You probably read in last Sunday’s paper that someone is restoring Ken Kesey’s psychedelic school bus. For those of you who were hip in the 1960s, Ken Kesey was the outspoken author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Sometimes a Great Notion.”

He was also a renegade leader in the ‘60s counterculture movement and its mind-blowing drug scene. He bought the school bus in 1964 so he and a group of other acid heads could drive from California to New York where they could “make the scene” at the Worlds Fair.

The 1960s and ‘70s was arguably the strangest period in our cultural history. Teens and twenty-somethings everywhere talked about “dropping out, doing acid and going on the road.” They hoped to find themselves, to find America.

A large number of them actually did it. Among them were men like Kesey, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg who produced literature and poetry of the times. Most of the others, on the other hand, just wasted a decade of their lives smoking pot, popping speed and wandering aimlessly from one “happening” to the next. The lucky ones survived all of that, got jobs, had families and have lived relatively normal lives.

Others lamentably destroyed their lives with drugs, booze and free love. One young man I knew had a brilliant mind and earned a scholarship to a prestigious university. Within a year he had fried his brain and was committed to a mental ward. He was 21 when he died.

The period also provided fertile ground for a handful of hate-filled domestic terrorists. They walked onto college campuses and into ghettos across the country and organized explosive sit-ins, street riots, Vietnam War protests and campus take-overs. The result was tragedies like Kent State and the burning of Watts in Los Angeles.

Disillusioned war veterans returned from Vietnam, got spit on in their home towns, dropped out themselves and added a heavy patina of pathos to an already sordid scene.

Remarkably, the times also gave birth to some of the most memorable music in history. Anyone who has seen the Eagles Final Concert on television recently knows that is true. The spotlight of that development was undeniably Woodstock in 1969 when thousands of wandering, misguided young souls witnessed an explosion of new sounds.

Kesey and his pals, called the Merry Pranksters, drove their crazily painted bus all around the country during the period. The final trip was to Woodstock, after which Kesey parked it in his back yard and never drove it again. Eventually he pushed it into the swamp behind his property.

There it remained, rusting and falling apart until recently when Kesey’s son and some others pulled it back out and started the enormous task of restoring it. Kesey went on to enjoy the fruits of being a successful author. He died in 1994.

It is going to cost a lot of money to bring the bus back to its original condition. They are doing it to preserve what they say is an important icon of the 1960s counterculture movement.

Will that have any real value for future generations? A reminder perhaps of a time that most of us don’t understand even today? I don’t know. I can only surmise that there was probably a good reason why Ken Kesey pushed it into the swamp in the first place.



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