One lingering question is just when did the hippie movement end – at least in the phase everyone considers.
No, it wasn’t the end of the ’60s. The movement really boomed in the early ’70s.
You might peg it to the end of the Nixon administration. Or the end of the military draft.
I’m more like to say December 8, 1980, when John Lennon was assassinated in Manhattan.
On a more personal note we might consider the time when we stopped hitchhiking as well as the time we stopped picking up hitchhikers.
Let me explain.
At first, hitchhiking was dangerous – and exciting. You never knew, either, whether you’d ever get a ride or just be left standing there. (Me, middle of Montana, summer 1970.) Or whether something nasty might happen.
And then came the stretch where everybody did it. It was a free-rolling party. The unwritten rule was you had to share something in reciprocation to the driver. You know, the old ass-grass-or-ass mantra. What I’ll cite as my introduction to trail gorp from the first Mennonite I’d met.
Somewhere, though, something turned ugly. A few hitchers began to think drivers owed them a ride and cursed those who passed by. Bad karma. And then a few you picked up were just scary. I mean really scary, and rather incommunicado. For me that was the summer of ’73 going into early ’74. It just wasn’t worth the risk, and it wasn’t any fun.
At its zenith, hitchhiking was largely a rural practice. The cities – especially the large metropolitan areas – could be tricky. Not everyone was cool. And not everyone could be trusted. So I was told.
Actually, much of the hippie movement had migrated to the countryside and college campus communities to escape a lot of the big city hassles, especially those of the authorities. But the inner city or bohemian urban enclaves still provided a lot of the action. It seemed to me that hippie wanted to go in two separate directions. One thing was clear, and that was the suburbs just weren’t included.
And so I wound up working with the metaphor of the Subway Hitchhiker. Beating the system you were using. Riding free … and freely. Seeing the world around you magically transformed.
As it turns out, even this fantasy vision would have a limitation in time.
The underground rails turned ugly after that. Not just the overwhelming graffiti, either – the assaults and other crimes proliferated.
And then the homeless – the ones who came to be known as the Mole People – began living in the permanently dark, secret recesses of the tunnels. Things became really scary, if you weren’t careful or couldn’t read the signals.
One thing for certain: the rails have recovered – and I find them fun, even at rush hour (admittedly, it’s because I’m just a visitor rather than a daily commuter).
And my novel remains a souvenir of that earlier jubilation – maybe you want to look at its short chapters as postcards.
For your ride, click here.