Walking the streets of San Francisco, we made our way to Chinatown
where Alf buttonholed passersby for information as to where we might find a place to crash.
Just a few blocks away was a shelter that provided temporary needs
for people like us.
We were buzzed in and escorted down a hallway past the living room where young people sat talking and hanging out.
"Right in there. There's a bed for each of you."
"No noise or music that's gonna keep anyone awake, okay?
And you have to be in by nine o'clock or the door will be locked."
We flopped on the beds to get an idea of what comfort was like again
knowing we'd be sleeping on those very beds and for the time being,
wouldn't have to operate in Survival Mode......
Then it was time
to hit the streets.
We made our way over to the Red Light District where we came upon Taverns,
Movie Theaters and Strip Clubs and settled on a basement bar where live music was playing.
We ordered a pitcher
of beer and wasted no time knocking down a few glasses each.
With the Hard Traveling we'd been doing, cold beer was the antidote for anything
that ailed us including weary, frazzled heads.
Performing on stage was a guy wearing a cowboy hat singing Country
and Western standards and in between songs explaining the difference between a "Salty Dog" and a "Midnight
We polished off a second pitcher then set about roaming the streets and getting lost before
finding our way back to the shelter.
It had been an eventful day. We were experiencing the world, rolling with
the punches and grabbing onto whatever good things came our way.
When we hit the hay it was like two Redwoods
being felled by an axe.
bed to lie on was a luxury and I relished the comfort as abstract thoughts paraded through me......
In some unfathomable way, it seemed that we
were wringing the Real Meaning out of life........
The clang of pots and pans awakened us in the morning.
We sat down to a breakfast of French Toast and since we were the last ones seated we
escaped kitchen duty; the pots and pans were being washed as we ate.
Soon we were making our way to Fisherman's
Wharf where we took in the sights mingling with the crowds.
crossed a parking lot where an Old Man was handing out poems he'd written and we gave him the courtesy of accepting his
gift, each tucking a copy into our pockets.
"Hey, somebody's gotta do it, why not me?" he said
with a slightly staged demeanor.
Along the waterfront were Jugglers and Mimes and Bongo Players tapping out rhythms.......
We watched as Cable Cars arrived at the bottom of Hyde St. where they were spun
around on a turntable for the trip back up the steep slope.....
Now, there are hills and there are HILLS and the hills of San Francisco are not for the faint of heart and lacking the enthusiasm to walk,
we rode to the top of the vertical slope then bailed out and resumed our trek on foot.
We cut a swath across town,
passing Restaurants, wishing we could go in and gorge ourselves full
but the Money Situation was not good.
We were also reaching the end of our emotional tethers and being with each other 24 hours
a day was taking its toll. We stopped in a doorway to catch our breath and to decide on the next move.......
I was trying to convince Alf that we should start thinking about a room for the night but
he'd removed his Guitar from its case and was strumming away, drowning me out as I spoke.
The guitar was sounding tinny and he began inspecting it to see what was wrong.
"Ya know," he said, "I'm thinking about getting this thing fixed. Is there a guitar shop around here?"
"I wanna get the guitar fixed."
"Ya can't get it fixed,"
I said, losing my temper.
"I can't huh? It's my guitar!"
"How much money ya got?"
"Oh, about twenty three bucks."
My Pinto deposit money was almost gone, having been spent on
meals and incidentals including our mini beer bash the night before.
We were looking at our last few dollars and it suddenly seemed that the end of our adventure
The argument wasn't about the guitar anyway, it was who was calling the shots.
Both of us were strong headed and a clash of wills was bound to occur.
It was actually one of the strengths of our friendship that we could assert ourselves.
We were confident enough to unleash some pretty lethal salvos at each other knowing ultimately, it was all water under
The Hole in the Wall Hotel
Realizing it was a stalemate, Alf gave in and
we shuffled along looking for an inexpensive room where we could stay the night.
Sure enough, we came upon
one, a hole in the wall with a Vacancy Sign on the door.
A paunchy, middle aged guy emerged from the back.
are your rooms?"
"How many two? Ten dollars."
I thought ten dollars was pretty cheap.
"Ten?" Alf asked in a skeptical tone.
The clerk, taking this as a parry, shoots back, "Okay,
At eight bucks I thought we'd better grab it but before I can say anything Alf turns to
me and utters the magic words:
"Ya wanna get a cup of coffee?"
The clerk, obviously in need
of business shoots back. "Okay, make it seven, you can have the room.!!!"
We took it.
I was trying not to laugh as Alf peeled off the bills.
A key was slapped on the desk and we were directed up a narrow staircase that opened
a deathly quiet corridor.
I turned the key, pushed open the door
and we walked into a scene that resembled something out of the life of Van Gogh.
Against one wall was a 4 poster bed and across the room, an old dresser.
There was a single wooden chair and next to the dresser, a waste basket.
That was it. The only window opened onto a back alley.
The room was no more
than a filing cabinet for human beings,
the kind of place a broken person inhabits after the great battles of life have been won and lost;
a Writer or Musician who turned to drink and wound up here, living out the last days
of his life.
It was a Shrine to Cuietude,
its thick walls shutting out the noise of the city and for all its lack of furnishings, it was kept clean.
We tossed one of the mattresses on the floor for me to sleep on then cracked open a couple beers from
a Six Pack we'd bought and sat sipping them slowly........
A Moment of Deep Reflection
Lost in Reflections, Alf picked up his Guitar
and began to strum chords,
us both to become pleasantly stirred........
As he drew the pick across the strings, the room filled with harmonics
that pirouetted off the walls and faded into the ether.......
We said nothing, staring into space as Abstract Thoughts played out within.........
........ruminating.......... savoring the beer...........
The sound of the Guitar was enough......
It was the sound of
Long Term Friendship and Ten Thousand Adventures....................
the sound of Cedar Grove..............
a Vortex of Sacredness that was transplanted into
a little room in San Francisco........
It was Alf in his trials and me in mine.......a Torch held up against
It was Incredible Ironies, Heartaches and Triumphs that shaped our
lives and brought us here to this unlikely place........
I lay on the mattress, propped up on one elbow and I could
see Alf was in a world of his own.
Several times I wanted to speak but thought better of it, taking another sip
of beer and waiting for a lull in the strumming..........
"What d'ya wanna do tomorrow?"
"I don't know. What
do you wanna do?"
"Well, we could stay here another day or we could head up to Sacramento."
"What's in Sacramento?"
"I don't know but it's the State Capitol.
There's gotta be something going on there and if we don't like it we can
start heading home."
I said it.........."heading home"........
Our Quest was becoming secondary to surviving the withering changes
we were going through.
we'd turned a corner and Sacramento represented the first step of the journey home.
I could tell that Alf was keen on ending the Odyssey anyway.
He, like me, had spent his emotional reserves and I knew
that sooner or later he was going home with or without me.
With the money almost gone, our options were
covered almost 4,000 miles and slept in a different place each night and although we didn't have much to show for our
efforts there were a lot of Intangibles bubbling below the surface.
We'd broken out of our boredom, seen
the country, met Jim Butterworth, our Aussie friend and shared his insights.
We'd seen California from San Diego to Los Angeles on up to San Francisco and met
some Vivid Characters along the way and we still had a journey of 3,000 miles to get back home.
I got up and stood
by the window staring at the brick work maze of the back alley.
"What d'ya think Buddy, ya wanna
head there tomorrow and if nothing's happening,
start heading home?"
After a thoughtful strum he gave me his answer.
I'm tired, man." he said wearily.
"Yeah, I know," I said, "and it's a long way
back to Jersey.
We'd better get
some rest. It'll be a long day tomorrow."