Friday, November 6, 2009

Youth: The Runaways

Time, Friday, Sep. 15, 1967

Time was when parents took it almost for granted that any red-blooded boy would sooner or later run away from home on a summertime Tom Sawyer adventure. It was part of growing up, a way to gain experience and nothing to be alarmed about. Sometimes the boy would be gone for a week or so, but generally his plans to join the circus ended about nightfall, when his empty stomach and the animal sounds near his woodsy hideout quickly convinced him that daddy's razorstrop was not so bad after all.

The phenomenon is still seasonal—thousands of teen-agers who ran away in June for a summer-long taste of the hippie life were wending their way back home last week for the beginning of school. But for an increasing number of tormented teenagers, running away is not a lark but a desperately serious act for which returning home is an all but unthinkable conclusion.

School & the Draft. Runaways are a grave problem in every major city, and the problem is growing, partly due to the sharp rise of the teen-age population. Chicago police handled 7,904 runaways last year, up 50% from five years ago; and so far this year the rate has been running 10% higher than 1966. More than 2,000 juveniles were reported missing from the San Francisco Bay Area last year, and 3,000 ran away from their homes in affluent Houston. Overall, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reports, U.S. law-enforcement officers arrested 90,246 juvenile runaways last year—almost half of them girls—an increase of almost 10% from the previous year.

What makes them run? "Something inside that was always denied," sigh the Beatles in She's Leaving Home, one of the most popular cuts from their latest Sgt. Pepper album. "They're running away from a system and not just maladjusted homes," insists Dick Chandler, 37, whose first play, The Freaking Out of Stephanie Blake, is about a teen-age runaway, and is scheduled to open on Broadway next month starring Jean Arthur as a sympathetic aunt. "Some of them come from very good homes and are given everything," says Chandler, "but it's what the parents stand for, the whole system—the competition, the lack of human values, of humanity in their life." For older teen-age boys, running away is often an escape from the pressures of school and the threat of the draft.

"If you have 20 different runaways, you will have 20 different reasons," says an Atlanta Juvenile Court officer. Kim, 13, ran away to Boston from her Los Angeles home because she could not get along with her new stepfather. "My parents didn't understand me or something," mumbles Paul, 15, who first left his Virginia home two years ago, and prowls the streets of Manhattan's East Village every day looking for the next place to stay.

No Hang-Ups. Dutch is 14, wears braces on his teeth and still speaks in a boyish treble, but all it took to send him scampering from Columbus to Chicago's bohemian Old Town district was the prospect of military school. Joe, 17, blames his run from Tampa, Fla. to Atlanta on parental neglect. "I'm the happiest I've ever been in my life," says Joe, the youngest member of Atlanta's small hippie colony. "This is more like a family than you could find, really, because there are no hang-ups."

Though not all teen-agers run away with the intention of joining the hippies, that is often where they wind up. "It's simply because the hippies will take them in when nobody else will," says Rabbi Samuel Schrage of the New York City Youth Board.

For teen-agers who do run away to the hippies, it is increasingly becoming a bad trip that is not only degrading but also dangerous. After the money runs out, they often turn to begging in order to eat. "There is a lot of panhandling. They are like parasites," says Allan Katzman, 30, editor of Manhattan's underground hippie newspaper, The East Village Other. To a juvenile who is already disturbed, the easy combination of drugs and sex is hardly good medicine; one 13-year-old runaway who began "dropping acid" nine months ago has tried to kill herself three times since.

Summer in the Park. For a place to stay, some runaways roam the streets looking for vacant houses to break into. "Most of them just sleep in the park; after a few nights of that you will go home with anyone—you don't even look," says Manhattan Hippie Jim Fouratt. "They are exploited by all kinds of people," says Fouratt, "and what's going to happen when winter comes and they can't sleep in the park?" Not that sleeping in the park is any too healthy in summer: last week a 15-year-old runaway from upstate New York was raped by two young Negroes and her 17-year-old "flower husband" (known to her only as "the Poet") was beaten unconscious in Central Park where they were sleeping.

Scarcely more salubrious are the "crash pads"—communal sleeping quarters rented by older hippies, who run them as free hotels. They are largely responsible for an alarming increase in venereal disease—up 1,000% in West Hollywood in the past five years. As an alternative to the crash pads, San Francisco's church-financed Huckleberry's for Runaways provides "fugitives" with food and shelter while setting up channels through which they can re-establish relationships with their parents. Operating out of a Victorian house at 1 Broderick Street in the Haight-Ashbury district, Huckleberry's has handled 190 runaways since it was set up two months ago. Most of them, after counseling by four staff psychologists and 13 other volunteers, have gone home.

The Bulletin Board. In tracing their children, parents usually begin by contacting the Missing Persons Bureau and metropolitan newspapers, which, in recent months, have been running increasing numbers of pictures of runaways. More likely sources exist within the hippie communities themselves. In San Francisco, for example, the hippie-run, Haight-Ashbury Switchboard (3873575) not only helps hippies with information and advice about food, lodging and the draft, but also passes dozens of messages from distraught parents along the grapevine every day. Poignant parental pleas appear in the classified ads of underground newspapers, and major hippie hangouts sport bulletin boards crammed with personal messages.

As a last resort, some desperate parents invade hippie country in personal searches for their wayward kids. One New Yorker finally located his 20-year-old son after days of scouring the Hashbury on foot. "Barry came down looking stunned," the father recalls. "It was touching and painful, harder for him, I guess, than for me. It took him ten or 15 minutes just to get back into his face." The reunion lasted only long enough for a short trip to Big Sur. Then Barry went back to Hashbury.

[Electronically Recovered 11/6/2009:,9171,941149,00.html]

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