Stephen was running away from the draft. I was running away from my self when we ran into each other under a tree in a churchyard in Washington DC. We were both crashing there. The good people at Grace Episcopal Church had opened their doors to the street children that had invaded Georgetown. It was the summer of 1970. We slept on the floor of the church using Stephen’s sheepskin vest as a pillow. In the morning the rector cooked oatmeal. After we ate we would stow our backpacks containing all we owned on the floor of the parish hall and hit the streets. We made a little money panhandling or selling Quicksilver Times. We walked and we walked. We met people…some were hippies and runaways like we were. We shared lies and secrets and cigarettes. We took naps in Montrose Park. We ate bite-sized burgers at the Little Tavern.
One day we met Motorcycle Steve who introduced us to Motorcycle Stanley who lived in a group house at Dupont Circle. We moved out of the church and into the group house. Moving in was very subtle. First we came over a few times and sat around for a while and went back to the church to sleep. Then we brought some of our things over and left them behind when we went back to the church to sleep. Then we stayed…first on the couch, then on a mattress on the floor in Michael’s room…then in our own room, which was actually a closet with a mattress.
Stephen got a part time job repairing motorcycles for a delivery service. At night he fixed cars in the alley behind the house. He was really an artist. He should have been painting. But he was repairing cars in an alley with borrowed tools. He worked late into the night in the alley. Neighbors we did not know yelled out the window for him to be quiet. He yelled back and smashed his borrowed tools against the wall. Once he got so angry he actually shattered the windshield of the car he was working on. I got a job typing at the National Headquarters of Phi Beta Kappa. I hid my wild blond Afro under a shorthaired brown wig at work.
We became a part of the parade that passed through the house on S Street.
Motorcycle Stanley didn’t have a motorcycle but he had once been a member of a motorcycle gang called the Pagans. Stanley was bearded, fat and jolly like a pot smoking Santa, but he was a wily renegade. He was always pulling his old Chevrolet into illegal parking places, lifting the hood of the car and casually strolling away.
Michael was a yuppie before there was such a thing as a yuppie. The house was close to his job at the National Association of Broadcasters. He appeared to have little in common with his housemates. They were white. He was black. He was the only one with a legitimate profession. He didn’t share our meals in the collective kitchen and he didn’t sit in the communal living room, but it was Michael who invited Stephen and me to sleep on a mattress in the corner of his room.
The self-appointed leader of the house was a reconstituted beatnik that everyone called The Colonel. I think the name originated not from any military background but from his tendency to sit back and issue orders. His girlfriend Nina had a part time job at the Chamber of Commerce and bought all of our food at the co-op. She was a vegetarian. We all became vegetarians.
Norman was a true freak: a gentle, pothead that said little but was usually smiling and was very gullible. It was Norman that brought Steve the Nark to the house on S Street. Of course, no one knew Steve was a Nark until it was too late. Steve the Nark shared our vegetarian meals, got high with Norman and The Colonel and helped us bail Norman out of the DC jail when he got himself busted at a demonstration.
One day Stephen and I were in our closet putting together a plastic model airplane from one of those kits you buy in a hobby shop. It may seem like a peculiar pastime but on this particular day it was a lucky one. We heard a commotion in the living room and opened the door in time to see our friend Steve the Nark leading a troop of uniformed DC police officers up the stairs. When they came down again, they had The Colonel and Norman in handcuffs. The house was never the same after that.
Winter was coming. The house seemed empty without The Colonel and Norman. Nina didn’t come around anymore. There was nothing to eat.
Stephen put the engine of a VW beetle into the body of a green VW bus. The beetle was an old junker he had bought for parts. The bus belonged to a woman that had left it with Stephen for repair and never returned to claim it (he said). We left Washington DC in that hybrid bus/beetle. Just enough owned to allow us to believe we weren’t really car thieves. Just enough stolen to make us feel like outlaws. We headed west – running away together from a nowhere place we had both run to alone.