New Year’s Day is a special day for me, filled with memories. On New Years Day 1974, I met Paul Cavanaugh, the man who shared his last name with me, the father of my three children and the one with whom I had such grand adventures. We met through a friend of mine I had known since 7th grade. She and I smoked our first cigarettes together, walking to and from school every day in 7th and 8th grade. I took my first acid trip with her, and she set me on the road to unbelievable adventures when she brought me along to play music with an man she had just met in a laundromat. You can find that spoken word memoir, and the song I wrote just after he died, on my home page.
The following New Year’s Day (1975), Paul and I took off from Stamford, Connecticut hitchhiking across the country with a very loosely set goal of reaching New Orleans in time for Mardi Gras. We had gotten rid of most of our possessions, including our amazing record collection, and packed everything else into an old navy duffel bag, that had belonged to my dad, and an aluminum framed backpack. New Year’s Eve, we threw a huge party in the apartment we were leaving, staying up all night with friends, playing music, drugging and drinking. The next morning, we took our packed bags and my nylon string guitar and took our first ride from our friends to just outside of New York City. After standing by an island with our thumbs out for an hour, we started to get paranoid that we might get questioned by law enforcement, so we hid our “on the road” stash in some bushes. After quite a few hours of standing in the cold, we hopped into the car that finally stopped, forgetting all about our stash. We were about to clean up for the first time in a few years.
That ride took us all the way to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We had one harrowing moment in the Pennsylvania mountains when we stopped for gas and got chased down the road by large men with tire irons. Paul and I ran really fast to make it into the car before our ride left us behind, fearful for their own lives. Other than that incident and one other, the rest of trip was nothing but pleasant, though not uneventful. We stayed in Pittsburgh for a couple of days, visiting Paul’s friends and family then headed out west. Unfortunately, the rides never took us south and, it being winter and us being low on funds, we followed the rides, wherever they led. It was an adventure after all. We also knew that Paul’s sister was living in San Francisco in a hippie commune, and we could always land there temporarily. We met lots of very interesting people along the way, stayed in a few homes and stayed in an old historic hotel in Nebraska where many of the beat poets and eccentric characters from the 50s and 60s had stayed. Then, in Big Springs, Nebraska, where I-80 branches off to take you through Wyoming or continues on through Colorado, we got stuck in a blizzard for 42 hours.
All the way through Nebraska, we had been blown over by large semi trailers speeding up and pulling into the far right suddenly to create a huge gust of wind that sent us and our belongs scattered along the shoulder. We finally got a ride that dropped us off at the truck stop in Big Springs. We were trying to hitch a ride to Wyoming since we knew that hitchhiking was illegal in Colorado, and the cops were known to brutally enforce the law. Lots of people stopped and offered us a ride as far as Denver, but we turned them all down, determined to go the northern, and we thought safer, route. After a couple of hours, the staff at the truck stop informed us that we were no longer allowed inside to get warm unless we bought a meal. We had been buying coffee all along and even bought a meal once, but our money supply was dwindling, and we were reluctant to spend it on more food. Luckily, one of our going away gifts was a “space blanket” that probably saved our lives. We took turns huddling under that blanket, making quick trips inside for more coffee and still trying to get rides. Finally, a woman explained to us that all the roads to Wyoming were closed due to the weather and offered us a ride to Denver. Once we had that information, it was an easy decision to take her up on her offer. She took us to the bus station in Denver, where we sang and played while the older people danced to our music inside the terminal. We made a few tips and Paul, after trying in vain to convince one woman that he wasn't who she thought he was, even signed an autograph for a woman who insisted he must be John Denver. Somewhere in Colorado is a John Denver autograph that was actually signed by Paul Cavanaugh.
We took a bus from Denver to Salt Lake City and decided to air hitchhike at the local airport. We were mostly walking with our thumbs out as an afterthought, feeling pretty exhausted after our harrowing blizzard experience. At this point, we wanted to get to San Francisco as soon as possible where we could rest and recuperate. Miraculously, a car stopped very quickly and offered us a ride all the way to Sacramento. He had one requirement. He would pay all of our expenses, put us up in a motel overnight, pay for all of our meals and even give us money for gambling in Nevada. All we needed to do was listen to his stories, and wow! He had amazing stories from his time in the navy, welding underwater in every ocean and every sea, and from his work on the Alaskan Pipeline. It was an awesome ride! I told a young hitchhiker, that I picked up a few years ago, about him. That memoir piece is here.
Although we did get stuck in Sacramento for about 12-hours, we finally made it to San Francisco and found Paul’s sister at Project One. That place changed my perceptions about too many things to name here. I was a young and naïve 21-year old arriving in this mind-blowing place filled with radical activists, musicians, artists and other forward-thinking people. I had my first introduction to healthy foods, holistic healing, real radical politics, public nakedness, and so much more, I could never even list them here. Though I was already leaning in those directions, and had never felt comfortable in my parent’s world, I feel as though, in that short time in Project One, I grew up overnight. Here is a previous memoir that touches on that. And here is an article with photos, including the photo above of the public bathtub on the third floor where I was living at the time and another one with a photo of Fred, who was building an airplane out of found parts.
I soon found out that I was pregnant and, as much as we loved living there, we knew it was not the best place to raise a child, so off we went again. This time our friends, Chipps and Jodi, the same ones who gave us the ride from our old apartment to that place outside New York City at the start of our adventure, randomly found us busking on the streets of San Francisco and took us with them to Big Sur and along the coast. We ended up settling in Santa Cruz long enough to have our daughter and prepare for our next journey. Over the years, we lost touch with them, but I think of them often and at least at every New Year.