The Hippie Era

Attempting to write about the hippies is akin to a young soldier hunkered down on Omaha Beach attempting to write about the battle surrounding him. He hears it, but all he sees is the sky above his head.

To give the battle proper perspective, every man taking part, including the enemy, would have to have his story told also because every guy had a different story and every story was just as viable as the next if the truth was to be unadulterated by personal bias.

To tell the whole and honest story about the counterculture would be just as difficult . . . and quite honestly I don’t have the talent to do it. I was there. I experienced it first hand, but like the soldier on Omaha Beach I can only tell my part of a story that is so big, so diverse, that for the whole thing to be written the reader would have a hard time carrying the book it was written in.

One thing I CAN say for a certainty about the movement was that although it wore a uniform, it was not the “look” that counted, It was much broader in scope than all that ‘long hair, tie dye’, media inspired stuff that went on in the Haight, Ashbury district of San Francisco.

The power of the hippie movement lies in the “feel” of it and the sense of rightness in belonging to something larger than oneself. This feeling is what set our country on it’s heels and helped end the tragedy taking place in Vietnam.

Eventually this feeling evolved into the broad based environmental movement taking place in this country right now. The hippies may have left the Haight, but even today we are deeply active in the environmental movement . . . this may be our greatest legacy.

So, though others stories may differ, this is mine as I experienced it . . . The Tale Of The Two Jim’s . . . The story begins in the summer of 69 when I drove across the high desert of Eastern Oregon to meet up with a friend in Portland and ended up driving smack dab into the arms of the aquarian age . . . and the much needed rebirthing of my soul.

The Age Of Aquarius

When the moon is in the Seventh House

And Jupiter aligns with Mars

Then peace will guide the planets

And love will steer the stars

This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius

The Age of Aquarius

Aquarius! Aquarius!

Harmony and understanding

Sympathy and trust abounding

No more falsehoods or derisions

Golden living dreams of visions

Mystic crystal revelation

And the mind’s true liberation

Aquarius! Aquarius!

When the moon is in the Seventh House

And Jupiter aligns with Mars

Then peace will guide the planets

And love will steer the stars

This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius

The Age of Aquarius

Aquarius! Aquarius!

Harmony and understanding

Sympathy and trust abounding

No more falsehoods or derisions

Golden living dreams of visions

Mystic crystal revelation

And the mind’s true liberation

Aquarius! Aquarius!

The tale of the hippie is not at all about drugs . . . or about misguided youth in funny clothes . . . or even great music. The tale of the hippie is about the search for deeper meaning to life.

Most of us didn’t wear flowers in our hair or dress like circus performers. Quite a few were not even taken in by the lure of psychedelic drugs. The one thing we pretty much all shared though was the revulsion for our parents world and the desire for “change.”

We were sick and tired of the madness, and even more than that we were sick and tired of watching our friends get killed for no reason other than the war was good for business.

In reality, taking into consideration the cause and effect of all things both straight and hippie, I’d say that we were absolutely on the right path, but we got side tracked by naivety, immaturity and drugs. When it came to creating something real out of the Utopian dream, there were not enough true believers to make it happen.

Peace. love, freedom to do your own thing as long as it doesn’t harm anybody else, were wonderful ideas, but when the rubber hit the road, what happened? We were invaded by runaway kids, and addicts, and ex cons, and drug dealers, and drifting, dark minded people of all ilk. The counterculture movement, because of it’s non exclusivity, weakened, shriveled up and died.

The greatest cultural movement since the civil war came and left in a heated rush. In its wake, though there are many pretenders still hanging around, the core of true believers fled into the hills and valleys of rural America and began the environmental movements that today are all that holds back the juggernaut of big oil from completely destroying this country in it’s lust for the few fossil fuels still around.

Without us they would not stop until, like the old chief said:

Only when the last tree has died

and the last river been poisoned

and the last fish been caught

will we realize we cannot eat money

Cree Indian Proverb

Many things have been written about the late sixties, some say if you were really there you wouldn’t remember them, but I was there and I remember.

The decade between 1965 and 1975 was a pivotal point in the history of our nation. The horror of Vietnam, and getting caught red handed in one monumental lie after another had placed our government center stage on everybody’s shit list. By the Fall of 1973 when ‘tricky Dick’ Nixon spouted his now famous one liner on TV concerning Watergate, “I am not a crook.” nobody believed him. He WAS a crook, as well as a liar when he promised to end the war and instead broadened it into Cambodia. He was a dick all right . . . a dickHEAD.

Many of us young folks, after realizing we were being ripped off, broke ties with the establishment and dedicated ourselves to the Utopian dream of peace and love instead of war and hate. For some of us, this was heavy, happy stuff, tantamount to be being born again.

Me? Fresh out of the military and a short, but brutal marriage, I would say I was more escape and evade than peace and love. More aggressive than giving. More . . . ahhh who knows? whatever I was, all I really wanted was another drink.

In 1968 I rolled across the high desert of eastern Oregon into Portland seeking only one thing . . . a place to hide.

The flower child craze was in full bloom on the West Coast by then and Portland seemed to be a mecca. I had a hard time keeping my meandering eye on the road as I gawked at one brightly dressed hippie after another loitering on her streets. One thing for sure, there was a lot going on in this town that looked like fun. And fun was something I desperately needed after leaving the misery of Ohio.

Once I found the bridge across the Willamette River and made my way to the SW section I cruised around Portland State University until I spotted a neon sign signifying that I’d found My Place Tavern. This was the bar where I was supposed to meet Tom Yoho, an old friend from high school who’d left home months before I had.

Going sunlight to bar light, I stepped inside the door and allowed my eyes to adjust to the darkness. I began noticing people. Some were hunched over the bar chatting while drinking their beers. Others were lounging around the three pool tables lining the center of the room with cue sticks in their hands. This joint might look the same, but it didn’t have the foreboding of an Ohio bar. The mixed crowd of people actually seemed to be having a good time.

I found a spot at the bar, ordered a beer from the pretty barmaid and began to relax. Looking . . . I found a payphone in the corner of the room and called Tom.

A short time later the door opened and through the stab of light Tom sauntered in. I barely recognized him. His hair had grown to his shoulders and he was all decked out like some kind of court jester trapped in a time warp. My tough guy, hoodlum friend had gone full bore counter culture.

“Sid!” (everybody called me Sid in those days) He seemed very happy to see me. “Wow, man, how you doing? Far out! Man, I’m glad to see you!” I wasn’t used to the Wow! stuff. Every other word out of his mouth was some sort of an exclamation point. Wow . . . Far out . . . Cool . . . Tom had learned a whole new strange, colorful, exuberant language. I was taken aback, but destined to soon mimic this funny hippie language and wear it like a badge of honor.

We drank a few beers and caught up on old times for a while. The talk then turned to the new society and the drugs that gave it life. I listened intently as Tom expounded on the wonders of pot and LSD.

I’d vowed earlier to never take drugs because of the bad rap they had been given, but Tom assured me it was all a lie and that ten thousand hippies couldn’t be wrong. It wasn’t long till my resolve withered away and we were off to the local park in search of some purple Ozzly acid and a trip to his promised fantasy land. So much for my resolve.

This park wasn’t the normal ‘green grass and ducks in the pond’ kind of place either. This park, packed shoulder to shoulder with people, was a virtual marketplace of buyers and sellers of illegal drugs.

Guys walked up and down the paths hawking their particular products like hot dog vendors at a baseball game. Pot, acid, and a variety of uppers and downers that probably out did the local pharmacy in variety, were only a few bucks away.

We found a guy selling Purple Ozzly’s and bought two hits. We went back to the tavern, took a booth in the corner, popped the pills and waited for something to happen. The unknown had always been my favorite haunt and I was ready for the experience. . . It didn’t take long in coming.

My eyes went first. I lost focus and started picking up flashes of pure color in the corners. Then my ears began buzzing and I heard snapping and popping noises. Solid began to melt, shimmer and move. Nothing stood still except time itself. Seconds, minutes, later even hours were no different. I was caught in a wild, crazy time warp. The yellow brick road and the mad hatter . . . were real.

There was a large poster of a semi-naked female hanging on the melted wall behind the pool table. The girl’s exposed belly button had become a large black tunnel, and like a giant vacuum it began sucking the contents out of the room while she smiled back at me.

“Wow, man. Check it out.”

“Ohhhh, shit! The walls are melting.”

Tom was lost in his own trip. We were both high, but not on the same page. There are no pages on an acid trip. Everything happens at once. Instead of picking and choosing certain thoughts and emotions for consideration, a whole bucket of sensual stimuli is dumped on your brain at once. You have no time to sort them out.

If you don’t just go with the flow, you’re in for a very hard evening. There are no markers along the acid trip trail . . . and getting lost begins the proverbial bad trip. I wanted to laugh . . . or maybe cry. I couldn’t figure it all out so I ignored everything completely and went back to mesmerizing on the girls belly button.

The room was breathing. The people in it moved about in slow motion, their voices mingling to become one huge rush of wind. I couldn’t understand any of it and thought about losing control, but realized that although everything I considered normal had changed I was still behind the driving wheel. I began to relax and enjoy the trip.

I glance over at Tom who was pointing towards the door and saying something I couldn’t hear. I got up and followed him out of the safety of the room into the night.

Outside, the first thing I noticed was the brightness of the street lights. A car came by and slowly turned at the corner. Only instead of doing a normal turn the car actually bent around the corner like a worm. . . WOW!

We headed down the street. Noise came from every direction, snaps, bangs, whistle, crunch, pop . . . you name it.

“Let’s go in this bar,” Tom said. “You have to see this.”

We entered the narrow low lit beer joint. An ancient wooden bar traveled the extent of the entire right side. On the left were a couple empty tables and chairs. There were some guys sitting at the bar and a nondescript barmaid tending them.

“Take a look at this guys face.”

As if on cue, the first guy at the bar slowly turned and looked at us. He had the puffy, unhealthy face of an alcoholic. I could read it. The despair . . . the sadness . . . layer after layer of pent-up, burned up, emotion.

I felt his sadness to my soul. His face told a story that he probably never read . . . or denied it if he had. His rheumy, alcohol numbed eyes stared sightless into mine. No one said a word. I turned and walked out onto the safety of the street.

Tom caught up. “That’s what alcohol does to you, man. Can you dig it?”

Oh, boy did I ever. I had prior experience with booze and had been close to becoming a drunk myself. My ex-wife was a drunk. Lots of my friends were drunks. That acid induced encounter affected me so deeply that I have rarely taken a drink since. The guy at that bar was as close to being in hell as I had yet, in my young life, seen. . . and I had seen a lot of hellish life.

Later, we were walking around the neighborhood when some really cool chicks yelled down to us from their third floor apartment window. “Hey! . .. you guys wanna party?”

“Hell yeah!”

They buzzed us up and we sex, drugs, and rock and rolled with them till dawn. I loved this town!

Half way through the night I remember sitting on a window sill with my legs dangling out. There was no fear as I looked down . . . and no depth perception either. It seemed very reasonable to me that I could just step out into the night on the sidewalk below and walk on down the street.

Later I heard stories of suicides where kids had gotten high and jumped out of windows. I doubt they wanted to kill themselves though, they probably never realized how high they were and just thought it would be cool to step down onto the street or something like that.

Acid is dangerous in an open setting. It is not a party drug, but more of an inward searching kind of thing best taken in the safety of a controlled environment among friends. In the right environment it could be an amazing, mind blowing experience. One I had taken many times. In the wrong environment the horrors of Hell await. I have never had a bad trip, but I HAVE stayed up all night cradling a female friend in my arms while talking her down.

Personally, I have never been the same since that first trip, nor do I feel I’ve caused myself any harm mentally. I feel more like I was born again that night to an awareness and possibilities that I previously never even thought about.

I gave up being the tough guy I never really was anyway, and began to delve into a softer, hidden side of my psyche. I began to think of playing music, painting and writing poetry. . . even more important I began to shun the expected norms and started to look within myself for the answer. I began to realize my power.

Lastly . . . acid is a mind expanding phenomena. Although I can’t speak for others, because I have lost a few good friends along the psychedelic highway, I can say for myself . . . it was a great trip.

Of course every great trip has a downside and I have never forgotten that although the whole hippie thing was a huge learning experience, I was still a runaway from all responsibilities that I held dear in Ohio, namely my two children, Jimmy my son and Melissa my daughter.

Even though my ex, Patti, was making life intolerable for me there was no excuse to abandon you kids, and even today I consider doing that to you guys my greatest, truly unforgivable sin . . . one I can never escape from.

I often dream of what could have been had I stuck it out in the midst of the affair she and Frank were having, but I could not. I did what I did and ran away, not because of fear, not because of hatred, or pride, or any other well known emotion but because of the one stranger I had been searching for all my previous years . . . love, I ran from a broken heart. I knew how to fight, I knew how to hate . . . but the pain of lost love was something I could not bare . . . so I just ran.