Opinion by Richard Bleil
Currently I’m watching a horrible movie from 1973. I was ten when this first released (yes, I’m that old). I am old enough to remember “hippies”, the focus of this movie, but certainly not old enough to have been a part of the movement. There were a variety of factors that, in my humble opinion, gave rise to these drifters. The Vietnamese war began in 1955 on the tail of the Korean conflict and lasted until 1975. Between our forces being pushed out of Korea, and the horror stories that came with it, and the Vietnam conflict dragging on for decades, the nation was tired of war. The draft was used to draft soldiers as faith in the government began to increase. It’s no wonder that people began to lose hope, and become drifters, especially those who did not wish to go to Vietnam (the so-called “draft dodgers”) who could more easily avoid the authorities by having no home in particular.
The hippies were well-known for being involved with drugs. This, to me, isn’t really a surprise. Young people were rebelling against the system their parents had built, afraid of the authority and the draft, and traveling throughout the country without homes. Is it any wonder that they might want to escape? With the issues I’ve written about previously (increasing rent and cost of living, stagnant wages, increased cost of education and so forth), I do worry about a return to the traveling homeless in large numbers.
Today, homeless are more common than most people might want to know. Large cities have homeless problems, with churches and volunteer groups trying to help out with food and shelters, and cities are building places for the homeless to sleep, but even with these efforts I know of cities trying to hide the problem by giving free bus tickets to the homeless to anywhere but our city. When people are asking for change, it’s a very common attitude to refuse, with the argument “they’ll just use it to buy booze.” Well, maybe, but considering their circumstances, I’m not sure that I can blame them. They’re trying to escape the reality of their lives.
Before getting too critical of the desire to escape, it’s worth remembering that we all like to escape from time to time. Oh, not everybody uses drugs or alcohol. I don’t drink, smoke or do drugs of any kind, but I like to write, I love role-playing games (like Dungeons and Dragons); I escape. My life has its strife, and I need to forget. Other people might watch too much sports, or go gardening, or many other ways.
Shortly after my divorce, I escaped into my work. I would routinely work ten to fourteen hours a day. This was a means of escape. I kept my mind occupied with work so I didn’t have to think about the situation. Continuing my education was another means of escape, burying my nose in books and thinking about science helped me forget my social ineptitude and loneliness. But it’s just escaping.
I’ve written before about being honored to have attended a Native American Sundance. It was truly an amazing experience. My friend on the police force had invited me. I knew him because at the time I was a civilian police employee. I was not the only one who went. My friend was a participant, so I never really had much of a chance to speak with him, but there was one other police officer there as a guest who recognized one of the participants as a frequent guest of the county, with a violent record. At the start of the day (I was only invited for one of the seven days of the Sundance), the Spiritual leader made a comment about how, at Sundance, there is no outside world. No matter what else is “out there”, be it debt collectors, family concerns or even people with warrants, while at the Sundance, they could escape all of it. Everybody, for the time of the Sundance, was safe.
What a wonderful feeling. Just, for a few days, just forget everything. There are no concerns. Just freedom. What a wonderful escape.
Please don’t misunderstand. I am not advocating the use of narcotics, alcohol, cigarettes, or other bad habits like gambling as a form of escape. I’m simply saying that I understand the need to periodically escape, and pointing out that it’s actually a common thing for people to do. As I write this, I’m coming up on my bedtime, so I hope you’ll forgive me it I make my nightly escape into the dream world.