This is the third installment in a nostalgic look back at an era, when we asked the most outrageous of favors of our sibs, with the full expectation that the request would be granted. “Stranded” and sitting on the tarmac of the off-ramp to Bakersfield, in the middle of the night, in July of 1975, I contemplated the universe.
Up for Grabs
I was already twenty-one months removed from getting out of the military, in October of 1973, and it was natural that I started ruminating on the fact that this was the same length of time that I had actually served. Funny how time differs in its passage, when you are doing something you hate, versus doing something you love.
During the more recent stretch, I had gone back to Cal Poly Pomona for two quarters, and then Nancy, my first wife, and I had moved up to San Jose, lock, stock and barrel. Nancy was infinitely more adventurous than I; without her enthusiastic endorsement of the whole move-up-north-and-start-a-commune thing, I would never have stood a chance.
No, this hippie wouldn’t so much as moved across town, if left to his own devices, especially not after finally having escaped the clutches of the Big Green Machine. It frightens me at times, that had I not had Nancy’s unqualified support to move north, I might still be in LA.
Gross me out and gag me with a spoon.
But my sibs and I had planned together, we had exchanged letters and cassette tapes for 21 months, jammed with ideas, plans and big dreams, and now it was go-time. We had sprung ourselves from the trap that is the LA Basin.
In August of 1973, while I was still 7,000 miles away in Korea, I had written a lot of letters, and received many in return, from both friends and family. In this manner I was not only able to retain my sanity by communicating with loved ones, I was able to form plans.
Older bro Noel had written me the following words: “I do hope that you and the Nancy are still planning on joining us at our community family up north. We hope to move up there in September, ’74 and we are tentatively planning on renting a home in San Francisco the first year, until we get established, and then move onto some land will be looking for. We have yet to work out the details, but there is no doubt about us going through with the whole plan, however.”
|Letter from Big Al, aka Karen|
My response? “We’ll need to go to school and take some classes in house designing,” I had opined. “I couldn’t build a house if my life depended on it. I need some learning,” I was known to have said, over and over.
I had emerged from 21 months of being around both highly educated individuals, the guys I hung out with, and those with not even a high school diploma, the majority of the rest, with an insatiable need for intellectual stimulation.
I had spent sixteen months working in a personnel service company, filing shit. I got pretty good at that old alphabet-even earned an Army Commendation Medal for devising a new filing system, one which streamlined matters, and placed all of the responsibility on the shoulders of one dude-me.
As it turned out, San Jose was the designated city, as opposed to San Francisco, and San Jose State the school, at least for me. We were a few months ahead of Noel’s schedule, having made the move on June 4th, 1974, to a four-bedroom house on War Admiral Avenue, on the very south end of San Jose.
Noel and JT were to find Santa Clara University more to their liking, but we were all of the same bent of mind. “I need to get ed-duh-ka-ted!” I would say, and everyone would agree.
Even the manner in which we went about initiating our plan, had “success” written all over it. In one weekend in late May, Noel and his first wife, Sharon, along with Nancy and I, drove up from SoCal to San Jose, and rented the place on War Admiral. Additionally, we arranged to get the power and phone connected, and bought a refrigerator for fifty bucks.
“How many of you will be living in the house?” asked our potential landlord, as he showed the four of us around.
|Noel-It's the hair...|
Noel did the talking because, well, because he was Noel. The dude made "Leave it to Beaver's Eddie Haskell look like a rabid Hell's Angels' Chapter President, by comparison. He could talk a rattlesnake out of its venom, if the need arose, not a bad skill to have in this neck of the woods.
"The four of us, certainly, Sir, with the possible entry into our space of two other individuals, both also responsible adults, one gainfully employed and the other a student."
I mean, Dave and JT had said all along that they also wanted to be part of our gig, but this was pretty sudden-like, so we weren’t sure about them yet. Noel had already explained our current status to the landlord in such glowing terms, that even I was dazzled by our potential as renters.
“And Islo, don’t forget Islo,” I chimed in. “He’s our puppy.” Pronounced Ease-Lo, he belonged to Noel and served as our guard-dog the entire fifteen months we lived in this rather rough neighborhood. His barking when the doorbell rang was music to our ears, because we knew the entire 'hood could also hear the tune.
The landlord did not seem fazed by my fiery red beard, or that we were just moving up from SoCal. The fact that we were going to school, and that I was a veteran, helped, but I also just think it was a tough place to rent, and he was thrilled to have some live ones on the hook.
There were a total of four bedrooms in this large, corner home that rented for $260.00 per month, plus utilities. I think the water bill was four dollars per month. With three couples, that would mean just over $85.00 a month for me and Nancy. My GI Bill money at this time was somewhere around 285.00 a month, I figured we were good to go.
Our primary goal was to acquire some land; that was uppermost in our scheme. Then, as we made payments on the property, we would go to school and get our degrees, so that we had the knowledge to follow through on our plans.
We used our place on War Admiral as a base of operations, while we scoured NorCal for potential land opportunities. I remember traveling in Noel’s VW Bus, Molly, up to a site in Brooktrails, after meeting the real estate dude at a local cafe.* It was at least a four-hour drive.
|Molly (Not really, but it looks like her)|
We drove up to this impossibly situated parcel, one which went straight down into this gorge, and then right back up the other side. Was it beautiful? Oh, yes. Lush? Green? Yes, indeed! Both!
“Hey, Man, I hate to bug you, you know?” I inquired evenly. “But where in tarnation would we build a house? Or even a doghouse?” It seemed like the kind of question a potential buyer might ask.
He gestured enthusiastically with both arms. “You just have to get creative,” he explained. “There’s no reason why you can’t put a house right on the side of this hill; you just have to be willing to think outside the box.”
I might have agreed with him, were it not for the simple fact that the box was poised at the edge of a precipitously steep drop. We thanked the agent profusely, backing away with thoughtful, seriously interested expressions plastered on our faces, and sauntered back to Molly. As we drove away, there was little need to confer.
“I don’t know what he took us for,” Noel said. “A bunch of burnouts?”
Of course, in retrospect, I think he saw a group of hippies looking for a place to grow some reefer, even way back in the day. Hell, Bart was growing cannabis on the ridge in 1973, in long rows like corn, right out in the open. It’s not as though this real estate agent didn’t know what the haps were.
I suggested, “There’s plenty of land up for grabs-we just have to keep looking.”
We checked out another parcel in Marin County, one which required that we pass through three locked gates, all three for which we had the combinations. We didn’t mind the gates because we liked the lay of the land; it was pretty flat.
We had a clear idea of where we were and what the boundaries were, and at first things were looking good. Then Nancy got quiet. She was the science major, and the one most likely to have a legitimate reason for saying “yea” or “nay.”
She kept striding purposefully over to this one little outcropping over to the right, and then to that more significant one over on the left. Both areas had a greenish hue to them, one that did not bode well.
“What’s that?” I asked, though it was obvious that the details were unnecessary. “Serpentine” had a decidedly sinister sound to it, so our interest in this particular piece of property evaporated accordingly. We drove away, at least mollified by the knowledge that we were on the right track, and that we were able to recognize, that which would not work for us.
The longer we were able to continue evaluating what was available, and the more parcels we looked at, the better position we would be in, to know that we had found the best fit for us. And that was exactly what happened.
Tomorrow: Bell Springs Road
* I want to say Mom’s Diner but I’m not sure that was the name. It is Ardella’s today.