Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Saturday, January 28, 2012
Friday, January 27, 2012
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
To the high school teenagers in the passing cars I was another long-haired hippie leaving San Francisco. The Summer of Love had ended seven years ago and the children of the Silent Majority shouted out, “Get a hair cut.”
I held up the peace sign.
They flipped me the bird.
Walking was getting me nowhere and I put down my canvas bag at junction of Route 35 and the PCH. It seemed a good place to hitchhike.
The curved onramp required vehicles to slow down to 20 mph and the wide merging lane offered motorists a safe place to stop, however over two hundred cars passed me in thirty minutes and other than the raucous teenagers not a single driver looked in my direction. I was stranded on the PCH.
Solo female drivers convicted me of rape and many of the male motorists glared, as if I had betrayed my country. At least no one was throwing beer bottles at me.
The next exit lay a mile ahead.
Walking on the highway was forbidden by state law and I took off my leather jacket. The sun was hot and my canteen was empty. Cars passed me and a few drivers pointed to indicate that they were turning off the road in a short distance. It felt funny to be at the mercy of strangers.
Yesterday my two friends and I had crossed Nevada in a drive-away car. I had racked up over $300 at a rustic casino in Elko. My winning streak at blackjack had run hot all the way to Reno. It had been my 22nd birthday.
Another fifty cars got on the PCH before a late-model Volvo sedan stopped on the shoulder. The young driver pushed open the door.
"Excuse the mess." Thousands of pamphlets were stacked on the rear seat. The overflow spilled onto the front seat and floor.
“No worries.” I sat with my canvas bag on my lap and my sleeping bag crammed between my legs.
“I’m only going to Half Moon Bay.” He fought to find first gear and his feet flopped up and down on the gas and clutch.
“That’s fine.” The beach town was a short ride down the coast and I joked, “I was starting to think that I was a permanent fixture back there."
"Glad to be of help." The driver didn’t laugh, as the Volvo lurched down the PCH. He wasn’t used to driving a stick. "Where you headed, friend?"
"South." My final destination was Encinitas, a beach town north of San Diego.
"My name’s Evan." His austere black suit with the pressed white shirt and black tie was out of place in California as was his papery skin toasted by the sun to a blistered pink and he paused a second before asking, "Are you a believer?"
"In what?" My lack of belief was a private affair.
"The truth. I’m on a mission to bring the word to California" The brochures on the dashboard were blazoned with LDS.
“You’re a Mormon?” It was a good guess.
Young Mormon missionaries in similar suits rode bicycles or the trolleys around Boston promoting their Church. I had never seen one in a car.
“Yes, I am.” The driver admitted with pride, as he narrowly missed the curb.
“How long you been driving?” I buckled my seatbelt.
“About two weeks. Sorry, if I’m scaring you.” His cheeks reddened with embarrassment.
“Drive slow and you’ll be fine.” 30 mph was too fast for him.
“Yes, sir.” He downshifted into 3rd and whistled in appreciation of his accomplishment. The Volvo didn’t have a radio. The LDS regarded love songs as a threat to morality.
“Saving souls in San Francisco must be a challenge.” Drugs were ravaging the Haight-Ashbury, North Beach’s strip clubs and massage parlors offered satisfaction on every levels, and hordes of young homosexuals were transforming distressed neighborhoods in their vision of Sodom.
“There are no souls to save in heaven, plus I’ve been preparing for this mission since I was a boy, so my resolve is steel and my mission is clear.” Evans's eyes shone with an unprotected innocence. Mormon boys were reared without television, radio, or movies and their elders forbad contact of any kind with young girls. Evan even smelled like a virgin. He tapped the pamphlet in my hand and recounted Joseph Smith's meeting his angel in 1823, as if he had been standing next to his prophet. "Morani gave him gold plates inscribed with the true history of the world."
"I know the story." Having resisted the indoctrination of priests and nuns, I wasn’t in the mood to hear the young man’s preaching on chastity and cut short his spiel by saying, "My great-great-great grand uncle was Joseph Smith."
"You're joking?" The driver studied my face to compare my features with his memory of the Founder's portrait.
"I admit that there's not much of a resemblance." Joseph Smith had a long nose, but my ancestor also wore his brown hair over the collar. "His family hailed from Vermont and ours was from Maine. Winters in both state are long."
“What does winter have to do with Joseph Smith?”
“Long winters give a man time to think.” In Joseph Smith’s case too much time, but neither my aunt nor father had bothered to expand on our connection to the distant relative and I detoured off the subject into my family history in Maine, interrupting the tale with frequent warnings about parked cars and oncoming traffic. Evan was a terrible driver.
“My great-grandfather disappeared from Georgia.” My aunt had a single photo of her grandfather. He looked more like Joseph Smith than me. “He might have had gambling debts.”
“Gambling is a sin.” He stamped on the brake with two feet, as we entered Half Moon Bay.
“I know that all too well.” Yesterday I had learned the dangers of gambling the hard way.
“Drinking and fornication are vices of the Devil too.” He flicked on the left turn signal and pulled off the PCH at Route 92. “Tis is as far as I go.”
“Thanks for the ride.” I got out of the Volvo and tossed the pamphlet on the seat. It hadn’t been written for me.
“You really relate to Joseph Smith?” Evan might have been young, but his eyes peered into mine to divine the truth.
“People on the road will tell you anything you want to hear in order to get from point A to point B.” I answered his question with honesty. “As for me being related to Joseph Smith. It’s the truth as far as I know it.”
“You don’t look a thing like him at all.” Evan frowned with distrust and drove off with gears grinding. He had been a good listener and a horrible driver.
I filled up my canteen at a gas station and stood on the side of the road. The hills bordering the sea were covered by sun-blasted scrub brush. They would have been mountains back East. Huge swells spread into the crescent bay and surfers in black wetsuits skated the face of monstrous waves. I could have watched them for hours, but a 1973 Impala sedan stopped within three minutes. The Zenith TV salesman brought me as far as San Gregorio Beach. He asked if I wanted to join him drink at his motel room.
“There are some fun girls there, if you know what I mean.” The chubby thirty year-old slicked back his hair with Vaseline.
“I can guess, but I’ll keep heading south.” My funds had suffered a loss in Reno, but prostitutes were never in my budget.
“Suit yourself.” He pulled over to the curb and revved the engine with impatience, as I got out of the car. No one liked being alone on a holiday.
The Impala crossed the highway and the driver waved good-bye, as he walked into the lounge attached to the hotel.
I walked to a better spot for hitchhiking.
The high bluff offered a unbroken vista of the tumultuous expanse of water. After crossing the Isthmus of Panama the Spanish explorer Balboa had sarcastically called this body of water ‘La Pacifica’. Vengeful waves crashed on the beach without cessation. This was not a kind sea.
I stuck out my thumbs. Traffic on the PCH was less than up north. I was well out of the suburbs
Twenty minutes later a silver Porsche 911 swept onto the shoulder. I jumped out of the way, as the tires sprayed pebbles over my boots. A dust cloud swarmed over the sports coupe and I leaned over to the open window. A jazz song was playing on the stereo.
“Don’t worry, I’m not drunk.” The long-haired blonde driver flicked up the lock and sighed with mocked exasperation, “I just like to drive fast. You have a problem with speed?”
“Not as long as we stay on the road.” James Dean had been killed in a Porsche Spyder the same color. I dropped my bags in the narrow back seat and the driver stepped on the gas. He expertly shifted through the gears, as we sped past a Pomponio State Beach packed with beach-goers. California’s beach culture was impervious to the recession.
"Where you going?" The air smelled of ocean.
"I'm headed to Santa Cruz," A paisley silk scarf was wrapped around his head and blonde strands streamed over his shoulders. The driver glanced over at me, as if she was studying my face. "What about you?"
"South to Encinitas." A sidelong glance confirmed that he was wearing a silky mini-skirt with knee-high boots. For a few seconds I thought that he was someone famous, but there was no way that Peggy Lipton of THE MOD SQUAD was a man. “It’s south of LA.”
"Anything below of Santa Barbara is too square for me." The driver passed me a burning joint. His fingernails were buffed to a sheen. "Too much oil, cars, and military."
"I have a friend waiting for me there." The weed tasted of Oaxaca and candy-flavored lipstick. The tip of the joint was tinted pink. California attracted all kinds.
"A friend sounds so mysterious." The driver sighed with the grace of Tallulah Bankhead. The speedometer was wavering at 75 and he shut off the radio.. "Do tell, my name's Maya."
"Yesterday was my birthday." Jack Kerouac in ON THE ROAD wrote that one of the toughest things about hitchhiking was proving to the driver that they hadn’t made a mistake picking you up and I decided to entertain Maya with my sad tale. “My friends and I were driving across Nevada. I gambled at every town and was up $1000 in Reno. A beautiful waitress in a miniskirt served me a drink. It was the first of many. I remember begging my friend for money, then the next morning I woke next to the Truckee River. My pockets were empty. I thought that Reno had stolen my birthday.”
“Casinos are good at getting your very last dollars.”
“Thankfully my friend had been lying. When we dropped off the drive-away car in Lodi, my friend returned my money.”
“So you weren’t broke?” Maya laughed at my reversal of fortune.
“ Yes.” I hadn’t thought the story was that funny this morning.
"You poor baby." Maya brushed a strand of hair from his face. “But you were right. Your friend is really a friend. He could have told you that he had given you the money and kept it for himself?”
“AK isn’t like that.” I had been friends with the New Yorker for the past two years. Our only fight was about the Beatles. I hated HEY JUDE.
“It’s good having good friends.” Maya's speaking like a woman wasn't an act. Her voice quirked to a contralto, as he asked, "How long were you in San Francisco?"
“Less than an hour.” The Haight had been rough on my first two visits, but this time a gang of muggers had attacked me in Golden Gate Park. They wanted my money as much as the casino in Reno. “It’s changed a lot.”
"More than you can imagine. The city was so hip before the Summer of Love. The hippies, diggers, freaks, and blacks were one big happy family free to do anything we wanted, but the family grew too big in 1967. I was beaten up twice for being who I am. Anyone who could fled the city for the country. I made it as far as Santa Cruz." Maya shifted into top gear on a straightaway south of Pescadero. The Porsche topped a 100, then decelerated to the speed limit coming over a hill. A CHiP's cruiser was parked behind a tree on the other side.
"That officer is looking to ruin some family’s holiday for driving 60.” Maya beeped his horn and on the downward slope flicked his headlights at cars to warn of the speed trap. "Where you crashing tonight?”
“I was going to sleep in the redwoods.” The sun was an hour from setting in the ocean. Santa Cruz was not far away at this speed, but Big Sur was beyond my reach for today.
“You can stay with me. I have a spare room couch, steak in the fridge and wine too.” Maya was slightly older than me and her eyes looked like they had seen too much. “You’re not afraid, are you?”
My nights dancing at the 1270 Club in Boston had cured my fear of queers. The boys at that bar liked straight men. Maya was the same.
“Not at all.” Maya wasn’t an ax murderer, but my mother would pray for my salvation, if I accepted the generosity of a crossdresser. “More curious.”
"Like I AM CURIOUS YELLOW." Maya carved a strand of hair from his face with a long fingernail. “Some people say I look like the actress.”
“They must be blind. You’re much prettier.” The Swedish film had been banned in Boston for scenes of fake intercourse. It was too slow for my tastes. “And I prefer hard-core films."
"You're getting better and better."
We discussed about porno films of the early 70s for the rest of the drive to Santa Cruz. Maya was a fan of MISTY BEETHOVEN, while I preferred BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR. Both of us were critical of the smash hit DEEP THROAT.
"The actors were so hairy." Maya shivered in his bucket seat. "You're not hairy, are you?"
"Only my legs and ass." I wouldn't have had this conversation with any of my friends, but on the road I was a stranger passing through town like an extra in a porno movie.
"Like a satyr." Maya smiled with pleasure. Our barriers were broken by each other's anonymity. We could be anyone to each other, because tomorrow we would be someone else.
Maya's house was located on a forested river outside of Santa Cruz. A grove of redwoods lay at the end of a small lawn. A light breeze tickled the wind chimes on the porch. Maya opened the front door and flicked on the lights. The living room's decor crossbred the West Coast with Asia. Some of the oriental furniture dated back to the last century. Somehow Maya had money. I was polite enough to not ask the source.
"The guest room is in the back." Maya lit candles scented with cinnamon. "Sorry, I have no TV, but I left it behind in San Francisco. Here watch the sky and the wind"
"I'm good with no TV. Mind if I pick out a record?" I put down my bag and eyed her collection of jazz, soul, classical, and rock stacked next to an expensive stereo system.
"As long as it's not WALK ON THE WILD SIDE." Maya's sigh betrayed having heard Lou Reed's tribute to hustlers and queens too many times in too many places. "Or even worse LOLA."
"How about Marvin Gaye?" I picked out WHAT’S GOING ON. It had been huge in 1971.
“I saw him in Oakland this year. My ears rang for a week from the shrieks of his fans.” Maya lay on the Chinese couch like an opium smoker awaiting their pipe. The concert was recorded for a live album. His pose was stolen from a Renaissance painting that I recognized from my Art History 101 class. I think it was a Klimt. "Are you planning to leave soon?”
"No." I cued up the title track and sat by her feet. The polish on his toenails matched his fingernails.
"Then take off your jacket and make yourself comfortable." Maya opened a jar and handed me a pill. It was a Quaalude. He pointed to a hallway. "You can even have a shower. I promise I won't watch."
"Thanks." I washed down the muscle relaxant with wine.
"You've done these before?" Maya screwed back on the lid.
"My high school friend worked at a drug store." Donnie stole pills for our parties. Few of us smoked pot. Weed couldn't compare with downers and uppers.
"High school boys and Quaaludes?"
"All Catholic boys in uniforms." It had been an all-boys school.
"Stop. Go. You're driving me crazy."
I put my bag in the small guest room. A clean white towel lay on the single bed, as if Maya had been expecting company. I stripped off my jeans and tee-shirt and went across the narrow corridor to a bathroom with a shower. Maya had changed the record to SOMETHING ELSE by Mlles Davis.
I took my time wading America from my skin and toweled myself dry before returning to the guest room. My clothes were folded on a chair and a black silk robe hung over the chair. Maya was offering a choice and I entered the living room in the robe. Logs were burning in the fireplace.
"I knew it was your size." Maya stood by the stereo. His high heels lay on the floor. Without them her green eyes met mine. Maya touched my back. It had been months.
"You like some cocaine?" Four white lines were spread on a mirror.
"Why stop now?" I huffed two lines and I sat back on the sofa, expecting Maya to make a move, instead the blonde picked out an album with a familiar cover.
"You like TIME OUT?"
"Dave Brubeck. 1950s. Paul Desmond's TAKE FIVE." There wasn't much better from a white man.
"So you're smarter than you look."
"Only a little."
We drank wine and traded choices of music. I put on John Coltrane's MY FAVORITE THINGS, Maya followed with SOMETHIN’ ELSE. We had steaks and rice for dinner. The second bottle of wine went slower than the first. The couch was big enough for two.
The night filled in the trees and shadows crawled from the corners of the living room. In the glow of the embers she was Peggy Lipton. Maya caressed my chest.
“Thank you for staying.”
“I really didn’;t have anywhere to go.”
“Was that all?”
“Like I said I was curious.” The first kiss was strange. Maya wasn’t neither a man nor a woman. She was something else.
“You said I was pretty before.” Maya’s hand was soft. “Did you mean it?”
“No, I should have said that you were beautiful.” I undid the bra. Maya’s chest was as flat as the girl on the cover of BLIND FAITH’s LP. The skin was smooth as ice.
“It’s not easy being me, because being me depends on being something I’m not.” Maya kept on her silk panties.
“It’s not easy being me either.” I had my share of problems. Maya was not one of them. “But here no one can say anything against you. No one will attack you for being you. Not with me here.”
“I can be anything for you.” Maya smelled of an expensive French perfume.
“Just be you for right now.”
“Can you pretend that I’m a woman?” Maya’s eyes shut, as if he was making a wish.
“I don’t have to pretend.” I pulled Maya close. Neither of us wanted to be anywhere, but here.
In the morning we woke in bed covered by sheets. The sun peeked through the drawn curtains. Maya was naked next to me. His hand was fondling my penis. 1974 was seven years after the Summer of Love. Our side had stopped the War in Vietnam. Sexual freedom was our reward.
I had Maya more than twice that day. We didn’t leave the house for two more days. Our weekend was turning into a honeymoon. Nothing so good lasted forever just like a winning streak at blackjack.
On the fourth morning the telephone rang, as we breakfasted in the living room. Maya answered with a finger raised to his lips. I tried to be discreet, but I heard everything.
The man on the other end was her lover. He was coming to visit this afternoon.
I got off the couch and went to the guest room. I dressed in my clothes for the first time in days and returned to the living room with my bag in hand. I sat on my couch.
“Are you going?” Maya hung up the phone and bit his lip. The silk robe slipped off his right shoulder. His skin was bruised my my hands. We had had a good time. “You’re more than welcome to stay.”
“I know, but your friend might think otherwise, besides my friend is waiting.” AK and I had not specified a date, but if I didn’t go now, there was a danger that I never go.
“Yes, we all have friends.” The sentence was tinged with jealousy. “You’re not angry, are you?”
“Angry for what?” For the last few days we had been man and woman. One phone call had broken the magic. Once more I was straight and Maya was a man. “It was good to meet you.”
“Is that all?” Maya sounded in love and love was a madness not magic.
“Maybe a little more, but it’s time for me to go.”
“Now?” Maya opened the robe.
“Not just yet.” I pulled Maya close.
An hour later we were driving down the PCH. Maya wanted to drop me south of Monterrey. He drove the Porsche 5 mph below the speed limit on the highway south from Santa Cruz.
“I could pay for you to stay in a motel for a few days and pick you up.” Maya was having a hard time letting go. He was wearing a tan suede vest cinched tight by laces and matching suede pants. Mirrored sunglasses covered his eyes.
“I’m heading south.” The California sun was harsh this morning.
“Will you come this way again?” Maya asked, as the Porsche crossed the Moss Landing Bridge.
“I don’t know.” I had no plans for my future. We didn’t speak for several miles, as the PCH coasted along the beach and then swept into the outskirts of Monterrey. “Do you mind, if you drop me by the docks. I read Steinbeck’s CANNERY ROW and SWEET THURSDAY.”
“I loved those books too.” Maya pulled off Route 1 and drove down to the piers. The canneries were deserted and only a few fishing ships were in port. He parked by a wharf converted to a restaurant. Tourists admired the sports car and whispered to each other, as if they thought Maya might be famous.
“I guess this is the end of the road.” Maya sniffed back a tear and hurriedly wrote down a phone number. “You come this way. You call me.”
“It’s a promise.” I stuck the paper in my leather jacket.
“Here’s $20 and two joints. Have lunch on me.”
“You want to have lunch here?”
“No.” Maya shook his head. “These people don’t understand me.”
“I’ll make sure they don’t say anything.”
“It’s not what they say, but I can see what they think in their eyes. This is not my town.”
“I understand.” I put the bill and the joints in the same pocket as Maya’s number.
Supposedly Sonny Barger of the Hells’ Angels said that you weren’t queer as long as money was involved in the sex. No biker had ever defended his quote. I leaned over an kiss Maya good-bye.
“I’ll see you around.” I got out of the car and tapped the hood of the Porsche. The horm beeped once and I stepped away from the car. The tires screeched out of the parking lot and the 911 disappeared into Monterrey.
A fishing boat was putting out to sea. Seagulls glided in its wake. Seals swam in the kelp beds. The perfume on my skin was faint. The smell of the ocean was strong. I hefted my bags over my shoulder and walked along the shore. I was once more alone and alone I was once more myself.
Monday, January 23, 2012
Friday, January 20, 2012
My first camera was a Kodak Brownie. It took good photos. Eastman-Kodak's sales pitch was simple.
"You push the button, we do the rest."
The word Kodak was synonymous with camera for most of my youth and Eastman-Kodak held a virtual lock on the American market with a 96% share in 1976. Most of my slides were taken on Kodak. The color was warm, whereas Fuji's was cold. None of that quality mattered to consumers. They wanted cheap and yesterday the company filed for bankruptcy after the collapse of print film for cameras and their inability sell digital cameras.
Kodak received its name from an abbreviation of the inventor's home state North Dakota, who decided Kodak was better than Nodak.
Like GM in the 70s Kodak corporate leadership believed that the American consumer would remain loyal to their product and their lack of vision doomed the company to failure and the most recent CEO off-shored production without regaining market share. If it had been for a billion dollar settlement with LG, Kodak would have gone bust in 2010 and Rochester, New York has seen the Kodak workforce shrink from 60,000 to 7000 with most of them in the bloated corporate structure.
"Anyone who's dealt with Kodak ... over the last 20 or 30 years has just seen this lumbering dinosaur with wonderful research, coming up with great ideas, but believing that they have some kind of divine right to be the only company selling the means to take pictures." The electronics journalist Barry Fox told Al Jazeera.com
After over 130 years the Kodak moment passed into extinction along with many other American icons such as Zenith TVs, RCA stereos, and US Steel.
America's new cry.
"We're number nothing."
Thursday, January 19, 2012
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Sunday, January 15, 2012
Saturday, January 14, 2012
Thursday, January 12, 2012
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Holiday passengers were forming queues for destinations north, south, and east. They were mostly military and college students. Commuters had stayed home for the day.
I walked onto Beale Street into the intense noontime sun. The temperature was much cooler than the Central Valley and I set my canvas travel on a wooden bench to pull a light leather jacket.
"Man, you looking for a place to crash?" a scraggly long hair in dirty denim and a soiled paisley jacket asked, while scratching a sore on his neck.
"No, I'm good." I had been warned about rip-offs by overly friendly hippies and slung my bag over my left shoulder. The muscles and joints of my right were bruised from the security guards in Reno tossing me from a casino.
"Clean and your own bed. You give what you can afford. My name's Omo. Stands for On My Own. We're a cool commune. Lots of chicks too. You into chicks?" Omo followed me at a safe distance.
"Leave me alone." I glared back at him with the promise of a punch.
"Suit yourself. You don't know what you'll be missing." Omo stuck his hands into the jacket and turned back to the station.
The Summer of Love had ended seven years ago.
Now junkies and speed thieves preyed on unsuspecting hippies following the acid trail of 1967. The wide-eyed faithful were easy marks for the vultures haunting the bus station and I crossed the street headed toward Mission Street with the slender spire of the Transamerica Building rising to the north.
Six days ago I had left Boston in a drive-away station wagon bound for Lodi, California. The owner was relieved to have his Ford Torino delivered without mishap. My friend AK had headed south on I-5. I was going to meet him in Encinitas sometime next week. Buses and trolleys traversed the peninsula to the ocean. I intended to cover the short distance by foot. I wasn't in a hurry.
Lunch at a small Mexican diner consisted of enchiladas, rice, and beans. The waitress kept coming with extra tortillas. I paid with a twenty-dollar bill and tipped the young counter girl a dollar on a $2 check. She deserved more.
"Mucho gracias." She smiled with gleaming white teeth.
"Da nada." Jack Keroauc had picked grapes in a migrant camp and fallen in with a girl who probably was related to this one. I could see why.
I veered off Mission at Haight and strolled on the south side of the street to avoid the sun. The Fillmore West had been shut for two years. Quicksilver, Moby Grape, and the Jefferson Airplane had abandoned this city for the country. Empty houses bore fire scars and the hard-faced gangs lingered on the stoops of boarded-up apartment buildings. Heroin and speed had ripped the heart out of Haight-Ashbury. No one was wearing flowers in their hair this year with good reason.
"Yo, man, it's me, Omo." The hippie from the bus station shouted from the grassy slope Buena Vista Park corner. A very thin teenage girl in a filmy dress was holding his hand. She wasn't wearing any underwear. Omo and the girl jumped onto the sidewalk. "Yo, man, this is Floral. She's one of the girls at the commune. She likes young guys like you, don't you, Floral?"
"You have nice eyes." Floral spoke with a dead voice. The pale-skinned redhead was about 15. She sported shooting tracks on the inside of her stick arms. My sister was her age.
"Thanks." I kept walking at a steady pace, having noticed another long-haried junkie on the opposite side of the street. He was watching the three of us with too much interest to be a passer-by. This was a set-up.
"Yo, man, where you going? We live around the corner. Let's go up there and chill." Omo wasn't giving up on me. Opportunities at the bus station were slim on Memorial Day. His voice was on edge. He needed a score. I was it.
"Yeah, man, come with us and we can all get it on." Smack had hit America hard in the early 70s and Floral was one of its many casualties. She pulled on my arm with the strength of a blood-weak vampire. "I'll do anything."
"She really means anything." Omo lifted her dress to the waist. The gap between her legs was wide than a hand. "Anything is Floral's specialty."
"Thanks for the offer, but I got places to go." I shrugged off her weak grasp and broadened my gait.
"$20 will get you an hour of heaven." Omo wasn't giving up so easy.
"So you're her pimp?" I hadn't been with a woman for a long time, but I had never paid for sex.
"That's an uncool word." Omo smirked with unwavering perseverance. "I'm her coach. What about it? You can do a lot of anything in an hour."
"No." I was at the end of my patience and pushed him hard.
"Sorry, to bug you, man. I didn't realize you were queer." Omo shouted in a loud voice and gave me the finger. He was a sore loser.
"Fuck you too." I muttered under my breath to avoid any escalation of this encounter.
Two years ago the hippie scene had been on its last legs. A few head shops lurked in a state of decay along the famed strip, but the long-hairs were outnumbered by openly gay men in plaid shirt, tight jeans, and work boots. They had brothers in New York and Boston. These men openly stared at my crotch and commented lewdly, as if they were sailors on leave. Judging for the shortness of their hair, several might have been stationed on Treasure Island with the Pacific Fleet.
San Francisco had belonged to the Beats in the 1950s. The hippies had inherited the city in the 60s. This decade was owned by men in love with men, even if that love lasted a few minutes. I kept walking west.
I reached Golden Gate Park with Kezar Stadium on my left. I strolled through the empty parking lot. The gates were locked with chains. The 1974 football season was a long way away from the end of May.
Almost a hundred thousand young people flocked to San Francisco in the Spring of 1967. The gathering of the tribes lasted one long summer. The Haight was not big enough to handle that many people at one time and the fall saw an exodus of those disenchanted with the chaos, but it was still a beautiful day.
Mexican families were burning meat on barbecues and a dozen baseball games between Latino squads were in progress on a well-trodden field. A few hippies were tossing frisbees on the edge of the lawn. Marijuana wafted on a cool breeze scented with salt. The ocean was getting close.
Few pedestrians strolled on the paths past Stow Lake. Collarless dogs ran in packs through the underbrush. A wilderness survived at the edge of the city. It was not safe and I was being followed by three men and a woman. Two of them were Omo and Floral. This meeting was not a coincidence.
A fist-sized rock lay in the dirt. I bent over, as if to tie my shoe. The four of them were too far away to notice that I was wearing boots. The rock was smooth in my hand. I stood up and continued in the same direction. There was no place to run.
The confrontation came the other side of a small lake. Omo and Floral stood in my path and the other two approached from behind. I didn't put down my bag. The young girl stood in back of Omo. She was pushing him forward. The other two were a Latino in a leather vest with a bandana around his head and the long-hair from the Haight. A scar bisected his face. It had not come from a duel. He was the first one to speak. Scar had nothing good to say."
"Man, heard you didn't want Floral." Scar spoke slow, as if he wanted me to hear every word.
"I wasn't in the mood."
"That's too bad, because that would have been easy for everyone." Scar whipped out a knife. The blade was four inches long. The Latino balled his fists. Omo smiled with anticipation and Floral said, "Do it. Do it."
They were a team. It was four-on-one on paper. None of them had seen the rock in my hand.
"Give us the bag and your money." The greasy-haired hippie flourished the knife with a shaking hand. He was jonesing big time.
I slipped the bag off my left shoulder and held it out. The four of them seemed pleased with my surrender and Scar reached out with his left hand. Desperation left a big opening and I swung my fist in a wide loop to open-palm his skull with the rock in my hand. I hadn't pulled my punch and Scar dropped the knife. His body hit the ground at the same time. I picked up the knife and turned to Omo.
"Are we done?" I slipped the rock inside my jacket pocket. It had served its purpose.
"Yeah, man, we're cool." Omo lifted his hands in submission. The Latino robber backed away several feet.
"Then have a nice day." I pocketed the knife and kicked the fallen thief in the ribs twice. It was not for show.
I walked away from my disappointed attackers looking over my shoulder several times until I reached the South Drive. Cars sped along the park road. I was safe again.
Floral ran up to me.
"Can I go with you?" She was out of breath.
"Where you from?" I didn't expect her to tell the truth. She was a runaway.
"Kansas, same as Dorothy. Where you going?" She bit her lip, hoping I might say Hollywood.
"Nowhere special." In her state Floral couldn't make it much farther than Route 1 before going to the village of Cold Turkey. I pulled $10 out of my pocket. She didn't deserved it, but today was the day after my birthday. "This get you straight."
"A little." She snatched the bill like a banana-hungry monkey in a cage. "Another ten and we can go into the bushes."
"Thanks, Floral, but I really have to be going." There was no telling what she was carrying and I wasn't going to find out. "You take care of yourself."
"I'm tougher than I look." Her smile was missing a tooth. Life was tough on the street.
"I'm sure you are." I was on my summer vacation and Floral wasn't the type of girl to save in a single day.
I left her on the roadside and ten minutes later crossed the Great Highway to stand on a sloping strand of sand. The sun was three hours from setting in the west. The cold from the ocean chilled my flesh. No one was swimming in the surf. I took the rock and knife from my jacket and threw them into a wave. Neither appeared from the surge.
I turned around to San Francisco.
Cars were heading north and south on the coastal road. I walked to the curb and stuck out my thumb. A Tempest convertible stopped within two minutes. The marine on holiday was headed to Daly City. I jumped in the car. Ten minutes later we left the city by the bay and sadly it felt good leaving, but only until the wind swept through my hair.
The hippie was dead.
The road lived on forever.
I-5 ran south out of Sacramento. The day was getting hot in the Central Valley and AK cranked up the Torino's AC. I turned around several times to be disappointed that Carol wasn't in the backseat. A whisper of her rose attar fragrance clung to the car. She and her Joni Mitchell tape were on a bus to Mendocino, but the nursing student was not gone.
"Think it will work out with her boyfriend?" AK had liked Carol from the start. She smelled good.
"He's a doctor. The dream husband for every mothers' daughter." I was playing hardball with his hopes. Her girlfriend had left me for someone else a year ago.
Carol was no Jackie.
The blonde was easy to like, even if she thought me a fool after my fiasco in Reno. I rubbed my shoulder, trying to remember, if I had fallen down last night. "I met him once. Sorry to say, but he was cool. Besides you already have a girlfriend."
"On the other side of the country." They had been lovers since college. Annie wanted kids. AK was pursuing a musical career in funk. The New Yorker wasn't close to being black, except when he played the electric piano.
"Meaning?" With my eyes closed I heard a young Herbie Hancock.
"That three thousand miles is a long way from home." He was driving the station wagon a little over 55. The California Highway Patrol had a long history of busting anyone not fitting their notion of a good American whether they be an Okie, a Mexican, a hobo or a hippie like AK and me. He started singing BORN TO BE WILD by Steppenwolf.
"Looking for adventure and whatever comes our way."
I joined him on the chorus. The song was an anthem for the road ever since it was featured in EASY RIDER. AK laughed at my effort.
"What's wrong?" I had a good idea what was so funny.
"Just that you sounded like Tony Bennett."
The comparison was almost a compliment and I segued to I LEFT MY HEART IN SAN FRANCISCO, substituting Carol for heart. Now it was my time to laugh.
"Feeling more human?" AK exited the interstate at Route 12. The fields were rowed with fertile vines weighty with the grapes of 1974. Lodi was wine country.
"Better than this morning." I had woken up along the bank of the Truckee River with no money in my wallet, thinking that I had blown my vacation at a blackjack table in Reno.
"You know not telling me that my money wasn't gone was mean."
"Like I said in Sacramento. It was for your own good." Lodi was laid out in a grid with the railroad determining which side of the tracks was the better part of town. AK held the owner's direction in his left hand.
“Was I that bad?” My hangover answered my question, but AK could fill in the blanks.
“I didn't want to say anything in front of Carol in case she said anything to your old girlfriend. After you lost the day's winning, I gave you another $300 and stashed the rest. You threatened to punch me, if I didn’t. Carole lent you $20 once you blew the three hundred. I paid her back from your money." AK was my good friend. We had lived next to each other in Boston. He didn't have to pull any punches. "After she crashed in the car, but you got ugly."
"Make a train take a dirt road ugly." AK flicked up the left turn signal. East Oak Street lay a few blocks to the north. "The security guards tossed you out around midnight and you tried to storm the front door. The bouncers were nice enough not to punch you out, but they did rough you up."
"That explains my shoulder." I hadn't fallen, but been thrown to the ground.
"One more thing." AK looked in the mirror, then turned right. The neighborhood was neat and tidy. " You were yelling that you wanted the police to arrest the casino owners for stealing your birthday.
“Funny?” Humor was a question of delivery.
"More pathetic than funny at the time, but more funny today." AK braked by the curb.
Jake was watering the lawn in pressed khaki trousers and an immaculate white tee-shirt. The white one-story bungalow was topped by a brick-red tiled roof contrasting the soft blue shutters. Two orange trees provided shade and fruit. Everyone else in the neighborhood had cut down theirs.
A buxom blonde in a garden dress was tending to the flowers. His wife was a good-looking woman and Lodi looked like a fine place for an ex-Marine to live.
Jake turned off the hose and waved to us with a smile. Californians loved their automobiles.
"All good things must come to an end." AK shut off the engine and opened the door. The air was thick with warmth. I got out of the car too. It had been a good ride.
"Wasn't expecting you for another day." He walked around the Torino searching for dents or scratches. "Where's Carol?"
"She caught a bus for Mendocino in Sacramento. She wanted us to tell you thanks." Few men forgot Carol.
"If it wasn't for her, I would have never let you two take the car." We existed on other sides of the Generation Gap, even though Jake was ten years younger than my father.
"Nothing personal, but I don't have much use for hippies. What's that lump in your pocket?"
"From Reno?" There was only one pass over the Sierras. "Have any luck?"
"A little bit of good and the same in bad."
"Ha." The owner of the Torino was pleased by my loss.
I hadn't figured him for mean in Jamaica Plain.
"Jake, leave those two boys alone," his wife snapped with scissors in hand. Her eyes were green and the blonde hair a gift from her genes. "They drove your car all the way cross country. Is it okay?"
He leaned his head into the car. The station wagon smelled brand-new after the deluxe treatment at the car wash.
"Sorry, old habits are hard to kick." The apology was more for his wife's ears than ours. "You made good time."
"I drove 55 most of the way." AK pulled the drive-away company's contract from his wallet. He had rarely pushed the V8 over 70. Carol and I had been the speed demons
"And you?" The forty year-old kicked the tires.
"I opened it up once in Utah." My father examined the tires of his Olds 88 with a shoe. It was something men their age learned from their fathers. I grabbed my bags from the back of the station wagon.
"How fast?" Men from out West understood driving fast. It was Big Country territory.
"121. It might have had ten more miles per hour in it."
"Good man. My personal best was 126," Jake stated with pride. "That 428 pulls its weight."
I got out of the car and grabbed my bagIf we had driven 55, I think we'd still be in Colorado." 55 was top speed for a car at the turn of the century.
"It's a stupid law." Jake pulled a pen from his shirt pocket and signed his name on the contract. "Looks like you didn’t hit nothing, so we're good."
"Have any problem from the police?" Jake had better things to do than chase us for a $25 speeding ticker from Iowa.
"None, we were good citizens." I doubted if he smelled the weed on AK. "One small thing."
"How small?" He braced for the bad news.
"A couple of times when we stopped for gas, people thought Carol was Patti Hearst."
"Are they blind? Patti Hearst can't hold a torch to Carol." Jake was in agreement the opinion of every man of our trip. Carol was special.
"You boys care for something to eat?" His wife had forced a truce.
"We're hippies. We love free food." A sandwich would be good. as long as it didn't come from the Hari Krishnas or Salvation Army. Even long-hairs had their limits.
His wife returned to caring for her flowers and Jake took inside the house. The layout of the furniture was sparse and the simple decor was particular to white suburbs throughout America. AK and I felt right at home, if we were living with our parents.
Family photos, medals, and basketball awards were arranged by decades within a tall glass display case. Jake was a handsome groom in his dress whites. His wife was a blonde double for Marilyn Monroe. A young man with short hair held a basketball in his hands.
"Who's the hoopster?" AK asked in earnest. He had been the starting point guard for his high school team on Long Island. Smoking pot had increased his dislike of the authoritarian coach at the cost of playing minutes. On the playgrounds of Boston he drove to the basket with two points on his mind.
"My son, Mark. He was the star forward for the Lodi Flames. 13 points a game and 5 rebounds. I dreamed about him going to college, but he enlisted in the Marines after graduation. I pulled strings to keep him in-country. He wanted to see the Show." Jake's weakening voice forecasted the climax to this story.
"Sorry." I had graduated a year before his son. College students in New England didn't go to the Show.
"I blamed you protestors for his death. That damned Richard Nixon said he was going to bring our troops home in 1968. You didn't protest enough and you cared more about the Vietnamese than your own." Jake touched the glass panel before his son's photo, as if his hand could touch the dead
"We did our best." I had been against the War since 1969. I met Jackie at a demonstration condemning the bombing of Hanoi. We made love the same night. Jake was right. Our chants of 'Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh Ho Chi Minh is going to win' outnumbered our shouts for 'Bring the troops home'.
"I was in the Marines for twenty years. Every marine said that they did their best. I was what was expected." Jake inhaled a deep breath. His exhale whistled a single sibilant note. He was counting to ten. "I was a Marine. My son was a Marine. My grandson will say 'Semper Fi' in his turn."
"He had a son?" Mark was my age. I had never impregnated a woman. He had a life.
"A boy named Jake." The ex-marine shivered with the last silver lining. "Be three this weekend. I was pissed at him for knocking up his girlfriend back then. I'm of a different mind about that now."
"Times change." AK understood that epitaphs are the chorus of reflection.
"That they do." Jake grit his teeth and turned to us. The moment was dammed behind a wall of "Semper Fi. He was a grandfather. I put his hand on my bad shoulder and fought off a grimace. "I hope you hippie boys aren't vegetarians. I cook a mean burger."
"I am an omnivore. As a kid in Maine I ate whale." A clam shack on Portland Harbor sold whale from time to time. "It tasted great."
"Then you're in for a treat."
When I was a boy in Maine, once a week during the short summer my parents packed us into their Ford Station Wagon for a trip to Benson's Grove. The burgers were served with a special relish unknown to the rest of America.
Jake's sauce came close. He opened a bottle of Zinfandel. AK had a glass. I had two. At 22 recovery from a hangover depended on solutions. The burger had saved my life. Jake's wife joined us for the second bottle. AK played his African thumb piano. They were delighted by the magical plinking of flesh on metal resonating in the wooden box.
His wife packed us cold-cut sandwiches and kissed us on the cheek.
Jake's wife must have driven the postman crazy.
"You really going to hitchhike now?" Jake had offered to drive us to I-5.
"I'm going to San Diego." AK had given me his friend's telephone number in Encinitas. I had a pocket filled with quarters.
"I-5 will take you there. What about you?" Jake started the car and gave it the gas. The last tank had been premium.
"I'm thinking about heading over to the coast to take the Pacific Coast Highway south." It felt good to be in the Torino again.
"No way to hitchhike there from here, unless you like the hiking part of hitchhiking." Jake waved to his wife and she blew him a kiss. He wouldn't be gone long. "Better you take a bus into the City. The PCH is right down the end of Golden Gate Park."
Jake gave each of us $20 and another $20 to AK.
"Give that to Carol when you see her. You did a good job."
Jake drove AK to the highway. He got out of the Torino for the last time. I-5 had a lot of traffic heading south. It was a little past noon.
"See you in San Diego." AK took up position a few feet in front of the sign forbidding pedestrian or hitchhikers on the highway.
We waited for him to get a ride. A Cadillac stopped within five minutes. AK threw a power fist in the air and jumped in the big car.
"A good friend?" Jake headed back into town. My bus was in twenty minutes.
"The best." I would be broke without him. Now I was on my own for the next few days. It was a good thing Nevada was in the opposite direction. I knew no one in San Francisco. This was a new world.