(THIS SECTION IS A COLLECTION OF THE EMAILS THAT ORGANIZER BRAD NEWSHAM SENT TO HIS EMAIL LIST DURING THE FIVE WEEKS PRIOR TO THE EVENT)
TUESDAY, MAY 25, 2010 -- 32 days to go...
I WOULD HAVE TO BE BLIND in order to have not noticed that whenever I send an email to this list, no matter what my topic is, the #1 response that comes back reflects the theme you'll spot in these quotes I've lifted from a recent batch of responses:
"I was in the very middle vertex of the letter 'M' at the first "Beach iMpeach" -- Curt (Orangevale, near Folsom)
"Thanks again for all the wonderful times of 'Impeach on the Beach' gatherings." -- Pablo
"Those days making letters on the sand were fun." -- Lucinda, from Stinson Beach
"Any time you want to spell words in the sand, count me in." -- Tammy
Anyone who attended the Beach Impeach events, including me, remembers them quite fondly. No endless haranguing. No loudspeakers. No anger. Just sand and sky and crisp ocean air and people of every age and shape and shade. Plus a BIG message we could all believe in. A helicopter ("Is it really coming?") and a shot at being in the news and maybe even influencing the course of world events -- and, at minimum, a guarantee of being immortalized in miniature on a postcard. But I think we mostly remember joining briefly with a happy tribe that none of us previously knew (and might not even have wanted to admit) we were a part of. Did the Beach Impeach events actually happen, or did we all dream the same unlikely dream?
ANYWAY, for the past couple of years I have been thinking that it would be a not-bad idea to have a Beach Impeach-style get-together at Ocean Beach once a year. There is always a message that needs to be spelled out. Sometime around the summer solstice seems to make sense. And not long ago, I put in an application for 1,000 of us to go back to Ocean Beach on Saturday morning, June 26.
I've still got some legwork to do to make this "official," and I've got a couple of stories I want to tell about the process of how this came about. But all of that will have to wait for another day, very soon. Tonight I just want to give a decent heads-up -- right now we've got one full month. Please save the (full moon) date of Saturday, June 26. Arrive BY 10:30 a.m., please -- helicopter overhead at 11:00 sharp. That's the plan. Now let's see if I/we can make this happen.
SATURDAY, MAY 29 -- Four weeks from today...
THE PARK SERVICE has given a verbal ok for 1,000 people to return to Ocean Beach on Saturday morning, June 26 (four weeks from this morning), to create a "slash/oil sunburst" image (described below). I'm pulling all the details/arrangements together as quickly as I can.
I try not to bombard this list with emails (I intentionally don't send one out for months at a time), but I'll probably be sending one or two (or more) each week for the next four weeks. Today I just want to say Please save the date, Saturday, June 26 -- arrive BY 10:30 a.m, helicopter overhead at 11 a.m. sharp. Soon I hope to have an easy way for you to spread this news: facebook?
-- "OIL" spelled out in 100-foot lettering.
-- Surrounding OIL, a large circle (ten feet thick -- diameter of more than 200 feet).
-- A large red slash running diagonally across the circle, right through OIL.
-- Sunbursts reaching out from the outer edges of the circle (similar to sunbursts in logo at BP-dot-com).
-- I'm confident we can achieve a solid red slash (or maybe pink, say, Codepink). I have also sketched an "ideal" color-rich diagram (black OIL -- red slash -- green circle -- orange sunbursts), and I think it looks absolutely great, but I'm not confident we can actually pull off this larger full-color effort. We shall see.
-- One thousand people will fill this image very nicely.
SUNDAY, JUNE 5, 2010 -- Twenty days to go...
WELL, here it is, early Saturday morning, exactly three weeks from what I've come to call "Slash Oil"...
This is the time where I start to freak out. I've got the helicopter and photographer lined up. Yesterday the Park Service gave me a verbal ok for 2,000 people to take part, instead of 1,000. I've got an image sketched out. I have the tools and the know how. Now I need 2,000 people. Given the conversations I've been having with people in my cab and in my life, I like to think that there are AT LEAST 2,000 people who feel strongly enough about this Gulf catastrophe, and who enjoy an hour at the beach in the company of like-minded others. Now, how to best get the word out to them?
The sign-up mechanism I used for Beach Impeach no longer exists. I'm trying to figure out a new way to "register" people -- all this really means is that I want some way for 2,000 people to be able to go online and ad their name to a list indicating their intention to come to Ocean Beach on June 26.
I'm working on it...
Please stand by...
MONDAY, JUNE 7 -- Nineteen days to go...
HEY YOU! Yesterday, while attending a retirement party for the head of my daughter's school, I experienced an important reminder about the Slash Oil event: It really isn't about me!
Yes, I'm providing the venue and the focus and the credit card and I'm doing most of the organizing that will allow this event to happen. But it's not about me. I'll be 60 next year, and by now I've failed and I've succeeded enough times in life to know that in the long run it really doesn't matter whether Slash Oil is deemed a huge success or a pitiful failure. (Do not doubt, however, that I'm doing all I can to make it the former.)
This event is about something much larger than my own personal performance. While it indeed is focused on the almost-unimaginable Gulf disaster, it is also focused on the difference that I know YOU want to make in your community and in your world. I've spoken with enough people in the last month -- not just in my cab, but in my personal life and via email exchanges -- to know how important all of these things are to you, to all of us. You care about what happens in your world. You want to have your opinion noted as strongly as the opinions of others. And You want to have a little fun expressing your opinion. During 2007, several thousand of us proved the concept: Sand/people/helicopter/postcards/peaceful-easy-feeling/media, etc.
Now in 2010 there's an opportunity to build on that groundwork. Slash Oil. Saturday, June 26, 10 a.m. Ocean Beach, San Francisco.
Please spread the word, and if you can come, please sign up.
I'm scrambling -- I'm way behind answering emails -- please forgive me.
Hope to see you in nineteen days.
TUESDAY, JUNE 8, 2010 -- My 25th anniversary as a cab driver -- Eighteen days left...
ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO my maternal grandparents departed a tiny village of 350 people in rural northeastern Slovakia. They were youngsters, too poor to afford transport, and so for five weeks they walked all the way across Poland, sleeping in haystacks.
In Gdansk they boarded a boat for a three-week ride to America. Their plan was to make a pile of money and then go back and live big lives in the old village. Instead, my grandfather became a coal miner near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and my grandmother raised the six kids they produced. Neither of my grandparents nor any of their eventual forty-some American descendants ever made it back, until four summers ago when my wife and daughter and I made the trip.
The village, Volica (it rhymes with "pizza" and is just begging for a restaurant named Pizza Volica), has changed little. There are still 350 residents. Horse-drawn wagons still roll through the streets. Pigs, goats, chickens, a wood pile, and an all-important vegetable garden fill almost every back yard. I found 120-130 Slovakian cousins I'd never quite imagined before. One of my relations owned the town's one small store and served as a robe-wearing official of the one small Russian Orthodox church. Another was the bartender in the one small bar. Another was the mayor. My grandparents were remembered as a kind of legend: the kids who walked away to America and never came back.
My cousins were curious about our lives, America, democracy. And my family and I were curious about their lives in the village. We were surprised to hear people say (usually with some embarrassment) that life was maybe a little better under communism. Under communism, there had been a safety net. Even with all the stupidities of that system, they'd shared a sense that they were "all in this together." Now everyone was officially on their own. Now all the young people had to go elsewhere to find jobs -- mostly only old folks were left. The community, and the village's sense of community, had taken a hit.
LAST WEEK one of my Slovak-American cousins, 43-year old Philip, called from Arizona. In Sedona he had just been among the crowds that are gathering to experience the gaze of a Croatian man named Braco (it's pronounced "Braht-zo" and I'm told it means "little brother") who is touring the US for the first time. For several years Braco has been holding "gazing sessions" in Europe, where crowds of thousands wait all day long to gaze with him.
Some people call Braco a "healer" but he doesn't call himself anything. Braco says only that he "makes the gaze" and while doing so his experience is that "I feel happy." What he does is this: he stands in front of groups of people for eight-minute sessions and gazes at them. Nothing else. He doesn't speak, he doesn't say, "You should live this way, you should live that way" -- he doesn't say anything. He doesn't recommend a diet or a political candidate, he doesn't ask for devotion or piles of money (tickets cost eight bucks).
Yesterday, as well as the day before, I went to gaze at Braco as he gazed at me and several hundred other people inside the South of Market Cultural Center in San Francisco. Beforehand, one of the people traveling with Braco gave a short introduction. She said that many people who attend one of Braco's gazing sessions have reported healings and transformations, and she showed a short video she had produced: people talking about their surprising and always positive experiences before, during, and after these events. And then Braco walked out, stood on a box so that everyone in the crowd could see him, and slowly gazed around the room. He kept his hands at his sides and didn't move any part of his body except his eyes, which methodically worked their way to all corners of the group. (Yesterday I stood in the fifth row, and I saw him blink a couple of times. And yes, both days I felt that he made direct eye contact specifically with me.) After eight minutes (or so) he gave a nod so slight that I might have only imagined it, stepped down, and walked off stage.
I'm not sure exactly what to make of the experience (or if I have to make anything of it at all). I didn't see auras or light as some people report. I haven't noticed any particular healings or transformations or any miracles other than the ongoing miracle that I get to take one more breath, and now another, and now yet another. But I did find it quite remarkable that a person could stand motionless in front of a group of people and seem to be completely at peace, as Braco seemed, and to exude an attitude which seemed, to me, to be one hundred percent "at your service." (Sorry -- Braco was here for two days, and has now left for Hawaii and then Japan. For more info click here.)
Also remarkable to me was the crowd -- polite, open, hopeful, and with its guard dropped. Everyone here by word of mouth. All of us quite willing for something unexpected and good to happen. Even early on that first day -- before the event began, before I'd seen Braco or his introducer or the video -- I found myself smiling broadly and seeing absolutely no reason why I should stop smiling, in fact, no way to stop myself from smiling. Here hundreds of us were, taking time out from our days, creating a small trusting on-the-spot community for half an hour. Not knowing exactly what to expect, simply happy to be here, breathing, waiting. If miracles go looking for places to show up, it's easy for me to imagine them searching for an atmosphere such as that atmosphere.
And of course this occurred to me, "There was a similar feeling at the Beach Impeach events." An incredulous sense in the crowd, a borderline giddiness, an uncertainty, a willingness. Everyone here because a friend had shared news of it. Everyone absolutely open to the possibility of something great and unexpected happen.
I write this story because...it's all I know to do. This is my way of creating community. And democracy.
Hope to see you soon.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 9 -- 17 Days to go...
FROM THE MAILBAG:
"Brad, Why would you be nervous about Slash Oil? If 1,000 people showed up for each Beach Impeach event, surely we'll have a much bigger crowd for Slash Oil. Build it and they will come! -- Chet"
MY FRIEND CHET ZEBROSKI brought his smiling enthusiasm to all four of the Beach Impeach events of 2007. Then, in the fall of 2008, when I organized marches around the San Francisco Chronicle building every Tuesday for seven weeks in a row, Chet was the only person to join me for all seven marches. (The marches were a failed attempt to persuade the Chronicle to report on the Impeach Bush/Cheney movement.)
Here's how I know Chet was the only other person to attend all seven:
I had hoped to attract hundreds of people each week, but during the first five Tuesdays the biggest crowd we drew was about 25 -- at one event we were in single digits. But in advance of Week 6 I was able to announce that Cindy Sheehan would attend, and between 70 and 100 people turned out for Cindy. Certain that the crowd would dramatically fall off for Week 7, I considered canceling, but when I mentioned this to Chet, he said, "No -- don't do that. Let's finish what we started, even if it's just you and me."
And so it was. Chet and me. Couple of times around the building. High-five. Hug. See you later, bro.
So 2010, Chet's email question: "Brad, why would you be nervous about Slash Oil?"
My long answer:
THIRTY YEARS AGO, I lived on the edge of an enormous lake in northern Idaho. My neighbor was a 32-year-old man with large swatches of gray in his hair. (He's kind of private, and I haven't seen him in decades, so for this story I'm changing his name to Jason.) As I got to know Jason, I learned that he was a master boat builder, and as I got to know him even better I learned the source of his early gray hair.
Many of the people I met in Idaho were, like me, born elsewhere. Jason was a native of Southern California, and when he was just 14 years old he began building boats. By the time he was 25, Jason was already an accomplished boat builder and had designed and built his own 36-foot trimaran (three hulls). In February 1972 he set sail down the coast toward Central America, alone. His plan was to spend a few months getting to know his boat and hanging out. And then suddenly everything went wrong.
One morning when Jason was fifty miles off the coast of Baja California, his brand new radio went mysteriously kaput, preventing him from learning that a freak storm was blowing up out of nowhere. When it hit, Jason thought, "No problem, I know I've got a solid boat, I'll just ride this thing out." He secured everything that was loose, closed all the hatches, psyched himself up, and almost immediately the rudder to the boat's self-steering device snapped off. Jason thought, "Well, ok, I'll just steer it myself. I can do this."
For hour after hour he stood at the helm and "surfed" the boat through an endless series of 10-foot waves. Occasionally, larger waves crashed down on the boat, swamping everything, including Jason, who had lashed himself to the helm. Shrieking winds ripped and shredded most of the boat's sails. One of the masts broke off and toppled across the deck. For a day and a half Jason stayed at the helm: "Fear was the only thing keeping me awake," he told me.
As he grew depleted, Jason began to notice that his boat, too, was becoming sluggish, unresponsive, heavy in the water. After thirty-six hours, by which time the howling storm had pushed the boat 100 miles offshore, Jason decided that he finally absolutely had to set his "sea-anchor" and go below deck and try to get a few minutes of sleep. Upon opening the hatch, he discovered that (when he had been securing everything) he had inadvertently let a small rope get caught in the hatch cover. For the past 36 hours seawater had wicked along the rope and had drop-by-drop filled the cabin. All of Jason's supplies were flooded, and many were ruined.
One overlooked rope. A flooded cabin. 100 miles off the coast. Storm still raging. And now Jason knew that his battered boat was never going to sail again.
(I'll get to this story's heroic ending in a moment, but first I want to underscore that one overlooked rope. During the 30 years since I first heard this story, I have often imagined the deadly drip, drip, drip, while Jason was up at the wheel, steering his boat through the waves, unaware. And, Chet, that's what keeps me awake nights in advance of an event like Slash Oil, now just 17 days away. Drip, drip, drip. That, and the fact that only 60 people are registered so far. Today I received the Park Service permit allowing for up to 2,000 of us.)
After Jason discovered the truth of his predicament, he lashed himself to the top of the cabin and rode out the storm, which blew itself out after three days total. When it was finished, Jason went down into the cabin and recovered all the tools he could, plus a few meager rations and five gallons of drinking water now tainted with gasoline. He knew every part of his ruined boat and, 100 miles out at sea, he spent the next five days dismantling it and building himself a smaller boat, a catamaran.
On the last night, Jason was visited by three terrifying killer whales, thirty-five footers, who over and over circled his boat in search of dinner -- "so close I could have reached out and touched them."
The next day Jason began to sail back toward Mexico. When he reached the coastal shipping lanes he spotted a huge Norwegian freighter loaded with Volkswagens, sailed into its path, and stopped his catamaran. The freighter's crew hoisted Jason and his tiny boat up out of the water and delivered him to Long Beach, California. A month later he was in Central America, feet up, thinking, "Holy kamole!"
MY OWN DRIP-DRIP-DRIP: I thought of Jason's story today when I realized I had overlooked (at least) one little detail: If you have registered at the Slash Oil meetup site, make sure to please RSVP "Yes" in order to be tallied in the "expected" total. Several of you have registered but have not RSVP'd.
THURSDAY, JUNE 10 -- Sixteen days to go...
IF YOU NEVER came to a Beach Impeach event (or even if you did), I wouldn't blame you for wondering right about now: "Is this guy just making this stuff up?"
Helicopters, crowds, postcards. One night he writes about his visit to a Croatian miracle worker, and the next night it's marches around the Chronicle, Cindy Sheehan, his friend "Jason's" disaster-at-sea, and then he moans about his own sleepless nights. "Is this guy stable? Is he hallucinating?"
And now this!
I ACTUALLY STARTED ORGANIZING this event in the spring of 2009 when I received an email from a student at Brown University who had seen Beach Impeach imagery on the web. Now he was interested in using human bodies to spell out "Sorry!" in Arabic script on a beach in Rhode Island. I loved the idea, and for several weeks he and I talked about doing a same-day, bi-coastal "Sorry!" event, but we never pulled it together.
That's when I started thinking about an annual event at Ocean Beach, as there is always some message that we the people need to spell out for their leaders. Earlier this year I started stopping by the Park Service office to chat up June 26, and just yesterday they issued the event permit.
SO BELIEVE IT OR NOT, just THIS MORNING I receive an email telling me that a group named "Hands Across the Sand" (ever heard of them? me neither) is organizing a worldwide series of anti-drilling events where people will go to their favorite local beach and join hands in a line along the shore. (How could something so huge sneak up on me? No clue.) There are already a few dozen events scheduled for California, including two in San Francisco.
One of them is scheduled for Ocean Beach.
It is scheduled for Saturday, June 26.
The time is 11 a.m.
TODAY I TALKED briefly with the local organizers. They are sort of incredulous to hear about Beach Impeach (they love the photos) and the Park Service permit and the helicopter. The serendipity of it all! We noted that it seems pretty obvious that the universe wants us to join forces, and we're discussing how to best do that. (If you're wondering, I think this is an absolutely TREMENDOUS turn of events. I will admit to a short bout of "Hey-that's-our-beach!" but it lasted less than three seconds.)
After dinner tonight I opened a fortune cookie that said, no lie: "Prepare to modify your plans."
Under the blast of the shower nozzle just a few minutes ago, I found myself thinking about the unlikely nature of reality and suddenly had a thought that caused me to burst out laughing: "Braht-zo!" Check him out here.
Hands Across the Sand. Check them out here.
To be continued, I am sure.
TUESDAY, June 15 -- Eleven days to go...
NOTE: I have sent a "personal" youtube video message to President Obama through a "back channel." It is a long shot -- but it's also quite-no-kidding-possible -- that Barack's very eyeballs will watch the same video you can watch right here, right now.
UNTIL 1850 the hills behind my Oakland home were covered by an ancient, old-growth redwood forest. But by about 1860 every last tree had been chopped down and milled into lumber to build mines and railroads and homes where people like me (and maybe you) live.
Over the past 150 years, a second-growth redwood forest has taken hold. These "youngsters" reach 100-150 feet in height, and most of them are on protected parkland, waiting for me whenever I need to escape my city mind. Certain thoughts can only be imagined in the woods.
On Saturday, one of those rare, oppressively hot days in the Bay Area, I drove fifteen minutes from my door to the trailhead. It was cool in the woods, also quiet and deserted -- I walked for three or four miles and saw only three or four people. Halfway along I found myself thinking that it would be nice if President Obama knew about our June 26 gathering at Ocean Beach. And it's not quite as farfetched an idea as you might think:
WHEN I WAS GROWING UP, in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., my best friend was a kid named Robert. Through our friendship, our entire families grew close. We shared holiday feasts. Our parents went out dancing together. Whenever my parents left town for a few days, we Newsham kids had to answer to Robert's parents, Ralph and Betty Dunham. When my mom died a few years ago, it seemed pre-ordained that Ralph and Betty would welcome us to use their church for a memorial service.The Newshams had no closer friends than the Dunham family. The Dunhams knew all our family secrets -- they saw us through more than one tragedy -- and we knew the Dunham's stories, too.
I knew that Ralph was from Kansas, Betty was from England, and they had met in Europe during World War II. Ralph had just one brother, Stanley, who lived in Hawaii and would visit Virginia on occasion. I remember having dinner with Stanley at the Dunham's house one evening in particular. When Stanley stood up from the far end of table I remember watching him rise and thinking, "He's tall." I was about ten years old.
A couple of years later we Newshams learned that Stanley's only child, a daughter, had married a Kenyan student she met at the University of Hawaii, and they'd had a baby boy named Barry. And shortly after that we were all saddened -- a bit scandalized, actually -- to learn that Barry's dad had left the family and returned to Kenya.
No one in my family, and I'm sure no one in the Dunham family, ever imagined that Barry would grow up to be President Barack Obama, but that's how it turned out. I've never met him, and he has no clue as to my own existence, but I feel like I've known President Obama for 40-some years already. And up in the woods on Saturday I got the notion that he should know about Slash Oil.
A return to the city streets is usually enough to banish most of my woods-inspired brainstorms. The so-called real world quickly crashes back in, tries to convince me that, Really kid, you're nothing, you're worthless -- who do you think you are? But this time I got the jump on my mind. The moment I got back into cell phone range I called my videographer friend Stefan Ruenzel and asked for a favor.
On Sunday morning Stefan met me at Ocean Beach and ran his camera while I babbled a message (I like to think that it's on behalf of all of us) to President Obama. Stefan edited it and posted it on youtube. I've watched it once, and I don't really know what to think of it -- while speaking my words I felt nervous at the prospect that Barry/President Obama might actually spend two minutes of his valuable time watching it. It's truly a long shot, I know, but if you want to talk long shots: Six years ago, almost no one had ever heard of Barack Obama.
Anyway, I've sent this youtube link on a path that I hope will take it to the White House: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrLU8hGaCs8
It would be more than "fun" to know that it made its way in front of President Obama eyeballs and that he was personally aware of what we will be doing on June 26 down at Ocean Beach. I'll keep you posted if I hear anything (or not).
Sunday evening I met with the organizers of Hands Across the Sand. Nice guys! We're folding our two events into one. Everything about Slash Oil stays the same -- same time, same place, same everything -- but now we've tucked Slash Oil underneath the worldwide umbrella of Hands Across the Sand. AND we've added a second stage to the event: As soon as our helicopter-and-photographer have captured images of Slash Oil, we participants will walk down to the edge of the surf, spread
out into a long line (a mile long? longer?) along Ocean Beach, and hold hands while the photographer captures that imagery, too.
I'm writing this from Minnesota. Monday morning I left town for a long-planned one-week trip. I'll return Monday, June 20. I'll be spending that week doing everything I can to make Hands Across the Sand/Slash Oil be a huge success. We want the whole world, including President Obama (and I'll let you know should I hear anything from my contact or if I don't), to know how desperately we want to move away from oil and to create the renewable energy future that we simply have to create if we want our grandchildren to survive.
MONDAY, June 21 -- Five days to go...
ON TUESDAY (and probably on Wednesday, too) I'm going to spend the hours of 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. distributing 1,000 event flyers door-to-door in the neighborhoods near Ocean Beach. (If you feel like joining me, please do). Everything is in place except the crowd right now. We've got 158 people confirmed on the Slash Oil meetup site, and between the people who have signed up with the Hands Across The Sand organizers and the people who have told me they are coming but haven't signed up, I am right now confident of at least 300 and I'm expecting a whole lot more than that. Whether it's 300 or 3,000, I'll be prepared with an "adjustable" outline.
I have confirmed that the video I sent through a "back channel" to President Obama has made its way to someone who has the President's attention on a daily basis. Beyond that, I simply don't know. I don't know if President Obama has actually watched it, but I think it very unlikely (and my back channel agrees) that Obama could be unaware that on this coming Saturday thousands and thousands of people will be gathering on beaches worldwide for hundreds of Hands Across the Sand events. It is definitely possible that Obama has become aware of our specific Ocean Beach event, but the truth is, I don't know. And I'm not holding my breath. The hours are ticking down. I can almost hear those helicopter blades now.
TUESDAY, June 22 -- Four days to go...
TODAY, while I was delivering 600 flyers door-to-door in the neighborhood around Ocean Beach, the elephant in the country, MoveOn.org, was sending emails to its 5 million members directing them to the Hands Across the Sand event nearest to each of them.
I have NO IDEA idea what, if anything, this means for the size of the crowd that will be arriving at Ocean Beach on Saturday, but I always like to think that things are going to work out better than I could imagine, and, well, sometimes they do. Sometimes they don't. As of right now, I'm just surrendering to whatever happens next between now and Saturday.
It was just about ten days ago that I first heard about Hands Across the Sand. At that time, there were some 350 Hands events scheduled worldwide (exact same day, almost the exact same time as our little Slash Oil event), including two or three dozen in California, three of them in San Francisco, one right at Ocean Beach. Today there are about 700 Hands events scheduled, including 640 in the USA, about 100 of them in California. The one at Ocean Beach -- ours -- well, it's on, capital ON.
I TOOK a half-hour break from my flyering today, went to the beach, and stepped off the borders of the Slash Oil image. I must tell you, organizing these things is a royal annoyance, but stepping out onto the beach -- oh, man, that's the payoff. I just love that beach, and it's a particular thrill to be there "by myself," trying to visualize it all, trying to imagine the crowd, trying to figure it all out. And then to see, later, what the actual result is. I can't wait to make the outline on Saturday morning. I'm going to need help. If you can come early, please do. I'll be there by 7, and I could use about a dozen assistants to outline the image. For Beach Impeach we had "letter captains," and while there are no letters this time, we're going to need folks willing to help with the crowd. If you folks can show up around 9:30, that would be fantastic.
I'VE RECEIVED several emails from people on this list who were alarmed that MoveOn.org had directed them to some event other than our Ocean Beach event. I suggest that everyone go to whichever event makes the most sense for them. We're all trying to bring awareness to, are trying to weigh in on, the same issue. But I will point out that (and any of you who attended a Beach Impeach event will have already thought of this) there is going to be one event out of all of these several hundred events, that will have an extra creative and artistic aspect to it. I wouldn't miss THIS one, even if I could.
Hope to see you there.
And hey, if you want to get a little inspired, really, check out the Hands website.
WEDNESDAY, June 23 -- Three days to go...
Thank you for your understanding.
It came to me a bit late in the game, but this morning I realized, "Hey, we're all in this together -- shouldn't we share 'our' helicopter!"
So, bottom line, I've moved the start time back approximately half an hour, and when we're done doing our thing at Ocean Beach, we'll send the helicopter to film the folks at the Hands Across the Sand events at China Beach and Crissy Field.
Please now shoot for a 10:30 a.m. arrival, and please DO arrive and have your spot selected no later than 11:00. The helicopter is now due to arrive overhead at approximately 11:25 - 11:30.
There will be an instruction sheet handout at the beach, explaining everything, but here's the gist:
After the helicopter arrives, our photographer, John Montgomery, will spend approximately ten minutes photographing above the Slash Oil image. As soon as we get the 'all-clear' signal, we'll all move down to the water's edge -- quickly, please -- spreading out in a long line, holding hands. If you are not so nimble, please take a direct route to the closest water. If you are plenty nimble, please head north or south along the beach so that we can create the longest line possible. When we've gotten ourselves into place, John will capture photos of this stage. I'm hoping that we can complete the Ocean Beach segment in 20-25 minutes from the time the helicopter arrives, and then we'll send it off to China Beach and Crissy Field. John expects to have the photos of all of these event posted online by sometime Saturday afternoon.
Oh, boy -- this is some new and tricky territory! The block letters of Beach Impeach were much simpler. I've spent much of my day hunched over my graph paper, ruler in hand, trying to remember long-lost geometry and math. I think I've got my head around it all now, but it's going to be pretty complicated, and I KNOW I'm going to need a lot of help stretching the long tape measures and pounding stakes and digging heels through sand to create the outline. I'll be there no later than 7 a.m. Any time after that that you can show up, I will do my best to put you to work. And if we (doubtful) have too many volunteers, you can do worse than hang out for a while at Ocean Beach.
I think I've got contingencies that will produce a worthy image even if the crowd is just 300, and I think we can probably handle 5,000 if that's how many show up -- and honest, I've got no real clue. Who knows?
THURSDAY, June 24 -- 11 p.m. -- 36 hours to go...
YOU KNOW, back during our Beach Impeach year, 2007, we'd certainly have cancelled an event that had just 176 confirmations, but this is entirely different. We've got the MoveOn email to its 5 million members. We've got the Hands Across the Sand website sending unknown numbers our way. I'm getting emails from people saying they're coming but haven't signed up, and I've also been getting emails from people in obscure corners of my life, people not on this list, saying they've heard about our Saturday plans. I'll be almost shocked if there are less than 500 people there, and I think it's entirely possible that we might have a tsunami (of people) roll in. We shall see. In about 36 hours.
I haven't checked the weather, but it's been not-nice here the last few days -- dress warmly if you're coming on Saturday. The helicopter's scheduled arrival (11:25 - 11:30 a.m.) is starting to look like an auspicious time. My almanac says the moon will be exactly full at 11:32 a.m. (not visible here, of course). And the phenomenal US soccer team plays Ghana at 11:30 (you can catch the last hour in the bar at the Beach Chalet Restaurant). But it seems like quite some convergence brewing. We shall see.
FRIDAY, JUNE 25 -- About 12 hours to go...
I COME WIDE AWAKE at 3:40 a.m., and there’s no way I can kid myself that I’m going to get back to sleep. Too much on my mind. The helicopter, the photographer, will the walkie-talkies work, is anyone coming?
By 4:20 I’m pulling my car through the gates of the Green Cab lot at 16th and South Van Ness. This is my first day back at work after a twelve-day absense. I spent last week in Minnesota with my family, and this week I’ve been organizing this helter-skelter event that’s taking place, geez, tomorrow!
At the side of the lot I see two of my Green Cab buddies talking together. One has been a cab driver for 30 years (five years longer than me) and the other is still a youngster who hasn’t finished his first year quite yet. It feels good to be back, good to see these guys again, and I slide into the conversation. The veteran is assuring the rookie that Gay Pride Weekend is going to be great -- the money’s going to be fantastic, and hell no, you don’t have to worry about all those out-of-town gay people hitting on you. You can have fun with that, bro!
I have a faux-hillbilly accent that comes in handy sometimes, and now I look the rookie in the eye and drawl, “You shore are a good-lookin’ man, Mister Cab Driver…”
It works. Suddenly I can see the back of the rookie’s neck. Actually, I can see the backs of both drivers’ necks, as they’re both bent double now, heads down around their knees, helpless from a double-case of the guffaws.
My god, it’s good to be back here, catty-corner from the all-night gas station, one block from the all-night melodramas outside the BART station, back in this pool of yellow cast by the streetlights at 4:30 a.m., in this gritty neighborhood that’s starting to somehow feel like home.
BY 5:04 a.m. I’m trolling slowly along Market Street, which is totally empty except for one guy jogging along toward 9th Street. He’s no athlete -- he’s a middle-aged Chinese man wearing loafers and a v-neck sweater -- and I wonder why he’s jogging at this hour, especially being dressed the way he is. And then a MUNI bus overtakes us from behind and passes us. The jogger picks up his speed into a near-sprint, and I see that he’s hoping to catch the bus when it stops up ahead at 9th Street and Market. I think he’s going to make it. He’s almost there... he’s at the rear of the bus... But now the light goes green and the bus quickly jumps forward, gone, and the jogger’s shoulders slump and his whole body goes almost boneless, and then I pull up alongside him and say, “Hey, come on. I’ll catch your bus for you for free. Hop in.” He’s doesn’t resist at all. He tells me he’s only going four blocks, but he's late for work. He’s very happy when I drop him in front of his destination. I do love the bus zone hero move -- it only presents itself a few times a year, but it’s a satisfying, outside-the-box way to start a day.
I’M EMPTY FOR THE NEXT HOUR AND A HALF. At 6:35 I see an attractive young woman in a bus zone at Haight and Masonic. I’m on the opposite side of the street from her, and I cruise a block and a half to where I can make a legal U-turn and then pull back around. She’s standing ten feet from the curb now, looking past me toward where that darn bus should be coming along. I stop right next to her, roll down my window, and say, “Every day I give away one free ride. Would you like to be my free ride today?”
She smiles. She would in fact like that very much. She’s headed up to work at UCSF Medical Center. She grew up in Boston, she’s been a nurse for four years, she’s happy to have a stable profession: health care. She’s not been a big soccer fan until just recently, but just yesterday morning her soccer fan-ness, like my own soccer fan-ness, took a huge needle jump when Landon Donavan’s goal put the USA into the World Cup’s round of sixteen. She tries to pass some money over the backseat -- “It’s about what I’d have paid for the bus,” she says -- but I refuse. A free ride is a free ride. She understands. With a smile.
A FAIR PORTION of my day is taken up by attending to details for tomorrow’s "Hand’s Across the Sand / Slash Oil" event. I stop by the Park Service office and get a copy of the event permit that I’ve misplaced. At the Fillmore Street Kinko’s store I fax out about ten final press releases. I call Channel 7 (they’ve put up their own helicopter for two of my events in the past) and bend their ears a bit. At the Chestnut Street Apple store I send a confirmation email to our helicopter pilot. I check the sign-up site -- four new people have registered for the event; two others have sent me emails saying that they are coming, but they’re not registering. I stop by the house of our photographer, John Montgomery, and we go over our strategy for tomorrow. I stop at Safeway for some last minute supplies.
For much of the day, the weather has been thick and kind of ugly, but what can you do about the weather? I think I’m as ready as I’ve been for any event I’ve ever organized, which means I’m only about half-crazy instead of three-quarters crazy. About five p.m. yesterday evening I realized that yesterday -- a day full of agonizing organizing details -- was in fact my 15th wedding anniversary! “We can celebrate another night,” my sweet wife told me.
BY MID-AFTERNOON I’M COOKED, but heading back to the yard I am flagged at 14th and Dolores by a man whose name I will soon learn is Sam. I pull over and tell him, “I’m at the end of my shift. Where are you headed?”
Sam’s only going a few blocks past the yard, and that works perfectly for me.
“How,” he asks me, “did this ugly day suddenly turn so beautiful?” Here in the Mission, the overhead sky has transformed into pure blue silk; back toward the beach we can still see looming white fog.
Me: “I’m planning a big outdoor event tomorrow. I’m hoping for this stuff..." -- I point upward, and then westward -- "instead of that stuff.”
He: “That thing with the helicopter out at Ocean Beach?”
I hold up a flyer that’s lying on my front seat. He glances at it and says, “I’m going to that! You organized that?”
Me: “How’d you hear of it?” I’m as flabbergasted as Sam is.
He: “My sister. We’re bringing a bunch of people. And I don’t even know how she heard of it.”
We talk Oil for a while, and then he’s got a lot of questions about the event, mostly about money. I tell him I’ve put up about $3,000 to make it all happen. I tell him that during the second, third, and fourth Beach Impeach events someone passed a donation bucket around for me. “Those events cost me almost exactly $12,000 altogether,” I tell him, “and the donations came to almost exactly $12,000 altogether.”
He’s impressed, just as I was. I tell him about the address label buckets that’ll be on the beach tomorrow (for anyone who would like to receive a postcard), and how I’m hoping that people might put in something else, too. He says, “Man, if everyone just put in $5, it ought to work out.”
“Either way,” I say. “I feel like I’m loaded in the barrell of a cannon, and the fuse is lit and I can hear it fizzing. I’m just hoping to enjoy the ride and survive.”
This has seemed an auspicious, ride -- my last ride before the event! It’s given me more than hope -- it’s given me goosebumps. I decide that I can’t let Sam pay, but at ride’s end, as I vaporize the numbers on the meter ($7.60) and turn to tell him, he beats me to the punch. “This is for the donation bucket,” he says, and hands me a twenty.
What can I say? Only Thank you!
Sam and I promise we'll look for each other tomorrow.
And I’m hoping to see you, too, if you can make it!
SATURDAY, June 26 -- 3:30 pm -- The helicopter clattered off away from us about three and a half hours ago...
FANTASTIC EVENT. Maybe 600-800 people. The person I asked to get a head count reported 1,000, but it didn't look like it to me, and I've learned to trust my eye.
Check 'em out. John Montgomery's photos from the helicopter. The Ocean Beach event, plus the Crissy Field event. The goosebump moment came during our long line along the beach -- it stretched about a third of a mile -- priceless. If you weren't there to see them, you would have appreciated seeing the smiles on the faces.
Thanks so much to everyone who came, or who wanted to and couldn't. And special thanks to Frank, Jim, Michael, George, Louis Travis, and right now that's all of the people who came early that my mush brain is allowing me access to.
Check 'em out. John Montgomery's photos from the helicopter. The Ocean Beach event, plus the Crissy Field event.
I may not be answering emails for a while. Postcards within a couple of weeks. Please let me know if you have any particular favorite.
THANKS everyone for making the day one of the special days of my life.