Travelers Then & Now

by Paul Modic, December 6, 2017

When I see the travelers on the street today I think about how different it was when us hippies poured into Garberville in the early 70s alarming and annoying the rednecks with our casual airs and long hairs. We didn't have cell phones or dogs and after an hour or so in town buying a few supplies (in my case some granola and a chunk of cheddar cheese from Evergreen Natural Foods) we hitchhiked out to the creeks, rivers, and ocean beaches to camp out, drinking water directly from the mountainside, our mouths planted on the mossy spring. Energy was the word: We are Energy, Love is Energy, God is Energy. Energy. (I forget what the word was the next year, maybe sex, though no one ever said it, just did it.)

Back then the hills were wide open and the founding hippies who had arrived in the previous five years or so were welcoming. We hitchhiked on the twisting mountain roads through verdant forests, hanging on to the side of the pickup bed, our hair blowing crazily, a magical time. No one ever passed you by and when night fell whoever's rattly old 55 Chevy pickup you were in always took you home for some dinner and a floor or couch to crash on. We were young adventurers and for a Midwest boy of seventeen these California hippies were something else. (Today there's no room out there for the wayward unless she's very cute I guess, that universal story: shun the annoying males and let the ripe female buds blossom.)

The parents and families we had left, or run away from, were usually only mildly neurotic, lots of divorces, but generally stable—most of us knew we could always go home to mommy and daddy if things didn't work out on the road. The kids on the streets today, trying to escape lives of poverty and dysfunction descend from a variety of losers: drug-addicted ex-hippies, bikers in prison or heading there, mentally ill petty criminals and alcoholics, as well as refugees from suburban nightmares: latchkey kids with pill-poppin' mommas, workaholic daddies, and sneaking into the family spirits to get a head start on alcohol consumption, drug use and sex. They often have no idea who or where their parents are or if they are even alive anymore, no option to go home to mommy and daddy like we had. And so these lost souls suffer on the streets with their ubiquitous cigarets, an army of wet freezing victims in their trashed out hobo camps down by the river, finding their place in the shabby hierarchy and informal government that evolves in the lawless precincts where King Rat decides who can stay and who must go. (The Russian found floating in the river the other day was a very annoying guy who no one liked, problem solved.) When I see one of them on Main Street losing his shit and talking or screaming to himself I think, “Hell yes!” the homeless life would drive me crazy too.

Then you have the trimmigrants, those pampered peasants and smart phone zombies who care only about jobs and money as they hold up their pathetic signs at the Murrish Foods parking lot, often for weeks on the streets until their piercings become infected and their tattoos fade into a miasma of purple splotches. (“Grow a pair!” I tell a group of Basques dudes, as in a pair of tits—no one wants to hire guys.) The Spanish and Chilean's existence on every street corner, as well as the gringo farm crews of young stoners recruited from all over the US, was created by the greed of the corporate farms they helped enable, whose rampant takeover ruined the industry with oversupply, turning the hippie dream into extractive mining. The corporados flattened the mountains, sucked up the water, ruined the roads, destroyed the tranquility of the once peaceful and quiet country communities with nonstop generators and fans, and then decided to have their bright grow lights shining all over the hillsides and valleys at night, confusing the raccoons and civet cats. Money money money. Now here comes legalization and all county governments can think to do is create complicated and expensive regulations that only the big growers can afford, I guess it's easier to collect taxes on 500 mega-grows than 5000 little guys.

And to the sad old-timers with their rusty shovels, “Happy farming, suckers.”

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