From The “Brothers Under The Bridge” Series-“The Sign Of The Easy Rider”
From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin:
In the first installment of this series of sketches space provided courtesy of my old 1960s yellow brick road magical mystery tour merry prankster fellow traveler, Peter Paul Markin, I mentioned, in grabbing an old Bruce Springsteen CD compilation from 1998 to download into my iPod, that I had come across a song that stopped me in my tracks, Brothers Under The Bridge. I had not listened to or thought about that song for a long time but it brought back many memories from the late 1970s when I did a series of articles for the now defunct East Bay Eye (Frisco town, California East Bay, naturally) on the fate of some troubled Vietnam veterans who, for one reason or another, could not come to grips with “going back to the real world” and took, like those a Great Depression generation or two before them, to the “jungle”-the hobo, bum, tramp camps located along the abandoned railroad sidings, the ravines and crevices, and under the bridges of California, mainly down in Los Angeles, and created their own “society.”
The editor of the East Bay Eye, Owen Anderson, gave me that long ago assignment after I had done a smaller series for the paper on the treatment, the poor treatment, of Vietnam veterans by the Veterans Administration in San Francisco and in the course of that series had found out about this band of brothers roaming the countryside trying to do the best they could, but mainly trying to keep themselves in one piece. My qualifications for the assignment other than empathy, since I had not been in the military during the Vietnam War period, were based simply on the fact that back East I had been involved, along with several other radicals, in running an anti-war GI coffeehouse near Fort Devens in Massachusetts and down near Fort Dix in New Jersey. During that period I had run into many soldiers of my 1960s generation who had clued me in on the psychic cost of the war so I had a running start.
After making connections with some Vietnam Veterans Against The War (VVAW) guys down in L.A. who knew where to point me I was on my way. I gathered many stories, published some of them in the Eye, and put the rest in my helter-skelter files. A while back, after having no success in retrieving the old Eye archives, I went up into my attic and rummaged through what was left of those early files. I could find no newsprint articles that I had written but I did find a batch of notes, specifically notes from stories that I didn’t file because the Eye went under before I could round them into shape.
The ground rules of those long ago stories was that I would basically let the guy I was talking to give his spiel, spill what he wanted the world to hear, and I would write it up without too much editing (mainly for foul language). I, like with the others in this current series, have reconstructed this story as best I can although at this far remove it is hard to get the feel of the voice and how things were said.
Not every guy I interviewed, came across, swapped lies with, or just snatched some midnight phrase out of the air from was from hunger. Most were, yes, in one way or another but some, and the one I am recalling in this sketch from 1979 fits this description, had no real desire to advertise their own hunger but just wanted to get something off their chest about some lost buddy, or some event they had witnessed. I have presented enough of these sketches both back in the day and here to not make a generalization about what a guy might be hiding in the deep recesses of his mind.
Some wanted to give a blow by blow description of every firefight (and every hut torched) they were involved in, others wanted to blank out ‘Nam completely and talk of before or after times, or talk about the fate of some buddy, some ‘Nam buddy, who maybe made it back the“real world” but got catch up with stuff he couldn’t handle, as is the case here with Doug Powers , who went way out of his way to avoid talking much about‘Nam, or about how he wound up in the hobo camps in the late 1970s after heading west from Ohio in the early 1970s, but who wanted to talk about his biker friend from Maine, not a Hell’s Angel-type biker just a guy who liked to ride, ride free, a guy who had gotten him (and a few other guys too) through the ‘Nam hellhole, Jeff Crawford, and about his life on the road, on the biker road, and of his sorry, beautiful life ( Jeff’s forever expression) life. I like to finish up these introductions by placing these sketches under a particular sign; no question Jeff’s sign was that of the easy rider.
Additional comment for this sketch:
Usually when a guy told me a story he was either telling his own story, or that of somebody who he had first-hand knowledge about. Stuff that could be readily verified, or at least could be checked out in some detail. Doug Powers was drying out in a Sally shelter in San Diego in late 1976 when he saw the news on the shelter television that Jeff had made his last ride. All the details about the guy fit,‘Nam veteran, Norton bike, from Maine, living up in Albany, suspected drug smuggler, about 30 years old and so once he got clean (for a while) he drifted north to check up on what had happened to his old amigo. So this is the way Doug Powers told me the story, Jeff’s story, the story of his big ride, the way he got it from Little Peach, Jeff’s last sweet mama and the one who was with him on that journey, told him the road stuff, straight up, so some of stuff probably has the old hearsay problem, although later when he checked up, checked against stuff that he knew about Jeff from ‘Nam days and after it held up well enough. Held up well enough when I checked too.
This Little Peach, by the way, this sweet mama easy rider woman of Jeff’s whom he met at Ginny’s Coffee Shop in Albany, California where he hung out for breakfast, where she was serving them off the arm, was at the time of her telling just returning to school at San Francisco State where she was an excellent student if that helps any in making the story more trustworthy. It’s worth mentioning too that like a lot of us then Little Peach was young, restless, working, going to school, living at home with mother, no boyfriend to speak of, a little unlucky in previous affairs and so when she saw Jeff, a little older which she liked, not a rough guy from appearances, seemingly a free spirit with that Norton, once he started giving her a look, starting paying attention to her, started making his moves she was ready, ready to jail-break, to ready to be his sweet mama, no regrets.
He, the ghost of… Peter Fonda he, Captain America he , Dennis Hooper, Billy The Kid he, Hunter Thompson he, Doctor Gonzo on an Indian he, James Ardie he, Vincent Black Lightning he, hell, Sonny Barger or one of one hundred grunge, nasty mothers keep your daughters indoors under lock and key Hell's Angels brethren he (as if that would help, help once she, the daughter, saw that shiny silver sleek Indian , Harley, Vincent, name it, whatever by and did some fancy footwork midnight creep out that unlocked suburban death house ranchero house back door to meet with that power), Jeff Crawford he, Norton he, just wanted to drive down that late night Pacific coast highway. Where else in the American world could you have the hair-raising blown warm wind at your back and the sometimes hard-hearted, but mainly user-friendly, ocean at your right. Somehow Maine icy stretch Ellsworth Point did not make its case against that scenario. He knew those forlorn streets and back roads like the back of his hand but there was no going back, and no reason to since his divorce and his Ma dying.
Drive, ride really, motorcycle ride just in case you were clueless and thought that this was to be some sedan buggy family, dad and mom, three kids and Rover, car saga. Maybe with his new sweet mama behind holding on to her easy rider in back, holding tight, her breasts rising and falling hard against his waiting back, and riding, laughing every once in a while at the square world, his old square world (and hers too, she used to serve then off the arm while attending some dink college when he fell into her at the local breakfast place), against the pounding surf heading south heading Seals Rock, Pacifica, Monterrey, Big Sur, Xanadu, Point Magoo, Malibu, Laguna, Carlsbad, LaJolla, Diego, south right to the mex border, riding down to the see, sea. Riding down to the washed sea, the sea to wash him clean. Her, she had nothing to be washed, hadn’t been out in life long enough to build up soul dirts, that’s what he told her and made her laugh, except maybe a little off-hand kinky sex she picked up somewhere and had curled his toes doing one night, and that didn’t count in the soul-washing department . Not in his book. And made her laugh again. Not some big old poet- wrangled washed clean either, some what did old ‘Nam Brad call it, some metaphor, if that was right, if that was how he remembered it, not for him, just washed clean.
Easy, Jeff thought, just an easy rider and his sweet, sweet mama, her hair, her flaming red hair, or whatever color it was that week (he didn’t care what color really just as long as it was long. He had had enough of short- haired women all boyish bobbed, all snarling every which way, all kind of boyish do it this way and that way, all tense, and making him tense. He liked the swish of a woman’s hair in his face all snarly and flowing and letting things take their course easy. A ‘Nam lesson.) blowing against the weathers, against the thrust of that big old Norton engine, all tight tee-shirt showing her tiny breasts in outline that a shirt or sweater made invisible (he didn’t care, like a lot of guys around the bar, the biker hang-out, where he hung out over in Richmond, the Angel Tavern, the one run by Red Riley, about big breasts, or small), tight jeans (covering long legs which he did care about), tight. Maybe a quick stop off at Railroad Jim’s over on Geary before heading to ‘Frisco land’s end Seals Rock and the trip south (and if he wasn’t in then Saigon Pappy’s, Billy Blast’s or Sunshine Sue’s) to cope some dope (weed, reefer, a little cousin cocaine to ease that ‘Nam pain, the one Charley kissed his way one night through his thigh when he decided to prove, prove for the nth time that he, Charley, was king of the night) to handle those sharp curves around Big Sur, and get her in the mood (she, ever since that midnight creep out Ma’s back door over in Albany a few months before when he had challenged her to do so when he wanted to test her to see if she was really his sweet mama, craved her cousin, craved it to get her into the mood, and just to be his outlaw girl).
Yah, it was supposed to be easy, all shoreline washed clean (no metaphor stuff, remember, just ocean naked stuff), stop for some vista here (about a million choices, he would let her pick since this was her first run, her first working run), some dope there and then down to cheap Mexico, cheap dope, and a haul back norte and easy street, easy street, laying around with sweet mama, real name, Susan White, road moniker, Little Peach (an inside joke, a joke about a certain part of her anatomy that was all she would give out) until Red Riley needed another run, another run against the washed sea night.
Labels: brothers under the bridge