I don’t write a lot of trip reports, but I do like to tell psychedelic adventure stories. And seeing as you’ve just wandered into the Teahouse on Tall Tales Night, how’s about you roll us a joint and I’ll dust off an old doozie about the first time I ever took LSD…
The set up begins on Telegraph Avenue. The adorable little Prefaerie that is my past self was selling handmade jewelry on the sidewalk when a friend stopped by with an offer that sounded too good to be true. This friend was a guy from the live-action Vampire game that I’d been running on the U.C. Berkeley campus. (Go ahead and laugh; this was like twenty years ago. Are you finished with that joint yet?) Anyway, it comes out that this guy was in love with a Deadhead chick, and apparently she thought that he was pretty keen, too. In fact, it developed that she had sold all of her earthly belongings and purchased a van in which she proposed that they should live together as free spirits of the open road. Or something like that. He was supposed to meet her at a Dead show in Chicago in two days time, and since this was before the ubiquity of email, he had no other way to contact this girl if he missed their all-important rendezvous. The upshot of all this was that he was leaving for Chicago within the hour, and if he could find someone to share the driving he would gratefully sign his car over to said good friend in advance, since he wouldn’t be needing it anymore once he met up with the van girl. So what did I think? Was I up for a little adventure?
The car turned out to be a complete piece of shit. (Yeah yeah yeah, surprise, surprise…) I’m not much of a car person, but I think that the radiator exploded outside of Albuquerque. Steam was coming out of the hood, anyway. It was hot out. No phones. My buddy was studying the map, trying to figure out which way we ought to start walking, when he suddenly lets out some kind of crazy howl and starts jumping up and down. “Woo-hoo!”, he shouts, grinning like a maniac. “The Rainbow Gathering is near here! We’re saved!” I had never heard of the Rainbow Gathering at that time, and all that I could glean from his delighted babbling was that he thought that some of his friends were possibly camping nearby–friends who could help him fix the car, perhaps, or at least give him a ride to the Dead show. Terrific.
The next thing you know, I found myself standing by the side of the road flying a sign that said SOS Rainbow. My friend was hiding in the bushes because, as he quipped, “sisters bank and brothers stank”. I couldn’t argue with his logic, especially not when I stood downwind of him, so I reluctantly agreed to play the bait. What were the odds that some of his friends were going to drive by and see us, though? To my considerable surprise, we were picked up in under ten minutes. (By a colorfully painted school bus, no less!) A spray of gravel and a wave of welcome; my friend reveals himself and gets a big laugh; names and hugs are exchanged all around, and we’re back on the road–all in less time than it takes to tell.
Now the Prefaerie had never smoked opium before. Consequently, I fell asleep shortly after the bus got rolling. I didn’t wake up until the next day, in fact, and I still didn’t know where I was. Knock, knock, knock! It was the Prefaerie’s friend! He’d found someone to take him to the show! And, uh, he’s sorry about the car and he guesses that he’ll just be abandoning me in the forest now, but that’s okay because everybody here is really nice. Oh, and would I like to take some LSD? It’s the Fourth of July, after all! “Just put two of these little pieces of paper on your tongue and start walking down this here trail…”
Picture, if you will, my young and impressionable past self walking down a dusty forest trail. I’m at the National Rainbow Gathering on the Fourth of July, but I don’t really get that yet. I fell asleep thinking that I was on my way to a small-scale hippie camp-out; and as comic fate would have it, the bus that I rode in on had been parked in a tiny offshoot of Bus Village, effectively sustaining that illusion. There aren’t a lot of people on this trail, and the few people who I meet are oddly silent. They all smile at me, though. It turns out that it’s part of the Rainbow tradition to remain silent from dawn until noon on the Fourth of July, at which point they all do a really freaking incredible mass “Om” before the big party starts. But my friend hadn’t bothered to tell me that. Nor had he told me that some 20,000 people, many of them under the influence if strong psychedelics, were silently meditating for world peace relatively nearby.
All I knew was that I was walking down this here trail. I’d forgotten where I had come from. And where is it that I was going, anyway? Gosh, it really seems like I’ve been walking for a super long time. It seems like I’ve been walking forever, in fact. Forever… My teeth felt funny. I was getting thirsty, too. A teenage boy with unruly dreadlocks suddenly appeared in my path. He looked like he was in some kind of a trance. Beautiful though. Beatific, even. He offers me water. But how did he know? I take the water and drink deeply, looking into the kid’s eyes and knowing that this is not the first time we have met on the road like this. Nor would it be the last. Somehow this beautiful bodhisattva was eternally offering me water on the dusty path, and somehow I was eternally accepting it from him. We’re part of the same being or the same… happening… the same sequence of events occurring over and over and this is what eternity means and it’s perfect. The Water-bearer presses his palms together and bows. I start to thank him but then he winks at me slyly and presses his finger to his lips. Of course! These people are silent because they’re all telepaths! And I was becoming one of them. I had heard that taking LSD changes you forever and now I knew what that meant. I could never go back home again. That much was obvious! I figured that the same thing had happened to all of the other silent wanderers that I’d seen on the road. (Were those real people, or had I imagined them? Where had the cute boy with the water gone?) I surmised that we all must be something like the kids who had followed the Pied Piper off to Never Never Land or whatever you call it. The magical land where you never grow up. Many stories were becoming jumbled in my mind at that point; perhaps revealed to have been parts of the same story all along. Some kind of a prophecy, maybe, or the revelation of a secret. Because the realm of Faerie totally turns out to be real, and this strange drug is a part of how people fall into their world. (At least these days.) I realized with a shock that my friend must have set up that whole complex ruse just to bring me here! And the bus people were in on it, too! I knew that I ought to be outraged; but I was actually filled with unspeakable gratitude, because this was my perfect destiny and I’d found it.
Then it suddenly occurred to me that the denizens of this place reminded me an awful lot of the Bloomenkinder in Child of Fortune, which is still one of my all-time favorite psychedelic science fiction novels. And hey, wait a minute! The patchwork clothing that everybody seemed to be wearing was right out Child of Fortune as well! And the water-sharing thing from Stranger in a Strange Land… Could it be that I was just lying in a ditch somewhere dreaming all this–weaving a whole illusory world out of fragments of my favorite stories?
And now I’m walking down the road again. I’ve always been walking down this road. THE Road. The platonically perfect idea of a road. And this stone is the Stone in the Road. And this tree is the Tree. And this sky is the Sky! And I’m starting to get really high now. This all seems like some kind of a dream… Wait a minute! Now I get it! I AM dreaming! This is all me! That’s why I kept seeing those Bloomenkinder, even though I know that they’re part of a fictional story. I’m actually dreaming this whole world into existence. It’s like I’m some kind of a god! The universe is a living story that just keeps on unfolding forever in every moment but none of this is really happening because it’s all just me. Oh wow! It’s all just… Holy Fucking Shit!
Call it coincidence, if you’re a skeptic. I like to think of it as my first encounter with psychedelic synchronicity. I mean, picture the little past-tense Prefaerie totally going through the whole classic psychedelic apotheosis bit. And the entire thing was peaking just as she crested this little hill that she’d been climbing, right? All at once she could see down into the valley, where 20,000 hippies were holding hands in the sunshine. Then they all started making this incredible sound…
I did a cartoon double-take, rubbed my eyes with my knuckles, and looked again. Still there. It just so happens that the Bloomenkinder in Child of Fortune also all make a sort of an “Om” sound together. And at that point in my career, I’d never heard any kind of an “Om” in real life (let alone a 20,000-person super-Om). So that essentially cinched it. I was *definitely* dreaming this! I was probably some kind of a vegetable now from taking acid. Or could this still be due to effects from the opium on the bus!?! Either way, it didn’t matter. Because I’d broken through into the imagination, where I would now get to live as the god-creator of my own perfect fantasyland forever! Yes!
I took a deep breath and I heard my own voice mixing with that of the other lost children of Hamelin. Was it possible that everybody here was catatonic in the real world now, but somehow we were all able to share the same dream? Yes, that was it! What an incredible joke! If everybody knew that there was a whole world in here, they’d all just blow their minds on purpose. But since probably none of us can even speak anymore, everybody else just thinks we’ve gone crazy, and nobody knows that we’re actually in a paradise of our own devising! I felt a glorious rush of Total Victory that still stands as one of my greatest emotional experiences of all time. I’d actually done it! I’d made it! I’d won! I was free! Yes yes yes yes YES! I felt an involuntary shout of triumph roar from my open throat, and just at that moment the whole crowd below me broke into a sustained cheer that rocked the entire valley. They must have known I was coming, and now they were welcoming me home!
I could go on for days about my subsequent adventures in Elfland. Rainbow is a strange and wonderful phenomenon all its own, at least as difficult to describe to a virgin as Burning Man is. I won’t try to do that here. Suffice it to say that it was a magical time. The comedown is worth mentioning, though. It’s hard to describe this, but the world kind of turned itself inside out all at once, seamlessly reversing the figure and the ground so that I was once again the teller rather than the Tale itself, and I knew that I was back in the “real world”. Just like I had always been. But different. I was totally that stereotypical tripper kid who kept mumbling stuff like “this is really happening” over and over again and laughing my ass off. It was awesome.
I ended up staying at Rainbow for a couple of weeks, and I’ve managed to make it back most Julys ever since. I never saw the guy who brought me there again, but I sincerely hope that he made his show and found his girl, and that they lived happily ever after. (And if they didn’t, that you and I may!) I’ve often fantasized about confronting him, though–maybe marching right up to him in front of his buddies and loudly accusing him of filling me full of drugs and leaving me stranded in the woods among strangers. Then maybe I’d purely kiss the hell out him and ask him how in the world I could ever possibly begin to repay him…
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. This is a tall tale though, and not a trip report. Don’t go around believing everything you read on the internet. Especially if you happen to be a Law Enforcement Officer. Say, is that joint still burning? Well how’s about you roll up another one, then…