People of A New Age (1968)
By Martin Jezer
To experience the contours of the land, to feel its vibrations and penetrate its fogs and mists, is to begin to understand the fears and aspirations that shape its people. Early in May, Ray Mungo, Verandah Porche, Peter Simon, and I drove cross-country from San Francisco to Chicago, a car full of wandering freaks in search of a home in our land.
Ray and Verandah had spent the previous week hitch-hiking through California. Peter and I joined them in their excitement over the "new age" people living in caves and cabins in Big Sur and rustic retreats in Marin County-who took ·them in, blew their minds, and showed them concrete possibilities for dropping out into an alternative life-style.
Of course, we in the East have been talking and writing about alternatives for many months, making acute observations from behind clattering typewriters in moldy movement offices and Lower East Side slum pads. But in California people are living it and making it work. One senses a new age everywhere, from the hippie road repair crew grooving on the pot holes in San Francisco's Mission Street to the wealthy residents of Telegraph Hill who wave and smile at the stoned tourists stumbling through their gardens to admire their vistas of the Bay.
The New Age is more than Haight-Ashbury (now a dismal scene), the generational crusade, and psychedelic drugs, though each has played a part. The new age, a new consciousness, new values, community, sharing with and trusting one another, tolerance, feelings and ideas for which there is yet no language, pervade everything and overwhelm us.
We were reluctant to leave and vowed to each other to build our new society back East. And so over Donner Pass (reversing the route of the old age pioneers) down to Reno, through desolate Nevada and the Utah salt flats, high over the Rockies to Boulder, then flat out across the Plains, Julesburg, Ogallala, Omaha, Chicago, and everywhere we travelled we found signs of a new age, as if cosmic vibrations were sweeping eastward before us.
Good vibrations. In the Salt Lake City Greyhound Bus terminal (only place you can get coffee past midnight), two deserters join our table. They are to be court-martialed for possession of acid. We tell them what we know about going into exile, drink coffee, eat pies, and rap. A long-haired ex-Marine we picked up on the road (his car had broken down) describes his new life and wonders why he encounters such hostility now that he feels so full of love and gentleness towards the people he meets.
In the dark of night somewhere in Nebraska, we get a flat and have no lug wrench. We shout and wave at passing cars and trucks but they speed by. Finally a car stops and three freaks from Washington State emerge. They saw us by the road but were going too fast to stop. So they turned around, drove back to the previous exit and came back to where we were parked. They have a wrench and some grass. We fix the tire, share two joints, and stand by the side of the highway digging each other and laughing. Then on to Omaha.
David Miller edits Middle Earth, an underground paper, from a converted one-room school house set amidst rolling fields of corn five miles outside of Iowa City. Cows and sheep live across the street, eight cats reign over the front lawn. The lady of the house serves up a delicious meal and we sit into the night, talking about the underground press, poetry, and the political relevance of dropping out. Someone quotes Dave Harris to the effect that our only political weapon is how we live our lives; we discuss the new consciousness and fantasize what will happen when all these New Age kids are faced with the decision of what to do with their lives and do not choose to become junior executives with IBM.
Later in the car we agree that for the first time since frontier days, great numbers of people have the option of dropping out of a rotten society and building a new one from scratch. And we wonder what this will mean. Che said that "in revolution one either wins or dies." But how is a revolution won? When is it won? We consider that revolution (being itself a never-ending, always changing process) can never be won, can only be lived and experienced. And we groove on that.
We are frontiersmen of the mind, liberating ourselves as we liberate each other. But the Old Age follows wherever we go. The ex-Marine is escorted out of Reno by the sheriff, the two servicemen are kicked out of a small town in Utah where they stop for the night. Restaurants won't serve us, hostility surrounds us. Omaha and Chicago-especially Chicago fill us with paranoia. Bad vibrations. People are frightened by our presence. Sometimes a well-meant hello on our part breaks the fear, as it did in a small restaurant (home cooking) in Minden, Iowa. But more often than not we are seen as interlopers, usurpers, a threat to the people, a threat to the land.
Why should people be so scared? The land is sweet and good, bountiful, beautiful. But we are a nation of settlers, still unsettled, not yet secure in our relationship with the land. Five years ago, Paul Johnson and I wandered through the coal country of Southeastern Kentucky and discovered in the town of Cumberland the fearful business rivalries, hatreds and petty jealousies that devour so many Americans and drive neighbors apart. Does this same madness possess the citizens of every town we pass in the night?
The people are scared of enemies real and imagined. The settlers took the land from the Indians, the ranchers came, and sheepman and cattleman had it out. Then came the farmers who fought the ranchers and closed the range, and the railroads and monopolies which screwed them all. Fear is a way of life, and now it's the dopesmoking commie hippie peaceniks. What would an America be like, where no one lived in fear?
The people are frightened, threatened. Imagined enemies sweep through their village. Like minutemen, vigilant, they prepare for war. Yet the land is so inviting. It beckons. But there is no time to enjoy it, learn its rhythms, live its seasons. "I want to go soon and live away by the pond, where I shall hear only the wind whispering among the reeds. It will be a success if I shall have left myself behind. But my friends ask what I will do when I get there.
Will it not be employment enough to watch the progress of the seasons?"
Thoreau wrote that more than a hundred years ago. But Thoreau, like the Iroquois before him, and the freaks of Big Sur, Middle Earth, and the Nebraska highway, are people of a New Age. There is no winning our revolution, but we'll live it and it'll grow and we'll live at peace with ourselves and with our land.
Source WIN June, 1968