artist educator, singer songwriter, multi-instrumentalist
We were incredibly happy living in Santa Cruz. We’d finally found a place that felt like home. However, that soon changed. I’ve always had prophetic dreams. I’ve often dreamed about people’s deaths at the time that they are dying. I’ve also gotten warnings in dreams about things that were avoidable. It’s been both helpful and frightening. When I was a child, I had a recurring dream that haunted me for years, coming a few times a week. In this dream, I was cursed by an evil witch. I never knew why she cursed me, but she said that everywhere I stepped the ground would turn to quicksand. I ran through the town trying to get to my home where I thought I would be safe. As I ran and the land turned into a gloppy mess, with men, women and children sinking and screaming, people started throwing rocks at me from a distance telling me to leave town before I destroyed everything. I kept running and running to get home. When I finally got to my home, it was an apartment building I didn’t recognize and a family I didn’t know. Standing on the roof was a man holding a small child yelling at me to leave and never come back. I would wake up from this dream crying, and my mom would run in and assure me that since I didn’t recognize anyone, it had to be just my own worries creating it. I never could understand what worries would cause me to dream about quicksand, but once the dream stopped coming, I forgot about it until one night in 1976.
Our daughter was 8 months old when I had that same dream that I used to have as a child. When I woke up from that old dream in Santa Cruz, as a young mother, I realized that the people on the roof were my current family and the building was our apartment building. I immediately woke Paul and told him we had to move away. I described the dream, and although he knew I’d often had prophetic dreams, he brushed it aside and told me to go back to sleep. We liked it there, at least for now, and I must be overreacting. That morning he went out to get the newspaper and came home looking shaken and pale. On the front page of the paper was an article about what would happen in Santa Cruz if a big earthquake occurred. The neighborhood we were living in was close to the beach. It was predicted that the whole area would turn into quicksand as the ocean swelled from the quake. That was all it took to convince him to move out of California, so we decided to move to Oregon and try to get work in the orchards. That big earthquake did hit Santa Cruz many years later and destroyed a large part of the city including our neighborhood and many of our favorite spots.
In order to make this necessary move, Paul quit his job and hitchhiked north. While Paul went north, I moved out of our apartment, putting all of our possessions in storage, and moved into the local park with our friend, Amber. She had a VW bus that we slept in and lived out of, but we spent most of our time outdoors. We had agreed that Paul would make phone calls to the pay phone outside of a nearby café, The Broken Egg Omelet House, every few days to check in, letting me know about any progress he’d made and where to go when it was time for us to join him. This was well before the age of cellphones, so we set a day and time for the first call then planned the next one each time we talked.
I settled into an easy routine with Amber and little Jessie, thoroughly enjoying our gypsy lifestyle. Amber had planned a visit to Connecticut to visit family, and Jessie and I were going to travel with her, coming west again in a few weeks to meet up with Paul, hopefully giving him enough time to settle before we reunited. To make all of our grand plans actually work, these scheduled calls and the timing in general were crucial. When Paul missed a phone call a few days before we were due to leave for our trip east, I started to panic. What should we do? The calls were scheduled one at a time. We hadn’t thought about what to do if we missed one. I stayed close to the pay phone all that day and the next day. I wasn’t willing to live in the park with my baby alone and without any vehicle to sleep in but was worried about leaving on a cross-country trip without checking in with Paul first. How would I find him again when we returned? We were hanging out in the park, the day before we were supposed to leave, when a waitress came running up asking if I was Debbie Cavanaugh. Thankfully, Paul was finally calling. The pay phone was not accepting calls in, so he finally decided to try calling the café. He let me know that he’d been unable to find work, was very discouraged and was on his way back to Santa Cruz. We waited for him and all left two days later in Amber’s VW bus for the long ride back home to Connecticut.
We decided to take a southern route since all three of us had arrived in California via the northern routes and wanted to see new sights. We went to The Grand Canyon, and lots of other magnificent places. This was before the days of seatbelts and car seats, so we set up a tiny play area on the floor in the back for Jessie. She was very close to walking on her own, so I felt a little guilty sticking her in a moving vehicle for days, but she actually took her first steps while we were driving down the highway. By the end of the trip, she could toddle back and forth in the bus but not on solid land, and I could see how confusing that was for her. I learned a lot during that trip about how to travel effectively with a young child. I figured out what toys were the best to keep her occupied, what foods worked, what art supplies to take along and how to make them accessible without them rolling away. We made that whirlwind trip in three days, taking turns driving and sleeping, driving all night long and living on coffee. I drew the short straw and ended up with the middle of the night shift, so for three days, I drove at night and catnapped during the day between reading and playing with our young daughter. Although I was exhausted by the end, I was young and bounced back quickly. We only had one potentially dangerous situation to handle during that trip.
We had made sure to gas up before we hit Texas and decided to take Interstate 40 across, so that we could drive all the way through that state without stopping, heading further south if we wanted after leaving Texas. It was 1976, and we knew that Texans still didn’t really like hippies very much. We made it to Oklahoma on fumes, but at least we weren’t in Texas. While Amber filled up the VW bus, Paul and I went into the truck stop to pay for the gas and get some coffee and tea. We knew we were in trouble when the noisy place went totally silent as we walked up to the counter. After taking the money for gas, the waitress refused to serve us. As Paul started to argue with her, I noticed a low rumbling and grumbling starting to grow. I pulled at his sleeve assuring him that we didn’t really need anything and insisting that we leave. As we walked out the door, we heard the jukebox start to play “Up Against the Wall Red-neck Mother.” We ran to the bus and took off in a hurry as some of the patrons ran outside watching us drive away. Thankfully, Jessie, who had been safe in the bus with Amber at the time, never had any notion of danger. I have always been pretty lucky on the road.
I’d decided not to tell my parents that we were coming. I thought it would be nice surprise. I was the one who was surprised when we arrived in Connecticut only to find out that my parents were on vacation in New Hampshire. Ugh! It didn’t take me long to get an address for the house they’d rented. I swore the neighbors, who had given me the information, to secrecy, and off we went to find them. When we got to the vacation house, no one was home. “Oh, no! What do we do now?” I suggested that we park the bus out of sight, behind the bushes and break into the house, surprising them when they came home. Paul and Amber weren’t so sure about this and even tried to talk me out of it. I love surprises, except not always when I’m on the receiving end. Eventually, despite their misgivings, they went along with it anyway. I guess I was pretty convincing, and it was my family after all. Looking back on it now, like so many other things, I realize how stupid that was. It never even occurred to me that we might have had the wrong house. It’s amazing that my parents didn’t faint or have a heart attack or something. But, they didn’t. My mom screamed, then cried. My dad shook his head in disbelief then laughed. He always loved my adventurous spirit, though he did his best to squelch it when I was younger. We had a wonderful visit and went back to our hometown with them a few days later. Paul and I immediately got a gig at a local bar, had a great turnout and, in our youthful enthusiasm, decided that this must have been our “big break.” We decided to stay and left poor Amber to make the long drive back alone. She was on unemployment and had to get back by a certain date to report to them.
My family was thrilled and helped us set up housekeeping, providing us with furniture and household goods. We had left all of those things locked up in a storage locker back in Santa Cruz, which we paid on for years to come. Obviously, in our youthful enthusiasm, we didn’t realize that there was no such thing as a “big break.” Our newfound fame slowly dissolved, leaving us back in our hometown facing all the same demons we had left. Little did we all know that eventually, our wanderlust would kick in again, though I guess Paul and I suspected as much. We weren’t really interested in settling. We were still ripe for adventure and anxious to see what the world had to offer, and the Pacific Northwest was still calling out to us. But for now, we could enjoy our old friends and family, and it was nice to share this with our daughter. So far, in her first nine months, our daughter had hung out with many different and very unique people, gone to more concerts than many adults, lived in an apartment, in a city park and in a VW bus. She had learned to walk while crossing the country in a moving vehicle and was now settling close to her grandparents, who she barely knew, and adjusting into a vastly different environment. Luckily, she was raised to be flexible and was still quite young. At not yet a year old, she had already had more experiences than many adults have in a lifetime. Although I know she doesn’t actively remember these things, they helped mold who she would become. It certainly molded me, maybe in ways I don’t even realize. If I had to choose all over again, I would make all the same choices.
In addition to driving or hitchhiking to San Francisco for music, there was plenty of music right near our home in and around Santa Cruz. The center of activity was the Pacific Avenue pedestrian mall. This was the major hangout spot. There was always music there. There were always buskers (street musicians). I once saw Arlo Guthrie playing on a street corner. We hung out for a little while, and he told me that he liked to busk because it was a good reminder of where he came from. Paul and I occasionally busked there too, but he was working full-time, and we had our first baby, so our time was limited. That didn’t mean we weren’t playing tons, just not on street corners. We once went to a party and jammed with Sammy Hagar. Another time, I sat in on vocals with Don McCaslin’s band, Warmth, at the Cooper House, an old courthouse from the 1890s turned into a restaurant and café. They played there every day and night, usually outdoors by the sidewalk café. There were great clubs, too. The Catalyst was a cool, funky venue right in the hub of the action. Unfortunately, it was destroyed during the big earthquake that happened there years after we were gone. It was rebuilt but had lost its funky quality that made it so warm and welcoming.
There was always something or someone interesting to be found on Pacific Avenue. One day, as I rounded a corner, there was a man in full combat gear, guns and all, just standing there like a statue. I thought at first that he was until he moved slightly. He was protesting “the police state.” Another day, I was walking along when I heard a familiar voice. Back when we were living in Connecticut, just before we decided to leave on our big adventure, we had picked up a hitchhiker near Hartford and brought him to our apartment where he stayed for almost a week. His name was David. He was homeless and traveling the country by thumb. He played harmonica, so we stayed up night after night jamming and partying. When he left for the west coast, we gave him some winter gear, hat, coat and gloves, so he wouldn’t freeze. David had the most unique voice. It had been destroyed by cigarettes and alcohol but had a very melodic, though raspy, quality to it. Now, here he was, holding court on Pacific Avenue, playing his harp and regaling all the hippies with his stories. He recognized me immediately and insisted I sit with him for a while singing along.
We were often running into people we knew. Paul randomly found a former co-worker from Connecticut, and I found out that my cousin Tommy was living in Santa Cruz. By the time I tracked him down, he was moving on the next day. He was only a couple of blocks away from our apartment, and we had a nice visit. We also ran into the woman who had given us a ride out of the blizzard in Big Springs, Nebraska. Then, there were the folks we just ran into in San Francisco. This still happens to me all the time. Five years ago, I went out to Oregon to the Oregon Country Faire, a huge hippie festival held every July Fourth weekend/week. As I was walking through the packed crowd of thousands of people, I saw an old friend from Albany who was vacationing there. Neither of us had been in touch for a while and were quite surprised to see each other there. Though, I have to admit that I’m not really surprised by much these days.
My life changed in so many ways while living there. I was raised on fast food, TV dinners, instant mashed potatoes and Velveeta cheese. Suddenly, I found myself in an environment where there were food coops and people harvesting wild foods. There were natural healers using plants instead of chemicals to cure illnesses. There were nursing mothers everywhere of all ages, not just young hippies. I started learning all of these things, using herbs for healing, learning about vegetarianism and finding out more about nutrition than I’d ever imagined. There was a wonderful bookstore on the mall simply called “Bookshop Santa Cruz.” One day I found a cookbook in the free box on the sidewalk outside entitled “The Bread Book.” I started baking my own bread. I made bagels and pizza dough, bread, biscuits, muffins, coffee cakes, and more. I still own that book and use it often, as tattered and stained as it is. It still has the best cornbread recipe I’ve ever found. I also got the Tassajara Bread Book at that bookstore. It was in Santa Cruz that I ate my first taco and discovered my love for Mexican cuisine. I ate my first taste of Jicama at a potluck dinner in San Francisco that was a fundraiser for a Hispanic community and met Malvina Reynolds there.
We also discovered Peyote in Santa Cruz. We’d heard of it, of course, but hearing about it and trying it are two vastly different things. We got a batch and cleaned it thoroughly, removing all of the little while strychnine hairs. It was disgusting to eat, but once you vomited, it was like entering another world of light and color. It was the opposite of mushrooms, which I always found dark and foreboding. It was worth feeling like I was going to die for those minutes, which did seem like hours, until I purged the poison. It was easy to get, and eventually, we made it into iced tea. Our favorite snack became iced tea and pot cookies. Pot was readily and easily available as well. The Vietnam War had ended in April of 1975 and California was getting Vietnamese refugees. Some of them were a little sketchy, but we were all about peace, love and acceptance, so when we met a guy who offered to sell us a pound at an unbelievable price of $100, Paul decided to take the chance.
That was a lot of money for us back then, so we hit up two other friends to see if they wanted to get in on the deal. Of course, they did. The dealer was understandably very paranoid so they came up with a plan for Paul to walk through San Lorenzo Park and leave a paper bag with the money under the designated bridge where there would be a paper bag waiting for him there. He was not to stop but had to just pick up the bag and keep walking. When he got to the bridge, there was the bag with the dealer standing nearby. Paul picked it up and walked on. The dealer picked up the bag with the money, took a quick look inside and ran like a bat out of hell. At that point Paul looked inside the heavy bag and found a pound cake. By that time, the other guy was long gone. Paul came home a very seriously cut up the pound cake into equal portions and we all ate our hundred-dollar cake with a chaser of iced tea. Luckily, our friends were understanding, and we all chalked it up to a lesson learned.
So, why did we ever leave? That story is coming next.
One of the best things about living on the west coast in the 1970’s was the music. We saw the best shows there. Paul and I had been “Deadheads” for a while before making it west. So far, we’d only seen east coast shows. The Grateful Dead was a San Francisco band. We didn’t follow them around the country the way many others did, but during those traveling days we always seemed to be where they were. Who knows, maybe they were following us. The first Dead show I ever saw was 1972, somewhere in New Jersey. I struggle to remember details from those earlier days. Then Paul and I saw them together all over the east coast, mostly in New Haven and Hartford, Connecticut, New York City and New Jersey. East Coast concerts had a very different vibe than the West Coast shows. Some of the best shows were The Garcia Band with many different people sitting in including Papa John Creech at one show just blocks from our house where Amber could babysit. We saw Bonnie Raitt, Maria Muldaur and Emmy Lou Harris. We went to a local bar to see Neil Young’s band The Ducks, but Paul was too young to get in, so we stood outside and listened.
We also saw The Garcia Band with Nicky Hopkins at The Keystone in Berkley on New Year’s Eve. Jessie was four-months old. Although this was way before anyone even had car seats for infants, I was aware that the music would be too loud for her little ears, so I always managed to find a quiet spot where I could still hear and see. The Keystone was small, so it was trickier, but I found a backroom with a window that looked onto the stage. I could see well, and it was loud enough to hear. When the band took their break, I was sitting on a bench in that room nursing Jessie when Nicky Hopkins walked in and sat down. He explained that the crowd in the Green Room was sometimes too much for him during a gig. We chatted for a while, then he asked if he could hold my baby. He hung out and cooed to her a bit then left to go back onstage. He was a very cool guy.
Shows were mellower out west. There were shows everywhere and many free shows in and around Golden Gate Park. It wasn’t a long drive at all from our home in Santa Cruz up the coast to San Francisco. We still didn’t own a car, but our good friend did, and she loved the company. The deal always was that Amber would drive one way, and Paul would drive back. I was always either pregnant or holding a baby, since there were no car seats, yet and we were all very young. I didn’t mind not driving and still love having a chauffeur. That way, I get to enjoy the ride in a different way, though I really love driving when I’m alone.
On March 23rd, 1975, Bill Graham organized a fundraising concert to benefit the San Francisco schools. They had been forced to cut their budget and were doing away with all extra-curricular activities. This meant sports, and all of the arts, including music. The S.N.A.C.K. Benefit Concert, or S.N.A.C.K. Sunday, was an all-day musical and cultural extravaganza. Tickets were $5 at Kezar Stadium. It was the first large benefit concert in history and led the way for future ones. It raised almost $300,000, mostly in ticket sales, enough to cover the costs for one year. You can do the math if you want, I just know there were a lot of people there. The bands were Eddie Palmieri & His Orchestra, Tower of Power, Graham Central Station, Doobie Brothers, Jefferson Starship, Santana, Joan Baez, Grateful Dead with Merl Saunders on organ, Bob Dylan with The Band and Neil Young. Between sets there would be motivational speakers like Willie Mays, Jesse Owens and Marlon Brando and of course the mayor of San Francisco to rev up the crowd. It was an unbelievable concert. Everyone was great, but Santana blew away everyone else. He even came up and jammed with The Dead and whipped them into a frenzy. The parking was horrendous that day. We had to park miles away. Meanwhile, other people parked wherever they wanted and were being ticketed and towed. Pedestrians were everywhere blocking the roads, walking home or to our cars. I’ve been in some ridiculous traffic jams before, but this was the worst! It took hours just to get to the car because you couldn’t get across the street without climbing over someone’s car. But, we were all hippies and most of us were mellow … peace, love and all that. Here's the audio from that day.
Another great show was at Marx Meadows on May 30th, 1975 in Golden Gate Park with Jefferson Starship, Diga Rhythm Band and Sons of Champlin. The Sons of Champlin were a popular, mostly west coast band and were really great but never made it nationally. Stanley Owsley, or Bear as we known, the king of LSD and sound wizard, was running sound for Starship at the time and ended up running the board for The Diga Rhythm Band. The Diga Rhythm Band was an amazing percussion-based psychedelic world music band that consisted of, among others, Mickey Hart who was one of the drummers for The Grateful Dead, and Alla Rakha, a world renowned Indian tabla player who specialized in classical Hindustani music and often accompanied Ravi Shankar and appeared on many recordings. The Diga Rhythm Band sadly only played three public gigs, and I'm glad I caught one of them. That day, they were joined onstage by Jerry Garcia on guitar and David Freiberg on bass for an almost 15-minute version of "Fire On The Mountain."
They were awesome. The whole day was awesome but incredibly hot. It had been 94 degrees in a wide-open field with hundreds of hot sweaty hippies.
As always, we’d agreed that Amber would drive there, and Paul would drive home. Paul, not having a car of his own, jumped at the opportunity to be behind the wheel. He was also a great driver. Now, I have always trusted in the universe, or as some people refer to it, “Guardian Angels.” Well, maybe not always, but I did learn that lesson early. When you have that trust, you can be a little riskier. We all had trust, though Paul trusted a little more than anyone else. We took many chances based on the belief that things would always work out in the end. We followed the hippie motto, “Just go with the flow, man … go with the flow.” That day we had all smoked a little, some more than others. There was plenty of variety offered, and other delights as well. None of us really drank much if any now. I think we’d all burnt ourselves out on alcohol previously. I was pregnant as that time and wasn’t drinking at all. We were all exhausted, so Amber fell asleep next to the window in the front seat while I sat in the middle keeping Paul company while he drove. It was a breath-taking ride home down the winding coast along cliffs that sheer off into the Pacific Ocean. Sometimes we’d stop on that route and watch for whales swimming by. This day, however, everybody was beat and just wanted to get home.
I gazed out the side window for a just little while when I realized Paul hadn’t said anything in a little while. I looked up and saw that his eyes were closed with his chin resting on his chest. I couldn’t believe it! He hadn’t seemed sleepy only a few minutes ago. I certainly didn’t want to startle him and have him jerk the wheel and crash or plummet over the cliff to be dashed on the rocks below, but I didn’t know what to do. I gently said his name a few times, trying to keep my voice calm. Then, I noticed that he was actually driving … safely. I thought I’d better wake Amber. It amazes me now that neither of us ever freaked out. We just took it in stride that here was another bizarre experience in our lives. We quickly decided to be ready to grab the wheel if necessary and trust that it would be okay. We were very alert as he drove down Highway 1 in his lane, making all the curves, never speeding, going right down the road for miles, while we sat there willing the car to stay on its path. After many minutes, he rolled his head around, lifting it up to look ahead, stretched his shoulders and said, “Aah, that was a nice little nap. I feel really rested now.” Amber and I sat there incredulous with our mouths gaping open for minutes, then we both lost it. After holding in all the stress of that terrifying experience, it came out all at once. It was a combination of awe, anger and laughter. What an end to that day! Those are the experiences that really cement relationships. I wonder if it's because no one else would believe you but a fellow accomplice?
On September 28th, 1975, we went to a "secret" free show at Lindley Meadows in Golden Gate Park. It was billed as The Garcia Band and Jefferson Starship, but it turned out to be Starship and The Grateful Dead coming out of their break. They were great. There are disagreements about the attendance, but it was somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000 people, turning on and tuning in. Phil Lesh said in his biography that it was the last time the whole band dropped acid for a show. It was a definitely a psychedelic scene that we just heard about through word-of-mouth. Whenever moving to a new scene, Paul always made connections fast and always heard about these shows through the grapevine. The next summer we heard about a bicentennial free show by The Grateful Dead on July 4th, 1976. Thousands of us showed up for that historic show that never happened. Various hippies kept calling Bill Grahams office to ask if it was happening, and they would decline to answer. We took that to mean that they were coming, but they never did. The park was filled with hippies having the biggest party that I have ever attended. Here's an Archive of the Dead's set.
I can’t even remember, let alone name all of the musicians I saw while living out there. There were always people showing up randomly to sit in with the different bands. We also did a lot of jamming ourselves. Our home was always filled with music. I sang all throughout the day, singing to my baby and myself and singing with Paul when he was home. We found many other musicians along the way, jamming at parties or just in small groups, learning new songs and writing our own. Much of my relationship with Paul was built on our shared music and crazy adventures. Rather than running away from home, we were both running toward a new home at breakneck speed. The music grounded and healed us, individually and as a couple.
While living in Santa Cruz, we met all kinds of unique characters. There was a hippie couple with a baby girl very close in age to our daughter. Jewel and I became new mom companions. We were both young and newly settled there and were both staying at home with our babies while our partners worked. She was 18 years old with long red hair. Her husband, Rain, was an older guy with long white hair, and their little girl was named Honey Tree. We all had long hair then. Paul’s was down to his waist. He wore it in a ponytail, but sometimes I braided it. I was just growing mine out having never been allowed to do that as a child. I kept it long for many years as a rebellious act. We women wore long peasant skirts or patched jeans. Somewhere, I might still have a pair of old jeans from back then. Sometimes Jewel and I would meet in San Lorenzo Park with the two girls and just hang out watching the world go by. There was usually a lot to see because everybody used the park. There were festivals in the park, too. And many homeless folks lived there.
We thought of many alternative names for our daughter, Karma was my favorite at the time, but Paul was dead set against it. He pointed out that we still didn’t know where we would go from there and, because many places were still very conservative, he wanted her to have a more traditional name. We agreed on Jessica and thought Lee would be a nice middle name. I had been interested in astrology and numerology and started doing the numeric calculations for her name. The numbers added up to 4. This meant that her personality would be very much like her Virgo qualities, meticulous, intelligent, practical, analytical but also tend to be introverted, overcritical, fussy, harsh and judgmental. I thought that would be too much to saddle her with double those traits, so I started experimenting with other names. I came up with Lea. It is another word for a meadow, which I liked, and numerically it came out to 9. The number 9 in numerology is a very powerful number. It is ruled by Mars, the God of war. People with this number tend to have a strong and determined character that propels them to achieve success. However, it can also make them fiery and impulsive. I figured that might be a nice balance for the influence of Mercury, Virgo’s ruling planet.
Paul had a habit of picking up homeless folks that he would meet on his way home from work and invite them in for coffee. This was fine up to a point, but when they kept stopping by while he was at work, it got pretty annoying. Some of them were quite interesting like one man, Stephen, who had gotten multiple electroshock therapy treatments by mistake when his chart was mixed up with some else's. He was now living on the substantial settlement he'd received and was traveling the country by thumb. He twitched constantly, like he still had that current running through him. Our dog, Topaz, hated him and had to be put out on the back porch where he barked non-stop, sometimes making himself hoarse. He would usually start his frenetic barking before this guy even knocked at the door, often while he was still out of sight, so I always knew when he was due to arrive. He was very sweet and harmless.
Then there was the astrologer. He showed up looking for a place to stay the night. He offered to do a chart for our newborn daughter in trade. He spent hours drawing the chart then meditated on it for a while and started to read it for me. About halfway through, he looked at me and said, “Watch out for her knees.” I asked him what he meant, but he didn’t really know. He told me that it had just come to him out of the blue. I wrote it down and didn’t think about it again until a few years later when I noticed a pattern where Jessie would complain about her knees hurting a couple of days before she got sick. That became my cue to start her on extra vitamin C or some herbal preparation. Every time she complained about her knees, she would be sick a few days later. It was incredibly helpful to me as a parent.
The only homeless people that I had any real personal contact with were men. I don’t remember any homeless women, although I have a very vague memory of seeing a woman once out in the distance. A lot of people went missing in that area, so I assumed that the women stayed out of sight for their own safety. At that time, Santa Cruz was the murder capital of the world. We saw posters for missing people all the time, so we never went out alone at night. One of the regulars in the park was a man who had at one time been a nuclear physicist and had reevaluated his priorities. He had a steady, dependable income making a lot of money for that time. He had a loving family and was part of an active community. He woke up one day and realized what his job was actually doing in the world and just walked away from the whole scene. He now lived off the land, eating foods that were growing wild all around. He showed me rosemary growing wild in the park and in empty lots in town that I could use in my cooking. He was a very sad and brilliant man, eager to share his knowledge and his stories to have some personal connection, but he was tortured about his old life and couldn’t see past that sometimes. Whether it was his decision to retreat from the life he once had that caused him to lose his grasp of reality or something else, like many of the homeless people I met, he wasn’t always lucid but usually sought me out when he was.
“Moses” was of Jamaican descent and was possibly the most popular homeless man in town. I usually saw him in front of the Albertson’s grocery store. He was a very large man with long bushy hair that stood out all around, like a halo. He would stand at the big windowed store front with his arms spread out above him, very loudly channeling the “Word of the Lord.” He’d go on for hours at a time, and no one could speak with him during those times. Sometimes little respectful crowds would gather. He was really interesting and cool to listen to. It always made the shopping experience unique to what I’d grown up with. I saw it as street art. It was very entertaining and a good way to pass some time. When he was in the park, only a very few of us could actually talk with him at all. He was very peaceful and gentle-hearted but also withdrawn. He said it was exhausting having the word of God come through him. He told me that he lost control of his body at those times and was outside of himself not feeling any exhaustion in his arms until afterwards. He also usually lost his voice for a day or two after proselytizing. I think he spoke to me because I had a baby and was obviously safe. He mostly talked about spiritual things and turned me on to the book Be Here Now by Ram Dass.
Paul and I also met up with a few random people we had met in Connecticut, proving that it really is a small world. I was walking down Pacific Avenue one day and heard a very distinctive voice that I recognized immediately. It was “Michael,” a homeless man we had picked up hitchhiking before our big adventure a year earlier, while we were still living in Connecticut. It was in the fall of 1974. He was heading west and had no hat or coat, so we supplied him with warm clothes and put him up for a couple of nights. He played harmonica, so those few days he stayed with us in Connecticut, we stayed up most of the night talking and jamming. He had a very distinctive, raspy voice. One day, I heard that voice as I came walking down the street, and now, here he was, playing his harp and holding court on the sidewalk. We ran into lots of people from our recent past in Connecticut while we were there. Paul also met a former co-worker from Connecticut at the restaurant where he worked. There were others that we’d met in passing along the way, the woman who had given us a ride from Denver to Salt Lake City, an acquaintance from Paul’s days living in Greenwich, Connecticut as a kid and more. It was easy to meet people because everyone just hung out in these public places, sitting in little groups on the sidewalks, on park benches or strolling along. But we also learned quickly that some of us are just drawn to the same places.
I learned things from all of the people I met there. Having grown up very shattered and sheltered, I was just starting to learn about life. There were activists, commune dwellers, musicians, artists, healers... In that short 18 or so months, I learned about wild foods, herbal healing, “health foods” and “whole grains”, motherhood, spiritual enlightenment, alternative politics, sexuality and so much more. My mind was not only expanding, it was exploding. I’m sure that it also had a profound effect on a newborn just discovering the world. In our lives were people of all shapes and sizes, all walks of life, all orientations, and that was all before she’d even turned one year. I wonder what she still holds with her from that specific time. There are other eventful and colorful times, but this was her earliest. She obviously doesn’t remember details, but the overall vibe of that time and place has helped mold her as it has me. As for me, I still grow rosemary because it doesn’t grow wild around here, and I’ve been used to having fresh rosemary since 1975. I practice spirituality rather than an organized religion and still own my old copy of Be Here Now. I am comfortable with all people regardless of how they choose to live, as long as they are not hurtful, and I have an amazing sixth sense for danger when it’s needed.
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