Shea calls herself a hippie.
An honest to goodness, 2011 hippie. Not a vestige of the '60s. But a 38-year-old free-spirit whose sooty overalls smell of yesterday's campfire and whose smile exudes joy.
She says she and her boyfriend, Clay, hang with the Rainbow Family. And they wander the US in a beaten-up Ford, towing their life behind them -- clothes, books, pots and pans stuffed in an open-bed trailer. They meet up with friends in national forests, where their "happenings" are called "gatherings." They're intentionally homeless. Free. Unfettered.
And I'm envious. Just like I was when I was a teen, when the first hippie movement swept through my life. I wanted that peace, love, freedom, happiness. And I mimicked the look, wearing tied-died T-shirts, beads, moccasins, bell bottoms. And flowers in my hair.
So I sit with Shea, the woman I wish I was, gleaning tales about the life I think I want.
She tells me about the thousands who meet up in the woods. The organized chaos. The mass feedings (she's part of the cook detail) and the intentional cleanings (leave the Earth unharmed.) They sing, dance. Laugh. Enjoy the freedom of an unfettered life.
Yes. Yes. I love it. Life should be this way.
But how do you pay for this freedom?
Between here and there, she says, she begs money for gas and food at street corners, "flying signs" (holding signs asking for money) or "bustin" (singing or playing music.). She (well, her boyfriend) has food stamps. They visit soup kitchens, food pantries and even attend some church services, where Christians pay them in gas vouchers to listen to the message of salvation.
They work the welfare system. To finance their freedom to live an unfettered life.
My enthusiasm pales.
So, I ask, why are you here? In quaint Streeter Park, a free city campground in straight-laced Aurora, Neb. Hundreds of miles and attitudes from a "gathering."
She's stuck here, she says, because her boyfriend is in jail.
Ah, I think to myself. Just like the first-generation hippies, this one tousles with the law.
She says the cops pulled them over for a busted blinker. Then nabbed Clay on a weapons charge because his licensed handgun was under the seat, not out in plain view.
Later, while I'm back at my campsite having lunch, I see the cops pull up to Shea's and claw through her stuff in the trailer. (Pic at left)
They were looking for drugs, she tells me when I return (with a food donation for her). They're convinced she's dealing. She laughs at the thought.
She concedes drug use threads through the Rainbow Family life. But not sales.
Oh. Drugs. My enthusiasm dims. I don't like drugs.
And then her cell phone rings. And it's her 16-yer-old daughter. Wondering is Mom's safe. Is Mom OK? When is Mom coming to see her?
My envy flatlines.
And after 40 years, I finally learn the hippie life is not for me. Unfettered. Yes. But it is not free. Others pay. Some dearly.