On the Streets in Sixties Boston (well 1971)
It was hot.
We stood on the street in Boston, clutching our rucksacks, with five dollars and some change in our pockets, looking for a payphone.
I rang the number.
A voice answered. I asked for Bob.
Bob had moved on many months before.
It seemed that Carol King was right. Nobody stayed in one place anymore. The whole of the youth of America and Britain was on the move, looking for something. I was looking for something. I was after some meaning, some purpose and I was after experiencing everything that the world had to offer. I wanted to travel and meet. I was standing on the street in Boston but Bob, whoever he was, was probably standing in the street in a different part of the country.
‘I’m Ken,’ the voice at the other end of the phone said. ‘Why were you looking for Bob?’
I explained, while wondering what might possibly be the next course of action. There was no plan B.
‘Oh come on over,’ Ken said. ‘You can stay here.’
This was the sixties. You didn’t need much. It was all about sharing what you had. We were community.
I guess we were all communists! That guy shouldn’t have let us in!
We hitched over to Ken’s and uncannily were picked up by a middle-aged black guy who quizzed us as to who we were, where we were going and why. We chatted freely. It felt good to be in the States on an adventure.
He dropped us off outside Ken’s and turned to us with a stony face as we thanked him.
‘I’m with the drug squad,’ he informed us. ‘I’ll see you around.’
Ah well. You have to be brought down sometimes.
Ken soon took us back up to speed and into orbit. The place was full of a lot of people sitting on the floor, leaning against cushions, talking and laughing while the music played. There were jays making the rounds and we were offered a plate of food.
We were home.
Over the next week Ken drove us round to find a job. We tried selling underground magazines – The Boston Phoenix. You bought a couple of hundred for a retail price and sold them at double. Except we weren’t very good at it. We discovered that all the best pitches were taken and ended up hawking them in the park. A black kid was really amused by our ineptitude. He came over to show how it should be done. He was a marvel. He took ten off us and walked along with this jive patter and talk and sold them all in five minutes flat. It was quite an act he had. I nearly bought them back off him.
We rapidly realised that this probably wasn’t the career for us.
I managed to get a job as a dishwasher and Liz secured a position as a waitress. I was hot sweaty and harangued and she was very popular. Being young and pretty and English helped. Guys would come in and tip her a dollar or two just to hear her talk. They loved the English accent. They were always asking her if she knew the Beatles and the Queen and whether London was always foggy. They seemed to have a quaint notion of Britain – it was tiny and everyone knew each other though you couldn’t find each other because of the perpetual fog.
We found a room in a house off Massachusetts Avenue. There were three other rooms occupied by three very different types of people.
Jim was a young black guy who said he was a member of the Black Panther Party. I don’t think he really was but he probably wanted to be. He actually worked in a shoe shop and had to say ‘sir’ to a lot of obnoxious white people all day. He was easy going but kept himself to himself. We kept different hours so I didn’t see too much of him.
Rose and Betsy were two young girls who shared a room. They were a bit straight and right out of college. They were observing what was going on around them with a little trepidation and not flinging themselves into it.
Then there was Bob O’Reilly, an Irish American who was a swashbuckling character in the mould of Ken Kesey. He was loud, friendly and full of life.
Bob did not have a job. He told us that he was a big time dealer. We took that with a pinch of salt. Bob told us that he was a go between. He bought in dope in bulk and sold it on. He did a dozen or so deals a year and lived on the proceeds.
We were sceptical to say the least even though Bob always had an ample supply of grass that he claimed were samples that he was trying out for quality control. He did not convince us despite the fact that he was never short of money. We thought he was spinning a yarn.
Then one day he showed us these blocks piled up in his room. Each was a kilo of compressed grass from Colombia wrapped in tin foil. There were fifty of them.
That apartment was one continuous party. Every time I got up or came home from work the place was alive with music, people I didn’t know and smoke. It was still the sixties in that place.
We stayed in Boston for a couple of months. Then it was time to move on.
Bob gave us an address of a friend in San Francisco who would put us up.
We said our goodbyes and boarded a Greyhound for another journey. We bought a three week ticket for unlimited travel.
We were off to discover America.