Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Before The Tsunami (San Francisco in 1964)


Waves of bohemian creative-type characters, with Kerouac, Ginsburg and Burroughs leading the charge, had washed over San Francisco a year or two earlier than my arrival. North Beach coffee houses, cafes and nightclubs were overflowing with poets, folk singers, jazz players and other disenfranchised elements of the art world. Alienated youth were beginning to hang out in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood and gathering in Golden Gate Park for their music festivals. Across the bay in Marin County, outlaws and outcasts were being drawn to the ‘action’ in the city.


This was truly the calm before the storm. The social, sexual, and cultural changes that defined the 1960s were all taking shape in cities like San Francisco, New York, London and around the world. A younger generation was beginning to stir and awake to the injustices it found all around it. There was a new sense of sexual freedom with the pill. Rebellious youth, fueled by rock and roll music and marihuana, were speaking and acting out. Linear thoughts gone aground by poets and philosophers up in North Beach and Greenwich Village were opening up young minds to new thoughts and aspirations.


All of this was happening as I arrived at the Presidio of San Francisco in the early summer of 1964. I had left college and the proverbial ‘girl back home’ for my first true adventure courtesy of my Uncle Sam.


The greater Bay Area was slowly coming alive with more commercial development. Marin County was seeing growth up along the north coast and among the bays and inlets of the bay. Sausalito was still a backwater village but feeling the growing pressure of a city expanding beyond its past one hundred year borders.


My work as a reporter/writer at the Command Post newspaper was fulfilling, enlightening and eye opening, all at the same time. Fortunately, my boss was a lifer who loved the military and his job. He made it easy for me to come to work every day. In addition, there was the usual cast of characters who in retrospect could fill a dozen or more plays and novels with high drama, suspense, dalliances, corruption, and colorful behavior.


There were several off-post separation parties that became legendary for their gratuitous, outrageous behavior, heavy drinking, and sordid but funny happenings. My only excuse is youth, immaturity and pent-up hormonal demands. In reality, I was just an observer, too inexperienced to get involved, but smart enough not to envy those who did.


My time spent in San Francisco was a wonderful gift I didn’t appreciate until long after it was gone. It marked the beginning of my long-winded running career and journaling, my prelude to future novels, plays and screenplays. It was like some wonderful party that can’t be replicated afterwards even if all the same participants gathered together once again.

A journey is really a time capsule. It’s a sliver of space in one’s life that gives birth to either good memories or bad, to wonderful thoughts or sad reflections. Yet it always remains locked in that serendipitous turn of events which can never be replicated or replaced. Whatever happened did happen. Whatever was gained can’t be changed even if it later becomes lost in a fog of future events. That’s how my tour of the California North Country was born.


The idea for a road trip was hatched early one Sunday morning in some unnamed dive bar on North Beach. We were a motley assortment of drugstore cowboys, fast food aficionados and one kid with two years of college under his belt. Each of us ruminating on about our pending release from military service a monumental two years away. This was long before “Easy Rider” and my own sojourn to Denmark.

What were we going to do after the service? Return to college. Head out for Europe. Stay in San Francisco or hit the road just as Jack Kerouac did in “On the Road.”


The more sober philosophers among us thought we should get on with our lives. We should go back home after our hitch was up, get an education, marry our college sweetheart and settle down to the good old standard American life. The more inebriated among us thought otherwise. Another round of beers and an impromptu survey was taken. The open road garnered first place with Europe a close second. Returning home to suburban tranquility didn’t even register.

Some of us were already open road desperados. One guy had a big-ass Triumph 650cc motor-cycle with enough horsepower to fly between San Francisco to Los Angeles in record time. He went down to the city of angels almost every weekend to see his girlfriend. That is until a transfer landed him in the middle of nowhere Indiana in a snowstorm and his bike went into cold storage.


A couple of guys had souped-up cars they’d brought to the Presidio from back home. But soon one fellow was shipped off to Vietnam and another got transferred to Okinawa. Several more wantabees disappeared when sobriety raised its ugly head. So that effectively took most of my gang out of the picture. I was the only one left with my Vespa motor scooter and exaggerated, romantic notions of the open road still spinning around in my head.

A dream had been ignited in my plastic brain that resonated throughout my body. I decided I might as well hit the asphalt right then and there instead of waiting another two years before my enlistment was up. My destination would be the distant lands north of the Golden Gate Bridge. At that point, they had just been shadowy mounds of gray that kissed the skyline outside my office window.

                                
This was the old Northern California countryside before multiple ballot propositions changed the political and social landscape and a bulging San Francisco disgorged its inhabitants far and wide; spilling them out across the bay to once tiny hamlets like Sausalito, Mount Tamaulipas, and Stinson Beach. It was a time when cows roamed empty fields amid gun emplacements that still protected San Francisco bay from Japanese battleships. An era, before satellites, when radar stations scanned the northern skies for raiders from Russia. A time when only a few small enclaves of new housing slashed into the green hillsides. A time when the only sound heard was the putt-putt of my tiny Italian engine against a wind blowing oceanside and birds on high, floating silently in the sea breeze.


After I had braved the crazy traffic on the bridge, I swung north to the tiny enclave of Sausalito. Even back then Sausalito was a very special place. During the war, the Navy had installed a host of ship maintenance facilities. By the sixties those had all disappeared but a lot of the ship workers had stayed. They were joined by displaced beats and hippies from across the bay.


Together they made Sausalito an eclectic community, a growing artist colony and home to the funky and weird. On the way out of town, I spotted this inlet where fancy cars were parked in front and yachts in back. It was a novel idea at the time, priceless in this day and age. It was the first sign of encroaching humanity. The pristine countryside of Sausalito was becoming just another suburb of San Francisco.



This was one of dozens of inlets along the coast road where the sea had dumped its collection of driftwood and debris on land. I’m sure there were treasures down there but I never stopped to investigate. I was so tempted to ride down to this house to see who lived there. I can’t image a more remote, mysterious and wonderful place to live. It was probably some writer toiling on the great American novel and suffering the pangs of a broken love affair.




Back along the bay, I came across this new military housing complex being built. The view out their front door was to die for. But more fascinating were the old World War Two defensive installations that ran up and down the bayside. It was a concrete collection of pillboxes, command centers and the foundations for large cannons which would have been pointed out to sea. Then behind those old fortifications was a new radar facility and cameras pointed down at a kid on a scooter who was peering up at them.


By the end of the week, I was flying with wild abandon. Yet I only crashed once, taking a curve too fast on wet leaves and ending up in a gully sans my glasses, hat and pride. The scooter was OK except for the mud and leaves that coated its undercarriage with brown muck.  I found my glasses, picked the dirt out of my teeth, and climbed back up on the saddle again.

During that week, one song in particular kept bouncing around inside my head. “Four Strong Winds” by Ian and Sylvia. It spoke of loss, separation and the infinitesimal yearning for some-thing better even if ‘it’ couldn’t be defined at the time. It’s a great song and still brings back a lot of fond memories.


I realize now that back then I was living in the moment…what Buddhists call mindfulness. It was just a few short months before that tsunami of change hit the shores of San Francisco and I was transferred to the hell that was known as Fort Polk, Louisiana.

Today we would translate that mindset as conscious living. In his book “Wherever You Go There You Are – mindfulness meditation in everyday life,” author Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about mindfulness as enlightening and liberating work. “It is enlightening in that it literally allows us to see more clearly, and therefore come to understand more deeply, areas in our lives that we were out of touch with or unwilling to look at.” Words to build a life on.


I should ride a scooter more often.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

A Musical Education



What goes around comes around. The world of music is no different. Sales of vinyl records have steadily increased since a couple of years ago when Sony Music Corporation decided to reissue old albums and produce new musical releases on vinyl.  The last time Sony made a vinyl record was 1989. One could certainly argue that this announcement is just one of a number of signs that the music industry is once again changing with the times and customer tastes. The younger generation has heard the siren call of the classics once again.


For those of us old timers who have been reluctant to give up our turntables, this felt like vindication of a sort. It was a kind of recognition that everything new isn’t necessarily better than the old tried and true. This is especially true when it comes to music.


My eldest granddaughter Maya recently decided she wanted a new record player for her 14th birthday. I couldn’t have been prouder. Now I have an opportunity to introduce her to my kind of ‘classical music’ which I define as music from the 50s and 60s. Dated yes but still timely.


I immediately perused my own collection of vinyl and found several samples that I thought would give her a good exposure to the classics.


Her dad and Aunt Melanie gave her two classic albums: Unplugged (by Nirvana) and Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

I had to laugh. Musical taste is a good example of that. I guess if you wait long enough, the old becomes new again or at least enjoys a resurgence of interest. My old collection of musical memories from the fifties and sixties, long sequestered to basement shelves, are garnering new attention.



Traveling the back roads of one’s mind can be a geriatric benefit for people my age. Sometimes there is a tendency to revisit old people, places, and times with reflections and refractions that tend to meld into a soul-satisfying stroll down memory lane.

Vinyl can do just that. Having been down that road before, I can attest to the magic of vinyl and the old songs that take me back to yesteryear. Music has always been a huge part of my life and this renewal of interest in LPs (long playing records) just brings a smile to my face.

A while back, there was an article on the resurgence of vinyl records. The reporter did an interview with Bob Fuchs, general manager of the popular Minnesota record store, The Electric Fetus. It was a fascinating step back in time and remuneration of that popular phrase ‘what goes around comes around again.’



Back in the day when I was hanging out in Dinky Town and fantasizing about life while at the Triangle Bar, the Electric Fetus was my refuge from the storm of life. It was a magic place where overhead music played at a deafening roar and all kinds of wannabe hippies and many of the real ones crowded the narrow aisles flipping through the stacks of vinyl.

Bob’s interview offered a fascinating glimpse into the present day world of music and how just as things change some things remain the same. A longtime Minnesota music mainstay, Fuchs has seen it all firsthand in his 30 years in the business (he started in the record department in December 1987).

I’ve lifted several segments from that interview and want to give full credit to MinnPost for the article.*

First, Bob was asked about vinyl at the Electric Fetus.

Bob Fuchs: In about 2000, we had 120 bins, maybe 118 of CDs and two bins of records left, and they weren’t even full. Today we’re up to nearly 50 bins of vinyl again. It’s almost 50/50 LPs/CDs now. By next year at this point, more than 50 percent of our space in the record department will be LPs.

The surprising thing to some people is we still sell CDs. They walk in and don’t even know that. They’re like, “I haven’t bought a CD in five or seven years!” We still sell twice as many CDs as LPs. Many people want physical media, whether it’s an LP or a CD. I play both every day.

Then Bob was asked about the ratio of new vinyl to used.

Bob Fuchs: Probably about twice as many used as new. In dollar amounts, new vinyl is much more expensive than most used vinyl. Most new LPs are between $17 and $25.

I think many people want to write vinyl off as a fad that’s coming back. But it was a staple for 50 to 60 years, and then there was a period of about 10 years when it wasn’t in vogue, and now it’s coming back again because of the experience.

People say they like the sound, but regardless of the quality of your musical reproduction system at home, it’s the experience. You tend to be more engaged. You sit down. You stay close. Your experience is heightened by all your senses. You’re listening, you’re reading, you’re looking, you’re appreciating art. So it’s more encompassing than just streaming a song.


An LP is the ultimate cultural artifact for music. You’ve got liner notes. You’ve got lyrics. Oftentimes, you’ve got photography, artwork, information. It’s a stamp in time, and a physical presence. A gatefold LP is 2 feet by 1 foot. It’s like a book. Some people still prefer books.

One aspect about LPs that I just took for granted was the liner notes and artwork. Apparently, a lot of people weren’t so oblivious about such things.

Bob Fuchs: When you compare most packaging now to 15 to 20 years ago, there were a lot of budget productions back then. Simple jackets, thin paper. They were minimalist and sometimes cheap. Today, people are thinking – this is the ultimate packaging. Let’s make it a gatefold. Let’s use heavier-weight cardboard or paper. Let’s press on heavier vinyl. Many people have commented at the counter that LPs are really heavy. They don’t remember them being so heavy.

Then as an unintended salute to old people’s taste everywhere, Bob explained who is leading the charge back into vinyl.

Bob Fuchs: The single biggest thing I’ve noticed is the change in demographics. This whole revival has been pushed primarily, or at least initially and still very heavily, by people under 30. There’s a much higher percentage of women buying records than there were buying CDs or records previously. What stands out most for me is the number of young women who are buying records now. In my 30 years, I don’t ever remember that many young women in the store.

Vinyl to me was the sixties personified. It was Dinkytown, the Triangle Bar, West Bank, working all day at the Public Health Department and volunteering each night at KTCA public television. It was that stunning blond working as the evening receptionist, writing poetry, attending St. John Neumann with Susan and a very brief movie-making career.

It was slow growth growing up and pondering a whole bushel basket full of ‘what if’s’ and ‘why not?’ Vinyl brings it all back home. When the needle touches skin and the music begins, I am transported back in time to a much simpler time that was good and only got a lot better.


Now my eldest granddaughter gets to experience the same joy I have listening to those old records and the mind-pictures they paint in our heads.

*Portions of this interview with Bob Fuchs were taken from an article written by Ms. Pamela Espeland that appeared on the web site MinnPost on August 20th, 2017.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Up, Up and Away


The Coachella Valley is an arid rift valley in the Colorado Desert of Southern California. It is home to a number of wintertime resort cities and numerous winter events. The valley extends approximately forty five miles southeast from the San Gorgonio Pass in the west to the northern shore of the Salton Sea on the southeast. It’s approximately fifteen miles wide along most of its length. Surrounding the valley are the San Bernardino and Little San Bernardino Mountains on the northeast and the San Jacinto and Santa Rose Mountains on the southwest.


A couple of years ago for my birthday, the kids gave me an aerial tour of Palm Springs in a bi-plane. It was a wonderful way to see and photograph this fascinating place I call home half of the year. Palm Springs is located on the western most end of the Coachella Valley but its top-ography, geography and ambiance is representative of the entire Coachella Valley.



We started the tour by flying over downtown Palm Springs.



The downtown area is going through a metamorphosis with new hotels, retail establishments, art galleries and eateries. It’s become a mecca for our ever-growing tourist trade.


Then we swung south, skirting the San Jacinto Mountains where some of my favorite hiking trails are located.


To our left was the Indian Canyon neighborhood where Sharon and I have lived for over ten years.



Then it was down into the back canyons of the Indian lands.



These back canyons called Andreas, Murray and Palm Canyon, all had their climbing peaks and hidden oasis as a part of the San Jacinto Mountain chain.


Even on the ground, the country around here is a wonder to behold. Oswald Canyon offers winding hiking tours of the mountain base.


The Henderson and Garstin Trails offer up elevation for a different perspective of the surrounding terrain.




The wash at the base of the Henderson Trail offers up an entirely different perspective of desert life.



Beyond the borders of the Coachella Valley, the high desert offers up its own varied terrain and atmosphere.



Yucca Valley, the Morongo Valley, and Joshua Tree all offer up a cornucopia of visual experiences.



The Coachella Valley and its surrounding mountains offer up a fascinating variety of scenery all year round.