In summer of 1967 I was a 15 year-old boy living on the South Shore of Boston. The newspapers and TV spoke about the youth people with long hair converging on San Francisco. These 'hippies' were the next step in the evolution of freedom. They preached peace and love. 3000 miles separated my body and soul from the City by the Bay. I beseeched my parents about taking a road trip across country."We've already rented a place on the Cape." My mother loved swimming in the gentle sea off Harwichport. "And you have a summer job. How do you expect to go to college, if you don't have money?""So there's no chance of us going?" None of my brothers and sisters were interested in driving five days to see the Pacific Ocean. They had never read ON THE ROAD."None, and your hair is getting long." My father had a crew cut."This is the way we were it now." Short hair was uncool."No son of mine is going to be a long-haired sissy." He worked in town. Hippies hung out on Boston Common. Boston's underground newspaper, the AVATAR, was their Bible. To men my father's age they were pinkos. "Get in the car."That afternoon he dropped me at the Terminal Barber Shop in Mattapan Square. I had the barber trim around my ears. He didn't touch the top. When I got back home, my father was furious with my hair and searched the closet for the buzzer. "Let him alone." My mother had grown up swooning to Frank Sinatra. "You were the same at your age."
"I was no bobby-socker." My father was raised by the banks of the Presumpscot River. His father had been a doctor. His teen years were spent during the Depression. Mindless fun was for the rich, not the working classes. "Only girls wore bobbysox. I'll give in this time, but I don't want to see my son wearing his hair down his back. Call me old-fashioned, but there's something wrong about the hippies."She was right.This was the Summer of Love.
Scott McKenzie scored a huge hit with ARE YOU GOING TO SAN FRANCISCO. Several older teenagers in my home town joined the westward exodus of teenagers seeking the hippie paradise of Haight-Ashbury. They returned in the fall with tales of the Jefferson Airplane at Winterland, love-ins, flowing dresses, free love, communes, and sex.
I was no druggie. Beer was my high, but my hair crawled over the back of my collar by September. My girlfriend thought that I was cute. I really didn't care about being a hippie. I was into free love with Kyla. One day she had to go all the way.My father's views on the counterculture didn't prevent him from driving my brother and me to rock concerts. We dressed in bell-bottoms and fringe suede jackets. Sandals were tough on the feet in the winter of 1968. Fyre boots with buckles kept out most of the wet.
None of us realized that the hippie movement had been declared dead in the 'Death of the Hippie' mock funeral on Oct. 7, 1967. Haight-Ashbury had devolved into a hellhole with rip-offs, rapes, and bad LSD. The Second Summer of Love was canceled in 1968. Woodstock promoted a return to the land, however San Francisco remained a magnet for youth of the loose.
My hair drifted down to my shoulders in college and I hung around Cambridge Commons listening to the Beacon Street Union and Ultimate Spinach. Upon completion of my sophomore year my good friend Petrus Gorski and I hitchhiked west at the end of the summer with $300 in our pockets and a telephone number in San Francisco. We planned to loop up to Seattle and recross the northern states. On Friday the 13th Petrus and I walked over to the Mass. Avenue exit of the Mass Pike and stuck out out thumbs. We were California-bound.
By that evening we had reached Buffalo. The next day dawn on Iowa. A trucker brought us to Omaha, where a speedfreak in a GTO stopped for by the Platte River. Lucky was headed for LA. It wasn't really in the same direction as I-80, but Lucky was into fast.
"I stay off the highways. The cops in these bodunk towns like catching hippies and cutting off their hair." He was transporting medical meth back to the Coast. Lucky talked for 20 hours straight, as his GTO thundered through small farming communities. Lucky was a good name, because the police never bothered to chase him. The GTO had too much engine.
Lucky drove at 120 mph through Nebraska into Wyoming. The landscape was turning to the scenery of a thousand cowboy movies. Drivers in pick-ups wore Stetson. Rifles spanned the rear windows.
"EASYRIDER land." Lucky refused to make eye contacts with the cow-punchers. At our speed they only had a second to look at us. No chance to reprise the ending of the hippie biker movie. We were safe from harm at 120 mph.
Lucky played every tape on the Doors. It had been almost two months since Jim Morrison had been found dead in Paris. "The CIA killed him.""Why?""The Lizard King had too much power."
Petrus and I heard THE END ten times in a row someplace west of Cheyenne. Lucky was losing it. West of Green River he fell asleep at the wheel and I steered from the passenger seat. Petrus wanted out of the GTO, but it was the dead of night and not a single light dotted the desert mountains. I opened the window and breathed in the perfume of the road. We were over two thousand miles from Boston. Finally a little after Salt Lake City Lucky pulled off the highway. It was one in the morning.
A few truckers were parked in the rest area. The moon lit the stark white pan stretching north and south as far as the eye could see. The Bonneville Salt Flats were famous for speed trials. Our speed was zero.
"I need to crash." Lucky mumbled and two seconds later his head flopped against the steering wheel, as if he had been shot in the head.
"I'm camping outside." Petrus threw his sleeping bag on the hard-packed salt. His long hair was stiff from the road. Neither of us had washed more than our faces since Boston.
"Me too." I stretched out my kinks and laid atop my sleeping bag. The stars numbered in the billions. Petrus was a math major. I had been one also until nearly failing Multi-Variable Calculus in the autumn semester. His minor was astrology and he picked out lesser-known constellations in the heavens. The mantra put me to sleep like listening to sine and cosine angles.
We woke the next morning. The sun was swelling over the eastern mountains. I half-expected the GTO to be gone, but Lucky beeped the horn.
"Let's go, I got places to be."
LIGHT MY FIRE was booming on the stereo.
"Do we really have to?" Petrus was over the Doors.
"It's not like we can stay here." The only civilization within sight was the rest rooms and the highway. The air was tanged with salt and diesel fumes. This was the West, a land without man. If we walked north, Petrus and I would perish from exposure to the elements. The siren of the Bonneville Salt Flats desired my bones and I understood the pull of nature on the dog Buck in Jack London's CALL OF THE WILD.
Only I was no dog. San Francisco was 1200 miles from where we stood. I sang the song.
"If you're going to San Francisco,be sure to wear some flowers in your hair...If you're going to San Francisco,You're gonna meet some gentle people there."
Petrus joined the chorus. Lucky shook his head. He revved the engine. The V-8 drowned out the words.
I sat in the front seat.
"You looked like you wanted to stay there." Lucky stamped on the gas. The tires peeled rubber and the GTO fishtailed across the oil-stained parking lot onto the highway straight-lining to the mountains.
"No staying there. We were heading to San Francisco."
"They got some pretty women there, but none of those hippie girls shave. Someone should take a mower to their legs." Lucky shuddered with disgust and the muscle car hit 130 with a tailwind. The Coast was only ten hours away at this speed. East of Reno Lucky pulled off the highway."What's up?""I'm not going to San Francisco," he announced this news, as if he had woken from the hupnosis of the road. "Sorry, but this is the end of the trail for us. My deal is in LA.""No problem, it was a good ride." Petrus jumped out of the car.
"It's been real. " He waved good-bye, as the GTO weaved down the highway.
"Sad to see him go." I stuck out my thumb. "Me too." Petrus looked over to the white-crested river tearing over the rocks. We were standing by the Truckee River. San Francisco lay over the Sierras. Petrus checked his watch."Thirty-six hours ago we were standing on Mass. Avenue." "No way." This had to be a record time. "I need to wash up a bit." Petrus was dusted with the dirt of a continent. We walked to the river and stripped off our clothes sheltered from sight by a copse of pines. The water was bitterly cold, but both of us felt more human in clean clothing. We tucked our long hair under bandanas and I stuck out my thumb. "California, here we come."