Today we are going to Eugene to have lunch with Bill Harkleroad aka Zoot Horn Rollo. Music buffs will know him as the guitarist for Captain Beefheart who played on seminal classics such as Trout Mask Replica. Big Dog was friends with members of the band during his teenage years in Lancaster, California, and some of them, including Zoot Horn Rollo, did the music for his documentary on the pyramids when they all lived in Humboldt County.
Big Dog has not seen Bill for decades – they both left Humboldt in the late 70’s – and so naturally he does not want to be late. We rush out of the campground, drinking our coffee along the way.
It seems that you can camp almost anywhere in Oregon, at least in these forests. I see several cars in turnouts, with tents in the woods. At one, I see people in sleeping bags, right on the ground, tentless.
We pass more covered bridges, now spanning different forks of the Willamette River, and make it into Eugene around 11. With time to spare, I navigate us to the University of Oregon, my one-time college of choice. I have no idea why I thought that was a good idea in my senior year of high school except I was really into forests then and the idea of living surrounded by forests appealed greatly.
College football fans will know them for their team, the Ducks. (“They’re famous for having the loudest fans,” says Big Dog’s father every time his team, Cal, plays Oregon.) Comedy aficionados may know it as the location for “Animal House.”
Lunch is at a cafe on the southern end of town and we get there a few minutes before Bill shows up. He is tall, intelligent and easy going. To me, he does not look like the guy who has done all that original, creative music. I mean, didn’t everything done by Captain Beefheart feel like Creativity on Steroids? He looks more like a…sports coach? He’s open and friendly and fun. Lunch is a gas for everyone, especially the two friends reconnecting after four decades. They trade stories about growing up in Southern California, the 70’s Humboldt scene, how their lives unfolded since then.
“Since you did that music, we expanded the movie and went to Egypt to shoot,” explains Big Dog. “We spent the night inside the Great Pyramid.”
“Did you make any money on the film?”
“Are you kidding? We lost tons of money. But I always tell people that if the movie were as good as the music, it might have gone somewhere.”
Big Dog is no longer making movies but Bill seems to be on a creative roll. He shows us covers from his new albums and promises to send us copies. It’s already after 2pm when we part.
We are haing dinner with Mrs. A, Big Dog’s brother-in-law’s mother who lives in Grants Pass, so we continue south on the I-5. Along the way, we are drawn by a billboard advertising the town of Cottage Grove and its covered bridges, and get off the I-5 for a look.
Buster Keaton filmed “The General,” a train wreck movie here, so there are many references to Keaton through the town. The big draw, however, are the covered bridges.
There are 7 or more concentrated in this town and we get the scoop at the visitor’s center. 3 of them are within walking distance — one being the only remaining covered railroad bridge in the West — so we walk to them, not realizing how far they really were — too far for flip-flops anyway and my feet hurt. Plus it is hot. And now, quite late.
On top of that, as well head south, our fuel lamp comes on for the first time. Uh-oh. I had found $2.19 diesel in the town of Roseburg but that was probably too far so we get off at Sutherlin for gas at $2.37.
It’s actually 6:30 or so by the time we reach Mrs. A’s house. She is as chipper as ever, once again entertaining us with stories about her wacky friends while we have dinner at Taprock. It is getting dark when we say goodbye, without having a clue as to where we will spend the night.
We find a park by the river, away from downtown, in a residential area. Big Dog chats with a couple of joggers about the area.
“Can you ladies tell me what this means?” he points to a sign saying it is unlawful to pass out anything from your vehicle.
“Oh, that’s to discourage pan-handling,” they tell him and they discuss the homeless problem in Oregon. Is there really a huge homeless population here? Or maybe they are not as used to it as Californians?
“Do you think it’s alright to park here overnight?” he asks.
“I know some people park at Walmart but it’s full of bums and meth freaks there,” another lady adds.
We sit inside Sprockets looking out for a while — it is almost completely dark — when Bailey starts growling. I look out and can barely make out the silhouette of a grazing deer, until another vehicle pulls in and the headlights hit it. Did Bailey see it first? Hear it? Or smell it?
Just when we are ready to go to sleep, someone raps on our door and Bailey starts barking like crazy. It’s a policewoman who tells us we can’t be parked here. “Go to Walmart,” she says, and Big Dog explains how the residents thought it was okay here and how he was told Walmart was filled with bums and other unsavory characters, making us sound like decent folk who just needed a safe place to park for the night. Yeah, like sleeping in your vehicle is what decent folk do! (At least outside a campground.)
I guess I was wrong about “camp anywhere in Oregon.”
We find our way to Walmart – it’s right next to the I-5 – and see that we are not the only boondockers here. There’s a handful of small RVs as well as a couple of big rigs. I don’t see any dangerous types lurking about. They must all be asleep.