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Drifters Escape, Again

by RON JACOBS

 

Daniel was the quintessential street freak. If the Hog Farm and other communal efforts in the 1960s and 1970s were communities of freaks (as we liked to call ourselves then) who lived in an alternative reality that they helped create, Daniel was the loner in the picture. He left Ohio for the Haight-Ashbury when he was fourteen. He arrived just in time for the first of many police crackdowns and hippie riots in 1967. Since riots weren’t what he came to California for, he got in a couple licks and headed across the bay to Berkeley and Telegraph Avenue.

Life was a bit easier there since it was still relatively undiscovered turf. With his young good looks and a considerable amount of charm his life was pretty much work-free. Doors, which were already cracked in the cultural revolution, opened wide for Daniel. Politics were peripheral in his life except when they affected his ability to operate independently, like the war and police harassment did.

People’s Park put it all together. When the cops closed the park down his life was threatened and, like so many others, he fought back although he would have preferred to just continue getting high with one or more of his many girlfriends. Self defense was what the battle was about, he said years later as we sat in our friend Nan’s van getting high while Che (whom he had helped in parenting) played in the nearby woods of Monte Rio-his temporary refuge from the streets of Berkeley. Streets where he gathered change from passersby as regularly as many of them went to work.

Daniel and I had just finished smoking a joint behind a university office building near Telegraph Avenue and were getting ready to leave when six or seven cops jumped out of the shadows with their guns drawn. Just like in the movies they told us to freeze. Which we did immediately, despite the fact that the drawn guns had me shaking like a leaf in the wind. I had been arrested before, but never at gunpoint.

With three of the cops aiming their guns at us, the others threw us up against a wall and searched us. I think they found a marijuana roach in Daniel’s pockets. I made some remark about overkill and the cop holding my left arm to the wall held his pistol to my head and made a clicking sound. The paddy wagon finally came and we were thrown in the back. At the station the officer who booked us asked me why I was trembling. I didn’t say anything and when they put us in the holding cells, he cuffed me to the bars. Three hours later they let us go and told us we were lucky we weren’t dead. No charges were ever filed, of course. It was just a show of power in the daily territorial battle for the streets.

Later that year Jackson and I sat in our friend Jack’s yard sipping on an early morning beer. We had been up most of the night talking about everything from the Beatles to Ronnie Reagan and the cops on the street. In between our conversations, Jack and Jackson laid down some pretty slick blues grooves on their bass and guitar while I alternately listened or joined in on harmonica or some makeshift percussive instrument.

You may remember Jackson in the beginning of this narrative. Doreen and I had met him the first week we were in Berkeley and had become pretty good friends with him. He was a local fellow whose dad had fathered several children in between his bouts with heroin addiction. Jackson had left home when he was thirteen for the Berkeley streets. He had picked up his music making ability from his father ­who was a fairly competent musician himself–before he left home.

Jack was a transplant from Los Angeles who studied bass in high school and had played in a few different rock bands before he moved to Berkeley with his girlfriend. He lived in a small cottage off Durant Avenue. Since he and Jackson had met up, they had developed a pretty lively repertoire of tunes and played quite frequently on Telegraph Avenue.

While we sat drinking our beers that morning in Jack’s yard, a slight drizzle falling on our heads, four cops suddenly appeared.

“Good morning gentlemen.” The biggest one said rather sarcastically. This was the same cop who had harassed Doreen and I our first night on Telegraph. Since then, he and I had had at least a half dozen run-ins. “Please empty your beers.”

“Excuse us,” began Jack. “But this is my house and my yard. We can drink beer here if we want.”

“Empty them, he said.” Said one of the other officers, a pudgy, whiny man.

“Get out of my yard.” Said Jack.

“If you don’t empty those beers,” said the first cop. “We’ll take you in.”

“For what?” I asked.

“We’ll find something.” He replied.

I tipped what remained of my bottle into my mouth. One of the cops grabbed it from my hands and poured the few remaining drops on the wet ground and smiled.

By the time the cops were through with me, Jackson and Jack had finished what remained in the bottles they held. The three of us stood up to go back inside Jack’s house when the large officer grabbed Jackson’s arm. Jackson yanked his arm free and walked away. The police moved aside and after several minutes of conversation amongst themselves, they placed their nightsticks back in their belts and turned and walked away.

After we were certain the police were gone, Jack locked up his house and the three of us headed to Creamcheese’s apartment in Oakland. We stayed there for a few days hoping the Berkeley police would have found something else to do besides harass us when we returned. When we did go back to Jack’s house later that week, the window near his door was broken and a few things in his house were missing. Whether or not it was the police who had broken in, we never knew.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: rjacobs@zoo.uvm.edu

 

 

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Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

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