By Doug Bernard
Some of you may remember the picture in a textbook of years gone by in which a bearded Ponce De Leon in a pointed metal helmet and several soldiers are winding their way in through the sable palmettos and raintrees under the magnolias and dogwood around and through Japanese yew and bayonet leaves of Spanish yucca (see what I learned in Florida?) in order to find the fountain of youth. What he found, of course, was mimosa, century plant, camphor trees, Morroccan dates, palms, fillies and more sable palmettos. It was actually a case of being born too soon. What Ponce De Leon was really looking for was Gainesville.
Being acclimated to the Mile High climate, I found that a person has to get used to paradisical surroundings. There is so much of everything, there is nearly too much - too many plants, great downpours of rains, wonderful strange bugs, tropical steam bath heat. And hidden in the midst of this Tarzan set is the provincial and sensible city of Gainesville.
A "Gainesville premie" is not really that much different than a premie from anywhere else in this broad family, except that a Gainesville premie is decidedly from and all for Gainesville. Everybody works for the Gainesville Premie Community Chamber of Commerce. A sense of solidarity and family which is thorough-going makes it a common law community, and while it may never have formally appeared as a red pin on the DUO map of the U.S., the premies here have been of the opinion that they were a community for so long, that it has become so.
Your Corduroy Inner Office Memo System
In the beautiful little community satsang hall is an organizational chart which rivals the Rand corporation for sheer numbers. Where most community organizations specify two or three responsible people, Gainesville must specify thirty. And each name is removable so that the board reflects who's actually pulling the load, rather than a program planner's pipe dream. There are alot of people pulling the load in Gainesville (112 out of a population of 122 were involved with the Summer Tour preparation). Then across the room on the opposite wall is some kind of Aztec tapestry with corduroy yellow pockets sewn on, with people's names affixed to them. This is the inner office memo system. It's this kind of IBM clarity blended with down-home do-it-ourself ism which I found repeated over and over in Gainesville - the most interesting mixture of the amateur and the professional that I have seen in a long time.
122 Headstrong Devotees
David Horsford bears an oft-commented upon resemblance to Bob
Mishler and at 21, is the pointy end of the community organizational chart's pyramid of names. He has the quiet demeanor reminiscent of a retired surfing champion. Being the captain of 122 headstrong devotees or sitting on top of a thousand minor details just doesn't seem to bother him much. He ascribes Gainesville's success to those 122 strong heads and seems to really trust and value the wisdom in the community. Adapted from the regular community organization, the program staff was merely an extension of already existing departments - Security coordinator John Fitzgerald took charge of security; program coordinator Harold Snellen took charge of support; Margie Morales, "organizational genius" of the office, took charge of administrative services; Anna Carnie of the Gainesville personnel department (see what I mean?) took charge of volunteer services. And then, community stalwarts (who probably also appear on the chart) Bob and Barbara Davies (housing and stage design), Kitty Bradshaw (GMYs residence), Greg Weeks (stage construction) and the list just goes on and on. It's not meaningful to list the people I have listed, because in Gainesville "in charge" seems to be an arbitrary idea. There are so many people capable and willing to take responsibility for Guru Maharaj Ji's work that I am listing some of them on behalf of all of them. Really guys, I was impressed.
Everyone Is Doing It
I am sitting in the "518" house (the Gainesville center) eating some Uncle Paul Kittas Homemade Granola out of a Divine Pottery Farm bowl, marveling at how hard it is to cover the story of the program's development. I have a list of coordinators, but they are all out either renting, building, planning or meeting, and occasionally one floats through the room long enough to take a banana out of the fruit bowl before heading off to another responsibility. There is a very cooperative vibe here, i.e., everybody is operating independently at the same time, and I believe this is why I never catch David barking orders or racing around with a clipboard. Everything seems to be getting done because everyone is doing it. Apparently this same sort of independent assumption of responsibility that is whirring around me in the form of an evolving program takes place on a day-to-day basis. I think it's an artistic ethic among many premies here to try and do things with excellence, because they know that what they do reflects on Guru Maharaj Ji.
For example, "Uncle" Paul Kittas, the housemother at the center, and I visited a couple of community projects during my stay. One was the "Super Graphics," a colorful rendering of the Gainesville skyline on the side of a building owned by the police department. It was a real work of art - good design, clever color, modernesque, accurate rendering of the "skyline" (the town has only one skyscraper about seven stories tall built in early God knows when), the kind of thing which looks playful but must have required the collaboration of quite a few premies who knew what they were doing and cared about it. The other was an inner city park paved with the bricks of the buildings which had formerly stood there, which the premies dubbed "Prem Pal Plaza." Premier carried so many of those bricks that DLM appears on a bronze plaque along with other civic groups.
I marveled at how many people stopped to talk to Paul as we walked through the grounds at the dedication ceremonies (one lady asking in a very southern accent about his banana bread). It was clear that people at various levels of the civic structure and community were not only aware that premies lived in Gainesville, but that premies did good work and made good citizens. All around me, those citizens were earnestly organizing Guru Maharaj Ji's program with the same earnestness that got the bricks into Prem Pal Plaza, or pays the rent on their community center.
Eleventh Hour and All is Calm
The day of the program was characterized by the same calculated buzz as the preparations. The University of Florida Gym doors swung open and small groups of volunteers swung into action, without frenzy, setting up chairs, setting up lights, setting up a room of pre-constructed tongue and groove construction which required no nails (a waiting room for Maharaj Ji), etc. The same crew that fabricated the room accepted right in stride adviser Mark Retzloff's note that the stage was inordinately large and cut it down to half the size with no problem. Carpet and plants arrived, security people recruited from communities all over the south began to try out walkie-talkies, and the University of Florida light and sound crew slowly established a working relationship with the premies' tech crew. During the day a meal was prepared and people were housed apparently without a hitch (I wasn't there, but both Bob and Paul seemed to have made it safely to the program). When the doors swung open at 5:00 and premies made a quiet but single-pointed roller derby to find seats, everyone who had trained and worked for the past month was in place.
And the Program?
Well, the program was just beautiful. The stage looked as if Barbara and Steve had just liberated Maharaj Ji's living room from the residence foundations and floated it into the University of Florida Gym. The crowd of a thousand stretched just back to half court and the premies created a very at-home atmosphere with their concentration. For awhile during Guru Maharaj Ji's satsang, the balconies offered a cheering section of little children, but you can't have everything (see Indy article). Darshan was homey and quiet. The band, Pure Grace, was graceful and the evening ended perfectly.
The Last Time I Saw Gainesville
The last time I saw the Gainesville Community, they were all learning how to do the hustle or the shuffle together at Bruce and Christine's wedding. Seymour Light was playing, "Love is Making a Comeback" and there they all were, getting into line, teaching each other the moves with great patience, and moving all together.