It’s been a while since I’ve shared one of my Nick Happens stories, which are a collection of my adventures and misadventures over the years. Today I’ll tell you about the time I took a walk on the wild side.
Before we became fulltime RVers I owned the White Mountain Weekly newspaper in Pinetop-Lakeside, Arizona, which is up in the high country that I write about in my Big Lake mystery series. For those of you unfamiliar with Arizona’s Mogollon Rim country, it is a vast up thrust of land stretching across north-central Arizona all the way to the New Mexico border. Instead of the deserts that most people think about when they picture Arizona, this is more like Colorado, with high mountains covered by thick ponderosa pine forests and dotted with beautiful lakes.
Once upon a time when we were there a Rainbow Gathering came to our area. If you’re not familiar with the term, the Rainbow Family are loosely organized groups of hippies and free spirits, old and young, and every year they hold a big get together someplace. Many people think they are just a bunch of weirdos doing their thing, while others swear they are are some kind of cult not unlike the Manson Family. When they came to the White Mountains the locals were all in a frenzy, and rumors of everything from witchcraft and satanic sacrifices to wild orgies were flying all over town.
There were so many rumors floating around town about what was happening out at the Gathering. Depending upon who you believed, they had spiked the town’s water supply with LSD, they were kidnapping teenage girls to force them to become sex slaves, and they had wiped out a whole herd of cattle, slaughtering them to feed their unwashed multitude.
Myself and a couple of my reporters decided to go to their encampment in the National Forest and check it out and report on what we saw. There were more people than I could count, (the official reports ranged from 3,000 to over 10,000 depending on what agency you got your data from) but everyone we met was open and friendly and greeted us like we were old time friends.
We made it plain who we were and why we were there, and nobody tried to avoid us or gave us any problems. Everyone was very happy to answer our questions, we were offered food and drink, and one young lady insisted on giving me a nice handmade necklace of wooden beads and shells.
We could definitely smell some marijuana in the air, but we saw no open drug use. We also didn’t see any witches or satanic activity, and no orgies, darn it (and I really looked!). But we did see a quite few women wandering around topless, and a few people in the buff. The only reason I looked was because I was there to report on the event and I had a job to do. At least that’s the story I told Miss Terry later.
About the only thing I could find to complain about with the group as a whole was that personal hygiene was a bit lacking for many of them. But as long as you stayed upwind, it wasn’t a problem.
When the Gathering was over, for the most part they left the forest as clean as they found it, and certainly it was not as bad as many of the local Forest Service campgrounds and lakeshores that were routinely trashed after a weekend of big city folks coming up to play in the mountains. In my book Crazy Days In Big Lake I included an event very similar to the Rainbow Gathering as part of the plot.
From a police standpoint, there were three incidents. One was a person at the Gathering who died in his sleep while there. Some claimed it was from a drug overdose, others from natural causes, and I really can’t remember which it was at this point. The other two incidents involved local redneck jerks who caused confrontations with the hippies and the police responded. In both cases, the locals were the instigators, and in both cases the locals involved were well known to the police and to myself from covering the police beat for the newspaper.
One day in town Terry and I were approached in the parking lot of our newspaper by two fellows headed for the Gathering who tried to panhandle us. I told them I would not give them any money, but if they wanted to earn a few bucks, I needed the floor of our pressroom cleaned. It was pretty gunked up with oil and grease. They went right to work, did as good or better a job as my regular press guys, and were very polite to me and the staff while there. They needed baths pretty bad but otherwise were nice fellows, and when I paid them for their couple of hours of work they went on their way.
Just to be silly, a fellow who worked for me by the name of Jake Cavey and I dressed in some old jeans, tie-dye shirts, vests, beads, and headbands and went out for a ride around town. Since I was good friends with the chiefs of police in Pinetop-Lakeside and neighboring Show Low, we decided to stop at the cop shop. The cops loved it and we all had a big laugh.
They decided to book us for being “suspicious characters.” My alias was Sesame Sunflower and Jake’s was Moonbeam Hyacinth (an appropriate name for a bearded and beaded fellow who stood well over 6 feet tall and tipped the scales at close to 440 pounds!)
The cops fingerprinted us, took our mug shots and all. Only then did they realize that while it is easy to enter information into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) computer system, it’s real hard to get it back out! In fact, it appears that it impossible. I found that out years later when Terry and I were stopped by a highway patrolman somewhere for something and he took my license and registration back to his car to run a check on me. He walked back up to our car, looked at my driver’s license and looked at me, then asked, “Sesame Sunflower? What’s that all about?”
The editorial I wrote after the Gathering said that like many of my neighbors in town, I too was fed up with the Rainbow People. Not the hippies, but those “other” rainbow people – the ones with blue hair who pulled out right in front of me in traffic, then drove for blocks at 22 miles an hour with their turn signal on; the rednecks who threw their beer cans out the windows of their pickup trucks while they cruised the back roads shooting road signs; and the yellow bellied coward who spray painted nasty things on the garage of a gay couple who lived down the street from me under the cover of darkness. The hippies? They were fine, just a bit odiferous in some cases!
Thought For The Day – How come we never hear about anyone disappearing in the Bermuda Triangle anymore? Did it get full?