It seemed like a good idea at the time 2

by Matt Olson


Point Reyes National Sea Shore is a fantastic place. Nobody in his or her right mind would think that it would be a great idea to jump in for a swim. It was almost always cold, almost always windy to the extreme, and absolutely always fierce and dramatic. If you want your sense of self diminished, so that you can get a good idea of how important you really are in the greater scope of things, you need the transcendent experience of Point Reyes at 9 in the morning on a spring day.

I sensed that my time away from school was almost done. I was getting tired of the burn- outs that occupied the little communal situation where I lived. There were only three or four of us who actually went to work on weekdays. One was a drug-addled, grinning fool who worked at a Pawn Shop. He became TV famous for handing a rifle plus ammunition to a fried Viet Nam Vet who took his newly loaded rifle and walked outside to shoot people in downtown San Francisco. Another two were an auto/bike mechanic and his "old lady," a hair stylist. And then there was me. I worked in the mailroom of an insurance company down on Market Street.

The bottom line was this: Life in The CIty had become stupid. Nobody was really interested in the Rip Off that was the Nixon administration as long as drugs flowed in to town. Nobody was thinking critically about anything. Everyday, the mailroom mailed out hundreds, sometimes thousands, of pieces of insurance crap around the country. They were posted at the two stamp rate--whatever that was in 1970. During one bored hour of many bored days, I weighed the envelopes. They weighed in at the one stamp rate. I showed my supervisor, who promptly offered me a full time mailroom job at a whooping $290 per month! I did not actually take the time to calculate how many thousands of dollars per month I had just saved that useless company. I just quit.

The idiots in the commune were no better. One of them had put a big ding-hole in my guitar, but nobody would take responsibility for it. One of these assholes suggested that I was "too materialistic" for even worrying about it. Unfortunately, that guitar--now gone-- represented my work, my time, MY money. Not some communally shared crap. Nobody there seemed to grasp the concept that my labor and time are mine. Not yours to squander. There you go.... another nail in the coffin of the '60s. 

When I went off to work each day, the communers were still asleep. When they awoke, whenever that was, they ate LSD and listened to tunes all day. By the time the four worker bees got home, the resident communers had eaten several servings of LSD, and things were beyond a little odd. The odd hit a high note when one of them, and who cares who it was, declared that ancient spirits had moved into the building and ordered everyone to clear out. I was more than glad to take my scarred guitar and what little else and move on. There were other places to crash while I figured out what to do next. 

And so there I was at Point Reyes Seashore, trying to clear my head, to grasp my unity, to find a direction. Inland was probably 50 degrees warmer and maybe even sunny. I was in some kind of parka, wishing I had boots and mittens. At least I could see the end of that chapter in my life, and it was time. 

After stopping in Inverness to get gas, I headed up Highway 1 toward the Sonoma Coast, my intention being to see some of that scape and then drive inland to get out of the damnable cold. My immediate problem was the hitchhiker who had climbed in at Inverness. In those days hitchhikers were everywhere. It was the common denominator. We all did it at some point or other. You were never concerned that you would pick up someone dangerous or get picked up by someone who was a molester or murderer. It was more an issue of whether you would wind up with someone who was interesting  or someone who was crazy. This one was clearly crazy. He was babbling about spies and Russians and other unrelated crap. It was clear to me that he was deranged, and my immediate task was to get rid of him so that I could retrieve my Point Reyes clarity.

Some distance up the coast, crazy became a little menacing. He asked me if I believed in Timothy Leary. I told him "Not only do I believe in him, I have seen him on TV." Crazy often has no sense of humor. He kept probing. Did I believe in his message? Did I have the will to drop out completely? Not wanting to get into what would have been a ragged discussion about reality, alternate realities, consciousness and the like, I just said "Oh yeah," and waited for his mind to forget that topic and race to another. He started carrying on about some "Family" he had lived with near Los Angeles until the police arrested most of them, and it became clear that he either was or believed he was a displaced member of the Manson family. I did not want to find out which was true. I just wanted him gone. My Point Reyes morning was slipping fast.

 I spotted a nice looking state beach with parking area. The Sonoma Coast is a beauty-- not as dramatic and humbling as Point Reyes-- and I needed to see a little more of it without this moronic Charles Manson fan filling my ears and time with his nonsense. I pulled into the parking lot, and this alarmed him. No one else was around, so I pointed out that we were safe from spies and Russians, but he had already forgotten his previous obsession with them. Just wanted to go down to the beach and look at the ocean, I told him.  He calmed a little, and we got out of the car and headed for the beach. I let him get a little ahead of me and hesitated. Told him that I had forgotten my cigarettes in the car... I'd be right down. He kept on toward the beach; and I ran back to my car, threw his backpack out in his general direction, and drove away. Ah, the quiet. As soon as I could, I took a road heading east over the coastal range and into the warm--and further away from Mr Menacing Crazy. I found myself outside of Sacramento and on I-80, which I knew would get me back into The City if I was patient.

A few miles later, I saw a large sign: University of California, Davis. Next Right. I also saw the invisible letters that read "This Means You." Without hesitation, I got into the right lane, signalled, and took the exit. It didn't take much to find the campus. Davis was then a small town, and all signs point toward the campus. I found a parking spot and strolled around-- now free of my parka and heavy sweatshirt that were so necessary over on the coast. The place was beautiful, peaceful and green. Not many folks around, lots of bicycles.... Quite a contrast from the University of Wisconsin campus that I fled  a year or so before. There was still tear gas floating across the Madison campus when I hitched out of town. In Madison, there were still National Guard troops all over the place, a little jittery after their colleagues at Kent State had murdered 4 kids just a few days earlier. There were still groups of Dane County Sheriff Deputies roaming around menacing students with their riot sticks-- the fine "Protect and Serve" officers who had lobbed tear gas into the McDonald's just off the main Wisconsin campus and, curiously, into the children's wing of the University Hospital. These were the same fine officers who prevented the fire department from street access while fires burned in the houses on Mifflin Street where the hippies lived. Imagine the serenity of Davis.

And there it is: What seemed like a good idea at the time was to apply for readmission to college at U C Davis. All I had to do was hang in a little longer and establish California residency. I'd need another job, now that the mailroom was gone, but that could be done. There had been something like 45, 000 students at Madison, half of them probably PreMed. This would be a different college experience--one where there was room to think and room to walk. I breathed in the green of the campus, the peace of the campus, the air without tear gas. I was wide open to the expanse. 

I wish I had known that my casual visit coincided with spring break. It might not have changed my decision but still...helluva day.