Looking for community and a home, or just looking for a ride

You could see them hitchhiking. Out there by the roadside, their thumbs outstretched, often with a dog. Just where were they all going? Not a bad question, actually, considering that most of them had their whole adult lives ahead.

For that matter, where were they coming from?

The call of adventure, setting forth into the unknown, the desire for discoveries and opportunities to prove one’s abilities – these are as old as humanity itself. The sense that something better may lie beyond the next hill, across the river, further along the coast. Furs and tusks, gold or silver, trading opportunities, a party. Escapades. Conquering hero. Love or a feast.

On the other end, there was always the wariness. Peril. Just who are these strangers? Can they be trusted? Why are they here, and what do they have to offer? Do we even speak the same tongue? Hello? Run for the hills? What stories do they carry? What can they teach us?

That is, a small world gets bigger, when the threat evaporates. It’s a break in the routine. Hop on in. What’s your destination? Oh, I know somebody there, you ought to look them up.

Of course, it could be dangerous. For the driver or the rider. There were even laws against. Keep your eyes open. Run from the cops.

Sometimes it was simple convenience. Why take a bus one hundred and twenty-five miles, with a layover, when it’s just sixty miles, here to there, direct? Besides, the shorter route is cheaper, even when it’s raining.

The first ones, at least, were trying to break out from the crowd. Be different. Few, I suppose, ever really fit in back home, wherever that was. Here they were, expanding their horizons. Hoping to be at home in the world. If nothing else, there was restlessness, strumming away to lyrics from other restless eras. I’m just a ramblin’ hobo. An homage to those voices, with echoes of riding the rails through the Great Depression. Vagabond. Gypsy. The words themselves extending wonder. Traveling light, carefree. To be at the fringe of the economy, if only as a student. This in itself was sufficient reason, if they needed it.

There were areas you wouldn’t go, if you were smart – spaces that were in effect off limits or danger zones or points of no return: many large cities, especially, or most of the Deep South. And if you stuck to the road, rather than veering off into fields or forests, the way Indians would have before the European invasion, well, these days most of the rest of the land had No Trespassing signs up and meant it.

What thumbing did was test the waters. How pervasive was this hippie subculture? Who was lending it a hand? What were its possibilities? Were could we initiate dialogue? Share a laugh? Maybe a toke?

Not that anyone ever thought it through logically. It was an act, not a treatise, something done as the result of a vague urge or curiosity, accompanied by sufficient courage. Maybe even a reaction to boredom. And off you went, with or without a destination.

And you thought it was just a lark?

You never knew who you'd meet when you set out on the road with your thumb up.
You never knew who you’d meet when you set out on the road with your thumb up.

There were other inspirations. The wandering Buddhist monks and Hindu saddhus of Asia. The North American Indians, with their spiritual connection to the land. Religious pilgrims from medieval Europe or modern Latin America. Under it all, a discovery that even nomads have a home, a circle to journey. There was even the concept of the Grand Tour of Europe, for the rich, only now it was middle-class suburban children out across both the USA and the Old World, relying on their backpacks and random connections.

Hitchhiking was a way of making introductions, however briefly. However anonymously. All the more real than anything viewed on TV. See, we could talk, or even laugh at the jokes, while getting from one place to another, while watching America roll past. In their travels and explorations, hitchhikers mapped an emerging landscape and its changes. They were finding pockets quite different from the conformity and plastic of their artificial suburbs. People actually worked where they lived, for starters; fathers were available during workday hours. See?

Ha! I’ve been talking about hitchhikers, and keep assuming they were hippies. They were, weren’t they?

As if hitchhiking itself were a defining quality marking a hippie. As if long hair on a male, or unpermed hair on a female, were a defining quality. As if opposition to the Vietnam war and military draft were a defining quality. As if the use of marijuana or other mind-altering drugs were a defining quality. And maybe they were.

Subway_HitchhikersIt wasn’t as if you held a membership card in the International Society of Hippies or even some local affiliate. You might admit a kinship to the legendary Wobblies (I.W.W.) of the Pacific Northwest or the Waldensians of medieval Europe. Yet, for all of its lack of definition, there came a point when others knew you were one, and that was what counted.

Just who was a hippie? All kinds of outcasts and fringe youths, actually. Some where essentially taking a break before establishing families or careers or their own businesses. Others would always be failures. There were those who were on a journey of spiritual discovery, while others were just there for the party. There were idealists. Washouts. Desperados. Anti-war activists. Underdogs. Pranksters. Druggies. Those who didn’t want to become like their parents. Those who were hungering for community and love. Coming out the suburbs, especially.

Of course, generalizations prove elusive when looking at individuals. To be a hippie meant adapting an identity drawing on many sources; it acknowledged a reorientation in your life, too. Maybe she was already your girlfriend or he, your boyfriend, adapting to new identity. At the core were the drugs and sexuality – the desire for transcendent union in the flesh. Peace and Love, after all. There was more to it than sticking another slogan-button on your shirt or coat. Suddenly, being cool was something for those who had been at the fringes – those who had been nerds and artists and shy dreamers in high school now ruled, while the football team and cheerleaders remained clueless. The ROTC crowd was headed for Vietnam, anyway. See, if you wanted to get laid, brother, let your hair grow. And take another toke. Maybe it won’t matter. Here was instant community. Pass the peace pipe. Some said we were embracing the Indian. The idea of mountain men was just as likely. If you’re lucky. Depending on your deepest aspirations. Or what was just at the fringe. Not that everybody was seeing action all the time anyway. In the beginning, there was light. Strobe light, actually. Pot and then LSD. For some, it was a matter of changing costumes. The buzz cuts and flattops grown out. For some, it was a big party. For some, it was an aesthetic encounter. For some, there was new religion.

The muse and goddess infusing it all was the hippie chick, ultimately as idealized and ephemeral as the Virgin Mary or the Mona Lisa or a glimmer from the planet Venus. We were young then, anyway, barely aware of the reality of the flesh. Even on a high, there was no way to measure up – and deep down, she must have sensed it. Which is more than many of the males knew of themselves. Just what were we really hoping for in these encounters? For a person seeking a lifetime soul mate, musical beds was an unlikely strategy for success. If some were seeking faithful partners, others wanted body counts – the more, the merrier. Same said one thing, but meant the other. Some wanted both. In the quest for community, deeply ingrained feelings about possessiveness, jealousy, and unstated assumptions of commitment could make all the difference.

EssenceJust what did we hold in common? It was one thing to ask just what were you, if you weren’t a hippie? A draftee, a redneck, a little missy goody two-shoes, a junior executive, a straight? At the time we could say what we were against. But what, precisely, did we support? Advance? And how would we do it?

Pay attention to where we were living. Existing at the edge of the greater economy, if only as students, we needed roommates to help pay the bills. We could rarely afford to dwell anywhere except a slum or rundown farmstead in the country (besides, collections of unrelated individuals were unwelcome elsewhere). An apartment, then, or maybe a big old house, if you could swing it. We were renting, anyway, always renting. There were no surgeons or on-the-upswing managers in our midst. No down payments, much less a mortgage. Even at that, we had to cope with various tastes, practices, and quirks of our roommates or housemates, and hope they were responsible with their share of the obligations. Of course there would be evasions and confrontations. We were human, after all.

The reasons for hippies to find themselves in any particular locale deserve consideration. A university with a strong liberal arts program helped. Or a big city with a robust economy, preferably coastal, not too industrial, and ethnically diverse. The kind that welcomes offbeat creativity.


Looking for a high

How do we counter the stereotypical image of the hippie, in which everyone reclining around the bong was stoned out their heads and any dialogue resembled a bad Chech and Chong  or Firesign Theater LP? The one reinforced by the notion that this was an everyday occurrence? Or the one with strobe lights, outrageous music, and tie-dye fabrics? In reality, it was a long stretch from the occasional recreational use of pot to an opium den or endless psychedelic party, and there were a lot of degrees in between.

Certainly, there must have been places where heavy everyday consumption was the case. And Cheech and Chong were funny, to some extent, because they touched on the shared experience and turned it on its head – my apologies for the pun. But my guess is the zonked out zones were few and far between. More common was the example at the Ranch in my Hippie Trails novels – an informal social happening with light-hearted banter.

Even though tons of material and research have been published about drug use and abuse, talking openly about our experiences is admittedly difficult, in part because the substances remain illegal, and, in other part, because we now see those events through the lenses of developments coming after that original blush of introduction. Either way, we’re likely to sound like we’re preaching – for legalization, on one hand, or repentance and abolition, on the other. Or even hypocrisy, if we say it was good for us but bad for our children.

Even so, the fact remains that marijuana, at least, was a central part of the hippie experience. Until we come face to face with its role, we can never achieve clarity about the journey or its value.

Moreover, the use of pot has never vanished from the American scene since its spread in the hippie bloom. Other drugs have come and gone from popular usage, but the fact remains that illicit substances remain part of the general society.

To say, however, that “getting a buzz” or “stoned” or “trippy” represents something “high” now seems absurd – at least until we examine its origins.

Asking what prompts the use of non-medicinal drugs, I find myself also considering caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol – what some people have called the “advertised” recreational substances, to put them more on par with the illicit ones. The fact is that people use them because they like the effect. Maybe the nuns were right after all when they warned that chewing gum would lead to further addictions. That is, pleasure. Nor am I the first to observe that smoking marijuana could make other experiences more pleasurable – food, sex, music, dancing, sunsets, or what have you.

While each of the various drugs available through this period had its own qualities, marijuana had a central position, for many reasons. Foremost, smoking pot was a shared activity, one akin to passing a peace pipe; in the beginning, the very idea of doing it alone would have been, well, unthinkable. For many people, it was also the first illicit substance to be experienced, and the crossing of legal lines accompanied a definite initiation, one full of anxiety. Taking that first step also meant going underground, to a degree. Becoming an outlaw. But once you were in the secret circle, everything was in the open, at least in the first years. To be offered a toke was a sign of trust and inclusion; besides, to refuse it would immediately arouse suspicion.

NirvanaA crucial distinction at the beginning involved the outlook of the individual – in effect, whether you were seeking some transcendent state, profound insights, comically weird connections, or simple escape. The expectations, after all, could shape the practice. When pot first appeared in this connection, its use often had a quasi-religious quality – the room was sealed off, incense and candles lighted, special music put on the stereo – everything made holy, as in set apart. It didn’t take long, though, for it to become vulgar, as in commonplace, or for paranoia to set in.

Yes, when the flashing or pulsating awareness kicked in, everything was perceived differently. Time was suspended; for future-oriented, success-driven individuals, the effect meant yielding to an event wholly in the present. (As for driving under the influence, let me tell of a friend stopped by a small-town officer: “Mr. Bishop, how fast do you think you were going?” “Oh, thirty or forty miles an hour.” “Mr. Bishop, you were going four miles an hour.”) It also meant a relaxation or blurring of critical senses, which could convey a sense of communion where a competitive nature had been. To be in a reflective mode allowed the ugly to be seen as beautiful or otherwise unnoticed nuances to surface.

There was also the collective awareness, say, listening to Grace Slick or “Puff the Magic Dragon” (“drag on!” came the reply) or watching Alice in Wonderland, with everyone laughing when “one pill makes you” larger or smaller. We knew. In crossing through the legal prohibitions, we could see that when a government lied about Vietnam or about the marijuana experience, then everything else it stated was also suspect. Its authority was undercut, and with it, the authority of those who tried to enforce it – now transformed into “pigs.”

Beyond legal barriers or simple inhibitions, for the hippie dude it was also becoming clear that if she’ll smoke dope with you, she might also share your bed. Talk about motivation, especially if she offers the toke?

The impact of pot contrasted to that of alcohol. People in fact boasted that there were no hangovers or barroom fights or loud crowds of drunks. Everyone was just mellow instead. Altogether now, hold it in. And then exhale. Pass it on.

512px-Cannabis_sativa01There was also something natural in the dream of living on a farm and growing your own. Maybe someday it will be permissible, we hoped. And so much easier than running a still, too. Years later, who would have expected all of the aerial infrared surveillance or the basements full of light-table plants, while brewing your own beer or fermenting your own grapes would be legal?

I wonder how history would have turned out if that had been the plateau of the drug experience. If there hadn’t also been a drive to reach ever higher, to go where no one had ever been before, as it were. Not just far out, but way out. Maybe even over the edge.

High, as in a mountaintop. High, as in a spacecraft circling Earth or the moon. What if you never get there again? Will a single encounter be sufficient? Will the experience further alienate you from everyday surroundings? Even the mountain carries risks. Horrendous storms and lightning, too, can appear out of nowhere. High, followed by lows. Or the failure to recognize that entering a dangerous place meant some would never come back. (We can tally now those who, turning to more potent substances in their pursuit of new highs, instead overdosed, fried their brains, committed suicide, or leaped out a window in a fatal attempt to fly.)

While pot had its communitarian inclusion, subsequent drugs came as solo encounters. LSD, peyote, and magic mushroom users might be accompanied through the experience by an abstaining guide, but by the time you got to speed or crack, you were on your own, baby. This movement toward ever harder stuff – often corrupted, laced with a cheaper substance that would itself become desirable and costly – brought new rounds of overdoses, some fatal, as well as the walking zombies, their brains permanently fried. There might even be your innocent shock at finding the works – hypodermic syringe, rubber hose, candle, and spoon – in a tree house or along the stone wall leading into the woods.

My thoughts keep returning to a sense of underlying despair. What was it, precisely? Yes, this pain that can prompt religious questing as well as substance addiction. The hunger, like Icarus, on his own artificial wings, flying closer and closer to destruction or release? Toward? or from? something frightening and elusive.

Curiously, these developments were being mirrored in the practice of hitchhiking. What had spread as a matter of adventure and sharing – with its understood recognition that if you were given a ride, you were expected to contribute something, whether it was “gas, grass, or ass” or just your silent presence – somehow turned private. People stuck their thumbs out as if it free rides were their right, and were resentful when cars passed by; pick them up and they were weird, uncommunicative, scary. Sharing a ride just wasn’t fun anymore. Even out on a mountain trail, you might smell the familiar pungent odor in the air, and then meet up with a hostile-eyed couple around the bend. Admittedly, there were reasons for turning paranoid. Just who was the narc, anyway? Your supplier and the informer could be one in the same.

That this has come to be the perceived legacy of an unprecedented, pervasive, and profoundly jarring movement reflects, to me, the fact that those of us who were caught up in its fervor are indeed in a state of denial – embarrassed, perhaps, to admit we were part of something that has been dismissed as little more than “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” Yes, as parents we find ourselves in a bind when our children ask if we smoked pot. Forget about the free love answers.

I’ve long wondered about some conversations with a psychiatrist who had been involved in the early research with LSD, when it was perceived as a wonder drug for the treatment of mental illness. He had concluded that psychedelic drug use would inevitably lead to one of two endings – addiction and overdose, or meditation. More recent conversations, in different settings, have pointed to the ways twelve-step programs for addictions draw on traditional Quaker practice – they are, after all, “meetings” and were instituted by the son of a Quaker. Maybe this, too, is part of the psychiatrist’s range of “meditation.” What I do know is where I’ve landed through all of this.

In the end, the drug situation even began to blur the antiwar identity of the hippie movement. Vietnam vets came home with tales of a compressor, out at the edge of the Saigon air base, used to pack marijuana for shipment. Not just any pot, either, but legendary, potent stuff. Numbing the pain, all the same. Soon the trail was coursing back through the ghetto, violent crime, and the Central Intelligence Agency’s trafficking cocaine.

In spite of all the blurring distinctions, the fuzzy vision, maybe drug use wasn’t pulling people together after all, but shooting them off into ever more distant spaces. To say that deep down in, everybody wants the same thing, doesn’t lead very far in any direction – much less high.

Unlike the nuns, though, I’m not pointing my finger at chewing gum, but rather television, as the root of addiction. Its repeated message of seeking pleasure, through some product or substance. Its call to passive submission. (Even though the Red Scare, which I now see in a black-and-white oval.) Its emphasis on happiness and fun, more than service or community. Change the channel, change your drug. Same damn cigarette or beer ad. The advertisers, hoping in fact that everyone wants the same thing. Wants to pay for the same thing. To escape that, then, would be truly revolutionary.

Through the heartland

Arriving in Prairie Depot as the only hippie in town puts Jaya in the spotlight in more ways than one, especially when unanticipated romance enters the picture. She and Erik share a dream of moving on to their own utopia, which will hardly resemble what they’ve anticipated once they arrive. Promise is the story of their whirlwind and its challenges, even before the volcano blows up.

The novel is available in the ebook platform of your choice at the ebook retailer of your choice and Smashwords.


how to become a buddhist hippie runner in 29 easy steps

Look at all these ways to Revive the Vibe!

what would henry do?

  1. Don’t give a fuck.
  2. Learn proper form.
  3. Drink wheatgrass and/or other green foods.
  4. Go meatless.
  5. Grow long hair and/or a beard.
  6. Find the right shoes.
  7. Or no shoes.
  8. Leave your technology at home.
  9. Lose the Lycra.
  10. Run when you feel like it.
  11. Take naps.
  12. Drink a shit-ton of clean water.
  13. Meditate.
  14. Get a roller. Not that kind of roller. The foam kind.
  15. Get naked.
  16. Down with coffee, up with green tea.
  17. Take a sauna.
  18. Find your drishti.
  19. Eat less, run more.
  20. Work less, run more.
  21. Maintain creative indifference.
  22. Maintain creative fidelity.
  23. It’s OK to walk.
  24. Think like a child.
  25. Stand up.
  26. Do something else.
  27. Lose your boss.
  28. Take your time.
  29. Relax. Breathe. Have fun. This is your Original State.

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balancing act

And the beat goes on …

Picturing Metaphor

new peace symbol - April 17, 2014pm

I designed the image above because I wanted a new peace symbol…

My idea was to give some balance to the now-familiar peace symbol created by Gerald Holtom in 1958.

I’ve “doubled” the old symbol, so that the top half is equal to the bottom half…

Also, for balance, I’ve alternated black with white.

As I see it, if we’re going to have peace, we first need to balance the opposing forces within ourselves, within our world.

2014, Michael R. Patton

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Boho, Gypsy, Hippie!

More color from the trip …

my blue flamingo

roadtrip go!

Today I found a treasure! As I was looking for roadtrip photos, to travel with my mind, I got lost into gypsy paths and I found these amazing trailers!! I wish I could travel far far away with one of these! Or have it in my yard and drink cold lemonade in the summer. That would do as well. For the end, in the last picture, I have for you an etsy shop that has some furniture to give a little of boho style to your home.

Ornate "Jingle Trucks" from Pakistan are among the most common vehicles on the road. Credits to Peretz Partensky, U.S. Contractor in Afghanistan Ornate “Jingle Trucks” from Pakistan are among the most common vehicles on the road. Credits to Peretz Partensky, U.S. Contractor in Afghanistan

trailer to travel with style! trailer to travel with style!

maybe this in my yard? maybe this in my yard?

amazing interior in this gypsy wagon amazing interior in this gypsy wagon

gypsy wagon gypsy wagon

oasis in the desert? oasis in the desert?

all of them. my living room. now all of them. my living room. now

name design studio armchairname design studio armchair

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Looking for peace

From a distance, the hippie era oscillates between two images. The first was lighthearted, easy-going, colorful, playful. The teenage girl with a painted face sticking a cut flower in the barrel of a young soldier’s rifle. The game of Frisbee on an afternoon in spring, with a few dogs thrown for the frolic. The circle around a candle, chanting OM in the presence of their flowing robe guru. The mugging for the camera while flashing the two-fingered V-for-Victory peace sign – the same one, in fact, that Richard M. Nixon used from the other side.

The other image was the wave of antiwar protests. “Everyone took part in them, didn’t they?” my elder daughter asks. Well, yes and no. And they weren’t just about the Vietnam draft.

You could almost see it as a game of hopscotch, landing on squares marked Summer of Love, Woodstock, or camping out in the college dean’s office. Hopscotch, as a game – a girls’ game, at that. Ditto, for jumping rope. The hippie experience as a kind of dance down the sidewalk or driveway and back. I think of Howard McCord’s admonition, in the poem “Longjaunes His Periplus,” “go along the coast as far as / you can without getting killed … And come back.” Alive, that is. The truth is, not everyone did. And for others, something essential died along the way.

The hippie symbol, of course, remains the ubiquitous Peace Emblem – the circle with the three paths uniting into one. The trinket you can buy to wear on a chain. The T-shirt. The earring. It’s difficult to realize this badge is, like the Beatles, an import from England. Who today could name its creator, the graphic designer Gerald Holton, who set it forth in 1958 with the superimposed semaphore letters N and D, for Nuclear Disarmament. How this design made the leap from, say, Dr. Strangelove and missile silos in North Dakota to Flower Power and opposition to the Vietnam war is remarkable. So is its lingering popularity, long divorced from the fact that Third World countries now hold their own stockpiles of nuclear weapons.


Those who see the hippie era as one big wild party are remiss in acknowledging its reaction to the Cold War abroad and the oppressive social climate manifested in the Red Scare at home – elements that would come to a head in the Vietnam fungus. The fact that peace – as in peace and love – would become such a watchword for the movement is telling, because the hippie era was anything but peaceful. Even within its own ranks, the effectiveness of Gandhian nonviolent means was questioned and sometimes rejected. These were fearful times, despite the party image.

For starters, the movement had deep roots in the civil-rights drives in the South, the Students for a Democratic Society on university campuses, and the idealistic folk music scene, all voicing their hope in the early ‘60s for a more equitable American society. But they were all taking place far from suburban neighborhoods. And you wouldn’t yet call anyone a hippie.

When did it start, then, this hippie outbreak? Or, for that matter, when did it fade from sight? My conclusion is that the hippie movement blossomed and flourished during the Nixon Administration, 1968-74, making it more a phenomenon of the 1970s than its usual label, the Sixties. At least as far as the shear number of participants goes.

To lay out a set of dates, like successive squares on the hopscotch line, demonstrates how much adversity underlies the period. It was, in fact, punctuated by assassinations:

  • John F. Kennedy, November 22, 1963.
  • Malcolm X, February 21, 1965.
  • Martin Luther King, April 4, 1968.
  • Robert F. Kennedy, June 5, 1968.
  • George Wallace, May 15, 1972 (he survived, but was incapacitated).
  • John Lennon, December 8, 1980.

All but one of these had political implications. While the murder of an incumbent president initially cast a pall of suspicion over Lyndon Baines Johnson (shades of Macbeth), five of the six shootings ultimately benefited the political aspirations of one person – Richard M. Nixon. The slaying of Malcolm X discredited a strand of the civil rights movement while removing a powerful emerging voice, one challenging the measured pace that Martin Luther King endorsed, while King’s death – as Nixon was making his first successful run for the White House – eliminated the most prominent civil rights leader altogether. More pointedly, Robert Kennedy’s death two months later did away with the most threatening of the Democratic rivals. With the left divided, Nixon had reason to fear the electoral damage George Wallace posed in the next election – the year of the Watergate burglaries. Yes, all worked suspiciously to the benefit of the spook lurking in the background. (Strange how one-sided these murders are; no Republicans go down, do they? No National Rifle Association members, arguing that handguns are rifles, either.)

John Lennon is included because he and his wife, Yoko Ono, remained major figureheads of hippie experience through the 1970s. “Say You Want a Revolution,” the Lennon/McCartney song of 1968, continued to insist on nonviolent, spiritual transformation, and shone as a beacon of hope amid reactionary and military gloom. Through the ‘70s, Lennon stayed the course while others drifted away. His murder came just a month after the election of Ronald Reagan, ending the all-too-brief interlude of the prayerful peanut farmer from Georgia.

If the chronology were only that direct. Instead, we must add more dates.

For instance, the March on Washington, March 18, 1963, with 200,000 orderly marchers and Martin Luther King’s immortal “I Have a Dream” proclamation. As a breakthrough in dissident power in America, its large numbers and disciplined organization came as a wake-up call to Congress, the president, and the nation. The civil rights movement was no longer an isolated Southern phenomenon, but one that would soon be addressing Northern cities as well, much to the bewilderment of previously smug residents. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that within the next six months, the nation would suffer both the notorious Birmingham church bombings and the assassination of its president – markers of the turmoil of the times, indeed.

The next year brought the release of Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are a’Changin’ LP, not that it drew that much attention by today’s measures. Still, it set loose the generation’s anthem and challenge, “your sons and your daughters are beyond your command … get out of the way if you can’t lend a hand,” which rang out like a Declaration of Independence. It wouldn’t take long to define the generation, either, as “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.”

Even during the campaigns leading to LBJ’s landslide victory that year, some from the left were warning that your vote would help either nominee nuke Vietnam – although the common argument was that Barry Goldwater was the armed aggressor. In retrospect, it seems that had Goldwater won the presidency, the critics would have been much more vigilant and vocal from the outset, and the United States might have wound up pursuing a more isolationist, less militaristic course. (An interesting question follows: if there had been no army buildup, and no draft afflicting the generation, would the hippie movement have surfaced?) Instead, we have what turned out to be a national disaster. LBJ announced the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on August 7, 1964, in response to a questionable or even bogus attack on U.S. ships, and the number of American troops in Vietnam soared the next year, from 120,000 to 400,000.

All the same, something else was hovering, gathering, waiting. The next step, I think, has everything to do with the feminine presence. Women have long been considered the upholders of religious faith and moral conscience in America. Of artistic sensibility, as well. Some who were drawn, from a conscientious response to injustice, to civil rights work and other social protest soon were startled to find themselves in a second-class citizenship within organizations fighting second-class citizenship. As one male leader boldly retorted, “The only place for chicks in this organization is prone.” There was no reason to tolerate such misogynist leadership, especially as an unprecedented sexuality freedom was evolving, thanks to the Pill. Already, many Americans were shocked by photographs showing the police brutality directed against women protesters in civil rights protests – against men may have been one thing, but this was another. The Southern gentleman’s code of honor was unmasked, no matter who was claiming it. Then, when the protests turned toward Vietnam and the draft, women stood free of any assumption of being self-serving in their opposition to either the war or being called into its military ranks. Their protests, moreover, encouraged men to do likewise. Pacifism here was not universally been seen as cowardly, but rather as heroic in a set of tragic circumstance. The instructional be-ins and theatrical “happenings” set forth to raise consciousness about politics, especially, but that was merely the tip of the amassing energy – just when the first wave of the baby boom generation was coming of age.

It’s easy to forget how often there’s a gap between an event itself and its full impact. The importance of the March on Washington, for example, became evident only after major civil rights legislation was passed and signed into law, tested in the courts in successive cases, and finally worked its way into the workplace and neighborhoods.

But major events can also come about from the opposite process, being drawn out into the open from many smaller activities. When Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters drove their bus Further across the country in 1964, they were already touching on many ongoing counterculture developments, including the new hallucinogenic drug, lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD. – the electric Kool-Aid acid.

In January 1967 came the great Be-In in San Francisco, billed as a Gathering of the Tribes, drawing participants from communal households around the Bay area as well as New York, London, Amsterdam. Gary Snyder describes in wonderfully, and its fuller context, in “Passage to More Than India” and then “Why Tribe” in Earth House Hold (1969). “The number of people who use marijuana regularly and have used LSD is (considering it’s all illegal) staggering. The impact of all this on the cultural and imaginative life of the nation – even the politics – is enormous.” And then, when the Mamas and the Papas invited people to wear some flowers in their hair and come on out to San Francisco, the Summer of Love erupted in the city’s Haight-Ashbury district in 1967. Flower Power was in the news. What exactly happened as an estimated 70,000 participants came to hang out and freeload in the Golden Gate city? The girls, especially, had simply let loose and taken off; thousands of them, enticing and free. To be joined by the boys, of course. Photographed as dirty, hungry, being fed by Diggers, but still somehow celebrating, just what? How much revolved around the music at the Fillmore? How much around the availability of drugs? Where did they come from? How were they able to simply drop everything for this? (Much less take it off!) How many had indeed dropped out, and how many would be returning to campus? It was after all, summer vacation … of a new kind. It definitely wasn’t spring break at Daytona for the fraternity/sorority crowd. Still, at the time, the news from Haight-Ashbury felt as faraway and unreal as the Land of Oz or Katmandu. I remember being perplexed by the wire service reports and photos, wondering why all the attention. Some crucial details were missing.

Slowly, though, the impact filtered back across the continent. Through the fall and winter, and then the spring and summer. By the following autumn, for instance, in my own dormitory, a former ROTC cadet of the year began wearing long moccasins with fringes, and a leather coat to match; soon he was drawing strange designs on the wall of his room, contrary to regulations. Maybe he was the first to do so in Indiana or Iowa. Who knows about Kansas or West Virginia? Turns out he had passed through San Francisco on his way back from Hawaii, and now received frequent shipments of motorcycle parts from the islands. This wasn’t your parents’ or girlfriend’s CARE package. This was golden, and shared. Maybe there was another neighbor, who came back with a case of the clap. Or maybe that was someone else’s neighbor; the stories blur now. What was becoming evident was a STYLE, an identity, and a collection of catchwords and phrases – easy to ridicule or caricature now, but at the time? It was liberating and refreshing. To say nothing of the drugs. All accompanied by, or even fueled by, the rising American involvement in Vietnam. After all, you could be taken into the army, but you couldn’t vote. We’d had enough of the repeatedly broken promise of “one more year,” and its ever bigger investment, to win the military engagement; we’d had no satisfactory explanation for our presence in Indochina, either – at least not one sufficient for the sacrifice of our lives’ time and blood. Maybe fighting the Klan in Mississippi would have been more compelling. As it was, many transformations were occurring in dorm rooms and off-campus apartments across America.

Amid all of the growing disillusionment with the hardball politics of the oil-tongued LBJ and his Pentagon, the emergence of peace candidate Eugene McCarthy in the spring of ’68 as a White House contender gave support to those who argued that events could be turned by working through the System. What elation followed when LBJ announced later that spring he would not run for reelection. Maybe we couldn’t vote, but we could shape the agenda and get out the vote, right? A free concert in the meadow with Phil Ochs, Tom Lehrer, and Peter, Paul, and Mary performing raised awareness and energy but little money for the cause. There was even reason for optimism on the Republican side, where Nelson Rockefeller was a progress-minded contestant. Maybe we should have paid more attention to the shots that felled Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy that spring. Or the Tet Offensive. It’s hard to believe, looking back, how straight those days were. That summer, in the office of my first internship, my supervisors wore striped dress shirts as a badge of liberation, demonstrating how our bosses were more with-it than the competitors downstairs, where the starched plain white shirts were still de rigueur. And the only hippies in sight were those hanging out at the corner of Third and Main, the runaways, dropouts, and thrown-outs looking for a handout or, well, the rest of it remained mysterious – as if they had a clue, either. Our biggest fear that summer had to do with ghetto riots and a mob charging over the Memorial Bridge to the other side of the river.

Still, we weren’t prepared for the betrayals that followed. The nomination of Hubert H. Humphrey at Democratic National Convention, August 26 through 29, 1968, in Chicago, stained as it was with violent police attacks and followed by the trial of the Chicago Seven, 1969-70. HHH, to our eyes, was LBJ redux. And then, as the final blow to reason, Nixon’s election amid rapid Vietnam escalation. A feeling of futility was inevitable. Our hopes, dashed, dashed, dashed. Who could not turn fatalistic, nihilistic? Why not let go, numb yourself, escape this insanity? (If this was hopscotch, this was a stretch for stomping … and screaming.) The time for discussion was over; nobody in office was listening, anyway, from the college president’s office to the White House. The time for confrontation and underground tactics had arrived. Not that anything advanced quite that orderly.

Daffodil-jnanaLooking back, I find it difficult to put events in proper sequence. To think, for instance, that the crucial trip to visit a friend at a neighboring campus, leading to the crucial trip that opened my eyes to much that was already happening in my own dorm, took place the October before Woodstock, not after. What kind of Halloween, really, considering all the spooky stuff in the air anyway. Here I was, essentially uptight and virginal, no matter. By the end of the year, with Nixon set to take office, the number of U.S. troops in ‘Nam had reached 540,000.

Trying to figure out how the civil rights movement impacted all of this is equally confusing. That effort certainly inspired and motivated much of the antiwar activity. But many blacks (we had already gone through the discussions of whether to continue using “Negro”) had let whites know they were unwelcome or at least not fully trusted in organizations advancing racial equality. One of the more vocal and articulate groups, founded in 1966 in Oakland, California, and a response to the slaying of Malcolm X, was now coming to the fore – the one founded by Huey P. Newton as the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Now, in September 1968, Newton found himself convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the death of an Oakland police officer. “Free Huey” became a rallying cry, feeding into a growing perception of police as “pigs” – the ones who conducted drug raids and attacked protesters. The ones who wore uniforms. We had to listen to the Panther spokesmen – Eldridge Cleaver and Angela Davis (who would herself be arrested in 1970), even though the civil rights movement was never actually part of the hippie movement; blacks simply had a different agenda and different goals.


The next summer an internship took me to the East Coast for the first time. In the news, in the span of a single month, were three amazing events, each one extraordinary in its own right. But all the more so when used to triangulate the other two.

First came the first moon walk, in black and white, that July. Neil Armstrong’s historic words from the moon, July 20, 1969, televised live around the world. Literally, around the world. Maybe everyone did go gaga; maybe it was more a shrug and a “can you believe that” reaction, too. Whole villages in India, watching a single television set? A single image, from a single camera? A man on the moon? This was so surreal, in its own way – so very far out! Here, too, was American supremacy in the face of a Communist challenge – a victory, at last, over Sputnik. As if it would somehow translate into the jungles and delta of Vietnam. From a certain perspective, the moon walk had as much to do with everyday life as a good acid trip, except that everybody was in on it – and those guys did bring some rocks back. (In another year or two, you could go to the library and see a few displayed, like a piece of Georgia or Arizona. Take their word for it.) Still, this was science; who knew what America’s real designs on the moon were. A military base? Suppose all that money had been spent instead on eliminating poverty at home and abroad? On building peace somewhere? Listen to the voices down in the ghetto. Warning of mysterious black holes in space that could devour everything and compress them into oblivion. Maybe some were floating around America, too.

Yet, decades later, standing beside some of the scarred relics, and feeling the awe well up within me: “Men flew in that?” – the tiny, cramped vessels. Tiny, cramped capsules, more like pharmaceutical pills, actually. “They returned alive? From the heavens?” As if they were angels, rather than commissioned officers – or missionaries or monastics from a dark-night desert. As if these were eggs or rocks plunging from the sky, trailing flames.

Oh, the hippie stars being drawn everywhere! All the moon symbols! And the sunbursts! You could try to be cynical, yet no matter what, something cosmic was happening. And if man could land on the moon, he could do anything. Definitely.

Yet just two weeks later came reports of how far people could fall. The dispatches began with the brutal slayings of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and three friends the night of August 9 and quickly led to a crazed “hippie guru” and his followers, who had hoped to ignite a racial Armageddon, claiming the Beatles’ song “Helter Skelter” as their inspiration. The attack on the rich and glamorous (no matter their politics) was also so seemingly bizarre and so incredibly arbitrary, except that it had been so intricately planned and executed. The story of Charles Manson and his followers, the self-styled Manson Family, was every parent’s worst nightmare. The fact that someone born as “no name Maddox” to a sixteen-year-old unwed mother in Cincinnati could come to have such control over his own circle of “Charlie’s Girls” was incredible enough; the fact that they would all have sex with him and do whatever he wanted – kill, in fact – was mind-blowing. Susan Adkins, Leslie Van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkel, Linda Kasabian, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme were the collective male fantasy turned to nightmare. (Fromme would even take shots at President Gerald Ford on September 5, 1975 – yet another surreal turn of events.) Tate was so beautiful, and they were so pliable, what was going on here? It had to be an aberration, didn’t it? What made Manson a hippie, anyway, other than the long hair, drugs, and a commune called the Spahn Ranch? What about the peace and love, man? At least the peace? Maybe, in fact, he did have it all, except for the peace – or maybe his concept of it was simply, well, skewed. Or skewered. Or maybe he embodied a dangerous underside of the movement itself, one that rose up in bad acid trips or fatal overdoses. Maybe we would have paid more attention, then, if it weren’t for the developments of the following weekend.

And yet, the following weekend, came the event that most rattled the imagination – the Aquarian Exposition in Max Yasgur’s pasture in the Catskill Mountains of New York state. At least, it was the one that came closest to home: Woodstock. I’ve touched the tickets, talked to people who went there. Here I was, working on my second internship, when the hippie in the office offered me a ticket to what was being billed as a rural festival. Living in a boardinghouse, with a bicycle as my only means of transportation, I thought about pedaling the eighty miles or so and back, but then realized I’d never manage to be back in time for work. (“You fool”, I say to myself, looking back. “You never would have made it on that clunker, much less back. The furthest you ever got on those mountain roads was twenty miles, and you were exhausted.”) As the news reports piled in, we could see that what had been billed as a quiet event in the country, with plenty of opportunities to go strolling through woods wired for sound, was now generating the biggest traffic jam ever (what would I have ever done with that bicycle, anyway?) and the hoped for attendance of 50,000 maximum was swelling to 450,000. They were out from New Jersey and Long Island for those concerts the weekend of August 15 through 18, 1969. Out from the suburbs of Philadelphia and Washington to the Biblical-sounding village of Bethel. Leaving their cars on the highway and trekking in the last few miles. When the rain came, out for their first experience of anything like camping, without any of the usual preparations. Out naked, in the open air, to wash up. Out, in the open, the sense of sheer numbers, nobody expecting to find so many others – just where had they been hiding? Why, suddenly, we could be free! The air, no doubt, redolent with marijuana smoke. Out in the open! Again, though, the real impact would come slowly, later, in the aftershocks. “You were there? So was I!” exchanges. The mutual grins. The souvenir ticket that had never been collected in the rush.

It would take me another decade to get to San Francisco. I’ve never been to Los Angeles, much less the Tate massacre tour. And I know I’ll never get to the moon in this lifetime. But Woodstock? I have the album, filled with rock. OK, I have seen some moon rock, too, which still requires a geologist’s translation.

To think, in the span of a month: moonwalk, Manson, Woodstock. (With Vietnam raging in the background.) All interlaced, intertwined, tangled. Like a jungle. All before we skipped back to campus. All of these streams, simmering. You could add the Maharishi Yogi, Hare Krishnas, and Swami Satchitananda, too. A poetry reading by Leroi Jones, as he was still known then. The local head shop. Or the news reports, coming to light that November, of the massacre of hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese civilians, most of them women and children, at My Lai the previous March. Maybe it was a frustration arising from being shut out of the political decision-making that was feeding the war, or maybe the difficulties of dealing with the bureaucracies that ran many of our universities were more to blame, but that fall and winter also saw pointed questions demanding to know exactly where U.S. military subsidies were going in our campus budgets. Not just the Pentagon, it turned out, but Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation money, too. (On our campus, we would learn later that the FBI financed a hate-mongers campaign for student body president; instead, the Black Panther won.) Still, across the country, college deans and presidents stonewalled, or in some cases outright lied. If it had only been “one more year” five years ago or three or even two, your draft physical wouldn’t be coming up next month. Why feed into any more falsehood? There was, after all, that fundamental American concept that the citizens have a contract with their government. And some of us were feeling violated. The final straw was the Cambodian incursion, April 29, 1970. The protests against the obstructions escalated into student strikes. Shut down the university, if necessary. Faculty, fed up with their own complaints against school administrations, backed the students. This was unprecedented. From Flower Power and Black Power to Student Power, America was shaking. Suddenly, out of it, the Kent State University shootings, May 4, 1970, in Ohio, followed by the Jackson State College shootings, May 14-15, in Mississippi. As if the war had turned on Americans themselves, the rawness of National Guard troops firing at will. Go on, murder unarmed girls. The hippie chicks, blame them and rape the nation. This was democracy? Mississippi had a history of white violence; but Ohio? The good guys and the bad guys had switched hats, in the public perception. Besides, there were now hippies everywhere. Maybe they weren’t so bad, at least not all of them. Maybe they were right, it was the government and its goons you had to watch out for.

SCN_0037The struggle wasn’t over, not by a long shot. But what I do know is that from the summer of 1970 and lasting through the next several years, you could stick your thumb out along the highway and have a good chance of landing a ride within minutes – a ride, rather than a beating. Flowered shirts, on the guys, and miniskirts were everywhere. You could land as a stranger in Salt Lake City and get an offer of a floor to crash on for the night; come home, and find the hospitality already returned. The high school kids were picking up on hippie style. It was ubiquitous.

Coming back down the line. Left foot, right foot, two feet, clap your hands.

You could add the boxes as well for the ghetto riots. The burning and looting, the white fear. The senselessness of it all. The haunting suspicion that maybe they were right, it was hopeless.

  • New York, 1964 and ’68.
  • Los Angeles Watts, beginning August 11, 1965.
  • Detroit and Newark, 1967.
  • San Francisco, 1966.
  • Baltimore, 1967 and ’68.
  • Washington, Chicago, and Cleveland, 1968.

Or you could draw boxes for the white academic enclaves of hippie activity, and connect them to their big city wellsprings. The kinds of cities where you might find diversity:

  • Berkeley, out from San Francisco.
  • Greenwich Village (New York University and the New School) or Columbia, in Manhattan.
  • Harvard Square, across the Charles River from Boston.
  • Ann Arbor, neighboring Detroit.
  • Madison, Wisconsin, at the heart of a triangle formed by Chicago, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis.
  • Boulder, with Denver.
  • Yellow Springs and Oberlin, in Ohio.

Later spreading to more isolated liberal arts centers such as Eugene, Oregon, Albuquerque, New Mexico, or Bloomington, Indiana. And then, spreading everywhere – except, it seems, the Deep South. Well, until you look even closer.

Considering peace, as a manifestation of happiness. Or maybe even fun. Unlike the war. Unlike the racists.

Ditto, jump rope.


Peace, Love….and the Hippie Free Store

Yes, the hope expressed in the Free Store!

RoofTop Creations

peace people They traveled by VW bus…..and sometimes by the horsepower of an outstretched thumb.  They grew out their hair, burned their bras, and jumped on the peace train. Some headed to San Fran or NYC….or other places that promised a difference.

Those beaded and bell-bottomed kids were seekers.  They were seeking a better community…..one of inclusion.  A community where people were kind and fair and where people took care of each other…..one where love and peace were priorities.

Optimism is a powerful force.  These days, most people don’t think that the utopian community is possible.  But when an entire movement of idealistic youth truly believe that the world can be a kinder and gentler place, sometimes it is…..even if it is only for a while.

My favorite example of hippie idealism in action is the Free Store.  Because when hippies in major cities needed to shop for supplies, they never considered the…

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