When I left Ohio I had my old army duffel bag full of clothes, a few bucks I had borrowed from my friends, and a beat up Ford convertible. Everything else I owned down to the small box of pictures, ribbons, medals, awards etc. I left with my ex-wife who promised to keep them in the attic for when I returned. (Ha! They probably hit the trash can the minute I left.)
A week or so later, with the eight cylinder auto sparking on only seven, I backfired my way across the high desert and into the city of Portland, Oregon. My old friend Tom Yoho who lived in Portland was going to meet me in a SW bar by the state college called My Place Tavern.
It was an easy drive across the river. Soon I found the tavern sandwiched between two larger buildings sitting under a derelict sign bearing it’s name. I parked the banging beater (that I soon thereafter sold for $35.00) and entered through the heavy oak door into an environment much the same as every other neighborhood tavern I had been in.
The typical long bar with simple stools ran down the right side wall, booths ran down the left, a couple pool tables sat in the middle. The smell of smoke and beer permeated everything. The only difference I could recognize was that behind the bar a backdrop of hard liquor bottles was missing. They didn’t serve whiskey in Portland bars at the time.
It was close to noon and the place was almost empty. I called Tom from the public phone in the corner, ordered one of those hot Stewart sandwiches from the friendly bar maid, sat in a booth, and waited for Tom to show up.
It had been a couple years since I’d last seen him, but when he showed up I was shocked. My old tough guy, hell raising buddy had gone Hippie. He burst into the bars quietness all gregarious and charismatic as ever. BUT . . . He’s dressed like the damn Pied Piper. I thought.
“Sid! (everybody from the projects still called me Sid) Wow, man . . . FAR OUT! . . . Wow, Far OUT! . . . Wow . . . Cool . . . Man, this is so . . . Wow, Far out, Cool . . . “ He gave me a big hug (something you never do in the hood)
What the hell happened to this guy? I thought.
His midwestern no nonsense language had completely been replaced by this hippiesque sing song doper lingo that made absolutely no sense to me and he was dressed like a freakin freak. I was taken aback by old Tom for a while, but I soon learned to understand him and in time I even learned to speak and dress the part quite well myself.
We hung out in the tavern the rest of the day, drinking beers and playing pool, all on my dime of course. Some things never change, I thought, as I began to remember why he had left town in the first place. But he was still my all time best buddy. He was the good looking guy who always corralled the girls for the rest of us ugly dopes, so he got lots of slack.
Soon the place began to fill up. Everybody who came in the door knew Tom. He, of course, introduced them to me. We shot some pool, smoked a joint and thus began my two year love affair with My Place Tavern. I give her all the credit for not allowing me to blow my brains out in a particularly depressing time of my life.
I’d say there were at least forty gals and guys who formed the nucleus of this close nit community. We ate together and sometimes slept together. (remember SEX/DRUGS/ROCK and ROLL?) Mostly though, I knew I could walk in the place any time day or night, meet up with some friends and have a good bullshit session, cause there were plenty of things to talk about and plenty of trouble to go around in those days, even for the freedom conscience hippies.
I remember with much nostalgia the long philosophical conversations and arguments about Nixon and government, the war in Vietnam, religion, drugs, sex . . . every subject you can conceivably think of someone was able to talk about and give you their opinion on it.
We had fun also of course, sometimes loud and boisterous, sometimes stoned and subdued. Sometimes I would take the corner booth with a sweety I had just met for a little extra curricular lovey dovie.
We dropped acid and watched the walls breathe while warning about the dangers of shooting smack and crystal meth . . . Speed Kills! was never far from my lips. We nursed runaways and military deserters as well as sucker the guys with money and jobs out of their cash. We were a tribe.
There were people who came into My Place that I had never seen on the outside, didn’t know much at all about them, but inside, while we partook of the magical atmosphere of the Tavern, we were friends.
One day the owners sold the place. The new owners were more interested in making money than having us weirdos hanging all day in their joint taking up space so they began to clean it up. No more dope, no more after hours parties, you wanna hang here you have to spend became the order of the day.
Little by little the old crowd disappeared till one day after I got busted and tired of hiding from my parole officer I decided to hang up my hippie clothes and go back to the doldrums and responsibility of my Ohio life.
The tavern may have remained, but because of the doofus who bought it, all the life and blood had been sucked out of it and it just wasn’t any fun anymore. I really doubt it lasted long though cause you really can’t make a silk purse out of a pigs ear . . . and well, the place was always just a dive to begin with.