The teacher

Three straight nights in Trailways bus seats had me yearning for a night in any kind of a bed. Shades of Blue afforded me that accommodation, but with conditions. I shared the bottom forward bunk with Anita and the two girls. I was buzzed, trying to absorb the changes, trying to relax my brain after two hours of intense concentration, and irresistibly wondering about the nature of my relationship was with Anita, with this new culture, and with Stephen, who’d led this rolling community of nomads around the country.

I lay on my back with the rhythmic sound of the distant surf providing a background theme to the snoring accents provided by my bus mates. I dozed off in snatches, each time waking to realize that I really was in a converted school bus near the Pacific Ocean.

I wondered what my friends would think of this or how I would describe it. We’d been known in high school for our acerbic sense of humor, our dark cynicism about the world and our joyous celebration of the bullshit nature of life on Earth. So far, I’d found no room for irony or sarcasm on the bus. Someone had explained to me that “Stephen says sarcasm is anger and we ain’t into that. Anger is violence on the Subtle Plane.” There were different planes where levels of our consciousness dwelled. I’d have to learn them to understand how Stephen’s students communicated.

My friends would have had a field day with that. Yet, as they’d mostly admitted in frustration, they hadn’t a clue what they wanted to do with their lives. Or more to the point, what they’d be able to tolerate doing with their lives. They hadn’t ridiculed me when I told them I was off to join a nomadic tribe of longhairs. Much as they didn’t want me to leave, they couldn’t suggest a better idea for me or for themselves.

I wondered if I’d be able to find such good friends among this new group, or anywhere here in California. Would I be able to change to be like these transformed people? Would I be able to restrain my skepticism, keep a lid on my sarcasm, and still enjoy life in this far out culture? And more immediately, what would happen after tomorrow, when the adventure known as the Caravan would come to an end on its return to San Francisco?

***

With the first light of day I heard the strange sound of metallic pounding followed by hollering. It repeated over and over, getting louder until I could understand the words.

“G’morning! Drivers’ meeting in a half hour.”

BONG…BONG…BONG! The vibrations shot through our bus and a tall shape moved past the window. “Good morning!” came the loud baritone.

I watched as the wiry figure stepped to the bus next to us and pounded a mallet on its bumper. “Good morning! Driver’s meeting, then stow and go!”

Donald had leapt out of bed and was pulling on his jeans.

“Wanna come to the meeting?”

“Yeah, sure!” I gently disentangled myself from the arms and legs of my bunk mates.

Donald was heating water for tea on the stove. The rest of the bus family was stretching, yawning, greeting one another. The bus creaked on its springs as people moved about in the cramped interior.

“Mu or mint?” Donald asked. I chose mint.

We sat on the front platform and sipped.

“So, what are your plans now that you’re out here?” he asked, looking me in the eyes.

“Well, I guess I really don’t know. I just thought this was what I had to do. Come out here, I mean. I don’t know what happens next. What about you?”

“We’ll see. Life’s a trip.” He smiled over his cup. “Let’s go to the meeting.”

The ocean air was chilly in the parking lot. Just beyond the pavement the ground fell away. A hundred feet below was a rocky beach, surf crashing invisibly beyond the receding fog line. The bus drivers, I assumed, were flocking to a small group in the midst of which stood the tall slim figure who’d been wielding the mallet. So this was Stephen.

Seeing him in person, the first characters that came to mind were Don Quixote and Confucius. He stood silently, watching attentively as each person approached. His eyes locked with mine and he gave a nod of acknowledgment. I gave mine back.

We were about 40 or 50, standing in a bunch, hanging on the first words about to emanate from Stephen’s mouth. He took a deep breath, held it briefly and let it out through pursed lips.

“Good morning. I ain’t gonna say much this morning, it being our last day on the road. We’ve just about made the circuit, just about made it home. We’re gonna pull out in a half hour. That’ll give us time, when we get to the city, to figure out where we’re gonna go, where we’re gonna park. It’s been a trip, don’tcha think?” He laughed, full and hearty. I could imagine, yes, it had been quite a trip if even yesterday’s afternoon ride was a sample.

“So if any of ya need gas money, see Peter. Drive careful on this windy coast road. Keep together and we’ll see you at Ocean Beach.”

That was it. Someone yelled, “Stow and go!” and a flurry of activity began. I considered introducing myself, but there seemed to be some urgency to getting ourselves back to the buses. Donald led me back through the maze of vehicles to Shades of Blue. By the time we got on board, the bus family was almost done with the traveling preparations. This, for them, had become routine. Engines cranked up. Some hoods were thrown open then slammed shut after making adjustments on aging engines. Donald turned over the straight six and it roared to life. We waited, idling, to take our place in line.

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4 Comments

  1. Richard Speel said,

    April 5, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    Hi Cliff,

    New blog! Nice…I remember calling the cereal we got at the Mill, Farmola…remember that?

    Sometimes it was a little overcooked and sometimes not quite done!

    But, we ate it anyway and went off to the fields at 7AM!

    Take Care,
    Rico

  2. Judith said,

    April 5, 2008 at 11:56 pm

    Visage and foodage,: one more comment piggybacks on the photos of El Jefe…I like the “Confucius meets Don Quixote” (and those ARE two of his heroes, if you think about it,even if he does “punch nobody’s ticket”as the book The Caravan said at the outset.) ah Master Kung…

    I’ve wondered if that rather Asiatic visage with limited beard might be some native American something??? does anyone know?

    and it has occurred to me that those of us who take well to tofu and other soy foods, and i have loved all that stuff since before there were hippies to discover it, may well have genetically Asian digestions…I suspect myself of the same (my Asian-looking grandpa was actually Russian Jewish by way of London, but the kids at school sometimes asked me if I was part Chinese when he came to school to get me.)

    got the recipe for Farmola in the good ol’ New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook,maybe oughta fix up a batch in honor of Cliff’s new blog.

    taking my quasi-Asian cheekbones to the kitchen now…but we’re out of tofu and it’s pinto beans and corn tortillas tonight. foodage anyone? Judith

  3. March 23, 2009 at 2:05 am

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