Getting there is half the fun—sometimes. The joys and sorrows of auto-addiction, the illusory freedom of the open road, hopes and fears for mass transit, combine in America’s quest for mobility. Today, our romance with the road is being marred by environmental concerns ranging from growing pollution and lack of effective controls to related energy shortages.
For the adventurous young and the wealthy, dropping in and dropping out are not yet problematic. Bravado and money are still sufficient fuels to make travel possible. The poor, in contrast, have long been handicapped by their economically enforced immobility. How people get from where they are to where they want or need to be is the focus of this Special Report.
In mid-summer Berkeley’s University Avenue is littered with the disheveled young, some with outstretched thumbs, others with signs in picturesque neo-graffiti, and all seeking access to Interstate 80 and the road. Here, at the O’Hare International of the counter-culture, the queues begin at dawn and extend over a mile. Some hope for a ride across the Bay Bridge with an early morning commuter to a spot where the competition is less fierce. The prime asset in the contest is an attractive girl friend. The biggest handicap is a dog. Both exist in seemingly equal proportions. Sex discrimination favors women, and few ever wait more than 30 minutes, while men sometimes wait two or three days. The competition is repeated in microcosm at other popular intersections on the itinerary of young travelers, particularly the intersection of California 1 and 128 south of Mendocino, but nowhere is it as fierce as in Berkeley.
Long before Jack Kerouac made the romance and adventure of the road a symbol of freedom and search for identity, traveling to exotic and unfrequented places— especially abroad—was part of the education and romantic adventure of the scions of American bourgeois royalty of another generation. Yet no generation has taken to the road in such large numbers or with such deliberate purpose as the current generation of young people. With a mixture of bravado, romance, fear and naivet6 befitting a Kerouac protagonist, they pursue the imaginary jewels of the western horizon known as Denver, Berkeley and San Francisco, and the tranquility of select locations in pine forests, passed along by word of mouth from traveler to traveler.
Spartanly dressed youth with outstretched thumbs or “hippie vans” have become as common a sight on the American highway as the cloverleaf interchange. These modern gypsies, some living in parked vans, have increased to such proportions that whole communities have taken up the book of statutes against them.
California, with its unique urban and rural youth communities, has become a point of convergence for the wandering young, but those better endowed with financial resources have carried their search for adventure and identity to other crossroads; most notably the Balearic islands of Ibiza and Formentera, the dilatory existence of Paris’ Chez Popoff and the easily accessible drugs of Katmandu and Marrakesh.
A $15 kilo in Morocco brings $300 in Sweden, and the hazardous venture, if successful, will finance part of one’s European sojourn. The Berkeley to Boston and Berkeley to New York runs finance the life-style of some of the adventurous denizens of South Campus. A $20 kilo of Acapulco gold in Mexico will bring $60 in southern California, $100 in Berkeley and as much as $200 in New York. The itineraries of some of these continental travelers are geared to the arrival of certain Pacific fleet ships, which sporadically compete with Mexico as the main supplier of marijuana.
Drugs, whatever their appeal to those who follow the roads to Marrakesh and Katmandu, are not a primary lure for those who descend on the streets of Berkeley every summer or those who wander from commune to commune through the pine forests of California. In order to learn about the where, who and why of the phenomenon of traveling young people, I did my share of hanging out on the Avenue, rapping in coffee houses, and in the Berkeley Rap Center, talking with the people who direct and work in the Telegraph Avenue Summer Program, traveling the road, picking up hitchhikers, living in communes and housing and feeding Berkeley’s young vagabonds. Where respondents permitted, focused but unstructured interviews were conducted with the use of tape recorders. Some 40 interviews were recorded, generally lasting one-and-a-half to two hours, and another 50 interviews were conducted with the benefit of field notes.
My journeys along the road were principally to communes and self-generated communities within a 250-mile radius of San Francisco. Additional interviews, however, were taken in southern and central Oregon, in and around Seattle, and in and around Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia. Questionnaire data were made available to us from a survey undertaken by the Reverend Raymond P. Jennings, First Baptist Church, Berkeley, of 207 young people who participated in the church’s free dinner program. Data were also obtained from materials at the Berkeley Runaway Center and the Free Church office.
People on the road seem to arrange themselves according to three main types: students, street and road people, and runaways.
The student tends to view his adventure as a demonstration of his independence and ability to survive at a minimum economic level by his wits and restraint. A professor said, “I used to hitchhike a great deal when I was a student, but I didn’t find a need to envelop my hitchhiking with the ideological romance of poverty.” This romance of poverty is characterized by selfdelusion more than by reality. Students tend to talk with relish of the hardships of the road, of bedding down in the wilderness to save a camping fee, of going without food in order to save money and, in some cases, deferring needed medical attention for days in order to obtain it at Berkeley’s Free Clinic. For all the bravado about surviving by independence, wit and restraint, the student’s romance with poverty is a luxury only middleclass youth can afford. When one grows weary of its seductive ways, the credit card, check book or phone call home will quickly return one to the embrace of the secure middle-class life that is so despised.
Nonetheless, it is testimony to the strength of the need to demonstrate one’s capacity to stretch the umbilical cord that this economic buttress will be resorted to with the gravest reluctance. The ingenuity devised and pain endured among some of these young people further attest to the relish with which the attainment of success, in these self-defined terms, is tasted. Some of our respondents arrived with severe poison ivy and poison oak, having deferred treatment for days, in order to obtain it free. Others nurtured upper respiratory ailments requiring immediate attention days before. One girl, whose money (except for $15.00) had been stolen, lived for weeks on a diet of granola and peanuts rather than prematurely abort her journey or call home for money.
Why this need? What do our respondents tell us directly or indirectly, either in word or deed, that provides us with some means of understanding this quest? Our young people, regardless of categorical arrangement, indicate a compelling need to live life intensely, to seek heights of physical and mental experience, and to do it as if life itself were a fleeting opportunity. Coupled with this is a preoccupation with the symbolism of death and destruction.
One such popular preoccupation is the ecological crisis but, ironically, it is often conveyed with a macabre and surrealistic alacrity. The words are words of despair; but the emotion behind them is relief and resignation, almost as if to find in imminent destruction a rationale for the current mode of existence. But as one delves deeper, it is not catastrophic fear of destruction from the ecological torrent that preoccupies the minds of the young, but often the fear that without such catastrophic intervention, they will have to face a future. Like The Graduate’s Benjamin, young people worry about their future to the point of wishing to escape from it. To have a future means to become an adult, and adulthood is perceived as death, As all men in moments of fantasy and conceit think they will escape death, many adolescents think they can and will escape the death of adulthood.
The student, in his quest for escape from the responsibilities and constraints of adulthood, shares many of the attitudes of street and road people. However, unlike them he has not made a clean break from his ties to the adult world, As he seeks to find the fortitude to escape his destiny he also bears the incongruity of having pursued a course of action, as student, that is designed to lead him to the reward system of material acquisition and adult responsibility. The desire to maintain his status as free and irresponsible child and his pursuit of an adult career place him in a situation of obvious and compelling psychological dissonance.
The road is a means of alleviating the dissonance through the self-delusion and fantasy life of marginal economic survival which demonstrates one’s ability to sever the needs that link one to the trap of adulthood. The road is a living fantasy, reinforced by peers who share the same vision. The student’s crisis of identity is not in forging the effective remnants of his childhood in the image of an anticipated adulthood but rather in the contradiction of his pursuit of anticipated adulthood and by his desire, sustained by his peers, to preserve the fun and irresponsibility of his adolescence.
One of the other characteristics of the fantasy is an item of mental and social baggage known as “a rap”—a phenomenon quite distinct from the informal, open, wandering, verbal interchange the term usually denotes. A person’s rap is a selective mixture of reality and fantasy. It is a purposeful reconstruction of past and present directed at explaining, enhancing and embellishing a fantasized future. This reconstruction of “who I am” and “where I was” in terms of “what I will do” is an advertisement of self to significant others, with both parties aware that the presentation is, to a large extent, fantasy. That it is fantasy is, however, immaterial to all concerned. The rap is valued for its functional need in managing the dissonance wrought by the inconsistent behavior and desires of the student. To his peers, his rap proclaims who he is.
One of my own students, who was reluctantly pursuing a graduate degree in sociology, possessed a rap about being a rock group manager and entrepreneur, perhaps one of the few adult statuses that enable one to preserve the life-style of adolescence. His rap was exceedingly elaborate and included the establishment of imaginary holding companies and elaborate but fantasized plans for producing rock concerts. In this case, however, fantasy and reality eventually began to merge. He sustained several real attempts at producing rock concerts and became the manager of a local group. Yet, the dissonance had not been resolved, for he continued on as a graduate student. But his conception of self and presentation of self to others was largely in terms of hip entrepreneur.
Students we interviewed presented themselves as future homesteaders in the Okanogan valley (a site mentioned with surprising frequency), ecology freaks, professional politicos and occultists, among other things. The most notable facet of these presentations of self is that they have nothing to do with the student’s educational pursuit of career. This fantasy definition of self preserves the delusion that the death of adulthood will be eluded and adolescence will be preserved. And the fortitude for this is being found as one tests one’s instincts for survival in the romance with poverty on the open road.
Needless to say, not all our wandering students manifest these behaviors. For many, the crisis of identity is merely the crisis of discovery of who one is in terms of socially acceptable adult roles. Yet the romance and fantasy that exist for so many students impart the strong impression that the search for continued adolescence and its attendant nuances have found expression in life on the road.
Street and road people have crossed the threshold that the wandering student often approaches with hesitation and trepidation, lest his fantasy merge into reality and remove him from the security of the university womb and the shelter of parental finances. The road person has escaped the dissonance wrought by anticipatory adult career pattern and desired prolongation of the life-style of youth. He has simply dropped out. For some, however, dropping out is made possible by the recognition that the possession of middle-class status makes feasible some future re-entry into conventional society. Re-entry, however, is not an option available to all road people. The Jennings survey indicated that about 4 percent of the people interviewed had been thrown out by their parents. Diane Lewis, of the Berkeley Police Department, who at times has handled 100 phone calls a day to the parents of runaways, found that many parents did not take kindly to the news that the child they lost to Telegraph Avenue was being returned.
Re-entry is also unavailable to the 10 to 15 percent of road people who are escaping the draft or the military. Their conspicuous presence has even given rise to the assertion that the life-style of the street and road person provides a safety valve for the military, which prefers to see these young deviants creating problems in the streets rather than in the army. There are few if any attempts to pursue them. And while some view this as a result of the safety afforded by remote communes and self-generated communities in the interior of forests, even the most inaccessible communities have been visited by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in pursuit of fugitive Weathermen.
Street and road people are typically lumped together, especially by the mass media which tends to view all non-students who frequent Telegraph Avenue as street people. There is, however, an embryonic form of social stratification which distinguishes these two groups. Respondents we often would have considered street people informed us, with all the condescension of a socialite with her status affronted, “We are not street people.” The street person is at the bottom of the community’s system of stratification and the term is used with greater denigration within the community than in the press. A street person is an individual whose main concerns revolve around the hedonism of the Avenue: drugs, violence, harassment of pedestrians and various types of exhibitionism. Generally street people are dependent on others for food and shelter. But being a street person is often a transition stage for those who come to Berkeley without resources and whose lives center around the Avenue as they hustle handouts, food and shelter. As an individual settles into the community and finds some means of sustaining himself, he is, within the community at least, no longer considered a street person.
Members of the community often refer to themselves as “freaks.” The term is chosen in part to demonstrate contempt for the larger society by turning a negative appellation into a positive one. Freaks are people who have rejected the normative and status structure of the larger society in an effort to establish an alternative life style. In all, there are approximately 5,000 young people in Berkeley who would consider themselves freaks.
Road people are freaks with easily transplantable personal roots. They are modern gypsies who have chosen an itinerant life, living at a subsistence level, working when the need and desire arises and denying acquisition and security for the temporal and positional freedom that awaits them on the open road. Many road people own vans with hand-fashioned living areas, some of which are a tribute to creative design and skill. Others, who are less fortunate, must resort to their thumb to move them from place to place.
The biographies of some road people tend to display a continual inability to adjust throughout their lives to socially acceptable modes of behavior. These people have been problems for school authorities, juvenile authorities and authorities in general. Road people are in a sense confirmed outsiders, who eventually gave up trying to become malleable enough to fit the shape of society’s molds. One of our respondents described himself as the proverbial round peg trying constantly and always unsuccessfully to fit into the square hole. A judge forced him into the service when he was a shade under 18 and he lasted six months before the army decided they did not want him either. Life approached normalcy for him in Haight Ashbury during the days of the flower children. Here, he noted, there were a lot of other people whose lives were as tangled as his with the problems of not conforming to others’ expectations. He became part of the Haight exodus and departed for Berkeley where he held a long tenure as bona fide street person, living in the woods and along the Bay for more than six months. He now travels in a homemade van with his wife and child, and hopes to eventually homestead in Canada.
Among road people, men tend to emphasize their difficulties with or lack of desire for the socially acceptable roles that society has created for them. For some, as in the case above, this difficulty has reared its head many times during the course of a young life; for others, however, the problem is first anxiously confronted as one peers over the horizon toward the future and sees that life on the other side is no longer an extension of the present. If there are role models for the future, it is the model of one’s parents. Adolescence for many is consumed with the vehement rejection of this model to such an extent that one becomes suspicious of the protest. In reflecting on the experience at Altamont, Todd Gitlin was moved to ask whether youth had really broken with the materialistic life it expends so much rhetoric against or whether it is impossible for middle-class youth to break with the indulgences and amenities to which it has become accustomed. In some respects, the youth culture may well be little more than a caricature of the worst aspects of the larger society. There is, however, as much variation among the life-styles of youth as there is in the larger society.
When I began my work on the Avenue, I was instructed by one student of the community that life in unique youth communities, once the superficial commonalities of clothing and banalities of purposely limited speech are peeled away, possesses varieties of alternative life styles. Much is, indeed, caricature of the worst that the larger society has to offer, but there are meaningful models which accommodate those in quest of the maintenance of the freedom of adolescence. And for those who would be irreparably harmed by being coerced into a style of life to which they are unable to acclimate, the alternative of the road may be as therapeutic to the society as to the individual.
For women, especially unattached women, the style of the road seems to proffer a different kind of therapeutic alternative. Their abrasion is not caused by rubbing up against society; rather, it comes from rubbing up against other people, particularly men. Women emphasize that their reasons for being on the road are more personal than social. This is not to say that the heavy emotional investment women make in their relations with men and their evaluation of self as predicated on the success of these relations are not a function of the roles which society has created for women. Rather, it is to say that at the level of self-perception and self-evaluation, women do not account for their acquisition of the road person style of life in terms of the consequences and repercussions of larger social forces. Men very strongly recognize that the options available to them are a function of the options society has provided. Women, however, speak of life on the road in terms of a repose to heal personal wounds. Moreover, women apply a temporal gauge to the treatment. While men tend to see the future as an extension of the present, women tend to see their lives on the road as temporary, as a hiatus from personal problems and troubles, created by removing oneself from the problemridden environment.
Like some forms of deviance and psychosis, life on the road, for women, is generally a transition stage. There is a pattern and style of life and perception of self from which the woman seeks to divest herself, but she has not yet been able to cross the mental or emotional bridges leading to a different conception of self. Like wandering students, women seek to test their mettle in the trials leading to the attainment of independence. Although self-selection must sort out the weakest from even making the attempt, one is struck by the level of independence these women obtain.
Kimberly is one such woman on the road. I met Kimberly in a northern California coastal forest. She lived on a site, beneath a stand of tall pines, with her two-year- old daughter. Her site contained a table, a dresser, some wooden chairs, sleeping bags, kitchen utensils, toys and a small library. The generally pleasant summers obviated the need for much shelter other than the interlocking pine needles overhead. Kimberly until a year previous had been, at 29, a typical suburban housewife. She was married to a successful businessman, and the daughter of a vice-president of a major southern California corporation. It is, perhaps, a commentary on the plasticity of the human character to observe her living a nomadic life sustained by welfare.
The major impetus for this life was the erosion of her marriage. As the marriage crumbled so did the conventional style of life. Her husband dropped out and was unable to support the family. Kimberly went on welfare and tried to fit the pieces together and come to grips with what had happened to her. She found she needed an escape from her surroundings and took to the woods, although she maintains her legal residence in the county where she gets welfare. From her base camp she hitchhikes around California with her child strapped to her back, leaving her meager possessions unattended in the wilderness. Although her parents have offered to support her, she refuses to give up her independence, and strongly feels the need to prove to herself that she can make a go of it in the woods and on the road—at least temporarily. She pictures herself living another year as a nomad, and has gotten together with a few other women in similar circumstances and made provisions for surviving the winter. Once she feels comfortable with her sense of self-reliance, she hopes to go back to school and return to a more conventional existence, although with quite a different mental attitude.
Life on the road is simultaneously more difficult and easier for women. It is more difficult because the threat of assault is a constant problem; it is easier because rides, shelter, food and welfare are more accessible to women. The ratio of men to women is estimated to be about four to one, and some women have manipulated this to their advantage. They pick up male traveling companions and casually, albeit tacitly, exchange sex for meals, shelter, rides and companionship, moving from partner to partner as their route or inclination takes them. As one such woman remarked, “After all, sexual adventures are not simply to be reserved for men.”
Mary is from Tempe, Arizona and is on the road to recover from the recent termination of a long and involved affair. She temporarily withdrew from school and is seeking adventure and some personal introspection. She has been on the road about three months and thinks she will go on for at least another three. “It all depends what comes my way,” she responds nonchalantly. She has no real destination but has a few places at which she would like to stop. Carrying a list of places where she can get food and shelter from organizations, and a list of friends (and friends of friends) that will provide a night’s lodging, Mary reciprocates the hospitality of her hosts with high grade marijuana, a product she says is readily available in Tempe.
Mary thinks of her road experiences as rather typical. She has picked up some interesting fellows, thwarted a few rape attempts, gotten thrown out during a rain storm in the Utah salt flats after refusing a $100 proposition from a middle-aged businessman, received some rides from “straight people” and found the people on her list open and hospitable, with or without the reciprocity of her gifts.
She feels that rape is an ever-present possibility but any woman who is going to travel alone had better accept the possibility without concern. Her response to such attempts has been, “Go ahead, I won’t resist but don’t expect me to get involved.” She adds, with the confidence of experience, the cold resignation of the response “really turns them off.” Mary acknowledges, with surprising frankness, that having affairs along the road is part of the fun and adventure of being on the road, and adds, as our interviews have shown, that her attitude is not idiosyncratic. “Promiscuity is no big deal,” she notes. “Choice is.”
Unlike the road person whose act of transience is an attempt to remove himself from society, the young runaway is often making a desperate attempt to find some way to create a home environment to which he can return. The Reverend Larry Beggs of San Francisco’s Huckleberry’s for Runaways notes that running away is often an attempt to cause parents to face a problem which they continually refuse to acknowledge. Like most of society’s problems reflected in the behavior of its youth, the problem of runaways is clearly increasing. In 1964 the number was not significant enough to warrant inclusion in the Uniform Crime Reports. By 1969, there were 159,468 youths under 18 arrested for running away from home. That number grew to 179,073 in 1970, and Newsweek in 1970 put the actual figure at close to one million. From his experience as one of the main forces behind Berkeley’s Runaway Center, Jennings estimates that 10 to 12 percent of Berkeley’s transient youth are runaways.
Runaways possess few negotiable economic skills and are sought by authorities; consequently, those who wish to prolong their journey (although only a few do) must find some way to survive. In Berkeley, runaways tend to become street people, shifting from handout to handout, sleeping in crash pads, laundry rooms, parks and falling into the hustle of the street. The runaway’s problems become compounded as he resorts to petty theft and pushing drugs. Apprehension and conviction for these crimes will add to his difficulties, for his problems in the home and his anger with the situation will evolve into a problem with and anger directed at the larger society.
Because of the lack of an effective social response to deal with the problems of runaways, a group of concerned Berkeley residents, following the example set by Reverend Beggs in San Francisco, established a runaway center in the First Baptist Church. The function of the house was to counsel runaways and place certain cases with licensed foster homes in the community. The housing of runaways was done only with parental permission. In some cases, parents came to Berkeley for family counseling. Overall, about two-thirds of the runaways elect to return home. Others tend to stay on in Berkeley in foster homes, with parental financial support, until their eighteenth birthday.
Most of those who go to the Runaway Center for aid are girls. This is not because there are more girl runaways, but because girls tend to be less prepared for life on the road. Boys tend to plan their escape. They acquire information about places to stay and how to survive. Girls tend to respond emotionally and decisively to a precipitating situation and go. They get away from home and find they are ill equipped for the journey. As one of the women counselors at the Runaway Center put it, “The girls are at more of a loss for where they’re going next and what they’re going to do next. A lot of guys around here have plans. The guys often come here on their way through or on their way to something else. The girls tend to leave with absolutely no plan of what’s next.”
Running away is part death fantasy and part puberty ritual. In the first sense it is saying to the parents, “Now that l’m gone you’ll learn just how much you miss me, and you’ll have to face up to the problems that caused me to leave.” In the second sense it appears to be saying, “I can get along without you. I’m more self-reliant than you give me credit for.”
The fantasy and ritual of the runaway act are reflected in its primary motivations. Young charges at the Runaway Center indicate that they come from homes in which there is a great deal of friction between the parents and/or a lack of participation by the youngster in the decisions that affect his life. (These factors were also documented in research conducted by Pauline Haro on runaways in the Washington, D.C. area and in the work of Robert Shellow.) In homes where there is marital disharmony, the child appears to be the recipient of a great part of the hostility since he is often viewed as the reason for the maintenance of the marriage.
In instances where the child’s lack of involvement in the decision-making process appears to be the spur to running away, the child needs to demonstrate his ability to control his own life. Often young people who cite this factor note that the parental whip is primarily made out of money. The child is told if his behavior is not in accord with parental dictates, the child’s finances will be cut off. At a time when the ethos of youth is directed at control of one’s own life, this parental lever painfully reminds the child of his dependency. The runaway in these situations is motivated to demonstrate that he is independent enough to survive on his own.
The young runaways are the most vulnerable denizens of Telegraph Avenue, owing to their age, legal status and lack of resources. For the same reasons, they are the most troublesome to authorities. Increasingly, some members of the Berkeley Police Department have made known their displeasure with the institutional structures that minister to the needs of the runaways and other transient young people, and which, indirectly at least, have made Berkeley a more attractive place for them. The police, or at least some of them, have adopted the position that if the institutions would close, the community would find itself less called upon to absorb America’s social problems. But the institutions did not cause the problems. Rather, they developed as a result of problems already present and too long unattended.
The causal sequence of events became less important as the problems of wandering youth increasingly strained the patience of various segments of the community. In the pursuit of a solution, the runaway problem became a convenient excuse for the police to crack down on all transient youth and the institutions which have sought to assist them. The ostensible cause of the crackdown was the alleged rape of a 13-year-old runaway girl by an “associate” of the Free Church. (The Berkeley Communications Council, a citizens’ group, was informed by several of its members that the event never occurred.) The actual reason was a July 4 riot that was one of the worst demonstrations of apolitical hedonistic violence that Berkeley had witnessed. It included the “trashing” of several of the merchants who had been actively involved in contributing to the formation of institutions that ministered to the youth community.
Armed with a strict constructionist interpretation of Section 601 of the California Welfare Code which designates any juvenile not under direct supervision of his parents to be a runaway, the police began to round up transients in droves. Their efforts were actively supported by the Berkeley Gazette and some of the more conservative citizens’ groups. Yet the problems wrought by the trashing and the continuing anger with the increasing crime, theft and drugs on Telegraph caused many neighborhood merchants and liberals to give tacit support to the police actions. The crackdown, which by late summer netted close to 600 alleged runaways, failed to distinguish between juveniles and non-juveniles, between those traveling with parental permission and those without, and emerged as a desperate attempt by an overly harassed police and community to find an expedient solution to a youth problem out of control.
Only 10 percent of those young people arrested by the police proved to be runaways. It was clear that the civil rights Of traveling youth were being violated and the problems of the runaways were being aggravated. By packing the runaway up and sending him home, the problems that forced him to leave home are not being confronted. The runaway goes home angry, and his anger is no longer reserved for his parents and the problems that forced him to the road but now his anger is directed at the society that forced him to return. Pauline Haro found that runaways who do not resolve the problems resort to various forms of escapism, including drugs, and simply await the next moment when they can run away again. During the Berkeley crackdown, one particular individual was returned to his parents on three separate occasions.
Neither the unrestrained harassment of the young by the police nor the meagerly financed and well-intentioned Work of those seeking to grapple with the enormous problems of youth that have been literally dumped on the community (only 11 percent of the 207 respondents in the Jennings’ survey were from the Bay Area, with over 35 percent from the East Coast, 20 percent from central and southern states, 6 percent from western states, 11 percent from abroad and 16 percent from other parts of California) are capable of effectively handling them. The human depth and complexity of the problem is revealed in the following two cases.
Marilyn is one of the estimated 4 percent of young people legally classified as runaways that have been thrown out by their parents. Marilyn, unlike most children turned out to the street, has not been a problem to her parents. Her mother, however, has recently remarried and views the daughter’s presence as a threat to the success of the remarriage. With backpack, bus fare and $5.00, Marilyn was literally thrown out of her Tucson home and told to fend for herself. She is 17. Marilyn appeared at the Berkeley Rap Center several days later with 92 cents in her pocket. She had acquired the status of street person and had been surviving by panhandling and sleeping in laundry rooms. Slowly she merged into a free-for-all undirected rap and brought out a problem. She met a guy on the Avenue who wants her to live with him in a local crash pad. She does not want to but sees no alternative. The other rappers tell her that at 17 she has no alternatives. The only way to survive is to make connections. She departs resigned to her situation, another street person in the making.
Marilyn did not come to Berkeley as a deviant, but in order to survive she will eventually acquire the ways of the street community. Deviance is often viewed as a learned Set of responses that is a function of alternatives and opporunity. Learning how to become a deviant, like acquiring any patterned set of behavior responses, is not always easy. Barbie, at 16, with false identification describing her as 18, has had a difficult time adjusting to life in Berkeley’s South Campus. Since age 12 Barbie has been a fashion model. A strikingly attractive girl, she had been guided in her lucrative and glamorous career by a domineering mother who vicariously lived through her daughter’s success. The pressures of career and a conflict-ridden home situation—divorce and then remarriage with a man who disliked the girl—culminated in Barbie fleeing to Los Angeles with a boyfriend and a sizable bankroll.
Her removal from the doting mother and the tension of the home provided her with a great deal of relief, but she did not readily acclimate to life in Berkeley. The sloppiness, informality, nudity and vulgarity of the communal scene she and her boyfriend settled into were totally alien to her former style of life. Barbie found herself under a new set of pressures—adaptation to life in the commune. The expensive clothes, makeup, hair dye, manners and nuances of her modeling career were simultaneously carry-overs from a life she wished to leave behind and, yet, things to which she had grown accustomed. She found that she could not adjust to the new life she had chosen, but had no desire to return home.
Her escape from the new set of pressures was found in readily available drugs. One afternoon University police found Barbie screaming hysterically in the middle of Sproul Plaza, having purchased a ticket out of reality with LSD. After her release from Cowell Hospital, she settled back into life in the commune and found some part-time modeling and community service work to keep her busy. She feels that she has adjusted to life in the commune and is more content now than she ever was. She has re-established contact with her mother, but refuses to go home. Her mother sends her money periodically, but her step-father behaves as if she were dead.
When I last spoke with her, she was two months pregnant. She has no idea who the father might be nor does she care. She purposely got pregnant because she wanted a child. The child, she claims, is part of her new identity and someone she can care for, with a love she never received, and who will love her in return. The child is to become the surrogate for the family life she never had. Such desires for having children were, while not common, far more prevalent among young girls than one might have suspected.
Barbie feels that she has accomplished the transition to a new identity. She claims that, except for smoking marijuana, she no longer takes drugs. She lives from day to day totally unconcerned with the future and her conversations are interjected with the note, “I make love and work… what more does anyone need?”
The quest of the road is not for America but for oneself. It is first necessary to find oneself, to recognize in the theatre of the present that the stage of the future is being set. Only when the outlines of that scenario are made known does the background begin to fall into place. For some, the scenery is then found to be inappropriate to the drama. The drama must either be rewritten or moved to a different set. In some instances such recasting of personal roles cannot occur without the change of scenery.
Among our various categories of young people, there is occurring an active self-dialogue and a tacit message is being written for society. Not all are eager to acknowledge that message, let alone read it. Some will be blinded by the sight of greater numbers of youth, who are readily acclimating to conventional roles. Yet, those who smack their lips with the smugness of social contentment might find that some bitter spices have been added to the traditional bill of fare. Lower-class youth may not have competed for our attention as much as the middle class; but as a recent television documentary entitled The Blue Collar Trap demonstrates, they too are no longer content with the offerings of conventional society.
In recent years entire camp grounds have been taken over by road people establishing temporary communities. Bay Area cities have passed ordinances preventing them from living overnight in their vans within city limits. Young people, fully weighted down with backpack, are prevalent on the highways even during the school year. All of these are indicators of the growing presence of road people. From their own perspective, this life appears satisfying, and, for those on the road without choice, it is considered a better alternative than Vietnam. For those who are there by choice, it is a world which they have made and in which they feel they can make it.
It is difficult to say how long young middle-class dropouts will pursue the nomadic existence of the road person without being tempted to re-enter society to some degree and establish some more traditional style of life. In every generation there have been those who eschewed society for the nomadic life of adventure, but today the wanderers are not only more numerous but they are individuals who have turned down the options to the conventional routes to success. They have also given an embryonic status and ideology to their own life style.
The functional role of life on the road is not simply the establishment of a modern puberty rite, for it is an initiation into roles that the larger adult social order has not approved. From the perspective of conventional society road people are threatening, for they have defined dropping out in a way that makes it, if not respectable, at least appealing to those who cannot conform to the responsibilities and obligations of adulthood.
The search for America begins with the search for oneself. Along the road, young people are developing therapeutic communities, often where one wound is healed and other is opened. Yet one cannot help but think that there is a poignant social commentary in this quest.