(Srila Prabhupada's arrival in San Francisco, January 17, 1967)
At the Gate
by Gurudas (Roger Siegel)
"The Swami's coming, the Swami's coming!" shouted the brightly clad youths. We raced to our vehicles. It was January 17, 1967. Caravans of painted cars, hippie vans, and motorcycles rode out to the airport to greet the Swami. One had butterfly wings swirling around the whole chassis. Another car's headlights and grille were painted with large cartoon teeth. Another was a mythic Thormobile, a Chevy with Thor wielding a huge hammer on the side, a la Marvel comics. A few regular vehicles also joined our parade to see the Swami. A squat Batmobile Volkswagen tailed like a caboose.
He was finally arriving from New York! At last I would meet the Swami I had heard so much about. I'd been told how he was wise and kind. I knew he had opened a storefront temple at 26 Second Avenue in my old stomping grounds on the Lower East Side. Mukunda retold how the Swami welcomed anyone and everyone who showed up at the door and how he had endured the cold New York winters. I had heard how, living in the Bowery and then in Mukunda's loft, he had simply stepped over the sleeping winos outside, or greeted them if they were awake. He was able to see their souls within their miserable outer shells and accept them, even though they were broke and often drunk. Now he was coming to San Francisco!
About fifty people arrived at the airport with me. Haridas had driven an old Cadillac across the United States, which we had immediately painted with the Hare Krishna mantra. The Krishnallac, as we called it, stood ready to take the Swami to our new temple on Frederick Street. I remember the colorful garb: Max Ochs, folk singer Phil Och's cousin, in a Patrice Lumumba T-shirt, I was in my samurai-like robes, and Shyamasundar was in a brocade Moroccan jellaba. We didn't have dhotis and saris then, so we were clad in these multicultural flowing clothes and beads. The air smelled of incense and the airport resonated with the sound of cymbals, drums, and chanting. A friend later said, "The feeling at the airport was one of loveliness." He recalls that about a hundred people were there, while I remember about forty or fifty. (Maybe he saw the demigods smiling down on us and raining flowers and rose water on the ad hoc congregation!) Some of the New York devotees who'd come ahead to pave the way for the Swami were there, as were many characters who came regularly to the temple, such as Mr. Matthews, the "man in the suit." He was older than the rest of us, very quiet, very nice, and the only one who wore a suit. He respectfully followed the Swami everywhere.
We went to the large observaton windows and saw the plane making its descent. Someone ran to inform the others who were waiting by the arrival entrance. We watched as the passengers exited the airplane and walked down the stairs. No Swami. The line of passengers finished. Suddenly we saw a small figure in saffron glide out of the airplane, a halo of light surrounding him. A youth named Ranchor followed him. Swamiji walked down the stairs slowly and deliberately, and then he crossed the tarmac. It seemed to us as if his feet weren't touching the stairs or ground. His head was raised, and as he walked toward us, we were overcome with excitement and ran en masse to the spot where we thought he would enter the terminal. After waiting what seemed like a really long time, the Swami wafted through the door in a regal and confident manner. He was relaxed and happy, and when he saw everyone chanting, he gave us a huge smile, and that smile felt like an ocean washing over and protecting me. When Swamiji smiled, that smile became my beacon and shelter.
(From Love Medicine and Music, Chapter 7)
Love Medicine and Music (The flipside of the Sixties) by Roger James Siegel a.k.a. Gurudas. Book description: (462 pages/ 24 Illustrations) The journey of a young man who follows his heart, to fight injustice and find positive alternatives to hate and violence. Lessons in survival and community are also part of the book, as the reader is lead through a tenement life, and the colorful community of the Lower East Side of New York. Seeking meaning of life, the author becomes a staff member of the Northern Student Movement's Harlem, New York office. The activism starts with education in a tutorial and becomes direct action, as the author is beaten and arrested many times for his protests. In August 28, 1963, the planning and experience of the March on Washington is described. Many of the authors' interactions with dignitaries and leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokely Carmichael; Julian Bond; Sonny Liston; John Lilly Jr., Tim Leary, Ken Kesey, Swami Bhaktivedanta, Indira Gandhi, John Lennon, and George Harrison are interspersed throughout the book. A change of pace takes the readers into life in Mexico, for some reflection and fun. And after a short revisit to New York City, the author experiences a period of depression and decay, so he goes on the road and lands smack in the middle of the San Francisco's swinging 60's. The experiences of psychedelia and community are described. The search for truth continues and the author embraces eclectically many cultural and spiritual traditions. Meeting many mentors and teachers along the way, he encounters, A.C. Bhakivedanta Swami who becomes his Guru. Further adventures include meeting, living and recording with the Beatles, including travels to over 40 countries. This unique adventure includes philosophies, history, humor and wisdom. The dynamics of the individual and group consciousness are examined, as is spiritual communities. Some solutions for todays problems are included. A world of hope, healing and survival punctuates the story, which was described as "Vivid and a page turner", and "This book is both enjoyable and profound."
*You can order a copy for $25.00 + $5.00 shipping and handling at: firstname.lastname@example.org which is also my Pay Pal account number or send payment to: 778- 41 Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94121. Discounts available for temples, book dealers, etc.