I usually try to not contaminate Interludes with editorial comment but today I am going to have to break my own rule. It’s a beautiful day here in Marin County and I am looking out of my bedroom window at Mt. Tamalpais. Marin was home to the Grateful Dead while I was growing up here in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s as well as a number of other fantastic musicians/groups like Carlos Santana, Van Morrison and Journey. Van Morrison wrote ‘Snow in San Anselmo’ (my hometown) about the winter of 1971/72 and released it on his 1973 album ‘Hard Nose the Highway‘. I distinctly remember that snow as it rarely ever snows here. We still have a photo that my mom took of my sister playing in the snow while behind her I am standing with my runny nose plastered against our dining room window, sobbing, as my mom would only let me out for a few minutes at a time due to my cold.
I attended one show, Dylan and The Dead, back in (I think) 1987 where I almost got my ass kicked by some obliterated junkie that blindsided me because he thought I had insulted him. After my friends and security bailed me out of that mess we made our way to the center of the Oakland coliseum and proceeded to set up a trading post like the one I had seen in my parents’ book, The People’s Park. The book chronicled the protests that had occurred a few years earlier across the bay in Berkeley when locals and students battled The Man over control of a patch of concrete that the community had turned into a park. It still stands today but tragically people were killed and wounded in the action. Here’s a short clip about the event:
I remember one photo in the book showed a low wall along a sidewalk in Berkeley where someone had laid out a piece of cloth and on top of it some trinkets and various bits and pieces of more or less junk. I guess I felt inspired that warm summer night and decided to do the same. We found a patch of grass and laid out my gray chamois shirt and took everything we had in our pockets and laid it out on top. I think we had a couple ticket stubs, rubber bands, some lint, a few donated cigarettes, a piece of paper with a Deadhead stamp on it and a few other items. We also gathered up some empty whippit canisters that we found and threw them on for good measure. We spent the next couple of hours watching the show and the flow of amazing looking people stream by. All sorts of folks would stop, look and take whatever item they fancied and leave one in return. I’ll never forget looking down at the end of the show and realizing that the pile of crap that we had paid out at the start had been transformed into an assortment of crystals, leather work, artwork, wood carvings and some other interesting items.
I remember only bits and pieces of the show but I remember that collection of stuff and how amazed we were that people would happily part with a piece of art in exchange for a piece of lint. Maybe it was the music or maybe it was the chemicals they were on but it seemed that most of those folks understood what we were going for with our little experiment and that giving was more important than taking. (I think that is one of the fundamental characteristics of humanitarian work and that without it you’re all but sunk.) I don’t remember what happened to all those knick knacks or how we divvied them up but I do remember that that night showed me a view of humanity that I have sought out ever since.
Sadly, Marin isn’t really Marin these days. There has always been money here but not on the level that it is now. Most folks are transplants from somewhere else and have no memory of earlier times. Range Rovers ply the streets and you’re hard pressed to get a smile and ‘Hello’ up on the mountain bike trails these days. The music has faded and been replaced with the high anxiety hum of high finance and tech stock trading. Things move here several times faster than they should and although I can still show my son the wildlife (osprey, coyotes, deer, trout and bobcats) that I remember I, unfortunately, am hard pressed to show him the persistent warmth of the people that once lived here.
Sure, there are a lot of good folks and my harping doesn’t help. I am sure that one day the tide will ebb and a different way will flow back in. And while things won’t ever revert to they way they once were I am confident that my son will find plenty of people that realize that there is much more to be gained by giving rather than by taking.