Saturday, May 27, 2017

My Summer of Love

We are approaching the 50th anniversary of the "Summer of Love."  Ironically that contrasts sharply with the summer of hate that seems to be upon us now.  People seem to be muttering "something's happening here, but the contexts are vastly different.  50 years ago, I was a college student living in Southern California.  Like many, I went north to San Francisco that year to check out the intersection of Haight and Ashbury and see what all the fuss was about.  No, I did not wear a flower in my hair, but there were many who did.  What we all had in common was the overwhelming sense that a substantive change was upon us.  People were fed up with the direction of the war in Vietnam and the lack of trust they felt in their government.  They were buoyed by those that sacrificed all in the struggle for civil rights, and the hypocrisy of a star-spangled monument that was beginning to tarnish.   To be a young person that summer was to be insanely curious and optimistic.  It was to feel supported on the crest of a wave that had you breathing fresh air and certain that together, we could make a real change.
Because I was a struggling student the 500 mile trip was done in sections.  With a friend, I took a Greyhound bus, and rode all night to Salinas.  As unromantic as that sounds, it was terribly exciting to be going somewhere north. I studied the people on the bus.  A smattering of Latino farm workers, servicemen, and single women with children.  Throw in a few old timers, a few more college students and the bus was full.  After a brief early morning stop at a near deserted Salinas station, we rode to Monterey and then made our way to Carmel, where we had booked a room in what was then known as a "guest house."  In the pre-computer, pre-Air B&B world, there were still folks who had a spare room that they rented out and my friend had been there before.  In a beautiful little home on a very quiet street, we explored the Carmel-Monterey area for a couple of days.  On the wharf in Monterey, I found a craftsman by the name of Grabowski who had all manner of things I'd never seen before.  I left his little shop with a peg belt and a knit scarf.  That belt, which featured a wooden peg that went into a couple of leather loops in the belt was one of my signature garments throughout the 60s.
The most memorable part of that little trek came when we stood on Highway 1 and hitchhiked our way to the city by the bay.

San Francisco was buzzing that year.  Thousands flocked to "The Haight" and congregated in Golden Gate Park.  I vividly recall how young most people swarming the streets of the city were.  How broke they were two. People walked calmly but curiously through the streets. They seemed to be wondering, "Where you from?"  My first encounter with what the media soon dubbed "hippies" was a couple of dirty faced, tired kids from the midwest trying to get quarters to "buy some doughnuts."  I forked over a quarter to the chants of "we love ya man, we love ya." Nothing romantic there.  I remember an ice cream store on Haight called "God's Eye" and, of course picking up copies of the San Francisco Oracle and numerous other counter culture publications, all of which have vanished like the morning fog every day.

My friend Rob and I stayed in a cheap hotel in North Beach.  This was almost required behavior for young poets celebrating the hallowed ground of the Beats. One bathroom down the hall and a blinking red light from a strip joint flashing at night.  I recall that I just laid on top of the bed, not wanting to discover what surprises laid under the covers.
We frequented City Lights books and took in the scene on upper Grant Ave. near Chinatown and then rode Cable Cars to Fisherman's Wharf.
In what might be a classic scene from a bad movie about the "Summer of Love" one memory stands out as most amusing. Walking from the heart of downtown Monterey back to the highway, a Gray
Line tour bus drove by.  Both Rob and I had bought new hats, rather big black frontiersman looking things that kept the sun out of our eyes and the rain off our heads.  As the tour bus passed, I could hear the driver talking on his microphone telling the passengers to glance at us over to the right.  "Two hippies on their way to hitch hike...blah blah tailed off.  Laughter and tired feet, sourdough bread and cheese...Summer of Love.

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