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The Back of the Bus

I’ve been tangled up in 50 years of whacko demonstrations bitching and moaning and hating on Amerikkka. In the beginning, I was one of them and amassed tons of street cred. I was there carrying the spears and being a good little radical for things such as, but not limited to, The Free Speech Movement. The Vietnam Day marches. Stop the troop trains. Free Tibet. People’s Park. Pacifica Radio. The Electronic Frontier Foundation. On and on until I left the flea-brained circus and its insane clowns. But that was long ago. What a difference a few decades make. Or do they?

Here’s a photograph taken during a protest for the Free Speech Movement at the University of California in Berkeley in December of 1964.

This was over 50 years ago. I suppose that if it was taken on just the right day in December of 1964 at just the right time, I’m floating around somewhere nearby just outside the frame. I’m probably trying to make a sign that’s as cool as, “STRIKE AGAINST THE PATRIARCHAL DESPOTISM AND MARTIAL LAW USED IN DEFENSE OF PERSONAL MORAL WEAKNESS,” but I’ve got no shot. That guy is just too, too SDS/Young Socialist/Mattachine Society for me. I’d have never come up with his pithy puffery. Still, you have to admire his foresight. He’s got “PATRIARCHAL” up there a full decade before it was even a gleam in Andrea Dworkin’s eye.

I’ve been looking at a lot of old photographs of late and I always wonder where the people in the picture are today. I know where I am and it is much more than 50 years gone. I like to imagine it is the same for the sign-toting student in the shot. But you just can’t know.

The other thing that strikes me is how, as my father would have said, “clean-cut” everybody is. Suits, ties, “ivy-league” haircuts, polished shoes. Nobody wears things like that to demonstrations today, not even the FBI Agents.

Of course, the slightly scruffy couple harmonizing folk songs over a guitar in the background near the middle of the shot is still around. They don’t seem to ever age, do they? I wonder what their secret is?

When I lived in Laguna Beach I had to take my car in for repair at one of the Mercedes repair shops that line one side of the road up Laguna Canyon from the ocean to the interior of Orange County. Dropping it off I took a little stroll around the automobile graveyard that forms a part of this mechanic’s lot. And there it was: my past come back to haunt me like a Maoist version of Marley’s Ghost.
I’m not saying I owned this vehicle, but a lot of my friends did. I’m not saying this was one of theirs, but it sure could have been. And I’m not asserting that what was on the back of the bus told the tale of the last 50 years of increasingly insane protest, but it certainly could. Here’s the back with the slogans broken out below in case you can’t quite make them out.

  • Millennium Schmillennium
  • Green Party
  • The Nation
  • Nader/LaDuke
  • 90.7 FM
  • Live Simply That Others May Simply Live
  • Visualize Industrial Collapse
  • Darwin
  • KPFK

There it is; the very model of a major American mindset. In no particular order, it catalogs over 50 years of increasing American political dementia. If the van hadn’t collapsed it would have probably collected Halliburton = Overfishing the Oceans added to it along with Bush Lied And He/She/It Died, If I Believed in Jesus, Jimmy Carter Would Be A Saint and It’s All About the Oil on Mars! plus KILL TRUMP WITH A CHAINSAW! If it could have stayed on the road it would have been kept up-to-date with the latest in popular hate. It would have been a sacred trust.

Many Americans would today find the bus’s butt deeply repulsive and vile. And those same Americans would let it go on its merry Beetle Bus way carrying its aging hippies off into the sunset of their wasted lives. I know I would. I would be repelled by the sentiments on the back and I would be glad to see them there at the very same time.

In a very real sense, the existence of this bus and the accretion of over 50 years of loopy political ideas on its ass like some winking mollusks of resentment is a testament to the deep strength of the core values of this country.

It is not difficult to know what the life expectancy of the bus and the driver of it would be should it have been driven across the Iran border with similar anti-Islamic sentiments displayed. But no matter how stupid the drivers of this bus have been over the decades, none of them would have been that stupid.

The test of freedom across the long term is, as has been said before, how well the society tolerates the ideas that seek to undo it. From my own experience and observation, I’d say this little exhibit confirms that it has been going very well for freedom in the United States for well over 50 years. There’s a lot of other places, even today — places beloved by the drivers of this van and their friends and family — where none of them would last for 50 hours.

If I had to show someone from another world one thing that would prove this country was the last best hope of Earth, I’d make them land the mothership in Laguna Canyon and take in the back of the bus.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Roy Lofquist February 21, 2019, 3:53 PM

    I was an engineer for Scientific Data Systems (SDS). Must have been 1965, 1966. An associate and I were on the campus at UCLA, on our way to the primate lab on a service call. As we passed a group of students one of them pointed to our pocket badges (prominent SDS logo) and said “I didn’t realize they were that organized”.

  • PA Cat February 21, 2019, 4:18 PM

    the accretion of over 50 years of loopy political ideas on its ass like some winking mollusks of resentment

    My example of political detritus festooning an innocent car is over a decade old, but whatever; it goes back to the Kerry/”I Feel Pretty” Edwards campaign of 2004. I used to take long walks around the neighborhood, including a block where someone owned a blue sedan with Kerry/Edwards bumper stickers over every available inch of surface on the exterior (roof too) except for the windows. I tried to calculate the cost of what had to be over a hundred bumper stickers on the car, never mind the cost of (eventual) removal or the hit to the car’s resale value. The Kerry Klown Kar stayed that way for months. Don’t know whether the owner felt some kind of nostalgie de la boue for the Kerry campaign or never came across the Bumper Sticker (BS) removal device on YouTube:

    As for me, since my city is as blue as it gets, the most controversial item I’ve ever put on the outside of my aging clunker is a Phillies license plate frame. So far no visible retribution from Mets fans, unless you count bird droppings.

  • Sam L. February 21, 2019, 4:19 PM

    I passed one of those 2-4 years ago. All it said on the back was
    “SORRY! These 40 old horses are doing the best they can.”

  • Hangtown Bob February 21, 2019, 4:37 PM

    Back in those days, one seldom saw desecration or destruction of the slogans pasted on these buses. The conservative establishment merely tolerated them and probably sometimes even got a little chuckle out of them.
    Nowadays, if one is foolish to enough to ever put a MAGA bumpersticker on the bumper of their car, they are inviting a nasty and expensive vandalism of their vehicle. So much for Peace and Love.

  • Stephanie February 21, 2019, 6:00 PM

    Hey, I’m almost 50…and furthermore, my son understands these protests signs better than me. 😉

  • Stephanie February 21, 2019, 6:00 PM

    No fair! 🙂

  • Anon February 22, 2019, 4:19 AM

    “From my own experience and observation, I’d say this little exhibit confirms that it has been going very well for freedom in the United States for well over 50 years. There’s a lot of other places, even today — places beloved by the drivers of this van and their friends and family — where none of them would last for 50 hours.”

    – Try wearing a red MAGA hat where ever you go and see how long it takes before you get accosted.

    – Better yet, put up any controversial expression of patriotism and see how long it takes before it gets vandalized.

    – Or try walking around a black neighborhood with a sign saying, “All Lives Matter” (by the way someone has already done this and you can find a video of it on the Internet).

    – Try going publicly against a government bureaucracy and see how long it takes before they decide to violate your rights and drag your life into a bureaucratic/legal nightmare out of spite.

    – Go on the Internet and freely exercise your right to free speech by saying something controversial and see how long it takes before you get targeted, mobbed and deplatformed.

    – Invite a journalist or media organization to do an unbiased story which doesn’t fit their narrative and see if they present your story honestly and accurately.

    I don’t wish to be blunt but if you believe the United States is still the place of freedom it has been for the last 50 years, you’re in for a rude awakening.

  • Snakepit Kansas February 22, 2019, 4:21 AM

    I have a DTOM front license plate on my decade plus old Caddy. I am one of those guys that parks way out at SAM’s Club because it is faster to walk to the store than drive in circles (squares?) looking for a close spot. Anyhow, even after parking out in the boonies, I’ve gotten two significant shopping cart dents in the door, not dings, over time. Wondered if the DTOM plate had anything to do with that.

    There is a gal at work that has a BERNIE sticker on her car. I made a home made TED CRUZ for President sign, color printed it and glued it to a magnet. Stuck it on her passenger side door. She didn’t find it for a couple days. She knew I did it, although I wouldn’t admit it. She thought it was funny. No harm, no foul.

  • ghostsniper February 22, 2019, 4:54 AM

    M80 taped to windshield.
    Icepick in TWO tires.
    Plier pinch a brake line.
    Toothpick snapped off in door lock.
    Antenna yanked sideways.
    You get the idea.
    Video cameras on light poles.

  • Joe February 22, 2019, 5:41 AM

    Can you imagine the state of our union today if these “free thinkers” had followed their own advice. “DARE TO THINK FOR YOURSELF”

  • Marica February 22, 2019, 6:16 AM

    What a nice start to my day. Thanks for the reflection. I’m currently away from our farm in rural Mississippi (where, btw, Anon, you should spend some time, things are different out in the hinterlands) at a conference hotel in downtown Denver among a few thousand philosophers— the majority of whom are young and need jobs— who will be spewing well argued rubbish.

    Silly kids. I say that having observed them for over 20 years. Funny how many of those I first met now are married, have a mortgage, a kid or two, and love to talk about their tomato gardens. By definition, most folk wind up falling within one standard deviation of the norm. Eventually.

  • Casey Klahn February 22, 2019, 8:10 AM

    I had the temerity to remark to another artist (this was maybe a decade ago and in California, no less) that I always got a kick out of that Free Tibet! bumper sticker. I said that I’m still waiting to see the army of hippies who were going to muster up and go fight China to “Free Tibet!” He got, subtly, bent out of shape. He thought it was a good and poignant sign, and not an impossibly stupid one as I’d noted. Missing from his understanding were the layers of nuance I had achieved: commies going to fight Commies on behalf of their non-violent fellow travelers.

    Goddamn I am funny.

    Ah, sweet yesterday! I miss those simpler times. Gerard has so well described our current state of being vis our past state: giddily free and raucous then; totally and inexorably fukt now. Bumper stickers? I wished! It’s heads down, mouth zipped shut, keep your head on a swivel now!

  • JiminAlaska February 22, 2019, 10:16 AM

    & as Yeats almost said in his second cumming; What rough beast lurches toward Washington to be born…