If you haven't read it already this story begins right here; Part One
London 1968 was happening and I was way out of my league. Everyone was so hip, so polished, so dressed. I was a Chicago street kid feeling like a hick off the farm. What was worse, it turned out that although the government said I could work the unions were another matter. Thank god, Liz got a break right away. She met the head of the makeup union, charmed him and went to work on a TV series. We moved into a little flat in Chelsea, got a car and I became her driver taking her every morning out to Shepperton Studios. Then I was free to wander the streets aimlessly, watching life happening all around me, just out of reach.
I learned the parks of London then including Battersea, the loneliest. In those days it was a sprawling empty expanse with its abandoned power plant looming overhead. It suited me then to be there breathing the air of failure and decay. I spent my days sitting on its benches and wandering its paths, killing my hours. I was miserable, worse than miserable, I had lost my identity. Without work, without being part of a group, without a beautiful wife by my side what was I? Not much it seems. For a long time afterwards, I described myself as a doughnut, all outside and nothing in the center. It’s important to have a center.
Liz prospered. She made new friends, went to private clubs for cocktails, drifted further and further away until finally, she was leaving me.
She wouldn’t admit she had met someone but it was clear she had. She tore my heart into thousands of aching little pieces and said goodbye.
I didn’t leave London right away. In the way that things happen when it’s life, not a story, I got a job then. I moved out of our place to a dimly lit room in a dingy building, it was tiny, cold, and damp but close to my new job, working at Kinocrat Films, where I made a small living. In the evenings I wandered the streets of swinging London envious of the couples in the pubs, watching them laughing and drinking, enjoying themselves. Me, I was afraid to enter.
Picture them as Mods, men in Nehru jackets, ruffled shirts, all fitted, tailored and Tom Jones elegant. The women wore mini dresses with patterned stockings or high rise elephant bells with big stripes, everyone looked model beautiful in the warm light beyond the windows. Picture me then, twenty-five, tall and thin, goatee and thick glasses, jeans and a rough shirt; too far from home, painfully shy, all confidence gone and too lonely to bear the weight of it all. Fat chance I was going inside.
I wrote to my mother and asked for help. She bought me a plane ticket and I flew back, my first time ever on a plane, coming home in pieces. I stayed with her for a few weeks but the space between us was just as large as ever and her sympathy and concern only made me angry. I belittled her suggestions, scorned her offers, only ate her food and slept in the bed she made for me.
Home in Chicago I tried to remember who I was. I was empty and unhappy but people knew me and hired me to shoot once in a while. I started hanging around on Clark Street at a place called the Fragile Sun Construction Company. The shop was home to a leather craftsman, an architect, and a clothing designer. They all worked there days and slept in the back room nights. Soon I was sleeping there too. Months went by and winter came. Then one bitterly cold Chicago afternoon I was walking down Clark street when I came upon a wondrous vision.
It was an old school bus all painted and covered in mad colors. I knew right away which one it was. I had read about it in The Seed, an underground paper. It was the Hog Farm bus, the Road Hog! This was a bus that extraordinary people lived their lives on, real freaks who had left everything mundane behind. The hood was up and a man with long hair, a large mustache, and a beat leather cowboy hat was squirting starter fluid into the carburetor and cursing; Butch, legendary bus driver. “Want a hand?” I asked him and he did, so I helped him get the ancient bus started and when it finally fired up I got in for the ride. We headed down Clark street on our way to the loft where the Hog Farm was staying. That was the beginning of a long ride.
There’s more to the story of course. The final installment is here