I know. Real original of me. What do I think this is, 1967?
It’s a West Coast Summer Street Storytelling Tour I’m on, hitchhiking from L.A. to Seattle to the Rainbow Gathering in one month, June 1st to July 1st.
I arrive in San Francisco, California around mid-June with a traveling companion I had met and joined with in San Luis Obispo. His name isn’t Bobert, but that’s the nickname I gave him. He is also heading to the Rainbow Gathering.
We sleep on the sidewalk in an industrial area the first night. The next day we walk to the piers to do some busking. All along the boardwalk, which runs from the Bay Bridge to the Wharf, street performers of all kinds peddle their schtick, whether it be yo-yos or beatboxing or living statues.
We meet and befriend some musicians also on their way to the Gathering. I join in their music making, beating on my tin cup, singing, and playing a whizzer whistle.
Our new friends tell us they know a place where we can sleep tonight. We hitch a ride on the MUNI light rail train down to the Haight-Ashbury district and walk down Haight street to its western most point. Here the street ends and Golden Gate Park begins. This is to be my home for the next four days.
Upon entering I see something like thirty people to my left hanging in the grass. A mixture of local street dwellers and travelers all drinking and smoking and talking loudly and riffing on tourists and all those fun things that come along with having nothing better to do but hang out in the park all day. This is the 21st Century Counterculture.
The street dwellers are always there, but most of the travelers are, like myself, heading up to Washington for the festival. I guess that makes this the Golden Gate Park Regional Rainbow Gathering, and for me it was, like the bridge it shares its name with, a bit foggy at times.
On the third morning I awake in my secret, stealth camping spot. It’s off a jogging trail, near a slope, and at the base of a towering redwood tree. There’s a nice groove between the giant roots to lie hidden in all night. I had watched the moon float across the sky until the foliage of my protector swallowed it the night before. I had slept well.
Back near the Haight street entrance, someone is going around offering hits of LSD for ten dollars. I am elated. While storytelling the previous day, an elderly man being pushed in a wheelchair by a nursing aid had really gotten a kick out of my busking sign (DO NOT LISTEN TO THIS MAN’S STORIES!) and gave me ten dollars.
Thank you, elderly man in a wheelchair, thank you very much.
I dose with this girl who’s never done it before. She gets quiet and I can tell she’s not going to be very social for the next eight hours so I explore.
I come across the musicians I met on the piers and hang out with them. We notice a large group of teenagers, about twenty led by an adult woman, enter the park and sit in a circle across from us.
“Christians,” mutters someone.
Our own group is around fifty now, as many more travelers on their way to the Rainbow Gathering have arrived in the city.
The woman walks over with a couple of teens and invites us to come and join them. We decline but as a counter-offer invite them to join us. They decline. Our groups remain separate. I’m fucking high.
“I’m gonna go over there and read them a story,” I announce. laughter. They’ve heard my stories. They know a lot of them are not Christian friendly.
“I’m serious.” and I grab my folder of stories bound in rubber bands and strut over there.
I have the perfect story to read them. I ask the woman if I may read it to her group.
“Is it teen appropriate,” she asks.
“Yes, it is a story about faith.”
She allows me to proceed. I speak candidly because that’s the only way I’m any good at speaking. I say something like:
“Uh, I’m not sure why I’m doing this. I just see us over there and you over here and we’re all people and there isn’t any reason why we cannot join together and all be happy. Yeah, we enjoy ingesting drugs and having casual sex and getting into fights and all those other things you’re commanded not to engage in, but it doesn’t make us all that different from you. Our modes might be different, but the end result is the same. Living. We’re alive. Anyway, I don’t want to take up too much of your day so here’s a story about the differences between science and religion.”
I read them a story I wrote about just that, the subtext being that the two aren’t all that different and both require a certain measure of faith to work.
I’m not sure they understood it. When I read the story to Garrett Cook at BizarroCon the previous year, he used the word “matrixing” to describe it. In that it tells two stories so similar your brain tricks you into thinking you’re hearing the same story twice.
I walk away, but as I do my ego is somehow able to push through all the acid and shouts out to them, “Thank you for attending my first reading on LSD!” My group has a good laugh at that.
Oh, but now my energy has been unleashed and it cannot be contained in one place. I want to sing! I rush to the bottom of a slope, against which the bulk of street and traveler kids relax on, some still hungover from the birthday party the previous day.
I pipe up with a poem. It’s a rancid one as far as content goes and I get about a quarter into it before they’re running up to me and yelling in my face to shut the fuck up and take it outside the park.
I oblige and walk to the sidewalk in front of the park entrance where I finish the poem. I dislike leaving things unfinished.
I continue to shout stories. No one’s listening, so I shout at the cars passing by. I shout at the joggers passing by. One jogger even stops and listens for a bit. She tells me I’m good at what I do and advices me to stay away from alcohol and tobacco and stick to marihuana and hallucinogens. I like her.
I shout at the Christians still sitting in the park probably trying to forget I exist. Eventually I annoy them enough that they get up and walk out of the park. I continue shouting. One of the teens walks up and pats my shoulder. I smile at him.
I continue shouting until I am done. I’m not as high in one way now, but I feel higher in a different way. Sometimes shouting is just another way to say “I fucking love you, world!” and “I fucking hate you, world!” all at once.
I’m generally a nice and calm person, but every person is a volcano waiting to erupt.
There was nothing more to do. I was ready to move on. I bring Bobert to my secret spot that night and I sleep even better than I did the night before. The next day we say our farewells to some, “See you at the Gathering” to others, and we walk away. We walk to the Golden Gate Bridge and a guy pulls over in his truck and offers us a ride across to the first town on the other side.
We are northbound, Oregonbound, and Washingtonbound, but no matter where we go we are bound.
J.W. Wargo is a Nomadic Bizarro Storyteller originally from Boise, Idaho. His travels have taken him from Budapest to Honolulu and all points in between. He has a Bizarro fiction novella out called Avoiding Mortimer.