Wednesday, November 05, 2008

What a long trip it's been

Today Barak was elected president. It was moving seeing generals like Colin Powell, and tough negotiators like Condy Rice, crying when they spoke about it. Tonight I decided to take my after-dinner walk, I like these drizzly nights. As I walked out of my house a strong memory came back that occasionally surfaces.

It was 1968. After graduating and working all summer, my college roommate, Norman "Spider" Hirsch and I decided to go to San Francisco and be part of the Summer of Love. We delivered a Caddy from New York City to Florida. This got us to warmer weather for free and provided us with a bit of extra spending money. We then hitchiked to San Francisco, which took about 3 days. The best ride was from a stock race car driver. We got through Louisiana at about 110 miles per hour, in a couple of hours, in the middle of the night. Never did see much of that state!

Spider and I got settled in San Francisco, and found an apartment on Haight St, a block from Ashbury St, right in the middle of the action. However, the Summer of Love started turning into what I call the Winter of Discontent. But that's another story. We hung around a lot, living off our summer savings. We decompressed from the rushed world we had lived in, waiting for the Vietnam draft to catch up to us.

One night I remember being in a group of half a dozen young people. A black youth in his teens spoke about how badly Negroes are treated, and how small and insignificant he deeply felt. Speaking from my heart, having experienced some discrimination myself, I spoke to comfort him, saying something along the lines of "we are all the same under our skin" and "your color does not matter." Well, this young man acted like he had never heard those words before! He was wide eyed and astonished, and asked if I really felt that way. I confirmed it. In a matter of minutes, though we had never met, he latched on to me and started treating me like I was a superior being, and had all the answers to the world's problems. He asked "what do we do now?!"

I felt bad, but had nothing else to offer him besides my original comments. I was no saviour, civil rights leader or activist. He was looking for more, something I could not provide. I believed what I said, but could take it no further. He wanted to follow me, but I gently discouraged it, and told him to he would be ok. I had my own problems to deal with, and left him with a very lost look on his face.

I remember that event occasionally, thinking of my limitations then and now. I'm still not an activist. I hope that hurt young man found his way in life. I'm glad that Barak has come along, he probably could have done a lot more for him than I could have.