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Magical Mystery Tourist

On the road with Ananda Brady

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I was having tea and Indian snacks with author Ananda Brady on a recent Saturday afternoon, talking with him about his life and his book, Odyssey: Ten Years on the Hippie Trail. We were sitting at an outside table in his compound, talking Buddhism and other spiritual matters, as one does in Bolinas.

The day was warm, the conversation sparkly. As we spoke, a green-hued hummingbird zipped into the picture, hovered over a box of sugar just inches from us. It seemed like an eternity before that hummingbird finally flitted off.

It was a fitting metaphor.

Brady lives up on the Big Mesa in Bolinas in a hand-hewn Gypsy-circus wagon he built from the ground up, starting with the chassis from a 1955 Chevy pickup truck. The wagon is moveable but it hasn't moved for years—15 years. "Too much grass growing around the wheels," Brady said with a laugh.

Brady has another out-building in the compound, the writing space where he put together his 570-page book. His book opens with a poetic tribute to Kerouac, and is deeply flavored with Beat spices.

Odyssey is funny and free-wheeling in its prosody, wryly observed and rich with detail from a 10-year adventure in the 1970s that took Brady, roughly, from Kansas to California to Kansas to Kabul to Kathmandu to Costa Rica—and, eventually, back to California.

His chapter on traveling through Afghanistan in the 1970s is especially poignant in our time of terrorism and war, but there's no undercurrent in Odyssey of "innocence lost." These adventures were undertaken in the long, endless shadow of Vietnam. There's always some innocence out there still waiting to be lost or regained, but Odyssey stands on its own as a historical document.

Brady has entered the Babylon of the internet to publish and promote Odyssey; he had a small-press publisher for the book, but the Amazon self-publishing system had lots of benefits, not the least of which is the author's ability to flit in and out of the book like that humming bird, making edits and savoring the memories of his long and winding road.

You can buy a copy through Amazon and Barnes & Noble online, or go straight to the source and email Ananda at odysy68@gmail.

For now, here's an excerpt from the book's opening chapter. —Tom Gogola

The Zero—the Fool—the un-numbered card in the Tarot, representing the un-anchored point of view, the un-limited range of possibility, the un-classifiable one who—while lightly clutching a small bundle of possessions—is teetering merrily on the brink of a precipice.

Twenty years old, 1966, leaving home, driving with my buddy Brad from Kansas to California in my '56 Chevy:

Gliding across the dark Mojave bedrock of prickly earth full of rattlesnakes and horned-toads, cactus flowers and tumbleweeds—our windows are down, it's the middle of night, the glow from the sign atop a forty-foot pole that says simply and irresistibly 'EAT' looms in the distance. We slow and pull into the giant graveled truck-stop parking field off the two-lane highway which is the old Route 66, roll up to a pump. "Thirty-six cents for regular! Damn, it's expensive out here!"

Cutting across the black soft night with its pungent wind blowing through our hair, singing along with "Wild Thing," and "Paperback Writer" and "California Dreamin'" at the top of our lungs, we're all exuberance at the approach of our destination. After a while we settle down, to listen to and inhale the magic desert air, to watch the shadows and silhouettes of the cactus, the yucca, the distant craggy bluffs in the faint moonlight. A pack of coyotes skit across the ribbon of asphalt in the far reach of our beams, to go skipping and yelping into the night.

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The freeway takes us finally to its end, through the tunnel at Santa Monica at which point it transforms into the Pacific Coast Highway—I get my first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean; it stills my breath, lying vast and mighty in the graying dawn.

Brad slows to a comfortable 35 so we can take it all in. We switch off the radio and glide quietly alongside the walls of the plunging palisades which capture and amplify the roaring hush of the sea. The briny air intoxicated me with love at first sight and as love will do, it filled me with a melancholy for somehow finding a way to claim it – to make this spellbinding coastline my own.

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