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

Reflections on the Summer of Love: Part Five

John Elliott


This is the fifth installment in an ongoing memoir in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love in San Francisco. Previous installments are here.
Last time, we left off in the midst of seemingly endless miles of billboard-lined pavement between Cheyenne, Wyo., and Salt Lake City, Utah. In the summer of 1967, I-80 was still mostly a two-lane road with few and far between wide spots where passing was a little less risky.
Curiously, these years in the 1960s saw traffic accident fatalities increase annually from 32,000 in 1960 to a peak of more than 54,000 in 1972. They have declined almost every year since leveling out at around 34,000 highway deaths annually since 2000.
There are many factors to explain this trend — safer roads and vehicles and, of course, the first federal seat belt law that required all vehicles to have seat belts in all fitted seat positions that took effect January 1, 1968. It took a few years for the majority of vehicles on the road to be equipped with seat belts, and a few more years for drivers and passengers to wear them as a matter of course. 
The decline in fatalities is really quite remarkable when you consider that in 1967 there were 80 million registered vehicles on U.S. roads; today that number is more than 253 million.      
The miles passed by quickly when Doc and I were talking. He seemed genuinely interested in learning what a typical Cleveland kid might know about the world — politics, civil rights, the war in Vietnam, attending college, space exploration, sports, the NFL and the AFL. You name it, we talked about it.
Doc was the first person who explained to me the difference between working class and middle class, and why my father, a white-collar claims manager for an insurance company and a Protestant, was a Republican.
My traveling companions were both Irish Catholics and their fathers worked at the local Ford plant, so although there are exceptions to this rule, Doc said, he guessed these dads were Democrats who belonged to the United Auto Workers union.        
In truth, I didn’t know a whole lot about socioeconomic class and status, but like many teens growing up in the Vietnam War era, I was extremely curious about politics. One of my most vivid childhood memories was seeing the 1960 Democratic presidential nominee, John F. Kennedy, travel by my street corner in a motorcade a short block from my house in Cleveland. 
Kennedy and his entourage, which included his wife, Jacqueline, was on his way to board a plane at Hopkins Airport. My father voted for Nixon in 1960 but had I been able to vote at 10 years of age, I would have preferred the youthful, exuberant Kennedy.  
The car in which he was riding in was a convertible with the top down, and he waved to the crowds lining both sides of Rocky River Drive. 
What a different world it was in 1960 — pre-Vietnam and before the shocking assassinations of President John F. Kennedy (1963), civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1968), and Senator Robert F. Kennedy (1968).      
Listening to Doc was fascinating. To hear him tell of performing lifesaving surgeries and then staying in touch with his patients to see how all these miraculous stories turned out. Someday soon, Doc said, cardiovascular surgeons would routinely be transplanting the heart of one patient who died so another patient might go on living awhile longer.    
I remember asking him if receiving a new heart would mean that the recipient would develop personality traits or any characteristics of the donor. He said nobody could answer that question for certain — not quite yet. 
It was all conjecture as to the effects of a transplant for the time being, Doc said, but we might have the answer soon. Doc explained how there were several groups of heart specialists — one in South Africa, one in Brooklyn, N.Y., and one at Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif., who were in a friendly competition of sorts to see who would perform the first successful human-to-human heart transplant.
In August 1967, even Doc didn’t know that the first human-to-human heart transplant was less than four months down the road. Unbeknownst to everyone in the summer of 1967 was that on December 3, 1967, Christiaan Barnard would perform the first heart transplant on Louis Washkansky at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. 
Dr. Barnard, who had trained in the U.S., utilized techniques developed by Dr. Norman Shumway of Stanford. Today, Shumway is widely regarded as the father of heart transplantation. 
Shumway and his Stanford team performed the first adult heart transplant in the United States on January 6, 1968. In 1968, there were more than 100 heart transplants but the majority of the patients only lived a few months. Less than 20 years later, patients began to survive for years instead of months. 
Doc said he was moving to Berkeley to join a team of cardiac researchers, but I can’t recall if he ever mentioned Shumway by name. I can only speculate upon the role that Doc played or how long he practiced medicine in the Bay Area.
What I do remember after spending the night in the vicinity of the Great Salt Lake at a rest area, my adrenaline was on the rise because now it was less than 700 miles to our destination. Doc said he planned to be in the Bay Area late the next night and would drop us off at our destination: Haight Ashbury. 
California, here we come!