Posted by: Green Knight | June 22, 2011


We had a good Greenpeace meeting the other night.  Got three new recruits!  That’s pretty good for the Midwest.  GP isn’t just about oceanic issues.  I work with them nowadays, and I worked FOR them from 1980-83 as an employee.  Some folks were dismayed that I got paid; they expected us all to be volunteers.  Volunteers are great to have handy, and that’s what I am currently, but back then I didn’t have a separate source of income.  My typical day consisted of waking up, hitting the shower, and hiking from 6th & Mission in San Francisco to our office in Fort Mason, nearly 5 miles up and down the gorgeous hills.  I’d get there around 3:30 p.m., or a bit earlier if I was doing maintenance on the canvass vans.  That was one of the extra duties I took on, until one of the coordinators took the van home, something we weren’t supposed to do, and my Sears Craftsman toolkit got stolen out of the back.  Meth-heads, even that long ago.

Anyway, I’d get in around 3:30 in the afternoon.  We’d get our clipboards and paperwork, get assigned some “turf” in which to knock on doors, and hop into one or both of the vans, depending on how many of us showed up that day (hippie organization, y’know?  It is what it is.)  We’d drive to whatever part of the Bay Area we were targeting, and stop somewhere to have a snack.  If it was Berkeley, we’d go to this really cool Greek restaurant, first place I ever tried retsina, which became a favorite.  If it was someplace like Stinson Beach, we’d just bring homemade munchies and sit in the sand watching guys dive for abalone…one fella told me that he LIKED sea otters, because the showed him where the abs were hiding.  So he & they got along, which is how it should be.

Then we’d go knock on doors.  “Hi, I’m with Greenpeace and we’re on our annual membership drive.”  Some folks would say “I got a lifetime membership three years ago, why are you bugging me?”  Yeah, that was a bad move on the organization’s part, similar to when I worked at Waldenbooks and they initially had a so-called lifetime membership in their Preferred Reader club.  I didn’t RUN either outfit, so I accept no blame for their bad planning.  Anyhoo, we’d be out there knocking from 5 to 9 p.m., then get picked up and head back to the office.  When I was a crew chief, I had to drive that microbus across the Golden Gate Bridge once when there were 70-mile an hour winds switching from east to west unpredictably.  Luckily most of the crew was well-fed and gave us a low center of gravity in that top-heavy VW.

We had to deal with attack dogs.  We had to deal with people who absolutely hated what we were trying to do, or mixed us up with other enviro groups, or came from cultures that liked to eat whales.  One guy told me that he thought all the whales should be killed and melted down into oil, and then slammed the door.  Despite all that, with our charming personalities, most of us made it back without too many scars (I have one on my right arm, if you wanna look).  Then it was time to write up the paperwork and bag up the bank deposit.  Part of our nightly duty was to fill out a “turf card,” to describe the nature and character of the people on the blocks we canvassed.  Some areas liked our efforts, but the local auto manufacturing plant had shut down and they couldn’t afford to donate, but they’d offer you dinner.  Other places didn’t get that “conservative” and “conservation” are derived from the same word.  Tough crowd to work.

Being crew chief, my job then consisted of putting all the paperwork and $$$ together.  I’ll never forget my pal Mike’s turf card about Orinda, in the Oakland hills, where he described the residents as “badly wired androids.”  Damn, I wish I’d made that one up myself.  McCulloh, where are ya?  That’s the most hilarious description of jerks that I’ve ever heard.  Anyway, I’d usually get finished at about 11 p.m., and then hike a few blocks to Clown Alley, get a chili burger and a liter of red, and play Billie Holliday on their great jukebox.  Then I’d hike home, or take the bus if I had spare change; that’s how I once met Allen Cohen, a poet and the erstwhile publisher of the San Francisco Oracle, the alternative newspaper for the Haight-Ashbury district in the notorious ’60s.  He was riding the same bus, and gave me a copy of his latest book of poems.  I didn’t even know at the time that he was THAT GUY.  Just another late-night encounter; we chatted, had a nice time, and I got his latest work.

I’d get home about 1 a.m. one way or another, drink wine if I had money or coffee if I didn’t (I do tea these days instead), play Laura Nyro or Jethro Tull, a resident mouse would crawl up on the bed to listen to my guitar-picking as I played along to the song, and I’d go to sleep when the sun came up.  Then get up and do it all over again at about noon.  Doesn’t sound like I had a whole lot of time to spare for a “real” job so I could be a volunteer, does it?  We got 10% of what we raised, and while I’m a good educator, I wasn’t a very good canvasser.  I scraped by for three years doing that, though.  I give a damn; hope some of you do too.  We have projects planned, we just need bodies.  And anyone in St. Louis, I have a great stray cat that needs a home.  Get in touch.

P.S. many people also thought that we Greenpeacers spent most of our time out on the water.  Untrue.  Those were the glamor jobs.  I’ve never been out on more than a ferryboat or a canoe I built myself.  Missed my chance to zoom around in a Zodiac because I was working on one of the vans or selling t-shirts or something.  I DID get to climb up the ratlines of  Stone Witch, a gorgeous cement-hulled tops’l schooner, aka hermaphrodite brig, that Alan Olson generously let us do missions in.  Halloween, 1982, great party.  He tells me that she’s no more; I’ll have to get the full story later.  Speaking of t-shirts, I used to have one with her on it; below is a photo of the Witch.  Alan’s website is for you fellow enthusiasts of saltwater or freshwater.  My priority is CLEAN water.

P.P.S. happy solstice!


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