In 1968 my good friend Thom and I hitchhiked down to Detroit to see the documentary movie Monterey Pop Festival. Inspired by such a great movie, we walked over to Detroit’s version of Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. It was dark on Plum Street, and made even darker by the black hippie types that were walking around in their purple bell-bottoms, hats, beads, bells, flowery shirts and the like. After taking in the sights and sounds of “Detroit’s Strip,” Thom and I ended up at the Greyhound Bus Station where we waited till daybreak before hitching home. A little more than a year later I found myself in repeat mode doing Hollywood’s Strip.
June 27, ’69
Yesterday, when I finally left Huntington Beach (my first time swimming in the ocean), I got back on the road for L.A. The hitching was good. One ride was with some surf bums in a far out ‘57 Chevy station wagon. My last ride was with this guy who, just before the sunset, took me twenty miles out of his way so he could deliver me smack dab on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip.
On the boulevard, the streetlights were coming on as I found myself trying to decide what to do next. There I was, standing on a street corner in Hollywood, the boulevard was beginning to fill with cars and I didn’t have a destination. I lifted my duffle bag to my shoulder, stuffed my sleeping bag under my other arm, and started walking in the direction the sunset bereft twilight. It didn’t matter where I ended up, in the city of legends, I had already arrived.
One block turned into another until I found myself standing in front of the Hollywood Palladium. There were a lot of people on the street waiting to get inside. I stopped to read some of the material hanging on the building when the lady in the ticket booth looked at me and said, “Would you like to hear Arlo Guthrie sing?” “Sure,” I said, as she held out her hand with a free pass in it. She said, “Go around behind the theater, he’s going to give a concert.” I thanked her as I moved through the crowd. I didn’t find the concert, but I did find the back of the theater.
The crowd in front of the theater had gathered as part of a rally to protest the government’s decision to build an Anti Ballistic Missile defense system (the ABM system). Some people were standing in line for tickets to see the celebrities that were scheduled to speak out against the ABM proposal, while others just walked in front of the theater carrying signs of protest to support the event. I guess Arlo was there to add his voice to the protest while, at the same time, entertaining the more financially strapped participants of the rally.
I was sitting on the pavement close to the rear entrance to the Palladium, changing into a clean t-shirt, when a black limousine pulled up. With dirty clothes piled in front of me, and stripped bare to the waist, I watched Jack Lemon and Bill Cosby step out of the limousine; the two of them walked past me on their way to the back entrance of the Palladium. Smoking his huge cigar, Cosby glanced down at me and all I could do was smile. Before I could find a clean shirt to put on, another limo pulled up and out stepped an absolutely gorgeous Raquel Welch. She also walked past me, but she didn’t look down. I just stared as she glided into the Palladium dressed in a beautiful white gown. Soaking up what had just happened, I sat there mesmerized until someone yelled, “Arlo’s not coming.” Not enough people turned out to hear him (or so it was rumored), so he refused to sing. Since there was no concert, the management of the Palladium gave the handful of us who gathered to hear Arlo sing passes to go inside, it was a lucky break for me that he did not sing.
A man dressed in a suit ushered all fifteen or so inappropriately dressed attendees into the upper balcony of the Palladium. We sat in amazement as we looked down upon the celebrities parading across the stage. Jack, Bill, and Raquel were there, as was Andy Williams, James Colburn, Jane Fonda, Henry Fonda, Carl Riener and many more who I have forgotten. Before it was over, I decided the ABM system was a bad idea too. Since the closest I had ever come to seeing a celebrity was sitting in front of the TV, for me, the whole evening was magical.
It was a beautiful night. Walking down a busy, palm tree lined, Hollywood Boulevard, seemed more like a fairytale than reality. I was walking on air when a car pulled up and this guy leaned over and asked me if I wanted a ride. Of course I said, “Yes.” In his white convertible we cruised Sunset Boulevard, radio blasting, wind blowing my hair, and city lights everywhere. The guy turned out to be the clothes designer for the Mod Squad TV characters. He offered to drop me at the section of the Strip where the hippies hung out.
Walking down the crowded sidewalk, elbow to elbow with Hollywood’s drug addicts and notorious criminals, I knew I had really arrived. Actually, a lot of the people seemed really nice and a few of them even suggested places where I might find somewhere to crash. There were all sorts of people, burned out hippies, pleasure seekers, regular tourists, cycle freaks, and quite a number of indefinable oddballs. Lugging around my belongings took its toll, however. On the perimeter of the Strip, I found a place to rest (if you sit where the people are the Pigs will bust you for loitering). That’s where I met Vinny and Mark.
As I was smoking a cigarette, I heard someone say, “Hey man, what’s happening?” That somebody was Vinny, a bona fide L.A. freak. Almost everybody you met on the Strip was from somewhere other then L.A., not Vinny, he spent his whole life in L.A. He was tall, dark, Jewish, and, part American Indian, but he looked Asian. Mark, his buddy, was my height, squatty, and very friendly. He was in L.A. for the summer and would in the fall return to Boston (where his father was a judge). Mark, like me, was out to experience Hollywood, but unlike me, he was going to do it for the entire summer. He told me that if I didn’t mind sleeping on his floor I could stay at his place back in L.A., but in order to get into his room we would have to sneak through his back window. With a great big smile on my face, I accepted his offer.
Not having to worry about where I was going to sleep, the three of us were ready to get down to business. Vinny’s philosophy of life was, “Do whatever you like, but do it stoned.” With that thought in mind, the three of us went off to score some dope. Well, actually we were off to score dope for me. Vinny and Mark were already tripping on acid. There was always action on the Strip, some good, some not so good. On the spur of the moment, on the Strip, you could always score dope, it’s just that its quality was never known. Vinny scored a hit of acid, but nothing happened after I dropped it. The poetic moment of getting burned on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip was not lost on me. Six months earlier, when I was in San Francisco, I also got burned. That time, the dope came from Height Asbury, the other major world capital for dope. On this day I wouldn’t trip with Mark and Vinny, but I was not about to complain. All in all, it was an incredibly good day.