Dewey and the Pelican
DAVID HARRIS WEBER, better known as Dewey Weber, is a surfer and an actor. You probably remember him as the guy who drives Elizabeth Berkley to Vegas in Showgirls. Or as one of the two villains in Peter Fonda’s Ulee’s Gold. Or even from a recent CSI: Miami in which he played a sleazy grifter with bleached-blond hair. The slim, tall 40-something, who appears a good decade younger than his years, earned his familiar moniker from a friend, while still a teen, in homage to the famed ’50s long-board surfer/manufacturer. He’s been unable to shake the name since.
Like many surfers, Weber has traveled all over the world chasing waves, and is prone to rumination on the topic of Man vs. Nature. Raised in both San Francisco and Marin County, Weber has, for the past 15 years, been living mostly in Los Angeles, a city he has mixed feelings about. He knows the land here is spoiled, but he feels complicit because he doesn’t want to leave.
“I think we’ve reached the tipping point,” he says, in the driver’s seat of his Ford Taurus. “It seems like there is an impenetrable wall of cars.”
Weber, who’s working on a book called Surfporn, which he describes as “Pat Hobby meets Ken Kesey,” says he noticed a marked increase in congestion after the epoch of the new millennium, or rather post-9/11, after which, he heard, millions of people flooded the city.
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“You used to be able to access many different parts of the city in a day,” he says. “You can’t do that anymore. To get across town and back, it can take you four hours.”
It was during one of those long drives, returning from an El Porto surfing session a few months ago, that a dreamlike occurrence presented itself to the surfer/actor.
As he drove along the Imperial Highway that day, Weber spotted a pelican standing in the center of the road. So unfazed was the bird by the cars zooming by that Weber interpreted its behavior as an act of defiance. He felt that the bird was angry.
Taken aback, Weber brought his car to a dead stop in front of the large-billed bird, which was nearly 3½ feet tall. The sound of his brakes had no impact on the animal. Weber inched the car forward, and again the bird did not move. All the while, people were driving by, flipping Weber off and screaming out their windows. Eventually, he exited the car and stood in front of the bird, attempting to swat him away. But the bird just stared right back at him.
“He was pissed,” says Weber. “He was like, F you. I thought, ‘Oh my god! Here is a suicidal pelican.’ I mean, I wasn’t gonna take off.”
Finally, Weber got into the bird’s personal space and persuaded it to move to the side of the road. But that was as far as the bird wanted to go. Weber gave up after a while and drove home. But he left feeling that he and the pelican had just shared some kind of kinship in their sentiment and frustration about the state of mankind. Pelicans, after all, are animals that are essentially the same as their prehistoric forebears. In addition, according to medieval bestiaries, the pelican is symbolic of self-sacrifice, and even of Jesus Christ, for its habit of sometimes purportedly stabbing itself in order to feed its children blood in the absence of food. So it’s interesting that Weber thought the pelican was suicidal, as opposed to just willful.
Even more curious is that this was not, in fact, Weber’s first exchange with a pelican. As a youth on the beaches of Northern California, he communed with them often.
“When I was a kid and I was learning to surf,” he explains, “I decided I was gonna talk to nature. The first thing I saw was this pelican cruising over, and I said, ‘Wow! Look at you, man! You are beautiful!’ I just said it out loud, and in that surf session, [nature] communicated back to me. Out of nowhere on this shitty flat day, a perfect wave came right to me and I rode it forever. After that, I started talking to nature regularly.”
Given all this, some people find it strange that Weber doesn’t want to move someplace simpler, even back to Northern California.
“That is the weirdest thing, it’s hard for me to leave,” he explains. “I have all my friends here — I’ve been living here for 15 years. It’s so in me, the beach. That’s why I am so torn. I think that’s what the pelican means. He can’t leave either. I mean, my life is here. What am I supposed to do, run? Where am I supposed to go, Peru? I am an American. I am a Californian. Man is trying to hammer his will into the beach, but it will remain. For the pelican, he has been standing here for millions of years. The Imperial Highway is built on his route. Where else are you going to stand?”
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