Sept. 26, 1960. We watched the first televised presidential debate, Kennedy vs. Nixon, together. Mom and Dad and Chip and me. We wanted Kennedy badly. In our house it was about the first Catholic president. And Dad’s roots in Massachusetts. And his story of how Kennedy had asked to meet Mom, in Washington, when Dad testified in congress about the Korean war. I was 12. My friends and I all cared about Kennedy vs. Nixon.
If you saw those debates today, you’d be amazed. Both candidates were so polite. The complemented each other on several occasions. It was all about the space race and the Russians. Both of them stood on solid party platforms, Democrats vs. Republicans; but they had to point out the differences.
From summer through fall, there were TV commercials about it. If you get a chance, do a web search and try some of them. They seem so silly today, but they were serious to us at the time. Singing commercials with ad-like musical jingles. Kennedy commercials touted his pregnant beautiful wife Jacqueline (Jackie)and his three-year-old daughter. He was “old enough to know and young enough to do.” Nixon commercials touted his experience against the Russians. He promised to keep the peace by opposing the Russians. Peace enforced by strength.
All of it, of course, played out on black and white television. There was no color TV. We say the commercials on our shows because we saw all the commercials on our shows, with no time shifting. And occasionally we saw the network news.
The issues were clear, even to 12-year-old me. The space race, communism, Russians, and maybe, in the background, racial inequality. I couldn’t have quoted you Brown vs. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court decision that said no, separate was not equal. And white suburban Los Altos had no integration issues. But still, we were aware. It came up in Mom’s kitchen often.
Kennedy had a huge likeability factor. The young senator with his gorgeous wife and young daughter. His Massachusetts accent matched Dad’s accent.
As kids we were Kennedy or Nixon on the playground, on the bus, and in the classroom. The teachers encouraged it. Our opinions were almost always those of our parents.
That Kennedy was Catholic was a big deal in our house; but I didn’t hear that as an issue on television, the debates, the commercials, or with adults or even kids on the playground.
Years later I read that the election was so close that the decider might have been Kennedy shaving before the televised debates while Nixon didn’t. His five o’clock shadow made his seem somehow untrustworthy. Kennedy was also hard on the fight against communism and blamed Nixon for the communist takeover of Cuba.
For us, my friends and I, it was the first election we were aware of. Like a huge popularity contest and choosing sides.
What seems so important, and so different, about the sixties was the overwhelming sense that we were part of an unprecedented worldwide movement that would actually change the world. We believed it was some kind of a global springtime and rebirth, a new age of peace and love, as firmly as we believed the day would follow the night.
Or so it seemed to me. But then I have to wonder how much of my sense of the 1960s is rooted in the coincidence of my own coming of age at the same time. Do historians give it the same kind of weight? How about people who were already 30 or older in 1960? I’m not sure.
But this was my case: I turned 12 in 1960 just a few days after John F. Kennedy announced he was running for president. I turned 13 three days before John F. Kennedy’s famous ask not what your country can do for you inauguration speech. I turned 16 in 1964, just 57 days after JFK was killed; just 24 days before the Beatles’ first US appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. I was 18 in 1966 when I left home to live for a few weeks in the Haight Ashbury, the world capital of hippies, during the “Summer of Love” in San Francisco. I turned 20 in 1968, just months before the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. I was in Paris in June of 1968 during the student riots there. I fell madly in love in 1969, was working double shifts to make enough money to get married when Armstrong walked on the moon, and Woodstock happened on the other side of the country. I fell in love, for good, in 1969. I was engaged in November of 1969 when I watched the first draft lottery — which saved me from the Vietnam war. And married, for good, just a few weeks later.
Joni Mitchell wrote this about Woodstock:
And maybe it’s the time of year
Yes and maybe it’s the time of man
And I don’t know who I am
But life is for learning
We are stardust, we are goldenJoni Mitchell, Woodstock
We are billion year old carbon
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden
But Woodstock was the harvest, not the seeds. That “time of man” feeling, the “we are golden” and “back to the garden” feeling started half a decade earlier. For me and the world.
Bob Dylan released ‘The Times They Are a Changin’ in 1964.
Come Senators, congressmen, please head the call
Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled
The battle outside ragin‘
Will soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a changin’
Come mothers and fathers throughout the landBob Dylan, the Times They are a Changin’
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
And your old world is rapidly aging
Please get outta the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a changin’
We were all so gloriously young.
January 20, 1961. Three days after I’d turned 13. We watched JFK’s inauguration speech on a black and white television that Miss Alexander brought into her middle school literature classroom for the special occasion. You’ve probably seen pictures of that speech. Kennedy’s dark hair, Chief Justice Earl Warren’s white hair, both blowing unruly on a cold windy day.
The short speech gave me chills.
To those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.
We all lived with the specter of those “dark powers of destruction unleashed by science. Cue the mushroom clouds again. That kind of talk reached the middle schoolers loud and clear.
So let us begin anew–remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.
We knew what he meant. Listen, Russians. We all wanted peace with the Russians, but we, 12- and 13-year-old kids, didn’t trust them.
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
Kennedy’s words resonated. In that classroom we all believed in him. The Kennedy-Nixon debates, and the campaign, were forgotten. Kennedy was president and we — middle schoolers — believed in him. Maybe the adults were still playing out the Kennedy vs. Nixon election; but for us, this was the president. The first president we were really aware of, as we crossed over from kids to teenagers. We didn’t realize it yet, but this laid foundations for the changes to come.
Just a few months later, April of 1961, a US-sponsored invasion of Cuba failed. A force of Cuban exiles landed in Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. Television news knew within days that the force was sponsored and supported by the CIA and the US government. The Eisenhower administration cooked up the plan and Kennedy approved of it. Fidel Castro had evolved. We first saw him as an interesting clown who took his chickens with him when he visited New York in 1959. The TV news made him a character, with his straggly beard. He gradually settled into a folklore-laden role as a hero to a good segment of youth and politics, but a goat to the mainstream.
Kennedy believed the domino theory that ruled US foreign policy of the decade. His cabinet of “the best and the brightest” saw nations falling like dominoes to the influence and pressure of Communist Russia and China.
Cold war positioning was clear. The world divided into communist vs. Western. Russia controlled the Eastern Bloc, a collection of satellite states including East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Rumania, Bulgaria, and Albania. China was closed up to all, a lock-up communist mystery. Russia and China both influenced Mongolia, North Korea, and North Vietnam.
Historians still argue about how much US policy pushed Cuba to Russia. The official view was simple: Castro was a communist, period. He was always going to be a Russian puppet. The alternate view, which I bought into quickly, even as a high schooler in the early 1960s, was that Castro could have been much closer to neutral if the US hadn’t pushed him away so aggressively. He was marooned as a leader of a poor developing country who needed support from one of the big powers. The US turned its back on him, so he turned to Russia.
I had the opportunity later, in the 70s, to refine that view with more information. I worked with a man who had been Assistant Director (subdirector) of Economic Studies under Castro, but then fled to the US. And in 1977 I spent six weeks in Cuba doing a book. But this is about the sixties. More about Castro in the seventies.
The day after the Bay of Pigs failure, Kennedy turned his attention to Vietnam. He wanted to fight those dominoes wherever he could. That wasn’t reported at the time, but for sure, Vietnam got steadily more important, in our TV news and print coverage, from then on.
In February of 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth in a space capsule. We all watched the mission on television, in a classroom. It was dramatic live TV as he the capsule splashed down into the ocean, and the boats from one of the big ships collected him.
October 1962. The Cuban Missile Crisis. You may have read Robert Kennedy’s journal about it, published as 13 Days; And there was a movie made too, with the same title. I read the RFK book as required reading for a business school course in leadership.
For us, at the time, it was a day to day nightmare. The news stayed on all day and in our house too. I remember the images of ships in formation at sea, and the maps and diagrams on TV, drawings of missiles and arrows pointing from Cuba to the US, arrows showing the locations of ships heading towards Cuba with missiles on board.
Every day we saw Kennedy again, staring down Khrushchev. We saw diagrams of Russian missiles headed toward Cuba and American ships blockading them. We saw mushroom clouds our heads again, more than ever. The fallout shelters and the fear we all lived with. It was on the tip of every eighth grader’s tongue. Every day we’d compare notes about what we saw on TV and what our parents said. Eventually, it ended. The Russians backed down, or so we were told. But it was a big deal to all of us, and the fear lingered on.
Throughout the fifties and sixties, nuclear testing continued in Nevada. We never heard much about it, but it was there, for years, just 300 miles or so from where we were growing up. In 1962 the US Navy dumped tons of nuclear waste into the ocean about 50 miles from San Francisco. It was stored in steel drums.
Mom cried the day dad brought home a used 1960 dark red Oldsmobile Super 88 convertible. “Frank, you bought a red convertible,” she cried, with heavy emphasis on the word red, which shepronounced like a guilty verdict. “Burgundy,” Dad said. “Burgundy. It’s Burgundy.”
I felt like an accomplice. I was a teenage car nut. Dad took me along with him to kick tires at the seller’s house before we bought it, used, a couple years older than new.
We did the twist at middle school dances. Chubby Checker, who made the twist popular, played in a concert at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. A couple of my girl classmates were there, and they were the envy of the rest of us.
Meanwhile, also in 1962, the Beatles were getting going in England, but we didn’t know about it. And the Beach Boys started in California.
And speaking of the Beach Boys, surfing was infinite cool, especially in California. Southern California more than Northern, where we were. But it spread to national cool and affected what we wore, what we watched, what we listened to, and what we did as well. Woodies, station wagons with wood sideboards, and especially older station wagons, were prized. Surfers had blonde hair, bleached or not, male and female.
In Los Altos, nobody I knew actually surfed. There was surfing in Santa Cruz, about ninety minutes away; but nobody had wetsuits so those were special hardy people, in the cold Northern California oceans.
What we did do was make our own skateboards and ride them down the asphalt hills. You couldn’t buy a skateboard back then. You had to buy adjustable metal roller skates, pull them apart, and nail them upside down to the bottom of actual boards. Which is what we all did.
Jan. 21, 1962. We spent two freezing hours trapped alongside an icy snow-covered highway down Merced River while Dad struggled, under the car, going numb, to free the big Oldsmobile from errant tire chains grapping the rear axle like an iron python. I sat outside with Dad, going numb, trying to help but not helping beyond just being there caring. The grinding cold was lulled somewhat by Jay’s cheery voice narrating an imaginary baseball game. “Tell that one bye, bye baby,” in an imitation of iconic Giants broadcaster Russ Hodges. Jay announced a home run. We just wanted to free the damned car from its iron ankle bracelet.
To make the whole thing worse, this was the one weekend in a lifetime that snow covered all of California, not just the Sierra. Normally the ice and snow end by Yosemite Valley, or at least in the hills above Mariposa. This time we had snow and ice all the way through Mariposa, and Merced. By Los Banos it was so bad that we had to stop for a night in a motel before we tried to get over Pacheco Pass.
We finally got back to Los Altos the next day. It had snowed about three inches on Eastbrook Ave. Martha woke Mom up saying, “the whole world is full of snow.”
This was when Chip’s reaction our neighbors’ (the Knights) building a snowman was a dismissive “typical Knight trick.”
Mom also cried bitterly, off and on for days, when a new neighbor planted trees across the street. Mom knew they would eventually block that view from the kitchen window that she loved so much. We tried to convince her that it wasn’t so bad, but of course she was right, and we knew it. Dad talked to the neighbor, but to no avail. I suppose ownership had changed, or there was some other problem, because I never knew what happened beyond the fact that the trees stayed. And grew.
I mentioned wooden skis and cable bindings in this story from the fifties. In 1962 those wooden skis and cable bindings failed me as I tried to play hot shot jumping moguls at Dodge Ridge. It was, of course, the last run of the day. It was also beautiful spring skiing, bright blue sky, and sticky snow. Dad was done for the day and waiting for me at the bottom with Jay. It was the Sunday of one of those ski weekends Dad used to do for me, driving up Saturday before dawn, driving back Sunday after skiing.
I was only a couple hundred yards from the top, with about a mile to go, when snap, crackle, pop, I blew a jump and found myself laying in the snow with my left foot at about a 90 degree angle from my left leg. Which hurt a lot.
Funny that it was the last run. It’s always the last run, right? But in skiing, it is often a run that was set up as the last run that ends up with the injury. You’re tired, but you want to end it well, so you push that tired. Bad idea.
This was on my brother’s eighth birthday, April 8. I had turned 14 a few months earlier.
Back then, ski patrol was a lot like it still is now, but it took longer because no cell phones. I don’t remember it taking that long, so maybe the ski patrol were up at the top because the lifts were about to close. Anyhow, I lay there contemplating pain and the weird angle of my boot to my leg for a while but then I was strapped into a sled and guided down the mountain. They took me to the first aid place at the lodge and started dealing with an obviously broken leg — both tibia and fibia, and bad — while somebody found Dad (which meant scanning the parking lot for a red 1960 Oldsmobile convertible) and he appeared.
Dad didn’t trust the bone surgeons in Sonora, the closest town to Dodge Ridge. So he had them wrap me up as best they could and drove me back to El Camino Hospital, where the docs he knew took over. He put me on a lot of drugs and I sat in the back seat only half conscious (although I still remember it) for the four-hour-plus drive. He was very angry with a local drug store that wouldn’t give him the drugs he wanted to give me, despite his medical ID; but the second one did.
The broken leg changed my trajectory in athletics. I’d been an all-star in middle school flag football and I was going to play in high school, I thought. But I was in a cast from toes to upper thigh from April to August, and was on crutches until November of my freshman year in high school. By sophomore year it was too late … I couldn’t play on the freshman team, and didn’t feel good enough to break in as a sophomore.
1964. The year of the Beatles, Mario Savio and the Berkeley Free Speech. The year I also began protesting the Vietnam War, racial segregation, and environmental pollution. The year I took my first trip alone up into the High Sierra After the Sierra Club trip in 1963. The year I first grew my hair long, fought with my parents, and got myself switched from public to Catholic high school for straightening out.
Two months either side of my 16th birthday, January, 1964: John F. Kennedy was assassinated two months earlier. The Beatles arrived in the US one month after.
Resonance with the Rest of Humanity
For me 1964 started with my driver’s license in January. The driver’s license was the pinnacle achievement of reaching 16 years old. I took the test on my birthday, having badgered my poor mom into driving me into the Palo Alto DMV that same day, as my favorite birthday present. Coming of age for me and most of my peers was not drinking age, not voting age, but driving age. Independence. Behind the wheel. I didn’t have a car, but I had access to cars. And girls I hoped to date.
In my case this coming of age felt like resonance with the rest of humanity. The times were as fresh as bright green Northern California rolling hills dotted by dark green live oaks, after a spring rain, smelling of rich warm damp seeds and growth bursting at its seams, under an intense blue sky framed by clean greens. A world ready to burst open and flower. It felt like I was part of a huge wave, surfing history, an entire generation going to change the world, end war, defeat the military industrial complex, turn politics inside out, stop pollution.
It wasn’t just me. It was 1964 everywhere.
And because of my age then, this was all also inside out for me, with the world seeming to match, on the outside, what was happening for me, inside, inside my head, out of my eyes. This burst of the sixties coincided with my own growth spurt, voice changing, and the amazing excitement and passage of the driver’s license. It also coincided with the natural fascination, absolute obsession, with the magic of girls. Everything feminine, of course the curves and shapes anatomy and biology, but also voices, faces, literally, every tiny nuance of the amazing differences between them and me.
February 9, 1964. The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan on Sunday night. Television was still black and white. Seventy-three million people watched, spellbound. They did five songs from their first album: She Loves You, I Want to Hold Your Hand, All My Loving, Till There was You, and I Saw Her Standing There.
The Beatles changed everything. Back then our music listening was limited mainly to what we got on the rock stations in radio. From then on, whenever a Beatles song came up on the radio, we all agreed to stay quiet and listen. “Stop. This is the Beatles.” Even Mom and Dad forgave us that. All the kids did the same. We were driving by then, so the Beatles became the most important moments in car travel. (Except for my brother Chip, who was 17 at the time. Chip remained loyal to Wagner and opera until he discovered the Beatles and the Beach Boys, a few years later, at Pomona College.)
The Beach Boys were also popular. And the Temptations, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Bob Dylan, even (still) Elvis Presley. But for the Beatles, and only for the Beatles, talking stopped. It was a Beatles song.
Beatles were a cultural event too. Their arrival in New York on February 7 was on all the major news shows, with teenage girls screaming their heads off, and huge crowds gathering.
Their look, which would seem so innocent after even just a few years, sparked a new battlefield between parents and sons. The Beatles innocent bobs of hair were taken as long hair, unkempt, disrespectful, revolutionary. They tracked to the Free Speech movement, the student rebellion, distrust of authorities, and, in just a short time, the whole concept of hippies. Immediately me and every friend I had, plus most of the other guys our age, wanted to grow our hair like Beatles. The long hair became the flag and banner of hippies, the new world, the calls for change. Kids left home over it. Parents kicked them out. The battle had been called.
And from there, with the Beatles, hair became the symbol of protest, the divider between generations. Kids became hippies. “Don’t trust anyone over 30” was a common cry in the generational war. So-called hippies, mostly kids with long hair and dressed in the hippy-influenced style of the time, were everywhere. In the Bay Area, by 1964, hippy style was the default for all teenagers, not the exception.
By 1964, the Vietnam War was reaching the nightly news and gaining public attention. We saw helicopters and troops, thumbs up signs and such, and occasional shots of troops firing and under fire. Technically they were still just US advisors, but they sure looked like troops on the news. A few people (and me and most of my friends) opposed the war this early, because it supported a corrupt regime and foreign intervention. But it was still public policy. The domino theory reigned supreme in Washington. And at this point, most of the public still believed what the government said about the war, the need for the war, and fighting communism. Dad was a staunch supporter, while Mom and her kitchen pundits began to doubt.
July 31, 1964. The Gulf of Tonkin incident. A minor navel skirmish in the waters outside Vietnam. It played heavily on our nightly news. It was followed on August 7 by the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which essentially authorized Johnson to conduct full-scale war in Vietnam. And years later, it turned out that the incident was largely manipulated by the Johnson administration to create a justification for escalating the war.
1964 also hailed the free speech movement in Berkeley. It was the first of many organized student protests in the 60s. Its most visible leader, Mario Savio, was a national hero for youth, and goat for adults. It exploded over university rules that limited political campaigning and activism on campus to clubs representing either Democrat or Republican parties. Activists were protesting the Vietnam War, Racism, pollution, and so forth.
The clashes started in October 1964 and continued off and on for most of 1965 and even into the following years. Chip was a law student at Berkeley and got caught in the tear gas at least once.
In November, the 1964 presidential election. That election divided my parents and a lot of the country, much more than Kennedy vs. Nixon. Johnson vs. Goldwater was a clear choice between Johnson’s moderate “Great Society” and Goldwater’s (in my mind) extremism. Goldwater was a hawk. The Johnson campaign tied him to nuclear war and mushroom clouds. Nobody I knew wanted Goldwater except Dad.
Mom and Dad squared off with Mom firmly for Johnson and Dad almost as firmly for Goldwater. Discussions around debates and TV commercials generated frequent arguments, many of them followed by long periods of angry silence. Goldwater was so true to his conservative ideals that he made Johnson look good. Johnson’s 60% victory was the largest margin ever.
And yet, as it turned out, Johnson too was a hard-liner hawk. He turned aggressively to win the war in Vietnam, without much regard for protests, or truth. His administration created a trumped-up incident in the Gulf of Tonkin to gain public acceptance of sending more troops. They lied about the progress of the war, the death count, and the corrupt politics of South Vietnam. He became a symbol of the military industrial establishment that — we were sure — was running the nation.
Growing Up. My 1964
February 10, 1964. Monday. The day after the Beatles’ first US appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. In the middle of a California February afternoon, sunny, I sat comfortably on a typical yellow school bus bench seat, spread out on one seat, glowing inside for the casual attention of three girls within earshot.
The bus wound through the big sprawling houses of Los Altos Hills at the top, up Magdalena and back around to Mora Drive. Where I lived was the last stop before school, an advantage in the mornings, but a long ride in the afternoons. Every day it took an hour to go all the way around the hills and get home.
The ride was okay because those three girls, one a senior, one a junior, and one a sophomore like me, were temporarily accessible for idle conversation like normal humans. Not, as they were for most of the day, goddesses. I was an equal. We talked about the Beatles, their sensational debut the night before.
It was probably on that bus, in 1964, that girls turned gradually into humans, for me. I was a sophomore in high school. But the license meant nothing without a car, and even a car would have meant little without a girl to invite on a date. That too happened that year, for me; but later in the year.
By then it had been two or three years since I’d woken up to their existence as something higher, brighter, much more beautiful than a normal human being. I saw their new curves, and noticed their manner, so delightfully different than me and my friends, the boys. I was in Los Altos public schools, so we grew up together, in elementary and middle school. But girls, just as girls, were magic. Looking back, our generation didn’t have porn of any kind. Yech. Our boy imaginations went wild with what we had, a touch of underwear ads, gorgeous movie stars, and yes, the girls around us. Goddess is an apt word. As went through puberty together they became luminous. And inaccessible. And magic.
That daily bus ride, that year, was a breakthrough. It took me until the following fall, in a different high school, to actually invite a girl on a date, the homecoming dance, holding her magical hand and dancing with her, and the smell of her all dolled up. But on the bus ride, talking about the Beatles, they returned to humanity. We could talk. There were still people living in those bodies, some of them even the same people they’d been in elementary school, when they were just girls.
I might have been a nerd, if we’d had that word, because I was good at school. But I was also good at sports and girls liked me. I was too chubby, but I was one of the better athletes on the playground, a captain of the middle school football team, a big hitter on the baseball team, so I wasn’t subject to the teasing I might have been. I was fine with the girls in elementary school, but too shy in high school.
Girls, especially these smart, pretty girls, were still goddesses, not to be approached … except for the irony that on the bus, removed perhaps from the normal social structure, they were just plain friendly, like people.
In 1964 that Oldsmobile convertible, the one that had made Mom cry, came of age along with me. By that time Mom had forgiven it. It had taken us for a once-in-a-lifetime father-and-sons fishing trip to Castle Crags State Park. It took us to Stanford Football games. What a car. Huge, for one thing. Literally 18 feet long and 6.7 feet wide. With a 315 Hp engine. And convertible.
We had also discovered that convertibles made no sense. Not even in California, the best weather possible. It was cold at less than about 72 degrees, and too hot and sunny at anything over 80 degrees. So, the red convertible lived with its white top up, slowly rotting. It was cold, windy and noisy. Dad kept me away from it for as long as he could. But there were those special odd times when I tooled around Los Altos in it. When I stomped on the accelerator — which had to be away from home, for obvious reasons — it could burn rubber for five or ten seconds, 50 or more yards. It was too much car for a young driver. I was bad with that car, and it urged me on when I was.
Around the same time, my PE friend Terry McKenna invited me to join his after-school group that they called — because Awalt High School demanded the formality of it — the Foreign Affairs Club.
Terry was a gangly, awkward guy, a year older than me, super smart and wicked funny. He and I loved to make wisecracks from the sidelines, potshots at the PE teacher and some of the more annoying classmates. Terry was fun. His club was about the same kind of issues that were in the air, in the environment around us; and that same Spring, in 1964, crystallized as the Mario Savio Free Speech Movement in Berkeley.
Hippies captured our imaginations. Styles, and thinking, gravitated towards the hippies. Berkeley, with the Free Speech Movement, and San Francisco, with a collection of new psychedelic rock groups, became a center of it.
Terry McKenna went on to become a folk hero for a subset of extreme intellectuals who connected higher math with higher consciousness, LSD, and the enlightenment concepts that had begun a couple decades earlier with Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception, mixed with measures of eastern philosophy and political rebellion.
Summer of 1964 I got Fred Klein, a classmate at Awalt, to join me in my first backpacking trip in the Sierra. Fred was vital because his mom let him take their car, a 1950 Buick, so we were able to get there. This first trip was where I discovered everything not to do with backpacking. If it weren’t for the glory of being in those mountains, it would have been a nightmare.
I equipped myself as best I could, with a heavy cloth sleeping back, a barely acceptable backpack, a heavy cloth sleeping bag, and incredible extra weight including a book on the flora and fauna and fishing equipment with multiple bait and lures. My pack weighed at least 60 pounds, probably more. We had bad cooking equipment, no stove, bad food, and damn little of even that. We didn’t fish and I never opened the book. Fred, bless his heart, looked to me as the supposed expert. As a result, his packing was just as bad as mine.
We drove to Yosemite Valley and slept overnight by the car parked at Happy Isles. The first day we hiked eight or so miles up the mist trail past Vernal and Nevada Falls into Little Yosemite Valley. We barely managed to eat portions of horrible cardboard food. The second day we hiked up to Merced Lake, another gorgeous hike, another ten miles, and another badly organized campsite with a barely acceptable fire and barely edible food. The third day we hiked up through Boothe Lake and Emerick Lake to Vogelsang. That was the third day of just a small ration of almost inedible food. The views and the hikes were gorgeous, everything I’d dreamt of during the long year since my last time up in the high mountains. And the headaches were constant.
On the fourth day we hiked down from Vogelsang to the road at Tuolumne Meadows and hitchhiked a ride from there down to Yosemite Valley, where we picked up Fred’s car and drove back down in defeat. Although the all-you-can eat Smorgasbord restaurant in the outskirts of Merced was a welcome consolation. That became a mainstay for the drive home for many other trips.
In 1964 Mom and Dad moved me from the public Awalt High School to the private Catholic all-boys St. Francis high school. I took that as being about me turning hippie, left-wing radical, even as a 15-year-old kid. But I don’t remember objecting that much. I guess I was compliant.
However, a funny thing happened when I started at St. Francis. I found friends there fast. George, Tom, and Bill became really good friends. We hung out together on weekends, even went backpacking together. George was best man at our wedding. The girls from Holy Cross High School, a mile up the road, joined us for dances, extra-curricular activities, school plays, and so forth.
That would not be the first time I’d have my school changed to straighten me out.
That fall Chip left for Pomona College. They didn’t drive down to Pomona to leave him off or fix up his dorm room. They put him on a plane at the San Jose Airport. As we drove to the San Jose Airport, Dad lectured Chip to not be a tight ass. “When the guys go off for a drink, go with the guys. Don’t be the only one who didn’t.” That was a reflection on Dad, and things he missed during his college years. I found it oddly humorous: both Dad saying it, and that it might have needed to be said.