The world in 1970, at least its Berkeley version, existed in a parallel universe where science fiction fantasy morphed into reality … it truly deserved its nickname Bezerkley! For those of us living there through the late 60’s it felt like the revolution had actually come and that the American Experiment was coming to a close.
I wasn’t sure about any of that, and I was skeptical about all of it, but there was one thing I was sure about … it was time to get the hell out of there! It was time to say sayonara to the foaming-at-the-mouth, mad-dog revolutionaries who justified bank robberies, kidnappings and cop murders as necessary evils on the road to utopia.
It was time to leave the gun waving Black Panthers waging war against The Man and whites in general. It was time to say goodbye to crowded cities with sky-rocketing rents and traffic congestion that imprisoned you. It was time to kiss-off all those political magpies who demanded ideological capitulation or else! And it was time to turn away from those clever opportunists who made their reputation out of all the turmoil … along with a buck or two.
Yep! It was time to go! I’d secured coveted Canadian Landed Immigrant status, I had a Galaxie 500 Ford and I’d hi-jacked a U-Haul trailer. I was set and ready to leave!
However, no matter how necessary, propitious and fitting partings may be, they come with the certainty that you’ll seldom, if ever, see people dear to you again. That inevitably carries a heavy sadness with it.
I knew I’d miss my family and feel a bit down on holidays. I’d miss smoking and joking with Julie and Larry’s in their cozy home at Sandy Beach where the Napa and Sacramento Rivers flow into San Pablo Bay; where you could hear the tides lapping at the shore under her front door; where we’d sit drinking on wine and bet on how one of her dozen or so cats would come in next … crawling out of the ceiling or more often than not sneaking up under the kitchen table to rub against your leg so hard you could feel its purring.
I’d miss my old Vallejo High School friends … the beatniks, the geeks and the jocks. I’d miss Berkeley, its eye-opening discoveries and curiosities, as well as the adrenalin rush of the place. I’d miss my Honda motorcycle that was barely freeway-legal, and I’d miss all the stuff that I couldn’t jam into my twelve foot, double axel, twelve foot U-Haul cargo trailer.
And on top of everything, I’d miss Corson who’d become like a close brother to me over the previous decade. I’ll never forget the pang of regret and loss I felt when last I saw him in my rearview mirror. He was sitting on a curb staring at the back of my trailer as my partner Barbra and I drove from my apartment, the upper floor of Mrs. Wass’s home on Ward Street, towards Interstate 80.
He looked like he’d lost his best friend … which, at that moment, both he and I had done. It was the last time I saw him.
Of course he could have been watching to see if I’d make it more than a block or two … for when we dropped the fully loaded trailer on the hitch mounted on the Ford’s rear bumper its weight damn near lifted the car’s front wheels off the ground!
But everything held together and I hit the road filled with the exuberance, the expectation and the excitement that accompanies a journey to a new life in a new city in a new country! A virtual trifecta of exhilaration!
The Ford behaved impeccably on the road, taking me all the way to Canada without the slightest hiccup or complaint. Though I had to crane my neck to see over its raked front end standing at a sharp angle skyward, and had to bear the incredulous looks and bemused smiles of truckers who inspected my car and trailer combo wherever I stopped … I made it!
I’d escaped the turmoil of Berkeley and its revolutionaries. I’d graduated with a degree in English, which along with a nickel could get you a cup of coffee. But that was beside the point. That piece of paper meant something to me … nothing in a professional or economic sense, but something that stood as a milestone, a personal achievement, an end as well as a beginning. It was a turning point in my life.
I reflected on all of that as I neared the Canadian border. And I breathed a sigh of relief when I could find a Vancouver station on the radio.
“Now you can forget all that revolution nonsense!” I thought, “Now you can get a sandwich without hassling with the National Guard. Now you can forget about political junkies … radicals and reactionaries! Now you can get on with your life in tranquil, nothing-ever-happens-here, get-along-with-everybody Canada!”
Those thoughts comforted me until, in a ironic twist worthy of a French farce, at the precise moment I drove across the no-man’s land between the US and Canada, I listened to an uncharacteristically hysterical Canadian broadcaster announce that, due to the kidnapping and assassination of the Deputy Premier of Quebec by the Front de libération du Québec, the entire country had been placed under martial law!
“Martial law? Whoa! What in the hell is that all about?” I questioned myself. “Damn! Now what? But, oh well, there’s no turning back at this point! So ready or not .. Canada here I come!”
p.s. after unloading the U-Haul I drove it back to Blaine, Washington where I left it, the mirrors, the hitch and a happy, if somewhat confused, U-Haul dealer.
THIS CONCLUDES “BERKELEY, THE SIXTIES AND ME” … I HOPE YOU ENJOYED READING IT AS MUCH AS I ENJOYED RE-LIVING IT!