Feb 27, 2010

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

I just returned from a 2600 mile, unintended, ‘road trip’ to Southern California and, while most of what I observed and heard caught my attention, one thing stood out above everything else: the lack of hitchhikers. Doesn’t seem like hitchhiking is a popular form of transportation anymore, except in an emergency, but from the age of 15, until I joined the Air Force at 18, I hitchhiked thousands of miles. In my junior and senior years in high school I skipped classes on numerous occasions to hitchhike fifty plus miles, round trip, to various beach hangouts or, more likely, Bertrand Smith’s Acres of Books in Long Beach, California. On many nights I would hitchhike to coffee houses in Hollywood, or Pasadena, or, more often, to either Bob Hare’s Insomniac Book and Art Fair coffee house in Hermosa Beach, or the Venice West Café further up the coast. I would arrive home very early in the morning, often having had to change my route several times because of lack of traffic, and miss another day of school. And yes, I had many interesting encounters along the way, many of which I may explore here in future posts.

But the greatest hitchhiking adventures were the summer trips to fish streams whose waters were as clear as a vacuum and climb crystalline white granite mountains in the High Sierra, and then, sunburned and sinewy and full of poetry, move on to San Francisco and North Beach. In retrospect I understand now why my mother was so upset when I set off on these journeys. I don’t know how I would have reacted if either of my sons, when they were sixteen or seventeen, had told me they were going to be gone for a couple of months hitch-hiking around the country to unknown destinations, and not be in touch, other than for a very occasional post card. Thankfully I never had to confront that situation. But back to our recent trip. We traveled Interstate 5, highway 99 (How the terrain, no, the landscape has changed since I thumbed my way up and down this highway in the late fifties. How I have changed since I thumbed my way up and down this highway in the late fifties) and numerous roads both in the Los Angeles area and other towns, large and small, along the way. I saw no hitchhikers, not one, not one.

Aren’t there curious, dissatisfied, disillusioned, young dreamers in the country anymore? What happened to the rucksack revolution? Where are the Zen lunatics drunk on Basho and Li Po living these days? Where the angel-headed hipsters? Why don’t I see people hitchhiking the highways with tattered, dog-eared copies of Whitman, Rimbaud, Coleridge, Blake, Kerouac, Ferlinghetti, Corso, etc. weighing down their army surplus backpacks? Where are the romantic, would-be poets with scribbled poems stuffed in their penniless pockets? Doesn’t anyone hitchhike sixty miles to be checkmated in a game of chess with a coffee drinking, pipe-smoking Scandinavian immigrant anymore?

Alas, 2600 miles without a hitchhiker in sight. I might as well have been looking for an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Where have all the flowers gone?

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