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Stephanie Blank65, a writer and the owner of a home-accessory business, who lives in Marina del Rey, California Kelly Fleming63, a fiber artist and substitute teacher who lives in Langlois, Oregon. Julie Beck: Tell me about your upbringings, because it seems like they were somewhat unusual. Stephanie Blank: I was born and raised in Southern California. I was a student at Beverly Hills High School in or I was really unhappy there, and frustrated with everything that Beverly Hills stood for—all the kids in their fancy cars and fancy clothes.

I was becoming part of the counterculture; I was going to love-ins and be-ins with my older sister. Then I heard about this communal school up in the Santa Cruz mountains in Northern California, and I pretty much just dropped out of Beverly. I only finished ninth grade there. My parents were going through a divorce, and they were really distracted. So they didn't really care as long as they knew where I was.

So I went up to Pacific High School. Really, it was a commune, an experiment. It was very isolated. We had a bunch of geodesic domes; the de was overseen by Buckminster Fuller. The students all built the domes; we were learning about geometry from putting them together. If you don't seal them properly, they leak. So they all leaked. Beck: What was the social scene like there? Stephanie: There were lots of parties because we lived communally. Boys and girls lived together; there was no distinction.

You could live with whomever you wanted. When the dorms got overcrowded, people would find spaces to live; they'd hang a parachute in a tree and use that as a canopy. There was a lot of pot smoking and quite a lot of psychedelic drugs.

We had classes like organic gardening, edible mushrooms, volleyball. The art classes were really popular, the French-language classes were popular, the music classes were popular. But because staff members and students all had one vote in the decision making, at one point the students outvoted the teachers and we fired all the teachers that taught academic-type classes like algebra.

It was pretty much a free-for-all. When I was there, I met Kelly's brother Mako, and he became my first true love. They ed the hippie culture. My dad was in advertising, and then he and my mother got into making a light-show business—light shows that would go behind bands. You took a tray of oils and put it over a light that would reflect onto the wall. And then you would wiggle the oils around. Psychedelicthat's the word. The business didn't go very well. So they sold the business, sold the house, bought a school bus, packed up four of their five children, and headed for Mexico.

Beck: Did they buy the bus from the local school district? Kelly: Actually, it belonged to another group of hippies that lived in San Francisco. But it was mostly just a shell at that point. My parents put in bunk beds, a kitchen, and a king-size bed in the back. It was a really nice set up. Almost all the windows were open. No matter where you were in that bus, you could see a great view as the countryside went by.

Stephanie: The bus got a fantastic paint job with rainbows and all kinds of hippie stuff. And then they named it the Argo. Kelly: My father was really into history. When my oldest brother, Mako, came down to us in Mexico, Stephanie came with him and that's where we met. Beck: That was all prologue. Now tell me about the beginning of your friendship and that trip to Mexico. Stephanie: So I was madly in love with Kelly's brother Mako, and he had left the school to go down to meet his family in Mexico. I flew down a little bit later and met the whole family. I was just I remember vividly flying into Oaxaca.

It was a teeny little airport. I remember looking out the window and seeing this big yellow bus. Kelly: We were parked [right near where] the airplane lands. Stephanie: I'm waving out the window, I can see this whole hippie family and this crazy painted bus.

Kelly: I remember Stephanie getting off the plane. I fell in love with her the minute I saw her. A ray of sunshine ed our crew. I traveled with them for a few months as we made our way from Mexico back to Arizona.

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I rode in the bus with them the whole time—camping out, staying by the sides of ro. It was quite an adventure.

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Beck: How did you and Kelly get close during that journey? Kelly: All of my siblings, including me, just wanted to show her all that we had learned about Oaxaca on our journey. Our communication with each other was just so connected; I don't know any other way to say it. At that point, she was pretty dedicated to my brother, but when we made it to Tucson, where my family settled and stayed from then on, we made a pact with each other that we would stay in touch. Then I moved back to Tucson because Mako and I were still trying to see if our relationship would work.

Kelly and I had stayed in touch and talked on the phone. So I moved back to Tucson and lived with the family. Kelly and I got a house together in Tucson. Kelly: I was 15 and a half or I was pretty young when we moved into that place together. Beck: It was just you two, no parents or anything? Kelly: It was Stephanie and I, and then we had another female roommate.

Beck: What was it like living by yourselves at that age? Stephanie: We thought we were so mature. We felt like it wasn't unusual for an year-old and a year-old to have their own house and have jobs.

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Kelly: I was waitressing and helping my parents at their silver shop. We [mostly] got around town on our bicycles. I bought an old Chevy pickup truck that worked some of the time. Mostly, we were just living the young life and feeling pretty free. Beck: Were Stephanie and Mako still together at this point? Kelly: They broke up while we were renting that house in Tucson.

Stephanie: The drinking age in Arizona was 19 [at the time], so I got a job at this very hip, happening bar in Tucson.

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Kelly: We were putting money away because we wanted to take a trip together. Stephanie: Our goal was to get the hell out of the desert and go to Europe. Kelly: We put an ad up at [a local] university for a ride to New York. We sold pretty much all of our jewelry [when we got to New York].

That was our spending money when we went to Europe. Stephanie: We had some crazy charter flight that left out of Montreal, so we had to hitchhike from Manhattan to Montreal in the middle of winter. Beck: What were your highest and lowest moments of traveling together? Kelly: My highest moments were definitely in Greece. When we were in Athens, we were just walking the city through the night, and we ran into somebody who told us the Acropolis was free on a full-moon night.

And it was a full-moon night. So we hiked up and got in for free. We watched the moon go down and the sun come up, while sitting on the edge of the ruins looking out over the city. And [there was the time] Stephanie decided to journey on her own. Stephanie: Kelly and I split up and I went off on my own. Kelly was a little bit nervous about being alone, but I just, I don't know, I needed to be by myself. Kelly: We were very glad to see each other.

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We got onto this ferry, and as it headed out into the Mediterranean, a storm came up. That ferry was just all over the place. There was throw-up all over the deck; it was horrible. Stephanie: It was like a ship from hell. It was supposed to be a three-hour ferryboat ride. We finally got to Santorini eight hours later, in the middle of the night. Kelly: When we got to the shore, the sun hadn't come up yet. We watched the other tourists rent donkeys to go up the trail because they dropped you off along a cliff. Neither of us had the money to [rent donkeys].

So we grabbed our backpacks and we headed up the trail. All I remember is we walked for a long time. Finally, we were so tired that we just rolled out our sleeping bags and went to sleep. And when we woke up in the morning, we were on the edge of a cliff, sleeping in donkey poop. So we rolled up our bags and made our way to the top of the trail. And a young boy, about eight years old, took us to a really sweet little pension for not much money. Kelly: Oh my gosh. We had to hang our sleeping bags to air them out for awhile.

Beck: How did your friendship evolve after that trip?

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