Browsing Tag

Roadtrip

Books, Travel

In Her Own Words…

December 15, 2016

Back in December 2016, we created something special for readers of the new adventure biography, “Aloha Wanderwell: The Border-Smashing, Record-Setting Life of the World’s Youngest Explorer” (you are reading the book, yes…?)

The date marked the 94th anniversary of Idris Hall’s rebirth as Aloha Wanderwell and the beginning of her life’s global journey with the Wanderwell Expedition. She became known far and wide as the ‘Amelia Earhart of the open road’ and secured her place in history as the first woman to drive around the world.

Her ‘voyage of a lifetime’ began in 1922 in the south of France.

She was sixteen years old and at the wheel of a Model-T Ford.

Forbidden to write a personal record of her road trip experiences by the leader of the Expedition, Captain Walter Wanderwell, she nonetheless kept a logbook.

On Sunday, December 18, 2016, we began publishing, day and date, what those secret diary entries revealed.

Readers followed along and experienced life through the eyes of a teenager caught between two world wars
almost a century ago. In real-time!

If you’re new to the exploits of this adventurous, courageous, peripatetic explorer… a primer.

§ § §

Spring 1917

It was the mathematically square windows of the dorm room on Vancouver Island that pushed 10-year-old Idris Hall’s imagination into high gear. Staring through those windows she could see life before the war. A life when her father would take her and her baby sister down to the ocean at the edge of their property to play in the surf. Or perhaps take a tour on grand, sunny, daylong trips in their new boat, exploring hidden coves and watching seals and otters and even orcas. Idris had gotten used to people asking why the Inlet Queen had square portholes. ‘Because that’s what mummy wanted’, she would say. Margaret had always maintained that the Hall Family had to be distinctive, had to be different. Idris would often smile at that thought.

The smile rarely lingered. Idris’s mother had taken her baby sister, Miki, and gone to England to help nurse her injured husband, Bertie, back to health – leg shrapnel, the telegram had said, ‘recuperating at Aldershot.’ Idris didn’t go. Margaret enrolled her in an all-girl private school to tend to her studies until ‘this beastly war’ was over – a few months at best, her mother had said. That was a year ago. Letters were rare.

aloha-11The starched-collar attitude of private school life was not to Idris’s liking at all, and it was certainly no match for the teasing promise of adventure offered by the square portholes of the Inlet Queen. But she had discovered an antidote to her indentured scholastic existence – the windows of her stuffy domicile could be put to good use.

The window across from her dorm room bed faced south, and standing there she could move her head ever so slightly to reveal the tops of towering Douglas Fir trees waving against a perfect blue sky, or she could lean to one side and eliminate them altogether, revealing instead the puffy white clouds. At another window, standing exactly three steps back from the sash – no more, no less – Idris could frame the skyline of Victoria’s Inner Habour barely a mile away. She could watch two- and three-masted schooners and motor launches slide in and out of her view. Pictures, she thought – moving pictures.

Clear nights were best. Kneeling on her small bed, elbows on the sill of her own window, she could make out stars and planets and entire constellations, and frame the moon to suit her fancy. In those moments she hoped her daddy was looking at the moon, too. Occasionally, she wondered if her family had forgotten all about her.

§ § §

More than two thousand miles away, in the American state of Georgia, a young Polish adventurer named Walter was sitting in a small jail cell in Atlanta’s antebellum Fulton County ‘Tower’. He had been arrested along with several other ‘wanderers’ under suspicion of spying for a foreign power and was attempting, unsuccessfully, to negotiate his freedom.

While young men of the Dominion had been fighting the ‘wrath of the Hun’ for some years, the United States was not yet committed to the task. However, military attitudes and political desires were quickly changing. America’s entry into the ‘War To End All Wars’ was but a pen stroke away.

Captain Wanderwell, as he was known, was of particular interest to local constabulary and his activities within America had even attracted the attention of federal law enforcement officials in Washington. Very little had been confirmed, and much was suspect. To begin with, a check of international records revealed confusion over Walter’s true name. They had, however, discovered that he was from a large German-Polish family, and had been arrested numerous times in several countries for many different infractions. Authorities demanded answers to some very pointed questions.

aloha-carUnder suspicion for some time, police had searched a locked steamer trunk at his lodgings at the local YMCA. There they discovered photographs and camera negatives of important and strategic seaports, lighthouses, wireless radio stations and military encampments. Maps, weather charts, shipping schedules and even letters to and from German consuls and embassies throughout the U.S. were also found. There was also carefully concealed evidence of a great deal of cash in bank accounts scattered across the country. Most intriguing of all, his hiking partner and current fellow cellmate, Hugo Coutandin – also a German, not French as he was steadfastly maintaining – carried a two-way wireless telegraph apparatus on his back. With whom were they communicating, the Justice Department wished to know, and what were they saying?

Unbeknownst to the Captain, the Attorney-General for Georgia who was leading the investigation into the hikers’ intentions, had placed another of the so-called ‘wanderers’ into Walter and Hugo’s cell to act as an informant. The Dutchman had stated under interrogation that he was sick and tired of being lumped in with the German foreigners just because he spoke with an accent. He was keen to secure his own release and was more than happy to eavesdrop on this alleged spy.

Walter, however, for all his mysterious ways and means, was saying nothing of any consequence. He only continued to protest his innocence to anyone within earshot. However, while he stared at the scarred, peeling concrete and plaster of the mouldy prison cell, his mind was sorting through several optional stories he could relate at his next interrogation, wondering which one might be good enough to exact his freedom.

§ § §

More than four thousand miles away, in central Europe, Lieutenant Herbert Hall’s ears were still ringing. It had been almost a week since the tons of dynamite so carefully placed in the tunnels under Messines Ridge had been detonated killing more than ten thousand German soldiers instantly. The event was already being hailed as a major British victory, even though very few soldiers had known until recently what the Royal Engineers had been up to. The blast near Ypres, Belgium was heard as far away as Downing Street and rattled pint glasses in Dublin. All Bertie really knew was that the normally filthy dour faces of his fellow trench rats and even the ‘higher-ups’ had been replaced with smiles and talks of going home soon, and that was good enough for him.

Up the line about two miles from the former German stronghold sat an area referred to on their maps as Battle Wood, Hill 60. On a moonless night, Bertie and his troops of the 12th Durham Light Infantry were hunkered down preparing for a ‘fixed bayonet’ attack on an enemy encampment nearby.

aloha-helmet-gogglesThe German artillery barrage usually began early, long before the sun came up illuminating the vast wasteland both combatants called home; you could set your pocket watch by it, Bertie often thought. But this night had been unusually quiet for a battlefield.

The first pale signs of pastel orange and purple were creeping above the horizon. As the morning haze was beginning to burn off Bertie removed his helmet and slowly raised his makeshift periscope above the edge of the trench until the mirror was just level with the horizon. Beyond the wreckage of one of their own artillery carriages and the still rotting corpse of the unfortunate horse that once pulled it, he could just make out a German periscope peering back at him from the edge of an identical muddy trench barely 500 yards away. Bertie quickly ducked down sucking in the fetid air.

And then it began – ‘thump… thump thump’. The German launch of artillery had started, followed by the tell-tale ‘whiz bang’ sound of the incoming shells announcing yet another deafeningly dangerous day ahead. They’re close, Bertie thought.

§ § §

It was unseasonably warm for an almost-Summer evening in Victoria, British Columbia. In a bed she was quickly outgrowing, young Idris Hall tossed and turned on the edge of sleep, wondering what was to become of her.

Unknown to her then, and in ways she could not yet imagine, events were indeed unfolding. The British officer who was not her father, and the German ‘spy’ who was not yet her husband were about to change her life… forever.

brains-beauty-breeches

Personal, Travel

Journey To The Center Of The Earth

May 18, 2016

“Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.”
~ Witches Chant, Macbeth

§ § §

It was new. Brand spanking. My first new car ever. No more Ford Pinto, no more Renault R16, no more Chrysler Imperial with occasional brakes. She was fresh off the boat from Japan, all metallic green, and gleaming; I swear she practically glowed in the dark. Less than 30 miles on her and most of that the result of driving her home from the dealership. It was a 1980 Toyota Tercel SR5 sitting calmly in my driveway on a sunny weekend. It smelled that new car smell, and I smiled that new car smile, as I looked down on it from my perch on the second-floor balcony.

A thought occurred… Roadtrip USA! The decision was made. It was almost 6:00am on Sunday, May 18, 1980, and barely 250 miles to the south, after two months of rehearsals, Mt. St. Helens was getting ready for her close-up.

Shotgun!, Keith said.

I’d been in Vancouver for nearly five years already, but my friend Keith had arrived from the east only weeks before. He was up for anything that increased his fun quotient in this newly-minted left-coast, and if it involved wheels and had no agenda, so much the better. Riding shotgun? I laughed. It was a roadtrip – unplanned and spontaneous – and he would be the only other person in the car where else was he going to sit?

Sustained by that morning’s hot coffee and hastily consumed cold pizza from the night before, we drove south, heading for the Peace Arch border crossing in Washington State and the Chuckanut Drive. Between songs by Journey, Queen and AC/DC, the radio was telling us that the border line-ups were fairly light due to the early hour. It was cool and cloudy, but the forecast called for clearing later in the morning. That surely meant other Sunday drivers would soon be out and about, and the borders would get more and more congested as the day progressed. The radio also said that Mt. St. Helens was again spewing steam while it continued to rumble and shake. They’d been saying that for months. Indigestion, some said. All talk, no action. Mother Nature venting her spleen, nothing more. Same shit, different day. We paid no attention. I changed the station, cranked it, merged onto Highway 1 and pressed the accelerator. By the time we hit the border thirty minutes later (a new record I liked this new car!) the clouds had started to break up.

Crossing into the U.S. from Canada – even prior to 9/11 – was never a swift process, but this day we were lucky. A late shift change had allowed us to be waved through without the usual third degree – Whats your citizenship? Where do you live? Whats the purpose of your visit? – none of that, just a wave through. We barely came to a stop. Never happened before, hasnt happened since. Fortunate indeed.

7:30am and we’re in Bellingham taking the off-ramp from Interstate 5 into a Chevron gas station for more fuel for my new baby, and more coffee for us. While Keith used the facilities, I checked out The Bellingham Herald, The Seattle Times, and The Seattle Post-Intellgencer newspapers stacked neatly by the doors. Mt. St. Helens this, Mt. St. Helens that. What if? they collectively said. Who really knew?

Part of the old Highway 99 to Seattle called the Chuckanut Drive was always a class “A” picturesque panic to drive. Now known as Route 11, its a narrow, twisty bit of winding road, and it’s always reminded me of the road to Hana on the Hawaiian island of Maui, a trip I’ve done twice, once on a moped (another story for another time!) Travelling on it is an experience the likes of which you rarely encounter elsewhere in North America.

“One could easily imagine being chased by dragons through Middle Earth on a day like this.”

The Chuckanut was built near the turn of the last century, but because automobiles were still in their infancy it was a graded dirt road at the time used primarily by bicycles and horse-drawn buggies. Most of the road was blasted out of the sheer mountain rock face on one side and drops off into the gorgeous watery oblivion that is Samish Bay on the other. When it officially became a highway twenty years later – an auto trail as they called it then – they could only widen it slightly. It has two lanes and a solid yellow line that runs down the centre, but there all similarity to other roads end. Its two lanes are not easily divisible by one car in some places. To this day large trucks, motorhomes and RVs aren’t even allowed on it. If another vehicle is coming in the other direction, well what’s that they say about courtesy?

Throwing caution, and likely a great deal of common sense to the wind, we flew through the bends and curves at speed, the new Pirellis I’d had installed hugging the tarmac like a train on rails. We barely spoke, me concentrating on keeping that yellow line on my left side where it damn well belonged, and Keith staring out the passenger side at the lush abyss below, and wondering if there was ever going to be a return trip. What sun there was created strobes of light on the road and the windscreen as it flashed through the dense canopy of trees overhead. One could easily imagine being chased by dragons through Middle Earth on a day like this. Powering into sweeping left bends, gearing down and braking into sharp hairpin rights, and red-lining across small stone bridges and up hills into the next sweeping left bend, that twenty-minute buzz was exhilarating.

Escaping the talons of the dragons we emerged into the relatively flat 55 miles-per-hour expanse of the Skagit Valley. Slowing down for what seemed like the first time in a week, we eventually came to a junction between the tiny towns of Bow and Edison, Washington. We cruised past the Rhododendron Cafe and turned right at the post office. As we did, Keith pointed and said, Is that Mt. St. Helens? It was actually Mt. Baker, slowly becoming visible in the distance over our shoulder to the south. A good sign the weather was continuing to clear. It was just after 8:00am.

mt-_st-_helens_usgs2

Throughout the 1970s and 80s Edison was known as the town that time forgot, and it was, almost literally. With Interstate 5 (I-5) bypassing the most beautiful sections of the Skagit Valley there was little reason for traffic to go through the town. Once there, there was even less in the way of commerce to entice you to stay.

Edison sits on an ‘S’ curve – more of a discombobulated ‘Z’ curve, truth be told – where West Bow Hill Road and Farm To Market Road meet. Once through the town you’re on a straight line till you hit Highway 20, which will take you to wonderful scenic towns like Anacortes and La Conner to the west, or back to I-5 to the east and south if Seattle is more to your liking.

Keith and I were discussing the very same thing, trying to make a decision, as we took the corner in the first half of the ‘Z’. Seattle for lunch at Pike Place Market? La Conner for the stroll? Anacortes just because?

“I’m glad the brakes worked well on my new car.”

An old Buick had been towing a U-Haul trailer and miscalculated the ‘Z’. The vehicle, now unhitched, was sitting on the left side of the road with its hazard lights flashing. The U-Haul – one wheel in the ditch, the other on the actual road – was perched precariously on its rear doors on the right side of the road, its trailer tongue sticking up in the air like an exaggerated middle finger. We were screwed. A tow truck looked as though it had just arrived and was maneuvering into place to hopefully put the trailer back on the straight and narrow. Regardless, the road was blocked in both directions, so we opted for turning around and heading back to the junction.

Who drives a Buick, anyway? Keith said. We both laughed.

Seriously, I said. I mean — BANG! A small bird had hit the windscreen and lodged itself under the passenger side wiper. I braked, lurching, as we skidded to a stop.

What the hell! I began to say. Keith tapped the window on his side. Look, he said, pointing. A half dozen horses were racing around a fenced-in field, neighing wildly. As we watched, one tried to jump over the fence but tripped and fell over it. Then it got up and galloped away into another field. Instinctively, we rolled down our windows and started to move the car forward, slowly, looking out and around. In the sky, all manner of birds were screaming, swooping and diving haphazardly in all directions not flying instinctively in tight formations as you’d expect. A short distance away a lone cow was on the loose and was literally stampeding up the road ahead of us. Keith said later that he saw other cows knock down an old wooden fence and get tangled in the beams and each other. I accelerated. In the distance, I could see the cow running up a slight rise where a small bridge crossed a creek. It then disappeared over the other side. I drove faster. Then, we too came over the rise.

The cow ran up to and then through a dark cloud, a fog of some sort; a fog not only hanging over the road but right smack in the middle of it. The fog was moving in our direction. WINDOWS! I yelled. ROLL UP THE WINDOWS! I may have used other choice words at that moment too, I don’t recall. No sooner had the car windows been thankfully re-sealed, than I realized what was upon us. I floored it. And drove headlong into thousands upon thousands of BEES! I learned later that at this precise moment it was shortly after 8:30am.

If ever there was a shared WTF moment, that was it. On came the wipers full blast, pumping as much washer fluid onto the windscreen as I could, trying desperately to dilute and remove the bee guts – I’d completely forgotten about the poor bird. I couldn’t see a damned thing out the front of the car, and we were still traveling fast. Keith said, Wheres the cow? I don’t see the cow. I regained my composure, slowed to a crawl and squinted through the yellow-tinted glass, wary, now, of hitting the animal.

As we both looked around trying to see where the bovine had disappeared to, it came running up alongside my car, startling both of us. Apparently, in my own state of agitation, I’d raced right past it. Keith and I both turned to look at the strange sight that was close enough to touch.

In my travels, I’ve witnessed everything from religious devotees piercing their tongues and other intimate body parts with sharp needles at a Thaipusam festival at the Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur, and watched a bloody knife-fight on a street corner in New York City. Ive eaten BBQ grasshoppers off a make-shift Hibachi at four o’clock in the morning in Bangkok, downed deep-fried dog on a stick from a food stall in a back alley in Hong Kong, and returned a plate of parasite-infested swordfish to the kitchen of an expensive restaurant in Vancouver (I’m adventurous not stupid!) I’ve been shot at, had machetes swung at my head and fallen through the ice into frigid waters, twice. But no experience compares to driving along a back country lane and watching as a cow, covered with angry bees, passes you. Surreal doesn’t begin to describe it. I felt like we’d arrived unannounced on a Terry Gilliam film set. Horrified, I pressed gently on the go fast pedal, and sped away from the awful scene.

Keith and I started to laugh, almost uncontrollably. Our eyes and ears couldn’t explain what we were seeing and hearing, and our brains couldn’t compute. There was no frame of reference.

As we reached the junction again a few minutes later, I made the decision to pull into the tiny gas station across from the Rhododendron Cafe. However, there was a huge motorhome in the sole refuelling spot, so I parked along the side of the building and we got out. We walked around to the front of the car. Holy shit! we said, almost in unison. The entire grill, headlights, turning signals and ground-effects air scoop were covered, caked with dead and dying bees. “Yeah, us too”, said the motorhome driver. Keith and I walked over. I could hear rumbling. Had he left his engine running? Is that thunder?

It was only on approaching the RV that I realized he wasn’t refuelling, but spraying water from a hose to clean the front of his rig. The ground around the front of the motorhome was an inch deep in yellow water, and he still hadn’t finished.

What the HELL?! I said. The RV driver pointed behind us. “She finally blew”, he said. We turned and looked. There, due south, on the horizon, a thin wisp of smoke that might have been discounted as just another house fire on any given day. And then, in the distance, more rumbling. It had never occurred to us that an earthquake had caused Mt. St. Helens to erupt sending the animal kingdom into a frenzy.

Middle Earth had just given up the ghost!

mt-_st-_helens_usgs3An hour later, and back on the Canadian side, radio was reporting calamity of all stripes. Volcanic ash falling in the vicinity of the blast, lava flows and something called a pyroclastic flow had been reported by some close enough to see it, but far enough away to reach safety, thankfully. Initial readings of seismic waves revealed an earthquake and several strong aftershocks, and eyewitnesses reported lots of noise and lots and lots of smoke. Prevailing winds were carrying the airborne debris mostly east and south, so they said, but those winds could change direction at any time. Airplanes flying near ground zero radioed that the smoke was reaching their altitude, which meant that the smoke, volcanic ash and poisonous gas could result in a historical global event the likes of which had not been seen since Krakatoa. When that Indonesian volcano erupted in 1883, the explosion was heard more than 2,000 miles away in the Australian city of Perth, its shockwave was recorded to have circled the Earth seven times, and two weeks later parts of England awoke to see volcanic ash falling from the sky. That explosion also affected temperatures worldwide, reducing them by a degree or two, and having a disastrous effect on animal and plant life in many regions of the world for decades after. No one knew what the Mt. St. Helens eruption would mean for us in the Northwest, or the rest of the world.

Two days later the winds had changed slightly. Radio and television were reporting that ash had fallen overnight in parts southern British Columbia. And thats when I noticed it. Among the remains of bee guts mixed with a slight dusting of volcanic ash, someone had hastily written the words ‘Wash Me’ on the hood of my once-gleaming metallic green new car.

Shotgun indeed.

§ § §

mount_st-_helens-rew

I took this photograph of Mt. St. Helens near the town of Randle, Washington in August 2006. Had you not known that it was an active volcano you might assume this was just another majestic Northwest mountain. Perhaps its true, maybe time does heal all wounds.

As for the Chuckanut Drive and the area of the Skagit Valley in and around Bow, not much has changed. It’s still one of the best drives you can take anywhere in the world for my money, and out of Vancouver going south, or out of Seattle heading north, its still just a day trip.

Edison, on the other hand, has changed quite a bit. You now have every reason to stop and enjoy that discombobulated ‘Z’ curve and the commerce that’s been a part of it for the past half a dozen years. It now boasts a couple of taverns, an art gallery, a fun second-hand collectibles shop, a spectacular bakery, and one of the best wine and cheese shops to be found anywhere. In fact, I’d say Edison is now a featured destination. If you needed a reason to drive the Chuckanut – other than for the sheer beauty and exhilaration – Edison would be it.

Personal, Politics, Spies

Paradise By The Dashboard Light

December 24, 2015

“Time will bring to light whatever is hidden;
it will cover up and conceal what is now shining in splendor.”
– Horace

§ § §

Did I ever mention that I was chased out of Area 51 by the camo dudes a few years ago? Honest to God Wackenhut brush cuts with mirrored glasses driving a regulation-issue gray-coloured truck (Built Ford Tough, apparently). True story. One for another day, perhaps. For now, this…

The acknowledgment by the CIA of the existence of the infamous top secret desert location known variously as Groom Lake, Dreamland, Skunk Works and Paradise Ranch, was accompanied by the release of an ‘official’ 407-page internal document detailing its lengthy classified history. To those of us who pay attention to such things this was not news; the admission, yes, the existence, not so much. But thanks for the paperwork anyway, guys.

The whole story reminds me of one of my trips to the American Southwest and my brush with military secrecy.

After zipping past the ‘Deadly Force Authorized‘ signs about 16 miles down a dirt road off Nevada’s Route 375, I received an abrupt about-face and the bum’s rush from the blacked-out windows of the knobby-tired four-by-four, one of several dotting the hills around the main gate. Yes, I knew exactly where I was and exactly what I was doing, but I wanted to see if the envelope could be pushed a little. I pushed, and they pushed back.

rachel_nevadaReturning somewhat hastily to the Extraterrestrial Highway’s blacktop, I headed northwest toward the town of Rachel, Nevada and the comfort of a cold beer at the bar attached to a loose affiliation of mobile homes called the Little Ale-Inn.

After checking in, I was quaffing a pop and listening to Little Ale-Inn owner Pat tell stories about the ‘camo dudes’ to a group of four Brits. I overheard them say they were in Las Vegas for a convention, and they’d rented a vehicle for two days so they could come to the desert see and the aliens. One of them had a hand-drawn map of the small town, and I noticed a crudely-drawn squiggly line on it leading into the desert next to where it said ‘Rachel’. It just stopped in the middle of nowhere with the words: ‘Back Gate’. I was unaware there was such a thing.

After the Brits had left, I asked Pat what this ‘back gate’ was all about.

“How do you know about that?!” she said. “There’s not even much information on the Internet about that – a couple of fuzzy pictures maybe, but…” I mentioned the map squiggle, and she dismissed it with a ‘pfft’ and a wave of her hand. Then she paused. “You wanna go…?”

Hell yes, I wanna go, I thought. “That might be fun,” I said.

Outside the bar next to the kitchen she pointed to a road a quarter of a mile away that lead to a ranch. “When you get to the ranch, hang a left and stay on it. You’ll know when you’ve gone far enough,” she said with a sly smile. “If you’re not back by dinner time, I’ll sell your shit and give your room away.” Her laugh was more of a cackle. The screen door to the kitchen slammed and bounced.

§ § §

Anyone remember that cool TV movie from the 70s called “Duel“?  It starred Dennis Weaver (Gunsmoke, McCloud) as a haggard travelling salesman heading home after a long road trip (I can relate!) It was Steven Spielberg’s first foray into big-time directing, in fact.

Early in the film the salesman accidentally sideswipes a semi truck hauling gasoline and spends the rest of the movie trying to escape the evil intentions of the rig driver who wants him to pay for his driving indiscretion. All this is played out with almost no dialogue, and you never see the driver of the semi – never. So when the Weaver character sucks the semi driver into a duel between the vehicles – ergo, the title – and the truck, driver and all, goes to its fiery death off a cliff, you still have no idea who the driver was.

At one point in the film, the salesman spots the rig at a truck stop cafe and watches as the driver enters the restaurant. But he only sees his boots. The Weaver character enters the restaurant and tries to ‘unmask’ the driver by surreptitiously checking the footwear of everyone in the cafe.

Okay – now that you’ve got that premise locked in your mind, on with my story.

§ § §

The road was not unlike the main Area 51 road I’d been chased from earlier, though closer to the rolling hills that conveniently blocked surreptitious views of the massive hangars that housed reverse engineered flying saucers (I read that somewhere). The dust I kicked up was surely acting like an environmental smoke alarm to anyone who might be paying attention. Mind you I was driving a metallic blue Chrysler PT Cruiser – in the blazing hot desert sun they could see my ass from space!

area_51_back_gateAbout thirty minutes in, at a respectable speed of around 30 miles per hour, I found myself doing the usual ups and downs, lefts and rights until I came to a sharp bend to the left at the base of a small mountain. It was getting toward dusk, and although the road was becoming increasingly difficult to navigate, I resisted the urge to turn on the headlamps.

About a mile further, I began to make out tall poles with large lights on them, a small building with windows, and a gate with an oversized ‘stop’ sign. I could also see that the gate was up, and a car was coming towards me… at a high rate of speed! The gate dropped. The dust from the oncoming vehicle was swirling like a vortex behind it. Not sure what to do, I continued my slow pace toward almost certain arrest and a $600 fine.

As the approaching vehicle was about to reach my position I noticed the driver had his window rolled halfway down just like the camo dudes from earlier in the day. There was only one occupant in this gray Ford four-by-four. All I saw was a hand. It waved at me! I waved back. I also made a quick mental note of the government-issue license plate and drove on toward the gate which was now only a few hundred yards away.

Four of the tall poles indeed had lights, for they suddenly came on and were pointed in my direction. A fifth pole had an immense video camera attached to it, and it too was pointed in my direction. The objective lens on this thing must have been six inches in diameter – probably worked in conjunction with night vision for clarity.

I could see the guard standing, silhouetted in the shack from what sunlight was left coming through the glass on the other side. There were a few small outbuildings scattered around, an unusually long semi trailer with a white tarp covering its cargo, and a sand-coloured school bus sitting empty just beside the semi. I’d seen that school bus before, up close at around 8:00 am that morning at a Chevron station in Alamo, Nevada fifty miles back. The driver was filling up his tank one pump over from me. I had followed this bus – empty then too – all the way to the Area 51 turn off, where I began my day. It continued, apparently, taking the back door to Groom Lake.

I was stopped. I got out of the car and considered walking the final hundred yards or so, but site security appeared to have other options in mind. Vehicles such as mine (‘unauthorized’ is a word that came to mind) had nowhere to go but forward and back. My interest in the school bus, the gate and what lay beyond was broken by movement in the lights. They were on remote control gimbals so they could be directed anywhere. I scanned the horizon, and the guard gate now directly in front of me. I was apparently of some interest, as a second human appeared at the gate. It was then that I noticed a familiar sign: Photography Prohibited – Deadly Force Authorized

It was pretty clear that a guided tour was going to be out of the question.

The second human was slowly shaking his head from side to side. The international symbol for, “Don’t Even Think It”…? Maybe. I got back in the car, drove a little further, then did a three-point turn and began my trek back to the main highway. One last glance in the rearview mirror revealed a beautiful sunset as the lights snapped off and dimmed.

little_alien_motelArriving back at the Little Ale-Inn in a cloud of dust (there’s no other way), I noticed a Ford truck parked in front of the bar. A GRAY Ford truck with government-issue plates. Pat had commented earlier: “…since no one knows what they look like they might be comin’ in here every day and drinking beer in their down time. I’m sure someone around here knows people on the other side of those hills.” That seemed more than a little prophetic.

Shit! So now I’m at a disadvantage. If the guy’s inside, he will most certainly recognize me: baseball cap, beard, fear-of-God look on face… yeah, I’m busted. But how would I recognize him…? More importantly, who would he be seated with? Who would he be talking to? Do other people in here know him and what he does?

I went in.

There were seven people not including a young woman tending bar, and the cook. Three seated at the bar proper – a pair and a single – and four at tables, two and two. Pat was nowhere to be seen. Now, where is he, I wondered? I suddenly felt a certain kinship with Dennis Weaver. Yup – life was definitely imitating art.

I took a seat at the bar and as coolly as possible under the circumstances ordered a beer. Calmly, I surveyed the situation and attempted to study the faces. Alternating sips of beer with furtive looks, I managed to spill most of the beer on my shirt. Okay – ‘cool’ is out, plan ‘B’ is in.

I discounted three of them right away – they were women. The other four didn’t look quite right: one was overweight, scruffy and wearing a ratty ball cap. I took him for the five ton moving truck out front. Another two were clean cut, Jehovah’s Witness types sipping iced tea. So… that left one – a single sitting at the bar. Could be. Didn’t seem to be talking to anyone in particular and wasn’t paying much attention to anything going on in the bar. I stared at him for any tell-tale signs of government-issue.

In the back, I heard the cook say, “Sounds good. See ya Saturday.” An eighth?

The screen door in the kitchen slammed and bounced. A beat later a car door followed suit.

Looking out the sliding glass window beside the bar I watched as the gray Ford truck reversed, turned, and drove away in a cloud of dust.

So, someone here DOES know people on the ‘other side’!

Books, Travel

Drive, She Said

September 8, 2015

“The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd.
The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.”

– Albert Einstein

§ § §

Let’s begin with an indisputable fact of nature. No one has ever travelled around the world using an automobile as the means of transportation… ever. Can’t be done. Geography is a bitch in that regard, always putting seawater in the way of a good ribbon of blacktop, or even a navigable dirt road for that matter. Nope, sorry – can’t get there from here.

This doesn’t stop people from suggesting they have, or will do just that – drive around the world.

However, take away the literal context of the journey, and add a ship or three to assist in the ‘portaging’ of said vehicle across vast expanses of ocean, and attempts to accomplish such a feat take on a competitive edginess.

heidi-hetzerHistory shows that for well over a hundred years many would-be thrill-seekers, from all walks of life, have attempted to circumnavigate the globe by car, several also laying siege to the claim of having been the first to do so. Whether merely pursuing a sense of adventure, participating in sponsored or money-making schemes, or simply for the bragging rights, the words ‘drive around the world’ have always held a certain sense of freedom, excitement and escape, even danger. And it’s not just men who have fallen victim to this internal combustion version of wanderlust – women have not only tackled this ‘extreme’ pursuit, they have excelled.

Heidi Hetzer hopes to be one of those women. And therein lies the beginning of a story with more twists and turns than the Nürburgring.

TO INFINITY, AND BEYOND

Heidi owns one of the largest automobile dealership chains in Germany, and cars have always been a part of her life. She is also a race car driver and has competed in many major races including international rallies such as the famous ‘Mille Miglia‘. In 2013, she embarked on her dream quest in her treasured Hispano-Suiza roadster. The car is 91-years-old. Heidi is 75.

hispano-suiza

As Heidi tells it, the inspiration for her long trip comes from a book she read a few years ago about the first woman to drive around the world, a feat completed back in 1929. Heidi thought: ‘Why not me? I can do that, too.’

That ‘first woman’ Heidi read about was fellow German, Clärenore Stinnes. Like Heidi, cars were in Miss Stinnes’ blood, and she was an avid racer. She competed in dozens of automotive competitions and won seventeen first-place trophies by 1927 when she was barely 26-years-old. By then, she was famous throughout Europe for her driving prowess.

Attempting to duplicate this amazing feat of geographical tenacity and skill, if not stamina, is remarkable, especially for someone like Heidi who is now approaching octogenarian status. And taking nothing away from Miss Stinnes’ original accomplishment, Heidi’s plan of following in the footsteps of the first women to drive around the world would be amazing but for one not-so-small detail. With all due respect to Heidi, the story’s not true.

Clärenore Stinnes was not the first woman to drive around the world. Aloha Wanderwell was.

BUMPER TO BUMPER

In a world of competitive ‘firsts’ – first person to reach Antarctica, first person to sail the Pacific Ocean, first person to ascend Mt. Everest – the claim of ‘first person to drive around the world’ has had a murky history, with several men and women staking that claim. Even the Guinness Book of World Records recognizes this (and they get it wrong, too).

But let’s compare these two women and put their accomplishments side-by-side.

clarenore-stinnesClärenore Stinnes left Berlin, Germany on May 25, 1927, at the age of 26 in an Adler Standard 6 automobile. She was accompanied by a cinematographer named Carl (whom she subsequently married), two mechanics, and a support vehicle containing spare parts and equipment. The entire venture was supported by the German automotive industry to the tune of 100,000 Reichsmarks – about $25,000 in 1927 (U.S.) dollars, which has a relative value over $300,000 today. Using ferries, ships and other modes of assisted transportation, Miss Stinnes and company returned to Berlin two years after departure.

Aloha Wanderwell left Nice, France on December 29, 1922, having recently celebrated her 16th birthday. She was accompanied by a Polish aloha-wanderwelladventurer and cinematographer named Walter (whom she subsequently married) driving a modified Model-T Ford. This particular ‘Tin Lizzie’ had a canvas roof and plywood floorboards, but no windows. There were no support vehicles, no spare parts and no extra equipment. They had no external cash support whatsoever. The entire venture was supported solely by Aloha’s and Walter’s wits and resourcefulness. Using ferries, ships and other modes of assisted transportation, Miss Wanderwell and company returned to the south of France five years after departure.

In short, Aloha not only began her circumnavigation of the globe while still a teenager, and more than four years prior to Miss Stinnes’ departure, she completed her trip while Clärenore was still on the road.

Was Clärenore Stinnes the first woman to drive around the world? No. Was she the fastest? Quite likely. But there can ever only be one ‘first’, and Aloha is it.

THE AMELIA EARHART OF THE OPEN ROAD

If you suspect that I have an axe to grind, or perhaps a hidden agenda in my telling this story, congratulations, you’re wearing the clever trousers today.

The world is full of people and events lost in the wisps of time. Aloha Wanderwell is one of those.

composite

Aloha was once spoken of in the same company as Karen Blixen, Beryl Markham, Nellie Bly and Amelia Earhart. She was one of the most celebrated adventurers of her day. Her importance is such that museums the world over contain collections of Wanderwell memorabilia and artifacts from her global tours and explorations during the 1920s and 1930s. The Smithsonian Institution maintains a Wanderwell section in their archives for her films and photographs, and they regard her as one of the foremost ethnographers of her day.

Now, a new book will finally tell her amazing story. It will place her and her accomplishments – including being the First Woman to Drive Around the World – back into the pages of history where she rightfully belongs, and introduce her to a new audience.

The new book is called, “Aloha Wanderwell: The Border-Smashing, Record-Setting Life of the World’s Youngest Explorer”. It is the culmination of many years’ of research, travel, writing and editing by myself and my co-author, Chris Fink-Jensen.

To suggest this project had a long gestation period might give the false impression it was completed in nine months. It was not. The research phase alone took some years and plenty of international travel to both established and esoteric archives alike. The book was written once and rewritten three times because of the eye-popping discoveries we made while attempting to document this adventurous woman’s life and times.

Discovering that she was Canadian was the first revelation… how had we, nor anyone else, never heard of her?! Then, astonishingly, we found ‘Aloha Wanderwell’ was not her real name. We uncovered a birth certificate buried in government bureaucracy that revealed her true birth name and proved she was born in Winnipeg, and then raised in North Vancouver and Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island. We unlocked a long-hidden tin box containing her personal diaries begun the first day she left the south of France in 1922 at the age of sixteen. We found her daughter living in an extended care facility in Honolulu, and her son living on a houseboat in Sausalito – both siblings now in their 80s – and two granddaughters. They all opened their homes, their hearts, and their memories to us, thrilled that we were going to tell Aloha’s story. But that wasn’t all we discovered.

foia-fbi

Some photographs and documents hidden amongst her personal memorabilia, and notes, references and marginalia scattered throughout her personal writings, contained references to people, events, places and dates that appeared, at first blush, to have no correlation to the story we were telling. Was there still more to this tale, more to her life and adventures that we hadn’t uncovered?

hooverSixty Freedom of Information Act (FOIA – American) requests, a half dozen Access To Information Act (ATIA – Canadian) requests, queries to British government archives, and countless hours poring over subterranean historical material at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., revealed a second, completely unknown history buried in the shadows.

Documents, internal memos, ‘action reports’ and even personal correspondence involving the FBI, the Justice Department, the Secret Service, purvismilitary intelligence on three continents, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (now Homeland Security) revealed that Aloha and her companion Walter, were under constant surveillance. They were being investigated for various unsavory matters, including espionage. J. Edgar Hoover himself was so concerned about the Wanderwell’s world tour, he issued specific instructions to more than 20 FBI field offices requesting “…any and all information…” about their activities. Melvin Purvis, the G-Man who a few years later would ‘get’ gangster John Dillinger, was put in charge.

And then, of course, there was the murder. The killing that remains unsolved to this day. What about that…?

Aloha’s life was many things, boring was not one of them.

From the book’s publicity material:

“During the Roaring Twenties a young girl ventured to the ends of the earth armed with nothing but a car, a camera, a few companions, a make-up kit and an attitude. Within a few short years she had driven around the world, hunted elephants and tigers, dined with world leaders, dodged a Russian firing squad, fought alongside Chinese warlords, talked her way into and out of countless life-threatening confrontations and become the kind of media star only Hollywood could invent. She had also become the centerpiece of one of the biggest unsolved murder mysteries in American history. Her name was Aloha Wanderwell. This is a true story.”

PETAL TO THE METTLE

If you think that Aloha, Clärenore and Heidi are ‘vehicular’ exceptions, go stand in the corner.

The first long-distance journey by automobile was also a promotional tour, and the car’s very first endurance test. The year was 1894. The driver was Bertha Benz (yes, THAT Benz), wife of Carl who actually invented the motorcar.

The first person in history ever to pass a driving test was the French Duchess Anne d’Uzes. The Duchess was also the first person in history to ever receive a speeding ticket (you go girl!)

londonderryThen, of course, there’s Annie Londonderry (aka Annie Cohen Kopchovsky), the world’s first ‘spokes-woman’, so to speak. Annie was the first person to ‘drive around the world’ on TWO wheels. She bicycled her way from Boston and took the long way back… in 1895!

Women such as Violet Cordery, Alice Ramsey, Osa Johnson, Dorothy Levitt, and many, many more, all made their mark in the motorcar world long ago. And although Aloha was only 16-years-old when she began her life’s journey, other young girls were getting a head start even sooner. In 1916, the Girl Scouts of America introduced the ‘Automobiling Badge’ for which girls between the ages of 11 (!) and 17 had to demonstrate driving skill, auto mechanics, and first aid.

Ladies, start your engines!

Personal, Travel

Welcome To The Breakfast Show

August 27, 2015

“I was born in a cross-fire hurricane.
And I howled at my ma in the driving rain.
But it’s all right now, in fact, it’s a gas!”

– ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, Rolling Stones

§ § §

I: By The Time We Got To Woodstock

Danniel (with two ‘N’s) wandered over to me beer in hand, a common sight. Barely audible over the din of the party, he yelled, “Road trip! You in…?” Here we go again, I thought, and rolled my eyes. “Hey, c’mon, man. Hear me out!” And so I did.

Danniel liked the Stones, but loved the Airplane. He knew I was a Stones fan, too, and that I loved Santana. So that night he tried to twist my arm into traveling with him to a concert to see all three. “That would be great, right?” he’d yelled. “Hard to argue,” I’d yelled in response.

But there were obstacles. It was November, and there was snow on the ground, lots of snow. And this concert was in San Francisco. “That’s California,” I’d said. “Are you nuts? That’s… that’s a thousand miles away!” More, he’d said. Fine. But then there was the issue of transportation – how would we get there?

Obstacles for sure, but there were mitigating circumstances as well. Could I be swayed…?

breakfast-show_05Danniel had recently gotten his much older girlfriend pregnant. They were getting married in June as soon as school let out, and the baby was due not much later. Everyone involved seemed okay with it, especially his father. He was so thrilled he bought Danniel a car as an engagement present. And not just any car – a used 1963 two-tone, shit-brindle-brown Lincoln Continental with suicide doors and automatic-electric everything. The beast could sleep six without popping the trunk. But Danniel was antsy. He desperately needed to get outta Dodge before his life changed forever, he’d said, and a free rock ‘n roll concert in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park (where it was much warmer for starters) seemed like the perfect ticket. Danniel was 16-years-old.

I was 15, and I’d already been burned once that year by a ‘road not taken’. At the time that happened I was only pissed that I’d missed hanging with Keith and Butchy for a few days south of the border. A couple of months later, when the impact of what I’d missed went global, I lost my shit.

It began like this…

On a hot Saturday afternoon, I was stuffed into a lurching school bus along with three-dozen other teenagers – all male, all about my age, all heading home. The bus was on loan to the Canadian Army from some rural Catholic parish – Our Lady of Something or Other printed in big black Helvetica on the side. The bus was transporting us from Camp Ipperwash on the shores of Georgian Bay back to the thriving metropolis of London from whence we came. I had marched, bivouacked, fought, bitched, complained, and marched for the past six weeks. To make matters worse, this was the summer of 1969, and I had the shortest hair of anyone I knew. I couldn’t wait to kick the Army-issue attitude to the curb, drop the khaki fatigues, and slip back into t-shirt, shorts, and sneakers. And a hat. I was glad to be going home, but I had to wonder… how had Keith and Butchy’s roadtrip worked out…?

They had come to visit me at the camp a week earlier in Butchy’s pride and joy: a turquoise Chevy Nova. It had more bark than bite, the curse of a small block engine, but it had Mickey Thompsons, hood pins, and a giant STP sticker on a hood that we’d all painted flat black with spray cans back at the first sign of spring. Even when it was parked it looked like it was going fast. At least that’s what we told ourselves.

Cruising the drag that day in Grand Bend with the windows down and the music up, Keith and Butchy were trying to persuade me to go on a road trip they had planned for the following weekend. We’d done a handful of minor trips in the past year, mostly to The Pinery to camp out, look for girls, and get drunk. I’m pretty sure we were all still virgins at this point. Well, maybe not Butchy. The Pinery was always a great place to test those waters – the girls were just as adventurous as we were – but nothing much ever happened, so the order of priorities frequently changed.

Between Army camp and Labour Day I had only two weeks of summer left before Grade 10 commenced, and I began work on the school play. So I was all ears. I wanted to know what the master plan was. “Where ya goin’, anyways? What’s the deal…?”

“Rock and roll, baby!” Keith said, “Rock and fucking roll!” Butchy wasn’t giving this intervention his full attention. He was concentrating on a well-developed bikini on the back of a Kawasaki that had just pulled up next to us. “Ya gotta come, man,” Keith continued. “Fuck theatre arts – this is life. Besides, school doesn’t start till after Labour Day. We’ll be back long before then.”

“We’re leaving on Thursday morning,” Butchy finally said. “Cross the border into Buffalo, be at ground zero by late afternoon. Tent pitched and scopin’ chicks by dinnah tahm.”

“Pass me anuthah beah, tarbender!” Keith added. We all laughed, but Keith and I shared a knowing glance. We both knew from experience that we’d be the ones pitching the tent, while Butchy pitched himself to the ladies. “Three days of peace and music, if you catch my drift. Pure bliss, pal.” Butchy’s favourite saying. Keith just kept laughing and shook his head.

That capped it – I couldn’t go. I was at camp until Saturday afternoon. I may only have been a cadet, but the army still had fairly strict rules about going AWOL.

So that’s what I was thinking all the way home in that crowded, sweltering school bus. What was this rock and roll weekend going to be like? What was I missing?

It was August 16th, and at that precise moment I was missing Santana take the stage at Woodstock. So, yeah – you might say I had my own mitigating circumstance.

It took a couple of more conversations – quiet ones, no more yelling – and a few more beers before Danniel and I decided to piss on the pitfalls and embrace the adventure of possibility. Danniel’s parents…? His mom had passed away, and his dad had given him the Beast, so yeah – he got it. My parents…? Fuck it! We were going on a road trip!

§ § §

II: Born To Be Wild

This was the plan…

Monday after school we’d pack the car, drive to Sarnia and cross the water into Michigan, and then head south. Continuing south, we’d drive until the snow disappeared, and then hang a right and drive straight to the coast. We gave ourselves four days – plenty of time. Seemed simple enough.

Monday blew past like a Denny McLain fastball. Before we knew it the Beast’s trunk was loaded and we were ready to depart. My idea of packing was somewhat less bohemian than Danniel’s.

Me: 2 changes of clothes, 1 toilet kit, 1 blanket.
Danniel: 1 blanket, 2 two-fours of Labatt’s Blue.

Packing didn’t take long. By dinnertime we were off.

The snow persisted for more than ten hours. As the sun was coming up around breakfast time the next day, we were just within sight of the Louisville city limits. The skies opened, the sun came out, and the roads were clear as far as the eye could see. We made our pre-destined right-hand turn.

The half dozen music mix tapes that Keith had made especially for us (labeled Stuff 1 through Stuff 6) were getting heavy airplay courtesy of the Craig 8-track sound system Danniel had installed in the Beast. Marvin Gaye, Steppenwolf, Cream, Hendrix, CCR, Bowie, Sly, Zep, and of course Santana and the Stones. Music up. Cruise control on. California here we come!

Cruise control off. The break in the snowfall had been just that – a break. Approaching St. Louis we made the decision to slide on down toward Oklahoma where we serpentined our way through more snow. The white out conditions rendered any serious attempt at keeping the car on the road a 50/50 proposition at best. Black ice leading to blind ditches was a combination barely avoided on several occasions. My nerves were on edge. And I wasn’t driving.

Somewhere in Oklahoma (God knows where!) we detoured again and headed south, then west driving through the Texas panhandle, and skimming the tops of New Mexico and Arizona. We made for Las Vegas, thankful for the desert and warmer climes.

There was nothing but blackness on the highway for hours, then – BOOM! Vegas reached out of the darkness with throbbing neon fingers as we approached. Was it beckoning us to come closer, welcoming us into its grip, or warning us, waving us away? We were too tired to entertain any activities The Strip may have offered, and we were way behind schedule. We crashed at a cheap motel in Henderson. They were the first real beds since leaving Southern Ontario four days earlier.

At the first hint of light we were back on the road, blasting through Death Valley, finally on our way to San Francisco. It was Saturday December 6th. Concert day. We made the city limits around lunchtime.

§ § §

III: Go Ask Alice

A couple of days earlier, at a gasbar in Texas (maybe New Mexico, who knows) we heard a rumour that the concert at Golden Gate Park had been cancelled. Parking issues with an expected 100,000 plus fans apparently the cause. Someone else said they’d heard on the radio that Sears Point Raceway was the new venue. Regardless, it didn’t matter to us – we didn’t know where these places were anyway. We needed answers and directions and soon. And food, sooner.

breakfast-show_08We pulled off the 101 into the Mission District, and stopped into a family restaurant for much-needed sustenance, and some much-needed information. After quickly gorging on a cheeseburger and fries (his), and a Chicken Clubhouse (mine), we settled on a plan. I was still in Cadets, and I still had the shortest hair, so it made sense that the these people would be more likely to talk to me, and not Danniel, whose hair was long past dusting his shoulders. I was now the designated requester of directions.

Had I given the mostly middle-aged clientele of this eatery even a cursory look before I started grazing the tables, I would have known without asking that they were the last people in Frisco to have known or cared where the Rolling Stones were staging their free concert.

Stymied, I hit on what I hoped was a brilliant solution: The Fillmore. Fillmore West was one of those rock palace meccas that became positively iconic in the 1960s. Everyone who was anyone, especially if they were SFO-based, played the Fillmore.

On the way there, amidst a plethora of fantastic FM radio stations in the Bay area, we’d settled on KSAN (I still have the t-shirt). We were rewarded with the news that the ‘free’ concert was now underway at Altamont. Shit! Ten minutes later Danniel and I were introducing ourselves to Tulip in a messy suite of offices on the top floor of Fillmore West, and asking what and where Altamont was.

Tulip was short and cute, with long red hair in pigtails. She wore a bustier, a purple mini skirt, purple ‘Roger McGuinn’ glasses that were perched on the end of her nose, and purple go-go boots. Tulip corrected me – the go-go boots were ‘fuschia’, not purple. “Oh, most definitely,” she said.

breakfast-show_03She was surprised to see us, because no one was around. Everyone was at the Rolling Stones concert at the Altamont Speedway, she said. She was even more surprised that we’d come so far. “Wow! Canada! That’s a long way. You must be disciples or something. Groovy!” We asked about directions to Altamont. She proceeded to tell us all about the free concert issues and the seemingly constant shifts in finding a location. Then she added: “Everyone in town is trying to come to terms with the issues of the day. The persecution of young people by the ‘Man’, you know? And the oppression we feel over our entitlement to free expression and free thought.”

I could dig it, but we needed directions, not an SDS tract.

Danniel had had enough. Remembering the middle-aged restaurant clientele, he said, “Everyone? Not everyone in town can feel that way…” he chided her. “Oh, most definitely,” Tulip said.

Our window was rapidly closing. “Directions…?” I asked again. “How do we get to this race track? Where is it, exactly?”

“It’s not a race track, it’s a speedway,” Tulip said. “Cars, not horses.”

Danniel saw a stack of napkins on a sideboard, grabbed one and handed it to our flower child. “A map! Could you draw us a map?” he said, barely containing his frustration.

“Oh, sure. Just jump on the highway and head outta town. It’s about an hour east.” She took a pencil and began drawing lines on the napkin. Danniel and I looked at each other, and then he looked at his watch.

The lines, as it turned out, were practically meaningless – tic-tac-toe without the symbols. Next to those lines she wrote, “Go this way,” with an arrow pointing to the right side of the napkin. I assumed this meant ‘east’. Underneath she wrote, “Good luck. Have fun. Love always. Toolip.” The two Os were little hearts.

breakfast-show_13“Well, THAT was a fuckin’ waste of time! Jesus!” Danniel said as we jumped back into the Lincoln. He gunned the V8 and wheeled out into traffic without looking, squealing the tires and blowing smoke. I reminded him that this was the city where they shot ‘Bullitt’ and that he should be careful. “A Charger could come FLYING OUT OF A BLIND ALLEY at any moment,” I said, trying to put a smile on the deteriorating situation. Danniel wasn’t biting. He was serious, and he was seriously pissed off. I kept forgetting that he’d been doing all the driving, and the fatigue he was feeling must have been overwhelming. His crankiness had been earned.

About two minutes into our ‘getaway’, I consulted Toolip’s ‘map’. I knew from San Francisco’s orientation on the coast that we were paralleling the ocean on our right, so that meant we were headed south (I took my role as navigator seriously). I started to say to Danniel, “We’re headed south, so we should –”

“Fuck that stupid MAP!” he said. He grabbed the napkin out of my hand and tossed it into the back seat. “The first opportunity we’re turning left and heading east. Yell when you see a freeway.”

As we drove through an intersection, I attempted to retrieve the crumpled napkin. I noticed the sign of the cross street: Haight Street. My mind raced. “Danniel, um… that was Haight we just crossed.”

“What?!” he said. “Haight. Haight Street? Haight-Ashbury…?” Danniel looked at me with recognition. Then resignation. “FUUUUCK!” he yelled. Steve McQueen took the next right at speed, on an amber, drifting to the left. As we hurtled around the corner, I held on and secretly hoped we’d lose a hubcap, just for effect.

§ § §

IV: Do You Believe In Magic

We did NOT have time for this. But, hey… we were there, and when would we be again?

breakfast-show_10Haight-Ashbury is to San Francisco, what the Left Bank is to Paris. What Greenwich Village is to New York City. What gin is to vermouth. People who have never been to the Bay Area acknowledge the significance of the neighbourhood. Since the Summer of Love, more than two years earlier, this was pretty much ‘hippie central’. Or so we thought. As we were about to find out, by 1969 the area was barely a shadow of its former self.

Danniel and I wandered in concentric circles. We made our way to a park trying in vain to find 1967. And then, there it was, or at least the last vestiges of it. Or maybe a group of actors trying to recreate it. We wandered into the park and mingled. The whole corner of that park looked, felt and smelled like an acid-induced renaissance fair. I walked into the crowd of maybe a hundred people and immediately was swallowed by it. It was intoxicating. What a trip! I turned around with a big stupid grin on my face to see where Danniel was. Where was Danniel? I’d lost Danniel.

I turned around again and found myself face-to-face with a very pretty girl. She had long blond hair, a freshly painted flower on each cheek, and eyes as big as moons. She handed me a roach clip clinging to the tiniest of burning hash embers. A feather wisp of sweet smoke curled around her face. “Here… go ahead,” she said. I complied and inhaled. She smiled and tried her best to run her fingers through my hair. “You look funny,” she said, continuing to smile. Maybe it was the moment. Maybe it was the location. Maybe it was the ‘medicine’. I leaned forward and kissed her. She tasted like a girl. She giggled and began to move away from me, slowly fading into the crowd, disappearing into the colour of the corner. It was only then that I noticed she was naked. And pregnant.

I finally spotted Danniel on the other side of the street carrying a paper bag. He waved, and then pointed to a large sign. I looked. Golden Gate Park. How funny was that?!

Danniel was waving again. He pointed to his watch. I nodded. As I started to leave, I looked over my shoulder. Through the wrong end of the binoculars I could see what it was, what it had been, for real. People laughing, singing, dancing. Frisbees floating on air, competing for attention with soap bubbles being blown by… who knows how many people. People of all shapes and sizes… A guy with dreads sitting on the grass playing a lute. Bongos, and a recorder somewhere. And flowers… lots of flowers. Man, what was it like actually living here, I thought. As I stood on the corner waiting for the light to change I saw her. An elderly gray haired woman in a paisley pattern kaftan was sitting in a wheelchair and sucking on a makeshift hookah, her German Shepherd keeping watch beside her on the sidewalk. Haight-Ashbury, circa late 1969.

We jumped in the car and headed east.

§ § §

V: When The Truth Is Found To Be Lies

We knew the concert was already underway. That knowledge was a bitter pill. The thought of how much we had missed – how much we were still going to miss – burned. I wanted to turn the radio on, so we could at least get a play-by-play analysis of what was happening. Danniel didn’t even look at me when he said, “Don’t.”

We had lost all our enthusiasm. The whole trip had become an exercise in blending – one day into the next, one experience into the next, one distraction into the next. We were on the cusp of seriously losing it altogether, when our whereabouts suddenly was in question.

“We’re now 75 miles east of San Franscisco,” Danniel said, acknowledging what the odometer had been predicting for about ten minutes. “Where the fuck are we?!” He looked over at me.

We had driven through Livermore and were definitely headed for Tracy, but… we should have been there by then. I hastily consulted Toolip’s map again, hoping it would magically all make sense now. It didn’t. We were missing it, we were losing it, and we were fucking lost! Most definitely.

I was about to suggest we turn around when two low-flying helicopters buzzed overhead. One had large radio or maybe TV call letters emblazoned on its side. “They have to be going to the concert,” I said. “Which means Altamont is back there,” Danniel said pointing over his left shoulder, “and over thataway.”

breakfast-show_15A few minutes later we made the first left turn available, and then we saw it – traffic from hell, all six lanes of it. We made a slow curve down onto the highway becoming part of a parade of vehicles heading west. Ironically, missing the original route turned out to be a big plus. It meant we were approaching the speedway from the southeast, the opposite direction as most of the traffic. Then we heard it… a bass-reflex thumping that sounded familiar. Someone’s radio, perhaps. Maybe the stage….

We were getting close. Cars that weren’t slowing down were parked along both sides of the highway, now – nothing appeared to be getting through. A motorhome suddenly lurched out in front of us. With a loud sustained honk, and a few well-chosen expletives, Danniel quickly reversed into the spot, not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth. He threw the Lincoln into park, and shut off the engine. We looked at each other. “We’re here!” we said almost simultaneously.

Packing the blankets and leftover beer into a canvas bag, along with two orders of street souvlaki Danniel had scored in The Haight, I slammed the trunk shut. We crossed the highway in a slow motion dodge between motorcycles, mini buses and other vehicles that were now moving at funeral speed. Jumping a fence, we trudged through a dry field toward the speedway. Our internal compass led us to join a few thousand other stragglers on the same mission. This is what we’d come so far to be a part of. We were young refugees marching to the sound of a distant drummer that held the promise of peace and music, just like Woodstock. All of us drawn to a beacon of Daliesque rock and roll light a mile or so away, just over a hill.

The weather had cooperated all day, but the temperatures were beginning to dip. The mercury had dropped to near freezing in the Bay Area the night before, and KSAN said that there were portable heaters at the ready near the stage just in case. Some of the massive crowd that had arrived earlier – many the day before when the second change of venue had finally been widely reported – were still jockeying for position, possibly for heat, a frenetic dance of humanity against the music that had long since started. Twilight was already upon us, bringing with it friction and bad vibes mixed with the chilly air. We were dog-tired, so we gave up trying to get closer. Instead, we settled on a flat spot on a hill with a handful of hippies from Oregon about a half-mile from ground zero.

The full velocity of the music that we anticipated wasn’t there. We’d missed Santana AND Jefferson Airplane, and although the recognizable sounds of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were now apparent, their songs and harmonies were reduced to muffled acoustics. The sound was awful. Still, we were there. The great Rolling Stones ‘free’ concert. End of the tour, theirs and ours. Altamont.

§ § §

VI: Freedom’s Just Another Word

The gap between CSN&Y’s set and the arrival of the Rolling Stones on stage was long. Danniel and I drank and smoked, and did our best to enjoy the festivities, to soak it all up, to catch the party atmosphere. But it wasn’t there. It was all pretty hazy.

breakfast-show_01Later, the souvlaki was history, the warm Labatt’s Blue had been reduced to seven empty stubby bottles, the Stones’ erratic set was over, and our hippy friends appeared to be asleep. All except two of them – they were fucking.

The blankets and beers had come in handy, although we were now too stoned to mind the cold that had descended on the retreating, post-concert horde. We were also too tired to move. The weight of driving 2500 miles back to Southern Ontario after four days on the road and an anticlimactic day of seeking our own Woodstock hung heavily. We were road weary. The mechanical humping going on just to our right was at least entertaining.

Wanting to or not, I did think of the drive home. I wanted to go home. I was ready to go home. I had school – I liked school – and I had a lot to catch up on. I was going to stage-manage another play, this one a musical, and rehearsals would start a week before the Christmas break. I had a short story due in English class, and a history project worth 40% of my year was in jeopardy. What the fuck was I doing here?! Was I completely irresponsible? Was I a keener? Would a keener fuck off for more than a week without telling anybody…?

I was an “A” student with a “C” attitude, which meant I got a lot of “B”s. Life has a way of averaging out that way if you’re lucky. I still had the shortest hair of anyone in the world, but at least one girl thought I looked funny and let me kiss her anyway. See – averaging out. But what would my teachers think…? My internal conversation was filled with conflicting arguments. I was counting on the law of averages.

I thought of the drive home – the desert, the plains, and the snow. The snow that was lying in wait, waiting to rise up to fuck with us. I didn’t think of the bands we didn’t or couldn’t see, or the music we could barely decipher – I thought of the drive home.

Then I thought of my mother, my stepfather. What were they thinking? What – were – they – thinking…? What would they say? I hadn’t thought of them once during the trip, not even a flicker. I realized at that moment… I didn’t care. What would the negative results of this impromptu road trip amount to? Would there be any? I didn’t care. I sat forward on that hill, suddenly feeling very lucid, very aware… very alive. I. Didn’t. Care! Huh. Funny how some events, that may seem trivial in the moment, are recognized only much later as having left life-altering consequences in their wake. Mine did. But it would be years later before I made the connection.

I looked over at Danniel. He was watching the stream of people trudge back to the highway and the cars that would carry them home, wherever home was. He looked more than tired, he looked beaten. All the exhilaration of the past four days that had once been so present on his face had fallen away, revealing huge disappointment and failure. He looked lost. I wish I’d had some empathy at that moment, but instead all I felt was excitement. The clarity of my own feelings was crystal – command and control. Command and control of my own life. I thought of my mother and my stepfather again, just to check. Nope. I still didn’t care. I didn’t care what they would say or do. It was what I was going to say to them when I got home that I cared about.

Then, as if to signal the official end of the festivities, to our right there was an orgasm. And that, as they say, was that.

§ § §

VII: Waitin’ On The Judgment Day

It was decided that I would drive. Well, not decided in any democratic sense, so much as through the process of elimination. Danniel had thrown me the keys and said he was going to sleep for a while. He said the cops would be too busy directing the death march of traffic out of the area between Livermore and Tracy to bother checking for valid drivers’ licenses, or even existing ones in my case. Seemed plausible.

Eight hours and two fill-ups later I pulled the Beast into a gas station outside Lake Havasu City, and Danniel took over. He drove the rest of the way home.

breakfast-show_18Two and a half days later, we pulled up at the end of my snow-covered cul-de-sac in London. I grabbed my shit out of the trunk, and told Danniel I’d see him at school. “Yup,” was all he said.

As Danniel drove away, fishtailing on the icy road, I began the slog home in the almost knee-deep snow.

At a distance I could see the curtains were open slightly, and a glow from the two floor lamps we had at opposite ends of the living room spilled out onto the drifts. It was dark and near dinnertime. “Good timing,” I said to myself, more than a little facetiously.

As I took the two shallow steps to the front door, I caught a glimpse of my stepfather lying on the couch watching television. I’d last seen him in the same position eight days earlier. I took a deep breath and entered. As I shook the snow off and began to remove my shoes, he neither stirred nor acknowledged my presence. My mother appeared in the alcove adjacent to the kitchen, spatula in hand.

“So… there you are,” she said. I smiled and gave a half-hearted wave awaiting the barrage. “Dinner’s in twenty minutes,” she said, and returned to the kitchen.

That was it. Not another word. I had been gone for more than a week, but it was good to know dinner would be ready in less than half an hour. What had she said, what had she done about dinner every night at this time over the past week?!

I had been putting up with this from my ‘family unit’ for far too long. If they didn’t want to be parents when I pulled shit like this, then they had lost the right to weigh-in anywhere or anytime else. As far as that history was concerned I was fifteen-years-old, but I could have been twelve, or eight – same shit, different day. Once someone decides to become a parent, they’re a fucking parent. They can be anything else they want as well, but parenting is 24/7, not an episodic avocation. You can’t look after your children Monday through Friday, 9 to 5, with weekends and holidays off. If that’s what they’d wanted, they should have installed a fuckin’ time clock with punch cards at the front door. Buy in, or get out. I’d made my decision.

I looked over at the still-life on the couch. My younger brother made an appearance at the top of the stairs with a wide-eyed ‘what-the-fuck’ look on his face. There was a hint of recognition from Friskie, our pet cat.

Dinner passed without comment. You guys just made this way too fuckin’ easy, was all I could think.

§ § §

VIII: Groovin’ On A Sunday Afternoon

Christmas came and went, likewise, New Years. Three weeks later I turned sixteen – the magic number. A few days after that, I met with three government social workers at City Hall. One of my teachers, Martin, had arranged for me to see them so I could detail my situation, and lay out my plan. I needed their written assessment and eventual approval to move forward. The meeting was scheduled for an hour, the usual amount of time it took for the panel to hear evidence pertaining to a petition for underage emancipation.

Two hours later we finished up. I answered all their questions, and asked plenty of my own. My presence was supported by Martin, who attended for the sole purpose of supplying confirmation about my academic standing, but he went above and beyond, and was one of the reasons this initial meeting went long.

A week later I was summoned to City Hall and presented with a paper form. I was told that my request had passed first reading, and that what was now required was signatures from both parents and a witness acknowledging my petition. There were check boxes that required ticking and initialing for each parent or guardian. One check box said ‘yes’, the other said ‘no’. The question: Do you agree to the terms of this petition? There was space to add further comments if necessary.

After dinner that night I sat both my parents down on the sofa. I handed my stepfather the form. I said, “Read it, initial it, sign it.” He read it, and then looked at me. He initialed it, signed it, and then handed it to my mother. She read it. “Are you sure this is what you want?” she eventually said. I just looked back at her. She initialed it and signed it. I took the paper back to check it – both tick boxes, ‘yes’. A neighbor who I occasionally housesat for witnessed it. Done, and done. All that remained now was the official interview the panel would have with my parents to confirm all the details, and give them one last chance to challenge the petition. They didn’t.

Two weeks later, two large manila envelopes with identical return addresses were delivered to our townhouse. I opened mine. Inside was a three-page official-looking document – Copy 1 of 3, was stamped in the lower right corner. It began,

“As of the execution date of this document, petitioner is granted…”

Blah, blah, blah. I had successfully divorced my parents.

In less than forty-eight hours it was Sunday. I piled the remainder of my belongings into the back seat of Butchy’s Nova. I waved to my mom standing in the living room window. “You got everything?” Butchy asked. “Nah. One more thing…” I said, settling into the bucket seat. “Peel out and squeal the tires!” Butchy laughed. The engine raced, the Mickey Thompsons spun, and we lost our grip fishtailing about twenty feet. Half a donut later we came to an embarrassing stop, sideways. Butchy slammed the steering wheel. “Fuckin’ ice!” Oh well, it’s the thought that counts.

breakfast-show_16That day, I moved into a five-bedroom brown brick bungalow owned by Vinod and Popi, an East Indian couple. Four of the bedrooms had been turned into housekeeping suites for university students. When I interviewed with them, and said I was a student, they assumed I attended Western, and was not just merely half way through Grade 10.

Butchy helped me move my stuff into the front bedroom. We talked about all the cool parties we’d have in this great place, a place for just hanging out. And a place for girls – like I hadn’t thought of that! I wanted to unpack and settle in. I walked with Butchy back to his car. We both stood out front, looking at the house. Snowflakes falling, Christmas lights still up. The place practically screamed ‘Happy Holidays’. Home sweet home, I thought. “Pure bliss, pal,” said Butchy. It was February 22, 1970.

§ § §

IX: The Kids Are Alright

I suddenly became the most popular guy in Grade 10 – I had my own place!

Weekdays were taken up with school, of course – projects, theatre, and creative writing. But weekends were party times. Friends and I would hang out, listen to music, drink, and get small. Occasionally, there was a girl.

As the weather turned and it got warmer, I also spent a lot of time on weekends with Vinny and Popi and their friends and family (many of whom didn’t speak English), cooking and learning about East Indian food and culture. The smells escaping from the newly installed homemade tandoor in the backyard created a huge issue for the neighbours, to say nothing of the Bollywood music blasting out the windows. On those occasions, Popi’s uncle would wander outside with his ceremonial talwar and start to sing and dance. And then the police would show up. Fun times.

That summer Danniel got married and became the father of a baby girl. I didn’t see him much after that. He dropped by Casa Waldo a few times to have a beer and shoot the shit, but we never did talk about the trip to California or Altamont again. I’d heard he’d sold the Beast and bought something more ‘family friendly’. “Yup,” was all he said.

breakfast-show_19The academic standing that Martin, my teacher friend, had been so convincing about on my behalf in front of the emancipation panel, paid off again. It allowed me to alter my own curriculum so long as I continued through Grade 13, in those days considered ‘college prep’. One day at the beginning of July Martin dropped by with a six-pack of Lowenbrau. He talked to me about a new course being offered by a friend of his at a different high school – Communication Arts. You needed decent marks through Grade 10, along with a letter of recommendation to even apply for one spot in a class that was limited to about twenty students. The school was getting applications from all across Ontario. It was a two-year course (Grades 11 and 12), and at the end, provided you graduated in good standing, you received a special course certificate along with your high school diploma. He thought I should apply.

“Right up your alley,” he said. It was bootcamp for radio, television, and filmmaking. Right up my alley, indeed. “You’re running the show, now. Time to move some of those chess pieces around on the board. But don’t wait too long to make up your mind. Let me know this week, okay? I’ll write the letter.”

breakfast-show_14Before he left, Martin handed me a present wrapped in butcher paper, and tied with a string. “Gird your loins,” was all he said, and then burst out laughing.

Popping another beer, I unwrapped the package. It was an old, used hardcover book. Its faded paper sleeve was tattered and could barely hang on. “Quiet Days In Clichy” by Henry Miller. My turn to burst out laughing. Yup, I thought, that’s Martin! Inside he’d written an inscription:

“Your life’s under new management now. Don’t fuck it up! – Martin, The Year Dot.”

I don’t know that I’ve ever been as moved by a gift as I was in that moment. Martin had some great books on his shelf at school, and also at his home where I’d been many times with groups of friends and students, drinking, eating, falling down. His wife, Candy, had bought him this book at Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris during their honeymoon in 1966. Her inscription to him was adjacent to mine:

“A cautionary tale… not a how-to! Ha, Ha, Ha! – Candy”

I blushed because I understood the reference.

§ § §

X: It’s A Gas, Gas, Gas

I got in to the ComArts course, and emerged with the certificate and the diploma. I then arranged my last year in high school, Grade 13, with five English courses, including CanLit, Classics, and Journalism; two theatre courses including theory and stage direction; and two creative writing courses that included play writing. I was set.

That summer I got a job with a cinema rep house playing second-run films in 16mm. It was one of the most consistently popular movie theatres in London. Patrons could see a double-bill for less than the price of a single first-run feature at any of the other cinemas. I became their new projectionist. And concession stand server. And janitor. However, I also managed to put together some killer double bills that increased the theater’s attendance.

The movie house played to a mostly university and college crowd – Western and Fanshawe students accounted for more than half of our clientele. However, because it was summer, most of the students had gone home and our box office receipts had fallen off. It was thought by the theatre owner that younger talent (i.e. me) would attract, and hopefully increase the younger audience with some targeted double bills.

breakfast-show_02My double bills became the talk of the town. Marx Brothers one week, War themed movies the next, then Swedish softcore, followed by a John Waters special week featuring “Pink Flamingos”. Most of the racier films I programmed weren’t available in what was called ‘theatrical 35’. In Conservative ‘Big Blue Machine’ Ontario at the time those films would have been heavily censored, or simply banned outright. My distributors in Toronto and Montreal, however, taught me a valuable secret – most theatrical films also had 16mm copies. They weren’t categorized as ‘theatrical’, but as ‘educational’, the only other designation available. I’m sure John Waters would have pissed himself over“Pink Flamingos” being categorized as having educational merit!

On Tuesday, the first night of its run, we had a smaller than normal house. However, two plainclothes vice squad officers made their presence known about half way through the film. After interviewing the owner, his wife and me, they issued a written ‘shut down and property seizure’ notice if the scheduled six performances were ‘held over’ due to popular demand. They were aware of the loophole, but were sure to close it soon, they said. They never did.

I sprang into action. I wrote a press release and sent it to both campus newspapers. I detailed the police presence and quoted liberally from the ‘asset seizure’ notice. I then offered fifty cents off the ticket price upon presentation of a copy of the published release, good for any screening.

On the Friday night during that run I went out with some friends to celebrate, because we’d sold out three nights straight and even turned people away. More free press! But, I got drunk. Really drunk. I forgot to change the marquee for the Saturday matinee (also my job). It was a FAMILY matinee. A photograph that ran in the Saturday evening edition of the local newspaper showing moms and baby carriages lining up to see “Pink Flamingos” instead of Disney’s “Fantasia” was… awkward. More free press!

I used to receive flyers from distributors detailing new releases to the educational market. One of these flyers was devoted to documentaries. I hit upon what I thought was a terrific idea for a double bill: D.A. Pennebaker’s “Monterey Pop” (produced by John Phillips and Lou Adler), backed with the Maysles Brothers’, “Gimme Shelter”, the documentary about the Rolling Stones ‘free’ concert at Altamont. Easily promotable, especially to our target audience. A couple of weeks later, the shipping canisters arrived. Obviously, I had ulterior motives for booking “Gimme Shelter”, and I looked forward to my own private screening.

breakfast-show_09It was a ritual I had followed many, many times. I took the three reels of 16mm film out of its shipping case and spliced them together onto a single one-meter aluminum feed reel. Then I spliced exactly one and a half minutes of white leader onto the head, and looped the film through the massive, clunky Hortson projector. Dimming the house lights and activating the automatic act curtain, I switched the projector on, bolted out the booth door, and ran down two flights of stairs. Rounding the corner on the main floor I had enough time to grab a bag of popcorn and a medium size Hires Root Beer. In the dark I settled into the center seat in the center aisle of this converted Salvation Army Chapel. As I popped the first kernel of butterless corn into my mouth, Mick Jagger announced to the Altamont crowd: “Welcome to the breakfast show”. Then the biggest rock band in the world launched into “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”.

Over the coming week I watched “Gimme Shelter” six more times along with almost sold-out audiences, primarily students as I’d anticipated.

What I saw blew my mind.

§ § §

breakfast-show_22

“Well, the Rolling Stones tour of the United States is over.
It wound up with a free concert at the Altamont Speedway…
There were four births, four deaths, and an awful lot of scuffles reported.
We received word that someone was stabbed to death in front of the stage by a member of the Hell’s Angels.
Nothing’s confirmed on that. We were there – we didn’t see it.”
– Stefan Ponek, KSAN Radio, San Francisco – December 7, 1969
§ § §

Epilogue

Over 300,000 people attended Altamont. No one left unaffected, not even the bands.

Hours, days, weeks, months, years later, as its cultural impact grew and grew (in diametrical opposition to its Woodstock counterpart), the attendees would be forced to formulate a response to the question others would often pose when they discovered you had been to that infamous ‘free’ concert; the one where the black man in the lime green suit and fedora was stabbed to death by a Hells Angel. “What was it really like?” they would ask. There would be 300,000 answers, 300,000 stories to tell.

“Gimme Shelter” was NOT the Altamont I’d been a part of. Perhaps it was a matter of proximity – we’d been about a half-mile from the epicenter, and so the violence that was so raw and visceral in the movie was someone else’s violence, someone else’s experience.

The ‘adventure of possibility’ that Danniel and I had wished to embrace was far different than the one we found. But perhaps we’d found something more. I know I did. The epiphany I had on that small hill on a cold night in December 1969 in the middle of fucking nowhere was a direct result of everything that had occurred on that road trip. In the end, the possibility of leaving home and starting my life anew at such a young age became the adventure I sought. I was about to step out on my own, and for good. Would I, could I have arrived at that decision without the road trip, without Altamont?

If Altamont was my ‘beginning’, it also symbolized an ending. Some came to believe that Altamont signaled the ignominious end to the idealistic 1960s – the media still does. No news story, no documentary on the life and times of any segment of the Swinging Sixties is complete without a statement that includes the words, “…and then Altamont happened.” Altamont became the ‘fade to black’ for an entire era.

That decade affected everything.

The 1960s gave an entire generation its own music – rock and roll as a genre, a cultural phenomenon, and ultimately an art form, matured. Old, white, male politicians and lawmakers, whom, with few exceptions, adhered to old school ways and means, and perpetuated post-war ideals and policies, were put on notice. The voting age was lowered, and ultimately the bar was raised. Of course we were disaffected. The youth that asked for change, then pursued it, then protested it, and then demanded it, got it.

Every generation has its own signature event, its touchstone moment that resonates so loudly, that its cultural and personal impact becomes part of its DNA: JFK, Vietnam, Moonshot, Beatlemania, Trudeaumania, King, Bobby, Woodstock, Altamont. All 1960s.

So, maybe Altamont in December of 1969 was the smoking gun. That year – 1969 – still sticks out in my mind because it was the year, for me, that everything changed. It was a hell of a year. President Nixon began peace talks in Paris to end the war in Vietnam, while at the same time authorizing the secret bombing campaign of Cambodia; Frankenstein died of a heart attack, Brian Jones and Mary-Jo Kopechne drowned, both under suspicious circumstances, and following separate roads Dorothy finally went over her rainbow and ODed, and Jack Kerouac reached the end of his; Zodiac hunted humans in Northern California, while Charlie and his family went all ‘helter skelter’ in the City of Angels; James Earl Ray pleaded guilty to assassinating Dr. Martin Luther King, and Sirhan Bishara Sirhan pleaded guilty to assassinating Bobby Kennedy – both would eventually recant their confessions; John and Yoko made it official, so did Monty Python; ‘Oh! Calcutta!’ got naked, Stonewall got raided, ‘Abbey Road’ got crossed, and we all learned how to get to ‘Sesame Street’; Slaughterhouse Five was read, Hee Haw was watched, and In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida was heard; David Bowie and Major Tom took us to space, Neil Armstrong and Apollo 11 took us to the moon, and according to Arlo Guthrie we could get anything we wanted (except Alice); and on August the fifteenth, I did not go to Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in upstate New York with my friends for three days of peace and music.

But there were other events that pivotal year, too. One warm September evening I became ‘acquainted’ with an older woman named Candy. And that, as they say, was that.

In a bankers box at the bottom of a closet there sits an aging letter-size manila envelope. Inside, there is a set of emancipation papers with a bunch of signatures and a government seal on it; a crumpled yellowed napkin with black squiggles on it; a pristine, never been unfolded road map of the State of Oklahoma, courtesy of Texaco; and a small plastic baggie containing one (1) alligator clip. Printed in black Sharpie across the front are the words, Welcome To The Breakfast Show.

§ § §

 Note: Copyright In The Photographs Remains With The Original Owners

Erotica, Personal

Lust In Translation

October 11, 2013

“Her face is a map of the world, it’s a map of the world.
You can see she’s a beautiful girl, she’s a beautiful girl.
And everything around her is a silver pool of light…”
– “Suddenly I See”, K.T. Tunstall

§ § §

“You simply must read this,” he said, handing her a copy of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The professor had given her the book so he could fuck her, of course. Which he did. He’d purchased many copies of Kundera during his tenure. But that was in the past.

Now, ‘she’ was preparing to sit in seat 19F, all blonde, and smiley, and freckles.

“I’m Maria,” she said.

Full of grace, I thought, but, “I’m Randy,” came out instead as I extended my hand. “Code name: 19G.”

She laughed. Pretty sure her eyes sparkled. No question about it: we had our entire future ahead of us. Life was good. Or maybe it was the mid-morning sun streaming through the ‘hospitality class’ cabin that, conversely, clouded my vision. Whatever. I was on a roll and we hadn’t even begun to taxi.

“Could you hold this for me?”

What – your hand, your perfectly shaped instep…? Ah – your book. She was reading Love In The Time of Cholera, a dog ear at roughly page 100. What did that make her? Nineteen? Twenty? Twenty-two, tops. Maybe twenty-five and newly single – nobody reads a Colombian romantic when they’re attached.

Yes, what did that make her? More than twice my age, that’s what. Hmm. Still, we were going to Las Vegas, and what happens in Vegas….

“What are you doing in San Francisco?” her freckles asked as she settled in next to me.

Oh yeah – right. Changing planes and going to Las Vegas, apparently. Thought it – didn’t say it.

“Transiting, unfortunately,” I said. “I’m going to Vegas on points. Rent a car. Drive through the desert. Clear my head, recharge the batteries, search the soul… insert cliche here. I need the break. You?”

She considered the answer. “Meeting my boyfriend. We’re having dinner tonight in North Beach.”

Ah-ha. Love In The Time of Cholera AND a boyfriend. Kids these days.

“I’m breaking up with him… actually. He doesn’t know, though.” The freckles dimmed slightly.

“I hope he didn’t pay for the flight!” It was the first thing that came to mind, I swear. The freckles went into full arrest, her right hand went to her breast and Maria laughed so loudly and suddenly everyone on the plane spun around to see who the comedian was.

Thanks – thank you very much. I’m here all week! Two shows on Wednesday. Try the veal. Thought it – didn’t say it.

“No!” she said, in a mock (I hoped it was mock) scolding manner. She regained her composure. “I’m surprising him.”

I’ll say. “Lipstick on the collar? Pictures on the Internet? The perils of a long-distance romance, perhaps?”

“No – nothing like that.” She paused and thought about what to say next. “He’s completely devoted to me. He’s charming, and sexy, and… interesting…” Sounds just like me. “But… well… he’s an older man, and…” Don’t you even think – “…he’s thirty-seven, so…” STAB!

My right hand went to my breast. “OUCH!” I said, perhaps a tad too loudly.

She placed her hand on my knee (short pants rule!) and tried to make amends for treating me so shabbily. The shoe was firmly on the other perfectly shaped instep.

“Oh no, no… I mean… I mean I’m twenty-three. I should be having fun, going to clubs with my girlfriends, meeting guys, and…” Don’t say it. Spare me, I beg of you! “Having fun. You know.” Ah, there it is: the “F” word – and not the one I had in mind, either.

“Yeah,” I said rather feebly. “The age difference… it’s an issue – I understand. Uh-huh.”

“I mean… ” She ‘means‘ a lot, this girl. “I think every young girl deserves an older man in her life at least once in her life.” She said this not looking at anyone in particular, gesturing with her hand for both punctuation and flair, part of the rehearsed speech she would be giving later. God knows I agreed with her. “And I’ve had mine,” she added, completely unnecessarily. Crash, burn, smoke, ashes.

I silently cursed the prof who’d sent her down the road to Jurassic lust in the first place. ‘Unbearable Lightness‘ my ass!

And then we were in the air.

Wait a minute, I thought. She’s had the prof, and this other geezer who’s about to get dumped. She’s already over-quota. Maybe there’s hope.

“I mean…” Here we go again. “There was this professor in college. He just wanted… All he wanted to do is ‘grade my papers’ coupla times a week, you know?” Uh-huh – I do. “But he doesn’t count,” she added. I could tell from the way she said it, he did.

We reached 37,000 feet and began to cruise south. She smiled at me, opened Márquez at page 99, and dove in. Said too much already, perhaps? She must wonder what I’m thinking. For what I’m thinking I should be punished.

Fifteen minutes later, at page 114 she closed her book. She stretched and stole a glance at my iPod to see what I was listening to. George Michael’s Freedom ’90 kicked in. Great – now she thinks I’m gay and play in the bushes! And too old! Batting a thousand.

She leaned forward reaching between her long Levi-clad legs to find her purse on the floor. The blue coloured blouse that only barely disguised the swell of her breasts opened slightly at the top and now it was my turn to steal a glance. Was it my imagination or was there a button missing? Was she taking her time…? The mix of shadow and light shifted slightly as she breathed, transforming Maria’s delicate cleavage into a dramatic – SHIT, busted! She blushed, connecting the freckles. I blushed connecting absolutely nothing of any importance whatsoever.

“All we have to see, is that I don’t belong to you, and you don’t belong to me.” George Michael said it.

I popped out the ear buds. “Red is definitely your colour.”

Thought it AND said it.

Awkward pause… a pregnant one. We just sat there looking at each other.

“Did I say that out loud? I did, didn’t I?! Sorry – that’s my outside voice.”

Maria smiled. “I forgive you. Besides, we are outside. Sort of.”

St. Jude would have been proud. Lost cause indeed – I’ve been absolved!

The first officer came on the intercom and announced we were on final approach. I wish!

I adjusted my seat belt. “You live in Vancouver?” I asked.

“Uh-huh – Burnaby, actually,” she said. “Skytrain it into town every day. Parking’s impossible.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” I said. “What is it now… a hundred bucks or more a month for reserved in some places?”

She nodded and put Márquez back into her purse. “Nuts, huh?” We were changing the subject, apparently.

“Crazy,” I said. There was that nine-month pause again.

I can count on the fingers of one hand how many times I’ve been smitten in my life. Fallen in love – multitude. Desire – constantly. But this… I done been smote.

Staggering up the Jetway and into the SFO terminal we exchanged small talk as we made our way to Baggage Claim. I was thankful I had to change airlines in San Francisco. It allowed me a few more minutes with Maria before I dashed off to make my connection, and she got swept up in the end of an affair.

Like a merry-go-round strung-out on opium, our bags became mixed in with the unclaimed luggage from an earlier flight on the conveyor. The arrivals area was packed. Nothing was moving fast.

“What – does everyone buy their luggage from the same store?! I can always find mine easily,” I said sarcastically. “It’s blue and it’s got a handle! Fuck me!” There was that laughter again.

“You know what’s going to happen here, don’t you?” I continued. “I’m going to grab someone else’s bag by mistake, because I bought it at ‘Bags R Us’, same place as everyone else, and I’m going to get to my hotel in Vegas, throw it on the bed, and open it only to find a couple of fancy frocks, some frilly knickers and a box of tampons!”

Maria gave me the ‘tits-to-toes’ look. “I don’t know. You might look quite fetching in a Betsey Johnson evening gown.”

“I’m driving through the desert. I can’t be caught wearing a dress in Arizona – it’s a Republican state, for Christ’s sake!”

As we both continued to laugh I noticed my bag emerge sluggishly from behind the rubber curtains. It was blue and it had a handle… and wheels, I forgot that part.

I left Maria’s side for just a moment, giggling in her own pool of light.

Suddenly, she was waving frantically to someone else on the edge of the crowd. It hadn’t occurred to me the geezer would pick her up… but of course he would.

She turned and looked at me as I retrieved my suitcase. For the first time I saw all of her in one look. She practically glowed, I swear.

She walked towards me in that way confident tall blondes walk. The din of a million conversations reflecting off the concrete and metal of the arrivals level muted. The monochromatic stage was punctuated by the colours of Maria.

“It was very nice meeting you,” she said.

Let’s get out of here before your soon-to-be ex-boyfriend shows up. Thought it – didn’t say it.

“Yes it was,” I said. “I mean… nice meeting you too.” Real smooth, asshole!

“It was (fun)…”

“(Fun), yeah…”

I remembered the etiquette of our first introduction and extended my hand.

She grasped it, pulled me gently to her (God, she’s tall!) and kissed me on the cheek.

“Maybe we’ll bump into each other sometime,” she said.

“That would be nice, too,” I said.

“And fun…?”

“Guaranteed.”

She didn’t let go of my hand, and I was certainly in no hurry.

She looked down. “Are you sure that’s your suitcase?”

“Not entirely,” I lied. She laughed.

“I have to go,” she said slowly, her vowels tugging at my libido. She reclaimed her hand.

“Okay,” I lied.

The airport din faded back in. Maria’s lips mimed. Bye, they said. Bye, mine said.

I extended the handle on my blue, wheeled suitcase and rolled away, heading once again for departures. I watched the geezer embrace young Maria, and young Maria kiss the geezer. I couldn’t hear the question, but his expression said ‘who is that guy?‘ I couldn’t hear the answer but her expression said ‘my next lover.

Naw – probably not.

As they walked away hand in hand, geezer looked over his shoulder at me looking over my shoulder at him.

In that single glance he understood what I already knew. He’d always known. We always know. We just never know when.

Tonight, at some tony North Beach bistro, somewhere between the Squid-Ink Pasta and the Tiramisu she’d tell him. He’d smile, take it well, not try and talk her out of it (fool!), and then order a second bottle of Montepulciano.

There’d be tears, followed by break-up sex and then more tears.

Monday morning at the office back in Vancouver she’d tell her girlfriend, ‘Yes, I broke it off‘, and ‘Yes, the sex was great.‘ The girlfriend would laugh. Break-up sex is always the best, she’d say. Why do you think I can’t commit?! They’d both laugh.

And now, for the last 30 minutes I’ve been sitting in seat 14D, flying over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The seat beside me, empty.

Maybe we’ll bump into each other sometime….

Hormones. They’re not just for breakfast anymore.