One week ago, we were sitting at the Faculty Lounge at the University of California Berkeley -- in the outdoor dining area of course -- and were discussing the potential strategy for a story about one of the original Merry Pranksters bringing fun back to American Politics by running for Mayor of San Francisco. The brainstorming quickly morphed into an evaluation of covering this year's installment of the storming of Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park on April 20 by pot smoking youngsters who are advocating making the annual excuse for shenanigans into a national holiday.
My dining companion was Belle Starr, a San Francisco legend (and outlawyer) who should write an autobiography about the good old days in Frisco when the most famous hippies' antics were being reported daily in Herb Caen's columns and not in some wild-ass wannabe's novel that was being constructed by a focus group of tourism promoters.
Belle stressed that many famous writers had covered San Francisco in the Sixties and then abandoned the locals to pursue a course of self-promotion and career advancement in New York City leaving the subjects, such as the Merry Pranksters, the Hippies, and Sgt. Sunshine, behind, forgotten, and abandoned. The literary luminaries have changed but much of Frisco from the Sixties is left for a new generation of writers to discover and exploit just as Tom Wolfe and the staff of Rolling Stone magazine had done.
We could, it seemed possible, cover this year's installment of the hippie version of a holy pilgrimage by going to the Haight Ashbury Section and chronicling the frolics of the new generation of the flower children.
It would be a dangerous mission so we contacted the local political activist called "Trigger," who sometimes acts as our bodyguard, and prepared to proceed to the festivities post haste. We had to dig through our closet to find the Aussie hat, mirror sunglasses, and cigarette holder that would telegraph our intention to unearth the story in true Gonzo style.
We had just gotten our enthusiasm mojo started when some cretin cynic pointed out that it might be a skosh disingenuous for a fellow who hasn't had an alcoholic drink in several decades and who distains a hookah smoking caterpillar's attitude towards cannabis sativa to feign a "me too" attitude of being simpatico with the grassers. We dismissed this objection with a flick of the wrist and asserted our right to go and watch the antics of the stoners with a true journalist's attitude of unbiased morbid fascination. Moi hypocritical? Could it be that we are slowly morphing into a Republican?
The biggest political organization in Berkeley is a Republican group, according to a knowledgeable local source, but there are more Democratic organizations with a larger number of members, they just can't get their act together and form one massive political entity.
If a lifelong self proclaimed Irish/Catholic/Democrat shows up at the Berkeley College Republican club meeting, it should be obvious why we would choose to be accompanied by a bodyguard.
People are always adamantly asserting to the World's Laziest Journalist that stories, facts, and anecdotes from the Sixties are passe and declasse, but when we noticed the religious fanatical intensity that many of the participating high schoolers brought to Hippie Hill on 4-20, we became fully convinced that Marshall McLuhen was correct when he said that America was hurtling into the future with their eyes fixated on the rearview mirror.
Perhaps, we noted, it is time for Rolling Stone magazine to return to the site of their halcyon days and to recapture the vitality and dynamic connection with their audience that they had achieved back when the Jefferson Airplane played in Golden Gate Park just for the pure joy of it.
It is, Belle noted, just as if the flower child generation is eligible for AARP membership, but chose, instead, to plunge recklessly into the "second childhood" phase of maturity.
As we ambled towards the day's event on 4-20, we noticed a cop motioning a hippie over, the SFPD officer confiscated an open bottle of beer, emptied it into the gutter, and stood aside as the would-be modern pilgrim proceeded, without either one of them saying a word -- not even "Have a nice day!"
The police were relaxed and tolerant. The local merchants were making a bonanza on the day's influx of hippies of all ages, and the participants were living out their Don Quixote quest to walk a mile in Jack Kerouac's moccasins. Second-hand information asserted that things got more "rough house" after we left the festival.
Then we suddenly realized that our attempt to write up a whimsical and quixotic report on the day's event was overshadowed by a very serious column topic.
On a day when the news informed Americans that an aircraft carrier had been reassigned to the Arabian Sea and the prospect that George W. Bush's "Forever War" could escalate dramatically in the next few days, we wondered why the Republicans are so adamant about denying military veterans suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) access to the very same substance that was delivering such joy and frivolous, carefree bliss to the people on or near Hippie Hill that day? Did you notice how quickly the aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea story completely vanished from American media?
Are the Republicans, who sent the military off to Afghanistan and Iraq with such studied nonchalance, hypocrites? Do they really not know that pot is one of the most effective treatments for PTSD or do they know it and vote to restrict it because they are sadistic curmudgeons who relish prolonging the pain and anguish of the veterans?
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