It was the year of rock festivals in Manitoba. This weekend’s event would the third that Rick had attended during the summer of 1969. The famous or infamous “summer of love” had come a couple of years later in Canada. Rick loved these rock festivals. He was a loyal fan of all the local rock bands in the city. To Rick these musicians were of as worthy of his praise as famous bands like The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Rick loved the music of the 1960’s. The first single record he bought was She Loves You by The Beatles. He especially liked the garage bands that sometimes had a single hit record during the years 1965 to 1967. But now it was the psychedelic era. It was Jimi Hendrix and his band The Experience, with a beautiful yellow cover on their first LP, Are You Experienced? Rick wasn’t quite sure that he preferred psychedelic music to the garage bands but he figured that he would soon get used to the new sounds on the radio.
You see Rick was now “with it” or “hip” or at least tried to be. This process had only come about in the last three months. The inspiration for this desire for hipness came through his association with his female neighbor across the street. To be more precise Rick was now enamored with his desire to have a girlfriend.
His new neighbor, Misty had recently moved to Canada from San Francisco, California. She would have been around fifteen or sixteen during the Haight-Ashbury Summer of Love. Misty claimed to have visited the original community of hippies on a daily basis. She told Rick that she would have moved right into Haight-Ashbury if her parents would let her. If she tried to run away, Misty said that her mother would definitely get the police to bring her back home. She told her parents that she visited the library every afternoon during that summer as she was writing a novel and found the library to be a comfortable place to do research and to write.
The more that Rick got to know Misty the more he realized that she loved to drop names and to stretch the truth, if not make up outright lies. Rick had also heard rumors that Misty had spent some time in a mental health facility while in California. Rick believed that there might well be some truth to these rumor. Misty loved to tell stories about the good life she had left behind in Caliornia. She greatly resented having to move to Winnipeg but her parents had split up and she had chosen to live with her father. Rick had met her
father when he went over to visit Mystery. Lloyd had long hair,was tall, had a bit of a pot belly and was in his early forties. He bore somewhat of a resemblance to Pigpen of The Grateful Dead. Her dad played guitar and claimed to have been in a band in San Francisco. He said that his band was going to be signed by a major label but his marital break-up had derailed these plans. After the marital split he decided to move to Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada as his parents lived here. Lloyd realized that he had a poor track record for holding down a steady day job and if things really got tough he would have his parents to bail him out. Lloyd loved his daughter but he was not a disciplinarian. That had been her mother’s strength. Lloyd was a libertarian at heart and had trouble trying to discipline himself. That was likely the reason that Misty chose to live with him instead of her mother.
Rick was quite infatuated with Misty but she did not appear to have a romantic interest in him. She made it clear to Rick that he was not her type but that she didn’t mind “hanging out” with him from time to time. Rick held on to a hope that at some point during that summer, Misty would change her mind. Misty had her sights set on a “freak” that she had seen while at Memorial Park, the local hippie gathering spot in the city. As yet she had not put any moves on the male hippie of her dreams but she was making plans to make herself known to him.
Rick felt that Misty’s problem with him was that he was a “straight” in her estimation, as opposed to the “freak” she had seen at the park. At this point I should explain the meaning of the term, “freak” as it was used in the nineteen sixties. A freak was a synonym for “hippie”. A freak would have long hair, usually well past shoulder length, wore bright often tie dyed tee shirts or a tank top and well worn blue jeans with patches. It was usually considered that a freak must use illicit substances on a regular basis. The minimum requirement for a “freak” was to smoke marijuana. Those who were on a “higher level” (no pun intended), in “freakdom” took LSD or as it was known, “dropped acid.” A freak was usually broke and was often temporarily homeless and would either sell drugs himself or ask passerbys for “spare change.” Rick could never understand the concept of “spare change” or especially, a “spare cigarette.” When I bought a pack of cigarettes there were always either twenty or twenty-five cigarettes included in the pack. He never recall opening a pack of smokes that had twenty-seven or twenty-eight cigarettes in it.
Rick was what was known in the hip community as a “straight”. A “straight” was a person who wore a short, respectable haircut and did not take drugs of any kind. A straight might have tried marijuana once or twice but decided that “smoking dope” was not for him. You could smoke tobacco cigarettes and get drunk on beer every weekend and still be labeled a straight. Depending upon their age, straights would either regularly attend school or hold down a steady job. Straights usually did not like the music of Jimi Hendrix or The Grateful Dead but there were exceptions. A straight from Canada was not even aware that a war was going on in Vietnam or if they did, did not see any relevance for it in their lives.
For seventeen years Rick had towed the line. Although he was not a great student he had studied hard at school this year and had brought his marks up from Cs and Ds to Bs and even an occasional A. He was only good at one sport and that was hockey but he had excelled as a goalie during the past season. Rick had occasionally gone to drinking parties with some of his teammates and had earned a reputation as someone who could really “hold their liquor”. Rick liked the feeling of being drunk but was not an alcoholic. After this hockey season ended Rick started smoking cigarettes again. He had started smoking for a short while when he was fourteen but was not by any means a heavy smoker. He didn’t even buy his own cigarettes at this point. He pinched a few smokes from his dad’s pack. When he got serious about playing hockey at age sixteen Rick gave up the habit. Now that he had retired from hockey he decided to start smoking again.
He had certainly heard about marijuana but didn’t actually try anything until he was eighteen. Rick tried it at a party because he was curious and wanted to look cool. He found that he didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Smoking dope hindered his ability to carry on an intelligent conversation at a party and he was not happy about this side effect. Rick much preferred beer as it made him more loquacious. He was normally a quiet person but he would become quite talkative once he had consumed a few beers.
With hockey season over and only a few weeks left in the school year Rick now had some time on his hands. One of the reasons he probably didn’t have a girlfriend is that he hadn’t had any time to look for one. Hockey practices and games took up three to four evenings per week. On his free nights Rick
needed to study for his grade twelve courses. He had made up his mind to be a serious student that year. Rick did poorly in grade ten and eleven and had actually failed two courses in grade eleven. He was able to recover his math grade by attending summer school and paying for a private math tutor over the previous summer. That left Rick one science credit short but his faculty advisor had informed Rick that if he took a geography elective he wouldn’t need to retake grade eleven physics. Rick felt like he had gotten a fresh start in his academic program. His hard work and diligence to his studies had paid off. If he took a correspondence course over the summer Rick would be on track to graduate from high school with the rest of his peers.
From his conversations with Misty, Rick had learned that Memorial Park was the place to be if you wanted to meet counter culture people. One hot, summer afternoon Rick walked downtown to buy a new record at a place called The Record Room. Rick still had a paper route and he used his extra money to keep up his music collection. He was thinking about buying the first album by Jimi Hendrix and The Experience. He had heard one of his favorite local bands perform Purple Haze, the second single release from this album and decided that he wanted to hear the full LP.
After he had purchased the album at the record store he felt some one tap him on the shoulder and say, “Excuse me, man.” This was the first time that anyone had called him, “man” Rick turned around and saw what could only be a female hippie or a flower child. He had previously only seen the flower children on television or in magazines. This girl definitely met the stereotype. Rick would estimate that she was fourteen to sixteen years old.
“Hey man, do you have a cigarette and a little spare change?”
Rick happened to have a pack of Sweet Caporal cigarettes on him and did have change left over after purchasing the Jimi Hendrix album. This must be what the hippies meant by spare change. Rick laughed and said, “Sure”. The young girl had long blond hair and freckles. Although she appeared to have missed a few meals Rick found her to be attractive.
“Would you like to get something to eat? There’s a Salisbury House about a block from here and I’m buying.” Rick couldn’t believe that he’d found the courage to say this. This was like asking a girl out on a date and he had never had any success with this. There is nothing more shattering to a young man’s
ego than rejection from a female. When a young man hears, “No or I don’t think so it is like taking a heavy punch to the abdomen. The air is sucked right out of you.
To his delight and amazement, the flower child said, “That would be very cool. Can I get a smoke from you now?”
“Absolutely,” said Rick taking a cigarette out of his pack and handing it to her.
While the two new acquaintances walked to The Salisbury House Rick felt like he was floating on air. It was hard for him to contain his excitement. He was about to have the company of a female all to himself.
Rick and his new friend found an open table at the restaurant and sat down to look at the menus. Rick said, “I know what I’m having already. A nip, some fries and a coffee. “
“That sounds cool to me. I’ll have the same as you, man. By the way I don’t even know your name,” said the flower child.
“I don’t know your name either,” Rick giggled.
“Well, I’m known as Arwen, man, from The Lord of the Rings. That’s my street name anyway. What’s yours?
“ I’m Rick Stuart, no street name. I think I heard of The Lord of the Rings but I haven’t read the book yet. What the heck is a street name anyway?”
“On the street nobody uses their real names. It makes it easier when the cops or Child and Family Services start snooping around. You never know your friend’s real names.”
It suddenly dawned on Rick that he had entered a different culture than what he was used to. “How long have you lived in Winnipeg, Arwen?”
“I don’t live in Winnipeg. I’ve been traveling around the States and Canada for the last few months. I just got into town Sunday night. I hitched a ride from Van with some guys.”
“What’s Van?” asked Rick?
“Man , you are a straight aren’t you? Van is short for Vancouver, British Columbia.”
“Did you know the guys you rode in with ?”
“Only for one day. I met them at a crash pad in Van,” answered Arwen.
“Do you think it was safe to get in a car with some men you barely know?” asked Rick, with some concern in his voice.
“ I never think about my own safety, man. I don’t worry about anything
anymore. I take life as it comes.”
A waitress came to their table as Arwen took deep drags off her cigarette and Rick took sips from his glass of water.
“What can I get you folks?” asked the waitress.
“We’d like two nips, two French fries and two coffees,” said Rick reaching for his c0mplimentary glass of water.
The waitress told them that their food should be ready in a few minutes.
“How long will you be staying in Winnipeg, Arwen?
“Probably for a week or so. I’ll leave as soon as my old man catches up with me,” answered Arwen.
“Your old man? Are you married?” asked Rick.
“No, we were just living together for a couple of months in Van.”
“It doesn’t sound like you want to get back with him.”
“Some times I do and sometimes I don’t. The problem is he hits me.”
“That’s terrible!”said Rick.
“Yeah, but it’s not all the time. Most of the time he’s pretty cool with me. It’s only when he’s had too much to drink that he gets crazy.”
“Are you afraid of him?” asked Rick.
“Yeah, if he got mad enough he might kill me.”stated Arwen.
“Well, that’s my cross to bare not yours, man.”
“Still. I can’t stand the thought of someone beating on you.”
“Ah, come on man, you didn’t even know me fifteen minutes ago.” said Arwen. “Still it’s kind of sweet. Thank you.”
”You want to hear a good band tonight. A band called Next are playing at River Heights Community Club tonight.”
“What kind of music do they play?” asked Arwen.
“Hard rock mostly. They play a lot of the rock you hear on FM radio. They even have a local hit record out, a cover version of Tobacco Road.”
“You mean the same song that The Nashville Teens recorded a few years ago?”asked Arwen.
“That’s the one.”
“Sounds good. If you got so enough bread for the two of us count me in,” answered Arwen.
“Great! We’ve got a couple of hours to kill before River Heights is open. Do you want to hang out at Memorial Park for an hour or two, remembering what Misty had told him. Then we can
catch the Crescent bus to River Heights Community Club, ”said Rick.
“Far out, man. I hear that’s where all the freaks in Winnipeg hang out. You’re pretty cool for a guy who looks so straight.”
Rick laughed. “Yeah, what can I say. I’ve only had two months to let my hair grow out. It’s only about half way over my ears.”
“There going to think you’re a narc, Rick,” Arwen joked.
“I think they’ll give me the benefit of the doubt when they see that I’m with you.”
Harmony giggled, “Yeah, man. You’re probably right.”
Right after they finished their coffees Rick and Arwen walked over the four blocks to Memorial Park. It was a pleasant summer evening and they saw a few groups of freaks huddling together and enjoying the vibe of a late summer afternoon. Arwen selected a group and sat down with them without any hesitation. She then introduced herself and Rick to the group.
Some of the freaks were holding pamphlets in their hands.
“What are the pamphlets about?”asked Arwen.
“There talking about a demonstration that’s going to be happening next week at Winnipeg Stadium, “ answered a red headed girl.
“Yeah, a guy and a girl were out here earlier handing out the pamphlets. I think they’re from the Young Socialist Party.” said a man with long black hair parted in the middle and a thin, black moustache.
“Aw they’re a bunch of communists out to change the world. Bring on the revolution and all that shit.”piped up a bearded overweight hippie.
‘No, they’re not, they’re socialists.” said Black Moustache in response.
“What’s the difference?” retorted the overweight hippie.
What’s the demonstration about? asked Arwen.
“There protesting the price of tickets that the Festival Express is charging for their outdoor rock festival next week.” answered an attractive black girl with a large Afro.
“How much are they charging? Rick interjected.
“Fourteen bucks,” replied Afro Chick.
“That is pretty steep,” said Rick.
“Yeah, but your getting to hear about ten different bands,” the red head pointed out.
“Yeah, but rock stars live like kings, man. They could do these concerts for free and not be hurt in the least,” said Black Moustache.
“Well, we’re going to see Next at River Heights Community Club and It’s only a buck fifty to get in,” said Rick.
“I hope you enjoy it but Next aren’t Janis Joplin and The Grateful Dead.
Rick and Arwen continued to hang out with this group of freaks for about an hour, then it was off to the bus stop.
As they left the park Rick reached out for Arwen’s hand.
“You want to hold hands on our first date,” laughed Arwen. “You’ve got to be about the sweetest guy I ever met.”
When they boarded the Crescent bus Rick and Arwen found a two seater and cuddled all the way until they got off at the bus stop closest to River Heights Community Club. As they listened to Next rock through their set list the happy couple danced and sweated unabashedly. When they got out of breath they would stop to drink Cokes and have a smoke at the canteen at the back of the recreation center.
Next finished their third and last set close to 11:00 PM. Rick and Arwen once again held hands as they walked the short distance to the bus stop. The weather had cooled off a little but it was still very comfortable. A full moon was out, there was a slight breeze and the stars were shining brightly. Rick had never had a better evening in all of his eighteen years.
Arwen told Rick that she was staying at the downtown YMCA. When the bus stopped downtown at Arwen’s stop, Rick asked her if he could meet her tomorrow. Arwen told him that she would be at Memorial Park around noon tomorrow.
As Rick walked across Portage Avenue to catch his bus he felt like he was floating on a cloud. He had done it. He had taken the first step to getting a girlfriend. He started walking the one block to his parent’s house. Rick heard a lot of talking, laughing and music coming from Misty’s back yard. Misty, her dad and a few other people were having a late night barbeque. Misty had just got out of her lawn chair and was in the process of getting herself another beer when she spotted Rick walking down the sidewalk.
“ Hey, Stu come join us , man,” Misty yelled.
This was the second time in one day that someone had called him, “man.” His change over to the hip world must be working he thought.
The second thought to enter Rick’s mind was how friendly Misty’s voice sounded. She had previously had a tone of either sarcasm or condescension in her voice when she bothered to speak to him at all.
As Rick approached Misty’s back yard she leaned over the gate to greet him.
“I saw you at Memorial Park tonight Rick. I couldn’t believe it was you and you were with a cool looking chick.”
“I’m full of surprises Misty. It’s about time you got to know the real Rick Stuart, “ Rick responded confidently.
“I guess so Stuart. How about a beer?” offered Misty.
“Don’t mind if I do, kind lady,” Rick answered.
Just then Misty’s dad, Lloyd came out of the house after using the washroom.
“Hi, Rick. It’s about time you came over to see us again. I just got back from the States and I brought back some good American Budweiser beer,” Lloyd said settling back into his lawn chair.
“ Your hospitable beautiful daughter is just bringing me one, “ said Rick.
“That’s amazing. She never brings me a beer,” said Lloyd trying to sound serious.
“I still can’t believe it. Rick Stuart at Memorial Park with a hippie chick yet,” said Misty taking a drink of her beer.”
“Why should that surprise you Misty? My hair almost covers my ears now,” joked Rick.
“Don’t worry Stuart. It will still be a long while before I start calling you a freak,” wisecracked Misty.
“Tomorrow’s a big day for us Rick. My other daughter, Sasha is coming in tomorrow to stay with us for the summer,” said Lloyd with anticipation in his voice.
“ I didn’t know that Misty had a sister. She never mentioned her to me,” said Rick taking a sip of his beer.
“ Sasha lives with her mother in L. A., Rick but this summer she’s going to stay with us. Tomorrow will be a busy day for her. I’m going to pick her up at the bus depot at 10:00 A.M. And then we’ll be taking her with us to the rock festival at Lake Mariposa,” said Lloyd reaching for his prized Martin D-18 guitar.
“Some good local bands are going to play there,” added Misty.
“ Yeah, Next, Chopping Block and Brother are all scheduled to perform,’ said Rick. “I ‘d love to go but I don’t have wheels.”
“Why don’t you come along with us?” offered Lloyd.
“Thanks Lloyd. I’d love to go with you guys. Would you have room for a friend of mine?” asked Rick.
“Now let me guess. The hippie chick you were with at the Park this evening,” said Misty with a sly grin on her face.
“Yeah, that’s the friend I was referring to,” answered Rick.
“No problem, Rick we’ll have room for her too if you don’t mind sitting really close to her,” Lloyd joked.
“Somehow, I don’t think he”ll mind that at all, “ said Misty smiling. Misty obviously had a beer buzz on.
“There’s only one problem,” said Rick. “I have to meet Arwen at Memorial Park at noon tomorrow.”
“That’s not a problem, Rick. How about we pick up you and Arwen at about ten after twelve tomorrow afternoon,” Lloyd offered.
“Arwen, like in the Lord of the Rings?” asked Misty.
“Yeah, that’s what she told me, “ answered Rick.
“That’s cool,” offered Misty.
Lloyd finally put his guitar strap over his head. “Have you ever heard of Bob Dylan, Rick?”
“Of course, I have all his albums except for his first one. What has Misty been telling you Lloyd? That I only listen to Bobby Vee and Bobby Rydell?” protested Rick in exasperation.
“No, actually she hasn’t told me anything about your taste in music. She has just inferred that you are a very straight guy,” Lloyd answered.
“I may be straight in many ways as you two like to put it but I’ve never been square. Man, I was listening to Elvis Presley when I was five years old,” said Rick in an exhilarated tone of voice.
“Well, hip guy if you’re so into Bob Dylan, what’s your favorite Dylan song?” asked Misty with an expression of curiosity on her face.
“Positively Fourth Street, “ Rick answered without any hesitation.
“Far out,” said Lloyd. ” Unfortunately I don’t know how to play that one. Would you mind if I played, Like a Rolling Stone?”
“That’s my second favorite Dylan song,” said Rick.
“Would you like another Bud, Rick?” asked Misty getting up from her chair.
“Yeah, I would, but it will have to be my last one. It’s been a great evening but I’m starting to feel a bit tired.”
When Misty handed Rick his beer Lloyd broke into the opening chords of “Like a Rolling Stone”. Rick and Misty even sang harmony on the chorus.
As that song went over so well Lloyd performed two more songs by Dylan, “I Want You” and “Just Like a Woman”. Once again Misty and Rick sang back up vocals on the choruses.
After these two numbers had ended Rick told Lloyd and Misty that he needed to go home to bed. He thanked them for a wonderful visit and confirmed that they would meet Arwen and him shortly after noon tomorrow.
As Rick stepped inside his parent’s home he could hear the audio from the late movie on the family television set.
As soon as Rick took a seat on the sofa across from his parents his father said, ” It sure was nice of you to give us a call telling us where you were this evening.”
“We know you’re eighteen now Rick but we still worry about you,” his mother added in a concerned voice.
“Sorry guys. I guess I was having so much fun that I forgot all about calling you,” Rick apologized.
“Apology accepted. Why don’t you get yourself a beer from the fridge and you can tell us all about your evening,” said Rick’s dad taking a drag off his Sportsman cigarette.
“I’d love to guys but can it wait until the morning? I have to get some rest as I’m going to the rock festival at Lake Mariposa tomorrow, “ answered Rick with a yawn.
“Who are you going with?” asked Rick’s mom.
“Lloyd and Misty from across the street offered to take me.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re getting to know our new neighbors Rick, “ added his dad approvingly. Your mom and I have been a little amiss in reaching out to them so far.”
After he said goodnight to his parents Rick went to his room and fell into a pleasant but exhausted sleep.