We decided to go down to the Garden of Love, which was a thing that we had not seen before, but it was conveniently located near to where we lived. Some of us were just out of college, some of us were still in college; it was a ramen noodles sort of phase. But, the Garden of Love! We had seen signs for it on the highway. So nearby! Only like sixty miles or so, but we had never been. But that’s how it goes; if you grow up near a thing, then you never go to it. No one in Philadelphia ever goes to see the Liberty Bell. No one in New York visits the top of the Empire State Building. These are things for tourists, and if you grow up somewhere, then you don’t want to act like a tourist.
We took coats. It was cloudy; we were bored. Boredom was at the heart of our visit to the Garden of Love. It was a cloudy sort of day, a Sunday sort of day, a should I wear a sweater sort of day.
“Let’s go, are you ready, let’s go!” we said, feigning excitement, as we gathered around the car, a beat-up Toyota hatchback, in the parking lot of the apartment building of the person who owned the car. “Garden of Love, are you ready, are you pumped, are you excited, let’s go.”
But once we were on the highway, with Funyuns and chips and Diet Cokes, and the macadam pouring by, we were more excited — we were reaching a point of actual excitement. We were in a part of town we had never been to, with RV parks, and discount liquor stores, and then, individual houses lost in the American wideness of grass and highways, and then farms, and then the actual wilderness, stark and weird and beautiful, streams running slantwise by the highway.
And so, and so.
And so, then we began to see signs for the Garden of Love. Previously on the highway, there had been signs for a steakhouse — Mitch’s. Steaks Big As Your Head. 40 miles. 20 miles. 13 miles. 1 mile. Now there were signs for the Garden of Love. The signs had a seventies-style font and were faded, but they were there. That they were there! Garden of Love. All Welcome. 50 miles. 25. 8. 1.
And then we were there. Stephanie or someone got out of the car first. “We’re here!” she shrieked. How ridiculous it all was.
We entered the Garden of Love, with its ridiculous billboard on wooden stilts above the gravel driveway. GARDEN OF LOVE! ALL-ACCESS! WHEELCHAIR RAMP TO THE LEFT.
Then we traveled up the very small hill.
We meandered down the pathway to the garden. There were broken wagons — like little kid wagons — and then there was a broken tractor, and there were sections of flowers and planets that had been enclosed by wooden beams — these had died. And then there were the cheap empty black plastic potting jugs that the flowers and plants had originally been planted in — these were discarded by the side of the pathway.
But then, as we got closer, there were beautiful flowers. Beautiful horticulture.
We entered the true center of the Garden of Love.
And there, there were people. Young men and women dressed in robes. They were hot — long hair on both sexes, good stubble on the men — but they were dressed in robes. It seemed sort of cult-y. There were a few middle-aged people in robes, hanging around the edges.
“What is this place,” said someone, possibly Stephanie.
“Hi!” said one of the robed guys. “Welcome to the Garden of Love.”
“Oh,” someone in our group said.
They clouded round us in sort of a circle. One of the girls — the lightest-seeming one, the most innocent one, with diaphanous brown bangs — she leaned down and picked up a rock. A scrubby thing, a rock — a rock in the dirty dumb place. But then, if we stepped back from it, we were no longer living our lives, and maybe it was beautiful. There were stray chickens in the background. Chickens! Such a thing. Such a thing to be outside our own lives, and so maybe the rock in the dirt was also beautiful. It sort of was.
The girl leaned back. She was poised, with her arm.
“…Ready?” she said.
This is a story in two parts; come back later for part two.