Updated for "The Old Hippie's Corner", Part II of the "Weekend in San Francisco" Series:
In 1966 Matthews Street had many of the set pieces from John Steinbeck's Cannery Row, at least in the imagination of an eighteen year-old. There were ladies of the night a few houses down from mine, industrial artifacts and abandoned cars in the fields nearby, and "old school" winos that lived and drank in their shadows. You could walk to a Chinese laundry by the Hollister and Fairview intersection. A little further west stood the Sunkist packing plant. Although many hands packed lemons and not sardines within the massive corrugated steel building, it was close enough to a Steinbeck world for me.
By my senior year in High School, I became a big fan of John Steinbeck. His books Cannery Row and Tortilla Flats were my favorites. In the summer of '65, my good buddy Bill and I traveled to Monterey to see if we could touch and feel and smell the environs of these novels first hand. This was the summer before moving to Goleta to start college and we were both primed for a little adventure away from home. Bill and I grew up in the San Fernando Valley and were pretty typical valley boys. He was a surfer and I spent most of my time under the hood of a car. The women we pursued, however, were not valley girls. In the mid-sixties, Moon Unit was barely a glimmer in Frank Zappa's eye. His daughter's vocals on Valley Girl wouldn't jangle the airways until 1982. No, we dated the mothers of valley girl, the early prototypes who were just discovering the delights of shopping in malls and uttering the first syllables of val-speak. Grody to the max!
The concrete runways in the newly constructed Topanga Plaza were barely cured when the first teenage shop 'til you drop stampede charged on. We know now that the mothers of valley girl were destined to pass an odd behavioral chromosome to future generations and change the character of American consumption forever. There is probably no scientific agreement for why this happened and Zappa's Mothers of Invention offered few clues in those early days. My theory is that all the Strontium-90 in our milk from 1950s aboveground nuclear tests in Nevada had something to do with it.
Bill had a fairly esoteric 1958 Borgward station wagon with a goofy 4-speed shift on the steering column and just enough room for a surfboard in the back. Dr. Carl Borgward had perfected these quirky little German cars for some forty years and only a few made it to the United States. This eccentric auto genius reportedly stopped production every time he had a better idea for their improvement, an attention to detail that eventually led to their commercial demise in 1961.
From a distance the German Borgward and the mass-produced Russian "Gorky" are nearly indistinguishable, a real proletariat no-nonsense machine. I think the convertible sportster with the droopy headlight eyes in Mutt n' Jeff cartoons must have been a Borgward. If the good Doctor hadn't fallen out of favor with the FÃ¼hrer in the 1930s there is a good chance that Borgwards would have become the "People's Car" and perhaps much later the "Hippie's Car".Â As it came to be, most nascent flower children were packed in Volkswagen buses and not Borgwards as they traveled California's Highway 1 that summer; everyone except Bill and me in our homely first cousin to the Love Bug.
Highway 1 runs the full length of California's coast and connects all the really cool sites of West Coast Sixties folklore: Big Sur, Monterey, Santa Cruz and of course, San Francisco. Arguably, the most dramatic stretch of the so-called "Hippie Highway" lies between Cambria and Monterrey. You can't carry enough words in your hippie knapsack to describe the grandeur of this two-lane roller coaster road where the fog-crested Santa Lucia mountains swan dive into the churning blue waters below. This portion was built during the Depression as a Federal WPA project, truly an engineering triumph of sweeping arched bridges and hairpin turns. As hard as those days were, it must have been plum duty to be on a construction crew in Big Sur. As the southern gateway to Steinbeck's Monterey, these road crews faired far better than the migrant farm workers in his famous "Grapes of Wrath."
From our adolescent viewpoint, Big Sur was the gateway to Hormone Heaven. There were supple beauties everywhere! They walked barefoot along the roadway with tie-dyed sarongs and poppies in their hair. They cupped their hands and drank from waterfalls. They strummed guitars on the lupine and mustard covered bluffs above the sea. These were not the ditsy valley mothers. These were mountain mamas! To hell with Steinbeck! Bill and I re-planned the trip after our Borgward bomber nimbly swept around the first few dozen jaw-dropping curves. We would meet these nature nymphs, find a cave in the canyons and live there forever. We'd make leather belts and sandals, eat roots and berries and magic mushrooms. We'd learn their songs, play their guitars and...
This teenage euphoria erupted in pleasant contrast to our first night on the road. We set our camp somewhere north of Cambria before the road elevates rapidly into the Santa Lucias. The wind blows onshore there all the time; Mother Nature exhaling a long held doobie across a narrow, rocky unprotected shore. Great place to camp. Fortunately, there is lots of sun-bleached driftwood and we soon had a campfire blazing. Being an avid Southern California surfer, Bill could cook a meal in a wind tunnel. He poked two small holes in a can of beans and placed the can carefully in the embers. In a few minutes dinner was ready, a feast of hot beans, Wonder bread and a little sand. Everything tastes cool when you're camping.
We awoke early the next morning in damp cold sleeping bags. The fog up that way has a nasty habit of curling up with you at night like a wet family dog. Bill had a little morning trick to warm us up. He always carried two metal funnels. One was for the not infrequent times we ran out of gas and the bomber needed a quick refill from a can; the other, for making coffee. He took a paper towel and folded it into a triangle then folded it once again. Placing this paper diaper in the second funnel with a little Folgers gave us an early Militta coffee system. Bitchen!
After our morning encounter with Big Sur's natural beauties, both scenic and on the hoof, we sought a better camping spot for day two. It was time to set Plan B in motion and the campground at Jade Cove offered the perfect staging ground for our new mission.
Next part in the series: click here
20 May 2006
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