The Shades of Blue

I got big hugs in the doorway from Anita, Krissy and Janine and was pulled up the steps into an interior that looked very different from the one I’d built in Virginia. Set aside the fact that Anita’s sister was no longer aboard – she’d decided soon after joining the Caravan that communal bus living was not for her. Indeed, the apparent arrangement on the Caravan was that, unless you were a family with kids, you filled up all available space in your vehicle with whoever wanted to join the community but didn’t have their own vehicle. So Anita’s bus – which, after painting, had been christened Shades of Blue – was now the mobile home for 10 people plus the newcomer, me.

Instead of the single bed platform I’d built in the back, there were now two double-decker queen-sized sleeping platforms, with another low platform butted up to the back of the driver’s seat. Thick foam pads covered the platforms. The ceiling was partially covered with rectangular, ill-matching carpet samples, glommed for free from stores found along the route. A small gas stove crimped the aisle-way, with a short plywood counter and sink making up the kitchen. A straight length of black plastic tubing directed drain water through the floor to the ground.

Tall Erik needed to bow his head to move through the bus. I plopped down on the platform behind the driver – a blond, lion-maned fellow named Donald – and was introduced to the rest of my traveling companions. The names entered and vacated my mind in an instant as the bus was put in gear and began to make its way out of downtown LA.

Janine and Krissy were happy to see another familiar face from their past, and they snuggled up to me where I leaned against the cool metal wall of the bus. The smell was a mixture of incense, pot, sesame oil and the musky aroma of unwashed laundry and human bodies. And while one of the “ladies” (as they called grown females) began to prepare food at the counter, most of the rest arrayed themselves on the platform around me and stared forward through the windshield.

We talked about my ride across the country and about their escapades in the southern traverse, including a run-in with some hippie-hating cowboys in Colorado. My companions were all single, none of them California natives. It was disconcerting to me that the expression “far out” was uttered so frequently. It seemed to serve as an all-purpose response to any statement, covering the full range of meanings from just barely OK to absolutely miraculous. It was the comma, colon, period and exclamation mark in our conversation.

Most of the far-out-espousing folks had joined the Caravan after encountering it in towns or campuses where Stephen had been invited to speak. The Caravan had not been planned, but had formed spontaneously when people who’d considered themselves students of Stephen decided to accompany him and his family’s bus on the journey. Together, they provided a supportive real life example of the peaceful collaboration at the root of Stephen’s presentations.

As I’d learned from his book, Stephen was married to a wife and also to another couple. Like the people I’d met on the New Hampshire bus, he lived in a four-marriage. And yes, the Shades of Blue passengers told me, there were many – maybe a dozen – of these configurations on the Caravan, each formed in a flash of loving inspiration that was beyond rational explanation.

I’d traveled as a naive teenager through Europe, even through the week-long Fiesta de San Fermin in Pamplona, and through the exotic Arab culture of Tunisia, but I had a feeling that I might have just dropped into an even stranger rabbit hole.



  1. March 23, 2009 at 1:50 am

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  2. March 23, 2009 at 1:58 am

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