"Altamont - still here" Altamont by Karnubawax
Altamont Travel Guide: 2 reviews and 11 photos
Altamont will be forever known as the place where the 60's died, or, more accurately, where the final nail in the coffin was driven in.
The short version goes thusly... late in 1969, the Grateful Dead helped to arrange a concert featuring the Rolling Stones to take place at Altamont Raceway, near the town of Tracy about an hour east of San Francisco. An expected crowd of 100,000 turned out to be three times that. How this happened baffles me... but somebody had the bright idea of hiring the Hell's Angels to do security, and had the even better idea of paying them in beer!
As the evening wore on, things got increasingly out of control. The Angels saw a chance to rape and pillage with impunity... and took it. One young man was stabbed to death right in front of the stage, but more damaging was the general violence that consumed the whole crowd. The flower children had operated on the idea that we're all in this together and we could solve our own problems without "the man" getting involved - and at Altamont the truth hit like a pool cue in the face.
As I mentioned, Altamont was really the last in a series of events that led to the death of the hippie ideal. Only 2 days before the concert, Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were killed in a FBI shootout in Chicago. Just 6 days before, the government instituted the draft lottery (after President Nixon had said in June of that year that we would be leaving Vietnam). And it was just a few months before that the Manson Family shocked America with the Tate-La Bianca murders in L.A. Nope, 1969 was not a good year.
'68 wasn't so good either. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated within a month of each other, the Chicago Democratic Convention left no mysteries as to how far the police state would go to squash opposition, and Tricky Dick Nixon was elected in Novemeber, ushering in an era of government corruption and popular distrust whose ramifications are still felt today.
The "real" hippies - the ones who had started the whole thing - saw the writing on the wall early. Leaders of the hippie movement had declared the "death of hippie" right after the "summer of love" in October of 1967 - they even had a wake down Haight Street. They saw that the newcomers contained a huge number of criminals, rapists, and other creeps (Charles Manson lived briefly in the Haight at 636 Cole Street). Speed replaced LSD as the drug of choice, and the downfall from there was predictable and inevitable.
But is the spirit of the 60's really dead? Hell no!!! The spirit of the 60's lives on all over the Bay Area and indeed all of Northern California. There's a reason why this area is the most liberal part of the USA. The people may have dispersed out of the Haight and Berkeley, but their hearts went with them. The good aspects of the 60's will never die - they will always flourish anywhere people maintain open minds and loving hearts. That's not my opinion - that's a fact!
Back to the present... nowadays, the only time you'll hear Altamont mentioned in the news is on the traffic report.
The Altamont Pass is a choke point for highway 580 coming from the Bay Area and is just before Interstate 5. The area has seen a great increase in population and that, coupled with all the big rig traffic, has made the Altamont Pass the scene of some horrific accidents. You should be VERY careful driving through here.
Traffic tends to back up from the exits, and it's not uncommon to have the traffic go from 65 to an abrupt stop!
The other thing Altamont is world famous for is the windmills... hundreds of them! Altamont Pass is one of the largest "wind farms" in the world, and driving through the pass is truly breathtaking, particularly going from east to west.
The Altamont Speedway itself still exists, and runs a full schedule of events from about April through Halloween. You can also rent racecars here - small modifieds on a 1/4 mile oval - that are far cheaper than anything the other "racing schools" have to offer!
UPDATE - 9/17/06 - In what is certainly a sign of the times, Altamont Raceway is embroiled in a dispute with one of its neighbors over noise ordinances. Seems a well-to-do couple bought the land overlooking the track and decided to build their home there - apparently not putting 2 and 2 together that, living next to a racetrack, it might get a little noisy on race day. County officials have not shown much sympathy for the couple for, well, really obvious reasons.
I say it's a sign of the times because Altamont is in the middle of freakin' nowhere, and the Bay Area has sprawled so much that even this place - a full hour from the city with no traffic - is feeling the pinch.
Ever dreamed of being a race car driver? Ever dreamed about it enough to look into racing schools? Ever seen the prices... more travel advice
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