A Hearse in the Wyoming Night

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I was 18 and I was in Berkeley California when I got the opportunity to travel halfway across the country in a hearse.

I was a new follower of The Grateful Dead and the hearse idea was symbolic and appropriate. What Deadhead wouldn’t jump on such an opportunity?

The hearse was old – a 1963 Cadillac Hearse – so she needed a mechanic. A good one. Someone who would always be there no matter what happened or where.

Steve hired Bob. Bob was a hardcore Punk Rocker, also from Berkeley, and he knew his way around carburetors, gaskets, filters and everything else required to keep an old car moving. While this seemed like an unlikely pairing it worked rather well. Bob was able to fix every problem that cropped up and, mostly, he had fun doing it.

Many years later I bumped into Bob at a party. He introduced me to a friend of his who kind of sneered and actually said something along the lines of – “You KNOW a hippie chick?!”

Bob was delighted and recounted the tale of the time he rode cross country as a hearse mechanic. His Punk Rocker friend was horrified!

“You did DEAD TOUR?!?! That’s SO lame.”

And I had the very memorable and enjoyable experience of listening in while this hard core Punk told his friend all the reasons why Dead Tour was not at all lame – in fact , it was about one of the coolest things. EVER.

“Dude! The parties! The drugs! The dancing! The CHICKS!”

I’m not so sure his friend was convinced but I loved hearing his perspectives and his glowing endorsement of the way we liked to do things.

Anyway.

It was very late one September night. I was asleep in the back of the hearse with 3 or 5 other hippies and Bob when they world started to sway. When I opened my eyes we were swerving all over the road as I tried to think who was driving – do they have control? What’s going on? The hearse rolled to a stop.

From the front seat – “Bob. Wake up man.”

Grumbles and growls as Bob crawled out from piles of blankets to assess the situation while the rest of us pulled the covers deeper over our heads.

We’d had a blowout and now we had a flat tire. This was Bob’s responsibility and we were all pleased it wasn’t our job as we snuggled down into the blanket warmth, grateful that we didn’t have to get up. It was obviously cold out there.

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Mmmmm. Not my problem.

Ah but then. Bob told us we all had to get out while he changed the tire.

Guess we hadn’t thought of that.

It was 2 or 3 am and who knows where the hell we were. None too cheerful about having to crawl out into the cold, we tripped over each other and ourselves and fell into the night.

Shiver.

And look up.

HOLY SHIT!

Yeah, not very eloquent but I think we said it collectively.

We were somewhere in Wyoming along Interstate 80. And we were 50 miles from any town in any direction.

And the STARS!

The STARS!

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So close you could almost reach out and touch them.  Stretching from horizon to horizon and looking like you could take a short hike over to see where they’re standing.

Seriously. Have you ever seen that?

Have you ever seen the Milky Way?

Do you even know what it looks like?

There are not a lot of chances to see it on the East Coast. There’s just too much ground light.

Here, in Vail, AZ, I’m about 20 miles southeast of Tucson and it may well be the darkest sky I’ve seen in decades. The sky is so filled with stars here that Orion – who stands proud and alone in my Connecticut front yard – is almost lost among his celestial companions.

And you know what???

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I can see the Milky Way!

I can SEE it!

That slash of brightness across the night sky.

It’s a bit faint here. and it has been so long since I’ve seen it that I had to ask to be sure – IS that the Milky Way?

It’s not the brightest it can be. It’s not what ancient peoples saw when they looked up. It’s still tainted by ground light somewhat.

But you know what – It’s THERE and I can see it!

And if you have never had the pleasure – I implore you – at some point in your life – and the sooner the better – get thine ass somewhere crazy-dark and look!

Seriously Look!

LOOK at the sky!!!!!!!

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(Most Milky Way images from Astronomy Picture of the Day.)

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Atlanta Whirlwind

I had these images of having plenty of time to write interesting, informative and pleasing blog posts about the things I’m doing.
Instead I find myself running ragged ever since I left CT – with no end in sight.
Yesterday in Atlanta I visited The Jimmy Carter Presidential Museum and Library, the historic home that Margaret Mitchell lived in while she wrote the majority of Gone With the Wind, and I ended the day visiting The High Museum of Art ( It was half price on Thursday nights!)
I really enjoyed The Carter Center. As a child my first awareness of politics was Watergate. (Wait. What? What’s a President? We have a President? And he lied?) So by the time Carter was being elected I totally wanted him to win. I had a teacher at the time who made us engage with the political process by choosing sides and visiting the local Party offices and volunteering.
I was so displeased by what I’d seen since becoming aware of politics that of course I chose to campaign for Carter.
Since leaving the Presidency the man has done many commendable things in this world and I enjoyed immersing myself in the facts of it all.
Plus it was kind of awesome to stare upon an actual Nobel Peace Prize.
A helpful museum guide named Tony broke the rules and took some pictures of me. He also gave me the Jeopardy-worthy little bit of trivia: There are only two cities in the world which house two Nobel Peace Prizes. One is Atlanta (I went and saw King’s today!) and the other is Soweto, where medals for Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela reside.
Somehow I enjoyed that tenuous connection, what with the week’s news being filled with the goings on at the memorial ceremony to honor Mandela’s passing.

(More text below photos.)

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Here in Atlanta I’m staying with a nice older gentleman named Al. It’s a booking I made via Airbnb – a service born of the sharing economy whereby you rent out extra bedrooms in your house, or pay a cheap price to stay in someone else’s extra room. I’ve been renting out my extra room that way for a few years but this trip is my first chance to really utilize it for myself. (If you don’t know Airbnb yet, do check it out.)

Anyway, Al lives just on the outskirts of Little 5 Points. I spent a good amount of time here in the 80s when Vette (my lifelong best friend) lived here.
Today I started the day with a short walk to Little 5. Truly worthy coffeehouses and a collection of stores I wish I had access to on a daily basis. I spent a few hours wandering and browsing. Enjoyable day.

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A Facebook post, saying where I was, got me a message from a friend saying she had people not too far from here and that I should visit and deliver a hug and greeting.
So I did.
That introduced me to the Lake Claire Land Trust.
What a fantastic place! With land bought from Marta, they have created a meandering little city oasis with playgrounds, sweat lodges, a small amphitheater, performance spaces, and I met an emu named Lou!
That was a great detour and addition to my day!

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Then I jetted off to The King Center to pay my respects and learn a thing or two. The complex is rambling and covers many blocks. I got to see Atlanta’s second (or was it the first?) Nobel Peace Prize.
I was somehow humbled to stand near his tomb. The gravity of it all. A friendly pool cleaner named Lawrence took my photos for me.
I really like meeting real people to chat with.

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I was going to go back to the Lake Claire Land Trust tonight for a Friday night friendly jam but that’s not gonna happen.
I walked a couple blocks from Al’s for dinner at a place called Babette’s and, at 9pm, have landed next door at JavaVino – a coffeehouse wine bar combo and I’m downing more wine than would allow me to be comfortable driving back to the Land Trust.
Here I sit writing this bit on my iPhone in hopes that when I get back to the house I’ll upload some photos and make this a real blog post.

My original plan for this trip was to cruise along the northern reaches of these southern states as I head west but a Facebook post last week from a friend might be sending me north from here to Tennessee – to McMinnville – where there is a concert tomorrow known as Bluegrass Underground. Once a month they have concerts that (I think) are filmed for PBS and December’s is tomorrow and billed as “A Pirate’s Christmas.” So yeah. I think I’m changing my plans and going north tomorrow.

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Erté and the hippie

As a hippie in 1986 or 1987…

It was just another long grey day in San Francisco. One in a stretch of many.

We had no where we had to be, no one we had to see. The extent of our responsibilities was to get properly stoned.

We could wander down to the Haight and straggle around with the usual bunch, standing on the corner of Haight and Schrader, or go down to the Panhandle to get stoned. We could go for a walk in the Park. That always made for a nice day.

We’d emerge from 2332A Fulton St’s door, cross the busy street, pass the bus stop and plunge into Golden Gate Park. We’d go straight in for a while then start aiming West. A whole day could be enjoyed walking on paths, lounging in meadows, watching geese and tourists, scrambling on or under or around statues and carvings and bridges, eventually reaching the beach if we’d been industrious in our journeying, or popping out whenever we got tired and hopping a bus back to the house.

But today was too grey and misty for a day in the park.

For a lark we decided to go to Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s where all the locals are expected to take their visitors. We’d go tourist watching, maybe get some Ghirardelli chocolates or perhaps some seafood, depending on how indulgently rich we felt ourselves to be at the moment we looked upon the fried crabs.

We were quite stoned and giggling along taking in the sights when it started to downpour. We ducked into the nearest alcove and saw that it was an art gallery. We fluffed our selves up a bit and decided to play curious tourist as opposed to jaded and wet hippies just trying to get out of the weather. It was an actual quick conversation. Do we go in? We knew we weren’t wanted; stoned, disheveled, wet, happy. It’s raining awfully hard.

“I shall be a tourist.” I said as I swung open the door and strode through.

I think I lost my breath for a moment. It was an striking little space, maybe 1,000 square feet, if that. The overall tone was a tad somber, the walls were rich and luxurious, the flooring silent. Rain streamed down the window adding a flickering quality to the elegant ambiance.

But what took my breath away were the statues. Spaced around the room on pedestals and long tables were sinewy women in retro outfits of high society’s yesteryears or the garb of ancient history. Each stood twelve or 15” high and seemed to shine.

From one to the next I moved, transfixed by the subtle details that brought these images to life. The drape of a gathered garment, the bend of a leg, hint of a shoe. Peacocks and leopard women, sirens and goddesses and one I had to imagine was the Statue of Liberty in her alone time. And some of these sensuous beauties were men! The beaded hairpieces, exotic faces, and the colors so vibrant they seared into my stoned brain.

I had just met Erté and I was awestruck.

Nothing was in that room but myself and thirty or so Erté bronzes.

The rain stopped. My companions we eager to be on our way and likely so too was the proprietor ready to see us leave but I felt like I was dragged out of there, nowhere near ready to leave.

There’s been a tiny hole in my soul ever since.

Lazy luxurious hippie days filled my time in San Francisco and though I told myself often to go back again and look, I never did.

I’ve never since been in a place with a real Erté bronze.

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