Home Travel Stories Destinations DESERT OLDS - Part 3 The Mission to Berkeley, CA
DESERT OLDS - Part 3 The Mission to Berkeley, CA PDF Print E-mail
Written by Magnus King
Sunday, 28 March 2010 14:52

DESERT OLDS - Part 3 The Mission to Berkeley, CA

oneownercollectorcar.com

Writing and Photography copyright Double Dragon One Owner Collector Car Ltd. Protect-O-Plate image copyright GM Canada, Gulf credit slip copyright Gulf Oil.

 

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THE CAR

Nantucket Blue 1967 Cutlass Town Sedan built Dec 20, 1966 in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. 330-2bbl-250 HP, two speed auto, 2.78:1 axle. To read a history of the Cutlass see GAS LOGS in the TRAVEL STORIES drop down menu. The original owner ceased having warranty service done by dealers prior to the 30 month mark.

67 cutlass protecto 30 months

We do know the Cutlass was still in the Penticton area because of this old gas slip found under the driver's seat dated Jan 17, 1972.

67-cutlass-gulf-penticton-credit-slip

 

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THE TRIP

desertolds-rockridge-oakland-house

My Bay Area Rituals were established within days. First, get home at dawn and sleep for two hours which mysteriously provided me with complete rest. The stress free days may have created diminished sleep requirements. Next came breakfast. Then Martin and I sat in the cool dim living room reading our books. After an hour or two I would go do some kind of exercise outside and return to eat dinner with Martin and Leslie. When Martin and Leslie retired for the night around 11 P.M., I would hit San Francisco, meeting girls or just cruising around in the car. The AM radio was playing fabulous old tunes and the car became an extension of me as I meandered around learning the streets.

After a week the maze of roads were sorted out in my mind. I started riding faster in my runs to and from San Fran. The radio was barely audible over the wind roar when I looked back to see a car tracking me. It was the CHP. They had me in a lock at 4:30 A.M. and 96 mph. The only things in my favor were that I was sober and the roads were totally deserted.

One of the cops remarked in surprise,

“You’ve got Michelins on an old junker like this?”

That provided an opening to launch my “How much do you think I paid for this car” routine which seamlessly segued into propaganda about the mechanicals,

“I’ve got the garage inspection on my steering, brakes, suspension and all that stuff in the trunk if you want to see it. Everything is perfect.”

They called me on it, assuming it was bluff. As I reached into the trunk they screamed,

"Stand back!"

Amped on Adrenalin they had me stand clear, paranoid of me suddenly pulling potential weapons out of the trunk. The cops dug around for the inspection sheet in the trunk. The glowing report on the car motivated them to let me go with a written warning.

Twenty minutes later as promised I was cruising easy and slow. A new CHP car in the rear view mirror. Shit! This time it was only 78 in a 70 zone. These CHP guys let the speeding go with a verbal warning, but I got a ticket for no rear tail lights.

desertolds-san-francisco-chp-ticket

I opened the trunk very slowly so they wouldn't freak out and then examined the wiring. I diagnosed the problem,

"Look at this: when I opened the trunk a few minutes ago for your fellow California Highway Patrol guys the wires leading to the bulbs snagged on some junk in the trunk. The guys were yanking at stuff when they searched through the trunk and inadvertently pulled the bulbs out of the sockets. The lights still work."

I plugged them back in place which took two seconds. The CHP had already started writing the ticket. Like all bureaucracies, a giant process was now underway which would be as hard to stop as turning an oil tanker on a dime.

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Martin went with me the next day to clear up the ticket. Things had bombed with Leslie and he was anxious to blow town. We passed the post office dedication stone that read Richard M. Nixon, President of the United States 1969. Oakland Bail Bond and other small get out of jail quick offices clustered the area. I passed through metal detectors into the busy station and joined a huge line. Finally getting to the front was just the start. Several different clerks had to get into the act.

"This ticket isn't active in our system yet. Come back in a few days."

Even though the car was fixed, in fact never broken, the ticket had to go through their system first and become ‘live’ on their computers. Until that happened no one would look at my car to ascertain that it was fixed in order to cancel it. I made the futile suggestion that they simply have someone look at the car now and put a note into the file to cancel it once it went live.

"No, we don't do that. Come back in four or five business days.”

Adding the coming weekend to that meant six or seven more days in town.

Martin was waiting outside,

“So?”

“So, I was told I have to wait for some stupid process to wind its way through the computers to create a problem in the database which incidentally not only doesn't exist right now, but never existed in the first place. Once the nonexistent problem is officially created in the database then someone can officially acknowledge that the problem which never existed has now been fixed.”

“Right. Somehow I guess this means that you’ve managed to extend our stay a little longer than planned, just like Seattle, Portland, Salem….”

“Well, we could just take off and forget it. We’ll be in another city before this thing even becomes live on the computer.”

“No. The CHP is called the California Highway Patrol because they have jurisdiction over all of California. You'll do something to get pulled over in L.A. and they'll get us. We don’t need our possible future home impounded.”

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Early Saturday I did the Berkeley garage sale route. Rich kid students leaving for the summer and old hippies were clearing out some gems. By the afternoon the trunk, backseat and passenger foot well and seat were overflowing with some great books and records. I sold them to the stores on Telegraph Street a block before the entrance to the University of California campus. Hippies, panhandlers and students mixed on the streets.

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The best place of all is Moe’s Books, an amazing store with its own elevator. Moe’s buys enormous quantities of quality stuff. I had to discipline myself and stay right at the front counter. If I looked around I could easily have spent all the money instantly on ‘must have’ items. I turned enough profit to finance another week of food, gas and nights in San Fran.

In previous Berkeley stays the UCB gym was my workout headquarters. Now that I had some money I walked up the street to the campus to buy a week’s worth of gym tokens. I was finally going to get back into shape.

Or not.

The rates had been raised. No one cared if I was an out of towner or just dropped dead. I walked back down Telegraph to Dwight and up to People’s Park to do a free workout. I did pushups and chin-ups in the famous hippy park. Ronald Reagan had a showdown with rebellious kids making hippy history here in 1969.

desertolds-berkeley-peoples-park-be-in

I was here in 1989 when the anniversary of the founding of the park as “People’s Park” had sparked a gathering. All the UCB kids turned up in hippy garb even though many of them had yet to be born in the year of the event they were celebrating. The hippies that were still around in 1969 stated that the hippy movement was already pretty much on the wane at this point. A Vancouver hippie named Dennis had told me first hand stories about his time down in San Francisco when he was a teenager. His father was a professional gambler and household rules were pretty lax. Dennis met a girl and the family said OK to him hitchhiking down to join the flower children in 1966. He lived with the girl known as the Russian Princess right in the heart of the hippy trip. Like many others he left the Bay Area as the 1960s ended because as he described it,

"The real trip was over by then."

He moved on to Tangier and lived in the beat hotel for awhile before returning to the Kitsilano remnants of hippiedom in Vancouver. Dennis told me that when he got to SF in 1966 the wave was already cresting. According to Dennis the Love Pageant Rally was the last pure rechanneling of the 'negative forces'. The government outlawed LSD in California on Oct 6, 1966 and instead of protesting the event the hippies tried to turn it back on itself.

"That was an interesting day. We thought acid was going to save the world and then they made it illegal. We all noticed the 666 connotations of that date.. October 6, 66. It was like the downfall of the country. The ascension of the Beast. So at 2 PM we had a rally. A kind of mind warp you know. Switch the negative thing around. Don't buy into that downward spiral by getting mad and rioting but just take their narrowness and dance past it.."

Dennis said everything was done right for the Human Be-In including selecting the date and time with the help of astrologer Gavin Arthur. Jan 14, 1967 at 1 PM was supposedly the time in history when the same number of people were living as had died throughout all history. The Be-In was a harmonious event but by the time the on year anniversary of the LSD ban came round Dennis said it was all over insofar as day to day reality went.

"Sure there were more festivals and the movement carried forwards but in the Bay Area there were too many kids flooding in and the whole place got mucked up with hard drugs and then came the rip offs and hustlers."

The Diggers and other early originators of hte movement spread out from the Bay Area after having a 'Death of the Hippy' celebration on Oct 6, 1967.

Now the place had completely sunk back to a hobo jungle which was kind of fitting. If you think about it, hobos were the true basis of the hippy lifestyle.

At night People’s Park is a hardcore homeless way station. Boom boxes blasting overtop of dogs barking relentlessly provided a backbeat to street guys quarreled about who had infringed on someone’s allotted busking spot, panhandling corner or bottle collecting route. My biceps were bulging from endless chin-ups. I left the bad vibes behind and walked back to the car.

I put just enough gas in to take me to San Fran and back. The attendant wearily counted out my $3.50 in coins. I was still using oil I’d stockpiled back in Vancouver. I poured an eighth quart of oil down the nifty oil fill pipe that reached up a full foot above the front of the gold painted engine block. This is a signature feature on Oldsmobile engines, and makes oil fills a snap.

Looking at the gold engine it's hard to believe this small 330 engine is as powerful as it is. The block is so narrow that you can see through to the ground on either side of the exhaust manifolds. It sits low like a Chevy 283 leaving a good half a foot of firewall blank between the engine top and underside of the hood. But looks are deceiving. The 330 launched the Cutlass up the steep onramp effortlessly onto the highway. Touching the gas sent the car slinging into the fast lane effortlessly passing everyone in a roar of speed.

Because the car is so rough looking parking with impunity in bad areas is routine. Pristine collector cars transform parking into a complicated tactical exercise. With the Cutlass you roll up to a stop anywhere you damn well please and cut the engine. End of process.

In a Mission bar I was looking at the thick layers of black paint giving the bar the texture of age. I was on my second vodka screwdriver when a cute girl came past. The Lime Spiders “Just One Solution” was blasting out of the speakers.

“Hey! Aren’t you that guy that Selena brought to our party last week?”

Of course I was, even if I wasn’t.

I ended up at the same party house in the Mission again, except this time Selena wasn’t home. A few of us went over to the authentic Mexican restaurant where she worked.

Even in her dumb work outfit Selena was a stunner with eyes that drew you in. Her petite build, dark skin and wavy hair were very feminine and soft in contrast to her somewhat haughty hard to read expression like early Lauren Bacall. After giving me Hell for not calling, she urged me to eat free food,

“Go ahead! I hardly eat anything here. I’ve been working here for so long I’m tired of it.”

I savored her staff meal.

Selena handed me her journal to read in one of the booths while she finished her shift. She wrote poetry in her spare time. A lot of Mission people worked part time while pursuing some artistic vision. We went for a drink after she finished and then I drove her home, parking in the CIA surveillance safety bubble again.

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After a passionate night Selena and I had breakfast in the kitchen of her run down rental house. The dying out drunken political talk of her friends provided a ludicrous background to the domestic scene. They still hadn’t gone to bed yet and earnestly discussed itinerant farm workers. I cynically commented,

“In the last 15 hours you guys spent drinking and talking someone tilled a field somewhere…” Selena shushed me and put a really good omelet in front of me.

“Let’s go to City Lights Books“

Selena shook her head no,

“That’s old news. I know some really hip places right here.”

I wasn’t convinced,

“I looked in the windows the other night. It looks like self published feminist poetry and radical political bullshit.”

One of her radical political friends who had nodded off in a kitchen chair struggled to raise his head to catch the conversation. It was probably one of his pamphlets I’d seen in the stores.

Selena shook her head. “Eat up and we’ll take a walk.”

She brought me to several bookstores on Valencia. I conceded that she was right, they had some great stuff. Selena looked at clothes in thrift shops and small wildly colored consignment stores.

desertolds-san-fran-mission-thrift

“This reminds me of Commercial Drive in Vancouver- it’s called The Drive. It’s more of a mix of cultures there whereas this area is purely Spanish, which kind of makes sense since it's named for a mission... but there are similarities.”

“I bet I’d fit right in there.” Selina commented.

“Well your roommates would fit in on The Drive. The Drive is a factory turning out hip to be poor white kids with a million tattoos and piercings. Your style is restrained, under the radar.”

She cut in, “Are you saying that I’m mainstream?” she  pronounced mainstream as if it was an insult

“No, I’m saying that you don't fit into the categories of The Drive, nor this place. Look around us. You're not like that hipster or those black frame retro glasses wearing intellectual posers acting so self important we saw in the bookstore. You're not that typical good Spanish Catholic girl with her cross over there. You're also not the rebelling against Catholicism girl back in the intersection with the written script tattoo on her neck."

Selena snorted at the girl, "She's a slut."

I continued, "Anyways, back to you. You told me last night that you don't like gangs or hip hop music or guns or violence. You told me you don't believe in religion and don't want to become the mother of three kids when you're only twenty. You didn’t jump on the whitey radical chic bandwagon or ride the leftist intellectual eternal student train. You haven't walked in any of the typical grooves worn deep in most counterculture places. You came from the Mission and see it unconsciously rather than idealizing it as a bohemian nirvana. You're following an individualistic course of life.”

“I do belong with those people. I am a Mission person! And I’d rather be a Mission person than a yuppie! Its real here… not like Haight Ashbury. The Haight is totally commercialized. It’s a big tourist trap. They sold out their ideals. I can’t stand it.”

I could see this slowly degenerating and knew I should stop pissing her off over a subject that really didn’t matter anyways.

I kept talking.

“How can the Haight sell out? It was already a cash cow back in the sixties when tourist buses came to view the hippies. The Haight is like an area in Vancouver called Kitsilano. Both areas were hippyfied then yuppified. The hippy legacy works for me… you get health food, metaphysical shops and lots of holistic healers. You can walk around safely and your car doesn’t get broken into..."

"Sellouts!"

"Maybe. According to an ex hippy I know who was here in 1966 from the start the whole thing went downhill. He came here at age 16 and said near the end, the Haight was horrible. Drugs, crime, all that stuff. Since they 'sold out', that whole scene was washed away. I don't want to deal with a lineup of junkies waiting to break into my car or house."

"You have to co-exist with that stuff if you want to live on the fringe."

"But who wants to live on the fringe?"

"I do, for one."

"But what makes it worth that price? Everyone is spouting the same revolution phrases in coffee shops. The smug attitude of anti mainstream superiority is belied by the main activities in The Drive or The Mission- look around us. Everyone is shopping and going to cafes and restaurants. That's all we've done today, too. How are we different than the yuppies aside from spending proportionately smaller quantities of money?”

“Maybe. But it’s ALIVE here. The Haight is dead. I would probably not live in this Kitsilano area you like so much. I despise conformity.”

“If EVERYONE has tattoos and piercings that’s conformity. Sure, the motives are purportedly different. Mainstream conformist style presumably flows from a big corporate manifesto to make a profit through a consumption economy. Alternative conformity streams from grassroots stuff, but it gets reduced down to people aping the visuals while the meaning dissipates to the wind. Everyone has their head in a trough eating what they’re told. It’s all the same.”

Selena made speeches attempting to educate me as to the distinction between what was ‘relevant’ and what was ‘straight’. I cut it off,

“Yeah, yeah. I know what you mean. I don't want to work nine to five in a fluorescent lit cubicle either. I don't want to sell my eternal soul for a brief flash of monetary gain. But I also don't want to deal with scumbags and assholes in my environment. I like to relax when I'm in my home. The straight life is nice. Your neighbor leaves you alone and mows his lawn. Down here or The Drive your neighbor wants to mow you down."

"NOT TRUE! There is community here. I've lived here all my life, my family lives here, my mother, my father, my brothers and sisters, my cousins... "

"Yeah, but you could live near family if you all lived in a nice neighborhood and not have the hassles of this place. Look at all those gang guys we've passed by. At least ten guys have been sizing us up. You can see the robbery meter ticking in their heads."

"You are the most paranoid person I've ever met! They're staring at us because they don't know what I'm doing with you."

"Maybe."

"It's true. They are wondering who that lucky guy is who got Selena!"

We both laughed and smooched. She wanted to go into a clothing store. I lounged around while she modeled various things for me, trying to decide what she wanted to buy.

Back on the street Selena started the discussion anew, "I will never be a part of The System."

"It's not so simple. Take something as inescapable as food. We have to eat. Anything you have to do is where they get you. If you don't want to be part of the system then you'll avoid eating GMO, hormones, pesticides and other poisons. You need to earn a huge salary to eat organic which means you have to be a part of the system that supports GMO and pesticides. The process of earning the money kills you, as well as everything around you via your taxes and complicity, not to mention the sheer grinding banal pointlessness of most jobs. So you eat organic which might counteract all that. Maybe. Then big corporations lobby the organic standard setters to allow radiated food to be labeled organic anyways. So you drop out. Now you can live at your own pace but you are living n a cardboard box eating dog food which is full of even worse shit than the non organic food you were trying to avoid in the first place. Substitute some other necessary activity in place of my example of food and you will enter the same vicious circle. Someone has worked it out so that it's just not quite bad enough to cause people to riot in the streets. It wasn't until they were starving in France that the masses revolted. You can’t win, you just have to figure out what is right for you as an individual.”

“You are so cynical and desolate.”

“Yep."

We both laughed. She pursued the subject.

"I do the right thing and I'm still optimistic."

"Think about it. Only a small percentage of people can live life in accordance with their ideals. 'The 'Right Thing' costs time and energy that exceeds what most people have available."

"But that is exactly what people in The Mission are doing! That's what I do every day!"

"Maybe someone here in The Mission is true to their philosophical ideas, but you and I aren't. Our whole day has been a duplication of any typical mainstream day. I'm not going to get all down on myself about it, but I also don't fool myself about it."

"I'm not fooling myself! I am aware and I do what I can. How do you see yourself as part of the system? You are so far out of the system its crazy! You don't work or own anything except that old car. You don't shop or consume... we aren't leaving a huge carbon footprint... that is not mainstream."

"Everything we're doing is part of the status quo. It's just on a smaller scale. The eggs we ate this morning weren’t free range organic. The chickens are in some inhumane pen and fed pesticide shit food. You cooked and cleaned for me. Some radical feminists would call that oppression of women. The racial activists would scream that we were perpetuating stereotypes about minorities doing service work because I’m White and you’re Spanish…. I drove you home from the restaurant last night. It wasn’t just a ride. Militant feminists would be all over that one. The man driving makes it a humiliating patriarchal demonstration meant to strip you of your ‘power’ and dignity. The oil companies got some blood money out of the gas we used, too. The bicycle Nazis would scream at us for the waste and senselessness of driving 10 blocks polluting frivolously. Giant companies manufactured the beer we drank last night. It was shipped in on trucks which use gas. You stopped for a coffee this morning at a franchise chain. That’s supporting corporate power exercised over someone slaving in a field somewhere that I'm sure your roommates are discussing right now. The clothes we're wearing were probably made in a sweatshop. Now you're about to work. Taxation off your salary directly pays for war and other policies that you are vehemently opposed to."

Selena shouted out, “OK OK- enough!”

She laughed and came over for a kiss. She had an 11 am shift at the restaurant. We bid farewell out front. I was going to pick her up at the end of her shift. I parked the Cutlass in North Beach. Boats were docking, rails run through the dockside where old cobblestones still survive in sections. Tourist oriented stuff has sprung up in the restored old buildings.

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I boarded the boat to Alcatraz which is now a National Park. Colorful vegetation sprouts out all over The Rock. Very little of the interior survives, except for the basic structure. The guides didn't know exactly where the hole that Alvin Karpis did a few years was located. No one there knew which cell Frank Morris escaped from. Morris executed an intricate escape which inspired the Clint Eastwood film, ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ. The big guide discussion topics were Al Capone and The Birdman.

desertolds-san-fran-alcatraz

I came back to Oakland under a misty fog to an empty house. Martin returned alone and down because things weren’t going well with Leslie. The morning clouds dispersed to reveal a blinding sun that drove Martin into hiding after lunch. I stayed in the back garden savoring the nectar of a million flowers. I eventually joined Martin inside the house. The ornate dark wood ceiling further absorbed any light that made it inside. Martin and I settled into our roles as gentlemen of the house reading our books in two old leather chairs. No talking, just the occasional creaking of a chair or quiet laughter as one or the other of us read a funny passage.

I felt like doing something,

“Let’s go for a ride.”

Martin nodded. We cruised around Berkeley. A pair of black hipsters stopped dead in the middle of the crosswalk at Telegraph and Dwight and stared in awe at the car,

“Man that sure is one raw ass motherfucking Cutlass.”

Our car had been anointed. In polite company the name was shortened to “The Raw Ass Cutlass”.

67 cutlass radio

The AM radio oldies soundtrack flowed over this sparkling day. The Mamas and the Papas "Twelve Thirty (Young girls are coming to the canyon)" came on strong.

“Don’t you think it’s appropriate that the songs playing were popular in the late 1960s when the car was new?”

Martin shook his head, “This is an oldies station and this particular car happens to be the same age. So what?”

“But look, not only are they the right era, even better, all of the songs so far have been West Coast groups from the Golden age of California which is the center of car culture. Everyone drove around listening to their car radios in the sun in this very spot….”

Yet another The Mammas and the Pappas song, “California Dreaming” came on as if the invisible DJ had been heard me.

“See!”

“”Anyone can take a 1960s car and drive around California and tune into this station.”

“But they don’t. They are all in minivans and SUVs and NOT listening to this AM station…This oldies thing is a great way to hear the songs for the first time, exactly the way people first heard them when the songs were new- in a big old 1960s car driving round California...."

"We'd be better off in an SUV on this trip."

"Are you out of your mind? Everything you see is stamped by the frame- in this case the long rectangular 60s dimensions of the windshield.... widescreen, man... Cinemascope... this is the way vacation families in the 60s first viewed the scenery. Bordered in your peripheral we have a bunch of chrome and excess glitz... weathered and old... like an old postcard with the elaborate frame around it... our soundtrack is the low rumble of an old V8... thick sound like those old movie speakers..."

"Maybe a minivan for cooking, with real beds would actually trump the SUV..."

"Ok, here's how to get this through to you... you know how you say you didn't actually SEE a movie if you watched it on TV? How it only counts in a theater 'as God intended'? Well, driving a 1960s highway car on a trip is like watching a movie in big old elaborate art deco movie theater with ushers in monkey suits. Driving an SUV on a road trip is akin to watching the film on a TV set all chopped up with commercials with the sound turned off in an electronics store showroom full of frantic shoppers on boxing day. The minivan is the ball and chain of suburban bondage nine to five soccer practice. The absolute antithesis of the freedom of the open road."

A singer directed us over the speaker, “If you’re going to San Francisco be sure to put some flowers in your hair…”

I tuned to Martin, “It’s meant to be. We’re going to San Fran. I have to pick up Selena later, anyways.”

Martin nodded, “OK, just so long as we don’t have to be sure to put some flowers in our hair.”

As the Cutlass hit Market Street, “I Get Around” by the Beach Boys came on. I hit the wheel in time as we rumbled along the strip. It was tradition for us to visit City Lights Books on Columbus and wander around North Beach a bit. City Lights has been in the same building forever. I usually find some book in the discounted section slotted in with the poetry in the creaky upstairs area. This time I was too broke to buy anything, but read a few passages here and there.

We strolled past the multitude of strip joints and past some remaining authentic Italian delis. We drove to The Haight despite Selena’s rant against it this morning.

The hippy scene was pretty much gone, usurped by trendy stores. The hippy thing was absorbed into a marketing tactic for the refurbished Haight Ashbury area. There were head shops and clothing stores that were every bit as cynical as Selena accused them of being. There were still some cheap rent parties going on at this time. I decided to convince Martin to hang around here till night.

We rolled through the bright rainbows of colors on buildings, kids dressed like hippies, flowers and very bright intense sunlight. Some old time hippy named Slim told us that this place was known as 'Hashbury' and started out as a cheap rent hideout for old beatniks. Then the hippy thing hit. Slim asked if we'd ever heard of The Diggers. I had,

"Yeah. I read Emmet Grogan's books."

He was impressed,

"Even that fiction crime thing with the silver cover?"

"Also the fiction autobiography Ringolevio."

He laughed out loud. he got the joke. He told us about going to the Panhandle at 4 PM sharp every day for the free meal that The Diggers ladled out.

"Every day man, all the way through the summer of 66."

Darkness hit in time for The Haight to prove it still had some life in it. Music wafted at us from open doorways and people milled in the streets. It didn't feel dangerous and sinister the way night down on Folsom street or up in The Mission can. We found a huge rent party which overflowed out onto the street. We chatted up girls and began party hopping around San Fran. Martin still had his mind on the Leslie situation but he tried to enjoy and forget for awhile.

Eventually I drove him home in time to meet Leslie coming in from her night class. I headed back to San Fran to Selena's restaurant to bring her home. She had worked a hard shift and was a bit moody.

Back at her place the night was just as passionate as ever, but she was starting to feel hemmed in which was confirmed the following morning. She was edgy and I got the "I need space" speech. Part of the problem was my unstoppable need to pursue our contrary points of view. I felt compelled to convince her that her radical rebellion was just a way to convince herself she wasn't a slave and part of a system. The sooner she admitted her place in the universe the quicker she could accept it or change it. But she saw this as relentless pressure to change when she saw no need to change.

"Why can't you respect my opinions?"

Before I could censor myself i responded,

"Because they're wrong."

Whoops!

Breakfast was pretty silent.

After breakfast however when she bent forwards to pick up my plates her nightgown came partly open and I had a direct view into her cleavage. I looked up at her eyes and we both smiled. She dropped the plates and we made a beeline to the bedroom. If I could just shut up this would be a great thing I had going.

If only...

When I dropped her off at work I managed to inflame things all over again because I can't let anything go. If I think something I have to finish the thought.

She icily said,

"Don't call me."

She huffily got out of the car and stomped into the restaurant without looking back.

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I headed back to Oakland musing over the Selena thing. In the 'drawing room' Martin gloomily stared off into the darkness with an opened book hanging across his lap. The Leslie thing had been a disaster last night. The afternoon was draining away in gloom.

"This is stupid."

No answer from Martin.

"We aren't going to sit here moaning about some women whose minds are on something other than us anyways."

I found a phone number from the night before and dialed. Within an hour I had the address of yet another party in the Haight and convinced Martin to come with me. This time there was no reason for him to go back home and I had kept my word and not called Selena. We were two young bachelors out to tear up the town.

desertolds-san-francisco-night-bridge

 

In a party that filled a house and spilled down stairs right to the sidewalk I was deep in conversation with a torch singer named Ann. She was a former accountant who decided to follow her artistic muse.

“But how do you make money?”

She smiled, “I don’t make much but I have savings as a supplement. How about you? What do you do?”

“Right now: absolutely nothing. We’re just passing through.”

She was surprised that neither Martin nor I were from the Bay Area.

“I just assumed you were native Californians. You fit in so well.”

I agreed, “I’ve had a few weeks to acquire a tan! Ha-ha. But it does feel like we’ve always been here. Martin lived here for a few years, and I’ve spent a bunch of summers here, too. But truly, I think everyone feels like they are home when they arrive in California. My theory is that everyone has seen all this in TV and movies before. It’s registered somewhere in our unconscious. Martin and I are movie addicts. We watched too much TV in our teens. I saw almost every episode of THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO in reruns, so we PARTICULARLY belong! Ha ha.”

“Yes, I can see your point. I'm from New York originally, and I see things through that outsider perspective, too. The weather, the plants and building styles are unique to California. Even the sky has a certain type of light you don’t see elsewhere.”

“It’s also because of travel. You fall into the rhythm and totally forget anything except the moment as it’s unfolding. You become one with the environment and flow, picking up the local accent and intonation.”

She countered, “To go back to your earlier comments, it could be that you’re heard the speech patterns from years of TV watching.”

“Touché. Yeah, you’re onto something there. The TV familiarity has given this whole trip a sense of déjà vu.”

Torch singer Ann left the party early. Martin and I slogged through his whiskey. Martin accepted that his fresh start with Leslie had failed. The vibes were getting a bit off kilter at the party, feeding his morose state of mind.

I looked at it philosophically, “At least now you know for sure that every avenue was exhausted.”

Martin has the patience of a saint but his supply was running low.  After having his dreams shattered by Leslie, salt was poured into the wounds when Some Girl confessed her boyfriend woes to him for an hour. He often finds himself in the ‘Just Friends’ mode with women because of his considerate and sympathetic nature. As she moved away he was muttering to me about how insulting and emasculating it felt to be treated like some neutered zero.

"I'm always the nice guy, always the confidante, always the 'safe guy'."

I could see the storm approaching.

A hyper, skinny guy wearing an atrocious suit jacket was dashing about. He seemed to be trying to emulate Michael Jackson of all people. The suit jacket sleeves were rolled up to reveal toothpick forearms. For the last 20 minutes he had been dangling an unlit cigarette in his mouth. The Whiskey was kicking in and Martin’s sarcasm was about to be unleashed on anyone who crossed his path. The Michael Jackson guy crossed his path.

Martin stopped the guy and asked,

“Do you need a light, or are you just an asshole?”

A few minutes later he was berating someone else. I hustled him out the door before he really got going. The party was winding down anyways as we made our escape. I parked in front of Selena’s restaurant just before her shift ended. I was feeling loose and easy and chose to ignore her speech this morning.

She didn't. She started in about needing her space and what the hell was I doing here! She was going straight home to bed and the last thing she wanted to hear about was the dreaded Haight. She didn't want to go to the party.

“We only got ONE hour of sleep the last night you were here. I can’t handle it. I’m going home to sleep. I need a few days off from this pace. You're so intense. I need time. And the Haight is phony!”

"Well I can bring you home right now if you want."

She didn’t want me to walk her home or drive her. She was probably just grouchy from exhaustion compounded by a long workday. Her need for space could be perfectly legitimate, but it felt like the start of a phase-out. There was a silence, which no one tried to fill. I abruptly left and drove back to the Haight party on my own. I parked and fell in step with Martin and a group of people going to a new house party. He arched his eyebrow to indicate his inquiry as to what happened with Selena.

"I'm done with her. Next."

Martin expressed a tinge of jealousy that I could switch it off so completely while he was wallowing in Leslie hell. But then again, I didn't have years with Selena to unravel from my psyche. Martin was on a roll and very funny on the walk over. Once we were in the party, he started building up to another stream of insults. I pretended that I needed to talk to him in private outside to extricate him from the new situation he was creating. On Haight Street two beautiful girls approached. I held up my hand for them to stop.

“Let me explain your destiny to you.”

They stopped.

“I’m taking your picture. It’s going to appear in a book where you will be immortalized, blotting out the type- rendering all prose cheap and redundant! Your innately regal characteristics will shine out of the photo like a blazing sun burning your images indelibly into the eyes of all who stand witness to your glory…”

The brunette asked, “You’re writing a book?”

I drunkenly and impatiently waved off the question, “Yes, yes… of course! We need a fill flash, so my associate here, Martin will chat you up while we wait for the flash to charge up…”

Martin, drunk and uncharacteristically cocky, took the ball, “We’re on contract with Random House.  Enormous advance. Carte Blanche. No editorial interference. We’re going straight to the paperback market- that’s how we’re going to get away with it…”

A bystander asked, “Get away with what?”

Martin plowed on, “Don’t interrupt your elders and don’t meddle with things you don’t understand!"

Martin turned his attention away from the bystander who was about ten years older than any of us and started on the girls again,

"This book documents the dissolution of the world… the downwards spiral…. Last gasp…”

A skinny bongo drum toting guy started to talk about his poetry reading out of the side of the crowd and Martin waved him off like he was shooing a fly,

“Pure amateurism! NOT in our league. We are after all…”both Martin and I finished the sentence in unison,

“PROFESSIONALS!”

I set up a perfect shot of the girls who radiated poise and beauty. The exaggerated claims we were making to the girls had allowed the crowd to drift inside to the party. The girls mentioned a party in Berkeley at their house.

"Why are you in San Fran with a party running in your house?” I asked.

The first one smiled and said, “Because our party was in Berkeley, but this party was in San Francisco!”

The brunette mimicked Martin, “Don’t meddle with things you don’t understand!”

We took them over the bridge in the Cutlass which deflated the book contract fantasy. The brunette, whose name was Laura commented drily,

“If I had a big book advance I would buy a brand new car.”

I deflected her, “That’s what most people would do. We intend to stretch our money and ride the wave for as long as we can. Besides, this car allows us TO BLEND IN. How do you write about the various social strata if they are repelled by your blatant class differences?”

The second girl jumped on me, “How do you write about the ruling class when they won’t let you park this thing in their driveways?”

Martin had already gleaned that these two stunners were slumming rich kids on an all expenses paid ticket to UCB. It was also pretty evident that they detected that we were a pair of broke drunks spinning a yarn.

Martin laughed, “That’s been done. We want to explore uncharted territory. Drift to the bottom and mine the mysteries of this country. If I want to write about upper class existence I can put on a suit and drop in on my relatives.”

He proceeded to trot out his vocabulary while dissecting social divides using a dazzling corollary from his favorite author Herman Melville.

Back in thrall to us, the girls directed us to the Berkeley party which was being held by a few of Laura’s roommates. The Berkeley party had a great view from a very nice glass front modern house overlooking the campus up top of a steep hill.

Martin slurred, “Nice place. I doubt many students live way up here in this rarified air.”

Laura agreed, “This is out of their reach. Very few professors can even afford to live in these hills, let alone students. The profs are all in the older homes down below us. It’s mainly old money and a smattering of architects and lawyers at the very top here.”

With parents footing crazy expenses like this, I couldn’t understand why she didn’t have a car.

“But I do. All of us drive. It’s just that we don’t drink and drive. Our designated driver went home early from San Fran. We knew we could figure something out. You appeared and figured it out, didn't you?" She smiled and then met my eyes and asked,

"So are you REALLY writing a book?”

“Yeah.” It was true. The contract was fantasy, but the desire to experience, report, document and photograph was real. I wanted to do something interesting and hopefully springboard on it far away from mundane jobs forever in the future.

I started raving, “When I have some meaningless job talking banal banter with someone I feel like time is running down a huge drain, a storm sewer sized one… time is pulled out from under me like a rug… life is running away from me… your clock has run down and the bus is at the Last Stop and it’s somewhere you didn’t intend to be. I constantly dream that I’m riding a bicycle up a hill pedaling harder and harder as I go slower and slower… my sense of destiny thwarted… fate is a surprise dead end street. It’s like I’m always running on the spot bleeding myself dry, melting to nothing. The potential that is dissipated in a stream running randomly down a mountain…this trip is an antidote to that dead end survival scene.”

“You are SO drunk!” Laura teased.

She turned my destiny talk on its head by demonstrating how fleeting our freedom was in contrast to the real freedom a career created. She talked about her psych degree and how this was going to carry her away from the sterile world of her lawyer father.

“He dies every day, but he plain and simply just got used to it. Half the partners in his firm don’t want to practice anymore. Even people at the pinnacle of earnings can dread going to work every day. It’s not just the twenty something burger and fries slaves. That’s why I have a plan. I think it’s possible to use your mind to create enjoyable work. It's possible to expand your freedom within your work life. I’m going to become a forensic specialist who combines my experience from my father’s office with criminology and psych. I'll be able to use all of my talents as an expert witness at trials. I can accept invitations or refuse them, fly around and do it on my terms.”

“Well you have it all mapped out. Wave your wand and fix my situation, will you?”

Laura applied her analytical mind to the question. “You have an obsession with a “sense of destiny” and a driving sense of urgency about life. It’s obvious from the moment I met you that you are off the scale impatient and impulsive. Every story I’ve heard just confirms it. You go on meaningless detours. Sometimes you find adventure. But anyone who doesn’t have a plan ends up at the bottom of the barrel with dull people doing menial work, which exacerbates your impatience. You quit and the cycle repeats itself. Your euphoria exists in a small bubble... it bursts all too quickly because it's based entirely on escapism. It's not sustainable. If you can create a plan and repress impulsive action you would discover a sense of meaning. Apply to journalism school. Make money from writing and travelling. That is essentially what you are doing anyways."

"Yeah, except for the making money part it's pretty much the same." She had a point. "Why wasn't my guidance counselor at high school a knowledgeable insightful, beautiful girl like you?"

She smirked. "I doubt you would have listened to anyone. In fact I doubt you will even take the first step towards investigating my suggestions."

I laughed, but also sensed through my drunken fog that my stupendously drunk rant should stop but I kept on talking as if hearing someone else's voice,

“This is about existing purely in the moment. When you are master of your own destiny and yet surrender it to random fate ironically you conquer the sense of futility and lost opportunity slipping through your clenched hand like water running through your fingers… you open your hand and by not trying, you find a jewel nestled in your palm… you ride the wave and time stops. At the top of the wave you are preserved in that instant immutable-indomitable!… I know that what you said is rationally true... it's just a bubble that will burst... but when you are there existing in that instant you are a destroyer of all erosion and mundane reality… instead of being the stone worn down by the water you are one and the same with the water, a part of the wave, at the peak, warper of the laws of existence! Time no longer exists!”

Martin cut in, “Uh, yes it does. Its 4 AM. We gotta go.” Some other people were leaving. The party had ended during one of my speeches.

Laura put her hand on my chest, “Stay.”

Martin was given a ride. The lights from homes and the campus below glittered, distorted by the remnants of the previous day’s haze. The air was sweet and warm. I could smell all sorts of flowers and plants. Laura and I absorbed the view as the tail lights of Martin’s ride faded down the hill. Laura linked her arm in mine and led me to her room which had a terrific view, and not just of the city.

> Chapter 4

Last Updated ( Thursday, 18 February 2016 12:23 )