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The LEAVING Mimi just tossed and turned in her bed. It was another sleepless night. They were becoming more and more common these days as the excitement of anticipating the approaching journey continued to rise in her. Expectations were high.
It was that hippie thing. Though the sixties had long since fizzled out, Mimi was part of a new breed. These young people had missed out on the innovations and freedoms that had arose out of the Beat Generation of the 50’s and had defined themselves in the 60’s in the Hippies. Places like Haight-Ashbury, Berkeley, Greenwich Village, Ann Arbor, Madison ... they had magical names. Mimi and her cohorts of the 70’s were attempting, however unconsciously, to emulate that magic. It was truly genuine, just past its day, maybe. They didn’t realize nor care. There were real notions that came out of those eras that would continue on. These people were the torch bearers, hopefully, to pass them on to still future generations. A continuing manifestation of the Woodstock Nation. The Merry Pranksters without Ken Kesey, perhaps.
This particular sleepless night, Mimi was going over and over again all the personalities that she had suddenly become entangled with. The personalities she would spend every minute of every day with. Personalities most of which she hardly even knew. It would all work out, though, Mimi felt sure. Everyone wanted to get along, to sort of build a community on wheels, roving the land in search of inner peace. Finding the place where all the ideals they all espoused could actually work. Away from those restraints.
She thought of Scottie. He was the most upbeat person she knew, and her best friend. He was fun loving, happy ... he was crazy. No problem there. Roy, on the other hand, was moody, at times unrealistic. She thought him a twerp. But, the idea of getting laid all across the country had an appeal to her. He was loyal, if he thought you were on his side. So, she’d put up with his hard to get along with ways. Maybe a problem there. Time would tell.
Everyone else, she hardly knew. It seemed to her, the success of the endeavor would depend on Slick & BugaLady. BugaLady, though only seventeen — the youngest of anyone, seemed to be the “Mother Nature” of the group. Gentle but firm in her ways. Spontaneous but sure in her direction. She could always make Mimi feel happy & secure. She looked much older, and was much wiser, than her years. If anyone embodied the heart of the group, it had to be Slick, she thought. He was political and believed to the core everything he said. Always positive & happy. Nothing would stand in his way. He would make this work. Doof she loved, despite the fact he sometimes grossed her out. He had a big heart & good intentions, but was such a slob! She felt close to him anyhow. Plus, he was the spark plug that kept Slick going. Mimi admired greatly Serena. How sexy she looked with all that wild, flaming red hair framing that sensual face. What a personality. Always subdued and sweet. There was some inner conflict though. It was the same as it had been with Fiddle before. Always that tinge of jealousy over Scottie. Totally unwarranted, but there, just below the surface, nonetheless. Yonna was quiet, mellow, subdued, too. A very easy person to talk to. Seemed everyone liked Yonna. Didn’t seem to be too much cause for worry in all these people. Then, as she tossed and pulled the sheets all out of position, she thought of Amy. This girl was weird. Couldn’t put her finger on it, but she just didn’t seem to fit. Slick & Doof had hand picked her themselves first, so maybe they saw something in her that Mimi overlooked. She hoped so.
Oh, it would all be fine. She was certain. The shear adventure of it all would override any problems. The long night wore on.
“Pass that coffee, man.”
Slick & Doof were back at IHOP’s.
“So, what do you think of this group?”
Doof hesitated, then stuttered, “I don’t know, man ... Too many chicks, maybe ... That can get weird, very weird ... They’re all messed up all the time ... I think Mimi’s OK ...”
“Yeah, she’s like one of the guys ... Believe me, Doof, BugaLady’s cool, too ... “
“Yeah, right ... you’re just sayin’ that ‘cause you been ballin’ her ...”
“Maybe, but she’ll be OK. Don’t worry ... But Doof, above all else, remember, we’ve got to stick together. You & me. Then it’ll all work out.”
“Right on, brother!”
The two grasped hands across the table. Then they gulped some more coffee.
“So, when do we get to meet this Roy?”
It was the middle of May. Everyone was gathering over at Doof’s place. It was to be a communal redesigning of the van. A finalization of plans. Most important of all, the first meeting with Roy.
It was a beautiful Spring day. Sunny & warm. The leaves were just about filled out on the maples which bordered the suburban street - 1940’s Cape Cod style homes, on 50’ X 100’ little plots, neatly lined up. Stacked under the shelter of the back porch was a bunch of lumber, some black exterior latex, hinges, bolts, a canvas, a bunch of other stuff Slick & Doof had gathered for the trip, to redecorate the van into something more homey. Indeed, it would be home. It would be base. It was the means to the end. Everyone developed their own special attachment to this vehicle. This mere mass of rubber & steel - or whatever it was it was made of. The van became all important. It was cared for like a baby.
And so, everyone began to arrive over there at Doof’s. Amy stopped by Slick’s to pick him up. The two worked across the street and around the corner to Doof’s.
“What you got there?”
Amy was carrying a soft bundle.
“Oh, some curtains I picked out for the van.”
She pulled out a bundle of white material, tie-dyed mustard yellow, a sky blue, and a strawberry red. All in geometric patterns.
They arrived. Mimi, Scottie, & Roy were already there, sipping ice-tea Annabelle, Doof’s incredibly energetic mother, had served. Out front was the red Datsun Roy drove.
“What’s happening?” That was Slick’s standard opening.
“Hey man,” Doof said, the energy dripping off his being, “Scottie’s got a tape deck to put in the van.”
“Great, how’s everybody doin’?” He scanned the faces. “You must be the famous Roy.”
Mimi jumped in, “Yeah, Slick this is Roy. Roy, this is Amy and that’s Slick.”
“Welcome to the ozone.”
This little guy who looked back at Slick & Amy was the spitting image of Paul Simon. He had thinning, frizzed out brown hair, falling below his ears in tight curls. A deeply receding hairline. He had close set eyes, a firm square jaw. Roy was clean shaven.
Slick thought, “Looks like Bozo the Clown.”
He spoke in a whining, nasal tone.
“Listen to the Dead?”
Immediately, Slick & Doof liked this fellow. He had spoken the magic words. Next to him was an open guitar case, the acoustic guitar inside visible. Slick took a liking to the peace symbol covered American flag sticker patched on the guitar. Another good sign.
“A little. Want to try it?”
Slick took the guitar and leaned back against the brick half wall. He strummed some chords, finger picked a little.
“Nice, I’ve got a 12-string. You gonna bring this?”
“Hey, everyone else is here!”
Pulling up in Serena’s parents’ car were Yonna, BugaLady, & Serena. They carried some baked goods & a cooler with some beer. Everyone introduced them to Roy, hugs and other formalities were taken care of, and BugaLady distributed the ice cold brew to everyone. Everyone except Mimi. She didn’t drink.
“OK, we’ve got a lot to do.” Slick said, but Scottie was already doing. He was inside the van wiring up the 8-track stereo system. Everyone jumped in. The boards for a roof rack were painted black and put out in the sun to dry. The ladies put up spring curtain rods in the van and hung those tie-dyed beauties. The VW was two-tone on the outside. The lower half was a baby blue, above the thin strip of chrome was white. The curtains gave it some identity. They were hung all around the van windows. All except the front cab. Two metal braces were put on the roof to which the cumbersome roof rack was fastened after it had been put together. A heavy white canvas fly was nailed to the inner portion of the rack to keep the luggage dry. It was attached on the side of the sliding van door to double as an awning when camped. The curtains were hung, the new stereo was blasting tunes out there in the middle of suburbia, and the shiny, freshly painted roof rack was secured. Scottie & Doof worked feverishly on putting a bench seat along the side of the interior, across from the door. It was hollow and had a hinged top. The bench would double as storage. Slick hung an American flag on the ceiling above the front seats. It was taking shape. Transforming from a suburban scooter into a cross-country caravan.
“I brought this,” Mimi murmured, somewhat reluctantly.
It was a seat belt. The guys hooked it up in the back seat, on the passenger side. That would be Mimi’s official seat from then on.
“Open some more beer,” shouted Scottie.
They were hot & sweaty, working continuously out there in the van in the hot sun for 4, maybe 5, hours. It was time for a break. Everything was pretty much done anyway. As they guzzled those cold beers, Buds, there was much to discuss.
“So, we leave June 1 - early - where do you want to meet us, Roy?” Slick asked.
“I wish you could leave with us so bad!” said Mimi.
“Well, I can’t leave until the 21st. Where will you be?”
Yonna broke into a burst of high pitched, giggling laughter. It was her trade mark.
“We could be anywhere!! Come on ...”
“You just gonna hafta catch us if you can ...” Scottie broke into the old Dave Clark Five classic.
“Damn right, man!” Doof added for punctuation.
BugaLady & Serena looked whimsically at each other. Finally, BugaLady said in her best English brogue,
“C’mon lads, you’ve got to do something. We can’t just play cat and mouse all summer. Cheerio!”
BugaLady wasn’t English, well, by ancestry she was, she just loved to talk that way. Amidst the laughter, and Roy’s feelings of uncertainty, Slick decided.
“Listen, we don’t need to rush. We’ll just be moseying along. That’s three weeks. If we head up through Canada, maybe we can just drop down to Ann Arbor or ...”
“That’s MICHIGAN! Michigan’s not in Canada. Oh shit, Slick’s drunk again ...” Doof was in an uproar.
“Thanks for the geography lesson. I know that. Don’t you want to check that place out? It’s really radical ...”
“Ah, Berkeley all over again. Remember the chicks there in Berkeley? I never saw so many ...”
“He doesn’t remember any chickadees, does he?” BugaLady defended.
“I figure we can take our time and get there no problem. If we’re early, it will be a good place to hang out in. How long will it take you to get there? Where’s the map?”
Amy threw an Esso Eastern United States road map across the circle everyone had formed. She had a stack of maps, the remainder of which she then got up to place in their new home, the VW’s glove compartment. Roy spread the map out in the middle of the circle. Everyone hunched up on their hands & knees to view the terrain. It was like a massive game of Twister.
“Probably 2 or 3 days, tops. Sounds like a good place to me.”
“Yeah, good. There’s probably lots of pot in that town. Let’s do it.” Doof was happy.
All the others readily agreed. Most didn’t care. This was to be an aimless rambling. It didn’t really matter where they were when. As long as they were going. That was important. Keep on truckin’!
Serena pointed to a big blue mass on the map.
“What’s that? A sea?”
“No, no, that’s Lake Superior, one of the Great Lakes. If we go the way I think we will, you’ll see it. It’s beautiful. One of the nicest places around. Big!” Slick informed her.
“It looks big!”
“We’re goin’ that way, bro’, remember? Canada. Land of the free!”
“I thought the good ole USA was the land of the free.” Yonna queried Doof.
“That was then, this is now! Canada is great.”
“Yep, I think maybe I’ll apply there for citizenship someday. It was great hitch hiking up there. Freaks would courteously line up, in turn, at some crowded spots. Just waiting for rides. Remember that Doof?”
“What about that guy, that ex-GI? Remember him. That was out in front of that pig pen ... he was talkin’ about melting the gooks ... he was weird, man.”
“Bet we’ll meet a lot of weird men!” Yonna was licking her lips seductively.
Serena blushed, looking passively at Scottie who was studying the map and paying no mind. BugaLady & Mimi were chitchatting about the road. Everyone was breaking down into small cliques, discussing the ways & means of tripping cross country. The beer was refreshing. It was a great time. Everyone’s focus was exclusively on the trip. Most all, save Roy, were of one mind. They were never coming back. This was a one way ticket to nirvana. Life would never be the same.
Discussion eventually came back to earth. It was democratically decided that all, again save Roy - he was sort of on his own at this point, somewhat in limbo, apart from the rest - would chip in $50 before leaving for a gas slush fund. Plenty, even for some minor repairs. After all, gas was still cheap, even after the gas crisis of ‘73, and they weren’t coming back. No way. Not to Long Island. Probably, unless something better came along, they’d all get a house together in southern California. Slick was sure of that. His ex-girlfriend, now that he and BugaLady were together, Butterball’s best friend - and now Doof’s ex - Joan had this brother, Rudy down in Encinitas. He ran a health food store. His own business. The word was, Slick had a job if he ever showed up there. Doof, too.
Also agreed to, was the notion that there would be communal food buying. $10 a week would cover everything for everybody, not counting any restaurant meals, which would probably be few and far between. BugaLady, Yonna, Serena, & Amy were appointed food list makers. Slick suggested some cooking utensils - a spatula for pancakes was a must - but that subject too was in the ladies’ hands. All except Mimi’s. She was a vegetarian. She made a few requests, but decided to leave all that to the majority.
The gathering broke up. Much was accomplished. Everyone was keyed up & ready to roll. Doof & Slick had pulled it off. Found a van, filled it with idealistic compatriots, and were on the verge of the greatest adventure of their lives. Mimi & Scottie, too, had pulled it off. From out of nowhere, they had found the perfect getaway. BugaLady & Slick were madly in love. Scottie & Serena moving quickly in that direction. Roy & Mimi ,,, well love was certainly not the word of choice. They were using each other quite nicely, though, and better yet, neither cared! Yonna was good friends with Serena & BugaLady, becoming closer to the others as well. Only Amy seemed out of place. Even though she was in the picture with Doof & Slick before anyone else, maybe because of that, she was falling by the wayside. Going she was ... she was not going to get this far, and then not leave. Maybe the pieces would fit better later on. She knew she just had to get back to California ... to her love, Joey. Why she had left him, and those motorcycle thrill rides, she couldn’t figure out. Now she was going back. They were all going back. Even those who had never been out there, free. They had imagined it so many times it felt like they had. This was too good to be true. Everyone agreed on that.
Scottie had invited everyone to spend a weekend at his parents’ little summer cottage near Camelback, Pennsylvania. It seemed to all a good idea. A chance to spend some real time together. So, they did. Spreading sleeping bags and blankets all over the place at the small A-frame in the country. It was on Dogleg Drive. There was a wooden plaque near the house. It simply said Dogleg. It intrigued Slick.
“What’s a Dogleg?” he wondered aloud.
The last thing Scottie did before leaving, after a fun-filled, group-bonding weekend, was slip that sign off it’s post and into his bedroll. He thought it might be useful one day.
“That’s the one. I like that one.”
Yonna needed a back pack for the expedition - and expedition is what this was turning into in everyone’s minds. A long, dangerous journey into the unknown in hopes of discovering that special location, and state of mind, where all would be well with the world - she liked this big red lightweight nylon model. She carefully pulled it from the rack, separating it from the scores of others which lined the aisles at Herman’s Sporting Goods. Slick nodded in agreement.
Everyone was here, scattered all over the store like ants scurrying about gathering crumbs at a summer picnic. BugaLady pulled a red coffee pot off a shelf, Amy & Yonna chipped in on a nice dark blue backpacking tent. Slick & Doof had a two burner Coleman propane stove, but everyone agreed another was definitely needed with all these mouths to feed. They collectively picked out a mustard yellow model.
“Matches the curtains,” chuckled Scottie. “Can we tie-dye it, too?”
Canteens, sleeping bags, Tupperware style food containers, bug spray, flashlights, waterproof matches, a first aid kit, practically everything was purchased. Mimi helped Scottie pick out a rugged pair of hiking boots. Serena selected her backpack, a nice tan model. The store personnel smiled as they watched this event, dollar signs in their eyes. They watched as Roy took one item off the shelf after another, deciding whether or not he really needed to spend $3.50 on a collapsible cup, or $1.50 on a plastic toothbrush holder. He did pick out a little wash-up kit.
“I have one like that, from my Boy Scout days.” Slick said.
It had a brown plastic-coated outer covering which folded out much like a billfold. It contained a metal mirror, soap box, two-piece mini toothbrush, wash cloth, brush & comb. Just what every self-respecting camper needed. All for just $10.00.
“They’re just a bunch of drug crazed hippies! What are you doing with your life? You’re so young to throw it all away like this! All you girls, you’ll be like little hussy’s. Those boys are just using you!”
Though separated by miles, from Rego Park to Rocky Point, the message was the same. The parents of Serena, of BugaLady, of Yonna, of Amy, of Mimi ... they all unknowingly mimicked each other. They spoke of one mind. It was almost choreographed.
“No, it’s not like that. Scottie is so sweet.”
“You don’t know Slick, he’s so sweet.”
“He’s sweet, mom. Roy’s a good guy!”
The chorus of answers reverberated across Long Island.
Amy’s parents pleaded with her not to go. It wasn’t too late yet.
“You don’t know what you’re doing. They’ll use you! Please, we beg you. Stay home!”
Amy could only see motorcycles, California beach and sun ... and, of course, Joey.
Perhaps Yonna had it the worst. She had to deal with all of that, plus more.
“Why don’t you find some black friends? You’re always going with all those white folks. See what crazy mischief they’re getting you into?”
Yonna just shrugged. This is what she wanted to do.
The light of the pale moon silhouetted Scottie’s curls against the night sky. He was up on top of the van, standing within the roof rack.
“OK, pass me up another one.”
Slick & Doof lifted another overfilled back pack.
“Man, this one’s heavy. What you got in here, Yonna?”
It was two nights before the great leaving was scheduled. Time to put the finishing touches on the van. It seemed the van had taken on some sort of personality. Yet, it didn’t have a name.
The guys loaded all the back packs, sleeping bags, and tents they could up there in the huge, heavy black roof rack they had constructed. The stoves, propane, bright yellow cooler, and whatever didn’t make it on the roof was crammed into the back compartment of the van, surrounded by tie-dye. In the storage bin of the side bench went all the cooking utensils, dry food stuffs, and paper goods. Up front were the tapes, maps, the first aid kit, a snake bite kit, a flashlight. Guitar cases were fitted wherever they could. Three of them. Slick’s, Scottie’s, & BugaLady’s banjo.
On the ceiling, Mimi carefully tacked posters that everyone had contributed. Torn from their walls. A little bit of home accompanying their owners on the road. There was one of Duane Allman, another of Leon Russell, one of Jerry Garcia sitting at a pedal steel guitar. Someone put up a huge orange day-glo peace sign near the back, over the cooler. Serena re-tacked the American flag Slick had hung.
On the roof Scottie was pulling the straps tight over the canvas which had all been carefully tucked in. BugaLady came out with a little steel box. Everyone put in their $50, a total of $400, for gas. The box was stuffed under the front passenger seat. Doof threw in an extra set of keys. Mimi sat in the back adjusting her homemade seat belt, wondering if it would really work. Roy & Slick went over their rendezvous plans one more time. Finally, just before breaking up, Slick handed Scottie a small dark brown leather pouch with bright brass grommets. He had noticed Scottie admiring it in the past. Butterball had made it for him, he didn’t need it anymore.
All seemed ready. Everything was done, but the goodbyes.
They hugged tightly. Slick & Ronnie had been through it all. They played with little soldiers when they were little themselves. Spent years playing ball together out in the street. Now, they played in a band together. They even got high together.
“I’ll miss you little brother.”
“I’m gonna miss you, too.” Tears welled up in Ronnie’s eyes.
“Take good care of our sister, huh.” The finality of it all was beginning to catch up with Slick.
“You be a good Jewish girl. Remember the Sabbath!”
“Don’t worry, I will.” It was a weak confirmation, but the best Mimi could do. She was finally to be free of these shackles. Now, she would be able to do as she pleased, to be herself. Still, a great sadness spread over her, realizing it might be years before she saw these dinosaurs of the parent world again. And they were good parents, despite their antiquated ways. They hugged.
The same scene played out in everyone’s homes. There was no turning back. They were on the eve. All the friends, all the family, they might never be seen again. This was the moment they had dreamed of for years, planned for these past six months. Now it was going to happen, and it was scary. A little cubicle on wheels, crammed full of people and supplies, crashing through a void and into the wide open expanses of the great unknown. There had better be a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow, or the world would never look the same again.
NEXT ... PART TWO - The TRIPPING - NEW YORK