Trip Start Dec 28, 2004
272Trip End Ongoing
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The States flew by in a haze of empty roads and dusty gas stations. The sun seemed to come and go as it pleased, leaving time as a purely abstract idea. The only thing of importance was the speedometer. As long as the needle was pegged, all was well.
We were quiet and reflective as we started out from Illinois but the closer we came to the coast, the brighter we became. It was as if the giant body of water rushing towards us was somehow invigorating us, lifting our spirits above the point of tears to where we could actually smile and enjoy the drive across the backbone of America called the Rockies.
We entered the city on a picture perfect San Francisco summer day. The temperature was bordering on chilly while fat, lazy clouds drifted over the bay. I got my first glimpse of the pristine skyline as we drove across the bay bridge coming in from Oakland. It was a huge moment in my young life. My mind flashed with the different images which were synonymous with the bay area. The Human Be-in, student strikes, protests, acid tests, Kerouac and Cassidy. And the Music for god's sake! The dead, Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother. The list goes on and on along with the history that enveloped this area of the world.
This is where Beat transformed itself into hippie and hippie into the counterculture. I felt almost as if I were a religious man entering the highest holy place. This was where my morals were written in music instead of stone, by good natured musicians and poets instead of the flaming finger of an angry god. The world attempted to change itself here, and although it mostly failed in that singular purpose, I still felt it a worthy effort and wanted to give my thanks.
As we arrived on the outskirts of the city, we still had not heard of any services and had no inkling of where to go once we breached the city limits. This was the subject of a heated discussion as we drove across the last quarter of the expansive Bay Bridge. None of us had ever been to this city so we were working off of limited information, namely a Rand McNally road map that had been purchased at a truck stop somewhere in Wyoming. I was pouring over the maps when Ivan spotted a convoy of VW buses puttering up ahead. If anyone would know what was going on, it would be them. At least that was our hope.
Pulling alongside the last van in the convoy, we made the international sign for rolling down the window, which they kindly did, revealing a man with long, thick dreadlocks and a bushy brown beard that framed his beaming smile.
"Hey, where is everyone going?" I screamed over the wind that surrounded our cars in tornado strength due to the fact that we were still driving down the road doing 60mph.
"Go to the park." Was his response.
The park? Call me old fashioned but a city the size of San Francisco probably has more then one park to its credit. The rider in the VW must have seen the confused look on my face and even more probable, our Illinois license plates.
"Golden Gate park man, by the Presidio." He explained patiently.
I yelled my thanks and flashed my best shit eating grin in an attempt to hide the fact that we had no idea where either park or Presidio actually were.
I won't drown you with the details of our epic battle with the city streets but what I will say is that if you ever find yourself driving in San Francisco for the first time; take a healthy supply of Prozac with you. The city defies any sort of logic that you tend to find in other large urban areas. I mean, for the love of god, who would build a city on the side of those hills? Did they do this on purpose or did the city grow in ways that weren't expected? Either way, the entire area is a labyrinth of streets that you will be lucky to escape with your sanity. If the city designers weren't already dead, I would vote them first against the wall when the revolution comes.
It took a massive amount of circling, zigzagging and short bouts with mountain climbing but we finally found the park entrance. Hundreds of cars were parked helter skelter with no obvious pattern to the madness. The theory that most people seemed to be operating under was that if your car fit, you can call it a parking space. The lack of any clear organization was inconvenient but trying to nose our way through the multitudes of people who were clothed in everything from tie-dyes to business suits proved to be the real dilemma. We would have to wait for one of the momentary breaks in the solid mass of bodies before we made our move on a piece of grass that we had spotted during our trolling. No matter how many people would walk off deeper into the park, there was always more behind them.
We were finally able to bring the car to rest. Putting the tired beast in park, we opened the doors and got out to stretch our legs from the long drive that we had just undertaken. The idea that I was in California was bewildering and strange but at the same time, wildly exciting. The question of just how in the hell I got to be standing there, in a place I had read about and seen thousands of pictures of was what was causing my momentary awe. The fact that I could undergo such an adventure on a moments notice opened up an entire new way of looking at the world and the problems that it presented to me. And to be perfectly honest, life has never been the same since. The revelation was nothing short of life changing. Of course, at the time it just seemed like a very strange development. After all, no one told me anything about this way of living. To be able to just pick up and go was an entirely new concept that my parents had somehow overlooked when they went about teaching me the ways of the world.
It was after taking our mandatory rubbernecking tour of the surrounding redwoods that we finally got going and moved off in the direction of the center of the large park. It wasn't as if we were walking this trail alone and thank god for that. We would have assuredly lost ourselves in the twisting, intertwining paths that lead you all across the miles of park land. But instead of losing our way in a lonesome, trudging walk, we joined all of the other lost spirits in the march into uncertainty and grief.
We had no idea as to where exactly we were going. We were happy enough to simply put our trust in the people who were in front of us, leading the way into the woods. It was after walking about a mile that we began to hear the sound of faint music emitting from the forest ahead. 'Probably just a car stereo.' I thought to myself as the trees streamed past in an endless parade.
As we walked on through the early afternoon sun, our legs began to tire with the strain of so much unaccustomed exercise. Walking had become a utilitarian action, not something to be practiced or worked on. The lack of any sort of formal exercise over the last few years had left me sadly unprepared for the hike that we found ourselves in the middle of. It was after another half a mile of this tiring march that we came across a girl of about twenty who was giving out small quartz crystals to everyone that she encountered. I palmed the crystal that she extended towards me with a word of thanks and a nod of my head. As I walked away towards some unknown goal up ahead, I wondered how many of those pinkish stones she had given out in the course of that sad day. Would a crystal be able to brighten the darkness that had descended into everyone's heart over the last few days? Of course not. But the gesture and the love that came with it WAS enough to put a smile on my face.
As we continued the walk, past the crystal girl and on into the deepening shadows of the overhanging trees, the music from up ahead grew steadily louder. I had tossed out my car stereo theory due to the distance that we had covered thus far in our day's journey. It would have to have been a stereo of epic proportions to still be heard at that point.
By now my legs had begun an open revolt against the rest of my body. Clearly upset at the unexpected overusage of their underdeveloped muscles. I was not in good shape no matter how liberally you wanted to define the word. The way I saw it, I had better things to do then waste my time riding a stationary bike or killing myself on a treadmill. Time on this Earth is short and I didn't have time to spend torturing myself for no particular reason. I was paying for this half-assed thinking as we climbed and crested a small hill that surrounded the open fields of the part of the park known as the Polo Grounds. Even through the exhaustion, I stood triumphantly at the top of the hill, observing thousands of people who were milling about below, weaving between the large memorials that pockmarked the field. Around one of the larger memorials was arranged a set of concert quality speakers that were pumping Jerry's music out into the blue sky. So much for a car stereo. The crowd below was much more then what we were expecting. The gathering of lives and energy was huge with tens of thousands of people brought together to say goodbye.
After coming to terms with the unexpected crowd, we waded into the craziness full bore. The familiar smells of patchouli, pot, dirt and overall hippie funk was the first thing that greeted us as we entered the free flowing mass of bodies. I passed people who were smiling and crying at the same time, trying to find their way through two powerful emotions simultaneously. The warm familiar feeling of being where I belonged, of being home with family, flooded over me. The family had gathered to say goodbye to the patriarch the only way they could and I had joined them to pay my respects and try and find a sense of closure.
There was sadness in the air to be sure but also a feeling of celebration. A feeling that there was no need to mourn because the experience of being touched by Jerry and his art was so great and created such a bond that the family that had formed around him would live on after his death. People realized that this was not the end, just a transformation. People say that energy cannot be destroyed and I could see a philosophical example of this principle before my eyes that day. People were dancing and chanting, playing a drum or just stomping their feet to whatever beat moved through them at the time. The energy was in all of us, undiluted and never ending.
I walked amongst the crowd, elbowing my way in so I could light a stick of incense at the center memorial. I stood there for an hour, looking at the offerings that had been left during the course of the day's ceremonies. Flowers and fragrant sage leaned against pillars of candles that seemingly grew out of the grass. The most heartbreaking though were the small notes people had left expressing their grief and pain mixed with hopes for his afterlife. These fragments of pure emotion were hard to read. I could only manage a few before having to stop to wipe away the tears that began to well up in my eyes.
The crowd around the memorial was immense but in this particular circle, there was only silence. People stood and stared, memorizing the scene so they could relate the scene to friends who were unable to make the pilgrimage. All of us stood there in the warming rays of the bright afternoon sun, studying the pictures that had been left and the poems which flapped in the light breeze. The significance of the occasion was lost on no one.
I backed my way out of the ring of mourners after awhile, making room for the next person. We wandered off and marveled at the spectacle that was before us. People were dressed in death masks, tie-dyes and even a little bit of the Gap could be seen here and there. All of these people gathered together for the sole purpose of showing our love.
Through all of this chaos and sorrow, every conceivable TV network was recording from atop the hill that we had climbed down from a short while ago. Everyone from MTV to CNN was represented there that day. Not surprisingly, none of them were able to behave themselves in a respectable manner but considering the profession, I suppose that is to be expected.
The reporters had come down into the masses earlier in the day, trying to conduct interviews while being oblivious to the people's pain. After many blank stares and not a sound byte to speak of, they retreated back to the hill where the satellite trucks created a sort of obscene techno forest. Their transmitting poles extended phallicly into the sky, shining merrily in the bright sun while they beamed whatever information they had collected into space to be retransmitted and force fed to the general public who didn't understand and quite frankly didn't care to.
Why were they there? Was it their fascination with the tribal culture that we somehow came to represent? Or was it the general populace celebrating the death of a leading antagonist? So many young people had been led out of the suburbs by the bearded pied piper who was now dead. Can the parents of these lost youths be gloating over their presumed victory over the anti-establishment revolt that their children had run off and joined? Are they glued to their televisions, yearning to hear more, like a man watching the evening news to see if the war was going well in whatever country was currently on the list? Did they understand what it was that we were mourning? Did it matter to them past the point of being just another oddity on the TV that they did not understand?
It was nearing sunset as I considered all of this through a moment of clarity that you can only achieve while on LSD. The interweaving plots and subplots some together to form a pattern that seems so obvious but is never clear. I was starting to wish that we had passed on the chemical cocktail since none of us had the ability to make any sort of decision concerning anything. Our minds refused to concentrate on any one thing, leaving us to survive on a rudimentary form of auto-pilot.
The service, and park itself for that matter, were going to close in a half an hour, after which time we had nowhere to go. Like I had said before, I don't often plan ahead and think things through to the end, and now that we were thoroughly demented on drugs, there was almost no chance to realistically think through the warping of our minds and come to some sort of consensus.
"You want to get a room or something?" Jeff asked.
"You know we can't afford that kind of shit." Was Ivan's response to the idea. "We should go to Santa Cruz. I heard that the beach is pretty sweet there."
"That's a lot of gas man."
"Cheaper then a room, you know?" Ivan tried reasonably.
We stood there amongst thousands of people who were packing and leaving for whatever they considered home. This was activating our herd mentality even more powerfully then the drugs had.
"What do you think Neal?" Jeff asked.
At this point in the game, I had been studying the complexity and inner beauty of a nearby candy wrapper. Being called on to be an active participant in an actual conversation was a little too much to ask. Being doubtful of my ability to take anything into serious consideration, I stated the only thing that had sounded interesting.
And with that prophet like statement, it was decided. My grand trip to San Francisco was over in less then twelve hours. At the time it didn't seem so important. The idea of sand underfoot with waves crashing on the beach and in my head was charming enough for me to forget about the city of my dreams, at least for the time being.