During the height of flower power in 1967, Scott McKenzie released a single about going to San Francisco. It took local author Ginny Hartman 23 years to achieve this, and in an unconventional method. Wearing flowers in your hair had long gone. It was more shell suits and raving then. So how and why did Ginny make this trip from Nottingham to California? All is revealed in her new book ‘The Giant, the Dream Machine and Me’. Part travelogue, part autobiography, part adventure story and with a light dusting of romance to help things along. Written over the past year, during lockdowns, face masks and shielding.
In the summer of 1990, Ginny’s life changed, when she gave up her job with a local legal firm, and decided to be a full-time mature student at Trent University studying for a degree in the Creative Arts. A whim maybe. But it was something that she was keen to do. Whilst there, she jumped at the opportunity of becoming the first exchange student with the San Francisco State University. So, on 25th June 1990, Ginny landed in New York, but then wondered how she would eventually get to the West Coast of America with very little money. Fortunately, an old school friend called Roger Hart lived in the Big Apple, so that made the transition to Stateside living a lot easier for this mature student.
Ginny seemed to have a fair bit of luck while in the States, through the people that she met or was introduced to. One in particular had a big influence on her at the time. And in more ways than one. His name was George Bailey, an artist and at 6’ 9”, he dwarfed Ginny’s slender 5’ 4” frame. Whilst in a conversation with him, George just happened to mention that he planned to move to San Francisco, and wondered if it might be a good idea for them to travel together, by car, rather than Greyhound bus or fly there, as both of them were quite poor, as Ginny only had her student grant to live on, and a small salary that she had earned from working for a short while in Roger’s office.
Ginny heard from George a few weeks later, saying that he had found a 1977 Dodge Station Wagon, that was for sale for $600. The Dream Machine. They paid half each, and so the road trip began. Ginny then realised that there were going to be two major problems with driving in the States. The first one being that she had never driven a vehicle on the ‘wrong’ side of the road before, and the other, was the size difference between her and George and having to keep moving the cars’ bench seat, every time there was a change of driver. The first problem was overcome by just driving on the long straight road of Route 6, and the latter by Ginny sitting on a booster seat made from foam rubber, so she could reach the pedals. This also doubled up as a mattress, as they slept under the stars, with just the odd night in a motel as a treat. And so started the 3500 mile journey from Pennsylvania to San Francisco. They passed through such states as Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, The Rocky Mountains, Utah, Nevada, before finally reaching California about ten days later, and the sight of the Pacific Ocean.
The book itself isn’t that long. Ginny Hartman isn’t Jack Kerouac or Bill Bryson. But then she doesn’t aim to be. But what Ginny does write about, she does in an interesting and honest way and with a certain amount of wry humour. I read the whole thing in one sitting. It makes for a nice gentle, afternoon read. Sitting outside and imagining that the vast plains of America are at the end of the garden. It’s illustrated with some 35 photos that Ginny took during her time there. She took hundreds with her trusty Pentax, as photography was part of her course, and before the time of digital cameras. So those 36 frames had to count.
But of course the main theme of the story is about how two strangers from the opposing edges of the Atlantic, could develop such a close relationship as quickly as the days and miles went by. Especially as George believed that he was gay. As an epilogue to the story, Ginny is planning to meet up with George in Palm Springs, just as soon as it is safe for her to travel. Not by car this time, but by aeroplane. It will be the first time in over 30 years that they have seen each other.
So, did Ginny leave her heart in San Francisco? You’ll just have to buy the book to find out. And when you do, you’ll also be helping the Broxtowe Women’s Project, as Ginny will be donating £1 to them for each book that’s sold. At the time of writing, ’The Giant, The Dream Machine and Me’ can be purchased locally from Two Little Magpies, Iguazu and very shortly the Canalside Heritage Centre. Also from Ginny herself; email@example.com and of course Amazon.