FREE-FALL CHRONICLES by Peter Coyote
I had met Carla in 1968 when she was 17, a big voluptuous teenager with a throaty laugh
and a baby. I was 27, the de facto leader of the Free Family commune in Olema. I lost
track of her around 1971 when our truck caravan broke up in Boulder. My father had just
died and I went East to help my mother. Others scattered to their own needs and purposes,
Carla with them.
I ran into her once briefly around 1975 or 6. I had returned to California and saw her
in San Rafael by chance. We went back to her room together to share a bag of dope and
catch up. After that, I lost track of her for sixteen years until she called me out of the
blue one day last winter. We met and talked for hours, breathless with the good fortune of
having found one another again. This is largely her story, but also mine.
It was Autumn. I had moved my lady, Sam, and our daughter, Ariel, out of the
overcrowded Olema ranch house into a small, abandoned outbuilding; a cattle shed, which we
had tar-papered against the winter, insulating the windows with plastic and the rough wood
floors with old carpets. I had put in a wood-burning stove, and built a loft for sleeping.
Though the shed was only ten by ten feet, it sufficed for the three of us and our two
It was a low-rent shanty with wooden battens nailed across the black, tar-paper skin
outside, but it was warm and dry. The old wood glowed by kerosene lamp- light, and it was
quite lovely to lie there and listen to the dull comforting murmur of the rain spatter on
the slate roof. The stage was set, the play was cast.
According to Carla, I was away at Black Bear Ranch, another Free Family site deep in
the Trinity- Siskyou wilderness in California's far north, when she and her gangly,
boisterous boyfriend, Jeff, arrived. Jeff had already been living at Olema and had been
introduced to Carla through a mutual friend from one of Carla's foster families. Carla
gleaned that I was a significant person and that she would somehow need my okay to be able
to stay. I suppose I was the nominal "head man" by virtue of having been the
first to colonize the place, and perhaps having the overarching vision of how Olema
dove-tailed with the rest of the Free Family, however my authority was strictly based on
persuasion and personal regard. People came and went at Olema, were accepted or rejected
according to mysterious consensus. It was commonly agreed that Olema was "free
turf"; that one could do and be whatever one chose to be: an anarchic social
experiment designed to discover alternative modes of living and working together based on
personal authenticity rather than economics.
"I didn't understand how it fit together", Carla remembers. "Someone
always made dinner. It got cold, someone made a fire. Things just seemed to get done, but
I didn't know what my responsibility was. No one told me to do anything. I'd never had
that kind of freedom before."
She kept her mouth shut and her eyes open. She watched the naked people tending the
mounds of corn and beans, the rows of tomatoes and the pretty and edible nasturtiums;
watched the Gypsy truckers detailing their elaborate Victorian houses fixed on the old
1940's Reo and GMC flat-bed trucks dominating the yard and corral. She tried to discover
the secret of these people who seemed to understand some common principle of existence
While she learned, fate sent her a guardian angel in the form of smiling, energetic,
Phyllis, who helped her care for her baby, Malachi. Carla's deficiencies as an immature
mother were absorbed by Phyllis and other members of the community who would grab Malachi
and take him off with them on their errands and whims for hours at a time. Carla was
stupefied and relieved at this display of group concern and generosity. Her own family had
been a war-zone where nurture was a rare commodity. She assesses her own parenting skills
candidly by asserting, "I didn't know shit."
It's not surprising considering Carla's memory of home. While both her parents were
teachers and her mother was a fairly talented painter of portraits; the type that grace
middle class homes, implying status and disposable income, her step-dad was discovered
with pornographic photos of some of the girls in his class. Carla remembers him as a
"sick son a bitch." Carla's mother walked into the living room one day when
Carla was fourteen. Her husband had ripped Carla's blouse off and was pinning her to the
floor with his body. Her mother regarded this vision for an instant, then continued
walking to her own room, slamming the door without a word. That was when Carla began
The night I returned, there was a big feast and lots of music. When people came home
after a trip, they brought gossip and adventurous tales, presents, new goods, and staples,
news of friends and enough energy to generate stupendous parties.
The men would gather wood and build a fire, or set up a barbecue if there was meat.
Sometimes a cattle trough would be pulled over a fire-pit and filled with water to serve
as a primitive group bath. Depending on the scale of the event, we might dig a sweat
lodge. We would drag out the home-brew and hash brownies. Divisions of labor were never
strict, but the kitchen was generally the domain of the women: skirts rustled, metal bowls
clanged, flour dust hazed the air and the house was permeated by an incense of lentils and
cardamom, marinating meat, clean hair, and rising dough.
Carla remembers that I made her feel right at home that night and being awed by my
lady, Sam, who appeared to her as omni-competent and everything she might ever want to be.
Sam was ten years older than Carla, a tall, blonde girl whose family had once trained her
for beauty pageants. She was imposing, could fill a room with her entrance, but was
afflicted with a self- confidence that oscillated between impenetrable and absent. She had
grand style and witchy powers. Though, like most of us, she was picking her way through
the rubble of her own psyche, to Carla she appeared as a goddess, fully formed and worthy
Sam taught her to the tan deer-hides we retrieved in numbers from the Pt. Reyes garbage
dump during hunting season: to make an oatmeal-thick mash from wood- ashes and water to
slip the hair; to pickle the skin in sulfuric acid and water or rub them with brains, then
break them to softness over a fence-post or over the back of an ax jammed into a stump.
Though the ultimate utility of such skills might have been marginal, they contributed to a
sense of independence from the larger culture and supported our intentions to be in
continuity with indigenous people who had lived where we were living, centuries earlier.
Such skills also enabled us to create trade-goods and currency from found objects,
personal skills, and time. One could create wealth by re-defining it in a game which was
not stacked against you.
Before long Carla was invisibly stitched to the rest of us, and a seamless part of our
family. She joined the dancing around the bon-fires when we roasted deer that Fosmo and I
periodically poached from the Coast Range hills. While we waited under the dripping
Coyote-brush, living on trail mix and tea, Carla was laughing and joking in the kitchen,
chopping and kneading, confident enough now to help other mothers with their babies.
She was the inspiration for one of Lew Welch's best throwaway lines. A tall
freckle-faced, sad-eyed Irishman whose face was often suffused with childish wonder and
delight, Lew was already famous as a Beat poet. He lived sporadically and stormily with a
thick, powerful, Slavic woman called Magda and when she would tire of his drunken
escapades he would move out of their Marin City pad and in with us. He loved jazz and
Magda's two children and was proud of tutoring their musical abilities. He introduced me
to Magda's oldest, Huey, when he was ten years old. Lew beamed with delight at me as the
child scatted tricky jazz riffs Lew had taught him. He might well have been, proud.
Magda's Huey became his own Huey Lewis and the News, and honors Lew's memory to this day
by maintaining his stepfather's bardic traditions.
I was pleased to have him at the ranch, because I felt that his presence conferred on
us a legitimate descent from the Beats. I was extremely proud that Lew had dedicated a
poem called "Olema Satori" to me.
On the day he honored Carla, Lew was sitting on the floor of the Olema living room
holding cradling a gallon jug of Cribari red-wine in his lap. He was deep in his cups. The
room was pulsing with music and dense with marijuana smoke. Carla was lost in sinuous
dancing, naked from the waist up, and Lew was watching her with undisguised lust. He
turned to me, grinning crookedly, raised one finger, and said, very slowly and very
clearly, "The ... worst ... Persian ... voluptuary ... could ... not ... imagine ...
our ... most ... ordinary ... day." Having managed this, he pitched over,
There was no clue in Lew's joy that day, that not long afterwards he would leave his
wallet and a note in Gary Snyder's kitchen and walk into the Sierra foothills with his
rifle, to commit suicide. If he hid his private griefs in life he remained consistent in
death. To this day, his body has never been found.
About this time, Rick "Doc" Holiday, a small, delicate, junkie with black
hair, a con man's politesse and a soft, smokey, voice, showed up with a tall,
androgynously beautiful girl who might have been Mick Jagger's sister. This was Daney.
Junk-sick as she was when she arrived, she radiated sexual energy and Carla took to her
Basically, Doc had abandoned her with us to clean up. Daney did her best, and before
long she was baking bread with the best of them, laughing, throwing sparks off her
cat's-eyes, and radiating a feral energy that made it apparent that she would not linger
in the land of brown rice and black beans for too long. Both girls were ready for a break
from the poverty of ranch life, when Carla came and asked me for some money to get high.
The reason she asked me was because, that day, I was in charge of the Free Bank, a
Digger institution: everyone put their money, food stamps, or personal wealth into the
kitty, to be divided up at group meetings according to consensual priorities. What was
left after the kids, trucks, and groceries had been covered, could be taken out on as
"as needed" basis, and simply recorded in the Free Bank-book.
My entries in the Book might read: "Auto parts, $14.95; sandwich $2.67, gasoline
$5.00", but Emmett might enter, "truck, $20". day after day. Everyone knew
that his money was going for drugs and he could have said so without weakening his claim
to the funds, but it was Emmett's nature to be evasive so everyone let him slide.
I tried to talk Carla out of doing drugs, but she and Daney were already gassed and
ready, idling at half- throttle. They left together, money in hand, Carla in her
work-boots, floor-length skirt, and flannel shirt, baby on her hip, and Daney,
"reeking of sex" as Carla remembers, dressed to the nines and looking fabulous.
Daney did not have any money when they left and Carla overlooked her assertion that she
would "get some" when they arrived in Sausalito.
The two girls and the baby hitch-hiked to the Trident Restaurant, a favorite hangout
for drug-dealers and wanna-be's. Daney was in her element there gliding into the room like
a shark, leaving Carla at the bar while she went "to get some money."
"I couldn't figure out how," Carla said incredulously. "Even when I saw
her crawling out from under a table-cloth and some slickster handing her some bread, I
still didn't get it!"
The girls left with an archetypical dope-dealer in tight leathers, roaring through town
in his BMW-with- sound-system-to-blow- out-windows. In his bachelor pad in the pricey
Sausalito hills, Carla filled the sunken tub while Daney went into the bedroom and fucked
the guy into unconsciousness. After putting him to sleep, she joined Carla for a luxurious
soak while they waited for their heroin to be delivered. While lounging in the suds, Daney
confessed her occupation to Carla, who, far from being shocked, was impressed.
"Hey, it didn't sound bad to me at all!. Great pads, good cars, easy money and all
the dope you want, being delivered!. I couldn't believe it." She lay back in the
luxurious hot water, playing with the baby in the shimmering, scented bubble bath and put
that idea on unconscious hold for use at a later date.
In April of 1970 we were all evicted from Olema. A new cowboy had leased the pastures
and didn't want to share it with thirty hippies. Carla helped us clean the house and
grounds, spic and span, down to the last cigarette butt and bottle cap. We left the Olema
ranch as meticulous as an altar as our way of expressing our appreciation to it.
We paid every outstanding bill in the town of Pt. Reyes Station, even those committed
in our name by transients. The citizens of the town understood and appreciated the
gesture. While we were definitely "outsiders" and freaks to the local people,
they had liked us. We had been honest in our business dealings with them and had certainly
supplied them with ample entertainment and gossip. Tom Quinn, the brother of the new
lessee of the land, was a local commercial artist. He made an elegant wooden sign with a
Coyote footprint on it. Under the footprint he wrote "...and company have gone."
As we drove out for the last time, I wrote the word "on" after the
"gone". Six months later I returned and took the sign itself. I still have it.
The Free Family was preparing the Caravan at that time. The idea was to travel to
far-flung locales and use our neutrality as newcomers to create meetings, detentes, and
political alliances among people who should but did not know one another. It was apparent
that the counter-culture was growing; every state had pockets of people living like we
did; creating relationships and new communities within their regions. Everyone had a
friend somewhere else, so it seemed organic and evolutionary to begin weaving these places
together, expanding the base of our economy and spreading the cultural word.
Things were to commence with a road trip to southern Colorado for a peyote meeting with
members of the Red-Rocker's and the Triple-A communes in the Huerfano Valley, near the New
I loved the act of preparing my truck for such trips. Each task I accomplished
inventoried a useful skill I had assembled since leaving college with a degree in English
literature. I had developed a passion for the deductive, problem-solving capacities
required to keep one's life in working in a world without the money to hire professionals
to do it for you. My engine had been lovingly re-built on my kitchen table; each bolt
torqued to specifications and glued with Loc-tite to prevent its vibrating loose. I had
even balanced the fly-wheel and clutch pressure-plate together so that it idled like a
whisper, without any perceptible tremors. Metal strapping from the bed of an abandoned
truck had been bent over the sideboards of mine and covered with canvas, so that my '49
Chevy 2 1/2 ton, resembled an old Conestoga wagon. In honor of the scars and lacerations I
incurred during its construction, I named the truck Dr. Knucklefunky.
My oxyacetylene tanks were chained to the running boards and had become an
indispensable tool I had learned to operate with modest skill. All around me similar
torches roared, hissed, snapped, and spit as school bus tops were opened up and frames for
sky- lights and second-story sleeping lofts were jerry- rigged in place, formed from old
bed frames and brazed together with wire coat hangers. The Caravan was preparing for the
Nineteen adults and eleven children, trundled our nine home-made house trucks across
the width of California, over the Sierras and on through the sage and scrub of Nevada. In
Strawberry Valley, Utah we were run out by Range-Riders. That story is instructive to
repeat because it highlights the ambiguity with which we were often treated by locals.
We were camped in a broad flat meadow outside Provo overlooking the Strawberry Valley
reservoir. It was an idyllic spot: groves of aspens made pleasant shelter from the wind,
the grass was thick and long, the weather balmy, and everyone was having a great time.
Everyone but Simon. Simon had joined us from Black Bear. He was a tall, skinny, fellow
with red infected pimples all over his body that were painful, so he took to walking
around naked. At this time, he also had a huge boil on his tongue that made speech
impossible. I had some Oregon Grape root and smashed it up to make a blood-purifying tonic
for him. It seemed to be helping, but he decided he needed Vitamin C and went to town to
steal some Oranges. He was brought back by an apologetic sheriff. The sheriff had tried to
be nice to us, had not hassled us during our stay, but now we had embarrassed him. We told
Simon to shut up and stop his blubbering explanations, which were unintelligible anyway
due to the festering golf-ball in his mouth. We apologized profusely to the Sheriff and
promised to keep Simon confined to camp. That was our undoing.
One day as Simon was wandering around bare-assed naked, a car nosed along the trail and
around a clump of aspen. The driver could see Simon, but his passenger could not. He
gestured at Simon to get the hell out of the way, but Simon was either too stupefied from
poisoned blood, or too arrogantly proud to pay attention. After a short while of
gesticulating, the fellow, angry now, floored his car and raced past Simon. There was a
woman in the passenger seat next to him. As we discovered later, the angry man was the
owner of the property and the woman he was trying to protect from the exposure to Simon's
gangrened body and weeny was his wife.
That night, at around 11 , the sheriff woke us, apologetic again, and informed us that
the Range Riders were coming and if we were still there when they arrived we would be
arrested and fined for trespass at $400 a person.
We thanked him for the warning and broke camp by headlights. Only a little trampled
grass showed we had been resting there almost a week. We drove down the road a-while and
pulled in at a diner and bar joined at the hip to a small gas-station. A Saturday-night
cowboy frolic was in full swing when we entered the diner and lined up two deep along the
counter, galvanizing the attention of the room. Our women were wearing their floor-length
knitted skirts, cowboy boots, and tinkling bracelets, bundled against the cold in colorful
blankets and shawls. The kids were stuffed hastily into clothing over their pajamas,
bursting like potato skins.
"Watch the women, they all have knives," I heard an old-timer instruct
someone judiciously. While we filled our thermoses and gave the kids hot-chocolate, the
men parlayed and tried to decide where to camp at such an hour, keeping wary eyes cocked
on the bar next door. From time to time a cowboy would wander out, survey us drunkenly,
then disappear back into the whining maelstrom of the dance. A few minutes later, he
returned with a buddy. Each time a group disappeared into the feverish darkness, they
would re-emerge in greater numbers, and I was beginning to get nervous.
We got everyone loaded into the trucks, were lined up at idle and ready to go, when I
noticed that Peter Berg, and his truck, The Albigencian Ambulance Service, was not among
us. I began searching for him, nervously, then frantically. Cowboys clutching pool cues
were beginning to cluster in the doorways and you could see that in moments, their flat
eyes and hip-cocked bodies would spill out onto to the gravel, and when that happened,
there would be serious trouble.
I spotted Berg's truck at the gas station next door and ran over. He was nowhere to be
seen, so I pounded on the rest-room door. It was flung open and I was greeted by a sight
that I was certain would be my next-to-last on earth. Peter was back-lit in the doorway,
in his brown leather trench coat, still bald from where his head had been shaved by the
Nevada police during a bust. His eyes behind his rimless glasses were crazed by
stimulants, and in his hand was a large and bloody butcher knife. Behind him, half in and
half out of the blood-stained sink, was what I took to be a flayed human baby. All I could
think of was one of the cowboys peering over my shoulder and seeing this, and knew with
paralyzing clarity that we would all, men, women, and children, be lynched, on the spot,
strung up alongside the winking bar lights as a warning to others, in the same way that
locals in that country kill Coyotes and casually hang them from the fences along the
It was a jack-rabbit that Peter was skinning in the sink. He had run over it on the way
out, and had not wanted to waste a tasty addition to a stew. I regained enough voice to
convey my urgency to him and Judy and they gathered up the remains and fled with me.
After four months or so on the road, Carla was "ready for a hot bath and some
dope." She and Jeff traded their Chevy for a little red MGB and piled themselves,
Malachi, "Owl" Pickens, JP's ten-year-old son, and all their gear into it and
drove straight back to Church Street in San Francisco where they moved in with Little
Paula and the Cockettes.
Little Paula was a short, effervescent brunette from the Mime Troupe who used to do
baton twirling and tap numbers in spangles. She was one of those girls who substitutes
aggressive personality for physical beauty. She wore thick-lensed glasses that made her
eyes appear large and manic, independent of the rest of her face. In another time she
might have been a booster for a civic organization, but now she was another kind of
Since leaving the Mime Troupe, Little Paula had become a skilled criminal, working hot
credit cards with a vengeance and using extraordinary amounts of drugs. She also owned a
gargantuan tom-cat who had been trained to crap in the toilet, a feat which kept the house
odor-free, and was also guaranteed to stun brain- numbed stragglers who stumbled into the
bathroom and confronted the cat spread-eagling on the toilet bowl. This was the atmosphere
that Carla had been seeking and it was not long before she had a jones going.
Paula was strung out as well. In fact, the last time she came to Olema it was with her
six-week-old son, Omar. Omar's father, Marcus, was already dead of an overdose, and, not
surprisingly, the baby itself was addicted. It was too much for Paula, who simply
abandoned him with us as a surprise when we awoke one morning. Luckily for everyone, old
"Family" friends from the Mime Troupe David Simpson and Jane Lapiner were there
at the time and took Omar in, holding and walking him almost constantly for weeks while he
screamed through his withdrawals and a bad case of the colic. He landed with the right
people though, and today is a cheerful, musical, hard-working young man with an unusually
rusty voice and a strong fearless body.
Paula's roommates at this time were the Cockettes, a male drag-queen review led by a
bearded fellow named Hibiscus. They favored Shirley Temple crinolines and tutus and made
no effort whatsoever to shave their legs and beards for their stage spectaculars like the
one that featured Hibiscus singing Jeanette McDonald numbers while being pushed on a large
flowered swing. They loved to shock straight people by walking around sucking popsicles in
the shape of penises.
Like most everyone else in the counter-culture, the Cockettes were left-wing, anti-war
activists, and they invented a unique brand of draft resistance. They would pull their van
up to the Oakland Army depot and offer free blow jobs to inductees about to face their
physicals. Afterwards, they would give each sheepish, shit-faced young man a Polaroid as
evidence to present to draft officials, who deferred them, generally believing that either
homosexuals were not murderous enough or that heterosexuals were too easily corruptible.
Jeff started hanging around as a wanna-be with the Hell's Angels. I don't know whether
he was an active prospect for admission or just waiting around hoping to be asked. He was
doing B & E's (breaking and entering) and fencing stuff to get by, when Carla became
pregnant with their child, Willow. They moved out to the suburbs of San Anselmo, where
they sold dope for a fellow named Kelly, a sweet guy with a rotten old lady named Carol.
Kelly controlled all the Mexican salt-and-pepper heroin in Marin. He was a stand-up and
decent guy. No matter how many times he was ripped off or beaten out of money, he took it
as dues that came with his line of work. His counts (weights) were always fair. He would
extend credit easily and everyone liked him, among other reasons, because he never ground
up the nuggets of brown heroin into the material that it was cut with. Customers could
pick out the active lumps and throw away the lactose to get a more potent high.
Kelly's old lady, Carol, was hated and feared. A sultry, flashy girl with thick blonde
hair, Carol rode rough-shod over Kelly's undying affection for her. Junkies who got into
arguments with her would get cut off their supply, and she was famous for leaving people
dope-sick and waiting while she shopped for clothes. Kelly adored her and she used that
power ruthlessly. She was not a girl who liked men very much. Her mother had been a
hooker, and she had eight brothers and sisters each by a different father.
One day, while Carla and Jeff were selling for Kelly, the DEA raided their house and
raided badly: one of those B-movie blitzkriegs where all the spices are dumped in a huge
pile in the middle of the rug; the drawers upended on top of the spices, the couches
turned over and ripped apart. Baby Malachi sat in the middle of the floor with his
crayons, coloring diligently while the house was being dismembered around him, and Carla
was screaming caustically at the cops, "Would you like me to open it for you?"
Oblivious to her ironies, they railed on, smashing down doors and shredding pillows,
having much too much fun to slow down.
One cop, a handsome Kirk Douglas look-alike with shoulder-length hair, named Jerry, was
obviously embarrassed by the whole procedure. He sat in a chair covering his forehead with
his hands and repeating over and over, "Guys, you can see they're not scared of us.
There's obviously nothing here." Carla noted and appreciated his mannerliness and
demeanor, and coincidentally he figured prominently in her life a few years later.
The raid helped Carla decide that the specter of imprisonment was becoming increasingly
probable. Because she could not even consider "the possibility of life without
dope," she entered the methadone program in San Rafael, and moved in with Nichole,
sweet Nichole an occasional girlfriend of mine who had joined us, much to Sam's
displeasure, on the Caravan, and some years later lived with me, after she had come to
Pennsylvania at Sam's invitation, and soon displaced her as my lady.
Nichole was and still is a great singer and was dating Steven Stills at this time. This
would have impressed Carla inordinately since Steven was a big star, if Nichole had not
also taken a shine to Jeff. Ubiquitous sexual generosity, as well as great personal charm
were two of Nichole's endearing qualities however, so no one ever stayed angry with her
Things went fairly well for a-while. Willow was born in that house with Baby Malachi in
attendance holding his little red wagon prepared with a pillow and blanket to take his
baby sister for a ride. "Malachi was the adult in our relationship," Carla used
to say. "He adored his sister. Told me when she was hungry, when she needed her
diapers changed. He took her everywhere, God bless him, because I could barely take myself
anywhere let alone take care of them." Malachi was three.
With a larger family now, Carla moved out to a spot on C Street in San Rafael. Jeff was
hard at work building trucks with fake compartments for Kelly's drug runs to Mexico until
the Mexican networks became established all the way North to Hayward and that became
unnecessary. Jeff's fascination with the Angels remained undiminished, and he had attached
himself to Moose, a big, burly, blond guy who looked a bit like the Grandfather on Beverly
Moose was a gregarious rogue with a quick temper and a steel-trap mind. He was
everyone's uncle and came to Olema often in his huge white Cadillac. His Harley- Davidson
was painted white with a large red-cross on the gas-tank. I always assumed that this was
because Moose never traveled without medicines for aid and comfort, primary among which
was high quality methedrine. He enjoyed "kidnapping" me as he called it, taking
me away for runs of several days at a time. On one occasion we left so rapidly that he had
to stop at Tattoo Larry's place and commandeer a pair of boots for me, solid black
Chippewas which I still wear.
Moose's real name was Lorenzo and he intimated that the Italian connection implied in
his name was the Mafia. He had, according to his own mythology, been imprisoned for life
without possibility of parole at 19 for killing three guys with a screwdriver after they'd
made the mistake of jumping him outside a waterfront bar. To what degree the story was
completely or partially true I don't know, but I had seen Moose become lethally ballistic
often enough to consider his story at least probable. He was explosive and surprising when
violent, cunning as a fox, provocative and generous, and a good teacher.
Once, as we were leaving on one of our runs, he asked to look at my scarf. When I took
it off and gave it to him, he returned it without regarding it at all, warning me,
"If I can get that from you I can get everything you own." He was full of little
lessons that; epiphanies that one could muse over for days.
He was a contradictory fellow in many regards: a Hell's Angel with a beautiful black
wife. That was highly unusual for an Angel, for the Hell's Angels is an all-white
organization. Moose had black friends, guys he knew on the street and with whom he
appeared chummy and easy. But they never sat with him at a table in a coffee shop when
there were other Angels present, nor could they expect any quarter from Moose's brothers
if trouble erupted, as it did one night in San Francisco when some Angels and black men
got into a dispute in an all-night coffee shop. The affair ended with Moose emptying his
.45 automatic at their fleeing car, blowing out the back window from where he stood firing
fearlessly in the middle of Fourth street.
Jeff thought he could slide by the Angels' prohibition about needles, and with anyone
but Moose he might have, because he was glib and charming. The Angels don't brook fools
lightly however, and more importantly want to know exactly who they are allowing into
their blood brotherhood. When Moose discovered needle tracks on Jeff's arm, he beat him so
badly that he broke a baseball bat over his body. It was a warning that Jeff should have
Carla and Jeff were best buddies by this point, but living separately. Jeff claimed
that he was being paid by the Angels, but whether or not his status had actually been
elevated to "prospect" was unclear. He was making many trips north to Oregon,
and he would appear on Friday nights to eat and sleep with Carla, play with his kids, and
leave her rent money.
Moose suggested that Jeff prospect in San Rafael instead of Oakland, said that it would
be closer to home and less of a strain on him. Moose was always subtle, so in retrospect
it's hard to know whether he was considering Jeff's well-being or grooming him for his
death. He was put under the charge of a guy named Red, who ran a gas station, and hung
around with pals Rick and Boneyard.
One Friday Jeff came to Carla's truly horrified. He couldn't sit still, couldn't
concentrate, couldn't focus his attention. He spoke agitatedly, with big gestures, gulping
for air. He kept alluding to something, but all he could actually say was, "I'm
freaked, Carla. Really, I'm freaked."
She could only determine that Jeff had been wheel- man on an errand with Red and had
seen something that scared him beyond measure. He was definitely in over his head. He told
her that he was going to talk to Red in the morning and that he'd get back to her. That
was the last time she ever saw him alive.
The next day, Carla's temporary roommate pulled a robbery that went sour and had to
leave town, leaving Carla without one-third of her rent support. By the second Friday,
without Jeff's contribution, she was down two-thirds and nervous, so she went to the
garage to see Red, Rick, and Boneyard. Inquiring about Jeff, the three men looked at her
blankly and said, "Jeff who?" She knew then that Jeff was dead. She called
Moose, her only ally in the Angels, but he gave a her a song and dance about Jeff just
being gone for a few days.
"I knew this was bullshit," she said, "and I freaked." She went to
the police and tried to convince them that her husband had been murdered, "but all
they saw was some hysterical biker's broad and laughed me off."
They must have laughed all the way to Red and Rick's as well; laughing to the guys at
the gas station about the crazy broad who had just been down to the station fingering them
as killers, because the next day an unlit Molotov cocktail crashed through Carla's front
window with a note attached to it warning her about not going back to the police. "It
got my attention", Carla remarked dryly.
The next day, Carla left the kids asleep in the house to slip around the corner to the
market. When she returned, all her furniture was piled in the yard with the kids sitting
on it, with her clothes in a big puddle at their feet. Despite the fact that her rent had
always been regular and there had never been any trouble, the landlord's only response to
her was, "You're outta here."
Carla took what she could and left. Despite the help of friends who took her in and
gave her dope to stave off sickness, (without a phone she could not service her regular
customers) she slept on the streets, in Goodwill boxes, for weeks. Finally, two of her
friends, Mitchell Brothers porn stars who had "done a geographic" from some
trouble, took pity on Carla and offered to take care of the kids, until Carla could get
her scene back together
Carla was grateful, but unfortunately, the friend got hurt in an accident shortly
afterwards. She gave the kids to the other girl, named Barbara, who promptly moved them to
far-away Coos Bay.
Relieved of the children for the moment, Carla was scuffling determinedly now, trying
to grubstake a house and a means of supporting her drug habit. Hitchhiking over the Wolf
Grade one day, a fat-cat in a big Mercedes picked her up and offered her $50 for a blow-
job. Carla was stunned.
" Fifty fucking dollars", I thought, "now that's something I can
do." So she did, and not only loved the money, but "the rush of it," that
accompanies dangerous activities. She liked the rush so much that in later years, even
after she and her friends had established a solid house and a fat client list, she
confesses that they would sometimes sneak off into San Francisco and "work guys in
cars, for the adrenaline."
She started meeting people and putting together a client list and a bankroll. She
rented a sweet little house in San Rafael, and between selling dope and turning tricks,
paid for a cozy nursery with fresh paint and sweet pictures. She stuffed it with as many
toys, books, and pictures, clean bedding and clothes, as her wad could cover and her guilt
would demand, and prepared to get her kids back.
When she got to Coos Bay, and finally located Barbara and her children, she was
horrified. The kids were living in a filthy teepee. They had runny noses, chapped lips,
and were covered with mud. Barbara had fallen in love with them and was not about to give
them back. She had alerted the town to the threat of Carla's arrival and everywhere Carla
went she was tailed by hostile people who had been told God-knows-what-story about her
relationship with the kids - maybe the truth.
Carla finally struck a deal with Barbara, who agreed to give Carla her own kids for 30
days. If the children didn't want to live with her after that, Carla agreed that Barbara
could have them back. Carla returned home with Malachi and Willow. Two days later Barbara
appeared at their San Rafael doorstep and moved in.
Carla knew that she had to hide her habit and business dealings from Barbara. To meet
her various customers and keep the money rolling in, Carla was forced to make ten and
eleven trips to the store, pleading absentmindedness. She would lock herself in the
bathroom and take half her normal doses of heroin so that she would not nod out and drop
burning cigarettes into her lap. Finally the wear-and-tear of inventing excuses and
juggling schedules got to be too much, and a week later Carla demanded that Barbara leave
and come back at the end of the agreed upon 30 days. Barbara agreed but asked to be
allowed to take the kids to visit her own foster mother first, who lived in nearby
Fairfax. She said she would return with them that night.
It was not until the next morning that Barbara ended Carla's all-night vigil with the
chilling news that she had given both children to the police and told them about Carla's
prostitution and drug business. Carla became hysterical and instead of simply going to the
police, picking up her children and telling them that they'd been taken by a crazy
babysitter, she made the understandable, but stupid, mistake of going to see a lawyer.
Marvin the Con, as I'll call him, had a penchant for young hookers, and in lieu of
money (although Carla estimates that she gave him about twenty grand in cash over the
years) he was happy to fuck Carla himself and pimp her to his friends as a promotional
gift. He gave her a lot of lawyerly advice which, "If I'd of followed, I'd probably
have my kids back today," Carla confesses fairly enough, " but he's still a
He sent Carla to a social worker named Jane, a kindly, understanding-looking woman that
Carla fell in love with and "just trusted! I told her everything," she says.
"I came clean: the drugs, the tricks, the selling, everything, because I thought she
could help me." She helped Carla by going to a judge and having both children made
wards of the court.
Life was grinding Carla fine at this point, but like most teenagers, she never
considered the utility of reflection. She continued turning tricks, using and selling
drugs and augmenting her supply of street-dope with the government's very own methadone
which she received at a de-tox clinic daily.
She met and moved in with Clint, a muscular six- foot-six, two-hundred-thirty-pounder
who handled Kelly's drug deliveries. The next two years became a blur of moves between
every low-rent hotel, motel, and rooming house in Marin, until their personal dust settled
in a fairly new condo development called Harbor Point. It was here that Carla picked up
the San Francisco Examiner on November 11,1975 and saw the front page photo of a large,
algae-covered 50 gallon drum, dripping wet and wrapped with chains, which had just been
dredged up from beneath the Richmond Bridge. The photo's caption identified it as her
husband's coffin. The police had caught Boneyard on that bridge with a car trunk full of
cocaine. In searching around for something to deal for his freedom, Boneyard turned over
his friends and Jeff's final resting place. Jeff had died before he was 23.
The next night one of Carla's customers told her that the Angels were looking for her.
So were the police. Carla figured that if her customers knew the Angels wanted her, it
would not be long before she crossed paths with the boys themselves. So, for the next
month, she and Clint slept in a different place every night. It was nerve-wracking trying
to service customers and never knowing each time she made and appointment, whether or not
she might find an Angel awaiting her at the rendezvous. Clint and Carla drifted that way
for months, skimming the nether-world of Marin like fallen leaves before the wind.
Malachi and Willow, were by this time ensconced in a lovely foster home in San Anselmo.
They were thriving with a wholesome, nurturing couple who had a yard, rabbits, swings and
all the ingredients necessary to raise healthy children. Carla's visits to them were
becoming more and more traumatic. On her final visit, Malachi had clung to her leg
screaming and begging "take me with you, take me with you Mommy." Not even
heroin can dampen that kind of pain. Carla recognized that her life was a shambles, and
believed, with good reason, that she could quite possibly be dead very soon. Reluctantly,
she signed the adoption papers delivering her children to these good people. "I cried
for five straight days," she remembers. Clint and Kelly held her, rocked her, fed
her, kept her stoned and never left her alone for five minutes. She was gone!
Carla's economic mentor, Kelly, was on his way to jail at this time. Even the brilliant
Terry Hallinan, friend of civil liberties, radical causes and underdogs, a man who had
often helped the Diggers without charge, could not help Kelly this time. Kelly didn't help
much, either. At his trial, when the IRS compounded the charges against him by
over-valuing the street-price of his dope and demanding $45 in unpaid taxes for each $20
bag of dope he'd ostensibly sold, Kelly became irate, jumped out of his chair, and yelled,
"If you can get that kinda fucking money for it, I'll sell it to you!"
Kelly owed Carla and Clint about 80 grand for bail and lawyers they had extended to him
during the course of his troubles. As recompense to them, he introduced them to his
primary connection in Mexico, so they could take over his business. All he asked, begged
for actually, was that they "take care of Carol."
This was a lot to ask, because, as I've mentioned earlier, everyone hated Carol. Clint
and Carla agreed for Kelly's sake, though, so that he could go off to prison without
The night before he went to jail, Kelly rented a grand sailboat and catered a
haute-cuisine candle-lit dinner with fine tableware and sparkling crystal. He bought
matching, hand-made, white doe-skin outfits for himself and Carol, and some fabulous
jewelry for her. He had prepared a magnificent romantic farewell, but Carol never showed
up. Kelly spent his last night of freedom lying on the bed of the boat weeping between
Carla and Clint. At dawn, he delivered himself to San Quentin Prison.
After Kelly had left, Carol finally appeared, and Carla, infuriated at her cruelty to
Kelly, beat the girl bloody. In tears, Carol recounted her side of the story: the details
of her life with a man rendered impotent by junk, and her increasingly desperate attempts
to provoke his attentions.
Carla was certainly sympathetic to the idea of sex as a basic need and Carol's tale
mollified Carla and Clint just enough to guarantee Carol that they would deliver her
maintenance-level of dope every day. She would have to cover her own rent. Even this was a
tall order for Carol, who had grown lazy and dull after years of Kelly's largesse. Carol
was desperate and begged for help. Carla gave her the phone numbers of some tricks and
told her to go to work and see if she liked it.
Not surprisingly, Carol turned out to be a phenomenal hustler. "She got more outta
those guys than I could," Carla reports. Carol moved in with a girl named Pam and
they started doing "doubles". Around this time, Clint got very hot with the
police and had to disappear. Carla moved in with Carol and Pam and the three girls rented
a snazzy house on Sunset in Mill Valley. It featured a lovely view of the trees, and an
easy walk to a park.
Life was good. They had plenty of customers, and since they were all great-looking
girls, they had lots of calls for doubles and triples. A cab would come every morning and
deliver their orange juice and donuts and take them to the methadone program. All their
neighbors liked them, in spite of guessing what they were up to, because they were sweet
girls with sunny dispositions.
In the curious way that opposites often attract, Carla and Carol fell in love. Carla
explains: "I mean we were bathing together, sleeping together, fucking together,
getting high together, what do you expect? Besides, Carol was great with me, helping me
through bad depressions about my kids and really looking after me. Bein' real sweet."
Clint was incensed about this, but Carla was adamant that if he wanted her he would
have to take Carol as well. Clint moved in reluctantly. Things didn't work out well
however, and one day when Carla returned with the groceries, she found Clint and Carol
loading weapons on either side of the living room. This was too much for even Carla and
she walked out.
She relented a few days later, picked up Clint, and the two of them moved in together
and started a "whole new deal." They broke their "rigs", and cleaned
up. Carla got a job in a pizza spot in Tiburon, and they both foreswore drugs (other than
methadone). Alcohol was still allowed, and she still turned an occasional trick in the
evening for some fun-money, but compared to the past, they were almost civilians.
But Clint began killing a fifth of vodka before noon. By evening he'd be blind drunk
and dangerous. He was a big, strong guy and gave Carla several serious beatings he would
blot out of his mind by the next morning. Carla would present herself at breakfast,
black-eyed and puffy as a Rice Krispie, pointing at herself with both hands saying,
"This is you Clint." Clint would insist that he would never treat her that way
and refused to believe that her condition had anything to do with his behavior.
One day the cops picked her up hitchhiking and "suggested" she come to the
station for a talk. It is a measure of the loyalty that Carla inspires in people that when
her favorite trick saw her enter the police car, he risked following her to the police
station demanding to know the charges against her and what her bail would be. The cops
assured Carla and the trick that she was not under arrest. They told her that they wanted
Clint. They had a warrant for his arrest, for a hand-to-hand sale of two ounces of heroin
to an undercover cop. They had him cold. Terry Hallinan couldn't help him because of a
conflict with Kelly's case, and this made Clint crazy as a cutworm. That night, Carla
heard him careening down the hallway toward their flat and decided that she'd been beaten
enough for this lifetime. She hid behind the door and when he entered the flat, calling
for her in a whiskey raw voice, she flattened him with a lamp and fled to her sister's.
The wild life was starting to wear a bit thin by now. Clint was definitely going to
prison. Carla didn't want him to face his bit without the prospect of conjugal visits, so
she married him. The day after their wedding Clint's trial began. The star witness for the
prosecution was the undercover cop that had bought the dope directly from Clint. Carla
recognized him as Jerry, the polite, Kirk Douglas look-alike from the destructive DEA raid
on her house. She still liked him. "He was just doing his job," she said.
"He caught Clint fair and square, nothing personal."
On the witness stand, Jerry was professional and during his interrogation kept
referring verbally to his notes. Clint's lawyer rose and told the court that he had
petitioned Jerry countless times for these notes and had never received them. Since this
is contrary to law, the judge questioned Jerry, who confessed sheepishly that he had
recently moved from San Rafael to Novato and that during that move the bottom drawer of
his file cabinet had become hopelessly jumbled. There was an embarrassed pause before he
went on to explain that he had used the papers from that bottom drawer to start the first
fire in his new house. Clint's lawyer looked at Clint, then at Carla. The prosecutor
looked at Jerry with disbelief and everyone looked at the judge, who looked at everyone
else, before he shrugged helplessly and said, "Case dismissed!"
Carla and Clint figured that God had favored them and that perhaps they owed him the
commitment of turning over a new leaf. Both got jobs and kicked heroin (again) by using a
lot of pot (and methadone), and going to bars and drinking themselves into a stupor,
"because we thought that's what straight people did!" It all took its toll
however, and they split up not long afterwards.
Carla met a guy at the methadone clinic soon after Clint's departure, a slim, feminine
looking fellow with waist-length black hair. She had, with her unerring instincts, become
attracted to a fellow she describes as a "stab-your-mother-street-hustler" named
Gino. Gino had approached Carla very aggressively at first and she hadn't liked him. She
had snapped him back into place, however, and then for several weeks he had been courteous
and polite. After she and Clint were through, she left the clinic with Gino one day and
they went to a hotel and "fucked for two weeks." After a sexless life of several
years with Clint, Carla thought that the God of flesh had finally answered the prayers of
her nervous system.
Gino's stated occupation was rock and roll drummer, but actually he was a con artist.
He wasn't above sticking a gun in your ribs, but what he really liked was stings. He was a
master at the Pigeon drop which is an age-old switcheroo hustle, but what he really
enjoyed was inventing new ways of separating fools from their fortunes. He was of this
He and a friend would meet sailors coming into port and offer them "...girls. Any
kind you can imagine." He would put together a party of six to eight guys while his
buddy went around the corner to steal a car. On the way to the location he primed them
with lurid descriptions of the particular appetites of each girl in his "trap
line". They would arrive in front of a hotel and Gino would park, "for a
second" in a no- parking zone. He and his buddy would collect the girls' fees, towel
deposits, bribes for the madame and police, and sometimes for particular costumes or
fetishes which he swore turned the girls on. Then he and his buddy would enter the hotel
and exit through a rear door, leaving the sailors to eventually discover that they'd been
had. The piece de resistance for Gino, was that he had left the sailors waiting in a
Gino also made a good living selling fake drugs. He would dump oregano out on a cookie
tin for a couple of weeks until it had lost its scent and then mix it with henna and egg
yolks. He would scalp tickets to rock concerts and then sell the dope inside. He also
robbed gay drug-dealers, using his feminine looks and guile to get in the door and then
rapidly switching sexual preference and leaving with their dope and their cash. He called
that one "playing the sugar" because it was so sweet. "Once" Carla
laughs, "he stole a fag dealer's dog and held it for ransom".
One day Carla showed up at her methadone program in a foul mood. The night before her
friend Steve had appeared at her door bloodied and shaken from having been stabbed by two
black girls while he was trying to cop dope in Marin City. When one of the black girls
showed up at the program the next morning, Carla jumped her and pounded the living hell
out of her. This was a serious violation of program rules and not even Paula McCoy (
Emmett's Paula, our Paula, golden Paula, who was on the program herself and Carla's
counselor) could save her from a suspension for 30 days.
With the insouciance of the young and naive, Carla told everyone to fuck themselves.
She decided that she was going to quit methadone rather than have to put up with their
bullshit, and quit she did. Kicking cold- turkey is never pleasant. Popular lore gives
everyone some knowledge of the sniffles, the cramps, the burning blood, and the fervent
prayers for surcease from suffering that accompany withdrawal. These symptoms last from
five to seven days if you are kicking heroin. Methadone is something else entirely, far
more powerful and far, far more difficult for the body to do without. It is a testament to
Carla's will that she stayed clean, and virtually sleepless for 90 days, while Gino was
still taking his maintenance doses. When she walked into the clinic three months later she
weighed 90 pounds and was shaking like a leaf. Dr. Charlie took one look at her, waived
the obligatory two week waiting period and gave her an immediate dose.
Shortly later, the same hard-luck, stabbed-in- Marin-City Steve showed up bloody and
ragged again! He had propositioned the wife of a guy named Danny in front of Danny's
friend Worm. To save his own honor, Danny had smashed Steve in the face with a glass
ashtray. Gino caught up with Danny and kicked his ass publicly in front of the bar on
Fourth Street in San Rafael. Unfortunately for Gino, Danny was a somewhat unhinged, or
actually a hinge-less Vietnam vet. After his beating, he returned to Carla's house with a
baseball bat and a focused intention to murder Gino. Carla fled out the back door and
warned Gino at work. Consequently Gino was prepared when he ran into Danny later that
afternoon and preemptively stabbed him in the chest. Danny, to his credit, lost a lung,
but never turned Gino over for the assault.
Gino was too hot in San Rafael now and fled to New York. He left Carla a Greyhound bus
ticket with mutual friends and she was forced to hide from Danny, and arrange her affairs
including the transfer of her de-tox clinic and enough methadone to travel with, so that
she could join him at his mother's in Connecticut.
Gino straightened up and got a job in a warehouse. Carla got a job tending bar at a
Howard Johnson's, where she walked home five miles in the early morning so that she and
Gino could save the cab money toward a place of their own and move out of his mom's. One
night God smiled on her again. Carla found a leather coat and a wallet, stripped of I.D.,
in one of the booths she serviced at HoJo's. The wallet had $1200 in it. She stashed it in
the back, and two weeks later when no one had claimed it, the money bankrolled an
apartment for her and Gino.
She and Gino began a run of a couple of years, holding down several jobs, scrimping to
make ends meet, and struggling to fend off boredom and despair like normal working people.
After all the action of the past few years, however, homey normalcy began to pall and she
announced her decision to return to California.
Gino did not want to lose her. His dad had worked for Pitney-Bowes for many years, and
his mom, moved by Gino's late-blooming domesticity, forged his credit record and denied
his arrests on the company's application. Gino was hired to work for a West Coast branch,
and applied all his street smarts and inventiveness to his new work. Today he is thriving
as a top service representative for that company in a city which, for obvious reasons,
must remain unnamed.
Upon returning to California, Carla developed a unique perspective on earthquakes. She
became fixated on the possibility that if there were an earthquake, the seismic
jitterbugging might create a condition where they would be cut off from their methadone.
The doctors at the program pooh-poohed this fear, and assured her that all she had to do
was turn up at any hospital and demand their maintenance dose. The doctors were civilians
however, and Carla's knowledge of the world predicted a different scenario. "I could
just see it" she says, "turning up at the trauma ward among the bodies, the
wrecked-up and the fucked-up, two junkies looking for a fix. Imagine how long we'd have
waited in the back of that bus?"
She and Gino decided that it would be prudent to kick methadone in anticipation of
"the big one." They tossed a coin, and Gino won (or lost) the toss and quit
first. He began slacking off his dose by a couple of milligrams every couple of weeks
until he felt normal at that dosage. He'd "keep the edge off" a-while and then
diminish it another couple milligrams. He began jogging and getting really fit. Carla
maintained them both by selling half her doses and working.
When her turn came, Carla stayed true to her word and cleaned up, although it took her
two full years to free herself. After kicking a drug, the personal demons one has bought
off with it begin to demand their tribute again. Carla entered a period of intense
isolation. Her mother was dying, and she introduced Carla to the Aquarian Gospel. Carla
began reading anything spiritual she could find, even Jehovah's Witness pamphlets she
found abandoned on busses. She had no idea how she would be able to live without dope, and
felt that these books might help her with her withdrawal and adjustment problems. One of
those adjustment problems was that Carla's newly awakened body remembered sex. Normally a
lusty girl, she was now constantly aroused, but all of Gino's surplus energy appeared to
be dedicated to regaining his physical fitness through exercise . Soon they cashed it in
as a couple.
Carla got a job with Marin Towing, a company that hauled away disabled and illegally
parked vehicles with snazzy yellow and chrome tow-trucks. She felt comfortable there,
because the business reminded her of prostitution, including the litany of services and
prices: $25 to unlock; $50 for a straight tow; $75 with dollies; $10 a day for storage
(beginning the instant they have the car.)
"It was legal stealing," she laughs. "The cops back it up, even set the
rates." A shop owner sets out a little sign that says if you park here your vehicle
gets towed. The sign cites some numbers in the public law books, and the tow-truck boys
are in business, working on straight commission.
She and the boys used to sit on the hills over Sausalito scanning the parking lots with
binoculars, looking for illegally parked cars. "Hell we busted Kenny Roger's car, and
Todd Rundgren's," Carla recalls. "Todd was so impressed that we towed his car
correctly that he hired the tow-truck driver as his driver. We worked 17 hours a day and I
didn't have time to be junk- sick." Besides the excitement of the work, an added perk
was being surrounded with muscular young drivers who performed their own, after-hours, oil
and lube jobs on Carla. "I fucked everything in sight," she remembers dreamily.
She stayed with Marin Towing for three years accreting responsibilities until she was
running the office virtually single-handed, augmenting her pay- checks by towing race cars
on weekends. Finally the owner, couldn't afford to pay her what she needed, and, with
regrets and great memories, she was forced to leave her first real oasis in many years.
She applied for a job as a cashier at one of America's great brokerage houses and was
attracted to the high-stakes of the Eighties' stock-market as if she was magnetized to it.
She set a personal goal to land a job in the "cage", the crotch of the
operation, where the buys and sells and the puts and calls are plugged into the nation's
markets by computer. She applied for that slot and providentially, the cage girl left.
Because the company had a policy of hiring in- house, Carla's ambition was fulfilled.
She loved it. Stock-brokers drank like fish and partied hard. They were as unabashedly
materialistic as hookers; played all the angles and worked their customers "just like
I used to do", she says. Carla felt right at home. Friday through Sunday, she held
her demons at bay by drinking herself into oblivion. Her compatriots thought it was just
high spirits. They loved her. She was funny and fast, and completely non- judgmental. From
the few hints of her past that she did reveal, people knew that she was definitely out of
the ordinary and appreciated her for it.
One Friday night, her boss gave her his credit card and told her to reward the girls in
the office for a tough week by taking them out to party. Carla piled them into her
lovingly restored Pontiac Firebird and took them out for the night, firmly resolved to
have just one glass of wine and then go home.
"But I can't have just one", Carla says reflectively. By the time the boss
appeared to join them, she was so out of control that he took her car keys and put her in
a cab. Carla did not want to wake up at her home in Richmond, 30 minutes away, without her
car so she ordered the driver back. She used a hidden key to start her car and headed for
She doesn't remember much about the trip toward Richmond except smashing into a Volvo
as she headed the wrong way down a one-way street. When she finally recovered perception
and memory, she was in the middle of the Chevron oil-refinery complex, having crashed
through a set of heavy steel gates, wrapping the car around herself like extravagant steel
She doesn't remember how long she rested there, but after they arrived, it took the
fire department three hours to extract her from the wreckage. By the time she was taken to
the police station another hour later, Carla's blood alcohol measured .23, well over twice
the legal limit.
Carla called her boss from jail at about four in the morning and told him to leave her
there because she needed a vacation. She looked around the cell: some poor young girl was
junk-sick and kicking; the normal assortment of hookers and maniacs were fighting and
screaming and bitching, and the combination of odors from fetid bodies, sickly-sweet
chewing gum and stale urine was making her nauseous. She kept dozing off and waking up,
and finally in one of those lucid moments that often wedge themselves between dreams and
sleep, it occurred to Carla that she had a problem with alcohol. This revelation was
compounded by the irony that, after all those years and escapades, she was in jail for
abusing a legal drug.
Her boss rescued her, Carla joined AA, and, as of this writing has been clean and sober
for two years. She's found her children and is in constant touch with them, working hard
to repair what can be salvaged of their tattered relationship.
She's stunning. Her shoulder length hair is punk short at the forehead. The adolescent
baby-fat has been burned away, exposing chiseled cheekbones and a slender, aquiline, nose.
Cher got surgery to look like this. The only trace of her old life I can detect, besides
her street-smarts, is the excessively polished way she says "Good evening" when
she answers her phone. I inquired about that, suspecting that she might still be using the
phone for business. She looked at me for a minute. Her dark eyes were as bright and
undiminished at 39, as they were at seventeen; the eyes of a race- horse locked on a
finish line it intends to cross at the highest possible speed. She took a drag of her
cigarette and looked at me ironically, "I always thought it would be low-rent to turn
tricks after thirty, Coyote, so I stopped."