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Where Have All the Hippies Gone?

Mike Hobren playing guitar at Liberty Lunch, Austin, Texas)
(Cover of White Light’s self-titled album on Shadoks Music)

(A Short Story Based on Actual Events)

Mike Hobren of “White Light”

San Francisco, USA, late 1969

Rainbow strolled into The Heads Shop wide-eyed and excited like a kid in a candy store. At once the sights, sounds and even the smells of the place grabbed hold of her senses. A thick cloud of sandalwood incense wafted through the air. Sitar music whined from unseen speakers. Numerous prismatic charm crystals dangled enticingly in the shop’s front window, refracting the morning sunlight and casting a rainbow of colors on the floor. Rainbow delighted at the sight. It was her favorite natural phenomenon and thus her chosen namesake.

As Rainbow looked around the dimly-lit shop she saw even more hippie paraphernalia. A Grateful Dead poster, yin and yang, a pentagram, a “Make Love Not War” poster, and a picture of the Maharishi surrounded by the smiling faces of John, Paul, George and Ringo – it was all there. In the book bins the works of Ginsberg, Kerouac, Kesey, Leary, Thompson and Watts were prominently displayed. The titles “If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him,” “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” and “Be Here Now” – three of her favorites – caught her eye. There were also works by Ferlinghetti, Hess, Huxley and other writers she had never heard of. Near the book bins were the record racks: the Airplane, the Dead, the Doors, Dylan, Janis, Jimi and Quicksilver Messenger Service. She knew them all and had seen most of the groups perform at the Fillmore. Behind the shop’s glass counter were bongs of various shapes and sizes, hash pipes, peace-symbol necklaces, patches, love beads, tarot cards, rolling papers, talismans, runes, and even some homemade roach clips.

The Heads Shop was a world within a world, a microcosm that existed both within and without The Establishment. In most other parts of the country the little counterculture walk-down would have stood out like a tie-dyed T-shirt on Easter Sunday. But in San Francisco the shop was just one of countless psychedelic five ‘n’ dimes that dotted the city’s Haight-Ashbury district.

“Can I help you find something?” said a soft voice coming from behind Rainbow.

Rainbow turned to see a woman in her early twenties standing behind her, dressed in a full-length tie-dyed cotton dress, wearing love beads and a leather headband. Her straight brown hair draped all the way down to her waist, and her granny glasses at once told Rainbow that the woman was most likely a fan of the progressive-folk group The Byrds.

“Oh, I was just browsing,” said Rainbow. “How much for these love beads?” she said, pointing to a pair of beads that had caught her eye behind the glass counter.

“Those are on sale right now,” said the woman, “…only $14.99.”

$14.99! Rainbow thought. That’s what Frog and the guys pay for a whole lid.

Having lived in the Haight for two years, ever since the Summer of Love, Rainbow had come to equate the price of everything to the drug-barter economy of the streets by which the hippies supplied their needs. A lid of weed could get you five hits of Orange Sunshine acid, and five hits of Sunshine could be converted into at least 8 or 10 hits of mescaline, depending on who you were dealing with. But like any means of exchange, the barter value of even street drugs was not absolute but rose and fell according to the Laws of Supply and Demand. If there had been a recent drug bust and the Narcs had managed to confiscate a vanload of weed coming up from the border, the shortage of supply drove the price of a lid up to $20, sometimes more. Because of the scarcity, everything else in the barter chain would be impacted: it might take seven hits of Sunshine to score a lid, or 12 hits of mescaline.

Oddly, no one ever blamed the rise and fall of drug prices on the dealers: they were just fulfilling a need and had been unfortunate enough to get caught. It never occurred to anyone that the dealers themselves sometimes hoarded their products to inflate the market and make a killing. They may have been counterculture suppliers, but they were also American kids who’d been weaned on a Western diet of Capitalism and Free Enterprise, although they would be the last to admit that they were inadvertently selling out to the Establishment. No, rather everybody blamed the fluctuating costs of getting high on The Man, the Pigs, the Narcs, or even the FBI or the CIA. The hippies believed that they were all out to get them, and that the only safe haven for them was in their part of town, the Haight. A part of the city that they all supposed belonged solely to them, although no one could lay claim to any deed that would affirm as such. They kept clear of areas like the Wharf and the Embarcadero, except when there was a need to panhandle some change to score with. The tourists usually walked quickly past them or hurriedly tossed them a few coins just to send them away. For even though the hippies embraced a philosophy of peace and love, their looks scared the bejesus out of the straights.

“Thank you,” said Rainbow to the saleswoman, “but I think I’ll just browse around for a while if you don’t mind.”

“Go right ahead, take your time. Let me know if you need any help,” replied the woman.

Although Rainbow loved the beads in the glass counter, $15 was a lot of money, and money was something that was always in short supply in the Haight. Still, Rainbow just liked the vibe of being in The Heads Shop. Whenever she felt the need for an emotional recharge, Rainbow would visit the shop and indulge herself by drifting among the store’s wares, just soaking up the ambience of the place.

But Rainbow kicked herself for her innate sense of materialism. After two years of living on the fringe, thought Rainbow, ridding myself of possessions and attachments, trying to reach a higher state of consciousness, I should be above all this by now. But Rainbow was a young woman and she still had a fondness for one thing, although she hated to admit it to herself – shopping. It was something she never told Frog or the others about, for fear they would ridicule her or, worse yet, accuse her of being out of touch with her inner self, of straying from her path toward the eternal mind that existed far beyond the world of mere things.

Rainbow browsed around the shop for a few minutes more before guilt got the better of her and she headed for the exit.

“Please come again. We’re open Saturdays until five,” said the saleswoman.

“I…I will…thank you,” stuttered Rainbow as she bolted out the door.

It was nearing Christmas, 1969, and as Rainbow walked out of The Heads Shop and onto the sidewalk she shivered from the chilly morning air blowing off the bay. The glow that she had felt just moments before now turned to shame. Shame at the feelings that still resided within her, all remnants of her former life. Rainbow told herself that it wasn’t her fault that her karma had landed her right in the heart of upper-class America, and that her family was one of the most prestigious and wealthy families in Boston. She hadn’t really wanted to go to Amherst College – that was their doing. She had adhered to the “turn on, tune in, and drop out” anthem long before she finished her freshman year. But this only enraged her parents who had put their ultimatum to her in plain and simple terms: “While you’re living under our roof, you’ll live by our rules!”  They had pushed hard, but the defiant Rainbow pushed right back in the only way she knew how.

Late one night while everyone was asleep, she packed as many of her things as she could carry in a single suitcase. She stuffed what money she had into her purse (including some household cookie-jar money that wasn’t hers), sneaked out the front door, and walked to the local Greyhound bus station. It was the longest, most uncomfortable ride she’d ever experienced, but within four days she arrived at the Oakland bus terminal. All that stood between her and her new life was the bridge connecting the two sides of the bay. As she got off the bus, Rainbow decided that she would never look eastward, ever again. San Francisco was now her home.

It wasn’t long after she made her way to the Haight district that she hooked up with Frog and the others, her “life gurus” as they jokingly referred to themselves. They had freely admitted her into their tight little circle and showed her the ropes of life on the streets. It wasn’t easy at first, but at least there was acceptance: acceptance of who she was, rather than rejection because of who she was not. The first thing they did was to convince her to lose her birth name of Eleanor Margaret Benton and to choose a simple, one-word street alias. They had told her that this was for reasons of security since the cops would be looking for a runaway named Eleanor, not someone called Rainbow. Then the girls in the group refitted her in clothing that would allow her to blend in with the other hippies: tie-dyes, bell-bottom jeans, a headband and sandals. They even put flowers in her hair. At first she had felt like a preppy girl wearing a disguise, a costume. But in time she became used to the look and even started to like it. No more worries about hair-salon appointments. No more time and money wasted on cosmetics and beauty aids. She had become a natural woman, as Frog had said. And she began to feel the spirit of the earth mother dwelling within her as Eleanor slowly died off and Rainbow began to emerge in full.

Rainbow walked slowly down the street toward Ashbury Street, lost in her own thoughts. Old habits are hard to break, she thought, or maybe new ones are just hard to accept. Just then she spotted a place that always buoyed her spirits, a place that even Frog and the others gave a five-star rating as if it was a fine restaurant. “Madame Toulouse, Spiritualist” read the sign above the door. Rainbow’s funk quickly evaporated as she stepped through Madame Toulouse’s front door and called out.

“Toully, are you here?”

Toully was what the flower children in the Haight called Madame Toulouse.

“Rainbow, is that you?” said a gruff-sounding voice from somewhere in the back of the place.

“Yeah, Toully, so what’s happening?”

Pushing aside a beaded curtain that draped over a doorway leading to the back of the place, Madame Toulouse emerged into the front parlor. Madame Toulouse was dressed in an outfit that befitted both her hippie lifestyle and her trade. She wore a full-length black dress, black sandals, and a black scarf around her head. Her overdone makeup made her look like an extra from The Night of the Living Dead. She wore pounds of accessories around her neck and wrists, including an ankh, a rune, a peace symbol, a crystal and a personal talisman that, she claimed, warded off a certain demon that had long dogged her.

Although Toully was only 30 years old, her gray, straw-like hair and the dark sockets under her eyes made her look old beyond her years. Because of this, the hippies all venerated Toully, believing that she possessed some great inner wisdom and even magical power. In truth, Madame Toulouse’s ragged appearance was due to cumulative sleep deprivation, the result of downing crystal meth, cocaine and Black Mollies on a near-nightly basis. To the street hippies, who subsisted on a diet of mostly weed and acid, or mescaline and psilocybin, such drugs were expensive delicacies. But Madame Toulouse ran a business and was able to indulge herself in the high-end goodies that also circulated the streets. Still, it was an indulgence that was punishing her body, pushing her cardiovascular system to the edge of human tolerance. And even Toully was often frightened when she studied herself in the mirror. I’ve gotta get off this damn stuff, thought Toully…some day!

Madame Toulouse named herself for a street in the New Orleans French Quarter where she had once set up shop. That was before the NOPD started cracking down on the newly emerging bayou drug scene. The local cops were determined to keep the drug-fueled counterculture from gaining a foothold in New Orleans, even though the city made its bread ‘n’ butter from the tourism dollars that the sin-laden French Quarter brought in. When it came to booze and strippers and voodoo and Mardi Gras the cops just looked the other way. At least those things were good for local business. But drugs, now that was another matter. And Madame Toulouse had become increasingly paranoid about the straights that walked into her parlor for a “reading.”  She had a sense about people; it was part of her stock and trade. The tourists from places like Omaha and Peoria and Terre Haute were easy enough to spot. They all had the same polyester vacation-wear look about them, and they dripped with sweat from the city’s high humidity. They excitedly handed over their money for the spiritual smoke ‘n’ mirrors show that Madame Toulouse provided them. But the vice cops were different. They always looked cool. The French Quarter was their favorite hunting ground, and in Madame Toulouse’s case the cops had instinctively smelled a bust in the making. So one morning, as the sun rose over the river and slivers of light slowly illuminated the labyrinth of French Quarter side streets, Madame Toulouse packed up all of her potions and charms and props in her VW van. Pointing the van northward, she sped out of Louisiana, bound for San Francisco. The local authorities weren’t sorry to see her go.

“What’s happening?” replied Madame Toulouse to Rainbow. “I’ll tell you what’s happening – YOU are what’s happening, honey!”

Rainbow laughed. Toully had a way of making a cosmic quip out of the simplest question or remark. I’M what’s happening, reflected Rainbow. Toully’s comment refocused Rainbow’s thoughts on the eternal mind, the godhead that she believed existed within her.

“So, what’s it today, ‘bow?  Is this a social visit or are you looking for another freebie?  Or maybe you’ve actually got some money to spend for a change!”

“When do I ever have any money, Toully?  I was just feeling kind of down so I thought I’d drop by to say ‘hi.’”

“You were ‘feeling kind of down’ so you came here!” said Madame Toulouse with a note of sarcasm. “I’m not quite sure how to take that, ‘bow.”
“I meant it as a compliment, Toully. I always feel better after I see you…after we’ve had a chance to rap for a while.”

“I know, ‘bow, I’m just messing with you. But what are you bummed out about?”

“Oh, nothing in particular,” said Rainbow, although Toully knew Rainbow well enough to tell when she was holding something back. Rainbow was what Toully called an “easy read.”

“Rainbow, you’re always so nervous. Have you been practicing the Transcendental Meditation techniques that I taught you?  Have you been able to focus your mind on your chakras and transmute your inner energy all the way up the ladder like I showed you?”

“Yeah…well, sometimes I suppose,” said Rainbow. “I just have a hard time focusing my thoughts. Some stupid thought or song always seems to pop into my head and breaks my concentration, no matter how hard I focus on my mantra.”

“That’s your problem right there,” said Toully. “Don’t try so hard! TM is a calming, centering exercise, ‘bow. You can’t force the gates of heaven open, dear. If you want to reach Nirvana and merge into oneness with the godhead within you, you have to let go of all your worldly attachments, even your own thoughts.”

Easier said than done, thought Rainbow, even though she would continue to maintain her TM regimen twice a day, 30 minutes a session. Madame Toulouse’s advice always buoyed her spirits and kept her trying. She knew she’d get it eventually…at least she hoped she would.

“Have a seat,” said Toully as she slowly sat down behind her reading table. A deck of Serpent-Dragon Tarot cards was neatly stacked atop the table. “Rainbow, I’m getting a strong sense that something other than your TM is bothering you.”

Toully had instinctively put on her “Madame Toulouse, Spiritualist” face now as she offered (without saying so) to do a read of Rainbow’s troubled spirit. Rainbow at once sat down. It was something she and Toully had done many times before. The spiritual part of the readings always unsettled Rainbow a bit, although she wasn’t sure why. But she always found comfort in Toully’s soothing, softly spoken divinations. Toully lit a stick of incense for effect – it was the smoke part of her smoke ‘n’ mirrors parlor game.

Rainbow looked at the serpent illustrations imprinted on Toully’s tarot deck. At once the image triggered something in her.

“Toully, I keep having this dream where I see a serpent,” said Rainbow. “It just pops into my head from out of nowhere. It’s just a symbol…it doesn’t even relate to my dreams. But whenever I see the serpent I snap wide awake. Something about it scares me.”

“When was the last time you had one of these serpent dreams?” asked Madame Toulouse with a vaguely clinical tone in her voice.

“I had one last night,” replied Rainbow. “And I’ve been walking around in a daze all morning. You were right about my being nervous, Toully. Something about the image scares me, but I don’t know why. I don’t know why I keep seeing it!”
Madame Toulouse eyed the serpent images on her tarot deck. Perhaps she’s seeing the cards in her dreams, and that’s where this serpent image is coming from, she thought. But she quickly dismissed the idea. After all, the cards were simply tools, a looking glass into the future. Surely this couldn’t be the cause. And the cards were a big part of Madame Toulouse’s mystic trade: no way was she going to own to any fault in her own spiritual methods. Still, Madame Toulouse instinctively knew how to play a customer, even if it was a friend. So she decided she would put aside the cards for the moment and try another trick of her trade.

“Rainbow, hold out your right palm for me and let me take a look.”

Toully studied Rainbow’s palm in earnest, feigning a studious, serious expression as if she was about to uncover the inner secrets of King Tut’s tomb.

“Hold still, honey. Hold as still as you can so I can take a close look,” said Toully. Rainbow stiffened at once as Toully commanded.

After a long minute, Toully looked up from Rainbow’s hand and sat back in her chair. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly as if she were purging her lungs of some unseen pollutant. Then she looked across the table at Rainbow with a smile on her face, the serious look of the spiritual archaeologist now gone.

“Honey, all I can see is that you have a very long life line,” said Toully, smiling. “I can’t see anything in your future that you need to worry about.”

“So why do I keep seeing this serpent in my dreams, Toully?”

“I don’t know, ‘bow. You drop a lot of acid, don’t you?  Maybe it’s some sort of subconscious flashback, a fragment of something you saw once when you were tripping.”

“Yeah, maybe, I don’t know,” said Rainbow, though not very convincingly.

“Listen, ‘bow, don’t worry about it. I’ve heard lots of strange stories, especially in this city. And yours is far from being a showstopper, believe me. Just let it go for now.”

“You’re probably right, Toully. I’m probably making a big deal out of nothing…but you know me!”

“Yes, you’re right about that, honey! I do know you,” said Toully. “And I know the kind of life you led before you came to the Haight. You’ve always been a nervous little kitten, always uncertain about taking the next step toward your own self-awareness. But you’ve got a wonderful and caring spirit. That’s why your namesake, Rainbow, fits you so well.”

Rainbow laughed. Toully did know her, all too well. Perhaps it was because Toully had the third eye or something, some special gift that enabled her to peer right into a person’s mind. Or maybe it was just because they were close friends, and Rainbow had recounted her life’s story to her in intimate detail. Whatever the reason, Toully’s kind words and understanding had lifted Rainbow’s spirits, just as they always did. And she felt like she could take on the world once again. She was happy for where and who she was, and that was all that really mattered.

“Listen, honey,” said Toully, are you and the gang going to the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont today?  The Airplane and the Dead and Santana are supposed to play.”

Rainbow quickly glanced at the clock on the parlor wall. “Oh my God, I forgot all about the time. Yeah, we are. Frog and the others are taking off in a little while and I’ve got to get back to the pad. We’re taking Frog’s van. How about you: are you going?”

“I was planning to, but unfortunately my van had plans of its own…like breaking down.”

“Well so what?” said Rainbow. “Just come with us. We’ll cram you in somewhere. The gang’s always glad to see you, you know that. Come on, let’s go.”

“Hey, far out! You don’t have to ask me twice,” said Toully. “Just give me a second to lock up the place, put my closed sign in the window, and then we’re out of here!”

Within seconds Rainbow and Toully were out the door and walking at a fast clip toward the crash pad. The free Rolling Stones concert at the Altamont Speedway on the east side of the bay was the biggest thing to come along in a while and everyone in the Haight was going. Rainbow knew that Frog and the others wouldn’t wait long for her to show up. So Rainbow and Toully trucked up and down the hilly streets of San Francisco as fast as their legs and gravity would allow them. Rainbow’s earlier funk was replaced now with giddy excitement. It was party time!

* * * * * * * * * * * *
By now the Haight had become a ghost town, nearly deserted, with everyone gone to the concert. Rainbow and Toully were huffing as they turned the street corner and saw Frog and a few of the gang standing alongside Frog’s VW van, waiting. Everyone was ready to leave for Altamont. They had wanted to leave early to get places down front, near the stage. But Rainbow was late getting back to the pad, and now Frog was standing on the sidewalk with an aggravated look on his face. Most of the gang was already packed inside the van, rolling and toking up.

The van itself was hand-painted like a blotched Peter Max poster. Its scores of stickers made it a rolling Manifesto to Hippiedom. Inside, the van was decked out with a grungy green shag carpet that had never been introduced to a vacuum cleaner. The sound system consisted of two speakers in the front and two book-shelf size ones in the back whose exposed wiring connected someplace under the dash, and an eight-track tape deck mounted next to the driver’s seat. The gang all thought the van was cool, a rolling testament to where their heads were at. But to the cops, the contraption stood out like a neon sign whose paint job, stickers and slogans all said, “Pull us over!”  So at least once a month the cops would roust the whole group. The drill was so routine that it had become nearly tedious: squad-car lights flashing, people hastily gulping down joints, and hands frisking every place a person might hide contraband on their body. At the end of the ordeal there were always the usual admonishments and warnings from the police intended to scare the van’s occupants back onto the Road to Righteousness. Of course no one paid any attention to the little sermonettes from the cops; rather, they all just counted themselves lucky for having dodged the bullet once more.

“Rainbow, where have you been?” said Frog. “We’ve been waiting half an hour for you.”

“Sorry, Frog,” said Rainbow. “Say, you don’t mind if Toully hitches a ride with us, do you?”
“Hell no. How are you doing, Toully?”

“Ready to rock, Frog. Don’t blame Rainbow. We were doing a read at my place.”

“Far out, but hop in…everybody…we’ve got to hit the road!” said Frog.

Frog was a native Californian. He was tall and lanky with blond hair and blue eyes. A one-time L.A. surfer, Frog’s favorite pastimes had been waxing down his board and riding the waves. Frog had been around the Haight for a long time and everybody knew and liked him. He was something of a fixture on the streets, even though his beachcomber looks made his usual hippie ensemble (a brown leather jacket with fringe at the bottom and bell-bottom jeans) look more like a costume hanging on him than his garb-du-jour.

Frog’s main occupations were small-scale dealing for the neighborhood (only to people he knew), panhandling down by the Wharf, and of course working on his van. He was also the “ride” for the group’s frequent sojourns up and down the coast, since he was the only one who had wheels. Like Rainbow, Frog too was a dropout, although he had made it all the way to his sophomore year at U.C. Berkeley before he had heard the Call of The Haight. Frog also came from a wealthy family that lived in an upscale part of nearby Marin County just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. But even though his family lived only a few miles away on the other side of the bridge, he hadn’t seen them in years. Nor did his family attempt to find him in the city. Frog’s experimentation with the drugs he scored on campus had slowly changed both his looks and his attitude toward everybody and everything. His parents had been unable to control him and eventually they grew tired of even trying. So when Frog packed up his things in an old Army duffel bag, stormed out the front door of the house and took off in his van, all his parents could do was watch. Their hearts ached as their son left the safe nest of their home and headed south across the bridge toward the city…and his new life. It wasn’t the way they’d wanted to see their son go forth into the world, but Frog had made his choice and he would have to live with it. They had accepted the hard fact that the consequences of their son’s actions – whether good or bad – were now his to bear. And he would just have to fend for himself.

Frog reached into his top pocket and produced two hits of Orange Sunshine LSD.

“Rainbow, Toully, these are for you. Everybody else has already dropped. They’re sitting in the van waving their hands through the air, laughing at the traces already,” laughed Frog.

Toully took a hit of the acid and quickly downed the whole tab, but Rainbow hesitated. She didn’t really like tripping, something that the others always chided her about. Rainbow’s nervous nature, and the feeling of being out of control, had resulted in more bad trips than good ones for Rainbow. But the others had told her that it was the only way she would ever reach higher states of consciousness, the only way she could come to know her true inner self. Rainbow reflected that her inner self was often a dark and frightening place. But she believed that taking the powerful hallucinogen was a rite of passage, a necessary ordeal that she would have to endure to reach the godhead within her, as Toully had said. So she quickly gulped down the pill with a swig of apple wine someone handed her that tasted more like bitter cider than actual wine.

“Rainbow, what’s the problem now?” said Frog. “This is going to be a fricking Woodstock West! You’re not going to cop out on us now, are you?”

“Hey, Frog, I took it already, okay? So let’s roll!” snapped Rainbow.

Rainbow and Toully climbed in the side door of the van and Frog closed the door behind them. The van was crammed with seven other heads, and even though it was December Rainbow at once felt hot and nervous. She didn’t like enclosed in places, especially when she was tripping. And she began to feel the anxiety welling up inside her in anticipation of the acid’s onslaught.

With everyone now in the van, Frog turned the ignition key and waited as the near-lifeless battery finally managed to turn the van’s engine over. Stepping on the clutch, Frog pushed the shift into first gear and the van took off. After several minutes of clunking up and down the hilly city streets, Frog made his way onto US-101 South then took the I-80 exit toward the Bay Bridge and the Oakland side of the bay. Once he crossed the bridge, Frog merged onto I-580 East and headed toward the Hayward-Stockton area.

“Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix was blaring from the eight-track tape deck. In the back of the van, joints were being passed from person to person in rapid-fire succession, everyone wanting to get as high as they could before reaching Altamont. But Rainbow waved off each joint as it was passed to her. She was still anxious, waiting for the Orange Sunshine acid to kick in, and reckoned that she didn’t need to get any higher than she would soon be. The others gave Rainbow an odd, what’s-wrong-with-you look, but just shrugged and kept on rolling and toking as fast as they could. Even though Rainbow didn’t smoke any of the weed she was getting a contact high from all the smoke in the van just the same. Frog had rolled up the windows in the van, and without any ventilation the smoke hovered inside the van like a nuclear cloud. The others were bent on getting as much mileage out of their stashes as they could before arriving at the concert.

As the van rolled south on 580 toward the concert site, two columns of motorcycles suddenly roared past Frog’s van, one on each side of the vehicle. A blur of jeans and boots and beards and long hair flowing in the wind at once told everyone in the van who the bikers were before they even saw the Hells Angels letters on the back of their jackets.

“Where in the hell are they going?” asked Toully, who had leaned forward in the van to get a glimpse at the commotion.

“Same place we are, the concert,” said Frog, with no evident concern. “They’ve been put in charge of security.”

“The Angels?  In charge of security?!” said Toully as she took a draw on a joint. “Isn’t that sort of like putting the fox in charge of guarding the hen house?”

Everybody in the van broke out laughing at the remark, although Toully didn’t see the humor in it, nor did Rainbow.

“Yeah,” laughed Frog, “I suppose it is. But hey, if the Stones want bodyguards, who better?”

“Yeah right, Frog. The Angels…real Ambassadors of Flower Power,” chided Toully.

Toully returned to her place in the back of the van and exchanged looks with Rainbow. It was as if they could read each other’s minds. News of the free concert had been hyped on the underground FM radio stations for days. Altamont was being billed as the West Coast’s version of Woodstock, the communal concert phenomenon that had been held on 25 acres of farmland in upstate New York that past August. Woodstock had been three days of peace, love and mutual helping with remarkably little trouble, even though the crowd of hippie concertgoers had been estimated at nearly half a million people. But then Woodstock didn’t have the Hells Angels. Both Rainbow and Toully knew that the Bay area Angels had rival chapters that were bent more on mutual mayhem than mutual helping. They just hoped that the Stones, or whoever was handling concert security, knew enough not to put all the rotten apples in the same barrel.

The drive took only about an hour, but by the time the van arrived in the Altamont area everyone was good and stoned and primed for the concert. What they weren’t prepared for was the miles of walking ahead of them. The main route leading to the speedway was backed up for miles with cars and people trying to get to the concert site. It looked as if the entire population of the Haight had just picked up and migrated east. Frog cruised slowly down the road, hoping to get as close to the speedway as he could before pulling over. As the van chugged along, everyone saw people they knew from the city, either walking down the road or sitting in their vehicles. The resounding choruses of “What’s happening?” and “Far out, man!” sent a good vibe through the van. Perhaps this will be like Woodstock after all, thought Rainbow, smiling at Toully. By now Rainbow was peaking on the Orange Sunshine she’d dropped, and the anxiety she had felt faded as she peered out the van’s windows at all the stoned and smiling freaks along the roadside. Maybe this time I’ll have a good trip for a change.

“I think this is about as far as we’re going to get, gang,” said Frog as he pulled straight into a narrow opening on the side of the road. “Looks like we’re going to have to leg it from here.”

As soon as Frog switched off the engine the whole group piled out of the van and gathered on the roadside. The cloud of weed smoke spewed out of the van with them. There was no need for words or questions. Everyone felt the pure adrenaline rush prompted by the drugs and the excited anticipation of the concert going on somewhere down the road, though still out of sight. So, like aimlessly wandering sheep, they all fell into step with the flow of human traffic and started walking down the road. The group walked for several miles but the only sounds they heard were from the other people around them, nothing from the concert area itself. Rainbow thought it odd that they didn’t hear at least few high-pitch guitar squeals wafting through the air but dismissed the observation, assuming that they were still miles away from the venue. The crowd grew thicker and thicker as they continued to walk. Rainbow began to feel hemmed in by all the shoving and elbowing, and she could feel her anxiety thermometer beginning to rise again. Get a grip, Rainbow, she thought. This can’t be any worse than what Woodstock was like.

Eventually the group got separated, lost amid a sea of people, all pushing and shoving their way along as though they were one great, moving beast. Frog could read the expression on Rainbow’s face and at once saw that she was heading down flip-out alley.

“Rainbow, Toully, take my hands,” said Frog, stepping in between the two women and grasping their hands tightly. “I don’t know where everybody went off to but I doubt if we’ll find them in this mob. Let’s just the three of us stay together.”

Rainbow felt her pounding heartbeat slowing down. At least her two friends were still with her, flanking her on both sides. Things will be all right, she told herself.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
After almost two hours of walking, the three finally reached a small hill. As they slowly made their way to the crest of the hill they were overwhelmed by what they saw. Tens of thousands of people were scattered all across the countryside. Some people were standing, craning to get a view of the stage that was a barely visible dot situated at the very bottom of the hill. Other people were sitting on the ground, having given up trying to see anything, and instead were just grooving on the happening. Rainbow, Toully and Frog were thirsty from their long hike, but there wasn’t a drink stand or water or any other facilities anywhere to be found. A few exhibits had been set up, including a yoga booth and a geodesic dome. But that was it. If there was music coming from the stage, they couldn’t hear a lick of it. Frog reckoned that they had either arrived in between sets, or that the sound system wasn’t powerful enough to broadcast very far.

“Man, I’m glad I didn’t pay money for this,” said Frog. “I can’t hear or see a damn thing!”

Moments before, when they had first arrived at the site, the three had been standing at the outer rim of the throng. But as more and more people crowded in behind them, they eventually found themselves standing in the middle of a sea of people, barely able to move. Rainbow felt trapped and was beginning to lose control. She was powerless to deal with the circumstances around her and felt her anxiety welling up once more. After a few minutes of being pushed and prodded and shoved and elbowed from all sides, Rainbow had had enough.

“I’ve got to get out of here!” said Rainbow with an urgent tone in her voice.

“What?!” said Frog. “Get out of here…and go where?  Babe, we’re not going anywhere in this mess. Listen, it’s just the acid, that’s all. Just chill. You’ll be all right!”

“Frog, you don’t understand. It’s not the acid. Well, maybe it is. But I just have a bad feeling about this,” said Rainbow. “Something is wrong here…I can feel it!”

“Rainbow, I don’t feel that great either,” replied Frog. “I’ve been elbowed in the ribs at least ten times since we got here. But there’s not a whole lot we can do about it.”

“Frog, it’s not just Rainbow,” said Toully. “I can feel it, too. Look around, man. This is a tense scene. People look scared for some reason, like they’ve been freaked out by something. I know Rainbow and she has a sense about these things. So do I. Something is wrong here!”

“Man, now you’re both flipping out on me,” said Frog, slightly irritated. But as Frog looked around at the faces in the crowd, he could see it, too. It wasn’t so much what was happening as what was not happening. All the way along the road they had seen heads smoking and laughing, getting stoned and digging on the vibe. But now Frog didn’t see a single joint being passed. People wore grim looks on their faces, and they were no longer laughing. It was weird, just plain weird, although Frog couldn’t put his finger on what was going on.

Rainbow and the others had arrived at the concert late in the day and had no way of knowing what was going on. But down on the stage site, hundreds of yards from where the three stood, all hell was breaking loose. Or more precisely, the Hells Angels had broken loose. The Angels were swinging pool cues and hurling full beer cans at the crowd to keep people away from the stage. Their compensation for their services had been $500 worth of beer money, provided by the Stones’ road manager. The manager had hoped that the beer and payola would calm the bikers down, but he couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead, things only got worse, a lot worse.

Finally, as night fell, the Rolling Stones took the stage. Rainbow, Toully and Frog didn’t like the bad vibes that they felt all around them. It was as if some dark cloud had settled over the crowd. But they had come this far and decided they would stay to see, if they could, Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. After that, they figured they would split the scene pronto.

Suddenly, all the lights were shut off in order to dramatize the Rolling Stones’ appearance on the sage. Then, a single spotlight illuminated Jagger standing on the stage and the band launched into its set. Rainbow and the others could barely hear a thing. Frustrated, Frog began to think about leaving before the Stones finished playing so he could beat the traffic back to the city. The whole scene had become a boondoggle, ever since they first set foot on the hilltop. At least we can avoid the traffic if we cut out of here now, Frog thought.

Just as Frog was about to voice his plan to Rainbow and Toully, the Stones began playing their anthemic chart topper “Sympathy for the Devil.”  But the varying wind allowed them to hear only bits and pieces of the song: “Please allow me…introduce…man…taste.”  Frog decided that the concert wasn’t worth the hassle. The Woodstock West wannabe concert was a bust both in spirit and in its execution.

“Rainbow, Toully,” said Frog, “I’ve had enough of this. Let’s start making our way out of here and head back to the city. We can’t hear or see anything anyway.”

It was then that it hit. A wave of panic and terror came sweeping toward them, moving rapidly from the stage area and right up the hill. As the wave engulfed people they immediately jumped to their feet. At once people picked up their belongings and began scurrying out of the area, panic stricken. Rainbow just watched, frozen in place, still tripping and unsure what to do. The scene was animated, surreal. Rainbow wasn’t sure if it was really happening or if she was having another bad trip. “Pleased to meet…hope you…guessed…name.”

Finally they heard the news. “Somebody’s been killed down by the stage,” screamed a voice somewhere in front of them. None of them had been able to see any of it. But throughout the Stones’ set fights kept breaking out. The drunken Angels – armed with sticks and cans like a bunch of crazed savages – had gone wild during the Stones’ satanic anthem. A young black man whom the Angels had attacked produced a knife and a gun. In an instant the Angles pounced on the man with their pool cues. They beat and battered the man repeatedly until, within a matter of moments, he lay dead on the ground. “But what’s bugging you…nature…my game.”  The music didn’t stop, it didn’t dare for fear that the violence would only escalate.

Rainbow and the others were stunned. They couldn’t believe it. What had gone wrong?  The day had started out so well. Finally the police ordered everyone to leave the concert site at once or else they would be arrested. Some idiot next to Rainbow said, “What a bummer!”  Rainbow looked at him in disbelief. A man has been killed, thought Rainbow. And all this fool cares about is that the cops have ruined his party. Rainbow was sober now, the acid’s psychedelic fog having been cleared from her mind by the cold reality that was now sweeping through the crowd.

“Come on,” said Frog. “Let’s get the hell out of here!”

Just then a blur of blue came rushing at Rainbow, coming toward her from the direction of the stage. A group of bikers were pushing and shoving their way through the crowd, running from the scene. Before Rainbow could make a move, one of the bikers stiff-armed her in the face. As she went down, the last thing she saw was a tattoo of a serpent on the man’s forearm. Rainbow landed flat on her back as the bikers ran past her. She tried to speak but she had hit the ground so hard that it had knocked the wind out of her. Her head was in a daze as she struggled to speak, just to cry out.

“’Bow, ‘bow, honey, are you all right?” said Toully who was now standing over her.

Rainbow shook her head “No!”

“Get up, Rainbow,” said Toully. “You’ve got to get up or you’ll be trampled by the mob. Get up now…Rainbow, NOW!”

Rainbow’s senses slowly returned as she struggled to her feet with Toully’s help.

“Toully…I saw it…I saw it again!” whispered Rainbow, her breathing returning.

“That’s great, ‘bow, but we’ve got to get out of here…NOW!  It’s not safe,” said Toully.

“Toully I saw the serpent. The serpent…I saw it!” said Rainbow.

“Honey, it’s the acid. Let’s just go, come on.”

“No, I’m not tripping any more. I really saw it!” Rainbow persisted.

Toully put her arm around Rainbow’s waist and began pushing their way through the crowd, trying to keep pace with the other half-stoned refugees attempting to flee the scene.

“Toully, where’s Frog?  What happened to Frog?” asked Rainbow.

“I don’t know,” said Toully. “All I know is that right before the bikers hit us I saw him tear off into the crowd. He left us, ‘bow, and we’re on our own. We’re on our own! Let’s get out of here and head back to the van.”

Rainbow nodded as Toully continued to pull her through the crowd. The last sound she heard as she and Toully left the concert grounds was the fluttering of a helicopter swooping over their heads. The Rolling Stones had left the stage and were making good their airborne escape from the area, leaving it for others to clean up the mess they’d helped to create.

Eventually Rainbow and Toully made their way back down the hill and headed in the direction they had entered the concert site from. About half an hour later Rainbow caught her breath and was able to walk on her own. The two walked for nearly two hours. At first they were caught up in a herd of wild-eyed, frightened creatures, other hippies, who looked more like prey running from some unseen predator than human beings. As they continued to walk, the crowd slowly thinned out as people made it back to their vehicles and sped out of the area. Eventually the two came to the section of the road where Frog had parked but the van was gone. There was no sign of Frog or any of the others. It was pitch black out and they were two young women, alone and stranded in the middle of nowhere.

“This is just great!” said Toully. “What are we supposed to do now?  If I ever see that weenie Frog again I’m going to kick his damn ass!”

During the course of the last few hours, Rainbow had gone from scared, to battered, to dazed and now to despondency. Still, her mind instinctively knew what to do.

“Toully, let’s head for the 580 and try to hitch a ride back to town.”

Toully pondered Rainbow’s words for a moment before she spoke. “I swear, Rainbow, I’m going to stomp his brains in when I see him!” she said, still venting her anger with Frog.

“Eleanor,” said Rainbow suddenly.

“What’s that, ‘bow?” said Toully.

“My name is Eleanor…or just Ellie. That’s what my parents call me.”

“Ellie,” repeated Toully. “All this time, I never knew your real name. Ellie. It’s pretty.”

“Toully, I don’t think any of us really knew each other as well as we thought we did.”

“I sure didn’t know Frog as well as I thought I did,” said Toully, still fuming.

The two women were alone now, slowly making their way toward the interstate.

“What about you, Toully?  What is your real name?”

“You promise you won’t laugh?” said Toully.

“No!” chuckled Rainbow.

“All right…my name is Jennifer. My folks call me Jenny, but that was a long time ago.”  Toully laughed to herself. “Now look at me. Do I look like a Jenny to you?”

“And I bet you aren’t from New Orleans either, are you?” said Rainbow.

“Oh, I worked in the French Quarter all right, for a while,” said Toully. Then she added with some embarrassment, “But I grew up in Beaumont, Texas. My father worked in an oil refinery there. Not a very glamorous start for the Voodoo Queen from New-Or-leans, uh?”

“Right now it sounds pretty good to me,” said Rainbow. “It sounds…normal.”

After a couple of hours more the two were beginning to feel the rigors of the many miles they had walked. Suddenly they heard the sound of cars whizzing by at high speed and saw the red taillights of cars on the 580, heading toward the bridge and San Francisco.

“That’s it. Come on, ‘bow, let’s go!” said Toully.

Climbing over a metal guardrail, the two stood on the shoulder of the road and put their thumbs out. Ten minutes later a beige-colored Buick pulled over and stopped some 20 yards ahead of them. Both Rainbow and Toully ran toward the car. As they reached the passenger side of the car, Toully opened the front door to negotiate with the driver.

“You girls heading for the city?” asked a middle-aged man dressed in a blue business suit.

“Yes sir,” said Toully. “We’re heading for the…”

“Let me guess, the Haight area, right?” he replied

“That’s right. How did you know?” asked Toully.

“It’s pretty obvious by the way you’re dressed. Come on, hop in and I’ll give you a ride. I’m heading for a meeting on Market Street but I can drop you off on the way.”

Quickly, Rainbow and Toully jumped into the Buick and the man slowly eased the car back onto the highway and into the flow of traffic.

“My name is Jim, Jim Scaroni,” said the driver. “What are your names?”

Rainbow and Toully decided to play in straight for Jim’s sake.

“My name is Ellie.”

“I’m Jennifer, but you can call me Jenny.”

“Ellie…Jenny…glad to meet you,” said Jim with a broad grin.

Rainbow got a good vibe from the man, perhaps the best she’d gotten from anyone all day. He reminded her vaguely of her own father. Yeah, he was a straight, just like her dad. But even though he was a total stranger in a big fancy car, Rainbow instinctively felt safe with him. After being held captive by a frantic mob all day, she felt secure within the heavy steel frame of the Buick. And they were getting out of Altamont at last and heading back to the city.

“Are you two coming from that concert at the speedway?” asked Jim.

“Yes, sir, we are,” replied Rainbow.

“It’s a shame what happened out there. It doesn’t sound like it was anything like the Woodstock everyone thought it would be. Man, three hundred thousand people, according to police estimates!  That must have been a sight to see,” said Jim.

Three hundred thousand!  Rainbow and Toully were shocked. They knew the concert site had been packed, but they had no idea the event had drawn so many people. It nearly was a Woodstock, in size at least. But apart from having a few bands, that was where the similarities ended. Altamont had been an antithesis to Woodstock: instead of three days of peace, love and understanding, there had been only a single day of murder, mayhem and mass confusion.

“Mr. Scaroni…Jim,” said Rainbow, what has the radio been saying about the concert?”

“You kids were there. You don’t know?” replied Jim.

“We were stuck in the back of the crowd,” said Toully. “We couldn’t see or hear much.”

“It was the Hells Angels’ fault from what they’re reporting,” said Jim.

“We heard that someone was killed,” said Rainbow.

“You mean murdered!” replied Jim. “Yes, that’s the big story.”

“What do you mean ‘murdered?’” said Toully with a look of disbelief on her face.

“The Angels murdered some black kid, only 18 years old, down near the stage. They beat the poor kid to death with pool cues. And that wasn’t all. The radio said that two other people died sleeping as they got run over in their sleeping bags, and a third person drowned. One of the members of the Jefferson Airplane was even punched out cold by the Angels, right in the middle of the group’s set! The radio said the Angels were beating on the crowd with pool cues and throwing full beer cans at them. Bunch of animals. It must have been awful. It’s probably a good thing you girls didn’t get any closer to the stage than you did.”

Rainbow and Toully just sat there shocked, not saying a word. They had felt the bad-vibe wave moving toward them from the stage area. They’d heard that someone had been killed. But they had no idea of how bad it really was. Rainbow reflected that Toully had called it right when she said that putting the Angels in charge of security was like putting the fox in charge of guarding the hen house!

Little more was said in the car after Jim’s account of what had happened at the concert. Both Rainbow and Toully sat quietly, looking straight ahead with despondent expressions on their faces. Jim was no mind reader – like the mysterious Madame Toulouse – but he could tell by the two women’s expressions that they were disturbed by what he had just told them.

“I’m sorry, girls, I really am. I don’t pretend to understand all the things you young people are into. But I know what it’s like to be disappointed. I know how you must feel right now.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *
Within an hour the Buick rolled slowly down Haight Street – back to the safety of the old neighborhood, only now it didn’t feel all that safe. The streets were deserted. A few burned-out looking heads were walking the streets, looking like dazed ghosts with their heads hung down, heading nowhere in particular. As they drove along, they noticed that all the popular hangouts and music venues had closed their doors. On one door, someone had hung a black wreath with the inscription “The Day the Music Died” printed on a large black bow draped around the wreath. Tears began to flow down Rainbow’s cheeks. It had all been such an idyllic life: a Utopia of communal living and peace and love and understanding and of course drugs. But Flower Power would never be the same again. They would never be the same again. As the Buick slowly rolled on, they passed a Haight Street sign. Someone had defaced the sign with a can of spray paint, which now read Hate Street.

“Just tell me where to let you off, girls?” said Jim.

Just as Jim spoke, they spotted Frog’s van parked alongside the curb, in front of the crash pad. The front tires were half way up on the sidewalk and the rear tires were part way out in the street. It was if Frog had just aimed the vehicle at the building like a torpedo, slammed on the brakes, and then ran inside as fast as he could. Neither Rainbow nor Toully had any desire to see Frog, not after all that Jim had just told them. Frog abandoning them at Altamont was trivial by comparison to what had happened in the stage area. Still, Toully silently reckoned that she would get even with the little toad when the time was right.

“Toully,” said Rainbow, “I can’t go back there, not tonight. Can I…”

“Don’t give it another thought, ‘bow. You’re staying with me. I think we can both use each other’s company tonight,” said Toully. “Just a couple more blocks, Jim, and you can let us out.”

Finally, the Buick eased over to the curb and stopped in front of Toully’s parlor. Toully’s apartment was upstairs, right above her shop.

“So…you’re a spiritualist…a mind reader, hey?” said Jim.

“Yes, you could say that,” replied Toully. “It’s…it’s just a job, Jim, that’s all really.”

Without any sarcastic intent, Jim said, “Too bad you couldn’t have foreseen the events that occurred at Altamont today in those tea leaves or whatever it is you use.”

“Yeah…too bad,” said Toully as she and Rainbow climbed out of the Buick.

Rainbow and Toully slowly walked around to the driver’s side of the car and thanked Jim for the ride. He had been a total stranger, but in the middle of the blackest night that either of them had ever known, he had come charging to their rescue like a knight on a white steed, or in this case, a beige-colored Buick.

“No problem, ladies, I’m just glad I could help you out,” said Jim. “I just feel sorry for what happened at the concert. You two looked so pitiful just standing on the side of the road. You know, I have two daughters of my own, not much younger than you. I’m just glad they’re at home tonight with their mother, safe and sound. Take care of yourselves…and be careful.”

The Buick slowly pulled away from the curb and took a right at the next intersection. Rainbow and Toully watched as the car disappeared out of sight. The two of them sat down on the steps in front of Toully’s parlor, neither of them speaking a word. They didn’t know what to say, how to put into words what they were feeling. But they both instinctively knew that things would never be the same again. Where Have All the Hippies Gone, thought Rainbow. The dream had at last come to an end, although neither of them said so. The streets were dark and quiet, a silent death knell filled the air. Flower Power was dead, as dead as the 18-year-old man who’d lost his life just trying to groove on the music. And the Movement: it had once stood for non-violence, and “Stop the War Now” had been one of the many planks in their Politic Psychedelia. Now the violence had come crashing in on them. And Rainbow and Toully both knew that the rarified spit of urban turf that they called The Haight was no longer a Utopia, but part of the real world. A world filled with war and violence and hate and madness that they had always supposed would be kept at bay, as if by some invisible force field that refused to allow the world to intrude upon their special little sanctuary. But now it was all over, finished.

“Toully,” said Rainbow, “if it’s all the same to you I’d just like to walk for a while. I don’t think I could sleep right now if I wanted to.”

“I understand, ‘bow. Come back when you feel like it, honey. I’ll leave the door open for you,” said Toully. Toully got up and went inside as Rainbow rose from the steps and slowly began walking toward nowhere in particular.

Rainbow walked up and down Haight Street for more than an hour with tears streaming down her face. She wasn’t altogether sure who or what she was crying for – herself, the man who was killed at the concert, or the Haight and what would now become of it. Perhaps, she thought, she was crying for the ideals that had lured her away from her home, a way of life that had called out to her all the way from California. Now ideal was just a word. Just like far out and higher consciousness and Nirvana and chakras and inner self. They were all just words, empty words, and they rang hollow in Rainbow’s mind now that the paradise that was The Haight district had become an urban dystopia.

As Rainbow walked down the street, weeping and bemoaning all that had happened and all that was now lost, her eyes came to rest upon a corner telephone booth. She paused for a moment, then stepped into the booth, picked up the receiver and dialed zero.

“This is the operator, number please?” said a monotone voice on the other end of the line.

“Operator…yes…I’d like to place a collect call to Boston. My name is Eleanor Benton.”

“What number please?” asked the operator, but after two years of living on the streets, and all the drugs she had consumed, Rainbow couldn’t even remember her telephone number.

“I’m…I’m not sure. I want to place a collect call to James or Doris Benton…please.”

“Please standby,” said the operator.

Rainbow heard the sound of relays clicking then finally a voice on the other end.

“Hello,” said a woman’s voice on the other end of the line.

“This is the operator calling. I have a collect call from Eleanor Benton for James or Doris Benton. Will you accept the charges?”

“Yes, yes,” said Doris Benton excitedly. “I accept the charges, operator!  Ellie, this is mom. Is that you? Where are you, honey?”

There was a long silence as Mrs. Benton held her breath, waiting for some response.

Finally a small, meek voice cried into the receiver from far-away California.

“Mother, it’s Ellie. Mama…I want to come home.”           

By Mike Hobren of White Light/2016
© Copyright

1 comment:

TL said...

Nice "After-School Special" spec script.