On Becoming a Hippie (part 3)
This is a continuation of the story of my awakening and more. Although I was born into a conservative Republican family that was equally oppressive and educational, I was always a rebel at heart, pushing the limits and finding my own voice. This is how I finally broke free. If you want to start at the beginning, read part 1 and part 2 first.
Our friends dropped us off just outside of New York City so that we would (hopefully) not get hassled by the city cops. We stuck out our thumbs and waited for an hour with no luck. Paul started feeling nervous about the amount of time we’d already spent there and decided to put our stash under a bush – just in case. Another hour went by with no one even slowing down to consider us. We were feeling very discouraged when a car full of young men stopped and offered to take us to Western Pennsylvania. Wow! This must have been our lucky day to snag such a long ride right off. We hopped right in. Once we were well on the way, it suddenly occurred to us that we’d left the stash behind. We were going to be clean and sober for the first time in a long time and were not looking forward to it.
At one point, somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania, we stopped for gas at a small out-of-the way service station. As the driver filled the tank, Paul and I went inside to use the bathroom. We immediately noticed the silence inside the building and were very wary. The scene outside did nothing to calm our nerves. The car was already starting to pull away as three men came out of the garage with tire irons in their hands. We raced for the car and hopped in just in time as one of the men threw his tire iron which then hit the back bumper. We were very glad to be out of there.
We arrived in Pittsburgh around 9 pm that night and tried calling one of Paul’s sisters looking for a place to crash for the night. Although they had never really gotten along, I was shocked when she hung up on him. He called a few other friends and finally got ahold of one who said that we could stay one night if we could get there before 11 pm. It was after 10 but Paul agreed, and we started walking. Pittsburgh has lots of hills and many long, steep staircases for pedestrians to get from one street to another. We stood at the bottom of one of these, and I groaned. We had stayed up all night on New Year’s Eve at our goodbye party and had been smoking pot most of the day with our ride. I was exhausted. I started up those stairs and got about halfway when I could not go a step further. I sat down and cried. This was not the adventure I was looking for.
Paul was determined to get us to Elaine’s apartment, so he carried his things up to the top then came back for me and my stuff, half carrying up the rest of the flight. We arrived at Elaine’s at 11:10 pm. She was furious but let us in anyway. She wanted us settled in before her boyfriend came home. I guess he was not a fan of her old friends and wasn’t the nicest guy. We finally fell asleep, then got up the next morning in search of another place to stay. This time, Paul’s sister agreed to take us in for one night. I was still exhausted and feeling slightly nauseous. I also had skipped my monthly period and was feeling a little anxious. I always used birth control, so I was sure I wasn’t pregnant, but something was not right. That day, I went to the free clinic for a pregnancy test – just in case. It was negative. Whew! What a relief. If I had gotten a positive result, I probably would have gone back home, and that was the last thing I wanted to do.
Before leaving the next day, we met a friend of Paul’s sister at a local coffee shop. He was older than us, probably in his 30s and was a serious radical writer and activist. Unfortunately, I don’t remember his name. Paul always remembered everyone’s name, dates, places, etc. but when he died, he took a lot of those details with him. Anyway, this fellow introduced me to Marxism. He even looked like what I thought a Marxist would look like with long dark hair and facial hair. He was fascinating – very passionate about his beliefs and wanting to share those beliefs with whoever would listen. I was always a good listener and loved hearing what anyone had to say. I had grown up immersed in conservative values but had never bought into it and was looking for alternatives, so this was just what I craved. This trip was suddenly looking up.
The next leg of the journey was uneventful. We never did make it to Mardi Gras because the rides kept taking us west instead of south. I don’t remember much about it except that I learned to sleep in clothing donation boxes to get out of the weather. As long as we moved the harder items like shoes out of the way, they were quite cozy with all of the clothes in there. Paul had lost his address book, a very serious loss for a “road scholar,” when his wallet was stolen by one of the many visitors to our old apartment. This meant that he no longer had all of those contacts he had already made during his 4 years on the road. So, we were both starting fresh in a way. I also learned that “Grand Openings” were very helpful to those on the road. There was usually coffee and some kind of food at these events. At bank openings, we usually could score pens and pads of paper. We were both writers, so that was a plus. When breezing into a new town, we always looked for community news to see what was available.
I do remember quite vividly standing on the shoulder of the I-80 with my thumb out and having the big semi-trucks speed up and veer over into the right lane at the last minute, the wind gusts they created throwing our bags – and me – careening down the road. I finally started crouching down or laying right down in the snow when they came by. Back then, I probably weighed about 100 pounds fully dressed, and it was impossible to keep my footing when they zoomed by. Eventually, we made it to a truck stop in Big Springs, Nebraska where we could either stay on I-80 and go to Wyoming or head to Colorado on a slightly more southern route. We knew that it was illegal to hitchhike in Colorado, so we decided to try for a ride to Wyoming which was also more direct. We were soon sticking out our thumbs and holding up our sign. Our new flexible goal was San Francisco where Paul’s oldest sister was living.
To be continued …
On Becoming a Hippie (Part 2)
A few years ago, I decided to try to chronicle my hippie past. Of course, that past keeps growing as I age, so now I’m sifting through a lot of decades. Since I started, I’ve shared stories or thoughts randomly. Because I will now be sharing these posts on another blog, I've decided to start over again at the beginning. Some of these posts will contain adult content. This is Part 2.
We arrived home from the trip to Pittsburgh, and I found myself wondering what I was getting myself into with this interesting man. I’d always craved adventure and was definitely finding it with him, but at what cost? Things were already a little crazy. The man we were getting our best drugs from was rumored to have shot his wife and gotten away with it. To us, it was just a rumor and, since he treated us very well, often giving us freebies and offering the best prices in town, we decided not to listen to the warnings. I will call him Mr. X.
He told us to be sure to always call before coming, which we did faithfully. Every time we went, he would hand Paul a guitar and insist that he play “Hey Joe” and “Down by the River,” adding to the rumors. I still don't like playing those songs today. He had an elaborate escape route built into his home that went through the drop ceiling and up into the attic with a ladder in the back from the attic window. One day, Paul got caught in traffic and arrived about 20 minutes later than expected. When Mr. X’s girlfriend answered the door, Paul looked up and saw three men at the top of the stairs with shotguns aimed at him and the girlfriend. Realizing that this guy had no trouble with the thought of blowing all of us away woke us up. That was the last time either of us went there.
One day, we went to a garage sale at our local halfway house, and I met Paul’s best friend from his childhood there. He begged us to break him out, so we did what we could to help out. A few days later, Greg became our new roommate. He seemed like a nice enough guy. He was very quiet though, almost too quiet. It wasn’t long before he started giving me the creeps. At first, I thought he was acting nasty because he was jealous of my closeness to Paul. I soon found out that this guy had done way too much LSD and had gone over the edge. He started putting towels over all of the mirrors in the house because “Satan could see us through the reflections.” Pretty soon, he reconnected with his old girlfriend who moved in and eventually became (and still is) one of my closest friends. He wouldn’t let her sleep at night because the devil could enter in her dreams, so she moved out. Things got weirder and weirder.
A new friend came over one evening asking if he could trip with us. He’d had a bad trip and was afraid to try again but his brother had told him that we were mellow people, very experienced and good guides. We set the scene and insisted that Greg be somewhere else for the night.
At that time, I owned a beautiful round brass table with wooden legs, low to the ground that I kept polished. This night, I put lit candles on it to help create the mood. Just as we were all starting to feel the effects of the LSD coming on, guess who came home? Greg burst into the room, agitated, talking incessantly but not making any sense. Suddenly, he jumped over my table reciting, “Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack jump over the candlestick.” He did this over and over as the flames flickered and the candles threatened to topple over. The new guy was watching bug-eyed and jittery. Finally, Paul took Greg outside while I soothed the nerves of our new friend, assuring him that everything was fine. No, the room was not going to catch fire. And yes, Greg was leaving for the night. A few days later, as I was standing in the kitchen making a snack, Greg started throwing lit matches at me saying that he would burn the evil out of me. That was the last straw for me. I told Paul that, friend or not, he had to make him leave, which he did. Only a few days later, Greg was arrested for dragging his sister out of bed and outside, in her pajamas on a Sunday morning, insisting that she would be late for school.
He was only one of the unusual people who frequented our house. Many of our friends were junkies, but I definitely didn’t want my apartment to become a shooting gallery. I had two rules – no needles and no guns. I thought that was reasonable and easy. I guess I was sorely mistaken. I can’t count the number of times I threw people out for trying to shoot up in the bathroom and even had to throw two thugs out of a party who were packing guns. Oddly enough, tiny and shy as I was at the time, I was the only one willing to stand to up to these folks and was soon seen as the wicked witch. I might be small, but I'm feisty. But now, I was dealing with bad vibes in my own home, and I wasn’t having it. I told Paul that it had to stop. Adventure was one thing, danger was another. Our house was THE party spot. It was centrally located but set back off the main drag. It also happened to be right next door to a liquor store that had a hole in the back wall just big enough for an arm to squeeze through. Every night, one of the guys would go around back and grab whatever bottle was the closest. It was usually whisky of some kind, and flaming shots became quite popular.
Early that summer, I took a week off from work. I was a bookkeeper in a bank. This was before computers, so I worked with an adding machine and a big bulky calculator. I was pretty accurate but certainly not flawless, especially if I’d been partying hard the night before. During that week off, we tripped every day. We always had a freezer full of orange sunshine, purple beryl, windowpane, blotter, mushrooms, mescaline, whatever was available at the time. When it was time to go back to work, I realized that I was going to crash and burn, so I dropped again and went off to try to function. My workday was a breeze, so I spent that whole summer taking my daily “vitamin” and watching the numbers dance around on the page, eventually showing me where they wanted to land. Unbelievably, I won an award that fall for being the most accurate worker in the office and got a raise. I think my supervisor and my workmates suspected something, but I got away with it anyway. My next long weekend, I came down hard, and my work went back to its normal pace.
Finally, I realized that I couldn’t keep up this lifestyle. I was having to deal with the creepy and dangerous people more and more often and was hated by many of Paul’s friends because I was always setting limits. They were no longer whispering behind my back but being nasty right to my face. I was the only one working full-time, paying rent and utilities, and I was done. I sat Paul down and told him that we had to leave. It was the only way I could see to get out of this world that we had helped create. I had always planned on leaving my hometown someday anyway, and this was the perfect time. But where should we go? Paul had the answer.
He had left home at 14, hitching rides and living on the road during those four years. I had done a lot of local and regional hitchhiking and felt comfortable doing it. We decided to sell most of our belongings and hit the road with the loose goal of arriving in New Orleans in time for Mardi Gras. Paul loved numbers and was attached to doing things on special dates, so he insisted that we leave on New Year’s Day, the anniversary of our meeting. I wanted to store my albums at my parents’ house, but Paul insisted that we would need whatever money we could come up with, so they got sold with everything else. I could kick myself now, but what’s done is done. We were given a few gifts, a frame backpack, a “space blanket,” and a stash for the road. I quit my job, and we threw a party in our now empty apartment, leaving early the next day with some folks still partying and some sleeping on the floor. We had the backpack, a dufflebag, space blanket, our stash, a classical guitar and warm jackets. It was the start of a new adventure.
On Becoming a Hippie (#1)
A few years ago, I decided to try to chronicle my hippie past. Of course, that past keeps growing as I age, so now I’m sifting through a lot of decades. Since I started, I’ve shared stories or thoughts randomly. I will be sharing these posts with another blog, so I think it may be a good time to just start over again at the beginning.
When I stop and think about it, I think I was destined to become a hippie. I was born a rebel and dreamer in a very practical, conservative family. Growing up in the fifties and sixties, feeling oppressed and trapped in the bedroom community that was my hometown, I started expanding my horizons. There was literally nothing happening locally that I was interested in anymore. I lived an hour from The Big Apple, the train station was only a few blocks from the house, so I started exploring my options. I had been studying classical and jazz voice for a couple of years and classical piano for many more years and had been performing since I was 14. I even joined a church choir that was singing Duke Ellington's newest sacred music and was directed by him. I had also started working with wedding bands and singing old blues and more modern music with friends. In 1971, I finally went to my very first concert, other than going with my dad to local classical or jazz concerts. I hopped on the train to see Sly and the Family Stone at Madison Square Garden. What a rush that was! That was just the beginning. From there, I went on to every concert I could manage, and it was changing my music.
While I expanded my physical horizons, I also began to expand my mind. Like so many others around me at the time, I was dissatisfied with the status-quo and was looking for something new. I grew up in a political environment. My dad was a newspaperman whose friends were lawyers, politicians, business executives and everyone a mover and shaker. It was an exciting and frightening time to live through. The Viet Nam war was televised often with gruesome scenes, while at home assassinations seemed to be an epidemic. There were race riots, anti-war riots and bombings. We were in the midst of a revolution, and nothing made sense. Then I, again like so many others, tried psychedelics. Suddenly, I saw things so much more clearly and knew I had to go out into the world.
I met Paul Cavanaugh when I was 20. He had lived on the road since he was 14, had definitely been expanding both his horizons and his mind and was currently staying with friends in an apartment in my hometown. He went to the laundromat on New Year’s Day of 1974 with just enough money to run the washer and dryer, but he had no detergent. My friend, who also happened to be there, gave him some soap, and he offered to smoke a joint with her. As they sat there in the laundromat smoking, they started talking about music and realized that they both played. That night, I went with my friend to Paul's apartment and jammed and partied until late in the night. We all agreed to do it again. The next day, I got a phone call from Paul wanting to know if he could come over and jam. One of his roommates (Joe) was drop-dead gorgeous with long straight dark hair, a great body and an aura of confidence. Paul was a grungy hippie who had been living on the road since he was a kid and slouched in a protective way. However, Paul also had the most amazing voice. He could have been on the radio. I couldn’t remember the names of all of the people I’d met that night and, hearing his voice over the phone, I was sure this was Joe. I eagerly agreed to see him again. Imagine my surprise when I answered the door later. Thankfully, I recovered quickly, and we played beautiful music together until sun-up. He never really left after that.
At the time I met Paul, I had started exploring the drug scene in the wrong direction, and he gave me an ultimatum. I chose him and totally embraced the psychedelic scene. After a few months of being together, he asked if I would like to travel to Pittsburgh, PA to meet his family and a few old friends. I was working as a bookkeeper at a bank at the time and had enough money for plane tickets, so I bought both tickets. We left two days later for a long weekend telling only our roommate that we were leaving. The day that we arrived, we went to his sister’s place. She informed us that the communal household had just moved to a new location because they had been surveilled by the FBI. We were instructed to “keep a low profile,” if we wanted to stay there. That night we went to a party. At the party was a Middle Easterner whose father was in the US on business. This young man kept disparaging American culture, especially the drug scene. Paul and I had just procured some “Angel Dust” and Paul offered to smoke it with him saying that it was “Connecticut homegrown.” Many, many hours later, getting tired of refusing to sell any to him, we headed back to the communal house, intending to finally crash. Just as we settled onto the mattress on the floor, we heard the phone ring then the sound of loud running footsteps approaching our room. Paul answered the pounding on the door only to be faced with the head of the household, red in the face, screaming about the FBI wanting to talk to him. I got up, looked out the window and saw two police cars parked outside. When he got on the phone, the FBI agent asked him some random questions about having given “some information on a stolen Corvette in Denver, Colorado” at a time when he had actually been there visiting his uncle. He knew nothing about it, so they thanked him, said that they would be in touch and hung up. Needless to say, we had to pack up and get out of that house immediately.
As we were walking around trying to decide what to do next, Paul relayed to me that when he was 12, at the height of air hijackings, while waiting to board a plane in Pittsburg, he made a joke about being in Havana, Cuba in a few hours. Within minutes, security had whisked him away for questioning. Upon reading his original poetry and other writings about the war, Nixon and more, they called his dad. After some negotiations, they decided to ban him from airlines forever. He figured that somehow his name was flagged, and they were watching him. I thought it more likely that they were watching the Middle Eastern kid from the party. Either way, it spooked us both. When the Freedom of Information Act was enacted, neither of us wanted to send away for any records the authorities might have on us. We thought it might open up interest again, though sometimes, I have to admit that I’m curious.
A Vehicular Saga
I am writing this post today because I need to purge the bad feelings I have and chronicle the series of events that have led to my purchasing a new used car, my third car in two years.
In May of 2018, I bought a used Toyota Camry from our local garage, where my partner had been getting his car repaired. I liked these folks and trusted them. They had always treated my partner well and offered me what I thought was a fair price for this new car. I loved the car. It was bigger than previous cars, had a sunroof, a working stereo and was a comfortable ride. A few weeks after I got it, the brakes started failing. The pedal would vibrate then sink to the floor. If I pumped the brake pedal, it would come back up - a little frightening but no harm done. I brought it back to the garage, and they decided it was an ABS failure. They did a repair for no charge. "Okay," I thought, "I should be all set now." A few weeks later, the same thing happened. Then it happened again and again. Each time, I brought it back to them and they (reluctantly) took care of it. Meanwhile, I kept insisting that there must be a more serious problem if the same thing kept failing.
In November of 2018, I packed up my car to go to a music conference in my hometown in Southwestern Connecticut when, as I was going down a steep hill by my house, my car suddenly accelerated itself and the brakes completely failed. Luckily, I thought quickly and, when the emergency brake did nothing, I threw it into park and stopped just before I would have plummeted into the ditch at the bottom of the hill. Needless to say, I was incredibly shook up and called the garage immediately. I have driven cars with no brakes before. I don't know why, but brake failure seems to be a recurring theme for me. Now, here I was with three showcases scheduled at this important conference and no car. After multiple phone calls to various rental places, I finally found one that was still open and had a reasonable price. Still shaking from my ordeal, I sucked it up and drove to the conference. When I returned, I asked for my purchase price back for this lemon of a car.
I was told that I couldn't get a refund, but I could trade it out for a different car. However, the only car available was one with almost 100,000 more miles on it and some rust on the body. I didn't know what to do, so I finally agreed to a temporary loan while he fixed the first car. I had dome some research and found that other people had problems with the same year and model car. It is a faulty computer. Toyota decided not to issue a recall because: 1. Not every car had that issue and 2. No one had died. What?! I went back to the garage with this information thinking that maybe the owner would swap out another computer. I was told that he had another car on the lot that had a compatible computer, and that's what he would do.
Fast forward to January 2020. I had now been driving the "loaner" for over a year and had been paying for repairs during that time on this old worn out car. I was reaching the end of my rope and had been very vocal about it. I finally got the original car back not quite two weeks ago. I was told that he replaced every brake component that there was, and everything should be fine now. The day after I got it, the brakes did the same rumbly failure at the bottom of my road. I thought, "Okay, it was icy, and I'm not used to this car yet." The next day, it happened again on a dry, flat road. It turns out that the computer was never replaced. When I called about the issue, I was told that there was no computer error readout, so he had no idea what was going on. Did he not listen to what I had originally told him, or did he just discount me because I'm not a mechanic? Or maybe because I'm a woman? It is pretty clear to me that if it's a faulty computer, there may not be an error message from that same computer. But, what do I know? The final straw for me was that when I finally did get my car back, there had been mice in it that had peed all over the interior. The smell was so bad, I drove home with my windows open. After washing the mats with a bleach solution and shampooing the entire interior, it still smelled. I realized that it is in the heating ducts. WHen I threatened to take him to court, his response was not, "I'm sorry. Let's see what we can do." It was, "Listen, if you're going to threaten me with court, then there's noth8ing else I can do for you." Really? Because this has all been my fault? I guess it was my fault that I bought a car from such a disreputable person. The bottom line is: I am not the kind of person to sue anyone, and my partner wants to maintain a relationship with them. So I am resorting to telling my story instead.
Yesterday, I got a loan from my credit union for another car. I went to a dealer this time. I love CapComFCU credit union! They have always helped me out, even when they maybe shouldn't have. They have a car buying service that does all of negotiating, including a discounted price for members. Unfortunately, I got a very small trade-in for the Toyota, less than the cost of the brand new tires I just purchased for it. I did have the option of replacing them with the old tires and trying to sell them myself, but I want nothing more to do with the original garage and wouldn't want the hassle of trying sell tires. I'm chalking it up to another lesson learned and counting on karma to deal with this sleazy business. If I were you, I wouldn't go to Kneers Towiing and Auto Parts on Rt. 7 in Brunswick.
Thinking About the Past
I’ve been thinking about the past a lot lately. Not dwelling on it, just thinking. It’s been coming up a lot in conversations and in dreams, offering up memories from my time with my husband during my early hippie days and during my time in our folk-rock band, General Eclectic. This jump into the past is unusual for me as I usually live solidly in the present. But I guess I’d better just go along for this ride as I have so many others. I think it may be coming up because I’ve been prepping and practicing for my upcoming show “Tunes and Tales.” I decided to do an all original show with stories mixed in. I have plenty of originals but haven’t ever done only my songs before. It’s been hard to decide where to begin. I know the logical place is to begin at the beginning, but there have been so many beginnings, and that would make for too long a show. So, I’ve decided to stick to the most important themes or my favorite songs.
I’ve written at least one song for each of my serious relationships, two of which lasted twenty years each. You would think there would be a lot of songs in those forty years, but oddly enough, I’ve written more in the last five years with my current lover. There are many reasons why songs about the other men didn’t occur more frequently. I was parenting full-time and non-stop during that time, slipping in music when I could. I also lived a very stressful life with the other two men that wasn’t really conducive to my creativity. I did co-write a lot of songs in those earlier days with my husband but didn’t play an instrument and lost a lot of those along the way. I’m trying to regain them now that I can play strings, but he didn’t write the chords down for all of them, so that makes it much harder for me. I jumped from the world of rock and roll into the world of folk music in the second relationship, learning to play guitar, a little mandolin, a little banjo and mountain dulcimer. I also honed my songwriting skills, going to songwriting workshops and camps and networking with those folks.
It’s been a long and sometimes unexpected musical journey. And, it’s not over yet. Now I’m trying to combine all of the different things that I’ve learned over the years to create something fresh. It’s difficult sometimes to verbalize what I want that to be. I have a wonderful band with musicians that come from different backgrounds, though I’m not sure they’ve had as much diversity in music as I have. I started out playing classical piano and singing classical and sacred music. I’ve also been a back-up singer and learned how to be in the background, strong but unobtrusive. I was raised on jazz, Big Band and blues. I think blues is probably my favorite type of music to sing. I went from there into rock and roll then folk, old time and bluegrass and now back to rock and roll. I don’t want to play straight rock music, though. I want to be able to play my folk acoustic instruments electrified without losing the roots feel, but I want an electric band. There’s the rub. How do I direct the band and communicate to them the need for not only a lower volume, but a different feel? I want to be able to have the subtleties stand out and not be lost in the amplification. And, as a songwriter, I want my lyrics heard.
I've also realized that, the older I get, the more I want to tell stories about my life. And, whew! What a life it's been. I grew up in Connecticut and couldn't wait to leave. I hitchhiked across the country in early 1975, landing in a hippie commune in San Francisco then moved to Santa Cruz to have my first child. I lived with her in a local park before moving her into a VW bus for another cross-country trip and lived in Connecticut for a year and a half. Then we packed up an old Plymouth Valiant for another cross-country move, landing in Washington State then on to Oregon where my second child was born in Portland, Oregon. During that time, my husband and I did street music on weekends. Mount St. Helen's erupted while we were there, puching us on to the coast. In 1982, we packed up again and moved both kids and our cat in our VW bus to upstate New York, where I've been ever since. Just because I've lived here since then, don't assume I gave up traveling. I've been hired to do music in Germany, Switzerland and China. They were totally random opportunities, not anything I sought out. In addition to Canada and Mexico, I have been to all but four states in the U.S., Mississippi, Louisiana, Alaska and Hawaii. It might seem romantic, but it wasn't ever easy. There were many trials and tribulations along the way, making for a stressful, albeit exciting life. Some of my stories are hair-raising, others are poignant and many are just plain unbelievable. Sometimes, even I have a hard time believing I lived through it all.
However, I love travel, I love adventure and I love music. I can’t imagine living without any of them. I am always open to new adventures and am ready to share those stories with anyone who wants to listen. I hear music in everything. I used to bring my children outside to listen and try to count how many different sounds they heard. It didn’t matter if we were in the city or the country. There is a myriad of sounds everywhere we go. I love the detail in those sounds as much as I love the details in visual art. I want to continue to hear those and want to share those details in my own music. In one of his books, Mickey Hart from the Grateful Dead said, “Fill your life with sound.” That’s what I hope to do in as many places as I can until the day I die.