Trippin’ Roads, Rails, and Mountain Trails
Episode 15, September--October 1969
James pushed his wire-rimmed glasses further up his nose and said, “You can find some valuable stuff at the dump. Jeff, the guy who runs it, has a stash of things behind his trailer. If you ever need something, check with him first. We found a beautiful, old-fashioned bathtub with cool dragon feet.”
Carlota added, “We always bring him booze or a joint or something. Today, I’m taking a jar of plum jam that I made.”
Albert and I followed James and Carlota across town. We pulled into the town dump and parked next to a lanky, middle-aged black man. He was busy poking at a pile of burning trash with a broken shovel handle.
“Hey, Jeff. How’s it hanging?” James asked.
“Bout da’ same, boy. What happening wit you folks?”
Carlotta handed Jeff the jar of jam. “Here’s something for you, Jeff. Plum jam that I made yesterday.”
Jeff took hold of it and said, “Thankee, missy.” He opened the jar, sniffed at it, and then drank half the jar in a few gulps.
James stifled a laugh as he introduced us. “This is Albert and that’s Rich. They’re living up at the Hays’ place.”
“Up at Buck’s spread. All righty. Howdy, gents.”
I shook his hand. “Howdy.” And Albert did the same.
Jeff went back to his work and allowed us to roam around looking for treasures. We left the dump with two well-worn, over-stuffed easy chairs designated for our front porch and a Formica kitchen table with two chairs.
On our next trip to the dump, I scored an old army field trunk. The trunk unfolded into a desk with lots of cubby holes and compartments. It even had two hidden cubicles for my stash. I placed it upon a narrow wooden table from our back porch, creating a nice addition to my room.
* * * * *
Rosie and I were lounging together on the porch in our new, shabby easy chairs when she asked, “Were there polar bears where you were in Alaska?”
“Actually, I learned how to catch a polar bear while I was there.”
“How do you do that?”
“Well, first you cut a big hole in the ice. Then you string a whole bunch of peas and place the string around the hole. And when the polar bear comes to take a pea, you kick him in the ice hole.”
Rosie rolled her eyes and said, “Right!”
Just then an emaciated gray stray cat wandered in from the fields, heading straight for us. Unlike most feral cats, he wasn’t skittish. He was mostly skin and bones, and he didn’t even have a normal meow. When he called out, it was no more than a grated whisper that cracked and vibrated. It sounded slow and stretched out, like “m-m-e-e-e-o-o-w-w.”
Feeling sorry for him, Rosie gave him a saucer of milk, and he lapped up every drop. He soon became part of the family, even following us on walks. Being imaginative with names, we called him Fred. He was the mellowest cat ever. I once said, “If a pack of hungry dogs were pulling Fred apart, he’d purr to the last sinew.”
His meow never really improved. Rosie often referred to him in a grating voice that mimicked his. He was her beloved F-f-r-r-e-e-e-e-d-d.
* * * * *
We met more of the hippie community at a poker party, where we played penny-nickel-dime poker, drank wine, ate fresh-baked goodies, and smoked lots of grass. Everyone was warm-hearted and generous. Albert and I left a few bucks lighter, but we'd been given a wooden fruit box full of walnuts, a large bag of almonds, and a box of wild apples. There were still warm fall days ahead of us, and our swimming hole became popular, securing us a place in this freaky country family.
* * * * *
One Saturday, the horse owners showed up. Ray was a service man stationed at Travis Air Force Base, and Julie was a housewife. They both looked very straight, especially Ray with his buzz-cut military hair style. After visiting with them for a bit, Ray leaned forward and asked, “Do you guys smoke dope?”
I said, “We’ve been known to indulge in such tendencies now and again. Why?”
“Well, I just happened to have a doobie here if you’d like to partake?”
He slipped a joint out of his shirt pocket and held it up, a gleam in his eye. Julie had a silly smile on her face.
“Well, if they’re twisting our arms?” I snickered, smiling at Albert.
“Shucks, I believe it would be unsocial to refuse,” said Albert.
Ray lit it up and took a puff. Trying to hold it in and talk at the same time, he said in a suppressed voice, “This is good shit!” His appraisal proved valid and Ray gave us permission to ride their horses, Lady and Blaze, whenever we wanted.
The next day, I decided to take him up on his offer. Placing my saddle, blanket, and bridle on the gate, I entered the corral, coaxed Lady with fresh grass shoots, and tied her to a post in the corner of the corral. There was a gate in front to her right and a wood fence with wide horizontal slats on her left. She pulled back on the rope and panicked. Then she pulled again and again, twisting and turning, trying to rise on her rear legs. With the rope still attached to the post, she fell onto her side with a loud thud. Both rear legs were sticking through slats of the fence.
It all happened in seconds, and I was worried about the position of her body. If she kept struggling, she could break her legs. As she thrashed about, I tried to figure out how to best help her. Then the strangest thing happened. Lying on her side with her head on the ground, she was able to see under the lower slat of the fence. And what she saw was a chunk of alfalfa hay the size of a half loaf of bread, just ten inches from her nose.
Now, I know horses love to eat, but this was too much. Lady forgot her predicament and stretched her neck under the fence. Crazy as it was, it gave me time to untie the rope. As she extended her neck, she drew her legs away from the fence. When she had retrieved her treat, she stood up and chewed it as though nothing had happened. Not believing what I’d just witnessed, I inhaled a deep breath, then saddled her and went for a ride.
The next time I saw Ray, I told him what happened. He scratched his head, “Oh, I forgot to tell you. You can’t tie Lady. It freaks her out.”
You think? Now that would have been a good thing to know.
* * * * *
One rainy evening, Albert and I shared a conversation at the kitchen table, close to our only light source—a single dangling bulb hanging over the sink.
Albert said, “You know, we need more light around here.”
I agreed. “Electricity is scarce. The only plug is on the back porch for the fridge.”
“I’ve been thinking about all that wire and electrical stuff that Buck stashed in the barn. He told me he’s an electrician at the university. I think he keeps the leftovers from his jobs.”
“I was wondering what all that stuff was about. He must have been hoarding it for years. By the way, have you ever seen him without an Olympia Beer can in his left hand?”
“Can’t say as I have.”
“I think his hand is permanently shaped in beer-can-holding position.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised. I always see his truck in front of The Country Club.”
“That funky bar just before you get into Winters?”
“Yep. Anyway, what do you say we put some of that scrap electrical to use? I have some fixtures and light bulbs of my own. We could have light in our rooms.”
“You want to do it now? It’s getting late.”
“I have some bennies. We could get wired and do some wiring!” Albert wore his trademark sly grin.
“I only took Benzedrine once, back when I was a freshman. I had to cram for an exam, and someone gave me one. It was focus city. I was never so ready for a test in my life.”
“Did you ace it?”
“No. I crashed as soon as I started to take the test. Could barely keep my eyes open. I think I got a D. That’s the last time I tried that stuff.”
“Well, there won’t be any tests tonight. Are you game?”
“What the shit. If we need to wire this place, we might as well start with us.”
We both popped a bennie, then climbed up into the narrow attic crawl space with our flashlights. Albert inspected two wires on insulators that ran along the beams. Then we walked to the barn to get supplies.
Albert knew what he was doing and I assisted him, following his instructions. We cut and strung wire, drilled holes, and attached fixtures and sockets throughout the night. As a promising light emerged in the east, we admired our work. Light bulbs hung in both bedrooms, powered by wall switches. And all rooms including the kitchen now featured two electrical sockets.
Should have been all the electrical amenities we needed, right?
Not quite. Being wired, we didn’t stop there. The back porch and front porch became illuminated. We installed a bulb in the barn and one between the barn and the house to light the way.
Another addition included a switch on the back porch that lit the path to the outhouse—and the outhouse itself was equipped with a light and a socket that allowed entertaining radio music for its occupants.
Albert said, “I have an old heater in Sacramento that I’ll bring up for the outhouse. No sense in freezing our tails this winter when taking a dump.”
We went to bed quite satisfied with ourselves—and with our farm now totally electrified. Tommy Edison—eat your heart out!
To be continued ...
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Trippin': Roads, Rails & Mountain Trails
In book 2 of his Hippie Adventurer Series, Rich takes us on another wild ride during the 1960s as he and his faithful canine companion, Charlie, hitchhike, hop freights, work in an Alaskan gold mining camp, and manage a Sacramento Valley cattle ranch.
A Message from Rich
Trippin’ is my gift to all of you. For me, the ’60s were a heartfelt time of growth, exploration, freedom, and brotherhood. I hope to impart a truthful account of what it was like to live as a hippie in that wacky, magical era. Enjoy the journey!
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If you haven’t read the first book in the Hippie Adventurer Series, the award-winning Groovin’: Horses, Hopes, and Slippery Slopes, you can find it on Amazon and Audible.
1A. Escape from Heavy Caverns