Tag Archives: road trip

Circa ’69, by Seven Dhar

6 Aug

 
Seven Dhar seeks to push the limits of language, East and West, performing in Sanskrit and Gaelic, Spanish and the awed tongue of mystics; Buddhist, yogi with SoCal Native American roots; graduate of UC Berkeley and UCLA, who also studied at Oxford and Yale. Among many other accomplishments, he was a Pushcart Prize nominee and the 2015 winner of the San Gabriel Valley Poetry Festival chapbook contest. Seven is a poet from a bygone era enmeshed in our own, who combines the excesses of the Western canon with Buddhist, yogic, and Sanskrit sensibilities, Spanish revelry, urban shamanism, and playful mysticism.

*Read much more of Seven’s philosophy and accomplishments at the end of this blog post.

 

We left Twentynine Palms in the life of summer, headed toward the distant smoke signal L.A. under low flickering skies that turned black and exploded and cleared just long enough for us to realize we had yet to turn the ignition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We sat stationed on the shoulder as the road moved — the wind whipping our faces, crackling across the desert, kicking up grit and scented straw in the wake of the semi speeding by, its bowels a holocaust of cows.

The wind turned a mill in the valley, a pinwheel, iridescent and wobbling — Play-Doh comic peel, mirror images funhouse distorted, ourselves in ink, lifted and warped.

The driver turned, his eyes drooping, to ask: “What do you want them to say about you at your funeral?”

“Start the car.”

“‘Start the car‘?” he echoed.

“Yes, start it. Crank it. I’ll tell you about my funeral when we’re on our way.”

He shifted, lurching forward, unaccustomed to working the gears in an altered state.

 

 

 

 

 

The cat in the catapult, Freedom the Hitchhiker, piped up from the back seat. Our passenger, a nimble wildflower picked at the edge of Joshua Tree National Monument, had provided the day’s sustenance. (We should’ve asked what it was before chasing it with the last of the Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill). “At my funeral,” she enthused, “I want them to say, ‘She was kind. And beautiful! She lived fast, died young, and left behind a most gorgeous corpse'” then purred with satisfaction until she giggled.

 


 

 

The driver coached the stick into fifth as he announced, “As for me, I want them to say, ‘He was wise. Look how long he lived! The last survivor, gentleman-scholar, who left an exhausted cadaver, well worn with the good use of years.'”

We dodged a gauntlet of trucks, then fell behind a battalion of reinforced American models. Eyes leered from windshields quizzically poring over us in our convertible, the contents of which were now being jettisoned and scattering across the highway in our wake.  

“What about you?” the driver nudged.

“What? Those papers? Who needs them?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

            
                 Drawing by Ralph Steadman

“No, no, what do you want them to say about you at your funeral?”

I paused — as if thinking a great deal, but there was no thinking, only a swirl of throbbing tail lights as brilliant as the velvet lining of my future coffin.

What Freedom had against those typed pages, we only discover when we reach the angelic City of the Lost under haze, empty manuscript folder in hand. Until then I have to content myself to guess, never imagining it has anything to do with the leather-bound star in her purse: “The title,” I intuit, “that must be it! Its angular, irregular lines contorting, growing awful in the Etch A Sketch of a mind lost.”

“That manuscript, after all,” she would later explain, “was a typed confession, a litany of aberrant exploits that could land someone in a lot of trouble.”

It’s hard to imagine the Merry Prankster more than glanced at anything beyond the title-page before reacting, artful dodger, careless litterer, who saved us on our trek across the desert.

“Well?!” they asked.

“Well what?”

“What do you want them to say,” Freedom inquired.

                                                  “About you — at your funeral?” the driver added.

Freedom leaned forward as if to stand, ready to step over the sofa-seat and join us as we swerved across lanes. A sudden burst of acceleration held her back. She instead settled her head on the back rest askew, leered at me with pupils as large as mirage pools of oozing asphalt slick with the sheen of searing heat across them.

They stared, no attention giving to the road, they stared, no time for time its arm beating on, they stared, mouths agape, eaglets in an eagle’s nest about to be raided.

“Well?!!” they insisted.

“I want them to say…” I swallowed to clear my throat, dry with wit so wry to utter, “I want them to say, ‘Look, he’s moving!'”

Then came the sirens like wailing desert birds. We sat up, pushed bottles and other incriminating evidence beneath the seat with our heels. Freedom vaulted as we came to the shoulder — the flicker of a purse strap like a lash behind her — showed the trooper something, and in no time we were on our way again.

 

Drawing by Ralph Steadman

*More about Seven Dhar:

Seven believes that “If your mother informs you you’re part Irish, you had better live up to some form of Gaelic lyricism and merge it with the playful wonderment of Lewis Carroll while remaining true to your indigenous Southern California (Tongva/Kizh) roots, capital of this neck of the universe.” It’s not enough to emulate Shakespeare, Coleridge, or Poe, but we laud our forebears best when we laud them loudly or at least a bit ironically. Crisscrossing Europe and Asia in search of a voice is no way to live — sage, minstrel, piper Seven discovered. Thus have I heard: words alone are likely to survive. Whether studying at Berkeley or UCLA, Oxford or Yale, it comes down to this: There may be many heres, but there’s only one now. So what does it really mean to explore the possibilities of language?From the Himalayas down to the plains, from the planes up into space, from space back down to Earth by way of Mt. Sumeru, arriving where no one knew words could reach — the transcendent in the decadent, enlightenment in the Age of Kali.

Seven Dhar was also winner of the 2015 Emerging Urban PoetsSan Gabriel Valley Poetry Quarterly Chapbook Contest; 2015 San Gabriel Valley Poetry Festival Broadside Contest; both Los Angeles Poet Societys 2015 National Womens Month Poetry Contests (lapoetsociety.org). Published in various anthologies: The Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising from the Cultural Quakes and Shifts of Los Angeles (tiachucha.org); Altadena Poetry Review (Editor Thelma Reyna, Altadena Library); San Gabriel Valley Poetry Quarterly, Spectrum (Editor Don Kingfisher Campbell); The Border Crossed Us (Vagabond Books); Yay! LA Literary Magazine (yaylamag.com); The Stone Bird (Eagle Rock Branch Library, LAPL); LAWS Review (Los Angeles Word Salon); Poetry & Cookies; Heartbreak Anthology I and II (Editor Karineh Mahdessian, La Palabra, Avenue 50 Studio); Hometown Pasadena (hometown-pasadena.com). He is a featured reader at many venues across the county and beyond including Pasadena LitFest, L.A. Lit Crawl (NoHo), and the L.A. Shakespeare Fest (Celebrity Centre, Hollywood). He is the recipient of various and sundry academic distinctions.

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A Trip to Remember, by Sandra Maxwell

4 Aug

Author, historian and teacher, Sandra Maxwell has spent her life attempting to understand the human condition. Urged by many of her teachers to either teach or write, Sandra chose writing because it puts into one place all of the elements she is interested in. She can study history, explore human behavior, and teach — all at the same time.  She lives happily with her husband Robert in a Victorian cottage and gardens in Southern California called “The Havens.”

 

Late in 1969, my writing partner and best friend Lucy and I were heading back to Los Angeles from Illinois. We had stolen a few days to go back home to visit family, but a meeting with the story editor of a TV show made us hurry back.

Lucy’s parents had given her a brand new Dodge van. It replaced the rather unreliable Chevy Malibu we’d been driving. The van had a snub nose with the engine mounted between the front seats. It took a while to get used to not having a front end, and I always put my foot on the fantasy brake on the passenger side whenever Lucy pulled up behind another vehicle.

Everything was perfect except for one fact. Illinois had failed to get us our license plates in time for our trip. Some mix-up in Springfield. Lucy called them to find out what to do since we couldn’t afford to miss our appointment. Illinois said not to worry, just keep all the papers proving she owned the van. If we were stopped, they would check with Illinois to verify we actually did have plates coming. It would all be fine.

As we drove back to LA, we discussed ways to make the van more comfortable, what to do with all the space in the back, should we go science fiction, maybe cushions on the cold steel floor, or keep it practical? Lucy decided we should call the van “Critter.” Seemed reasonable to me.

On a Sunday afternoon we pulled into Tulsa, Oklahoma. Suddenly the engine began to make horrible noises. Lucy pulled over at the nearest exit. That’s when I noticed the state patrol car following and exiting with us.

I opened the glove compartment. “We have the State Patrol behind us. I’ll take care of this while you see about the van.” I pulled out all the paperwork, confident that at least one problem would be easily solved as we pulled into a gas station. It was the van’s engine that worried me.

Now, you need to know that Lucy and I did not look like hippies. We kept our hair styled, used makeup when we went to meetings and wore business clothes to the studios. For the drive we were wearing jeans and blouses. Our hair was a bit windblown and there was no reason to wear makeup, but no long hair, no leather fringe, no beads, no large sunglasses. Those items were back in LA.

I barely glanced at the patrolman as he walked up to the van window, but the moment I handed him the paperwork, I noticed his demeanor. His small, wiry stature bristled with anger. He had short red hair, and his blue eyes glared at me as I explained what Illinois had told us to do under the circumstances. He snatched the papers from me and went back to his car. I still felt confident that things would work out and waited for Lucy to return. She was gone for an uncomfortable amount of time and the state policeman was still in his patrol car. I began to worry that we could be stuck here while the van was being fixed.

Last June I had seen “Easy Rider,” and visions of shotguns and murderous mayhem flew through my mind. Memories of the Freedom Riders who were jailed or murdered in the early 60s haunted me. Young people were still mysteriously disappearing in the South. I jumped when Lucy opened the van door and vaulted into the driver’s seat.

It’s Sunday. No mechanic but the guy in the gas station said it sounded like we’ve blown some seals in the engine.”

What can we do? We can’t stay here. We’ll miss our meeting.”

He said we could buy oil, water and transmission fluid and just keep everything filled until we can get it fixed. It’s still under warranty.” Lucy reached for the key.

Wait. The state trooper still has our paperwork. He’s been back there all the time you were gone.”

Lucy gave me a puzzled look. I shrugged. We waited. My imagination brought even more horrifying pictures of people disappearing on the highways. We were two young girls, easy targets. I tried to rationalize: This was Oklahoma, not the Deep South.

I looked around when I heard a car door slam. I almost laughed in spite of the horrors my mind had unearthed. The patrolman hiked his pants and marched toward our van on slightly bowed legs. He struck me as the stereotype you’d see in bad TV shows that made fun of Southern lawmen. I bit my lip and kept a straight face.

He came up to the window on Lucy’s side and glared at us. “I tried to get you on Oklahoma law, but I couldn’t,” he drawled. “So I tried to get you on Illinois law, but I couldn’t.” He took a deep breath. “But if you’re not out of the state of Oklahoma by midnight, I’ll get ya for something.” He threw our papers at Lucy and stomped back to his patrol car.

Lucy handed me the papers to put back in the glove box. “Were we just in a bad movie or was that for real?” she chuckled.

Thing is, we can’t risk not taking him seriously. He has all our information and could track us the entire way. Maybe send any of his buddies out to get us.”

Lucy groaned, “I’ll get some oil and transmission fluid here. Let’s fill up on water, too. We can stop for more as we go.”

We took off for the Oklahoma border and kept below the speed limit. Every time something rattled in the engine, I raised the lid beside me and poured in the appropriate liquid. We were out of the state just before midnight and made it all the way to LA like that. At a Dodge Dealer we got things fixed on the warranty. Critter lived to be over ten years old before we had to put him down.

I’m actually proud I was thrown out of the State of Oklahoma. Seems a fitting tribute to the life and times of young people trying to make their way through the sixties and seventies. I do realize how lucky we were now that I look back, and my youthful view that nothing bad could really happen is gone. But I still smile at the image of the little red-headed, cock-sure, bowlegged patrolman strutting up to our van to threaten two young “hippies” from the North who had to be there with trouble on their minds, no doubt about it. All he accomplished was to make me fight harder against mindless prejudice in days to come. I’m still fighting even now.