In 1967, fifteen pilgrims to the Gathering of the Tribes, walking east on Judah, turn north on Stanyan Street, and enter the benign madness of the Summer of Love.
"Marcus had never been in the middle of this many people in his life. This was like walking into a Brazilian butterfly ranch, paddling around in a trout fingerling operation, or trying to cut diagonally through the Kansas City stockyards. No descriptor was too expansive: a river, a sea, an ocean of people. My God, were there people.
“There were people on the sidewalks and people in the streets, people crowding into the cooler shops, inevitable lines to sit down in whatever served as restaurants, and huddled, jiggling masses waiting for access to sanitary facilities. In Golden Gate Park, behind them, people sat shoulder to shoulder in the dells for music, dope and talk, and crowds wandered between and around and about looking for more music, more dope, more companionship, or rides across the Bay.”
They roam the Park and the Street, then the East Bay, for two days. New people enter and old ones leave the wandering convocation, which finally settles down in Golden Gate Park as night approaches. They plan and explore the possibilities of their new existence; should they make a bonfire of eucalyptus bark? Should they use the algae-tinted water from Stowe Lake to make protein-enriched brown rice?
Finally the two dozen gently-addled adventurers launch into the night, to search for twelve-cent hamburgers and fifteen-cent mugs of A&W root beer, and end up at midnight scattered from San Jose to downtown Oakland.
Only Marcus and his new friend Beanblossom escape the madness, curled up overnight in a VW van in a parking lot, just outside the main gate of the Coast Guard station.
In the morning, they rendezvous with the diminished crew from the red Bedford and the other VW. They spend the day at peace, watching the crowds, dreaming of where all the energy and color and music will be in a week, a month. Led by Spider, the buckskin-clad son of the Projects who knows the way—who always knows the way—they finish with a lightly-stoned ice cream fiesta at Edy’s in Berkeley.
The eleven who remain end up at midnight in an abandoned coal mine in Nortonville, on the way to Mount Diablo. Two ghosts, maybe three, enter the room, and the eleven spend the night under the stars, back of the Oakland Hills, in the silence of the manzanita.
When they finally wake, they divide themselves up among the three vans. Marcus joins the five travelers headed east in Durr’s red-and-cream Bedford Dormobile. They cross the Central Valley and climb to Yosemite, and continue up and over the Sierra Nevada, to Bishop, Lone Pine, and what they think is the way to Highway 40.
To their horror, they end up crossing Death Valley in mid-summer, on the night of the hottest day of the year. Miles to the east, just west of the Petrified Forest, Marcus’ kidnappers find them again, and reality comes down hard on the red Bedford.
Escaping the desert and crossing into Kansas, the casualties and the survivors try to make it to a friendly refuge in Lawrence, to recover and regroup. Along the way, Marcus is drawn back into the mystery of his origins. He abandons the others in mid-journey to go home to a place he never thought he’d been before.