Al Levenson signed his name AL, which served double duty as his name and his initials. Thanks to the strange way Facebook allows us to learn about our friends through people we don’t know, I found out that AL passed away a few days ago.
Because he was one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met, I’d like to share a few memories of this seafaring, yarn-spinning, hard to resist rough-and-tumble former yacht salesman who left it all behind and took to the open road in the RV he christened “The Jolly Swag.”
The first time I met AL was at a support and critique group for writers, part of the California Writers Club. The Berkeley Branch (which actually meets in Oakland), gets together monthly at the Rockridge Library near my home. People are asked to bring in five pages of something they’ve written and pass around copies to the assembled group. I remember how I felt after my first session: breathless and excited to have met “my people” –people who care about writing and are willing to spend four hours on a Saturday giving feedback and support to fellow writers.
I sat next to AL, and quickly discovered that he liked to exchange wisecracks. At one meeting I think we even passed notes to each other, as if we were a couple of mischievous middle schoolers. He once told me he felt like “dipping my pigtails in the ink well,” He could tease and flirt with the best of them, but never in a mean-spirited or disrespectful way. Often frank, but never unkind, he could dish out praise if he felt it was warranted, and didn’t hold back if he found the work lacking in some way.
At one point, a few of us Berkeley Branch regulars started a subgroup that met once a month at my house. We gathered around my dining room table and shared our work with each other over the course of a late afternoon. After someone observed a reference to a local landmark in a story–one that might not be understood by people outside the Bay Area–we decided to reach for a common denominator: things like this should be clear to folks in, oh, say, Crawford, Texas. And this is how our group became the Crawford 7.
In recent years, the group’s number has fluctuated, but the name remains the same. We are, and always will be, the mighty Crawford 7.
In 2010, when AL decided to discard and/or sell all his worldly goods to travel the country in The Jolly Swag, we thought it might be a year-long adventure. After all, he started a blog called “A Year on the Road.”
And then he changed the name to “A Year on the Road Again.”
Here are a few of his observations after the first two years:
I made Sunday breakfast a day early—three eggs over easy, fries of potatoes, onions, and peppers.
I thought about some of the ancient (fifty-, sixty-, seventy-, and eighty-year) family history from the memories of cousins Stan and Bob, who I visited with for the first time in forty years.
I thought about some topics—possible blog posts—that fit brooding philosophers more than carefree gypsies: Optimism, Truth, Family Dramas.
I thought about the date of October 8th, when it will be two full years since I cast off my Alameda docking lines for a presumptuous Year on the Road.
And how I’ve been changed by those two years.
How the notion of Home, House, and Place has changed. How Simplicity and Frugality, once abstract and not particularly desirable concepts, have become solid cornerstones for a life format I never imagined could offer so much.
I thought about how I’ve become even more rich and streetwise.
And I thought about the next year, a year less predictable and more promising than most of the years of my life.
In the summer of 2010, I attended the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. AL had not applied or paid to attend, but he parked his RV in the lot nearby and came to the evening events. We sat together and kibbitzed like old times. He invited me to check out his home on wheels, and I was impressed with how well it suited his newly pared-down lifestyle. He had a female companion with him for part of the time, and I saw that three would’ve been a crowd. Go, AL!
Here’s another excerpt from his blog, reflecting on another year gone by, dated January 5, 2013:
My own life continued trapped in its labyrinth–ever more happily so. Preferring always to awaken with Serendipity regardless of with whom I sleep….
I wintered in North Florida, roaming between Sarasota, Weeki-Wachee, and Ocala, then cruising up Florida’s Elbow to wait for spring.
May found me in Atlanta, a most pleasant surprise of culture and diversity: a blue pocket in a red state.
On the 4th of July I got to Maine, quite possibly the best place in the country to spend the summer. Mainers are good people, sturdy, independent stock.
The fall found me sailing down the Blue Ridge Parkway for the annual leafy fireworks. Mid-October on the BRP ought to be on everyone’s bucket list.
I spent another month in ATL, testing out its invitation to be this gypsy’s home base for part of the year. I joined the 95-year-old Atlanta Writers Club. Surprise of surprises this tropical beachcomber will be spending the winter on the southern coast of the only one of the contiguous 48 states that has but one neighbor. Already there has been 18″ of snow, I believe that is as much as I’ve collected in all my years. The outdoor thermometer has not risen to 32 degrees in over a week.
Generous nieces and nephs have raided bottom drawers and showered me with wool gloves, scarves, long johns, and flannel-lined everything.
I am here for six months or so. Beneath the drifted snow is a gift–I will already be in Maine when summer comes.
His last post is dated April of this year.
I followed his travels, but sad to say, hadn’t been keeping in touch with him through comments or email. I guess I thought he’d always be out there, observing, thinking, writing and documenting the places and characters he came across for the benefit of his landlubber followers and fans.
I’ll always be thankful to AL for convincing me to take a more active role in the CWC by getting me to organize the workshops one year. He was really at the helm beside me, using his charm and salesmanship to line people up for the group’s benefit. We disagreed on a few things along the way, but you really couldn’t stay mad at him for long. He bribed me with stories about yachts and his high seas adventures, and all would be forgotten.
AL touched a lot of lives and left a great number of family and friends behind. From what I could tell, his years on the road were his happiest. The Jolly Swag was a good vehicle for his creativity and his independent spirit. I’ll miss his voice.
Sail on, AL. . .
This one’s for you.