What a great summer I've been having so far. I was lucky enough to be gifted a trip to Oregon, my old stomping grounds, for a 10-day visit. I reconnected with old friends, some of whom I hadn't seen or talked to in 32 years, I visited with a former student of mine, made new friends and went to The Oregon Country Faire. What a whirlwind trip it was. I love flying into the Portland airport. You fly right past Mt. Hood, where I lived for a few months, while my husband worked at Timberline Lodge, until I realized that I wanted to be closer to civilization to have my second child. At that point, we moved into the big city of Portland where we busked regularly, rubbing elbows and occasionally performing with Artis the spoon man, who taught my daughter her first string figure, and Tom Noddy, the bubble guy.
Mt. St. Helens erupted while we were living there and occasionally spewed ash over the city. There was the first big eruption then a series of smaller ones as the mountain tried to build back it's dome. The volcanic ash is composed of silica and is very dangerous to breath, so we had to wear face masks if we went outdoors. Then we had to wet down the ash and shovel it into garbage bags to be carted away. If we breathed the ash, we ran the risk of silicosis, a disease similar to Black Lung Disease that coal miners suffered from. We were very careful. I even made my own version of a tiny mask for my son, who was just a baby at the time.
The first big eruption had happened on May 18th, 1980, just when the weather was gorgeous, so it was pretty depressing with all the ash falling after a winter of rain. Even the doomsday prophets were out on the streets in force carrying placards and shouting, "Repent, the end of the world is coming." We went to see the Grateful Dead play at the Portland Coliseum on June 12th that year. As the band played "Fire on the Mountain," the mountain erupted. They finished up quickly and sent us all home scratching our heads and wondering what the rush was about. The bouncers were practically pushing us out the doors. As we exited, we realized that ash was falling. You couldn't drive in the ash. It clogged the air filter in your car, and the ash scraped the windshield if you ran your windshield wipers. We ended up with wall-to-wall Deadheads at our house that night. You couldn't even walk through the rooms without tripping over someone crashed on the floor. Though most of us were tripping and stayed up all night playing our own music.
Soon after that concert, we had a chance to move to the coast and took it. We had many wonderful friends and really made our mark, though I didn't realized how much a part of the scene we were until I just went back. While living there, we ran into Ken Kesey, met Patch Adams and saw a real live unicorn at a Chautauqua, or traveling medicine show, that Patch Adams had organized. Luckily, I was able to find some of our wonderful friends this time back. One of them was living in his VW bus at the coast. I managed to find his daughter on Facebook and got directions to the street he was parked on. He was shocked to see me. I had found him to tell him a story of our trip back east that 32 years ago. We were moving back east and had bought a VW bus for $150 and were planning to drive it cross-country with our 2 children, our cat and all of our belongings. As we were leaving, he handed me a jar of old barn nails saying, "You never know what you might need along the way." I gladly took them and placed them in the toolbox.
That bus broke down in every state across the country and, never stopping on purpose unless we were broken down, the trip took us three weeks. Crossing over the Rocky Mountains, the bus limped it's way almost to the summit and stopped. Paul, my former husband, and I jumped out and looked at the engine. The flywheel had been slipping and the slot that connected the two pieces was three times longer than it should have been. I suddenly remembered the nails, so we crammed them into the slot, preventing it from slipping and made it all the way to Ohio with that fix where we found a dune buggy shop called "Mud, Sweat and Gears." The guy there gave us three flywheels in trade for us helping out three stranded travelers at any time. That was an easy trade. There are so many stories from just that one trip, but I'm not telling them all here and now. My friend was thrilled to hear how it had all worked out. The bittersweet part of these re-connections was that no one knew about Paul's death, and I had to break the news to them.
During that trip I rediscovered myself. I've been trying to get back to my own music and my own life without having to consider others. It's the first time in my adult life that I only have to take care of me, and it's liberating but also a little frightening. My visit to my past has helped set things straight.
It was in the days of reading Jack Kerouac and Ken Kesey, that the tales of Neal Cassidy and the Merry Pranksters' wild and crazy adventures showed us the way as we careened off into our own wild and crazy adventures. Many of those adventures happened in cars. Chipps, an early friend from Connecticut in the early 70s, envisioned himself another Neal Cassidy. He lived and loved like him, he partied like him, and he drove motor vehicles like him. I remember coming home from Vermont in a snowstorm on a windy, narrow mountain road, all of us in touch with an alternate reality of sorts. I spent that ride on my knees, bent over, my arms shielding my head as I tried to curl into the safest position I could find, as Chipps sped down the road, fishtailing and passing cars on blind curves. He had blind faith that he could vibe out the road ahead and will us all safely home. I, unfortunately, didn't have that same blind faith and cried the whole way home with everybody else annoyed at me for not adding my confidence vibe to the mix. I'm pretty sure I would have been as terrified if it had been Neal Cassidy driving. I guess it's not for everyone.
Then we left the east coast and eventually, on our second time westward, made it out to Washington State and Oregon, where we really settled into being a family. The reasons we left there were complex, and it pulled at us for a long time. I manage, with the help of a dear friend, to go back every few years, but this trip has been different. This time, I am completely on my own. I've found and spoken with old friends, more than one I have seen in person for the first time in 32 years. I wonder if they realize how important they were at that time. Those were such formative years. I've often wondered if they ever wondered what became of us after we drifted away. It turns out they did. They seemed as happy to see me as I was to see them, and the connection was still strong.
Now, I'm driving along Highway 6, headed back to Portland after visiting the coast, listening to the local radio station. They're playing music from the years I lived here, and my memories swirl. There are occasional familiar sights, but it's the overall feeling that overwhelms me. I lived here in the early 80s for a few very important years. I was in my mid-20s with two children and was married to Paul, who died seven years ago. It's odd being here without him and reconnecting with friends I haven't seen in so many years and then having to tell them that he is gone. It's eerie visiting our old haunts, the houses we lived in, and it's a little lonely. At the same time, it was important to make this journey alone.
As I entered Tillamook State Forest, about 20 or 30 miles east of Tillamook, just before Lee Camp on Route 6, I decided to refresh myself with a little inspiration. Soon after, I stopped at a scenic spot to write the piece above. I figured, 20 years from now this will be an old memory, so why not just write it down now while it's fresh. I turned off the car, listened to the radio and wrote, not realizing that the headlights were still on. Before I finished writing, the radio stopped. With a sinking feeling, I tried to start the car. The battery was completely dead. I couldn't even put the electric window down. I decided to wait a little while and see if it would charge itself back up again, but no luck. Being dusk, I decided I'd better not fool around pulled out my phone - no service. With the help of a red cloth grocery bag, I started trying to flag down some help. Thank-you Powell Books. Car after truck after car went by, some hesitated, some even looked over my way. One young couple even flashed me a peace sign as they slowly drove past. Finally, a woman about my age stopped but had no jumper cables. While chatting with her about help along the way and her offering to send help my way from further on, another woman about my age made her son turn around to help me out, and she even had cables in her tiny, sporty BMW convertible with the battery in the back.
As I drove the rest of the way back, I could see the beautiful sunset in my rear-view mirrors. Then, as I went south on 217, I saw it off to my right. It seemed appropriate. It was the end of the day and the end of a grand adventure.
Yesterday, I finished my last day of classes for the spring semester. Happily, I have been able to put all of my summer classes into only two days of work for July. Come August, I will be teaching a short music program once a week that will add one more day but, after having two days off during the school year, and not in a row, I'll take what I've got. It will be a nice break. I still consider myself so lucky to be able to get paid for this work of singing and dancing with families. I never dread going to work anymore. But did I ever dread work days? Oh yes, I did.
I have had a wide variety of jobs in my lifetime. I started out babysitting, like most teenage girls at that time. My first "real" job was a summer job as an office assistant, a go-fer really. Then my first full-time job was as a bookkeeper in a bank. I did that for almost three years and never liked it, though I did like getting a paycheck every week. It was during that stint that I met my former husband and started having even wilder times than before. It's amazing I kept that job for as long as I did. I even won an award for accuracy during the height of my psychedelic days. I remember watching the numbers dance across the page, sometimes as part of musicals with little top hats and canes, and line themselves up into the right columns. I just copied them onto the page where they wanted to go.
After taking more and more sick days, I quit that job to hitchhike around the country, landing in San Francisco then Santa Cruz, California in 1975 to have my first baby. Once she was born I had a wide variety of jobs including busking, making macrame plant hangers, until my fingers bled and my lungs gave out from breathing the jute fibers, and doing lots of childcare. I also worked as a school bus driver, a school crossing guard, a marijuana farm worker, a jewelry maker and worked in an electronics repair shop. I sometimes did studio work, though my husband was jealous that I could get that work, so it didn't really go well. I worked as a music teacher at various music stores and out of my home and worked in alternative education. There were other jobs that I did for smaller amounts of time that I won't list here, but these were the main jobs, and I always managed to have some kind of work while being a full-time mother and homemaker.
Then, one day, after a grueling day on the job, I decided it was time to live my music. I gave plenty of notice and hoped that, by the time my job was finished, I would have some other work lined up. Luckily, it worked. For about 18 years now, I have been making my living doing music of one kind or another. Yes, it was scary to just decide to quit without already having something else lined up, but I am so happy I did. I will never be monetarily rich, but I am richer by far in immeasurable things. I am always happy to go to work and always manage to get by somehow. I highly recommend that everyone work at something they love. I will probably work until the day I die, and that's okay with me.
Please support your local musicians! We can't survive without you.