In the Time of COVID. Day 59
May 16, 2020.
North From Berkeley, An Exodus
Today we received a message from a friend that had to drive to Fresno this morning. She said the valley folk were flowing west toward the coast, driving like maniacs, bumper to bumper. Our hard earned protection from COVID may be for naught with this weekend migration of mask-less visitors. We are staying home. But then, we can dream of times when we hit the road, en masse, ourselves.
The Rock Band, Canned Heat released “Going Up The Country” in 1968 and it became an anthem for a migration of Hippies. They had already arrived en masse in Berkeley and San Francisco, in LA and NYC, drawn by the “Summer of Love”. By the late 60’s and early 70’s every Hippie worth his stash had tricked out an old bread truck or delivery van, stocked it with a copy of The Whole Earth Catalog, multiple copies of Organic Gardening Magazine, The Anarchist Cookbook, and the Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth, before heading out to the great unknown.
My van was a 1950 long body 1 ton GMC panel truck. My buddy Chance was handy with tools and had a shorter version of the same rig. We parked them side by side in Berkeley and shared tools while he taught me how to insulate and panel the interior with veneer and built beds and storage. We installed vents and sliding windows taken from wrecked VW’s we found at an auto junk yard. Up went the roof racks and along an exterior wall we placed detachable kitchen counters where the propane stoves and kitchen gear went, when we stopped for awhile. By late spring of 1970 our circle of friends headed out in multiple directions with the vague notion of a rendezvous at Seattle in the fall. Our farewell party was electric with excitement.
Before long we were hugging the coast heading north. We were in no hurry and that van topped out at 50 miles an hour and 11 miles to the gallon. The first night we camped along the beach near Bodega Bay. My clearest remembrance was of a deaf-mute Japanese cyclist stopping by our camp and cooking his rice on our stove. His outfit was absolutely clean, including a towel that was exposed to the elements as he rode along. He had a Japanese flag on the back of his bike and we communicated by note pad. He started in San Diego and his goal was to ride north to Vancouver B.C. Before flying back home to Japan. Over the next few weeks we came across him a few more times. The last time was in Seaside, Oregon. He was heading for the bridge at Astoria and we were heading inland to catch the road from Portland to Pasco.
Before leaving Berkeley we all agreed that we would search out land on our meanders and report back. There was a free monthly catalog of cheap land across the country that was available at truck stops and convenience stores. For the back-to-the-land folks it was a dream book. At the time, it listed 80 acre farms with cabin barn and spring in the Ozark’s for $5,000. There were hundreds of listings from all over the country and we were on the look out for a place big enough to create a commune.
We searched land out of Willows in Mendocino Country and out of Garberville and Leggett and out of Arcata before continuing north. Eventually we pulled up in Spirit Lake, Idaho, east of Spokane about 50 miles.
Spirit Lake was a beautiful place in the summer and colder than hell in the winter. Land prices were about $50 an acre for 20 or 40 acre parcels. Most had failed farmsteads with rickety but fixable cabins and out buildings. We had a good look. We were offered free rent in a former Catholic Church turned second hand store. It was owned by the previous sheriff “Big Jim” who had been voted out of office. He let us stay just to piss off the people of Spirit Lake. The biggest event of the week was Saturday night at the bar. Loggers and hardscrabble folk came in to get piss-drunk and then the whop-ass started. Knocking each other cold was high sport in Spirit Lake.
After about a month they must of gotten tired of trying to kill each other because they turned their ire on us. They got stirred up in a vigilante frenzy and declared they would shoot the hippies out of town. Not all of us had come up from California but that didn’t matter. Some of the hippies were from North Idaho and they had hunting rifles. Hell, everyone but us had hunting rifles. There was a three day stand off. There were shooters in the bell tower and the hippies also laid down in the grass for a defensive cross fire if need be.
We decided to get the hell out of there. We headed west to Seattle.
Spirit Lake wasn’t ready for Utopia. What it was ready for was a migration of survivalists and neo-nazi’s into the area. They bought up the cheap land from Coeur d’Alene to Hayden Lake and up to Metaline Falls near the Canadian Border. The Aryan Nations Church of Jesus Christ Christian and Richard Butler took root at Hayden lake, not far from there, Ruby Ridge was established near Bonner’s Ferry, and near Metaline Falls the Bruder Schweigen (silent brotherhood) aka (The Order) dug in and was run by Robert Mathews. They all prayed for race war. There were unaffiliated “Gun Of The Month Club” nuts sprinkled through the area as well. No, Spirit Lake was in no mind to allow a Hippie Commune.
We had pals Hank and Loni, who had relocated to Seattle in the Fall of 1969. They rented a little house near the railroad tracks by the Inter-Bay Rail Yards. The neighborhood was called Magnolia Flats. It was bordered by Fisherman’s Terminal, The Ballard Locks, and the Great Northern Rail Yards. Within weeks everyone showed up and there were cheap rentable digs to move into. I found an old real estate shack that had been moved from Aurora Boulevard, and dumped in a vacant lot in the flats. It was completely overgrown with berry brambles. I found the owner and he agreed to $15 a month rent. I ran a garden hose from a friend’s outside faucet, and an extension cord and there you have it, water and electricity. I dug an out house and made it look like a tool shed. Welcome to Seattle