By Sherry Pasquarello/worldwidehippies.com
That’s what I have always named the folks I met in the city in the late 60’s. That included everyone that I saw almost every day or night that I wandered around when I should have been elsewhere doing other things. I was a stranger in a strange land at first and then, I suppose that I became a street person to any of the regular folks that had jobs downtown.
I was only sixteen when I first started spending any length of time downtown. You see, although I was an A/B student in a college track level in high school I had a learning disability in math, any type of math. I was informed that there was a slim to none chance of getting into any accredited college so I should look for some sort of a trade school- BTW, thanks loads, FCHS, you slackers, had you paid any attention to kids that didn’t have rich daddies you would have seen that, as the kid of a disabled WWII vet the government would have paid for my schooling!
So, I settled on beautician’s school and started classes there in the evenings and on Saturdays (unless I was working odd jobs). THAT is how my education in real life began.
I know this will be hard for younger folks to believe but back at that time I was clueless to the point that I thought that gay people were not real and that it was just a made up thing. Attending a beauty school changed that notion and all of the gay men I met there, except for one asshat, turned out to teach me some great life lessons, and helped my social activist seeds to blossom.
Anyway, that’s when I came to fall in love with my city. Back to the street folks; I’m not talking of homeless people though I knew a few of those. I’m talking about hippies and hookers and one pimp in particular and a few guys, mentally ill guys and one who I thought was ill but wasn’t, dealers and junkies, guys looking for hippie looking girls to lay them and older folks that thought we were un-American trash.
A little scene on a PAT bus, 91 A Butler street; that was my favorite bus route into the city. It took me through Lawrenceville which used to be a blue collar part of the city, mill working town (now a trendy, gentrified hipster place). I was downtown and going to head to my bus stop to catch that 91A. one of my street buddies said he’s walk with me to the bus stop. Guys were pretty nice about that when it was dark or starting to be (although I was used to wandering those streets in the dark). The thing of it was he was a black man. I get on the bus, wave goodbye and sit down, no big deal right? I notice this blue collar guy, about 65 maybe a bit younger turn and stare at me. I looked at him and then looked away- eye contact can turn out badly on a bus- when the bus stopped on Butler in Lawrenceville he got up, stepped closer to me and SPIT at me. I was speechless. The breath caught in my throat and I was confessed as all hell; and then it hit me, I was at the bus stop with a black man. I was furious and embarrassed at the same time; furious at him and in the times we all lived in and embarrassed that the passengers were staring and then turned away from me. Yep, it was the 60’s.
There were hookers on Liberty in Go Go boots, mini- skirts or dresses and feather boas. Honestly, I know it sounds corny now but they were there and most of them were making dates for later on. They’d talk to a guy through the side window of the man’s car write something down and then wait till another car would drive up. Rarely would they get into the car but if they did, they weren’t gone for too long. I used to watch them from across the street and cattycorner to them. I’ve written before that I’ve been more of an observer in life at times.
The pimp, well, that’s a long sad story but I was lucky, given my home life and how savvy pimps can be in spotting victims that he was far more interested in a friend of mine and I know usually know when to go when the opportunity presents itself. That quality did me good at 17.
There was a woman who would show up on certain afternoons when evening classes were held at Point Park college (now University); rumor had it that she was there to “make dates” with a few older grad students that were working and attending classes. She always wore REALLY tight dresses with matching heels and a purse. I remember her bright lavender outfit the most. She dressed more in an early 60s way, with coal black hair in a sort of bouffant. She had a big butt, tiny waist and large chest and if you had seen her walk from a side view she looked like pastel sex, from the front she was knock kneed and pigeon toed. She was harsh, all business, never smiled unless it was for any guy she spoke with. We used to watch her from the window of a little sandwich shop on the corner of Wood and the Boulevard of the Allies. I spent a lot of time there. To anyone that might remember me, thank you if you tried to steer me in the right direction and to those who thought I was strange and headed for a bad or sad ending, bless you and forgive me, as Lennon said, “strange days indeed”, “Thanks”.
The strange folks, there were two that stand out in my mind. There was a very thin fellow that wore a frayed tux with a pair of pink chiffon, lace trimmed ladies panties pinned to the back of the tails of the tux. We’d see him every so often. We just watched him walk passed the window of that sandwich shop. One day he came inside. There were mostly college kids there at the time and me (every now and then someone would sneak me into a college lecture that was fairly big and attendance was ignored. There was one old guy lecturing on volcanos that I thought was a bit overblown on their importance but looking back on what he said, he was spot on) so , this guy comes in and sits down at one of the small tables with us and starts rambling on about politics and other things. I was listening but not intently until the very last when his manner and his voice changed and he quietly said “I know who really killed Bobby Kennedy” then he got up and walked out the door. To this day I think of him at times. Who really knows? They made Martha Mitchell out to be mentally ill with her husband’s blessings, so…?
The other guy I saw a lot wandering the street. We all thought he was mentally ill. He was a tall man who wore pigeon feathers stuck behind a tin “Gene Coon for sheriff” badge he wore on his tie. I thought so until I accidentally saw the manager of a business give him an envelope full of cash. Thankfully they didn’t see me. I don’t know what was going down, don’t want to know to this day.
There were more street folks, a kid I knew worked at the sandwich shop, cool guy and then I found out he was arrested for living in the locker rooms and other spaces at Duquesne University on the Bluff downtown. Life is odd, that’s where my daughter graduated from. The hippies, well I needn’t tell you about them other than they weren’t all living hand to mouth and traveling. No, to lump all hippies into a neat little paragraph in a history book would be a disservice to all of us and an untruth. The vibes the thing, not our clothes of if we had jobs, if we traveled of bloomed where we were. Everyone was learning and changing and changing society. Downtown to me is almost unrecognizable. That’s good and bad and sort of sad for me. Everything has its time.
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