Mark Gentry, AKA Just Mark, has been a traveler all his life. From running away to San Francisco as a teenager in 1967, to living in his bus and following the Grateful Dead, to embracing the nomadic subculture of the Rainbow Family of Living Light, Mark has seen a lot of pavement.
But lately, after decades of traveling, he’s settled down a bit; Just Mark established a home base for himself and his fellow travelers on a plot of land in Arizona, where he participates in the state’s cutting-edge medical marijuana laws, and provides friends and family with a safe, Rainbow-friendly place to stop and rest up for the journey ahead.
I was lucky enough to have met and traveled with Just Mark and his crew many years ago, and recently caught up with him again to see how he’s been doing.
DOPE Magazine: Where’s your home base now?
Just Mark: Along with two partners and some financial help from [the] Rainbow Family, we moved onto our thirteen-acre ranch eighteen miles west of Tucson near the Saguaro National Forest, where we help our friends with either their illnesses or their skills—and lots of art! Having this property here and a lot of space gives us an opportunity to share and advise, and work out of a home base which I’ve never really done, so now we can bring the vans and busses out here and people come see us.
Q: When I was traveling with you guys, there were so many magical moments that just seemed to follow us around everywhere we went. Why do you think that was?
A: Well, I don’t know. Maybe I take it as a norm now, but you’re right—it’s all pretty magical. And it’s still magic, what we’ve got going on out here with the family and friends coming through. Right now, we’ve got a gal here and we’re putting a new radiator in her van today. She’s a full-time traveler. She’s been staying here with us, helping out quite a bit, and we’re getting her van ready so it’ll make it to [the Rainbow gathering in] Oregon safely.
Q: What is a gathering like, for people who haven’t been to one?
A: It’s like building a small city, and setting up accommodations—from shelter, to food, to water, to safety and security, to all of that. You put it all together and feed the masses and do it all for free or magic, then pray for peace on the 4th of July, and start cleaning up our mess. And it’s worked out for 42, 43 years.
Q: I imagine this year’s prayer might have some special oomph behind it.
A: [Laughs] Yeah, maybe Bernie Sanders will show up!
Q: What do you love most about being on the road?
A: Well it’s a different sunset every day, that’s for sure. I don’t know how a lot of my family or friends back in the Midwest still do it. I can’t believe they’re still in Kansas, you know. I’ve just had itchy feet since I was a kid. I started running away to San Francisco when I was thirteen. And [my] parents would bring me back. I probably hold the world’s record for running away to san Francisco. But that’s what you did in the sixties, you know.
Q: Do you still take the Sailbus to the gatherings?
A: I’m not going to this year. It’s running okay, but it’s a dollar a mile to drive this thing, and it’s hard work—there’s no power steering. So, I’m getting kind of old and I don’t feel up to it, and I don’t have the finances. Plus, if I leave with my bus, it’s guaranteed gonna take a couple of months round trip and that was one thing I never did when I was on the road—I never had to worry about a round trip. We’d just go to the next place. But when you gotta double it up and figure out how to get back somewhere, then it’s different.
Q: Back in the day, it seemed like you always had four or five people riding along with you. Do you still surround yourself with a crew like that?
A: We’ve got a crew here. They come and they go. We’ve had several that stayed long-term, because they like what we’re doing and what’s going on here—making art and helping people. But, yeah, if we’ve got friends going from L.A. to New York, they can swing in here and get a shower and a meal, get repairs on their vehicle if they need it, whatever. Plus, I’m old, but we’re all old here [laughs]. We can’t do it by ourselves.
Q: And do your friends call you Just Mark, or Mark?
A: Just Mark.
Q: Thanks for letting me tell your story, I’m really excited to get it out there.
A: Me too, it’s time. It’s just time. In the future, what a long, strange trip this may still be. You can quote me on that!