AUGUST 8, 1974

DJ Bartel

At 19, I worked in the McGovern campaign giving speeches to high school classes. Now there was a dreary job. Nearly all those seniors were firmly following their parents’ hard line for Tricky Dick. Very few wanted Sir George, and they were mostly girls and largely afraid to speak for fear the boys would shout them down with smug taunts of how President Nixon was going to “crush” the honorable South Dakotan, as if the election was just another game about victory. He with the most votes wins.

August ‘74, I was taking my first vacation by myself, driving my VW to Canada from LA. In Santa Barbara, I picked up a hitchhiker, a pretty, blond girl from Italy, Lia, who carried a beaten suitcase, the kind you might see tossed recklessly from a steaming locomotive by a harried porter, in film noir. Lia was headed for Vancouver where she would meet members of her extended family. We stopped just north of Frisco at a Motel 6. We slept together that first night, but she informed me she’d recently undergone a back operation, so sex was not an option. Next day, we were driving through the lush Washington forest singing Dylan songs on the radio when the news came over the car speakers. Nixon resigned!

In the next moment, we drove round a bend in the green-canopied road and there stood the towering figure of Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe. I made the quick decision to pull into a small parking lot which was laid out for fans of lumberjacks who could use a bathroom break. We peeled ourselves off the faux leather seats and climbed out of my Bug. Together, holding hands, we observed Bunyan. He appeared four stories tall.

“Taller than the White House,” said Lia.

“Yes, yes he is,” I replied.