What a riot looked like in 1970

Back in the spring of 1970, I was in my final days as a college student.  Living in the off-campus bedroom community of Isla Vista, I balanced work with school.  I was the hired hand on the local egg ranch, which required two hours a day, seven days a week.  I scheduled my classes for after work.  Life was good.

But the threat of conscription had put, particularly, the male students on edge.  The previous summer saw the People's Park protests up the coast in Berkeley.  Formerly placid Isla Vista had begun to experience turmoil as well.  Then one evening, a friend knocked on my door.  "The Bank of America is burning down!" he announced.  "Aw, c'mon...they just broke some windows."  "No, it's really on fire!"  So we stepped outside and, looking up between two buildings...the sky was bright red.  Some "serious protesters" had shoved a dumpster fire through the locked front door.

We naturally gravitated in that direction and found a large crowd.  I met up with some other friends, who had a jug of cheap wine, and we drank and watched events unfold.  One member of our group had graduated the year before and had just driven up from Los Angeles to witness the unrest.  He was recently hired on as an IRS agent and proudly showed us his "U.S. Department of Treasury" photo ID.  While we were hanging out, it occurred to me that the hardcore bank-burners in the front of the mob were being egged on simply by the size of the crowd of onlookers at their rear.

We eventually grew weary and somewhat apprehensive of the spectacle, so we retired.  I went home with one of my friends, who lived a lot farther away from the center of action.  The next morning, there was a noticeable hint of tear gas in the air, and the National Guard was patrolling the streets.

There was little, if any, violence on campus.  We all liked the university.  The Bank of America, however, was the lone outpost of corporate America in our midst.  Also, there was no attempt whatsoever to access the contents of the vault.  The event was entirely political.  The bank was rebuilt, but this time with cinderblocks instead of a wood frame.

As the smoke cleared and things settled down, we went back to the business of getting educated.  There were still occasional flare-ups that were answered by sheriff's deputies chasing around in boarded-up dump trucks.

While studying for my last final exam, there again was a knock on my door.  This time, it was someone I had never seen before.  He explained to me that he had just driven down from U.C. Santa Cruz with my oldest friend, who was busy parking his car.  The stranger then explained that he had just graduated high school with my friend's sister.  It was the same high school my friend and I had graduated from four years before.  This young, kind of nerdy lad would eventually become fairly famous as Walter Mosley, the writer of mystery novels.

Fifty-one years later, such a string of events remains burnished in my memory.  Such is the nature of extreme events.

Image via Pxfuel.

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