge by the previous owners Dr. Del Weaver and Nancy Wood. My family had owned this property since December of 1972. It had been a thoroughbred race horse breeding facility and black Angus cattle ranch at that time. Dr. Weaver was a San Francisco dentist who commuted to San Francisco to her practice in her early years of ownership. Later she moved her practice to St. Helena. When my family bought the ranch in December of 1972, Rustridge Ranch was a well known thoroughbred horse ranch. It appeared that Dr. Weaver was the dentist to most of the St. Helena residents. Her partner, Nancy Wood was a horsewoman almost from birth. She and her three sisters all rode together in special events in their home town of Woodside. Nancy and Dr. Weaver had met in Woodside when Del had taken her children to her for riding lessons. Nancy was an icon in the thoroughbred racing industry and she was very involved in the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association. My parents had bought the property to plant vineyards. Later my brothers decided to build a winery. We eventually brought the racehorses back to promote the wines.

While we were huddled around the fire, a car pulled up to the front of the ranch house. A man in a heavy overcoat walked in through the kitchen door and he was ushered in as though expected. I was introduced to Jim Fresquez and as I shook his hand I felt the strong and calloused hands of a man whose life was far removed from mine. I then learned that he was my mother’s current race horse trainer. I had met several of her former trainers, but Jim was clearly different. Jim joined our group by the fire, holding the glass of scotch that my uncle had served him. We resumed our conversations, however, at some point during that evening I felt his eyes focused on me and it made me feel awkward and unable to turn my head. When I couldn’t stand it any longer, I said to him, “why are you staring at me?” He responded, “because you are so fine.” My mother’s young gay friend piped in, “when someone looks at you closely, it forces you to look at yourself.” So much for subtleties the rest of the evening is a blur. We all bunked down in the large ranch house that night but Jim left very early the next morning to take care of my mother’s horses stabled at the race track in Albany. He had come to the ranch on the previous night to monitor the mares in foal and to be available should they foal.

The next night I stayed on at the ranch to recuperate from the months of studying for the bar exam and the psychological trauma of having taking the bar for the second time. When you fail the bar the first time you become a second class citizen in the eyes of the legal community. Each of us in that position worries that we will become one of those horror stories of law school graduates who take the bar multiple times and still can not pass it. Jim arrived in the evening as he had the night before. My mother’s Union Street hairdresser John, who had been on hand the night before, was the only other person who remained. He was planning to sleep in the hay barn so he could witness the birth of a foal. Sometime during that night John rushed into the house to wake Jim and me up because the mare was in labor. Within moments Jim and I emerged from our bedrooms and found our way in the darkness to the corral where the mare was laying on her side in very stressed labor. After a brief observation Jim knew that there was something seriously wrong with the situation. We called our veterinarian, Dr. Latham, who arrived about 45 minutes later. He reached into the mare’s uterus and discovered that she had live twins tangled up inside her. Rarely do thoroughbred mares bring twins to full term. He told us he would have to use chains to pull them out. He had me get towels from the house, he positioned John to hold the mare while he and Jim worked to free the twins from her body. It was a grueling several hour ordeal but eventually they pulled the now two dead foals out of her. The afterbirth didn’t follow as it would in a normal birth, it just hung out of her vagina. Dr. Latham tied it in a knot to give it some weight to help her expel it and gave her medication as well. Jim and I got a few hours sleep, then we buried the two perfect foals. 

The events of that night brought Jim and me together. I got to know him in a profound way, we had worked together in a very stressful, depressing situation and had learned about each other. Unbeknownst to us, this sad experience would be the first of many, yet we already knew that we could work together and endure the challenges that were yet to come.
I left the ranch later that day, Jim had left right after the burial. Three days later the mare died. If there was way to put a positive spin on this tragedy it was that I would be embarking on a new direction in my life. I began making more frequent trips to the ranch. I encountered Jim there on several occasions. I found him to be magical with horses. I had seen previous trainers. They had been rough with my mother’s horses. Jim was different, he loved the horses, he demanded respect from them and he treated them with respect. But Jim was employed by my mother and I knew better than to get too friendly with her employees. I knew Jim would be fired if he and I got involved. I tried to keep him at arms length. We had a lot of laughs, we flirted and talked for hours but I didn’t let it go any further. I wanted him to stick around.

In May, I invited Jim to my birthday party which I held at the ranch with my close friends. On the following Memorial weekend, I got my bar results and I had passed. My friends Laurie and Elaine and I had made a pact prior to knowing our results, to meet at a Sausalito Restaurant to celebrate on the day the results were announced. All three of us showed up, we had all passed.

Shortly thereafter I called Jim and asked him to come see me at my San Francisco apartment. We were no longer just friends, but we kept it a secret for quite some time. We dated for about nine months while I lived in the City and he lived at Golden Gate Fields. During that time I was working on a personal lawsuit and was looking for a job in one of the Bay Area Public Defender’s offices. Jim was busy training my Mother’s many horses both at the track and at the ranch. It was a wonderful time and it was during this period I could see the possibility of living at the ranch and running it.