Flashbacks: A Memoir

By Jim Gibbons and Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

In 1969, Jim Gibbons dropped out of college and headed west, ending up at Gate 6, where he joined other dropouts living free on the water during the 1970s. Jim converted a 22' lifeboat into a sailboat he named the Cowpie, sailed it around the Bay, and hung out with the local waterfront luminaries. 

Here’s an excerpt from his book about his experiences in and around the legendary Tides bookstore:

Jim’s book is available at the Sausalito Library, Sausalito Book Passage, and from Amazon.

Jim’s book is available at the Sausalito Library, Sausalito Book Passage, and from Amazon.

I was working at The Tides in the spring of 1970 when my book came out. The best part was probably the cover, always eye-catching art done by my wife Lois.

My brief marriage to Lois broke up (in retrospect I blame myself), and after refusing to go to class at the beginning of the spring semester to finish my BA in English, I finally decided to head for California. There were numerous reasons, but I liked telling people it was because of a popular TV ad for an allergy medicine that gave the viewer two choices to relieve the suffering: I) Take an ocean voyage, or 2) Take Allerest. I chose a version of the first one.

The waterfront was heaven for my sinuses.

I missed my friends and family back in Wisconsin, but Bill Becker [who had introduced Jim to the Waldo Point houseboat community and I were not the only ones from Milwaukee. Besides Becker there was Ed Hantke, known as Ebbie, one of the earlier anchor-outs who loved working on anything mechanical, but mostly seemed to like doing nothing. We often did nothing together. I'd stop over for coffee in the morning, then we'd hop in his outrigger canoe and paddle to shore, maybe go for a bike ride along Gate 5 Road, stopping to chat with people he knew, which seemed to be everybody.

When I needed a bicycle, Ebb took an old frame, turned it upside down, welded on support pieces, and extended the seat and handle bars. Whenever I would ride into Sausalito tourists would snap photos of this hippie on his weirdly tall bicycle.

My book, Prime the Pump, was mostly poems I had written in Milwaukee, some of which embarrassed me, but others I still like, especially the ones I wrote on my boat. I was really pleased to have my own book, and since [it had been published] as a Labor of Love, I just gave it away to my new friends on the waterfront. I did, however, give the Tides some copies to sell. I still remember coming to work one day and there in the window was a display of my books. It certainly was a pleasant surprise, made all the more surprising because they didn't tell me they were planning to do that.

Now I was known around the waterfront as a poet, and among the people who gave me positive feedback was Shel Silverstein. I didn't really know Shel, but one day I was leaving work with a few books in my hand when I ran into Shel on his way to the No Name Bar. I stopped him, introduced myself, told him how much I liked A Boy Named Sue, the hit song he wrote for Johnny Cash, and gave him my book. A week or so later I saw him again and he told me how much he enjoyed it, and invited me over to his boat for a get together with a few other local writers.

This was a chance for me to meet other writers and perhaps advance my literary career, but on the way over that afternoon I ran into Sparky, a frizzy blond with inviting eyes and perky breasts under a see-through blouse that mesmerized my libido and made me forget where I was going.

She said she had some really good mescaline, and a few hours later we were at a friend's cabin on Mt. Tam making waves on a water bed. Yeah, I know, I missed out on a rare opportunity to meet other writers, but what was I supposed to do? I just couldn't turn down this sweet flower child's kind offer to share a tab of mescaline? That's just not the way I rolled.

Then a few days later, I really don't remember if it was days or weeks, I saw Shel walking toward his boat with Bill Cosby. I'm not saying Cosby would have been there the day I was invited to join the group, but just that I can't believe I turned down a genuine invite by Shel Silverstein because of a hippie chick. Yeah, sure, Sparky and I had fun, but that kind of fun was becoming common place, and to this day, not going to Shel's boat is still way up on my long list of regrets. If I had a regret-o-meter, it would be right up there with....oh, there's so many. Forget I mentioned it.

Jim’s book also includes the following poem:
Working at the Tides Bookstore
Listening to KSAN
A few rain refuges browsing
Sitting on the stairs reading
Suddenly Ron Martin walks in smiling
Pokes a bottle of Hennessy in my face
We drink...I have mine with coffee
Ron's probably the only person
Kicked out of both the No Name Bar
and Mt. Tamalpais for life!
He says Mim is the only person who loves him
And laughs about his recent bout with depression
Ending with a night at the opera
Where he admits he was getting obnoxious
Before being asked to leave the theater
He smiles "Can you imagine
a drunken hippie
on a bummer
at the opera?"