Sorting 101

I’d had my first taste of “sorting it out,” a face-to-face social practice never taught to me growing up. Somehow I’d managed to avoid such frank encounters with others, even with trusted friends. Among those in my closest circle, disagreements were shrugged off. “Fuck it.” And as to those outside the circle, “Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.”

Stephen taught that truth must be arrived at between people; dishonesty in relationships had no place. Souls must be bared. Part of me inside felt rubbed raw and I stared out the bus windows, silent, for the rest of the ride.

The Caravan paraded along the beachfront of San Francisco, finally parking in a large paved lot in front of the arcade that identified itself as Playland. Our arrival had been expected and there were scores of people waiting to greet old friends and relatives who’d been away for three months.

The Shades of Blue family – such as it was – was breaking up. Everyone except for Donald, Anita, her kids and me had another place to go. I figured they must have been glad to be escaping the confines of bus life. There was no ceremony but for hugs and pats on the back. We sat there for a while, took a walk on the beach – I took the opportunity to put my hands in the Pacific Ocean for the first time – and then it was time to find a place to park. Donald suggested the Panhandle, an area adjoining the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, just beyond Golden Gate Park.

We were far from the only bus parked there, and many of our fellow bus families were not of the Caravan; bus living served the needs of the nomadic hippies who spent part of their time in the city and part in the open spaces of the Bay Area. There was acoustic music happening well into the night, but we slept soundly after the long traveling day.

The next morning, after a stroll through the fabled Haight Ashbury neighborhood, we talked about next steps. Donald suggested we cross the bridge to the East Bay to stock up on organic groceries at Erewhon, then drive back and cross the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin where he knew a place we could hang for a while and figure things out.

I continued to be enchanted by the panoramas, this time of San Francisco Bay. I thought, “This is a place I could fall in love with.” I’d encountered some counterculture living around D.C., but the Bay Area seemed to have been taken over by it. It felt like another country where I was the tourist, my hair and beard still too short to qualify for native hippie respectability.

At Erewhon we loaded up on beans, flour, honey, brown rice, fresh veggies, oatmeal, incense and rolling papers, then headed for Donald’s secret encampment. After an impressive drive across the Golden Gate bridge, the road took us into the hills of Marin, over the shoulder of Mount Tamalpais, where we stopped to sit and watch fingers of fog come creeping up the ravines from the ocean, providing yet another magical visual experience. Then, brakepads smoking,  we descended back to sea level, navigating the big bus along a treacherous winding mountain rbluebuspalomarin1oad, through Stinson Beach, around a lagoon teeming with birds, and then along a desolate unpaved road to a bluff overlooking the ocean.

“I figure we can stay out here until Monday, then we’ll go back into the city for class,” Donald said, referring to the resumption of Stephen’s weekly meetings. After hiking along the trails in the late afternoon and witnessing my first spectacular Pacific sunset, I barely slept a wink that night. I knew the next day would bring a reckoning.

It was time, as Donald put it, for us to “get straight with each other,”  and the next morning, after a hot cereal breakfast and a few tokes in preparation, we entrusted Janine to Kristina’s supervision outside the bus and began to sort out where we were at with one another.

It occurred to me that I’d never “gotten straight” in this way with anyone. Not even with my trusted friends, family members or previous girlfriends.  And even on those occasions, it had always been a matter of getting it over with as quickly as possible. Whenever any of these relationships had gotten “sticky” or created discomfort, I’d looked for the quickest and most convenient way out of the situation. I began to realize that, in fact, nothing had ever been “heavy” in my life, at least not in terms of a personal relationship. anitadonaldpalomarinI’d always regarded myself more as just a young guy out in the crazy world, dodging responsibility.

Meanwhile, Donald was using what I assumed to be skills taught by Stephen for running a meeting. He was setting up this our 3-person encounter as if it was a major turning point in our lives and relationships. I realized that I had nowhere to go; I was on the edge of the continent, on a bluff above the Pacific Ocean.

We passed the joint around again and I felt like a cornered – but stoned – rat. I looked at Anita and she looked back, directly into my eyes. We held that 2- way gaze – the Caravaners called it “eye-vibing” – for what seemed like an eternity, until I broke it off to look out at the huge ocean.

“There’s a place,” began Donald, “where you’ve got to cop to the energy when you’re sorting it out with people, and you ought to let that energy pass between you. If you can’t keep eye-vibing with ’em, you’re not really being honest. If it’s gonna get heavy, you gotta come on behind it and let people see into your soul.”

Now Donald and I were eye-to-eye and, after that admonishment, I couldn’t pull my gaze away. I started to break out in a nervous sweat, then felt a lump rise in my throat. So this was “heavy.” Donald breathed deep, then let it out in a long exhale, as if he was blowing out a huge candle. “See?”

“Yeah, right on.” I was wrecked. I looked back at Anita and we eye-vibed for the longest time. Waves of emotion rose  up inside, telling me that yes, I did care for this woman, this lady. She’d been my close friend and lover for months. She’d brought a new level of adventure and risk into my secure but too-cautious life. She’d introduced me to a wildness of dreaming that my other friends had seemed to avoid. I really did hope to stay with her, beyond just needing a place to crash in a strange place. Where that would lead, I had no idea and didn’t really care, we were so in that moment.

After a long silence, save for the whispers of the wind and surf and the occasional playful voices of the girls, Donald spoke.

“You know, this has been a really high experience traveling with Anita and helping her manifest this bus. I gotta say, I’ve gotten real close with your old lady, Clifford. I could do a thing with her. But I know that before I got on Shades of Blue, you were her old man and I don’t want to split you guys up. I see how the girls like you. I know how much she wanted you to come out here.”

I felt some relief, knowing that Donald had certainly filled the role of manifestor – a term that I’d picked up since I’d arrived. The manifestor is the person who keeps a scene together materially. Donald had maintained the bus, driven most of the miles, and served as the father figure for the bus family. He had a few years on me and even more on most of the rest of the passengers. He had skills I knew nothing about, from mechanics to leading this meeting. He’d helped Anita and I wasn’t sure just how close they’d gotten before I arrived, but I could feel that there had been something closer than friendship.

Anita’s attention had been alternating from me to Donald and back again. I wasn’t sure where she was at, so I broached the question through the lump in my throat.

“So, do you want me to stay on the bus? I don’t have to, you know. I can find another place out here.” I didn’t believe it. “I still want to be with you. That’s why I came out.” I did want to be with her.

She didn’t respond, but kept eye contact with me. I was trying to interpret what was coming through, on…what? On the astral plane? Some other plane besides the verbal one?

Finally words broke through. “I think I know that I want you to stay with us, Clifford. I’d hate for Donald to leave, though. Can’t we all just stay on the bus together?”

Donald instantly nixed the idea. “No, that’s not what I’d want. The energy would be all wrong. You guys got a connection. You got karma you gotta work out.  Maybe sometime later, it’ll feel cool for me to be with you, but I don’t feel straight staying here in this energy. So once we get back to the city, I’m gonna find another place.”

Anita’s uncertainty was all he needed to make up his mind, and the deal was done. Suddenly, my feelings fell from relief to bearing the weight of the world. I wouldn’t have to find a place to live in unfamiliar territory, but now I was faced with building a relationship in a new situation, a heavy situation with no other relationships to lean on when to got tough. And I’d have to assume the mantle of manifestor for Anita, her kids and the Shades of Blue.


(Photos: Cliff Figallo)


  1. March 23, 2009 at 2:08 am

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  2. March 23, 2009 at 2:18 am

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