Posts Tagged With: hippies

Remembrances & Lessons: In Search of 1968 @ 68, and where do we go from here?

wine dinner 1971

Party at Berkeley, 1971

number 3 (2)

Same guys 2016

We don’t notice it  at the time, but time passes…quickly.  The above photos from college days and retirement days reflect the essence of each man and the nature of life:  We age.  For me it is a summing up time and a time to make an offering to my peers and younger generations.  We Boomers had a wild ride from our typically youthful idealism to the undeniable failures to achieve them.  That’s life, but ours was an unusually emphatic generation.  Propelled by resistance to  the  horror of Vietnam and political assassinations to demand change, we’re leaving the millennials quite a mess.  The environment is much worse, social/ ethnic relations are more polarized, and income-equality is more extreme  than in the Gilded Age.  What did we achieve with our fervent idealism?  I think  about that a lot these days.

It haunts me as I attempt to make sense of my fifty years of adulthood.  When I write about the old days, I often think of the seminal movie Easy Rider which is an accurate mark of the Sixties culture.  At the end of the movie after the cross-country odyssey sitting around a campfire, Captain America (Peter Fonda) says to Billy (Dennis Hopper), “We blew it.”  ‘Why’ is left hanging.  Perhaps he was prescient in assessing what would come out of all that youthful idealism.

Most of us tempered our ideals or put them in a locked closet and then engaged the world of responsibility and pragmatism. But for many Boomers that time of hyper-adulthood is ending.  The Baby Boomer generation is now retiring or at least at that age.  Many are disoriented by retirement, as I was, and need some direction.  For my own resolution and to assist others, I wrote a book on re-invention for Boomers. Not a how-to book with five-step plans or a collection of success stories, but a memoir of my journey of discovery, inner and outer.

Writing in installments, I compiled my insights and stories into Living the Dream Deferred:  A Boomer’s Reflections, Reconnaissance, and Redemption on the Road to Reinvention.  Each essay shares my personal lessons from real world experiences.  Along the way, I visited Venice, CA, Sayulita, Mexico, Santa Fe, New Mexico and many other places and found my process of renewal, after career.   But these are not just travel stories; I examined different theories on reinvention and successful exemplars of living well later in life.  Each essay ends with a two-step process, inner and outer, to fuel the reader’s own renewal.  By the time I published and promoted the book, I had fully embraced my transformation in ‘retirement.’

After that odyssey, I wanted it to be a legacy, not my name on a scholarship or a building, but a chronicle of life lessons through the my generation’s story:  The highs and lows of our youth, what became of them, and how they apply today.  I’m now on a quest for the famous and not so famous counter-cultural history of LA, the USA, and beyond.   Expanding on the first book’s theme of learning and renewing in ‘retirement,’ my new memoir presents and evaluates the stories, places, and ideals of the Boomer generation—What did we do, what was the impact, and what can we learn from the youth-quake of fifty years ago?

Looking at nine general themes, from anti-war politics to hippie communes,  I go to places that contributed to the era’s ideals.  As a start, I’ve visited Elysium Fields, a clothing-optional human potential center in Topanga, CA, to Venice West, the historical beatnik/ poetry coffee house in LA, and the original love-in at LA’s Griffith Park.  And most recently, the hippie-trail of Central  America.

Not nostalgia, not just golden oldies, remembrance is an attitude of respect for past events and how they inform the present.  The idea is to re-member, that is put back together the pieces into a whole.  As the quotation says, those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.  The Sixties had a lasting impact on our world, not all of it positive, but the hopeful ideals of the first mass counterculture offer a guide to working through the divisive tribalism that plagues us today.

What can we learn from that era? What can we revive?  What should be avoided? Looking back on that time with sentimentality feels good, but there is more.  At the 2017  fiftieth anniversary celebration of the Griffith Park love-ins, I interviewed  attendees who waxed euphoric about that bygone era like a misty-eyed veteran who remembers his days in World War II.  Unfortunately, hindsight is NOT 20/ 20.  Too often, truth is submerged in conflated memories seen through rose-colored lenses, my mission is to clear the mind weeds.  At the same event, I interviewed several young people who heard about the event as a Sixties revival and they loved it. Ideals of peace, community, sharing, and non-corporate fun resonated with them.  They wanted more of it.

In this pivotal transitional period of our history, Sixties ideals are still valid. As Johnny Echols guitarist of the seminal interracial LA rock group, Love, said to me at the 2017 love-in, “We’ve gone backwards, sadly.”  In this era of tribal conflicts, massive economic injustice, and environmental devastation, it behooves us to awaken the long dormant values of  freedom, community, creativity, and justice.

The Sixties were not an accident of history, but an expression of humanity’s striving for hope and possibility.  Join me in a campaign of hippie redemption.  We can stop the current  backsliding by taking steps forward.  We hippie veterans and younger fellow-travelers need to work together for the healing of society and our planet.  As John Lennon said in 1970, “Let’s Come Together.”

An invitation:  Anyone out there who has an inquiring mind and wants me to investigate some place or story that fits broadly into the above format, please contact me. I’m really excited about local stories of peace, love, and freedom.  In return I’ll gift a free copy of my book, Living the Dream Deferred.  I’m looking forward to connecting with the cultural roots of our city, state, nation, and world.  Peace, freedom, and love.

 

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Belize: Paradise Found and Lost

 

Needless-to-say-I-went-in-the-back-door

RW used the backdoor in 2015, Placencia

“Ciao bella.” Not my most original pick-up line, but I figured my American accent would give me an edge on this off-the-cruise ship route island just off the coast from Mexican mega-resort, Cancun. Mesmerized by her long, curly black hair and the signs of hippie-ness (beaded and macramed necklace and bracelet, hairy underarms, and hoop earrings), I had stared at her lounging with two friends on the beach for an hour.  I overheard them speaking Italian and considered this a good omen, since Italian is one of the three languages I mangle on my foreign trips.

She smiled and said, “Grazie” and I tapped my limited Italian vocabulary. “Come ti chiama?” Dusky eyes stared at me for a long 30 seconds and laughed, “Daniela. E tu?” And so began my first Belize adventure and a transcontinental, summer romance. The magic was on; me on the rebound from a devastating break-up and she a free spirit wandering through Central America on the ‘hippie trail.’ Although from different countries, culturally we matched; both members of a distinct cohort of that era; disappointed political and cultural radicals, or as she said, i frustrati (the frustrated ones).

Isla Mujeres 1979

RW & the royal treatment, Isla Mujeres—1979

Belize is a Central American country bordered by Guatemala and the Caribbean Sea. As the only English-speaking country in the area, it attracts a lot of American expatriates due to pensioner attractive laws such as tax-exemption. To encourage development and avoid the occasional hurricane, the capital Belmopan was established in the interior in 1970, but the major city is Belize City. Once a ramshackle, dangerous, and tourist-free backwater, and now on the cruise ship circuit, Belize City offers a typical Caribbean port experience complete with horse-drawn carriages tours of sanitized tourist attractions.

Those with a more adventurous bent (or not as we’ll see) head for the outlying cayes or islands on the barrier reef a dozen miles off-shore, to Placencia Peninsula in the south, or to San Ignacio near the Guatemala border. Placencia had been on my short list to explore for years, so in 2015 when an ex-girlfriend said she needed a getaway, I suggested Belize (which I had first visited in 1979), which offered beach-chilling, caving, and Mayan ruins. I didn’t plan to visit Caye Caulker.

Barefoot-Bar-Placencia

Classic tropical resort vibe in Placencia, 2015

As we swooped down to the landing field/ pasture outside Placencia, in a six-seater prop plane with my 1970s soulmate Lynn (not her real name) and now fellow sixty-something retiree, my mind flashed back to that first trip to Belize over thirty years before and the jaw-dropping beautiful Italian girl on the beach. I had traveled to Mexico with a couple of guy friends, heart-broken from ten months of emotional roller-coaster break-up with the same woman sitting next to me on the prop plane.
Delia and I met on Isla Mujeres, Mexico a couple days before my flight home to my job as an inspector with the United States Immigration Service. We squeezed a lot of fun into those two days; discovered a secret, isolated beach and rolled in the pebbly sand (not like California sand, it is crushed coral), drank margaritas at the beach bar, and discussed the future of former radical youth like us. I fell in love. She and her two friends, another single woman and their older, male friend (who served as the two girls’ porter in exchange for the privilege of traveling with two attractive women) were leaving the same day as me, but they were headed overland to Belize.
Infatuated with Delia, I woke up at the hotel in Cancun and totally out of character, I cabled my job at LAX that I’d missed my flight and would return in one week. I raced down to surprise my new love arriving on the ferry from Isla Mujeres. She cried in surprise and joy.

 

on-the-way-to-caye-caulker-79

Transport to Caye Caulker in the hippie  days

 

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5x per day ferry to Caye Caulker, 2015

I joined their trek and off we went to Belize. My rudimentary Italian provided less than first grade communication, but the language of love sufficed most of our week together. I served as the Caribbean-English interpreter in on the hippie trail to our destination—Caye Caulker. As young, ex-hippie/ radicals, we traveled on the cheap. When we couldn’t get a bus or taxi, we hitch-hiked.  Imagine two young white women with their thumbs out, with two scrawny guys lurking with the backpacks in a culvert. But somehow we got to Orange Walk town and my first experience of Caribbean local-style accommodations—bare planks semi-separated ‘rooms’ where one bare bulb flickered off and on and the bathroom was an outhouse. After the sun sets, then the mosquito coils came out. I later learned that faint incense-like smoke was toxic.

Martinez-Carib-inn-Caye-Caulker-79

Only accommodations back in the day, dinner prix fixe but only lobster, Caye Caulker

In those days, Caye Caulker was the archetypal, untouched tropical island. The only way to get there was by hiring a motorboat, which dropped you at the wooden pier. Our party doubled the number of travelers on the island, and this was the summer season, With only three choices for accommodation in those days: four luxurious, new, and empty condos, and two rooming houses, neither of which had A/C or window screens. We got a couple rooms that faced the wooden pier with the outhouse perched at the end. A couple of local women served meals on order: You would place an order at noon for dinner. Every meal included some form of fresh lobster. Entertainment was limited in those days on Caye Caulker. We couldn’t even find a rum shop.  In the evening, the locals walked around the square and ate ice cream. We enjoyed a few bliss-filled days, before the Italians continued to the next stop on the hippie trail—Tikal, Guatemala, and I returned to my job at LAX.

That old story was the farthest thing from my mind in 2015, as we embarked on this escape without itinerary or reservations, except the first hotel. I looked forward to seeing caves, ruins, and Placencia. An old-school overland travel adventure, like back in the old days. Caye Caulker was NOT on the itinerary. I know you can’t go home again.

Rhino on the spot

RW & ex-pat hoteliers,  Placencia

We collected our bags, the two other passengers disappeared into the mangroves, I breathed deeply of the moist air and relaxed. She was a bit antsy and called the hotel, “Where is our ride?” A middle-aged guy with a four-day beard, a scruffy baseball cap, rolled up in a beat-up van. Out of the corner of his mouth with eyes barely open, he slurred a few words inviting us to get in. I figured the proprietor of the hotel hired a fellow American who was down on his luck. I was wrong. He was the owner of the place and that was his standard look and condition.
Placencia straddles a twenty-mile long lagoon on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other. On the seaside, before you see it, you smell it—the stench of decomposing kelp or seaweed. The smell and the debris keep most people from sunbathing on the beach, but the gusty wind attracts avid kite-boarders and windsurfers.
A scruffy little town with a few hide-away resorts, Francis Ford Coppola owns the most up-scale hotel in town.  A few restaurants, an outdoor beach bar, a couple juice bars, dive shops, general stores and banks comprise the business district.  The tourist shops feature over-priced Mayan woven goods, which enticed Lynn with ‘fantastic’ deals. As the owner of a women’s wear boutique she was in heaven until a week later she discovered the same items at half the price in Mayan country.

Placencia reminded me of many tropical resorts around the world.  Like many it has a scruffy business district with half-finished mini-centers and guesthouses coupled with a nearby marina with boat slips, boats, villas.  Ninety percent empty, it waits for the tourist throngs. A few miles farther out of town several up-scale beach resorts wait provide five-star comfort for a few upscale visitors. Being an adventure traveler for over forty-five years, I go for comfort AND soul. Although I’ve moderated my style a bit, to me the higher the star rating, the more insulated from the local vibe and less appealing.

 

Caged plaster jag

No live jaguars so they put a plaster rendition in a cage

After a few days lounging around, we took a day tour to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, known as the only jaguar preserve in the world. Set in a virtually pristine forest we hiked a while and rode inner-tubes on the meandering stream. Strangely, no one, not even our guide, has ever seen a live jaguar in that park, so they have a life-sized plaster replica in a cage.
It reminded me of a tour in Namibia, when we hiked on a couple miles into a rocky canyon, to see an ancient petroglyph, among the oldest in the world we were told—maybe 3000 years old. Outside, unprotected, easily touched, well-preserved drawings of cattle and people glistened with paint that couldn’t have been over ten years old. But the guide shook his head several times, “No sir, this is the original paint.” Tourists are known to be gullible. After all, we all have a confirmation bias according to research psychologists. Most people tend to see what they’re looking for, but in Belize no jaguars.
Fully rested after a week in Placencia, we hit the road to adventure. We planned to travel to San Ignacio, a town near the Guatemalan border, and check the myriad caves in the vicinity and the Tikal ruins. To really see a place overland travel is critical, and even better on local transport.  En route to San Ignacio we took a ferry across the lagoon to the mainland, a taxi ride to the bus stop, and public buses. On the bus we saw ‘real’ people doing their life, from the police chief in full uniform to the white German-speaking Mennonites with long beards and hats to the indigenous Mayans in traditional dress.

 

police-chief-riding-on-the-bus

Overland bus is for everyone, even the police chief

On that first trip with Delia and her friends, the two-lane, often unpaved ‘highway’ impressed me with the re-purposed American school buses as the primary transport. This time I expected the bus would be like overland transport in every other country I’ve visited in the last ten years from Mexico to South Africa to Turkey, their version of a modern Greyhound. Not in Belize, the Bluebird converted school buses still prevail in Belize. How could that be in a country where a two-star hotel room runs $125? I later learned that a certain family has the monopoly and has no motivation to upgrade—take it or leave it.

bus-to-BZ-City

Buses haven’t changed in 35 years

Heading north from the low-key tourist zone of Placencia, fields of mango, corn, and sorghum are interspersed with faded bus terminals, mini-marts, rum shops, and the ubiquitous rebar poking out of half-finished houses. At Dangriga, we jumped off to go the restroom.  When we returned, the bus had left with our bags on board. We asked the station’s various fruit vendors and lotto sellers, ‘Where’d they go?’ Jumping in a cab we caught up with them ten miles ahead.
San Ignacio borders Guatemala and functions as the Belizean gateway to the Mayan ruins of Tikal. A calm and prosperous city of 20,000, nearby charms include numerous cave systems and the Mennonite town of Spanish Lookout.  We took pleasant day trips to the ruins and the caves with our amiable Rastaman guide, David. Satisfied with traditional tourist excursions, Lynn wanted to rest at a beach, the Barrier Reef and Caye Caulker beckoned. A two hour bus ride to Belize City followed by a one hour ferry ride across the channel, and I was back in my 1970s paradise.

Main-St-Caye-Caulker-1

the new, unimproved Caye Caulker with miles of shops

Starbucks across the street

Even a Starbucks in 2015

But paradise no more, Caye Caulker is now like the old prostitute that still wears hi-heels, short skirts, red lipstick, but isn’t even a shadow of her former self. The difference being, Caye Caulker prospers financially, but its ‘hippie trail’ days are long-gone. A big sign at the police station at the ferry quay announces severe penalties for possessing cannabis. Stepping out to the sandy street in front, a guy brusquely offered to sell me some herb. I was not surprised. Bars line the sandy main street, dozens of restaurant hawk their happy hour specials and touts pitch for boat trips to outer cayes and the divers’ mecca the Blue Hole. Across from our hotel, a Starbucks pimped its tropical frozen coffee drinks.
Determined to see if there was any remnant of the old Caulker, we rented bikes one day and rode around the island. Except for the airfield, mangrove swamps and residential neighborhoods cover almost everything not in service to tourists. On the leeward side, fishing boats, no longer efficient for catching lobster, decay on the sand. At the point at one end of the island, a beach bar provides the obligatory cheap rum drinks and people watching.

 

cool and decrepit

Last remnant of the hippie trail in Caye Caulker, 2015

My 21st century trip to Belize seemed destined to close that circle opened almost forty years before. Like young adult visions of like becoming the president or selling a million records, a dream unexplored lingers to haunt us until it is acknowledged and resolved. For me, the tropical idyll of the old Caye Caulker, was one of my fantasies—A place at the end of the world, where love prevailed.
Caye Caulker has its merits, but it isn’t what it once was. Not even a shadow remains, that’s not just my fantasy, but what made it special is gone. Few places even honor their simpler past, much less preserve its’ soul. At least Waikiki has a statue to Duke Kahanamoku next to the luxury shops; Caye Caulker doesn’t even have lobster on the menu.  To paraphrase Bogart in Casablanca, ‘I’ll always have Isla Mujeres.’ That’s one island, I am NOT returning to.

Hippie hollow

A sign pointing to possible members of the tribe, San Ignacio, 2015

 

 

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Venice West: No Longer Beat Down

Next time you sip that espresso with organic, gluten-free sesame muffin, and listen to a open-mike poet at your favorite local café, you’re in debt to a culture and a time long obscured by the flood of history.  A typical evening at the café included a round or two of poets reading accompanied by bongo drums, while fellow beats sat around sipping espresso.  At times a painter would use the blank wall as a canvas for his colorful expressions.  You might have heard Stu Perkoff reciting  his piece about  a physically and  spiritually complete life:

Feasts of Love, Feasts of Death by Stu Perkoff

sitting on the benches, bodies warm & throats  filled with joy & love

we offered worship

sitting warm, eyes & skin touching, love flowing 

we offered  worship

               we sang

& spoke languages & poems

offered worship & love

mixing the birds of passion & the swords of God

in our beautiful young eyes

 

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The  Beat scene 1959 at Venice West

If you’re in the LA area,  the direct line to your coffee place, the Osteria Venice West, faces the boardwalk in Venice.  Look across Dudley St. from Osteria Venice West in Venice (formerly Los Angeles’ beach slum and now the high-tech Silicon Beach) and you’ll see the restored, chic Cadillac Hotel.  In that beachfront block, where tourists, inner city visitors, homeless drunks, street vendors, and occasional locals like myself mix in a bouillabaisse of humanity, it’s not hard to imagine  LA’s fifties counter-culture congregating here 55 years ago.   Like today’s eclectic crowd, the beatniks, refugees from “squaresville,” hunkered down in this space then known as Venice West Café.  Some lived across the street in the Cadillac, at that time a low-rent boarding house.

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Original Venice West

This is the only site from that era recognized by a city of Los Angeles historic marker of the Beatnik scene of the Fifties in  LA. Other Venice Beat locations such as the Gas House (now a vacant lot filled with weekend vendors of tourist paraphernalia) and Lawrence Lipton’s house on  Park Ave don’t get that modest respect.  But Osteria Venice West houses the spirit and vibe of the beatniks that begat the hippie culture, which in turn continues to impact our world through the counter-cultural ideas of yoga, organic food, classic rock, environmental concern, and global community.

Although some of the heroes of the hippies in the sixties and seventies had their beginnings in the Beatnik world (Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, and others), I knew next to nothing about the Beatniks.  As a former history teacher and an original Hippie, soon after I turned 65 I began to look backwards to hippie’s forbears—the Beats.  (There’s something about reaching that magic  number,  which I’ll go into on  another occasion.)  After graduating from UC Berkeley in the seventies, I moved to Venice:  At the time the vestiges of what had been a slum and refuge  for artists, hippies, and other low-income individuals still lingered.  Funky (a word coined by the Beats) and casual, I felt right at home in Ocean Park/ Venice.

Alienated and not just a bit lazy, most of the Beats were young men who landed in Venice initially because it had fallen on hard times.  Once a bold and glorious real estate development, Abbott Kinney’s Venice of America offered the burgeoning city of Los Angeles a beach fantasy land complete with canals, luxury hotels, amusements, and casinos.  Kinney and his partner Francis Ryan had planned a massive project from Ballona Lagoon on the south to Santa Monica Pier to the north.   But due to a business conflict, they split and the northern piece, Ocean Park, went to Ryan and was eventually annexed by the city of Santa Monica.  Kinney established Venice of America in 1905.  It was an immediate big hit, but over the years as most flashy scenes do, Venice faded.  Starting in the twenties and with the advent of Prohibition a gang element took over. Followed by the Depression and then World War II, by the forties Venice’s former glory was just a memory with the old hotels turned into rooming houses for the elderly and poor.

Perfect for artists and bohemians with its cheap rents away from meddling by the power brokers of LA, it soon became a magnet for alienated young men and women who wanted to drop out from the mainstream.  To distinguish themselves from the squares, a slang developed that would assist a beatnik in determining a wannabee square from a fellow beat.  Many of their terms, ranging from “cool” to “cop-out” to “funky” to “turn on” to “shack-up”  and many others are still in use today.

Venice West Aug '16

The author on  the  scene 2016

On the contrary:  The counter-culture known as hippie, which grew out of the beat subculture, although also anti-establishment, had a vision more idealistic, hopeful, and celebratory.  Rather than sitting around in black turtlenecks and goatees reading Howl and listening to introspective jazz and hitting on  “horse” or heroin, Hippies wore colorful costumes and grew long hair and convened love-ins in parks where they danced, painted faces, and tripped on mind-expanding  drugs.  The Hippie movement caught on with millions in the sixties and its’ lifestyles and principles spread through out society, attracting young and young-thinking people world-wide with an optimistic vision for the future.

As an ardent participant in the hippie movement, I knew our antecedents were in the beats.  And I’ve lived in Venice/Ocean Park for over forty years, but I knew very little about them. Sure, I’d read Kerouac, Ferlinghetti, Snyder, and Ginsberg, but knew little of their beliefs, values, and culture.  After reading a historical summary of Venice West, a visit to the seminal beat location seemed appropriate.  It  would  be a kind of pilgrimage to my cultural ancestors, akin to visiting Gethsemane in Jerusalem or Trieste Cafe or City Lights Books in San Francisco or CG Jung’s tower near Zurich.  Everyday places now, but sites of cultural significance.

Venice West Café Expresso was established by Stuart Perkoff in mid-1958 to capitalize on the growing trend in coffeehouses.  He and a partner bought 7 Dudley  Pl, former shul (a Jewish meeting house) and later bleach factory .   They ripped off the  plaster and exposed the brick walls.  On opening day a hand printed sign announced Art is Love is God.  Perkoff, one of the original Venice Beat poets, had recently broken with Lawrence Lipton, whose January 1959, firsthand account of the burgeoning Beat scene, The Holy Barbarians, attracted national attention to the area.  Feuding with Lipton and running short on funds Perkoff sold the café in Janaury 1959, just before Holy Barbarians‘ publication in February, 1959.

The book sparked widespread interest in the beats and soon throngs of wannabees, weekend Beatniks, and tourists descended on the area and Venice West Café.  At times a painter would use the blank wall as a canvas for his colorful expressions.  Often one could hear a poet spouting his (they were almost always men) verse backed by a bongo player and/ or jazz musicians.  The café flourished, but eventually after years fighting closure by the city due to complaints by uncool, non-Beat neighbors, Venice West closed in 1965.

venice west outside

Osteria Venice West Cafe today

On my visit to the site of Venice West, I noticed how much and how little has changed in Venice.  Within 50 feet of the now luxury café, Osteria Venice  West,  the homeless population congregates and hits up city day-trippers with crafts and sullen stares. Recently next door at the Candle Café, I attempted to have a calm conversation  with a friend while a rag-tag crew of ‘musicians’ played amplified instruments and passed the bucket.  Is it fair to say they are the descendants of the Beatniks?  They still play music, create “art,” and take a lot of drugs and alcohol.  Or is the proprietor of the organic, gourmet restaurant?

The borderlines of counter-cultures are never sharp and constantly shifting as ideas get absorbed and co-opted into the mainstream.  But in exploring the roots of bohemian Venice, I discovered that alternative values such as free-love,  creative  expression and individuality don’t belong to any one “movement.”  Like the flowing garb of the Hippies and the free verse of the Beatniks, the counter-culture is constantly shifting and not limited by any label.  Once the  site of an innovative tourist attraction, followed by decay, poverty, Beatnik drop-outs, Hippie idealists and today by Silicon Beach techies, Venice has always offered a break from the  cookie-cutter, ersatz world of consumer culture.

Although of short duration and small numbers, the beat influence has been surprisingly long lasting.  In addition to its gifts to the vernacular and our coffee tastes,  it also left us the drum  circle which continues to this day on Sundays on Venice Beach.   And like many counter-cultures, it encouraged sexual liberation, eschewed ethnic bigotry, and advocated an anti-war creed.  Its’ embrace of cool jazz and cannabis predicted the wide dissemination of such tastes.  And most importantly, the Beats recognized that mindless consumerism was a hamster-wheel, which research psychologists have confirmed does NOT lead to greater happiness or life satisfaction.

A key feature of Beat was the acceptance that anyone is a creative soul.  One didn’t have to get an MFA to spout poetry or write a novel or throw paint on a canvas.  What mattered was your authenticity and soul.  The Beat movement was the first counter-culture to practice and encourage that the freedom to create is available  to everyone.  Their vision seeded today’s creativity explosion seen in the availability of on-line video, print-on-demand books, blogs such as this, and sound clouds, where anyone with the courage and the urge can be an ‘artist’ and publish their creations.

More than a trend or a style, the Beats demonstrated that ‘living  in society and not of it’ is possible.  So, when you down an espresso or attend an open-mike, you’re sampling a bit of Beatnik.

plaque Venice West

Giving respect to  the  tradition (on the wall at the site)

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The Big Ditch and the Big Mash-up: Silver City, NM (adventure)

at his coffee  house Dale

Dale Rucklos, reinventor in Silver City, NM

 

“Hey, how are you today?” asked a tall, bald on top, long and curly on the sides guy perched outside one of the seven coffee houses in town as I approached.  Looking for a place to relax after touring around the town, I was looking for a coffee house and write.  Dale Ruchlos and Teresa were on duty at Yankie Creek Cafe and happy to talk about Silver City, how they got there, and their winding road, inner and outer.  Like I’d stepped into their living room, we talked for hours about the artistic and musical character of the town, the mix of transplants and college kids, and the mysterious road of life that led them there.  Very homey vibe in the place enticed me with announcements of  upcoming concerts, a weekly pinochle game, and original art on the walls.

replica of Billy the Kids house which was here

replica home of  Billy the Kid

When I drove into the historic center of Silver City,  I first noticed the Army Surplus store followed by a thrift shop and next to that a food co-op and then a micro-brewery and an art gallery.  A real hodgepodge of authentic, early 21sth Century Americana hip mixed with an old mining town whose original main street had turned into a ditch.

 

I rolled down the current main street, Bullard, and surveyed the scene.  Putting slowly like a typical tourist, I gazed all around for parking signs like back in Santa Monica.  You know the kind; street cleaning day, preferred parking permits, no high and long vehicles, and so on.  Seeing nothing of the kind, I slipped into a free spot next to a yoga studio.  Then a yahoo in a jumbo pick-up raced by and greeted me with a ‘Fuck you, asshole.’  Wow, not auspicious welcome, but it didn’t dampen my anticipation of discovering such a real place.  Turned out, that the rest of the afternoon proceeded with friendliness and warmth.  What else?  It was pushing 100 degrees that day.

civic preservation

saga of the Ditch

 

Trusting the word I’d gotten several years before, with no research, I left I-10 at Deming, NM crossed the freeway and faced the long, straight line of NM Hwy 180 to Silver City, NM.  Planning to get to Tucson and its cheap motels and uber-hip 4th ave, I had a lot of ground to cover.  Arrow straight mile after mile passed by the high desert scrub brush and saw only an occasional semi-truck and no other passenger vehicles.  I wondered, “What could be out here?  Hours from any real city?”  Turned out a lot.  After an hour on the road, shopping malls with the corporate chain stores interspersed with chain motels appeared on both sides of the four-lane highway, and I worried that I may find another Prescott, AZ.  Then the tell-tale brown and beige historic markers began to appear.  They pointed to the nineteenth century Palace Hotel which is located in the historic center across the street from a yoga studio.

Taking a self-guided walking tour, I stumbled upon the Ditch.  It looked like an old creek cutting through a forest of overgrown trees.   Something like an unholy union of the San Luis Creek in San Luis Obispo, CA and Temescal Canyon in Pacific Palisades.  Along the sides about 12′ above the creek, a neglected concrete walk-way offered benches and access into the ditch.  I put aside my desire for a steaming espresso and crossed the creek on the old steel suspension bridge, the kind you can look through to the water and rocks below.  On the other side, next to the replica house of Billy the Kid was the museum and tourist office.

get your dog's astrology

dogs & metaphysics

They call it the Ditch, because back in the early twentieth century regular floods (due to overgrazing the hills around the town) made a canyon of Main St eventually requiring bridges to get to the shops on the other side of the street.  Giving up on that futile effort, the commercial street was relocated to Bullard and Main Street was given over to the ditch.  But Bullard still maintains the old-time three foot high sidewalks from the old days before sewers.

 

Being the curious type, I investigated the ersatz log cabin poised next to the car bridge.  Like many historic structures in the old West, it is a replica of what once was there.  I’m glad to say, the rest of the town isn’t a replica.  As I later discovered in my wanderings.  But back to the historic park, in a fervor of civic pride or tourist aspiration, the cabin was built in the 1980s on the original spot of the home of Billy the Kid before he went on the rampage for a couple years in southern New Mexico.  Funny, how a good story and PR man can turn an outlaw and criminal into a cash cow tourist attraction.  I saw several monuments in the area dedicated to the weird, short career of William Bonney and wondered, “Is that the best you can do for heroes?”

almost destroyed for a parking lot

almost a parking lot

Silver city exudes an eclectic mix of Western New Mexico University students, bohemian city refugees, and old time ranchers.   Every street in the historic core offered surprises in architecture with totally restored art deco for the daily newspaper, an art museum gallery in the old armory, an eighty year old frame house turned into a cafe, all mixed in with hold-overs from over a hundred years.  You can find a boarded up old movie theatre, a thrift store, and an in process soda fountain conversion to micro-brewery all on the same block.

I had a funny encounter in the Army Surplus store:  A lot of original old army stuff filled the walls and I wanted to rummage around.  The proprietor asked me what I wanted and I responded, “I don’t know. I’m looking for it.”  Then I attempted to go in the stacks and he barked, “That’s not allowed.”  Well, I walked out to find more friendly attractions.

art stuff outside armory

Former armory, now art gallery

 

Back at Yankie Creek Cafe, Dale, the proprietor broke it down about the six other coffee houses each of which has its own loyal clientele and specialty.  He suggested I check out a place called the Lazy Cactus for its real espresso.  We parted company with an exchange suitable for old hippies of a creative bent, I gave him a copy of my book, Living the Dream Deferred and he gave me his new cd The Journey.  The cover art has a photo of him as a young man looking at mirror of him now.  I continued my perambulations  and went to the real espresso coffee house and enjoyed the groove with a patio facing the street, Tibetan tapestries on the walls, and Bob Marley on the sound system.
As groovy as it was, it was time to leave but not before one other anomaly.  Outside of the historic area, turning left to head out of town, with only infrequent traffic, I waited almost ten minutes for it to turn green.  Silver City proved to be quirkier than I imagined.  Again, proving my rules of travel adventures; plan lightly, don’t research too much, and walk around and be surprised.

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