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Sonny (Arvid) Hoppas
It was 1972 or 73 or there-abouts
and it was cold and raining in the Santa Cruz Mts. 7 miles above Palo Alto. Susan and I,(Sonny), were on the second day of our quest to find a place to park our converted school bus. ( I got excited about buses after reading Keasey's Electric Cool-Aid Acid Test while living in the Haight.)
There was this guy Richard who had this really dirty, day glowed up bus that he had been living in and he traded me this bus for a Honda 360 motorcycle I had picked up in L.A.
It wasn't practical to park the thing out front on Fell Street, where i was living, or on the pan handle so I parked it at a friends house in Concord for a year while I remodeled it. With no experience in construction I cut out the front half of the roof of the bus, raised the roof, so to speak, and framed in a loft over the back half of the bus.
I’m shaking my head right now just remembering what I did but it became livable. It took a year for my friend’s landlord to kick us out of there. After scrambling around the city for a month it became apparent that we had to find a place to park this thing and get on with our lives.
Neither Susan or I had any money, but it was really cool back then, to be broke and on food stamps. I shudder at the thought now but it was the late 60s or early 70s (who can remember).
We were thinking someone would be willing to trade work for a parking space, but that concept was turning out to be a little naive, which is just as well, ‘cause I didn't want to caretake anyway.
We had been directed to a commune called the Land by a somewhat inhospitable person at
Pacific High School
, an alternative school up on Skyline Blvd.
It was a cold winter with record amounts of rain and it had even snowed in San Francisco. Presently it was just cloudy and cold.
One storm had just passed and another was approaching. We parked the car at the top side of a muddy drive leading down to a really big metal barn. As we walked down to the barn we passed an Airstream trailer, that we later learned was inhabited by Joel and his wife, Sharon, plus half a dozen cars and trucks parked along the drive. When we passed through the double doors of the barn we found a long haired, bearded guy with his head buried under the hood of a brown pick up truck.
There was no one else around. We were lucky it was
Hi, Im Sonny and this is Susan and we need a place to park our bus or something like that.
Hi, Im John and there is a great place up on the ridge or at least that is the gist of our meeting. (John, like me, found it hard to say no to helping anyone). We might have said some other words and rolleda doobie or two just to be sociable. It was really cold up there, and muddy and all those romantic kind of things you don’t mind too much when you’re young.
John drove us up the Montebello Ridge Road for about a mile. It was a meandering paved fire road through heavy oak and scrub, with occasionalbreaks with sweeping vistas of the soon to be discovered Silicon Valley on the left. The west side of the road rolled off to the actual San Andreas fault upon which most of the backlands of the Land was situated.
John live about a mile up the road in a cabin built to fit in the bed on his truck. It was nestled off the road between some oaks. Where John took us way up at the top of the road, another 1/2 of a mile, where there was a four or five acre meadow with two huge coastal live oaks on the far left side. Turned out there was just enough room between them to park our school bus. Damn, it looked ideal to us.
John suggested coming to one of the Thursday night potlucks at the front house, wherever that was, and introduce ourselves. This was a logical way to ease our way into the community. We, however, were shy, and decided to just get situated on the mountain top and then meet thefolks probably not the best method of moving into a neighborhood, but it was really cold and rainy and we really needed a place to live and we didn’t want to get nixed before we could move in.
Two weeks later, between storms, we drove the converted bus up Page Mill Road. We had to stop just above dead mans curve because of overheating but we eventually made it to the ridge road and turned up towards the top only to find that we were impeded by overhanging oak tree branches. I climbed up on the roof of the bus with a saw and Susan drove. I would shout directions and she would stop while I pushed the branches aside or cut the limbs. This took hours. We finally arrived at the meadow.
Susan wanted to drive to the top of the ridge and take the high ground back to the oak trees but I convinced her that we could just drive across the meadow, and we almost made it.
Now this meadow wasn’t flat. It sloped gradually downhill and had kind of dip in the middle where, as it turned out, all the rain funneled off from the shoulders of the meadow and from the top. 50 yards into the meadow the left rear tire hit a bog and lost traction and stopped. Like in slow motion the left rear wheel started to sink and the whole bus started to list to port, which is fine if you are in a sailboat. Somewhere we hit a compromise between mud and gravity, aided by the rear bumper, and stopped sinking before rolling completely over. Oh shit oh dear, what to do????
Susan and I finally decided that the only choice that we had was to walk down to the barn, look for a friendly face and seek some help.
Walking back down Montebello ridge gave us a new perspective on our environment. It really was a magical place, even with the gray overcast and cold. It took us nearly an hour but we ended up back in the barn and ran into Gary Starkweather - Mr. who are you and what do you want, and who told you it was ok to just move onto the ridge?
Well, Im Sonny and this is Susan and John told us it was ok and now were really stuck and need some help. An hour later we were back in the meadow with Gary and Joel, in Joels Toyota land cruiser w/ front end winch. Another hour and two shear pins later the bus hadn’t budged and Gary and Joel bid us good day and good luck. We had talked about bull dozers and big tow trucks and other big, expensive sounding cures for our dilemma. We were very, very far from encouraged.
We slept, kind of, in the bus loft that night, at about a 30 degree list, (kind of like sleeping on your feet while leaning against a 45 degree surface), and the next day we decided we had no choice but to hitch hike to Skylonda Corners, eight miles away, and hire a tow truck.
This took quite a while but we ended up with a truck and driver, a long haired 70s type of back woods guy who had never, ever, not been able to make his rescue. He’d pulled logging trucks up cliffs, etc. etc. An hour later, at the meadow, Mr. no problem had changed from certainty to uncertainty, to I don’t think so, to sorry, and that’ll be $25, our last $25, and good luck! . He sat at a 30 degree list in the bus as we rolled and shared a doobie. We were nothing if not gracious hosts. Yea, discouraged but gracious.
We spent another harrowing and expectant night in the bus, perched sideways in the sleeping loft.
The next morning we were surprised to see a couple of trucks, one carrying a bunch of 4x4 rails and chain link fencing, and about half a dozen folks. We spent several hours playing in the mud under the bus and jacking wood to bedrock until the bus wheel was high enough to slip the fence under and, with a little tugging, pushing and burning clutches we were saved. I got a ride back to the city and picked up Susans old Rambler so we would have some transportation.
We had moved the bus onto hard ground just outside the oaks and parked for the night with plans of leveling under the oaks the next day before moving the bus to rest. Early that night the next storm hit and boy were we surprised. I had never considered how different wind is howling over a mountain top as compared to blowing around the flats.
We might have survived had we not been parked broadside to the hurricane force wind. I would have moved the bus to face the wind but the battery had died and, gosh, the engine wouldn’t start. Susan and I slept in her Rambler cause we were sure that the bus was gonna be blown off its wheels. I would have sworn the windward wheels were leaving the ground with the stronger gusts. By dawns early light the bus was still standing and we were moved under the trees by the next day.
What conveniences are we willing to give up for our dreams? At this point in my life, damn few, but thirty years ago those compromises were easy and sometimes fashionable. Susan and I had been up on the ridge for a couple of weeks now and had made a few trips down the hill for groceries and tobacco and whatever, but we still knew very few people.
We heard that there was a shower outside the long house in the front-lands but there was a growing feud between the front house folks and the back-landers, whose only option was the front-house shower on the long house back porch.
, in the front house, was a formidable presence and she was nobody I wanted to cross towels with, being a newbie on the land I had no idea how enthusiastically she would defend the front land’s hot water rights and I didn’t want to find out. As it turned out, there was only a 20 gallon hot water heater serving the front house and three cottages, so the front landers did have a point.
Being new and uncertain of our status, Susan and I put off officially showering for at least two weeks, until it became a social and health issue not to be ignored. We finally drove down to the barn area and snuck over to the Long House porch and took amazingly quick yet effective cold showers in the rain. It was too extreme to do anything but laugh. Temperature in the 50s, with a cold, miserable gray sky and a steady, cold rain. It was like that a lot that first winter, wet, muddy, gray and cold.
New years 2006 and so much has gone under the bridge. Heather, born in 1973, (almost being born in the school bus), is living w/ her mom and step dad in Atherton. I’m a grandfather. Lauren is living with Peter and they are wonderful! Cam is finding himself and doing a great job of it. He so reminds me of parts of myself but with better genes.
I’m living with Elise Miller in her house in Palo Alto. I, fortunately, still have my 41 foot boat and may always have it. Right now, (actually 2 months ago), we’re sitting at a table in the South Beach Yacht club in San Francisco, with eight other friends.
This is not a particularly thrilling new years party - the band is so bad that it is almost good, and this woman, Barbara, looks at me across the table and says did you know? We have something in common...
These words usually are quite ominous, because she didn’t look too familiar. She was very attractive though I was pretty sure we never dated or whatever, and who knew where this thing was going. As it turned out, Barbaras last name was Eldridge and her husbands name was Don Eldridge, who was this wonderful gentleman sitting next to me. Don Eldridge, the man who bought the Burns Ranch back in 1970. 720 acres just above Joan Baezs institute for the study of non-violence. The Don Eldridge who met with some hippies who had broken into the front lands home and liberated it. The Don Eldridge who gave permission for the Land to evolve. I was shocked, surprised and totally delighted to meet this legend. Don, of course, had no idea to what extent he was so incredibly and basically instrumental in the many lives of the people who came to live on his property. What a delight. Don has to be in his 80s.. Barbara looks wonderful, like a beautiful trophy wife, and is totally genuine and sweet and just great. I believe that he was really delighted and surprised to hear from me how much influence his purchase had on myself and so many other people. I might have gushed a bit (New Years Eve and lots of wine and all that), but it really was a delightful meeting that filled in a lot of blanks that I never expected to have filled.
All those other ridge folk
Now I’m not sure of all the exact sequencing of all those wonderful folk who ended up on the ridge but I remember the first. Some morning soon after we got settled in our meadow, we had a knock on our back door. It was
. He wanted to know if we had any objection to their moving his bus into John Pecks old site down the road. Well, hell no! Of course, move in. And later that day, or the next, I helped guide Kenne and Beverly, into the their spot in the hillside. We had great times w/ Kenne and Bev. and Kenne became a best friend.
Soon after, Steve and Michelle showed up with the same question. Same answer - come on up! Now Steve and Michelle were a really exotic addition. Steve always seemed to be dressed in white, as did Michelle. Steve had a long black beard and hair and Michelle looked like a high school cheerleader w/ blond hair and a gorgeous face and body. Hell, I might have paid them to move onto the ridge. They had lived around the world, trading diamonds, staying at exotic resorts in Guatamala and all kinds of things.
They dug into the mountain on the fault side of the ridge and settled a flat bed truck with a cabin built onto the bed, into the mountain. They made their kitchen outside the rear door of the truck/cabin, did some enclosing, and made a truly exotic homestead. They eventually moved a piano up there for Michelle. I remember the sunset serenades with Peter Music on the piano and whoever else on fiddle, guitar or whatever. It was idylic and wonderful.
come??? I remember her living up on top of the mountain in her van, looking down on one side at our meadow and on the other at the San Andreas Fault.
I can’t remember exactly how or where she came from, but she was certainly welcome. I can’t really remember if this was still our first winter or second(I’ll check w/ Susan she’s always good w/ dates.) Then the snow came and and I woke up at daybreak to this frantic knocking on our back door of the bus. It was Leslie and she couldn't get her bus moving in the snow. Snow!!! What Snow!!!
And sure enough, it was really coming down. The whole meadow had nearly a foot of that white shit all over it. Leslie, quite wisely, was anxious to get off the mountain before she got snowed in. I threw on some pants and a jacket and helped her get her van down to the frontlands. We ended up having waist deep snow in the meadow and couldn’t get vehicles up the road for at least 2 weeks. I vividly remember the cross country skiers in our front yard.
I also vividly remember George and Carolyn who had moved into the magic woods, just across the road from our bus. They just showed up one day. Carolyn was pregnant. George was the biggest and baddest pack rat that I have ever encountered. Sweet, quiet Carolyn and George, who collected anything and everything and stashed it everywhere.
When he started taking up a significant portion of the barn, people, mainly
, told him to get his shit out of there. I heard he had garages down south and in Santa Cruz and who knows where, just stuffed with junk. I do know that when he and Carolyn left the Ridge, they left two huge truck loads of trash, or perfectly good junk if you’re of that frame of mind, to be hauled away by other people, me included.
Carolyn was such a sweet, quiet woman. I never really connected those dots (George + Carolyn) in my mind, but I was young and naïve. Still am for that matter, I guess. Anyway, she gave birth in their plastic house in the trees, to a really cute baby they named Manny.
Then there was Mr.
. He arrived somehow, sometime. I just remember he spent a great deal of time in our bus, drinking coffee, doing the crossword puzzles in ink and teaching Susan and I how to play bridge. Funny, I never figured how to buy two papers, one for Daniel and one for Susan and me, so Susan and I were continually frustrated w/ Daniel doing the crossword in 20 minutes, in indelible ink, when we had planned on spending all day on it. Susan would periodically get pissed, order Daniel out of the bus to never return, and he'd show up the next morning for coffee and whatever.
We got our water at the spring box where the cattle drank. Why we never got sick I don’t know. I remember times trudging the < mile to the spring box in a driving storm at midnight just to get water for Susan. What a guy! I’d be bent over at 45 degrees against the wind and rain and it felt so good and adventuresome sometimes. Eventually we ran 300 feet of garden hose from the spring box, down the hillside, way past Steve and Michelle’s abode, and set up an on demand propane water heater and shower head and made the coolest shower ever. One of my favorite pictures is of Daniel, naked with a Charlie Chaplin hat on his head and a towel on his shoulder, trudging down to the shower, followed by Taj and KC, (our dogs), to shower in the sunset.
After the big snow quit falling Daniel came by one morning and wanted me to join himself and Kenne Zuggie on a first decent to the barn. It was sooo cool some places the snow was past my bellybutton or nearly 4 feet deep. We stopped at Kit’s shack on the way down and got loaded.
Remember Leslies store? We spent all morning there, (unless it hadn’t happened yet and we spent all morning somewhere else I cant remember), and got loaded, got the munchies and ate lots of baklava or whatever else was handy. Then back up the hill in that cold, white snow… funny how it lost its appeal so quickly.
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