Rabbit Mejia was headed out of town, on foot. It was the summer of 1969, and Mejia was looking to join the latest big thing in the counterculture.
Mejia, 18 at the time, made it to the edge of Eloy. He called his big brother, Frank, for a ride back.
“That’s as far as I got to Woodstock,” Mejia said.
All the same, he’s never far from the ’60s. The Woodstock Music Festival has been most on his mind of late, as it nears its 50th anniversary. Woodstock isn’t alone. We’ve spent the entire decade marking events from the ’60s.
Just last July, we celebrated Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon. Woodstock took place Aug. 15-17, in upstate New York.
I got Mejia’s take on it over coffee at the CookEJar. He picked up the tab for my cinnamon roll and coffee, over my mild objection. Mejia’s given name is Roy. He got his nickname as a boy, when he would run along the Santa Cruz Wash, chasing jackrabbits.
Now we were strolling down memory lane. Woodstock was the first stop.
“Can you imagine 500,000 people getting together in peace?” asked Mejia, who’s now 68. Then he neatly summed it up. “Mud, drugs and rock ’n’ roll.”
Maybe there was free love, too. But from the pictures I saw, I didn’t see a lot of privacy. I’m not big on crowds anyway, not without proper seating.
I saw the documentary on Woodstock years after its release. The highlight was Jimi Hendrix playing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I’d like to hear it played that way at the ballpark, though it would be hard to sing along to.
The crowds at Woodstock wouldn’t have bothered Mejia.
“I wanted to go,” he said.
Like me, Mejia hit his teens just as the ’60s were taking off. President Kennedy’s assassination. The Beatles and the British invasion. Vietnam, civil rights, the Great Society, free speech, Hippies, the Rolling Stones and The Monkees.
Bob Dylan, too, of course. Mejia had on a T-shirt that read “Positively 4th Street,” a Dylan song.
Mejia captured sounds of the ’60s on a small reel-to-reel tape recorder. He caught news surrounding the assassination of JFK off the TV. And he might have recorded a song or two from his rock band, though the band was short-lived.
“We couldn’t get ‘Ticket to Ride’ to sound like ‘Ticket to Ride,’ so we just gave up,” he said.
The tape machine didn’t last long either. It was ruined in monsoon flooding, along with a favorite acoustic guitar.
Though he didn’t make it to Woodstock, Mejia found his way to Laurel Canyon, a Los Angeles magnet for rock stars and their parties. Mejia visited any number of times, once touring it in a limousine.
He had friends in the Los Angeles nightclub scene, the Palomino Club in particular. It was a popular music venue. Acts included Bo Didley, Canned Heat and The Pretenders. George Harrison and Bob Dylan showed up. At least that’s what I got from my research, mainly two minutes on Wikipedia.
And, Mejia added: “The Village People, after they kicked them out of Greenwich Village.”
Then there was Daryl Sanders, a friend. Sanders played upright piano. He won a talent contest at the Palomino. He was up against some heavy hitters, Mejia said. Sanders died of an illness in 1976. He was 29.
Mejia had a thing for Southern California. He hung out on the beaches of San Diego. He drove up the coast to places like San Clemente. He didn’t visit Richard Nixon’s compound. Why would he? Nixon harshed the mellow of a whole counterculture when he became president in 1969. That was 50 years ago last January.
I don’t remember anybody celebrating that anniversary.
Mejia has memories of his own backyard as well. The mom-and-pop market that gave shoppers store credit. The visits to his grandmother’s house in Glendale, where he’d swing on the gates at a nearby stockyard. The trips to movie theaters in Phoenix.
Of course, a must-see in 1970 was The Beatles’ “Let It Be.”
Mejia felt right at home growing up in Casa Grande. There was no downside to being Hispanic. He had friends of all makes and models. But the ’60s introduced him to the wider world of racial disparity.
“I never understood the word segregation,” Mejia said. “It wasn’t until Martin Luther King was assassinated, I thought: ‘Wow, what’s going on here?’”
The ’60s eventually gave way to work. Like his brother Frank, Mejia became a barber. But after 25 years, he had to give it up. He developed lymphoma, as well as neuropathy from the chemotherapy.
When medical marijuana became legal, Mejia became a cardholder. Pot helped with the neuropathy, he said.
But he’s moved on, in a way. He no longer smokes marijuana. He uses a cream rich with CBD oils. It works and he doesn’t get the high, which he no longer wants.
He describes his health as “pretty good.” There’s a heart issue. He’s got a pacemaker. But he still plans to go back to the business he took up after he hung up his hair clippers. It’s called Rabbit’s Forest Products.
He’ll sell trees wholesale and retail. If he doesn’t have it, he’ll get it for you. Even if he has to go all the way to Woodstock.