THE RAINBOW GATHERING
DAY 15 (CON'TD)
So, there I was, 30 miles away from the Rainbow Gathering. I hadn't brought any supplies, except for my camel pack which I filled with water at the McDonald's (good thing I wore that thing everywhere I went at the gathering), and my sketchbook. I was wearing my flip flops, which were still newish and stiff, not ideal for walking. I saw the sun was going down, so I decided I'd better set off, it wouldn't help to wait around. I didn't say goodbye to Choo Choo, maybe I should've. I didn't feel too bad about it, he seemed busy on his phone. I started walking east down 40 again, like I had a few days back. I remembered there being a lot of hippies at the Burger King and Walmart parking lots the first time I'd come through, when I met Priest. If I was lucky, maybe I could find someone there who was headed in the same direction. The walk began.
There was no one in the Burger King parking lot who looked like they were part of the Rainbow Family, nor at Walmart for that matter. I did see a few RV's parked in the lot, with people sitting in fold-out chairs outside of them. They just seemed like travelers to me. I thought maybe I could ask them which way they were heading, and with luck, catch a ride. I walked towards them, then found myself walking past them, not uttering a word. I chickened out. I was too afraid to ask them. Why? Why was I afraid to ask them? I couldn't comprehend why I didn't just turn around and engage these people. They didn't seem threatening or unwelcoming, but I just couldn't bring myself to talk to them. "You're screwing yourself over..." There was a voice I hadn't heard in a while. The negative little voice that joined me at the start of my journey, that had kept quiet for a while, was back. "You're too chicken to ask for a ride, and you're going to regret it. What, are you going to walk 30 miles there in one night? You know you can't do that. Are you going to stop somewhere to sleep on the way with no tent or tart or blanket? You're going to be one of those idiots who ends up dead in the woods, found weeks later." I kept walking, past the Walmart, past the last road for Ocala, and past sunset. It got dark, and the temperature started dropping.
I could've stuck out my thumb while the sun was still out, but the voice said, "you'll get arrested. You've heard it over and over again that it's illegal to hitchhike in Florida. Chances are, as soon as you stick out your thumb, a cop will see you and take you in, or they'll just fine you a bunch of money you won't be able to pay... or both." It was dark out, and no one was about to pick up some random bearded guy in the middle of the woods. I felt like I'd be the stereotypical creepy hitchhiker at night. I imagined how creepy it would be to answer the question, "so, where're you headed?" with, "the Rainbow Gathering." I remembered how creeped out I was when I first heard Ron mention it to me, thinking it was some sort of cult. I walked on as blinding headlights passed by me. Fortunately I kept a flashlight in my pocket, and a smaller one attached to my camel pack, so I could at least see where I was going. There were no street lights this far from town.
I wondered how many people who were passing by me might have been going to the gathering, if any. It was close to the big day, so chances were pretty good that at least some of them were headed that way. If they knew I was headed there too, they'd probably pick me up. That's when I got a genius idea. I wasn't going to hitchhike, but I was going to let people know where I was going. If they know where I'm going, and their going there too, they're sure to pick me up. I tore out a page from my sketchbook, and used my sharpie to write "RAINBOW" on it. I stuck the paper to my back, using a clip from my camel pack, so that cars heading the same direction would see it in their headlights. If any cop asked questions, I wasn't technically hitchhiking. Genius. I walked confidently forward, ignoring the blisters forming on my feet from my stiff flip flops. Every time I heard a car approaching behind me, and saw the lights from their headlights, I thought, "ah yes, this is it. They should be reading my sign by now, and slowing down... slowing down... slowing..." and they'd pass right by. "Surely this one is the one. They must be. No more walking for me." Zoom. "Okay, this one, for sure." Vroom. So it went for a couple of hours, maybe more. The blisters on my feet were getting worse, and the temperature was dropping even more. I took my flip flops off and began to walk barefoot in the grass. The cool damp grass and mud was helping sooth the pain. I marched on. I started getting hungry.
I saw a cafe across the street, so I decided to stop in and eat something. I put my shoes back on, which hurt, and crossed the street. They were closed for dinner. Damn. I took off the "RAINBOW" sign, and crumpled it up, putting it in my pocket, and marched on. I walked until I saw a barbeque restaurant. I remembered it from the last time I walked through here. I'd decided not to go in because I hadn't been walking long enough, which had led to me getting picked up by the two ladies and Clue. I remembered how unfortunate it was that I had met Clue. I stopped in this time. It was warm inside. I hadn't realized how cold it had been outside since my body was staying hot from the workout. I had realized the temperature was dropping, but not that it was by that much. Dinner was delicious. It'd felt like months since I'd had any meat.
The restaurant was bare, save for the couple of waitresses working, so there was no one there chicken out on asking for a ride. As I stepped out of the restaurant, I realized just how much colder it had gotten. Being indoors allowed my body to rest and acclimate to the nice warm temperature, so it hit me even harder. My feet were aching from the blisters, so I took my shoes off again. I walked for a while, feeling colder and colder, so I broke into a jog to get my body heat rolling. I'd kept my gloves in my back pockets since the first couple of nights at the gathering, so I put them on. I kept switching hands to hold the sketchbook with, so one didn't get colder than the other. I took off my hat, and let my hair go. It kept my ears slightly warmer to have my hair around them. Slightly. I realized no one was stopping, I was either walking the whole way there that night, or stopping somewhere in the woods to sleep. Luckily I was keeping my lighter in my pocket, so I'd be able to start a fire to curl up next to. I started to feel like I was better prepared for this than I'd originally thought. I stopped jogging once my feet felt like they were on fire from the friction with the ground. I had to put my shoes back on to try and alleviate them. On the plus side, I couldn't feel the blisters anymore. At least I hoped that was a good thing...
I eventually started humming as I power walked down the road. I hummed loudly, no matter what song came to mind. My spirits were high after that hearty meal, and once I'd accepted I wasn't getting picked up, I felt at ease. I was no longer getting my hopes up as cars approached, just to have them crushed. I started singing the few songs I know the lyrics to. I sang "The Gasman Cometh," which tells about a gasman fixing a gas tap on a Monday, leading to needing a different worker for each day of the week to repair something else that'd gone awry, ending with the gasman having to come back to fix the tap again. I sang a song about a girl who killed her whole family in various ways, only to confess once the cops had arrived because she knew lying was a sin. I sang what little I remembered from the Decemberists' "Mariner's Revenge," a ten minute song about two sailors being swallowed by a whale, one seeking revenge on the other. I recited Shakespeare's "Hamlet" speech, "to be or not to be," which happens to be the only Shakespeare I've actually retained. I repeated these over and over and over. I started them all at regular speed, then slowed them down, then repeated them, then did them one syllable at a time for each step I took. I didn't stop. I kept going. My body was warm, my feet were hot, and I kept walking for three or four more hours. Then, the last thing I'd expected to happen, happened.
A car pulled over ahead of me. I almost didn't notice it, since it looked like it was about to turn down a side road. I slowed down to let it make its turn, thinking it wouldn't see me walking by, and I'd probably get run over, but it stayed stationary, not moving forward, and not making its turn. I thought something might be wrong with the driver, so I looked in the side window. The passenger window was cracked open, so I asked the man if he was okay. "Yea, I'm fine. You need a ride, don't you?" Damn, that's right, I did need a ride. I'd lost hope entirely, and didn't even consider that's why he was pulling over. I'd accepted so deeply that I was walking the whole way that it didn't even occur to me that it was even a possibility anymore. I got in the car. I thanked the driver, and was astonished when I got a better look at him. It was Baloo from the Bare Necessities Kitchen! No, it wasn't him. It just looked like him, sounded like him. I must've been more tired than I realized. I looked at the clock on his dash, which read 2:10 AM. I'd started walking around 6 PM, and only stopped for dinner for about an hour. I asked him where he was headed, and he said, "the gatherin', 'course! Aren't you?" I admitted I was, but that I hadn't realized that's where he'd been headed. "Yea, I jus' don' know where it's at. Gonn' have a hard time findin' it is all." I assured him I knew where it was, and how to get there. He seemed relieved.
The conversation for the car ride was heavily one-sided. He was a talker, and very opinionated. I could barely keep up with his subject matter, which bounced around like a pinball machine, from the bible, to Sadam Husein, to "those damn niggers," back to Jesus, then to Buddha, then over to Tutankhamen. The government was a conspiracy, corporations were terrorists, and the educational system was a scam. Then at one point, he mentioned Baloo was his brother. Aha! There it is! That was why I thought it was him. I was glad I wasn't that crazy after all. He spoke a little about when they were younger, getting into drugs like LSD. Finally, we made it back to the gathering. He gave Front Gate some cigarettes, and cursed at the fact that he was almost out of tobacco. I directed him over to Bare Necessities. Ironically, there were many more cars parked along the dirt road than when I'd left. As soon as we arrived at Back Gate, he dropped me off, and immediately left to restock on cigarettes.
I went back to my tent, amazed that I was back in my camp. Amazed that someone stopped to give me a ride, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, well after I'd completely given up any hope of it. Amazed that it was who was going to the same place I was, but didn't know how to get there. Amazed that it was someone related to the head of the kitchen I'd been working with for the past few days. Just amazed.
My sketchbook had taken a beating from the previous night. The cover was no longer in the pristine condition it once was. My sweaty, dirty hands left imprints on the outside, and the edges of the pages were fading from white to brown to black. I was disappointed at first, but then saw it as a liberation. This should've been its state long ago, when I first came out to the Rainbow. I'd been so worried about keeping it clean and in good condition that I hadn't taken it anywhere. Now it'd been weathered, it'd seen the roughness of travel, and had now become an adventure sketchbook. I decided it was time to take it with me as I walked around, unafraid of the consequences. This may sound silly, but it was a big step for me, a leap even. I decided I wanted to draw in public, and it was a huge thing for me. I'd been inspired after meeting Randsford, painting in public, and this was just the slight nudge I needed. I'd been hearing for a couple of days that someone had set up a hookah lounge somewhere in the woods, so I decided to check it out. The blisters on my feet from the trek the previous night needed some time to heal, so some lounging sounded like a good idea. I grabbed my sketchbook, and went on my way.
They'd set up just behind Bear Necessities, so it was a conveniently short walk. It was a loosely tarped area, which fit about ten people tightly sitting together. There were rubber-like mats on the ground, and leather pillows strewn about. They had one pole in the center holding the tarps up high, and three tarps and blankets acting as walls. The fourth wall was created by their 4-man tent. They had one hookah circling around the six people hanging out inside. It was the picture of relaxation. They'd set up a little low table out of a garden wagon, and were using it for their coffee pot. I do love the smell of coffee, hate the taste, but love the smell. This was ideal. I greeted everyone as I sat on one of the mats. The guy sitting behind the wagon, operating the coffee maker, turned to me and said, "hey man, this ass-pillow needs some lovin'. You wanna give it some lovin'?" He grabbed an unoccupied pillow, and passed it to me. I thanked him, sat on it, and started drawing, listening to the people around me chatting. The atmosphere was great, soothing, relaxing, a very chill environment. There were a couple of drums and sound boxes laying about that someone would randomly start playing. Every so often they'd pass around a cup of what they called "sex-presso," everyone would take a sip and pass it around. The hookah was making its rounds lazily as well.
"Hey you, with the credit card, you draw?" It was the same guy who had given me the "ass-pillow." His name was Jesser. He and his buddy, Cass, whom I'd recognized as the guy who was recruiting people to help clear the trail to Main Circle a couple of days prior, were the ones who set up the hookah lounge. Apparently they'd been at a gathering a few years back, and had decided to bring a hookah along, and ended up having swarms of hippies join them daily. Ever since then, they started calling themselves the hookah lounge, and people look for them when they arrive, knowing there's a cool place to hang out in the woods. Jesser told me about a project he was working on. He was writing a story based around a mythical creature of his invention, the "unicorniphant." He'd been asking artists he'd met along the way to draw or paint or make some representation of what they thought a unicorniphant would be, without giving them a description of it. He said he wanted to have a collection of various artists' perception of what this animal could be, and asked me if I'd be willing to draw him one. I immediately turned to a new page, and got to work. About an hour later, I gave him the result, and he was thrilled.
CREDIT CARD - a sharpie or black marker one could to create things for monetary gain
I took my sketchbook to Main Circle that night, and started drawing the musicians. I caught some of the drummers from the drum circle around the fire. It was tough because it was dark out and the only light I had was from the fire, and I wasn't about to use hippie-mace just so I could see better.. I could barely make out what I was drawing, and people were moving. It was an interesting challenge I hadn't undertaken before. I stopped in at Stock Pot on the way back, and caught a couple of guitarists around the fire. The walk to and from Main Circle was no fun with the blisters, but the experience of drawing people was worth it.
HIPPIE-MACE - Bright lights in the dark, especially when shone in someone's eyes.
The next few days were uneventful, but exhilarating all the same. I met new people, like Bubbles and Princess, Ro, Mama Chime, and Guy with a Flag. Guy with a Flag walked around with a flag, which had the image of a guy carrying a flag on it. Fascinating. I wondered if Happy had something going on with Mama Chime, because I saw them walking together at one point, in a flirty fashion. I took my sketchbook with my just about everywhere I went. While I was in the hookah lounge one of the days, Randsford was painting a part of a banner for the lounge. He invited me to participate on it, so I painted their pink hookah on one of the corners of the banner. I even got to see Annie, the girl who had driven Choo Choo and myself to Ocala, who had supposedly gone to Tampa. She'd apparently made up with her boyfriend, and had decided to come back for the last few days of the gathering.
I visited Trade Circle for the first time, and sat down to draw it. It was an interested "market." The fact that they called it a circle was a bit misleading, since it seemed like a type of blob, but the idea was there. People would set out a blanket or a coat or a tarp, sometimes even just a handkercheif, and they'd put out items they have for trade, while others walk around perusing their wares. The haggling was intriguing to listen to, as some people would impose so much value onto something that wasn't regarded as much by others. There were all kinds of objects for trade, from shiny rocks, to camping equipment, to trading cards, to patches that people could sew onto their clothes, to tools, and so much more.
Carrying a sketchbook around intrigued some people to who asked to look through it, and others even wanted to draw in it. One time at Stock Pot some kid named Guess Who asked to draw in it. I lent it to him for a while before he had to leave. Eventually even Randsford asked to leave his mark in there. It was great to have this tool for interaction with people around me. One little girl saw the cover on which I'd drawn dragons and castles, and was wide eyed when she asked if I'd drawn that. I think she was a little disappointed when she saw that there weren't many of the same style drawings on the inside, but a couple of them caught her eye.
I hung out in the Bare Necessities Kitchen with my sketchbook a few times while they served food to random hippies who showed up. I tried to capture some of the coliseum while I was hanging around, seeing people who had spent the night by the fire. I'd been getting to know some of the kitchen staff pretty well by then, like Bo, Awesome Sauce, Joy, Ryan, Denny, Shawn, Zac and Stunt Double (who seemed to be referred to as "Cunt Stubble" anytime before midday). Happy had completely integrated himself into the staff, and seemed to be the second in command under Baloo. The people working the kitchen respected him, looked to him for guidance, and enjoyed his company. They loved his breakfasts which consisted of eggs and potatoes, probably because it was anything other than pancakes, which they got way too much of. Plus, it was really good. Happy would sneak me a plate every morning, even though I wasn't technically part of the kitchen staff. No one seemed to mind since they'd known me to have helped them out since they set up.
One night I managed to join one of the drum circle when one of the drummers took a break and offered his drum to anyone who wanted to try. It was an excellent experience, doing my best to follow along with some very experienced drummers. Someone would start with a slow beat, another would join in with their own, I'd follow suit, and eventually all of us were playing. The beat would build up, louder, and faster, and would intensify as people began to whoop and shout and scream. It would eventually slow down, and drummers would fade out until only one beat was left playing. Either they'd fade out to silence, or they'd change the tempo and flow into the next movement. It was amazing.
Then the breakdown began. Tents began disappearing, kitchen started to pack up, cars were leaving. One morning I went into the hookah lounge for a couple of hours, having to walk through Bare Necessities to get there, but when I came out, the coliseum was completely down. I was glad I'd decided to sketch it when I did, otherwise I would've missed the opportunity. The gathering had taken on a bit of a depressing mood, as structures were taken down when you weren't looking. The trash kids disassembled their tree house, HHK broke down their bliss rails, Bangerang had completely disappeared, and Stock Pot had filled in their fire pit. The kitchens that left earlier would kick down leftover supplies and food to the kitchens that were staying later, so there seemed to be a convergence of kitchens into Bare Necessities. They were recieving crates of canned sauces, boxes of pasta, bags of rice, and went into a mad frenzy to get as much of it cooked as they could in the last couple of days, while still breaking down the kitchen.
It finally came down to the last day. The police were warning people to be out by midnight the next day, lest they be fined for trespassing. People in the kitchen were dashing around trying to get supplies back on the trailer. Happy had offered space in his RV to help Baloo. He'd apparently broken things off with Tim the Cosmic Wonder, and was instead taking on some of the kitchen staff from Bear Necessities. His plan was to take on a skeleton crew to the next gathering, which was in some place called A-cola, and set up the kitchen early as soon as the site was declared. I helped out where I could, and by midday had broken off to take down my own camp. I packed up the DragonWagon and was ready to head out. I went to say my farewells to Happy. He was insistent that I go with him. I explained that, with my wagon, it'd be difficult, if not impossible, to get my load into his RV. He dismissed my excuses, assuring me that there was a way. He told me he'd love it if I came along with him and the Bear Necessities kids. Tim wouldn't be around anymore, so the kids were going to "spange" their way along. I had no idea what he meant. To be honest, I was scared. I was afraid of going in an RV with a bunch of people I barely knew, with what little I had to live with. I was convinced I'd be walking out of there, but Happy convinced me otherwise. I set aside my fears and apprehension, and gave way to my sense of adventure. Who knew what would be waiting for me on an RV full of hippies from the woods? This wasn't an experience that would readily come my way again anytime soon. It would be an adventure, and that's exactly what I'd set out to have.