32. The Trip, Chap. 10: The Berkley Blues

(Trip Chap. 10 – The Berkley Blues)

 

By the time we hit the city by the bay, we were pretty much over the loss of the kitten, and things between us were pretty relaxed. We were cool, we had survived the trip, we had actually made it to San Francisco – which despite our bravado, I think we both always knew was not necessarily a given.

The truck was not in such good shape.

Every hour or so, we stopped and did a preemptive fill on the radiator. But the temperature gauge never stayed on normal for very long. So I knew the leak was getting worse and we were driving on borrowed time.

We cruised through San Francisco and down to San Mateo without stopping, found the address from CJ’s letter, and feeling a bit nervous, knowing we didn’t fit in so well in the sleek suburban surroundings, we walked up and rang the doorbell.

A smiling, friendly young woman opened the door, and I said, “Hi! I’m John. Are you Cathy?”

“Ah, yes, I’m Cathy,” the smiling woman answered. “What can I do for you today?”

“I’m a friend of CJ’s,” I said. “I think she’s expecting me.”

“Oh.” Cathy said. She lost her smile. “CJ’s not here anymore. She went back to Arizona a few weeks ago. Actually about a month ago, I think… She decided to go back to ASU.”

I stood there for a moment feeling really sick, really stupid, and totally at a loss for what to say next.

“Oh,” I managed. “She went back to Arizona. Huh. Well, it’s been a while since I heard from her, but I just thought… Okay, well, thanks, sorry to bother you, we’ll just, ah, head on up the road. If you talk to her, tell her I said hi.”

“Okay!” Cathy was smiling now, obviously glad we weren’t planning to hang around. We were a bit road-roughened, probably didn’t smell too good either.

When we got back in the van, I just sat there, leaning on the wheel, reluctant to start the engine, hoping something would happen. Hoping Cathy would come running across the lawn, crying, “Wait! Wait!…” Charlie was just smiling.

“Well,” he said cheerfully, “that’s that. Let’s go see if we can find Bolinas Beach!”

I started the van and sat back. “What’s Bolinas Beach?”

As I pulled slowly out into the street and headed back toward San Francisco, he explained that some friends had told him about Bolinas years ago, and that it was a very cool place, sort of an artists’ colony, where no one cared if you slept on the beach. “It’s up 101 somewhere,” he said. “We’ll find it.”

“Okay,” I said dully. I was out of options. And the van was out of gas.

After I filled up at the cheapest station I could find, I said to Charlie, “I hope we find this place, ‘cause we only got three dollars left.”

“No problem!” Charlie piped. “Just head across the Golden Gate and look for a sign on the left. We’ll find it.”

—–

I found it on the map, and there were lots of roads on the left, but no sign. After cruising up and down the stretch of highway where Bolinas should be, we finally stopped at a small store and asked.

“Yeah, there’s a sign, but this hippy chick keeps stealing it ‘cuz she don’t want nobody finding Bolinas,” the clerk said with a grin. “It’s about the fourth dirt road up that way… you’ll see a little green street sign after you turn in.”

Sure enough, we found the road and the chic little community that lived at the end of it. We parked by the boardwalk and headed up the beach, which was as densely populated as any beach I’ve ever seen, just not by bathing-suited cuties lolling on blankets, but by crowds of hippies in tents and sleeping bags, hanging out by campfires and Coleman stoves.

We dragged our meager provisions up the beach to a vacant spot and joined in the revelry.

—–

The next day was a Friday, so we decided to head back into Berkley to see if I could sell some of my camera equipment – pretty much the only thing of value I had left besides my guitar – and scope out employment and living opportunities. Charlie said he had friends in Oregon who lived in a commune and would welcome us, but I knew the van would never make Oregon without repairs.

A camera store offered my $175 for my entire outfit, which included a Nikon F, several lenses, accessories and foam-filled aluminum case. I turned it down. “Outrageous!” was all I could say to that offer.

We still had enough rice for three or four days, and a little gas.

But Saturday, I sold two of the lenses for $125 to a guy on the street. He gave me a check, and no one was cashing checks on Saturday, so we stopped in a book store and sold a few books – for $3.63. I felt on the verge of depression. Selling books seemed like the bottom rung of some ladder of desperation.

But the food from the Chinese cafeteria the money bought was so good it lifted me right up again. Books for food. Not a bad trade, all-in-all.

Sunday, we parked the van on Stuart Street and fired up our little Svea stove to heat the last of the cabbage, onion and chicken broth in our supply box.

Monday morning, I found a bank that would cash the check and we feasted – blueberry pancakes for breakfast!

We also found a room in a flophouse for $80 a month – with promises to do some painting for the guy in lieu of a deposit – and moved in. Even though the bathroom was down the hall, I decided a hot shower was one of the most wonderful features of modern life.

It was not a bad place, on Shattuck Avenue just a block from the University and not far from Telegraph Avenue. Things were getting interesting. But the job search was slow. Not much to offer in the want ads, and we had little access to other venues.

I felt secure enough after a few days to call home and let my parents know I was still alive. They were happy to hear from me, and said CJ had called them twice in the last few days.

Cathy had told her we showed up, so she was trying to track me down. The next day, I sent her a letter recounting the adventure that had led me to Berkley and telling her I hoped to see her sometime soon, but things were tenuous, the van unreliable, and my plans unsettled.

And then she called.

I was all kinda just getting settled in there, and out of nowhere, she called. She had called my parents again, they had given her the number of the hall pay phone, and she had called it till I answered.

I explained that things were really pretty shaky, all about the trip and the van and the no money, but it felt so good to be talking to her after all this time. It felt like all the anticipation I had built up about coming to find her in California just welled up in me again, and I promised I would come to Arizona soon. As soon as I could get the money. She offered to send money, but I said give me a chance to work things out.

I told her I’d try to sell the van and hitchhike to Arizona if I had to.

After I hung up, I wondered what had gotten into me.

But the next day, the boredom and frustration built up and I visited a used car lot nearby. The manager looked at the van, and shook his head. No market. I was conflicted. I wanted to see CJ, but I wasn’t sure I was ready to leave.

Actually, I was enjoying being in Berkley. It had long held a certain cache for me, the heart of student revolt, the Free Speech Movement, all the romantic radicalism of that era seemed centered in Berkley.

But in 1973, there were only remnants of that earlier radicalism showing. Rent control and the muni were the hot topics, along with legalization. Still, I was enjoying the ambiance; even the shabbiness of the flophouse seemed cool to me.

We went up to the roof one night just to enjoy the evening air, a nice sunset, and the view of the bay, and ended up meeting some folks who lived in the building and who shared with us a little smoke that vastly improved our outlooks.

It seemed like the most wonderful dope I’d ever smoked. Maybe it was just the California weed. Then I remembered Thailand and I looked for another explanation.

“You know man,” I said to Charlie, “when you have plenty of dope all the time, you really don’t appreciate it, and you don’t appreciate nice things happening. I mean, like if we were smoking dope every day and happened on these folks up here turning us on, we wouldn’t even think about it. But being as we ain’t smoked shit in weeks now, this little evening seems like the most wonderful fuckin’ thing ever happened to me…”

Charlie was staring out across the lights of the city below. “Yeah man, like these lights are the most beautiful thing I ever saw. I love the city. In the city, you never feel alone, and there are always ice cubes.”

Oh shit, I thought, ice cubes. We’d been doing great without doing any drinking. No bad scenes, no crazy talk, no knives. I didn’t want to get into that again.

“Hey man, let’s see if we can find a lid,” I said. What I was thinking was, maybe if we have dope, Charlie won’t want to drink.

I cruised back over to the group of people with the pot. “Hey, you guys know where we could get some’a that shit?” I asked.

They looked at each other, and after a bit of humming and hawing, someone said, yeah, check with the dude in 323… he might be able to help you out. But don’t say we sent you.”

“Sure man, nah, thanks, yeah that’s cool…” I babbled. “Three-twenty-three… I can remember that….”

—–

The next night, we found the dude in 323, and he was indeed able to help us out with a little pot and probably a lot more of whatever we might be interested in.

“Nah man, we just need a dime bag, that’s it. Not much cash these days, you know. We been on the road, came up from Florida, just trying to get established here..”

“A dime bag? A dime bag all you need? A dime bag. Well you come to the right man, ‘cuz I keep this whole building high. But you sho a dime bag gonna do for you, ‘cuz I can do you up right, I can fix you up with whatever you want, but you just sit down there, man, and you just light this up and smoke it and I’ll just be over here messin’ ‘round trying to get things goin’ – I hate when you just come in and it takes so long to get everything goin’ and I’m just tryin’ to get everything goin’ here… but you just set there and smoke that and if you still just want a dime, I’ll break it down for you man, ‘cuz I got this other guy he just wants a dime so I can do that, I can just split this up for you and him.

“See here, man let’s do this together, now, we’ll just weigh this up together here, you see that? It’s one ounce, a little more, I’ll just divide it up equal. It’s some good pot and a good deal, but if you still only want a dime we’ll do this deal.”

“Whooee, it’s some good pot, alright! But like I said, we short of money right now, so maybe we’ll come back later when we’re fat and we’ll see what we can do…”

“Well you do that now, and if you lookin’ for a fine bitch, I got that too, you know. I got a fine bitch I’m ‘bout ready to sell, if you ready to buy. Whooee! She’s so fine, she fuck you to death! An’ don’t you be gettin’ tired, she’ll be, Daddy? Whooee!

So you ever fuck a fine black woman, down there in Florida? … You do? How much you pay down there in Florida? … Free! She free? She be scared, down there in Florida, that why you don’t have to pay for nothin’. I be there, though, you gonna have to pay. Nah, you don’t fuck nothin’ in Cal-ee-forn-i-cate  without you pay for it! You got to pay for it cause they got to eat! Cause I got to eat! Thas how I eat! Thas my work! … You want me to bring her here? You just come by and look, you don’t want to do nothin’ you just walk right on back down that hall.”

“Yeah, man, well that’d be nice, but I’m afraid that’d be too expensive for us to afford…”

“Expensive? Man you just ain’t got sensitive, you just ain’t learned about fuckin’ yet… Man, fuck you guys! You just talk. You see this here whip? My uncle sent me this whip from down South there. What you think the Man do with this whip down South? … You think he use it? Yeah, I think he use it. I think I just gon’ have to use it!

“Drop by? What you mean drop by? What you gon’ have for me I drop by? I don’t even wanna drop by all you gonna have is talk….  What you gonna have? … Right. Just talk. Too bad, man, too bad!”

—–

Two days later, I was standing out on side of the highway leading south out of Berkley, wearing a new pair of Pivetta hiking boots, a new orange Sierra Designs 60/40 parka, with a new Belsen’s Original frame pack with a K-Mart sleeping bag strapped to the top and my little Norland axe strapped to the side, my guitar, camera and a duffel bag.

Down to the bare essentials.

CJ had called again, and the longing had grown intolerable. I drove the van onto another used car lot, and asked the guy, “What’ll you give me?”

“Two-fifty.”

“Sold.”

I felt a great sense of relief born of the casting off of the immense karmic weight of possession. I felt a great sense of freedom – as well as considerable guilt – at leaving Charlie behind. I split the money with him, and left him everything else we had. He said he was heading out for Oregon when the month’s paid rent was up.

My decision seemed right when I got a ride.

The highway out of Berkley was always popular. There was a line of people with their thumbs up that stretched into near a hundred yards. Some of them had been there for hours, some maybe days.

I was standing next to a beautiful girl with long brown hair, and we chatted for a bit, I told her where I was going and why, a bit about my journey.

After a few minutes, a young Navy guy driving a hot 250-Z stopped beside her, rolled down the window, and asked her where she was going. She leaned in the window and they held a brief conversation to which I was not privy.

She stood up and looked at me. “Get in,” she said. “He’s going your way.”

I gathered my stuff, trying to thank her and hurry at the same time. She waved me off. “No problem!” she said. “I can get another ride easy!”

I was almost weeping with gratitude, but I threw my pile into the back and climbed into the seat.

“Thanks man!” I said.

And we zoomed off for Winslow, Arizona.

—–

Many hours and several rides later, I walked in the pitch dark of pre-dawn down a long exit ramp to a restaurant, had a cup of coffee and some eggs, and walked back out to the highway.

I had no idea where I was, but the last ride had said I should go down the ramp to the highway there if I wanted to go to Arizona. I sat down on the curb, leaned back against a sign post, and waited for daylight and traffic.

After a few minutes, it began to get light. I looked up at the sign I had been leaning against in the dark:

Begin US Route 66.