In October of 2012, I was traveling in Northern California with my new friend Mr. Carolina. We’d met in Colorado on Furthur lot. I traveled with him, three (sometimes four) other adults, and two dogs all the way from Red Rocks to Santa Barbara in Old Betsy, my 1994 Chevy G20 van. Two of the adults and their two dogs found a new ride in Santa Barbara, but Mr Carolina and I drove to Los Angeles to deliver L. and R. to the airport so they could catch their flight to Guatamala City.
After our brief stop in LA, Mr. Carolina and I kept heading north, eventually making it all the way to Mt. Shasta, California.
In Laytonville, we met a young French Canadian man and invited him to our cheese party. (By “cheese party,” I mean that Mr. Carolina and I were sitting in the van eating cheese.) The French Canadian man was heading north to Redding to catch a bus and offered to help pay for gas if he rode with us.
My van broke down in Redding, after we dropped the French Canadian guy at the bus station. By “broke down,” I mean we let her run out of gas. It was really my fault. The directions to Wal-Mart I got on my phone were wrong, or I misread them. In any case, we headed off in the wrong direction and ended up on some side street with no gas.
We pushed the van off the road, into the gravel between the road and the fence of the closest house.
We had not money. I flew a sign for a while and collected $24. (Blessings to the kind strangers who handed me a $20 bill.)
My gas can only held one gallon, so we walked to the closest gas station and back twice.We put in the two gallons of gas, and the van still didn’t start. We thought we had fucked up the fuel pump.
At that point, I gave up for the day. I just didn’t have the energy to figure out anything else. We walked back to the Jack in the Box near the gas station to use some of our meager funds to buy dinner. We met a really nice guy named Bernard there. He was in his 50s, maybe his early 60s and had been out to The Hog Farm back in the day and had seen The Grateful Dead a handful of times. We bought him a couple of tacos out of the little money we had gathered up, and we ate together. After dinner, he smoked his roaches with Mr. Carolina. He is one of my very few nice memories of Redding.
After dinner, we went back to the van and slept right there on the side of the street, me in my bed and Mr. Carolina on the floor.
Here’s a poem I wrote about the first night of the experience:
We sat in my broke down van
pushed to the gravel
next to a random street
on the West side
of Redding, California
and said good-bye to the sun.
Without my glasses,
distant headlights became
vivid bright snowflakes
with blurred edges.
Raindrops pinged randomly
on our metal roof
while the scent
of nag champa
You smoked fresh Cali weed
in the dark
and a train whistle blew
far away and lonesome—
the exact sound
of this night.
My car insurance covers roadside assistance. I don’t even have to pay up front and get reimbursed, it’s just totally covered, so the next day I had the van towed to a nearby mechanic. It turned out that once Old Betsy was out of gas, it took seven gallons to get her started again. My sweet friend KJ called the mechanic shop with his credit card and paid for the gas and the jump start we needed after killing the battery with so many false starts.
By the time the van was running again, it was late in the day. Mr. Carolina and I each had one McDouble for dinner, and we saved the rest of our money to put into the gas tank when we headed toward Mt. Shasta the next day. We ended up spending that night in the parking lot of the Redding Wal-Mart. There was such a weird vibe at that Wal-Mart. People at the entrance were pulling some card trick hustle, and a guy in the parking lot came over and tried to make very fast small talk with us while we were playing cards in the van. (In all the Wal-Mart parking lots I’ve slept in, no one else has ever approached my van and tried to get friendly.)
Redding was my #1 Let’s Get the Fuck Out of Here town. The energy there was very harsh, angry, negative, dark. I said to Mr. Carolina, It’s starting to seem like everyone in this town is on meth. He said to me, That’s because everyone in this town is on meth.