Found Object: Stuffed Box

Found object.Found in front of the metaphysical bookstore on Ashby.

Found in front of Lewin’s Bookshop, the metaphysical bookstore, on Ashby at College in Berkeley – a cardboard box stuffed with newsprint paper.

If I had a studio I would have picked it up and taken it with me to put on display. I don’t know why it hit me the way it did, just sitting there in the doorway like that. Some sort of abstract thing. A force of energy just stuffed the paper in the box, which perfectly framed it.

Found On My Way Home From The Night Cafe

Found on my way home from the night cafe.

Every night I walk down the main street in my Elmwood neighborhood and think how much better I like it here with no people around. I like the neighborhood. It’s just different at night. All the stores are closed, everything is quiet. There’s more space to think about what is here.

The neon shirt above was found in the dry cleaners’ window – hardly noticed in the day time. The graffiti painted over it gives the neon shining through it a painterly look.

Further on down the street, Mrs. Dalloway’s Bookstore is celebrating Will Shakespeare during April for his birthday with this month’s window display.

Passing by Mrs. Dalloway's Bookstore. We're celebrating Shakespeare this month!

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The Escape Pod Has Most Of Its Original Swag

The Escape Pod has most of its original swag ...

One of the beautiful things about The Escape Pod is that she came with a lot of her original bits. When I bought her, she was already twenty-five years old. Now, she’s forty-five. I do my best at keeping her together.

In 1996 I had just started my career in tech and I was on the lookout for a new VW Bus for the specific purpose of traveling and living in it. I knew that I wanted a 1971 – it was an epic year for the microbus. As I searched, I kept finding what I call “Boy Buses”, but maybe a better name for them would be “Beater Buses” – those VW buses that have seen better days, ones with a few dents, some weatherization (ie: rust), and more than a few missing parts. I was looking for a pretty “Girl Bus” … I’m usually not so gender specific about objects, but somehow it made sense when it came to this.

I perused the papers – the East Bay Express and Auto Trader – craigslist was a thing back then but it was more of a social email list on which craig posted his dumpster finds and party invitations were sent out to the entire group. I called about every 1971 VW bus I could find listed in the papers and saw quite a few. It wasn’t until I saw what I would call The Escape Pod drive up that I knew I had found my girl.

I spent quite some time visualizing my new to me 1971 VW Bus. It was blue, and clean, and cute, and together. It would run well. It would take me places – like car camping in Big Sur, or down to my favorite West Coast home town, San Luis Obispo, or off to visit friends around the state. I had a perfect picture of her in my mind and I just knew she would show up.

I found an ad in the Auto Trader … Calling about The Escape Pod, the phone was picked up by an older man. We talked for awhile about the van and made arrangements to meet in Kensington Circle. I took the bus from Oakland and hung out to wait for Mr. Been. When he drove up my jaw dropped. The bus was perfect, well as perfect as a twenty-five year old bus could be in 1996. Mr. Been sat behind the wheel, a little Fedora on his head. The windows were open and the in dash stereo was blaring Vivaldi.

It took me a moment to get my bearings. This was the bus that I had visualized! She sounded great all the way around – both musically and the engine. She was also really clean, although sure, there were a few noticeable spots that needed work. And she was blue! I hopped into the passenger seat and Mr. Been took off. As he drove, he told me about the van’s history. He was the original owner – he and his wife were about 88-years old at the time. The van was bought in California, but had been driven across country at least twice, to and from Washington DC where it lived for a few years. He told me about the original bits – almost everything in the van was original from the headliner to the seats and all the knobbies. The one thing he had replaced was the rear window, to install one with the radio antenna wires embedded in it. Recently though, he had the bus parked under a redwood tree in his yard and it hadn’t been driven for about ten years.

We drove up to his house as he wanted me to meet Mrs. Been. She welcomed me in and we started talking buses right away. They hadn’t been able to drive the bus for quite a while and their asking price was two-grand.

They let me take it for a test drive and they also let me take it to the mechanic to get a look over. The mechanic found a few little things and one or two big things, but all in all she was sound. When I came back to Mr. and Mrs. Been with the news – that it would take about a grand to get her into tip top running order, they didn’t believe me. I offered them a grand but they turned me down.

Oh well, I thought. I walked away. Sadly, but what can one do? I only had two grand at the time …

About two weeks later I got the urge to call them back to see if they had any other buyers come to look at the bus. They were so happy to hear from me. There was one potential buyer that had come up from Santa Cruz. But Mrs. Been said he didn’t “feel right”. During that aloof time, they had also had their own mechanic check out the bus and their mechanic gave them the same recommendation – about a thousand dollars worth of work. They, right there on the spot, offered to sell it me for nine-hundred dollars. “But I offered you a thousand?!”, I said. “No, no, we want to give it to you for nine-hundred, and that’s final!”.


We made arrangements for me to come over to the house the next day to give them a bank check and for me to pick up the Vdub. As we sat in their kitchen at the table, I told them the story of how I found them, of how I visualized the bus, and how their bus was the one in my mind for quite some time, and that I knew as soon as Mr. Been drove up that day in Kensington Circle that I had found my new home.

Mrs. Been chuckled, and I asked her what was so funny … She said, “I recognized you the minute you walked through the door the first time. I knew the bus was yours too!”

* * * * *

The engine in the pod, when I bought it, was the last engine built by the famous Berkeleyite Karl Hudson of RVEECO fame. It had an external oil cooler, which really kept the engine running nicely for years. For the first ten years of driving the pod, after the initial fixes, I only ever had to do the 3,000 mile tune ups and I drove her everywhere. One day though, the compression dropped and I had to do another rebuild. It hasn’t run the same since.

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Out Of The Archives: The Eye of the Whale

Baby Grey Whale and its Mum in Bahia Magdalena, Baja c. Kimberly Kradel
Baby Grey Whale and its Mum in Bahia Magdalena, Baja c. Kimberly Kradel

The Panguero tried to get my attention from the whale’s nose that was gliding towards our panga. He kept pointing down. I kept brushing him away, wondering why he was trying to distract me from my first contact with a grey whale. I reached out over the boat, trying to elongate my limbs, trying to make the touch arrive that much sooner. My focus was genuine. The excitement was fresh and new. This event was on my top ten list of life goals and it was now within a foot of my extended reach.

The Panguero’s index finger appeared again, within inches of my face, making my eyes cross. Again I brushed him away. I could hear the click of the camera shutters and an “oh, merde!” from the French couple who occupied the ten foot panga with me. The Panguero had stilled the motor, lifting the propellors out of the water as the whale approached. My hand was within inches of the whale’s great snout.

My left hand was reaching out, my right was tucked in close to my body, holding my camera. I dared not to take a photograph for fear of scaring the whale away. I’m not sure that there was logic in that thought at the time I had it, but I wanted the experience more than a cellulose memory. The Panguero finally had had enough of my refusal to pay attention. As my hand reached for the whale, the Panguero grabbed the back of my head and forced me to look down into the water. The surface of the water was about a foot from my face. It was very clear. And the temperature was not unpleasant as I had been dragging my hand in it most of the morning. But what I saw just beneath the surface was the most amazing thing I think I’ve ever seen in my life. About a foot and a half beneath the surface of the very clear water was a big eye. A big eye that was looking up at me, watching me reach for her child …

The boat was a ten foot panga, a rowboat with oars and an outboard motor. It was ten feet in length and the mother whale was probably forty-five and she was quietly laying, sprawled, attentively watching, a foot and a half beneath me. In my excitement, I have to admit, I jumped up. There was no reason for it, it was just a spontaneous action on my part. Both the mother and child swam gently away, creating not even so much as a splash against the shell that protected me. Within an instant they were gone. Within an instant the experience became my own, and theirs.

The night before there had been a celebration on the playa of Bahia Magdelena. The entire village had come out for the annual blessing of the grey whales. The celebration began just before sunset with a Catholic Mass said for the whales and a blessing of the bay where they came to give birth and spend the winter months before making the northbound commute to their summer swimming grounds. Every person in the community participated in the celebration in some way. There were horns and trumpet bands and children dancing, a queen was crowned and homemade fireworks twirled and spun and exploded among the crowd. Along the perimeter of the festival, food tents circled the spectators, encasing them in the smells of fresh tortillas, tacos, menudo, seafood, churros and other Mexican fast food specialties.

In combination there was something magical about this night, this celebration, the whales swimming in the bay … As if they existed no where else on the planet, for anyone else except those of us who chose to travel here to see them in person, to experience them, to befriend them. It did not seem important that the whales had a life outside of the bay, that they had things to do and places to go beyond the secluded refuge that was created here for them.