Tag Archives: hippies

Chasing Agriculture

I arrived in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco at the tail end of the “Summer of Love.” It was either late August or very early September. Things were already starting to fall apart before I got up there, but it took weeks before I was able to recognize what was happening.

Where It All Happened

I had traveled from Los Angeles by thumb, where I had just given up a lucrative business my father had purchased for me at the very end of 1966. Fearing my life was going nowhere (which it kinda was) he took the opportunity to buy a small snack shop from a friend who was going into another business. The place was called DEBS, which was an acronym of the previous owners family’s names. We kept it . . . the name that is.

Situated directly across the street from the May Company, between 8th and 9th Streets on S. Hill Street, I was making big bucks for a snot-nosed teenager. I didn’t realize just how lucky I was at the time which, I suppose, is the very definition of privilege. I just did a time/value calculation and discovered I was making the equivalent of close to a quarter of a million dollars a year back then. Yikes! That doesn’t seem possible or even reasonable, but I’m pretty sure it’s true.

Unfortunately, I was only 19 years old at the time, fresh out of High School the previous year and recently honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy after a total of one month and twenty-three days of service. I’m surely one of a few people in the country who has served, received the National Defense Service Medal, and also a medical discharge while I was still in boot camp. Since I was in for such a short time, I am not eligible for veteran’s benefits, nor have I ever sought to receive them . . . but that’s another story I’ll get to later.

This is a screenshot from Google Maps’ Street View. According to Yelp, they’re still in business, though I know it’s not the same people

DEBS Snack Shop was open six days a week, twelve hours a day on weekdays, and ten hours on Saturday. I had to be there for every one of those hours and, since I lived in the North end of the San Fernando Valley, the commute took at least an hour and a half, round-trip, every weekday. Saturdays were a little quicker. So I was putting in about 70 hours per week, not including time getting ready to head out the door.

Not only were the hours long, I had to deal with my father coming by every day and pointing out everything I had done “wrong,” i.e. not how he would do it. Not that I didn’t screw up; 19-year-old boys aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer, no matter how high their IQ. But my old man was not the kind to hand out compliments or praise. Nope. He was a genius at pointing out shortcoming, though.

I remember one weekend I finally had a date with a young woman I had met somewhere. Much of the detail is lost in the mists of time, including who she was and where we met, and the relationship didn’t last long at all. We went out to dinner and were going to go to a movie afterward. Unfortunately, if memory serves, I actually fell asleep at dinner, I was so tired. I don’t think we made it to the movie, and I’m not sure I ever saw her again.

That particular debacle was one of many compelling reasons I asked my father to sell the place after only seven months. I was young and restless, and I had no social life. I had also started smoking pot the previous year and was beginning to experiment with acid (LSD.) I needed to spread my wings and I didn’t see that ever happening as long as I was tied to a demanding business and an overbearing father. But I digress.

What I was thinking of when I decided to write this post was the agricultural workers here in my native County of Ventura. Some of the laborers post videos to a local Facebook group and seeing them brings me back to my two encounters with working in the fields, one of which took place while I was living up in the Haight.

Not the video I was referring to, but quite similar

When I was working in the snack shop, I frequently had to go and purchase produce, generally a few blocks away at the Grand Central Market. One of the items I had to buy was tomatoes. I would get them by the “lug,” each of which weighed approximately 30 pounds.

On many a day in the Haight, people would just sit around in front of the stores on Haight Street, sometimes standing to perform for the tourist buses that would pass by. They expected no less from a bunch of “Hippies,” and we were often content to give it to them. One day, a man came by and asked if anyone was interested in picking tomatoes. He said it paid a certain amount (I have no idea what it was) per “lug.” I accepted.

The following day, early in the morning, I boarded a bus with a group of fellow “hippies” and we were taken to a field right next to a mental hospital. We were set loose in the fields to pick tomatoes and it was then I discovered their definition of a “lug” was considerably larger than what I had grown used to purchasing for the snack shop’s use. At least twice as big! I had just turned 20 in June, a couple months prior to selling the business. I was in good shape, yet picking tomatoes, which requires bending over continuously, was physically demanding and, based on how many tomatoes had to be gathered to complete a “lug,” I soon came to the conclusion this was NOT how I wished to make money in the future.

I don’t think I spent more than a couple of hours in the field, but I’ve never forgotten how difficult and back-breaking the work was. It has given me a sense of deep respect for the people who spend their lives working in the fields. It is extraordinarily difficult (and sometimes dangerous) work, for which I’m sure they are not paid enough.

I did mention, above, there were two times I had worked in the field. The second one was in 1973, when I spent two months in Cuba as a member of the 6th contingent of the Venceremos Brigade. During that time I worked primarily in construction, making concrete slabs and pillars used to construct small, single-family dwellings. However, on one occasion we spent a day in the fields cutting sugar cane. In addition to the work being back-breaking, the fields were torched prior to our work in order to burn off some of the vegetation on the canes. It meant we were covered in burnt sugar cane juice by the end of the day.

Cutting Sugar Cane is a messy and exacting task

I had purchased a pair of brown Red Wing boots for the trip. After one day in the fields, they were mostly black from that burnt juice. It never came off.

Those two, admittedly short stints in the field gave me an appreciation for anyone who works in agriculture – especially those who bend over and pick and pack our food for distribution. I’ve done a lot of other things in my life that were difficult, some equally so, but none more difficult than picking tomatoes or cutting sugar cane. I have nothing but respect for someone who makes their living doing such work. It’s why I have long supported the United Farm Workers and all who struggle to be treated with dignity and respect.


A Most Propitious Phone Call

Green Power Button

With Some of my Cotto Salami

I just had the coolest thing happen. Two days ago, I posted an entry to my blog talking about the book I’m working on and mentioning some of the organizations and people I’d worked with. One of those organizations was the Peace Action Council. Today, a person from my past was searching for info (for what reason I’m not certain) on the PAC and my blog post came up.

I had been involved with the Griffith Park Love-Ins (those were the daze my friends), which were organized by an group called Green Power and led by a gentleman named Cleo. One of the things I did for them was donate lunch meat for sandwiches to feed the crowds. This was in the late sixties. I have at least one interesting story my phone conversation with him brought back.

Anyway, this person from my past reached out and wants to help in any way he can. His name is Aron Kay, a close friend of Abbie Hoffman’s and somewhat infamous cream pie thrower, having pied many notables such as William F. Buckley and Phyllis Schlafly.

He remembered me a little better than I remembered him, but it turns out he’s remained in contact with a lot of the people I need to talk to, including Ron Kovic and many members of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. He’s also remained a Yippie all these years and appears to have played a prominent role in efforts to legalize pot in NY. I did not expect to hear from someone with whom I shared experiences this soon . . . at least not via my blog. Thank you, Internet and social media for making this possible.

I know I have a long road ahead of me, but this is very encouraging. He believes a lot of people are anxious to have this story told. I hope he’s right. I’m going to need a lot of help. Old brain cells aren’t quite what they used to be and sometimes my memory, which has always been pretty good, is like a steel sieve. Also, although I have ideas about issues I wish to address, I want to have – and provide – access to lots of different voices. Although I’ll tell a lot of it through my eyes, it’s not just my story. It’s really the story of millions, many of whom sacrificed a great deal for their principles. It’s for them I want so much to tell this story.


Teach, Learn, Share

The following is from a post I published in LinkedIn, in response to an emailed request from Dan Roth, Executive Editor. They implied I’m an “influencer”. How could I resist?


Giving advice to young people beginning their professional careers is not something I’m generally asked to do. How does someone whose background and experience is as unconventional as mine even relate to others who have already gone a different route? You just finished earning a Bachelor’s Degree. I never attended undergraduate school. What can I say to you that will make any sense? Nevertheless, LinkedIn has suggested I give it a shot and even ensure my thoughts stand out by tagging them with #IfIWere22, so here goes.

Twenty-two! Whew. That was 45 years ago. I have a hard time even being certain what I remember from back then actually happened. By that age I had already been in the US Navy (medically discharged after a short stint), owned a small business, lived on the streets of the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco during the waning days of the Summer of Love, and the North Campus district above the University of California at Berkeley after that.

By all measures of the time, I was a failure. I had nothing to show for those years save a hell of a lot of street smarts. How does one put that on a résumé? I did manage to get a job at a jewelry manufactory, where I learned to melt . . . er . . . solder gold and silver, making some very high quality jewelry, but it surely wasn’t a career I was interested in pursuing. In the next few years I had lots of jobs, but no career to speak of.

Law School Graduation

Don’t take life too seriously.

At 26, despite having no undergraduate education and never having taken the SAT, I was able to attend an accredited Law School, largely because I scored very high on the LSAT and after my first year easily passed the First Year Law Student’s Exam. It was not required of those who had their Baccalaureates. I received my Juris Doctorate in 1976.

I was lucky. I had some resources at my disposal and I had always been an avid reader and a self-learner – an autodidact. After graduating Law School I realized I didn’t much care for the legal profession and, coupled with my father having a major heart attack, I felt I had no choice but to join my family’s wholesale food distribution business. For the next 12 years I worked with my family and in several different jobs and businesses. You can see my profile for yourself. This is LinkedIn, after all. 🙂

Now . . . the question remains, what did I learn and what can I pass on to you as you begin your career? One thing, probably, is you don’t want to do what I did. However, there are at least two very important things I think brought me to where I am today (btw – check out my last job before retirement. It was a doozy), which isn’t wildly successful, but has given me a considerable amount of satisfaction.

First, don’t ever stop learning. Read, experience, experiment, test, and share. Learn so you can share what you know with others. It is the best way, IMO, to move forward. Too many people try and create a persona for themselves they hope will be perceived as irreplaceable. Don’t be one of them. Your value is in sharing knowledge, not hoarding it. You will be much happier because you won’t be constantly looking over your shoulder, wondering who’s sneaking up to replace you. You’ll be too busy concentrating on the steps above you.

Second. Perseverance. In the words of Coach Jimmy Valvano, “Don’t Give Up . . . Don’t Ever Give Up.” No matter how bad things are, they will improve if you just don’t give up. This doesn’t mean you won’t experience failures and setbacks. They’re inevitable. What it means is, despite your losses, despite those failures and setbacks, you need to pull yourself up and get on with your business. And when these things happen, refer to the previous paragraph; learn. Turn that sow’s ear into your very own silk purse; defeat into victory. You can do it.

I hope some of what I’ve written here will be of use to you. If you are in the intended audience for these “If I were 22” posts, you’ve got your entire career ahead of you. Keep your eyes and ears open. You don’t need to plan every step; serendipity is a wonderful thing. As you can see from the picture of my Law School graduation in 1976, above, I also think it’s important to not take oneself too seriously. Enjoy your lives and make others happy. Good luck out there.


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