I also considered myself something of an advocate and spokesperson for those without a voice. However, in reality I was mostly advocating for myself in these cases. My advocacy in actuality bordered on vigilantism. My last year in high school I determined to defend the rights of my poor fellow students, the ones who drove to school and parked in the school parking lot. In my opinion they were being abused in two ways.
The first was a severe shortage of parking spaces in the lot which made students have to find parking far away and walk to the school. This seemed very inefficient to me and irrational because there were many potential additional spaces in the lot if the curbs weren’t painted red. Of course, there was a good reason they were painted red, for firetruck access. However, the way I figured it the driving lanes through the lot were plenty wide for truck access even if cars were parked along the curbs. So I convinced a friend to join me one night in repainting all of the curbs white to increase parking. The next day was a success, all the curbs were filled with parked cars and it was much more pleasant for my friends and me. I had stuck it to the bourgeoisie on behalf of the workers. It wasn’t long before the curbs were repainted red; but then it wasn’t long after that we had repainted them white again. And then they were painted red again. This time I thought to have a little fun, so we painted them purple to see what would happen. That next morning the announcement over the loudspeaker made it clear that “regardless of what color the curbs are in the student parking lot, parking is not allowed along the curbs.”
The second way my fellow student drivers were being maligned, was in that the parking lot was locked during school hours, so students couldn’t leave. This was a safety risk in my opinion for “what if a student had to leave quickly for a family emergency?” Fortunately it was only locked with a simple chain across the entrance which was simple to cut. Then it was replaced; then it was cut again. Then it was replaced again; and cut once more. Then they installed heavy steel gates with 2″ square bars top and bottom and framed like a large rectangular truss, connected to very strong posts, embedded in concrete. So one night I convinced a different friend to join me with hacksaws and we cut our way through all of the bar and threw the gates into the nearby ivy. My cohorts were liberated once more! Vive la revolution!
At the time I viewed these activities as jokes, in part, and as good deeds. I suppose I knew, in the back of my mind, they would be considered by others as crimes, not as gags. But I certainly didn’t see myself as a criminal, and if I was, it would be of the Robin Hood variety; justified and more than a little endearing. I said earlier that I was very prideful at this age. In addition, I was more than a little arrogant and self-satisfied as well.
In addition to acts like these, of liberation and freedom-fighting; I also used the pen as my weapon. One summer I wrote a letter on behalf of my fellow workers at our summer job arguing that we should all be given the afternoon off for an educational opportunity of a lifetime, and since our employer was all about success in the world, they should afford us this opportunity to contribute to our future success and feel good about themselves for doing so. My employer was The Bohemian Club of San Francisco and I was working at the fabled Bohemian Grove during the summer encampment. Our educational opportunity was to listen to Ronald Reagan give the keynote address. He was one year out of office, and coming to The Grove, and I wanted to hear him speak.
For two summers I worked at The Grove and it was eye opening, and a great job for a kid. The first summer I got to work valet parking at the entrance gate. As a seventeen year old driving Maseratis, Ferraris, Porches and an occasional Bentley it was a pretty good gig. Of course, we couldn’t drive them very fast and we only took them a few hundred feet into the dirt parking area to the right of the gatehouse, but it was still a lot of fun.
Before I go on with the story, perhaps I should backtrack for anyone unfamiliar with The Bohemian Grove, and explain a little bit about it. The Club is very exclusive and difficult to become a member, reserved for the political and financial elite. If you are of the political variety you must be out of office in order to attend The Grove but other than that I don’t remember many rules. The camp runs for two weeks every summer, only men can attend, and the grounds are rustic but really incredible.
My first summer was fairly uneventful since I worked at the main gate and didn’t get in to see very much of the grounds. It was exciting though when a motorcade would approach and helicopters would hover overhead. I remember former Secretary of State George Schultz coming in this manner.
My second summer was much more interesting, as I moved up to be a chauffeur on one of several open-topped shuttle buses that crisscross the entire grounds, carrying members from the front gate to the common areas and on up a myriad of small dirt roads to the individual encampments. These encampments are like camps within the camp, clubs within the club, or like fraternities, with their own rules of membership and exclusivity. Set amidst the redwoods these camps were designed in many styles, there were: clusters of teepees, wooden forts, castles, primitive hut villages, and many other types of structures, all magnificently and colorfully lit at night. Imagine it a little like Disneyland under the redwood trees. They had a rustic veneer but they had many of the comforts of a luxury hotel. Some of the camps were for political leaders, some for certain financial magnates, and others for lesser businessmen or entertainers. I never learned all the details but one learned from hearsay who was a member of which encampment. There were many stories and fables at The Grove.
For all of the crassness, juvenile foolishness and drunken stupidity that occurred at the camp, and there was quite a bit of this, (I can’t recall how many times that first year I saw men urinating on each other’s cars and finding it somehow hilarious, but it was many more times than I wish I had seen) there were also elements of sublime beauty. My favorite part of the camp was every evening at about 6pm, in the middle of a small grove of redwoods near the commons building, just up from the main gate, a man in full Scottish regalia would stand and play the bagpipes, while the golden sunlight filtered down through the trees and filled the grove with radiant light. The air above him, lightly misted with sunlit dust stirred up from the tires of our shuttle buses, would come alive with the sound of “Amazing Grace” and I would stop my bus and sit and watch him as he played and listen to the sound of the pipes as they echoed among the trees, and lilted up through their canopies.
One such evening I had just finished listening to his serenade, which lasted about twenty minutes or so, and I drove around to the front gate just as Henry Kissinger was getting out of a vehicle. Several men around him hailed me and I waited. The group came to me, spoke a few things just out of earshot and then the rest of the men walked on up to the commons while Mr Kissinger got on my shuttle. Earlier that year I had studied his involvement in opening China, and many other exploits. I’m generally not a political person but I admired his achievements and here we were, just he and I, driving together through The Grove. He was polite, but didn’t say much after our initial greetings and after he had told me where he wanted to go. I generally can start up a conversation but found myself tongue-tied this time. So I just savored the warm summer air, the beauty of the trees, my simple life and the strange incongruity of my little life with driving our former Secretary of State to his destination.
Following this encounter, I also saw George HW Bush, Casper Weinberger, George Schultz again and Ronald Reagan; the place was hopping! But I didn’t get to drive any of them. I did in the end however, get to hear Mr Reagan’s speech. My written request had been denied but it so happened that I had to drive by the meadow where the speech was being given, since practically everyone attending wanted to hear him, and during the course of my business was able to stop and listen to him. My letter hadn’t gone over as planned with my higher ups; in fact, my direct supervisor was very angry towards me, because I had undermined him by going over his head to the top of the club at the offices in San Francisco. The folks at the main offices also didn’t see things my way and I wasn’t invited to work there again the following year. I was disappointed but had moved on as well myself and was ready for different challenges.
(to be continued)