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Thanksgiving Sixty-Seven

Homework assignment for our Zoom Class Reunion

By Hank WhitsettPublished 3 months ago 6 min read
Moreton Bay Fig—Santa Barbara California

Freshman year of college. 1967

On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving I waited in the student lounge at the University of California Riverside for Bruce Raymond to meet me. He was coming up from Chapman College about 20 miles south. Plan for Thanksgiving break was to hitchhike up to San Francisco. Meeting time came and went. After a half hour I was beginning to get impatient. I’m sure he felt the same way, waiting for me about 100 yards away—in the other student lounge.

Yeah. Two student lounges. So an hour after our designated meeting time, I decided to set out alone. Campus adjoined the I-10 anyway, an easy start. I was in LA by early afternoon. In no way familiar with California—I’d been there all of two months—I had a map and by early evening I was on a corner in Santa Barbara.

Part of the 101 went right through the heart of the small city. It stopped being a freeway and was interrupted by four stoplights over two miles or so. I was on a corner with two other young guys. Each and every corner through that section of highway was populated by hitchikers headed north. Directly opposite ours was the Moreton Bay fig, a beautiful historic landmark tree.

One of the guys, slightly older, was back from a stint in Vietnam and the other was a student headed north to spend Thanksgiving with family. It was getting dark and no one was stopping to give rides.

There’s a car stopped at the light adjacent to us waiting to turn right onto 101. The window rolls down and the guy says to us, “Why don’t you take the train?” We look at each other. OK, wise ass. That car takes off but it wasn’t that much longer, we were having no luck at all, a freight heading north pulls in just beyond the fig tree. A few quick wordless glances and what the hell, we sprint across the street. There are some hobos already waiting there.

It’s an amazing ride, a wondrously clear night. The rail line goes right through the eerily lit, neon aqua Vandenberg Airbase, through tunnels, across the coastal range, veers inland all the way up to San Francisco. There we split up. The veteran gives me guidance and directions and we all go our separate ways.

It’s morning, been awake all night. From some vantage point I remember a view of San Francisco Harbor—looking out over wharfs, freighters, cranes, human life in the city.

But I had to get to Haight-Ashbury, and it took me till late afternoon. By November 1967 the hippies were mostly gone, leaving strung-out teens, young adults, more under the influence of addictive substances than visions of peace and love.

I was guided by hunger to the Diggers’ food pantry. The Thanksgiving dinner I remember was with a good-sized crowd, all fortunate to have a free meal. After, at the record store I remember seeing the amazing album jacket for Cream’s Disraeli Gears, a fantastic array of posters, and then someone I met offered a joint. Almost goes without saying that I ended up crashing on the floor of their apartment.

My friend Sarah Cousins was attending San Francisco Art Institute, so the Friday after Thanksgiving I tried to find Sarah. This time, our reunion was unsuccessful.

On the return trip, I resolved to make my way down Coastal Route 1 to Santa Cruz. Originally I had applied to UC Santa Cruz, but the tiny number of students at that point in its history meant I had to select an alternate UC campus. OK then, Riverside—closer to the Mexican border and good weed. Also LA and movie stars.

I made it down Route 1 through Half Moon Bay. Santa Cruz, in 1967 was a quaint coastal town with a historic boardwalk, kitschy amusement park and beautiful beach. The college influence was just beginning, manifesting Bookshop Santa Cruz, The Catalyst—both still existing in 2023. I’m not going to see the campus in the time I have remaining though.

It’s gotten to be late Saturday. Classes start again on Monday and I’ve got 400 miles to cover, so I head back out to Route 1. Standing by the iceplants on the freeway entrance, backpack by my side, I realize there’s not much traffic. I’m not getting any rides, it’s getting dark. I begin looking around for a good spot for the sleeping bag.

And then a Galaxy 500 coming up the on-ramp slows and stops! A student also heading back after break—a senior at UC Los Angeles so he’s going all the way there! He’s the center on the football team and there’s a big game coming up, but I’m not following their season. We talk politics, Vietnam War, hippie movement, music. At a certain point he wants me to take over and drive. He cat-naps maybe an hour and then takes the wheel again. It’s a beautiful night, not much traffic and we arrive in LA around 1am or so.

He tells me he’s going to stay with his girlfriend and says I can sleep at his apartment, in his bunk. He’ll explain it to his roommate, who won’t mind. After some rest I’ll head back to Riverside.

He gets me into his apartment. The roommate’s not there but he sets me up in his bunk and I instantly fall asleep—I’m a little deprived. Must’ve been half an hour—if that—the door opens, light goes on and the not-at-all-hospitable, neither amused nor happy roommate is like “What the fuck are you doing here? Who are you!?”

Quickly, in the process of getting upright— trying to make some kind of sense of where I am, I fumble to explain. He’s like, “You’ve got to get out of here. You can’t be here!”

He’s at the desk. I can clearly see from my vantage point in the upper bunk, he opens a drawer and there’s a pistol and stack of money. “You’ve got to get out of here ass-hole, I’ve got some people coming. You can not be here.”

“You can not be here” he says, with emphasis. “Come on. Come with me,” and he takes me up the outside stairs to a vacant apartment. He gets the door open and says “Here, stay in here.” It’s vacant. There’s no furniture, but there is carpeting in an empty bedroom, so I lie down in the sleeping bag. He leaves. I wait a few eternal seconds and quickly pack up. A couple of doorways away I find a small open laundry room without a door, but I position myself behind a hot water heater and attempt to just get remotely comfortable. I’m not sleeping and within 10 minutes I hear steps on the outside stairway again. He goes in the door of the apartment. He comes back out and then goes back down.

I’m fairly uneasy. I hear sirens. I think I hear a gunshot. I’m imagining things, certainly. Did it seem like it was far away? Not sure at all.

But after half an hour or so—probably by this time is 3:30–I go back into the apartment and lie down on the bedroom carpet and in minutes I’m fully asleep.

Until the shriek of the landlady awakens me, screaming “what do you think you’re doing in here? Get the hell out! I’ll call the cops! What are you doing here?”

Good morning!

“Who do you think you are? Why are you here?” I’m pretty certain it was less than one minute for me to be out the door, gone from the premises.

My roommate Bill returned that evening from visiting friends in Santa Barbara. In the men’s room at the Greyhound bus station in Riverside—in one of the stalls—there’s a body on the floor, face down. Looked like drowned in the toilet.

Bruce Raymond went back to Chapman, though, and had a relaxing break.

Freshman year college—Thanksgiving, 1967. 


About the Creator

Hank Whitsett

I'm old, so this could be a long story. Suffice it to say, I'm old.

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