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30,000 Issues From a '72 Van : 'Monks' on Road to Magazine Success

February 07, 1988|ANN JAPENGA | Times Staff Writer

At the Hawkeye RV Park in Sedona, Ariz., class distinction is normally preserved through a parking hierarchy. Uptown spots go to the folks in the $30,000 motor homes. Down by the riverside, you'll find the proletarian travelers in tents and campers.

But class lines snapped last summer when a 1972 Ford Econoline van came to Hawkeye.

Out stepped two men, both blue-eyed and bony. They planted a Macintosh computer on a picnic table. One then took to standing on his head in a yoga pose, while the other plugged in a waffle iron and stirred up a batter with dollops of soy milk and seaweed.

The First Van-Based Magazine

Soon the uptown ladies, the kids from the riverside and everyone in between was coming over to investigate.

Which was as it should be. After all, the blue-eyed travelers were there to contact the citizens of Hawkeye .

Michael Lane and Jim Crotty are publishing the world's first Econoline van-based magazine, Monk, "the magazine with a Heart." Conceived, written and executed mostly from the confines of their 12x6-foot home, the 18-month-old publication takes as its subject the people Lane and Crotty have met on the road.

More specifically, in terms reminiscent of another vagabond-writer, Jack Kerouac, the pair say they seek "the child, the goofball, the prankster" in those they encounter.

The venture began as a letter home. Lane, 37, and Crotty, 28, were living an upscale life style in a seven-room mansion on a hill in San Francisco when, in April, 1986, they abandoned what they saw as the "dark energy" of the city and set out in search of a fairer outlook.

"We agreed to write a newsletter that connected all our friends with our journey through America," Lane wrote in Vol. 1, No. 1, and added that their hope was that the adventure would "help us once again feel the soul of a great nation."

That first issue consisted of 1,000 copies in a crude newsprint format. By spending at least three hours of each day on public pay phones, Crotty managed to solicit advertisers--mostly manufacturers of health foods and New Age books, records and other products. The pair enlisted the assistance of local printers wherever they happened to be staying when it was time for a new issue.

Readers who picked up the publication at a health food store or metaphysical bookstore began sending $10 apiece to a San Diego address for a year's subscription. (The address is 3841 4th Ave. Suite 124, San Diego, CA 92103.)

Today, Monk is a quarterly magazine distributed all over the country, with 7,000 subscribers and a most recent print run of 30,000, according to Crotty. Income from advertising and subscriptions supports the publishers and their magazine on a fittingly monk-like modest scale. ("We aren't really making a profit at this," Crotty said.)

An Extraordinary Feat

All this is no easy feat, according to Michael Coffey, editor of Small Press magazine, the unofficial trade journal of independent book and magazine publishers. "Seven thousand subscribers is very good for a magazine that is only four issues old," Coffey said in a telephone interview from Westport, Conn. "What's most amazing is that they've managed to attract advertisers from this rambling caravan of a publishing company."

Thus far, Crotty and Lane's peregrinations have led them through parts of California, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, and on into Kansas, Missouri and--currently--Nebraska.

The two are on the lookout for people who embody qualities Lane and Crotty see as an antidote to the urban blues. Qualities like joy, hope, humor, mindfulness and curiosity. Qualities of a monk.

They've found what they're seeking again and again--in film directors, retirees, clowns, fashion designers, housewives and even real monks.

\o7 Lane and Crotty were sunbathing by a river somewhere north of Chico when out of the bushes emerged a former computer programmer from Los Angeles. He wore a cap, Izod shirt, shorts and sunglasses.

It turned out his name was Henry and he was a Catholic hermit, studying at a Trappist monastery nearby.

Every morning Henry arrived at Lane and Crotty's campsite bearing fruit for breakfast and books to fill the time. The self-proclaimed monks and the card-carrying monk spent hours swimming in the river and doing tai chi on the shore, until Henry was called back by the monastery bells each evening.

"We happened to be the first outsiders he had met in eight months," Lane and Crotty wrote in the newsletter. Proclaiming Henry "Monk of the Month" for their first issue, they said: "To us, Henry was an angel beamed over from heaven's gate to deliver one important message: 'Be kind to each other."'

The Ford Econoline with a failing clutch and 163,000 miles under its fan belt made it over the Rockies this winter, but when the heater gave out in the vehicle, the Monks were forced to temporarily move indoors.

The two met with a reporter recently in a room they had rented in Boulder, Colo.

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