The Sixties really begins for me one summer afternoon around the middle of the decade.
I’m just leaving
Jacksonville, driving alone down to
in the family Impala on Daytona Beach Phillips
Highway, the old U.S. 1.
When the light turns green at the corner of
University Boulevard, I spin the big boat
to the south, and all I see in the windshield are the knees and thumb of a
hitchhiker. He must be really tall. I hit the brakes and crunch onto the
shoulder. Hitchhiking is normal. Dad
used to tell stories about hitchhiking after the war, and we know the story,
word-for-word, of how Mom and Dad hitchhiked to their wedding.
So now that I’m driving, and making the big decisions, this is a new part of things to capture for myself.
The door opens, and all I can see is legs. Legs already folding into the car. Red hair falls to his shoulders and the bandana he’s wearing, it’s cherry red, school bus yellow and Dodger blue. He seems adept at collapsing himself. His knees poke above the dashboard. The door closes and we’re rolling.
“Thanks, man. Glad to be riding. Nobody around here wanted to pick me up.”
I can see why. He doesn’t look like anyone from around here. As tall as a truck, and the long red hair. Everyone in
probably sped up when they saw him. Jacksonville
“Where you going?” I ask.
He says there is a scene in
. Key West
Nobody talks like that in
A scene is either on a postcard or in a play. Jacksonville
He’s glad to be rolling down the road. He thanks me again.
Then he doesn’t say anything. He seems content to simply leave
But I’m curious. “What kind of scene?”
He looks at me, deciding whether or not to answer. Then he says, “A different kind of scene is happening in certain places now.”
This is way before Life Magazine's shocking cover story about a newly coined word, “Hippies,” and how these people are living in a different way.
It’s like some future Daniel Boone is sitting with me in Dad’s Chevy. He knows stuff that nobody in
can even ask a question about. I want to know what he knows. I want to be like
He says, well, if you’re that interested, a lot of what we were taught about the way things are, well, they’re not that way at all.
Yes, I am that interested. Very interested. Extremely interested.
“A lot of stuff, about our government, about the purpose of life, about the nature of love,” he says.
Again: nobody in
talks like that. The patter in Jacksonville concludes
foregone conclusions. Jacksonville
“Like the war in
Asia.” Nobody in is talking about the war. “Why
is the government making guys fly half way around the world to blow up villages
in the jungle? Guys like me. But I got lucky. I’m six-foot-nine. They won’t
draft me because I don’t fit in the Jeeps. So I don’t have to go. But you have
to wonder what’s driving all that madness.” Jacksonville
“I’m not going,” I tell him.
“But that’s just a small part of it,” he says, like I’m not getting it. “It’s more about ‘What forces do we represent?’ And, ‘Why are we alive?’”
Finally. Somebody is talking about a more profound life.
He says, “Your neighborhood. Everyone’s in a box, right? Sure, the houses look like boxes. But so do their heads, man. Once you see it, all the people are boxes living in boxes.”
I picture this one guy in our neighborhood. He lives alone. Everyone else is the same. A mom, a dad, and some kids. I never thought about the guy until right now in the car. We never play in front of his house. He’s just different. His yard is always tidy, but he’s never in it. All of a sudden, I like him a lot and want to see him out in the yard.
“After high school, you should learn how to walk on stilts and make yourself six foot nine, go down to the draft board, and get out of the war.”
He cracks a smile and says, “You can be better than this war. Go find your own war. Fight a different war, man. Fight your war.” He smiles bigger. “That’s how you make peace with the world.”
When we get to
I take care to place him at the best hitchhiking intersection in town, at the
corner of US1 and Daytona Beach Main Street.
He thanks me for the ride.
But even though I can’t get the words out, I’m the one who’s really thankful. Like I just met not only some future Daniel Boone, but also the prophet Elijah. I’m chewing on something new and raw and fresh and dangerous. I want to fight my war.
by Jonathan Marcus