While living at Project One, we met some of the most interesting and eccentric people I had ever known. First, there were the folks living in the mini-commune known as “The Estates” where we stayed. Fred was a metal worker/engineer and was currently building an airplane from found parts in his large basement space. Diana was an artist who dreamed of going to an art school in Boston but had no money, so she decided to become a high-paid call girl. She actually did make enough money to move to Boston and pursue her dream a few years later. And there were others, Gwen, Michael, Ford, Sage … There was a garden on the roof and unusual places such as a secret recording studio/practice space for The Phantom Band, located behind hidden doors because it was against code. There were too many unusual people and things to name here. It was an amazing education socially, politically, dietarily, medicinally and more.
Soon after arriving at Project One, we got a tour of the building and met Baron. Baron was on public assistance for mental illness, but he bragged about purposely getting his diagnosis so that he could follow his chosen vocation of dumpster diving. At that time, he was the only person in the city of San Francisco to be issued a license to legally go through people’s garbage. He was a collector and had every kind of collection imaginable. He asked me and Paul what we had collected as kids. As we named various things, he opened cabinets, chests, free standing closets, drawers, etc. to reveal their hidden treasures, matchbox covers, buttons, stamps and coins, everything you could imagine. We never stumped him, though we tried hard. Paul even asked if he had LSD, and he reluctantly showed us a vial of liquid acid made by Stanley Owsley, the psychedelic chemist of the stars. Although Paul asked for a taste, he was refused because it was the only thing that cured Baron’s frequent headaches. One pin drop was all he needed, and he wanted it to last his lifetime.
After we played his game for a while, he looked me up and down and asked if he could buy my baby when he or she was born. Good thing I was standing in front of a chair. As I plopped down, and firmly said no, I told him about the negative test result I’d gotten in Pittsburgh. He pleaded with me explaining that he had plenty of money and would take care of me throughout my pregnancy in addition to paying me whatever price I asked. He had always wanted a child but wasn’t interested in the whole relationship mess. He’d always hoped to find a live baby in a dumpster but so far had only found dead ones. He strongly suggested I have another test done and asked me again to reconsider his offer. If I ended up with twins, he would gladly take one of them for me.
Needless to say, I went to the free clinic the next day for another test and was shocked to find out that I was indeed pregnant. My head was reeling. I’d been almost religious about using birth control. I was also a little worried about all of the LSD I had done in the past year or so. I was looking for a new start, but this was not what I thought it would be. We were homeless on the opposite coast from our family and friends and had no desire to go back home. We started to come up with a plan. The first thing that happened was that Paul asked me to marry him. I emphatically said, NO!” I didn’t believe in marriage and saw it as a trap for women. I was learning about so many alternative lifestyles and was trying to turn away from the norms not buy into them. I sent my parents a postcard telling them about my pregnancy, a ridiculous move, I know. I obviously wasn’t thinking clearly at the time. But my parents were not going to be understanding and, knowing how it would go, I didn’t want to talk with them on the phone.
My mom and dad were very loving and involved parents, but my mother was too involved, running every aspect of my life until I moved away. I’m sure this is why I am still so fiercely independent today, not wanting anyone to tell me what to do. Mom even came into my bedroom (in my own apartment) one day, where I was living with Paul, to wake me in time for work. She said she just happened to be passing by and didn’t want me to be late. My mom also had mental health issues making life at home chaotic and sometimes dangerous. She would go from lively, playful and engaged to angry and violent within minutes with no warning. She also invented or greatly exaggerated events that happened while my dad was at work. Dad was the enforcer, so there were frequent beatings in the evenings with a leather belt. There was no question that I was not going back home. I was finally free. However, Paul finally convinced me to call them. You can imagine how that went. After threatening to disown me unless I got married and hanging up numerous times, they finally calmed down a bit. They offered to pay for us to return to Connecticut, pay for a wedding and set us up in an apartment. I refused. I felt as though this might be my only chance to escape, and I was taking it. We would figure it out. Paul insisted on getting married, saying that he didn’t want my family to turn away from us and our child. There was also still a stigma in some places at that time about couples living together outside of marriage, and we weren’t sure where we would end up living. In Connecticut, we’d had to get a ring for me and pretend to be married to get our apartment. So, I reluctantly and unhappily agreed.
Paul immediately got a job as cook in a sleazy café on Market Street that had just become vacant when the last cook had been shot. We also played music on the streets. We learned a lot from busking in San Francisco. It was important to play upbeat and loud music to catch the attention of the passersby. One rainy morning, Paul and I stood in an alcove and played “Wild Thing” with Paul jumping out at folks, long hair flying as he screamed out “wild thing.” We made more money from that one song than the rest of the day. Totally shaken up, everyone reached into their pockets and purses pulling out dollar bills and tossing them on the ground as they quickly rushed away. We also got unusual tips in the guitar case – food, food stamps, jewelry, even a joint from a boy who looked like he was maybe 9 or 10. It was pretty cutthroat though with other musicians resenting our success and trying to undermine it by setting up right next to us causing us to move to a less populated street corner. Although we were barely getting by, we knew that this would never be enough to live on, though. We also knew that we couldn’t stay in San Francisco. Although there were other children living in Project One, and we finally felt at home here, we soon realized that this commune was not a good place to raise a child. There were three-year old children smoking pot and lots of kids mostly left to their own devices. That was not the environment we wanted for our child.
While we were busking one day, up walked our friends from Connecticut who had given us the ride from Stamford to New York City at the start of our grand adventure. We were all shocked to see each other! They had driven across the country and wanted to experience San Francisco and the whole Grateful Dead phenomena. We were all Deadheads, having gone to numerous shows together on the east coast, too many to even count. Paul and I had just randomly found the Mars Hotel a few days before and were anxious to show our Deadhead friends. It looked just like it did on the album cover without the psychedelic outer space background, unless you were tripping, I suppose. They were excited to see this landmark, but we were all saddened and surprised to find just a pile of rubble. Much to our chagrin, it had been demolished the day after we saw it. They didn’t believe us at first until we found a newspaper with an article about all the deadheads who showed up to watch its demise.
Our friends told us that would be moving on soon and invited us to join them. We were looking for another place to settle, so we went with them heading south down the coast. We went to Big Sur and camped along the northern coast. Finally, we ended up settling in Santa Cruz, California where we got married and had our daughter. But more on that in the next installment.
After having hitchhiked across the northern part of the United States, we were so relieved when we finally made it to California. For one thing, we were no longer standing outside in the bitter cold wind and snowstorms. As soon as we got out of the car in Sacramento, Paul took his heavy coat off then, 5 minutes later put it back on again. We hadn’t anticipated that the Northern California winter would be damp and dismal. But that was still okay with us, we felt as though we were finally home. Now we just had to make our way south to San Francisco where we could land for a little while until we figured out what to do next. It was early in the morning, and unbelievably, it took us all day to make it down the coast to the city. We waited for 5 hours in Oakland for a ride across the bay and finally arrived in the late afternoon.
Paul’s sister lived in an intentional community located on Howard Street in the warehouse district of San Francisco. We rang the doorbell and waited. We got a very gruff greeting and were left waiting on the street until his sister could be found. She finally came down and assured the door keeper that we were cool and could be let in. The security was very tight there because the police and FBI were always trying to gain access illicitly. When we walked in, our minds were blown and continued to be blown for days afterwards.
Project One was a six-story candy factory/warehouse that had been abandoned and taken over by a bunch of hippies. When they first acquired the building, there were no interior walls. The tenants rented square footage and built their own “space” within the larger building. There were communes within the commune, and we stayed in “The Estates” which was one of those. We were so thankful to be taken in by these eccentric people. A requirement for living there was that you had to be in the arts or technology in some way. This was where I first learned about alternative education at Symbas Alternative High School. Little did I know that this form of education would later on become an important facet of my life and work. There was also a very cool preschool run by Ray Patch, who was a large hairy hippie. I loved seeing him with his little charges.
The place was filled with radicals, and this was when my real education about alternative politics really began. We were there during the time that Patty Hearst was wanted. There were people in Project One who knew where she was hiding, which was very close to the police station. I guess it’s true that if you want to stay hidden, hide in plain sight. There were members of various radical groups trying to keep a low profile, which is why the security was so high. We were told, as soon as we arrived, that we were welcome to stay the night as visitors, but any longer-term stay had to be subject to a vote. There would be a voluntary meeting at which people would vote on whether to allow us to stay or not. We had already been accepted into The Estates for a short-term but indefinite stay, so they spoke up for us. The way the votes worked was anyone could vote no, and we would be out. Luckily, we were accepted by the larger group as well.
There were also drugs everywhere. I was disturbed by seeing three-year olds smoking pot. I found out many years later that there was sexual abuse happening among some of the older children towards the younger ones. Most of the parents there were responsible, but like anything, there were a lot of mistakes made. The whole project was a vast experiment started in 1970 that inspired two other projects, Project Two and Project Artaud. I visited a friend from Connecticut who was living in Project Artaud at the time and wasn’t impressed. There were pets there, and people let their dogs run free in the building but were not cleaning up after them. I was relieved to be staying where I was.
We were staying on the third floor, sleeping on the couches in the communal living room. In the middle of the third-floor hallway was a huge igloo looking structure. This was the bathhouse. When you first walked in, there was a big curved dressing room with benches built into the walls. Across from that were three sinks with mirrors and beautiful mosaic work. Walking further in, I saw the shower room with three shower heads and no curtains or walls. At the very end was a very large bathtub with a sign that read, “minimum of 6 people for a bath.” After being on the road for weeks, I was dying for a shower, but I had never been naked in front of strangers before and really only in front of my lovers. I was also very uncomfortable with my body. I had severe scoliosis, a curvature of the spine that caused my body to be twisted making me a hunchback with one breast very noticeably smaller than the other. During high school, I wore a steel and leather brace that ran from just under my chin, stretching my neck, to just below my hips. I had been bullied and ridiculed all four years and was still affected by that treatment. The last thing I wanted to do was expose myself both physically and emotionally.
Finally, I waited until 3 am the next day, hoping that no one else would be there at that hour. I undressed and started my shower. Aaah, the warm water felt so good. Then, in walked Michael, a man from The Estates. He nonchalantly undressed and stood under the shower head next to me. I was mortified, but he just started having a conversation with me as if nothing unusual was happening. Eventually, I relaxed and enjoyed both my shower and the conversation. As we were getting dressed together in the dressing room, I realized that I wasn't rushing to cover up. I didn't care anymore. We both brushed our teeth and walked back to The Estates to turn in for the night. That experience certainly cured me of any modesty I had. It took Paul quite a bit longer to get accustomed to the idea but, after making me stand guard outside the entrance the first time, he finally accepted it, too. What an education we both were getting, and that was just the beginning.
On New Year’s Day, after a wild night of reveling and saying goodbye to our friends and enemies, my boyfriend at the time, Paul Cavanaugh and I left for our hitchhiking adventure. After a series of adventures along the way, we found ourselves standing outside of a truck stop in Big Springs, Nebraska trying to get a ride through Wyoming. I was 21 years old. To catch up with this story, read parts 1 – 3 first.
As we stood outside with our thumbs out and holding up our sign, it started to snow. We didn’t think much of it at the time. It was winter after all. Pretty soon the wind picked up, and it was snowing quite hard. In spite of the snow, we just couldn’t understand why no one even hesitated cruising by. After a few hours, we went inside to warm up. We were informed that we could only stay inside if we ordered food, so we both had breakfast. We lingered as long as we could because we could see that the storm had really picked up by then. The waitress finally came over and threw us out. We trudged back outside with our bags and guitar only to find that the snowstorm had now turned into an all-out blizzard. We stayed out in the cold for a while then wandered back in for coffee. Once again, we were told that we had to take our coffee outside unless we bought a meal. We didn’t have enough money to keep buying full meals every time we wanted to go in to warm up, so we decided to ask each trucker personally, if they would give us a ride to Wyoming. Every one of them turned us down. Some of them offered to take us to Colorado, but because hitchhiking was illegal there, we declined. A few cars offered to take us to Colorado, too. In fact, it seemed as though everyone was going that way. Not a single car was heading in the direction we wanted.
Eventually, the cold got to us, and I remembered that my brother had given me a space blanket. It was a very thin sheet made of Mylar that was silver on one side and black on the other and was used by NASA to fight extremes in weather. That gift kept us alive as we huddled underneath with occasional breaks to use the bathroom or buy coffee, trying to stay warm and still holding out our sign and at least one thumb. We even bought a couple more meals, but hitchhikers weren’t welcome, and they started even hurrying us through those meals, threatening to call the State Troopers. It wasn’t illegal to hitchhike in Nebraska, and we were very careful to stay off the highway itself, but we also knew that we didn’t want any trouble and hippies were considered trouble in general. We stayed at that truck stop for 46 hours until one kind woman, Diana, told us that the reason we couldn’t get a ride was because all of the roads to Wyoming were closed due to the storm. She offered us a ride to the Denver bus station, which we gladly accepted. She made and sold riding crops at horse shows and was on the way to one in Colorado. Her car was packed full of them, so Paul and I took turns perching precariously on top of them in the back seat while the other one rode in the front. It was not the most comfortable ride, but it was warm, and she was very friendly. A few months later, we met her again in California. I’ve always been amazed by the number of people I’ve run into in unexpected places other than where I first knew them. You’ll hear a little more about that as I go along with these stories.
Diana dropped us off at the Greyhound bus station where we bought two tickets for Salt Lake City. We had a long wait for the bus, so Paul pulled out the guitar and started to play. I sang along, and soon we had collected quite a crowd. People were dancing and clapping hands. We didn’t know what the policy was for busking in the station, so we didn’t take the chances and kept the guitar case closed. However, a few people came by and dropped money on top of the case or handed it to me. I certainly wasn’t going to refuse, and our money was running pretty low by now especially with the added cost of the bus tickets. A few official looking people came by but didn’t stop us, so we kept it up. It was the perfect way to pass the time. And, we were finally warm! One older woman came over and said, “Look, it’s Johnny Denver!” Now, Paul looked nothing like John Denver. He was tall and thin with long brown hair and beard and no glasses. We kept denying it, but she insisted on getting his autograph. He couldn’t refuse. We always joked that somewhere out in Colorado is a bogus autograph of John Denver signed by Paul Cavanaugh.
The bus ride to Salt Lake was spectacular! Although, initially we were upset by having to spend the extra money, we were so awed by the scenery, it made it all okay. Once we got to Salt Lake City, we decided to skip the usual highway hitchhiking and try our hand at “air hitchhiking.” I had belonged to a book club before I met Paul, and one of the books I bought was called “The Great Escape.” It was a hippie guide to practically everything. I still own it, but it is very worn with the pages all falling out, so it’s currently held together in a folder. I would love to find another copy somewhere. In it was a section on travel that had an article on how to hitch a ride at an airport. We were eager to try it out, so off we went to the airport. We never made it that far, though. Before too long, a man stopped his car and offered us a ride all the way to Sacramento. He told us he would pay for everything along the way including a room for the night, all of our meals and money to gamble with in Nevada. We were pretty suspicious at first but he soon convinced us that he was an okay guy. He had been working on the Alaskan Pipeline for three years and wasn’t a drinker or gambler, so he had saved all of his money. This guy was loaded. All he wanted in return was someone to listen to his stories. That was so easy! For starters, he had been a welder for the Navy in his younger days, working underwater in every ocean and sea. His adventures grew from there. Although Paul and I had agreed to take turns staying awake, it was hard for either of us to sleep because we didn’t want to miss anything. We both slept well at the Motel in Nevada after an amazing meal and an evening of gambling. Then Will took us the rest of the way to Sacramento. He had been estranged from his children and was going to try to find them and start over.
A few years ago, I picked up a young man hitchhiking, because I always remember where I’ve been and what I’ve done. He hopped in the car and started to tell me his stories, which were few and (to me) a little boring. After listening for a little while, I pulled my car over to the side of the road, looked him in the eye and said, “Man, you have no idea who just picked you up or what I might have to share with you.” I told him about my Salt Lake City ride and what I’d learned from that. I told him that his turn would come but that his job right now was to listen to the people who picked him up, not to entertain them with his adventures. He said that I wasn’t the first person to tell him that and thanked me. He asked lots of questions, suddenly being very sincerely interested in my experiences. I ended up driving him all the way from Albany, NY to Vermont that day and heard from him months later via email. He thanked me again and told me that he was listening well and collecting his own stories to tell when he was finished with his adventure. I assured him that his adventures were probably just beginning. I know that mine have never ended. The next installment will be our arrival in San Francisco in 1975.
This is a continuation of the story of my awakening and more. Although I was born into a conservative Republican family that was equally oppressive and educational, I was always a rebel at heart, pushing the limits and finding my own voice. This is how I finally broke free. If you want to start at the beginning, read part 1 and part 2 first.
Our friends dropped us off just outside of New York City so that we would (hopefully) not get hassled by the city cops. We stuck out our thumbs and waited for an hour with no luck. Paul started feeling nervous about the amount of time we’d already spent there and decided to put our stash under a bush – just in case. Another hour went by with no one even slowing down to consider us. We were feeling very discouraged when a car full of young men stopped and offered to take us to Western Pennsylvania. Wow! This must have been our lucky day to snag such a long ride right off. We hopped right in. Once we were well on the way, it suddenly occurred to us that we’d left the stash behind. We were going to be clean and sober for the first time in a long time and were not looking forward to it.
At one point, somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania, we stopped for gas at a small out-of-the way service station. As the driver filled the tank, Paul and I went inside to use the bathroom. We immediately noticed the silence inside the building and were very wary. The scene outside did nothing to calm our nerves. The car was already starting to pull away as three men came out of the garage with tire irons in their hands. We raced for the car and hopped in just in time as one of the men threw his tire iron which then hit the back bumper. We were very glad to be out of there.
We arrived in Pittsburgh around 9 pm that night and tried calling one of Paul’s sisters looking for a place to crash for the night. Although they had never really gotten along, I was shocked when she hung up on him. He called a few other friends and finally got ahold of one who said that we could stay one night if we could get there before 11 pm. It was after 10 but Paul agreed, and we started walking. Pittsburgh has lots of hills and many long, steep staircases for pedestrians to get from one street to another. We stood at the bottom of one of these, and I groaned. We had stayed up all night on New Year’s Eve at our goodbye party and had been smoking pot most of the day with our ride. I was exhausted. I started up those stairs and got about halfway when I could not go a step further. I sat down and cried. This was not the adventure I was looking for.
Paul was determined to get us to Elaine’s apartment, so he carried his things up to the top then came back for me and my stuff, half carrying up the rest of the flight. We arrived at Elaine’s at 11:10 pm. She was furious but let us in anyway. She wanted us settled in before her boyfriend came home. I guess he was not a fan of her old friends and wasn’t the nicest guy. We finally fell asleep, then got up the next morning in search of another place to stay. This time, Paul’s sister agreed to take us in for one night. I was still exhausted and feeling slightly nauseous. I also had skipped my monthly period and was feeling a little anxious. I always used birth control, so I was sure I wasn’t pregnant, but something was not right. That day, I went to the free clinic for a pregnancy test – just in case. It was negative. Whew! What a relief. If I had gotten a positive result, I probably would have gone back home, and that was the last thing I wanted to do.
Before leaving the next day, we met a friend of Paul’s sister at a local coffee shop. He was older than us, probably in his 30s and was a serious radical writer and activist. Unfortunately, I don’t remember his name. Paul always remembered everyone’s name, dates, places, etc. but when he died, he took a lot of those details with him. Anyway, this fellow introduced me to Marxism. He even looked like what I thought a Marxist would look like with long dark hair and facial hair. He was fascinating – very passionate about his beliefs and wanting to share those beliefs with whoever would listen. I was always a good listener and loved hearing what anyone had to say. I had grown up immersed in conservative values but had never bought into it and was looking for alternatives, so this was just what I craved. This trip was suddenly looking up.
The next leg of the journey was uneventful. We never did make it to Mardi Gras because the rides kept taking us west instead of south. I don’t remember much about it except that I learned to sleep in clothing donation boxes to get out of the weather. As long as we moved the harder items like shoes out of the way, they were quite cozy with all of the clothes in there. Paul had lost his address book, a very serious loss for a “road scholar,” when his wallet was stolen by one of the many visitors to our old apartment. This meant that he no longer had all of those contacts he had already made during his 4 years on the road. So, we were both starting fresh in a way. I also learned that “Grand Openings” were very helpful to those on the road. There was usually coffee and some kind of food at these events. At bank openings, we usually could score pens and pads of paper. We were both writers, so that was a plus. When breezing into a new town, we always looked for community news to see what was available.
I do remember quite vividly standing on the shoulder of the I-80 with my thumb out and having the big semi-trucks speed up and veer over into the right lane at the last minute, the wind gusts they created throwing our bags – and me – careening down the road. I finally started crouching down or laying right down in the snow when they came by. Back then, I probably weighed about 100 pounds fully dressed, and it was impossible to keep my footing when they zoomed by. Eventually, we made it to a truck stop in Big Springs, Nebraska where we could either stay on I-80 and go to Wyoming or head to Colorado on a slightly more southern route. We knew that it was illegal to hitchhike in Colorado, so we decided to try for a ride to Wyoming which was also more direct. We were soon sticking out our thumbs and holding up our sign. Our new flexible goal was San Francisco where Paul’s oldest sister was living.
To be continued …
A few years ago, I decided to try to chronicle my hippie past. Of course, that past keeps growing as I age, so now I’m sifting through a lot of decades. Since I started, I’ve shared stories or thoughts randomly. Because I will now be sharing these posts on another blog, I've decided to start over again at the beginning. Some of these posts will contain adult content. This is Part 2.
We arrived home from the trip to Pittsburgh, and I found myself wondering what I was getting myself into with this interesting man. I’d always craved adventure and was definitely finding it with him, but at what cost? Things were already a little crazy. The man we were getting our best drugs from was rumored to have shot his wife and gotten away with it. To us, it was just a rumor and, since he treated us very well, often giving us freebies and offering the best prices in town, we decided not to listen to the warnings. I will call him Mr. X.
He told us to be sure to always call before coming, which we did faithfully. Every time we went, he would hand Paul a guitar and insist that he play “Hey Joe” and “Down by the River,” adding to the rumors. I still don't like playing those songs today. He had an elaborate escape route built into his home that went through the drop ceiling and up into the attic with a ladder in the back from the attic window. One day, Paul got caught in traffic and arrived about 20 minutes later than expected. When Mr. X’s girlfriend answered the door, Paul looked up and saw three men at the top of the stairs with shotguns aimed at him and the girlfriend. Realizing that this guy had no trouble with the thought of blowing all of us away woke us up. That was the last time either of us went there.
One day, we went to a garage sale at our local halfway house, and I met Paul’s best friend from his childhood there. He begged us to break him out, so we did what we could to help out. A few days later, Greg became our new roommate. He seemed like a nice enough guy. He was very quiet though, almost too quiet. It wasn’t long before he started giving me the creeps. At first, I thought he was acting nasty because he was jealous of my closeness to Paul. I soon found out that this guy had done way too much LSD and had gone over the edge. He started putting towels over all of the mirrors in the house because “Satan could see us through the reflections.” Pretty soon, he reconnected with his old girlfriend who moved in and eventually became (and still is) one of my closest friends. He wouldn’t let her sleep at night because the devil could enter in her dreams, so she moved out. Things got weirder and weirder.
A new friend came over one evening asking if he could trip with us. He’d had a bad trip and was afraid to try again but his brother had told him that we were mellow people, very experienced and good guides. We set the scene and insisted that Greg be somewhere else for the night.
At that time, I owned a beautiful round brass table with wooden legs, low to the ground that I kept polished. This night, I put lit candles on it to help create the mood. Just as we were all starting to feel the effects of the LSD coming on, guess who came home? Greg burst into the room, agitated, talking incessantly but not making any sense. Suddenly, he jumped over my table reciting, “Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack jump over the candlestick.” He did this over and over as the flames flickered and the candles threatened to topple over. The new guy was watching bug-eyed and jittery. Finally, Paul took Greg outside while I soothed the nerves of our new friend, assuring him that everything was fine. No, the room was not going to catch fire. And yes, Greg was leaving for the night. A few days later, as I was standing in the kitchen making a snack, Greg started throwing lit matches at me saying that he would burn the evil out of me. That was the last straw for me. I told Paul that, friend or not, he had to make him leave, which he did. Only a few days later, Greg was arrested for dragging his sister out of bed and outside, in her pajamas on a Sunday morning, insisting that she would be late for school.
He was only one of the unusual people who frequented our house. Many of our friends were junkies, but I definitely didn’t want my apartment to become a shooting gallery. I had two rules – no needles and no guns. I thought that was reasonable and easy. I guess I was sorely mistaken. I can’t count the number of times I threw people out for trying to shoot up in the bathroom and even had to throw two thugs out of a party who were packing guns. Oddly enough, tiny and shy as I was at the time, I was the only one willing to stand to up to these folks and was soon seen as the wicked witch. I might be small, but I'm feisty. But now, I was dealing with bad vibes in my own home, and I wasn’t having it. I told Paul that it had to stop. Adventure was one thing, danger was another. Our house was THE party spot. It was centrally located but set back off the main drag. It also happened to be right next door to a liquor store that had a hole in the back wall just big enough for an arm to squeeze through. Every night, one of the guys would go around back and grab whatever bottle was the closest. It was usually whisky of some kind, and flaming shots became quite popular.
Early that summer, I took a week off from work. I was a bookkeeper in a bank. This was before computers, so I worked with an adding machine and a big bulky calculator. I was pretty accurate but certainly not flawless, especially if I’d been partying hard the night before. During that week off, we tripped every day. We always had a freezer full of orange sunshine, purple beryl, windowpane, blotter, mushrooms, mescaline, whatever was available at the time. When it was time to go back to work, I realized that I was going to crash and burn, so I dropped again and went off to try to function. My workday was a breeze, so I spent that whole summer taking my daily “vitamin” and watching the numbers dance around on the page, eventually showing me where they wanted to land. Unbelievably, I won an award that fall for being the most accurate worker in the office and got a raise. I think my supervisor and my workmates suspected something, but I got away with it anyway. My next long weekend, I came down hard, and my work went back to its normal pace.
Finally, I realized that I couldn’t keep up this lifestyle. I was having to deal with the creepy and dangerous people more and more often and was hated by many of Paul’s friends because I was always setting limits. They were no longer whispering behind my back but being nasty right to my face. I was the only one working full-time, paying rent and utilities, and I was done. I sat Paul down and told him that we had to leave. It was the only way I could see to get out of this world that we had helped create. I had always planned on leaving my hometown someday anyway, and this was the perfect time. But where should we go? Paul had the answer.
He had left home at 14, hitching rides and living on the road during those four years. I had done a lot of local and regional hitchhiking and felt comfortable doing it. We decided to sell most of our belongings and hit the road with the loose goal of arriving in New Orleans in time for Mardi Gras. Paul loved numbers and was attached to doing things on special dates, so he insisted that we leave on New Year’s Day, the anniversary of our meeting. I wanted to store my albums at my parents’ house, but Paul insisted that we would need whatever money we could come up with, so they got sold with everything else. I could kick myself now, but what’s done is done. We were given a few gifts, a frame backpack, a “space blanket,” and a stash for the road. I quit my job, and we threw a party in our now empty apartment, leaving early the next day with some folks still partying and some sleeping on the floor. We had the backpack, a dufflebag, space blanket, our stash, a classical guitar and warm jackets. It was the start of a new adventure.
A few years ago, I decided to try to chronicle my hippie past. Of course, that past keeps growing as I age, so now I’m sifting through a lot of decades. Since I started, I’ve shared stories or thoughts randomly. I will be sharing these posts with another blog, so I think it may be a good time to just start over again at the beginning.
When I stop and think about it, I think I was destined to become a hippie. I was born a rebel and dreamer in a very practical, conservative family. Growing up in the fifties and sixties, feeling oppressed and trapped in the bedroom community that was my hometown, I started expanding my horizons. There was literally nothing happening locally that I was interested in anymore. I lived an hour from The Big Apple, the train station was only a few blocks from the house, so I started exploring my options. I had been studying classical and jazz voice for a couple of years and classical piano for many more years and had been performing since I was 14. I even joined a church choir that was singing Duke Ellington's newest sacred music and was directed by him. I had also started working with wedding bands and singing old blues and more modern music with friends. In 1971, I finally went to my very first concert, other than going with my dad to local classical or jazz concerts. I hopped on the train to see Sly and the Family Stone at Madison Square Garden. What a rush that was! That was just the beginning. From there, I went on to every concert I could manage, and it was changing my music.
While I expanded my physical horizons, I also began to expand my mind. Like so many others around me at the time, I was dissatisfied with the status-quo and was looking for something new. I grew up in a political environment. My dad was a newspaperman whose friends were lawyers, politicians, business executives and everyone a mover and shaker. It was an exciting and frightening time to live through. The Viet Nam war was televised often with gruesome scenes, while at home assassinations seemed to be an epidemic. There were race riots, anti-war riots and bombings. We were in the midst of a revolution, and nothing made sense. Then I, again like so many others, tried psychedelics. Suddenly, I saw things so much more clearly and knew I had to go out into the world.
I met Paul Cavanaugh when I was 20. He had lived on the road since he was 14, had definitely been expanding both his horizons and his mind and was currently staying with friends in an apartment in my hometown. He went to the laundromat on New Year’s Day of 1974 with just enough money to run the washer and dryer, but he had no detergent. My friend, who also happened to be there, gave him some soap, and he offered to smoke a joint with her. As they sat there in the laundromat smoking, they started talking about music and realized that they both played. That night, I went with my friend to Paul's apartment and jammed and partied until late in the night. We all agreed to do it again. The next day, I got a phone call from Paul wanting to know if he could come over and jam. One of his roommates (Joe) was drop-dead gorgeous with long straight dark hair, a great body and an aura of confidence. Paul was a grungy hippie who had been living on the road since he was a kid and slouched in a protective way. However, Paul also had the most amazing voice. He could have been on the radio. I couldn’t remember the names of all of the people I’d met that night and, hearing his voice over the phone, I was sure this was Joe. I eagerly agreed to see him again. Imagine my surprise when I answered the door later. Thankfully, I recovered quickly, and we played beautiful music together until sun-up. He never really left after that.
At the time I met Paul, I had started exploring the drug scene in the wrong direction, and he gave me an ultimatum. I chose him and totally embraced the psychedelic scene. After a few months of being together, he asked if I would like to travel to Pittsburgh, PA to meet his family and a few old friends. I was working as a bookkeeper at a bank at the time and had enough money for plane tickets, so I bought both tickets. We left two days later for a long weekend telling only our roommate that we were leaving. The day that we arrived, we went to his sister’s place. She informed us that the communal household had just moved to a new location because they had been surveilled by the FBI. We were instructed to “keep a low profile,” if we wanted to stay there. That night we went to a party. At the party was a Middle Easterner whose father was in the US on business. This young man kept disparaging American culture, especially the drug scene. Paul and I had just procured some “Angel Dust” and Paul offered to smoke it with him saying that it was “Connecticut homegrown.” Many, many hours later, getting tired of refusing to sell any to him, we headed back to the communal house, intending to finally crash. Just as we settled onto the mattress on the floor, we heard the phone ring then the sound of loud running footsteps approaching our room. Paul answered the pounding on the door only to be faced with the head of the household, red in the face, screaming about the FBI wanting to talk to him. I got up, looked out the window and saw two police cars parked outside. When he got on the phone, the FBI agent asked him some random questions about having given “some information on a stolen Corvette in Denver, Colorado” at a time when he had actually been there visiting his uncle. He knew nothing about it, so they thanked him, said that they would be in touch and hung up. Needless to say, we had to pack up and get out of that house immediately.
As we were walking around trying to decide what to do next, Paul relayed to me that when he was 12, at the height of air hijackings, while waiting to board a plane in Pittsburg, he made a joke about being in Havana, Cuba in a few hours. Within minutes, security had whisked him away for questioning. Upon reading his original poetry and other writings about the war, Nixon and more, they called his dad. After some negotiations, they decided to ban him from airlines forever. He figured that somehow his name was flagged, and they were watching him. I thought it more likely that they were watching the Middle Eastern kid from the party. Either way, it spooked us both. When the Freedom of Information Act was enacted, neither of us wanted to send away for any records the authorities might have on us. We thought it might open up interest again, though sometimes, I have to admit that I’m curious.
I am writing this post today because I need to purge the bad feelings I have and chronicle the series of events that have led to my purchasing a new used car, my third car in two years.
In May of 2018, I bought a used Toyota Camry from our local garage, where my partner had been getting his car repaired. I liked these folks and trusted them. They had always treated my partner well and offered me what I thought was a fair price for this new car. I loved the car. It was bigger than previous cars, had a sunroof, a working stereo and was a comfortable ride. A few weeks after I got it, the brakes started failing. The pedal would vibrate then sink to the floor. If I pumped the brake pedal, it would come back up - a little frightening but no harm done. I brought it back to the garage, and they decided it was an ABS failure. They did a repair for no charge. "Okay," I thought, "I should be all set now." A few weeks later, the same thing happened. Then it happened again and again. Each time, I brought it back to them and they (reluctantly) took care of it. Meanwhile, I kept insisting that there must be a more serious problem if the same thing kept failing.
In November of 2018, I packed up my car to go to a music conference in my hometown in Southwestern Connecticut when, as I was going down a steep hill by my house, my car suddenly accelerated itself and the brakes completely failed. Luckily, I thought quickly and, when the emergency brake did nothing, I threw it into park and stopped just before I would have plummeted into the ditch at the bottom of the hill. Needless to say, I was incredibly shook up and called the garage immediately. I have driven cars with no brakes before. I don't know why, but brake failure seems to be a recurring theme for me. Now, here I was with three showcases scheduled at this important conference and no car. After multiple phone calls to various rental places, I finally found one that was still open and had a reasonable price. Still shaking from my ordeal, I sucked it up and drove to the conference. When I returned, I asked for my purchase price back for this lemon of a car.
I was told that I couldn't get a refund, but I could trade it out for a different car. However, the only car available was one with almost 100,000 more miles on it and some rust on the body. I didn't know what to do, so I finally agreed to a temporary loan while he fixed the first car. I had dome some research and found that other people had problems with the same year and model car. It is a faulty computer. Toyota decided not to issue a recall because: 1. Not every car had that issue and 2. No one had died. What?! I went back to the garage with this information thinking that maybe the owner would swap out another computer. I was told that he had another car on the lot that had a compatible computer, and that's what he would do.
Fast forward to January 2020. I had now been driving the "loaner" for over a year and had been paying for repairs during that time on this old worn out car. I was reaching the end of my rope and had been very vocal about it. I finally got the original car back not quite two weeks ago. I was told that he replaced every brake component that there was, and everything should be fine now. The day after I got it, the brakes did the same rumbly failure at the bottom of my road. I thought, "Okay, it was icy, and I'm not used to this car yet." The next day, it happened again on a dry, flat road. It turns out that the computer was never replaced. When I called about the issue, I was told that there was no computer error readout, so he had no idea what was going on. Did he not listen to what I had originally told him, or did he just discount me because I'm not a mechanic? Or maybe because I'm a woman? It is pretty clear to me that if it's a faulty computer, there may not be an error message from that same computer. But, what do I know? The final straw for me was that when I finally did get my car back, there had been mice in it that had peed all over the interior. The smell was so bad, I drove home with my windows open. After washing the mats with a bleach solution and shampooing the entire interior, it still smelled. I realized that it is in the heating ducts. WHen I threatened to take him to court, his response was not, "I'm sorry. Let's see what we can do." It was, "Listen, if you're going to threaten me with court, then there's noth8ing else I can do for you." Really? Because this has all been my fault? I guess it was my fault that I bought a car from such a disreputable person. The bottom line is: I am not the kind of person to sue anyone, and my partner wants to maintain a relationship with them. So I am resorting to telling my story instead.
Yesterday, I got a loan from my credit union for another car. I went to a dealer this time. I love CapComFCU credit union! They have always helped me out, even when they maybe shouldn't have. They have a car buying service that does all of negotiating, including a discounted price for members. Unfortunately, I got a very small trade-in for the Toyota, less than the cost of the brand new tires I just purchased for it. I did have the option of replacing them with the old tires and trying to sell them myself, but I want nothing more to do with the original garage and wouldn't want the hassle of trying sell tires. I'm chalking it up to another lesson learned and counting on karma to deal with this sleazy business. If I were you, I wouldn't go to Kneers Towiing and Auto Parts on Rt. 7 in Brunswick.
I’ve been thinking about the past a lot lately. Not dwelling on it, just thinking. It’s been coming up a lot in conversations and in dreams, offering up memories from my time with my husband during my early hippie days and during my time in our folk-rock band, General Eclectic. This jump into the past is unusual for me as I usually live solidly in the present. But I guess I’d better just go along for this ride as I have so many others. I think it may be coming up because I’ve been prepping and practicing for my upcoming show “Tunes and Tales.” I decided to do an all original show with stories mixed in. I have plenty of originals but haven’t ever done only my songs before. It’s been hard to decide where to begin. I know the logical place is to begin at the beginning, but there have been so many beginnings, and that would make for too long a show. So, I’ve decided to stick to the most important themes or my favorite songs.
I’ve written at least one song for each of my serious relationships, two of which lasted twenty years each. You would think there would be a lot of songs in those forty years, but oddly enough, I’ve written more in the last five years with my current lover. There are many reasons why songs about the other men didn’t occur more frequently. I was parenting full-time and non-stop during that time, slipping in music when I could. I also lived a very stressful life with the other two men that wasn’t really conducive to my creativity. I did co-write a lot of songs in those earlier days with my husband but didn’t play an instrument and lost a lot of those along the way. I’m trying to regain them now that I can play strings, but he didn’t write the chords down for all of them, so that makes it much harder for me. I jumped from the world of rock and roll into the world of folk music in the second relationship, learning to play guitar, a little mandolin, a little banjo and mountain dulcimer. I also honed my songwriting skills, going to songwriting workshops and camps and networking with those folks.
It’s been a long and sometimes unexpected musical journey. And, it’s not over yet. Now I’m trying to combine all of the different things that I’ve learned over the years to create something fresh. It’s difficult sometimes to verbalize what I want that to be. I have a wonderful band with musicians that come from different backgrounds, though I’m not sure they’ve had as much diversity in music as I have. I started out playing classical piano and singing classical and sacred music. I’ve also been a back-up singer and learned how to be in the background, strong but unobtrusive. I was raised on jazz, Big Band and blues. I think blues is probably my favorite type of music to sing. I went from there into rock and roll then folk, old time and bluegrass and now back to rock and roll. I don’t want to play straight rock music, though. I want to be able to play my folk acoustic instruments electrified without losing the roots feel, but I want an electric band. There’s the rub. How do I direct the band and communicate to them the need for not only a lower volume, but a different feel? I want to be able to have the subtleties stand out and not be lost in the amplification. And, as a songwriter, I want my lyrics heard.
I've also realized that, the older I get, the more I want to tell stories about my life. And, whew! What a life it's been. I grew up in Connecticut and couldn't wait to leave. I hitchhiked across the country in early 1975, landing in a hippie commune in San Francisco then moved to Santa Cruz to have my first child. I lived with her in a local park before moving her into a VW bus for another cross-country trip and lived in Connecticut for a year and a half. Then we packed up an old Plymouth Valiant for another cross-country move, landing in Washington State then on to Oregon where my second child was born in Portland, Oregon. During that time, my husband and I did street music on weekends. Mount St. Helen's erupted while we were there, puching us on to the coast. In 1982, we packed up again and moved both kids and our cat in our VW bus to upstate New York, where I've been ever since. Just because I've lived here since then, don't assume I gave up traveling. I've been hired to do music in Germany, Switzerland and China. They were totally random opportunities, not anything I sought out. In addition to Canada and Mexico, I have been to all but four states in the U.S., Mississippi, Louisiana, Alaska and Hawaii. It might seem romantic, but it wasn't ever easy. There were many trials and tribulations along the way, making for a stressful, albeit exciting life. Some of my stories are hair-raising, others are poignant and many are just plain unbelievable. Sometimes, even I have a hard time believing I lived through it all.
However, I love travel, I love adventure and I love music. I can’t imagine living without any of them. I am always open to new adventures and am ready to share those stories with anyone who wants to listen. I hear music in everything. I used to bring my children outside to listen and try to count how many different sounds they heard. It didn’t matter if we were in the city or the country. There is a myriad of sounds everywhere we go. I love the detail in those sounds as much as I love the details in visual art. I want to continue to hear those and want to share those details in my own music. In one of his books, Mickey Hart from the Grateful Dead said, “Fill your life with sound.” That’s what I hope to do in as many places as I can until the day I die.
It’s been incredibly fun and inspiring being in a band again. And not just any band, but a group of people who are tuning into the same channel as me and are open to exploring other channels as well. Music is a very personal thing. Because of that, the relationships within bands are important. I’ve been in bands where some people didn’t get along with certain others. It was just a personality thing. It happens. But I always felt as though the music suffered, at least for me. I play music mostly from my heart. Some musicians play mostly from their heads. We all play well. One might even argue that the musicians who play from their heads are more precise and therefore better players. I would argue that it depends on the listener. Like the musicians who create the music, there are some who listen more with their heads and others who listen more with their hearts. I’ve worked successfully with “head” musicians” because we got along personally and could work out any conflicts.
When I’m in a band, that band becomes another kind of family. All families have issues and disagreements and, all families handle conflict differently. Not all birth families share the same politics, career choices, lifestyles, diets, etc. but they can still get together as a family and appreciate and love each other. It’s the same for bands. You come together for the music from different places. Then, you “make beautiful music together.” An urban dictionary defines “making beautiful music together” as “having a great romantic relationship with each other.” It’s true. I have fallen in love with band members. How could I not, when we share a heart-to-heart connection every time we play together? Music is one of the most moving and bonding things that humans experience. Scientifically, it has been shown that engaging in musical activities releases dopamine and affects our endorphins which leads us to feel good and connect with others. Wow! No wonder I can’t stop. And, I’ve been doing this my whole life.
In the early 80s through early 90s, I was in a band in Albany. It was me, my husband Paul, and whoever else we could find. We named the band General Eclectic because when asked to describe our music one of us said, “Well … generally speaking … we’re pretty eclectic.” Hey, that would be a great name! We had a lot of fun and did some pretty crazy shows back then. It was in an era when bands would create cool flyers to hang up. We loved adding that to our creative resume. We played at least once a month, usually more, making unique flyers for each show. Sometimes our shows had themes. One was “On Beyond Zappa.” We did about 30 songs, one for each letter of the alphabet (by artist – Allman Brothers, Beatles, etc.) then a few originals. There was a prize for whoever could name every song and artist. We had one winner because we chose a lot of very obscure songs that crossed genres. It was such a popular show, we did a second one, “On Beyond Zevon.” That one was a bit more challenging since we couldn’t repeat an artist. We both really loved, and I still do love, a challenge. Below is the poster from one of my personal favorite shows. You will have to guess the theme from the clues on the poster because I’m not ready to put that in print yet. We had hoped to do three of these, but we only pulled off two of the planned three. They were very intense multi-media, and very multi-dimensional events. And, they were a lot of work and a lot of fun.
So here I am in a new band. We don’t really know each other well. They certainly don’t know a lot of my history, except for the little bits I’ve shared so far. And, I don’t know theirs, but I would like to. We’ve all come a long way on very different roads to get here. So far, we all get along well, and everyone seems to be pretty easy-going. I know that I’m not always the easiest musician to work with because I’m picky and also a total space cadet. Generally, I tend to be absentminded, clumsy (because of not paying attention), and I lose things constantly. I might be the most flexible person I know, going whichever way the wind blows. My partner describes me as spontaneous and never really plans on my being home when I say I will. Luckily, he doesn’t seem to mind. My music is definitely flexible also. I guess you could also call it spontaneous. I hope my bandmates don’t mind too much. So far so good, and I’ll keep trying stay on track, not that I’ve had a ton of success so far. Meanwhile, that spontaneity is helping us develop that all-important bond that grows each time we get together. I always look forward to band practice. That’s how I know this is working.
Ever since I moved to my current home in Petersburg, NY, I have said that I am living the life I never even dreamed was possible. I won’t go into the sordid details of why that is true, just know that after too many years of struggle, I am still amazed. My family responsibilities have lessened dramatically; although I’m certainly not rich, I am financially solvent; my life is mostly stress-free, other than the usual minor annoyances; I have a loving partner who is as easy going as I am, who shares the same ideals and beliefs, who is sharing a comfortable common lifestyle with me; and my home is peaceful and beautiful, surrounded by nature, the kind of home I’ve always looked for. All of these things have freed me up to pursue those dreams I never let myself have until now. As if all of those things aren’t enough, my home has a professional recording studio on the top floor and an incredible sound engineer to go along with it.
I have been a musician my entire life and working professionally since I was 15. I also started raising a family when I was 22 and struggled economically throughout. I continued doing gigs and writing songs, played with my husband, Paul Cavanaugh, in a rock band and dreamed of being able to release a CD someday. Alas, we never pulled that off. However, I finally did release a CD of mostly original folk songs and tunes in 2009 with my next partner, Dick Kavanaugh. We were Cavanaugh & Kavanaugh. That was thrilling and satisfied that goal. I started focusing more on my songwriting after that, booking singer/songwriter gigs, going to more workshops, etc. Around that same time, I started writing a blog and a series of memoirs. For years, people told me that I should write a book about my adventurous life but the idea of writing a whole book felt too overwhelming, so I started writing short memoir pieces. Then, after a music class one day, a dad from one of my classes asked if he could trade recording time for his daughter’s classes. Of course, I said yes and decided to try to do a solo CD.
During this process, I met Joel Patterson. He really is the “finest man.” We hit it off immediately and, after months of commuting back and forth between Petersburg and Albany, we realized how silly it was to keep two homes. So, he invited me to move in. I had been a member of a memoir group that met monthly and, one time, shared a song I’d written that went along with the memoir for that month. They knew that I was working on this CD and suddenly suggested an album concept of spoken word memoirs for each song. I mentioned it to Joel, who recorded all of the memoirs, the last three songs and mastered everything. Now, including an archival CD of General Eclectic, the rock band with Paul Cavanaugh, I have three CD releases of three very different styles of music.
So back to today … I have a new single. Dandelion Wine came into the studio last night to record “Finest Man.” I love this band! We work well together, and everyone brings something different to the mix. We’re all flexible and easy-going, and we’ve learned to go with the musical flow when necessary. I love that connection that all of the players get after working together for a while. The communication happens through the music almost without the need for words. These guys have been so accepting of the different genres of music I present and of learning more new songs than they might usually be working on, including my originals. And, I thank them.
When you live a life of hardship, you stop dreaming big. You take on an acceptance of whatever comes your way without expectations. It’s necessary to do that in order to survive intact. That’s why it’s so big when the things you never dreamed about just drop in your lap. In the past year, I have formed a band, gone to China, released an EP of children’s songs, released three music videos and now will be releasing an original single. Wow! Life is good! I am eternally grateful!
Please support your local musicians! We can't survive without you.