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Eye Contact (03/28/21)

When I was a kid, my parents liked to travel - their favorite form of transport was on a cruise ship. I didn’t always get to travel with them when they went on their cruises.

But locally, they liked to drive. We’d take long weekend drives to dozens of locations in the Western United States for nothing more than to visit a new location. And my parents, especially my Mom, were obsessed with the California missions, which meant an almost monthly drive to one of them for a visit.

By the time I became a teenager, we had visited all 21 of the California missions—several on multiple occasions. I still have a box of photos from the 1960s-70s of those trips.

The other drive we took regularly was down the coast of the Western United States. Leaving from our home in the bay area, we’d head out to Highway 1, and travel either north or south till we hit a border. The drive south down to San Diego and the Mexico border was a regular on the itinerary, and frequently included stops at Cambria and Hearst Castle.

Hearst Castle became one of my favorite destinations on these road trips!

Being frugal in nature, on our road trips we stayed at some of the worst excuses for motels that could be found, and ate at restaurants that would today rank a California ‘C’! Though I never got sick from anything I ate, both my parents had experienced the misfortune of an upset stomach on these trips. I thought that was funny!

One of my most memorable trips was a planned trip to Hearst Castle, driving down along the coast from San Francisco. This drive took us through the rugged California coast, into Santa Cruz, and Carmel, then continuing through Big Sur to San Simeon and Cambria.

We had stopped to stay overnight in Carmel, a relatively exclusive community, even in the 60s, and had left early in the morning to head south to San Simeon for our ‘tourist’ excursions of the castle—something we had done dozens of times.

We had just driven through Carmel Highlands and were no longer near any formal civilized community, and we started to see people along both sides of the road. Long-haired, raggedly dressed, many with no shoes, many carrying backpacks and sleeping bags, the further south we drove, the more and more ‘hippies’ we encountered until we were brought to a stop.

There were hundreds of them on the road, all venturing north to San Francisco from cities to the south of the state. In the late 60s, almost 15,000 hippies eventually made the journey to move to Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, with Highway 1 being one of their favored roads to travel.

Highway 1 was definitely a place where you could ‘commune’ with nature. It was a spectacular section of the California coast.

Now standing still in our car, we were surrounded by a large band of young people dancing, singing, and throwing flowers on our car. Several were asking us to roll down our windows so they could hand us flowers and shake our hands.

My parents were having none of this, and at first, my step-dad would not take his hand off the horn. But he soon realized the more he honked the horn, the swarm of humans would only grow thicker, and the singing and chanting would become even louder.

At one point my Mom turned and looked at me in the back seat, and was shocked to see I had my window open and was taking in bunches of flowers by the handful. By the time she reacted, I even had a flower and greenery wreath on my head - and a giant smile on my face.

I told my parents to stop being scared, open their windows, and say hello. Hesitantly, they did, and they too were showered with flowers, and both of them ended up with equally beautiful wreaths of flowers and greenery on their heads.

But the crowd was not moving, and our car, along with several others going in both directions, were stopped to be adorned with flowers and leaves.

During that moment, I saw a kid that looked just like me in the crowd, about my same age, shirtless, barefoot, only in shorts. And just like me, skin and bones, ribs exposed, topped with a mop of dirty blond hair - and radiant blue eyes.

We made eye contact for what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was only a few seconds. I reached into my wallet and took out all the money I had—$22. I handed the kid the money, which back in the 60s, was quite a stash.

He smiled at me, took the money, handed me a couple more stems of daisies, and in an other- worldly peaceful voice said “peace, till we meet again.”

I thanked him just in time for my Mom to see what I had done. She was appalled that I would give anybody in this group money, but noticed immediately after I handed the kid the money, the road in front of us cleared of people, and we were allowed to continue along our drive.

“Mom, I was just paying for the flowers.” She looked at me like I was crazy, scolded me to never do anything like that again, told me they were just panhandling, and we were on our way.

I was in the back seat and knew I couldn’t be smacked for talking back, so I just responded that we couldn’t just take their flowers without paying for them. That got the ire of both parents, but it felt good once it was said.

That moment left an undying imprint on my psyche. Who was that kid? Why would he think we would ever meet again, or was that just the ‘line’ for the time?

Needless to say, for decades after, that kid appeared in my daydreams, and I wondered what had become of him. Where had he ended up, both physically and in life. I imagined he would have the story of stories to tell as he grew up.

We ended driving a little bit further south and took Highway 101 back up to the bay area. My parents didn’t want to have another adventure like they had driving down. That made me sad.


#hippies #Carmel #coast #drive #panhandling