Whatever you may have heard, countercultural Berkeley did not materialize, Brigadoon-like, out of the marijuana haze of a Vietnam War protest. Long before there was a Berkeley Barb or a How Berkeley Can You Be? parade, there were Berkeley bohemians. And Charles Augustus Keeler, by the standards of proto-hippiedom, was Sgt. Pepper.
If you ever owned an old air-cooled Volkswagen, chances are you also owned a copy of the “Idiot’s Guide,” or at least knew about it. Its real title was How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot “with complete spelled wrong on the cover,” one joker put it, “so you know it must be good.”
The 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement this year is also the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. In the turbulent river of radicalism that reached flood stage in mid-’60s Berkeley, radical environmentalism was just one branch. That is the tributary I want to navigate here. But it is good to sit down at the typewriter—excuse me, the computer—and try to remember that frenzied era in a disciplined way. Ah, the piquancy of the air back then! The smell of tear gas on campus! There were so many flavors of radicalism available that one was forced to focus.