1972 – Rainbows to Republicans

The Rainbow Family would be gathering in Colorado. Tons of cheap Mexican shake were flooding across the border. Nixon was up for re-election and the Dead were on tour. 1972 was shaping up to be a good year.

The anti-war circuit was at it’s apogee. The tide had turned against the war on Viet-Nam. Demos around the country drew thousands of protesters every week. Big party scene.  The marquee events for 1972 would be the planned demonstrations at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in Miami Beach over the summer.

Concerts and music festivals were big drawcards. Deadheads would hitch from one show to another, drop acid and bliss out to Jerry’s soaring riffs. Arena concerts attracted top bands and tens of thousands of young people looking for a good time. Festivals were popular…the Rainbow Family would be converging on Strawberry Lake, just outside of Granby, Colorado to celebrate the 4th of July, make music and chant for world peace. And party.

1972 was the golden age of hitch-hiking. Three days from SF to NY along I-80. I could criss-cross the country for zero dollars, stay stoned and usually hustle a meal or something. Plus I could talk with people from all walks of life, get the inside scoop. Hitch-hiking was a sustainable and rewarding lifestyle.

The sexual revolution was in full swing. Women had discarded their bras, embraced birth control and were empowered to explore their sexuality, especially amongst my age-group. On occasion I would meet liberated women under serendipitous circumstances for brief and mutually-satisfying encounters. Or a woman and I might cross paths for a few days or so, indulge in carnal pleasures and then go our separate ways. I was much too mobile for a serious relationship. I was always very respectful and polite, not a pick-up artist. But if the opportunity arose….

I was pretty much on the road all of 1972. New Year’s Eve found me in New York City with a contingent of Vietnam Vets Against the War, marching to the Times Square celebrations to promote their Winter Soldier investigation. They wanted to tell the truth about the war and it’s toll. Didn’t even get noticed amongst the revellers.

1972. A busy year. Five trips, heaps of events, plenty of weed and good times.

After NYC I thumbed to Madison where a loose coalition of activists were making plans to disrupt the Miami Beach conventions. At the riotous 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, the Yippies, along with the SDS, had been the shakers and movers. But Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin were getting a bit too staid in their old age.

This new faction, the Zippies! (ZIP: Zeitgeist International Party), spearheaded by Tom Forcade (who would go on to found High Times) and Dana Beal, was planning a series of nation-wide smoke-ins on the 4th of July and then car caravans to Miami Beach for a full slate of street theatre, demos and, of course, smoke-ins. Tom was looking for people to help distribute posters and spread the word. “Why not?” I hitch-hiked out of Madison with a pack full of ‘J-Day’ posters and a mission.

Back in Boulder I met up with some fellow-travellers – John had an old Rambler and my friend Diane wanted a lift to Miami. So we set out on a tour of the Southwest’s college towns, headshops and underground newspapers. Sante Fe, Alburquerque, Tempe, Tucson and Austin. At each stop we’d drop off a bunch of posters, talk up the demos in Miami and share information. Great way to get the inside scoop on the pulse of the nation.

Car broke down in Austin and Diane and I hitched on to Miami Beach to recon Flamingo Park, where the Zippies! would be camping out in July and August. Said adios to Diane and made a quick detour up the East Coast to New Hampshire to visit family and then back to Colorado to replenish my now-depleted funds. Worked construction and sold dope in Boulder ‘til it was time for the Rainbow Gathering in July.

Strawberry Lake is four miles from the nearest road and a perfect place to celebrate. Lodgepole Pine groves, open meadows, clean clear lake, ideal for swimming. The Rainbow Family, an informal collection of hippies, had organized a Forest Service permit for a two-week gathering at the Lake over the 4th of July. The word spread through the underground press and word-of-mouth. By 1 July thousands of Rainbow People from around the country were converging on Granby, Colorado, the nearest town, and made their way to the Gathering.

I camped out with friends from Boulder, total party. One of my mates, a Viet-Nam vet from Alamosa, had volunteered to help monitor campfires and I tagged along. The woods were tinder dry. We’d walk around at night, visit each campfire, make sure that it was all under control. Gave us the great opportunity to meet everyone, sample their weed and listen to their stories. And keep the trees from burning down.

People were loose. Skinny dipping in the lake. Glistening nude bodies in the tipi sweat lodge. Writhing couples outside in the sunny meadow. All in the open, no shame, just an exuberant celebration of sexuality. My tribe.

Thousands of totally-cool hippie-types, hanging out in the forest. Dancing, acoustic music, chanting and drumming, well-tended campfires. A communal kitchen. All living peacefully, for a week. The climax on the Fourth was a massive group chant for peace at noon and a huge bonfire that night. Almost like a pre-cursor for Burning Man.

Made a bee-line for Miami, wanted to get there early to help organize the Zippie! events. The Convention would start on the 20th of July. We were expecting around a couple of thousand protesters. Turned out to be anti-climactic. Other than a smoke-in and a few desultory marches, a rather ho-hum affair. I mean, who could get excited about McGovern one way or the other? Even the police couldn’t be bothered to hassle us. But the ‘Pot People’s Party’ at Flaming Park was a real scene, lots of people camping out, smoking weed and balling in their tents. I was a willing participant.

A quick buzz up to New Hampshire to check back in with family then up to Bar Harbor with friends for some R&R. Turned around and hitched back to Flamingo Park for the Republican Convention. This one would be much more interesting. Copped a great ride that took me to the Galax Old Time Fiddlers Contest in Virginia with the sweetest country music fan. Talk about Southern Hospitality!

Met Mike Roselle at Flamingo Park. That’s him playing blues harp. From a 1973 letter.

When I returned to Flamingo Park I first met Mike Roselle, a lanky 6’4” 18-year-old from Louisville with a talent for cartooning, organising and dealing weed. We hit it off immediately and forged a strong bond. Our paths would often cross over the next few years. Mike would go on to co-found Earth First and the Ruckus Society and become an ‘elder statesman’ of the radical environmental movement.

As expected, much more excitement in Miami Beach this time around with the Republicans. Violent clashes with pro-Cuban counter-demonstrators, confrontations with delegates, sirens, tear gas, Police baton charges. By the final night the excitement had climaxed into full-blown riot. Zippie!

I ran with Mike in an affinity group: Godzilla! If we got separated during a scuffle we would yell ‘Godzilla’ to rally together to watch each other’s backs. The last night was a real free-for-all…Mike and I made it OK, but lost a buddy, Mark Gallagher, who was chased down and led away in handcuffs.

The cops cleared Flamingo Park that night. Six of us, Mike, three radical feminists and Red, another Zippie!, piled into Red’s beat-up red Simca to drive to Houston. Crazy three-day ride across the Old South. Hit an old-fashioned tent revival rally in Denham Springs LA. The crowd was literally hypnotized. It was high summer, hot and humid. We’d ferret out local swimming holes where the women would swim naked just to freak out the locals. Nobody complained, though. They were quite fit.

Shrimper anchored off Ft Jefferson, Dry Tortugas. Same design as the Lady Louise. The Original in the foreground. 1975.

Red dropped us all off in Houston. Mike and I hitched to the docks at Freeport where we heard you could find jobs on shrimp boats. Got lucky and signed on as deck-hands on the 85-foot shrimper Lady Louise. It was the end of the Texas shrimp season so we’d be heading back across the Gulf to Mayport, Florida at the mouth of the St John’s River.

My first time at sea. The winds blew up off the Keys. “Captain Bobby, do these shrimp boats sink often?”

“Only once.” Bobby had a way with words.

The last afternoon Mike and I were firing up a doobie on the afterdeck. Bobby popped his head out of the wheelhouse. Busted!

But he was grinning ear to ear. “You boys been smoking shit. Try some of mine,” Bobby was cool

It was the tail end of the Florida season as well. A month’s work of shrimping off Mayport and Brunswick, Georgia paid me a grand total of $30. Time to hit the road again. Picked apples in Tennesee for a week and then back to Boulder for another stint swinging a hammer. Even rented a room in a house. One more big demo planned, the Inhoguration in DC on January 20. Went there, did that, now what?

I’d enjoyed travelling around the US and getting a feel for the landscapes. So I stuck out my thumb.

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