I’ve just returned from a month-long trip to Oregon to help celebrate the dawn of full legalization of Cannabis for Medical and soon for Recreational purposes. It has been a long road since I first wrote the Cultivator’s Handbook of Marijuana in 1968-69, and far too many of the people I knew and loved in those days are now gone. Some of them died of natural causes, and some died in the interminable wars of aggression that this country has been fighting, but many of them died as a result of spending years, and sometimes decades of their lives in state and federal prisons for the absurd offense of growing this gift of our loving planet. I dedicate this post to all my friends from those days, those still alive and those long gone.
In the course of meeting and talking with young people living fully in today’s world I was asked many times (well, once or twice) to tell the story of how I came to write Cultivator’s Handbook, so I thought that I would put it into writing for anyone who might find it worth reading. I know that old guys can be tedious and boring with their tales of youthful exploits so I’ll try to keep this as short as possible, without leaving out details that might be of interest to you, dear reader.
I am posting this on Independence Day to honor the freedoms that so many have fought, suffered and died for – especially the freedom to grow and use the natural medicines placed on this beautiful green planet by a loving Mother Nature.
By Bill Drake
In the 1960s when not otherwise occupied I was making regular trips to Mexico, Colombia, Morocco, and Lebanon to collect botanical and herbal medicine specimens and bring them back for the appreciation of collectors and connoisseurs, but after a while it became clear that such scientific expeditions were being ever more seriously frowned upon, so I decided to settle in Oregon and practice what I had learned from indigenous growers during my overseas forays.
For a couple of years I grew some pretty nice specimens in the hills around Eugene, and developed a solid clientele for my medicinal plants. However, those were the days when monsters like J. Edgar Hoover and John Mitchell ruled the land and I saw friends who were in the same business of creating special herbal medicines being harassed, arrested, imprisoned and in one instance I still remember like yesterday, shot full of bloody holes. For growing flowers.
So just as I had decided to get out of the herbal medicine and botanicals business I decided to exit the medicinal plants growing business. I was pretty bummed out that I was prevented from doing work that was so much fun, that didn’t hurt a soul, and that let me make a pretty good living doing what I loved.
Those were the days of revolutionary thinking in America – the Vietnam War resistance movement, the Black Panthers, the Students for a Democratic Society, the Student Non-Violence Coordinating Committee, and many other brave and sometimes foolishly optimistic movements whose energy, fervor and commitment are hard to imagine happening today, although there are a lot of hopeful signs that the spirit lives on. It was an inspiring time to be young, and as I searched for a path to take now that my old ways were behind me I wanted it to be a passionate choice. I had already served in the Peace Corps in Africa in the mid-60s, where I grew a few beautiful plants around Lake Chad, and done my share of community organizing in America, where I had a nice little basement grow in Philadelphia, so I was looking around for something I could do that would make a positive difference in my own and other peoples’ lives.
A good friend and I were sitting on the banks of the McKenzie River outside of Eugene, toking on some fine bud and discussing cosmic ideas and I was telling her how much I regretted not being able to pursue my botanical interests when she said “Why don’t you write a book about growing? They can’t bust you for writing a book, can they?”
You know those cartoons where a light bulb flicks on over the character’s head when they get an idea? There was a definite flash somewhere overhead.
Creating Cultivators Handbook
I had never written a book but I sometimes wrote research papers for students at the University of Oregon who didn’t want to write their own, so that evening I sat down with a couple of joints and a few beers and put a sheet of paper in my typewriter and just started writing. Since I had written probably a hundred or more research papers and essays I wasn’t especially worried about what I was getting into. I knew that I had to write a book for people who didn’t care about literary style but just wanted useful, practical information on how to grow high quality marijuana. I also knew, because I called a lawyer friend, that I couldn’t use photographs to illustrate the book because the Feds would use those photos as evidence of either illegal cultivation or – if I claimed that I was merely photographing the work of others, criminal conspiracy. In either case they could, and surely would put me away for a long, long time.
I had a young friend Terry who was a fine artist and who had seen his share of botanicals, so I asked him if he could do a series of pen & ink drawings for the book. He loved the idea and we sat down together for a long afternoon as I outlined each section of the book that would need an illustration and he did some quick sketches for each section. By the end of the day we had what I guess you could call a storyboard – I knew what each of the book’s sections was going to be about, and Terry had rough sketches of what he would do to produce each of the drawings.
Terry and I agreed that the drawings needed to convey information but not just be technical – they had to reflect the counterculture and had to have a unique character. This suited Terry just fine – he was already a well-known street artist in Eugene and he had a unique style, which I loved. His stylistic hero was Robert Crum, but Terry took that style to a higher level.
Creating the layout for “Cultivator’s Handbook” was simplicity itself. I wrote the book on my manual typewriter, and handed over each day’s work to a good friend who was an editor at the Eugene Augur. She put her suggested edits in the margins and gave them back to me, and then I typed out the edited copy triple-spaced and gave them back to her. Then she made her final edits in red ink above each line. Through a friend I had access to an IBM Selectric typewriter, so after I got back the final edited pages of a chapter I would just type them up in a nice, clean text block, put a page number at the bottom of the block, and that was it. I had made a dummy master of the book and so I was able to keep track of the page layout, including Terry’s illustrations which I simply pasted in place. The whole process went remarkably smoothly.
Getting The First Copies Printed
The next challenge was to figure out how to get Cultivators Handbook into print. That problem was quickly solved by my friends John and Patty who were co-publishers of the Eugene Augur, one of the many counter-culture newspapers that appeared across the country in the 60’s as a voice of the anti-war, anti-establishment movement. Operating out of an old industrial loft in downtown Eugene the Augur staff worked with old but smooth-running printing and binding equipment. I approached John and Patty and asked them if they could print a few hundred copies of my book, and after putting the project to a vote of all members of the Augur collective it was agreed.
There were a few obstacles that still had to be overcome. I had to have the cover printed elsewhere because the Augur equipment only handled B&W. Since it was a short, quick one-color print job I didn’t have any trouble getting the first cover printed. Then I had to lay out the book again to conform to the dimensions that the Augur’s equipment could handle. Many people commented on the odd shape of the early editions of the Cultivator’s Handbook and wondered why I chose to make the book in this unusual, almost square shape, but the answer was that it was the only way I could get the book printed. Finally, although the Augur had saddle-stitching equipment to staple the book together, their collating equipment couldn’t handle the book. I’ll tell you the remarkable way that was handled in a moment.
I got the new layout done in record time and John & Patty gave me a time between editions of the Augur for printing 500 copies. I got to the Augur offices early in the morning and within a few minutes the first pages were rolling off the press. As each set of pages was printed they were taken over to the trimming machine.
The Augur had a large totally empty room adjacent to its offices, and in preparation for the collation the staff of the Augur had placed markers on the floor corresponding to each of the 25 sets of pages that would ultimately make up the 100 page book. After printing each page was run through a folding machine, and then the set of 500 folded sheets was taken into the collating room. So within a few hours we had 25 stacks of printed pages lined up in this large room. At that point every member of the Augur staff, along with me and a few of my friends, lined up and began walking down the line of stacks picking up one folded page at a time, placing them inside each other in order. As each person came to the end of the line they had a full collated book, which was then matched up with a folded and trimmed cover and taken over to the saddle-stitching machine. A few staples into the folded spine of the book and it was finished, and then it went into a box.
The whole process of producing the first 500 copies of Cultivators Handbook took almost an entire day, and one of the many remarkable things about the whole experience was that nobody on the Augur staff would take a penny for their efforts. John and Patty told me that everybody considered that they were participating in a revolutionary act and didn’t want to be paid. I did manage to get everybody to share pizzas and beer and of course there was plenty of smoke. As we all stood around eating pizza and talking about the day I felt a stronger sense of brotherhood and sisterhood than I had ever experienced before.
Taking Cultivators Handbook To San Francisco
One of my old growing friends was a tall, red-haired hippie named Chuck who drove an ancient flatbed Ford farm truck, and Chuck had volunteered to drive me and my books down to San Francisco, which is where I figured my strongest market was. I gave 25 copies to the Augur and signed a book for each staff member and a few of my friends who had helped with the project, and we all carried the boxes of books downstairs to Chuck’s truck. We loaded about 450 books onto the bed of the truck, tied them down with al old tarp, and after a round of hugs and handshakes Chuck and I drove off toward San Francisco. It was about five in the afternoon.
We drove south at about 50 mph – the best that Chuck’s old truck could manage. At about midnight we crossed the California border, and rolled into Shasta County. Of course we had been smoking the whole way, but neither of us was sleepy and we had San Francisco figured for a sunrise arrival.
Both Chuck and I were pretty surprised when a cop lit us up and pulled us over, because there was no way that we were speeding in that old farm truck. We had the windows down and hoped that the cop wouldn’t smell the Marijuana in the cab. (We were pretty naïve.) The cop walked up and asked Chuck for his license and registration, which I was happy to see he actually had in the glove compartment.
Then rather than making an issue out of what he could clearly smell, he asked what we had under the tarp on the truck.
“Books” I said.
“Books? he said.
“Yes, books” I said.
“Show me” he said.
So I climbed out of the truck and walked to the back of the truck and untied the tarp. Hoping to skate by I showed him the boxes of books.
“Open a box and show me” he ordered. So I popped the top of a box and tilted it toward him a little, hoping that he would see that the boxes did indeed contain books and not actually see what the books were. No such luck.
“Hand me one of those books” he said. So I did. He looked at the cover, riffled through the pages, and said “Where did you get these books?”
“I wrote it” I said, “and we’re taking them to bookshops in San Francisco.”
He then ordered Chuck out of the truck, and sat us both down alongside the road. Telling us to stay put he went back to his patrol car and got on the radio. Within minutes the whole highway was lit up with police coming from both directions, with full lights and sirens. It was quite a show – exactly what cops love to do. People driving by in both directions slowed and looked us over – loving what they saw. Law enforcement at its best – arresting hippies. Chuck and I looked at each other and Chuck said “We might be delayed a little bit in getting to San Francisco”. I agreed that it sure looked that way.
After a dozen or so sheriff’s deputies and CHP had pulled up, a plain white car also pulled up and out climbed a cop who was obviously going to be in charge of things. He was in civilian clothes but his badge hung from his belt and it was clear that he was very, very official.
He stopped and talked with the cop who had originally stopped us, looked over the book, and then walked over to where we were sitting alongside the road.
“You wrote this? He asked. I said that I had.
“Well,” he said,” this looks like a pretty detailed guide to performing a very illegal act.”
Then he said “Nothing illegal about writing a book though.”
Like an idiot I thanked him.
Chuck and I looked at each other and I could see we were both thinking “Holy shit!”
“Now” said the sheriff, “with a truckload of these books you boys wouldn’t be STUPID enough to be smoking dope while you’re driving through my county, would you?”
“Oh no sir” Chuck and I chorused.
“Well, that’s good” he said. “I can’t imagine that ANYONE would be that STUPID, can you?”
“Oh no sir” Chuck and I nodded.
“Well then boys, why don’t you climb back into your truck and be on your way” he said.
Chuck and I couldn’t believe our good luck, but we didn’t hang around to savor the moment. As we started the engine the Sheriff came up to the driver’s side window and said “Just in case you boys ARE stupid enough to be smoking dope with a truckload of these books I’m going to radio ahead to the other counties you’re going to be traveling through and ask them to keep an eye on you.”
“Thank you Sheriff” Chuck and I chorused, and we drove off. As soon as we were out of sight of the cop cluster Chuck reached into the glove compartment and pulled out his stash and tossed it out the window as I cleaned out the ashtray and did the same thing. We kept the windows open to air the cab out really good, and after a few miles we both began to relax and enjoy talking about our remarkable escape. After all, those were the days when a joint could send you to prison for a long, long time. We speculated on why the sheriff had let us go and decided that either he was a closet hippie – not very likely, we agreed – or he had decided that busting us would be too much publicity for Cultivators Handbook.
We drove on through the night, high on our good fortune and ready for dawn to arrive. In several counties on the way to San Francisco we were followed closely by a patrol car but nobody stopped us, and when we arrived in Marin there was nobody watching us. We pulled up in front of the Tides bookstore in Sausalito at about 7AM, parked the truck, and found a place to have breakfast while we waited for Tides to open.
First Reactions In San Francisco
As I recall the Tides Bookstore opened at 9 in the morning and Chuck and I were there to say hi to the owner Herb Beckman who was opening up the store. I ha a copy of Cultivators Handbook ready to show him and was all ready to give him a long pitch on why I wanted Tides to be the first bookstore to carry the book, but he just thumbed through it, handed it to another guy who was with him and said “Let’s buy some of these.”
The guy turned to us and asked how many we had with us. I told him that we had printed 500 books and that we had 450 of them left in boxes of 25. He said “Give us a hundred” and walked into the store carrying the book that I had given Herb Beckman. I could see a few early customers gathering around him to look at the book and as Chuck and I carried the four boxes into the store three or four of them reached into the first box we set down and wanted to buy them right there. Beckman said “Wait a minute – I haven’t even paid these guys yet” and asked me what my wholesale price was. I told him that the wholesale price was 50% which made it $1.00 each. He pulled a checkbook out from under the counter, started writing me a check, and said “How come so cheap – this book is going to be a best-seller.”
I didn’t have an answer to that, and I was pretty dumbfounded to hear someone who was a legend in the book business talk like that, but by then about ten people were lined up at the cash register waiting with their copies of the book. “How many copies did you print” Beckman asked, and when I told him 500 he said “Better go home and print five thousand – quickly.” Then he said “Where else are you going with these books today and I told him we were heading for City Lights in San Francisco, and he said “I’ll call them and tell them you’re coming. And then I want you to drive down to Menlo Park and see a guy named Stuart Brand who is starting up a thing called “Whole Earth Catalog”. I’ll call him too and tell him you’re coming. Then get your ass back to Oregon and get at least 5000 of these printed right away.”
Just like anybody who was barely literate in the 60’s I knew all about City Lights bookshop and the poet/founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti, but as Chuck and I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco I had a hard time believing that I was actually going to meet the man. We pulled up in front of City Lights and I was surprised at how tiny it was, but when we went inside it seemed to go on forever. Ferlinghetti was at the counter and as he eyes the box of books I was carrying he said “You the guys from Oregon with the dope book?” I said yes and handed him a copy. He stood there looking it over and after a while he kind of grinned and said “This is gonna shake up the establishment pretty nicely. What made you think of writing a book like this?”
He offered us a cup of tea and we sat around for an hour or so – with Lawrence fucking Ferlinghetti! – talking about writing as a revolutionary act and laughing at how this little book was going to pull a end run on Hoover and the FBI and all the Narcs. He warned me straight-faced to be damned careful because even though writing a book was legal he and I knew, and the cops and politicians knew too, that the right book in the right hands could be virtually unstoppable. “The only way they will be able to stop this thing is if they can stop you and do it soon” Ferlinghetti said, and Chuck and I immediately thought about that Sheriff in Shasta County. We told Ferlinghetti about the incident and he frowned and said –“That was no cop – that was a guardian angel. I hope you learned whatever you were supposed to learn.”
We assured him that we appreciated what had happened, and that we appreciated his advice. He took 100 books and, just like what happened at the Tides, as we began carrying the books into City Lights and setting the boxes on the counter people began reaching into the boxes and lining up to pay for them. Ferlinghetti kept pointing at me and saying “He’s the guy who wrote this. Go shake his hand.” Which they did. I never felt quite so honored.
Chuck and I soon piled into the truck and headed for the Whole Earth truck Store in Menlo Park. Stuart Brand wasn’t there but an assistant of his, whose name I can’t remember, recognized us and said “You’re the guys Herb Beckman just called about. I’ve got to see this book!” He sat down with a copy of the book and read through it for a few minutes and then said “I’ll take what you have left.” We had carried our last ten boxes of 250 books into the office in this crowded little space that was jammed with stacks of all kinds of tools, books, cases of provisions – everything that anyone familiar with today’s Prepper stores would find very familiar.
In fact the Whole Earth catalog and Truck Store, which began literally with Stuart Brand and his wife selling survival gear out of the back of a truck to hippie communes around Northern California, can and should be seen as prophesying the evolution of the Prepper movement generations before that movement emerged in response to the social/financial chaos that marks today’s world.
The Whole Earth Truck Store guy took a couple of minutes reading through the Handbook and said “You’ve got to get back to Oregon and get more of these printed right now. I’ll give you an order for a thousand – when can you deliver?”
That was pretty stunning. I told him how these first copies had been produced and that I was going to have to find a printer because there was no way that we could produce a thousand copies by hand. He laughed and said that he predicted that pretty soon I would have to think about printing tens of thousands of books, not thousands, and as it turned out he was right.
Chuck and I left Menlo Park and drove back to Eugene without stopping – or being stopped – and we arrived early in the morning. Chuck dropped me off at my house and I thanked him for everything he had done. He said “Don’t thank me man; I feel like I’ve just witnessed a great movement forward in the revolution.” We hugged each other and I went inside to wake up my wife and tell her everything that had gone down in the last few days. I didn’t know it, but life was just about to get very complicated, and very interesting.
Finding A Printer In J. Edgar Hoover’s America
When I began the search for a high-volume printer who could produce 5000 books at a time I was pretty naïve about what was coming. I looked through the Eugene yellow pages and found several likely-looking printers and made appointments. I had a stash of cash from my days of selling botanicals so I was pretty confident that I wouldn’t have a problem. After all, despite its subject matter, this was just a book and I was going to pay cash.
The first printer I visited with was a really nice guy who had a first-class print shop, and although he was as straight as they came he wasn’t too phased by what I was asking him to do. I could tell that my offer of cash up front made the whole deal pretty attractive, and so in just a few minutes we had a deal. I pulled my laid-out book out of a box and he called in his shop foreman and we went over everything. My layout was pronounced camera-ready, and so I went home that afternoon and told my wife that the deal was done and that we would have a book printed in a week or so. I was amazed that it had been so easy – I had expected to have to go through more than one printer to find someone willing to print my book.
This was, after all, early 1969. Nixon was president, Hoover was still running the secret police, and the Vietnam War was still killing thousands of people a day. Possession of even a joint was getting people 50 year jail terms, growers and dealers were being sent to Federal maximum security prisons, and Nancy Reagan was still years away from getting her nasty little fangs into the American jugular.
Even so, I was optimistic. After all, this was a book about growing Marijuana, not a Marijuana garden. I had never heard of Mr. Murphy and his Law.
Three days later I got a call from the printer. He asked me to drop by to discuss a problem, so I went over to his shop. When I walked in he had my layout pages in a box on his desk. I wasn’t totally surprised – I hadn’t actually expected getting my book printed to go as smoothly as it seemed to have done.
He told me that someone in his shop was a member of the John Birch society and when he had seen the plates being made he had called to he Portland FBI office. Apparently there was a high speed caravan of Feds that hit Eugene within hours, where they were joined by local police and Lane County deputies, arriving at the printers with lights flashing and sirens going. I was, of course, oblivious – I lived miles away and didn’t see or hear any of the commotion. Apparently it took a major police presence to arrest my little book. The printer was both nervous and amused as he related this to me – he was obviously worried about the impact of all this on his business, and told me that he was sorry but couldn’t print my book. The Feds had apparently threatened him with conspiracy if he did. I started to argue but took a look at his face and realized that it would do no good. Besides, he was a nice guy and was legitimately worried what the police action would do to his business, so I asked him for the plates, which I had already paid for, and told him that I would find another printer.
He looked embarrassed and told me that the FBI had confiscated the plates as “evidence” and had ordered him not to refund my money. I knew that they couldn’t legally do that but I really had no choice. I didn’t have the money to make a legal issue out of it and besides, I realized that I needed to make getting the book printed my priority, not fighting a losing battle with the Feds.
So I swallowed my financial loss, grateful that at least I had my layout which the printer told me the Feds had overlooked (they weren’t all that bright even in those days), so I thanked him for saving my layout, shook hands, and left.
As I pulled out of the printer’s parking lot I noticed a black car following me and thought – not too subtle. I went home and told my wife what had happened and she was a little freaked out, but I was still confident that there was a big difference between writing a book about growing Marijuana and actually growing it.
I spent the next few days looking up printers all over the Willamette Valley as far away as Portland, and called at least half a dozen to make appointments. I visited with them one after another and explained what I was looking for and two of them said sure, they would print my book. The others flat refused – Oregon was an odd mix of hippies, rednecks, and right-wingers in those days (much like today in fact.)
But the really funny thing was that within a single day after each of the two printers agreed to print “Cultivators Handbook”, and before I could even deliver the layout to them, each of them called me and said that they had decided not to take the job. After a bit of pushing one of them admitted that they had been visited by FBI agents right after I had left and were told that if they printed my book they would be prosecuted for “conspiracy” and other unspecified charges.
With the black car still parked conspicuously outside my house, and with funny little clicks and buzzes on the phone, I figured that I was under pretty tight watch, so I realized that I was going to have to do some creative thinking to get my book printed.
My first thought was to drive down to California and look around. At first that seemed like a good idea, but I realized that even the most liberal California printers would still be vulnerable to FBI intimidation, so I rejected that idea. I was pretty bummed out.
Then one evening I came up with what even today I regard as one of my best moves ever. In the little coastal town of Florence there was a newspaper publisher whose reputation as an ultra right-winger was well known. His name was Dave Holman. His letters to the editor of other Oregon newspapers were famous, and newspapers all over the state regularly re-printed his editorials. But, I noticed that Dave wasn’t really a right-wing nut case. His ideas were always based on a deep respect for the US Constitution and his editorials were almost always about how the rights and responsibilities of citizens were being subverted by left-wing politicians. I actually agreed with a lot of what Dave had to say because although I was out near the fringe in terms of social policies and progressive politics I was also pretty conservative when it came to questions of Constitutional rights and responsibilities and I did think that a lot of the far left wing of American politics, and even the anti-war movement, were dominated by people with anti-American agendas.
Since I knew that my telephone was tapped I decided to just drive down to Florence and put my case in front of Dave Holman without an appointment, which would only have alerted the FBI. Of course there was the little matter of that black sedan that was always parked just down the street from my house these days, but I figured I could have a little fun with them while accomplishing my objective.
So early one morning I walked out to my car with a duffle bag, a pair of clippers, and a few other items that a grower who was heading out to harvest a patch would need. Since it was October I figured that the stake-out team would draw the obvious conclusion and get really excited. Not only are we going to stop this hippie from printing his book, we’re going to bust him with his dope harvest! Visions of promotion must have been dancing in their little brains. Maybe even presented to them by J. Edgar himself!
I pulled away and headed for Florence, a small coastal town. Halfway there the road climbed through the Coast range and there were dozens of Forest Service and logging roads that cut off into the valleys of the Coast Range. In fact this was a great growing area, and I pretty much knew every spot where people were growing, so I chose a pulloff that wouldn’t lead anywhere near paydirt for the Feds who were now a mini-caravan of two cars and a van, all maintaining what they thought was a discreet distance.
I even signaled my turn, just to be sure they knew where I was going. I drove about a mile up into the woods and then pulled over, went back to my trunk and got out my gear, and headed into the woods. I could hear my tail pull within a hundred yards or so and kill their engines.
I was in fairly rugged country, and I had dressed for it – books, jacket with a hood, jeans, etc. I knew that the Feds would be in street shoes, suits, and neckties, so I led them up and down and around for an hour or so, and then headed back to my car. To their credit I never saw them but I knew that they were there because I walked slowly and never tried to evade them. I just wanted to tire them out a little.
I got back to my car, put everything in the truck, and started my engine. Then I sat there for a few minutes and smoked a joint, which I carefully field-stripped when I was finished. Then I turned my car around, being sure to make a lot of noise, and headed back down the road where I had come. Sure enough, there were the two cars and the van all pulled off the road back in the woods trying to be inconspicuous. I looked straight ahead playing “I don’t see you!” and when I got back to the highway I turned and headed for Florence.
I was pretty sure that they were going to pull me over but they didn’t, instead following me all the way into Florence. I figured they wanted to see where I was going, and were developing visions of busting not only me but maybe a whole bunch of hippie criminal commie dopers.
When I pulled up in front of the Florence newspaper office I could almost hear the collective “Huh?” from the little convoy behind me, and as I walked into the newspaper office with the box of layout in my arms they must have been salivating. I walked up to the secretary and asked if Dave Holman was in and could give me a few minutes.
Just to set the scene, I was a stereotype of the long-hair bearded hippie – the kind of person that Dave was always going on about subverting basic American principles, etc. Dave’s secretary asked what my business was and I said that I had a book that I wanted to have printed and that I knew how much Dave respected the 1st Amendment and the US Constitution and thought that he was the person with the courage to do the job, She looked me over pretty good and then picked up the phone and said “Dave, there’s a hippie out here who wants you to print his book and he says you’re the only person in the state with the guts to do it. Shall I send him in?”
She showed me into Dave’s office and I got my first look at the fire-breathing Dave Holman. He was short, muscular, with the buzz-cut pugnacious look of a former Marine, and he was sitting behind his desk with his arms crossed and a “I can tear your heart out and eat it” look on his face.
He didn’t ask me to sit down, so I stood there with my little box in my arms. “What’s this about a book that you think I’m the only guy with the guts to print”, he growled. I took that as an invitation to sit down, which I did, and then I took out the book’s layout sheets and laid them on the desk in front of him.
He riffled through them and looked at me very intensely. “Do you know who I am?” he asked. I said that I did indeed, and that there probably wasn’t anyone in the state who believed more strongly in freedom of the press than he did.
“Why are you coming to me to print this piece of shit?” Dave growled.
“Because the FBI has been following me around the state intimidating printers and telling them they are going to be charged with conspiracy if they print it” I said.
“Bullshit” Dave growled again.
His office window was facing the street, so I walked over to the window and sure enough there were the two black Fords each with two guys in suits and shades in the front seat. There was another guy, who must have come from the van, popping the trunk of my car. He was pulling my duffle bag out with a big grin on his face. I had an even bigger grin on my face as I thought about all the lab time the FBI was going to spend trying to identify the flakes of oregano, parsley, basil, and other dried herbs I had but in the bag that morning.
“Take a look Dave” I said. “Those are a bunch of FBI agents are waiting to come into your office after I leave and have a chat with you. They appear to also be checking my car for illegal substances – which they aren’t going to find”
“We’ll see about that” Dave growled – it seemed to be his favorite form of verbal communication. “Wait here” he ordered, and he got up and walked out through the office and outside. I watched through the window as he walked up to the first car and knocked on the driver’s window. The suit inside rolled down the window and words were exchanged. I imagined Dave growling at the agents. The driver reached into his suit and pulled out what was obviously a piece of ID. Dave took it and looked at it, then handed it back and came back into the office.
“Watch this” he growled – but it seemed to be a slightly friendlier growl. “I’m calling an old friend of mine who happens be the FBI agent in charge of the Portland office.”
He dialed and I heard the phone on the other end pick up. “This is Dave Holman in Florence”, he growled. “Put me through to (I can’t remember the name).”
The FBI guy came on the line and said something, and Dave growled into the phone “I’ve got this guy Bill Drake in my office and he wants me to print his book about growing Marijuana, and I’ve got two of your agents outside on the street. You’ve got ten minutes to tell them to leave, and I’m printing this guy’s goddamn book, and I better not see any of your agents anywhere near my shop or his house or I’m going to tear you and your agency a new asshole.”
The he slammed down the phone and turned to me and said “How are you going to pay for the printing?” I pulled a wad of cash out of my pocket and said “How much to print five thousand copies?”
“You want me to print five thousand copies?” Dave growled. Do you have any idea how long it’s going to take to sell five thousand copies?”
When I told him that I had a written order for a thousand already, and had verbal orders for another thousand, he looked at me over his glasses, doodled on a pad on his desk for a little while, and said “Son, you may have something here. Tell you what. I’ll print those 5000 copies for you on the basis of your order here for a thousand copies. You pay me $500 now and the balance when you come back to me with your next order.”
I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I not only had a printer for my book, but a printer who had just told the FBI to fuck off, and one who was also going to work with me to get as many copies of my book printed as I could sell without asking for a lot of front money – and all this from a guy who was well-known around Oregon as one of the toughest newspapermen in the state. I had obviously had that guardian angel that Ferlinghetti talked about following me around.
Well, not really the end, but a story has to stop somewhere and after I was able to get that 5000 book printing done by Dave Holman I sold out within a couple of weeks and came back to Dave for another 5000 copies. And it went on like that for years.
There were lots more things that happened along the way – new friends, lots of help from strangers, pretty continual shadowing by the cops, numerous attempts at entrapment, travel to some very interesting places – but few things in my life have ever quite equaled the satisfaction that I got out of creating that little yellow book and helping hundreds of thousands of people rebel against and ultimately, many years later, be able to change the repressive laws of the tyrannical governments that work so hard at enslaving our minds and bodies under the laughable proposition of “protecting” us.
This post is my thank you to all my brothers and sisters who made my own adventure possible, and who have never stopped believing in and working toward freedom for us all.