Laguna on Acid
Twenty-eight years ago: crazy times in the U.S. of A. President Richard Nixon orders the invasion of Cambodia, touching off massive anti-war demonstrations. At Kent State, the National Guard opens fire on unarmed demonstrators. In Los Angeles, Charlie Manson is on trial. Timothy Leary-busted in Laguna Beach for possessing pot-is sprung from prison with the help of the Weathermen and then flees to Algiers to shelter with the Black Panthers. The My Lai trials begin. Everywhere you look is weirdness, madness, contention and not a little despair.
Orange County-even more conservative than today-has placed its school districts under "anti-agitation" procedures. Rallies are held to warn of the "Communist influence" in the protest movement. What was then The Santa Ana Register runs a story headlined, "Profile of a Hippie: Uses Pot, Has No Job" ("Most hippies smoke pot, live out of wedlock, have no visible means of support, think the 'establishment' is way off-base and like to do their thing, which they call 'unity-a state of brotherhood for peace'").
In many ways, it was a battlefield. And upon that battlefield was played out the Great Christmas 1970 Hippie Invasion of Laguna Beach, when the Age of Aquarius actually dawned for a moment-sort of-and Sunshine Acid rained from the skies-literally-and Bob Dylan, like a restless King Harry before Agincourt, may-or may not-have wandered the misty pre-dawn fields of Laguna Canyon just before the dark ranks of the police moved in, singing "Here Comes Santa Claus" as they routed the last of the '60s.
Laguna Beach was probably the only place in Orange County where it could have happened. It was smaller then, less congested, almost rustic. Homes didn't cover every hillside; condos didn't overshadow the beaches. There were rich folks-a lot of them movie stars-with big houses, but you could still rent a place for $50 or $60 per month. There were fewer tourists. There were actual starving artists and bohemians left over from the Beat Age, and a lot of hippies who had fled the Haight found a home here. People would sit on the sand at the foot of Broadway and toke up. There was a free clinic. Krishnas in saffron robes chanted. People played music on the streets.
One woman recalls a party she attended as a teenager. It was the usual sort of thing: black lights, lava lamps and Hendrix on the box. The cops showed up to quiet things down. One officer held his baton up to the black light: "PEACE AND LOVE" was lettered along the barrel.
But even in funky Laguna Beach, many businessmen and civic leaders grew impatient with the hippies who had adopted their town. The businessmen wanted tourists all right, but tourists who bought in their shops, stayed in their hotels and ate in their restaurants, not these longhairs who panhandled, flashed the peace sign, sat on rocks and played their harmonicas when they weren't off having wild, wanton sex.
People were starting to talk about how to get the hippies out of Laguna.
In the midst of all this, in the fall of 1970, a young man named Curtis Reid threw the I'Ching and learned that "holding together brings good fortune." And he had a brainstorm: he would invite every longhair and hippie and flower child in the nation to a Christmas festival in Laguna Beach.
It is late on a recent fall afternoon. The air shimmers with that peculiar brassy luminescence that falls on land near water. On Coast Highway, as it climbs south from Main Beach, the traffic has thickened. Across the street, a Rolls Royce makes its stately way out of the Albertson's parking lot. Shoppers on the sidewalk mainly consist of well-tanned women and their razor-cut men. There's a small knot of shirtless boys and tank-topped girls with skateboards and surfboards. The sounds of hurrying traffic are undercut with the light, white jazz of some nearby early happy hour.
It had taken a little investigation to find this shop, a narrow, unassuming place, its front peeling and weathered, its windows grimy. Opening its door, you pass from that brassy sun into old shadows. Inside, dust motes drift in a draft that occasionally stirs the few racks of tie-dyed shirts so they shiver like bats hanging in a cave. There is an odor of mustiness and incense. A glass case contains jewelry inscribed with "Love" and "Peace." On the walls hang air-brushed art of waves and stars and the Grateful Dead.
"Curt [Reid] was, I guess, about 20 or 21," says Kent Kelley, the shop's owner. "He had lived here a long time, had a shop called Things, and was involved with a restaurant called Love Animals, Don't Eat Them. And one day-it was, like, in the fall-he came into the shop I had at the time and told me about the festival. I was the first person he told."
(I was never able to track Reid down. "He's off on his own new trip somewhere," I was told.)
Kelley is 49 now, a man of medium height with a slight middle-aged paunch, his graying hair falling to his shoulders; he is standing there in his jeans and tie-dyed shirt. "Laguna was great then," he says, his hands waving a graceful chandelle in the air. "Hippies and hermits and artists and surfers, and it was all too bohemian for the rich people. You could get a place to live for 40 bucks per month, and a lid was 7 bucks."
And in the midst of all this was Reid. "He was a genius," says Kelley. "He just did what he did, and people would just give him money."
After coming up with his brainstorm, Reid printed up posters and literature proclaiming a Christmas festival in Laguna to celebrate Christ's birthday and "the Dawning of a New Age." He sent the notices to health-food stores around the country and to police stations-the idea being to drum up talk and excitement and even paranoia. Alternative radio stations and underground papers picked up the story; from there, it seeped into the mainstream media and was carried around the country.
Not all of Reid's friends thought he could pull it off. One of these friendly critics was underground folk hero John Gayle, who along with several other Orange Countians had formed the Brotherhood of Love, a commune in Laguna Canyon that eventually became one of Southern California's premier drug-smuggling organizations.
"[Gayle] was, like, this rock & roll folk-hero dope dealer, and he supported artists and bands and everything," Kelley says. "You'd go to a party, and there he'd be with all these beautiful young girls. They were, like, these spiritual, hippie gangsters. Anyway, I can remember Johnny telling me four days before the thing started that it would never happen.
"But Curtis would just smile. That's all he would do-just smile."
We are joined by Kelley's friend John Chaney, an artist who lives in a tiny apartment upstairs. They reminisce about some of the characters who came to town for the Christmas Happening.
"You remember the Skipper?" Chaney asks, moving his long blond-gray hair back with his hand. "That guy who would skip everywhere, and when he came to a pole or a tree, he'd spin around it?"
"Yeah, and Crazy Horse: he was this guy who juggled and ate fire."
"And there was Star, all dressed up like a wizard."
"I remember this one guy who just mysteriously showed up," Kelley says. "He said he was Jesus, and he was living out there in the canyon, sleeping on the ground, but his clothes were always spotless."
For a moment, the memories take them, and they fall silent. There is only the muted rush of traffic from the street and the rustle of a poster on the wall, stirred by the breeze.
"Yeah, it was just a great party," Kelley says finally. He looks across at Chaney, who briefly gives back the glance and then turns away. "A great party," Kelley says. Then the smile slides off his face. "The party that ended it all."
In early December, the Flower Children started drifting into Laguna Beach, hitching or driving or somehow just showing up. The town began slowly filling.
"It was strange," one resident remembers. "We were used to seeing hippies around town, sitting on a bench playing a guitar or just lying there on the beach. But then it seemed like there were more and more. You'd drive downtown, and there'd be some on this corner and that corner. And then the next day, you'd drive downtown, and it would be the same groups, but they had grown. It was like cells dividing."
People camped out in the canyon, where there was a lot of open land. Soon even Orange County's local media caught on. On Dec. 23, the Register ran its first story about the Christmas Happening, its paranoia apparent:
"A hippie-sponsored Christmas day 'Come Together'-originally termed by local police as a 'little organized' gathering-may turn out to be a rock music concert attended by as many as 100,000 youths.
"For the past several weeks, local long-haired youths have been organizing the 'Come Together,' which has been well-publicized in underground newspapers across the United States and by word-of-mouth. . . .
"Local police are working on 12-hour shifts and often riding two men to a patrol car. All police in Laguna Beach are on tactical alert for Christmas day, and many city employees are on call.
"Police here have also notified all state law-enforcement agencies of the event, and rumor has it that other local police departments are ready to stand by."
Out in the canyon, work on a large wooden stage was already under way at Sycamore Flats, an undulating field of waist-high grass and brush in a natural bowl of the coastal hills, just north of where the San Joaquin Hills toll road now crosses Laguna Canyon Road. (The land is now owned by the city as a natural area.)
How the festival came to be located there is a bizarre little story in itself. Elizabeth Leeds was 27 at the time, had long lived in Laguna, and was former part owner of a local health-food restaurant called Millabee Treats. She was also friends with Reid and had helped him get out the message about the Christmas Happening. (At one point, she says, she hid the entire press run of 10,000 posters advertising the event because organizers had been told the police planned to seize them.)
"There was so much energy," Leeds remembers. "It was just very high, the highest ever. But it wasn't very organized. Lots of people thought the festival was just somehow going to happen there in the streets of the town. Nobody really planned for it. Curtis thought it was just going to happen all over.
"I can remember that we just kinda went out there to the canyon. Everybody just showed up. And then some telephone poles and a backhoe showed up. And then some people brought lumber, and people started to build a stage. Somebody got [Southern California] Edison to hook up electricity. People were donating everything."
Neil Purcell has a somewhat different recollection. Last year, after 30 years of service, he retired as Laguna Beach's chief of police. In 1970, he was just a sergeant, albeit a famous one: as a rookie in 1968, he had arrested Timothy Leary for possession; the arrest eventually landed Leary in the state prison at San Luis Obispo. (Just three months before the Christmas Festival, Leary shimmied across a telephone line to the other side of the prison fence, and then he jumped into a getaway car arranged by the Weathermen. When he finally reached sanctuary with the Panthers in Algiers, he sent Purcell a post card.) In the fall of 1970, Purcell was in charge of four other officers on the narcotics detail.
"It was Dec. 1, and the chief called and [asked if I could] come to the station," Purcell says by phone from his Big Sky, Montana, ranch. "When I got there, he said, 'We've got rumors that there's going to be a mini-Woodstock on Main Beach and Heisler Park.'"
Like Gayle and the Brotherhood, most city officials didn't believe the event would actually take place, but Purcell's squad got busy gathering information anyway. According to Purcell, two of his officers "put on wigs and grubby clothes" and infiltrated the group planning the festival. The information that came in convinced Purcell that something big was, in fact, about to happen, and he, in turn, was finally able to convince the chief and the City Council.
"It got to the point where we almost had an open check" to get whatever was needed, he says.
The first priority seemed to be to make sure the Christmas Happening didn't happen in downtown Laguna. The land at Sycamore Flats was then owned by a private development company; Purcell said he got that company's permission to use it for the festival. Then, according to Purcell, the police bought $10,000 worth of lumber and rented two big generators and had everything transported to the site.
"That was what got everything moved out there," Purcell said. "Our undercover guys even helped build the stage."
So, it was the Laguna Beach police who got the Christmas Happening to happen at Sycamore Flats? Well, maybe.
"Naw, it was all a big scam by Curtis Reid," Kelley says. "His original idea the whole time was to have it in the canyon. Part of him thought, 'Wow, what if 100,000 people show up downtown and on Main Beach.' But another part of him thought that might not really work. So he figured a place out in the canyon would be best. But he wanted the police to believe people were heading for the city. He was trying to trick them into giving him a big spot out in the canyon. So he and Neil [Purcell] went out there, and that's how everything worked out."
In the days leading up to Christmas 1970, from all across the country, they came pouring into Laguna Beach: longhairs, Flower Children of all ages, college students, already aging hippies looking for the new Haight, families-thousands and thousands of people. They left their cars wherever they found space, jamming downtown and the shoulders of Laguna Canyon Road, and hiked into the site. By Christmas day, there were 25,000 people at the site-with more arriving every minute.
Danelle Adams was 18, had just graduated from Laguna Beach High School, and got her boyfriend to take her to the Christmas Happening. "We got there just before dark," she remembers. "There were people everywhere, and more of them were hiking in over the hills. Peace symbols were everywhere. Music was playing. I can remember walking up toward the bandstand and looking down nearby, and there was a couple making love. On the other side of us, there was a woman on a white horse-long hair, completely nude. People were passing joints around. I remember one guy walking through the crowd, and he put his hand out, and there was an array of every kind of pill. I don't remember what band was playing, but the singer was up there encouraging everybody to toke up. It was just overwhelming.
"After dark . . . it got real cold. There were no blankets and no toilets. I remember one guy taking a whizz against a tree."
With pots and pans borrowed from Millabee Treats, which her former partner had given "to the people" and which had become a sort of staging center for the Christmas Happening, Leeds was organizing a kitchen. At Sycamore Flats, she and her daughter Marielle, her son Clay and some bystanders picked a site near the stage and made fire pits lined with rocks. Someone dug a garbage pit. They borrowed a picnic table and benches from a friend. They gathered bamboo from nearby and built a shelter to house the supplies. Atop the shelter they placed a tin-foil star.
Leeds remembers the generosity of the town. In the manuscript of a book she is preparing about the Christmas Happening, she writes: "Local citizens and women's groups and the churches were all donating and loaning food, blankets, firewood and anything else they could think of. Plenty of pots and pans were donated or loaned by various churches in town. The Episcopalian and Unitarian churches went all-out. Equipment and microphones, tents and decorations were also coming into the site. . . . People in motion, people with high hopes, people giving."
Gene Atherton, then a 44-year-old local doctor who had been instrumental in setting up a free clinic in Laguna Beach, went to the festival to organize medical services. A medical tent was set up along with a "bad trip" tent. Atherton recalls with a laugh that someone established a "hippie ambulance service." Local doctors and clinics loaned Atherton drugs and equipment. By the end of the Christmas Happening, Atherton says, there were two births; two deaths from accidents; one case of a rattlesnake bite; 15 cases of frostbite; and 300 bad trips, which he treated by having helpers hug the sufferers until they came down.
"The whole thing was just great," Dr. Atherton says. "It was quite a scene. There were grandmothers, and there were kids. I remember Suzy Creamcheese and Crazy Horse the sword swallower and General Hershey Bar and the Rainbow People. People were singing and taking off their clothes and dancing, and everybody was happy. I was interviewed on CBS news with all these hippies clustered around me. I enjoyed everything."
City officials were not as hopeful. More and more people crowded the canyon, drawn in part by rumors that Crosby, Stills and Nash would be playing, that Joan Baez and Dylan might show up, that George Harrison would drop in by helicopter. Tents were going up. Shelters were being improvised. Trees were being cut down for firewood (the nighttime temperature in the canyon fell into the 40s). Cars were abandoned everywhere, and traffic was tied in knots. The owners of Sycamore Flats were starting to waffle on whether they had actually given permission for their land to be used.
But mostly it was just the hordes of people. Everybody had an estimate: 15,000. 20,000. 25,000. Some-supporters and critics-still thought the crowd might eventually grow to 100,000.
The City Council was, as one of its members, Charlton Boyd, says, "totally ill-prepared and totally baffled." On top of the size of the crowd itself, there were rumors-never proved-that radicals from the SDS, the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers were agitating among the crowd, trying to stir up confrontations with the police. Some banks reportedly moved their records away for safekeeping. There was talk of declaring martial law. City Hall and the police station were boarded up, and the police set up a command post at the high school. Calls went out to other agencies, and reinforcements poured in. Helicopters landed on the high school athletic field. A local businessman who had for some reason built himself a homemade tank loaned it to the police. The City Council hired a public-relations man, dispatched Boyd on a fact-finding trip to the Christmas Happening site, and then beat a hasty retreat to its own "emergency command bunker"-the top floor of the waterfront Surf and Sand Hotel, where it passed the duration.
"On Christmas day, we were really getting totally inundated," Purcell recalls. "At 3 p.m., we shut the town down."
Police officers erected barricades and closed Laguna Canyon Road and Pacific Coast Highway in both directions. People with identification proving they lived in Laguna Beach were allowed through; traffic jams stretched for miles. Purcell went to Sycamore Flats to check things out and see if he could find somebody with whom to negotiate an end to the festival.
"The City Council . . . just figured it would all eventually go away," Purcell says. "But from what I saw out there and the people I talked with, it was apparent they didn't have any intention of leaving."
So the decision was made-by whom it's not really clear, but probably the police-to stop all supplies flowing into the festival. "Basically, you had these mostly peaceful 20,000 or so people out in the canyon doing their thing, and now they were under siege by the police," Atherton remembers.
At which point our story turns into some sort of bizarre Costa-Gravas hippie thriller. Leeds was trying to get a load of supplies into the festival but found her way blocked by police-police who were searching people. To Leeds, the whole thing resembled a war zone. Managing to talk her way through the roadblock, she arrived at Sycamore Flats to find that food and, especially, water were needed badly. She borrowed a truck and drove with friends to the restaurant she'd once owned. There, they loaded up with supplies, drove south to San Juan Capistrano and then to El Toro. Scouting around, they found an unpatrolled dirt road over the hills. They got stuck in mud, pushed themselves out, arrived at the festival, and that evening served 3,000 meals of rice, vegetables and bread.
Others were also smuggling in food. Kelley recalls scouring farmers' markets for supplies and likewise smuggling them in along back roads. Laguna Beach residents also got into the act. Some climbed down hillside trails to deliver bags of food to the besieged festival. Phyllis Sweeney, who a couple of years earlier, while working for a local real-estate office, had shown several rentals to Leary and his wife, got a call from her 15-year-old son that people at the festival needed food and water. Sweeney and her friends collected as much food as they could find-Sweeney herself spent Christmas day baking every potato she could get her hands on-and then pulled some strings and got permission to cross the police lines; a caravan rolled through to Sycamore Flats.
At the festival, things were getting smelly-garbage was piling up, and the police had refused to let through a shipment of portable toilets-but generally proceeding pretty much apace. None of the big-name musical acts had showed, although rumors persisted of stars seen moving about through the crowds. But bands from Orange County and Los Angeles continued to play. There were even whispers that Leary was planning to slip back into the country from his exile in Algiers and pay a visit to the Christmas Happening.
An airplane flew overhead on the afternoon of Dec. 26, dropping thousands of Christmas cards-perhaps as many as 10,000-to the crowd. To each was affixed a tab of Sunshine Acid, which was made in Laguna Beach and delivered courtesy of the Brotherhood of Love. Gayle was finally a believer.
That night, Reid mounted the stage. "Isn't it beautiful?" he asked the crowd. "Do you feel the unity here?"
To celebrate the Age of Aquarius, he asked them each to light a match and hold it up. "I see 14,000 angels," he said.
Stories persist to this day that sometime long after midnight, as the moon rose and mist spread across Sycamore Flats, Dylan appeared at the festival without announcement and walked among the slumberers, pausing here and there to talk with some Flower Child still sleepless, borrowing a guitar to play a few soft licks.
Pressure to take action was mounting on the city fathers. Irate residents complained that police barricades and snarled traffic had made any trip an ordeal. Businessmen were furious because they were losing profits. Then there were the persistent threats of possible terrorist activities. One police employee, left behind in the boarded-up police station to operate communications equipment, remembers seeing a police sniper posted atop City Hall for protection.
Purcell took action. He sent his undercover guys into the encampment at Sycamore Flats with orders to destroy whatever empty tents and sleeping bags they found and to otherwise generally encourage people to leave. Whether because of that, or the cold, or the lack of sanitation, or the fact that the big-name entertainment hadn't materialized, people started streaming away on Dec. 27. To help them, the city brought in dozens of school buses.
"We had them marked north, south, east and west," says Purcell, "and they boarded according to where their vehicles were parked. And they just boarded the buses, and we took them to the outskirts and dropped them off."
But about 2,500 people didn't leave. Some, like Leeds and her friends, stayed behind to clean up and gather the equipment loaned by churches and residents. Others simply didn't want to give it up. They sat around their fires through the night, playing guitars, singing, laughing and smoking dope.
Before dawn on Dec. 28, 450 police officers from around the county and encamped at the high school were divided into 20-man squads, each under the command of a sergeant, and transported by bus to the hills surrounding Sycamore Flats. As the sun came up, a helicopter flew over, and an officer on a loud hailer commanded the remaining crowd to disperse. At 5:30 a.m., police in riot gear moved in on those who stayed behind. They came from the hills, singing "Here Comes Santa Claus."
Purcell remembers the operation as swift and painless: "They just held their night sticks out in front of them and marched them out and into town; they were all out by 11 a.m."
The memories of those being marched out are not so neat. Leeds and her kitchen crew had arisen at 5 a.m., breakfasted on oatmeal and honey and raisins, and started packing up the rest of their equipment.
First, the helicopter circled overhead, and then "we looked up into the hills surrounding the site," Leeds wrote later. "We were frightened by what we saw, and all of us felt the adrenalin rush of our lives. Silhouetted against the early morning sky . . . was a line of police . . . and they were standing very still. After about a minute, that line moved down the hill, and a fresh line appeared on the top."
People shouted, some cried, some gave the cops the finger or mooned them. Leeds and a girlfriend moved toward the police line, hoping to talk. Leeds spotted an officer she had spoken with a couple of days before, a police captain from Westminster who stood out from the rest because he was in plain clothes. The captain silently watched them approach. "Hello, I'm Beth, and this is Ruth. Could you tell us what's happening? We're just cleaning up, and we'll have it done by noon."
"We have orders to move you out," the captain said. "You can come back later and get your belongings, but please cooperate now because we don't have much time."
How much time? Leeds asked.
"I can give you about 10 minutes, but that's all. Go to the road and hurry."
Leeds and her friend returned to the remaining festivalgoers. There was muttering and some more shouting. Some people bravely proclaimed they wouldn't leave. And then the cops moved down out of the hills. People started running. There was a great deal of shouting. A few people were maced, others got jabbed with nightsticks. In the midst of it all, two young people, a boy and a girl, got up out of their sleeping bag and calmly proceeded to dress, then sit down and tie their shoes. The cops were singing "Here Comes Santa Claus," and the longhairs were singing "For What It's Worth," and after a time, the area was clear, and it was all over.
Soon after the area was clear of people, bulldozers and other heavy equipment moved into Sycamore Flats. It was supposed to be a cleanup, but it was almost as if the city fathers wanted to obliterate all traces of the Christmas Happening. The stage was burned. Trenches were dug, and into them the bulldozers swept the accumulated garbage along with tents, sleeping bags, clothing, anything left behind in the hasty departure of the Flower Children-even the borrowed pots and pans that Leeds and her cooking crew had used to feed the multitudes. Some people got back in to pick up their gear, but not many.
The recriminations began at once. Council members emerged from their "command bunker" in the Surf and Sand to face criticism that the festival should not have been allowed to take place; council members cited vague "police intelligence reports" that "hardcore revolutionaries" had been in town and argued that if attempts had been made to prevent the festival, a violent confrontation would have ensued. Besides, the mayor told the press, all the decisions had been made by the city manager, anyway; conveniently, the city manager was unavailable for comment.
The tenor of things in once-gentle Laguna Beach had changed. On Jan. 6, 1971, Jim Van Rensselaer, a Laguna News-Post staff writer who had been the city "public-relations consultant" during the Christmas Happening, wrote an article bemoaning "the hideous hippie happening that spoiled our Christmas."
"There was nothing good about this unlawful gathering," which was the "brainchild of a small group of cynical and self-seeking promoters. . . . Whatever religious or spiritual overtones that could by the remotest stretch of the imagination be attached to it were phony," Rensselaer wrote.
As the new year continued, the City Council discussed ordinances that could make it easier to prevent any future "illegal assembly." City Councilman Ed Lohr, who a year before had been trying to ban dogs from Laguna's beaches, repeated charges that "hardcore revolutionaries" had been on-hand waiting to exploit any confrontation and could be counted on to take over any future festival. The business community raised its collective voice as well. They had lost all those Christmas-dinner reservations; they demanded the city take action against the "drug-taking, diseased, hippie bums." Others wanted to know if there was some way to prosecute the Krishnas for all that chanting they were doing. There were complaints about all the costs incurred for police overtime and cleanup.
A few voices were raised to praise the generally peaceful way in which the festival had been conducted and to criticize the way it was handled by city officials. "There was less drug taking at the festival than any other event of this kind that I know of," Atherton told the press. He went on to blast police for cutting off food and medical supplies to the festival. "We cannot have such a disregard of human life," he said.
But those words were few and far between. When some festival organizers talked about trying to turn Sycamore Flats into a "people's park," the city said it would quickly quash any attempt of that sort. There was something in the air, some barely perceived sense, some feeling like your body coming down with a cold, a feeling that things were changing and passing away. It wasn't just in Laguna Beach; it was also all across the country, but in Laguna, because of the Christmas festival, there was a convenient way of marking the before and after.
Atherton saw part of it. The Christmas Happening came at a kind of cusp, as we were beginning the slide into more cynical, complicated times. The Flower Children were growing up, getting older, realizing the lures and responsibilities of families and careers. The Movement was just running out of energy. Long hair would become fashionable. Flower Power would become a marketing strategy. "The times were changing," Atherton says ironically. "Look at the festival. Here was this big gathering of people, and it was peaceful and happy and showed the way things could work. But we couldn't let things like that work; it was too frightening. There was a backlash. That's the way it was going all across the country. Some parts of it got bought out by the system, and some parts of it got put down by the system. The country goes through cycles. Maybe that was just the end of one cycle and the beginning of another one."
Danelle Adams saw part of it, too. The 18-year-old who had talked her boyfriend into taking her to the Christmas Happening stayed in Laguna Beach and joined the police force; she is now a lieutenant in charge of investigations.
"Things did seem to get a harder edge after that," she tells me as we stand in a hallway of the police station, looking at a photo of the Christmas Happening. "Not just in Laguna, but also everywhere. In the '60s, it was marijuana. But then the drugs started getting harder. The people, too. Guns and cocaine and the whole thing.
"Times change. I'm glad I grew up in the '60s. As a kid, there was just no stress. But then it just became competition for everything. The Christmas Happening could never happen today." She pauses and gives a little laugh. "Hell, you'd have to get permits out the kazoo."
In Kelley's store, the evening is coming down, shadows are lengthening, and the memories are spinning out. "Do you remember the troopers from the Brotherhood coming through the crowd, passing out acid?"
"Everybody mellow and happy . . ."
"There was that guy up onstage, and he was trying to get them to chant, 'Down with Nixon; down with Nixon,' and nobody wanted that then, and they all started chanting back: 'Love! Love! Love!'"
"Everybody has their own reality."
"All the cops lined up on the hills like Indians . . ."
"There was one girl who got back in and gathered up all these abandoned quilts and blankets, and she lived for a couple of years on the clothes she made from them."
"The next spring, pot was springing up everywhere from the seeds that were dropped."
And then, suddenly, the conversation runs out. The traffic noise comes to us, and a clatter of car horns from toward Main Beach, and from somewhere closer at hand, we hear the bass thump of a rap tune. "It seemed so magical back then," says Chaney. "So magical, like things were coming, things were happening."
Kelley nods, but almost in a distracted way. "Weird and wonderful."
"And then," says Chaney, "there was this attitude like, 'Nip it in the bud,' and the hippies got driven out. And then everything changed and everybody got hard-eyed and into coke."
For a moment, he brightens. "But still, today there are all these people going to Dead concerts, and people are still trying to raise their consciousness, and there are these young kids coming up interested in the '60s and '70s."
Kelley leans back against a glass case of jewelry, his long hair lank in the dusty airlessness. "The new generation . . ."
"They want to hear the stories," Chaney says.
"Well," Kelley says, and then for a moment or two, he adds nothing. Finally he smiles a strange soft smile. He raises a hand and softly flutters his fingers in the air. "And there will always be people who are telling the stories," he says. "It's important to remember the stories."
One afternoon, Leeds and I park along Laguna Canyon Road, make our way through the barbed wire and past the "No Trespassing" signs, and follow a trail through the grass of Sycamore Flats toward the low brown hills. As everything comes back into her memory, she points out the sites. "The medical tent was here," she says. "The stage was up there against the hillside, and there-past those oak trees-was where I cooked. Right about there was my little tepee kitchen. We got the bamboo from that grove in the gully, and we leaned it up, and we put that star on top of it." She points to the right. "That grove of bamboo there."
And then her hand comes slowly back to her side. "It was the most peaceful, beautiful joining of minds," she says finally. "We really felt like things were going to keep on. Wouldn't it be wonderful if it happened again?"
We stand for a moment, listening to the breeze through the grass and the brittle oak leaves. "It could happen again," she says. She turns to me and asks, "Couldn't it?"
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