We didn’t intentionally set out searching for genuine hippies in San Francisco, but if we had, we would have been disappointed.
It was a beautiful Saturday morning, and our friend, David, and Other Bill and I had a huge, organic breakfast at Kate’s Kitchen in the Lower Height. For me, this meant 9-grain French toast covered with yogurt, covered with fruit, covered with granola, covered with honey. My plate weighed 15 pounds. Afterward, we waddled onto a bus to the Upper Height. There is obviously a huge weed-smoking contingent still in the Height-Asbury district, because there were stores that sold nothing but bongs and pipes and assorted drug paraphernalia that could get anyone arrested.
I figured this meant that San Francisco, especially that part of town, must still house thousands of genuine hippies, so I was intrigued and excited to see what they looked like these days. I was a little too young to be a genuine hippie. I was 12 the Summer of Love in 1969, when Woodstock and anti-war protests were headlining the news. By the time I was of hippie age, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Moody Blues and the Doors had been usurped by Morris Albert, Barry Manilow, Debby Boone, and KC and the Sunshine Band. Nothing good came out of the 70s. Boxy architecture, the color orange, polyester doubleknit leisure suits, shag carpeting and haircuts, platform shoes, neon blue eye shadow, the Plymouth Volare, pant suits, shiny Nik-Nik nylon disco shirts, pastel tuxedos, and cheap vodka prevailed after a decade of Frank Lloyd Wright, the color blue, jeans and t-shirts, natural long hair, PF Flyers, the VW Bug, terrazzo, 100% cotton, monogrammed Brooks Brothers dress shirts and vintage wine.
True hippies who survived would now be in their late 50’s through mid 70’s, I guess. But on that side of town with organic everything and an assortment of people sitting next to buildings smoking dope and pleading for spare change, did that genuine hippie tradition still live among the young? I wondered.
As we walked into Golden Gate Park, we were given the opportunity, before we even sat down, to buy some weed by four different young vendors. Apparently, marijuana has fallen into the hands of designers. In my former youthful weedy days, a heavy ounce of grass set you back $20. Now it can cost in the hundreds just for a little tidbit. Gone are the days of gentle, peace-loving people who sowed and reaped their own and shared it with all of their friends. Now it is just commerce, and quite competitive. Each dealer who approached us said his stuff was better than any other park dealer’s.
I felt oddly giddy thinking that at my age I was cool enough for these potheads to proposition. Reflecting back, just like the TSA screeners at the airport, they most likely flagged me just because of the beard. They don’t call it grass or weed anymore. They call it bud. Like “deer,” “bud” is singular and plural. It can be a bud or some bud. After we found a nice grassy place to lie in the sun to digest our organics (on a slope I later learned was called Hippie Hill), we were even offered the chance to buy it in the edible form of Rice Krispie treats. When I was a teenager, I often followed the recipes on the cereal box, and I sometimes made loaded brownies, but I never even thought of baking loaded Rice Krispie treats. At first I thought, “What a great idea,” until I remembered I could eat a whole pan of them in one sitting, so it’s probably best that I never mixed that concoction together. I would probably still be lying on the booth of my mother’s kitchen (even though she sold the house in 1982) listening to Simon and Garfunkel while topping off the crunchy treats with Krispy Kreme doughnuts and Nabisco Mystic Mint cookies, if only they were still manufactured.
There was a small contingent of quasi-hippie types sitting next to us. They were rather unwashed and shaggy-headed just like the genuine hippies of the 1960’s. But they weren’t the quiet, peace-loving, earthy hippies. They were rather cranky and argumentative, and instead of noshing on vegan sandwiches on home-baked bread, they were tossing back Doritos and washing them down with shared quarts of Coors beer.
The quasi-hippies asked passersby if they needed any “bud,” and they weren’t getting many customers. Behind them sat an old blind woman with a homeless tan and long, straight hair. She looked like she was pushing 70, but she could have just as easily been 40. She could have been a genuine 60’s hippie, but I’m willing to bet she wasn’t blind back then.
The blind woman spoke up. “Why don’t you give me some of that bud? I’ve got my pipe here,” she said, in a voice reminiscent of 1970’s Lucille Ball, or perhaps Suzanne Pleshette with a head cold, as she displayed a small wood and steel smoking apparatus. In seconds, one of the quasi-hippies got up, took her pipe and stuffed it full of bud, and the old or not-so-old woman smoked it down to puree of ash.
A kind display of generosity, I thought. Maybe these were genuine hippies and not quasi-hippies after all. Sharing. Community. Peace, love, freedom, happiness? Except for the once-boycotted beer and Doritos, they appeared to shun everything corporate or commercial. One of them even yelled out, to no one in particular, “We’ve got more hippies than you have rugby players.” No one was playing rugby within eyeshot. There was a flag football game going on, and farther down the field there was a Frisbee football game taking place. So, as high as they were, they apparently labeled themselves as hippies. I began to feel hope in the hippie rebirth.
We lay back in the cool air slightly warmed by the California sun. Occasionally I would sit up and observe, and sometimes just lie back and listen to the growing throng of nearby percussionists: bongo and conga drum players, cowbell clangers, zither zippers maraca rattlers, and people shaking coins in soda cans. The rhythm was wonderful and exotic and grew stronger as more musicians showed up, including an accenting clarinetist and a recorder tooter.
It was sweet, relaxing, and peaceful; one might even say, “groovy.” Who needs bud, thought this 53-year-old, when the air was so clean, the sun was so warm, and the music was so trance-inducing?
As time went by, the blind woman passed out on the lawn. Two police cars idled by on the walking path, and even though the park was rife with drug dealers and there was a slight hint of burning hemp in the air, no one was arrested, although everyone was eyed suspiciously.
As the hippies/quasi-hippies grew louder and drunker, I started to rescind their possible authenticity as arguments bloomed and insults were hurled among the group. What finally convinced me, however, was the shrill chirp of a cell phone that shot above the peaceful percussion beat. One of the quasi-hippie girls got up, answered her phone and left the group. Apparently, her mother wanted her home, so she quickly exited the park.
I knew it. I knew it, I knew it, I knew it. These were not hippies; just self-indulgent, young, garden-variety substance abusers. If they were anything, they were 70’s people wearing natural fibers. I was disappointed. If these people wanted to call themselves hippies, then they were desperately in need of reading Hippies for Dummies. Maybe someone will write a comic book version of it, or perhaps, text it to them.
There seemed to be no shared cause among them, other than who had the most severe case of the munchies. The 60’s people had Vietnam as their cause. We 70’s people had Watergate. Who was griping for this generation of people? Those tea-baggers, or tea-party people, or whatever they’re called. They are the voices of protest today, and universal health care is something 60’s and 70’s folk would be marching for, not against. I wouldn’t trade all the AMC Pacers, Chevy Vegas, and Exploding Pintos manufactured or all the 45’s of Disco Duck, Convoy, and Piña Colada Songs pressed in the world for having to carry around that legacy. I’ll throw in Pet Rocks, mood rings, and streakers as well.
The sun was moving westward, and it was time to get moving and return to the hotel. We were again offered the chance to purchase some more bud just before we got to the children's playground, this time with the lure of free samples. Again we declined. As we walked through the kids’ section, we watched diverse families climbing, swinging, bouncing, spinning, and supervising. How many of these children and toddlers would grow up and become hippies?
None, I decided. If real hippies still existed, surely they’d be in Golden Gate Park on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.
We crossed at the traffic light on Stanyon and walked (sadly, past the McDonald’s on Haight) into Amoeba Music, a converted bowling alley filled with miles of new, used, off-the-cuff and tough-to-find vinyl albums and cassette tapes, but mostly CD’s. Even in retro San Francisco, 8-tracks are no longer alive. I meandered into the Folk section, where I found myself totally alone. You could hear crickets chirp. I happened upon a Simon and Garfunkel CD, a live recording from New York City in 1967. It was five bucks, so I bought it. I went back and listened to the sweet harmony and simplicity of two twenty-something young men and one acoustic guitar, and it made me long for earlier years.
I wondered if there were any genuine hippies still living in Central Park. Maybe it’s worth a visit to find out.
billwiley.blogspot.com by Bill Wiley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.