By 1969 in the Haight in San Francisco when people referred to themselves as freaks rather than hippies a rumor started that the government was building concentration camps in the south of Texas and Arizona to throw us freaks into. The idea seemed credible — the police had started to come down pretty hard on a lot of us particularly the Panthers over in Oakland. People said things like, "this place is going to blow," or "the shit is comin’ down man." The Haight was getting violent — already a lot of former "peace" people had guns. My husband and I found a mean semi-automatic in an old piano. A nasty gun that when fired had a kickback like it would jump right out of your hands.
Altamont had been a dreary bust. Sitting near the front row in the thick of the mayhem hadn’t been a wise decision. Getting out of there before the thing erupted into total chaos was the challenge. There was a nice couple sitting next to us. I think they were semi-hippies or something. They were scared and wanted out of there. We wanted out of there too. They told us they had a car parked nearby but didn’t know how to get through the people who were getting more out of control by the second. It surprised us, their parking so close to the concert. We had walked miles to get there having being left off by a bus — one of hundreds that had taken people to about five miles within the farm.
There was only one way to through all those people. I had been watching how the Hells’ Angels maneuvered their way through the crowd — had even been one of their victims. They would stomp on top of people with all their might and kept on stomping on them ’til they got to where they wanted to go.
That was the way the four of us got out. I started out first and stomped on people. I could hear their sounds of dismay and hurt but I kept on moving. I pulled the girl behind me grasping her hand real tight. Her husband was behind her holding her other hand and my husband had the rear as he pushed the girl’s husband forward. I remember the girl was saying things like, "excuse me," to people as we walked on top of their heads. They had a nice car — once we got to it. We kept thanking them for saving us we rode back to the city. They kept thanking us for saving them.
In the 60’s and early 70’s there was no computers and rarely a telephone. Nobody had a television. Once we got out of the city we lived for years in the woods. No plumbing, electricity or running water. Meager amounts of dough. We had a reel-to-reel tape player hooked up to a car battery. The thing ran forever. We never listened to the radio for any "news". We knew what it would say anyway. We stuck to our tapes of old blues musicians or be-bop. Vets out of ‘Nam came around. We’d stay awake until the sun came up listening to their stories. Once those boys started talking about that war they couldn’t seem to stop.
The big revolution which we assumed would result in many of us being carted off to camps did not materialize. Still, there was a prescience to the idea itself. Sooner or later the government did build them. Only they’re for Middle-Eastern people, Hispanics, African-Americans.
You can’t live off the grid forever no matter how determined you were to "get out of the system." Living without any dough was making people bitter and hard. People came "back in." Started watching the "news" again. The repetitious sequels of the demise of the great old republic which we knew was dead in ’69.
Nothing is really inevitable until it happens. Yet looking back at those years it feels inevitable — that we would be rightwhere we are now. That our grand old republic has finally reached what is its real, true level. It feels inevitable too that soon it won’t even need to pretend that it was once something else.
EVA LIDDELL lives in the Pacific Northwest.