San Francisco, here we go…

As Donald put it, we had “made closure.” It was time to drive the bus back over the mountain. Stephen would be holding a class at the Family Dog, a large rock hall at Ocean Beach where the Caravan had disbanded. It wasn’t a Monday night – it was later in the week. I’d lost track of what day it was and time in general.

It felt good with Donald. Whatever he’d had going with Anita, he seemed content with the new arrangement and he described his growing up in Michigan as we negotiated the tight bends of the narrow mountain road. I stuck my head out the window and craned my neck at the redwoods along with Krissy and Janine. Back in Maryland, I’d spent countless hours roaming the local hardwood forests as a young teenager. I looked forward to roaming among these soaring trees.

As to my future with Anita on the bus or wherever we were going to live post-bus, I was trying to figure out in my head, just what were we in our relationship? We’d been intimate roommates on and off before, but there’d never been a commitment – verbal or even understood. She’s shone no hesitation when she picked up and split for the Caravan, and just as casually I’d chosen to stay behind. My deciding to join the Caravan had only partly been keyed to rejoining her. But I had to admit, I was attracted to her spunk and her impulsive nature.

She’d jumped at the Caravan as an adventure. I’d remained behind out of caution and uncertainty. But now, I was all into the adventure, seemingly on the same page with her. And though I’d been OK being on my own for a week in Paris, I just wasn’t that into setting off alone in San Francisco. If there was going to be a continuing connection with the Caravan people, I wanted to follow that for at least a while, and with Anita. One week had only whetted my appetite for the spiritual, the nomadic lifestyle and what seemed to be a community with some cool ideas, this in spite of the discomfort I’d felt in the sorting out process.

When we reached the Family Dog, the Caravan appeared to have reconstituted in the parking area. In fact, there were more buses than I’d remembered from our arrival. People milled about, and for the first time I was introduced to many of them who’d come to know Anita between Nashville and San Francisco. We drifted with the crowd into the ballroom where the milling continued until we, along with everyone else, sat on the floor. The room was packed, just like the pictures I remembered from the book.

When Stephen took his seat on the raised platform, the room went silent. His voice was deep, reminding me of the character actor, John Carradine, but his accent had a movie cowboy flavor to it. He spoke in phrases,Stephen and a Monday Night Class - photo by Robert Altman strongly declaring an idea, then leaving a long space of silence as the idea penetrated through the audience. I couldn’t pick up on half of what he said, being distracted by the scene itself. This was a remarkable – a far out – gathering. What must this guy have done and said to bring so many people together just to listen to him?

He described many of the experiences of the Caravan and what had been learned along the way. And how the Caravan had become a community on the road, taking on new people, delivering several babies en route – with his wife acting as midwife – and with the people who’d voluntarily followed him on his tour demonstrating talents and competence that had amazed and gratified him.

Then his lecture took a turn. He wanted to take this rolling community and settle somewhere, putting his vision to work in a place where it would stand out and not be confused with the rest of what had evolved out of the hippie scene in San Francisco. He said he wanted to settle on a piece of land where he could have a “loud microphone” and where people would be kind enough to allow “folks like us” to move in with them. And he wanted to find a place with cheap land where enough could be bought that the community would have room to grow and have some privacy.

Then he made the big announcement. He was headed for Tennessee. The American South. The region whose reputation, as the Caravan headed there, had caused people to ingest or otherwise dispose of all their contraband as a security measure. Aside from the cheap land (and I knew nothing of land prices beyond what my parents had paid in Maryland a decade earlier) I was not able to reconcile the plan in my mind. All these hippies, moving to Tennessee? The Tennessee of the Grand Ol’ Opry? The Andrew Jackson Tennessee? The Smoky Mountains Tennessee? Home of Jack Daniels and Porter Wagoner?

Anita and I looked at each other with a mixture of puzzlement and amazement. This guy was bold if nothing else. I was thinking, “Good luck, Stephen. It’s gonna be a small community.” That’s what was in my head. But the buzz going through the audience had a different feel to it. The meeting ended with Stephen proclaiming that the Caravan would reconstitute the upcoming Sunday at sunrise services, and would pull out immediately afterward. He then raised a ram’s horn to his lips, blew a long blast and the crowd joined in a long single-note chant that vibrated my body to its core.

The post-class chatter was full of excitement and concern. There were the people who, without question, were headed for Tennessee. And there were those who felt betrayed – that they were being challenged to give up a future of living in spectacularly beautiful northern California. There were loyalty issues – to family, to plans, to established living arrangements and jobs. Give up your pad, your family, your income, your connections here in San Francisco and move to the unpredictable and alien environment of a state where, not a decade before, civil rights were being denied to black people. I had no investment in California except for a sudden and deep infatuation with the land and the sea and, a sense that this was liberated territory where new ideas could take route. I had not yet identified myself as a hippie, like many of the Caravaners who’d been soaking in the culture for several years.

I’d just arrived and was just beginning the transformation into a vegetarian, bus-dwelling, pot-smoking, hair-growing, sort-outing surrogate father. Not only that, but I’d just become an “old man” with an “old lady.” This was the first week of my total immersion crash course in hippie acculturation.

I knew zip about Tennessee, except that it had no ocean next to it. I assumed, there in the parking lot, that we’d be part of the stay-behind group.

During the next few idle days, parked mostly on the Panhandle, we mixed it up with many of the Caravaners who were also tripping (both literally and figuratively) on the impending migration. We sat around in buses, on the ground under trees in Golden Gate Park, on the beach, on Mount Tam. The topics of our conversations followed the themes Stephen had expressed in the final Class.

The San Francisco scene was degenerating. There was less here to hold hippies who wanted to do something real in the world. Any news of good works and projects could be drowned out by the news of hard drugs and commercialization of the hippie scene. Besides, it was impossible for people like us – non-rich people – to buy enough property anywhere near San Francisco to really stretch our legs and build a village.

And as the vision of a village, built from scratch, began to implant itself in my brain, the promise of such a revolutionary project gradually displaced my desire to become a Californian. My internal rebel was urging me to abandon my mainstream destiny. My nature had its rebellious side – often suppressed by my surrounding culture and upbringing, but encouraged by teachers, movies, music, comic books and political heroes.

I’d long yearned, in my gut, to do something defiant and demonstrative with my life. Something that would stand out romantically and prove that good could triumph over evil. I thought I knew who and where the evil was, but I’d felt alone in identifying the good. Now, maybe, I’d found some allies for doing the good. Allies who would, no doubt, be conspicuous amidst the contrasting culture of the Deep South. It would be an audacious move, and sitting on the ground in the park, I found myself warming up to the idea.

“This is starting to turn me on. How ’bout you?”

Anita’s smile told me that we’d be in line for the next leg of the Caravan.


(Photo: unknown)


  1. Lady Boomer NYC said,

    April 19, 2008 at 8:34 pm

    Congrats on this blog and the writing, Cliff. Your memory and attention to detail never cease to amaze me. Good job. I look forward to the book. JaniMayNYC

  2. Don James said,

    April 21, 2008 at 6:27 pm

    Looks like you’re replacing Farmie with this? I love this version. I really hope you write and publish a book about your Farm experience. Your writing is excellent and there are many of us who would love to revisit our past thru your honest writing.


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