When I got to San Francisco I went to Fisherman’s wharf, and sat at the end of longest dock with Redding’s forlorn voice resonating in my brain, reminding me, “I got nothin’ to live for, looks like nothin’s coming my way, so I’ll just sit here by the dock of the bay, wasting my time.” I decided I had to start the long, slow climb back to self-respect.
The Hog Farm had a commune in Berkeley and they quickly embraced me as a member of their furniture moving team, one of the Hog Farm’s money making ventures at the time. What I remember most from those first days in Berkeley was my sense of being physically invulnerable. With my long hair and beard, an earring and a swagger, people on the street gave way to me with a shudder of disgust and a certain kind of pretty girl who never would have given me a second look, became flirtatious.
I had spent my adolescence in Berkeley, learned my craft of journalism and I still had family and friends there, but I could not face them. I hung out with my new friends at the Hog Farm, but longed to get away. New York beckoned. It was a place where nobody knew anybody and you could become whatever you wanted. You could re-invent yourself. It was also the site of my halcyon days, the heady years of running WBAI when the left still mattered and I had a town full of friends and admirers.
I convinced myself that I had to go back to New York. I had a half finished novel called “Fast Eddy and the Acid Banditos,” the story of a collection of hippies based on the Llano outlaws. They take over a mountain resort during an Davos-like conference of America’s power elite. I would try to sell the novel and use the advance to get started on a comeback in New York City.
I had a box in Llano I needed to pick up, It was called Chris’ disguises and contained a dark brown suite, several dress shirts and ties and a credit card that no one knew about except me. It was my old business outfit that I worn occasionally at hippy parties as a kind of bad joke.
The last night in Llano, I sat around in Pam and Allen’s new, big circular room playing music, my heart breaking. I said goodbye to my kids and the next morning, Scott drove me to the train station in Albuquerque. The train clanked across the great rolling plains, as I watched an old couple holding hands and bickering, a professor from Highlands talking earnestly to a student, and retired railroad men dribbling into two day old stubble on their chins.
The air got denser the further east we went, growing heavy with wetness. High ground was saturated and low ground was flooded. Out of the train window I now saw farmland, fence to fence with a few small stands of trees. No place to ride a horse but on the roads.
The hill country gave way to an endlessly flat patchwork of right angles.
I finished reading my second novel before we reached Chicago. By then, everyone knew each other and we were friendly and relaxed. The crew was helpful without being obsequious.
I was hoping two friends would meet me at the train station in Chicago, but there wasn’t a friendly face in the place. I drank two beers, stole 2 paperbacks for the run to New York, and paid $.32 for a cup of coffee. I felt weak and dizzy.
From Chicago on it was wall to wall outside the train. The air was like a soaked blanket. The temperature in the car was 80 degrees. It was a whole new set of people and the social sniffing began all over again.
Saving my pennies, all I’d eaten from Albuquerque was breakfast and a handful of peanuts. I took tugs off a pint of Jim Bean in a paper bag that I pulled from my coat pocket. I got up and drank a beer in the club car. Feeling nauseous I tipped heavily for the beers. Three of us ended up at a table: an Irish CIA man who said he had taken part in the Bay of Pigs (he had since become an auxiliary Philadelphia cop, was a bachelor and trolley car buff); a young guitar player whose wife kicked him out so he re-enlisted in the Marines (which automatically deducted $200 a month in child support from his paycheck), and me.
When I finally got to sleep about 2:00 am it was raining.
I got up at first light and drank coffee in the club car while the kitchen crew cleaned up. I looked out the window at swollen rivers and overflowing brooks. It rained harder and harder, and after the dry West, there seemed to be more water than earth. I developed a fear of suffocating. There were factories and freeways and crisscrossing railroad tracks. By Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the urban outweighed the rural. After Trenton it was all belching smoke, garbage dumps, high-rises, tarpaper and concrete, until we plunged into the tunnel under the Hudson River and emerged at Penn Station in the terrible heart of it all.
In the subways, 50 cents and covered with graffiti, mad people talked vacantly to no one.