Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Inner-Hippie

Back in my college days, I did the whole hippie thing. Not very original, I know. Especially going to college in Madison, Wisconsin. That’s like saying, I went to Vassar and did the lesbian thing. Or I went to Florida State and did the date rape thing. Totally cliché.

Perhaps even more embarrassing, there was no altruistic motive behind my peace, love and happiness. I wasn't saving baby seals or feeding the world. It was just me, a pair of Birkenstocks, and an unruly Jew-fro experimenting with recreational drugs, while driving an old VW all over the country to see jam bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish.

The natural progression for this
post-college wannabe was to head west. Portland Oregon to be exact. But what happened next was completely unexpected. No sooner had I unpacked my Guatemalan backpack, than I shed the whole youthful facade, starting with my hair, shaved down to a quarter of an inch. And with my new cop-like buzz cut, I quickly adopted an uptight behavioral pattern, which completely belied my previous "don't harsh on my mellow" vibe.

At the time, I was neither proud, nor ashamed of my former identity. I saw the humor in my fickle transformation, but at the same time, I had no real interest in returning to that free-spirit lifestyle. That was the old me and the new me had a new rep to establish.

Years passed and I pretty much settled into the persona I formed in those early Portland days. I moved around a bit for my career, met a nice girl, got married and had a baby. We moved back to Portland, bought a nice house, in a nice neighborhood and own a nice car. I went from “hippie” to “yuppie," carrying on the great American cliché.

But this summer marked 17 years since my last brush with the patchouli crowd, and I was finally ready to relive a little slice of my dirty past. Phish announced they were playing the Gorge Amphitheater, just a scant 4.5 hour road trip away, and it seemed I had found my venue. With a couple of hall-passes from the wives, an old friend and I set out on our own 24-hour summer tour.

We arrived at the campground about four hours before show time and all the old memories came wafting in through the car windows
. Kind veggie burritos. Errant Frisbees. And yes, an obscene amount of freshly burned cannabis. The nostalgia felt warm and refreshing but through the dense fog of dried up desert dust, cigarette smoke and body odor, I could see that this place was filthy. Garbage strewn about. Aimless slobs casually invading your space. And a line-up of gas-guzzling, luxury RVs as far as the eye could see.

These weren’t the merry pranksters or the Abbie Hoffmans I aspired to all those years ago. These weren’t the young and the free. These people looked old and rough. They needed more than a shower. They needed a blood transfusion.

My traveling companion reminded me that back in the day there were plenty of cracked out punks, who would rip off their own bro’ for another nitrous balloon. The shows never were about hippies, he said. Just a bunch of bums who want to dress up in funny outfits and take drugs. He was absolutely right. I was disillusioned.

The music started and I was able to relax a bit, actually enjoying what I had come all this way to see in the first place. And then it occurred to me, as my head involuntarily bobbed up and down to newer songs I never heard before - I had
inadvertently become the hippie I mistook myself for all those years prior. Only with less hair, a button down shirt and a bad attitude. Here's how I figure it:
  1. I ride my bike to work everyday, part of our whole one-car family plan to keep the fuel consumption low.
  2. We are a staunchly organic household (mostly due to the wife and her chemical objections).
  3. Our summer veggies come straight out of the backyard compost garden.
  4. My kid starts summer camp today at a farm called Mother Earth, where she’ll be stomping barefoot on locally grown berries to make jelly.
I’m not complaining. I just thought I was going through a phase.

(P.S. Sorry to leave you with the maggot post all this time - I really had nothing of consequence to say).