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

The writing was on the wall and, also, posted in the windows of stores and residences. The Summer of Love in San Francisco was coming to an end, literally and figuratively.

Reflections on the Summer of Love: Part 10

By: 
John Elliott

 

I must begin this installment by thanking more folks who have mentioned to me how much they have enjoyed this memoir of the Summer of Love. Not surprisingly, they are all about 60-something years old. 
 
Just the mention of Haight-Ashbury recalls something magical and a bit mystical long after that Summer of Love had happened. The Beatles released their classic “Magical Mystery Tour” in November 1967. I’m sure the Summer of Love played a part in that album’s concept. 
 
George Harrison, the so-called quiet Beatle because later he became a proponent of transcendentalism, visited Haight-Ashbury on August 7, 1967.
 
In a videotaped interview released in 2012 (George died in 2001), Harrison said it was not what he had hoped to find.
 
“When I went to Haight-Ashbury [I was] expecting it to be this brilliant place. I thought it was going to be all these groovy kind of gypsy kind of people with little shops making works of art, paintings, and carvings. But instead, it turned out to be just a lot of bums, many of them very young kids who had come from all over America and dropped acid and came to this mecca of LSD.”
 
George said it was a bit scary walking the streets being treated like a Messiah while being handed paraphernalia of every description and countless bags of drugs. He said the visit made him see drugs like acid as just another addiction. The dreaded “lysergic” soon lost its magical, mystical allure for George.  
 
In fact, George credited his visit to Haight-Ashbury with being the impetus for turning away from his own use of LSD and toward Eastern spirituality. In fairness, George had been whisked to San Francisco for a brief visit to Haight-Ashbury in a Lear Jet owned by a record industry executive. 
 
I know firsthand not all the young kids had come to drop acid. But there were many who were just hanging out, bumming handouts of food and drugs     while looking for love on some mean streets. In fact, an average of 600-plus underage kids arrived daily in San Francisco during the Summer of Love. 
 
In total, more than 100,000 young transients from around the country flocked to San Francisco to live communally, do drugs, protest the Vietnam War, and/or embrace the counterculture. In the spirit of the summer, neighborhood residents opened their doors to the masses. Each night, beds, sofas, and floors were filled with strangers who’d come to feel the love.
 
The question I have heard most often as my story unfolds: “What did your parents think of a 16-year-old kid hitchhiking to Haight-Ashbury?” The answer to that question will soon be revealed.
* * *
We left off last time recalling how my party of three were spending our nighttime hours trying to find suitable places to crash. Among us Cleveland friends we vowed that no matter what happened, we would stick together. We started this adventure together and would finish it together.  
 
The last thing we wanted to do was ruffle some feathers by being at somebody’s place where we obviously weren’t wanted, especially when so many of these “safe houses” were way too crowded by the time we got there.
 
The alternative was finding a somewhat sheltered spot on the streets. There were lots of recessed entryways to these late-Victorian three-story houses but that was just asking to be contacted by any one of the dozens of San Francisco Police Department officers looking for suspicious
persons, especially underage kids with no place to go or any obvious means of support.
 
It was late during my fourth night in San Francisco, maybe 2 a.m. or so, and we were hanging out on the steps of one of those iconic Victorians. There were others there waiting too, hoping to get inside to spend the night. 
 
I remember there was a sign in one of the street-level windows that said “Rooms for Rent.”
 
There wasn’t a single one among us looking to rent a room — more like crash in the pad of someone who did. At street level, two guys were asking those of us on the steps what or whom we were waiting for? They identified themselves as persons who worked for San Francisco social services. 
 
They said to the dozen or so who were polite enough to listen:  “…You can’t hang out here all night. We have a place where you can crash just for tonight and can get something to eat. In the morning, we’ll help you figure out what you want to do next.”
 
That sounded really inviting to a bunch of us hanging out in the cold night air — one of those time and temperature signs nearby said it was 39 degrees. We looked at each other and just followed along with what sounded like a really generous offer from a group like the Diggers who
wanted to help needy kids like us. 
 
A dozen or so of our little bunch followed these two to a step van waiting in the alley near the house where we had congregated. The two college-age guys (in those days we called non-hippie types like these two “Collegiates”) seemed young and sincere. What they were telling us sounded almost too good to be true — and, of course, it was.
 
The white, unmarked van that we piled into had bench seats along each outer panel. There was no handle to exit from the inside. 
 
The faceless driver started the van and pulled away from the curb.  I could see through a window facing front that in the van’s cab there was a radio and, if I would have cared to pay attention, I might have noticed it was a police scanner. 
 
Within a few minutes, I saw we had left Haight-Ashbury. We passed a street sign that read “Downtown.” Soon after, the van turned into an underground garage and at that moment we collectively realized where we were. San Francisco Juvenile Hall. 
 
Next: Incarceration and an abrupt end to my Summer of Love.
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