How I met Jack Jabbour
In the summer of 1971 I finished my degree and, along with my good lady Liz, set off to explore the world. We blagged J2 student exchange visas so we could work in the US, telling the immigration that we had hundreds of dollars and two sponsors. They never checked. In reality we had just enough money to buy a cheap ticket to New York and a greyhound to Boston. Armed with a telephone number a friend had given us we washed up penniless on the streets of Boston on a sweaty evening in June.
In our heads the USA was just the first port of call. The rest of the world was next. The idea of a career was death. We felt free. Things always had a way of working out.
The people who were supposed to have been at the end of that telephone number had long moved. The people who answered the phone invited us over and we crashed there for a week or two until we were settled.
After unsuccessfully trying to sell underground newspapers I found work as a dishwasher in the Deli Haus on Commonwealth Ave and Liz got a job as a waitress at County Hall. Men paid her money just to hear her talk in her English accent. I just got shouted at by a big fierce Russian chef.
We had many adventures but this is not the place for them. This is the story of Jack.
After two months we had saved enough money to continue our adventure. We bought greyhound tickets and set off to discover America. Our tickets afforded us a month of unlimited travel. Armed with an address in San Francisco that a friend had given to us (friends of friends who would put us up), we embarked on the next phase of our never-ending journey, feeling like Columbus or Ethelred the Red.
For two weeks we lived on a greyhound bus. We ate, slept and dreamed on those busses as they took us thousands of miles, only getting off to buy food, visit the toilet, grab a quick wash in a greyhound terminal, or change busses. Occasionally we’d stop for a while to catch a sight or two – Niagara Falls, Grand Canyon, the Redwoods, or Yellowstone Park.
We headed out of Boston up to Canada, along the Great Lakes, down through the endless rolling prairies to Yellowstone and from there to Grand Canyon then to San Francisco. We met many people. We feasted our eyes. We were sponges. The experience was rich. Our ankles swelled and so did our minds.
Arriving in San Francisco too late in the evening to find our address we boarded another bus to Sequoia to sleep and see the redwoods. Having stared wondrously at the two thousand five hundred year old General Sherman we boarded a bus and headed back to LA.
This time we arrived early evening and set about trying to hook up with our unsuspecting hosts.
The address did not seem to exist.
Once again we found ourselves short of funds standing with our bedrolls on a hot sweaty American street, this time in Haight Asbury, tasting the dust and wondering. We were exhausted after two weeks of travel, tired, thirsty and hungry. More than anything we wanted to sleep.
We sat on our bedrolls and were beat.
We were just becoming resigned to heading back to the greyhound station and catching a bus to anywhere when a window opened on one of those big wooden San Franciscan houses. A young girl with long blond hair leaned out.
‘You guys look lost. Do you need a place to crash?’
We did not need a second invitation. Once again we had been saved by strangers, but then this was the sixties, the time of sharing. Soon we were ensconced in a bare room, unrolled our bedrolls and were home. We had the room next to the girl. She shared her room with a guy and two big dogs. We ate, drank and passed spliffs. All was cool.
After a couple of days we began to awaken and take more notice. Many people seemed to be passing through, the waifs and strays of the sixties, but there were two guys who often sat huddled in the bare back room, muttering together. They would often cast dark glances our way or glower at the long-haired girl from Texas. We wondered who they were. Unlike the other denizens of the house they did not seem at all friendly. They never joined in.
We went over to talk to them. They were called Jack and Dave. We had finally met Jack Jabbour.
The story spilled out.
The house was Dave’s. He was an artist who had rented the place to set up as an art studio. Jack was his friend. The girl had crashed with them for a night and taken over the place, inviting all manner of strange midnight people in. Instead of an art studio the house was fast becoming a crash-pad for the flotsam and jetsam of Haight Asbury. Dave and Jack were at their wits end plotting on how to get rid of her and her entourage without creating a violent scene.
It was a shock. We were part of the problem. The cosy scenario was no longer quite as cosy.
I don’t know how but somehow the house was cleared of girl, dogs, her boyfriend and other hangers on. All apart from us. We were invited to stay and in mere days became good friends. That week we got to know Haight Asbury, long past its best. The theatres no longer bounced to the Grateful Dead or Jefferson Airplane, though the posters were still there. The streets were full of panhandlers, runaways and dope dealers. Hard drugs had moved in. It was falling apart. But the park was still cool and there were many good people. The butt-end of the scene lived on. People still smiled and shared but the positive vibe was disintegrating rapidly.
After our time was up we never saw Dave again. Jack took us hitchhiking to LA. We stopped off at Big Sur, walked down to Pfieffer State Beach, got bust by the police, dumped back on the highway and unrolled our bedrolls, slept under a monstrously clear sky, nearly got blown away by a freak warm windstorm, listened to mountain lions and thought of Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac who had passed this way before us..
The night was magical. We lay on our backs and fell through a sky dusted with a trillion stars all the way into infinity. The Milky Way was a thick band of smoke. Jack pointed out the constellations. A mystical insight filled the mind with ecstatic elation.
High up in Big Sur, in the Sierra mountains, the whole universe was spread out before us. Profound.
In the morning we packed our rolls and got separate lifts into Los Angeles, arranging to meet up at a friend of Jack’s at Venice Beach.
Liz and I nearly got killed on the coast road having hitched a ride with a black American lieutenant who was driving like a maniac showing off to a pretty hitch-hiker he’d also picked up. But that’s another story as well.
We arrived in Los Angeles and this time the address was real
We spent a few days with Jack and his friendly friend, who played us the new McCartney album – because we were English.
We made out farewells and boarded another bus. Life caught up with us. This time we rolled down to San Diego, were refused entry into Mexico because of the length of our hair, travelled through Texas and back up to Boston. Soon we were in New York and flying home.
We never saw Jack again until 1980. With kids in tow we visited him in Colorado. Then, later, with Linda, he visited us in England.
Over the decades we’ve somehow stayed in contact. Our lives evolved but there was a connection forged through a stolen days of fun in San Francisco and Los Angeles, an eventful hitch-hike and one magical night of esoteric discovery at Big Sur.
We’d met Jack Jabbour.
With some people you click. Our lives diverge but we have points of contact. We are old now but the journey continues.
I’m still meeting Jack Jabbour.
Opher – 26.6.2022