A character and keeper of the bottles

September 26, 2002 12:00 am

By GENEVIEVE BOOKWALTER

DOWNSHIFTING THROUGH curves up Old Priest Grade, one can't help noticing weathered bleach and detergent bottles on each bend.

Black Magic Marker spells out "H2O 4 U," with a smiley face on the side of one white round bottle.

Rumors abound as to who is responsible. Call Highway 120 Chamber of Commerce, some said. Maybe Groveland Community Services District. It's not us, replied GCSD President Don Myers, but try Pine Mountain Lake resident Chris Bell. "I've never seen him do it, I've just heard that."

Bingo.

"Oh yeah, I started that about eight years ago," Bell said in a "you're calling me about that?" sort of tone, as if rescuing the overheated cars of many Yosemite-bound visitors wasn't a big deal.

"I thought, hey, this Priest Grade Road in the summertime, it gets hot," he said. Inspired by jugs of water he saw while driving the mountainous Interstate 5 to Oregon, he decided Old Priest Grade drivers deserved the same.

He refills the jugs about once a month, he said, and often finds them empty.

"He's always been that way. He loves people and he likes doing things for people," said Bell's wife, Pat.