Hippie Jack Stoddart ignored the rain as he jerked open the back door of his ancient cargo van, parked outside the Cup & Saucer in Monterey. “Hmmmm,” he muttered, pointing to a case of canned tuna, “Wonder who left that?”
I swung into the front seat and surveyed the van’s contents. Food, diapers, reading glasses, toilet paper, dog food, a 12-pack of generic cola, clothes and lots of other stuff filled the cargo area. Hippie had invited me to ride along as he called on some of his friends in the hills and hollers of Overton County, a place he’s called home since moving from Miami in 1972 to escape the cocaine culture.
“Act One of my journey was getting out of Florida,” he told me. “Act Two was 35 years working to document and preserve the vanishing culture of the hill people in photographs.” Now, his life is given over to Act Three, advocating for the marginalized people he sometimes refers to as “the undeserving poor.” Hippie doesn’t care what caused any of his mountain friends to be in need. “Drugs, disease, bad luck, bad choices—it’s not for me to judge,” he said. “My goal is to do whatever I can do to help people who need help. If we’ve got it, they can have it. No questions asked.”
Our first stop was a dilapidated single-wide trailer. The front door was open, with no way to walk in or out because it’s several feet above the ground and has no porch or stairs. Hippie blew his horn and a young woman with a baby on her hip appeared in the doorway. “Your kids like macaroni and cheese?” he asked. She nodded. He handed up several boxes and a pack of diapers. “I’ve found a little money to help with your electric,” he told her. “I’ll put it in your account this afternoon.”
Mom and baby waved as we drove away.
And so the afternoon went, ending with a visit to another friend in yet another run-down trailer. A woman who looked to be about my age was lying on a couch in the living room. Her legs were swollen to several times normal size, one sign of congestive heart failure. Hippie bent down to hug her. “I’m here to check on you,” he said, “and see if there’s anything you need.”
“Nah, I’m doing alright,” she told him. “But I’d be glad to fix you’uns a bite to eat if you’re hungry.”
He smiled and shook his head. “We just ate.”
On the ride back to Monterey, Hippie said he hoped I’d use some of the space I’m allotted for this column to urge readers to attend Jammin’ at Hippie Jack’s Appalachian Outreach, Music, Camping and Art Festival at his farm on Shiloh Road in Crawford. It begins this coming Thursday, May 24, and runs through May 27. Proceeds help fund what I’d just witnessed. To learn more, visit jamminathippiejacks.com.
(May 20, 2018)