Tuesday, March 06, 2007

15.) The Hitchhiking Years: Northern California

One of the truly silly things about my hitchhiking trip was when the "Born in Arabia" label would come into play. There was a soda pop with the slogan, "It Hasta Be Shasta", that would show up from time to time in Arabia. The town of Dhahran only had one company grocery store called "The Commissary", and things were not always in supply. My recollection is that Shasta pop was not a regular thing - at least not in 1139-B, the humble concrete home where I grew up. I knew there was a picture of a mountain on the label, but it was only after hitchhiking into northern California in the Spring of 1972, that I would behold the real Mt. Shasta and say to myself, "My God, it's real."

This would happen again when I saw a freeway sign for Half Moon Bay. The California oil men had named a bay near Dhahran, "Half Moon Bay", and this was one of the sacred places of my youth. This is where I swam with dolphins and had a million adventures. The idea that there could be another Half Moon Bay here in the States was very surprising to me. How they heard about our bay in Arabia and ripped off the name, I'll never know.

I had another one of those decisions to make when I got to Redding, California. The time came to camp and there was not an immediate solution. I finally settled on this sheltered pathway that was part of a 7 Day Adventist Church. It was fortunate that I wasn't found, because for awhile, I could here people inside singing.

It's odd really. For thousands of years we've been wandering the earth camping out here and there. This was what humans did, even less than a hundred years before in places like Northern California. I had come along just when humanity had settled the planet enough that a wandering soul looking for a place to camp for the night, was virtually a criminal. I recognized the reality of that situation, but I didn't feel I was doing wrong. Heck, I had been born an American overseas and I was just checking out my homeland-to-be. That was one of the driving forces, so I slept well at night.

See, everyone in Dhahran had a date certain when they knew they'd be leaving the Kingdom. Retirement age was 60, owing to the harsher environment so when your father turned that age you were gone. Later there would be classmates who ended up working for the oil company, but I knew in 3 more years, I would be moving to America, so I was curious about the place. I didn't feel too guilty about crashing wherever - it was all part of the adventure. In fact, it was nice listening to the choir practicing as I rolled out my bag and went to sleep.

The next day, I got my second ride in a semi. I wanted to head to the Pacific Ocean and I rode on a little road in a lumber truck, all the way to Eureka, California. The forest was ridiculous, especially if you were used to thousands of miles of sand dunes. How would the California natives say it? "The woods were intense." Then I headed south on Highway 101 stopping at Richardson Grove State Park, where I did the scene right out of the movie ET and walked in awe among the redwoods, with me in the familiar role as the space alien. Go there, if you haven't been. Stop what you are doing and get in the car and drive to the redwood country of Northern California. Now! And give my best to these spiritual giants. Oh my God, the redwoods are amazing.

Next was one of the many times when I feel I had an experience that you couldn't get with a million travel guides. This was completely a hitchhiking type thing. I made it to San Francisco - home of so much of the rock and roll history that meant the world to me and my people, and an actual longhair guy in a VW bus took it upon himself to explain the "scene" to me. We drove to meet his girlfriend in this really classy old house on some hills. Inside it was completely counter culture but very clean and upscale. I'm sure you'd have to pay a million dollars to buy that house today. It was nestled in an amazing old-fashioned neighborhood with all this cool art inside: Bead curtains, the whole bit. They treated me like I was an important visitor and it was their responsibility to let me know what had happened there.

Looking back, the funny thing about the talk we had - the awesome times they had gone through and the famous legendary bands they had seen just starting out - was that it was all in the context of the deep past. They served white wine and we got high, and everything was in these tones of, "You should have been here then." 1967, the Summer of Love was less than 6 years before, but to hear them talk it might as well have been ancient Rome.

Meanwhile, the Grateful Dead had been going for around 7 years and had more than 2 decades out ahead. But to hear this couple the entire scene was long gone, done with and over, which seems amusing now. Of course, to me, San Francisco was still very much a wonderful place - even in the advanced year of 1972.


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