Author Archives: RW Klarin

About RW Klarin

Traveler, seeker, writer, meditator, golfer, reader, & truth-teller.

Going back to Paradise, Elysium Fields: Topanga’s Clothing-Optional Club

 

Elysium today 2017

Gate to Elysium Fields site, 2017

“Five dollars please young man,” requested the mustachioed thirty-something man wearing only flip-flops and beads.  I handed over the money and proceeded to the men’s changing room.   Slowly I undressed for this first time in public nudity, anticipation rising I joined the crowd in the park-like grounds.  Even though it was 1971, still a bold act for a 21-year-old kid from the suburban conformity of the San Fernando Valley.  Just ten miles from my childhood home, I had landed at Los Angeles’ haven of the liberated human body and mind.

Given the zeitgeist of these times of building twenty-foot border walls, ethnic registries, and 24-hour surveillance, I wondered ‘could that memory have been real?’  Not just the practice, but the ideals. Audaciously the founder, a journalist and father-figure of American nudism, Ed Lange called his human potential naturist (or nude) club—Elysium Fields referencing the classic Greek mythology of the after-life playground.  In the Sixties such idealistic names were the norm.

I learned about Elysium in a purloined copy of Playboy magazine, but it took several months for me to find out its exact location.  Being young and fairly inexperienced, I was curious and excited about the expanding sexual/ social revolution and Elysium sounded like a perfect place to join it.  Being a hippie radical, I regularly visited the Free Press Bookstore (ground zero for the counter-culture in LA) on Fairfax Ave, and one day someone slipped me the directions to Topanga Canyon’s clothing-optional club.   The two canyons that mattered in Los Angeles back in the Sixties and early Seventies were Laurel and Topanga.  Over-looking Hollywood, the former was the vortex of the burgeoning hippie rock scene of LA, whereas the hard-core back to the land hippies landed in Topanga.  LA’s closest alternative to San Francisco’s Marin, Topanga hosted love-ins, festivals, and other hippie events back then (and still does to this day).  With lots of open space, it epitomized local favorite, Canned Heat’s hit song, ‘Goin’ Up the Country.’

 

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Classic 70s look of Elysium Fields, Topanga

 

In those revolutionary times, a few experimental communities, each with its own flavor, emerged in Topanga,.  The most notorious, Sandstone required a special invitation due to its partner-swapping parties.  Another was known for esoteric spiritual rites like yoga, incense, séances, chanting and so on.  And then there was— Elysium Fields.

After numerous successful lawsuits the LA County Supervisors gave final permit approval, and Elysium Fields flourished as a private membership-only club until the 1990s.  A good neighbor, the club was well-respected member of the Topanga community.  Unfortunately, after Ed Lange died in 1995 his two daughters sold the property for $2.5 million.  The executive director, Betty Meltzner and her husband poured their personal money into a new property in Malibu, but it soon floundered.

On a hot summer’s day, I enlisted my buddy, the Silver Tongue, (whose soft, understated voice was like a FM DJ) and raced  through the mountain curves in my Triumph sports car (top down), a potent mix of anxiety and fear kept my pedal on the floor.   Just north of the center where the Post Office, a head shop and the general store served local residents, a plain street sign announced Robinson Rd.  Twisting and turning uphill for a couple miles, we arrived at a solid, wooden 10 foot fence with a regular house gate and purchased our temporary memberships.  Forking over the high admission charge (in those days $5 would buy two record albums or a ticket to see the Animals at the Hollywood Bowl), we summoned as much cool as possible for a two horny, young guys from the Valley.

Once we got over the initial jitters, we had fun sipping wine, looking at the girls behind our sunglasses, and cooking in the hot tub.  I envied the regulars who had booked the private meditation room in advance.   I made a few contacts but didn’t get lucky that day.  In addition to the recreational activities, human potential workshops (a la Esalen) were offered on various days.   I planned to come back for enhancing my aura, thinking it may help me get girls, but I never did.  My consciousness was still wrapped up in my Berkeley college days and the political revolution, not personal enlightenment.

Although I embraced the counterculture ethos of skinny dipping at youth hang-outs like Tahquitz Falls in Palm Springs, Elysium was more than kids self-consciously jumping into the water.  Distributed around the lush lawn a couple dozen ‘grown-ups’ ranging in age from 25-50—all naked—‘frolicked.’  Not just lying around, but playing volleyball and shuffleboard or chatting and sipping wine, while several waited for a turn in the sauna/ hot tub.  All in all, a civil, calm adult scene.  We meandered on the look-out for young women to ogle among the mostly ‘mature’ women in the grounds.  Feeling quite exposed and nervous the whole time, it felt like a dream, a Maxfield Parish painting from the 1920s, all fuzzy and ethereal.  Mentally I took notes:   Life lesson #1 most bodies are average, more or less, without clothes.  Lesson #2 when nudity is the norm, it isn’t titillating, but actually relaxing, pretense is dropped along with clothes.

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Harbin’s Temple before the fire

Both lessons were regularly affirmed for me years later during my annual trips to Harbin Hot Springs, a clothing-optional neo-hippie resort north of San Francisco, until it burned to the ground in 2014.  On the other hand, non-participation invites the voyeurism seen at Black’s Beach near La Jolla in San Diego in the 70s.  When the word got out that people were disrobing at Black’s, the cliffs above soon became a magnet for all kinds of  with binoculars.  The scene was ruined.  That never happened to Elysium.  Maybe it was the admission fee and the secluded location, but it exemplified the highest hippie ideals; free love (not just physical), community, consciousness expansion, and fun.

Fast forward to 2016 and the emergence of my seniority in age, if not maturity, one of my interests now is pilgrimage to the old counter-cultural scenes.  What was the back story?  What was it about?  What did it contribute to my life and others?  What, if any, survives the decades?  We live in a continuous present with ever thickening layers of experience over experience, which often results in embellishment, denial, and puffery.  With that in mind and wondering if I could find any artifacts and spirit of the old Elysium Fields of Topanga, I drove up there recently.

The Robinson Rd sign still points to the highlands where bucolic spaces welcome dogs and beat-up old vehicles.  I passed fancy restored homes closer to the highway, and then higher up, California oaks thicken and the yards get bigger and some with old trucks and equipment rusting in the weeds.  My thoughts drifted back to that day decades ago and the spirit of possibility I felt.  This day I sensed or saw nothing evocative of that magical day in 1971, just a few Buddhist prayer flags and a phone pole with a flyer announcing a lost dog and guitar lessons.  Your classic Topanga life that could’ve been 1991, 1971, or 1951, still expressing eccentric individualism and California country living.  Although in my Porsche Cayman (still in a sports car), I drove slower this time taking it all in.   At the assigned address, a foreboding gate blocked the entrance.  My only option to get closer was farther  up Robinson Rd around the backside where I saw the familiar lush, green lawn, surrounded by a few out buildings.  And empty.  No people.  No dogs.  Like an empty movie set.  I tried to imagine that day with the hip, exploratory young and middle-aged adults of LA who came up here to explore consciousness and sexual freedom, but no ghosts appeared from the oaks and the luxury cars.

Today that site and most of Topanga look the  same, but the visit revealed the lessons of Elysium.  A significant element of those free-wheeling times in the Sixties/ Seventies, Elysium made a mark as a real-world example of progressive culture that transcended ethnicity, age, and sexual orientation.   For me, my vision of community, creativity, and expression was solidified in the rustling leaves of the oaks.  Now, I realized it is my turn to share the hope and the ideals that I tasted that day over forty years ago.  Even in these potentially dark days of moralistic, hypocritical family values national leaders, experiments in liberation and community continue and always have.  Deep in my heart and many others of my generation, the experiments of those days aren’t forgotten.     Its seeds continue to sprout in healthy, consciousness-expanding, uninhibited resorts and communities all over the world.   Elysium was a dream, but the dream didn’t die.

Categories: Community, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The 2016 Election or What Happened to Boomer Ideals

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And it’s one, two, three what’re we fightin’ for? Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, next stop is Vietnam And it’s five, six, seven open up the pearly gates Well there ain’t no time to wonder why, whoopee we’re all gonna die… Country Joe McDonald

 

Collection of the Oakland Museum of California

 

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McGovern

Forgive me, but I’m an addict; An addict for justice, peace, freedom, nature, and creative expression.  How’d I get this way?  Not like Bernie Sanders who was born into a family of progressives, I was born in a generation who thought we could change the world for the better.  Always curious and desiring to be where the action is, I attended UC Berkeley in the early Seventies and earned my radical bona fides on the front-line of political protest.  In those days I saw many of the leaders of what we called the ‘revolution’; Mark Rudd, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, Tom Hayden, Jane Fonda, and even Tim Leary.  So, I’ve got a long memory and at this elder stage of life take time for reflection on the past and idealism for the future.  It’s like a trip of almost fifty years is finally ending politically this year.

Back in the Sixties many impressionable college kids (including  yours truly) believed our elders and expected political revolution—soon.  A major break-through came when George McGovern was nominated by the Democratic Party for president.  He campaigned on the most progressive platform ever and lost in the most overwhelming landslide ever.   After that defeat politically everything changed.  Within a few years the Black Panther party was decimated by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, terrorists posing as political radicals (Weatherman and Symbionese Liberation Army) bombed ROTC and robbed banks, Jimmy Carter (a born again Christian, a non-progressive view) was elected, and many of our leaders recanted and got regular jobs or became entertainers (think Eldridge Cleaver and Tim Leary).  To paraphrase Gil Scott-Heron the revolution was NOT televised; it was co-opted and forgotten until 2016.

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Bernie Sanders arrested while demonstrating for civil  rights in Chicago

This year Bernie Sanders, a true blue radical and idealist who moved to Vermont during the seventies migration of hippies to the country, awakened the old ideals and hope for real change in his quixotic campaign for the presidency.  In him the great majority of youth saw not just a free ticket to college, but a politician who has lived his principles all his life.  But his candidacy came up against the Clinton machine (the Democratic establishment wasn’t going to allow another McGovern debacle) and the practical-minded older folks many of whom were idealists themselves back in the day.

HRC college

HRC in college

 

After a surprisingly tough primary season, Hillary Rodham Clinton accepted the Democratic nomination for president capping her decades-long career within the system.  Demonstrating the qualities of successful individuals in any field; intelligence, networking, preparation, and perseverance, HRC is poised to become the first female president.  It hasn’t been an easy journey for her.  She has fought sexism, scandal, and scatology. Although given a head start in politics being the wife of a president, she kept on.  We can all learn something from her example; vision, adjustment, and perseverance.  But her dogged pragmatism is not the only story of this election cycle; Bernie Sanders’ idealism, Donald Trump’s anger, and Obama’s optimism reveal different strains of the Boomer generation’s likely last hurrah in the presidency.  Waiting in the wings are the next generation—Gen Xers; Cruz, Rubio, the Castro brothers from Texas, and others, who’ll in due time take bring different life experiences to leadership.

 

Bernie event June 7

Old radical (and pragmatist) at 2016 Bernie event

When Bernie Sanders finally endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, he also declared victory for the movement he birthed fifteen months ago.  Many of his proposals have been absorbed into the Democratic Party platform; health care as a right, fair treatment of all by the police, legalization of marijuana, breaking up the big banks, a 21st century Glass-Steagall for the financial industry, commitment halt global warming, free public university for middle and working class, and most significantly reducing the concentration of wealth.  But that’s just the beginning of his political revolution according to Sanders.  And this week opened his new movement, http://www.ourrevolution.com.

Although not a Boomer (born in 1941) Bernie Sanders resuscitated the ideals of the Baby Boomers in their youth, which resonated with the millennial youth of today.   Now with Sanders out of the running, we’re looking at showdown of the Boomer generation for the presidency.  Boomer presidents have been Bill Clinton, George W., and Barack Obama (born in 1961, so he’s on the cusp) and now Hillary Clinton (1947) or Donald Trump (1946).  And in this final call to leadership, the Boomers’ youthful dreams and anger has boiled down to two super-pragmatic, super-successful, millionaire plus candidates (Hillary for her political career and Donald for his pursuit of fame and money).

A significant number of Boomers freed from career and family responsibilities resuscitate ideals and dreams, and cast caution aside and go for it both personally and for society.  The post-career chapter of life can be a time of resignation or hope, off-the-track adventures or sanitized cruise ship ports, vision seeking or corporate consumerism, or even a political revolution or status quo pragmatism.  One type stays with the known and comfortable; they keep the old home, continue decades old hobbies, and seek security more than excitement.  And others strike out and explore the world on the ground not in a stateroom, move to fresh digs, and / or begin new, challenging hobbies and sports.  Uncovering, developing, and living a dream takes curiosity, courage, and commitment but often energize an individual’s senior years.

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Angela Davis

Maybe Hillary’s wonky and moderate plans will work the same for the country.  Although the ultimate insider now, she has  shown the courage to change her positions and the perseverance to pursue her dream.  As is said in the Bible, ‘a people without vision shall perish.’  Does she have clear goals and a vision?  Do we as a people?  Or are we on that decline as a nation that Trump rails about?  Perhaps we’re on cusp of a new vision.  Shifting direction of this cocky, behemoth of a nation would be slow and arduous. Is there the will?  Just as it takes will, intention, and effort to live a meaningful and satisfying life, our country needs to summon up the same qualities.

In my social circle on the Westside of the Los Angeles megalopolis, 90% favored Bernie.  That’s not too surprising since it is the land of the Hollywood dream factory and Bernie offered a hopeful dream.  But the results are clear, the majority of Democratic primary voters selected Clinton, in spite of her record high disapproval rating.  She is a known commodity and received the majority of the Boomer vote and who may prefer the status quo to the excitement of a Sanders (and Trump) who want to shake up the ‘system.’

EldridgeCleaver

Eldridge Cleaver

Let’s not forget, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders represent the sometimes op-positional and contradictory political and social currents of their generation.  I knew these types back at Berkeley in 1970; the sincere student government kid who supported the cause-of-the-moment with an eye on a career in politics (Hillary), the bombastic rich kid who grew his hair long so he could get girls but planned to go home and work in his father’s business (Donald), and the true radical from a working-class family who demonstrated against the war, yelled at the cops, and got arrested (Bernie).

 

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Budding real estate magnate, Donald Trump with his father Fred

As for Donald Trump, it is difficult to predict his policies since they seem to change daily.  But it is clear that if elected, anger wins.  His working-class supporters like the bellicosity and finger-pointing at the system, but his actions in business do not demonstrate interest in anyone other than himself.  If he is elected, it may be back to the future switching out the smiling optimism and smugness of Ronald Reagan to  snarling, name-calling Trump.  And we now see the consequences of Reagan’s Pollyanna theories —disappearing middle-class, environmental degradation, failed drug war, and record-setting incarceration rates.  But a significant minority of the country pines for that fantasy time of white privilege, USA hegemony, and simplistic solutions.  Donald Trump’s free-floating anger taps into that and attacks the Establishment.

A generations’ last hurrah in the presidency offers more than a choice between two unpopular candidates, but a call to vision and true leadership.  Will the next and probably last Boomer president contribute to progress for We the People or revert to the values of a time before the cultural revolution of the Sixties.

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Bobby Seale & Huey Newton

Sanders’ call to political revolution echoes the Sixties’ dream of living Elysium Fields-style in communion with each other, with the natural world, and in peace and justice with other countries.  It is an almost inconceivable vision, but in the eighties the end of the cold war was unimaginable until it happened. Whether it is possible or not is less important than making the effort to live the Founders’ dream for our country and us individually.  Although slow, our society and nation can be turned around.  Like personal change it takes intention, will, and work.  The reward is not only in the achievement, but in the effort.  Individually we don’t not take golf lessons or paint or exercise, even though we know we’ll never be experts.  We do it because it is better than not.  And that’s reward enough.

For the next two months, our national dreams, needs, fears, and resentments will be center stage.  As noted above, I’ve been a political junkie since my days as a student radical at Berkeley, but tempered by the ‘real’ world over the decades I’ve learned that positive change for the country and for me is usually incremental.  The show-down of Boomer presidential types offers a clear choice between anger and idealism tempered by pragmatism—The last battle of the Sixties Generation! And that is an example we can all use as we design our personal next chapters.

 

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Categories: Boomer Ideals/ Remembrance, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Venice West: No Longer Beat Down

Next time you sip that espresso with organic, gluten-free sesame muffin, and listen to a open-mike poet at your favorite local café, you’re in debt to a culture and a time long obscured by the flood of history.  A typical evening at the café included a round or two of poets reading accompanied by bongo drums, while fellow beats sat around sipping espresso.  At times a painter would use the blank wall as a canvas for his colorful expressions.  You might have heard Stu Perkoff reciting  his piece about  a physically and  spiritually complete life:

Feasts of Love, Feasts of Death by Stu Perkoff

sitting on the benches, bodies warm & throats  filled with joy & love

we offered worship

sitting warm, eyes & skin touching, love flowing 

we offered  worship

               we sang

& spoke languages & poems

offered worship & love

mixing the birds of passion & the swords of God

in our beautiful young eyes

 

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The  Beat scene 1959 at Venice West

If you’re in the LA area,  the direct line to your coffee place, the Osteria Venice West, faces the boardwalk in Venice.  Look across Dudley St. from Osteria Venice West in Venice (formerly Los Angeles’ beach slum and now the high-tech Silicon Beach) and you’ll see the restored, chic Cadillac Hotel.  In that beachfront block, where tourists, inner city visitors, homeless drunks, street vendors, and occasional locals like myself mix in a bouillabaisse of humanity, it’s not hard to imagine  LA’s fifties counter-culture congregating here 55 years ago.   Like today’s eclectic crowd, the beatniks, refugees from “squaresville,” hunkered down in this space then known as Venice West Café.  Some lived across the street in the Cadillac, at that time a low-rent boarding house.

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Original Venice West

This is the only site from that era recognized by a city of Los Angeles historic marker of the Beatnik scene of the Fifties in  LA. Other Venice Beat locations such as the Gas House (now a vacant lot filled with weekend vendors of tourist paraphernalia) and Lawrence Lipton’s house on  Park Ave don’t get that modest respect.  But Osteria Venice West houses the spirit and vibe of the beatniks that begat the hippie culture, which in turn continues to impact our world through the counter-cultural ideas of yoga, organic food, classic rock, environmental concern, and global community.

Although some of the heroes of the hippies in the sixties and seventies had their beginnings in the Beatnik world (Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, and others), I knew next to nothing about the Beatniks.  As a former history teacher and an original Hippie, soon after I turned 65 I began to look backwards to hippie’s forbears—the Beats.  (There’s something about reaching that magic  number,  which I’ll go into on  another occasion.)  After graduating from UC Berkeley in the seventies, I moved to Venice:  At the time the vestiges of what had been a slum and refuge  for artists, hippies, and other low-income individuals still lingered.  Funky (a word coined by the Beats) and casual, I felt right at home in Ocean Park/ Venice.

Alienated and not just a bit lazy, most of the Beats were young men who landed in Venice initially because it had fallen on hard times.  Once a bold and glorious real estate development, Abbott Kinney’s Venice of America offered the burgeoning city of Los Angeles a beach fantasy land complete with canals, luxury hotels, amusements, and casinos.  Kinney and his partner Francis Ryan had planned a massive project from Ballona Lagoon on the south to Santa Monica Pier to the north.   But due to a business conflict, they split and the northern piece, Ocean Park, went to Ryan and was eventually annexed by the city of Santa Monica.  Kinney established Venice of America in 1905.  It was an immediate big hit, but over the years as most flashy scenes do, Venice faded.  Starting in the twenties and with the advent of Prohibition a gang element took over. Followed by the Depression and then World War II, by the forties Venice’s former glory was just a memory with the old hotels turned into rooming houses for the elderly and poor.

Perfect for artists and bohemians with its cheap rents away from meddling by the power brokers of LA, it soon became a magnet for alienated young men and women who wanted to drop out from the mainstream.  To distinguish themselves from the squares, a slang developed that would assist a beatnik in determining a wannabee square from a fellow beat.  Many of their terms, ranging from “cool” to “cop-out” to “funky” to “turn on” to “shack-up”  and many others are still in use today.

Venice West Aug '16

The author on  the  scene 2016

On the contrary:  The counter-culture known as hippie, which grew out of the beat subculture, although also anti-establishment, had a vision more idealistic, hopeful, and celebratory.  Rather than sitting around in black turtlenecks and goatees reading Howl and listening to introspective jazz and hitting on  “horse” or heroin, Hippies wore colorful costumes and grew long hair and convened love-ins in parks where they danced, painted faces, and tripped on mind-expanding  drugs.  The Hippie movement caught on with millions in the sixties and its’ lifestyles and principles spread through out society, attracting young and young-thinking people world-wide with an optimistic vision for the future.

As an ardent participant in the hippie movement, I knew our antecedents were in the beats.  And I’ve lived in Venice/Ocean Park for over forty years, but I knew very little about them. Sure, I’d read Kerouac, Ferlinghetti, Snyder, and Ginsberg, but knew little of their beliefs, values, and culture.  After reading a historical summary of Venice West, a visit to the seminal beat location seemed appropriate.  It  would  be a kind of pilgrimage to my cultural ancestors, akin to visiting Gethsemane in Jerusalem or Trieste Cafe or City Lights Books in San Francisco or CG Jung’s tower near Zurich.  Everyday places now, but sites of cultural significance.

Venice West Café Expresso was established by Stuart Perkoff in mid-1958 to capitalize on the growing trend in coffeehouses.  He and a partner bought 7 Dudley  Pl, former shul (a Jewish meeting house) and later bleach factory .   They ripped off the  plaster and exposed the brick walls.  On opening day a hand printed sign announced Art is Love is God.  Perkoff, one of the original Venice Beat poets, had recently broken with Lawrence Lipton, whose January 1959, firsthand account of the burgeoning Beat scene, The Holy Barbarians, attracted national attention to the area.  Feuding with Lipton and running short on funds Perkoff sold the café in Janaury 1959, just before Holy Barbarians‘ publication in February, 1959.

The book sparked widespread interest in the beats and soon throngs of wannabees, weekend Beatniks, and tourists descended on the area and Venice West Café.  At times a painter would use the blank wall as a canvas for his colorful expressions.  Often one could hear a poet spouting his (they were almost always men) verse backed by a bongo player and/ or jazz musicians.  The café flourished, but eventually after years fighting closure by the city due to complaints by uncool, non-Beat neighbors, Venice West closed in 1965.

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Osteria Venice West Cafe today

On my visit to the site of Venice West, I noticed how much and how little has changed in Venice.  Within 50 feet of the now luxury café, Osteria Venice  West,  the homeless population congregates and hits up city day-trippers with crafts and sullen stares. Recently next door at the Candle Café, I attempted to have a calm conversation  with a friend while a rag-tag crew of ‘musicians’ played amplified instruments and passed the bucket.  Is it fair to say they are the descendants of the Beatniks?  They still play music, create “art,” and take a lot of drugs and alcohol.  Or is the proprietor of the organic, gourmet restaurant?

The borderlines of counter-cultures are never sharp and constantly shifting as ideas get absorbed and co-opted into the mainstream.  But in exploring the roots of bohemian Venice, I discovered that alternative values such as free-love,  creative  expression and individuality don’t belong to any one “movement.”  Like the flowing garb of the Hippies and the free verse of the Beatniks, the counter-culture is constantly shifting and not limited by any label.  Once the  site of an innovative tourist attraction, followed by decay, poverty, Beatnik drop-outs, Hippie idealists and today by Silicon Beach techies, Venice has always offered a break from the  cookie-cutter, ersatz world of consumer culture.

Although of short duration and small numbers, the beat influence has been surprisingly long lasting.  In addition to its gifts to the vernacular and our coffee tastes,  it also left us the drum  circle which continues to this day on Sundays on Venice Beach.   And like many counter-cultures, it encouraged sexual liberation, eschewed ethnic bigotry, and advocated an anti-war creed.  Its’ embrace of cool jazz and cannabis predicted the wide dissemination of such tastes.  And most importantly, the Beats recognized that mindless consumerism was a hamster-wheel, which research psychologists have confirmed does NOT lead to greater happiness or life satisfaction.

A key feature of Beat was the acceptance that anyone is a creative soul.  One didn’t have to get an MFA to spout poetry or write a novel or throw paint on a canvas.  What mattered was your authenticity and soul.  The Beat movement was the first counter-culture to practice and encourage that the freedom to create is available  to everyone.  Their vision seeded today’s creativity explosion seen in the availability of on-line video, print-on-demand books, blogs such as this, and sound clouds, where anyone with the courage and the urge can be an ‘artist’ and publish their creations.

More than a trend or a style, the Beats demonstrated that ‘living  in society and not of it’ is possible.  So, when you down an espresso or attend an open-mike, you’re sampling a bit of Beatnik.

plaque Venice West

Giving respect to  the  tradition (on the wall at the site)

Categories: Community, Creative Expression, Discover / Adventure, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Falling to Earth in New Mexico

 

panorama White Sands

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picnic benches all in a row 102 degrees

David Bowie’s recent passing prompted tons of commentary on his unique contribution to pop culture.  More than a rock star (he never won a music Grammy), and not quite a movie star, his variety of personae invited the public to observe the variability of our personal identities.  His first film, The Man Who Fell to Earth established him as an actor (he studied acting before becoming a pop star) and as a shape-shifter.  Not unlike how we saw him shape-shift in public and musical life.  In it  Bowie portrays an alien who crashes to earth alone, a stranger in a strange land.  He soon finds ways to capitalize on his advanced knowledge and becomes an international economic power.  But his character always seems out of sorts, not fully present even as he takes on human characteristics and relationships.

During the film Bowie gets homesick and remembers his wife and kids and we see footage of their hollow faces and chapped skin.  Their world had dried up, gotten too hot and they sent Newton (Bowie) out to our water planet on a scouting mission.  We never really learn what he intended to do, because  while using his special knowledge and  powers to build  the world’s greatest corporation, the authorities catch on and he gets grounded on earth  and can’t go home to his dying  planet.

Released in 1974, it predicted the global warming, we’re grappling with now.  Directed by Nicholas Roeg  with many hard camera angles and cuts and populated by sharp-edged, one-dimensional characters, the message is clear: We’re too dumb to do what’s  good for us.  That contrasts with 2015’s trite,  all-American solution,  to earth’s drying up, Interstellar—planets are disposable, build on a new one.

wadda you see

I can see for miles and miles

The Man Who Fell to Earth uncovered the emotional nuance of  losing or leaving one’s home and its preciousness— where ever it is. Bowie played the role so well, as in most of his personae,  one can barely distinguish the character from  him.  In the film he slips into various guises, never ages, but ultimately falls into futility, wry cynicism, and drunkenness.  He fell to earth and found out we too were barren, but we hadn’t yet faced a reckoning.

Bowie is famous for his variety of characters and styles in music.  So good at it he convinced most of us that those roles were actually him.  The popular perception was that he had changed and become the Diamond Dog, the Thin White Duke, the alienated Brit in Berlin, and finally just disappearing until his recent album was released two days before his death.   Bowie kept us guessing all the time, but we put on him more than he really was, or perhaps he revealed something inside all of us that we didn’t know existed.  I attended his show at the Universal Amphitheater in LA during the Diamond Dogs tour.  And like most concerts it started late. Eventually, from  stage left, he floats down in some kind of a crane in full space costume, and if I’m remembering correctly singing ‘Uncle Tom  to ground control.’  So, Bowie.  He  proceeded to blow our  minds with staging that referenced the dystopian novel 1984 (mind the actual date loomed ominously in the near future in  those days).

alcohol in season

Beer allowed in summer.

Thinking about Bowie and the film, my recent trip to south-western New Mexico’s White Sands National Monument came to mind.  Driving through the gates I felt like I had fallen to another world.  Whiter than Vail in a good snow blizzard, even the road was a white out. Wary of striking out into the desert alone, I stopped and had a beer since  it was in season according to a sign.

Hot and tired after driving for five hours through some of the  most empty land in New Mexico, and eating an astro burger in the  military-oriented town near the park.   Sipping on the beer, I decided to stay close to the  car and shade in  this heat and did a few sand slides utilizing the technique I picked up in 2014 in Swakapmund, Namibia. Big fun,  but not so much fun to climb the hill in the heat.  I later learned that a German couple and their son died not far from the road the month I was there.  I guess Germans aren’t used to such heat, and the precautions required thereby.

Unexpected, unusual, and uncomplicated, White Sands feels like another dimension.  Totally unlike any other  place I’ve seen, expect  for the red sands of Namibia.  I felt Bowie-esque, alone,  a stranger in a strange land.  But that’s what I travel for,  the thrill of discovery of unique, beautiful, mind-blowing, heart-opening, experiences.

zen info board White Sands

A blank white board invites the visitor to the empty world

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Old Songs, Young Souls, & a Final Flight for the Airplane

twilight concerts

Spectators sit on the beach during the The Santa Monica Pier Twilight Concert Series 2015/ photo credit Corsair

“Take another whiff of fresh air,” the gray-bearded bear of a man whispered from the stage.  An authentic, original San Francisco hippie, David Freiberg (Quicksilver Messenger Service) fronted the 21st century version of a rock institution on a late summer evening in 2015.  The usual motley crowd of several hundred free entertainment seekers milled around the Santa Monica Pier, while the classic guitar riffs of an old Jefferson Airplane tune cut through the cacophony of music and chatter.

Almost 50 years since the Summer of Love in San Francisco, their original incarnation proclaimed, ‘When the truth is found to be lies.’  Well the truth of 2015 is that they are a mere shadow of the Airplane.  But those riffs were just enough to provoke grins of recognition between me and an old friend from college days at Berkeley.  He had made a special pilgrimage to LA to see the last surviving member of the iconic group that epitomized the San Francisco hippie sound in the sixties.

Known back in the day under a pseudonym of Jack, he is one of those rare Boomers who now in our later days still follows music.  Loves it so much he seeks out new bands as well as celebrating the classics.  We shared many great music adventures back in the day with weekly visits to the Fillmore West and Winterland in San Francisco to hear bands like Van Morrison (who we saw twice in one week) and the Grateful Dead, hit a lot of local venues.  Live music seemed to be everywhere and Jack led our cadre to the best vibes in town.  I recall his mastery of air guitar singing ‘Everyone Knows This is Nowhere’ by Neil Young, while walking around the student residential co-op where we lived.  One time he led the gang to downtown Berkeley to a free concert by the Youngbloods in the central park, which the kids had named Provo Park.  Not like Jack whose real name I now know but don’t use, I still don’t know the official name of the park.

NBSJeffersonAlas, on that balmy Santa Monica night, after two songs the small guy, with wispy blonde hair who played those distinctive licks disappeared from the stage.  The music continued, but Paul Kantner couldn’t continue, he’d made an appearance, but that was about it—a recent heart attack had taken its toll.  Sadly, Kantner died this week at the age of 74 after another heart attack.

At the pier, the band consisting of four young musicians and Freiberg carried on with the classic band’s tunes.  Although they were essentially a tribute band, competently covering the old songs, when I closed my eyes I heard Grace Slick singing White Rabbit and Miracles.

Those old songs evoked the vibe, like a time-tunnel to the mood, spirit, excitement, and freedom, of the original hippie times.  Like an invisible virus music from our formative years rummages around in the memory banks and finds the young soul that lurks deep within the ever-aging mind and body.  A remembrance, more than nostalgia, it’s like a secret, authentic self that is hiding in a closet coming out for a cameo.

Oldies music is not new, but the attitude about it is.  In 1969 I attended a wild concert at the Fillmore in San Francisco, Sha Na Na came on and drove us young hippies wild with their fifties cover songs.  In those days a heavy dose of camp and sarcasm fueled our enthusiasm.  We thought we had evolved so much that oldies music from ten years before was corny and hilarious.

That doesn’t happen now with oldies music.  Now, even millennials like and respect music from the sixties and seventies.  The generation gap that was so glaring back in the day has closed.   That night on the Santa Monica Pier all ages swayed to the classic rock of Starship/ Airplane.  Cruising through the time-tunnel, I recalled a free concert I saw by Jefferson Airplane at the Los Angeles’ Griffith Park Merry-go-round area in 1969.  The impromptu show happened because somehow a planned concert at a real venue was cancelled by the ‘Man’.  The word spread through the hippie underground and hundreds converged on the spur-of-moment show.   A grand time was had by all and no sign of ‘The Man.’  Radical politics of the time inspired their new album, Volunteers, and the kids shouted out in unison with lyrics that confronted the ‘system’ with words like ‘Up against the wall motherfuckers’ and ‘We can be together.’  Reminiscent of the spirit of millennials today in  their support of Bernie Sanders.

For us Boomers the music was often more than entertainment, our lives organized around it.  Like today’s smart phones, it was our social media sharing political views, clothing and artistic styles, in addition to entertainment. Even today forty plus  years later, those same performers and songs can resuscitate the old spirit of community, justice, and freedom.  Well-proven neuro-science states that our minds are still forming into the mid-to late twenties, so it makes sense that the imprints we experience at that age stay with us and continue to excite us.  It might even be a clue to the strange black hole of the age of 27 for many rock stars flare out via drugs.* (I’ll save that for another column).

Reunited old hippies

The Who on  stage at New Orleans Jazz Fest 2015

My friends and associates, except for the few hard-core music aficionados like Jack, listen to the old music from our formative twenties. Especially, the original bands like the Who, Stones, or Starship, who replicate the originals with new players.  At the 2015 New Orleans Jazz Fest, the Who’s two remaining original members, Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey performed the classics like ‘Won’t  Get Fooled Again,’ with gusto, but what blew me away was how the replacement drummer (Zake Starkey, son of Ringo Starr) didn’t miss one of Keith Moon’s original licks.

Experiencing tribute or classic bands (even in the disguise of one original member like the Starship) opens that deep mine of soul, freedom, and adventure hidden by by the march of time.  It still resides inside somewhere and the music can bust into Rumi’s wine house and imbibe the sweet grape of freshness and spontaneity.  After getting drunk on this strange elixir from the past, something wakes up in me and I want to, ‘bang a gong, get it on.’  Who hasn’t felt that from a cherished oldie?

Discovery and adventure are integral to my post-work philosophy of Living the Dream Deferred, but the old hippie music satisfies in a way that new can’t.  Like a fine pair of old jeans and tennis shoes and scratchy 45s, they’re well loved.  We’ve known it for forty years and like an old friend, it awakens the spirit of youth regardless of who is playing it.

kantner and grace

Volunteers  for America 1969

Sadly, Paul Kantner didn’t return to the stage that night at the Pier, but his daughter by Grace Slick, China Kantner sang harmony on Somebody to Love.  The lineage received due honor.  Paul Kantner reportedly never renounced his Summer of Love principles of peace, love, and a positive future.  A stalwart icon of the hippie movement, his vision lives on in the music of the Airplane/ Starship and in the souls of the older ‘kids’ who took a breath of that fresh air of a Utopian generation.

*Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Gram Parsons (almost 27), Alan Wilson (Canned Heat), Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, and many others.

Categories: Boomer Ideals/ Remembrance, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dark Side of Haleakala Reveals Quirky Maui (discovery)

 

panorama of the dark side of Haleakala near Kaupo

With the sounds of Pink Floyd’s Dark side of the Moon pulsing in my head, I woke up in my tourist condo in Kihei, Maui and shouted out ‘Enough of canned activities from the vendor on the beach. Today is adventure day and I’m going to find it.’  After two relaxing and beatific weeks of hot tubs, drinks with mini-umbrellas, and surfing with the ho-dad (beginner surfer) hordes.  I had to bust out.  I filled up the tank of my rental car at Costco and headed up-country.

Forty-five years of travel vacations gives me some perspective on what I like or not.  I’ve dabbled in various forms in my terminally peripatetic life.  Mostly I prefer new locations that offer some special passion such as last year’s trip to southern Africa where I tapped into my passion for deserts (red dunes of the Namibian desert) and waterfalls (Victoria Falls).  At times I just want to go to tropical islands and relax, ride the waves, drink Mai Tais and chill.  But even a chill out in a very ordinary and predictable place like Maui offers up some edgy adventures in between the surfing, scuba diving, and the, yep, Mai Tais.

Curt is a thinker

C-Dog pondering  Kula’s plants

That day I stretched out of the Maui beach routine.  Getting an early start with my old college buddy, C-Dog, we decided to explore the dark side of Haleakala volcano (dark in the sense that it is much less trampled by the tourist hordes, or so I thought).  We headed up-country (meaning higher elevation on Maui) initially checking out the privately owned Kula Botanical Gardens.  Botanical gardens rank right up there with my passions for hot springs, waterfalls, caves, and deserts.  Kula didn’t disappoint.  Family developed in the seventies, the gardens offer a wide range of plants from all over the world that are commonly grown in Hawaii.  I was surprised that the country of origin is most often South Africa.  When I reported this to a South African friend, he confirmed that most people think plumeria and others are Hawaiian native plants.  Now I understood the acclaimed of the Kirstenbosch National Gardens in Cape Town which I visited in 2014.  Although, a small, 8 acre, property , with a wide mix of plants and the 180 degree view of the island, Kula Gardens qualified this side stop as an adventure.

 

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Old-style sanatorium,  Kula

Prompted by my buddy’s desire to revisit where he had done some medical training back in the 80s, we found another of Maui’s rare gems:  Kula Hospital.  Originally, built in the 1920s as TB sanatorium, it is now a general hospital for the island.  Classic art-deco architecture and original landscaping and old houses gave the impression of old Hawaii.  Except for the modern cars in the parking lot, it could have been 1945.

 

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art gallery cum studio, Kula

 

While getting gas, next to one of Maui’s original coffee houses (Grandma’s) I peeped into an art gallery located in an ancient 1920s building.  But not a typical dolphins on a wave type pervades tourist strips in Kihei or Lahaina, it houses the artist’s studio, his gallery, and his stream of consciousness self-promotion.

Finally, we rolled to Ulupalakua Ranch where a seniors’ motorcycle club had gathered for lunch, next door to MauiWines’ tasting room.  After a couple sips of expensive and too sweet pineapple wine, we headed into the reportedly treacherous road on the leeward side of the mountain.  For the daring (according to the hyper-cautious car rental maps) motorist, it is an alternative route to the famous rain forest haven of Hana.

 

bought a shirt

Kaupo General Store, Maui

Although I’ve been to Maui at least 8 times over the decades, I’d never been to the backside of Haleakala.  Tourist maps make it sound problematic with a long stretch of unpaved, one-lane road.  But instead of drama we were rewarded with big vistas of undeveloped grasslands and lava rocks.  Like a prairie on the moon.  Every so often a ramshackle, half-built house with a satellite antenna popped out of the brush.  I later found out that a lot of the area is Hawaiian Homestead land, where native Hawaiians can live for free.  Out there it felt as distant from civilization as the Navajo Reservation is from Flagstaff, AZ.

Arriving at the end of the paved road at Kaupo, we found the coolest general store on the island.  More than a store with cold beer and drinks, it offers home-made jewelry, and a museum of old stuff like cameras and hair dryers.  Weird but real, and definitely not Lahaina.

While sipping a cold brew on the lanai of the Kaupo store I felt adventurous and satisfied, until van after van of Friendly Isle tour buses rolled by in their packaged tours.  Oh well, I had enjoyed my fantasy escape to the edge of Maui.  Meanwhile, I had to negotiate the one-lane road back to tourist central in Kihei.  Just  another day in tourist paradise, adventure style.  As always, the living the dream means seeking and SEEING the adventures right in front of you.

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You Can’t Keep a Good Dream Down (Boomer Ideals/ Exemplars)

 

News flash:  Jerry Brown attended Paris conference on global climate change December 2015.  Still here and still advocating for the environment and his principles.  

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I’m in this crowd somewhere, Peoples’ Park ’71

I usually keep my back story on the down low with acquaintances.  Most people make up enough stories just by appearances, so I don’t like to give them more fuel with biographical details that can be used to pigeon-hole me.  But one  afternoon this fall, I happened to make a comment about the presidential debates to an associate gymmer getting dressed next to me.  A fit guy in his early sixties, he works in community housing. I’ve known Loren for a dozen years in that passing small talk way. He responded with an informed opinion.  Sensing a deeper connection I asked, “What was your major in college?”  He said, “Political Science at Stanford.  I smiled knowing I’d met one of my own kind and replied, “That was my major at Berkeley, with a focus on Marxist ideology and its application.”

jerry brown early with Linda R

Jerry Brown and assorted LA musicians in the 70s

 

 

A intense twenty minute discussion ensued in the men’s locker room of 24 Hour Fitness—Santa Monica comparing notes and opinions about the current political scene and its players from President Obama to Hillary Clinton to Jerry Brown to Donald Trump. A range of provocative topics elicited smiles and comments from other guys with gray flecked hair in the room.  All of this exposed my long standing political interests, sparked by growing up during the Vietnam War and eventually graduating from UC Berkeley in the seventies.  Submerging my radicalism into a pragmatic career in public education, I’ve never relinquished my vision of fairness, justice, and peace.  But now I wonder how I can apply my years of experience to promoting a better society.  Jerry Brown has.

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Brown second time around

The locker room discussion centered on current California governor Jerry Brown and his previous administration in the seventies.  We agreed he has done an excellent job governing, even better this time around at the age of 77.  In his first terms as governor Brown was ridiculed with the label, Governor Moonbeam for his radical out of the box ideas such as renewable energy, a state space academy satellite, and declaring a era of limits.  Jerry Brown in the seventies expressed the idealism of the time.  Ahead the mainstream, Brown attracted derision from the older established politician/ reporter class.  His lifestyle invited ‘eyebrow raised’ commentary, from his sleeping on a mattress on the floor to globe-trotting with Linda Ronstadt to his rejection of the new governor’s mansion.

Brown’s ‘out there’ thinking proved to be too much for the conservative backlash led by his predecessor as governor of California, Ronald Reagan who had catapulted his police-state treatment of the student radicals of my school, Berkeley, into the presidency.  Reagan stood for the old school Hollywood values of looking good, constant smiling, and hypocrisy.  He promoted traditional values, even though he had divorced his first wife, his daughter basically disowned him and changed her last name, he denied his second son was gay, and his wife retained a staff astrologer.   Among Reagan’s most egregious crimes against the white working class that idolized him, was union busting, which directly contributed to lower wages for the Nixon labeled ‘silent majority.’

With his campaign’s populist We the People slogan, Brown polled well but fell just short in his three presidential campaigns.  Again ahead of the times as seen in the current presidential election with Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump both tapping into grass roots, anti-establishment sentiment.   But Jerry didn’t quit.  He went back to the basics, something I’m often encouraging for later in life re-inventors/ Boomers.  Instead of president, Brown served two terms as mayor of Oakland, CA, a medium-sized city across the bay from San Francisco.  While mayor he lived in a converted factory and loft, igniting a revival in the down-in-the-mouth city whose police brutality against its majority black population in the sixties had birthed the Black Panther Party.  Oakland has become a jewel of urban renewal with the bucolic buzz of Lake Merritt and the tony Jack London Square on the previously abandoned Embarcadero.

Jerry Brown practiced the adage ‘all politics is local’ and honed his skills as a politician.  Not resting on his laurels and famous name to lay back and give expensive speeches, he went to work.  Contributing to the greater good AND practicing his craft, Brown practiced and lived his ideals—government can be a tool for social justice and life enhancement.  Re-energized after Oakland, he ran for and served as Attorney General and then governor.

Now in his fourth term, Jerry Brown will be termed out when he is 80.  Old age doesn’t limit him.  Although in recent years he’s battled cancer,  his vigor and mental clarity exceed the great majority of politicians half his age.  He has every reason to kick back, retire, and cash in on his name.  Many of us do too.  We’ve had a career, maybe raised kids, and / or written a book—achieved and served.  But why quit when you have something to give, something to learn, and unfulfilled ideals?  I ask myself that question regularly—why should I?  I don’t need to prove myself, and neither does Brown.

peoples park founding day celebratio

Peoples’ Park these days

But then my Berkeley Boomer core wakes up and yells, ‘You’re not done yet.’   At the locker room discussion, I mentioned that I still stand by youthful ideals of community, free expression, individual rights and justice, adventures, and personal growth.  Boomers were not all hippie radicals or counter-culturalists, but many were and have influenced our society from new age religions, to yoga, health foods, and alternative health systems mass acceptance.  In fact, the notion of the personal computer came out of the edgy, psychedelic consciousness of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak back in the seventies.  Our youthful ideals, tempered with realistic appraisal of the slow pace of change in the world have changed the world.

Perhaps President Obama has not delivered on all of his goals as president, but any president can only move the country forward (or backward depending on your point of view) a few steps.  Big change takes time, even when a system is rotting from the core like what happened in the former Soviet Union.  But he has moved the pieces forward a bit on key Boomer concerns of the seventies; environment, civil rights, war, and soul.

The political life of Jerry Brown demonstrates the successful marriage of ideals and experience. He went back to the basics (mayor of Oakland), polished his craft and worked his way back up the ladder of California government. Still an idealist, but heavily tempered with realism and compromise.  He now knows how and when to mollify central valley farmers with a big government project (the bullet train) and to take an independent stand as he recently vetoed several bills passed by his own Democratic Party legislature.  He applies his decades of experience to real problems and gets results.  His approval ratings dwell in the high seventies, virtually unheard with high level office holders.  Recently, the LA Times gave him a B+ rating with the potential of achieving greatness in this term.

At the same time, he still works from his early, progressive principles.  For example, he pushed for recent legislation to end global warming that promises to be a model for the rest of the country and the world.  And he has never changed his opposition to capital punishment, even in the hard on crime 90s.

Experience counts for Jerry Brown and can count for all of us in the fall of life.  Youthful optimism for quick transformation may be gone, but I attempt (as Jerry does), to take my experience and skills and marry them to ideals perhaps half-forgotten in the mists of time.  One of the greatest gifts of aging is the dignity of surviving (sometimes prevailing over) the travails of life.  Age and experience qualify idealistic Boomers to contribute to our world aligned with the Sixties/ hippie ideals of expression, justice, community, and love.  I do my best to live up to the vision and work for incremental progress.  And as a non-Boomer friend says, “You got nothing to lose.”

On  a personal note:  I just returned from a ceremony in Berkeley where I established a perpetual scholarship for needy and  deserving  students at Berkeley Student Cooperative.  The gift of  community I learned in  the coops has fueled and sustained me throughout life so far, and especially now that I’m in the ‘golden’ years.  I know where I came from and support that  mission.  Again, the work of Jerry Brown and many others  of our generation that enhances the  common good are markers of a  meaningful life.  More on  that & the coops in the seventies in a future blog.

Categories: Boomer Ideals/ Remembrance, Exemplars | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Uncovering Maui’s Historic Roots & Hipsters (discovery)

On my recent trip to Maui, driven by curiosity and desire for the authentic,  I explored many nooks and crannies on Maui from Makawao to Paia to Lahaina.  Nowhere could I get a hit of the real and soulful with local vibe and original spirit.  Until I spent a day in Wailuku.  Wailuku is the original town and administrative headquarters on that side of the island and has minimal visitors.  The first time I really visited Wailuku was in 2008, when a friend from college relocated here from Pismo Beach.  I had been coming to Maui for decades, but my previous experiences on Maui, mostly at the nature sites (Haleakala, Hana, Kihei, Little Beach, and Lahaina) had nothing to do with Wailuku.  I stayed at his apartment overlooking the town and discovered it was a normal town with neighborhoods and kids and like my hometown Santa Monica used to be back in the seventies.—an ignored and decrepit historic core (modern euphemism for old part of town).  But now gentrification has hit old Wailuku.

new  arch no bldg in Wailuku

New arch, no building historic Wailuku

 

Gentrification often saves the downtown core of old cities from demolition, including in paradise.  After a four year absence from Maui, I spent a few weeks on island and to my chagrin the beach tourist towns have blown up, just like my home beach town.  As in too much traffic, jaded merchants, and ersatz culture.  But in Wailuku redemption has come.  In 2011 I noticed the seeds had been planted, but now they have sprouted.  The coffee place, the restored movie theatre, the record store, and other shops bustle on Market.  The next street over Central Ave is primping for redevelopment, with  signs announcing restoration of old buildings from the forties.

wailuku bustles at Wailuku coffee

From street people  to stockbrokers, everybody stops at Wailuku Coffee

After several days watching the long lines of rental cars cruising through the tourist strips of Paia, Kihei, and Lahaina, I craved a hit of  the down home and local.  Wailuku called. On my last trip, I spent a whole days at Wailuku Coffee Company and few people would come in.  This year, I sat there for a couple hours and observed a constant stream of customers.  In just two visits, I was able to identify regulars.  I observed several business meetings, mothers with  their kids, and even the local eccentrics.

 

 

chic restaurant next to hostel

chic restaurant next door to hostel in the core

Inspired, I took a walking tour of downtown Wailuku, and discovered a wide-range of new shops catering to various hip or up-scale clientele.  A converted gas station now operates as a metaphysical gem store, whose ethnically mixed, young clerk wore a huge mumu, assisted a young Hawaiian guy buying crystals, while a 80-something white woman in an aloha dress waited.  Across the street an art deco style building housed an attorney, a yoga studio, and a holistic healer.  Rounding the corner, next to a huge parking lot for the municipal bldg. the hostel had a few youthful travelers lounging around. On one side of the hostel a totally vegan store celebrated its health orientation and on the other an upscale, table-cloth restaurant served lunch.  At the prime intersection, Market & Vinyard, a vacant store announced the pending opening of Pono with no clue on its mission.  Across from that corner the venerable Kokopele grill stand with its big yard used for weekly outdoor reggae movies.  In typical island style the stand occupied only one tenth of the lot.

A variety of other health-oriented shops have popped up next to the mysterious Pono.  They boasted a sign indicating no smoking of either kind—tobacco or e-cig.   Walking a couple more blocks down Market, I saw a man about 40 sitting on the sidewalk surrounded by debris of old pineapples.  Wary of being accosted for funds from my years of travel I braced myself, but he simply smiled and said “Hi.”  Even an empty lot had the makings of a re-do with a brand new concrete archway in the Japanese style opening to a barren lot except for a few cement pilings and trash.

Iao Theatre

Built 1933 and posters from  this year, Iao Theatre

As in many historic cores with classic theaters, the Iao Theater from the thirties (official historic landmark) had flyers of past and upcoming concerts from Margaret Cho to the Maui Chamber Orchestra.  Like the enigmatic Bowling Center which is only open for two mornings per week, nothing surprised me in reviving Wailuku.  Across from the heartbeat of Wailuku Coffee Company is Maui Shoe Academy, which deals in shoe repair and specialty footwear.

Further down Market I noted two more hostels, old and basic,  that could’ve been here since 1976, my first visit, but weren’t.  These days globe-trekking young people have a place to land and forage around the magical isle of Maui.  One, The Banana Hostel had a sign that announced that smokers had to stand away from the entrance.  It must be for foreigners, I can’t imagine Americans needing that instruction.

The Wailuku merchants seem to be serious about their revival with a guy sweeping in front of shops on Saturday with a broom and bucket.  Along with the industrious street sweeper, a wacky ‘hapa’ (ethnically mixed) guy lingered around the café for the couple hours I was there.  He flitted from store to café to another store and somehow finally got a couple dollars and waved them around and bought a coffee and salad and asked to sit at my table.  I said, “Sure.”  He then said, “Do you mind if I talk to myself?”  I responded, “No problem.”  He apparently didn’t like that response and promptly left. So, check-check for Wailuku’s harmless, aloha-spirited street guys.

Discovering the ‘new’ Wailuku, confirmed for me the value of keeping an open and curious mind-set while traveling as a counter-balance against the ‘been there, done that’ attitude that can surface later in life.  Even going to super touristy Maui for the umteenth time gave me some  discovery time.   Coming up on LDD:   Adventures in wild cowboy country on  the backside of the volcano.

 

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Getting Called Out at Little Beach, Maui (creative expression/ community)

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Descent to Little Beach

“Hey man, why you reading the paper?  It’ll bring you down,” said a young man at the weekly celebration at Little Makena Beach on the Hawaiian Island of Maui. Awoken from miasma, his words blasted me back to the present.  I came all the way here from LA, to change my routines and attitude and after only two days, I fell into my pattern from home:  Distracting my ‘here and now’ with reading.  In front of me a crowd of 20 free-spirits danced, drummed, twirled batons and hula hoops and surrounding them a 100+ multi-generational crowd mostly indulged in the clothing optional-custom of this hidden beach.

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Wild ones on the Beach & a stray old hippie

 

My accuser was a skinny guy, about 23, with long, blondish hair wearing a headband and glistening smile.  He moved easily and quickly from one group or individual to another like he was the host of the event.  Of course no one leads this neo-hippie scene, the whole event emerges ad-hoc.  But this man, Joshua, played the maitre de of Little Beach, first drumming, then pulling a six-pack of beer out of a cooler and passing one to whoever he meets, myself included, then stopping for a hit off a joint and talking with a group of three young women, and then prancing down to the beach for a chat with an older guy with a long,  gray beard.  No generation-gap here.

The tropical sun blazed down on the revelers and I desperately sought some shade.  Back home I enjoy hot, sunny days, but this was too much and I hid in the shade of trees on the periphery of the beach.  That’s when the young host zapped me with the lightning bolt—‘Be here now.’

After miles and miles of jumble of big condo developments and tourist shopping centers in Kihei, the road goes through the antiseptic, planned community of Wailea with  its luxury hotel resorts and golf courses and the speed limit ratchets down inexplicably to 20 mph.  Not surprisingly hiding around corners and in  the bushes police wait for the celebrating Little Beachers.  I’ve been coming to Little Beach for decades on my many trips to Maui.  As in most cool places I’ve visited all over the world, the original tip came by word of mouth.  Someone in the tourist center said, “You might like Little Makena Beach.  You get there by driving past the luxury Makena Resort to Makena Beach State Park south of Kihei and park at Makena Beach State Park.”  Makena Beach offers a wide comfortable beach and some basic facilities, but  you have to know that somewhere over a lava outcropping lies a hippie haven.

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Carefully edited view of the Beach

 

Back in the day the original hippies crawled over the rocks and in the secluded cove let go of clothes and inhibitions and ‘cleverly’ named it Little Beach. The word spread and the Sunday afternoon bacchanal grew into a tradition and legend in the hippie world.  Nowadays one sees mostly younger folks like the young man who woke me up that day, but mixed in the crowd are many gray-haired celebrants.

Maui is like that now.  My first visit in 1976 etched the placed in my soul as a tropical idyll.  Beautiful scenery ranges from volcanoes to deserts to rain forest to tourist beaches , while at  the same time it is a typical American small city with all of the conveniences from Home Depot to Costco. But in those days for us Maui was a nature adventure.  A company called Beach Boy Camper Holidays rented converted pick-up trucks that we parked at any beach park and camped for free.  It was the anti-tourist tour of Hawaii.  That freedom of movement combined my priorities, freedom of movement and comfort.  Stop where and when you feel it and relax.  Maybe that underlies the appeal of the RV culture of today, freedom and comfort.

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Firesticks and dancers at sunset

 

Of course, the whole world is a lot more packaged these days.  Finding and participating in the free expression of Little Beach revived the part of me that is still 25. But it is difficult to find, since I just don’t travel in those globe-trotting young peoples’ circles these days.  No hitch-hiking, not much hanging out in bars, and needing a bit more comfort (bed and warm shower).  Stoked I stayed til almost sunset, and as I left groups of people were just arriving with their drums and batons and ice chests.  The night  brings on a wild fire dance I’m told.

On this trip to Maui I had the good fortune to drop into a group of free-spirited young people.  I rented a room via AirBnB, because I wanted to stay in a locals’ neighborhood.  The room and the house provided what I needed, plus the unexpected benefit of hanging with free-spirited youth.  As it happened, the owner was out of town and he had a friend stay to supervise the rooms.

About 24, she quickly invited her new boyfriend to stay.  About 22 with long hair with an occasional penchant for wearing long dresses, he had recently left a work/ stay arrangement at an organic farm and now was looking for work as a waiter.  Another day, a friend of his from home (Grand Rapids, MI) arrived who worked as a tree-cutter.  Finally a third guy who is a medical marijuana care-giver came from Michigan for a short visit.  So, we had an instant communal crash pad, just like I experienced in the seventies.  Someone scored a place to stay in a cool place, and the crew showed up.

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Pondering the ephemeral aspect at Buddhist cemetery

 

Like me, they had come to Maui searching for something different from home and its routines.  My Venice home serves me well, but it gets old after awhile, more so since I jumped out of the rat race.   Some older, retired people share this with young people:  We’re both free of most responsibilities and the adventurous ones break out:  The world calls, wanderlust hits and at the slightest hint or suggestion, it’s off to on a new adventure.  Even in touristy Maui.

Maui hit the spot for an easy break from the mainland routine.  The weather is almost always perfect, spectacular natural sights await, and has all the comforts of home.  For me as an adventure traveler it takes some adjusting, because the edginess that appeals to me is hard to find. But the revelry, expression,  and connection of Little Beach made it for me.  Don’t miss it, even if you weren’t a hippie.  Fun can be infectious.

Categories: Community, Creative Expression | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Reading the Signs with York Blvd Hipsters (synchronicity)

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Odd anti-gentrification graffitti

Walking down a narrow, graffiti decorated passage way between two buildings to the metered parking lot that serves the newly named York Park district in East Los (the east side of Los Angeles), I had one of those—‘I know you’ encounters.   A man wearing a pork-pie hat with a young child poised on his shoulders approached.  Simultaneously we both acknowledged each other (that is a rarity itself in 21st LA) with a smile of recognition even though we had never formally met.  Synapses working like a twenty year, I said, “Hey Noah.  We haven’t met.  My name is RW.”  He said, “Yes, I’ve seen you many times at Santa Monica.”  We continued with friendly banter about Buddhist practice for a few minutes and went on our respective ways.  Noah Levine is the founding teacher of Against the Stream, a meditation center with locations in Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Oakland.  Mind you, this was doubly mind-blowing since I rarely venture this far east in the traffic jam called LA.

 

A close friend from San Diego County was visiting for a couple days and wanted to see the hippest neighborhood now in the megalopolis of LA.  The obvious choice is York Blvd.  For decades working-class Mexican-Americans dominated the Highland Park neighborhood.  Close to DTLA (downtown Los Angeles), with relatively low real estate prices, recently it was discovered by a hipster cohort priced out of Silverlake, Echo Park, and Eagle Rock.  Venice and Santa Monica?  Forget it!  Flooded with high-tech Silicon Beach money, mostly only decades long residents like me can afford it.

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Jeff Bughouse prepares for machine noise performance

 

York now offers several art and design galleries, interspersed with the old-school salon de bellezza (beauty parlor) and the party goods/ pinata store, and a funky pool hall.  A super-hip micro-brewery just opened next door the very avant-garde gallery—Bughouse, whose proprietor (full disclosure my brother) also plays machine noise music during the monthly York Blvd Art Walk.  A green cross cannabis dispensary recently opened on the five block strip, while an indie coffee shop/ hang space (Café de Leche) pioneered the street years ago. Some observers have sounded alarms about the clash-of-cultures and gentrification, but it seems like the opposition consists of the dispossessed artist/ crafts  element and entrenched generations-old street gangs such as Avenues and Hombres Guapos 65.  These days walking down the street one encounters a tasty and friendly mix of the long-time resident Mexican-Americans and the newly arrived 20s-40s hipsters like Noah Levine, the meditation teacher at Against the Stream.  Although, retro-grade elements flash their odd cry (see above photo).

Forty-something with tats covering his hands, arms and up his neck like a multi-colored serpent, even with a three-year riding on his shoulders on York Blvd, Noah was more inconspicuous than me (being sixty-something with a long pony tail).  He fits right in and said he had lived the area for several years, way before the recent gentrification that has exchanged taco counters for beer gardens and cafes with white table cloths for auto mechanics.  A half-hour later he visited my brother’s new art gallery, Bughouse (they’re in the vanguard of this cultural shift in my unbiased opinion). I introduced Levine to everyone making a mental note to go to Against the Stream, soon.  Being the reflective sort, I thought ‘What did that encounter mean?’.

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noah levine

 

A long time student of synchronicity, the next morning after the ‘coincidental’ encounter with Noah Levine on York Blvd, while soaking in my hot tub I pondered the Sunday ahead.  ‘Go to Agape?’ ‘Visit  Lakeshrine Self-Realization Fellowship?’ ‘Check the Unitarians?’ ‘Try InsightLA?’ ‘Kick back at Venice Beach?’ The previous day’s sidewalk meeting came to mind.  I took it as a ‘sign’ to go to InsightLA, since they practice the same form of Buddhism as Against the Stream.  InsightLA was founded by Trudy Goodman about fifteen years ago in Santa Monica and offers a full program of classes and meetings in the tradition of  American Buddhism initiated by Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein.  Afterward Goodman and I chatted for a bit—glad I went.

I have pursued a wide-range of spiritual paths for many years and eventually settled on a few practices that really worked for me.  I mix and match; I Ching, Tarot, Buddhism, Jung, Advaita, among others. At this point spiritual for me has no labels or need of an edifice, although I do appreciate and miss the fellowship of a formal venue.  But ‘church’ moments hit me in the most unexpected moments.  Like this summer in Topanga Canyon at the annual Reggae on the Mountain festival.  Walking up the hill to the concert being held on Topanga’s Little League field, the ‘maybes’ that often swirl in my head took a break, and feeling energetic after a nap and a speedy ride up the canyon in my Porsche, I was savoring the moment.  A guy scurried up to the road from the scrub brush with a couple balls in his hands.  I smiled at him and said, “Good catch.”  He responded with a joke of his own.  Then he offered to get me into the concert for free.  Sure.  Why not?  And just like that I saved $50.  That unexpected gift felt like a thumbs up from the universe.  Life may be filled with ‘suffering’ as the Buddhists say,but sometimes it can flow with connectivity.

Call it what you will, ‘coincidence’ or synchronicity, breaks from the analytic mind opens me to go with the flow until a sign or an eddy hits like it did on York Blvd.

Categories: Synchronicity/ Intution | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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