Almost everybody seems to agree that the Mendocino/Sonoma coast is some of the most beautiful landscape on the planet, and many of us who feel that way covet real estate there. I’m generally immune to “real estate porn” but I confess to sometimes idly perusing what’s for sale with an ocean view, between, say, Muir Beach and Mendocino, despite prices that render such spreads beyond even the realms of fantasy.
Thus when I saw country music legend Kris Kristofferson’s coastal ranch was now on the market I had to take a peek. Near Elk, it looks wonderful, with a mile of ocean frontage, pasture and forest acreage, and some semi-rundown dwellings and barns that haven’t been all gentrified into Veblenesque, conspicuous consumption showoffy embarrassment. Perfection, or close to it, and all this for only $17.2 million. If I could round up about 50 friends/partners we might be able to swing it, if there’s enough water there, and the new age of geriatric pseudo-hippie coastal communes could commence. One can dream.
But this is a story of a car, one with, sorta, tenuously, a Kristofferson connection.
When I was a teenager in Southern California there was a girl on our block named Lisa and that’s about all I knew about her other than the obvious fact that she was a beautiful blonde. She didn’t talk to me and vice versa, I don’t think we ever exchanged a word even though living very close and going to the same schools. In fact I didn’t know anybody who knew her. Maybe she knew or her parents wisely warned her not to mess with our questionable pack of rattier beach kids on the block. I never thought of her as snobby or shy or anything, she was just on some kind of different level. I really only have one lasting image of her - driving by in her new green BMW 2002, long blonde hair blowing out the window.
We all graduated and life went on and I never thought of her - but I couldn’t forget that car. I had a “company car” Ford Pinto wagon via my dad for one year, putting about five years of wear and tear and mileage on it, and then was on my own. Form followed function, and affordability. That meant very cheap used VW bugs, bought for a few hundred bucks, and then a 1969 camper van I kept and loved for a decade and drove all over the continent. But somewhere in my psyche was lodged an unattainable “forest green” 2002 with a sun roof.
I saw them around, very cool cars even though, or maybe because, it was the cheapest BMW model, thought of as a “entry-level” option, made only for less than a decade starting in the late 1960s. There were various models, all square-ish in shape, big windows, low to the ground, a fast four or five-speed shifter. Put surf racks on it and you would among the coolest anywhere. It seemed the wheels of choice for some of the classier pot dealers too. Then I saw a photo of none other than Bob Marley with one and there was no question left what the ultimate vehicle was. When Marley was asked what a ghetto rasta like him was doing with such stylish transport, he just replied “What do you think BMW stand for? It’s Bob Marley and the Wailers, mon!”
But I never really looked for one of my own until a decade after high school when I wound up in San Francisco and my beloved 1969 VW camper was no longer very practical. I was walking down the street with my good friend Dave, telling him of my 2002 fantasy, when he just pointed at one parked next to us with a “For Sale” sign and said “You mean like that one?” It was meant to be. I found a phone booth, called the number, and a test drive and $2500 later I finally had my own forest green 1975 BMW 2002, sunroof included. I sold my VW van, sadly, and my rusty VW convertible too, and that about covered it.
What a car. For the first time I was a fast driver, maybe from all that pent-up VW-thwarted urge for speed. Some friends say they never wanted to ride with me again. Cruising up or down the coast, from Big Sur to Humboldt, over Mount Tam to Bolinas and back in record time, sunroof open, was such fun. I had a cassette deck in there for loud music. The interior was funky from age, salt water, soggy dogs and neglect. Once my meticulous engineer CEO dad got in, looked around, sighed, and said “How many vaccinations will I need after riding in this thing?” (But he also said he was glad I finally had an actual engine in front of me instead of the single thin layer of sheet metal the van had). I met the renowned actor/writer Peter Coyote for lunch in Marin and when we walked out to the parking lot we marveled that we both had the same car, although his was a bit cooler of course, being a Ti model with a stronger engine. A Bolinas artist pal Ken Botto had one just like mine too, albeit with holes rusted through the floor, and we too were immediately brothers of the old beemer. It was almost a cult thing.
Once in the late 1990s I drove it up to a Garberville Rotary club lunch at the old Brass Rail restaurant in Redway, where I’d been invited to give a talk on the new proposals to legalize medical marijuana. I dressed nicely and outlined the science, history, policy and all that contentious stuff, and everyone was very respectful and polite. With all the post-talk questions, I was one of the last to leave. When I got out to my car in the big parking lot, one of the longer-haired attendees was standing there. “Nice talk”, he said. “I really liked the part about you helping dying hospice patients use it - can I give you a pound or two to take back with you?” This was when the best Humboldt herb was going for up to $5,000 per pound. Still, I had to refuse, fearing a headline along the lines of “Prominent Medical Marijuana Advocate Arrested Shlepping Pounds of Pot,” or like that. But I did ask him how he knew which car was mine. “Oh c’mon, it’s kinda obvious, right?” He laughed. Which was why I couldn’t head back down 101 with a stinky trunk full of buds.
Eventually my 2002 was getting rustier and crustier and needed lots of work. I didn’t really want to pay for that, but I couldn’t part with it either, so I wedged it into the back of our garage, where it sat for years, increasingly buried in clothes, boxes, surfboards, bikes. My longtime mechanic, who raced those collectible cars on weekends, eventually asked about it and I told him. He shook his head in disgust and said he’d come tow it out and see what was possible. Not much, as it turned out, it was close to junk by then. I let him keep it. Well-maintained “cherry” versions of 2002s now got for $30,000 and way up. Again, a cult kinda thing. Rehabbed VW campers can fetch similar prices. I basically gave mine away. I’m just not good at this sort of thing.
As for my teenhood neighbor Lisa, who unwittingly ignited my 2002 obsession, it turned out she wound up marrying and making a family with…. Kris Kristofferson. Small world. Even though I admittedly haven’t listened to his music all that much, I’ve always admired him. A Rhodes Scholar, hard-scrabbling songwriter whose first couple of albums were full of undisputed classics, respected actor, survivor of many personal health struggles, he’s the kind of figure people who know him speak very highly of. Most recently, his good nature and boldness was recalled in the episode where the lately departed singer Sinead O’Conner was being booed at a big concert soon after she tore up the Pope’s photo on national television. Kristofferson was the one to come out onstage, hug her, and say “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” A good man and gesture, especially since, as it turned out, she was right.
Back in the day, as they say, I no doubt drove my one BMW vastly past the Kristofferson coastal estate any number of times. I should have thanked Ms. Kristofferson for the inspiration, not that she’d recall me or care. Or that I’d ever get any discount on the purchase price. But again, one can dream.