In the 60’s being on or off the bus was often a metaphor for hipness––to hark back a generation still for a descriptive term. And hipness in the 60’s often meant drugs––psychedelic drugs, “the revenge of the guinea pigs”, to quote Tom Wolfe.
I recently listened to Teri Gross, of Fresh Air on NPR, interviewing Robert Stone about his memoir prime green: remembering the sixties and decided to read his book and re-read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. I had forgotten how good Kerouac’s writing is and how well Wolfe described experiences for which words rarely suffice.
I was a teenager and young adult in New York and California in the 60’s and car-toured much of the rest of the US on vacations with my family in the 50’s. My experiences tell me that what these guys wrote is accurate.
I wanted to be on the Ken Kesey’s bus. Fortunately, I had neither the courage nor the tolerance for drugs. Drinking was what I did best. I never became very hip. Weird was within my abilities; occasionally inappropriate.
But I did get the sense. I felt the slipstream of what Kesey was trying to do and I trailed along in my own way, at my own speed, to my benefit.
There is a stupid (and fun) saying “If you can remember the 60s, you probably weren’t there”. More accurate, I think, is that if you weren’t there the 60s can’t be explained to you. Certainly not the feeling of it.
But the goals can be explained––my goals, my friend’s goals, the merry prankster’s goals (according to Tom Wolfe). I was looking for meaning and reason and God and things I couldn’t articulate. The way my parents made sense of––everything––didn’t work for me and I struck out for the same destination by a different path.
This-way-be-dragons only added to my excitement. (I think my daughter did about 15% of the “things” I did and she scared the Hell out of me.) I am proud that I survived––and that I made about as much sense of life as I think possible.
I looked hard for the answers. For a long time I thought I would find them in places like high mountains, on the other side of the earth, in a language I didn’t understand. I was wrong. When I gave up searching, answers, tailored for me, became obvious. My path, to which I am happily committed, is in storefronts and church basements with other ex-drinkers.
I now know what I am doing and what I can do.
I am on the bus!