Weekly newspaper of Three Rivers, California, and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks

This California Historical Society graphic is in commemoration of  the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. A CHS exhiibit tells the story of the countercultural movement in San Francisco through photographs and other events are occurring throughout the summer.

Reflections on the SUMMER OF LOVE

By: 
John Elliott

 

Try to think of where you were and what you were doing 10 years ago? 20 years ago? 30 years ago? How about 50 years ago?
 
Fifty years ago this week, I was a 16-year-old, soon-to-be junior in high school on my summer vacation with nothing much to do. I was doing odd jobs and chores to earn some spending money but day in, day out, I was mired in the humid dog days of summer.
 
A half century ago last Sunday, my afternoon consisted of hanging out with a few friends at Kamm’s Corners, at the intersection of Lorain Avenue and Rocky River Drive, near the neighborhood where I grew up on the west side of Cleveland, Ohio. 
 
Our vantage point to watch the world go by was an elevated concrete ledge next to a recessed window of the building that housed Cleveland Trust. It was a bank building, and we would certainly have been run off had we been there during business hours. 
 
Even the beat cop could care less if three teenagers were hanging out. We weren’t smoking, drinking, or holding anti-Vietnam War signs like lots of other folks were doing in 1967.
 
I had one of those pocket Sony transistor radios, and we were listening to our favorite top-40 FM station. Cleveland was, and still is, one of the important music markets in the nation. 
 
Back in the 1960s, 12 or so music tracks were pressed onto a vinyl disc to be spun on a turntable at 33-1/3 rpm. Cleveland, like other regional record manufacturing outlets, had a local Columbia Records factory (warehouse and recording studio) since rock-and-roll had burst onto the scene in the 1950s.  
 
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened in downtown Cleveland in 1995, testifying to its premier place in music history. When it came to debuting new albums or singles, we heard most music first, and many Columbia artists — like Blood, Sweat and Tears and Bruce Springsteen, to name a couple — inked record deals in Cleveland or they had industry coming-out parties at an intimate venue there known as La Cave.
 
On this day in 1967, one of the top 10 hits receiving non-stop airplay was a catchy tune by Scott McKenzie called “San Francisco (Be sure to wear Flowers in Your Hair).”
 
There was so much media attention to the gathering of all the tribes of young people converging on Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco that summer, those McKenzie lyrics soon  became a generational anthem and struck a chord in me that my friends and I found we couldn’t resist. 
 
We assessed how much cash the three us had on hand. It was slightly less than $20, more than enough to travel 2,400 miles across the country. We figured others we met along the way would certainly want to help us if we needed it once we told them we were bound for the Summer of Love.    
 
A friend who happened by gave us a ride to a nearby Ohio Turnpike exit a couple miles away. Impulsive, for sure, but we all promised to call our parents from a pay phone once our journey was underway. I guess we thought they would understand that we were young, bored, and just sowing some healthy wild oats.                     
 
There was a Howard Johnson’s restaurant nearby the on-ramp where we waited for a vehicle to stop. We figured someone traveling the turnpike to at least Chicago might stop to eat then get back on the road and offer us a ride.
 
In those days, hitchhiking involved holding out a thumb and was a routine and relatively safe and inexpensive way to travel. However, no cars or trucks stopped until we had been waiting for nearly an hour. 
 
As fate would have it, a rather inauspicious Rambler station wagon with Massachusetts plates pulled over. In the driver’s seat was a distinguished-looking, older gentleman in his 40s. 
 
“Where you fellas headed?” the stranger inquired. 
 
I quickly answered, “We’re going to San Francisco to Haight-Ashbury.”
 
“Hop in,” he responded. “I can drop you nearby because I’m moving to Berkeley.”
 
I couldn’t believe our good fortune. The first car that stopped was bound for California and so at least getting to our adventure was pretty much a done deal. Or so I thought. 
 
To be continued.
X