Scott’s wife, Tania, arrived shortly after we began buying our own food, and she took over cooking. We ate well. Scott and I stopped going down to Price. On our days off, I walked back along the fence line and down to the stream with my fly-fishing rig that Tania brought from Llano. That remote stretch of the river, so inaccessible to the outside world, was some of the best fishing I’ve ever had, and we dined on trout Monday nights from then on.
The summer was soon over and we were into the fall. The fence was far up the other side of the Canyon and we’d moved our base camp to the North rim. The fence was constructed to separate Forest Service land from the Ute Indian reservation, so the government could lease the land to Texas cattlemen for summer forage. Keeping the Ute’s large horse herds off government land was essential to the leases. The Ute came down to watch us work from time to time, highly amused by the enormous effort being put into the worm fence. “We’ll just take down one section in about thirty seconds and all the ponies will find it. This fence ain’t no damn good” they laughed.
Boog told us to cut corners wherever possible. “Use rotten trees and put dirt in the holes,” he ordered. “Skip every other spike deep in the woods, but put them all in near the road heads.”
In any small group of men undergoing an intense, physically demanding job with a share of danger, power games are inevitable. The leader remains the leader through a combination of subtle or not so subtle intimidation and accommodation, and he has his allies and rivals. Boog had his two cowboys. We were the opposition. There had been lots of talk around the campfire at the beginning of the gig. Boog couldn’t understand why college educated men in their late thirties would be doing this kind of manual labor. He couldn’t understand why we didn’t shave and cut our hair like other people. “Why make trouble for yourself?”
Working the fence line, however, Boog noticed that we not only worked hard but with intelligence and planning, so he gradually turned the cutting and dragging job over to us, and kept his cowboys doing the lifting and spiking while he cleared the path ahead of the line. He began keeping the cowboys pulling their weight and gave up goading us to work harder.
The workdays seemed to grow longer as the days grew shorter. We had become so physically tough and coordinated, that the chain saws and 12 pound hammers were like toys. Boog’s huge frame no longer intimidated us. His two young sidekicks, once tough guys, seemed immature and unformed.
By then snow flurries drifted into camp in the early morning and it was cold enough to work with gloves. Then one morning we dropped acid before we went to work. Wielding a chain saw and cutting down forty foot trees high on acid is something I’m glad I lived through once, but would never want to do again. Wood chips flying from the tree trunks were galaxies of stars, puked from the heart of the cosmos. Fallen trees were bulls in a Spanish corrida, to be narrowly dodged with the flick of a cape, chain saw whirring wildly in the air like a bullfighter’s sword.
Boog looked worried. “Something different about you boys today.” We stopped for a moment as we all realized for the first time that the three hippies were at that moment totally in control and could do anything we wanted, wreck whatever vengeance we liked for a summer of exploitation and humiliation. We were Charles Manson, but instead of perpetrating a chainsaw massacre, we laughed and went back to work.
That night the cowboys went into town and we broke into Boog’s trailer. It was sure one big step up from a tent and an air mattress, particularly in late October as the snows were beginning to settle in. We were looking for his financial records, the ledger book we saw him consult on payday. We found three of them. One for us that demonstrated what a big part of the contract went to our wages and food; one for the forest service to show how Boog was actually loosing money on the gig; and one for himself where he could track his considerable profit.
It was time to get out of there, whether the fence was finished or not. We didn’t think Boog had earned our loyalty and we slipped away after the next payday.
Scott and Tania headed back to Llano to prepare for the winter. Brad’s Price interlude was over, and he went back to his wife and child along with Fast Eddy. The news from Llano for me was not good and I wasn’t ready to go back.
Brad dropped me off at the Greyhound bus station in Green River, Utah, on Interstate 70 in the middle of absolutely nowhere, the end of a huge high desert basin near the southern end of the Wasatch Mountains. Almost nowhere. Green River is just up the road from the White Sand Missile Testing range, where the Americans took German scientist Dr. Werner Von Braun at the end of World War II. Von Braun had been a member of the Waffen SS, a Nazi Party member, and his rockets were built with slave labor. In fact, more slaves died building Von Braun’s rockets than died in Great Britain where they landed. But the Americans wanted Von Braun’s rocket expertise, and they snatched him and 120 other German scientists from the hands of the Russians in 1945 in Operation Paperclip and brought them to Utah to continue development of the V-2 rockets. The first American launch took place in April of 1946.
I read the commemorative notes in the bus station to kill time, having absolutely no idea whether I should take a bus east to New York or west to San Francisco. I had no plan. I sat in the coffee shop of the bus station drinking coffee. I suppose I was as “free” as I have ever been. My next decision would be based entirely on whim. Is this what Chris Kristofferson meant when he wrote, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to loose?” My heart began to beat faster and I felt a kind of buzzing in my ears. I had only fainted once before in my life, but just before collapsing I had similar physical sensations. I knew this would not be a good place or time to collapse, which made me even more anxious.
Someone played Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ by the Dock of the Bay” on the jukebox and a clarity set in that allowed me to breath again. I bought a ticket for San Francisco. I had my last summer wages in my pocket and a small knapsack with a set of clean clothes and a huge peyote button on top. When I went to the toilet in Las Vegas, Nevada, after sleeping most of the way there, I thoughtlessly left my knapsack on the bus and it was gone when I returned. I had been wiped clean. I had been reduced to nothing but the money in my pocket and the clothes on my back. I had become the ultimate “Beat” hero I had always wanted to be.