Craig - the LAST hippie on the peninsula (perhaps)BUNNYHOP, issue no. 6
"And if all the hippies cut their hair / I don't care" - James Marshall Hendrix
A year and a half ago I commuted 3 hours a day, five days a week, to and from work in Menlo Park which lies on the Peninsula between San Francisco and San Jose. It was there that I met Craig Dremann.
Menlo Park, like neighboring Atherton, smells like old money. In the shadow of Stanford and the Silicon Valley to the south, its wealth is quiet and casual, low key, Californian. Large estates lie in the best neighborhoods fronted by walls and oaks. People are nice but act nervous around you if you don't look or seem quite right. Perhaps this subtlety is a quality of the climate. The Mediterranean weather makes you want to sit in the sun for spaces of time with your eyes closed while class distinctions take care of themselves. Down in the creek, crowded with garbage and refuse, is where all the tramps live.
Craig was one of a group of customers who came into the copy store I worked at once or twice a week who were dissimilar from the uptight white types who brought In most of the business. There were a group of eccentrics whom I associated with Stanford such as the Polish professor who liked to show me his picture of the mountains where the Pope went skiing; or (he geezer who looked and acted just like Einstein and always tried to buy copies on credit; or the brothers who dressed like railroad engineers and collected erector sets. But Craig wasn't one of them. Craig runs the Redwood City Seed Company out of Redwood City. The shell beads and embroidered shirts he wore wouldn't have been a big deal in Santa Cruz or Vlarin, but here they stood out, Unlike many hippies, 1 didn't hate Craig instantly, in fact, I even found him entertaining to converse with. Maybe it was because. unlike many guys his age, Craig had found some kind of balance in his life between belief and necessity that didn't require him to become a square or, for that matter, a bitter, disillusioned, junkie burnout. Living right is an art form and Craig seemed to grasp this. "Guys my age for the most part went ahead and did what we used to call "selling out." They took an offer the government made them and ended up making tank periscopes for a lot of money which they turned around and spent on themselves. I didn't want to do that so early on I had to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. How was I going to pay my bills and be happy without having to make tank periscopes?"
Craig, finding solace in the natural world, got into the mail order seed business by the time he was nineteen and has stayed with the small company he started with his wife, Susan, for over twenty years. They specialize in food staple plants native to the Americas and crops which had significant roles in various world cultures from Tibet to Peru.
"When I started, guys in the line of business I was in were saying, "You're nuts selling that stuff. Try selling these new sturdier, hybrid seeds and you'll make a lot more money," and I would have made more money, but I stuck with what I was doing. Now I'm seen as a leader. People seek me out for advice because at one point I did what I believed in when no one else was doing it. (Yup, Craig's a preachy critter.) Today there are others, but there are still only fifteen companies in the United Stales that are selling native North American seeds.
"In the city its hard to tell where the money comes from but in rural or agrarian areas such as the Central Valley it's obvious, the earth, the land, food. If you go down to the Santa Clara Valley you see all these silicon mines where there used to he farmland. The farmland would have lasted if it was farmed right, it would have been a lasting economic resource in this region. Silicon miners will do what miners always do, move to new stakes, go where the money went. It's already happening. Software companies are leaving the area and moving to Texas. Mountain View is practically a ghost town. At one point in life I wanted to be a nuclear physicist, but if I had become that I'd be like a lot of friends in that line of work, looking for jobs that aren't there.
"What your generation doesn't understand is that my generation lied to you. My parents lied to me, too. I had to go to my grandparents for the truth. My grandparents went through too much shit. [The] Depression, the Second World War. They were willing to accept anything they were offered. Give us the split level ranch house, we'll make bombs, fight Communists, whatever. Their kids, the Baby boomers, got it all on a silver platter: $18,000 homes, education paid for by the GI Bill, 3% loans. This was all on the government's tab. Everytime I see someone my age driving a Lexus or BMW, I see part of a loan that isn't being paid back. Your generation is expected to pay off the loan."
Craig's home is in a mostly Hispanic and black neighborhood with a slight Tongan population. He and Susan are the only while couple left. Craig told me how he likes to organize the neighborhood kids into fixing potholes in their street and doing gardening. "If you change the set in the neighborhood you change the neighbors. A government road is just a government road until you give people some investment in it. We let all the kids into our backyard but we don't let them kill anything, not the beetles even. The old Spanish people are afraid of Jerusalem Crickets which they call ninos de tierra, 'children of the earth.' They're black and they live in the soil and the men think they get powers from the devil which can kill them so when one shows up in somebody's yard I have to go save it. I like being away from white culture. I like living in an area where everyone likes to hang out. I speak Spanish and act as an interpreter between the black and Spanish communities. The Mexican folk used to call me El Gringo but now its El Hippie because there's a difference. I don't consider myself a Caucasian. What do I know about the Caucasus Mountains?"
Craig likes to make references to what he calls the "Hive Culture." It's a term that is similar to the Australian Aborigine phrase "Termite People ' which describes white civilization. The term is also used by Robert Anton Wilson in his mid-70's autobiography Cosmic Trigger.
It's a Sixties prejudice that technology and cities are cold soulless cancers that are eating up the planet which ignores the fact that some people get quite a bit out of urban existence and that urban communities can be every bit as warm and vital as rural ones, if not more so. Technology, it could be argued, has made some humans truly aware of just what our behavior is doing to the environment and opened questions of living differently. To be fair Craig doesn't tow this party line. "I'm not saying let's go live out in the woods," he told me. In fact it's not even so much "The Hive" which Craig has problems with as what he sees going wrong within it.
"There's [this term] in bee keeping we call 'foul brood' that is noticeable by a urine-like smell. I think there's a foul brood in the Hive Culture. I can smell urine in the streets. There never used to be all these homeless people. The idea of anyone not having a place to live used to he absurd. In the Seventies, you could live on the Peninsula for only $200 a month and now you can't. There was this big military buildup and the people who ran industry dangled this carrot in front of my generation's face and said, 'Work for us and we'll give you all this money and a lifestyle to maintain. If you don't, we'll make it really hard for you to live." See, the Republicans were going, 'Those god- damn hippies are smoking too much pot and getting all mellow and seeing through our bullshit. We have to put a stop to this.' It was about this time that law enforcement really started cracking down on marijuana cultivation and there was this big weed shortage." "So you like pot?" "Oh yeah, we call it wise weed." "I know plenty of people who smoke heroic amounts of cannabis and they are hardly what you could call wise." "That's because they don't use it right. Anything can be used wrong." "When people my age do drugs it's not because they're looking for some kind of mystical transformation. It's because they're bored. We're bored. We want kicks. It's really cynical." "That's because your generation is in tune to an intuition that things are fucked, which they are. The Hive World is dying. It has no vitality. Everything is running on oil. On dead dinosaur bones. How long is this going to last? We've got to find another way. This gets back to the other truth I wanted to tell you. The first people to he aware of what I'm going to tell you were the Native Americans, the ones that kept to their cultural traditions which involves being close to the natural world. After them, the hippies-those of us still left-figured it out. Then the entymologists knew it, then the botanists. The last people to figure it out were the archaeologists because they could look in the past and see that it has happened before. The truth is that the world isn't going to end. It has ended. The natural world has ended. There were no feral bees this season. The honey bees have all died from a mite from Asia. Foul brood. Three species of oak on the coast are endangered and there hasn't been a major oak seed appearance since 1973. Lichens are disappearing. Whole species of amphibians are disappearing. If irrigation was cut off to the Central Valley it would become a desert because the native bunch grasses that used to grow there are gone. With the Natural World dead or dying, it's only a matter of time before the Hive World follows it. I see our culture as being at a crossroads where we are faced with the option of not Just surviving but prospering or else ending up like Haiti, where the natural world has died around the people and they just survive. It doesn't have to be that way. What's scary are people who won't accept the change. Alternative sources of renewable power can be found. People are doing mine reclamation work where they manage to grow crops in abandoned mines. There's a lot of money to be found there. Most of all, people your age should refuse to pay the [the Baby Boomers'] debt that you're expected to pay for. You should say 'fuck you' to my generation when they ask you to pay for everything. You personally should turn people onto this stuff because you're a leader." "1'm just an asshole with too many opinions, Craig. Why do you think I'm a leader?" "Because you write. Very few people write down their opinions. Three in one hundred." "Only three in one hundred read, Craig."
Every generation produces a sizeable crop of individuals who wants to predict the apocalypse and live in the end times. In that respect, Craig isn't all that different from the Normals of which he is not. Yet as I remember the skinny white crackhead kid who nervously demanded change from me as I got off the train one morning in Menlo Park, even as his black friend begged him away, I thought of things like "rot in the system" and "things are breaking down'. When such obvious desperation intrudes places where all the honkeys and their friendly police think they're safe from gravity and death, doesn't it seem worthy of Hieronymous Bosch's skeletons slaughtering the living in the midst of their pleasures? But society has always had this decay. The lost souls who fell out of family, of security, of balance or who were never given these things in the first place. I don't always agree with Craig's thinking: to be honest. I only agree with part of it. The Hippie vision is too reductionist, too much based on wishful thinking regarding human nature. But Craig has done something a lot less Americans have done: He stuck to his guns when most of his peers didn't, undaunted by the media industry that genuinely hated the Sixties counter culture and what it stood for. Now that's what I call character.