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Hitch-hiking, shoplifting, and other tales of my life as a teenage "freak" in the '70s

I always shoplifted from a very young age. I got an allowance, but it was never enough for all the comic books, airplane and tank models, and candy i wanted, so i supplemented it. I grew up in a more or less middle class household, what you call "genteel academic poverty"- when i was a kid, my dad was a junior level college professor, and my mom was a newspaper reporter, but there was never much money around. i never saw my parents work 9 to 5- i thought what adults did for money was type and occasionally yell "Can't you goddam kids keep it down a little?" My mom would say in later more affluent years after i moved out that we were never that poor- i would ask her "How do i know what Spam tastes like then?"

Anyway, when i turned 14 (1973) and was old enough to work, this hippie comix/science fiction used bookstore that had just started selling new books made me an offer: "if we give you a job, would you consider not stealing from us anymore?" This seemed like a fair offer so i accepted. The bookstore was in a town about 20 miles from where i lived in the sticks in Connecticut, in the town where the newspaper bureau where my mom filed her copy was located, which was why i had been hanging out there in the first place. So sometimes i could get a ride to work after school from my mom, but sometimes she was doing whatever, and i was supposed to go out on the road behind my parents' house and flag down the bus and take it to work. So i did that a couple times, but then i started sticking out my thumb while i waited, and usually had a free ride before the bus showed up.

People who picked me up were 1) fellow freaks or older hippies- this would be the best type of ride, no hassle, good conversation and they would often smoke their weed with you; 2) crazy and often drunk working class folks, who would also often offer weed, but also sometimes beer or speed. They would usually drive much faster (and so get me to work sooner) than the counterculturalists, but sometimes erratically due to the drunk thing; 3) old closet-cases who would hit on me because i was (if you can believe it from my ravaged profile pic of today) a cute androgynous long-haired young man with a bunch of bracelets- these guys gave me the creeps and scared me- they were full-size grown-ass men, and i wasn't big yet then. After one got particularly grabby, i started carrying my hunting knife with me, and showed it to subsequent handsy fellows. One dude tried to get me turned on by handing me one of those packs of "naked ladies" playing cards which even in the porn-starved early '70s was just fucking cheesy as a come-on gambit.

I was fighting with my parents a lot over politics, drugs and teenage rebellion shit, so realizing i could just leave whenever i wanted to was a powerful revelation. i began "running away from home" for a few days or a week pretty often, to go to demonstrations or to see bands. I had been a Boy Scout til i got thrown out for being insolent and a smartass, so i had camping gear, and i would bring my pup tent, sleeping bag, and swimming-pool air mattress in my rucksack when i went, and learned to find places to sleep behind gas stations and in cemeteries and whatnot. the most fun "running away from home" was going to Boston for the bicentennial of the Boston Tea Party in December '73, when Yippies and Zippies invaded and took over a corporate funded re-enactment of the Tea Party, and threw 50 gal drums representing oil into Boston Harbor and hung "Freeze Profits Not People!" banners on the boat. I stayed for a few days at a genuine hippie commune with some older folks i met at the demo, with a sign on the door that said "Headquarters, Intergalactic Space Pirates".

In the summers, i would leave home and live in the tent, hitchhiking around, and going to Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard or Cape Cod when i needed money- i knew i could always get a job washing dishes or chopping vegetables in tourist restaurants in those places, where i knew lots of freaks who worked in kitchens.

I got arrested for "camping in the open" on Nantucket when i was 15, and had to bring the judge a receipt for boarding house rent within a week to get the charges dropped. How it happened was i was living in my tent in a wooded area across the road from a golf course. My campsite was not visible from the road, but when i hitched home from my dishwashing shift around midnight, i found my tent knocked down and my gear strewn around. I put my shit back together and went to sleep. I woke up to noises and could see there were flashlights outside, so i started shouting "You motherfuckers get the fuck away from here before i come out there and kill you!" and shit like that. You can guess what's coming: "Police! Come out of the tent very slowly with your hands first and empty!" Which i did after first cutting a hole in the floor of the tent to bury this big lump of this really strong Colombian hash, which was a thing only ever in history seen that summer- although of course i did not know that yet, it seemed most polite to not burden the poor officers with additional paperwork from a drug arrest. They made me dismantle and pack up all my gear but did not notice the small fresh hole under the tent. after the head cook at the place i was working came and bailed me out, i made him drive me there so i could dig it up.

So i got a room in a boarding house for a week to get the reciept to show the judge to get the charges dropped. The next week i moved into this half-assed hippie/freak commune called the Jungle. The Jungle was on some land owned by some rich person who had never gotten around to building a house on it, and had a small house, more of a shack, where one dude was supposed to be the caretaker and live. He was an older hippie and let anyone who needed a a place stay on the land. The Sheriff lived across the road from the entrance to the private road into the place, but for some reason never visited in spite of the constant stream of longhaired adults, teenage freex, and pretty blatant atmosphere of deviation that was the Jungle. There were a variety of habitations, sheds,tents, and various domy things. I lived in a primitive dome made by trimming and bending a circle of saplings to make a dome shape and then covered with a thick clear plastic sheet buried around the edges, with a door and some ventilation holes. It was in a shady spot, very rainproof, and pretty comfortable.

We cooked communally in the shack house, which had a gas stove (you could reach out the windows and pick blueberries for your pancakes). I would steal meat from the place where i worked by putting a new garbage bag in the barrel (since taking garbage out was one of my jobs), throwing a bunch of meat from the cooler in (keeping the coolers tidy and clean was another one of my jobs), and then putting another garbage bag in the barrel and letting it fill up. then i would take it out back, tie the bag shut in a special way, and the Jungle crew would pick it up from the garbage pile in the alley in a rusty old Jeep someone kept running. We also once stole kegs of beer from the yacht club in an epic caper involving a rowboat and breaking in through the roof. The yacht club was also good for showers that we all had the key to, and the giant dryers for sails which we would use an a form of amusement park ride, seeing how long it took to vomit (not a good idea in a centrifuge, fortunately those showers were nearby).

By age 16, i would from time to time be traveling with various girlfriends. i remember getting stuck in the rain for several days in my tiny pup tent with my GF behind a Howard Johnsons on Cape Cod, living on food and salt water taffy we would steal from the shop part, and a bowl of soup once a day in the restaurant part.

I'm sure i will think of more, but i hope you kids find some entertainment in these tales of scumbag life back when dinosaurs walked the planet, and dirt had not yet been invented.
******************************
For a man with 3 graduate degrees, i cannot spell for shit, tried to fix all the typos. I'm also a high-school drop-out, so i guess that's where i get my shit spelling skills.
 

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See intro. An old fart who doesn't know any better, and is no better than he should be. Skull and crossbones artwork above is from back when i used to decorate subway trains for the city back in the '80s, that is the side of an A train...
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Coywolf

Mastering the Art of Houselessness
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That was, a GREAT story. I love hearing about this lifestyle before I came along, and how much more epic than it is today. Some people may argue with that, But from my Mom's stories about the 60's and 70's, it was much better, and easier.
 
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OP
Older Than Dirt

Older Than Dirt

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I don't know about better, but it was probably somewhat easier to get over and scam than it is in these uptight police-state post-9/11 days.

On the other hand, it is definitely easier these days to be different/alternative/funny-looking. i got constantly threatened and sometimes the shit beat out of me due to being a "hippie faggot" (i am heterosexual FYI).

After i cut off my long hair in January 1977, things changed: i got threatened and beat up for being a "punk-rock faggot".

Eventually, i got big enough to (mostly) discourage that. But the world has gotten a whole lot more tolerant of weirdos during my lifetime.
 
OP
Older Than Dirt

Older Than Dirt

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So when i left off, i was stuck in the woods in the rain behind a HoJos on Cape Cod with my GF. Her name was Joan. She was gorgeous, and an incredible thief, partly because she was such an innocent-looking, doll-faced girl. We would go to the Englishtown flea market in Jersey, and go to the many stalls selling silver Navajo and hippie jewelry. Dialogue after: Me: "I saw you get that bracelet!" Her: "Which one?" [shows me three and 2 rings] She embroidered a lot, and always while hitchhiking alone, so she could pull the big switchblade i gave her out of her bra to cut loose threads and discourage rapiness.

We followed The Who up and down the east coast one summer ('75 i think?) and saw five shows or so, hitching and living in my tent. We had friends in the DC suburbs and hung out there for a few days after the DC show. At a party there, i made a rich kid give me his expensive Clarks hippie shoes, because i had arrived with no shoes. We hitched up to NYC from there. It turned out the shoes were too small, so i cut out the front so my toes could stick out and they were like sandals. As we walked over the George Washington Bridge, i tossed the hated shoes into the Hudson River, and arrived at my pal Sam's mothers house in Brooklyn with very dirty bare feet. he gave me an old pair of Converse.

After a while, she decided she liked girls better and left me for her pottery teacher. At this time i was living in Philly, working for a bicycle messenger service* where i was the only employee who was not a member of the Moonie cult, and sleeping in various places around the University of Pennsylvania campus, because i had a student ID from being in the adult education program the previous semester (even though i was only 18 at the time and a high school drop out). I would go to the top floor of the law library and turn off all the lights and sleep on a shelf, or in dorm lounges where there were couches.

[later edit: i think i may have been the very first punk rock bicycle messenger in history? summer/early fall 1977 is pretty early in punk rock history]

My parents and younger brother were living in France, because my college professor dad had a sabbatical year off. i got them to buy me a ticket to Europe because i was sick of being homeless. The cheapest flight available was to London, which suited me fine- it was 1977, and punk rock. I made a beeline for the Sex Pistols manager's store on the Kings Road and found out about gigs coming up and bought hash from a hippie head shop next door. i went to lots of gigs and saw lots of obscure bands, Chelsea ("Right To Work", probably not a popular tune among the StP crowd) would be the most well-known.

After the little bit of money i had ran out, i went over to France to see my family. They agreed to give me enough $ for a cheap hotel and food and French lessons, all very cheap, so i could stay in Paris. i only went to the French lessons once, but didn't tell my parents that. Since my french got much better every time they saw me, they never bothered to ask much about school.

Just as i was about to run out of hash from what i bought from the hippie in London, two algerian dudes asked me for rolling papers on the subway. i told them they could have some but only if they smoked with me. They had very good hash, and we became friends.

They showed me where to score: in the cafeteria of the Universite de Vincennes in the suburbs, just after the last stop on one of the subway lines. this was a school full of africans and arabs and the lunchroom was a drug supermarket. i became friends with a Nigerian dude named Chris who liked me because i spoke english. He would sit there with a suitcase full of weed (very rare in '70s Europe, it was all hash) sent by his family.

I knew there were a lot of american high school and college kids doing their semester abroad thing, who wanted to get stoned but didn't know how to score. They all would line up at the American Express office to get their mail, and i would basically just go up to any kid with a down jacket and long hair and go "Psst kid, wanna buy hash?" Hash in France was much cheaper than in the US at the time, and i was getting good prices even for France out in Vincennes, so i could make a massive profit while leaving them very happy with how much hash they got, so this was a good hustle.

I saw a lot of shows in Paris, Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers came over from London a lot because the heroin was better in Paris, the Jam, Elvis Costello, Nico, Talking Heads with XTC, Zappa, and lots i can't remember after all these years.

I shoplifted a small tape recorder, and then millions of music cassettes til i got caught at FNAC, a very fancy store, by a camera i had not noticed. this is the first time i remember having to deal with cameras when stealing. i talked my way out of it by convincing the cops i was more paperwork than it was worth to arrest, being foreign and whatnot. i also learned that French law since the revolution forbids arresting a person for stealing food, and ate well. Food in France is just so fucking good.

This was the era when the press in the UK and also in france was promoting heavily the punks vs. Teddy Boys (1950s music cultists like rockabillies, in France they were called "rockers") thing. i would get in fights on the street with rockers from time to time. two good stories about this: 1) a group of rockers surrounds me on a street off Place st Michel and want to fight. Problem is, we have no language in common for the preliminary verbals. Finally a girl with them comes up with "You smail baid!' and it was on; 2) i am walking on the Champs Elysees, like the Fifth Avenue of Paris, and get jumped by 3 rockers. in the distance, i see two punks, they start running towards us, one tall skinny bleach blond dude in an american airforce raincoat, other one short and wide in motorcycle jacket. They arrive, we kick the rockers' ass and go drink cheap algerian wine. never saw them again, and i went to every punk show in Paris that winter/fall.

I had been in France for almost 6 months when the cheap hotel where i had the cheapest room (only a tiny skylight, no window) told me i had to move out in 2 weeks unless i came with a carte de sejour immigration permission from the local police station.

It turned out i could also just leave France for 24 hours and come back and be ok, so i decided to do that instead of dealing with french cops which i had not had good experiences with, they are some hard mean bastards that make most US cops look like Mr Rogers. one funny encounter was when i had hung a poster on my wall of the Virgin Mary as a drag queen shaving- this was the cover of Hara kiri: journal bete et mechant (""Stupid and malicious magazine"). through the miracle of the internets:

la-sante-vierge-est-un-travelo-livre-875832283_ml-jpg.49639_Hitch-hiking, shoplifting, and other tales of my life as a teenage "freak" in the '70s_Travel Stories_Squat the Planet_8:39 AM


The woman who changed my sheets once week was scandalized and i was awakened one morning by cops, and had to stick all the drugs out the skylight on the roof, while shitting myself. they made me take my posters down, and left. The punk rock posters i had hanging for months had never bothered her, but those had to come down too.

At first i was going to go to Amsterdam and smoke hash for a couple days and then come back, but then i decided to do something i had always wanted to do, the "overland trail" to India, which was a thing in those days that ended with the Iranian revolution and then the communist coup in Afghanistan that lead to the Russian invasion.

So i bought a bus ticket to Istanbul, but what happened then will have to wait for another day...
 
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Placebo

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Fuckin A dude that was some shit. The Who? Lucky baztid. And workin wit Moonies! Even luckier! Cults just aint likevthey used ta be.

I kinda believe in reincarnation n wonder how i woulda done in those days. I never really liked the hippies(thoufh i have developed an appreciation for the Dead n psychedelia) Always said i woulda been a beat. Had avfriend in HS who really believed he was reincarnation of jim Morrison while i thought jack kerouac, even jack kerouac in later life. Though now i suspect a reincarnation of someone inspired by kerouac.

Anywho, lovin the history and continuity to the radical nomad life of today.

Lookin forward to the rest of the story.
 

Matt Derrick

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damn dude, you should really write a book sometime. maybe keep posting your stories here on StP and compile it all someday. i love hearing about that era especially the 77 punk stuff! i'm curious about this india trail thing too, even if it doesn't exist anymore due to political borders, sounds like it was interesting.

i'm gonna add this to our featured threads page, other folks should really read this for themselves.
 
OP
Older Than Dirt

Older Than Dirt

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Wow, thanx to all for your kind words! And a "Featured Thread" no less! I would blush if i were not shameless. Glad folks are finding it interesting.

i am about to spend 2 days on a bus heading out west this weekend, so i will try to get to the next installment about the "Overland Trail" to India, since i will probably be bored as shit.
 
OP
Older Than Dirt

Older Than Dirt

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How the fuck did a picture of a pineapple get attached to the first post?! I sure didn't put there!

I will try to get around to the story of the "Journey To The East" soon.

And no, @starfarer, i never saw Hawkwind until 1997, when i smoked several joints with Dave Brock. Loooove Hawkwind. Had to dig out and check the back of my tour tshirt to get the date right.
 

starfarer

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How the fuck did a picture of a pineapple get attached to the first post?! I sure didn't put there!

I will try to get around to the story of the "Journey To The East" soon.

And no, @starfarer, i never saw Hawkwind until 1997, when i smoked several joints with Dave Brock. Loooove Hawkwind. Had to dig out and check the back of my tour tshirt to get the date right.
Oh man finally someone here who knows hawkwind!!!
 

dawgrunner

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So it's good to see the remaining old school hitchhikers still kicking. I was hitting the road in early 67.
If the new greenhorns would listen, they would learn the skills to survive without the fear of the unknown. We can teach an show the art of thumbing an without having to deal with the pig. I know this post will get a few thumbs down, but do I really care, no. My last cross of the USA by thumb was 2014. Ain't nothing different except the newbies are all told its against the law an you'll get killed
 

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