Centerlawn. That’s where I grew up, in my parents suburban dream just east of the Gold Coast Great Gatsby section of Long Island. In the backdrop of this little utopia was a huge cauldron of a media inspired sizzling hot generation gap. A war in Viet Nam, a disregard for civil rights, women’s rights, and youth rights, added to the police brutality all over the country had boiled to the top and threatened to spill over into the kitchens all across Centerlawn pitting sons against fathers and daughters against mothers. It was no wonder all we ever cared about was getting high. My brother was in the army likely headed for Nam soon and if things continue the way they are my entire neighborhood would be in Viet Nam in two years. Being in high school sucked, but it sure was better than dodging bullets and bombs. Anyway, time for some old fashioned get high so let the search begin.
Chapter II The Dream Is Born
A typically boring day in high school where cutting class was a necessary event to keep from dying of boredom. Some of us made it an art form which most often was accompanied with a search for a little buz or someone to share yours with. Three years ago pot smokers were a small group but now the non pot smokers are a small group and most of them were considered “narcs”. So much pot was smoked daily in school that we sometimes wondered if that was how it earned the term “high” school. We knew that was just a joke of course but the amount of marijuana exchanged in the hallways was really was substantial. My particular clan of cronies had earned a reputation for being some of the most prolific pot puffers. I could smoke a huge doobie all by myself and still be able to go to any class and function. At least I thought I was. Any class except maybe gym anyway. Yea the “jocks” Those boneheaded sports enthusiast loved to pick on longhairs. They talked in what I assume was the Cro-Magnon vernacular saying well thought out repetitive jokes like “Hey, is that a girl in our gym class? Hey girlie, the girls gym is next door.” So many times I wanted to say something like “Oh I know, I share a locker with your girlfriend”, but I am much too nice a guy. Then again maybe it was because they would have kicked my ass with their Charles Atlas biceps. Not wanting to get sand kicked in my eyes I opted for keeping it an inside joke. They really would kick my ass if they ever found out I had sold and smoked pot with many of their girlfriends at one time or another.
Anyway, whenever I got bored, which usually only happened on school days I engaged in a ritual tradition that Ken and the rest of my band of merry marauders enjoyed called “Find some Buzz”. We would go in search of anyone that had a joint, or a chunk of hash, and ask them to front us a hit. More often than not when a good friend came by they would ask us if we wanted some buzz before we even asked because we always shared our stash, no one really liked to smoke alone. It wasn’t unusual for Ken and I to run into each other in the hallways because we had a certain few places we always hung out at that were prime hiding spots while cutting class. Today would be no different. My best friends voice startled me, “Hey dude, I have a fucking brilliant idea.” Ken was the idea man and had tons of them. “And we should start saving money for it right now.” As always, Ken immediately garnered my curiosity having blown me away with truly great ideas so often. Ken was brilliant and creative. Many of the other students laughed at him back in Jr. high, because when he moved here from Oklahoma he was the first boy in school to have really long hair. All of five foot six, he had long flowing blond hair that was parted in the middle cascading over his shoulders and half way down his back. He had a rebel soul and I was drawn to him instantly. Like most of the male students I had started growing my hair long in part to look cool, but more importantly to piss off my Mom and Dad. Most all of us had developed a twitch from keeping our long bangs out of our eyes. We all wanted to be Beatle “moptops”back then but Ken was ahead of the curve and had already grown his hair long like……well like a girl. That was also part of Kens appeal. He seemed to know ahead of everyone else what would be in style before it actually came in style. He had gone from a long haired geek freak that was made fun of to a well respected member of the hippie rebellion ranks. Proudly I admit I had much to do with his rise to “coolness” because for some weird reason I was always allowed to hang with the cool kids since fourth grade. It wasn’t that I actually was cool, but I had an older brother and even older sister who had created reputations with the teachers. Those reputations preceded me so you could say I was cool by association. I played kid rules football and baseball with the “older” kids , got rides in my sisters boyfriends “Surf Woody”, and just always hung out with the older kids. So my becoming Kens friend had helped him gain acceptance and move up the hipster social ranks quickly with my friends. It wasn’t long until they too saw how insightful he was to popular culture and trends. Before the end of the 9th grade we were all growing our hair long, and wearing cool clothes like bell bottom pants and double breasted balloon sleeve shirts. Checks, stripes, paisley prints, the brighter the better and no worries if it doesn’t match. Now we all had real long hair, afro’s, long straight hair, super curly locks or like mine long wavy banana curls.
But the first order of business was to relieve the boredom with a little herbal remedy. “Cool dude, but lets go out to La Bomba and do a bowl first. You still got that hash?” As usual Ken came through. “Of course bro, some nice opium streaked black Afghanistan. Lets go asshole.” I hated his “lets go asshole” phrase but he always sang it like a commercial jingle and everyone laughed, so I just dealt with it. Off we went to the parking lot to climb into my car to smoke some hash. My little red Simca, A French sedan type car that was Frances answer to the Volkswagen, “La Bomba” is what we called the car and it was our entire groups pot smoking haven. I never locked the doors because so many of my friends used it at various times of the day, even if I wasn’t there. But this day, at this moment, no one else was around. I could tell Ken was happy about that because he really wanted to talk about his idea. Tell you the truth, I was pretty anxious as well. As he filled his chamber pipe with a small piece of black hash I needed to know. “So Ken, what’s this new idea?” Not a ground breaking or earth shattering question but it‘s hard to talk while smoking hashish. “ Well, here’s the thing.” I heard the match strike and light up as he put the pipe to his lips and lit the hash. He spoke as he was inhaling and his voice got lower and stranger as he talked as if gasping for a last breath but had to get a statement out. The interior of my little red bomba filled up with the sweet herbal haze of hash smoke. In between inhaling and holding the smoke Ken laid out his plan. We would be graduating in two year’s and with no job or plan for college Ken was open for an adventure. I did have a job but at the time I thought it was just a job not a career. I was up for adventure too and most likely not attending college either. The choice was basically go to college, get drafted, or leave the country. I was smart enough for college but my grades had fallen substantially over the last two and a half years. I stopped putting in any effort after my Dad called me a worthless communist because I did a project about the dreaded USSR and the positive side of Socialism. I took the point of view that they had some redeeming values. Controversial but worthy of an A+ from my liberal social studies teacher. Instead of being proud he freaked on me. What an asshole! Anyway our fates will be in the hands of our government considering we would more than likely be shipped off to Viet Nam. Ken thought we could save up some cash, get a video camera and supplies, and head out to Chicago. “Jesus shit man, we can burn our draft cards and just get the fuck out of town.” His idea was to start at one end of Rt. 66 and travel to the other end to Santa Monica where we could settle in with the hippies of California. “You know man that’s a great fucking idea, we can be like those two guys on Rt 66, I’ll be Buzz and you can be Todd.” Ken gave me a punch, “No fucking way man, I’m Buzz, you’re more the Todd type. If either of them dudes were around today Buzz would definitely be in a band. Todd would have a silver pen!” Ken had a love of guitar and film and I wanted to write. His idea was to basically make a kind of documentary of the trip, Ken with his camera and me with my pen. “Bro, you can write the whole thing down in your notebook.” Yea, my notebook, JT’s bible. I took my notebook almost everywhere convinced I was the next James Michner, Jack Kerouac, or maybe even Ken Kesey who wrote about the life of the Merry Pranksters. My book was full of poems, short stories, or just a few of my abstract observationsand Ken’s idea blew me away. To me it was brilliant, the chance of a lifetime. RT 66 was so historic, a television show, the route for all the dust bowlers of the 1930’s who fled to California to escape poverty. Route 66 was the sort of scenic route people took who just wanted to migrate to Los Angeles. I mean Jesus shit, the fucking stones do a tune about it. Brilliant choice, from Chicago to Los Angeles via Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona. Ken shot me his infamous shit eating grin and said, “whatcha think, lets go asshole.” I was sold instantly.