Back Just Before Hippies Were Invented

1964 was a big year in my life.  I rode the USNS Breckinridge troop ship back from Korea with 2000 other GIs coming home, separated from the army late in June.  Hung around Portales, New Mexico for a while, applied to join the Peace Corps, then hitch-hiked to New York to pass the time until I heard from the Peace Corps.

Beatniks hadn’t yet been displaced by hippies and Greenwich Village was jam-packed with thousands of us implying we were beatniks but carefully not saying so.  Hanging around coffee shops writing poetry, playing chess, saying momentous deep-thinking things back and forth to one another.  Listening to folk singers. 

Being rocked back on our heels in mock, simulated shock and disgust when wheat-straw blondes from Westchester down for the weekend to be beatniks, too, refused our advances.  “WHAT?  You don’t believe in FREE LOVE?”

Which, surprisingly, almost always worked.  Provided you’d done a convincing enough job trickling out the bona fides of being a REAL beatnik.  And wouldn’t even think of hopping in the sack with someone so uncool she didn’t even believe in free love.  Even if she did iron her long hair out straight.

So after I hopped the freight to go back to New Mexico, got thrown in jail in Rochester for taking the wrong train, The Hitch-Hiking Hoodoos, got released to hitch home, things stayed eventful for a while.

A guy from Buffalo picked me up on the Interstate, older guy in his 30s.  When I got in I threw the pillow-case with my belongings into the back seat“I don’t know why I picked you up,” he glanced at me with disgust.  “I never pick up hitch hikers.”  

Over the next few miles he questioned me about who I was, where I was from, what I was doing hitching, what I’d do when I arrived, and I explained it all in loving detail.

“Well, I’ve never had any trouble with a hitch hiker the few times I’ve picked them up.  But if I do ever get killed by a hitcher it will probably be some half-baked kid who doesn’t know what he wants in life.”  He thought about it a minute.  “But I don’t have to worry about you.  You threw your gun into the back seat in that pillow case when you got in.”

We talked a lot over the highway between Rochester and Buffalo.  Enough so he didn’t take the Buffalo exit and carried me down to where a tollway squeezed the traffic going south to Cincinnati, Ohio.  He pulled up beside a car with a family in it, man, woman and a couple of kids.  Motioned for them to roll down the passenger-side window.

“Are you going on through Cincinnati?  I’ve carried this guy all the way from Rochester and he’s okay.  He’s going to New Mexico.  But I’d like to get him a ride past Cincinnati.  He’ll never get through that town walking.”

The couple said they were just going to Cincinnati, but we were all watching the traffic edge forward to the toll gates.  “We’d better take him anyway.  He might not get another ride.”

The Buffalo guy was right, but it began the next phase of a long story.  Guess I’d best hold it for another day.

Old Jules


24 responses to “Back Just Before Hippies Were Invented

  1. Hitchhiking was so much fun; you never knew who you’d end up meeting. The world was a different place then. I had an anorak with a zippered pouch that I used to stuff with my clothes giving the appearance of pregnancy, never had to wait long, figured the odds of being raped or murdered were less for a pregnant woman. Thanks for the memory!

  2. Wow, you just brought back a lot hitch-hiking memories, some good and some not so good. Funny how we forget things until something reminds us.

    • DizzyDick: Happens to me all the time too. I couldn’t write this blog if things weren’t constantly reminding me and fighting to stand in line for a place in the queue for posting. Gracias, Jules

  3. Good story. I was just a little too young to be a hippie or hitch hike but I sure dreamed of doing both! My dad caught me smoking and hitchi hiking once and that ended that dream.

    Good post Ole Jules

    • Morning to you ladywithatruck. Glad you came for a visit. Caught you smoking. Getting caught smoking must have passed out of the rites of passage for kids by the time you got there. Gracias, Jules

  4. Jules, As usual, a great story! You’re a few years older than me, but I have a brother who’s 6 yrs older than me, so I remember lots of things (music, politics, etc) from hearing and being around him, that my peers don’t. He got out of the Marines in ’65…yup, a jarhead, through & through…we’re are so different! When I became a “hippie” in ’68, he was mortified, although secretly, I think he envied my ability to ignore convention and speak out against, well…everything! LOL Those were amazing times; exciting, scary, optimistic, hopeful. Some I remember well, some, not too well…if you get my drift! LOL Thanks for another memory jogger!!

  5. I’ve only ever hitchhiked between towns so I could get to work and back; no real traveling. However, even without mentioning what it’s about, your posting of that book cover raises your cachet considerably on just about anything you discuss. “We apologize for the inconvenience.”

    • Morning to you Ed. Yeah that book cover always reminds me life’s a humbling experience. I should have written that book. But the apology makes up for it. Gracias, Jules

  6. I’m a bit younger, but I used to hitch across Florida in the early/mid 80’s. Also had a few close calls, and I can barely remember the good stories now. Thanks for bringing us along for a ride or two. ps – if we have the back seat up instead of down, we’ll pick up hitchers here in Ireland. Usually they are backpackers, another throwback to the 60’s! Never really worried here about dangerous folks, though. That happens in the pubs.

    • Good morning HTBS. Glad to see you here. I’ve always had to fight off a tinge of regret I’ve never been to Ireland. Jeanne, the admin here spent some time there and speaks lovingly of it. Gracias, Jules

  7. Those were some kind of times alright and you tell a good tale.

  8. I caught a ride in Ireland once, nice people.
    I doubt that the “Free Love” line would have worked when I was of the age to use it, but it would have been nice to try.
    The Freakonomics podcast recently had a piece on why hitchhiking has seemingly gone the way of the dodo, bucking the conventional wisdom (some wandering Manson acolyte will kill you and eat your spleen), and alleging instead that the dropoff has more to do with infrastructure and the relative ease with which people can get automobiles these days.
    Great story.

    • Smaktakula: Yeah, the free love coolness only enjoyed a brief moment in the sun… it wasn’t long cool moved on to other things. I still saw a lot of hitchers in New Mexico up until I left a few years ago. I’m not so sure Freakonomics were correct. Gracias, Jules

  9. You were brave to hitchhike. I wouldn’t.

    THGTTG is the best book ever written. I met Douglas Adams once, and gave him chicken pox, I’m pretty certain.

    • Marvin: We’re all brave to get up in the morning to help pray up Old Sol and face all the dangers he brings along with him with the light, I suppose. We take all those dangers for granted, same as hitchers took whatever dangers were involve for granted, and drivers took them for granted when they picked hitchers up.
      Life’s a dangerous place if it’s worth doing. Gracias, Jules

  10. Great post! I have a new page because of personal reasons. Please feel free to follow me again at my new url I’m hoping to see you on my list soon. Thanks!

  11. The “Rochester/Buffalo” got me, but you had me at “Adams” =)

  12. t: Glad you’re along. Gracias, Jules

  13. sometimes a hitch can be a blessing. What did you think of that book?

  14. Read the book. Still some things from it to remember and think about again.

    I tried hitchhiking a couple of times when I was about 14. First time the truant office caught up to 3 of us girls and gave us a ride to school. Second time the city police picked two of us up and gave us a ride to my friend’s sister’s place. Gave up hitching after that. Just didn’t seam to be in the cards for me.

    They still hitch hike in NM. See them on the res anytime and many other farm to market roads going into the bigger towns or back out to the little ones.

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