1968 wasn’t a good year to be a transfer student at Point Loma High School.
A San Diego Police Department bust in early December 1967 (where a tiny amount of marijuana was seized with a street value of two million dollars) prompted lots of paranoia throughout the student body.
The Christian Science Church across from the school provided a great vantage point for the Evening Tribune photographer to document the dopers, and select students made the paper’s front page with black tape covering their eyes.
I wasn’t one of those students, but it didn’t matter. Depending on the point of view of the long-time students, newcomers were either narcs or dangerous drug dealers.
January 1968 marked the start of my interest in journalism, selling ads for the Point Loma Pointer as part of my coursework in an elective class, mostly because whoever was teaching the class wasn’t impressed with my writing abilities.
This position gave me easy access to off-campus lunch passes. Visits to fast food restaurants and Kit Potamkin’s parents’ liquor cabinet were the highlights of my initial foray into the news business.
My writing career didn’t start there, but I did discover Ocean Beach, a weird and wonderful place chock full of interesting people. The police were super friendly, calling me by name before asking for ID and patting me down during field interrogations.
Weekends were for hanging out at the Inbetween, a storefront/coffee house initially run by the local Methodist Church as a space to keep troubled youth away from the long-haired scrounge infecting California.
The Newport street storefront was actually my gateway to hippiedom. I read and wrote (bad) poetry, discovered angst, and folk music. At some point in the spring, a guy named Eddie took me out to a jetty, where we smoked a joint and proceeded to get paranoid as hell.
It wasn’t all that fun, but, hey, at least somebody trusted me.
Politics found me in the spring of 1968 and I signed up to volunteer with Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated, Bobby Kennedy went later, and I was officially disgusted with “establishment politics”.
In my mind, the rise of hippiedom and the new left were one thing. Life was all about “the movement,” kinda like how people talk about the “resistance” these days.
Not long after graduating from high school I moved into 4910 Orchard Street with wannabe folk singer Jim Herman, his ex-Air Force buddy Terry Galbraith, and an ex-Navy guy named John.
Just steps away from cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the ramshackle house was something right out of a Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comic book. We spent weeks painting British flags on the refrigerator door and the kitchen ceiling, mostly because John became obsessed with The Who.
Doorbell Kazoo used to crash with us on weekends, and he always brought somebody or something strange from Sacramento. Many a brain cell was recycled watching the sunset from the cliffs just outside our door.
A VW bus, complete with a peace symbol on the front, took us on trips to various California hotspots, including the Newport Pop festival and Berkeley.
We climbed the fence at Newport with a half-gallon of wine. The world’s then-loudest band, Blue Cheer, smashed their amps and the crowd went crazy. Some guy who said he was the promoter asked the crowd to calm down and got booed off the stage. For a few hours, I morphed into Captain Trash, savior of the something-I-don’t-remember. It was that stupid.
We left the Orange County fairgrounds three days later, having bartered our way to food and party favors during the festival. And somehow we left with a different half-gallon of wine for the ride back to OB.
On another trip to Berkeley, we made money selling underground newspapers to tourists, eating broccoli and brown rice at evening be-ins, and getting our first whiffs of tear gas as the cops chased demonstrators up and down the streets.
Selling papers back in the day was a decent hustle, and that’s how Norm, owner/publisher of the OB Liberator, came into our lives. The paper was often so offensive even the local head shops didn’t really want to sell it. Norman didn’t care. He had an offset press in his mother’s garage and a vision. Or two, depending on how much he drank and his state of mind.
Jim became editor because he could both write a sentence and type; Terry was a decent cartoonist, and since I had “journalism experience” I pasted up the copy and sold ads when I could find somebody brave enough to appear on our pages.
The 1968 Democratic convention was a turning point. People in my world were both inspired by the imaginative protests and angered by the Chicago Police department’s brutal response. There was no doubt in our minds that the “system” was doomed. It was in that context that I became a cub reporter after finding myself amid the Labor Day “riots” on Longbranch Street.
Although the battle with the police was really over attempts to tamp down partying, in my mind it was just another sign ‘the man’ was doomed.
Here’s a snip from Frank Gormlie’s OB Rag retrospective of the day:
According to locals, the riot on Labor Day started on the last block of Long Branch when young surfers on rooftops started throwing water balloons and cherry bombs at neighbors and passerbys. It escalated between neighbors, a few cops drove by, then somebody complained, and then the troops were sent in.
Hundreds of kids crowded the sidewalks, rooftops, balconies, porches along the last block Long Branch Avenue as police tried to clear the streets and bring order to the beach.
During those days, young Steve Rowell, fresh out of Point Loma High, with camera, roamed the streets to capture the essence of OB. Later, his black and whites of that day would amaze friends and strangers alike. Doug Porter, also right out of PL, collaborating with Norm Lamisses and other locals, had been publishing OB’s very first underground newspaper, “The Liberator”.
Their next issue had an enlarged photograph of [Police Lieutenant] Hoobler, clad in his civvies, standing in the middle of the street addressing the youthful rebels. (Porter would later work on the OB Rag, and eventually end up a major writer on the San Diego Door in the mid-seventies.)
We all enrolled at San Diego City College in the fall. While my vet roommates anxiously awaited their GI Bill checks, I cut my hair and found a perfectly miserable job at Safeway. My fellow retail workers took great delight in asking if my roommates were “girls or boys,” and I can say with authority the “Why don’t you suck their dicks and find out?” snappy comeback didn’t help my cause.
We ate a lot of pork liver (19cents a pound), mac & cheese (19cents for the generic brand with extra food coloring), and white bread for three months before the first GI Bill checks rolled in. We qualified for the USDA’s surplus food program, which meant taking down all the hippie posters so our living quarters could be “inspected” and eating a lot of American cheese.
Good times were on when the checks finally came. Monthly splurges on $1.19 gallon jugs of La Mesa Burgundy were upgraded to weekly $1.49 Red Mountain gallons. (And Boones Farm Apple wine for special occasions).
John, who lived in the attic, got his reel-to-reel tape deck fixed and wired the downstairs for sound. Great sounds abounded, including one very special evening where he (accidentally we hoped) left his mic on while having sex. Music by Canned Heat, Cream, Jethro Tull, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Cream, and Jimi Hendrix made up a large part of the soundtrack of our lives.
Given my “seasoning,” I took some journalism classes and spent too much of my time arguing with the assistant editor of the City College Fortknightly. Up to that point, I thought most Vietnam vets were peace/love/hippies, based on my experiences.
I was wrong. This guy was a Nixon-loving war hawk. The good coming out of this conflict was the need to do some research to bolster my arguments. My inquiries led me to meet people who were active in anti-war and anti-draft organizations.
Late in 1968, I participated in an “Urban Plunge” experience in Los Angeles. What I remember (and it is in the far reaches of my memories) is being dropped off on skid row in LA for a terrifying evening, followed up with sessions by assorted radicals hoping to lure us out of our safe spaces.
An unfriendly encounter with a Hells Angel in December topped off my year. Although I don’t remember what we were disagreeing about, I do remember trying to make the argument about everybody being brothers and sisters in the “movement.”
Just before he punched me, the biker said “Movement? The only movement I know is the shit I take in the morning.”
That experience was the end of the hippie part of my radical/hippie persona.