“Lock ‘em up!” said a senior citizen. “He’s a criminal!”
“Yeah, get that hippie out of town!” howled a grandmotherly type. “Your Honor! Can’t you see! He’s dangerous!”
“Quiet!! Order in the court!” said the gavelling Judge, as more yelps, yawps, guffaws and applause followed as the young man being heckled was led shackled from the courtroom, which in 1969 was housed on Commercial Street in the Town Hall of Provincetown, Massachusetts. The local townspeople had displayed righteous indignation on this hot sunny June day, as some young hippie hooligans had come to their quiet little town to do a Pu Pu Platter of crimes. This was my second brush with the law, and my name was on the courtroom docket along with thirty other guys and girls. What I was witnessing was something right out of a movie—and I had a role. That day I also witnessed mob mentality as the townspeople, chortled, guffawed, hooted and howled during the proceedings. This courtroom drama wasn’t a movie. Some backstory.
The day before, my friend Mike and I had left Hyannis Port after camping out at Craigville Beach in Barnstable. A week earlier we’d both just graduated from high school and wanted to have some fun before working our summer jobs. We didn’t know whether to go to Martha’s Vineyard, or head out to Provincetown to see what the place was like. We looked at our map, and decided on going to the bitter end of Cape Cod. (I remembered my dad taking us kids out there to see the Pilgrim monuments in the late 50’s.) Some young guys and girls from Boston had picked us up on Route 6 and gave us the low down on what the town was like, and how we needed to be very careful if we were camping in the dunes. “If you’re planning to camp in the dunes,” said one of the girls. “then definitely don’t build a fire.” My friend and I filed away this useful intel, and the kids dropped us off on Commercial Street.
Mike and I scoped out the town and wharves. We watched a colorful group of Hare Krishnas chanting, banging drums and giving out free food. We passed on their free grub and then got some fish chowder in a small local diner — best fish chowder I’ve ever had. After lunch we studied our map and figured we could hitchhike out to Race Point and go jump in the ocean. We had no idea where we were going or what the hell we were doing, yet onward we walked down Commercial Street and out of town. Again, out went our thumbs. Bang. Two older college girls from BU rolled up and proceeded to give us the grand tour of the Herring Gull Beach, the airport, the beech forest and Race Point. They dropped us off at the lighthouse and we went swimming. The beach was empty, and we saw whales sounding a mile offshore. Mike and I had never seen anything like this place in our lives and were liking Provincetown just fine.
Around sundown we caught another ride back to town and ended up in front of the Town Hall where we met several other kids from different parts of the country. There was a motley group of America’s youth clad in bellbottoms, beads, and sporting long hair which was de rigueur in the day. One character was dressed like the Mad Hatter from “Alice in Wonderland.” (This guy had quite a gang of gaudy kids a r o u n d him.) Inc e n s e w a f t e d above our heads. It was a fun and harmless scene as people strolled alongCommercial Street looking at the hippies. Around midnight we grabbed our backpacks and walked out of town to look for a place to camp for the night. This, is where things went sideways. The place we chose was some scrub pine and dune near a campground called Coastal Acres. There, we found a group of five other kids with the same idea as us. After greetings, salutations and small talk, we all fell asleep. Easy.
“Ok, wake up, you’re all under arrest.” said a policeman. “Grab yer stuff.”
“What’s the charge?” asked a longhaired guy from Boston.
“You’re all violating a Blue Law,” said the cop. “There’s no camping on public property.”
Fifteen minutes later we were all in jail. Mike and I ended up in a cell alone. Ten minutes after we settled in for the night, all hell broke loose with twenty-three young people shouting, cursing and resisting. A policeman opened our cell and put five maniacs inside and for some reason, he took me out. These guys were completely unbridled, and would be charged with serious crimes: assault, drug possession, weapons charges and resisting arrest. As I hung out with a policeman throughout the night, I told this reasonable guy that my bud and I were not with this gang. The cop knew this, because he’d been the arresting officer of the people now screaming in the cellblock.
In court the next day the aforementioned circus began with a guy from Lynn, Mass, mouthing off to the Judge. “Fifty days, Barnstable County Jail, contempt of court. Take him away.” Applause. Next, a girl with this mob yelled an expletive at the Judge. “Thirty days, contempt of court.” Hoots, and hollers and applause followed. One of the guys tried to sell his guitar to the judge to pay his fine. It didn’t work. This is how it went until the apparent leader of this group—with a straight face—asked the Judge if he could go home to Lynn and get the money to bail out all of his friends. (He’d been charged with three felonies.) “No, you can’t leave,” said the Judge. “I don’t think you’ll come back here.” Hilarity ensued. My friend Mike was called. “Camping illegally, fine, ten dollars.” Mike had no money and would be going to Barnstable for ten days. I had no money and had to think fast before I was called to the bench. I sold my Timex diving watch to a kid next to me for ten scoots. The guy had money hidden in his sock. Win, Win.
“Your name is Houlihan?” asked the judge. “What did you do?”
“Your Honor, I guess we camped in the wrong place.” I said. For some reason I wasn’t fined.
“Get out of this town and never come back here,” he said. Then, I went to the cell block and paid Mike’s fine just as he was being led into the bus heading to jail in Barnstable. We immediately left Provincetown, after receiving a valuable lesson in The Rule of Law.