In the first teaser from KYD issue 24, Laura Elizabeth Woollett follows the trail of Jim Jones. Before Jonestown there was Redwood Valley, where the charismatic Jones would commune with his loyal flock.
This is the place, I think, looking out the Greyhound window at the hills and valleys and late afternoon light that’s too beautiful not to look at.
I’m in northern California, wine country, Peoples Temple country, but even if I hadn’t been researching Peoples Temple for the past year, this would be the place; it’s everyone’s kind of place. Across the aisle, a guy my age is talking on his phone, saying, ‘Almost in Ukiah,’ and ‘Fucking beautiful.’ Another guy is filming. My heart keeps doing freaky, flippy things. If there’s anywhere that could make me believe in heaven on earth, it’s here.
I’m the only female on the bus and the only soul to get off in Ukiah. The Greyhound station is just a bench outside an airfield on a road where no one is walking. This is what scares me most about America and travelling alone in general – the wide stretches of road without pedestrians.
I ask the driver if this is the road where my motel is and he says yes, asks if I want to be driven the extra mile, says it’s probably a nice walk. I’ve been on my arse all day. I thank him and watch the Greyhound pull away.
Greyhounds always make me think of Peoples Temple – they’re the fleet of buses Reverend Jim Jones acquired for transporting his loyal Redwood Valley flock to services in other cities. Then again, everything makes me think of Peoples Temple. This trip is about indulging that, total immersion. I am a very long way from home.
A woman shouts something abrasive at me from a car – ‘Slut!’ or maybe ‘Cunt!’ Otherwise, the walk is peaceful. I perk up when I see the Quality Inn sign, because my bags are heavy and my shirt is sour with sweat.
The receptionist seems pleased to see another person, gives me a map and the details of a bike place that won’t open until Monday, keys to a room big enough to sleep four people, or maybe eight if this was a Peoples Temple commune. Outside, there’s an ice dispenser, a vending machine full of American soda, a vast parking lot, and a scummy swimming pool. I feel like I’m in a Lana Del Rey song.
My first morning in Ukiah, the weather is warm so I wear a dress. I wear my hair loose. I wear lipstick.
It takes maybe half an hour to walk from my motel into town, and in that time I am catcalled, offered a lift in a pick-up and accosted by a guy who wants to know how old I am, if I have a boyfriend, where my boyfriend is.
‘Home,’ I say, not mentioning that ‘home’ is a fourteen-hour flight across the Pacific Ocean. I’m a city girl, accustomed to the anonymity of crowded footpaths and am unnerved to be so conspicuous here.
But the hills are still golden and lovely, and the street names seem like allusions: Jones, Church, Redwood.
I buy a bag of cherries. I go to the library. The librarian is unimpressed when I tell him I’m researching Peoples Temple, but shows me how to scour the local-news archives.
At the computer, I eat cherries and marvel over how it all escalates: from innocent ads for church services to stories of Jones’s local heroics to scandal to jungle exodus to mass suicide, Kool-Aid, conspiracy. I try to imagine reading these things in the context of the 1960s and 1970s.
As I’m reading, a woman with bad teeth gets caught stealing toilet rolls and is banished from the library forever. A middle-aged stoner comes up to me and asks what I’m reading. I show him Jim Jones.
‘Oh, Jim Jones. He was charismatic.’
‘I wish I was charismatic.’
Want to read the rest? Issue 24 will be hitting subscriber mailboxes later this week, and is available online Monday 21st December! Be the first to read it by purchasing a print or online subscription to KYD.
Original artwork by Guy Shield.