It’s June, and we’re outside a convenience store in Baker, California. It’s a zillion degrees out. The four of us are filthy. Our car is trashed, our clothes are tattered, we look like we’ve been through hell and back. The guys gather around the hood of the car and smoke pot while they discuss whether or not it’s time to re-duct tape the holes in the engine yet. I’m not wearing shoes, and my feet are burnt to a crisp. I strategically postion myself in a spot that is both shady and heavily trafficked by gas station customers. The shade doesn’t do much good, it’s still like ninety degrees out. It’s not hard to look as vulnerable and pathetic as I can.
Most of the work is done for me; I’m exhausted, dehydrated, starving, and in desperate need of a shower, and I’m a cute young girl. I begin to plead with everyone who walks by. Some people ignore me, others hand me some change or even a few dollars here and there. I’m collecting money for food, gas, possibly lodging, though we’ll probably sleep in the car, and a fresh bottle of whiskey. A middle aged man comes out of the store, and I pray he’ll take pity on me. ‘Sorry to bother you today, sir, but could you possibly spare a little change?” “Get a job!” he retorts angrily. I hate when people tell me that. Before I can bite my tongue, I snap back “Get on your knees and give me one!” He rolls his eyes and walks off, muttering to his wife, “Young people like that really have something to apologize for.” I didn’t realize it back then, but he was completely right. Road kids are eternally indebted to society.
It’s impossible to deny the beauty and romance in traveling the way we did. We were almost free. We went wherever the wind took us, without concern as to what would happen tomorrow or the next day. We saw ourselves as the revolution. We were raging against the machine! By refusing to work for The Man, we were going to change the world. There were two snags in this logic. The first was that it’s absolutely impossible to instigate a change in human consciousness by getting drunk in a ditch behind Wal-Mart. The second was that we were supporting ourselves by becoming parasites to America’s backbone. By hustling the middle class into giving us their spare change to support us, we were no better than the politicians who swindled them every day.
It sickens me to think that I used to believe that the people who were working so hard to take care of themselves and their families owed my friends and me something. Somehow, we remained completely blind to the fact that the people that we were leeching off of represented society’s core. It’s ironic to me that we spent so much time preaching to each other, and yet when we had the chance to speak to the rest of America we instead ridiculed and scoffed at her. Because we had so completely dismissed our responsibilities, it seemed natural to laugh at the working man who struggled to make ends meet. None of us thought for even a second that if maybe we had tried to relate to society our message would have been heard better.
I’m not sure any of us even knew what our message was, though. We knew we didn’t like The Man, but we didn’t know why or who he was. We knew we wanted things to be different, but we didn’t know what kind of changes to make. Thousands of us floated around the country, begging, under the pretense of conscientious political objection, but we weren’t sure what it was we objected to. No matter what or who we thought we were, we were a bunch of kids with Peter Pan complexes. We thought our ar was against The Man, but in all honesty it was a war against adulthood.
It’s unfortunate that the “hippies” I met during the time I spent traveling were so child-like. If any of us had taken the time to reflect about what we were fighting so hard against, we could probably have started the movement that changed the world. I met many unique, articulate, intelligent people with the potential to be our generation’s greatest teacher, lawyers, politicians, and role models, if only they’d been willing to apply themselves. It saddens me to admit that we truly were America’s wasted youth. Indeed, we clashed so forcefully against society that we couldn’t step back far enough from the battlefield to see what the war was really about.