Jim Brady has been teaching children and leading journeys with them for about forty years, and he's traveled with students all over the globe with a company called Educational Safaris, which he started in 1982. He was one of the founders of Dunn Middle School, has been with Santa Barbara Middle School for twenty years, and has been involved with the Rio Beni Health Project in Bolivia, begun by the late Dr. Lou Netzer. He served on the Leadership Council and Accreditation team of the Association for Experiential Education and worked as an educator in Thailand on a State Department refugee training program. And that’s just the stuff he might put on his resumé, if he ever had to do one. He’s also a family man, surfer, cyclist, songwriter, and musician.
And it’s a good thing he’s an old friend of mine, because most of the audio recording of the interview I did with him on November 13, 2014 was destroyed by a technological malfunction. I was mortified, but he was as understanding as only a friend can be. “Everything is ephemeral,” he said. “We can think of that recording as a Buddhist sand mandala, there for a moment, then gone.”
Very Zen. We even have a vague plan to regroup and try again. But in the meantime, until I can present a full interview with Jim, here’s a glimpse I've crafted using salvaged excerpts from the Lost Tapes.
Jim was born in 1951 in Santa Barbara, an admittedly lucky place to start out. His love of travel, camping, and the great outdoors began with boyhood Sierra trips:
“My father would take us out of school twice a year, autumn and spring, and we'd go to Yosemite and hike. Then when I turned sixteen, we started going by ourselves. I was the oldest, and supposedly in charge. We'd drive all night across the desert and figure it out from there."
"I had no idea what we were doing, really. No tent, no stove. It was just the boys, and it was a dream. By the time we got back home, we felt like we’d been to the end of the world. First thing we'd do after we got home was get to the beach, surf, and start planning right away for the next trip. We did those trips for three years in a row: we would go to the Sierras, park the car in Camp 5 in Yosemite Valley, hitchhike to the trailhead, and then hike back a hundred miles or so.”
“I also read a book that influenced me early on. It was Colin Fletcher’s Thousand Mile Summer, where he hiked from the Mojave Desert up to Oregon. He may have started in Mexico. Just walking, sort of to find himself, and he went through a place called Silver Canyon, a creek up in Alpine County. Of course by 1968 and ’69, we figured the Sierras were way too crowded, and we felt Yosemite Valley was out of control, so we started going further north. So we went up to Alpine County, which was the least populated place in California. We would go off-trail, up canyon and down, and along the creeks. So those early trips led to way bigger trips.”
And then, there were those golden Hollister Ranch days:
“In the summer of ’67, before we went to the mountains, my dad said, ‘Hey, wanna go up to Hollister? I’m meeting my friend J.J.’ So we drove into Hollister Ranch, hopped in a jeep, and went everywhere, up and down and around and about, and clear to Cojo Creek on roads that you can now barely recognize as old footpaths.”
“At that time Hollisters were looking at selling, and what were they gonna do with it? My dad really didn’t want to see it bought up by the private group and made into some big campground. At that time his idea was that it should be made into a state or national park. Thankfully neither of those actually happened. But for better or worse, he wanted it preserved. That was his interest. He knew it was unique.”
“So after that cruise in the jeep, I was noticing the beaches, ‘cause this place was in our surfing realm–The Ranch–or we just called it Hollister, and my dad said, ‘You boys wanna go up there regularly?’ Oh, yeah! So we got this little card. My brother in Australia still has it. It’s a little handwritten card that says, ‘Let the Brady brothers in.’ So we would get there super early in the morning and wait for Jim the guard to sober up as much as possible and open up the gate. Choirs of angels when the gate opened! And that was the summer of ’67.”
"Those were some pretty special years. During my junior and senior years of high school. I played tennis, read books, and went surfing at the Ranch as much as possible. We all had jobs in those days too. I worked two or three nights a week and we were at the Ranch as much as possible, which basically meant just go, see you later, and be home sometime around sunset. That was pretty much the rules. We thoroughly thrashed the '59 Ford Country Squire station wagon that we had; it got stuck on the beach, stuck in the mud for two days at Rights and Lefts. Adventuresome days. I remember standing on a cliff, in southeast raging winds, and thinking, 'Oh, my God!' That beginning, when you’re sixteen or seventeen, and… “Am I gonna be looking back on this, like it’s something that happened during that long ago time? Or can I actually live like this? I knew I wanted to live someplace that was by the ocean.”
Jim has succeeded in living near the ocean, and with access to the mountains and backcountry too, but there were plenty of detours along the way.
“I went away to college like I was supposed to, for one year to University of Santa Clara. ’69, ’70. An insane time to go away to college. And about halfway through that year, I said, ‘No. I should not be here. It’s not working for me.” But I felt I was destined to go to college, I felt I was maybe going to be a lawyer or something. So I came back to City College and thrived. Loved it. Had really good classes. Worked where Brophy’s is now, and shared an apartment, part of a house downtown, with two of my buddies. The combined rent was 75 bucks, so $25 a month paid the rent. By this time I had a VW bus and split my time playing tennis for the team, going to school, working, going to the Ranch as much as possible, and to Rincon.”
“And I'm also wonderin' what the heck I’m doing, ‘cause it kinda felt like I ought to think about something here. Then I had a conversation…no, I had listening session…with one of my high school teachers who taught me a philosophy class, Why Man Creates, kind of a gender-specific title in those days, but it was a philosophy class, the big ideas…and this teacher, who was a full academic, told me, ‘Jim, you don’t really have to go to school all the time.’ I said, ‘I don’t?’ Really? He said, ‘I can see you have no idea yet. Just don’t go. Work for a while. Travel. Study. Read. Figure it out.’”
“So after City College, when I had my AA, I was gonna not go to school. Trouble is this was the height of Vietnam. My student deferment was gonna give out.”
Like all the American men of my generation, Jim remembers his draft number:
“Number 40. Four-o. Oh yeah. I remember the night in the dormitory at University of Santa Clara when those numbers came out, and you could hear guys go, “SHIT!” from their rooms as they were announcing these, pulling numbered balls out of a round thing, like it was a game show. I remember the night. So I was number 40. The moment I left school, I was gonna lose that deferment.”
"So I’m still in school and I recognize by this time it was mostly guys of color, the poor folks, that were going to Vietnam and it was white guys were still in school, and I knew that wasn't right, but I wasn’t sure what to do. I’m like, ‘Oh no! I might get drafted!’ so I went for a road trip with my girlfriend at the time, up the coast in my VW bus, surfing, going to beaches, went to Humboldt, trying to figure out if I could go to school there. I wound up at Cal State Bakersfield, in its second quarter open…they were takin’ anybody…and I went and lived out in the San Joaquin Valley for three months, close to the Sierras. I had no idea what I was doing.”
“So I was there taking classes and working, or I would drive home, go to the Ranch…we’re just about losing our pass right about this time, but Hollisters, MGIC and Macco and all that was going on, so we still could kinda get in. And I still had no idea what I was doing, but I took a philosophy course at Bakersfield, and I thought, 'I kinda like this thinking stuff.' I was about as good at it as I was a surfer, which was, well, not great, but okay. But I knew what I loved.”
“I knew what I didn't love too, and I didn’t love living in Bakersfield. That was nuts. It was this little community south of Bakersfield, just a little four-way crossroads out on Highway 99. By now I realized it was time for me to not go to school.”
“I went back to Santa Barbara and I filed for my Conscientious Objector status. Wrote all that up, submitted it, and right about this time, was surfing Rincon a lot, December ’71 maybe. I think we’d lost our Hollister let-the-Brady-boys-in pass by this time, so we were mostly surfing Rincon, and the place we’d go a lot after surfing Rincon was my friend Scott Coffman’s parents’ house. He had this one sister. I didn’t know her, but we had gone to high school together for two years. So one day, after surfing, we arrived at the house–Scott’s mother, Mary Alice, would cook breakfast for anybody that showed up–so one morning I showed up for breakfast, and I’m standing there, still dripping, and there was this beautiful young girl, my age, standing there in her nightgown by the heater, and it was Robin. So that is the moment. It was love. And now we’ve been together…whatever that’s been…43 years.”
“Meanwhile, my brother Tim and I had this plan, and then Scott joined us. We were outta here! We were gonna save some money and then go surf Europe. My C.O. status was still pending. Never heard. And I had no idea, but I had lost my student deferment. It was a real transitional time in the draft department.”
“Basically, we saved just enough money. $800 is what I saved. And we had a leather business, Robin’s brother and myself, called Little Drake’s Leathercraft, in Carpinteria, made purses and belts and flip-flops and stuff like that, and kinda sorta barely made enough money. And the three of us boys left…I was 21…Tim was 17 or 18, and Scott was about 18 or 19, and Robin needed to work for a couple of more months, save some money, and then she was gonna join us. That’s as far as the plan went. So the three of us flew with five surfboards to Amsterdam. In those days you put the surfboards in cardboard and hope for the best. You had to ship ‘em air freight, hope for the best, and go pick ‘em up some other place at the airport in Amsterdam. “
“Amsterdam. That’s a long ways from surfing. But the ticket was cheap. And we wound up there, bought a VW bus made into some sort of a camper, an old Dutch plumbing van, and drove south to France. We had hand-drawn maps. Some of our buddies from the Ranch, like Paul Kemnitzer, had been over to France the year before that, so we had one map book that was kinda like vintage World War II, and a bunch of hand-drawn maps showing where to turn to go find this or that place. That trip took us to northern Spain, France, the Basque country, through the Pyrenees, and Italy, where I visited my sister, who was living in Florence at the time. We arrived in Florence in our VW bus with five surfboards inside and on top, and we were stunned by the artwork and the culture there. From Florence, back across central Spain, up through eastern and western Spain, then into Portugal. Then Robin flew into Lisbon and we all hopped on the boat with the VW and went to North Africa, Morocco, and spent the winter down there. Again, we had a couple of hand-drawn maps as to where to go. It was real adventure.”
“I called home while we were in Morocco. In those days, it was like the old French phone system. You make a reservation, and they tell you to come back at 2 o’clock, and you go and pay your money, and you get this crackly phone connection. So I say, 'Hey, Pops!' And he goes, 'Who’s this?' I say, ‘It’s me!’ And he goes, ‘Who?’ ‘It’s me!’ So I go, ‘Is Tim there?’ He gets Tim. Turns out my dad didn’t wanna talk to me because he’d gotten my draft notice, and he had told the draft guys he didn’t know where I was, but he had sent off my induction notice to the American Express office in Rabat, I think, which he dutifully remembered we had told him had closed. So he had done what he had to do. He had sent off this thing that I never got. But things were a little weird then. He was not convinced. He said, ‘Well, they could be keeping track of who I’m talking to. You never know. Play it safe.’
“So that was strange. I was 21 years old. My C.O. had obviously been rejected, and I had been asked to report for some sort of hearing, never got that, and then they just gave me my 1A. For a little while, I thought, ‘Am I gonna be one of those guys who lives in Morocco for the rest of my life? Where you can’t go home? Am I against the law now?’ It was a very strange feeling.”
In Morocco they shared a house with two Hawaiians and a couple from L.A. Across the street lived a group of Australians, the most fun, crazed neighbors you could ask for. "So there was the Yank house and the Australian house in this one town. That was it. We surfed there for a month, then headed southwards towards the desert and some place we'd heard about called Anchor Point. We camped there for a month."
Eventually there came the long unmemorable drive back through Europe, and a flight from Amsterdam back to California. He had been gone for seven months. .
“When I got back home, coming through customs, I thought, ‘This should be interesting.’ I had no idea what was gonna happen, and nothing did. They just stamped the passport and back we came. So it turns out, I was eligible, 1A, and if you were eligible, and weren’t called, like if you had a higher number, you could just go ahead and be eligible for a year, and if you weren’t called you were put in a holding category, and with number 40, well, I would have been nailed. But the draft had been slowing down. Remember that headline? Nixon and Kissinger: Peace Is At Hand. It turns out I went into 1A, eligible to be drafted, in December, and in January, since I hadn’t been called, it flipped me into a holding category. So I got this little H card in the mail months and months after I got back home. H for holding category, until you’re 35, or whatever it is, which was weird. It just felt strange. I felt that I had ducked it, and I didn’t like that, but on the other hand, I was just glad I didn’t have to go.”
Now it was time to go back to school at UCSB, surf, start a gardening business, rent a little trailer with Robin on La Cumbre Road, and discover his love for teaching. But Jim’s passion for travel had been unleashed.
“The floodgates were open. We were ready. We recognized that there was a whole lot possible beyond what looks possible.”
Alas, lost until the retake is the audio of Jim telling me about his and Robin’s next three-year journey, back to northern Spain, a winter working in Cornwall...and two years in Kenya, the Seychelles, South Africa. Lost for now are Jim’s colorful first impressions of steamy Mombasa, as surreal and exotic as the cantina scene from Star Wars. Lost until later is the story of how Jim and Robin ended up teaching in East Africa and joining the Peace Corps there. Not to mention Jim's years of adventure traveling with kids, his lifelong love of music, and working with families and children from Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia in the refugee camps of Thailand.
Even without audio or transcript, though, I do remember what Jim said when I asked what gives him hope. He told me that he remembers seeing people in Kenya from the Luo tribe. The idea that someone descended from this group would one day become President of the United States, Barack Obama, well...that would have been utterly unimaginable then. But it happened. Fantastic and impossible things do happen. And there’s a lot of hope in that.
“I live in the realm of anything’s possible,” said Jim.
He means it.