Look who’s ‘The Man’ now

I sat in a hippie-chic coffee shop in Flagstaff, Ariz., over the holidays and soaked in the counterculture ambiance – dreads-headed kids with bandana-wearing dogs, organic coffee with your pick of soy, rice or hemp milk.

It got me thinking that 40 years ago, after a stint in the Navy during the Vietnam War (don’t call it a "conflict," please), I frequented similar coffee houses in this very city as a student at Northern Arizona University.

Back then the cries of freedom went mostly like this: Question authority. Screw "The Man," man. Do your own thing.

Now, the world’s done a back flip. Where are our revolutionary hippies now?

Well, here’s a quick list:

– Hanoi Jane Fonda married and divorced a billionaire and then did an exercise infomercial.

– Wavy Gravy is now a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor.

– Tom Hayden became a forgettable California state legislator. His most famous bill – the Hayden Act – extended the time (by a day or so) before animals were euthanized in animal shelters. Woof-dee-do!

– Lawrence Ferlinghetti inspired a Cyndi Lauper song. Repeat: a Cyndi Lauper song.

– Weatherman terrorist Bill Ayers pals with Barack Obama, a president who uses drone aircraft to summarily execute foreign nationals and their families.

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss. The hippie generation has become "The Man" with no recollection of what traveling the freedom highway really means – both figuratively and literally.

Want to take a cross-country motorcycle trip, a la "Easy Rider"? Not so fast, AARPeter Fonda. You must – must! – strap on a helmet because government knows what’s best for your head, not you. No less than 47 states have some kind of mandatory nanny-cycle law on the books.

Or how about getting your born-to-be-wild side on in a red Corvette convertible? Hold on, Jack Kerouac. We got rules around here now – from seat belts to child restraints to mandatory insurance.

And a growing number of states and cities are passing laws to tell you, quite specifically, what kind of kicks you can no longer get on Route 66. No texting and no cellphones, for sure. But more and more burgs, like Huron, S.D., ban DWE: Driving While Eating.

They call them "distracted driving" laws. How far these edicts extend has yet to be tested. Twinkies and tacos qualify, no doubt. How about a cup of coffee at the drive through?

Can you air-drum and sing "Purple Haze" without breaking the law? If Jim Morrison was right when he said "A friend is someone who lets you have total freedom to be yourself," then surely California is the friendliest place on Earth.

Au contraire, mon ami. In California in the ’60s, one pill may have made you larger and one pill may have made you small. And there certainly was a time to ask Alice when she was 10 feet tall.

But don’t ask Alice today. She’s a sober 60-something Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors frump. If you ask her about the personal freedom to, for example, smoke ’em if you got ’em at the beach, the answer is a big "NO."

Los Angeles County banned smoking on beaches years ago.

And that’s not the only prohibition on a Left Coast beach. Throwing your dog a Frisbee while smoking can get you fined three ways. The first for smoking, second for throwing a Frisbee on the beach, and the third for being the "guardian" of a dog not neutered.

America may not have reached the alarm point in which we should paraphrase Martin Niemoller: "When they came for my drive-through coffee, I said nothing …"

But we’re not exactly headed in the right direction, either. Consider the current ignominies of air travel at the hands of the Transportation Security Administration: body scans, frontal pat-downs and Latex gloves in the false name of safety.

Can someone please tell me again where all the freedom-loving, do-your-own-thing, get-your-freak-on hippies have gone?

It’s a long time passing.

Sherman Frederick, former publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and a member of the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame, writes a column for Stephens Media. Read his blog at www.lvrj.com/blogs/sherm.

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