Monday, September 29, 2014

THE WORLD'S FIRST HIPPIE

Last Thursday, my wife Sue and I strolled the Ocean City New Jersey boardwalk. During our five-mile jaunt, we passed many exclusive beachfront properties.  That's when a sense of deja vu hit me.  I remembered that we took the same walk two years ago...and marveled at the beautiful surfside homes.  This feeling of having already experienced our outing took a sour turn when I also recalled that weeks after our stroll, Hurricane Sandy buried many of those deluxe homes (and countless others along the eastern seaboard) under water, sand and debris.
HURRICANE SANDY HIT NEW JERSEY ON OCTOBER 29, 2012.  IT WAS SO BAD THAT IT EARNED THE DUBIOUS NICKNAME OF A SUPERSTORM.  TODAY, ITS WIDESPREAD PATH OF DEATH AND DESTRUCTION IS STILL BEING MOURNED.

All along the Atlantic Ocean's coast (Gulf of Mexico too), September and October mark the height of hurricane season.  Today's blog is dedicated to nasty weather and other natural disasters.

A month after I moved to Las Vegas (January 1979), I had my first visitors. My three Howard Beach (Queens, New York) friends (J, A and M), showed up and slept on the floor of my apartment. I woke up for work up at 8:00AM to the strangest sight…a half a foot of snow had fallen, (nobody in town could remember a measurable amount of the white stuff in twenty years). Even crazier, by 11:00AM, the snow had melted and the streets were dry.

To take advantage of this unique photo-op, the four of us went outside in our underwear, (I wore my Frye boots too) and posed by the pool with palm trees all around us. Unfortunately, I never saw those pictures. The last time I saw any of the Howard Beach boys (J in 1996) his mind was so clouded, he didn’t remember the incident or even seeing me.

During my years out there, it was common to find people who think Las Vegas is just hot. But they get their own fair share of funky weather.
I met a man (Terry, a transplanted Northeast Pennsylvainan), at my second craps dealing job, (the Western Casino... April-May 1979), who came to town expecting life (in terms of weather), to be a breeze out there.

Few people remember the Western because it was the worst excuse for a casino you could ever see. It was along downtown Vegas' hub, (at 399 Fremont Street), but it was so far off the beaten trail (and isolated) that few gamblers ventured that far away the bright lights of "Glitter Gulch," (five blocks away).

The Western was best known as a round-the-clock bingo mecca that catered to budget-minded day-trippers from Southern California and locals. For me, it was a terrible place to sharpen my craps dealing craft but because I was coming from being tortured at my first casino job, (Slots-A-Fun), this toilet was a well-timed, "port in a storm."
THE WESTERN HAD A 41-YEAR RUN, (1970-2011). IN 2009, I TOOK A NOSTALGIC WALK THROUGH...I DIDN'T GET ANY WARM AND FUZZY GOOSEBUMPS.  UGH! THE CASINO WAS A FILTHY DUMP AND THE CLIENTELE MADE THIS "BUST-OUT JOINT" LOOK LIKE A METHADONE CLINIC WAITING ROOM.  EVEN THE TOOTHLESS SECURUTY GUARDS, LOOKED LIKE THEY CHOSEN FROM A POLICE LINE-UP.  WITH THAT IN MIND, I WIPED MY FEET BEFORE LEAVING...SO I WOULDN'T DIRTY THE STREET.
In my day, the Western's casino space was the size of a grammar school’s gymnasium.  The floor was covered with a battleship gray industrial carpet and eight blackjack tables, one roulette, a big six wheel and a craps game were haphazardly sprinkled into the abundance of wasted space. If you can picture the blank walls being lined with slot machines and a bar stuck in one corner, then you can imagine all the amenities. Additionally, a bigger, separate wing housed their renowned bingo hall, a small coffee shop and the hotel lobby.

The big reason why the Western was such a shithouse was, it rarely got craps customers...even with a twenty-five cent minimum and a *fifty dollar maximum (oddly, my tip income was nearly double there...we averaged $2.50/hour...thank goodness for blackjack players).

*Six monts later I was dealing at the Fremont Hotel.  My crew had amassed $1.75 in tips, (to be split four ways).  We used the whole bundle on a Keno ticket and lost.  I turned down the group's idea to go gambling.  They wound up at the Western.  They all won around a thousand dollars each shooting dice.  You can say they broke the bank because the next day the craps table was removed.  That story can be found in my February 22, 2010 blog, "THE OTHER AMAZING RANDY."

During weekday afternoons, it was unusual to go through a whole shift in craps and see over a hundred dollars in buy-ins, (the casino was so backwards that they kept track of the cash they took in, in five-dollar increments).

The craps staff had a lot of down time. To fill the void, we shared every story we knew. We even played “twenty questions” for hours without being disturbed, (too bad Trivial Pursuit hadn’t been invented yet).

Among the craps crew, the man Terry I mentioned above had the biggest personality, (he was thirty, I was twenty-three). This do-nothing job was perfect for him because he was always doped-up. But with bright enthusiasm and his eyes barely open, he helped pass the time with cool stories about his rural upbringing, (Scranton Pennsylvania was the big city to him).

Unfortunately, not all his memories were upbeat. Some of his vivid descriptions of early 1960’s factory closings and the coal mining industry dying were depressing. He said he saw the writing on the wall when his father and uncle were laid off as well as neighbors.

Terry said he was ten when a couple of six year-olds on the next street suffocated when their ice fort colapsed on them. He said he developed a fear of cold, icy and snowy weather. In the years that followed when family finances got extremely tight, he felt like a burden. So at fourteen, rather than face another winter, he ran away from home…and never returned.

Terry led a hobo’s life. He was exposed to the elements and suffered through nor’easter rains and ice storms. He followed fellow vagabonds and migrated south. In Florida he endured a tropical storm... “outdoors.” That woeful experience caused him to drift.  He wound-up in the midwest and found petty jobs as a migrant farm worker.  When he heard about the possibilty of cyclones and the old-time survivors of the "Dust-Bowl" era complain, he dropped out of sight and continued farther west.

Terry thought he found a permanent refuge in the sunny pacific coast, at a commune, in Marin County California. Some of the others at the Western Casino didn’t believe Terry’s accounts of wild parties, orgies and always being stoned but I did. He was especially convincing when his widened eyes in describing the difference between tremors that rattle dishes in he cabinet and a massive earthquake that cracked the land open. I really saw the fear in his expression as he said, "I ran out of that goddamned state as fast as I could."

For several years, Terry meandered around the southwest.  He liked the calmness of hot weather, settled in Tucson Arizona and earned enough money doing bimmie jobs to stay high on peyote and magic mushrooms...until he was taken into custody. Terry said, "I wasn't bothering anyone but I was hallucinating in a park. I must have creeped someone out because the cops showed up.  They asked some stupid questions and I must have been incoherent.  It didn't help that I wasn’t carrying ID. I was locked-up over night." Terry guessed that they didn’t even want to put him in “the system.” So when he “came down” in the morning, he was told, "We don't like your kind."  But he was given a choice, being locked-up for a year of weekends for public intoxication, disturbing the peace and vagrancy or leaving town clean.  Terry said, "You never want a (police) record.  I had been rousted a few times by cops in my hobo days but never arrested...so I left.

Terry wound-up in Las Vegas and became a craps dealer. He claimed that with the few brain cells he still had, he decided to cut-out the hard drugs and take a stab at a mainstream lifestyle.

I remember him telling me that after work. The one big employee perk the Western Casino was a chit, good for two free drinks at the end of each shift. Cocktails were fifty cents so they weren't giving up much.  So these freebies were purely a marketing strategy that might spur us to keep drinking, in the expectation that drunken morons would come back into the casino and become customers.

We were taking advantage of our “comps” when Terry mentioned that he wasn’t going straight home. When he said where, I said, “Could you give me a lift to the bus stop on Sahara Avenue?”

*It would be another two months before I bought my first car. I wrote about that station wagon in my April 1, 2013 blog, “THE SHORT LIFE OF THE MAFIA STAFF CAR.”

My request was not out of Terry's way. Plus, the conversation was flowing and he was such a yapper that he said, “Sure. C’mon.”

The walk to his dilapidated 1960 Ford Falcon was characterized by 90┬║ temperature, an odd-colored sky and no breeze.
THE FORD FALCON WAS A POPULAR COMPACT CAR FROM 1960-1970.

While getting in, I correctly assumed that it didn’t have air-conditioning. Terry said, “Looks like a storm brewing. I hate bad weather. You ever been in a tsunami?"  I didn't know what he was talking about and shook my head. He said, "Me neither but I hate earthquakes worse…” I nodded because he had told the craps crew that on many occasions. Terry added, “Speaking of the Bay Area, did I ever tell you that I was world’s first hippie?  In 1966, we were coming from the commune to a Velvet Underground concert at the Fillmore."
SAN FRANCISCO'S FILLMORE AUDITIRIUM WAS A HISTORIC ROCK VENUE.  MANY OF TODAY'S LASER LIGHT SHOWS, PYROTECHNICS AND USE OF BOOMING AMPS CAN BE TRACED BACK TO THE FILLMORE.

Terry said, "I was driving a big bunch of us in a plain, old, rusted-out VW micro-bus.  That was so long ago that the real Vietnam bullshit hadn’t stated yet. We were all tripping and digging life when some guy said, ‘Terry, you are so fuckin’ hip.’ Then my chick Collette said, 'No Terry, you’re the hippiest hippie…’ That nickname stick and I was Hippie Terry to them till the day I left."
THE VOLKSWAGEN MICRO-BUS WAS EVENTUALLY NICKNAMED THE HIPPIE-MOBILE.  BUT TERRY CLAIMED THAT VIETNAM WASN'T ON MANY PEOPLE'S MIND, SO HAND PAINTED PEACE SYMBOLS, FREE-LOVE AND FLOWER-POWER SYMBOLS HADN'T CROPPED-UP YET.

I was smiling as Terry coasted through the Charleston Boulevard intersection. Through the window I saw the sun struggle to poke through the weird biblical-looking clouds. He continued, “We were crossing the Golden Gate Bridge when I heard a siren. I looked back and a motorcycle cop was coming up my ass.  He tooted his horn and used his hand to signal me to pull over. Shit, we were in the middle of bridge with cars whizzing by where I stopped."
THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE OPENED UN 1937.  THIS AESTETHICALLY PLEASING LANDMARK EPITOMIZES SAN FRANCISCO AND ATTRACTS SO MANY SIGHTSEERS THAT IT IS CONSIDERED THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BRIDGE ON THE PLANET.

In the rearview mirror, I watched the cop get off the motorcycle. We were all panicking as the cop, in those mirror sunglasses…like in movies…came up to my window. Through a thick haze of pot smoke he said, “License and registration.” I was shaking like a leaf when I gave them to him. He read over my papers. The cop looked over his glasses and said, ‘Do you know how fast you were going?’ The limit was fifty-five so be on the safe side I mumbled, ‘Forty?’ The officer said, ‘Son…you were doing eleven miles per hour…’ I must have sounded real goofy when I said, ‘Oh.’”

We were pulling up to Sahara Avenue when Terry grinned, looked me in the eye and said, “I guess times were much more innocent then. You know what the cop said?” I said, “No.” Terry continued, “He said, ‘It's not a good idea to operate motor vehicles while drinking.  Are you sober enough to drive off the bridge?’ Terry said, ‘No sir.’ The cop had me squeeze into the passenger seat. Collette sat on my lap as the cop got in.  He left his motorcycle behind and in dead silence drove us off the bridge. Before he went back to his bike, he had us all get out and promise not to drive for an hour.”

I was smiling as I watched Terry make a right and disappear into the distance.  Beyond him, I noticed huge clouds moving fast and swallowing-up the last rays of sunlight.  A gust of hot wind blew soot into my face.  The flying particles stung as they attached to my perspiration. Soon the harsh gusts intensified.  Then the sky blackened and a continuous howling wind almost knocked me off balance.  Where could I run? I looked diagonally across the street at the Sahara Casino, then across the way to Foxy's Firehouse Casino and the Jolley Trolley Casino behind me.  I tried to protect myself because I was afraid to leave and miss the bus.  The next five minutes felt like an eternity.  Luckily my prayers were answered as a bus appeared.

I spent most of fifteen minute ride to Harmon Avenue, (at the Aladdin Casino), brushing sand off my skin and out of my hair, (yeah, I still had hair back then...hell, it's hard to believe but I was still carrying a comb too).  The wind had died down as I walked the three blocks to my apartment.

In the bathroom mirror,  I still saw enough grit on my face and head that I looked like an old Arab man. It was wise that I stood in the shower as I took off my shoes and socks.  It looked like I just came from walking miles at the beach.  In addition to my clothes even the nether regions of my body were sandy.

The next day I told Terry about my bout with the sandstorm.  The world's first hippie put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Brother, that was no sandstorm.  Try getting hit by shit going at tornado speed!  Jesus, I was stuck in a real sandstorm outside of Tucumcari New Mexico and let me tell you, I don't believe in God, but I prayed like my life depended on it that day."

You can really see the psychological effect bad weather can have on the mind.  My heart goes out to those who lost a lot or everything because of Hurricane Sandy. I just hope that my bout with last week's deja vu in Ocean City isn't an omen of another superstorm.

GOOD LUCK!

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

How right you are. Hurricanes suck but cute story. --- V&S in LI

Anonymous said...

Good story.

I remember when I moved to the bay area in 1976. The police were helpful and didn’t behave like armed Gestapo members. I had a flat tire on the Golden Gate Bridge, he helped me change the flat. Terry getting assistance seems right for the times. Now if he was stopped, a SWAT team would assemble, guns drawn and tasers unleashed. --- SLW

Anonymous said...

You write well. I'll try ro become a regular reader. But you did have a typo...Hurricane Sandy was in 2012 not 2013.. CR, the King of Faunce Landing Road