Revisiting the Park: How not to be an ostrich

Revisiting the Park: How not to be an ostrich

Revisiting the Park: How not to be an ostrich

There was never any escaping civil or political unrest here in Madison Park. In the early '50s, the beatnik generation was slowly becoming the hippie movement, which was being against the war and draft as well as the Establishment. A demonstration was termed “A Happening!”

Tearooms and coffee houses were popular gathering places for open mike night to discuss the issues. There were none in our area, but the place to really expound on the issues was the Madison Park Bakery, where a friendly rumble could be generated.

One night in the Attic I was sitting at a booth with friends, and before going for a pitcher refill I said to my friends “watch this!” I stepped up to the bar between two other friends. I leaned to my left, siding against a political opponent then to the right to side with the opposite. As the pitcher was being filled, the two engaged in their views. Sitting back into the booth we all watched and chuckled as the conversation became quite animated.

The four of us at the booth lived in a beatnik houseboat community on Lake Union. It was a great group of people — mostly artists and craftsmen who had a mild, if not indifferent, view of the world’s events. We liked to frequent and relax at the Blue Moon, the Red Robin and coffee houses in the Fremont and Queen Anne areas.

A big event on the calendar was the Great Grand Piano Drop near Mud Mountain Dam, a few miles southeast of Enumclaw. No one in their right mind would miss that! With or without a ride, everyone arrived to enjoy live music. The law stepped in to manage parking and keep crowds in line. Some even coined it a “love-in!” We heard rumors of drugs. Friendly cigarettes were passed around with funny twisted ends, which produced continuous smiles. It was a rainy day but some did see the lovely colors. Since the Seattle area was so much smaller back then, chances were good you’d see someone you knew in the harmonious crowd who was grooving to the mood and music. Finally came a drumroll, and the announcer said, “It’s time!” We all looked skyward (most were already doing so anyway). We formed a wide circle around a clearing awaiting the totality of the event. A helicopter appeared and slowly climbed high, and there was a hush in the crowd except for a soft drum roll.

As promised, the great grand piano appeared at the end of a long line below the helicopter. The pilot found the exact spot and released the grand piano. It was a sight to behold and on the key of F sharp, the piano made its solo tribute to the day. We added wood and started a huge fire for warmth, which added to the spectacle.

Gatherings like this were a backdrop to our concerns of the day. Many protested the war and draft by burning their draft cards. Others took off for Canada, and others found themselves in the clutches of Uncle Sam. Back at the Red Onion, we shared a beer before going our chosen ways.

I was stationed in Fort Ord but while there spent a few weekends in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury. Here the beat was really going on. While folks wore beads, I wore dog tags. One large dude grabbed my tags and was about to remove them when a friend said, “No, man, his heart is here!” Good thing, as any altercation would have guaranteed me second place. Actually, he became a friend, but I never knew if he “dropped out” or not. During my service time, we all had been given pig shaves (white side walls). Long hair and beards were verboten, but it was the better choice for me rather than to “drop out.”

Back to Seattle and meeting up with my Lake Union beatnik houseboat friends, I found many had sold their homes — the neighborhood had changed. Madison Park was the same — still a singles area. Roommates I had previously had moved to Sacramento. They invited me to visit them, and I thought it would be interesting to see if the demonstration scene had calmed down.

It was the Fourth of July, and it was suggested we do Mexican food in Berkeley. Why not? It was a margarita day with bright sun and clear blue skies. We drank shooters and margaritas while we waited for a table. A live music group played as we drank to a good day. Then, what doesn’t go with margaritas? Gun shots and yelling! The manager shouted, “andale, andale!” while closing shutters on windows and doors. My friends yelled, “See you at the car!” as they disappeared into the crowd. I started to follow but heard a gunshot louder than the M-1 I fired in the Army. The round struck a sign above us making a loud sound against the metal. If it had been a bullet, it would have ripped through the sign with little reverberation.

The crowd’s movement left me with few options. When we got to a corner someone yelled “Right! Right!” We were at the end of a short street where police stood with rubber compressed cork guns. “No thanks!” Some folks fell, but most stepped around them. Fear was the expression on most faces, some pushed, some freaked out, but others were veterans who just ran silently. A young lady nearby looked at me and shrugged her shoulders and smiled. Now was not the time to ask her if she wanted a cocktail, as I shrugged and smiled back. Alas, she was gone.

We encountered a tall bearded dude bleeding from his head. His friend asked, “What happened? A pig whomp on you?” “No!” he answered, “I was forced into a jewelry store alcove, and there in a broken show case window was a shiny new Mickey Mouse watch. I reached for it and cut my head on a glass shard!”

Now we were running who knows where at a good clip, and we were laughing! It was a nervous laugh but nonetheless laughter, which almost drowned out the sound of garbage cans being thrown. We were running into the setting sun with nothing but people in front and all around us. Tear gas and gunshots ahead? Would this crowd turn? I saw a separation between buildings and forced my way there when I thought, “No! Hell with it.” The margaritas were wearing off; this mid-week activity was losing its charm — I’m bailing. I found a dark area and stood against it. The gunshots were getting louder so people were going in different directions. I got to where we parked the car when I heard a cop car coming toward me. I ran but fell over a concrete abatement. The car flew by and didn’t stop. A long while later, I found the car and my friends and told them, “Next time, I’ll find lunch!”

Years later, someone at work said they saw me in a demonstration on the freeway. No, me? I’d been working at an engineering firm but left work early for a dental appointment. That day two workmates said they were leaving early. The art director asked why, and they said, “Oh, we’re joining Dick in the demonstration!” I was in trouble again. It was hard to hide the hippie in me at the time.

The demonstrations ended when the leader of our nation became the intermediary and united us, sharing views from both sides. It took some time, but it brought us closer together and invited conversation. Silence isn’t the answer.