Tuesday, July 25, 2023

City Hippies

I heard a new phrase recently that really caught my attention. A friend was talking about some of her neighbors who don’t believe in spraying for mosquito control, grow a lot of their food in their backyard, brew a little hooch in their basement and use the sun for heating their homes (as much as possible.) Urban homesteading is one label attached to these folks, ‘City Hippies’ is another new moniker given to them.

The last time I heard about ‘city hippies’ was during a review of one of my latest plays ‘By the Salton Sea.’ It was pointed out to me that rich hippies were buying property around Joshua Tree National Park and converting old cabins, homes and shacks into trendy upscale modern abodes for other rich hippies from the coast.

It was almost a repeat of the migration of drug-fueled musicians, artists, film makers and other creatives from the coast to the high desert. Gram Parsons of Country Rock fame provided the signature moment when he overdosed in a rundown motel up in Joshua Tree and thus the legend was born.

So, what ever happened to those granola-crunching hippie chicks in their long flowing dresses? The ones with a flower behind each ear and a naked baby wrapped around their waist. Whatever happened to the back-to-the earth movement and all those folks embracing mother nature? I think I found them and in a place you’d hardly expect. The children and grandchildren of my generation have moved back to the city.

Back in October of 1967, that psychedelic generation, of my generation, disappeared with the ‘Death of the Hippie’ ceremony in San Francisco. By then, time and politics and media sat-uration had hastened the gradual demise of their tribe as a cultural icon for peace and love and living the simple life.

Now they’re back in plain sight and unabashed contentment. If you look carefully, they’re all around us and it does make perfect sense after all. They’ve been reborn in the children of those cultural pioneers of women’s rights, women’s sexual freedom, political activism, social-involve-ment and community-caring.

But these new hippies are no longer into paisley prints, flowery skirts and a flower in their hair. They’re back living in the city instead of a commune in the country. They’ve spearheaded the movement back to the city and found their own community of like-mind souls in the rubble of those old vestiges of their parent’s city. These women are smart, intuitive, vested in their community and still carry subtle hints of the flower children of their mother’s era. Instead of being college drop-outs, they’ve got advanced degrees and aren’t afraid to show their gifts of intelligence and grounded observations of the world around them.

They’re reshaping their urban environment. Most urban areas have a sameness about them. Urban populations are heterogeneous, consisting of various shades of people-different castes, classes, ethnic groups, religions, etc. City hippies have carved out their own unique group based on mutual interests in the environment, education, conservation, sports, etc.

While urban life can be dynamic, social relations there can be temporary. There seems to be a high rate of geographical as well as social mobility which hippies accept as the fluid condition of most neighborhoods. Chicken coops and vegetable gardens are one sign of this new kind of urban dweller. But to really understand their stance on the world, one has to look deeper inside their home.

It’s the new woman of today who sees her children as precious uncut gems, her home as her sanctuary and the community as her extended family. She can grow vegetables in her backyard and still find great wine deals at Traders Joes. She wants her kids in sports but says: “hold off on the trophies if it’s just for showing up.” She values education above all else and places expectations on her children’s teachers as she would on herself.

These new hippies are raising kids and managing households without being encumbered by the old axioms of the’ little woman at home.’ In many instances, they own the real estate themselves or have negotiated the deal alongside their husbands.  They’ve come a long way, baby…but don’t ever call them baby!

They’ve traveled far beyond the homestead and have seen and done things only early female pioneers could imagine. They’re as comfortable behind a podium as they are on a glider nursing their infant.

They see experience as food for the brain and the soul. It’s much the same for their children. Summers are no longer for hanging around the playground or being glued in front the boob tube. Now there are camps for every activity imaginable and then some.

Back in my day, hippies had the Oracle in San Francisco and local mimeographed rag sheets to get the latest news of community events. Most large cities had their own version of the Oracle. It was probably the precursor to today’s ‘Reader’ rag sheets.

Now in the Twin Cities, they’ve got internet message boards and news sites. If they want to communicate in person from a distance, they can do Face time or use other face-to-face mobile devices. Back in the day, there were communes to raise the kids. Now these women have ECFE, Park and Rec. programs, play dates and the old, reliable but newly energized resource on the horizon, their grandparents.

Community gardens are still community gardens. But now there are direct farm-to-table supply lines of fresh produce. Stimulants have changed from pot to fine wines and craft beers.

And of course, Whole Foods and Trader Joes, are available for organic fare. To save money, they’ve got Savers and Good-Will and the old standard garage sales.

Many of these women handle the household finances and know more about the globe economy than a lot of the newly minted sprouts on Wall Street. They’re forging new trails in women’s rights and equality. They’ve come a long way but they’ll all tell you, there’s still a long way to go. Many seem to have taken a line from the New Frugality in which ‘living within one’s means’ is the new norm instead of the exception. And living a simpler, sustainable lifestyle is the way to true wealth in mind and soul.

Maybe those hippies of my generation were on to something after all.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Back in the Saddle Again

I’ve had a life-long love affair with bicycles. Starting with my first hundred pound Huffy in my youth then a more peer-acceptable Schwinn in my teen years. Later on, I got my first racing bicycle, a Peugeot. As I matured, I got a more sophisticated Cannondale then a Raleigh hybrid and finally a mountain bike and another Trek hybrid.

Last season when Brian was in town, we rented a couple of e-bikes and cruised my Palm Springs neighborhood. I tested out the pedal-assist gears and the throttle for longer hauls. The difference between a regular bicycle and this HRA-sanctioned mini-street rod was amazing. I was hooked.

When Sharon and I returned to Minnesota, I happened to come across a floor model on sale at my local bike shop and I was back in the saddle again. It had been a long time since I first ventured out beyond my hood to explore the greater Twin Cities area. Back in the day, it was nothing for me to take my hybrid, load it on my classic Ford Escape and go thirty or forty miles in the early morning hours. I developed a taste for touring that didn’t want to stop. Now I get to pick it up all over again.

It seems as if it was only yesterday when I was a casual interloper in the early morning world of iron riders and rail thin runners. They were early morning vagabonds who needed their cup of Joe to kick-start each day. It was an eclectic group of support crew, racers and runners gathered together to taste the first bite of dawn and forthcoming self-induced punishment.

After they left, I began my own Saturday morning meandering through the Twin Cities. There wasn’t an agenda or route to follow. My imagination and ever elusive recollections of times past would point me in some direction.

There had been some interesting feedback on my nostalgic trips visiting old haunts around the Twin Cities. Some readers liked the trips down memory lane. Others questioned why I kept going back almost as if I’m trying to relive my past. I thought I had touched on that in some of my blogs My Bootleg Years or I Found Susan’s House.

It used to be that during the summer months I’d take long bike rides to peruse my old haunts for changes or as a way to recap old memories still lingering there. But something happened this last time that altered that perception.

Surprisingly it wasn’t the old haunts that had changed. Instead, it was something that clicked differently inside my head this time around. I came to the sobering realization that not only were the old places gone but now they were relegated to the dust bins of history.

The Twin Cities had become a wasteland of relics from my past. A time long since forgotten except in black and white photos and old vinyl recordings. Time has that tendency to erase most vestiges of a period and in its place leave only vapid memory vapors that drift in and out of our consciousness from time to time. The changes were all around me but I didn’t see it until that summer.

I first discovered the Midtown Greenway many years ago. It’s a four-and-a-half-mile old railroad bed that had been converted to a bike path. That route begins on the Mississippi River Boulevard and ends around Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles. It became my gateway to downtown Minneapolis, Nord East, the Mississippi River, and many points North and East.

The intoxicating smell of soap weed and other noxious plants permeate the air. It brings back poignant memories of delivering newspapers past weed-choked empty fields those warm summer mornings.

An old black man is sitting outside his public housing unit. He’s smoking the first of many funny cigarettes. He waves and shouts: How ya doing? I answer “Just great” as I fly by with a casual nod. He smiles back and takes another puff, lost in his own little world.

The West Bank is where drunks and druggies and the homeless used to pester me outside the Triangle Bar. Now there are new groups of immigrants taking over the streets. The crowds used to be white. Now, not so much. The Triangle bar was shuttered decades ago and with it a visible reminder of my youthful days of hopes and dreams and wild aspirations.

A couple of blocks from my first apartment there used to be a seedy rundown strip mall with a Red Owl Grocery store where I got my meager staples and tins. Progress erased any and every vestige of that old neighborhood.

A grassy corner is all that remains where my squalid apartment building used to languish. The General Mills Research Lab replaced it. Now that building is also a thing of the past and reportedly going to be torn down.

Dinkytown was my hangout, refuge, local dive and music venue when I lived nearby. I tried to capture its ambiance in my novella: ‘Agnes, First Taste of Love.’ Granted, it wasn’t the Triangle Bar but its cast of characters wasn’t that far behind.

If rubble could talk it would speak volumes about Dinky town of the past. But those drab dirty old buildings are gone now along with their voices rendered mute. They’ve been replaced by developer’s fact sheets and city planner’s visions for a new student hometown. Dinky town today isn’t even close to what it once was. Now that they’ve ripped the soul out of the place city fathers want to make it an historic district. What a joke.

Wandering through the U of M campus did little to regenerate old memories of my brief existence there as a student. The closest I came to captured that old mind-set was the U of M School of Journalism. But that was before I dropped out, got drafted and began the rest of my life in earnest.

The Dew Drop on the campus of the University of St. Catherine’s was a font of old memories. There were a couple of girlfriends back then and toe-dancing with romance as if I knew what I was doing. When that ploy failed, I began tripping around the globe until that wandering ended in matrimony.

The old Ford auto plant, once a staple of local fixtures during my youth, is now gone. In its place has sprung up a one hundred-and-twenty-five-acre development site full of a wide variety of housing and some commercial entities. Little it seems has remained of my youth in terms of buildings,

Part of me thinks I won’t be retracing my old bike routes anymore. It won’t be because of bad memories. Rather the absence of visible landmarks makes it harder to reconcile memories with recollection, nostalgia with history and reality with a reflective glance at my past. It’s a gravel road that has long since been paved over.

Yet time is on my side. I still get to look back through old photographs in awe and amazement at what once was while still listening to those old familiar musical refrains. Once on the road in my new e-bike, I’ll be a younger man, with a volt of electricity to guide me along the way, still eager to blaze new memory trails and perhaps crossing paths with some old memory haunts yet undiscovered. That wouldn’t be a bad thing either.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Ditto The Silence

A good friend of my daughter recently moved his Airbnb operation to Joshua Tree. He owns several properties and has them filled with coastal clients most of the time. It’s just the latest in what seems like a mass migration of young folks (labeled by many as rich hippies) who have discovered the mystical magic of the high desert.

These modern-day explorers of the high desert are building stunning new homes near the park. But that’s nothing new, many people have come before them. Way back in the forties, land up around the park was cheap and people were encouraged to buy acreage for building their own tiny homesteads.

The Small Tract Act of 1938 was designed to dispose of ‘useless’ federal lands by leasing up to five acres of public land to applicant citizens for recreational purposes for use as a home, cabin, camp, health, convalescent, or business site. The idea was that the applicant was supposed to make improvements to his or her claim by constructing a small dwelling within five years of the lease. Then the applicant could file for a deed from the federal government, purchasing the parcel for an appraised price at the regional land office. It gained the moniker ‘Jackrabbit homesteading.’

That trend last for only a decade or so. Gradually many of the shacks were abandoned and a lot of the land returned to the government tax rolls. In the sixties, another generation, turned on to drugs and rock & roll, found themselves lost in the darkness, staring up at a million stars. Thus, the legend of Gram Parsons, Country Folk and the mystic of Joshua Tree was born all over again.

In my most recent play, ‘By the Salton Sea,’ there are a lot of references to Joshua Tree and the attraction it has for a kaleidoscope of characters who inhabit the area. I love to get up there at least a couple of times when I’m back in season. Everything about Joshua Tree screams self-reflection and peaceful journeys to the far reaches inside your head. For all the changes the high desert has seen, some things just never change.

Far from the crystal-clear pools of Palm Springs and its emerald green golf courses lies another world. Less than an hour away, it is a world of vast nothingness peppered with the sad remnants of past lives and male exuberance. It’s still a place where stillness thunders louder than the wind and God has done some of his finest paintings.

Joshua tree and its surrounding communities embrace another form of existence; all of which is surrounded by endless horizons. The area is a mecca for today’s new age hippies, aging rock stars, artists and modern-day bohemians along with ordinary people all in search of a new beginning. It’s the place where people go to get lost and be forgotten.

The high desert of the Morongo Basin is like a modern-day outback of more than 9.5 million acres of public land in the California desert. Its home to old walking trails first used by Native Americans between seasonal encampments then followed by Spanish explorers and finally 19th century gold seekers and pioneers.

Reminders of past human lives are everywhere. Abandoned mines litter the area with their relics of past hopes and dreams scattered about the ground. A restored railroad depot stands alone with its tracks still leading nowhere. Ramshackle old cabins planted amid miles of sage and scrub brush, sit isolated and lonely in the desert. The evidence is all there if you can look past the dust and dirt and castles made of boulders to imagine all the past lives that once pasted through this place on the way to a better life.

Much like the high-altitude cerebral vacuum of the San Jacinto mountains, Joshua Tree is the perfect setting for letting your mind wander and bumping into thoughts and ideas and feelings that you never knew were lurking there.

It means nestling into a large boulder, resting your head on its warm pillow of granite, looking up at the pure blue flawless sky and listening to your surroundings. The stillness will batter your eardrums with a quiet so loud that all you can do is retreat back inside your head for peace and serenity.

The high desert is a cornucopia of images, lifestyles, attitudes, ambitions, and dreams from a plethora of characters; real and imagined. It’s where you go to lose yourself and perhaps find the unexpected. It’s where the ghosts of past rock and roller stars still play their mournful ballads for no one to hear but the wind.

And it’s where writers like myself love to go and ask “what if?”

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Recurring Numbers

I’m not an astrologer or a big believer in ‘reading the stars’ or analyzing my horoscope. I can’t’ say I’m big on coincidences or ‘meant to happen’ events either. But at my advanced age, I’m coming to the conclusion that some things can’t be defined or explained, but nevertheless, have provided strange connections throughout my life. Patterns in my life seem to show a propensity for recurring numbers in my work and life experiences.

Now having hung out that disclaimer about the great unknown, I have over the years, found some strangely unique parallels in my own universe. For instance, in high school, members of our senior class went on a winter sleigh ride to the old Eaton’s Ranch in Dakota County. I can only remember my inappropriate clothing starting with my penny loafers, dress shirt, light jacket, no gloves or cap and suffering from the cold, numb toes and fingertips. I felt enough misery to take away any thoughts of romance (it was a coed outing) wafting over the snowbanks. I wasn’t even smart enough to ask ‘what the hell were you thinking?’ when I finally got home and started to thaw out.

Now fast forward sixteen years and Sharon and I bought our second home back in Apple Valley, exactly four blocks from the hills and dales of the old Eaton’s ranch site. I began to run those same hills and dales training for my first official foot race.

Jump ahead another couple of decades and, our daughter, Melanie bought a house in Highland Park, exactly four blocks from the house where I grew up in and the high school I attended. Coincidence, I have no idea, but it is a curious happening.

By now, I’m finding this ‘six degrees of separation’ a bit intriguing. Four becomes two in the number of years it took me, after high school graduation, to attend St. Thomas for two years, the University of Minnesota for two quarters, the US Army for two years, and another two years to finish up back at St. Thomas, escape to Europe and finally return to Minnesota and get my first real ‘grownup job.’

Then the number two morphs into the number three in the number of years it took me to settle into a real job, find my true calling in television, discover the joy of the written word and finally, meet ‘the one.’

Then another pattern appeared undenounced to me. There were scattered jobs interspersed in-between these important ones but the new pattern over the years became:

Working at KTCA television first time around for five years. Moving to the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting (with a slight diversion to Tennessee) for five years before returning to Minnesota. A brief stint at the Catholic Archdiocese in fund-raising before eighteen months at a small educational publisher. Then eighteen months at the worse job I ever had and finally a return to public television for thirteen years and finally out on my own.

I suppose I go back and research what kind of numbers pattern my life has cooked up since entering this last stage of writing but I won’t. Life’s too short to begin counting numbers over again. I like where I am in life so let the future begin and I’ll take it on a day-by-day basis.