Some come slowly to the realization of where they are in their time. By that I am referring to having a sense of who you are and what you stand for, a sense people tend to have for others but not for themselves. This sense develops over a lifetime with age and experience.
The year was 1969 and I was sixteen. Outside of a prosaic life of school and idle summers at the lake, the world was experiencing Woodstock, love-ins, peace marches, and music the likes of which had never been heard before. But I watched 1969 go sailing by without me on the boat. And I cursed my time for being born too late.
I was the tail end of the generation that grew up realizing that our country was being run by idiots and we were all desperate to do something about it. We didn’t want to have 2.3 kids and a station wagon in the driveway. Surely that wasn’t our future.
We grew up pampered in our homes, shamed because we let them kill Kennedy, knowing that we had the means to fix these problems, starting with making loud noises, and escalating as necessary.
But the stuff on the pop stations was sanitized for our parents, so we looked outside the box where they wouldn’t go.
FM Radio was just coming into its own. There were stations out there pushing every button making people crazy. And I wanted to be part of this craziness. The hip stations had DJs with British accents and they played really good music, but the crazy stations had music about revolution.
Sometimes people were sucked into this vortex and never came back. You could dial into any level of the ongoing revolution. Like being on the Titanic, we knew the country was headed the wrong way but we just watched the icebergs float by because the music wouldn’t stop and it was so good.
I was one of the lucky ones. My high school bus driver let us listen to the radio. She had one of those 50s names like Shirelle that you couldn’t tell whether it was old fashioned or hip. I was the first one on and the last one off the 45 minute ride to school. This ride took us past old farms and honeysuckle fences of rural Maryland in the time before they all became cul-de-sacked. I could get my homework done on the bus while enjoying radio music. Shirelle played mainstream AM during the crowded part of the ride, but when the bus got empty out in the hinterlands, she would let us listen to the racy FM stuff. In 1969 I sampled the revolution from a safe seat on the bus.
Sometimes when Shirelle was in a bad mood, she would just play country and ignore us. We understood. All of us grew close in a privately understood way. And we would get off the bus thoroughly brainwashed to the core without a thought about what appeared to be a plain old bus ride.
My view of the world was profoundly influenced by those bus rides to school. Only now have I begun to see myself apart from that world, now changed forever. True, I was lucky to have a clear view of the cold, harsh reality that was to come and that has served me well. But my vision was tinted by the safety and security of the big yellow box that carried me through chaotic times. Even when the box changed appearances to look like a house, or a family, or whether it was a new job or a new car–I have always felt as if I were riding in the safety of a big box with viewing windows and piped in sound. Safe on the bus, where revolution is a recreational pastime, it’s just a turn of the dial to get there and back.