Updated for "The Old Hippie's Corner", Part I of the "Weekend in San Francisco" Series:
Preface to Series: click here
San Francisco is probably the only place on earth that experienced the birth of the Sixties in calendar time, at least the Sixties immortalized by Hollywood movies and pop star biographies. In the early 1960s, Ken Kesey, his Merry Pranksters and others conducted outrageous social experiments with LSD and defined the dress and behavioral norm for the new era.Â By July 1967, Time magazine coined the word hippie as the Summer of Love pulsed with good vibes and acid rock music. The word was out and the Haight-Ashbury district sucked in America's kids as a black hole in a kaleidoscopic universe.
Like a traveling road show, the Sixties left the Bay Area for a World Tour. In Southeast Asia, they walked ashore with the Marines on the white beaches of Da Nang. That was March 8, 1965. They left eight years and 21 days later when the last American soldier embarked from Tan Son Nhut airport. The band at the Rama bar in Chiang Rai, Thailand can play any tune from that period. Their lead singer does a pretty decent Jim Morrison. The last song of the evening is usually Light My Fire with full strobes.
Como bebe lie mi f-eye
Como bebe lie mi f-eye
Tie to se ta n-eye-ton f-eye
Tie to se ta n-eye-ton f-eye
For most Americans, the Sixties walked on stage the evening of February 9, 1964. Seventy four million people watched the Fab Four on the "Ed Sullivan Show" and America's daily crime rate dropped to its lowest figure in 50 years. Surely a new age was dawning. Dick Dale and the Del-Tones were history.
Many kids in the rural corners of America heard, "Stay tuned, the Sixties will be in your area soon." American Bandstand gave my sweetheart of many years only a long distance view of the show from Franklin, Louisiana. She moved to the front row in 1968 when Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper roared past her front porch on Harleys during the filming of Easy Rider. In a few years she and her trusty 1970 Volkswagen, Daisy, would head west to catch the fire.
My first brush with San Francisco in the Sixties pop context came in 1966. At the time I was a college student in Goleta, California. It was a happy uncomplicated community with a lemon-packing plant and newly constructed bridges over Highway 101. Ten miles north of Santa Barbara, Goleta had to be at least a runner-up for the most-auto-parts-stores-per-capita-in-the-small-town-America category. It was a neighbor to the Santa Barbara Airport and an exponentially growing University of California for sons and daughters of Father Knows Best.
I lived near the airport in a converted machine shop on Matthews Street that had been transformed into three small apartments by one of Goleta's more imaginative slumlords. The distinguishing feature of my flat was a 220-volt industrial outlet above the couch and a shower that you had to step out of to turn around in. These quaint domiciles were sandwiched between the Goleta Masonry Supply and Lupe's house. At the end of Matthews was the local house of ill repute. Across the street was a small garage where a sculptor created the giant curvilinear snakes of steel that lie in suspended animation on the lawns of the UCSB campus. He thought enough of Matthews Street to replace the city street sign with one of his own creations.
Lupe's husband was on State Disability Insurance for a job related injury to the head. Every morning he left the house at 7:00 a.m. dressed in khakis with a black lunch pail in hand. He walked past my driveway to the masonry supply. Climbing up a stack of bricks at the corner of Fairview and Matthews, he counted the planes that arrived and departed at the airport. At 12:00 p.m. he ate his lunch, at 4:00 p.m. he walked back home to a family of four kids and a loving wife.
The airport runway was a favorite weekend attraction for budding flower children. We lay at the end of the tarmac to watch and feel the turbo-prop commuter from San Francisco land overhead. I remember tripping on the grooves in the landing wheels and rivets in the fuselage. With the proper ingestion of medicines popular at the time, this experience approached the spiritual. These were the halcyon days before hijackings, airport security, barbed wire fences and metal detectors.
With all these fun things to do, my first semester at UCSB was a scholastic disaster. On probation with failing grades, my father thought it would be a good idea that I sell my purely bitchen 1958 Chevrolet Bel Aire. I did and suddenly had some cash burning a hole in my bell-bottoms. It seemed like a good idea to take that commuter to San Francisco and check out the Mecca of counter-culture first hand before settling down at school.
This was my first flight in an airplane, the time when you think a window seat is cool and marvel at how small stuff looks on the ground. The gee-whiz of aeronautics quickly elevated to another level. I closed my eyes and imagined a psychedelic Jefferson Airplane propelled by a Jorma Kaukonen turbo-prop guitar riff; full fuzz-tone, exploding Marshall amps. I was on my way to San Francisco! This leap of fantasy hard landed at the San Francisco Airport. Even the magical Sixties presented a challenge to an underage weekend vagabond. I suddenly realized that San Francisco is a big city, a really BIG CITY, and the airport isn't even in the City. Through some combination of public transportation and a lot of walking, I managed to find a cheap room for the night on Market Street. I think it was the Southern Hotel.
The next morning after a lot more walking, I found the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower and gazed at Alcatraz from Fisherman's Wharf. Although the smell of hemp was in the air, I didn't find Ken Kesey or the Merry Pranksters and there were no free concerts in Golden Gate Park. Maybe the Sixties had taken the weekend off. Late that afternoon, I noticed my pockets were no longer flush with cash. I must remind my young readers that in the days before plastic and ATMs, when you ran out of money you ran OUT OF MONEY. I knew a parent phone call was not an option. A collect call from a hotel with people sleeping in the hallways wasn't going to convince my father that I'd changed my ways. Homesick for Matthews Street, I headed back to the airport with my roundtrip ticket. I knew Lupe's husband patiently waited to count my plane and maybe my friends were lying on the runway to welcome me home. With no car and no money it might now be easier to open a textbook.
Next Part in the Series: click here
18 May 2006
Â©Colonel Possum Publishing Co.