Throwback Thursday

Haight-Ashbury and the Summer of Love

PART ONE

A Hallucinatory Reality

Nothing lasts forever, and the Summer of Love was no exception. It came and went like a hallucinatory wisp of a thought blowing in the wind—away from me after an extraordinary acid trip I was wishing would never end. Smoke on the water, fire in the sky; I remember it well and I remember it not. I wandered the ways of Haight-Ashbury for a few weeks that summer of 1967, and they were the best of times and the worst of times. That’s what life is all about, the yin and the yang and everything in between. The good, the bad and the ugly.

On the Road Again

I was on the path into the deep west, the road winding onward through arroyos and mountain tops, forward and backward—that’s the way my mind was running, the bike underneath me roaring its way toward the West Coast, my thoughts racing into the past and back out again. The days were one and I was one. I felt free of the baggage I had been carrying all my life, reliving incidents and casting them aside. The road was a part of the process, part of me being there, part of what I would experience, the coming and the going, always fixed on the One, being part of it all and being part of the nothing, the Null and the Void. The road was my ever-changing goal.

Haight-Ashbury and the Summer of Love

The Happening

San Francisco that summer of 1967 fell squarely at the epicenter of a really big happening, a change in the winds that would blow the country apart at the seams. I found myself stepping into an experience that, as of this writing, hasn’t happened since. Perhaps the Parkland High School students marching against the proliferation of guns will be the start of a new era, but I’m not holding my breath. People nowadays are too drugged by media. They’re hardly able to get up from watching TV and getting out. Back then, though, it really was different. We were far more free in our thinking. We let things roll and weren’t afraid of new ideas that could change the world. Today, it’s not so easy climbing the mountain of information that sways you back and forth. Still, I hold out hope for the second coming of the Summer of Love.

Yuppies, Not Hippies

Haight-Ashbury today is more or less gentrified. Most of the remnants of that Summer of Love in 1967 are gone, and the Hippies that made Haight-Ashbury happening have scattered to places where you would have to read between the lines to find them. Yes, there are head shops and people who resemble hippies, but it isn’t like it was back in the day. Most of it is for the tourists. Yuppies, not Hippies, fill the void. Still, I was lucky enough to be there for a few weeks that summer of 1967, when everything in the world changed.

Haight-Ashbury and the Summer of Love

Arrival

Our little caravan rolled over the Golden Gate Bridge and swept down into the wonders of San Francisco with the wind from the Pacific in our faces, the bay sparkling in the lemony light of the fading afternoon. As we drove down streets I’d never before seen, I sniffed the aromas of pot swirling in the air and the scent of flowers I couldn’t name, probably roses. It all smelled so welcoming. We made our way into the Presidio, then Richmond, and slowly puttered through the Botanical Gardens, Haight-Ashbury looming dead ahead like nirvana. There was a glow in the air. My heart was pounding. I couldn’t wait, wanted to jump off my bike. Didn’t have a plan of where I would stay. Plans were always out the window. You went with the flow. We were feeling that free. Going against the grain of authority. That was us in those days.

Expectations

Expectations can be overwhelming, though, making you think it’ll all be coming up roses when, in fact, it blows up in your face, bringing you down. But as I rode down Haight Street, the mother of my imagination met the father of all reality straight in the face and they turned out to be one and the same. Actually, my expectations outlived the experience. Whatever I thought it would be, it was better. Much better. It was a time of awakening. We were coming out of a long slumber, opening up to a new world.

Haight-Ashbury and the Summer of Love

Tripping at Midnight on the Oasis

We ended up crashing at an old Victorian house owned by friends of Uncle Bob. The caravan got in at three o’clock in the morning and we all unpacked. Brendon and I stayed up till dawn walking the crowded streets, stoned, scoring acid on a corner and dropping it on the spot. We ended up in a small park and listened to a folksinger strumming a 12-string, singing a song about the end of the world. Brendon went off with some new friends he met. I fell asleep alone on a park bench, the world spinning backwards. I woke up a few hours later and made my way wearily back to the house, where I climbed into my sleeping bag and conked out for twelve hours.

Hippie Hill

I awoke to a new dawn, feeling refreshed, stepped out into the sunshine. Brendon had left a note. He was off to New Mexico. He’d taken Peyote the night before and wanted to go to the desert. I never saw or heard from him again. I decided to break away from Uncle Bob and Aunt Harley. Took my pack and got on my bike, rode to Hippie Hill, where a concert was in full swing. I parked my bike next to a slew of others and made my way into the crowd, found a spot on the grass and sat down. On my right, someone handed me a joint. On my left, someone handed me a cold beer. I took a hit and a swallow. A new band came on. I couldn’t believe my eyes. A black-haired woman my age stepped onto a makeshift stage with the rest of the band behind her. She had the most piercing eyes I’d ever seen. Two rainbows connecting each other. I was stoned, but not too stoned to realize who this was. Gracie Slick and Jefferson Airplane. I leaned back, took in the rays of the sun and waited for the music to begin. Something good was happening—all around me and within me. Something special. I took another hit and a deep swallow of the cold beer. The two went good together: one dry, one wet, one complete high. It was the beginning and the end.

Haight-Ashbury and the Summer of Love
Jefferson Starship by Michael Putland/Getty Images

Next Up: Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane, George Harrison, Alan Ginsberg, the Merry Pranksters and a host of others make the scene.

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