Reflections on the Summer of Love: Part Seven
November 27, 2017 - 17:05 admin
This is the seventh installment in an ongoing memoir in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love in San Francisco. Previous installments are here.
We made the crossing into California as there was only a waning sunset that from my windshield view from U.S. 80 I imagined to be far out in the Pacific Ocean. It was already after 9 p.m. It was going to be a late-night arrival in the Bay Area.
The first mileage sign I noticed said 198 miles to San Francisco. If Doc made good on his on his plan to drop us off later that night it would easily be after midnight.
I wasn’t sure what we would find once we got to Golden Gate Park but Doc said that this summer in Haight-Ashbury there was so much excitement that it was like the city never sleeps. He did reassure us, however, if it looked like a bad scene we could spend the night in the East Bay where a friend was awaiting his arrival.
The last four hours of miles flew by the window in a blur of distant lights from a succession of California towns and places. I must have dozed off because I was dreaming that Golden Gate Park was some sort of Garden of Eden where everyone’s purpose there was to have a good time. Meals and finding a place to crash were no problem.
Less than a week previously, I had left my Ohio hometown as a naïve 16-year-old kid. In a few hours, I would become part of what I learned later has been called the greatest social movement of a generation. Maybe, just maybe, we could end the war in Vietnam and build a new world that really was based on peace and love.
As Doc started to get over and change lanes to cross the Bay Bridge, I wasn’t sure if I was awake or dreaming. What I did know? It was after 1 a.m. California time.
I guess it was at that moment I thought how self-involved we all were being among the thousands congregating that summer of 1967 in San Francisco. In fact there were thousands of young people converging on Haight-Ashbury at this very moment in time.
What was the attraction that made so many drop everything and drop in. What was going on here?
In a few minutes those questions turning over and over in my mind would be answered. There was so much anticipation among my road-weary companions and me, we could hardly contain our excitement.
Doc pointed out a few sights on the way over on the Bay Bridge: Treasure Island, the Ferry Building. A highlight of the skyline today is the Transamerica Pyramid, but in 1967 it was only a concept. Construction on that landmark was not started until 1969; its first tenants moved in three years later.
One curious conical structure was clearly visible, looking resplendent and lighted for all to see who entered the city from the Bay Bridge. It was the landmark Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill.
Doc explained that the art deco tower was over 200 feet tall and was built in the 1930s by a beautification fund bequeathed to the city by Lillian Coit.
We exited the bridge and veered right toward what I later learned was the northwest section of the city. Within 10 minutes or so, Doc was looking for a place to park along one of the streets that bordered Golden Gate Park.
What we saw then was nothing short of astonishing. It was after 1 a.m., but there were people — young people just like us — everywhere.
Some were darting in and out of traffic, crossing in front of row houses. There were blocks and blocks of grandiose Victorian mansions, nearly every one with groups of young people on the stoop or in the doorway.
It was too dark to tell who anyone was for sure, but it was almost 2 a.m. and there were hundreds of kids in the streets, on the sidewalks, and congregating in the narrow island of park-like lawn between two one-way streets. And I say “kids” because there was nobody there who looked to be more than in their 20s.
When we opened the doors of the Rambler station wagon, our home for the last six days, saying our good-byes to Doc seemed almost anti-climactic. I thanked him profusely for bringing us all this way from Ohio.
There was no exchange of contact information (which I regret to this day). Our driver was obviously exhausted and wanting to make his destination.
As quickly as we had jumped in the first car that stopped for three itinerant hitchhikers near the Ohio turnpike, Doc disappeared into the San Francisco night.
The first thing we all noticed was it was freezing-cold. This was an August night in what we expected to be sunny California so we had assumed it would be warm. The temperature felt like the low 40s, and it was a damp, bone-chilling cold.
No wonder so many were running around wrapped in blankets. We were obviously three under-dressed neophytes from some other place.
The scent of marijuana wafted through the fog-choked air. And I still remember what the first person we saw said to us as he passed by: “Love one, love all, man.”
We headed for some eerie light show up ahead. It was a dozen or so hippies playing a friendly game of volleyball under strobe lights. Yes, lights rapidly blinking before you could get a fix on where to hit the ball. It was hilarious and these players were having a blast.
At no time were the opening lyrics of the classic 1967 Buffalo Springfield tune “For What It’s Worth” more appropriate for me:
There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind.
To be continued…