Saturday, May 1, 2010


Shift #50

WEDNESDAY, MAY 20 – Panoramic/Longview to SFO -- $560

TRAVIS VAN BRASCH and I first met back in 2007, the remarkable and phenomenally stressful year during which I almost single-handedly organized the four Beach Impeach events.

Each event drew one thousand or more people, and for each of them I hired a helicopter, sent a photographer friend overhead with a camera, and later mailed an original, professional postcard to each of the event’s participants. During the weeks preceding and then on the ground during each of those events, I needed to attend to dozens of details ranging from the huge (Park Service permits, event insurance, helicopter rental) to the tiny (do I have the walkie-talkies? the rubber mallet? enough stakes?). I have, most unfortunately, not yet learned the skill of forming an organization, and during that year of my juggling a thousand things at once, my family and about half my friends thought I’d gone a bit mad. I maintained that I was “trusting the universe.”

Before each event I would send out an email to my list asking that, please, would anyone who could do so, please, show up early on the morning of the event and help me make it come off, please. On the day of each event I awoke during the wee hours (or, more accurately, I finally abandoned the pretense of trying to sleep) and headed off to the site to meet my fate -- all the while hoping that a few volunteers might show up. Please.

Each time, exactly the right number of people in fact did show up -- and usually just in the nick of time… (Digression: The crucial volunteer was a sweet man named Jim Reid. Later I would learn that Jim had several years earlier run for San Francisco mayor against Willie Brown and had received about 20,000 votes! Before Beach Impeach #2 Jim called me and volunteered to pass the hat. At Beach Impeach #1 no hat had been passed, and I’d paid that event’s $3,500 price tag from my own pocket. But at #2, #3, and #4, Jim’s donation bucket brought in $12,000 -- almost magically matching the cost of those three events.)

So you might think that by the fourth event, I’d have relaxed a bit. Nope. How could I really trust that enough volunteers and enough participants would show up? I lived with the fear of having the biggest, most embarrassing failure of my life. I’d invited 1,000 guests, I’d paid for the helicopter and now…? Now we shall see…

BEACH IMPEACH #4 takes place on a green lawn near the Berkeley Marina, with Cindy Sheehan and Cynthia McKinney and Michelle Shocked plus some 997 others on the guest list. The first volunteer to arrive that morning is Travis Van Brasch. Travis has attended the first three Beach Impeach events, but we haven’t really connected. This time, he arrives at 7 a.m., sees my pile of tools and gear, and says, “What can I do? Give me a job.”

In advance, I’ve painted the letters I-M-P-E-A-C and H onto seven posterboards. Now these need to be mounted (I’ve brought six-foot poles, a stapler, a mallet, etc.) and pounded into the ground somewhere so that arriving guests can spot them from the far-off parking area. Travis listens to my instructions, and says, “Consider this done.”

An hour later he’s back: “What else you got?” Over his shoulder, I see a row of neatly mounted placards stretching across a distant hilltop -- big and bold and precisely spaced, and with new arrivals trickling right past them. I could cry. Really.

Already I am way behind schedule and a little freaked out. The plan for the day is that the 1,000 attendees will initially occupy spots inside the outlines of 100-foot-tall lettering spelling “IMPEACH!” Before everyone’s arrival, I need to outline -- on the grass, precisely, with colored twine that must be stretched tightly and staked down -- the boundaries of the lettering. I spend 60 seconds showing Travis my crude ruler-and-pencil sketches and trying to explain my vision. We’re standing in the middle of a twenty-acre lawn next to my jumbled pile of tools and gear. Travis says, “We can do this. How about we just split it down the middle?”

Travis folds a copy of the plans into his pocket; he grabs a mallet, a couple of rolls of colored twine, a bundle of stakes, and heads off to the south part of the lawn. I head north. We each snag a couple of new arrivals and press them into service. Around 11:30 we meet up in the lawn’s center. One thousand people have arrived and are taking their places. A San Francisco Chronicle reporter has arrived. Cindy and Cynthia and Michelle have arrived. Jim Reid has set up a canopy under which he guards the donation bucket. At noon sharp, the helicopter buzzes overhead. Click. Click. Click… If you are there, if you arrive at say, 11:45, you probably think: “Man, someone sure knows how to organize an event!”

SOMETIME AFTER THAT BEACH IMPEACH YEAR, Travis adds me to his personal email list. I have no previous awareness of Travis’s involvement with Landmark Education, but in 2009 I receive a string of invitations to several Landmark guest events of which Travis is a part. My calendar prevents me from accepting any of these invites, but I wish it were otherwise. My first involvement with Landmark occurred in 1978. Experiences cannot be precisely distilled into words, but here’s a taste of what I learned: I, and only I, am responsible for my life. And: The only thing standing between me and the life I dream of is…ME! I’ve spent the last thirty-some years trying, with partial success, to live up to this simple but profound wisdom.

IN 2010 an old friend tells me that he’d like to finally accept my long ago offer to pay his tuition to the Landmark Forum. His wife would also like to enroll. The cost of the course has more than doubled, to $560 per person -- a big chunk of money. I’m reluctant. Like everyone, I’ve taken several financial hits lately. I haven’t been around Landmark for years. The person in my life who has most recently promoted Landmark is… Travis Van Brasch. I give Travis a call and tell him what’s up. He says, “We can do this. How about we just split it down the middle?”

At the end of this month of May, my friend and his wife will participate in the Landmark Forum in Manila. If it has half as much impact on their lives as it did on mine, I will, and I’m sure Travis will, consider the cost a bargain.

EARLIER THIS WEEK, I learn that Travis is headed to the airport on a day I’m driving my cab. Back east, Travis’ 74-year-old sister is in the last few days of her life. “Bro,” I say, “Let me take you to the airport.”

Travis says, “You know, that would be perfect…”


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