John McLeod is a friend of many years. John also works at JPL,
but he is not a California boy. Never the less, he is very
bright. John has a Masters degree in physics from Notre Dame.
He has done some very serious spacecraft engineering in his
career. He comes from Michigan, a long way from an ocean, so he
is suspect. But he found his way to California, thus may have
some sense. Or none. Somewhere in the early 1980's John joined
a number of us on a trip to central Baja California, at Bahia de
Here's the story of John's Crabs
In the spring of some year around the late 1980's we were
planning a guy's trip to La Gringa. It ended up that we had
eight serious inductees, several of us from JPL, including Bill
and John, from other stories. We loaded up two motorhomes with
a hundred pounds of food and three hundred pounds of beer,
kissed our wives and kids goodbye and headed for the border. We
spent the night in San Quintin and arrived at La Gringa
midmorning the next day for a week filled with absolutely no
responsibilities. Our first concern was boats and there were
eight low-riding swimming trunks on our backsides as we grappled
with the rooftops to see who'd be the first to launch.
We idled the week away with serious fishing every morning and
mild fishing late most afternoons. Because we could not live by
fish and beer alone we were forced to remember some of the
time-fillers we were accustomed to performing on family trips.
After concentrating on reducing these reflected familial
responsibilities from hundreds of items (for example, "Honey,
you forgot to brush your teeth", or "Who's going to clean the
toilet? or "Why is that fishing gear right there?") to those
select few that were worthy of our manly attentions. The
revised list contained precious few remnants of the original.
- Go fishing
- Watch the stag films that one of us had brought
- Go crabbing
- Buy more beer
As the trip progressed, seven of us went into town one
afternoon. The sole purpose of this excursion was to ride in
the air-conditioned motorhome. The one who stayed behind was
John. John was staying in camp to protect our property. Or so
We spent three of the hours of this hot and sweaty afternoon
guzzling beers in Las Hamacas and riding in air-conditioned
comfort. It was late in the day when we returned to La Gringa.
As we pulled onto the gravel we saw John silhouetted against the
sky, in the lagoon, fish net and burlap bag in hand. He was
crabbing. When he saw us back from town he came to camp with
his catch, a fine batch of about twenty-five blue point crabs.
The way we have always preserved crabs at La Gringa is to leave
them in a burlap sack just below the waterline. In this way we
have kept them for up to a day, two at most. We have suspected
the crabs don't mind this too much as they always become very
tranquil after a while and no one's ever heard them complain.
John followed suit and tied them to a line attached to one of
the motorhomes, placed the secured bag in the water in the shade
of a boat, rocking gently on the shoreline.
And there they stayed for three days, rising and falling with
the flow and ebb, sometimes in the shaded water and sometimes
high and dry on the smooth round stones of La Gringa.
During this time we levied great verbal abuses on John, who was
not at all following time honored techniques such as constantly
moving the crabs around to keep them in the shade and making
sure they were still in the water when the tide went out.
On the day after their capture, we returned from the morning
expedition and hollered at John to check on his crabs. We
discussed at length how we would cook them that evening. But
the turmoil of the day somehow kept our focus from the laborious
task of shucking twenty-five crustaceans.
The next day passed in the same manner. We ragged on John to
pay attention to his crabs; we would eat them that night. We
were secretly convinced they had been dead for two days, anyway.
The night of the third day approached. We had not fished that
afternoon because of wind. Sitting on the beach late in the day
with nothing to do caused us to remember John's crabs. Once
again they were lying out of the water and in the direct sun.
Knowing these animals had been wasted for no purpose, we again
lit into John with a chorus of hoots and accusations. John,
awakened from a beer-induced sleep in the shade of the
motorhome, reacted groggily to see what he had done now.
Hearing our dissents, he walked down to the drying sack lying
stock-still on the gravel. Everyone in camp knew the crabs were
long dead. We howled at him to take them away, down the beach,
and throw them back into the ocean. At least the fish would get
them, we reflected.
Half asleep, John saw his opportunity to return the
friendly-fire and flak he'd been taking from his pals over the
last three days. He untied the top of the sack and dumped the
dead crabs on the gravel, in front of us all. But the crabs
were not dead. They were very much alive and mightily pissed.
And it was John that they were pissed at.
The scene is now that John has an audience of seven sluggish
guys, watching closely, as twenty five hostile crabs, each about
twelve inches claw-to-claw, come tumbling out of this sack. In
slow motion, it seemed, they fell from the mouth of the sack
downward toward the rocks. Free falling must not be a
comfortable feeling for crabs, because they were doing
everything they could to stop their fall. Plus they were really
pissed and snapping at everything they could find. John was
wearing only a pair of loose shorts. Several of the crabs found
a hem or loose fold onto which they could grab to arrest their
fall and there they remained, snapping with claw number 2.
Others were destined further south where they found, initially,
leg hair. But this gave them an opportunity to investigate
further. The least fortunate fell at John's shoeless feet and
scurried for the nearest protection they could find, looking for
some small, pinchable digit on which to vent their vengeance.
The rest of us set up a great whoop of laughter and guffaws from
a few yards away. Some of us had to scramble, ourselves, to
duck John's crabs. And John was doing his own jumping. With
seven or eight crabs hanging from various appendages of his
body, and the remaining pinching his heels and toes, John was
not a happy camper. Some blood was involved in this scene as
the angry crabs wreaked their havoc, but only enough to add to
the tragi-comic moment.
The crabs had had their turn at their adversary. We laughed
beyond breath while John continued to dance. He finally hopped
a few feet away and those crabs that could sense the direction
of the beach found the water. We released the others as well.
How could you cook something that had brought you so much good
John redeemed himself that night around the tequila. He taught
us about the constellations and the satellites, which are quite
visible from La Gringa.