There was a time, my friends, oh what a time, when I had lots and lots of freedom to do…
It wasn’t necessarily a rewarding time in life…more like leaving the lawnmower idling in the backyard while you go in the kitchen for some lemonade. The mower sits there churning away, gobbling up fossil fuels while the grass keeps growing.
I was 24, done with college and a short work stint with Ma Bell, and hellbent for going West. Where was I going? What route would I take? What would I do once I got to wherever? Didn’t know, didn’t know, didn’t know. There was only the urge to relocate and find another approach to living and I didn’t have a clue as to what that would look like. I was a well-educated musician but beyond that I had no plan.
This isn’t the best way to schedule your future and I wouldn’t recommend it to all the youth of the nation but it was delusionally attractive at the time. I left Michigan with a homemade modified van: small closet, bed with drawers underneath, blue and white shag carpeting, and a propane tank mounted on the rear with a hose running inside to a small heater that kept me from turning into a Popsicle in the cold mountainous climbs of the Rockies. In addition to my motel on wheels I had $900 in cash and travelers checks and, at least for the first part of the journey, a companion traveler to share the cost of gas.
My friend Carrie wanted to see her mother in Oakland, California and that became the only identifiable destination of the trip and, per our plan, I’d eventually leave her there, after spending the night in her mom’s condo, and she would take a plane back home. The Carrie part of the trip was revealing in that we had some spats and, perhaps, realized that a closed environment for long periods of time wasn’t conducive to maintaining our friendship. To our credit, neither of us did anything untoward to the other so the friendship survived into the coming years although I eventually lost track of her.
Other than Oakland, everything else was improv and I made an assessment of every town or city that I came across that had potential, wondering if this or that place might make a good fit for me. Boulder (beautiful but I’d already done the college town routine), Denver (beautiful but not calling my name), Reno (slot machines!), Salt Lake City (beautiful but strangely uninviting) and San Francisco (beautiful; not quite me, but getting close) all got the once over and eventual edit-out from what would be my new home. I was sure I’d recognize where I wanted to be once I got there. I just assumed that it would stand up, present itself, and that would be that and, for the most part, that’s what happened.
After I left Carrie in SF I headed back up Interstate 5 and stayed the night under the Spanish moss hanging from the trees in a state park in Redding, listening to the soon-to-be legendary 1975 World Series. The Spanish moss made everything feel very ethereal, with random car lights dancing through the moss like a scene out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. While it should have been spooky as hell, it was really quite serene and meditative (even the play by play announcer sounded relaxed) and that night I wondered if Redding was the Californian equivalent of a Tibetan monastery and my spiritual awakening lie in the beauty of Redding.
I veered out to the Pacific Coast and drove most of the trip north into Oregon via highway 101 which hugs the shoreline (most of the time) all the way up into the furthest reaches of the Olympic National Forest in Washington State. Before going that far I went back inland and into Portland and as I saw the skyline and came into the city I felt a sense of home and said to myself, ‘I could live here’.
The Eagle had landed and the next phase of my life would begin.
It didn’t hurt that I had college friends who’d moved there earlier so I wasn’t totally alone. I looked them up thinking I could park the van in front of the house and squat until I figured things out. An old girlfriend and her brother were two of the residents of the house and I was an official guest for a couple of days until the other 7 people noticed that I wasn’t leaving in a timely manor.
Now, it should be noted we were all living, in various degrees, the bohemian lifestyle and the house was a drafty old beater that needed the kind of attention that hippies didn’t feel was necessary. There was just enough group ingenuity to keep all the parts in working order and build a giant compost heap in the side yard. Also, the majority of Portland’s Belmont area was filled with like-minded people and rentals to house them so it was all peace, love and organic cucumbers. We shopped almost exclusively at the food co-ops, recycled our tin cans and bottles (some 25 years before it became fashionable), put bandannas on our Frisbee-loving dogs, ate sprouts by the bushel, grew hair just to grow it, and organized a lot of music festivals and movie marathons at the local cinemas.
Eventually, someone left the house, I got my own room, began to pay my portion of the rent (an amazingly svelte $33 a month) and started exploring my new digs. I was, for the time being, a card-carrying, aimless, bell bottom-wearing, guitar-toting slacker looking for my next avocado sandwich.