When Neil Young wrote the song “Sugar Mountain” in the 1960s, he was just a teenager. The song wasn’t about a real place. It was about coming to terms with growing up and leaving one’s childhood behind. I was 18 the first time I heard him sing the line, “You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain.” Today it’s still one of my favorite songs.
Last winter I went to an actual place in North Carolina called Sugar Mountain. The occasion was a youth ski trip organized by a local church. I was a chaperone. One of the other chaperones was a former hippie from the 1960s. He’s not really a hippie anymore, although he’s still a liberal. Now he’s raising four kids.
I learned a lot about both the 60s and liberalism, just by spending four days in the mountains with that former hippie. I wrote this column to pass on what I learned. I would hate for my readers to have to experience such a trip firsthand in order to get the knowledge I obtained through so much frustration.
My fellow chaperone got to go skiing for free since he paid for one of his children to go on the ski trip. I was a little perplexed when he showed up with, not one, but three of his children, since two of them had not paid for the trip. He just thought that he would bring them along in case some of the kids who paid didn’t show up. That way, along with him, two of his kids could ski for free. Even though that wasn’t the case, he asked if they could bum a ride to the mountains to spend some time with their older sister (who also ended up joining us later). The youth director graciously complied with his request.
When we got on the bus, the former-hippie-turned-chaperone began to take charge. He approached the bus driver (who happened to be black) and offered to tell him how to get from Wilmington to the location just east of Asheville where the group was staying. For those who don’t know, it is a straight shot up I-40, just one road for six hours.
But the former-hippie-turned-navigator had another route in mind. It involved going to South Carolina to pick up I-26. He spoke real slowly to the bus driver, hoping that he could sell him his “short-cut.” When the driver refused, he warned us that “this guy is going to need a lot of guidance.” When we looked at him, we only saw a professional bus driver. When the former hippie looked at him, he apparently saw an unintelligent black man. I have found that you can usually identify a liberal by the way he talks to black people. This was certainly no exception.
By following the route of the bus driver, we made it to our destination in less than six hours. But the driver had never been to Sugar Mountain, so we needed someone to navigate the next morning. The former hippie volunteered. The youth director consented. I didn’t voice my concerns because I thought it would be funny to watch him get lost. I also planned to time him before I offered to get us home later that night, betting that I could do so in half the time.
No one on the bus realized anything was wrong until we saw the signs saying “Welcome to Tennessee.” A sixth grader asked why we would go from a place in eastern North Carolina to a more central place in North Carolina via Tennessee. I said “by dropping lots of acid in the 60s.” Fortunately, she didn’t get the joke.
As we were entering Tennessee, I thought about the former hippie’s daughter who was wearing black leather boots and a ton of mascara. She had a pin on her jacket that said “Bush is stupid.” I wanted to ask her whether she thought that Bush was stupid enough to wind up in Tennessee while traveling westward through North Carolina (on the way to western North Carolina). But I didn’t want to interrupt her. She was reading Chomsky.
We made it to Sugar Mountain in just less than three hours. Later that day I heard the former hippie telling several of the kids that our tardiness was the bus driver’s fault because he missed several turns. Later someone (I wonder who?) reported the driver to the bus company for bad driving. The driver got in trouble with his boss, but at least the former-hippie-turned-whistle-blower was spared the embarrassment of taking the blame for getting everyone lost. I guess you could call it a little white lie.
At the end of the day, the former hippie was delighted to learn the youth director was not going to ski all weekend due to an ailing foot. He was also glad to hear that I would not be skiing because of an old Achilles tendon injury. That meant extra passes for the rest of his family. Now he could rest easy while I navigated the trip home in just one hour and 21 minutes.
In the morning, when we met for a buffet breakfast, the former hippie sat down with an enormous plate of food. He had a bowl of fruit, eggs, biscuits, five cartons of milk, and (literally) a bunch of bananas. I thought there was no way he could eat all of “his” food. I was right. He stuffed most of it in his coat and offered it to his (now four) children on the bus. Apparently, none could afford breakfast, even though four of the five members of the family were now skiing for free.
I almost felt sorry for the family until I found out they were wealthy. The oldest daughter went to a private college and paid $40,000 tuition her freshman year. Her father went there, too. It seems they were old money liberals.
The youngest child of my former-hippie/fellow chaperone was nine. He refused to drink the free milk and eat the free fruit that daddy had stolen for the rest of his family. Instead, he ate a whole carton of chocolate fudge cookies for breakfast. By the end of his breakfast the hyperactive child was shaking so badly he couldn’t hold his gloves anymore.
But before the trip was over, the kid started bragging about how his family had twenty pairs of ski goggles, although they hadn’t paid for a single one. “When someone leaves them at a table in the ski lodge, we just take them, don’t we daddy?” My fellow chaperone quickly replied, “No, son! Shut up and stop being so annoying!” It was the only form of discipline to come from former-hippie-turned-daddy all weekend.
Later, when the youngest child of the hippie-turned-ski-goggle-looter asked me to watch “his” goggles, I considered it a “teachable moment.” I told him, “Don’t you know that private property is the root of all evil? From each according to his ability…” I was interrupted by a swift kick under the table from the youth director.
And that was pretty much how the whole weekend went. The adult chaperones spend most of their time looking after the hippie-turned-chaperone to make sure that he didn’t get anyone lost, fired, or thrown in jail for stealing food or ski equipment. I was so focused on controlling him that I just ignored his daughter when she started crushing hundreds of croutons with her fist at the Pizza Hut salad bar.
When we got back from the trip, I was unsurprised to learn that the liberal chaperone once decided to have picnic with his family underneath a tree in a neighbor’s front yard. Of course, he didn’t ask his neighbor first. He just laid out a blanket and started playing his guitar and munching granola with his wife and four children. We must always remember that friends don’t let friends drop acid - at least not every day for a whole decade. The effects tend to linger for years, sometimes even decades.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that every liberal hippie from the 60s is a full-blown sociopath like my fellow chaperone. But the symptoms are always the same, aren’t they? His condescension towards blacks, his unwavering arrogance in the wake of his own obvious stupidity, his looting and hoarding of limited resources, his lack of respect for the truth, his the lack of respect for the property of others, and, mostly, his refusal to grow up.
My weekend in the mountains reminded me that liberalism is not really a political philosophy. Instead, it is a state of arrested emotional development. It is a way of thinking, which leads to no place in the real world. It is a place existing only in the imagination.
Perhaps Neil Young said it best in the 1960s: “Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain, with the barkers and the colored balloons. You can't be twenty on Sugar Mountain, though you're thinking that you're leaving there too soon…”