Coming to the Land and Leaving the Land

Back then we were Sonny & Susie. When I first met Sonny I was living in the 3rd floor of a big communal house in the Lower Fillmore part of San Francisco. My friend Elizabeth and I went into the No Name Bar in Sausalito and I met Sonny. He had a school bus that he wanted to mutate into a house and he had a black dog named Taj. I was attracted to his idea of living in a school bus, a nomadic life. We converted the school bus over several months and finally moved in.

It wasn't that much fun moving around in it and after a few months, we both realized that we needed to put it down permanently somewhere. Our friends at 1814 Fell Street, Michael Pedroni and Jay Bowyer, were happy to let us keep the bus parked there in front of their house but the police wanted us to move it every 3 days so for awhile we moved between Fell Street and some street behind Zion Hospital. Back and forth. We looked around La Honda, Skyline and Pescadaro. An unfriendly lady at Pacific School told us we should go to the Land. We went to the Barn and met Juanita. We met Joel who lived in the trailer at the front of the Barn. We met John Peck in front of the barn. John told us it was fine to move there. He was really welcoming to us and drove us up to a place on the Ridge where he showed us we could put the bus under the two giant oak trees. And so it was.

We lived there on the Montebello Ridge for 2 years in that old school bus. We chopped wood and carried water. We wintered through one of the biggest snowfalls in history, with only our pot-bellied stove to keep us warm. Wood really does warm twice. Our daughter, Heather was almost born in the school bus, and it was her first home.

When Heather was only about 3 months old, Donald Eldridge called the front house and said that no one was supposed to be living on the Ridge and we had to move the bus out of there immediately.

We moved down onto the Land and stayed there another 3 months, but with the baby, I wanted central heating and a washing machine. The realities and demands of a baby changed my romantic notions about our life style. I remember the time I had Heather in the Snugli in front and a backpack full of dirty laundry on my back and I was hitching a ride down the hill for food and clean clothes. I was young and strong, but suddenly this felt like too much. I told Dohna Lee that we had outgrown the schoolbus, but Sonny did not want to quit the school bus or leave the land. There weren't any available houses in the Front Land. Dohna took me to a thrift store in her truck and we bought a nice used crib for $5. We put it in the school bus and, of course it took up the entire living space. When Sonny came home that day he hit the roof, but reality hit him and we began looking for a house down the hill. We found a cottage on Alpine Road in Menlo Park and moved off the Land.

I had bad dreams that the Land would be sold to a big hotel chain like Hilton or Hyatt and developed into a resort. When the lawsuits settled, I was happy that it was acquired by the Open Space District and held in preserve for hikers and bikers. I sometimes go there to hike the trails where we once lived and I am grateful that I had the time there and that my daughter was a baby there in the school bus in the oak trees upon the ridge among the clouds.

SUSIE, HEATHER, SARA AT STRUGGLE, '74
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SONNY, SUSIE AND HEATHER, DEC '74
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photos by Neil